Gospel and Kingdom:
A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament
Graeme Goldsworthy (Paternoster, 1981)Blurb Review by Brian G. Hedges
Review by Brian G. Hedges
Graeme Goldsworthy, former Lecturer in Old Testament Studies at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, has provided an immensely helpful, gospel-laden, theologically-rich, lay-friendly feast in this short book on the Old Testament. Writing from "a deep concern for the recovery of the Old Testament as part of the Christian Bible" (5), Goldsworthy masterfully demonstrates how the gospel of Christ provides the key to interpreting the three-quarters of the Bible that most Christians tend to neglect.
In his Introduction, Goldsworthy rehearses a scene that most of us have probably experienced - a young man faced with the challenge of sharing a Bible lesson to a group of children during a Sunday School Anniversary service. The big question is how to apply a familiar story from the Old Testament to his young hearers. He has recently seen someone tell the story of David and Goliath, but he was troubled with the application. "The fellow dressed up as Goliath had progressively revealed a list of childhood sins by peeling cardboard strips off his breastplate one by one, as the speaker explained the kind of ‘Goliaths' we all have to meet. Then a strapping young David appeared on cue, and produced his arsenal - a sling labeled ‘faith' and five stones listed as ‘obedience', ‘service', ‘Bible reading', ‘prayer', and ‘fellowship'" (8). Was this a legitimate application of the familiar story? We've all faced similar quandaries and, if we've given the least amount of reflection to it, have wrestled with such questions. "Every time we read the Bible we meet this problem of the right application of the text to us" (9). To help us navigate the choppy waters of Old Testament interpretation is the purpose of this book.
Chapter one begins with a more basic question: why read the Old Testament at all? There are multiple reasons why most people do not: on the left, there are those who view the Old Testament as sub-Christian and believing that it is merely the record of man's natural religious evolution, have written it off as irrelevant. On the right are those who are desperately trying to reconcile a high view of Scripture with disturbing things as imprecatory Psalms, Israel's slaughtering of enemy nations, and the imposition of the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes in the Mosaic law. Still others avoid the Old Testament because they find it "dry and uninteresting . . . wordy, cumbersome, and confusing" (12). To add the confusion are many "false trails" (13) that lead to faulty interpretation, especially the "allegorical method" of the early and medieval church (the author mentions W. Ian Thomas's If I Perish, I Perish as a modern example). Help, however, can be found from the Protestant Reformers whose rallying-cry of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) helped believers begin to see the value of the Old Testament and its "significance for Christians because of its organic relationship to Christ" (17).
This brief foray into history is concluded with the author's contention that "the most compelling reason for Christians to read and study the Old Testament lies in the New Testament" (18). The New Testament, with at least 1600 direct quotations from Old, and several thousand more allusions, "presupposes a knowledge of the Old Testament." The attitude of Christ Himself towards the Old Testament must determine our own. "The more we study the New Testament the more apparent becomes the conviction shared by Jesus, the apostles and the New Testament writers in general: namely, the Old Testament is Scripture and Scripture points to Christ" (19-20). Just how the Old Testament points to Christ is what we must learn. The New Testament itself will govern our steps as we remember that "the process of redemptive history finds its goal, its focus and fulfillment in the person and work of Christ. This is the principle underlying this book" (20).
Chapter two focuses on the importance of "Bridging the Gap" between the ancient text and the contemporary world. We must bridge the gap of time and culture, but also of theology. But the gap widens with each move backwards in redemptive history, so that the gap between us and pre-Pentecost believers is greater than the gap between us and Paul, while the gap between us and the pre-crucifixion disciples is greater still, and the gap between us and Old Testament Israel greatest of all. The upshot of this is that ways of handling the Old Testament which ignore its redemptive-historical context are inherently dangerous. For example, we should be wary of character studies which simply consist of observing behavior and exhorting people to learn from those observations. "We must not view these recorded events as if they were a mere succession of events from which we draw little moral lessons or example for life" (25). For example, to apply the story of David and Goliath with the exhortation that believers should overcome the giants in their lives as David did Goliath ignores a significant contextual consideration - namely that "David is the one who, immediately prior to the Goliath episode (I Samuel 17), is shown to be God's anointed king . . .So when it comes to his slaying of Goliath it is as the unique anointed one of God that he wins the battle" (27-28). This changes the application. Rather than identifying ourselves with David, we should identify ourselves with soldiers who watched the anointed king battle in their stead. "The same point may be made about the lives of all the biblical characters who have some distinct office bestowed on them by God. If their achievement is that of any godly man the lesson is clear, but if it is the achievement of a prophet, a judge or the messianic king, then to that extent it no more applies to the people of God in general than does the unique work of Jesus as the Christ" (28). This then raises the question of "what governs the right approach to the meaning of the Bible" (28). What principles will help us avoid "flights of fancy" in our interpretation? Is there a unifying theme to Scripture, and if so, what is the structure of that theme? Discovering that theme and structure is all important and determines everything else in our interpretation. "If the unity of the Bible has any meaning at all, the real context of any Bible text is the whole Bible" (31).
"What is the Old Testament?" asks Goldsworthy (chapter three). It is three things: literature (with many different genres), history (although not a simple history of Israel, or the history of ancient religion), and theology. In fact, it is "theological history" (41) which is governed by God's purpose and comes to us as "a part of God's word to man" (41). The Old Testament "records how God speaks to man declaring his purposes and intentions, how he acts on the on the basis of his word, and how he then interprets the events of his word" (42). The theology controls the history. "Theology means the knowledge of God as God himself reveals it" (42). The task of the interpreter is to discover that theology. "But we may not separate what God says and does from the context in which he says it and does it (the history) nor from the way he says what he does (the literary record)" (43). The unity of the Bible's message must take into account both its complexity and its diversity.
The fourth chapter discusses "Biblical Theology and the History of Redemption." Goldsworthy reminds the reader that biblical theology is to be distinguished from Christian doctrine. "Christian doctrine (systematic or dogmatic theology) involves a systematic gathering of the doctrines of the Bible under various topics to form a body of definitive Christian teaching" (44-45). This approach is helpful in many ways, but has certain limitations. Since the Bible itself is not a systematized textbook, the discipline of systematic theology necessarily involves the transformation if truth revealed in the dynamic historically-grounded text of Scripture into static, timeless truths. Biblical theology, on the other hand, "follows the movement and process of God's revelation in the Bible" (45). "Biblical theology is not concerned to state the final doctrines which go to make up the content of Christian belief, but rather to describe the process by which revelation unfolds and moves toward the goal of God's final revelation of his purposes in Jesus Christ" (45). Whereas systematic theology is more concerned with the finished product - a summary of Christian belief - biblical theology seeks to understand the progressive unfolding of truth within the historical context of God's revealed and redemptive word. The Old Testament is to studied, in fact, as "a history of redemption" (46) which progressively moves forward to the goal of "the Kingdom of God" (47). The author then highlights several features of this history of redemption. First, it is progressive, unfolding in "a series of stages, each self-contained, each coming to a climax leading in turn to a new stage" (47). Further, "the history of redemption is incomplete without the New Testament" (47). The Old Testament must be understood in light of the New. Which leads to a third feature, "the history of redemption is to be interpreted" (48). When the biblical text has been understood in its original context (exegesis) and interpreted in light of God's full revelation in Jesus Christ (hermeneutics), then (and only then) can it be rightly applied to the people of God today.
The next chapter is simply profound in its treatment of "The Covenant and the Kingdom of God." In only seven pages, Goldsworthy provides an interpretive compass that will greatly aid any reader to navigate the Old Testament Scriptures. "The Kingdom of God involves: (a) God's people (b) in God's place (c) under God's rule" (53-54). This basic concept is woven throughout Scripture and can be traced from Eden to God's promise to Abraham through the redemptive experience of the Exodus to the Davidic monarchy in Israel to the eschatological hope of the Old Testament prophets, all of which are fulfilled with the inauguration of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. The inter-canonical connections between Old and New Testaments begin to emerge here as the basic pattern of God's kingdom comes into focus with each successive stage of redemptive history.
Chapters six through nine focus in turn on the revelation of the Kingdom of God in these successive stages of redemptive history. "The Kingdom Revealed in Eden" (chapter six) emphasizes the importance of the Creator-creature relationship between God and man in understanding the Kingdom of God, discusses the meaning of man being made in the image of God, focuses on the kingdom pattern revealed in creation - "God's people (Adam and Eve) in God's place (the Garden of Eden) under God's rule (the word of God)" (60) - and contemplates man's fall into sin and the resulting consequence of judgment as well as the intervention of God's grace in early human history (Adam -Noah). The next chapter takes up "The Kingdom Revealed in Israel's History." The author's concern here is not to summarize all of the details or facts of Israel's history but to "uncover the structure of the whole range of history" (67). This is the longest chapter in the book and covers the primary epochs of Israel's history and the theological significance of each event. Goldsworthy begins with the calling of Abraham God's covenant promises to him and his family. He explains the three elements of the Abrahamic Covenant - Abraham is promised descendants who would become a great nation, inherit the promised land, and become God's own people. "God in fact promises Abraham that his descendants would be God's people in God's place under God's rule, and all the Abraham stories must be seen in this light" (68). The next epoch is the Exodus, which becomes "the key model for the understanding of redemption in the life of Israel" (73). This section includes an extremely helpful discussion of the Sinai Covenant and the giving of the law (pages 73-78). The law can only be rightly understood when seen in relation to two major events which stand behind Sinai: the Exodus and God's covenant with Abraham. "The law is given to the people of God after they become the people of God by grace. Sinai is dependant upon the covenant with Abraham and is an exposition of it" (75). "The Entry and Settlement" (78) then follows, covering the importance of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, along with "The Progress Towards Monarchy" (81) on Judges. Then Goldsworthy takes up the stories of Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon with a focus on God's covenant with David recorded in II Samuel 7. The chapter ends with Israel as a divided kingdom, as both Israel and Judah "move with gathering momentum towards a cataclysmic judgment of God upon their sinful rejection of the covenant" (90).
Chapter eight continues with "The Kingdom Revealed in Prophecy." The chapter begins with a brief overview of prophecy in the Old Testament, which distinguishes between two "orders" of prophets and places the various prophets of Israel (from Moses to Malachi) in their historical contexts. Several features of the prophetic ministry are highlighted, such as transgression of the law, judgment, and salvation. Then Goldsworthy focuses on "The Kingdom Pattern in Prophecy." "All the hope for the future is expressed in terms of a return to the Kingdom structures revealed in the history of Israel from the Exodus to Solomon" (99). But this future hope will be significantly different, in that "sin and its effects will be eradicated" with the restored Kingdom "in the context of a new heaven and a new earth" (99). Goldsworthy is at his best in fleshing this out. He first draws out the features of Israel's history which make up the Kingdom pattern - namely: "i. Captivity as a contradiction to the Kingdom. ii. The Exodus events as God's mighty act of salvation on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. Iii. The Sinai covenant binding Israel to God as his people. iv. The entry and possession of Canaan. [and] v. The focusing of God's rule through the Temple, the Davidic king, and the city of Jerusalem" (99). Then Goldsworthy show how "each of the features of the historic kingdom revelation will be renewed in the last days when God acts finally for salvation" on the basis of his covenant love. These features are outlined as the new captivity, the new exodus, the new covenant, the new nation, and the new creation (100-102) - this outline laced with pervasive references to key passages in the Old Testament prophetic books. A brief postscript summarizes the high points of Israel's history from the reconstruction under Ezra/Nehemiah through the interval between the Old and New Testaments.
Chapter nine turns the corner from old to new in consideration of "The Kingdom Revealed in Jesus Christ." Since Christ is the goal of all redemptive history, "the whole Bible must be understood in light of the gospel" (105). Jesus is the key to interpreting the whole of Scripture and our task is learn how this works. Central to this task is clarity in defining the gospel. "It is not sufficient to stress the ethics of the man Jesus of Nazareth out of the context of the saving acts of God (as many liberals do), nor to stress the supernatural presence of the Christ with the believer out of the context of the meaning of the historical humanity of God come in the flesh (as many evangelicals do)" (105). So what is the gospel? Christians answer in many different ways and usually with some truth to their answers. Yet clarity on exactly what the good news is seems to be lacking. Goldsworthy contends that "the gospel is a declaration of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, rather than (as is often implied) what God does in the believer, although we may not separate the two" (106). But the subjective experience of the gospel flow from the objective historical facts of the incarnation, perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the gospel; this is the good news. Our new birth, faith, sanctification and perseverance result from, but are not themselves, the gospel, and Goldsworthy contends that this distinction has a bearing on our overall interpretation of Scripture. This gospel is called "the gospel of the kingdom," which leads to the "unavoidable conclusion . . . that the gospel fulfills the Old Testament hope of the coming of the Kingdom of God" (108). The revelation of the kingdom in Jesus Christ is related to, yet different from, the earlier kingdom expressions in Eden, the history of Israel, and the prophetic hope of Israel. The reality of the kingdom in Jesus Christ fulfills all of the "terms, images, promises and foreshadowings in the Old Testament" (109). "That is to say that the coming of the Christ transforms all the Kingdom terms of the Old Testament into gospel reality" (109-110). The Kingdom of God involves God's people in God's place under God's rule and the coming of Christ gives new and final definition to each of those three elements. Goldsworthy takes each in turn. "The People of the Kingdom" (God's People) in the Old Testament were Adam and Eve, then the descendants of Abraham, the people of Israel, the Davidic dynasty, and the faithful remnant. And in the New Testament, Christ is depicted as the last Adam, the seed of Abraham, the true Israel, and the Son of David. "These various identities of Jesus establish one clear point. Jesus Christ is the head of the new race" (112). "The Location of the Kingdom" (God's place) in the Old Testament revelation was first Eden, then Canaan, and in the prophetic hope, a glorified Canaan. The Old Testament also focuses on "Jerusalem (or Zion) as the centre of God's land" (113) and the Temple as the place which represented the dwelling-place of God among His people. In the New Testament, Jesus Himself is the locality of the Kingdom. God "tabernacles" among us in the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Jesus is the Temple and Zion is where Jesus now reigns at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:22). "The Rule of the Kingdom" (God's rule) is testified in the Old Testament with the themes of covenant and kingdom. The great covenant summary was "I will be your God, you shall be my people." This goal was implicit in Eden, and progressively explicit in God's covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David, finally culminating in the prophetic hope of a "new covenant" - which would be written in the hearts of God's people. The New Testament shows that the gospel fulfills the hope of the new covenant by perfectly achieving what could only be foreshadowed in the old (cf. Hebrews 8-9). The New Testament also takes up the theme of kingdom by showing how Jesus, the Son of David, fulfilled the prophecies concerning David's restored rule in his resurrection (cf. Acts 2:30-31, 36). But the kingdom is both "now and not yet" (118) and Christians live in the tension between what the inauguration and the consummation of the kingdom. This chapter concludes with Goldsworthy's assertion that "to see the kingdom of God we must look at Jesus Christ" (120).
In chapter ten, Goldsworthy begins to pull all the pieces together, discussing again "Principles of Interpretation." He first summarizes the main points already covered (with a helpful diagram - the last of eight which are spread throughout the book), then discusses "The Method in Practice." According to Goldsworthy, the process of interpretation involves three basic steps. "1. Identify the way the text functions in the wider context of the kingdom stratum in which it occurs. 2. Proceed to the same point in each succeeding stratum until the final reality in the gospel is reached. 3. Show how the gospel reality interprets the meaning of the text, at the same time as showing how the gospel is reality is illumined by the text" (126). But with these steps, he also warns readers not to overlook the complexity of the Old Testament and to remember that "no text stands alone . . . the whole of Scripture is its ultimate context" (127). Therefore, readers should "beware of taking every portion of a size [of text] convenient for daily reading (whatever that may be) and forcing it to yield some self-contained Christian truth" (127).
Chapter eleven ("It's That Giant Again!") considers "the application of Christological interpretation methods" (128). This is a fascinating and helpful chapter which takes up David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), Rahab's Scarlet Cord (Joshua 2:15-21; 6:22-25), The Polluted Spring (II Kings 2:19-22), Blessing the Child-Killers (Psalm 137), and Nehemiah Rebuilding Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:17-4:23) as examples for how apply Christ-centered hermeneutics. Goldsworthy avoids simplistic and forced explanations of the text, while faithfully applying the principles developed throughout the book. The Conclusion then discusses Goldsworthy's conviction that "twentieth century evangelical Christians have experienced a radical loss of direction in handling the Old Testament" (136) and discusses how both "allegorical interpretation" and "prophetic literalism" have both caused some evangelicals to throw away "the hermeneutical gains of the Reformers in favour of a mediaeval approach to the Bible" (136). He also challenges "a generation of bad habits in Bible reading" which contributes to the modern misuse of the Old Testament and discusses the shift in evangelical thinking from "the Protestant emphasis upon the objective facts of the gospel in history to the mediaeval emphasis on the inner life" (137). Goldsworthy believes that "the evangelical who sees the inward transforming work of the Spirit as the key element of Christianity will soon lose contact with the historic faith and the historic gospel" and that "inner-directed Christianity . . . reduces the gospel to the level of every other religion of the inner man" (137).
Finally, the book ends with three appendices, which include suggested Old Testament readings which will introduce readers to some primary Old Testament themes (Appendix A), a list of group study questions for each chapter (Appendix B), and a list of ten Old Testament passages on which the reader can practice the hermeneutical skills learned in this book. A subject index is also included. Gospel and Kingdom is easily one of the most enriching books I have ever read. Graeme Goldsworthy's obvious passion for Christ and Scripture make his book a delight to study. The book is as clear in style as it is rich in content. Scholars and students, pastors and laymen alike will all benefit from a thorough digestion of it. I heartily recommend Gospel and Kingdom.
- 1 Corinthians
- 1 John
- 1 Samuel
- 1 Timothy
- 2 John
- 2 Kings
- 2 Samuel
- 3 John
- Biblical Theology
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Old Testament Theology
- Song of Songs
- Wisdom Literature