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A review of Old Testament Theology, 3 vols. By John Goldingay.

Jan 14, 2010

IVP, 2003, 2006, 2009. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)

Now that the third and final volume of John Goldingay’s tremendous work is now available, one can properly assess just what he has left us with. The short answer is this: it is simply a magisterial effort. It is a first class work which will be irreplaceable for many years to come.

It is simply amazing for a variety of reasons, not least of which is its massive length. The three volumes comprise over 2,500 pages (2743 pages to be exact). Bear in mind that in the decade he took to pen this, he also produced a number of other important works, including his equally impressive 3-volume commentary on the Psalms, which totals over 2200 pages! Talk about prolific.

This OT theology is simply superb. Goldingay is just utterly steeped in the Old Testament, and has done a superlative job of elucidating its themes, its theology, its vision, its grandeur, and its contents. Almost every aspect of OT studies is entered into here, and he is always up to the task.

The first volume focuses on “Israel’s Gospel”. It examines the OT narratives from creation to the first coming of Christ. The second volume deals with “Israel’s Faith”. This concentrates on the Prophets, the Wisdom writings, and the Psalms. Volume three centres on “Israel’s Life”. It examines the ethical, spiritual and worshipping life of Israel.

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Goldingay is of course a Christian but he argues that we must consider the OT on its own terms. He rightly notes that “the Old Testament’s insights must be seen in light of those of the New, but only as long as we immediately add that it is just as essential to see the New Testament’s insights in light of those of the Old.”

Or as he says further on, “It is inappropriate to describe the New Testament as the ‘authoritative interpretation’ of the Old without adding that the Old Testament is the authoritative interpretation of the New.”

Indeed, he reminds us of the vital importance of the OT: “only when people have learned to take the Old Testament really seriously can they be entrusted with the story of Jesus.” We fail to properly understand the NT gospel unless we have a firm grasp of the OT.

Goldingay is more than qualified to tackle this job. He has been for many years Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, and is one of the world’s leading evangelical OT scholars. He has penned numerous important works on OT topics, and this trilogy is in many ways his magnum opus, capping off a distinguished career.

Of course other helpful OT theologies written from an evangelical/conservative viewpoint have appeared over recent times. One thinks of John Sailhamer’s Introduction to Old Testament Theology (1996); Paul House’s Old Testament Theology (1998); and Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology (2007), for example.

But this is by far the most comprehensive, the most detailed and the most incisive work going. Anyone wanting to master the OT needs this superb set. Mind you, I find myself disagreeing with the author on a regular basis. For example, he is quite open to freewill theism, and thus his take on such areas as divine omniscience and impassibility will not please everyone.

But he certainly gets one thinking, and he is always careful to tentatively – and respectfully – push what might be considered controversial topics. Unlike some other OT scholars who can indeed be guilty of pushing agendas, such as Walter Brueggemann, Goldingay is always fair and judicious in his comments and discussions.

His many decades of careful scholarship and theological awareness, combined with a more than capable writing style, make this work a pleasure to read and a joy to contemplate. If you get only one Old Testament theology, get this three volume work.

[630 words]

10 Responses to A review of Old Testament Theology, 3 vols. By John Goldingay.

  • Bill,
    Just for my own information, what is freewill theism? Also when you mention divine omniscience and impassibility, what are you referring to? I am interested in finding out more about these things – perhaps you could refer me to a good book or website that discusses these things? Thanks Bill.
    Steve Davis.

  • Thanks Steve

    But I’m afraid I might have to use more theological terms here! Freewill theism, or openness theology, is sort of a halfway house between Arminianism and process theology. It rejects much of Reformed theology, and pushes historic theological boundaries in various ways.

    Its two most controversial teachings are that God is not fully omniscient (he especially does not know the future) and is capable of passibility (subject to passion or feeling or emotion). For most Christians to deny divine omniscience comes close to heresy, while the issue of divine impassibility is more open to debate. Both are quite complex theological and philosophical issues, but I have partly written them up elsewhere, eg.:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/12/13/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-free-will-theism/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2005/02/03/a-review-of-what-does-god-know-and-when-does-he-know-it-by-millard-erickson/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/12/12/a-review-of-how-much-does-god-foreknow-by-steven-roy/

    I will probably need to do some more articles on all this, especially the passibility issue, which really does make for a big debate within Christian circles..

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thank you Bill,
    I referenced these links you provided and there is so much discussion and thought out there about God. You could probably spend the rest of your life reading all these views and thoughts but as long as one does not let it cloud the simplicity of the Gospel message then I suppose it makes for good healthy dialogue.
    Steve Davis

  • Thanks again Steve.

    There is always a biblical balance that we need to strive for. On the one hand, a person can go off on a tangent, fruitlessly engaging in intellectual mind games and theological squabbles. Some people just like to argue, and get into endless, speculative arguments over fine points of theology. That is to be avoided.

    But on the other hand, the NT encourages us all to go on to maturity, to know what we believe and why, to affirm and promote sound doctrine, and so on. We are not to be blown about by every wind of doctrine, but are to come to a mature and biblical faith, based on a careful study of God’s word.

    So in that sense we are all called to be theologians. After all, theology is simply the study of God, and all Christians who claim to love God should want to know God more, both personally and experientially, as well as intellectually and theologically.

    But not all Christians are called to be teachers. While all believers should have a good grasp of basic biblical doctrine, teachers need to study that much more, and are forced to wade into these murkier waters of hard core theology. And theology need not be abstract and theoretical. For example, the very issues the free will theists raise have much to do with, say, how we respond to the current tragedy in Haiti.

    That is, did God know this was coming? If so, why did he not stop it? Did he cause it? Did he allow it? These are all very important and practical questions. So it is important that all believers carefully and prayerfully seek to learn more about what the Bible teaches, and what the Christian faith in fact affirms.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill,
    An excellent reply to my comment and some good practical common sense and clear thinking demonstrated in your choice of words.

    Steve Davis

  • Going by your definition of “freewill theism”, the concept seems not to be connected to Haiti or how we should respond to the disaster there. There are millions of people who will respond generously to the needs of victims without having to ponder halfway houses between Arminianism and process theology. If they are Christians then all they need is a plain reading of the New Testament.
    John Snowden

  • Thanks John

    Yes you are right to state that we do not need any theological nous in order to extend Christian compassion to Haiti’s victims. But an event like this does raise plenty of questions, and that is where theology (and philosophy) comes into play.

    And free-will theists have arisen in large measure because they think their views offer a better theodicy. If God does not know the future, then he cannot be accused of causing the Haiti quake, or of knowing about it but not doing anything about it.

    But you are basically right to suggest that a plain reading of the NT (and the OT as well) makes it difficult to find a God who is incapable of future knowledge. Of course that is not to suggest that the texts are always perfectly clear in this regard, or that no countervailing texts can be found. There is some ambiguity here, and there are certainly some passages that the free-will theists can appeal to regarding what appears to be a lack of divine foreknowledge.

    But that will need to be teased out more fully in future articles.

    But stay tuned, because I am just now penning an article on Haiti and theodicy, which will deal with some of these issues, at least indirectly.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Re: the Haiti disaster. Humans could foresee that disaster, especially any competent engineer or architect. Scientists had predicted that a big one was due in that region 1 1/2 years ago. If humans can know what the future will be ( of course we didn’t know when it would happen, then God can most certainly figure it out .

    I believe that God knows all possible outcomes, but those outcomes can change based on Man’s free-will decisions (regarding his own actions). Haiti’s choice not to enforce stricter building codes (man’s free-will) met with forces following natural law and resulted in a greater tragedy than it would have been otherwise with stricter codes.

    Kyle Hayes

  • Let me just endorse Goldingay on the major point that the OT is essential to understanding the NT. When Paul writes “all scripture is inspired by God”, he has the OT in mind. My specialist area is Revelation which contains hundreds of allusions to different parts of the OT. So Christians, stop neglecting the OT.
    Jon Newton

  • Thank you Kyle Hayes. It was a matter of choice that people were settled in Haiti. It was a matter of choice that the warning of pending disaster was not taken seriously. It was a matter of choice to put up unsuitable housing structures. Israel’s gospel says God warns but we become stiff necked and go on and commit suicide. God knew, he warned and we disobeyed.
    Angeline Musarurwa

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