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This Strange and Sacred Scripture

Wrestling with the Old Testament and Its Oddities

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A Top Ten Book for Parish Ministry in 2015, Academy of Parish Clergy

The Old Testament can seem strange and disturbing to contemporary readers. What should Christians make of Genesis 1-3, seemingly at odds with modern scientific accounts? Why does the Old Testament contain so much violence? How should Christians handle texts that give women a second-class status? Does the Old Testament contradict itself? Why are so many Psalms filled with anger and sorrow? What should we make of texts that portray God as filled with wrath?

Combining pastoral insight, biblical scholarship, and a healthy dose of humility, gifted teacher and communicator Matthew Schlimm explores perennial theological questions raised by the Old Testament. He provides strategies for reading and appropriating these sacred texts, showing how the Old Testament can shape the lives of Christians today and helping them appreciate the Old Testament as a friend in faith.

1. Is the Old Testament an Enemy, Stranger, or Friend to the Christian Faith?
2. Our Fleeting Moments in Paradise
3. Darkness over the Face of the Deep
4. The R-Rated Bible
5. Killing All That Breathes: Violence in the Old Testament
6. Male and Female God Created Them: Gender and the Old Testament
7. God Commands Us to Do What?! The Strange Laws of the Bible
8. Is the Law Engraved in Stone? The Dynamic Nature of God's Law
9. Truth Is Many Sided
10. Drowning in Tears and Raging at God
11. Great and Terrible Is the Wrath of the Lord
12. The Old Testament's Authority
Appendix: A Literal Translation of Genesis 2:4b-4:16


"Many of us have waited a long time for this book, a compelling engagement of the toughest questions about the Testament that both attracts and repels us. In plain language, without taking theological shortcuts, Schlimm shows why Christianity needs the Old Testament in order to address the complexities and real difficulties of life. His concrete guidance for how to read this strange literature and his suggestions for further study are invaluable."

Ellen Davis, Duke Divinity School

"Schlimm adroitly considers many of the thorny issues that puzzle modern people of faith; he is a gifted guide in showing readers that the Old Testament's alien qualities do not render it useless for Christian faith. To the contrary, he reveals how often the Bible's strangeness leads us into deeper understanding of God and of ourselves."

Jacqueline Lapsley, Princeton Theological Seminary

"The Old Testament has raised numerous questions for readers through the centuries. And it continues to do so! Matthew Schlimm explores many of these issues, especially those regarding creation, law, gender, images for God, and violence. With matters of biblical authority always in view, he works through these texts carefully and thoughtfully--and with clarity! With pastoral sensitivity, Schlimm provides an excellent case for understanding the Old Testament as our friend and not our enemy."

Terence Fretheim, Luther Seminary

"Seminary and university Old Testament professors: make sure you have your students read this text. Marcionites and semi-Marcionites: this text is the coup de grâce to your idea that the Old Testament is not only pre-Christian but even anti-Christian. To the reader puzzled by much of what you encounter in the Old Testament: immerse yourself deeply in this book, and you will find much food for thought from an author who has addressed intelligently and provocatively the questions that linger in your mind. Matthew Schlimm: well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Victor P. Hamilton, professor emeritus of Old Testament, Asbury University

"Some of my friends say strange things and hold strange views, but because they are my friends I can't just dismiss what they say. Having friends who think differently from me helps expand my thinking and rescue me from the limitations of my current perspective. I give my friends the benefit of the doubt when they say things that are outrageous. Matthew Schlimm invites us to do the same with the Old Testament, helps us to listen to many of its notoriously outrageous statements, and also shares with us worthwhile insights from other people who are friends with the Old Testament (and from yet other people who would not see themselves as its friends)."

John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

"At a time when many critique and marginalize the Old Testament, Schlimm argues that we need to appreciate it as a friend--a friend who is at once odd, insightful, complicated, controversial, and realistic. He is not willing to give up on the Old Testament or its God. This Strange and Sacred Scripture creatively engages the difficulties that trouble interpreters. While some may disagree with the author at points, this book's tone and presentation invite readers to join the conversation about and with this unique friend we call the Bible."

M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas), distinguished professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary

The Author

  1. Matthew Richard Schlimm

    Matthew Richard Schlimm

    Matthew Richard Schlimm (PhD, Duke University) is professor of Old Testament at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. He previously taught at Duke Divinity School and has held various ministry positions in United Methodist churches. He...

    Continue reading about Matthew Richard Schlimm


A Top Ten Book for Parish Ministry in 2015, Academy of Parish Clergy

"Schlimm should be commended for providing readers with an easy to understand yet learned approach to many of the perplexing issues within the Old Testament. . . . Within the church, these oddities and issues can elicit consternation, confusion, and despair for those reading the Old Testament. For this reason alone, Schlimm has provided readers with a valuable and important evangelical voice regarding difficulties related to reading/studying the Old Testament. . . . His treatment of the difficult issues will assist laity, clergy, and undergraduate students who struggle with many of the same questions."

Jeffrey G. Audirsch,

Word & World

"The Old Testament is deeply and sometimes distressingly strange to modern Christians (as it was also to many ancient readers). Schlimm does not explain away the bizarre or unsettling; rather, he shows how it is sometimes in the very peculiarities of scripture that we can find illumination. I have successfully used this book with first-semester seminary students. It is engagingly written and full of wisdom."

Jacqueline Lapsley,

Christian Century

"[Schlimm] makes a significant contribution to the area of study in two ways: (1) he offers new insights on a number of the problem areas; and (2) he builds his arguments on the idea of the OT as a friend in faith. . . . I am usually somewhat skeptical when I begin to read a book that addresses the challenges or difficulties of the OT, since quite often those addressing the topic end up demeaning the OT, that is, they display a perspective that at least casts suspicion on the idea that the OT is Scripture in the historic, traditional sense. However, the author quickly won me over. He stated his commitment in the beginning: 'to affirm the sacred status of the Old Testament, as the church has done for centuries,' while also acknowledging and struggling with its difficulties. And he sticks to that commitment throughout."

Walter E. Brown,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Schlimm's lucid, learned, compassionate writing in this volume comes alongside the world of alienated readers, clarifying their doubts about this ancient book, the Bible, drawing from both testaments to illustrate both his questions and his answers, and effectively employing his text boxes for sharper focus and concise expression."

Lael Caesar,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"The practice of 'wrestling with the Old Testament and its oddities' should be a mandatory discipline for seminarians and ministers--indeed, for every believer. Schlimm has written a helpful manual on how to undertake the challenge."

Mark E. Biddle,


"Schlimm the teacher is evident on every page. Charts, explanatory inserts, quotes from other authors, and helpful suggestions for further reading enhance the pedagogical value of this book. Intended for the college classroom or the reading of educated laity, this book clearly accomplishes the goal set for it."

Dianne Bergant, CSA,

The Bible Today

"[Schlimm] successfully takes on the task of trying to make sense of the Old Testament for modern readers, particularly for Christians who may not be so familiar with Old Testament scholarship. His approach is to discuss difficult and controversial issues in an interactive, readable, and even fun and lively style. . . . He demonstrates that the Old Testament is very important, and useful, to the Christian. I think college students and the younger generations will appreciate his candor, as well as enjoy his engaging style of writing. . . . The book is full of insights. It can be used as a discussion tool in a college or seminary classroom or in small groups in a church setting. I will definitely use This Strange and Sacred Scripture as a supplemental text in my Old Testament Introduction courses."

Terry W. Eddinger,

Review and Expositor

"Schlimm's writing is winsome and informed as he invites the reader into some of the most challenging conversations in biblical studies. A strength of This Strange and Sacred Scripture is its frequent use of quotation boxes to bring other voices into the conversation: from Mark S. Smith to C. S. Lewis, Phyllis Trible to Philip Yancey, and Aristotle to Abraham Heschel. . . . I recommend this accessible book to those with some biblical and theological grounding who can critically engage its material. This Strange and Sacred Scripture would be excellent as a classroom text to stimulate discussion, so long as the professor guides the students to avoid certain pitfalls."

Tyler J. Patty,

Calvin Theological Journal

"For generations, all the way back to Marcion, Christians have struggled with how to understand the Old Testament, particularly the odd passages that an honest person must reject. . . . The author of this fine volume seeks to correct this problem by approaching the Old Testament (and the entire Bible) as a friend with whom it is required to disagree and necessary to quarrel. . . . He does this with clarity, honesty, scholarship, and pastoral awareness that illuminates the text. . . . The writing style is engaging without being overwhelming. This book might easily be used with an adult class wrestling with the Bible. It will help Christian sustain the unity of the Biblical witness without demeaning Jews in the process. It certainly belongs in every church library."

Roy W. Howard,

Presbyterian Outlook

"Schlimm provides a helpful overview of many of the most difficult questions surrounding the Old Testament."

Jon Jordan,

Bible Study Magazine

"It is remarkable how much ground Schlimm covers. . . . Schlimm is an excellent writer and very engaging throughout. He constantly refuses simplistic answers when dealing with the OT that too often seems to characterize many Christian (and non-Christian) approaches or attitudes. Many Old Testament professors and pastors will appreciate this book and find it helpful and sharpening in this way."

Brandon Myers,

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