Book Review: Old Testament Ethics and the People of God by Christopher J.H. Wright

Wright, Christopher J.H. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

This is a wonderful book by an impressive scholar of the 1st Testament. For those who are not familiar with the work of Christopher J.H. Wright, he deals mostly with ethics and justice as it relates to the people of God. This volume is a mature reworking of subjects dealt with in earlier titles, Living as the People of God (An Eye for an Eye in North America), and Walking in the Ways of the Lord. In a culture that often cares little about social justice, the poor, and/or personal financial ethics, this book gives us a sobering look into the social requirements that God expected his people live by in the Old Testament.

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is broken into three units. The first unit is designed to give the reader an understanding of the methodology that Wright invites us to use in order to understand the ethical structures of the Old Testament. Wright advocates the use of a triangle to explore ethics in Scripture. The three points of the triangle are as follows: God, Israel (the social angle), and The Land (the Economic angle). The author argues that these three factors composed Israel’s worldview. Each point of the triangle stands for a strand in which the articulation of each subject gives rise to the ethical standards in which the people of God were held to. Therefore, the first unit of this book is subdivided to explore how God, Israel, and the Land shape the ethics of the people of God[1].

The second unit in this tome is broken into various ethical themes that can be explored throughout the Hebrew Bible. Wright explores everything from ecology to politics in this unit. The layout of the various subdivisions is extremely helpful, and could be read independently from each other, without sacrificing the intended meaning.

The last unit in this book is wonderfully helpful for those who would like to continue researching ethics from the 1st Testament. This unit includes three parts: a survey of approaches used throughout church history, a bibliographic essay (The bibliographic essay of contemporary scholarship is a wonderful inclusion into this book, which makes it an excellent reference to a student), and a section on hermeneutics and authority in Old Testament ethics.

An advantage to this book is that one does not have to read it cover to cover in order to understand the various points that the author is trying to make. Each unit, in my opinion, could be bound to make a three separate works, and nothing would be lost. However, the combination of the three units, make this a wonderful one stop shop for those looking to be more informed on this important subject.

It is always a treat to find an author who has a great combination of scholarship and writing skill. I believe Christopher Wright is one such author, who has found a way to make his wonderful scholarship both informative and a joy to read. I would highly recommend this book.

My hope, if I am not side tracked, is to post a more detailed review of each section within the next month or so.


[1] Some of Wright’s critics have felt that this framework is to constrictive, and that it ultimately distorts the ethics of the Old Testament. Wright does respond to his critics on this point (pg. 20 in footnote), but ultimately I think the strength of this approach is to begin to see how several factors within Israel’s history contribute to their understanding of how they are to live.

No comments yet to Book Review: Old Testament Ethics and the People of God by Christopher J.H. Wright

  • Thank you for this review. I agree, today we have lost sight of how we are supposed to act, what real social justice is, and the requirements needed to live properly under the Old Testament ethics. I hope other people read this book and we turn around the current direction of our country.

  • parkersmood

    Avid book reader,

    Thanks for reading the review! I agree the subject matter is extremely important and too often neglected.

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