The Future of an Allusion: G. K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt.3)
As we continue to the end of this impressive book we come to the second part of Beale’s two chapter treatment of supercessionism (although the doctrine permeates the whole work).
The author is among those who believe all the phenomena in Joel’s prophecy recited by Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:16-21 came to pass, even though it didn’t really. But that is ancillary to his argument, which is that the prophecy was aimed at Israel (689), and in Christ gentiles become tagged as Israel (690). This is helped by another allusion, this time to Isaiah 2:2-4; the first part of which “implies that gentiles become identified with Israel.” (691). Once more, some will miss the subtlety of the connection Beale makes, more particularly because of the physical phenomena described in Isaiah 2 and its seemingly obvious connection to places like Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 14 and Romans 8:18f., which appear to place this transformation after the Second Advent.
The same passing over descriptions of physical transformation occurs in the writers comparison of Isaiah 32:13 with Acts 1:8 (693). Chapter 20 closes with a look at the work of Rikki Watts and David Pao and their extension of “the view of such scholars as C. H. Dodd and Francis Foulkes that the citation of or allusion to OT passages in the NT are indicators of broader hermeneutic frameworks, storylines,…” and such like (699). Beale lists five points from Pao which he thinks show that hearers of these OT allusions in the early church would have been able to make the same connections a few twentieth and twenty-first century scholars have made (700). How many readers and hearers since that time have been able to do likewise is an open question.
Chapter 21 examines several NT passages pertinent to the discussion: Rom. 9:24-26 and 27-29; 10:11-13, 25-26; 2 Cor. 6; Gal. 4:22-27 and 6:16; Eph. 2:13-18; and sundry passages in Hebrews, 1 Peter and Revelation. It would take extended comments to analyze Beale’s treatments of these texts, but the upshot is that few naysayers would be won over to his views, whereas those already in agreement would feel more secure in their position (the exception would be Romans 9:24-29 where even many “Dutch school” covenant theologians would argue against Beale).
The author’s decided replacementism surfaces again in his closing comment on Gal. 6:16:
Here [Gal. 6:16], as in 2 Cor. 5:14-7:1, it needs to be emphasized that the church in fulfilling Israel’s end-time restoration prophecies [n.b. Israel didn't fulfill them!] is also fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies of new creation. (724).
On page 728 Beale provides five ways in which the new covenant has been understood. However, he misses a sixth way: that the same new covenant, who is Jesus Christ, is made with both the church (at the first coming), and with national Israel (at His second coming). As all God’s covenant obligations depend for their consummation on righteousness obtained through Christ, once that righteousness is given, nothing stands in the way of literal fulfillment of the original covenanted promises [see e.g., this post].
In the next chapter (22) Israel’s land promises are dealt with. The now common route of expansion of “the land” is the tack taken. As per writers like O. Palmer Robertson, the promise is thought to begin in Eden (751) of which the land covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a recapitulation. This is called an “expansive temple-land theology” (753) wherein the “temple/land” is to extend throughout the new earth of Rev. 21. As usual, none of the texts used to prove the contention actually say that this is the case. Neither is the simple fact that Israel is never equated with its temple dealt with. What needs to be in place to make it all work is the joint assumption that the NT reinterprets the OT, and the deductive skills of the interpreter play a magisterial role. For an instance of the latter, the author cites Heb. 11:13 as teaching that Christians have reached New Jerusalem even while living on earth (766), whereas the writer of Hebrews appears to say nothing of the kind.
Part Eight enlarges upon the Reformed understanding of the “Christian Sabbath” (Ch. 23), and “Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Church Office, and New Testament Canon” (Ch.24). This is where some who have ridden this train to this point may want to disembark, and we are glad to have them on our side even if for a short stay. Briefly, although the Bible records no keeping of the seventh-day prior to the Book of Exodus, it is viewed as in situ as a “creation ordinance” since creation week (e.g. 781, 789). The connection between Eden and Israel depends heavily upon Beale’s assertion that Israel is a “corporate Adam.” Beale then turns to the NT evidence. There follows a rather convoluted argument from Hebrews followed by three inferences based thereon (788-789). Then there are several proposals about the sabbath as a creation mandate linked in with the author’s view that Adam was to spread out the “Eden temple” while ruling over opposition from the serpent (798). To some of us, such teachings seem so foreign to what the Scriptures actually say that it is difficult to keep ones concentration, and even Beale is forced to admit that there,
is no exegetical evidence supporting such a change, just as there is no explicit evidence supporting the notion that Christ’s resurrection has consummated rest for him and inaugurated it for believers. (799).
Indeed, the lack of explicit evidence for so many of the book’s major assertions is almost habitual. In the next chapter (24), in the midst of a treatment of Col. 2:9-13, we read that in view of the “overtones of idolatry” connected to “handmade” circumcision in the LXX and the NT,
the implied reference to “circumcision made with hands” in Col. 2 further enforces the notion that it is idolatrous to continue to trust in the OT “shadows” once their fulfillment has come. (804)
While not agreeing with the author one does not wish to be an unsympathetic reader, but such a statement raises the eyebrows. For surely the pious believer who fails to acknowledge what covenant theologians call “shadows” and “types,” but who instead wants to take God’s words at face value, is not to be considered guilty of idolatry for so doing? After all, if God had meant what we are told He meant, couldn’t He have said it without employing so much equivocal language, making “literalists” guilty for believing He meant what He said? I am not going to say much more here but I feel I must include this quote from the end of chapter 24:
Just as Israel had its book from God, so does the new Israel, the church, have its book, which is an already-not yet eschatological unpacking of the meaning of Israel’s book. (830).
Now Beale goes on say to that the Bible “is ultimately one book” revealed progressively. But one does not have to read through to this part of the book to twig that the NT is being exalted above the OT and the church is being exalted above Israel. Too, for covenant theologians, progressive revelation is not very progressive (as in one idea augmented by another), but is rather supercessive revelation (as in one idea being displaced by another).
Two short chapters comprise Part Nine. The only thing I wish to say is that Beale’s chapter including “Marriage as a Transformed New-Creational Institution in Ephesians 5″ forces this question: if, as Beale agrees, marriage is a covenant, can it be transformed to include others not mentioned in the original covenant oath? Can a man “transform” his “wife” so that she is not the same one to whom he actually made his vows?
The Conclusion, which consists of two chapters (Ch. 27 being long; ch, 28 short), making up Part Ten, compares OT lives with NT lives, provides an apology for a form of sensus plenior (954-956), and reiterates, in more doxological fashion, the thesis of the book.
The final installment of this review article, including a fuller critique, will appear soon, Lord willing.