Gerhard von Rad and OT Testimony

As I mentioned earlier, a recent issue of Interpretation (July 2008 ) is completely dedicated to Gerhard von Rad, an OT scholar as well as preacher/teacher in Germany around the years of WWII. Here are a couple of helpful quotes about one aspect of von Rad’s teaching.

“The most characteristic genre, according to von Rad, that lies historically at the foundation and theologically at the heart of the OT is that of testimony. Von Rad understands the OT as the testimony of the people of Israel to God’s actions in human history. The OT is not just a document that records what ancient Israelites believed and how these beliefs changed over time; it is the sediment of conscious theological work aimed at future generations of readers” (p. 257).

“Von Rad defines ‘testimony’ as the dynamic interplay between Israel’s memory and the expectation of a God who is revealed in the history of the chosen people” (p. 256).

“In its two operational modes – memory and expectation – testimony is that form in which, according to von Rad, all the different traditions of the OT find their common denominator” (p. 261).

Note especially the “conscious theological work aimed at future generations of readers.” Von Rad taught that the OT wasn’t just an amalgamation of some Yahwehistic evolutionary monotheism, but a consciously theological work written for future readers. Also notice the “two operational” modes of OT testimony – memory and expectation. That is, the OT is a written legal sort of testimony which gives us the narrative of Yahweh’s actions in history; but it also makes us expect more (Yahweh who will be). Retrospective and eschatological are two alternate terms that fit.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

1 thought on “Gerhard von Rad and OT Testimony”

  1. I have been working my way through his Old Testament Theology and From Genesis To Chronicles: Explorations In Old Testament Theology which are really quite enjoyable. I was surprised I must confess.

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