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Reviewed by:
  • Vom Alten Testament und vom Neuen by Notger Slenczka
  • James Limburg
Vom Alten Testament und vom Neuen. By Notger Slenczka. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2017. 506 pp.

It was Adolf von Harnack, says Notger Slenczka, who put the case against the Old Testament most dramatically:

… to throw out the Old Testament in the second century was a mistake which the church rightly did not make; to hold on to it in the 16th century was a fate that the Reformation was not yet ready to avoid; but for Protestantism to hold on to it as a source for canonical doctrine after the 19th century is the result of a religious and ecclesiastical paralysis.

(55, reviewer's translation, citing A. von Harnack, Marcion: Das Evangelium vom fremden Gott, Leipzig 1921)

Slenczka picks up on Harnack's view, mixes in doses of Friederich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Bultmann and advances his own thesis: "The Old Testament should no longer be given canonical [End Page 242] status in the Christian church but as Harnack said, should be ranked alongside the Apocrypha" (7).

In his translation of the Bible, Luther called the Apocryphal books "good and useful to read." He did not, however, count them as equal to the books of either the Old or New Testament. In ranking the Old Testament alongside the Apocrypha, Slenczka set off a heated discussion in Germany, both among academic theologians and also in the churches, even in the newspapers, on the place of the Old Testament books in the Bible.

Slenczka's book falls into four major parts.

Part I considers scholarly contributions on the value of the Old Testament in the church. Running almost 300 pages, this is the longest part. It consists of eight sub-sections, including two which deal with the Old Testament in the church (3 and 4) and a summary of Luther and the Old Testament (5). Considerations of intertextuality and multiperspectivity immerse the reader into current Old Testament study in Germany. Slenczka offers shorter discussions of Bultmann (6) and Schleiermacher (8).

Part II delineates the author's position (44 pages). Here are sections on the canonicity of the Old Testament in the church, the current debate over the Old Testament, the "middle" of the Old Testament, and preaching on the Old Testament.

Part III contains meditations and sermons on Old Testament texts (80 pages). The author introduces this practical section: "Sermons are always to be heard. Even when one reads them alone, they should be read aloud" (340). Because these are sermons, says the author, these meditations are not (possibly coining a new German term) "befussnoted." The author includes these sermons, "Because I like very much to preach on Old Testament texts" (25).

Part IV discusses contributions to Christian-Jewish understanding. The author discusses the "holy land," the Bible, and the State of Israel. From a theological viewpoint, the author deals with the "New Israel Theology" and statements on the Jewish-Christian relationship from the Rheinische territorial church. He also considers the important Jewish/Christian statement, dabru emet (487).

This new book on an old theme is not easy reading. The lack of an index makes it difficult to use. (Where was it that he mentioned the [End Page 243] Beatles?) As a contribution from a younger (born in 1960) German professor whose field is Systematic Theology/Dogmatics the book exhibits remarkable breadth and depth. The author has impeccable German credentials including study in Tübingen, München, Göttingen, and Mainz.

For a helpful summary and a balanced reaction to Slenczka's thesis, see the article by Friedhelm Hartenstein which appeared in Theologische Literaturzeitung 140 (2015): 738–751. While I learned much from the book, I did not find the author's thesis convincing. In my view, von Rad, Westermann and Wiesel make a more convincing and melodious trio than Harnack, Schleiermacher, and Bultmann.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to get caught up on "what German Old Testament scholarship is up to" during this post-von Rad and post-Westermann era. New things are happening in Jewish-Christian relationships, in Arab-Christian discussions, and after the intensive re-reading of Luther in connection with the anniversary of...


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