[K:NWTS 2/3 (Dec 1987) 42-46]
These two tools are designed to accomplish the same end–keep the pastor, student, scholar (even the interested layman) abreast of the state of current investigation into the meaning of the Old and New Testament. What busy pastor has not wished for an easy way of reviewing the current discussion of a biblical passage, including exposure to the most recent commentaries on a particular book of the Bible? And who has not experienced the sense of bewilderment in hearing about new trends in biblical studies? To be sure, many of these new directions are radically unorthodox and hostile to genuinely supernatural Christianity. Still, even these deviant forms of scholarship may prod us to think more biblically. On the other hand, several new directions in contemporary biblical studies hold some promise for those of us with a more orthodox and unified approach to Scripture as God-breathed revelation. For example, what is narrative theology and what insights does it offer–even to us who are committed to inerrancy? Or what about the recent explosion of literary approaches to the Word of God? These approaches are breaking the stranglehold of outmoded higher critical approaches to Scripture. How may we benefit from the insights of this approach? Several of these new methods are a reaction to the sterility of critical biblical scholarship and (I might add) the moribund character of much modern preaching. In truth, there are glimmers of a desire to breathe freshness and vitality into the preaching event. We must not venture into these areas of investigation uncritically or unguardedly. But we need not fear to enter these areas and boldly interact with new approaches.
Yet how do we keep up with what's new? How do we stay abreast of the current trends in biblical scholarship? How do we orient ourselves to what is happening in contemporary Old and New Testament biblical investigation? Old Testament Abstracts (OTA) and New Testament Abstracts (NTA) are two journals (periodicals) which provide brief summaries of new material in the field of biblical studies.
Two sources of material are covered by both: (1) new articles in magazines and journals; (2) new books in the field of Old and New Testament respectively. Each article or book is summarized in a brief abstract (usually about a paragraph in length). The abstract gives the salient points of the article or book in a generally objective fashion. Articles and books from conservative and liberal persuasions alike are abstracted. In the case of journal articles, full publication data is included: title of the article, author, journal in which it appeared, volume number, year and inclusive pages. OTA and NTA abstract articles from more than 300 biblical journals from around the world.
All abstracts are written in English even if the original language of the article is not English. Sufficient description of the contents of each item is provided so that if the reader wishes to pursue the article in full, he may do so. On the other hand, the abstract can save the reader time by summarizing the contents of the item sufficiently so that he knows he does not wish to pursue the item in its entirety.
Both OTA and NTA are published three times per year. Both are organized in the same general fashion: articles in journals are abstracted first, then new books. Within the categories of sources (periodicals and books), the following plan is observed for OTA: general matters of Old Testament Introduction; archeology; history and geography; Old Testament books in canonical order; biblical theology; intertestamental era and apocrypha. For NTA, the following plan is observed: New Testament books in canonical order; biblical theology; New Testament world including history, archeology, philology, etc.
The most useful feature of both OTA and NTA is the annual cumulative index in the third issue of each volume-year. These handy compilations include: author index; index of biblical words (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) and related Near Eastern languages; index of Scripture passages; index of Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Targums. For example, suppose you are preaching on God's covenant with David (II Samuel 7) and you would like to know what has been written recently on that passage. Using the third issue of OTA and searching the Scripture index at the rear under II Samuel 7, you will find a list of abstracts for all articles in a given year on that text. Turning then to the abstracts, you will read a brief description of the content of each article on II Samuel 7. In the same manner, suppose you were preaching a series on the letter to Philemon and you were interested in current discussion of that epistle. Using the third issue of NTA, you could locate abstracts for articles on Philemon and examine each in order to learn whether you wish to pursue the entire article.
Since each issue of OTA and NTA is organized according to the canonical order of the books of the Bible, it is not necessary to wait for the cumulative index in the third issue each year. As each issue comes, it is a simple matter to find the appropriate section and skim the entries to learn whether or not your text has been touched on recently.
However, you may by now be anticipating a hurdle beyond the abstract itself. If you find an abstract of an article or book and wish to read the entire article or book, how do you locate the item in question? OTA and NTA provide full publication data for all materials indexed. In the case of books, the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) will be included with date and place of publication. Your local book store will be able to obtain the title for you with this data. If you are near a seminary library or college or university with a religious studies department, you may locate the book in their catalogue. Still, the easiest way to examine the book, short of purchasing it, will be an interlibrary loan request from your local library to a library which holds the book you want. A few minutes with the reference librarian of your local library will enable you to understand how interlibrary loan services can secure virtually any title you wish. There may be a nominal charge for this service, but it will be cheaper than purchasing the book yourself.
Articles in journals may be obtained in the same manner, i.e. through interlibrary loan. In this case, you may be charged the costs of photocopying the article. Increasingly, many libraries have computer searching services for locating books and periodicals not held in their collections. These services are available to the public and thus, if an item exists in print and has been catalogued, it may be located and made available to you. If you have specific questions about interlibrary loan services, I would be happy to answer them. Please write to J.T. Dennison, c/o Westminster Theological Seminary in California, P. O. Box 2215, Escondido, CA 92025.
OTA and NTA are two tools which will further the work of biblical theology in preaching. Even if you only wish to stay abreast of new commentaries on the books of the Bible, these tools are ideal means to that end.