Telling the Old Testament Story

God's Mission and God's People

By Brad E. Kelle Published
Paperback image ISBN: 9781426793042 $34.99 Buy
eBook image ISBN: 9781426793059 $34.99 Buy
The Old Testament is the story of God’s mission to restore creation and form God’s people as an instrument to participate in that mission.

While honoring the historical context and literary diversity of the Old Testament, Telling the Old Testament Story is a thematic reading that construes the OT as a complex but coherent narrative. Unlike standard, introductory textbooks that only cover basic background and interpretive issues for each Old Testament book, this introduction combines a thematic approach with careful exegetical attention to representative biblical texts, ultimately telling the macro-level story, while drawing out the multiple nuances present within different texts and traditions.

The book works from the Protestant canonical arrangement of the Old Testament, which understands the story of the Old Testament as the story of God and God’s relationship with all creation in love and redemption—a story that joins the New Testament to the Old. Within this broader story, the Old Testament presents the specific story of God and God’s relationship with Israel as the people called, created, and formed to be God’s covenant partner and instrument within creation.

The Old Testament begins by introducing God’s mission in Genesis. The story opens with the portrait of God’s good, intended creation of right-relationships (Gen 1—2) and the subsequent distortion of that good creation as a result of humanity’s rebellion (Gen 3—11). Genesis 12 and following introduce God’s commitment to restore creation back to the right-relationships and divine intentions with which it began. Coming out of God’s new covenant engagement with creation in Gen 9, this divine purpose begins with the calling of a people (who turn out to be the manifold descendants of Abraham and Sarah) to be God’s instrument of blessing for all creation and thus to reverse the curse brought on by sin. The diverse traditions that comprise the remainder of the Pentateuch then combine to portray the creation and formation of Israel as a people prepared to be God’s instrument of restoration and blessing. As the subsequent Old Testament books portray Israel’s life in the land and journey into and out of exile, the reader encounters complex perspectives on Israel’s attempts to understand who God is, who they are as God’s people, and how, therefore, they ought to live out their identity as God’s people within God’s mission in the world. The final prophetic books that conclude the Protestant Old Testament ultimately give the story of God’s mission and people an open-ended quality, suggesting that God’s mission for God’s people continues and leading Christian readers to consider the New Testament’s story of the Church as an extension and expansion of the broader story of God introduced in the Old Testament.

The main methodological perspective that informs the book includes work on the phenomenological function of narrative (especially story’s function to shape the identity and practice of the reader), as well as more recent so-called “missional” approaches to reading Christian scripture. Canonical criticism provides the primary means for relating the distinctive voices within the Old Testament texts that still honor the particularity and diversity of the discrete compositions.

Accessibly written, this book invites readers to enter imaginatively into the biblical story and find the Old Testament's lively and enduring implications.


“Brad Kelle’s book presents a sweeping narrative about God’s mission to the world. For Kelle, God’s mission means the restoration of creation to right relationship. Under this spacious canopy, he invites readers to reimagine their identity as contemporary participants in that ancient narrative. A fine writer, Kelle manages historical and literary complexity with skill and grace.”

Kathleen M. O’Connor, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emerita of Old Testament,

Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

“In Telling the Old Testament Story, Brad Kelle—a wonderful writer and excellent scholar—offers a sequential, ‘narrative rendering’ of the Old Testament as the story of God’s mission to set the world aright. Kelle is also a gifted teacher, and this quality, too, is on display throughout the volume as he deftly incorporates even nonnarrative portions of the Old Testament, not to mention a foray into the New Testament, into his larger ‘telling.’ The result is an extremely useful book, ideally suited for the classroom—but one that will be of benefit to any and all who are interested in the Missio Dei and in engaging (not simply reading) ‘the greatest story ever told.’”

Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

“Kelle describes his book as designed for ‘introductory-level, nonspecialist students.’ Well, what lucky students to have Kelle’s buoyant, accessible articulation as a first introduction. Kelle makes full use of a narrative mode in the text itself and in his exposition in order to avoid both the explanatory efforts of Enlightenment rationality and any over-certain packages of orthodoxy. The result is a very fine textbook that will invite both faith and a missional sensibility.”

Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament,

Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

About the Author

Brad E. Kelle

Brad E. Kelle is  Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, School of Theology and Christian Ministry, Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California.  He has served as the chair of the SBL’s Warfare in Ancient Israel Consultation  at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. He is also the past president and current member at large (executive board) of the Society of Biblical Literature Pacific Coast Region. He is the Old Testament editor for Currents in Biblical Research and has written or edited a variety of works on the Old Testament and ancient Israel.