When I first came to the seminary in 1959, I fell heir to the Old Testament Studies which had long been the realm of our esteemed Rev. George M. Ophoff. Later, in 1965, when the original dogmatician of our seminary went to glory, some adjustments were made in the curriculum-division, with the result that the Dogmatics department also became my responsibility. About these two departments I am supposed to write a few words.
The Old Testament Studies in our curriculum are actually part of a much larger and very important department in our school, the department of Biblical-Exegetical Studies. To this department belong various subjects which may, be termed “tools,” first of all. These tools include, of course, a knowledge of the Hebrew language, so that the student-minister may be able to study the Old Testament in the original. These tools also; include Hermeneutics, a study of the principles and correct method of Biblical interpretation. This is Prof. Hanko’s realm, although our Old Testament Exegesis courses naturally involve instruction specifically in the principles and methods of interpreting the various kinds of Old Testament writings. In a way, to those tools also belong the courses in Old Testament Isagogics (or Introduction) and in Typology, both of which are currently the responsibility of Prof. Decker.
That leaves the courses in Old Testament History and the courses in Old Testament Exegesis to this writer.
There is a saying that goes, “The New is in the Old contained; the Old is in the New fulfilled.” The underlying principle in that saying is that the Scriptures are perfectly one, and that the Old Testament is as much the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the God of our salvation in Him as is the New Testament. If there was one thing that old Rev. Ophoff never tired of stressing, it was that fact. There is Gospel in the Old Testament! And the chief aim of all our Old Testament Studies is to teach our students to see this Gospel in the Old Testament and to teach them to discover it for themselves, so that they may be able capably and clearly to proclaim that Gospel to the congregation from the Old Testament as well as the New. Old Testament preaching has fallen upon evil times and has even gone out of style in many churches; perhaps it is even too much neglected in our own churches, possibly sometimes out of the fear that it is too difficult. This ought not to be. There are riches of knowledge and instruction in the Old Testament Scriptures, and Old Testament preaching can indeed be both valuable and extremely interesting.
Our Old Testament History courses, four! semesters in all, are, as the name suggests, designed to trace the revelation of the promise and the development of God’s covenant throughout the old dispensation, the era of types and shadows. These are mainly lecture courses, in which I am systematically developing the material of that history in consecutive lectures, lectures which are, then published by our seminary in syllabus form. While the student is expected to master all the facts and data of Old Testament History, each semester we deal intensively with only one segment of that history. At present, for example, I am lecturing on the Era of the Judges. At the same time, as we go along even in this subject I try to furnish the students practical hints and, suggestions as to how to preach on the material under discussion.
Our Old Testament Exegesis courses are three in number. One semester is devoted to interpreting historical material, one to interpreting poetical books, and one to interpretation of prophecy. Ideally, I suppose, these courses should include exegetical lectures also, but rarely does time permit this. These classes are mainly learning-by-doing courses. That is, the students are assigned passage of Scripture which they must exegete, always working, of course, from the original Hebrew. The rule is that the quality and thoroughness of their exegesis must be such that it could serve as the foundation of a sermon. The student-exegesis is then subjected to critique by fellow-students and professor. All of this has the aim of teaching the student to be expert in expounding the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Dogmatical Studies are entirely my department at school, with the exception of one course taught by Prof. Decker at present, Reformed Symbols. For the rest I rotate constantly through the seven courses of this department; and wherever we are in the series when a student begins seminary, at that point he begins studying Dogmatics. The courses; in addition to Introduction, which deals with the name, (definition, method, and principles of Dogmatics! are: the Doctrine of God, the Doctrine of Man, the Doctrine of Christ, the Doctrine of Salvation, the Doctrine of the Church, and the Doctrine of the Last Things. Our textbook, as you might expect, is Herman Hoeksema’sReformed Dogmatics. Hence, our students and your future ministers spend a whole semester on subjects which might be covered in three or four catechism lessons or a few Heidelberg Catechism sermons. They must be well-versed and thoroughly founded in the doctrines of the Reformed faith which they must teach and preach in the future. They are expected to have definitions and Scriptural proofs at their finger-tips. But our classes are not spent merely in reviewing and testing in the material of Reformed Dogmatics. I always, tell the students that anyone can study and master Reformed Dogmatics at home and without a professor. We want to probe the riches of the truth and learn to understand as much as possible of it. And we want to learn to think dogmatically. Hence, we go on from Reformed Dogmatics. We question, we investigate, we discuss, we argue—sometimes even heretically (as long as both professors and students are orthodox when they pass outside the classroom door)—all to then end of knowing and understanding and appreciating and growing in the riches of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.