The Viability of the Old Testament

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 11.42.26 AMNo one in our culture defends the value of the Old Testament any more than John Goldingay, professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, and one of my favorite OT scholars (even if his books get a bit too long at times).

He’s also good at provocation, as can be seen in this title: Do We Need the New Testament?

It’s not just Greg Boyd’s book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God that provokes Goldingay but he is joined by Brent Strawn in his new book The Dying of the Old Testament. I don’t think these books — that is Boyd vs. the others — contradict so much as they are in tension, and I’m curious how Goldingay or Strawn (or both) would respond to the theological interpretation proposed by Boyd.

Having said that, I thought I’d draw attention to another book by John Goldingay, Reading Jesus’s Bible: How the New Testament Helps Us Understand the Old Testament. In this book Goldingay sketches give major themes in the Old Testament that determine how to understand the New Testament. For each Goldingay examines stuff in the Gospels that demonstrate the larger point — that we need the OT to comprehend the NT. Here they are, from p. 3:

The First Testament tells the story of which Jesus is the climax. Matthew begins here (Matt 1:1-17) with a kind of summary of the First Testament story up to Jesus in the form of a list of his ancestors. The summary tells us something important about how to understand Jesus and directs us back to the First Testament story in order to expand on that understanding.

The First Testament declares the promise of which Jesus is the fulfillment. After the list of names, Matthew goes on to tell the story of Jesus s birth and early months (Matt 1:18-2:23). It shows how passages from the Prophets are fulfilled or filled out in what happens; it thus uses the Prophets to help us understand Jesus and directs us back to read the Prophets.

The First Testament provides the images, ideas, and words with which to understand Jesus. Matthews account of Jesus’s ministry begins with his baptism by John and with God’s words to him from heaven, which come from the First Testament (Matt 3:1-17). So the account invites us to go back to the First Testament for an understanding of who Jesus s God is.

The First Testament lays out the nature of a relationship with God. Jesus models the nature of such a relationship during his temptations in the wilderness and teaches about it in the opening section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 4:1-11; 5:1-16). The first passage quotes extensively from the First Testament, and the second alludes extensively to its motifs, so that it invites us to discover more about the nature of a relationship with God by studying it.

The First Testament provides the foundation for Jesus’s moral teaching. Jesus goes on to declare, “You have heard that it was said But I
 tell you …” (Matt 5:17-48). He is again “fulfilling” or “filling out” the First Testament, speaking like a prophet, helping people to see implications in the Scriptures that they might be avoiding, and inviting us to study what the Scriptures have to teach us about the way we should live.

From Goldingay’s Do We Need the New Testament?

In a sense God did nothing new in Jesus. God was simply taking to its logical and ultimate extreme the activity in which he had been involved throughout the First Testament story. 12

To be a little paradoxical, if God hadn’t acted in this way in Jesus, he wouldn’t have been acting in that way in Israel’s story and in the world’s story.

In letting his Son die; God was being true to himself in undertaking this ultimate act of submission to human self-assertiveness, and refusing to be frustrated by it or to abandon humanity to its sinfulness or to surrender his relationship with humanity. It was necessary for humanity’s sake in order to bring home to humanity the truth about itself and about God, and to draw it from rebellion to submission, from resistance to faith. As the point is classically put, the act of atonement had an objective and a subjective aspect. 13

Yet the dying and the resurrection were the ultimate expression of who the God of Israel is, and the story of the dying and the resurrection is the story of that ultimate expression of who the God of Israel is. 14

As I said, he likes provocation, and this is about as good as it gets:

God’s strategy in seeking to fulfill his purpose for creation worked somewhat as follows. First he commissioned humanity to subdue and care for the world. It didn’t work. So [second] he tried destroying most of the world and starting again with one family. It didn’t work. So he tried a third time with one family but separated them from the rest of the world in order to bless them so spectacularly that the entire world would pray to be blessed as they were blessed. This strategy also didn’t work, and the descendants of Abraham and Sarah ended up back in the Babylonia from which they had come. God tried a fourth time by reestablishing the community centered on Jerusalem, though many people who had been scattered around the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds stayed in the place of their dispersion or spread further. While this arrangement proved more effective insofar as these Jewish communities were in a position to attract many Gentiles to come to believe in the God of the Torah, the Jewish people centered on Jerusalem remained under the domination of the superpower of the day. So God tried a fifth time by sending his Son into the world. When this strategy again initially failed in particularly catastrophic fashion, God again transformed disaster into potential triumph. He turned the failure and his refusal to be beaten by it into a message that could go out to the entire world, making use of that already-existent dispersion of the Jewish community and the way it had already brought some Gentiles to believe in the God of the Torah. 18

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