Book Review: Biblical Theology According to the Apostles: How the Earliest Christians Told the Story of Israel (New Studies in Biblical Theology)

Biblical Theology According to the Apostles: How the Earliest Christians Told the Story of Israel (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Chris Bruno, Jared Compton and Kevin McFadden. IVP Academic, 2020, 248 pp.

One of the challenges within Biblical theology has always been to display how the Testaments relate to one another. In Biblical Theology According to the Apostles: How the Earliest Christians Told the Story of Israel, the authors tackle this issue. They rightly stress the importance of Israel within the New Testament story. They discuss what is called an (SIS), which is an abbreviation for “Summaries of Israel’ Story.” The seven summaries are (1) The Genealogy of Matthew (Matt. 1: 1-17); (2) Jesus parables of the tenants (Matt. 21: 33-46; etc); (3) Stephen’s speech (Acts 7); (4) Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41); (5) Paul’s argument for salvation history in Galatians; (6) his defense of God’s faithfulness to Israel in Rom 9-11; and (7) the author of Hebrews exhortation to his readers about having persevering faith (Heb. 11).

Anyone that has been reading N.T Wright’s work and tend to repeat his arguments (whether deliberately or not), know Wright has stressed the role of Israel in New Testament studies. And within New Testament, scholars are careful to avoid the “replacement theology’ or the “supersessionism” label. Many scholars have are focusing on the promise- fulfillment theme and simply see Jesus as the “fulfillment” of what Israel was. He is Israel’s ideal representative and he fulfills all of Israel’s social and religious markers such as the temple, the sacrificial system, the priesthood, the law, etc. The question has always been whether when God uses the particular (a particular person or people/Israel) to bring blessing to the universal (the world), the particular is done away with and has no more significance. The chapters in this book do see Jesus as the fulfillment of those markers just mentioned. But the authors see the New Testament books mentioned as faithful retelling stories of Israel with Jesus as the climax of Israel’s story. The authors do agree that while there has been much debate over the phrase “all Israel will be saved” (see Rom. 11 for full context), Paul’s statements in Romans 9-11 show God not rejecting ethnic Israel. I agree with them on this issue.

I think the chapter on Hebrews was a reminder to me to see the need to persevere in my own faith. One thing the authors did mention was the passage, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits”-Matthew 21:43. Some have said that this teaches God divorced and judged unfaithful Israel (who had murdered the Messiah) and married a faithful bride: His Church. The authors think this text has to be seen in light of the rest of the book of Matthew. I tend to agree. However, a more careful reading shows that the “you” of Matt 21:43 is identified in Matt 21:45 not as Israel or the Jewish people but as ‘the chief priests and the Pharisees,”—the temple authorities who confronted Jesus in Matt 21:23-27. The “people” referred to in Matt 21:43 is not the church in contrast to the Jewish people, but the new leadership group that will replace the old.

Furthermore, Craig Keener notes that “nation” here probably recalls Ex 19:6 and strict Jewish groups that characterized themselves as “righteous remnants” within Israel (e.g.,Qumran) could also view themselves as heirs of the biblical covenant community. In this period “ethnos” applies to guilds, associations, social classes or other groups of even orders of priests: urban Greeks used the term for rural Greeks, the LXX for Gentiles, and Greeks for non Greeks. Matthew implies not rejection of Israel but of dependence on any specific group membership, be it synagogue or church (The Gospel of Matthew: A Social Rhetorical Commentary), pgs,515, 516.

While I appreciated the exegetical work in this book, overall, I do not see it as breaking a lot of new ground. However, any theological work that pays attention to Israel is a healthy way to approach the Scriptures. This is one component that  will always lead to healthy discipleship.

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