The Deuteronomic History’s Contribution to the Flow of Redemptive History

Grame Goldsworthy’s contribution to the festschrift for P.T. O’Brien is really excellent.  He makes some nice methodological points (which I’ve blogged about before), and provides some nice analysis of some of the big-picture themes at play in biblical theology, especially as it relates to Paul’s missionary activity in the NT.

I especially liked how he situates the Deuteronomic History (Joshua-2 Kings) into this story of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation.  He does this in the second paragraph below, though I’ve included both paragraphs to provide better introductory context:

We can tentatively define biblical theology as the study and description of the progressive revelation of God, his kingdom, and his work of salvation throughout the whole of the Bible.  The assumptions involved in such a definition are drawn from the New Testament, specifically from the gospel.  The structure of our biblical theology should reflect as accurately as possible the structure of revelation.  It should be noted that Jesus and the apostles refer to the testimony of the Scriptures as a whole.  They do not appear to make any real distinctions between the theologies of what could be regarded as discrete corpora within the Old Testament.  Jesus refers to the established parts of the Old Testament canon (Law, Prophets, and Psalms – presumably the Writings) and, in order to locate a particular passage, occasional references are made to various specific books.  But there is nothing to suggest that Jesus or the apostolic authors saw any theological discord between the corpora.  The Scriptures testify to Jesus as the Christ, and it is a unified testimony.  And evangelical approach to biblical theology will, for obvious reasons, give great weight to the attitudes of Jesus and the apostles to the unity and authority of the Old Testament.

That a biblical theology is already in existence is shown, for example, by the coherence of that corpus we know as the Deuteronomic history.  The disputes about the Tetrateuch versus either the Pentateuch or the Hexateuch serve only to highlight the difficulty faced by those who question the theological unity within the Old Testament.  Whatever their differences, the books give a coherent account.  Creation, the fall, and the redemptive line through Noah, Shem and finally Abraham form the first stages of redemptive history.  A paradigm of redemption and of the kingdom of God is provided from Abraham to David and Solomon, progressing from the promise to the realization of that promise as a historical reality in Israel.  The redemptive focus in the exodus, which stands as proof of the faithfulness of Yahweh to the covenant with Abraham (Exod. 2:23-25; 6:1-8).  But Israel’s redeemed state also serves a purpose for the nations among whom the people of God are set with a priestly ministry (Exod. 19:4-6).  Within this redemptive paradigm, the law given at Sinai functions as the divinely intended structure of the redeemed community in relation to the redeemer.  The Deuteronomic history tells the story of the decline, apostasy and final destruction of this earthly and very imperfect manifestation of the kingdom of God in Israel.  A biblical theology of mission, which includes Paul’s mission, proceeds against the backdrop of the creation and fall narratives, and sees the emerging purpose of God for salvation which is given specific direction in the covenant with Abraham.  That the nations of the world will find blessing through the descendants of Abraham is the central missionary motif of the Bible.

Graeme Goldsworthy, “Biblical Theology and the Shape of Paul’s Mission,” in The Gospel to the Nations: Perspectives on Paul’s Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), pgs. 9-10.

I’ve long been interested in the so-called Deuteronomic (or Deuteronomistic) History  and was thereby intrigued with Goldsworthy’s singling out of this section of the OT in order to show how it contributes to the thrust of redemptive history.  This is really a neat essay in a fine collection of essays written in honor of a very fine NT scholar!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA