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The Story of Israel The Story of Israel
A Biblical Theology

C. Marvin Pate, J. Scott Duvall, J. Daniel Hays, E. Randolph Richards, W. Dennis Tucker Jr. & Preben Vang
ISBN 1844740552 (9781844740550)
IVP, 2004
£14.99

Category: Biblical Studies

There are many good Old Testament theologies and many good New Testament theologies but there are few biblical theologies. This combined effort aims to produce 'an overarching biblical theology that stresses large connecting motifs, a theology that attempts to step back from the trees for a moment and look at the forest as a whole.' (p.9) The authors believe that the story of Israel — the story of God's creation, humanity's sin and resulting exile, and God's mission to restore his people — is the prominent theological theme of scripture.

The Introduction provides a brief historical overview of biblical theology before identifying the recurring pattern of sin - exile - restoration in the story of Israel. Subsequent chapters cover sections of the biblical text from Genesis to Revelation:
Study of the Pentateuch reveals that people are presented with choices and when they fail to take seriously their responsibilities as the people of God then the relationship is breached and the consequences are sin and exile. The Deuteronomistic History relates how Israel failed to keep the covenant and ended up in exile. There is a tension here between the law of Deuteronomy and the grace of the covenants. There are also the stories of Elijah and the existence of a faithful remnant which give hope for the future.

The chapter on the Psalms and Wisdom Literature demonstrates that this is a contested story. Many of the Psalms repeat elements of the story and reinforce the need for obedience. Proverbs barely refers to the story yet still uses the principle of retribution, whilst Job and Ecclesiastes suggest a more nuanced interpretation of the story. In Sirach law and wisdom merge: those who are committed to Torah enjoy the blessings promised in Deuteronomy. The pre-exilic prophets proclaim that the covenant has been broken therefore the people have sinned and must repent, if they do not then they will be judged and sent into exile, but beyond that judgement there is hope for restoration and a new covenant. Obadiah, Nahum and Jonah don't really fit with this scheme. The post-exilic prophets declare that although the people are in exile there is hope for the future.

Chapter 6 looks at the literature from Second Temple Judaism which asks how could Israel be restored to the land but still remain in exile. This is only a very brief overview of a vast number of writings, with some helpful charts, and perhaps the most difficult chapter to get grips with. The authors claim that Second Temple Judaism is informed by nomism (the law must be kept in order to remain within the covenant) and particularism (the Jews, the elect people of God, are destined to rule the Gentiles).

The Synoptic Gospels are seen as describing the fulfilment of God's promises and explaining how Israel should have understood God's history all along. For John, the story of Israel is seen in the ministry of Jesus — Jesus brings the restoration of Israel through his own sacrifice. Acts relates how Jesus' teaching and ministry is continued through the Holy Spirit as a new Israel is called forth. Paul in his writings demonstrates how faith in Christ (fideism) has replaced the law (nomism) as a means to salvation. This salvation is now open to all who believe (universalism replacing particularism).

In the chapter on the General Letters and Hebrews, Israel is seen as being in exile yet on the brink of restoration. Finally, Revelation offers comfort and hope to those experiencing exile from the heavenly perspective of living faithfully in a hostile world listening to what the Spirit says to the churches.

This is a well-written and very readable book with a wealth of interesting information. Technical terms are explained in brackets when they first appear and there are some helpful comparative charts. Some of the chapters are more convincing than others — the paradigm of sin - exile - restoration is more evident in some parts of scripture than others — but there is plenty to stimulate the student to further thought. Each chapter finishes with a conclusion, suggestions for further reading from the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology and Study Questions. There is a good bibliography and indexes. This is a useful resource for students.

Sue Groom, July 2006

The Revd Sue Groom is the Director of Deanery Licensed Ministry for the Kensington Episcopal Area of London. Before this she was Vicar of St Matthew's, Yiewsley and also served as the Reader Training Officer for the Willesden Episcopal Area. She is the author of Linguistic Analysis of Biblical Hebrew (Paternoster Press, 2003).

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