Old Testament Studies in the Higher Forms

Old Testament Studies in the Higher Forms

When I researched Mason’s model for New Testament studies in Forms III through VI, I was struck by the elegance, simplicity, and logic of the structure. That piqued my curiosity. Did Mason also have an elegant, simple, and logical structure for studying the Old Testament? I went back through the historical programmes one-by-one, this time focusing my eye on the books of the Bible that precede the Gospel of Matthew. And I was delighted by what I saw.

Mason explains her approach to Old Testament studies in Towards A Philosophy of Education. She first describes Forms III and IV as follows:

Forms III and IV (twelve to fifteen) read for themselves the whole of the Old Testament as produced by the Rev. H. Costley-White in his Old Testament History. Wise and necessary omissions in this work make it more possible to deal with Old Testament History, in the words of the Authorised Version, than if the Bible were used as a single volume. Then, “each period is illustrated by reference to contemporary literature (e.g., Prophets and Psalms and monuments).” Again, “Brief historical explanations and general commentary are inserted in their proper places.” (p. 163)

Rev. H. Costley-White was an Anglican theologian who became associated with Mason’s PNEU towards the end of her life. By 1920, he was a member of the PNEU Executive Committee. His Old Testament History, co-authored with J. M. Hardwich, is a five-volume set that surveys the entire Old Testament chronologically, using selections from the Authorized Version accompanied by commentary.

I reviewed the historical programmes in the archive and reconstructed the following Old Testament History rotation for Forms III-IV:

Term Pages
1 I:1-100
2 I:100-188
3 II:3-79
4 II:79-213
5 III:1-83
6 III:83-176
7 IV:3-79
8 IV:79-154
9 V:3-96
10 V:97-165
11 V:166-238

 

Every PNEU student followed the same programme. So at any given moment, all students in Forms III and IV were reading the same portion of Old Testament History. If a student happened to enter Form III when the programmes were on term 9 of the rotation, then he or she would begin her upper level study of the Old Testament with volume 5 of Old Testament History. It is clear that for Mason, the important thing is that the study is chronological. But she did not consider it essential that every student start at the beginning. They would eventually get to the beginning at some point in the rotation!

It is worth noting that while a student typically spent nine terms in Forms III and IV, the rotation has eleven terms. Mason could have squeezed in more readings to ensure that the five volumes would be covered in nine terms. But she chose not to. This indicates that Mason was more concerned about having an appropriate pace than about having complete coverage of the material. This is an important principle for us to keep in mind in our lesson planning today.

The programmes always precede the Old Testament History page ranges with the directive, “In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first.” This directive fits nicely with the structure of Costley-White’s volumes. In his text, a reading from the Bible is followed by exposition. Each Bible selection can be read and narrated in a single session. The accompanying commentary can be read and narrated as well.

When students moved on from Form IV, wherever they happened to be in the rotation, they joined a new rotation for Forms V and VI. Mason describes these studies as follows:

When pupils are of an age to be in Forms V and VI (from 15 to 18) we find that Dummelow’s One Volume Bible Commentary is of great service. It is designed to provide in convenient form,—“A brief explanation of the meaning of the Scriptures…”

The pupils read the general articles and the introductions to the separate Books; they read too the Prophets and the poetical books with the notes supplied. Thus they leave school with a fairly enlightened knowledge of the books of the Old Testament and of the aids modern scholarship has brought towards their interpretation; we hope also with increased reverence for and delight in the ways of God with men. (pp.164-165)

It is interesting to observe the record of the historical programmes and tease out the rotation that Mason had in view. Mason clearly followed a chronological sequence. For example:

  • Programme 116 has Amos and Hosea, and they prophesied back-to-back chronologically.
  • Programme 117 has Micah and Isaiah, who were contemporaries who followed Amos.
  • Programme 118 continues with Isaiah.
  • Programme 119 moves later in time to Haggai and Ezra, who were close in time to each other.
  • Programme 120 moves even later to Nehemiah and Malachi, who both followed Haggai and Ezra chronologically.

Based on this sequencing, I propose the following as a standard rotation which reflects the selections found in the archived programmes:

Term Scriptures
1 Job
2 Psalms 1-41, 1 Samuel
3 Psalms 42-89, 2 Samuel
4 Psalms 90-150, 1 Kings
5 Amos, Hosea
6 Micah, Isaiah 1-23
7 Isaiah 24-66
8 Ezekiel 1-24
9 Ezekiel 33-38
10 Ezra, Haggai
11 Nehemiah, Malachi

 

The students in the highest forms thus enjoy some of the very rich prophetic and poetic literature of the Old Testament. They are able to digest much of this fine feast because of the appetite and understanding which they have developed from many years of deep interaction with other portions of Scripture.

In contrast with New Testament studies for the upper forms, the Old Testament studies involved a single track. While the chief end in view is always the knowledge of God, it is edifying and inspiring to see how Mason arranged the studies for her students. God was not to be approached through philosophical abstractions divorced from the real world. Rather, God’s self-revelation was to be approached the same way it was delivered: in the space-time continuum. Hence Mason’s approach always reflects history, chronology, and geography.

Indeed, God’s ultimate self-revelation was when He became Man at a specific point in time and a specific location on earth. The incarnation becomes a key to understanding how all studies in Mason’s method can ultimately lead towards the knowledge of God. God does not ask us to somehow become immaterial to find Him. Rather, He became material to find us.

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