Once again, I had the pleasure of reading a volume in the IVP Academic’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series and telling you about it. This time, it’s Oren Martin’s lightly revised doctoral dissertation from SBTS, Bound For The Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan. As someone who went to three different dispensational schools, this is a subject I’m still working my way through. I found Wellum and Gentry’s approach in Kingdom Through Covenant interesting, but wanted to do some more reading on the subject. Thankfully, Martin’s work arrived a few weeks back and I dug right in.
The book is a quick read, I enjoyed the bulk of it during a long Saturday by the pool at the beginning of spring break. Martin begins in the Promised Land, because it “occupies a special place for God’s people after the fall and exile from Eden, because it is the place where they will once again live under his lordship and experience his blessed presence” (17). In his study, Martin aims “to demonstrate that the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land – prepared for all of God’s people through history – that will come as a result of the person and work of Christ.” To do this, Martin traces the land promise as it unfolds through Scripture.
The initial chapter continues by sketching out the current scholarship on the subject Martin is addressing. The need clearly emerges for a more comprehensive biblical theology of the Promised Land (20). Martin plans to offer that, proceeding on the assumption of continuity between the various parts of Scripture (21) and that the land is part an important part of the connection between biblical covenants (21). Additionally, Martin sees the importance of typology for his study (25-27), such that “the development of the land promise across the canon provides hermeneutical warrant to see its ultimate fulfilment in the new creation won by Christ” (27).
With these methodological foundations laid, Martin’s next chapter gives further grounding in the land and kingdom, specifically in reference to their appearance in the beginning (Gen 1-2) and end (Rev. 21-22). Then in chapters 3-6, Martin traces the land promise through Genesis, Exodus-Deuteronomy, Joshua-Kings, and finally the prophets. There is an interlude summarizing the Old Testament findings before Martin does the same tracing in Gospels (chapter 7), the Epistles (chapter 8), and finally Revelation (chapter 9). After another interlude concluding the New Testament findings, Martin closes with a chapter on his theological reflections.
He begins noting,
The land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates an even greater land – prepared for God’s people that will come as a result of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In other words, the land and its blessings (type) find their fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth (antitype) won by Christ (161).
What follows in this chapter “aims to apply the interpretative findings of the previous chapters to eschatology” (162). Martin begins by relating his conclusions to dispensational thought. Martin differs from dispensational thought by arguing that “the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic covenant does not prove that the promise of land must be exclusively fulfilled to the nation of Israel in the future” (164). Further, he says “There are exegetical grounds both in the immediate context of the Abrahamic covenant and across the entire Old Testament to argue that God’s original intention for the land was not merely to be limited to the specific geographical boundaries of Canaan” (166). This runs contra the charge normally leveled against non-dispensational thought by making the argument by developing the Old Testament line of thought rather than simply arguing that the New Testament fulfillment in Christ cancels out the Old Covenant promises (or something roughly similar to that).
I am inclined to agree with Martin’s conclusions here when it comes to the land promises, but I’d be interested to see dispensational responses to his argument. When it comes to comparing his conclusions to covenantal thought, Martin says, “covenant theology tends to move from the Old Testament to the New too quickly before comprehensively developing the land theme across the Old Testament, both in its historical and epochal horizons. When this process is accomplished, the New Testament demonstrates both when and how the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ, though in a way that does not reinterpret, spiritualize or contravene the earlier texts” (168). Here again I would tend to agree, but I wonder if some more well-develop covenantal biblical theologies do just that. I’m currently reading Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology and Martin even cites him approvingly contra Bruce Waltke (167), though both are covenantal. Beale may perhaps be more of a mediating figure than Waltke, standing with Martin over against more spiritualized readings of the Old Testament, but also contra martin in terms of his understanding of the covenant.
On the whole, there is much to benefit from in this volume. The land promise is central to the unfolding of God’s covenants with his people and is vital to explaining and understanding biblical theology. Martin’s volume is very readable and capable of guiding readers through just how the promised land is viewed in the Old and New Testaments. I would have preferred more than a final chapter with theological implications, but in order to devote the space needed to go through the testaments I can see how it would end up the way it did. Perhaps Martin will expand on this in the future in journal articles or another monograph. In the meantime, as you’re working through your understanding of the covenants, this is good volume to keep in mind, especially if you are of a strongly dispensational or covenantal background.
Oren R. Martin, Bound For The Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan (NSBT). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February 2015. Paperback, 208 pp. $25.00.
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!