Is there a Case for Theology verses History?

Is There a Case for Theology Verses History?

By Joan Berry

That the Israelites conquered the Promised Land in “lightning fast military strikes” might be an exaggeration. It was more like a steady stream of attacks as they progress through the land. Joshua (chapters 1-12 NIV) related his conquests in north, central, and south Canaan, in which he gave God full credit for each victory.  In chapters 13-21, Joshua allotted the lands to the tribes, but some of these lands had areas yet to be conquered (Zondervan, 2009, pp. 235-239). Judges had a different account which alluded that Canaan was first allotted to the tribes before the conquests began.  In this essay, I will show the background of Joshua and the Judges and why the passage in Judges may be often misinterpreted concerning the conquest and allotments. 

            Joshua and Caleb were the only two people who left Egypt and entered Canaan after the 40-year sojourn in the desert after the people had sinned against God. Joshua was the military, right-hand man to Moses and chosen by God to lead the people into Canaan following Moses’ death (Zondervan, 2009, p.220).  Joshua was the main author of his book with the high priest Phinehas, an eyewitness, who wrote the concluding chapters. The time period was late Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age, 1250-1050 B.C. (Note in NIV on Joshua).  According to Zondervan, the conquests began in the 1240s BCE and the events written down at the time of 1Kings (p. 220). Joshua and Judges were grouped in the Old Testaments in the section of Prophets. Joshua wrote this book to record the history of the conquest of Canaan, the Promised Land of which a summary can be found in Joshua 21: 43-45 (Hill & Walton, 2009, p. 217).

            The time period for Judges is about 1220-1050 B.C. and the setting was the Promised Land, same as Joshua. This was also about the time of the rise of Samuel who was thought to haves written the Book of Judges (Zondervan, 2009, pp. 238-239). The purpose of writing Judges was to assert that the judgment of God regarding sin was absolutely certain as was His forgiveness for those who chose to repent (Note in NIV on Judges). Another purpose of Judges was to explain what theologically occurred between the times of Joshua and David (Hill & Walton, 2009, p. 239). With the death of Joshua (ca.1350 B.C.), the original conquest soldiers had generally died out and the tribes were scattered throughout the land with no centralized leadership (Zondervan, 2009, pp. 238-239; Merrill, 1991, pp.161-162). Judah resumed the conquests following Joshua’s death. In spite of Judah’s successes, Israel fell into its old pattern of disobedience by forsaking God and taking up with the local idolatry, and then followed with a period of turning back to God for deliverance from their enemies (Zondervan, 2009, pp. 238-239).

            Regarding the possible misinterpretation found in Judges about Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, the matter may reside in the possible wrong chronological order of the first two chapters, according to Merrill (1991, pp. 161-162). He suggested that Judges 1:1-7 reviewed the events of Judah’s victories following the death of Joshua. Then, he said that verse eight was the account of Judah’s conquest of Jerusalem before Joshua’s death and further said that vs. 1:9-2:7 told of the periods that followed the devastation of Jerusalem by Judah but it preceded the death of Joshua.  According to Merrill (1991), Joshua’s death was described in Judges 2:8-9 as it had been in Joshua 24: 29-30 as well as Joshua’s contemporaries being mentioned before in Joshua (pp. 161-162).

           These two narratives represent to me a very good example of why we need to seek out the exegesis and hermeneutics of biblical passages. If Merrill (1991) is correct in his opinion that the opening two chapters of Judges are out of sequence in the writer’s efforts to review Joshua’s conquests before delving into what happened next, then that makes Joshua and Judges in sync with each other (pp. 161-162). Joshua, in my opinion, knew that entering Canaan was an historic event that should be recorded and which he did. He and Phinehas were eyewitnesses and knew exactly what happened. Twenty years or more later, the account in Judges was written, probably by Samuel who may have confused the order of the events, and whose purpose was to make sure the Israelites understood that God certainly did not tolerate sin, but His forgiveness was also a certainty (Note in NIV on Judges).

A thought on theology verses history is that I quite frankly do not see them as adversaries. For example Joshua in chapter 5: 13-15, where he is confronted by a being who said that he was the commander of the Lord’s army. This indicates that the Lord will do the fighting and will enable the Israelites to possess the land. This coincides with Joshua’s giving credit God for all the victories mentioned earlier in this essay ((Hill & Walton, 2009, p. 227).  From Joshua we can learned that we need to give God credit for helping us, be faithful, obey Him, and that He keeps His promises. From Judges, we are reminded that we look to God for forgiveness of sin and to avoid it in the first place.


I do not find that theology verses history, generally speaking, because the combination is often complimentary. An example is Joshua: God appointed him to lead the Israelites into Canaan because God had made a promise and the Mosaic Covenant to award this land to them. God was involved all the way. Joshua gave God credit for all his victories. He followed all of God’s instructions. The conquest of Canaan was historical – the promise was kept, God’s people had a homeland. Samuel opens Judges with an account of Joshua’s conquests and immediately brings God into the equation by telling the people that God did not tolerate sin, but would forgive them if they repented.


Hill, A.E. & Walton, J.H. (2009). A survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI:


Life Application Study Bible (NIV). (2005). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Merrill, E.H. (1991). An historical survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI:             Baker Academia

Zondervan Handbook to the Bible (4th ed.). (2009). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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