Book Reviews

Book Review: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament, Volume IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth” edited by N. Scott Amos

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a brief look at the commentary on Joshua, Judges, and Ruth

Joshua, Judges, and Ruth have an enormous number of issues that need to be addressed for any reader no matter when they lived. The introduction to this volume shows that several of the topics Reformation-era theologians were interested carry into today- the place of women, creation and providence, sacraments, and more. Reformation theologians also were more focused on some of these than modern theologians are, giving insight in ways that are often unexpected. 

The book of Joshua has many theological issues that continue to be debated to this day. The promise of the land to the people of Israel is seen by some of these Reformers as a conditional promise (eg. the English Annotations which note that the promise is given “if they would wholly follow the Lord their God….” (7)). The Reformers often provided highly figurative interpretations of passages throughout the Bible. John Mayer’s linking of Joshua to Jesus sees the crossing of the Jordan as a kind of baptism (20-21). Rahab was particularly controversial among the Reformers–should she have deceive to assist the Israelites? Is she an acceptable role model? Was she a woman of faith? Theologians from Philipp Melanchthon (Lutheran)  to Cardinal Cajetan (a counter-Reformer) weigh in on these topics. And again, this is one of the great strengths of this series and of each commentary in it. Readers will get numerous opinions from a range of theological perspectives, giving insight into the debates of the Reformation and the range of theological visions presented during that period.

Judges presents its own series of difficult questions. Jephthah’s apparent sacrifice of his daughter is approached from many directions, whether chastising him for making a foolish vow (Calvin) or noting that Rabbinic interpretation differs from most Christian interpretation of the passage (Johannes Brenz, 363). Other theologians try to make what Jephtah vowed non-literal (eg. Konrad Pellikan, 363-364). Once again this passage remains debated to this day and the multiplicity of voices from the Reformation can help guide that interpretation. Deborah is another hotly debated topic, as Reformers note her leadership or try to avoid the implications of the same. 

Ruth’s primary division of opinion–though there are many–is around Naomi’s plan for Boaz. Did Naomi plan for Ruth to seduce Boaz, or was something else going on? Most of the Reformers either play with euphemism here or are either unaware of or ignore the potential implications of Ruth 3. This section of the commentary is especially interesting, as the Reformers try to reconcile the passage with their expectations of the biblical text. 

The commentary has moments like this throughout the text, set alongside passages that clearly draw out the theological positions of individual Reformers. It, like the other works in this series, is an excellent read. It will lead you to delving back into the Scriptures yourself as you read the Bible alongside some of the major (and minor!) theologians of the Reformation Period. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Joshua, Judges, Ruth is a must-read for anyone interested in this field. 

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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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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