Grove City College professor Dr. George Van Pelt Campbell’s new book is intended to make the oldest scripture relevant for today’s readers, teachers and preachers.
Campbell, who serves as assistant chair of the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies, wrote “Invitation to the Torah: A Guide to Reading, Teaching, and Preaching the Pentateuch” primarily for college students and laymen who seek a better grasp of the Bible through a deeper understanding of its foundational texts.
The first five books of the Christian bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus Numbers and Deuteronomy – were originally one book, the Torah, which is the Hebrew word for instruction. Early Christians, who spoke and wrote in Greek, adopted the Jewish Scriptures translated into Greek which had divided the Torah into five books, calling it by the Greek name, “Pentateuch,” which roughly means “five scrolls.”
“My fondest hope is that it will made a forbidding part of scripture seem inviting to read by providing an overview and explaining it in terms that seem relevant to us. If people can see that Numbers is not about math or lists, but about choosing to remain faithful to our Lord over the long haul, I think I will help people to consider reading, or teaching – or even preaching – it,” Campbell said.
“The primary argument of the book is that the Torah is the core of the Bible where all the major Biblical themes begin, and that the rest of Scripture is commentary on and elaboration of the Torah, particularly how the Messiah theme develops and is fulfilled in Jesus,” he said.
The book debunks the popular conception of the Torah as “law” in favor of seeing it as a story about how Israel formed a relationship with God and what it took for that relationship to grow. “I argue that it is much like courting, marrying, and living happily ever after. The major lessons apply to believers of all time. There are laws in the Torah, but the larger framework is a grand story in five parts, sort of like Star Wars is a grand story in nine parts,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he aims to convince readers of this idea and provide the motivation and tools they need to read it. These include an overview of the Torah’s argument and how each book reinforces it and suggestions for further reading to aid those leading Bible studies or preaching on the Torah.
The two major characters in this story are Abraham and Moses. Campbell said Abraham’s obedience to God is rooted in faith and Moses in the law. Abraham dies in the Lord’s favor while Moses meets his end in the wilderness, never stepping foot in the Promised Land.
“The lesson is that Abraham fared far better in obedience, even without ever knowing the Mosaic Law, because he lived by faith, whereas Moses, who lived by the law, could not bear up under the law he gave and taught. Obedience is best nurtured when we focus on living by faith,” Campbell said.
“Invitation to the Torah: A Guide to Reading, Teaching, and Preaching the Pentateuch” is in some ways a family affair. Campbell’s son Derek Van Pelt Campbell ’04, a graduate of Grove City College and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who pastors a church in Plum, Pa., contributed a chapter on Deuteronomy, and daughter Joanna Campbell-Totin ’07, who earned a degree in English from Grove City College, served as editor.
Campbell credits Grove City College as playing a “very large part” in producing the book. As well as the support of academic colleagues and the work of his student assistant Charlotte Ebert ’21, Campbell was granted a sabbatical from his teaching duties to complete research and writing.