“An Introduction to the Old Testament” by John Goldingay

An Introduction to the Old TestamentJohn Goldingay. An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches & Issues. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015, 400 pp., $32.00  (hardcover).

John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is a David Alan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament. With his vast number of publications, many of which are about Old Testament theology for the everyday reader, an introduction to the Old Testament through the lens of scholarly debates is no surprising addition to his impressive record. Rather than focusing on providing a textbook for Old Testament, he aims his writing towards non-academic lay people. In doing so, he provides a valuable tool for Old Testament readers and enables them to easily grasp the environment of the Old Testament books. He also provides simple introduction to the vast amount of scholarly consensus and debate surrounding the Old Testament. In effect, his work enables lay people to engage with the Old Testament in order for them to see what it says.

His introductory book is divided into five parts. Part One introduces the Old Testament and major scholarly issues surrounding the layout and composition of the entire Old Testament. Parts Two through Four are similar to Part One. However, they focus more directly on the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, introducing major scholarly and historical issues along with the layout and composition. Part Five wraps up by summarizing a few major issues that hold the Old Testament in unity and continuity with New Testament literature.

Most notable is the chapter divisions. Rather than operating traditionally with a lengthy chapter, Goldingay organizes the book in two page portions. So, Part One, for example, has 18 portions, 1.01-1.18. Every Part of the book is structured in this manner. Because each portion is so brief, the reader, especially the lay reader, is not overwhelmed with data and “scholarly stuff”. Yet the reader still has the opportunity to attain a basic grasp of scholarly issues. This is how his whole book is structured and it permits the reader to approach with ease, not demanding lengthy focus. Additionally, Goldingay provides more resources online for each Part, specifically noting in the preface that questions should be emailed to him. Thus, he recognizes that he does not necessarily answer all questions within his work and desires readers to engage with him in order to improve their own reading of the Old Testament.

Overall, his work is accessible to any reader and quite valuable to lay people who read the Hebrew Bible. While some may disagree to certain nuances with which he writes, such as the role of the Holy Spirit in reading the Old Testament or occasional comments on the Old Testament greatly influenced by the New Testament, it is an important book. He introduces scholarly issues with succinctness and simplicity. Rather than being a “textbook”, An Introduction to the Old Testament is more akin to a sidekick for a devotional or Bible study. It is certainly a valuable addition for lay people attempting to more fully understand the Hebrew Bible.