From Creation to Consummation

Written by Gerard Van Groningen Reviewed By J.P. Taylor

From Creation to Consummation is in effect an attempt at a comprehensive theology of the Old Testament from a conservative evangelical perspective, based on a lifetime of study and teaching. The Mitte of the OT for Van Groningen is his concept of the ‘Golden Cable’ of Kingdom, Covenant and Mediator—themes which he believes to be intertwined (often implicitly rather than explicitly) as the core of the Biblical message right from the opening pages of Genesis. There is a particular emphasis on messianic and eschatological themes and implications. The work is ‘exegetical—biblical—theological’—tracing the Golden Cable through careful exegesis of the successive books of the OT. The present volume covers Genesis to II Kings. Two further volumes (under preparation) will cover respectively the prophetic material and then the wisdom/poetic books plus the post-exilic historical material.

Van Groningen writes from an unashamedly conservative (perhaps even fundamentalist) perspective. This includes for example an insistence on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. His close attention to the Biblical text and his close exegesis of key passages are a definite strength of his work. On each issue his points and arguments are exceptionally well marshalled and set out succinctly in a structured and systematic way. He quickly identifies the nub of each issue, which is invaluable even if the reader may not always agree with his conclusions. There are quite a number of complex diagrams to illustrate the interrelationship of different themes; but I found these hard to understand and somewhat contrived in making disparate material appear to fit together neatly!

While Van Groningen’s approach is a refreshingly brave attempt to produce a conservative OT theology with a messianic and eschatological focus, there are places where the argument is weak. He makes much, for example, of Satan’s parasitic kingdom, a concept for which the OT textual evidence is flimsy. His eschatological focus sidelines the social and this-world implications of the text, even though he outlines the ‘social’, ‘cultural’, as well as the ‘fellowship’ mandates of the covenant right from creation onwards. His discussion of holy war, and the extermination of the Canaanites, may well ring very hollow to a late 1990’s readership inevitably confronted with the scenes of contemporary ethnic cleansing so vividly portrayed for us by the media. The value of a theology is surely somewhat limited if it cannot engage with the real issues people face in the world outside of the seminary cloister.

On a more technical note, I found some curious mistakes. For example, the ‘let us’ form of the Hebrew verb is at least twice referred to as ‘third person’; the Hebrew transliteration system sometimes goes astray; and these are passages in which the author seems to confuse Hebrew words with theological concepts. While I do not quarrel with Van Groningen’s emphasis on the importance of history, it is perhaps a pity that he takes little account of the tools and insights of the new literary criticism, which might offer much that would enrich his exposition of the text.

Overall, however, conservative scholars will undoubtedly find this book a most useful resource in that it presents a biblical-theological theology of the OT in a systematic, structural and comprehensive manner. Those of a less conservative outlook also cannot fail to be impressed with an inherently consistent, well argued, and persuasive overview of how evangelicals understand the OT as integral and vital to the Biblical revelation as whole. The wide-ranging bibliography and detailed index add to the usefulness of the book as a resource for scholars and lay-readers alike.

J.P. Taylor

Union Theological College, Belfast