Book Review: A New Testament Biblical Theology by Greg Beale

A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. By G.K. Beale. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011. 1,072 pp. $54.99, Hardback. ISBN 978-0801026973.

In his Biblical Theology in Crisis, Brevard Childs formally announced the discipline of Biblical Theology as dead in 1970. This premature denouncement was formed through his understanding of scholarly engagement with biblical exegesis and theology and the difficulty in grouping the two disciplines together. However, contrary to Childs’ claim the discipline of Biblical Theology has flourished and currently thrives. A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (NTBT) by G.K. Beale attests to the flourishing of biblical theology.

Beale, professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, has produced the massive tome of his understanding regarding how biblical theology should be approached. Notable is the subtitle of the book The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New as readers of Beale’s previous works will remember his connection between the Testaments. The structure of the book is meticulously detailed with ten “parts” that are composed of twenty-eight chapters in total.

Beale understands biblical theology as nothing else than “the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity” (9). His thesis of how biblical theology is presented within the Bible is connected with the “already-not yet” realized eschatology proposed by George Ladd. He rarely deviates from this notion and highlights its connection to either the biblical storyline or theological themes throughout the work. He prefers to examine the Bible as a whole thematically rather than individual works, which provides him the ability to cover more material and to view the storyline of the Testaments.

Part one consists of Beale’s understanding regarding the storyline of Scripture. He does not see the New Testament as a book or storyline that stands alone, but rather it is simply a continuation of the Old Testament storyline (29). He views Gen 1–3 as the section which provides the basic themes for the rest of the Old Testament because they are eschatological themes (29). After reviewing various Jewish opinions on eschatology in the Old Testament, Beale turns to the eschatological storyline of the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament which, again, is connected with the “already…not yet” aspect (129, 177). Part two is an overflow of this theme as it relates to the time between the second coming. Part three focuses on the inaugurated end-time resurrection and the new-creational kingdom framework for doing New Testament theology. Here, Beale traces this theme through each book of the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament (228–232) as well as Jewish literature (232–234). Part four discusses idolatry and the restoration of God’s image towards the inaugurated new creation, which naturally leads to part five where Beale picks up this theme and shows how salvation is accomplished, which naturally leads into part six and the work of the Spirit. Chapter seventeen serves as the foundation for this section as Beale hones in on the Spirit as the transforming agent, and traces this through the key passage from the Old Testament (559–562) as well as the New Testament.

The transition to part seven is natural. The transformed image bearer now rests in the already…not yet setting of the Church, the eschatological Israel and temple. “It is important to maintain that the church is not merely like Israel but actually is Israel” (653). Part eight describes how the church provides distinguishing marks for the storyline. He argues the Sunday Sabbath is one such distinguishing mark because it reminds the believer of the ultimate Sabbath, or rest, in Christ (790). Of course, Beale also argues that baptism and the Lord’s Supper also serve as a distinguishing mark for the church. Part nine view the role of the Christian living in the inaugurated end-time as one with a new creational life. Beale argues that Christians have the “indicative-imperative” pattern, which is simply what it means for those who belong in Christ to behave as a Christian (836). He also tackles the role of the Law in the Christian’s life as well as marriage in chapter twenty-six. In part ten Beale concludes the work and outlines the major themes of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the New Testament (887–957) as well as implications for Christians living in the present age.

A few words of praise for Beale’s work. Beale’s NTBT is a massive undertaking that has been the culmination of years of research and study. It is a lifetime of work from a faithful scholar. With the length of the book extending nearly 1,000 pages with research material, it is safe to conclude that Beale was both diligent and careful in his exegetical and theological task.

The book is also organized in a meticulous fashion, which that makes the transition from one chapter to the next easy to follow. It was helpful to read a chapter and then be able to see how it connects with the following chapter as well as the previous. The beginning chapter of each part served as the beginning of the section and the work was built from there. However, they still were all connected well, especially chapter two and Beale’s emphasis upon Gen 1–3.

Another favorable characteristic of the book is Beale’s emphasis upon the storyline of the Bible. His focus here allowed the reader not to become too overburdened by dense exegetical and theological work of going through the New Testament in a systematic fashion, such as I.H. Marshall’s New Testament Theology. Rather, Beale chose the respective theme and traced it through the Testaments. Considering this work is subtitled The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, Beale spent more time working through the threefold division of the New Testament rather than the Old Testament.

A particular weakness, however, is found in the narrative treatment the work receives. By fashioning the work in this way, Beale has altogether limited the particular reason the authors wrote their respective biblical books. No attention is given to Paul’s opponents when discussing the Spirit’s role in the life of the Christian, and it does not warrant an examination of the book on its own terms. Which leads to the question regarding the title of the work. Beale notes that this book is a biblical theology, but it functions almost in a systematic theological fashion. Despite presenting only one theme, it functions thematically as a systematic theology. Furthermore, a glaring miss is a discussion upon the biblical covenants. With the majority of the Old Testament constantly referencing the covenants, especially in the anticipation of their fulfillment in Christ, this is unfortunate.

G.K. Beale has helpfully provided the church with a thorough examination of his understanding of how the Old Testament is unfolded in the New Testament. The work is helpfully organized in a way that moves the discussion forward and connects each chapter with the others. Whether or not the reader fully agrees with the already-not yet inaugurated eschatology may prevent them from agreeing with Beale on much, but they will need to wrestle with his exegetical and theological work. Beale’s NTBT is a fair and helpful work and a welcome addition to the topic of biblical theology.

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