Sunday, October 05, 2008

Three important ways of handling the varied depictions of God in the OT

  1. The Brueggemann way: Focus not ‘on substance or thematic matters but on the processes, procedures, and interactionist potential of the community present to the text’ (Theology of the Old Testament, xvi)
  2. The Goldingay way: ‘Walter Brueggemann notes that the Old Testament is characterized by a “pluralism of faith affirmations” that makes it impossible now to go back to the idea of “a singular coherent faith articulation in the text”. Consequently “it is impossible to fashion a coherent statement concerning theological substance or themes in the Old Testament unless the themes or substance be framed so broadly or inclusively as to be useless”. My own starting point is in effect to grant the truth of this first sentence but deny the inference expressed in the second. We cannot identify a single faith articulation in the text, but we might be able to construct one out of its diversity, even if we find ourselves leaving some ambiguities and antinomies, and even if we still grant that the end result needs to recognize once more that we see only the outskirts of God’s ways. At least, it is this that I attempt in the present volume’ (John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology 2.17)
  3. A Christology shaped hermeneutical way: ‘in Christian theology there is a clear interpretative criterion for reading the Old Testament and that is that we read the Old Testament in the light of Jesus Christ’ (Graham Tomlin, ‘A Theologian’s Perspective’ in Is God a Delusion? pp. 110-111)

I know, I know, I should mention Brevard Childs but I wanted to wind that Childs-latrous Phil Sumpter up. Which is your preferred choice? One of the above, or another (anything to do with Childs doesn’t count)


At 10/06/2008 12:53 AM, Anonymous steph said...

Brueggemann I think although he wasn't a choice.

At 10/06/2008 3:04 AM, Anonymous Bob MacDonald said...

Don't leave anything out. Relish the ambiguities and lie between the antinomies.

At 10/06/2008 3:10 AM, Anonymous Bob MacDonald said...

Oh - and about #3 - isn't that kind of obvious and unavoidable? But what does it mean? This afternoon I heard Jonah 3 and 4 read at evensong. It is hilarious. The angry sullen prophet. That's the sign for the Christians. When they discover their anger and sullenness then they might start to figure out that the chosen people (against whom it is also a joke) live honestly in the varied light of their revelation.

At 10/06/2008 5:22 AM, Anonymous Judy Redman said...

Rather off your topic, Chris, but I agree with Bob about the hilarity of Jonah 3 & 4. Stomping off in a huff because God is compassionate and forgiving to other people as well as himself is just too delightful for words, and so very typical of some strands of religiousity.

At 10/06/2008 6:01 AM, Anonymous Weekend Fisher said...

I'm sure some will think me decidedly low-brow for saying this, but I enjoy the synthesis of the author of the letter to the Hebrews: "They reckoned him faithful who promised." The overarching theme I see in the depictions of God in the Old Testament is that he is a God who promises, who covenants, who binds himself to the world and to his people. It is a forward-looking faith in a God who involves himself with the matters of this world and makes himself known to his people and makes himself present to his people.

I think many of the concerns that are primary for us today were not so primary for the people back then. I wonder to what extent we bring interpretive frameworks that are anachronistic or culturally foreign to the text and then blame the text that it's a bad fit. The best interpretive framework for a text takes the authors' priorities as seriously as our own, if not more seriously than our own.

Or to say the whole thing a lot more simply, I don't know if Judaism would wholeheartedly agree that there is no coherent faith articulation in the Old Testament text.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

At 10/06/2008 7:44 AM, Anonymous reflectivechristian said...

For me, I am going to take the easy way out (!) and say a combination of all of the above, although favoring Goldingay's stance more than the others.

At 10/06/2008 9:38 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

Why do you want to "handle" the varied depictions of God in the O.T.? Leave them be. Let each depiction simply speak for itself. Quit "handling" them!

Take varied depictions in context. The Hebrews were a bronze-age tribe, they had a tribal war god at some early point. They sacrificed animals to it (all the gods preferred barbecue back then), just like other cultures around them did. They built their tribal god temples and tabernacles, just like other nations around them did for their high gods.

The tribal god of the Hebrews rose to higher henotheistic status, which is also something that happened in surrounding cultures. "El" was the high god of the Canaanites. The Hebrews began using that term "El" for their own high god, and incorporated "El" into many Hebrew names as well. The high god Marduk of Babylonia knew the hearts of all the other gods. He became a high creator god. Other cultures made "Sin" the moon god their high moral god. Some Egyptians made the sun god a high moral god. The Persians had Ahura Mazda as their high moral god, and when the Jews returned to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, they returned after the Persians conquered the Babylonians, so the returning Jews incorporated many high terms for the high moral creator god of Babylon and of Persian when speaking about Yahweh.

At 10/06/2008 9:55 AM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

What are your criteria for deciding, Chris?

At 10/06/2008 10:42 AM, Anonymous Rev Tony B said...

Goldingay. Reading the Bible is like listening to a symphony while following the orchestral score: lots of parts, all playing different lines, and sometimes you can hear the main theme.

Reducing it to "the Bible says" is like trying to play Beethoven's 5th on a penny whistle - you might manage the first 4 notes, but you lose a lot in the process.

At 10/06/2008 2:11 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

I'd like to know your criteria for making such a decision, CT.

I would take the third approach but change christological to TRINITARIAN.

At 10/06/2008 2:30 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

Phil, When I say Chris' post last night I was looking forward to your spirited response. Please don't disappoint.

J.B. how could we be Trinitarian in the OT?

I suppose when I'm doing OT theology I'm often bracketing the NT (at least initially). Perhaps with Brueggemann I'm concerned with first hearing the clarity before moving on to attempt any synthesis.

At 10/06/2008 8:03 PM, Anonymous Jim Getz said...

I tend to use take James A. Sander's views of the differing contexts providing differing levels of interpretation and intertextuality. Which is more or less what Bruggemann seems to be saying.

At 10/07/2008 12:14 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...


In layman's terms, Chris Wright's work Knowing Jesus through the OT and Knowing the Holy Spirit through the OT, particularly the latter, are excellent intros.

I reckon that if I believe in the NT as Christian Scripture, I have to agree with it (1) that God is Trinitarian; and that (2) the Son played an important role: in creation, in guiding Israel's messianic hope (1 Cor 10.14), in communicating to them (1 Peter 1:10-11); that the incarnate Son of God is the one who always has been YHWH (Rom. 10:9-13).

I suppose this is saying that if one is doing Christian interpretation, then the Christian interpretation is what matters. Not to say analysis of variegated data on God, his nature, etc., in OT isn't relevant.

But CT is citing biblical theology texts, not historical critical exegesis.

At 10/07/2008 1:09 AM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

J.B., I'm well read in the OT theology department - Childs, Barr, Brueggemann, Goldingay etc. I have my OT class reading Wright's knowing Jesus...

I am also christian reader, but I prefer to bracket the NT, at least initially, when I read and teach the OT. I want to be sure that I hear the testimony of the text clearly before I begin to synergize and/or systematize.

For example, I affirm the Biblical testimony that the Trinity was involved in creation. Nevertheless I would still read "wind" and not spirit in Genesis 1:2. I'm also don't think Gen 1:26 should be read as a reference to the Trinity.

Phil would naturally enough argue that the texts bear witness to a reality to which in the new testament we have more information. I don't dispute this.

I still along with CT want to hear what the OT says about God apart from the NT.

It would be nice to think that CT is correct... and he very well may be I wonder how many ambiguities and antinomies it takes for a particular construal to become incoherent?

At 10/07/2008 3:53 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

No Waltke option?

At 10/07/2008 4:26 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

Waltke's OT Theology has some excellent material in it...I love the assertion that the Bible has one theme, namely, the in-breaking/irruption of the kingdom of God (not an observation unique to him of course; cf. John Bright and others).

Ed, thanks for the thoughts. I'm just not sold I could do this in a theologically-oriented course designed to deal with the whole canon. I can understand it in a dissertation, perhaps even in a commentary; just not in a course or extended theological conversation dealing with the sweep of the OT as a whole. It would be difficult for me to talk about early chaps of Genesis w/out talking about ANE context re: concepts like chaos, image of god(s), etc.; if I'm talking about sweep of OT as a whole, it would be very difficult for me to avoid relating this to the context of NT. I could do it for a while, I suppose, and I of course allow that there is great scholarly advantage in isolated study.

But I reckon that the One True Story is so strongly a part of the canon (just ask any reader of any significant part of what later became the OT between return from exile and, say, 300 CE) that focusing too strongly on disparate elements risks losing the forest (ecosystem) by insisting the trees, shrubs, vine and grass (constituent elements) aren't the whole, as Brueggemann does.

Not to say that my view requires me, Chris, or anyone must invest a particular amount of attention to a unified view of God/Trinity and his/their work in order for a course to be legit!!

At 10/07/2008 9:56 AM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for your comment Ed. I'm trying to cut down on "spirited responses" for the time being for various reasons.

I'm with J.B. Hood. I commented on this issue a few weeks ago in my post The need for ontological categories in theological exegesis. The Trinity in the OT comes up as a case study.

At 10/07/2008 11:04 AM, Anonymous Sean said...

1 Pet 1:10-12... "In effect, this constitutes a claim that the true subject of biblical prophecy – and, by extension, of the Jewish scriptures as a whole – is Christ, and that the fulfilment of what is said by the prophets is found in the Christian gospel and is appropriated by Christian believers." Horrell, 1 Peter, pg. 62-63.

But, I'm with Goldingay as well, so the last two options seem quite vaiable.

At 10/07/2008 11:19 AM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

OK, I have no self discipline. I broke my "no spirited response" rule.

I've responded to Jim Getz's comments on this issue here, in which I think I cover both Ed's and J.B. Hood's concerns for trinity/christology and the need for both a dogmatic construal of the OT and the need to hear it on its own terms. I give my own response to each of the options and manage to have another dig at Brueggemann. I've also neatened the comments up and have posted them under Why exegesis needs dogmatics.

I really should get on with my doctorate!

At 10/07/2008 11:26 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

I'll have to say that I lean strongly toward John Goldingay's approach. Then again, I'm taking Goldingay's class on Isaiah right now at Fuller (I've also taken his class on Pentateuch and Writings). He's a spectacular scholar and a spectacular man of faith.

At 10/11/2008 1:00 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

For clarification, I wasn't saying I agreed with Brueggemann's approach! I tend more towards the third, with certain qualifications. But I think Brueggemann's (and Goldingay's)project must be seen as legitimate at some level. So perhaps I am saying "all three" too!

At 10/11/2008 3:56 PM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

Well, I guess that means we can be friends again ;)

(although I thought you would opt for #2. )

I agree with you, they all have their place (though, it receiving that place as part of a greater whole, they'll all have to be modified as well!).

By the way, my first ever comment on a blog was on this issue, in which I critiqued Goldingay in favour of Seitz (two years ago!). Amazingly, the page is still saved on my desktop. You can read it here (J.B. Hood also commented).


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