Recent Noteworthy Monographs on the Old and New Testaments

J. V. Fesko


Each year publishers release hundreds of new titles for consumption by the theologically thirsty masses. Unless one knows the author, trusts the endorsement on the back cover, or perhaps sees the book recommended elsewhere, the reader is often left wondering whether a book is worth the money. To assist the reader in the process of sifting through the vast sea of ink, we can briefly survey four recent and noteworthy monographs that can be of great benefit for both the pastor and ruling elder alike. However, the reader should in no way consider such commendation as a wholesale endorsement of the whole book. There are always areas where the reader will disagree with the author. Nevertheless, a discerning reader, a good Berean, will be able to read these monographs and reap great benefits.

Old Testament

Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament, by Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: IL: IVP, 2006, 160 pages, $15.00, paper.

Christopher Wright has written what may be considered a companion volume to his earlier Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. If many Christians find looking for Jesus in the OT a challenge, then it might be even more challenging to look for the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Wright does a good job of explaining the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT by organizing his book into five chapters: the creating, empowering, prophetic, anointing, and coming Spirit. He begins, for example, with the opening chapters of the Bible and showing the work of the Spirit in creation. He then goes on to show that the Spirit was active not only in creation but also in the providential sustenance of the heavens and earth, citing such passages as Job 34:14-15: "If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust" (NIV). Wright then goes on to relate the work of the Holy Spirit to the future, to eschatology. He explains how the present creation suffers but that Christians must realize that these sufferings are part of the birth-pains of the revelation of the new creation, one that has been begun by Christ and is birthed by the Holy Spirit.

Overall, Wright does a good job of tracing the doctrine of the Holy Spirit through each of the stated chapter themes. He not only explains the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT but also traces the connections to the present work of the Spirit in the inaugurated eschaton. One wishes, though, that he had devoted some space to treatment of the desert tabernacle and later Solomonic temple, specifically the glory-cloud presence of the Lord. One could supplement Wright's work with Meredith Kline's Images of the Spirit in this regard. Wright's work is based upon a series of lectures that he delivered on the subject. It is accessible to both the ruling elder and pastor. For those interested in a good book study for laymen, Wright's book very well could fit the bill.

Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, by Stephen G. Dempster. New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003, 267 pages, $22.00, paper.

Stephen Dempster has written a book that no minister should be without. Dempster's work is perhaps one of the best books on a biblical theology of the OT to date. The title of Dempster's work does not adequately convey the excellent content of the book. Dempster's thesis is that the OT canon (according to its Jewish order, not the order given in the Septuagint, which we find in our English Bibles) gives a coherent literary tapestry that paints one picture. In other words, his argument is that the OT Hebrew canon presents a coherent plot-line from beginning to end. He notes, for example, how the book of Genesis, the first book in the Hebrew canon, ends with Joseph's speech that God will visit them and bring them out of Egypt to the promised land and that the last book in the canon, Chronicles, ends with the second exodus, the return to the land from Babylon. He points out the parallel in the terminology used in both books:

I am about to die; but God will surely visit (paqad) you and bring you up out ('alah) of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Gen. 50:24)

"Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: Yahweh ... has charged (paqad) me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may Yahweh be his God and be with him! Let him go up ('alah)." (2 Chron. 36:23)

Dempster explains, "Consequently, these two books, which function to introduce and conclude the canon and which have such strikingly similar endings, keep the main storyline in view with two of its important themes—dynasty and dominion—being realized through the Davidic house" (49).

While there are undoubtedly smaller exegetical details where the reader will disagree with the author, the overall case that Dempster makes is convincing. Dempster shows how the narrative of the OT develops the two themes of dominion and dynasty, not only through the historical portions, but also in the other literature of the OT, such as the wisdom and poetic literature. For example, in the Psalter, Dempster notes that there is an eschatological expectation of the Messiah's rule over the whole earth. In this way, then, we see the expectation set forth in Psalm 2, and after a series of laments in Psalms 3-7 over the Davidic exile, a return to the regal destiny of mankind through the reign of Christ in Psalm 8. Dempster also shows in the book of the twelve, otherwise known as the minor prophets, that the organization of these books likewise has a specific literary structure. Dempster explains that the Lord roaring from Zion closes the prophecy of Joel (3:16; MT 4:16) and opens the following prophecy of Amos (1:2); Obadiah follows Amos and deals with Edom, which features in the last chapter of Amos (9:12); Jonah treats the repentance and salvation of Nineveh, and Micah predicts the judgment of a proud Assyria; and Nahum consists of a series of oracles describing the fall of an unrepentant and incorrigible Nineveh (183).

The broader implications of Dempster's overall thesis are manifold. It shows the coherence of the OT canon as a whole; the OT is not simply a rag bag collection of stories. There is a narrative story-line that unites the whole. Dempster's work truly reveals the literary beauty of God's revelation. This not only shows the care that went into the editing of the Hebrew canon, but also the providential oversight in such a production. Given this narrative cohesion, this then helps the minister or elder see the OT from a bird's-eye view and enables him to show the church the connection between the different parts of the OT canon. In this respect, Dempster's work is far superior to the recent entry by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. Bartholomew and Goheen seem merely to rehearse biblical history, though they do attempt to trace the themes of covenant and kingdom throughout the Scriptures. And, as important as it is to do so, they do not connect the concatenated whole as well as Dempster does. One cannot help but think that Dempster's work would be an invaluable tool in the many Sunday School classes or sermon series where the pastor does a survey of the Bible. While Dempster's work is aimed at those with a seminary education, a careful and studious reading of the book can also be of great benefit to the ruling elder.

There is one issue that Dempster's work raises, namely the differing order of the Hebrew canon and the Septuagint. Is there a theological difference between the two? Should we return to the order of the Hebrew canon in our own English Bibles? In one sense, the message of the OT does not change if the books are read in a different order. However, reflecting upon the differing orders perhaps reveals the theology of the respective editors. In the former, the emphasis seems to be upon returning to the promised land and dwelling in the presence of the Lord. In the latter, the emphasis appears to be upon looking for the coming Messiah and the dawn of the age to come. Both endings of the Hebrew canon, understood from the perspective of the NT, are valid, so long as the desire for the land and God's presence is understood in a typological fashion (e.g., Heb. 11:10). At the same time, this should also give us pause to consider the influence of the Septuagint upon the formation of both the NT and the English Bible. The apostle Paul cites the Septuagint more frequently than the Mastoretic text. And, as previously observed, the English Bible follows the order of the Septuagint for the OT canon. Such facts should alert us to the importance of Septuagint studies, something that is likely neglected in sermon and Bible study preparation.

New Testament

Echoes of the Exodus Narrative in the Context and Background of Galatians 5.18, by William N. Wilder. Studies in Biblical Literature. New York: Peter Lang, 2001, 309 pages, $65.95.

In recent years there has been a lot of energy expended on tracing the OT roots for NT concepts. One such recent entry is William Wilder's work, which is the published form of his doctoral dissertation that he submitted at Union Theological Seminary. Wilder's overall thesis is that throughout the book of Galatians when Paul speaks of life under the law, he has in mind the OT exodus from Egypt. He argues that there is a parallel between Israel's bondage to Pharaoh and their subsequent existence under the Mosaic law. He supports this contention by appeal to Paul's characterization of Israel's existence under the Mosaic covenant, one of "imprisonment" (3:22), "captive under the law" (3:23), that the law was a paidagogos ("guardian", 3:24), that Israel was "enslaved to the elementary principles [stoicheia] of the world" (4:3), and that through Christ those who look to him are no longer slaves but sons (4:7). In particular, he argues that this slavery-language that Paul uses to characterize the Mosaic covenant and subsequent sonship-language to characterize those who have been freed from it echoes the OT narrative of Israel's freedom from slavery to be God's firstborn son (Exod. 4:22).

In the subsequent OT narrative, Israel, God's firstborn son, was freed and was then led in the wilderness by the glory-cloud presence of the Lord. Wilder convincingly argues that the glory-cloud presence that led Israel in the wilderness was the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, then, led OT Israel through the wilderness. It is this OT imagery that informs such statements by Paul as, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). Or, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). If Wilder's argument is correct, then the exodus background explains why Paul uses language of being "led" and "walking" by the Spirit.

Now at first glance, readers might be skeptical of such conclusions, as some might likely fear over-reading OT narratives and trying too hard to draw connections that are non-existent. Nevertheless, Wilder makes a convincing case and his thesis therefore deserves prayerful and studious consideration for several reasons. First, is the OT merely the antecedent history that leads up to the first advent of Christ or is it more? The Westminster Standards have argued that the OT is more than mere history. Writing on the nature of the covenant of grace in the OT, the divines explain:

This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament. (WCF 7:5)

Here we see that the promises, prophecies, sacrifices and the like foresignify, or foreshadow, Christ to come—they serve as types of the antitypical ministry of Christ. This brings a second point.

Are the types of the OT merely restricted to the persons or specific sacrificial actions of the OT, or do the events themselves, such as the creation, flood, exodus, the establishment of the monarchy, exile, and second exodus, also typify antitypical events and aspects of our soteriology? The Scriptures in a number of places most certainly point in this direction. For example, the apostle Peter explains that the flood was a type and that baptism is the antitype (1 Peter 3:20-21). Given these broader typological connections, Wilder's thesis deserves careful study.

Drawing connections between the redemption that comes to the church through Christ and the OT foreshadows shows the consistency of the message of the gospel throughout redemptive history. It also helps those in the pew see the relevance of the OT for the church, and, at the same time, helps them in their sanctification. If Wilder's reading of Paul's language in Galatians is correct, which it seems to be, then the person in the pew would see that any attempt to return to life under the Mosaic covenant in any form is akin to Israel's desire to return to slavery in Egypt. Such a picture helps the person in the pew see his redemption in more scriptural terms, in terms of the narratives of the OT. This is something that Paul elsewhere instructs his readers to do. Concerning Israel's Red Sea baptism and subsequent idolatry, Paul writes: "Now these things happened to them as types, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11; trans. mine). Again, while some will inevitably disagree with some of the exegetical details, Wilder's overall case is correct and therefore worthy of careful study. One should note, that knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is necessary to appreciate fully many of the technical points that Wilder makes.

Isaiah's New Exodus in Mark, by Rikki E. Watts. Biblical Studies Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000, 479 pages $39.00, paper. (cf. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997, $115.00)

Along similar lines as Wilder's thesis, namely that Paul has the exodus narrative in the background of Galatians 5:18, we find Rikki Watts offering a similar thesis concerning the Gospel of Mark. Watts's work is his doctoral dissertation which was submitted to Cambridge University and originally published in the Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament series by Mohr Siebeck. Thankfully, Baker publishing offers a much less expensive imprint of the same book in their Biblical Studies Library Series. Once again at first glance the reader may initially be skeptical of seeing Christ's ministry in terms of the OT exodus. However, we find interesting evidence that strongly points in this very direction from the gospel of Luke: "And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:30-31, trans. mine). That Luke uses the loaded term "exodus" to describe Christ's impending crucifixion is significant, especially when we consider he could have used a number of other terms. So, then, Watts's thesis deserves careful consideration.

When we get to the particulars of Watts's argument, he explains that one should carefully weigh the opening verses of Mark's gospel and consider their original OT background. Mark begins the gospel with a quote from Isaiah: "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'" (Mark 1:2-3). Within the original context, Isaiah's statement is the promise of the second exodus—the return from exile in Babylon. The return from exile under the leadership of Cyrus, however, was somewhat lackluster, and therefore indicated that the true second exodus had yet to occur. Watts's argument is that Isaiah had not the typological Babylonian exodus in mind but ultimately the exodus lead by the one greater than Moses, Jesus, in mind. That Mark begins, then, with the quotation from Isaiah says two things. First, that this is in effect the thesis statement of the whole gospel. And, second, that Mark is explaining that Isaiah hand in mind the ministry of Christ in his prophecies concerning the second exodus (56).

One should be warned that Watts's work is a challenging read, as it is steeped in Greek, Hebrew, and page-consuming footnotes with references to foreign-language sources. It is nevertheless quite rewarding reading for those who are willing to wade into the dense work. While one can grasp the main thrust of his arguments without digging into the denser footnotes, this work is probably more suited for the one with a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. In many respects, taken together, Watts's and Wilder's works are complementary, in that they show the indisputable nature of the Old and New Testaments. And, for these reasons, both can be read with great benefit.


In these four works, one finds some of the latest and noteworthy work in both Old and New Testament studies. They all offer excellent contributions to the continued study of the Scriptures and offer a wealth of insight for the pastor or elder. They also demonstrate the necessary methodology of always looking to the whole of the Scriptures to understand any one part. How often do we hear NT sermons where the preacher does not show the connection to the OT? Or, vice versa, how many times do we hear OT sermons that never point to the person and work of Christ? If God is the author of both testaments, then we should always explore each in the light of the other. Or, as St. Augustine's maxim tells us, "The old is revealed in the new, and the new is hidden in the old." Admittedly, the two NT monographs are for the stout-hearted reader, nevertheless both provide a stimulating read. If money is an issue and one can only choose one book, then Dempster's work is perhaps the most cost-beneficial. Nevertheless, with such first-rate scholarship we can deepen our knowledge of the Scriptures and teach our flocks the profound riches of the word of God. And, in learning more about God's salvation in Christ, we will be moved to praise and worship, and will desire to carry the message of the gospel into the nations.

John V. Fesko
Geneva OPC
Woodstock, Ga.

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Ordained Servant: August–September 2007

Biblical Theology - Dr. Meredith G. Kline

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Editorial: Meredith G. Kline: Artist-Exegete

Meredith G. Kline Funeral Remarks

Scholar of the Heaven Land: A Review Article

A Spiritual Feast: A Review Article

Feeding the Soul or Tending the Body

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