Last week, we looked into Walt Kaiser’s Recovering The Unity of The Bible. Today, we’ve got his older and more comprehensive work The Promise-Plan of God. The first part of this book is comes from Kaiser’s older book Toward an Old Testament Theology and presents a biblical theology of the Old Testament books. The second part then continues to thread the theme of the one promise-plan of God into the New Testament books.
Before going into any kind of detailed look at how the book unfolds, let’s look at Kaiser’s proposed theme for the unity of Scripture. Since Kaiser is presenting a biblical theology rather than a systematic theology, the whole book traces the chronological development of the theme of the promise-plan of God. In his own words,
The promise form of biblical theology focuses on one all-embracing divine word of promise rather than on its many scattered predictions (which is what most think of when they hear the word “promise”), and it traces the growth of that declaration of God in the larger teaching passages in each era of divine revelation (18).
Kaiser draws heavily from Willis J. Beecher’s 1904 Princeton Stone Lectures throughout, and specifically for his definition of promise:
God gave a promise to Abraham, and through him to mankind; a promise eternally fulfilled and fulfilling the history of Israel; and chiefly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, he being that which is principal in the history of Israel (19).
Expanding on this, Kaiser then gives his own definition of the promise-plan of God:
The promise-plan is God’s word of declaration, beginning with Eve and continuing on through history, especially in the patriarchs and the Davidic line, that God would continually be in his person and do in his deeds and works (in and through Israel, and later the church) his redemptive plan as his means of keeping that promised word alive for Israel, and thereby for all who subsequently believed. All in that promised seed were called to act as a light for all nations so that all the families of the earth might come to faith and to new life in the Messiah (19, emphasis his).
From here, Kaiser gives 10 distinctives of his promise-plan proposal (19-25):
- The doctrine of the Promised Messiah is found throughout all the Scriptures and not just in isolated or selected passages as understood by the Promise-Fulfillment Scheme
- The Old Testament Messianic teaching was regarded as the development of a single promise (Grk. epangelia), repeated and unfolded through the centuries with numerous specifications and in multiple forms but always with the same essential core
- The New Testament writers equate this single, definite promise as the one made to Abraham when God called him from Us of the Chaldeans
- While the New Testament writers occassionaly speak of promises, using the plural form of the word, the manner in which they manner in which they do so does not weaken the case for a single definite promise in the Scriptures
- The New Testament writers regard this single, definite promise, composed of many specifications, to be the theme of both the Old and New Testaments
- The promise made to Abraham is represented as both being partially fulfilled in the events of the exodus and yet still to be fully fulfilled in the distant future
- The New Testament writers not only declare that the promise-plan of God is seen through the whole Old Testament, but they adopt the Old Testament phraseology as part of their own way of expressing God’s revelation to them
- The New Testament writers teach that the promise of God is operating eternally and is irrevocable
- The New Testament writers make a strong connection between the promise and a number of other doctrines
- The culmination of all the specifications (i.e., the individual predicted doctrines that support the one unifying promise-plan) are wrapped up in the one promise doctrine, or promise-plan, which focuses on Jesus Christ
As you can see from these characteristics, much depends on how you read the New Testament. What Kaiser is proposing though is a mediating position between “the Covenantal, also called the Reformed view and the Dispensational perspective” (26). After giving a brief (half page) overview of each, Kaiser proposes an “epangelical view.” Taken from the Greek word for promise, “epangelical” is a good summary of the theological viewpoint Kaiser presents, and it comes from the aforementioned Stone Lectures delivered by Willis Beecher. Rather than focusing on the shape and form of the covenants, it focuses on the contents of those covenants, while also look at the of God’s unified plan through what some might see as separate “dispensations.” In short, Kaiser’s biblical theology is a presentation of “epangelicalism.”
To make his case so that the reader can see its coherence unfold, Kaiser proceeds chronological through the Bible books. For the Old Testament it looks like this:
- The Prolegomena to the Promise (Genesis 1-11)
- The Provisions to the Promise (Genesis 12-50, Job)
- The People of the Promise (Exodus-Numbers)
- The Place of the Promise (Deuteronomy-Judges)
- The King of the Promise (Ruth, Samuel and Kings)
- The Life in the Promise (The Wisdom Literature)
- The Day of the Promise (Obadiah, Joel)
- The Servant of the Promise (Amos, Hosea, Jonah, Micah, Isaiah)
- The Renewal of the Promise (Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah)
- The Kingdom of the Promise (Ezekiel, Daniel)
- The Triumph of the Promise (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther)
Then when it comes to the New Testament, Kaiser unfolds his epangelicalism this way:
- The Arrival of the Promise (John the Baptist, Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Anna)
- The Promise-Plan and the Law of God (James, Galatians)
- The Promise-Plan and the Mission of the Church (Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans)
- The Promise-Plan and Paul’s Prison Epistles (Colossians, Philemon, Philippians , and Ephesians)
- The Promise-Plan and The Kingdom of God (Matthew and Mark)
- The Promise-Plan and the Promised Holy Spirit (Luke-Acts)
- The Promise-Plan and Purity of Life and Doctrine (1 & 2 Peter, Jude)
- The Promise-Plan and The Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus)
- The Promise-Plan and the Supremacy of Jesus (Hebrews)
- The Promise-Plan and the Gospel of The Kingdom (John, 1-3 John, Revelation)
The end result is a very coherent tracing of the single promise-plan of God throughout the whole Bible. Kaiser is clearly working an “old-man’s game” as some of my professors at Dallas call biblical theology. I was amazed at the breadth and antiquity of many of his sources. What Kaiser presents is a timely and relevant proposal for biblical theology, but he does so by relying on authors who were writing in many cases over a hundred years ago. I’m used to that sort of thing when it comes to patristic or Reformation sources, but Kaiser has a very firm handle on the theologians and biblical studies writers from the early half of the 20th century which seems somewhat neglected elsewhere. The effect is that Kaiser’s ideas seem fresh and new, but the sources he use suggest they really aren’t.
I found this book to be a very helpful source and at this point, I am seriously considering using it as a textbook in my 11th grade Bible class. I can’t really think of a more accessible yet comprehensive resource for seeing the unity of the Bible’s theology.
- Author: Walter C. Kaiser Jr.
- Title: The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments
- Publisher: Zondervan (April 8, 2008)
- Hardcover: 432pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School/General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Prophets or Kings interested in seeing how the Bible all fits together
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Zondervan)