Influence

 the shape of leadership

Old Testament Ethics in a Modern World

John Goldingay surveys the ethical wisdom of the Law, Prophets, and Writings

Rick Wadholm Jr on April 16, 2019

In Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour, John Goldingay (formerly the David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary) applies his extensive scholarly work on the Old Testament to the thorny issue of ethics.

Goldingay has previously written a three-volume Old Testament theology and numerous books, commentaries, and articles examining ethics. This volume is among his works written for the average person in the pew, as well as those leading congregations. It is a valuable tool for church leaders preaching and teaching on themes related to Old Testament ethics.

According to Goldingay, ethics is concerned with what kind of people we are and what we do. As such, the Old Testament provides many concrete examples and instructions regarding the kind of people the God of Israel intended us to be.

Goldingay’s approach to ethics for the Church will prove both spiritually refreshing and challenging to readers. He writes in his typical down-to-earth British English, similar to his style in the Old Testament for Everyone commentary series (making use of the translation from that series). Goldingay writes with a prophetic voice, calling the people of God to be the people of God who live as the people of God.

In Part 1 of this volume, Goldingay discusses qualities of those the Old Testament identifies as godly, compassionate, honorable, angry, trusting, honest, forthright and content.

In Part 2, he considers specific aspects of the lives of those who live according to Old Testament ethics. Goldingay examines the themes of mind and heart, wealth, violence, shalom, justice, reparation, Sabbath, animals, and work.

Part 3 focuses on relationships, including those with friends, neighbors, family members, and others.

Part 4 examines some specific Old Testament texts as examples for developing an Old Testament ethic: five from the Pentateuch, and one each from Ruth, the Psalms, and Song of Songs.

Goldingay writes with a prophetic voice, calling the people of God to be the people of God who live as the people of God.

Part 5 tells stories about individual characters in the Old Testament as a way of engaging in Old Testament ethics: Abraham; Sarah and Hagar; Joseph; Shiphrah and Puah; Yokebed and Miryam; David; Nehemiah; and Vashti, Esther, and Mordecai. As a final postscript, Goldingay offers a way of wrestling with the difficult question of the Canaanites and their destruction.

Goldingay draws on his extensive previously published work on the texts and theology of the Old Testament, in a style non-theologians can appreciate and follow. As an example, when he discusses Hebrew terms of significance — such as the words for “covenant,” “faithfulness,” or “compassion” — Goldingay transliterates the Hebrew and provides simple explanations of the usage of such terms in numerous contexts of the Old Testament.

In his book, Goldingay does not get bogged down citing sources or engaging critical scholarship. His approachable style is rooted in extensive research, but he leaves that research in the background. Further, Goldingay provides concrete examples of how the ethics of the Old Testament played out in the life of Israel (or should have) and suggests ways it might play out in our own lives. These examples carry the reader through many of the stories, instructions, characters, relationships, attitudes and actions strewn across the 39 books of the Old Testament.

While this book is not intended to be comprehensive, it does cover a lot of terrain in pointing toward the many ways in which the contemporary Church must pay attention to the Old Testament as we seek to become the people God wants us to be.

As Pentecostals, we have often failed to appreciate the ways in which the Old Testament speaks today regarding who we are and what we must do. The tendency has been to allegorize Old Testament stories or to make characters of the Old Testament out to be moral examples. Goldingay addresses this particularly well, as one who considers both original contexts for the Old Testament and how the Church might properly walk into this life of faithfulness before God. He guides the readers toward hearing the text well and discerning contemporary applications.

Goldingay’s approach is not so much systematic as it is pastoral and thematic, showing readers ways of actually engaging, hearing and obeying these Scriptures. As such, this volume would serve well for those seeking to know more about Old Testament ethics by way of introduction to the many ways the Old Testament speaks to the Church today regarding the kind of people we must be and what we must therefore do.

Book Reviewed

John Goldingay, Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).

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