Book Review: Mark J. Boda, Return To Me: A Biblical Theology of Repentance

Boda, Mark J. ‘Return To Me’: A Biblical Theology of Repentance. NSBT 35; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 232 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to IVP

Mark J. Boda (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity and a coeditor for IVP’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets. Boda is well-suited for a monograph on repentance: more than two pages of the bibliography of Return to Me were written or edited by Mark Boda, primarily works dealing with repentance and penitential prayers. He has been extremely active in SBL/AAR groups studying repentance and related themes.

Boda, Return to MeThis new contribution to New Studies in Biblical Theology is an excellent example the theory and practice of biblical theology. He examines a narrowly defined topic in all of the genre of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. After collecting and analyzing this data, he summarizes his findings in order to create a biblical theology of repentance. Boda is sensitive to both text of Scripture and its message to the original readers of the canon of Scripture. Occasionally I find his exegesis lacking depth, but this is the result of restrictions on the size of the book in the NSBT series. Boda has pointed the way for future exegetes to explore repentance in these texts in far more detail.

In his introduction, Boda states that careful observation of both the Old and New Testament will show “the striking similarity in their expression of the theology of repentance” (20). He begins by reviewing the various vocabulary of repentance used in both testaments, but he is well aware the idea of repentance may be present even when specific vocabulary is not (29). Boda defines repentance as “a turn or return to faithful relationship with God from a former strain of estrangement” (31). Here he cites Zech 1:1-6 and Acts 26:16-20 as illustrations of this definition.

Boda develops this definition by surveying the texts on repentance in eight sections of Hebrew Bible. Beginning with the Torah, he briefly examines every example of repentance. These texts are selected because of the presence of repentance language or because the idea of repentance is clearly in the background. Several patterns emerge as this survey progresses. First, repentance is necessary because of human obstinacy. Second, an invitation to repent is initiated by God through his leaders or prophets. Third, repentance is accompanied by physical rituals (washing with water, weeping, tearing clothes, etc.). When humans respond to the prompting of God and repent, there is a need for covenant renewal. This renewal is often a sacrifice or other act of worship.

From the Latter Prophets, for example, Boda develops what he calls the “Penitential Process.” Using 2 Kings 17:12-15 as his model, he outlines the basic structure of the penitential process as: Israel sins, Yahweh warns through the prophets and their message of repentance, Israel “stiffens the neck” and refuses to repent, so Yahweh responds with judgment (62). This is a pattern found throughout the prophetic books explaining Israel and Judah’s need for repentance and return to covenant faithfulness. For some readers, this may sound a great deal like Deuteronomic theology.

Chapter 11 is a summary of Boda’s reading of all of the texts on repentance in the Old Testament. First, in the Old Testament, repentance is relational. Often this shift in relationship is rejection of a foreign god and a return to Yahweh. That return is accompanied by inner convection (sincerity, contriteness, etc.) and demonstrated by a ritual (fasting, tearing of clothes, ashes on the head, etc.) Repentance most often is a response to God’s wrath, although this is not always the case. Like Josiah, One might hear the words of the Torah and return to the Lord. While in some cases God prevents repentance (Pharaoh, for example), he also enables his people to repent and return to him. Using Deut 30:6 as an example, Boda points out that Moses looked forward to a time when God would “circumcise the heart” of his people and enable them to return from exile (158).

After ten chapters on repentant in the Old Testament, Boda dispatches the issue of repentance in the New Testament two chapters. One surveys the texts, the second summarizes this data into a coherent New Testament “biblical theology of repentance.” For the most part, Boda finds the same themes in the New Testament as the Old. Beginning with the command to “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” Boda shows the Synoptic Gospels and Acts are filled with the language of repentance (166). This is perhaps a good opportunity to create continuity between Jesus and the Hebrew Bible since Jesus’ call to repent is more similar to an Old Testament prophet than personal repentance of sin. To a certain extent Boda achieves his in summary chapter on the New Testament: “repentance in redemptive-historical perspective is the posture of those who will participate in the kingdom in the present age and the age to come” (181). Here he highlights the continuity between this age and the age to come, but I think more can be done do connect the repentance called for by the prophets and the preaching of Jesus.

Boda says Paul uses penitential vocabulary to describe the “normative Christian life” (172), although the data he provides does not always illustrate the point. For example, “setting one’s mind on things above” in Colossians 3 is suggested as an example of repentance since this involves putting off the old self and putting on the new. It is possible repentance is required if one is to put to death the old self, but Paul does not make that point in Colossians 3. His brief comments on sowing and reaping in Galatians 6:8-9 also seem to straining to find repentance in a text which is not obviously about returning to a former relationship.

In his final chapter, Boda discusses a few theological implications of repentance based on his findings, especially as related to the “hyper-grace gospel.” This is a more recent version of the Lordship Salvation debate of the 1980s. Having surveyed the whole Bible, Boda concludes repentance is a core element of the Gospel that is in fact a human act, but a human act which is prompted by God. To overplay either one of these elements is dangerous and risks obscuring the Gospel.

Conclusion. Since the book follows canonical order or the Bible, I wonder if a trajectory could have been established by treating post-exilic sections of the prophets in the same unit as Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel and Lamentations. Perhaps Isaiah 40-55, 56-66 alongside these early Second Temple works would have yielded interesting results. It is possible dividing Isaiah is the problem, but that is not an issue addressed in the book. While this book is excellent as is stands, a chapter on Second Temple literature may have been helpful to set the stage for the New Testament. He indicates very early in the book that repentance in the Second Temple Period is an important area of research (citing N. T. Wright, for example), but he has defined his study as limited to the canonical texts.

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.

Book Review: Charles E. Shepherd, Theological Interpretation and Isaiah 53

Shepherd, Charles E. Theological Interpretation and Isaiah 53: A Critical Comparison of Bernhard Duhm, Brevard Childs, and Alec Motyer. The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 598. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. Hb $112.00.   Link to Bloomsbury

This monograph arises from Shepherd’s Ph.D. work at Durham University in 2012 under the direction of Walter Moberly. He proposes to study a theologically rich passage in the Hebrew Bible through the lens of three significant Isaianic scholars as way to explore the value of classical historical criticism in the light of recent developments in the field of theological interpretation of Scripture. Bernhard Duhm represents historical criticism of the nineteenth century and is well known for the religionsgeschichtliche Schule of Protestant liberalism. Brevard Childs is often associated with canonical criticism and is something of a godfather of recent theological interpretations of Scripture. Alec Motyer represents an evangelical voice who has a strong faith commitment to Scripture. Shepherd describes Motyer as an evangelical who “reads the Old Testament without recourse to critical questions” and is guided by “core theological and doctrinal convictions” (p. 6). In fact, Shepherd considers Motyer’s work on Isa 53 “a true tour de force in evangelical interpretation” that is theologically coherent and exegetically independent (p. 198).

ShepherdAside from their magisterial commentaries on Isaiah, an additional factor in selecting these three scholars is that their hermeneutical approach is a “rhetorical positioning away from a perceived threat” (p.200). Duhm moved away from teleological readings of the prophets which read Isaiah only through the lens of Christ (“Erscheinung Christi”). Childs moved away from Protestant Liberalism’s fascination with “Historie” by emphasizing the connection between the Old and New Testament. Motyer does what Duhm avoided, he reads the prophets as messianic prophecy fulfilled in Christ, although he seeks to set the prophecy in an original eighth century B.C. context as well as applying it to the modern church.

Another contrast between the three scholars studied in this monograph is each has an interlocutor representing a threat which proper exegesis will answer. For Duhm, “supernaturalists” such as Delitzsch and Hengstenberg, although Shepherd points out it is not always clear if Duhm has a specific scholar in mind (p. 233). Childs approach is in dialogue with “anthropocentrists” in contrast to his own “theocentric” hermeneutic. He has in mind the religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Since Motyer is concerned with the unity of the book of Isaiah, he distances himself from the “rationalists,” specifically Eichrodt and Von Rad. Shepherd says “Motyer’s rhetorical shaping suggests that those who are open to traditional source-critical work have no basis on which to wed text with doctrine” (p. 237).

Shepherd devotes two chapters to each scholar. He first sketches the theological hermeneutics represented by the scholar, then he examines the application of those hermeneutical strategies on Isaiah 53. This text was chosen because it is, as Shepherd puts it, an “easy target” (p. 5). More than this, Isa 53 has been located in various ways in history and has been an important text moving from antiquity to the Christian theology. The complexity of the passage is conducive to both historical critical studies and a theological reading. Shepherd is clear that the his study is not interested in the correct reading of Isaiah 53, but rather the moves made by the interpreters as well as the theological and philosophical commitments which inform those exegetical decisions.

Shepherd offers several observations by way of a concluding chapter. Duhm’s comments in Isa 53 demonstrate his work as an interpreter on the “raw materials” of the text, and he does not think the poem refers to the Christ event. Yet Shepherd points out Duhm “felt the need to reflect theologically,” although in a section separated from his exegesis. This “historical distancing” of theology and history is somewhat artificial, Shepherd suggests, but it was “already underway in his prior exegetical moves” (p.203).

Childs consciously approaches the text of Isa 53 as a Christian interpreter and stands with those interpreters who have gone before. Since Childs argues the poem has been “loosed from particular historical settings and relocated to a literary context,” the concrete, original historical context is important only in the sense of “types,” or foreshadowing of how the final writer intended the poem. The placement of the poem in Second Isaiah points to an eschatological theme: “God intervenes to end the exile and to usher in his eschatological reign” (p. 208). Reading the poem as a Christian, Childs stands with virtually all patristic and scholastic interprets by identifying Jesus as the servant. The original context is inaccessible and may even be at odds with a theological reading of the text.

Motyer approaches the text as a divinely inspired revelation from God and therefore emphasizes God’s sovereignty and involvement in history. Yet he is still interested in the facts of history, although these are the facts as they relate to God’s work of redemption. Shepherd considers this a “strange relationship” with modern knowledge. Motyer uses history to avoid “make believe,” but the Bible itself is immune from critical analysis (specifically, Motyer’s reading of Isaiah as the work of a single eighth prophet). Motyer reads Isa 53 as a referring to a servant in history, but the poem “reminds” the Christian reader of the “resurrection, ascension and heavenly exaltedness of the Lord Jesus” (p. 213). Shepherd concludes Motyer collapses the distance between history and Christian theology. Old Testament and New Testament share the same messianic context and theological foundations. As an example of this, Shepherd cites Motyer’s unapologetic reading of Isa 53 that supports penal substitutionary atonement (p. 228). While Childs would be cautious in imposing this kind of theological category, Duhm rejects this kind of theological reading.

In his epilogue Shepherd asks if Historical Criticism is a “Friend, Foe, or Foil.” Shepherd interacts with Francis Watson’s assertion that historical criticism does not really exist since every generation of Christian interpreters have used all of the scholarly tools available to them. In fact, to create a dichotomy between “historical criticism” versus “theological interpretation” assumes the two exist in complete isolation. This is simply not how exegesis works. “The task of the biblical ‘historian’ was likewise bound up with questions of personal commitment” (p. 260).

Conclusion. Shepherd’s study achieves what it proposes to do. He does in fact offer a “sympathetic yet critical” reading of these three diverse scholars. By contrasting Duhm with Moyter, Shepherd appears to be favoring Childs as a “golden mean” between the two extremes, the modernism of nineteenth-century Protestant liberalism and the twentieth-century evangelical (fundamentalism?) reaction to liberalism. But he does not set Duhm or Motyer up as straw men; their ideas and hermeneutical strategies demonstrate Shepherd’s thesis that personal commitment will always color interpretation.

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

Book Review: Eduard Verhoef, Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe

Verhoef, Eduard. Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe: The Epistle to the Philippians and the Excavations at Philippi. London: T&T Clark, 2013. Hb $100.00; Pb $29.99; ePub / Logos $24.99 Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark  Link to Logos

VerhoefThis monograph is an introduction to the archaeology of Philippi, tracing the history of the city from the time of Paul through A.D. 600. Verhoef contributed an article on the history of Philippi (“The Church of Philippi in the First Six Centuries of Our Era,” Teologiese Studies 61 (2005): 565–92) and has visited the archaeological site many times. This book is aimed at a general readership and does not attempt to be a technical study of the archaeology of Philippi.

Chapter 1 traces the history of Philippi prior to the first century. Verhoef’s interest is in Roman Philippi so he quickly sketches the origin of the old city. After the battle of Actium Augustus refounded the city and settled additional veterans. According to Verhoef, the total number of inhabitants of Philippi at the time of time of Paul’s visit was nearly 10,000 (9), with slaves making up about 20% of the population (12); “Philippi was certainly not a metropolis, even by the standards of its own time” (12). For Verhoef, it “is significant that authors in the first centuries wrote about Philippi virtually exclusively with respect to the battle in 42 B.C.E. Words were hardly ever devoted to the town itself.” (12).

Chapter 2 traces the origin of the church and Philippi and chapter 3 concerns Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Verhoef observes the city of Philippi had a distinct Roman atmosphere when Paul visited in A.D. 49-50. “The majority of the inhabitants of Philippi were Greeks by birth, but to a great extent the Romans were decisive for the atmosphere of the town” (16). After examining the relevant texts on the founding of the church in the New Testament, he points out there are eleven named individuals associated with Philippi. If families are included, then a reasonable estimate for the original church was about 33 adult members in a city of 10,000 (22). If there was a reasonable growth pattern of 15% growth per decade, the church not have reached 1000 members until the A.D. 300.

For each century after the founding of the church Verhoef examines the archaeology, literary and inscriptional data pertaining to the growth of Christianity in Philippi. In chapter 4, Verhoef examines the archaeological evidence for Philippi in the second century. He observes “no Christians were mentioned as such in inscriptions, nor was there any construction of churches.” (53) The only literary evidence is the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians and a brief mention of the church in Tertullian. There is inscriptional evidence for the cult of Silvanus and Isis. With respect to the archaeology of Philippi in the second century, Verhoef observes the forum was completely reconstructed with impressive buildings erected around it. These buildings reduced Hellenistic Philippi to almost nothing (60).  With respect to the so-called Paul’s “prison,” archaeology shows the location was constructed by the Romans as a water reservoir and was later converted into chapel by Christians. “It has never been a jail” (61).

Verhoef_iPad

Reading on an iPad

Chapter 5 examines the archaeology for third century Philippi. There are no third-century literary references to the church of Philippi. There are many inscriptions in Greek compared to the two preceding centuries, but there is “no evidence of Christianity in any inscription that can be dated to the third century with certainty” (67). One inscription mentions a synagogue, indicating a Jewish presence in the third century.

Chapter 6 traces the growth of the church at Philippi in Christian Rome. The most significant change is the conversion of Constantine. This brought Christianity into the open and permitted them to build sanctuaries. “By the middle of the fourth century the number of Christians had grown to 50 per cent of the population of the Empire” (70). For Philippi, this resulted in two churches built during the fourth century. Verhoef speculates Christians took over some of the sacred space, re-using some the water for a baptistery (73), and a second church was built outside the walls of the city. “Surviving inscriptions show the presence of Christians in Philippi” (73), although Verhoef argues “The cult of Euephenes has probably been adopted by the Christians with some adaptations” (74), a position he argues in more detail in his article “Syncretism in the church of Philippi” (HTS 64 [2008]: 697-714). One burial inscription reads “‘Lord have mercy on us and raise us up who passed away in the true, orthodox faith” suggesting there was some tension between rival groups in Philippi (75).

In Chapter 7 Verhoef demonstrates the ascendency of Christianity in Philippi. The century witnesses the construction of at least four basilica and a large church along the via Egnatia in the fifth century. Basilica A was about 55 by 27 meters. Verhoef assumes a space of 1 square meter per person, over 1,000 people could worship in the basilica (78). Two bishops of Philippi are known from this century, Flavianus and Sozon. Flavianus attended the Council of Ephesus in 431. “As far as we know the bishops of Philippi always took the orthodox position” (80).

Chapter 8 describes the increasingly Christian character of the city of Philippi in the sixth century. There is a wealth of literary evidence for the church in Philippi and all of the churches were expanded during the sixth century. Bishop Demetrios was active in Constantinople and his familiarity with churches in the capitol may have influenced changes to the churches in Philippi.

Chapter 9 is a brief note on the decline of the city after a series of earthquakes. This chapter adds nothing to the book and could have been omitted. Chapter 10 is a “walking tour” of Philippi one might make on a visit to the site today. The book also includes relevant texts in Acts and the book of Philippians for reference.

The book is illustrated with a number of color photographs. When reading the book in the Logos Library these photographs can be cut and pasted into other documents or Logos can send the illustration directly to PowerPoint. Although these photos are not high resolution, they can be used to illustrate elements of the city of Philippi. Figures 37 and 38 appear to have the description reversed (public toilets). Verhoef includes a short bibliography of the more important works on the history of Philippi.

Conclusion. This book is a good, popular level introduction to the history of Philippi and it could be very helpful for anyone visiting the archaeological site today. Frequently he refers to an inscription by present location so this book could be used as a handbook for exploring the excavations at Philippi. There is a lack of information on the imperial cult in Philippi, although this can be explained by a lack of evidence for the cult in first century Philippi. Nevertheless, given the pervasiveness of the Imperial cult in the Mediterranean world, I would have expected more focus in the book. There is a brief discussion of the Roman Soter in contrast to Jesus as Savior (29), but this is not supported by any inscriptional evidence. This shortcoming does not distract from the value of Verhoef’s monograph.

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

Book Review: James McKeown, Ruth (Two Horizons Commentary)

McKeown, James. Ruth. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 152 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans  and an interview with McKeown at EerdWorld.

James McKeown wrote the Genesis commentary in the Two Horizons series. This new volume on Ruth attempts to follow a similar method for reading a biblical book canonically and theologically.

He begins with a short twelve-page introduction to the book of Ruth, although the bulk of the introduction is a summary of the plot of the book. Since the goal of the commentary is a theological reading of the book of Ruth, some of the more technical critical questions are unimportant. It is possible the book dates as early as the time of David and intended to explain his Moabite roots, or as late as the time of Ezra-Nehemiah as a more sympathetic view of foreign women. McKeown is inclined to see the purpose of the book as ambiguous, although this does not limit the theological significance of Ruth.

Ruth James McKeownThe commentary proper moves through the book by pericopae. Although McKeown occasionally comments on the Hebrew text, the primary focus of the commentary is on the story of Ruth in English (p. 1). He sometimes compares several English translations, especially for some of the difficult idiomatic phrases in the book, such as the blessing formula in 4:11.  In several sections it is necessary to explain customs of the Ancient Near East, such as the exchange of sandals on Ruth 4:7-8. McKeown interacts with secondary literature on Ruth, but most of this material is in the footnotes. This makes for a very readable commentary, useful for both scholar and layman.

The main feature of the Two Horizons series of the series is the theological interpretation of Scripture. In this commentary there are two chapters dedicated to biblical theology, about half the book. In “Theological Horizons” McKeown examines Ruth’s canonical connections. Although Ruth follows Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible, McKeown is not interested in the juxtaposition of Ruth and the “Woman of Valor” (Proverbs 31:10-31). I find this somewhat remarkable since the Hebrew canon is the original order. If canonical placement is important, I would prefer to see Ruth read as an example of Wisdom Literature, perhaps juxtaposing it with its canonical partners, the final chapter of Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.

Rather than use the Hebrew canon, McKeown points out that in the Septuagint, Ruth appears between Judges and Samuel. Ruth therefore functioned as a kind of bridge between these two books. Following the work of Yizhak Berger, McKeown explores the theme of offspring, land and blessing in Ruth and Genesis. Most commentators use Deuteronomy to illuminate the practice of gleaning or the Levirate marriage, but McKeown argues Ruth illustrates how Israel might show love to the foreigner (Deut 10:17-19). But Ruth also draws into question the exclusion of Moabites from the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3-6). Ruth is also canonically related to Judges and serves as a canonical link between Judges and Samuel. While the Judges are sometimes called “men of valor” (אִ֣ישׁ חָ֑יִל Judg 3:29; 20:44), Ruth is a “woman of valor” (אֵ֥שֶׁת חַ֖יִל, Ruth 3:11). Ruth is a righteous person in a dark age of violence.

But the book of Ruth also looks forward to the time of David, a Moabite descendant who enters a levirate marriage with Abigail. Several parallels between Ruth the story of David can be made, but it is not clear to me how this relationship works. This is a problem for all inner-canonical studies since it is almost impossible to prove which direction the influence goes. Did the author of Ruth tell the story with knowledge of David’s relationship with Abigail, or vice versa? On the one hand, this is unknowable, but on the other hand, it might not matter for this kind of theological reading of the book of Ruth. On a literary level, two texts are being compared in order to develop a theological reading. Historical critical questions of sources and dependence are of little consequence when using this hermeneutical method.

The final section of the book, “Theological Issues, Themes and Approaches,” creates a short biblical theology based on Ruth. McKeown demonstrates how Ruth views God as the sovereign creator who provides for his people. God’s providential hand is seen throughout the book, although he appears to be hidden from the characters in the story. It is Naomi’s experience which makes this theme clear and shows the hiddenness of God should not be mistaken for the absence of God (p. 116).

Since the theme of Land is important throughout the Hebrew Bible, it is no surprise to find Ruth highlighting the idea of God as the giver of land to his people. If God has given land to his people, they are responsible for using it ethically, as Boaz’s treatment of the poor widow Ruth demonstrates.

Perhaps the most important theme of Ruth is redemption, and McKeown adds to this the theme of universalism. God will redeem all people. Redemption looks back at the original Exodus, but also forward to the ultimate redemption planned by the sovereign God. While property or a person may be redeemed according to the Law, the broader context of the Canon uses legal redemption as a metaphor for salvation, especially in Job and Psalms. McKeown points out how the theme of redemption extends to the New Testament and salvation through Jesus Christ. Perhaps what is surprising from an Old Testament perspective is redemption will include foreigners, even Moabite women!

McKeown includes a section in this chapter surveying Feminist studies of Ruth. Since it is a book focused on the activities of two women, Ruth has attracted a great deal of attention from feminist biblical scholars. Taking Naomi’s advice to Ruth to return to “her mother’s house” (2:8) as a hint of authorship, Carol Meyers suggested the book may have been written by a woman (p.134). McKeown does not comment on the suggestion, but unlike other critical issues, this observation would have an important hermeneutical impact on a commentary on Ruth.

Conclusion. Like other contributions to the Two Horizons Commentary series, McKeown delivers a canonical and theological reading of the book of Ruth which will stimulate anyone studying the book of Ruth.

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

Book Review: John Goldingay, Do We Need the New Testament? (Part 2)


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.

GoldingayIn 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.

Book Review: John Goldingay, Do We Need the New Testament? (Part 1)

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

John Goldingay is one of the foremost Old Testament scholars. His ICC commentaries on Isaiah 40-55, 56-66 in the International Critical Commentary series have established him as an excellent exegete and his “For Everyone” series (WJK) demonstrates his heart for communicating the Old Testament to lay-people reading the Bible. His massive three-volume Theology of the Old Testament (IVP) and The Theology of the Book of Isaiah (IVP) established Goldingay as a scholar interested in doing serious biblical theology. Yet Goldingay is not an ivory-tower scholar, he serves as an associate pastor at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Pasadena. What is more impressive to me, he lists on his vita that he took his wife Ann to see Bob Dylan in 2002.

GoldingayDo We Need the New Testament? is a scholarly, yet personally challenging look at the difficult problem of how the New Testament Christian approaches the Old Testament from a man more than qualified to write a book subtitled “letting the Old Testament speak for itself.”  Since this is a lengthy review, I will break it up over two days.

In his introductory chapter, Goldingay explains his provocative title, “Do We Need the New Testament?” The title is of course intended to attract attention to the fact many Christians ignore the Old Testament, or the First Testament as Goldingay consistently calls it in the book. While few would actually question the need for the First Testament, Christians tend to be ignorant of the contents beyond the basic “Sunday School” stories. But as Goldingay rightly observes, “in a sense, God did nothing new in Jesus” (12).

In chapter 2 (Why is Jesus Important?), Goldingay wants to dispel any black/white contrast between the “Old Testament” and the teaching of Jesus. Popular Christian has created a loving and kind Jesus who stands in stark contrast to the wrathful God of the Old Testament. Part of the reason for this contrast is a lack clarity on what the Torah actually teaches as well as mis-characterizations of Judaism as a dour, works-oriented religion. While Jesus does have some distinctive teachings in the Gospels, he is usually consistent with the First Testament. His focus is on Israel and his ministry is consistent with Moses or Elijah and Elisha. Jesus fulfills the purpose of God in his death and resurrection, a purpose revealed in the First Testament.

Even though Jesus declared God’s kingdom has begun, Goldingay points out “in none of the Gospels does Jesus tell his disciples to extend the kingdom, work for the kingdom, build up the kingdom, or further the kingdom” (34). This is absolutely true, although popular preaching and worship media seems to think “bringing in the kingdom” was part of the Great Commission!

After connecting Jesus with the First Testament, Goldingay describes how the Holy Spirit was Present in the First Testament. As with the previous two chapters, this is a response to a commonly held belief that the Holy Spirit was inactive or rarely active in the First Testament. Part of the reason for this is the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul. Goldingay shows several texts in the First Testament which demonstrate the activity of a holy spirit (Ps 51, Isa 63:7-14, Joel 2). For Goldingay, God’s giving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a fulfillment of his promise to Abraham to bless all the nations. He concludes this chapter with a short discussion of the need for the First Testament after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. As he points out, while the New Covenant is initiated, the Holy Spirit has not yet fully written the Torah on the minds of believers.

In chapter 4 Goldingay from theology to a narrative reading of the whole Bible. He refers to the “Grand Narrative” of Scripture, but his interest in this chapter are the “Middle Narratives.” A middle narrative “articulates a memory of the past on a smaller scale” something like a “middle axiom” in philosophy. These are the supporting narratives for the Grand Narrative and are therefore important for the structure of the overall story of the Bible. But as Goldingay points out, Christians omit the contributions of the First Testament in their retelling of the Grand Narrative about Jesus. As he points out, “The Bible is not a live letter to us from God;” it does not describe a personal relationship between God and individual believers. It is the story of God’s faithfulness in redeeming humanity.

This emphasis is seen more clearly in several middle narrative in the First Testament. He outlines Genesis-Kings, Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel; and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel as there important “middle narratives” which have increasingly specific ways God will redeem the world from sin. In the New Testament, he considers the Gospels and Acts, Romans, and Ephesians as examples of middle Narratives. It is remarkable Ephesians is included since the book is often overlooked as deutero-Pauline, but Goldingay rightly points out Ephesians describes God’s will in the present age as a mystery: “What God has been doing in history as a whole is a secret now revealed” (85).

[Part Two of this review appears here]