Book Review: John Goldingay, Genesis (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament)

Goldingay, John. Genesis. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 808 pp. Hb. $59.99.   Link to Baker Academic

The goal of the first volume of the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch is to be critically engaged and theologically sensitive. Although less important for a commentary on Genesis, this series on the Pentateuch will consider advances on how the legal corpora relates to narrative. John Goldingay is a prolific writer well known for his WBC Commentary on Daniel and this ICC Commentaries n Isaiah 40-55 (with David Payne) and Isaiah 56-66.  He has previously contributed a three-volume commentary in this series on the Psalms for this series published by Baker Academic and his Hosea-Micah volume is due in January 2021. In addition to a popular commentary on each First Testament book (to use his preferred title for the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible) and his own translation of the First Testament, Goldingay also wrote a massive three-volume Old Testament Theology (IVP Academic, 2003-2009).

Goldingay, Commentary on GenesisGoldingay outlines his method for writing this commentary in the introduction. Commentaries in this series begin with a fresh translation of the Hebrew text. Goldingay uses his own The First Testament (IVP Academic, 2018). He then wrote the commentary with “what I had in my head and my imagination” using only the latest Hebrew text (BHQ). The initial commentary used no secondary resources at all. He then read commentaries in several categories: early Jewish interpretation (LXX, Jubilees, the Targums) and interpretation early Christian interpretation (Theodotion, the Vulgate, Jerome, Origen, and Augustine). He then turned to medieval Jewish interpreters such as the Genesis Rabbah, Rashi and Qimchi, and Reformation Christian interpreters (Calvin, Luther, and Willet), nineteenth-century interpreters such as Keil and Delitzsch, Skinner, twentieth-century interpreters such as Von Rad, Westermann, Wenham, and finally twenty-first-century interpretation, including African and Asian American commentators. After this reading, he modified and expanded his draft with the help of his wife Kathleen. He does not indicate where his views agree or disagree with the majority or with recent scholarship. The result is a readable commentary that does not get bogged down with minute details of the text yet reflects both the best Jewish and Christian scholarship.

The introduction to the book is quite short, only twelve pages. This might disappoint some readers, since Goldingay almost completely ignores critical questions about the origin of Genesis. He suggests the canonical form of Genesis dates to after the fall of Judah to Babylon in 587 B.C. although it certainly makes use of earlier tradition. “It is implausible to think of Genesis being created from scratch in the Babylonian” (8). In the body of the commentary usually does not refer to the latest critical views on the origin of Genesis, “not least because they will not be the latest critical conclusions by the time you read this commentary” (9). Nevertheless, occasionally he says things like “according to traditional source criticism…” (364) in the body of the commentary.

Like most outlines of Genesis, Goldingay divides the book into four parts based on the book’s use of genealogies (tolodoth): Genesis 1:1-11:26 (The lines of descent of the heavens and the earth); 11:27-25:11 (Terah’s line of descent, focusing on Abraham); 25:12-35:29 (Isaac’s line of descent, focusing on Jacob); 36:1-50:26 (Jacob’s line of descent, focusing on Joseph).

The bulk of the introduction deals with defining what he means by story, and how story relates to history. Goldingay suggests “the Holy Spirit inspired an author or authors to use their imagination to tell their factually based story” (5). The trouble is determining what is based on facts and what is based on the imagination of the author. Goldingay doesn’t seem to care: he believes the text of Genesis is what the Holy Spirit and the human author wanted us to study. Questions of historicity are therefore not of interest in the commentary. He has a similar view on the date of composition for the book of Genesis. “One cannot base and understanding of Genesis on knowing the date of its stories or on seeing it as an expression of the ideology of a particular group or period in Israel’s history” (9).

Each section of the commentary begins with an overview of the new chapter/unit in Genesis. Some units are brief. Goldingay’s chapter on Genesis 21:22-34 is a mere five pages. Others cover entire chapters, such as the section on Genesis 24 (sixty-seven verses in twenty-eight pages). Goldingay’s translation follows with footnotes for lexical and textual issues (alternate readings found in the LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch, Targumim, etc.) These notes occasionally deal with technical matters of Hebrew syntax. The interpretation by subunits. Occasionally he does a few verses at the time. When referring to the original text, Hebrew appears in transliteration, but this is not a detailed commentary on the Hebrew text of Genesis. Goldingay uses his footnotes to point readers to other interpretive voices. Often these are other Genesis commentaries, but it is not unusual to see references to Church Fathers, Jewish sources, Reformation commentators, or even Karl Barth.

In many sections, Goldingay concludes with a brief section entitled “Implications” where he treats historical or theological ramifications of the section, reception history or other canonical connections. For example, this section compares the Flood narrative in Genesis 6:9-8:22 with other ancient flood myths. He comments on the theological implications of God seeing and opening wombs in Genesis 29:31-30:24. On the Sarah and Hagar story (Genesis 16), Goldingay’s comments drawn on postcolonial studies which point out Hagar is an African woman. Surprisingly, he does not deal with Paul’s reception of this story in Galatians 4, but rather how Hagar’s story overlaps with Philemon and the return of the slave.

The book concludes with a forty-page bibliography and forty-four pages of indices (subject, author, and Scripture and other ancient writings).

Conclusion: In his introduction to the commentary series, Bill Arnold described this commentary series as a reliable resource for the church dealing with themes rooted in the Pentateuch. This commentary achieves that goal. Goldingay is an excellent writer, and the commentary is entertaining to read. For example, at the end of the section dealing with Jacob wrestling the angel in Genesis 32, he adds a footnote “or rather a thigh-note” on the use of this story to prohibit eating the sciatic nerve even though this is not found in the Torah (516). This commentary is a serious contribution to the study of the first book of the Bible and will be valuable for both students and pastors working on Genesis.

 

NB: Thanks to Baker Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Craig D. Allert, Early Christian Readings of Genesis One

Allert, Craig D. Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation. BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 338 pp. Pb. $36.99   Link to IVP Academic  

Craig Allert is a professor of religious studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia and an expert on early Christianity and the development of Christian doctrine. His 2002 monograph Revelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 64; Leiden: E.J. Brill) discussed how the second century writer Justin understood Scripture.

Craig Allert book on Genesis One, Church FathersThis new book is the fourth in the BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity series published by IVP Academic. Allert addresses the use and abuse of early church writers to support certain views of Genesis 1. The main purpose of the book is to correct common misconceptions about what the church fathers meant by literal interpretation and “creation out of nothing.” Throughout the book Allert draws on material produced by Answers in Genesis (AiG), Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and Creation Ministries International (CMI). Some of this material appears in popular formats, including blog posts. These organizations generally reject any higher critical approaches to exegesis and “appropriate the church fathers as advocates of a nascent creation science position” (107).

After a preliminary chapter outlining what he means by the church fathers, Allert offers several examples of “how not to read the fathers.” He provides several examples of popular writers on the issue of creation who claim the church fathers read Genesis one as referring to literal days, usually alongside the claim the Church considered the days in Genesis 1 to be literal, 24-hour days until the Enlightenment, Darwinism, and theological liberalism. For Allert, there are several problems with the use of the fathers by most Creationists. First, they proof-text and overgeneralize. For example, Creationists cite Basil as an example of young-earth creationism in the church fathers, then assume he represents the whole of the “church fathers” (without citing any other examples). Second, among conservative Christianity, there is a general lack of knowledge about the church fathers so it is almost impossible to quote them with any helpful context. As a result, writers who claim Basil was a literal six-day creationist are pulling proof-texts out of context and not taking into consideration everything else Basil said about reading Genesis 1.

In the third chapter of the book Allert discusses what the “literal interpretation” meant in Patristic exegesis. There is a popular misconception that a Patristic writer was either literal or allegorical (or spiritual) in their exegesis of Scripture. But as Allert demonstrates, the situation is more complicated than this strict dichotomy. Patristic writers often took notice of the plain meaning of a text, but then went on to create spiritual readings in order to challenge their listeners.

The main test case Allert uses in the book is Basil of Caesarea (329-379), specifically his book Hexameron (“six days”). Written around 370, the book is a series of sermons delivered during Lent on Genesis 1. The ninth sermon in the book is often cited by creationists as proof Basil interpreted the days of Genesis 1 as six literal days. But as Allert argues in this book, Basil is not attacking allegorical readings of Scripture, but “excessive allegorization” by the Manicheans (197). On closer examination, Basil uses the same method of reading Scripture as Origen (a church father usually vilified for his allegorical method!)

In the following two chapters of the book Allert examines two doctrines often cited as foundational by creationists; creation out of nothing (creation ex nihilo) and the literal day in Genesis 1. Creation out of nothing has been challenged as a theology not drawn from the Old Testament but rather constructed to respond to the eternal universe in Greek philosophy. For the literalness of the six days, Allert examines several oft-quoted church fathers and finds some support for reading the days as literal, 24-hour days. But there is nothing in Basil (for example) which indicates he thought Genesis 1 was giving a scientific (literal) description of creation (246).

Throughout the book Allert deals with the nature of creation and time. As the church accepted creation out of nothing as doctrine, Christian theologians and philosophers began to ask what God was doing before he created the universe. A possible answer to this question is my favorite line in this book: “he was getting hell ready for people who inquisitively peer into deep matters” (269). Allert examines Augustine’s view of time and eternity more closely in chapter seven. Most Christians have a sense “God is outside of time,” although likely drawn from C. S. Lewis rather than Augustine. Augustine argued God is eternal and created the world “with time” (273), and the days of creation are no more literal than God’s “rest” on the seventh day. Augustine cited John 5:17, “my father is working until now” as evidence God’s rest on the seventh day is not a literal time of rest (278). For Augustine, creation did not happen in “a time measured way” (287).

I have several comments about Allert’s book. First, I am convinced an allegorical method is not good exegesis when the text under examination is clearly not an allegory. For example, obviously Jotham’s fable in Judges 9 is some kind of an allegory, and there are figurative elements of Jesus’s parables, especially the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. Allert addresses this concern with an anecdote from John MacArthur who looked back on an early sermon he wrote as a “horrible” example of allegorizing a text (p. 108). I have to agree with MacArthur, that sort of exegesis is bad. Of course this opens up the question to what an ancient writer was trying to do with a text, but that is a topic for another book.

Second, Allert proves his case the ancient church fathers were not proto-creationists and current creationists ought to stop misinterpreting them. Selective citations in order to proof-text one’s view is dangerous, since there is plenty in Basil or Augustine which would not at all be acceptable to a modern conservative creation. But there is nothing in this book (or the church fathers) which anticipates other responses to Darwinism, such as progressive creationism (old earth creationism) or theistic evolution. Ancient writers read Genesis within their own worldview, a worldview which did not contend with modern science.

Third, Allert is correct to raise awareness the real problem is the nature of time and eternity. His discussion of Augustine’s view is important, but more theological and philosophical work needs to be done on God’s nature and his relationship with this universe. That creationists who hold to literal days in Genesis 1 do not worry too much about this issue is evident from the lack of citation of creationists in chapters 5-7 in this book.

This book is a necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion of Genesis 1. Allert corrects some serious misconceptions and offers a more contextual reading of Basil, Augustine and others who commented on Genesis 1 in antiquity.

 

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Logos Free Book – Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (IVP, 2012)

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the BibleThe Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” for April is E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (IVP, 2012). You may recall their recent Paul Behaving Badly (IVP 2016). When I reviewed that book several people told me they had read Misreading Scripture and found it to be an excellent and challenging book. In my own teaching I have always tried to set the text in the proper context, not only the context of the Bible but also the proper cultural context. This book is a good introduction to some of the important cultural and social realities an informed Bible reader needs to understand in order to read the Bible without imposing modern, western assumptions on the ancient, eastern text.

In addition to the free book, Logos is offering Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (IVP, 1996).  EDIT: Logos changed the “almost free book of the month” to Kenneth Bailey’s  Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.  This is an excellent book which sets Jesus’s life and ministry into its cultural context. It is also a great companion volume to Misreading Scripture.

Until April 30, you can enter (several times) to win the 29-volume set of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Complete Set Updated Edition (ACCS).

Since Logos Basic is now free, there is really no excuse for not adding these two excellent books to your Logos library.

Logos Free Book – This Risen Existence: The Spirit of Easter (Fortress 2015)

Image result for fortress press this risen existence by paula gooderThe Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” for March has an Easter theme. During the month of March, you can download This Risen Existence: The Spirit of Easter (Fortress 2015) by Paula Gooder for your Logos library. The book contains seven chapters for the weeks leading up to Easter, including one each on the four Gospels, the resurrection in the Epistles, one chapter on the ascension and a final chapter on Pentecost

In addition to the free book, Logos is offering Dennis Ngien’s Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms (Fortress, 2015). This  373 page book studies the importance of the the lament Psalms for Luther’s theology. The book reviews Luther;s theological reading of Psalms 6, 51, 77, 90, 94, and 11.

Logos is also giving away one set of their Fortress Lutheran Library Expansion Bundle (30 volumes, $778 value). There are several ways to enter, but the giveaway ends April 30.

Logos Free Book – Bulletin for Biblical Research, vol. 1

bbr1The Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” is really a Journal.  For the month of January, you can add the first issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, published by the Institute for Biblical Research in 1991. According to the then editor of the journal Bruce Chilton, “the Institute for Biblical Research has launched the Bulletin for Biblical Research as an instrument for understanding the religious senses of scripture. The aim is to publish articles which are both fully critical and generally accessible to the scholarly community.”

The articles include in this issue are:

  • Robert L. Hubbard, “The Go’el in Ancient Israel: Theological Reflections on an Israelite Institution”
  • Richard S. Hess, “Lamech in the Genealogies of Genesis”
  • Ellen F. Davis, “Self-Consciousness and Conversation: Reading Genesis 22”
  • H. G. M. Williamson, “Ezra and Nehemiah in the Light of the Texts from Persepolis”
  • Jacob Neusner, “Uncleanness: A Moral or an Ontological Category in the Early Centuries A.D.?”
  • Marianne Meye Thompson, “Signs and Faith in the Fourth Gospel”
  • Darrell L. Bock, “The Son of Man in Luke 5:24”
  • E. Earle Ellis, “‘The End of the Earth’ (Acts 1:8)”

The are all substantial articles from recognized scholars. Be sure to add this volume to your Logos library. In fact, if you are interested in serious biblical research, you should consider adding all twenty-four BBR volumes!

hemer-actsFor only $1.99, you can purchase Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. This book was originally published in 1989 in the WUNT series, this electronic version is the third printing from Eisenbrauns (2008).  The book retails for $40 and is well worth that price, let alone the mere $2 for the Logos version in January.

The contents include:

  • Chapter 1:  Acts and Historicity
  • Chapter 2, Preliminary Questions including the Unity and Genre of Luke-Acts, The Meaning of Historicity
  • Chapter 3: Ancient Historiography, inclduing a section on Luke and Josephus
  • Chapter 4: Types of Knowledge Displayed in Acts
  • Chapter 5: Evidence from Historical Details in Acts
  • Chapter 6: Acts and Epistles, including the ‘Theological Disparity’ between Paul and Luke
  • Chapter 7: Galatia and the Galatians
  • Chapter 8: The Authorship and Sources of Acts
  • Chapter 9: The Date of Acts
  • Appendix 1: Speeches and Miracles in Acts
  • Appendix 2: The ‘God-fearers’

Thanks to Eisenbrauns and Logos for making these resources available. Be sure to get the books before January 31, 2017!