OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY VOLUME ONE: ISRAEL’S GOSPELWritten by John Goldingay Reviewed By David L. Baker
Until 1997, the two great OT theologies were indisputably those of Walther Eichrodt and Gerhard von Rad. Many had written on the subject, in spite of the challenges to the ‘biblical theology movement’, but always under the shadow of the giants. Now, at the turn of the millennium, we have two new landmark works which prove beyond doubt that OT theology is alive and flourishing more than ever. Brueggemann’s theology was reviewed in Themelios 25:1 (November 1999) and it is my pleasure to review Goldingay’s. I use the word ‘pleasure’ deliberately, because it is probably thirty years since I enjoyed so much an academic study of the OT.
Goldingay describes his work as ‘a theological commentary on the Old Testament story’ (13) and after an introduction on ‘Old Testament Theology as Narrative’ he takes the reader on an epic journey from ‘Creation’ to ‘The Coming of Jesus’. Each of the ten stages of the journey is expounded with extraordinary theological insight and in an eminently readable style. Consistent with the nature of the work as a ‘theology’, each chapter title consists of a simple sentence in which God is the subject: ‘God Began’, ‘God Started Over’, ‘God Promised’, ‘God Delivered’, etc. Goldingay does not enter into debates about historicity, nor try to reconstruct original texts or identify sources, but simply—and profoundly—expounds the narrative in its canonical form.
The subtitle of the volume is ‘Israel’s Gospel’. The OT is treated as ‘the story of God’s relationship with the world and with Israel’ (28), a story which is ‘of unique and decisive importance for the whole world, not least because it is the story that leads up to Jesus’ (31). Just as the core story of the NT is its ‘gospel’ (good news) of the coming of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15), so the OT gospel announces that ‘your God is reigning’ (Is. 52:7) and Goldingay points out that the word euangelisomai ‘bring good news’ came into Christian usage from the Greek translation of this verse. So he uses the term ‘gospel’ to refer to the macronarrative of the whole Bible, the story about ‘things God has done’. This story is good news, though in fact it contains a good deal of bad news (e.g. rejection, destruction, exile). ‘The good news is that bad news has neither the last word nor the first word. It stands in the context of a purpose to bless that was set in motion at the Beginning, and a purpose to create that persists to the End’ (33).
Goldingay generally uses the term ‘First Testament’ to designate what others call the OT, Tanak or Hebrew Bible. He dislikes the phrase ‘Old Testament’ because he feels it suggests something antiquated and inferior (15). Nevertheless, although the term ‘First Testament’ is unobjectionable in itself, I am not convinced it is an improvement over ‘Old Testament’ for Christians, nor is it likely to appeal to Jews or other non-Christians any more than the traditional Christian terminology. There would be more point in introducing the term if the NT was likewise renamed, but this is not done with the result that ‘First Testament’ and ‘New Testament’ make an untidy pair. In any case, the word ‘old’ does not necessarily have negative connotations, either in the Bible (e.g. Song 7:13; Matt. 13:52; Luke 5:39; 1 John 2:7) or today. Even though novelty and innovation are essential for survival in a consumer society, most people still appreciate the value of older things (e.g. World Heritage sites, antique cars and furniture, Shakespeare). This, however, is a minor criticism.
This OT theology should be in every library and every student of theology and religious studies should familiarise themselves with it. It is a mammoth project, because these nine hundred pages are just the first of three projected volumes. After ‘Israel’s Gospel’ we are promised a second volume on OT faith and hope (something like a traditional theology), then a third on the OT vision of life in relation to God and other people (worship, ethics, spirituality and community).
David L. Baker
is the Deputy Warden and a Research Fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge.