The Book of Jeremiah (NICOT) – John Goldingay

The Book of Jeremiah by John Goldingay
Also by this author: The Book of Lamentations, Proverbs
Series: New International Commentaries
Published by Eerdmans on December 7, 2021
Genres: Academic
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Of the Major Prophets, Jeremiah is perhaps the least straightforward. It is variously comprised of stories about the prophet Jeremiah, exchanges between Jeremiah and Yahweh, and messages directly from Yahweh—meaning a consciousness of form is essential to the understanding of its content. At times it is written in poetry, resembling Isaiah, while at other times it is written in prose, more similar to Ezekiel. And it is without doubt the darkest and most threatening of the Major Prophets, inviting comparisons to Amos and Hosea. 
John Goldingay, a widely respected biblical scholar who has written extensively on the entire Old Testament, navigates these complexities in the same spirit as other volumes of the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series—rooted in Jeremiah’s historical context but with an eye always trained on its meaning and use as Christian Scripture. After a thorough introduction that explores matters of background, composition, and theology, Goldingay provides an original translation and verse-by-verse commentary of all fifty-two chapters, making this an authoritative and indispensable reference for scholars and pastors as they engage with Jeremiah from a contemporary Christian standpoint.

John Goldingay has long been a prolific writer and premier First Testament scholar. When he retired from professorship at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2018, he did so with the intention of focusing on writing. Since then, he’s published two volumes in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament (Genesis and Hosea-Micah), a commentary on Daniel for Word Biblical, Ecclesiastes for The Bible in God’s World, and two volumes for the New International Commentary on the Old Testament—Lamentations and this volume, Jeremiah. In addition, last year Goldingay published a book called The Theology of Jeremiah with IVP, which has a lot of overlap with the introduction to the NICOT Jeremiah volume. And, if you want to speak specifically to Jeremiah, Goldingay has a previous popular level commentary called Jeremiah for Everyone and, in researching for this review, I discovered that Goldingay wrote an academic review in Themelios of the previous edition of NICOT’s Jeremiah written by J.A. Thompson in 1980. I give you this lengthy introduction simply to say that John Goldingay is a scholar par excellence, his prolificity does not beget any indication of sloppy scholarship, and Jeremiah is obviously a passionate topic for him.

I’ve spent the last three months or so slowly devouring this volume, learning quite a lot about the Old Testament’s longest book. A commentary is generally not something you read straight through or as a devotional, but I had just come off from a full read of Goldingay’s Lamentations volume and found it to not be only academic, but very readable and pastoral. While the Jeremiah volume is a bit more dense, Goldingay’s blend of academic writing with compelling prose draw the reader into the world of Jeremiah in compelling fashion.

The first 67 pages offer a relatively succinct introduction that covers the historical background, composition, author and date, audience, and canonicity of the text. There is also a brief explanation of the difference between the Masoretic Text (Hebrew) and the LXX (Greek). Typically, there is little substantial variation in different copies of Scripture, but Jeremiah is the exception. The LXX is 10% shorter than the MT and has some messages within the text rearranged. Goldingay hypothesizes that both documents were working off an older source document that is no longer available. While I had previously been aware of the difference, Goldingay was quickly and concisely able to explain what the differences were and how they would be treated/acknowledged in the later text of the commentary.

The highlight of the commentary is the way Goldingay breaks down large chunks of information into digestible bits. Many commentaries are walls of text with copious footnotes and references. References abound, but Goldingay makes use of tables and bullet points to arrange and sort information, drawing the reader’s eye to important summations and making the text more readable. NICOT’s verse-by-verse structure also helps guide readers to specifically the point they need. With the advent of Logos and other digital readers, commentaries have almost become decontextualized as readers search only for a specific passage and have no peripheral access to surrounding context. In normal commentaries this helps researchers to focus, but Goldingay’s style begs you to take in the surrounding context. As someone who read a physical copy of the book, it was never difficult to retain focus or find my place.

Even though NICOT tends toward being a more academic commentary versus something with pastoral or contemporary application, Goldingay is able to make Jeremiah accessible as something more than an ancient document. He is both theologically and pastorally helpful. Preachers rarely preach through Jeremiah, but if you do Goldingay will make sure you have something new to share.

Out of curiosity, I pulled out the previous Jeremiah edition of NICOT for a quick comparison and it’s really quite a different look. Thompson spends nearly twice as long on his introduction and does not outline the text with anywhere near the precision Goldingay gives us. Goldingay obviously benefits from the past forty years of scholarship and shows much more interaction with other Jeremiah scholarship, both ancient and modern. I find it interesting that the things that Goldingay criticizes in his Themelios review of Thompson’s edition are the lack of devotional and homiletical suggestions and theological exposition, as those things are the strength of this edition.

Having spent several months with Goldingay, first through his Lamentations text and now through Jeremiah, I may have to go back to some of his previous work, perhaps something more at the popular level. Brilliant insights and astute scholarship combined with readability, passion, and wit make this volume an excellent addition and improvement to the NICOT line of commentaries.