Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Conclusion to Goldingay’s OT Theology 1st Volume

I began the school year with a commitment to read through John Goldingay’s 3 volume Old Testament Theology during the year. So far I am on schedule and finished the first volume, Israel’s Gospel at the end of December. I post quotes from Goldingay on my Facebook page on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and welcome, even relish, comments. I don’t always agree with him, but he always makes me think about the text because he truly wrestles with what the text actually says rather than trying to force it into a preconceived theological system as many do.

The final chapter of the first volume is entitled Postscript: Old Testament Theology and History. Here he tries to answer the question “what kind of story” is the Old Testament? It is good news about how God has acted in Israel’s story but what is the nature of the story?

In the first section Narrative and History, Goldingay emphasizes that the Old Testament is made up of many types, or genres, of literature. Often, within the narrative genre one can find multiple types of literature. Even the historical sections are not designed to “just tell the facts” but are designed to teach about God. Even the “history” is biased by modern standards because ancient history had a different goal. The goal of the Old Testament was to present a prophetic judgment of the prevailing worldviews of the ancient world and present the perspective of Yhwh the Creator. The goal was to reflect on Israel’s God and the mission he had given and teach and motivate his people to accomplish it.

The intellectuals whom God inspired to write these stories were writing for God and community. When the community made them part of their scriptures, they were not doing something that went against their nature. But like other history, they do constitute self-reflection on the part of a civilization. 861

The fact that these narratives give prominence to God's involvement in events does not imperil their right to be designated history. A civilization has the right to decide how to give an account of its past, and specifically whether to include God in its account. 861

So the historians who formulated Israel's account of the past were involved in reflection in the manner of Israel's sages, in formulating a vision in the manner of Israel's prophets and even in worship in the manner of Israel's psalmists. They were working out what God had been doing and who God was. They were formulating God's vision for Israel. 865

In the 2nd section, History and Criticism, Goldingay criticizes purely pre-modern, modern and postmodern readings and criticisms of the Old Testament. The texts need to be read critically in light of their cultural, historical and literary backgrounds. However, we often do not have the information to do that and Goldingay asserts that we do not need to prove the events historical (it is often impossible to prove or disprove them) to read the stories with theological authority. This does not mean the events did not happen and it is significant to faith that they did happen. I think Goldingay is right to say that what we have is theological reflection on history and not “just the facts, ma’am.”

I assume that if we needed information on the origin of the material in order to interpret the narratives theologically, God would have made sure that we have it. Actually, the communities that preserved the Scriptures not only declined to incorporate the kind of data that would have helped us locate the texts historically, but also removed such data when they were there because they believed doing that would help us in interpreting them. And they did this so well that the historical-critical task can never succeed. 867

The text...fulfills part of its theological function by being larger than life,in order to show us that reality is greater than these events, while reflected in them. The narrative gives us the truth and not merely the facts, and this is another reason to focus on the text and not merely the events that lie behind it. 871

Scripture is not just concerned with the faith (or doubts) of some dead Israelite men, which is the way criticism has read it. It is concerned with a faith in the sense of what may surely be believed. Biblical theology is about truth and about God. Our study of what the First Testament says about God must let it have its own say, and criticism helps us do that. 873

In the final section, Creation and History, he concludes that the Old Testament is true because it brings us information beyond history. It is true because it reveals God to us. Perhaps I would see more history in the OT than Goldingay. Perhaps not, he sees a great deal of accurate history in the OT. I do think we need to be careful to read the OT within the ancient genre in which it was written. If we believe the Bible is inspired, authoritative and truth we should also see its forms as equally inspired and read it according to the way it was intended when it was written (of course in light of God’s subsequent revelation which reaches its end in Jesus).

Israelites could wonder whether the world could be trusted. It sometimes threatened to betray their trust. They made their statements about creation to reassure themselves that the creator could be trusted and that therefore the world God created could be trusted. 877

Proverbs, Job, the Psalms and Genesis tell true stories about God, the world and humanity, and in some sense in order to be theologically true, they also have to be historically true. They are not "scientific" accounts of creation, but neither are they stories without historical reference. 880

The creation stories told people that God was like that and invited them to a leap of trust in such a God that was then vindicated by where it led. It made it possible to reaffirm the stories' picture of a process of creation that involved sovereignty and planning even if it works itself out immanently via something that looks like trial and error and involves life for some as well as death for others. 883

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