Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Exegetical Theology

First Advisor

David L. Adams

Scripture References in this Resource

Job 38:1–39:30; Job 40:4–5; Job 40:6–41:26 [41:34]; Job 42:2–6; James 5:10–11; Job 1:21; Job 12:7–8; Job 17:2; Job 33:22


Churnai, Varunaj., “Beyond Justice: Death and the Retribution Principle in the Book of Job.” Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, 2010. 232 pp.

In recent decades, scholars have tended to interpret what Job says about death either as part of the broader reading of the Old Testament about death, or by imposing ancient Near Eastern mythological concepts upon the text of Job, read apart from the Old Testament’s wisdom tradition. This dissertation attempts to redress the latter trend of interpretation by articulating that what Job says about death is related to Job’s struggle to understand his relationship to God in relation to a theology that asserts that an individual’s relationship to God is rooted in his own personal righteousness. It provides also a theological explanation of how the concept of death in Job relates to Job’s broader understanding of the relationship of the individual to God. The dissertation proposes that what the book says about death must be understood in the light of the relationship between God and man that emerges from the book’s reevaluation and ultimate rejection of the theology of retribution.

The dissertation begins by examining the prologue (Job 1–2) and Job’s first lament (Job 3). It demonstrates that while the prologue functions literarily as the controlling background of the book as a whole, the assumption at the nature of divine justice inherent in the retribution principle serves as the principle conceptual problem of the story. The prologue also serves as a microcosm of the position of the entire book. It lays out the right position (1:21) which Job will return at the conclusion of the struggle at the end of the book.

Next is the examination of how the problem of death and the influence of the retribution principle are presented in the dialogues between Job and the three friends. This examination includes Elihu’s idea of death as he has the same basic view of death and the retribution principle as the three friends. The reader will see in particular the connection between the two faces of YHWH and the understanding of death in the book of Job. Then the perspective of death in the two speeches of YHWH will be analyzed including Job’s two responses and the idea of death in the epilogue of the book. The resolution of Job’s problem, including his view of death, is profoundly met in these two divine speeches, which invite both Job and the reader to move beyond the retribution principle and to simply trust in the gracious, but hidden, God.

The final chapter of the dissertation summarizes through the narrative flow of the book findings and implications of the study. The conclusions are: (1) Job’s reflection on the subject of life and death are part of the broader issue within the book, namely, the relationship between God and man, and not as sometimes suggested, between God and Satan, (2) the problem of death in Job, therefore, involves not only moving beyond the theology of God’s justice, which seeks to constrain God within the limits of human reason, but also replacing this principle with trust in the graciousness of God, who is free and not constrained by human logic, (3) the mythological reading of the text of Job is not only a false approach to understanding the concept of death in the book of Job, but leads to a mistaken conclusion that death is a competing power or god (i.e., Mot, the god of death, in the Canaanite culture), and (4) the literary reading of Job is a competent reading that brings out the main message of the story and is able to lead the reader to see the development of the argument and the resolution of the argument at the end of the book.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.