I had the great honor of asking renowned Old Testament (OT) scholar and professor John Goldingay a few questions regarding the OT and its relationship to the Christian faith as well as to the New Testament (NT) in general. My questions are in bold followed by Dr. Goldingay’s responses.
From its opening pages the OT shocks the modern reader with bizarre imagery: a talking snake, a woman created from a man’s ribs, people living well beyond what is normal. Many have thus concluded that the OT is merely a collection of primitive myths. Is every bizarre account or depiction in the OT to be taken literally?
I was just watching the movie Wonderwoman and I’m looking forward to seeing Bladerunner 2049. We modern Western people love bizarre imagery! And one reason is that sometimes bizarre imagery conveys something true. So the talking snake suggests how bizarre it was that temptation came to the first human beings, and the woman created from the man suggests how they were both made of the same stuff and thus naturally become one, and the people living 900+ years suggests that they might have hoped to live forever – but each time in Genesis 5 it ends “and he died.”
Many have the impression that the nature of God in the OT is one of unforgiveness, wrath, and retribution, while the NT offers us a very different picture of God as forgiving, compassionate, and sacrificial. Is this a false dichotomy? How are we to reconcile a God who commands genocide with a God of total love?
In the OT, God is “compassionate and gracious, long-tempered, big in commitment and truthfulness, preserving commitment toward the thousands, carrying waywardness, rebellion, and wrongdoing” though “he certainly doesn’t treat people as free of guilt” (Exodus 34:6-7). In the NT God sends trillions of people to Hell.
Some seem to think that the idea of grace is nonexistent in the OT as is the concept of a relationship with God. How would you respond? Is the idea of “a relationship with God” simply a NT idea? Is grace merely a NT motif?
“Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6)
“The Lord bless you…. The Lord be gracious to you” (Numbers 6)
God is “ever gracious” (Psalm 37)
The Psalms are all about a relationship with God
In many circles the OT is understood to be superseded, or replaced, by the NT, its value given mere lip-service. What do Christians miss out on when such an attitude takes root?
For the Bible-reading Christian who struggles with reading the OT, what advice can you give him or her?
Start reading three chapters a day – start at Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah (one chapter each). Look for one thing from the reading each day that is illuminating or helpful or challenging.
Thank you for your time!
John Goldingay (see here for his website) is the David Allan Hubbard professor of Old Testament at Fuller where he has been since 1997. Previously he served as principal and professor of Old Testament at St. John’s Theological College (Nottingham, England) and currently serves as priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (Pasadena, CA).
The author of the recent A Reader’s Guide to the Bible (IVP, 2017), Reading Jesus’s Bible (Eerdmans, 2017), and Do We Need the New Testament? Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself (IVP, 2015), Goldingay is the author of numerous commentaries on OT books including Genesis, Exodus & Leviticus, Job, Lamentations & Ezekiel, Numbers & Deuteronomy, Psalms, and more. Goldingay is also the author of Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures (IVP, 2016) and Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel (IVP, 2015).