Brueggemann and Old Testament Theology

Thus it appears to me that in a practical way, speech leads reality in the Old Testament. Speech constitutes reality, and who God turns out to be in Israel depends on the utterance of the Israelites or, derivatively, the utterance of the text. We are so long practiced in hegemonic utterance that such a claim about speech being constitutive of reality is exceedingly difficult for us. I shall argue, nonetheless, that practically and concretely, the very character of God in the Old Testament depends on the courage and imagination of those who speak about God, and who in speaking make available to Israel (and belatedly to the church) not only God, but a specific God of a very odd and unprecedented kind. Brevard Childs writes, in his canonical approach, about “the reality of God” behind the text itself. It terms of Old Testament theology, however, one must ask, What reality? Where behind? It is clear that such an approach as that of Childs derives its judgments from somewhere else, from an essentialist tradition, claims about God not to be entertained in the Old Testament text itself. In doing Old Testament theology, one must be vigilant against importing claims from elsewhere. (Theology of the Old Testament, 65)

Later he will say:

It is the work of a serious theological interpreter of the Bible to pay close and careful attention to what is in the text, regardless of how it coheres with the theological habit of the church. This is particularly true of the churches of the Reformation that stand roughly in the tradition of sola scriptura. The truth of the matter, on any careful reading and without any tendentiousness, is that Old Testament theological articulation does not conform to established church faith, either in its official declaration or in its more popular propensities. There is much that is wild and untamed about the theological witness of the Old Testament that church theology does not face. (Theology of the Old Testament, 107)


Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.


2 thoughts on “Brueggemann and Old Testament Theology

  1. “In doing Old Testament theology, one must be vigilant against importing claims from elsewhere.”

    And yet if Brueggemann were asked to point to where in the Old Testament it says that, he would be completely unable to do so because it relies on claims about how to know and understand God from the Old Testament that cannot be taken from the Old Testament text itself. Oops. The reality is that there is a reality behind the text and without that reality, we have no way either of comprehending the text in front of it or of being able to tell what is really “in the text itself” from what is not. The very example of Brueggemann’s own argument witnesses to the fact that speech or utterance or word alone cannot constitute reality, because without a foundation in the reality behind those words or utterances, we can have no understanding of words themselves or of what does and doesn’t belong to them. This is not only a simple logical fact, but it is also the way language itself works.

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