The New Century Bible Commentary: I & II Chronicles

Written by H. G. M Williamson Reviewed By John Job

The books of Chronicles have been to a large extent disregarded in recent years. Indeed the title ‘Leftovers’, by which they are known in the Septuagint, suggests that from the start they have suffered from a reputation of being a poor relation of the books of Kings.

Williamson’s commentary amounts to a rigorous comparison between the two, in the interests of which he deliberately ignores what might otherwise deserve comment. The result is to show quite clearly that the books of Samuel and Kings, substantially in their present form, lay in front of the Chronicler, although he did have access to other sources, not without historical value.

The commentary reveals in a most interesting and lucid way how the Chronicler systematically altered his ‘Vorlage’ with a view to highlighting his own theological emphases. These are (i) the people of God, seen as a unity even after the division of the kingdom; (ii) the monarchy, with David and Solomon representing an ideal partly recovered under such good kings as Jehoshaphat, Uzziah and Hezekiah; (iii) the temple and its worship—the Chronicler shows great interest in the Levites; and (iv) retribution and repentance.

These themes were regarded by the Chronicler as particularly relevant for his own day, which Williamson sees as most probably in the fourth century, though the books are notoriously difficult to date, especially if, as is urged, the notion of a work embracing Ezra and Nehemiah is abandoned as unconvincing.

There is therefore some comparison to be made between the way in which parts of the prophets are to be seen as expositions for a later age and the way in which the Chronicler is interpreting earlier historical work. Two points need to be emphasized. The first is that the Chronicler does not mind altering the plain historical sense of his Vorlage in matters of detail. This arguably drives a coach and horses through a certain sort of historical literalism which has sometimes been applied to Scripture. Any attempt to harmonize the books of Kings and Chronicles looks hopeless in the light of Williamson’s careful analysis, at least if harmonization is understood in the sense of ironing out historical discrepancy of any kind. The second is that it would be quite unfair to conclude that the Chronicler ‘played fast and loose’ with history. Though he felt free to alter his Vorlage, there were severe limits placed on the extent to which this could be done.

Williamson’s book will go a long way towards spurring evangelical scholars to formulate an understanding of biblical historical writing which is both true to the evidence and yet avoids going down the road of Bultmannian scepticism. The question to be answered is in what sense the books of Chronicles are true, if they are not even meant to be true in historical detail. Often arguments about inerrancy are conducted with a degree of philosophical superiority to the hard facts of the biblical text. What Williamson has done is to provide an important agenda for those wrestling with this question, and to rule out some of its more superficial solutions.

The book deals with earlier work in a magisterially fair-minded way. It is a model of clarity and the tally of only seven misprints (as counted by this reviewer) is an immense improvement on earlier volumes in this series of commentaries.

John Job