Deuteronomy: Word and Presence

By Ian Cairns
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1992). 309 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
4.1 (Spring 1993) : 105-106

The stated aim of this commentary series is to develop the theological significance of Deuteronomy and emphasize its relevance to the church. It is quickly obvious, however, that this volume only achieves the goal marginally. Cairns, parish minister and lecturer in biblical studies in his native New Zealand, instead spends considerable time pursuing form/source analysis and occasionally the historical, leaving es-sentially absent any notations of Deuteronomy's relevance to the church.

The commentary adds little new or enlightening information. Critical sections such as the reiteration of the ten commandments (5:6- 21) or the shema (6:4-9) receive brief assessment. It devotes primary attention to re-creating scenarios that might depict the text's "true" origin or compilation. The commentator does acknowledge that the book itself states that Moses "wrote the words of this law in a book" (Deut 31:9, 24). However, he is quick to correct this statement: "But the framework as a whole is certainly from another hand. Moreover, there are clear indications that the material in general reflects a situation long after Moses' time" (1).

It is evident from the opening pages that Cairns has embraced the tenets of the well-repudiated Documentary Hypothesis. He suggests a 7th century B.C.-6th century B.C. date for the book, assigning varying strands of the text to the Elohist (E) source and others to the Yahwist (J) (cf. 5-24).

Probably the best summary of the author's theological persuasion is given by the publisher:

In this commentary Ian Cairns presents Deuteronomy as a slowly evolving complex composite. . . . Despite Deuteronomy's structural complexity, however, Cairns shows how the theme "Word and Presence" permeates the entire book: God is the living presence who can be encountered and known through his word addressed to each generation in turn (back cover).

Deuteronomy: Word and Presence is a prime example of the destructive nature of modern critical methodologies. It invalidates both the text and the context, allowing the researcher to re-create them according to his own, present-day perspective. Unless one is studying how not to do biblical research, this volume will be of little value.