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Golden Gate Old Testament prof brings biblical characters to life

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Christians must believe that Old Testament people were real human beings just like us, said Gary Arbino, newly elected assistant professor of archaeology and Old Testament interpretation at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
After all, he himself has dug up some of their pots and pans and found that some of their houses were built crooked.
“Archaeology puts real people back into the Old Testament for me,” says Arbino, whom the board of trustees of the Mill Valley, Calif., campus elected to the faculty last spring after he served several years as guest professor. “So often we read the Old Testament as about good people and bad people of the past, and we put them on a pedestal. But now they’re three-dimensional to me, and that helps my teaching. It shows the students that they struggled with the same things.”
In his classes, Arbino reflects on his experiences excavating at Tel Miqne, Israel, site of the Philistine city of Ekron mentioned in the books of Samuel and Kings. He spent summers from 1990 to 1996 working there, serving his last year as an assistant field archaeologist for the project.
“Old Testament people are not cardboard characters,” he says. “People haven’t changed much in the past 5,000 years. And you can also see the context of biblical narratives and the places where they originated.”
And in his classes on archaeology, Old Testament, biblical Hebrew and theological research at Golden Gate, Arbino’s goal is to make biblical materials come alive.
“What I enjoy most about Dr. Arbino is his theatrical nature,” says Bruce Brashear, a first-year student. “As he teaches us, he performs. He begins every class with a dramatic reading from the text, which then evolves into a dramatic teaching of the text. He is very passionate and enthusiastic about the Old Testament and after sitting in class for three hours, I always leave wanting more.”
Originally from the Los Angeles area, Arbino grew up in a Roman Catholic family and became a Christian while he was a member of an interdenominational youth group. During high school and college at Humboldt State University, Arcata, Calif., he felt inspired to become a teacher. He held some odd jobs after college, including a stint as custodian of First Baptist Church, Arcata.
“There was a movement in the ’70s where pastors or budding pastors took a month off to be a church custodian,” he said. “I think it’s still a helpful thing for pastors to do because they see the church from the other side.”
While there, a former seminary professor who has since passed away tutored Arbino in Hebrew and counseled with him about going to seminary. After he took some ancient history and literature courses at a nearby community college, Arbino enrolled in Golden Gate in 1986. He received his master of divinity in 1989 and his doctor of philosophy in 1995.
“I entered seminary with a love for the Scriptures, but there I got a depth, breadth and understanding that I hadn’t seen before,” he said. “I’m still seeing how deep and complex and, at the same time, how simple the gospel is.”
His interest in archaeology stemmed from reading his pastor’s magazines in Arcata, and in 1991 he began serving as assistant curator and design director of the Marian Eakins Archaeological Collection in Golden Gate’s library. He held various positions in the campus library from 1990 to 1996 and began teaching as adjunct professor in 1992. He was promoted to guest professor in 1996 and says now being a full faculty member with his mentors is amazing to him.
“It’s an honor to have been allowed to rise through the ranks and teach here because, quite honestly, they know me. They put a stamp on me saying that I’ve done well enough and the seminary has done well enough that they’re willing to hire me.”
His colleague, Kon Yang, dean of students and assistant professor of Old Testament, said Arbino is his friend and mentor, a demanding professor and an asset to the seminary.
“Each year I hear a large number of beginning students coming to me after the first few weeks of Dr. Arbino’s class, mostly to complain how difficult a teacher he is as well as the high level of expectation he has for them,” Yang said. “Strangely and amazingly, by the end of the same semester, these complaints would change to the highest level of praise and appreciation as they begin to recognize that he doesn’t just throw the golden nuggets out of the Old Testament but he teaches them how to dig them out themselves.”
Second-year student Claire Edgemon, who has had five classes with him, said he has challenged her thinking.
“He makes you look at the other side and consider issues from a different angle because he has seen the places we’re studying,” she said. “The Bible is something he is definitely passionate about.”
A member of Petaluma Valley Baptist Church, Petaluma, Calif., he participates in an adult Bible study class and has sung in the choir. His wife, Maggie, works as a counselor at a Christian counseling center in Petaluma.

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