Jesus and Holy Joe: a book review

A couple months back, my pastor was preaching through a series on the Joseph narratives in Genesis 37-50. So when I saw a new book by Voddie Baucham exploring the life of Joseph in a Christological key I thought it would be an interesting supplement to this sermon series. Unfortunately I didn’t get my copy of Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors until well after the series wrapped up, but reading this particular book before Christmas was also apt.

Baucham avoids many of the common pitfalls of interpreting Joseph. He does not mine the story for life lessons. He does not read it as a morality tale. Nor does he present Joseph’s struggles as an example of how we can secure God’s blessing from our own faithfulness. Baucham places Joseph within God’s redemptive history. While Joseph was used by God to save his family from famine, he also preserved God’s covenant with Abraham and paved the way for Jesus’ coming (through the line of Joseph’s brother Judah).

Baucham’s hermeneutic calls into question a bald literal-historical reading of scripture which says that the passage can only mean what it meant in its original context, for its original recipients. Instead he takes a theological-canonical approach to the Joseph narrative, drawing inspiration from how New Testament authors have read the Old Testament. This doesn’t mean he allegorizes and finds types of Christ everywhere within Genesis, though he does want us to recognize when they are there.  His entire project is to read the Old Testament in light of Christ.

Generally I found Baucham’s exegesis insightful and interesting. As a pastor-theologian, Baucham’s insights come from his own study of Joseph as he preached and taught through the text. I found myself in general agreement with his take. I was pleased that he picked up on the contradictions and growth in Judah and didn’t solely focus on Judah. This is not a full length commentary, but it has a lot of details for a short book.

My one small critique is that I think that Joseph’s story should be read for its moral implications as well. If he just looked at the Old Testament for life lessons and morality he would have missed the point, but that is there too. I agree with Baucham that the gospel of Christ is the key for a proper Christian understanding of the Hebrew Bible; yet sometimes in our zeal to avoid moralism we fail to grasp the moral implications of biblical narrative. We are invited to imitate the good and avoid the bad. Other writers who share Baucham’s Calvinist, Reformed perspective and general theological framework see the moral and ethical implications of Hebrew narrative, notably Gordon Wenham and Jason Hood. Baucham is right to lay emphasis on the gospel, but we can also learn from Joseph’s perseverance and tenacity without baptizing everything he says and does. This isn’t the main point of the passage, but it is still important.

That is really a small critique because the whole story of Genesis is not about what the patriarchs do, but about what God does with them. I recommend this book for Christians who wonder how they should approach the Old Testament. Baucham’s interprets Joseph well, but he also gives clues on how students of the Bible can approach other passages Christologically. In this way, Joseph is a kind of case study for biblical hermeneutics. Baucham helps us fill out redemptive history, showing how the patriarchs prepared the way for Christ’s coming. This is helpful for anyone trying to connect the events of individual Bible stories to God’s overarching story. I give this book 4 stars: ★★★★

Thank you to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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