Book Review: Where Sin Abounds

I recieved a copy of this book from the author to review – I hope that didn’t cloud my reading.

Book Review: Where Sin Abounds

I regularly review commentaries on this blog – and historically have tried to review a range of popular and academic Christian/Theological books, too. The book I’m reviewing today is not a commentary, though it does focus primarily on a specific part of Scripture, and it is an academically-postured book yet written by a believer and with a near-devotional warmth at times. Where Sin Abounds: The Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives is the published (and tweaked) version of Robert R. Gonzales Jr.’s doctoral thesis – but it is a lot more readable than you might expect from that description!

Coming in at just under 300 pages, Where Sin Abounds follows a fairly straightforward structure – the first two parts exploring ‘Sin and the Curse in the Fall Narrative’ and ‘Sin and the Curse in the Primeval Narratives’ (these are both composed of one fairly chunky chapter each), and the third and final comprising six chapters exploring ‘Sin and the Curse in the Patriarchal Narratives’. There is a helpful appendix on ‘Instances of Sin and the Curse in the Genesis Corpus’, and a bibliography – though an index was a notable omission, and somewhat surprising.

As a book focused on one part of one book of the Bible, this is a book with good wider canonical awareness. Early on, themes and texts from elsewhere inform Gonzales: “The apostle John appears to have Genesis 3:6 in view when he characterizes the ‘love of the world’ (another way to describe ‘sin’)… pride is the root that motivates huan sin. This pride, in turn, prompts unbelief in the veracity of the divine word, the violation of which constitutes rebellion or a breach of covenant” (p. 38). Gonzales traces the spread of the curse carefully through the narratives in Part 1 and Part 2 of his book, setting up the wider exploration of the patriarchal narratives: “Cain’s lack of devotion to Yahweh is the first indication that sin has spread from the primordial parents to their offspring” (p. 59). It is also worth noting that, whilst Gonzales doesn’t dwell on text critical and authorship issues, he is robustly conservative, making a consistent book that was a pleasure to read in terms of knowing what the author actually thought about various things. For example, “with the broad strokes of human depravity, divine emotivity, and universal judgement, Moses paints a dark portrait of the invasive and pervasive spread of sin” (p. 83). indeed, the closing words of his conclusion reinforce both a conviction of Mosaic authorship and a key doctrinal point: “by ‘telling it like it is’, Moses does not undermine but actually reinforces the doctrine of inspiration” (p. 265).

This book was a pleasure to read – Gonzales rights with clarity and substance, and it is rigorously referenced. He blends both good critical analysis and helpful, well-written summary. For example, at the end of chapter 6; “that ‘avalanche’ of sin that begins in primeval history continues to spread beyond the hubris of Babel and into the patriarchal history, where it wreaks havoc even among God’s chosen people, one generation after another” (p. 192). Very often books on Genesis, and indeed the commentators, focus on the early chapters – Gonzales consistently teases out just how fundamental the whole of Genesis is, not just for understanding sin and the curse, but for reading the whole Bible well. And human sin is contrasted with God’s goodness; “God’s grace does abound in chapters 12-50 of Genesis. But the glorious beauty of God’s grace is displayed against the dark backdrop of human sin abounding” (p. 232).

Why would you want to read a whole book on Sin, particularly a book about sin in just one part of Scripture? Well, for the preacher, Gonzales shows us threads and key connections in the part of Genesis that we might know well narratively, but churches are unlikely to know well theologically. For the interested reader, Gonzales offers a fascinating test case of how examining one ‘thing’ can actually point to other things – authorship, inspiration, and the interconnectedness of the canon, to name but three. For the scholar, this is a book worth reading given it’s laser focus on one topic in one text, but also as a model of how not to be so focused on the single tree that the wider wood is forgotten. The book is in some ways niche – and I did wonder if more application could have been helpful at some points – but the focus is the strength, and weakness, I think. It just fails to make the 5/5 grade for me due to it’s lack of an index, and the way that some pages were dominated by footnotes – perhaps a different editor could have encouraged the author to integrate some of those that had quite interesting points in, rather than mere references. Overall, though, if you are thinking of seriously studying or preaching through Genesis, this is a book worth having alongside the commentaries and the text itself.


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