Book Note

A New Testament Biblical Theology: Initial Analysis

02.26.2012 by Greg Billingsley

This Book Note is part of the A New Testament Biblical Theology In Progress book review (click to view the main book review post).

We will start the first Book Note of this In Progress review for G.K. Beale's A New Testament Biblical Theology discussing the overall expectations that we should have for the book. My goal is to find out the author's thesis and how he will structure his proof for that thesis by looking at the book's title, subtitle, and structure (table of contents). Fortunately we are in luck, because, as many excellent authors do, Beale explicitly and descriptively expresses his thesis in the book's Introduction and gives a plan for proving that thesis.

Title: A New Testament Biblical Theology

This is an unassuming title, but there are two things that should be pointed out. First, this is a “New Testament” theology. Naturally, we should expect the focus to be mainly on the NT and how it reveals God and his plan through the work of Jesus Christ. However, this isn't to say that the Old Testament will be ignored. A quick look at the subtitle alone tells us that there must be some grounding in the OT, and, as we will see in future Book Notes, Beale uses Genesis 1-3 as the foundation for the story of the Bible. But, even with this foundation in the OT, we should still expect a large majority of the book to address the NT, and specifically the events surrounding Jesus and how they further God's plan in history.

Second, this is a “Biblical” theology. The word “Biblical” is meant to set it apart from the contrasting discipline of Systematic Theology (there are other disciplines, such as Historical and Practical theology, but they are out of scope of the current article). If you aren't familiar with the terms Biblical and Systematic Theology and their methods then think about it this way: when you hear “Biblical” think “story,” and when you hear “Systematic” think “categories.”

What's the difference between Biblical and Systematic Theology?

Geerhardous Vos writes, “Biblical with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible” (Biblical Theology, p. 5). Biblical theology is primarily concerned with how God reveals Himself throughout the story of redemptive history given to us in the Bible. The two key words, for me at least, are revelation and redemption. God gives the revelation and accomplishes the redemption in one grand story. In Biblical Theology, we take individual passages and work to understand how they both fit within and help to progress the overall single story of God given to us in the Bible.

Systematic Theology, on the other hand, takes individual topics and collects everything the Bible has to say about that topic. It answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us about a given topic?” A systematician will argue that “systematic theology is that methodological study of the Bible that views the Holy Scriptures as a completed revelation, in distinction from the disciplines of Old Testament theology, New Testament theology, and biblical theology, which approach the Scriptures as an unfolding revelation. Accordingly, the systematic theologian, viewing the Scriptures as a completed revelation, seeks to understand holistically the plan, purpose, and didactic intention of the divine mind revealed in Holy Scripture, and to arrange that plan, purpose, and didactic intention in orderly and coherent fashion as articles of the Christian faith.” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, by Dr. Robert L. Reymond, pp. xxv-xxvi)

A Systematic Theology usually starts with God (God's Word, God's attributes, the Trinity, etc.), moves to man (man created by God, original sin, etc.), follows with Christ (the work of Christ, the offices of Christ, the Atonement, etc.), then variously includes topics such as Faith, Justification, Sanctification, the Church, and finally typically concludes with Eschatology and Last Things. For each of these categories, the relevant Biblical passages are referenced so that a complete dogmatic definition can be made about that category. Confessions and catechisms, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism, are also good examples of Systematic Theology.

In my opinion, both methods, Biblical and Systematic, are necessary and even dependent upon each other. You can't get categories if you don't have story and you can only truly understand the story if you develop the right categories. In other words, the story is primary, with the categories coming from the story, but the categories are also a channel for us to understand the story in a better and more correct way. Additionally, I do not believe that we have to pit these disciplines against each other, but we should see the Bible as the unfolding story of a completed revelation.

On a side note, in his introduction Beale explains his specific definition of biblical theology and both the similarities and differences between this present work and other works within the same discipline. We will cover this in the next Book Note.

Subtitle: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New

We gain more depth of information about this work through the subtitle, as is usually the case. What does Beale mean by this? My initial take is that Beale views the OT as setting the stage for the New. Redemptive history was inaugurated and established as given to us in the OT through God's decree and then furthered through OT events where types and shadows pointed towards a time of fulfillment, redemption, and reconciliation. The NT is that time of fulfillment, redemption, and reconciliation so that, what was begun in the OT, has been completed (or, at least, the completion has been inaugurated) in the NT. The NT has unfolded the completion of the story that was begun in the OT.


As mentioned above, Beale is quite clear on his thesis. I've quoted it directly below and, while I'm tempted to expound on it, I'm going to leave it as it is. After all, the whole book is dedicated to supporting and expanding upon this thesis, so I'll let it stand on it's own for now.

“My thesis is that the major theological ideas of the NT flow out of the following NT storyline..., of which the new-creational kingdom and its expansion are the central element (underlined in the following idea) leading to God's glory: Jesus life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological 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 judgment for the unbelieving, unto the triune God's glory.” (p. 23)

One quick initial thought on Beale's thesis: the key phrase around which Beale's ideas encircle is “eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign.” This may seem like a mouthful, but each word in that phrase is important and will be given extensive attention throughout the work. It would be wise to pay careful attention to these words whenever they are encountered.


To support his thesis, Beale structures his arguments in 10 parts and 28 chapters. The first part is dedicated to the establishment of the overall biblical storyline, tracing it through the OT, Judaism, and then the NT. In parts 2 and 3, Beale argues that the end-time tribulation has already been inaugurated in Christ and the church which lays the foundation for the framework within which he will work throughout the rest of the book. Then, in the remainder of the book, this framework is used to take the primary components in the NT storyline (as described in the Thesis section above) and expound upon each one. The different themes presented through this storyline are idolatry and the restoration of God's image, salvation, the work of the Spirit, the Church and its distinguishing marks, and Christian living. To close the book, a rich summary and conclusion is provided in the final part.

Now that we have established our expectations for the book, we will turn to the first chapter, the Introduction, in the next Book Note.

Note: If you are interested in further works in Biblical Theology, a good place to start is Graeme Goldsworthy's introduction to Biblical Theology called According To Plan – The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. The more advanced “must read” for this topic is Biblical Theology by Geerhardous Vos.

This Book Note is part of the A New Testament Biblical Theology In Progress book review (click to view the main book review post).