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Johanna van Wijk-Bos: Making Wise the Simple

 

Johanna W. H. van Wijk-Bos, Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), 353 pages.

Why should Pentecostal preachers read a book written by a Presbyterian scholar whose passion is a study of the “Law” which many Christians often regard as the dullest part of the Old Testament? Dr. Van Wijk-Bos, Dora Pierce Professor of the Bible and Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has given us many reasons in her compelling look at the relationship of the Pentateuch to Christian faith. Central to these reasons are Van Wijk-Bos’ definitions of covenant and torah (Hebrew word for “law”). Covenant provided ancient Israel their identity as the people of God while torah provided their instructions for living out that life as God’s people (p. 281). These concerns relate to Christians as well. We want to know who we are as the people of God’s new covenant and what are we to do in light of that relationship.

Van Wijk-Bos divides her study into five parts. Part I introduces her topic of how the idea of torah has been treated and mistreated by Christian hands. Her personal story of being raised in post-WWII Netherlands instilled in her an obligatory sensitivity to Jewish people and their story of faith. Thus she seeks to show the relevance of the covenant and torah for Christians while not despising the historical people who gave us the Pentateuch. She uses the theme of the “stranger” (Hebrew gēr) as a running motif throughout not just the Old Testament but the New as well.

Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos is the Dora Pierce Professor of Bible and Professor of Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Part II gives the reader an orientation to the social, religious, and authorial settings for the Pentateuch. The conservative reader will be pleased to see Van Wijk-Bos cautious treatment of questions of authorship. While accepting later editorial work on Mosaic texts, she does hold to the antiquity of much of the Pentateuch. Part III surveys Genesis 1-11. Part IV covers Genesis 12-Deuteronomy. In these two sections you will find the writer at her best—a careful literary and linguistic reading of key texts that provide theological links to Christian faith and practice. For example, her look at Exodus 33:12-17 brings out a cautious but audacious request by Moses for the LORD’s favor (a key word in the passage).

Part V provides a theological summary of key aspects of the character of God and the relationship of Jesus and Paul to torah. Her presentation of the God Who Regrets, Appears, Accompanies, Is Prejudiced, and Passionate should awaken any reader to the value of Van Wijk-Bos’ book for Christians. She challenges many ideas in both Reformed and non-Reformed theological camps alike. Her discussion of the “new perspective” on Paul will bring the reader up-to-date on a contemporary scholarly issue regarding Paul’s view and use of the law.

 

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2007

About the Author: Malcolm R. Brubaker, Th.M. (Westminster Theological Seminary), M.Div. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), B.A. (Evangel College), is Professor of Bible at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, PA, extension faculty for Assemblies of God Theological Seminary at VFCC, and a Ph.D. candidate at Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA). Malcolm has experience serving as a pastor and is the author of numerous articles and papers on biblical theology and homiletics, including the Ezekiel (1999) commentary for the Complete Biblical Library (World Library Press).

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