Graeme Goldsworthy — Gospel and Kingdom (Paternoster Press — £2.50). Bishop George Appleton — Praying with the Bible (Bible Reading Fellowship — £1.25).
WHAT ON earth are we to do with the Old Testament? One of the consequences of the current revival of Catholic interest in the Old Testament is that this question is nowadays as often uttered by Catholic preachers and teacher's as it has been for most of this century by their Protestant counterparts.
The problem goes like this: encouraged to make greater use or those Hebrew texts that were the only scripture known to Jesus and the first Christians, we loyally go back and read them, no longer as a quarry for proof-texts, but as having value in their own right.
Finding them a bit of a struggle (and where do you start?) we then have recourse to the latest and best in commentaries, only to discover that modern biblical scholars regard the whole thing as far more difficult than we should ever have supposed.
And it's not just that there are 'questions of historicity that seem to show up the whole enterprise in a most dubious light; scholars of the Old Testament insist (quite rightly. we humbly concede) that the texts we find there need to be considered on their own terms, as documents in their own right, and not as a kind of extended foreword to the gospel.
At this point the willing student feels inclined to shut his books and turn instead to investigating something simple, like the circuminsession of the Trinity.
But all is not lost, gentle reader; • there are scholars who find it possible both to take seriously modern biblical cricicism and to regard the New Testament as the last of a series of speakings by the one God, who because he is the same God throughout. speaks in the same recognisable accents, from his first powerful utterance, when the Heavens and the earth were created, to his latest and loudest speech, when the word became flesh. One such scholar is Graeme Goldsworthy, who has produced a most useful introduction into Christian exegesis of the Old Testament, which both preserves our insight that God speaks to is in this remarkable collection, and displays great reference for the texts as they were written.
The key is in the pattern, not imposed arbitrarily on the text (indeed, Mr Goldsworthy's campaign against such arbitrary exegesis is one of the most praiseworthy aspects of this book), but emerging from the fact that it is the same God who speaks, and very similar men and women who make such a mess of listening.
A reader who has not delved very much into modern Old Testament scholarship will find . here a great deaf to help him; those who have gone a little further may find • themselves mildly put out by the way in which he skates round (and in some case over: Daniel is named , without qualification as an exilic prophet) live exegetical bombs, where one might prefer him to defuse them.
Within his self-imposed limits, however, Mr Goldsworthy has performed a useful service for us all. I suggest that any reader who thinks that there is no point in trying to make sense of the Old Testament, or who would quite like to, but doesn't know where to start, take this book, and follow it through, looking carefully and in a leisurely manner at the text he discusses, do the exercises he suggests for each chapter, read the proffered readings, and then try interpreting the passages he puts forward: then work outwards, following up any passage or author that seems interesting, and so come to fall under the spell of God's word. and find Jesus Christ in its pages, while still taking it seriously in its own right. You will be astonished how much it is possible to do with the • Old Testament.
The reason for this may be found in our second book, which reminds us that the Bible is not merely a quarry of useful quotations and a subject for academic study. It is both of those things, ol course, but it is primarily a privileged place of encounter with the living God. It is, that is to say, a work that needs to be prayed through, slowly and reflectively, going back again and again to the different kinds of writing that make it up, just as we might return over and over to letters from someone we love, weighing every phrase for its full meaning, trying to master every nuance of expression.
Those who find this activity difficult (for the Bible, as we have said, is not always easy reading) will be enormously helped and cheered by the work produced by Bishop Appleton, who has been an Archbishop in both Australia and Jerusalem, and can draw upon a good deal of experience as a missionary priest throughout Burma and the Middle East.
The Bible Reading Fellowship have commissioned him to ,write this short book as a Lent book for 1982, though clearly its use need not be restricted to that season. If you are uncertain about how to pray the Bible, I suggest going through the book very slowly indeed, reflecting as you go, looking up every text that Bishop Appleton quotes, and dwelling on it, simply letting God speak to you as he wills.
Those who attempt this can hardly fail to profit enormously from the combination of the Bishop's practical experience and the undying freshness of God's word.
Nicholas King S.J.