Goldingay, John. Do We Need the New Testament? Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 184 pp. Pb; $22.00. Link to IVP
NB: This is the second part of my review of Do We Need the New Testament?, the first part appears here. Although the book does not divide itself into two parts, chapters 5-9 cover topics which are in some ways controversial in scholarship.
In chapter 5 Goldingay deals with one of the more difficult books of the New Testament with respect to understanding the First Testament. This provocatively titled chapter (“How People Have Mis(?)read Hebrews) attempts to correct the common Christians misconception that the First Testament presents sacrifices as the “way Israelites got right with God” (91). There is little in the First Testament to link sacrifice and forgiveness of sin: sacrifices were a religious practice common in the ancient world. But Hebrews is often used to create a typology, or foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. Christian theology is used to look back on the sacrifices and interpret them through the lens of Jesus. This is problematic when applied to the stories of the First Testament, especially when preaching Hebrews 11. The individuals in the chapter, Goldingay argues, were not designed to be examples of faith for people to follow today (95). Although Hebrews says Enoch pleased God, Genesis does not. The First Testament never says, “Be holy like Abraham,” but God often commands his people “be holy like me” (Lev 19:1). Goldingay warns against using Hebrews as a hermeneutical guide: “the hermeneutical guidance that the New Testament offers us is that we should not be looking to it for hermeneutical guidance” (97).
In a frustratingly short chapter Goldingay describes the “Costly Loss of First Testament Spirituality” (chapter 6). His focus here is on the Psalms as a response to God. He argues here the Psalms could correct “the emaciated nature of what counts as worship” in our culture. The problem for Goldingay is culture has shifted the focus of worship to how we feel and away from the biblical focus on God. “We have devised a religion ti enable us to give expression to our individual sad selves and we hope it will make us feel better, but it does not really do so” (107). Using the sacrifices as an example, worship for an Israelite was costly; modern worship costs us nothing and we usually leave with just that! This chapter on biblical worship is significant enough to merit a book-length treatment, especially given Goldingay’s expertise in the Psalms.
Chapter 7 (“Memory and Israel’s Faith, Hope, and Life”) is an essay on a trendy topic in scholarship, memory studies. His interest in the chapter is to contrast “history” in the modern sense of the word from “memory,” especially collective memory as it relates to faith in the First Testament. Goldingay points out the frequency of the command to remember in Deuteronomy and shows the command to remember is different from “hard facts.” If you want the facts, go to the annals of the Kings, memories are both less and more than history because they interpret the facts. This interpretation involves forgetting some things as well as remembering competing facts. Israel was happy to affirm conflicting memories, Goldingay says, “because the all contained truth” (125). Some evangelicals will balk at this, especially when he says “much of the account of in Chronicles of David is imaginary,” but that does not make it untrue as an interpretation of the past, especially since the interpretation intends to remind people of how what happened shapes them now. He draws parallels to several recent American films and points out how these films are based on fact, but are intended to tell Americans something about themselves. So too the First Testament remembers truth and presents it in a way to shape both current and future communities of believers.
In chapter 8 Goldingay discusses how Jesus reads the Torah, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Occasionally Christians think Jesus taught love of neighbors in contrast to the First Testament. But this is not the case, Jesus often “is bringing out the meaning of the Torah and the Prophets” (141). It is not as though the First Testament says “hate your enemies” and Jesus reverses this to “love your enemies.” But Matt 5:43-44 implies someone was teaching “you’re your enemies” and there is a great deal of destruction of enemies in the First Testament. For Goldingay, Jesus invites his followers to use love of God and neighbor as a filter for all commands: how can a particular command be fulfilled by loving God or loving a neighbor? There are other problems, however, in reading the First Testament in the present age. Goldingay therefore briefly discusses divorce (it is not ideal) and slavery (it is reformed).
In his final chapter, Goldingay treats another trendy topic in recent biblical scholarship, Theological Interpretation. Goldingay is not against much of what passes for theological interpretation of Scripture, and he is perplexed anyone should have to argue for in the first place. But he is concerned at reading the First Testament only through the lens of theology of the New Testament. By “theological interpretation of Scripture” Goldingay means confessional or canonical readings of the Bible which focus on the larger narrative of the whole Bible (perhaps in response to the atomizing historical-critical method).
Like most of the titles in the book the chapter is provocative. First, he says “Don’t Be Christ-Centered.” As Goldingay observes, any book on theological interpretation begins with the principle of Christocentric theology (citing Francis Watson and Robert Wall as examples). This is not correct, says Goldingay, theology ought to be Theocentric. “Jesus did not reveal something new about God” (163) and Scripture comes to us “with Jesus” not “from Jesus.” Goldingay therefore rejects a “filtered First Testament” that sorts out all of the Christocentric theology and ignores the rest. It is not the case, for example, “that what was hidden in the Old was revealed in the New” (164).
Secondly in this chapter, Goldingay encourages theology, but warns the interpreter to “not be Trinitarian.” This focus on Trinitarian theology is common in theological interpretation handbooks and is really a result of a Christocentric hermeneutic. This is more than simply hearing “trinity” every time the Spirit of God is mentioned. God’s fatherhood in the First Testament are not to be taken as “first person of the Trinity.” What Goldingay is arguing for in this chapter is to let theology come out of the First Testament naturally, without imposing New Testament ideas on to a text where they are not present.
Goldingay’s third warning is to not be constrained by the “Rule of Faith.” This is another foundational element of theological interpretation and was developed from way some of the church fathers read Scripture. Citing Joel Green, Goldingay describes this Rule of Faith method as a dialogue between Scripture and theological discourse. There is a “mutual influence” as theologians read Scripture. But as Goldingay points out, the First Testament was not receive as Scripture because it was coherent with the theology of the New Testament. In fact, as this book demonstrates, there are many times the New Testament has to work very hard to make sense of the First Testament! While the Rule of Faith “provides a horizon from within which we may come to understand the Scriptures,” it should not determine what is “allowed to be there” (173). Goldingay points out the people who employ this method are often “systematic theologians who want to be more biblical” and resist the method are “biblical scholars who want to be theological” (174).
Conclusion. Since most of the book began as papers, it reads like a collection of essays. The topics are representative of the problem proposed by the title rather than a systematic treatment of the topic. Individual chapters stand alone and there is no overall argument being advanced other than to consistently show the importance of the First Testament for a proper reading of the New Testament and development Christian Theology. I find most of this book a refreshing correction to popular Christian preaching and his critique of theological interpretation is on the mark in my view. But I consider myself a biblical scholar who champions the historical-critical method as opposed to a Christocentric Rule of Faith.
Although Goldingay does refer to Paul and his letters throughout the book, there is no chapter dedicated to Paul’s reading of the First Testament. This seems a critical omission since Paul extensively uses the First Testament in his letters. He also has the most to say about the application of the Torah in the present age. Certainly Goldingay recognizes Paul’s contribution to the “Grand Narrative,” but there is less in this volume than expected on Paul’s use (or abuse) of the Old Testament.
These criticisms do not detract from the overall usefulness of the book. Goldingay challenges Christians to read the First Testament and fully integrate into their theology and practice.
NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.