Review of A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by G. K. Beale

Gregory K. Beale. A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011. xxiv+1047pp. ISBN 9780801026973 $54.99 (cloth).

Any reviewer of G. K. Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology has a daunting task set before them; while the author unhesitatingly states the impossibility of writing a complete New Testament biblical theology, he has, in fact, turned in a work that is well over one thousand pages long. The book is composed of twenty-eight chapters of varying lengths spread throughout ten sections, and it is a veritable cornucopia of Old and New Testament texts that will offer serious scholars of redemptive history more than sufficient food for thought.

Beale’s work is built on the heritage of Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, and George Eldon Ladd (19); unlike Ladd (or Thomas Schreiner), however, this is not a New Testament theology in the traditional sense.[1] While the authors of NT theologies are more interesting in examining the various genres of literature in the NT and their self-contained theological contributions, Beale is seeking to do something entirely different. In line with other biblical theologians (e.g, Vos and Richard B. Gaffin),[2] Beale is seeking to follow the “story” or “storyline” of the New Testament. He is specifically seeking to demonstrate that the NT writers and consciously building upon the storyline of the Old Testament, which is:

The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgement (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory (16).

NT writers take this storyline, building upon and transforming it, in light of the incarnation of Jesus Christ (ibid). All of this books conceptual categories are thus drawn from either the OT or the NT transformation of these storyline features, the latter of which is summarized by Beale as:

Jesus’s life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the exchatology already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgement for the unbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory (ibid.).

At first glance, the internal logic by which the book is arranged may not be apparent to the reader; on closer inspection, however, the entirety of the work is arranged according to the internal logic of Genesis 1–3 and its subsequent ramifications, as the author of the work before us understands them. Perhaps the most notable (and deeply commendable) aspect of Beale’s work is the sheer amount of detailed exegesis it contains, in addition to the superb tables provided showing various inter-textual allusions and parallels. The book is worth its extraordinary recommended purchase price due to these alone.

The attentive reader will notice by now that I have not, as is customary for reviewers, provided any sort of summarization of the contents of the various chapters of Beale’s work, nor offered an examination of his main lines of argumentation. This isn’t due to any laziness on my own part, let me assure you; the book is simply massive in its content and scope, and thus it defies any attempt to summarize its contents, which is to say nothing of the number of excurses that the author has included. This bring us to the first flaw in an otherwise astounding work: Beale is, as an author,  far too prolix. I have never yet read a book which he has authored which has not brought to mind Strunk’s dictum to “omit needless words.”[3] It seems as though Dr. Beale doesn’t see the point in using only five words when he could use fifteen. Even Beale’s chapter titles are prolix: “Resurrection as Inaugurated End-Time New Creation and Kingdom in Paul’s Writings.” Positively Edwardsian in its fullness, isn’t it? I can only imagine the sheer joy Strunk might have taken in editing Beale’s books, and the subsequent joy Beale’s readers might have taken in reading a tighter work that had been significantly shortened.[4]

Yet, perhaps counter-intuitively, this leads to my second criticism (or perhaps quibble) with Beale’s work. In New Testament Biblical Theology, as in some of his other works, I have noticed places where it appears that Beale makes enormous hermeneutical leaps without walking his reader through the process by which he has drawn an apparently poorly supported conclusion. Perhaps this is due to gouging in the editing process; it may also be due to the fact that our author’s mental gears are simply so well-oiled that he thinks we’re able to follow his reasoning process. Whichever the case may be, it is a defect, and one that ought to be rectified for us mere mortals that read his works.

Gregory K. Beale holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and has previously been a professor at Grove City College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and was also the Kenneth T. Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies and Professor of New Testament at the Wheaton College Graduate School. He is currently the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, a position he has held since 2010. While I have registered my minor complaints (primarily stylistic), with Beale’s book allow me to also point out that A New Testament Biblical Theology is a monumental work of scholarship, and model of redemptive-historical exegesis. While I seriously doubt that the committed lay-person, or even the committed pastor-scholar, would be well-served by attempting to read this work cover-to-cover, it deserves to be on the bookshelf of ever serious biblical scholar, even if it is only ever consulted as a reference work. Despite the fact that this work is a difficult read, it is a tour-de-force of the art of biblical theology, and will more than repay a diligent examination of its contents.

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975); Herman N. Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, 2nd rev. ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1988); George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1993); Thomas R. Schreiner, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010).

[2] Richard B. Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1987).

[3] William Strunk, The Elements of Style, 4th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999), 23.

[4] I have often complained (only somewhat jokingly) that Dr. Beale must have been absent the day that his English teacher taught the class covering run-on sentences. One can only guess that between obeying Strunk’s dictum and cleaning up needlessly long sentences that Beale’s books might be shortened by at least a hundred pages, if not more.


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