What the OT Says About Thinking

9 May 2024 by Wes Bredenhof

Such a Mind as This: A Biblical-Theological Study of Thinking in the Old Testament, Richard L. Smith.  Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2021.  Softcover, 418 pages.

If words such as ‘epistemology’ and ‘ontology’ excite, rather than intimidate you, this book is for you.  In other words, readers will need to have a bit of a philosophical bent to appreciate this study of thinking in the Old Testament.  Personally, I really enjoyed the author’s depth of insight into God’s Word.

Richard Smith has his Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Westminster, of course, was the place where Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) taught for many years, and an institution that continues his legacy of presuppositional apologetics.  Hence it’s no surprise that Van Til’s name appears in the acknowledgements, one of his famous diagrams on the front cover, and his perspective within the covers.

Van Til was often criticized for not providing enough exegetical foundation for his views.  Over the years, many of his acolytes have remedied this.  However, this book is a deeper dive specifically into the biblical foundations of Reformed epistemology.  It complements and enhances everything expressed by Van Til and those who’ve followed in his steps. 

The author tells us that “This book was written for Christians who want to develop their minds in a distinctly Christian fashion and grow in discernment” (p.xxi).  Further, he writes, “By comprehensively examining Old Testament teaching concerning the mind, this book promotes a spirituality that puts thinking in its proper place” (p.xxiii).  Such a Mind as This encourages thinking that acknowledges God in every way and in every circumstance.       

It does this by organizing what the Old Testament says about thinking in terms of four categories or orientations.  Edenic epistemology has to do with mindset of Adam and Eve before the fall.  Exilic epistemology captures the thinking of Adam and Eve and their posterity after the fall into sin and their exile from Eden.  Punitive epistemology is the label Smith gives to “divinely imposed obduracy” (p.168).  Last of all, redemptive epistemology describes the mindset of the regenerated Christian, a mindset that God graciously provides and one of which he approves. 

Different passages and books of the Bible are exposited under the heading of those four categories.  For example, Smith reads Job “through the prism of redemptive epistemology” (p.290).  Ecclesiastes, on the other hand, is representative of exilic epistemology.   He concludes about that book, “…Qohelet demonstrates the profound complexity of unbelieving thought, as well as its necessarily contradictory nature” (p.118).

This book isn’t for everybody.  But if you’re interested in apologetics or a Christian perspective on philosophy, I think you’ll enjoy it.  It’s well-organized and while the writing is often technical, it’s still artful – his style reminds me of John Murray.  There were a few typos and I do question whether Adam might have seen a female gorilla carrying a young one in the Garden of Eden (p.26).  Notwithstanding, this book will be my go-to resource for what the OT teaches about the mind.  It’s a unique, stimulating, and helpful work.