Graeme Goldsworthy Interview
One my favorite biblical interpreters is Graeme Goldsworthy, former lecturer in Old Testament, biblical theology, and hermeneutics at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. Below is an interview I recently conducted with Goldsworthy.
1. Graeme, we never outgrow the gospel, we grow as Christians only by way of the gospel. Since this word “gospel” is so important and so often used, yet so rarely defined in Christian circles, could you please define “the gospel” for us?
Justin, you are right. We cannot go on from the gospel, only with the gospel.
I would define the gospel as the events, or the message proclaiming those events, of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is not simply to tell the events in order, but to allow the Bible to give its interpretation of those events.
It is important that we don’t confuse the gospel (the objective events of 2,000 years ago), with a lot of things that we might include in an evangelistic talk or sermon. Thus things that are NOT the gospel include:
Our need for the gospel.
Our predestination to be beneficiaries of the gospel.
The effects of receiving the gospel.
The effects of not receiving the gospel.
Thus, contrary to some inexact Christian pious talk, we cannot live the gospel. We can, and must, seek to live consistently with it, but only Jesus lived, and died, the gospel.
2. Graeme, you write books on biblical theology. For those who aren’t familiar with biblical theology, could you tell us a little bit about what biblical theology is?
Biblical theology is the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible. It’s the study of the matrix of divine revelation. At the heart of the gospel is the person of Jesus Christ; he is the word of God come in the flesh. The nature of the gospel is such that it demands that it be at the centre of the biblical message. Biblical theology is, then, the study of how every text in the Bible relates to Jesus and his gospel. Thus we start with Christ so that we may end with Christ. Biblical theology is Christological, for its subject matter is the Scriptures as God’s testimony to Christ. It is therefore, from start to finish, a study of Christ.
Biblical theology consists in the study of what the Bible teaches as the Bible teaches it. Its focus is on the big picture of the unity of the Bible. There are two complementary approaches to biblical theology (BT). The one is synchronic, that is, it takes a part of the biblical text and opens out its theological teaching. Thus, we might have an examination of the theology of a particular book or theme. This approach, however, in order not to be fragmentary, needs the other perspective, the diachronic. This looks at the unity of the biblical message throughout the whole of redemptive history contained in the canon of Scripture.
How BT is actually done will depend a great deal on our dogmatic presuppositions about the nature of Scripture. If we have not got confidence in the Bible as the inspired word of God, we will treat it as a collection of human documents. Liberalism killed BT because it could not allow for the unity of Scripture as reflecting the one mind of its one Author.
3. How have you seen the gospel misunderstood or obscured because of a lack of thoughtful biblical theology?
A lack of BT leads to a lack of a proper sense of the inter-connectedness of all texts. Some Christians appear to regard the OT as a largely unconnected with Jesus. For them, God tried salvation by works of the law in Israel, but it failed. So, God had to come up with a better plan and, lo and behold, we have the gospel!
Good BT is needed in order to connect the OT and the NT in a valid perspective. Because the NT presupposes the OT, ignorance of the OT leads to a superficial view of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ (messiah), and be the fulfiller of the OT.
4. Graeme, what are some other dangers that can creep into a church if a church is not taught about biblical theology?
Biblical theology shows us that all texts do not have the same relationship to the Christian believer. What happens when people are not shown this is a tendency to short circuit texts. In other words, evangelical piety can lead people to rush from reading a text straight into the question of what this says to us and about us. But, there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus and BT helps us to see how Jesus mediates the meaning of any text to us. The Christian is defined by his or her relationship to Christ, not to any other person or event. Thus all persons and events in the Bible must stand in a discernible relationship to Christ if they are to say something about us.
5. Describe the importance that Luke 24:27 has played in your work.
This passage as a whole, ie. Luke 24:27 in its context, along with vv.44-45, is for me one excellent starting point in establishing our hermeneutics of the Bible. For me, it is part, but only a part, of the NT evidence that the OT is about Jesus. How it is about him is the next question to be dealt with. For me this passage is part of the evidence that the first question we put to a text is not “What does this say to or about us?,” but “How does this text testify to Jesus?” I say again, the Christian life is defined by our relationship to Jesus, so until we understand who and what Jesus is, we cannot properly understand what our relationship to him is.
6. Graeme, of all the books you’ve written, which book do you sense has been most helpful for others? Why?
Probably Gospel and Kingdom followed by According to Plan. Different books help different people. The common denominator in everything I’ve written is a desire to demonstrate the value of BT and, my understanding of course, of how to do it. These two, more than others, attempt to show the big picture of biblical revelation, while others, such as Gospel and Wisdom and The Gospel in Revelation are more focused on specific things. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture also sets out something of the big picture but is aimed more narrowly at teachers and preachers.
7. Finally, Graeme, I know that many people who are reading this interview have never studied biblical theology. What are a few introductory books on biblical theology that you would direct such readers towards?
Other than my own books, which I do not hesitate to say that people should read them (if I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have written them!), others that point in the same direction would include:
And of course for children you cannot go past:
Dave Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible