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God B.C.: God’s grace in the Old Testament, by Anthony Phillips 

12 July 2019

Mark Scarlata reads a biblical introduction

THIS is a revised and expanded work, originally published in 1977, in which Anthony Phillips set out to offer a coherent theological vision for God’s relationship to his people in the Old Testament.

Though the word “grace” is not used in the Old Testament, Phillips makes an important argument throughout the book that this is exactly what characterises God’s love for his chosen people. The opening chapter covers the origins of ancient Israel, and Phillips traces archaeological, historical, and biblical data concerning the emergence of the Hebrews in Palestine. He emphasises the theological nature of the ancient biblical narratives, in which God is depicted as utterly committed to the salvation of all nations through Abraham and his descendants.

The following chapters touch on the prophetic critique of Israel’s syncretism, and God’s desire for justice, particularly through the lens of covenant. Phillips argues that covenantal theology becomes the central metaphor for God’s relationship to his people and, after the exile of the northern tribes (722 BCE), offers the basis for how Judah must be faithful if they are to remain in the land. After the destruction of Jerusalem (587 BCE), Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all foresee a future rooted in God’s grace, and faithfulness to his covenant promise, despite his judgement.

Phillips then traces the priestly formation of the scriptures, which is followed by a section on the influence of wisdom in ancient Israel. The final chapter presents Jesus as the summary of God’s grace, not as one who comes to set aside the law, but as one who fulfils the command to love God and neighbour.

God B.C. offers a clear articulation of the composition of the Old Testament and the development of Israel’s understanding of God, which links grace and covenant to the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This is a valuable and accessible introduction to the Old Testament that is rooted in both historical scholarship and theological interpretation.

The Revd Dr Mark W. Scarlata is Tutor and Lecturer in Old Testament at St Mellitus College.

God B.C.: God’s grace in the Old Testament
Anthony Phillips
Sacristy Press £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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