By Jill Firth
John Goldingay offers us another interesting reading challenge: to read the Old Testament as Jesus’s Bible. Reading the OT and the NT is a two-way process. Quoting Richard B. Hays (Reading Backwards, 4), Goldingay invites us to ‘learn to read the OT by reading backwards from the Gospels, and–at the same time–we learn how to read the Gospels by reading forward from the OT.’
Goldingay begins with the lens of the early chapters of Matthew’s gospel to introduce five ways of reading the ‘First Testament.’ Firstly, the initial genealogy reminds us that the OT is a story, which is referred to and built on in the NT. Secondly, the annunciation and birth narratives introduce the OT promises which are fulfilled in the NT. Thirdly, Jesus’s God is connected to the OT through quotations, as at Jesus’s baptism. Fourthly, in the temptation and Sermon on the Mount, Jesus models a relationship built on his understanding of OT Scriptures. Fifthly, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s ethical teaching fulfils OT Scriptures. These five ideas form the central chapters of the book, on Story, Promises, Ideas, Relationship, and Life, which are considered in detail using texts from Matthew, Luke/Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews and Revelation. I especially read chapters 2 (Story) and 6 (Life) with interest.
Chapter 2 (Story) presents the narrative of the Old Testament as a Three Act Drama, from Adam to David, from David to the Exile, and the Exile. The story of the OT from Genesis to 2 Kings (Acts 1 and 2) is presented as a television drama series in 12 seasons, beginning with creation and ending with the fall of Jerusalem. The post-exilic period (Act 3) is covered in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Chapter 3 (Promises) engages with the OT prophets.
Chapter 6 (Life) engages with the idea of God’s condescension to human frailty in its discussion of divorce, slavery, and marriage. Goldingay argues that the Old Testament offers high ideals for relationships and life, but also works with the reality of our fallen state. He introduces the relational context of OT ethics, noting the lack of censure for the lie of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1. He proposes that laws which we may find disturbing such as the law of divorce, or of rules for captive women, may give some protection to women in non-ideal circumstances, giving some constraints to a man who may ignore a law against divorce or capturing a woman in war, and simply abandon his wife or treat a captive with impunity. Commenting on the ideal of marriage in the whole of Scripture, Goldingay lists a range of aspects of relationships today which may fall short of the ideal, including polygamy and clandestine relationships.
Not everyone will agree with all of Goldingay’s ideas, such as assuming that the book of Jonah is a fictional story, or that the book of Genesis was written in the exile, in Babylon. However, his writing is always enlivening, giving food for thought and discussion. The text is without footnotes or discussion of scholarly views, but includes suggestions for further reading, a subject index, and a Scripture index. The volume is suitable for a popular audience, and includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter.
Jill Firth lectures in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne. She is writing on Psalms and Jeremiah.