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Book Review: “Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour” by John Goldingay

There are many questions that arise for Christians as we read the Old Testament. There are almost as many different answers to each question as there are questions. John Goldingay, in Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour attempts to answer some of these questions by giving Christians concrete ways forward in addressing the Old Testament and ethics.

After a brief introduction outlining the meaning of ethics and how one might look at the Old Testament for guidance, Goldingay dives directly into questions of what guidance the Old Testament might offer for Christians regarding ethics. Specifically, he divides the questions into qualities, aspects of life, and relationships. Then, he looks at some specific texts and people in the Old Testament and how one might derive ethical guidance from them.

There are many broad topics in a book like this, which addresses ethical questions from how we ought to act in Godlikeness to how animals ought to be treated. Mostly, he follows a format that draws from numerous OT texts in order to try to show a specific direction for ethical inquiry and answers. Among the most difficult questions Goldingay approaches are those to do with sexuality–who are people allowed to have sex with–and questions about wealth and family. He tends to fall in the moderately conservative realm in the answer to all of these questions.

Goldingay’s approach to ethical questions in the Old Testament leaves many questions untouched. That is a necessity, of course, because only a massive tome could truly address many of the topics related to ethics in the Old Testament in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, readers may wonder about how Goldingay specifically derives his ethical standards. He does, of course, bring texts to the forefront in order to argue for each point, but he does little to address some of the more difficult passages in the Old Testament. Additionally, others have argued that an approach to the Old Testament that treats its laws like a kind of codified rule of ethics is indeed mistaken (eg. John Walton). These are highly relevant questions–especially when an answer to them may undermine the very basis for Goldingay’s project to begin with. Goldingay, I believe, has gone into these questions elsewhere in more detail, but for this book it mostly just serves as a straight up guide to how Goldingay believes the Old Testament ought to be viewed ethically.

Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour is an intriguing book that, like many works on the topic, will generate much discussion for those engaged in the topic. Those looking to try to determine some ethical outlook from the Old Testament will be rewarded, but some questions about the method and theory itself remain unanswered.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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