On first glance, this book looks like an antique. It has a cover like 19th century literary works, like for instance the set I have of Charles’ Dickens’ novels. But don’t let the cover fool you. This is the latest, and most expansive ever attempt at doing a proper Biblical Theology. It weighs in at over 1,000 pages and deals in detail with the theology and ethics of every single book of the Protestant Bible. Andreas Kostenberger was wise enough to enlist a good, seasoned OT scholar as his partner in creating this massive tome, not least because no one scholar can really master every book in the Bible, in this age of specialization. Kudos to these two scholars for trying to do so, insofar as the subject is Biblical Theology. But actually, the subject is also Biblical Ethics, Biblical narrative, Biblical themes, and more. And not surprisingly, the result is multi-dimensional.
This is a good reference book for the Biblical Theology of every Biblical book, whether or not one agrees with all the exegesis, and methodology, and I don’t. I would have liked a good deal more reckoning with the progressive nature of the revelation in the Bible, which if done properly prevents the sort of anachronism that OT scholars like John Goldingay are rightly critical of when it comes to more conservative NT scholars. For example, the ‘three men’ who showed up at Abraham’s tent for dinner are not the holy Trinity, as Orthodox theology has often suggested, and on balance the references to the ‘spirit of Yahweh’ in its original contexts refers to Yahweh’s living and inspiring presence, not to the third person of the Trinity. It is important to realize that the Christocentric reading of the OT has to be done very carefully, without ignoring the OT texts’ original contexts. Fortunately, Kostenberger and Goswell are aware of these issue. It would be well too if all scholars took into account that there is a difference between a NT writer exegeting an OT text with proper sensitivity to its original context, and the homiletical use of the OT for Christological and other purposes. (see e.g. my three books on intertextuality— Isaiah Old and New, Psalms Old and New, Torah Old and New).
Progressive revelation also means a progressively better, and fuller understanding of God’s revelation as well. For example, while the Samuel chronicles reflect little or no proper dealing with the idea of secondary causes (predicating all sorts of things of Yahweh), if we compare the very same material in Chronicles, we are suddenly introduced to Satan or the Devil. It turns out, God is not the author of evil or wickedness, but you would not have known that from some of the earlier books in the OT. And the same applies to the issue of afterlife theology. This theology doesn’t really involve the notion of resurrection prior to the exilic and post-exilic period. It appears that it took exile for God’s people to realize that some justice issues would not be resolved until the final resurrection and the final judgment. (see Dan. 12.1-3).
I am very thankful for this detailed and thorough treatment of Biblical Theology, and I intend to use it in my doctoral seminar on this subject. These authors rightly maintain a high view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. It is well-written, carefully researched, and more comprehensive than any other comparable volume every produced that I know of. I am especially thankful that these authors have undertaken to try and understand the relationship of theology and ethics throughout the canon, something I have been insisting on for a long time. When the Bible says ‘Be holy as God is holy’ this is not just a theological statement, it is also an ethical call to arms. And it is a mistake to separate ethics from theology, even when it comes to the matter of salvation, for God’s people are called by Paul himself ‘to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as God works in the community (and the individual) to will and to do.’ Amen and Amen.