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First Day is Goldingay

posted by xscot mcknight

John Goldingay ends the preface to volume 2 of his OT Theology (OT Theology: Israel’s Faith) with a zinger that I find to be so, so true: he gives credit to readers who have saved him “from some of my more outlandish statements. I hope some remain.” They do, and they come in his Introduction.
Here’s how he gets us going: “First, Christ did not come primarily to reveal something new…. Christ came to do something, not to reveal something…. So did Jesus say nothing new? … In this story First Testament faith finds its ultimate expression. But the New Testament makes less difference to that faith than people think…. And thus we can study the theology of the First Testament separately from that of the New Testament without losing too much — and certainly without losing as much as we do if we follow the church’s practice of studying the New Testament separately from the First Testament, which it allegedly regards as Scripture” (18-20).
Well, what do you think of those observations?
Whatever you think of them, here’s some points from the first 80 or so pages. [The 1st chp is about 170 pages long; where’s Dan Reid when we need him telling John to shorten his chps?] Well, after all, Goldingay might come back, “It is is about God!”
The assumption of the First Testament is that there is one God and that God’s name is YHWH. The often-made point that God is unknowable — apophatic theology and its variants — is not quite the way we find it in the Bible: this God is knowable and becomes known in what is said and what is done. Holiness in the FT [=First Testament] does not create dread so much as does God’s majesty. Majesty is the outward expression of God’s holiness.
The “eternality” of God is about God spanning history more than speculation about foreverness. God as “Creator” is more about God’s ongoing creation than just about God making things all at once long, long ago.
Monotheism is Enlightenment stuff; the FT teaches Mono-Yahwism. Yhwh alone is the deliverer and liberator. The big issue is not arithmetical — there is only one God — but “Whom are you treating as God?” (40).
Anyone who reads the FT carefully will see Yhwh’s aides and representatives and rivals, and this is one of the only books you will find that deals with this theme — doesn’t Goldingay like that which cuts across the grain? — as thoroughly, interestingly, honestly, and carefully as does Goldingay. These other deities, he says, exist but they don’t count as God. Deut 32:8-9 teaches the reality, sees these lesser deities as appointed by God, and sees them as governing other nations. [For our readers, Gerry McDermott’s book, God’s Rivals, dealt with this in the context of world religions.]
God’s gender? “The FT avoids bringing sexuality into its portrait of Yhwh. ‘He’ is neither ‘man’ nor ‘woman’ (Deut 4:6) [citing Gerstenberger]” (47).
Yhwh frequently is embodied in representatives.
Very good section on “the Satan” — the accusing angel in the divine cabinet/council. Here is what Goldingay says:
“‘The adversary’ is not a supernatural being with power over against Yhwh. His authority is strictly circumscribed. He can accuse, but he cannot judge (Zech 3). He can tempt, but he cannot overwhelm; he requires human cooperation (1 Chron 21). He can test, but only within boundaries that God allows (Job 1-2)” (55).
Then he has a lengthy and comprehensive section on Yhwh’s Lordship — over earth, over Israel, … and then comes to freedom and flexibility.



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Luke

posted April 1, 2008 at 12:37 am


I love Goldingay because he seems so candid and honest with the text (though at times he does seem to go a little too far and has an agenda). He is not very interested in tradition or Christian code language or conservative scholarship, but is a man of the text and presents the evidence to his readers.
In regards to the statement he made in your 2nd paragraph, I personally think he is right on the money. I know that’s not a typical Christian response, because they say that we have to read the Old in light of the new no matter what, and they look at the New as a divinely inspired commentary of the old (which I like Goldingay’s use of “First” and “Second” as opposed to “Old” and “New”). I believe we can study the FT apart from the Second…Jesus did it during his time. We find the ultimate fulfillment in the Second testament of the FT, but a knowledge of the FT before studying the Second is more imperative than having a knowledge of the Second before one studies the first…absolutely, and yet the FT is often completely ignored in the church or put somewhere in the background. We’re too focused with preaching and teaching out of Romans and Ephesians than teaching our congregations about the Exodus or the period of the judges. It’s sad b/c the FT sheds so much light on the second, and the second can’t be fully understood apart from the FT…though the FT can be understood much easier apart from the second.
What say you Scot?



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Diane

posted April 1, 2008 at 6:05 am


Isn’t it true that we can know attributes of God, but that God (Ywhw) is ultimately unknowable by humans?



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Scot McKnight

posted April 1, 2008 at 6:10 am


Luke,
I think Goldingay overplays his cards in the second paragraph above. I’m not sure it is all that easy to see the christocentric level in the OT that we find, say, in the temptation narrative or the cross or in Pauline theology or even in the book of Hebrews. The neglect of the FT is inexcusable. So, I like Goldingay on these themes. Makes me think.
Diane,
I’m not quite sure what you mean on this one. “Ultimately unknowable”? Not absolutely exhaustible, of course.



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Dan Reid

posted April 1, 2008 at 7:32 am


Dan Reid was probably reading Scot McKnight’s blog while Goldingay’s chapter was expanding to Barthian proportions. Or else he was just carried away by Goldingay’s great material. Sorry, Scot, to make you work so hard for just one blog!
Seriously, readers of this blog will be interested in Goldingay’s life of faith illustrated in this recent LA Times article on prayer:
http://www.latimes.com/features/religion/la-me-beliefs29mar29,1,2212404.story?page=1
Dan



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Diane

posted April 1, 2008 at 7:35 am


Possibly I mean not absolutely exhaustible but I think I mean not completely knowable, in the “his ways are not our ways” mode. This matters to me because in the community I deal with some say “I am a nontheist because I can’t know what God is” and I think to myself ‘but that’s exactly why the ancient Israelites (and modern Jews) won’t depict God and called God Yhwh’ … in other words, I want to say that the nontheists are really articulating a Biblical position, but I’m not sure if this true.



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ChrisB

posted April 1, 2008 at 8:05 am


But the New Testament makes less difference to that faith than people think
OK, this is less bizarre than that “footnote” comment we started out with, but it’s still pretty far afield. If we believe that the Hebrew scriptures point to Christ, how can the NT not make a huge difference?
Monotheism is Enlightenment stuff; the FT teaches Mono-Yahwism.
Is there an Isaiah in his Bible? We’ve been over the whole henotheism bit before, so there’s no need to belabor it here, but I think he’s seeing progressive revelation and calling it polytheism.
Still, it sounds like there’s lots of good, interesting stuff in there.



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wess

posted April 1, 2008 at 8:30 am


I love Goldingay, I’m glad you’re reading through his work and posting on it. He’s was one of my absolute favorite profs at Fuller, hands down.



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John W Frye

posted April 1, 2008 at 10:08 am


It seems like Jesus himself is the great missing One from the FT. Only he could say in Nazareth “This Scripture is fulfilled (Isa 61) in your hearing.” Or, on he could unpack the Law, Prophets and Psalms (Luke 24) as fulfilled in him. Jesus Himself is a revelation.



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T

posted April 1, 2008 at 10:23 am


On “the NT makes less a difference . . . than people think.” I don’t know what he means exactly by this–the details are certainly important here and will likely come through the book–but I can certainly see some ways in which this is true. For instance, when he says the FT teaches that “Yhwh alone is the deliverer and liberator. The big issue is not arithmetical ? there is only one God ? but ?Whom are you treating as God?? Jesus clearly continues that line of teaching hard core, pulling people off of money especially and onto himself as Yhwh’s ulitmate representative.
Relatedly, I don’t know which “people” Goldingay is referring to in the quote, but if he’s talking about mainstream western Christians, but it seems we’ve overlooked some big similarities on the subject of the gospel itself. If the “good news” of the FT that Yhwh reigns (& delivers), which happens to dovetail if not match the gospel of the gospels amazingly well, then it’s certainly true that many people have downplayed, ignored or misunderstood the very (central) gospel of the NT that grows right out of the FT’s gospel.



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Scott Watson

posted April 1, 2008 at 12:13 pm


I think that the essential point about apophatic theology is missed: the “unknowability” of God should not be framed in terms cognitive terms;it has to do with the experiential understanding of the essence of YHWH’s being. Remember that Moses asked for YHWH to reveal his glory (kavod)but YHWH just allowed the “backside” of his presence to pass before him,to protect him from death.
Anyway, the name YHWH and it cognates, as most Semitic grammarians attest,is based on what is called an idem per idem construction which denotes intensity,that is,’I truly am [here to save]’. In the literary context of Ex. 3, it answers the theological quandry of the seeming absence of the god of the patriarchs during the centuries of enslavement in Egypt (“What is your name [i.e.,authority or power]?”,that is,what can you do for us?). Thus,the divine name speaks to the revelation of the God of Israel as Divine-Saving-Presence, the central theme which is worked in the rest of the book of Exodus in terms of YHWH’s mighty acts and Israel’s unbelief in the face of these things.



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