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John Goldingays Models for Scripture: A Review

Fitzroy Willis
Models for Scripture, by John Goldingay. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. Pp. 420. ISBN
0802801463 (paperback).
Introduction
John Goldingay, who is currently the David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller
Theological Seminary, wrote his Models for Scripture out of a concern for how one think about
Scripture. For him, the traditional categories used to discuss Scripturesuch as authority,
revelation, inspiration, word of God, canon, infallibility, and inerrancyare to be reconsidered
for they encourage false notions about Scripture and often lead to the Bible being discredited or
thought to be dubious. Further, these traditional categories were not used in Scripture to describe
Scripture as a whole and were, therefore, not biblical. Consequently, Goldingay sets out to
consider from Scripture itself the significance of various models for understanding Scripture (18).
As a result, he proposed four models. They are: 1) witnessing traditioncharacteristic of
narrative books; 2) authoritative canoncharacteristic of instructional material; 3) inspired word
human and divine characteristic of prophecy; and 4) experienced revelationexperiential
reflective material as well as revelatory material in the apocalypses. Goldingay divides the
subsequent chapters of his book into four parts to describe these four models.
Part one
Part one consists of chapters two through six and concerns the model for Scripture as witnessing
tradition. For Goldingay, the narratives of Scripture represent its witnessing tradition. And, it is
not by chance that the majority of Scripture is narrative since the nature of Christianity is that of a
story (25). To Goldingay, first, it is significant that Scripture itself is not revelation but only a
witness to revelation (27). However, this statement seems to be overstated because while not
everything in Scripture is a direct manifestation of deitylike portions of Johns Apocalypse, for
exampleand some parts of Scriptures are clearly stories, like the parables of Jesus, for example
the entirety of Scripture can be considered revelation, in that, all of it work together to provide
a revelation of God. Second, Goldingay rightly states that there are two aspects of Scripture as
witnessing tradition (29). On the one hand Scripture contains historical events like the life,
teachings, death and resurrection of Christ. On the other hand, Scripture is comprised of stories
like the parables previously alluded to. To Goldingay, Scripture, then, can be considered historical
tradition. But this truth suggests that Scripture should also be open to historical critical
investigations. However, while this may be true, there is no need to pay special attention to the
critics as Goldingay suggests (39), because Scriptural critics approach the text with as much
presuppositions as anyone else. Rather, all legitimate scholarly critiques should be considered
based on the merits of the evidence they present. Third, Goldingay correctly asserted that
Scripture as witness also suggests the notion of general reliability, but not inerrancy (45). This is
true because Scripture witnesses to an appropriate theological agenda, whichin order to
accomplishthe various witnesses or authors of Scripture may have contributed material that
contained some error, which does not invalidate Scripture in anyway. For example, in the
infamous account of Peter cutting off Malchuss ear (Matt 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:5051;
John 18:1011), only Lukes gospel mentions that Jesus healed the soldiers ear. Why is that the
case? Most scholars consider it more than likely that Luke made up his witness in order to
serve his theological agenda of encouraging believers in the gospel of Christ (Luke 1:14). In
other words, some of Scripture contain historical events which are not necessarily pure history
(49). Whether or not Scripture has facts and errors, it has facts and fiction (76). Finally,

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Goldingay rightly states that because Scripture as a whole is a witnessing tradition, the text itself
is not what finally matters, rather, what really matters is what the text points to (77). Thus,
Goldingay rightly implies that the text of Scripture points to Christ. To be sure, while the text of
Scripture is vitally important, the person and authority of Christ is ultimate in significance.

Part two
Part two consists of chapters seven through thirteen and concerns the model for Scripture as
authoritative canon. Because Goldingay acknowledges that the terms authority and canon are
not used in Scripture to describe Scripture as a whole, his choosing a model for Scripture as
authoritative canon seems to repeat the inadequacies of the current models he says are not
biblical. However, Goldingay is correct that mere formal acknowledgment of Scripture does not
necessarily indicate any substantial acknowledgment of it (90). That being said, Goldingay does
derive various significances from Scripture for proposing this model. And, he rightly states that
the notion of authority is both an intrinsic quality that people acknowledge and an extrinsic thing
derived from ones office (8586). Thus, Scriptures authority is either inherent in its content, or
it is merely based on the fact that Scripture was considered authoritative by some external
authority. The former consideration would suggest that Scripture is indeed authoritative. But the
latter notion implies that Scripture is not necessarily authoritative in itselfsome authority has
just subjectively ascribed it as such.
For Goldingay, his model for Scripture as authoritative canon is variously significant. First, it is
significant that the argument for acknowledging the authority of the Bible emerges from the
content of the Bible (125). This is because of the transformative power of the words of Scripture
in the life of believers. Related to this argument, however, is the notion that the special status of
Scripture tends to be convincing only to people who are already prejudiced in its favor (123). But,
with this claim, Goldingay does not seem to consider the pagan who becomes converted
seemingly without any previous knowledge of the Bible. This omission by Goldingay probably
suggests that he considers the Bible to contain everything necessary toward the salvation of the
world. And whenever one becomes convinced of the authority of Scripture or its content, it only
happened because some of those truths were somehow relayed to themthereby prejudicing one
in its favor. Second, Goldingay rightly said that Jesus attitude to the Old Testament argues for an
acceptance of the authority of Scripture (136). For, Jesus lived and ministered by the authority of
those same Scriptures. Goldingay, however, seems to be ambiguous about the authority of those
Scriptures. For example, to him there is no difficulty about the Old Testament canon being
periodically added to (138). But, he also maintained that the Hebrew Bible is what Israel itself
wanted to say, what Israels tradition resulted in (170). Also, regarding the later canon of the
New Testament, he remarked that it is what the churches chose (178). These latter remarks
suggest that for Goldingay the canon of Scripture is authoritative because it truly represents the
Scriptures God authorized through his people. Goldingay further commented that the documents
selected for the New Testament were, as far as can be judged the best and most nearly proximate
evidence for Christian origins (178). Goldingay said this despite his appropriately
acknowledging that it is impossible to offer conclusive grounds for recognizing a particular canon
(181). But, he also made his conclusion on the ground that despite the uncertainties of the canon,
the early church grew (182). Last, to Goldingay it is significant that science and secular thought
has influenced the church (188). For him, as reason replaced tradition as Scriptures chief
theological rival, so experience has now replaced reason (190). But Scripture has significance
for understanding the faith that tradition and reason could not have (196).

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Part three
Part three consists of chapters fourteen through nineteen and details several rationales for the
model for Scripture as being the inspired word of God. For Goldingay, Scripture as the inspired
word of God implies that it is effective and brings people to death or to new life (211). Based on
that understanding, Goldingay first considered it significant that inspiration is open to both a
prophetic, personal and a poetic-textual understanding (237). This idea seems to suggest that
inspiration has both a divine (prophetic) and human (personal-poetic) subjective aspect. Further,
for Goldingay, it suggested that the inspired word does not imply infallibility or factual
correctness, but reliability and effectiveness (212). This implication seems reasonable because
anything involving human agency is more likely to be less than perfect, albeit reliable, effective
and inspired by God. To be clear, this assessment in no way suggests that God is anything less
than perfect, it only suggests that in his wisdom, God has chosen human agency to convey his
inspired word. That is why John Stott has rightfully warned against a docetic view of Scripture
which overemphasizes the divine over the human aspect (240. Cf. John Stott, The Authority and
Relevance of the Bible in the Modern World [Canberra: Bible Society in Australia, 1979], 4).
Second, Scriptures contextuality does not necessarily imply that it is limited to its context (239).
For, as the inspired word, Scripture has universal and eternal implications. Third, the Bible as a
whole is Gods inspired word, and inspiration is not sufficient ground for attributing special
authority to Scripture because there are non-scriptural inspired words (258). For example, most
Scholars agree that the Shepherd of Hermas is probably inspired even though it is not considered
canonical. That is why this patristic document was and is considered profitable for reading and
reflection despite its exclusion from the canon. Fourth, it is significant to Goldingay that the
description of Scripture as inspired word is not designed to make a statement regarding its
accuracy. This is because Scripture was written for a theological purpose (275) and does seem to
have some factual slips (268)such as Matthew 27:910 being credited to Jeremiah, rather than
Zechariah (11:12). As a result, Goldingay rightly concluded that ones commitment to inerrancy
should not safeguard objectivity in interpretation (277). In other words, biblical interpretation
should not be done solely based on ones presuppositions. Rather, one should interpret Scripture
based on the actual evidence contained in its text.
Part four
Part four consists of chapters 20 through twenty five and concerns the model for Scripture as
experienced revelation. For Goldingay, Scripture is the product of divine revelation, human
experience and human reflection (287). Scripture is divine revelation because it is the inspired
word of God. Scripture is human experience because it was divinely revealed to human agents
over a period of time. And Scripture is human reflection because the human agent has
communicated the inspired word of God through their subjective reality. One significant
observation of Goldingays assessment of Scripture as experienced revelation is that while the
eighteenth century had set reason and revelation against each other, it is implicit in Scripture that
reason and revelation compliments each other in a variety of ways, since Scripture takes for
granted both the reality of God and the existence of humanity (311). Second, Scripture is
analogical and factual rather than mythic or fictional (319). That is, the revealed truths of
Scripture are communicated through various acceptable and efficient methodseven as a great
contemporary literary works take advantage of various literary devicessuch as hyperbole and
metaphorsto effectively communicate their message to their audience. Third, Scripture is a
source of past revelation and an instrument of future revelation (330). Scripture, then, is not the
revelation itself, but the description, the record, from which the revelation can be known (330).
In this claim, Goldingay is unclear because he does not define who, or what the revelation is,
and thereby leaves doubt as to whether or not there is any difference between the revelation and

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the description or the record he mentioned. Fourth, by virtue of being a human book, the
whole of Scripture reflects human experience (348). While this may be true, Goldingay failed to
also note that being revelation, also implies that Scripture is divine. Thus, the imperfections
that could arise from human agency must also be considered in terms of the impact on Scripture
that the divine revealer makes. Finally, Goldingay understates when he says Jesus crucial
contribution lay not in his teaching but in his life (343). This is so because Jesus life and teaching
cannot be separated. Indeed, Scripture has revealed Jesus to be totally consistent with his word,
and both presented the clearest revelation of God that has been given to humanity (Heb 1:3).
Conclusion
John Goldingay has offered an excellent resource guide toward interpreting Scripture. I say this
despite the fact that I do not think he successfully achieved his objectives. He missed his
objectives because, though he did considerfrom Scripturethe significance of various models
for understanding Scripture, he also seemed to propose models that represented non-biblical
descriptors of Scripture as a wholethereby committing the same sin that caused him to write
this book. Also, readers should be aware that the volume of information in this book of over four
hundred pages, at times seemed to be never-ending. And, the book probably would have been
even more effective if Goldingay focused on just one model for Scripture. His use of four models
made his focus seemingly too broad. Each model presented by Goldingay should probably have
been considered separately in four different books.
These assessments, however, should not invalidate the significant conclusions Goldingay derived
from Scripture. That is why this book is highly recommended. Indeed, Goldingay has made a
significant contribution to scholarship by alerting interpreters to the fact that the way they view
Scripture can greatly impact the meaning they derive from it.
In comparison to other books on the same subject, Goldingays Models for Scripture was
refreshingly balanced and thoroughperhaps too thorough in one monogram. He was balanced
because he did not seem to have any particular motive for writing, except to present what he
considered biblical models for Scripture. His thoroughness was evidenced by the fact that he tried
to cover what seemed to be every issue relevant to the interpretation of Scripture.
This book is well worth the reading to gain insight on the issues concerning the interpretation of
Scripture. It can be used to quickly reference relevant topics by simply consulting the table of
contents. With all that said, this book would probably be most meaningful for Graduate and
higher degreed theological students because of the amount of material, technical subjects and
languages with which the book engages. [end]