Goldingay’s Commentaries on the Psalms: A Critique

(This is a re-post from August 2010)  I’ve been working with John Goldingay’s 3-volume commentary set on the Psalms for a while now.  I haven’t read every part (and I’m not overly familiar with Goldingay’s other writings, though I believe he’s some stripe of open theist, which is a whole other subject), but I have read and utilized it enough to register a concern about his hermeneutical methodology, that is, the way he interprets the psalms.

I’ll give some examples of this in a second.  The main point of my critique is that he purposely removes the messianic bent from the Psalter.  He does not read the psalms in a christological way; in fact, he tries hard not to see Jesus in the Psalms.  Goldingay’s interpretation of the Psalter is exactly opposite of what you find in Geerhardus Vos’ excellent essay, “The Eschatology of the Psalter.”  Here are some quote from Goldingay to show his methodology.

From the introduction: “…[I do not] make the NT the filter or lens through which we read the Psalms.  A modern aspect to the commentary is that I want the Psalms to speak their own message and to let them address Christian thinking, theology, and spirituality, rather than being silenced by a certain way of reading the NT that fits modern Christian preferences.”

From his “Theological Implications” section of Psalm 8:

“It is…important for us to reflect on its inherent meaning and not simply read it through NT spectacles.  It does not look forward to a new age…. It does not refer to the Messiah.”

From the same section of his comments on Psalm 18:

“Psalm 18 offers no indication that it refers to something God will do in the future; it is not eschatological…it is not messianic.  It offers no indication that it points to Jesus of Nazareth; it is not christological.”

From the same section of his comments on Psalm 22:

[The Messiah is not] “the primary referent of the text.  It is not a prophecy.  The NT use of psalm ‘wrenches out of its setting.'”

Concerning Psalm 89, Goldingay says,

“…In the psalm itself there is no indication that the understanding of Yhwh’s reign is coming to be understood eschatologically or that the understanding of the human king’s reign is coming to be understood messianically.”

Similarly, when discussing the implications of Psalm 110, he writes,

“The text’s theological implications…do not lie in its application to Jesus; that is to ignore its meaning.  Its application to Jesus is part of NT study.”

He ends this little section on the implications of Ps 110 in an odd way, almost contradicting his earlier words:

“Canonical interpretation must mean letting different parts of Scripture have their say, not silencing some by others that we prefer.”

You can even see his methodological approach when you look at the scripture index in the back of the volumes – there are just a few NT passages indexed (about half of a page – sometimes less than his Qumran references).

In my opinion, this is why Goldingay’s commentary on the Psalms is flat and uninspiring.  The commentary sections often seem like a textual discussion with some application tacked on the end.  And, as is consistent with his methodology, the application jumps over the cross to today’s context.  This leaves the reader with some mundane application and even odd points of meaning for today.  I’m not sure how one can, for example, comment on and apply the faithfulness of Yahweh without mentioning the work of Christ – the messianic work we already see glimmers of in the Psalter.

While this commentary set might be useful for some things (Hebrew notes, textual variants, ANE references, etc.), overall I don’t think they’re worth the seventy some dollars I put down for them.  I may sell them and use that cash to get something better.  For me, they do not cultivate that Christ centered apostolic hermeneutic for which I strive – in fact, this commentary set hinders it. When we read the Psalms and the rest of the OT, we need to do so following the teaching of Christ himself and his apostles: the OT is all about him!

Shane Lems