The Old Testament is divided into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Our Lord Himself makes use of this basic division in Luke 24:44. He explains to the Apostles that His suffering, death and resurrection are the fulfillment of “the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms,” which are from the writings.
The first problem in discussing “The prophets” in this quote, however, is to clarify which books/people of the Old Testament are being referred to. The tradition our Lord refers to when he calls so much of the Old Testament “the Prophets” distinguished between “the former prophets” and “the latter prophets” or, more simply, the first and the last prophets. When we hear “the prophets” we usually think of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest, but our Lord, and the Jewish tradition he refers to when he says “the prophets” includes “the first prophets.” So who are they?
THE FORMER PROPHETS
The former or first prophets are those books that in Catholic Bibles are often called historical books = Joshua through 2 Kings, also known as the Deuteronomistic history. The book of Deuteronomy concludes the Pentateuch and introduces the major theme of covenant faithfulness versus unfaithfulness and the consequences of each. These are the focus of this next large section of the Old Testament. It relates the history of how the Israelites first gained (through faithfulness to God), and then eventually lost (through unfaithfulness), the Promised Land.
There are three reasons why this section of Scripture is part of “the prophets.” The first is that the traditional author and editor of this section of Scripture was a prophet--Jeremiah. The second is that it relates the history of important people who were part of the prophetic tradition: Samuel, David, Nathan, Elijah and Elisha. Although not strictly prophetical works, this course will also cover the book of Ruth and 1 and 2 Chronicles, since Ruth prepares for the story of David and Chronicles records (from a later time period) much of the same history as is recorded in 1 and 2 Kings. The third reason is the one Our Lord refers to in Luke 24:44--the people and events of these books of Scripture were prophetic in that they pointed forward to their fulfillment in Him. Christ recapitulates all of Israelite history in Himself by doing perfectly what before was done imperfectly or badly.
There are two major challenges when learning this part of Scripture.
Aside from the difficulties already mentioned in the Pentateuch Course Description this section has its own unique challenges, which are the history and theology that it relates. The history can sometimes be complicated and the theology unclear because it is wrapped up in a historical cloth.
Many modern Bible studies want to “get behind” the Bible to the “real history” of these years, but in doing so, they reveal their inability to understand what this biblical history is really trying to accomplish—theology—to reveal God and His will for man. The author makes it plain that the history he records is not just for the sake of recording a history, but rather, for the sake of teaching about God and His ways with His People. He even tells readers who are interested in a merely political history to go and read a different book! (For example, see 1 Kings 15:31, 2 Kings 15:2, etc.)
The classical approach that this Bible study uses avoids the extremes of getting lost in the history and of forgetting the theology. Students spend an average of 5 lessons on each book in this section of Scripture and will therefore have adequate time to read and reflect on its meaning. Students memorize a structural outline of the books themselves and a timeline of the events they record, all with a view to understanding the theological message of this section of Scripture and its application to Christian living. There will be a special focus on David, his many trials, and his eventual rise to kingship because of his trust in God. Just as Abraham’s and Moses’ faithfulness to God are what hold the people of God together in the Torah, so David’s love and trust in God is the key to this section of Israel’s history. Understanding David’s life is also essential for the next course in this series—the Psalms.
Nathan Schmiedicke, Ph.D.
Dr. Nathan Schmiedicke is the director of the CLAA Biblical Studies program. Dr. Schmiedicke was born the fifth of eleven children and raised on a small family farm in Michigan. He attended Catholic school through eighth grade and was home-schooled through High school. After graduating with honors from Thomas Aquinas College (CA) he married his college sweetheart, and began graduate school at Marquette University (Milwaukee). He completed his PhD in Biblical Theology in 2007 and began teaching Theology, Scripture, and languages at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, PA and classics at nearby Villanova University. Dr. Schmiedicke is a Senior Fellow with the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Nathan and Wendy have five boys.