The Future of an Allusion – G.K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt. 1)

A Review of G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011, xiv + 1047 pages, hdbk, $54.99.

G. K. Beale is among the most prominent evangelical scholars.  He is acknowledged in the evangelical world as being something of an expert on the relationship of the OT to the New.  Together with D.A. Carson he is the general editor of the Commentary of the Use of the Old Testament in the New, and the subtitle of the present book is “The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New.”  Among other notable publications he has authored the Commentary on the Greek text of Revelation in the NIGNTC series, and The Temple and the Church’s Mission.  Beale is a covenant theologian who teaches at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia.  His eschatology is amillennial and supercessionist.

The book under review has been called magisterial.  It is certainly big.  It is without doubt as impressive as it is imposing.  And it is possibly the most thorough apology for amillennialism ever put into print.

1. Brief Overview of the Book

A New Testament Biblical Theology is divided into ten parts with an introduction.  In the introduction Beale explains how the NT authors were employed in “creatively developing the original sense beyond what may appear to be the ‘surface meaning’ of the OT text.” (4).  In this he is following the line of Richard B. Hays and others who have scrutinized the OT allusions they find in the NT.  This produces a reading of the Bible wherein the NT transforms the OT storyline (6, 9, 15, 16).  This means that the OT storyline has to be understood, in the final analysis, through the lens of the NT; even though Beale does claim that either Testament “deserves to have its own witness heard on its own terms.” (10).   I shall have cause to return to this claim in my critique.

In the opening chapters of Part One (chs. 2-3) the storyline of the OT is mapped out with special emphasis on Genesis 1-3.  The next chapter reviews Jewish eschatological opinions of the day, then come two chapters on NT eschatology, particularly in terms of the Latter Days.  By “eschatology” the author means an “already-not yet new-creational reign in Christ” (177), a definition loaded with theological baggage which must be inspected.  This leads in to Part Two (ch.7), which argues for the time between the advents as being the “inaugurated end-time tribulation,” and Part Three (chs.8-11), which set out a framework for NT biblical theology centered in the resurrection, understood as both physical and spiritual (viz. regeneration).  Parts Four through Six, consisting of chapters 13 to 19, deal with the restoration of the Divine image in man in salvation, and his settlement in the already-not yet eschatological temple, which is the Church.

Parts Seven and Eight (chs.20-24) will set premillennialists fidgeting as Beale’s replacement theology shifts into top gear.  Chapters 25 and 26 comprise Part Nine where the Christian life is viewed as a participation in the new creation now.  Then comes the Conclusion in Part Ten (chs. 27 and 28).  A Bibliography and good indices complete the volume.

2. Description of the Argument of the Book

This is a very long and detailed work filled with impressive scholarship and a love of Scripture.  The author wants to present the inner cohesiveness of Scripture by showing how the NT authors, Paul in particular, develop the OT storyline in new and sometimes surprising ways by their use of an “already/not yet” theological hermeneutics.  This hermeneutics draws added strength from carefully uncovering the allusions of the NT writers to their Hebrew (well, mostly LXX Greek) Bibles.  In many cases, these allusions reshape the apparent surface meaning of the text, broadening the picture in no small part through the realization that what might at first be thought of as referring to an End Times denouement, has, in fact, been inaugurated at the Resurrection of Christ, although the fuller realization and completion of this work lies ahead.  Another way to put this is by Beale’s oft-repeated refrain of “Inaugurated End Time New Creation.”

The long chapters 2 and 3 begin with a focus on the opening chapters of Genesis as the basis for much of what is unfolded in the rest of the OT.  Beale tries to develop several somewhat speculative notions regarding God’s overcoming of  “chaos” (39), the symbolism of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (he thinks this was a “judgment tree” where Adam should have judged the serpent and then ruled over it. 35, 45), the clothing of the fallen ones, etc.  Throughout the chapter, though not limited to it, words like “possible,” “seems,” “if,” “perhaps,” reoccur.  Beale also manages to slip in a plea for a covenant [of Works] between God and Adam in Eden (42-43).  Ezekiel 28 is utilized to tell us that Eden was apparently situated on a mountain (105); whatismore, the one who is in Eden in Ezekiel 28:13-14 is identified as Adam (cf. 74, 360 n.7, etc.).  Adam was given a commission which he was unable to fulfill; a commission which was reiterated throughout OT history, but which only the second Adam could carry out. (45ff., 61).   Beale even has some of the tribes of Israel attempting to fulfill it (98), though whether they were aware of this is not stated.  Israel is “apparently… a corporate Adam” in this typological scenario (56, 85, 90, 95 n.22), which sees “cyclic patterns” (60) of a God who,

progressively reestablishes his new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word by his Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory. (62, etc.)  

This is not a “center” but rather the main strand of the OT storyline.  A better perspective from which to view this is to look at it through the lens of the beginning and the end of the Bible; the “bookends” of Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21.

On page 115 Beale lists ten ideas which represent the OT notion of “the latter days.”  Interestingly, Dispensationalists would have no trouble agreeing with this list, even if they would maybe add more details.  This is not to say that they come out at the same place as Beale.  It is the same when he lists four conceptions involved in Jewish interpretations of “the latter days” in extra-biblical sources (128).  Again, Dispensationalists would basically agree with the picture Beale gives while wishing to provide further corroboration.  Focusing only on Jewish expectations produces just such a picture of covenant understanding as Dispensationalists like to stress (esp. 111-128).  Of course, Beale has already gone to some trouble to set the stage for NT transformations of these expectations, and in chapter 5 and following he will turn to the New Testament.

As chapter 5 begins, the reader is reminded that,

The phrase “latter days”…occurs numerous times in the NT and often does not refer exclusively to the very end of history, as we typically think of it. (130)

Few people would disagree.  He then enters into a survey of NT eschatology which he says, “changed my entire perspective on the NT.”  Soon he is referring us to John 5:24-29, a text that will play a crucial role in his outlook.  He correctly notices that “verses 28-29 quote Daniel 12:2” (131).  However, he also believes Daniel 12 is in view in John 5:24-25.  The comparisons he adduces (in Table 5.1) look strained.  Of course, his mission here is to come away with two sorts of “resurrections”; a physical one and a spiritual one.  The “spiritual resurrection” is absolutely essential to Beale’s “already/not yet new-creational” model and he will spend several chapters trying to prove his thesis (the whole of Part Three).

I have no room to set out Beale’s arguments, but he relies heavily on OT allusions and his interpretations of them.  Adopting this method presupposes that a). a deliberate allusion is being made, and b). the right understanding of its use is held by the interpreter.

Beale believes Adam’s disobedience involved a worship of self and a loss (or near loss) of the functional image of God.  He even asserts,

Adam’s shift from trusting God to trusting the serpent meant that he no longer reflected God’s image but rather the serpent’s image. (359)

One might counter with Paul’s assertion in 1 Timothy 2:14 that Adam was not deceived by Satan, and the reason for his fall lie elsewhere than in his trusting the serpent.  In the next chapter (ch. 13) Beale tries to establish the “Son of Man” figure in Daniel 7 as corporate saved Israel (394f. cf. 191f.), seemingly not wanting to see that the four beasts represent four individual kings as well as their kingdoms (Dan. 7:17).  The One who comes on the clouds of heaven (7:13, cf. Matt. 24:30, 26:64) and receives “dominion, glory, and a kingdom” is surely an individual (Messiah)?  But Beale is wishing to prove that Jesus is Israel (a la R.T. France & G. Goldsworthy), paving the way for his more strident supercessionism of later chapters.  On pages 412-437 he goes to great lengths to demonstrate this identification.  Jesus is Israel and corporate Adam who brings the kingdom, though in an unexpected way.  Beale admits that “Jesus’s kingdom…appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism.” (431).  Quite an alarming thing to say, but in-line with the demands of his covenant theology.

The section is rounded off with this short statement:

Christ has come as the end time Adam to do what the first Adam should have done and to reflect his Father’s image perfectly and to enable his people to have that image restored to them.  In doing so, Christ is restarting history, which is a new-creational age to be successfully consummated at his final coming. (465)

There is certainly a lot of Scripture cited and many scholars are referenced, but, as everywhere in the book, there is little balance offered.  The author’s interpretations are not brought up against contrary views.

I am going to pass over Part Five (chs. 15-16), not because they do not deserve treatment.  Indeed, I think they are the best chapters in the book, being much more firmly grounded in the texts being used, with less use of the imagination or dependence upon interpretations of types and allusions (esp. ch.15).  One might wish to raise an objection here and there (e.g. Christ’s “active obedience”, and future justification!), but if read charitably few will come away from these chapters with big disagreements.

This brings us on to Part Six, which stresses the roles of the Spirit in transforming the old order into the new.  As this section manifests the beginning of a more insistent application of supercessionist eschatology I shall refrain from reviewing it until next time.  My objective is to first try to present the teaching of the book, continued in Part Two, before providing a critique, which will have to be in Part Three.

Part Two

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11 comments

  1. I must say I didn’t agree with his Chaos approach. I must say I pretty much agree with your assessment. I also must say I too am not a full blooded CT or dispy. I will read some of you’re posts about CT vs DT.

  2. Thanks Paul for this review. I will look forward to parts 2&3 of Beale’s tome. So much to read, with so little time it seems for me. Also finding “balance” in study, ministry and life.

    Grace, mercy, and peace to you.

    Alex

    1. Yep. This has been a chore to read slowly. I kind of resented spending so much time not reading other things (I’m trying to read through Barth for instance). Appreciate the words.

      P

  3. Paul, your post reminds me that Don Goertzen from Indian Hills Community Church ( http://www.ihcc.org ) has, in my humble opinion, a money quote concerning theology system, in particularly Covenantals (or Reformed) earlier this year [2012]:

    “A well developed system [of theology] has few unanswered questions; but cannot answer disqualifying ones (e.g. How could God go back on His word?)”.

    Goertzen’s argument is that, if you think Reformed [Covenant] theology seemingly has rich answers to every question you can ever come up with, the chance is Roman Catholicism can count on an even richer theological inheritance over the ages. Both systems have few unanswered questions because of their long history and emphasis on scholastics. But questions which are not supposed to be asked with respect to that particular theological system are more telling signs of its weakness.

    To me, this money quote settles once and for all why CT is untenable and its fatal weakness. What you have said so far about Beale’s work above seems to reinforce what Goertzen said.

    PS: Don Goertzen has been running a Christianity and Apologetics/Theological Issues/Social Issues adult Bible class ministry for over the past 8 years or so. Last year he spent lengthy amounts of time criticizing covenantalists especially amillennialists, old earth creationism (day-age theory), theistic evolution, psychology, market-driven church philosophy, Lord-less gospel.

    Goertzen went so far as to slam Covenant theology as a heresy with roots in Platonic paganism in his talk on Feb 22 (2012), which is also the talk that he made that money quote above. Other snippets include:

    “In short, Covenantal eschatology is a denial of Jewish future promises. Yet Covenantalism is hard to mentally grasp, because it necessitates some understanding of its historical development.”

    “Many people immediately lose interest at this point. But it is imperative that we make the connection to paganism thus the historical development is essential, otherwise Covenantal eschatology is just another legitimate point of view”

    Here’s the recordings and PDF slide for his Feb 22 talk:

    [audio src="http://www.ihcc.org/download/sites/all/files/media/2012/bible_18_022212.mp3" /]

    http://www.ihcc.org/sites/all/files/media/2012/018_neoplatonism-augustinianism.pdf

  4. You mention Christ’s “active obedience” near the end of your review. Have you posted anything about that on your site or is there anything you can recommend that deals with objections to the concept? Sorry to bother with a question that is tangential to your post.

    1. Paul,

      You will find that the idea of “active obedience” threads into the belief in the “covenant of works.” Hence, those who believe in the latter hold to the former. Others who hold to it are those who believe in Federal imputation of Adam’s guilt (though not all). I’m packing books away at the moment so can’t provide a fuller answer (I like to double check things).

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