Book Notice: Biblical Theology According to the Apostles

Chris Bruno, Jared Compton, and Kevin McFadden. Biblical Theology According to the Apostles: How the Earliest Christians Told the Story of Israel. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. 248 pages. $27.00 (paperback).

How did the first Christians read and apply the Old Testament? Chris Bruno (Associate Dean and Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis), Jared Compton (Assistant Professor of Greek and New Testament Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary), and Kevin McFadden (Associate Professor of New Testament at Cairn University in Philadelphia) attempt to answer that question in their co-authored volume, Biblical Theology According to the Apostles. Rather than surveying all the ways in which the New Testament cites or alludes to the Old Testament, the authors instead focus on the New Testament’s summaries of Israel’s story which they define as “passages in the NT that recount the characters, events and institutions of Israel’s story in chronological order and at substantial length” (p. 6). Undertaking such a study, they argue, can reveal common themes that emerge in the apostles’ retellings of Israel’s story as well as provide principles that Christians can implement in their own study of the Old Testament.

The authors identify seven instances of such summaries in the NT: Matthew’s genealogy (Matt. 1:1–17), Jesus’s Parable of the Tenants (Matt. 21:33–46), Stephen’s speech (Acts 7), Paul’s sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16–41), Paul’s discussion of the law in Israel’s history (Galatians 3–4), Paul’s defense of God’s faithfulness to Israel (Romans 9–11), and the recounting of examples of faith in Hebrews 11. The analyses of these passages follow a similar pattern of “context” (explaining the summaries’ function in the biblical book), “content” (exegeting the passage itself), and “contribution” (drawing implications for the NT’s view of Israel’s story). In the final chapter, they summarize their findings and outline several ways in which Christians can follow in the apostles’ footsteps when doing biblical theology themselves.

The study provides a fascinating look at the way in which the first generation of Christians understood their place in Israel’s story. Readers will benefit greatly from many of their exegetical insights, including their comments on the patterns in Matthew’s genealogy (pp. 13–29), the covenantal substructure of the sermons in Acts (pp. 65–66, 69–71), and the pastoral function of Hebrews 11 (pp. 155–58). They demonstrate that, while diverse in their emphases, the various summaries fundamentally “instruct us about the climax of the story with Christ, the continuation of the story in the church and the conclusion of the story in the new creation” (p. 200). That said, there are a few important concepts in the book that could have benefited from clearer definitions and further discussions, including typology (pp. 191–92), allegory (pp. 196–97), and even biblical theology (pp. 2–3). Their final chapter could also have been strengthened by providing more specific examples of how Christians today can apply the principles listed there. In spite of its limitations, however, the volume provides an illuminating window into the apostolic interpretation of the OT that is well worth pondering.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Drake Isabell, an M.Div. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Content Manager for Book Notices at the Center for Biblical Studies.


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