Goldingay, John. A Reader’s Guide to the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2017. 186 pp. Pb; $18.00. Link to IVP
Having contributed the ICC commentary on Isaiah 40-55 and a massive three-part theology of the Old Testament, John Goldingay has more recently written several short, popular level books. In 2015 IVP published his Do We Need the New Testament? and Eerdmans has recently published Reading Jesus’s Bible. In his new A Reader’s Guide to The Bible, Goldingay synthesizes the varied content of the whole Bible under the headings of story, word, and response.
Goldingay has two chapters of introduction before discussing the three genres of the Bible. First he summarizes the events of both the Old and New Testaments in a short 16 page chapter. He begins with Abraham to Moses, Moses to David, then David to Exile. He includes a quick survey of the intertestamental period, and only briefly the history of the first century. Although this is a reader’s guide to the Bible, his summary chart on pages 19-20 ends with the rise of Greece and only identifies Old Testament books and characters. His second introductory chapter concerns the land of the Bible. Like his survey of the history of the Bible, Goldingay favors the geography of the Old Testament. To be fair, the geography does not change between the testaments, but there are many locations which only appear in the New Testament.
In the second section of the book Goldingay surveys the “story of God and His People.” This is an overview of what are normally considered to be the historical books of the Old Testament. He breaks the material into Genesis through Numbers (ch. 3) and Deuteronomy through Kings (ch. 4). This might strike some readers as odd since Deuteronomy is part of the Torah. But Goldingay recognizes the book of Deuteronomy casts a long shadow over the four major historical books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings), which are often referred to as the Deuteronomic History. He covers the post-exilic books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah into a frustratingly short six page chapter, followed by a four page chapter on the “short stories” of the Old Testament, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and Daniel. He then devotes a fifth chapter in this section to the story of Jesus and the church (the Gospels and Acts). For most Christian readers it might be a shock to see the history of the New Testament boiled down to only one-fifth the story of the Bible, but Goldingay is true to the content of the whole Bible, the story of Jesus in the Gospels and the church in Acts is only about 60 years (with almost half of that time the un-narrated events prior to the ministry of Jesus).
The third section of the book concerns God’s word to his people. Here Goldingay covers the Law in Exodus through Deuteronomy (ch. 8); the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi, ch. 9); the New Testament epistles (Romans through Jude, ch. 10); some of the wisdom literature (Proverbs and Song of Solomon, ch. 11) and “visions of the seers” (Daniel and Revelation, ch. 12). In these chapters Goldingay attempts to place those sections of the Bible which are not narrative back into the story of the Bible from section two of the book. As anyone who has taught a Bible Survey class knows, it is difficult for students to place the less-than-familiar prophets into the well-known stories of the Old Testament. These books make the most sense when they are in fact put into the proper historical context. For each book in these sections Goldingay offers a brief paragraph or two commenting on the contents of the book and connecting back to the larger story of the Bible. Larger books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel receive a few pages, the Minor Prophets are only given a short summary each. The letters of Timothy, Titus, Philemon and 2 John are all dispatched in an eleven line paragraph.
The third section of the book deals with Israel’s response to God in the Psalms and Lamentations (ch. 13) and other wisdom books (Ecclesiastes and Job, ch. 14). Like most brief surveys of the Psalms, Goldingay examines several psalm types, including the most common, lament. As Goldingay himself recognizes, it is “slightly arbitrary” to treat Job and Ecclesiastes in a different chapter than Proverbs. When I teach the Wisdom Literature I usually use these two books as examples of the wisdom life gone wrong. Along with several Psalms which lament the absence of God, Goldingay considers these two books as a kind of protest literature for people who have responded to Law and Wisdom yet still suffer unexpectedly in this life.
Conclusion. In his epilogue to A Reader’s Guide to the Bible, Goldingay offers a short response to Christians who question the need for the Old Testament. This is similar to his Do We Need the New Testament?, but obviously more brief. In fact, this epilogue encapsulates my two minor criticisms of the book. First, it is far too brief. Although I realize it is written for the layperson and it is only intended as a sampling of the contents of the Bible, I think a quest for brevity kept Goldingay from providing enough material to really satisfy. This book is a very light hors d’oeuvre to the feast that is the study of the Bible. Second, I think Goldingay spends too much time arguing for the importance of the Old Testament for the Christian reader. This is a point with which I wholeheartedly agree, but this book seems to emphasize that point far more than necessary.
Nevertheless, this book will make an excellent introduction to the Bible for a layperson looking to get the big picture of the story of the Bible as well as how the various other types of non-story fit into the that story.
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.