Mark J. Keown, Discovering the New Testament, Volume 3

Keown, Mark J. Discovering the New Testament: An Introduction to Its Background, Theology, and Themes (Volume 3: General Letters and Revelation). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2022. 487 pp.; Hb.; $44.99. Link to Lexham Press

This new volume completes Keown’s introduction to the New Testament (see my review of volumes 1-2 here). Keown has also written a exegetical commentary on Philippians (Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Lexham 2017). Like the first two volumes Discovering the New Testament is an introduction and theology of the New Testament written from a generally conservative viewpoint.  This volume on the final third of the New Testament has chapters on each of the books in the section (2-3 John are combined). Other than a few pages on the title general or catholic epistles, there is no additional prolegomena in the third volume.

Keown, Discovering the New Testament3_300x450Hebrews. Keown summarizes the four most likely authors for Hebrews (Luke, Silas, Apollos, and Barnabas), concluding “I am drawn to Barnabas as a very good candidate for the letter, but with little confidence” (7). Like authorship, he is not confident, but leans towards Rome during Nero’s persecution in the mid-60s for provenance. Hebrews may be written to Ephesus, where Christians were deserting the church for the relative safety of Judaism (11). But Keown suggests the book could be addressed to Christians anywhere Timothy or other coworkers of Paul traveled. Regarding the situation behind Hebrews, Keown suggests believers are deserting the gospel, abandoning the Christian faith for Judaism (13). He traces the major themes of the book under the heading situation before moving to other controversial issues in the book. For example, he addresses the issue “Can Believers Fall Away?” (27- 30). Based on the warning passages in Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31, he argues the readers are, in fact, believers who have fully experienced the Christian life. These passages therefore speak of the real possibility of falling away. The author “genuinely recognizes the possibility some readers, who have formerly experienced the fullness of salvation, faith and blessing, might fall away” (29). This is not a hypothetical situation (as is sometimes argued). Keown warns, if Hebrews 6:4-6 passage is hypothetical, then it is possible any passages in Hebrews are hypothetical. However, in other places, the writer of Hebrews says believers will not fall away. For example, after his stern warning, the writer says, “we feel better things about you” (Hebrews 6:9). Following the warning in 10:26-39 is an explicit statement of confidence. Keown concludes: “complex defenses of preset theologies seem ill-advised where Hebrews is concerned” and readers should “stop short of putting together a perfect theology seeking to answer questions the author has not answered for us” (30)

James. Keown says, “there is absolutely no reason to diverge from the tradition of the church that James, the brother of Jesus, is the author of the letter” (71). With respect to date, the letter of James could be written anytime between AD 40-62, although he leans towards a later time, after Paul’s second Antioch mission (55-62). Since James does not repudiate Paul’s view of justification, the early date is not required. He argues James wrote the letter from Jerusalem and that the “twelve tribes” are figurative for all Christians. This is consistent with his view of 1 Peter.

1 Peter. Keown argues the case for Petrine authorship is “very strong” and he is very confident the apostle Peter dictated the letter to Silas (1 Peter 5:12). after a short biography of the historical Peter, he suggests a date of 64, depending on traditions of Peter’s death. Keown argues for the traditional view that the letter Peter wrote from Rome, but it is not clear why Peter wrote to the particular churches listed in verse one. He suggests the churches were facing persecution, as was being experienced by the Roman church at the time. As with James, Keown argues the letter uses the “metaphor of Christians as exiles, aliens, foreigners, strangers, and sojourners” (146).

2 Peter. As expected, much of this chapter concerns the relationship of 2 Peter with Jude. He interacts with Richard Bauckham and concludes that both letters used a common source, although this cannot be certain. Regarding authorship, Keown deals with the problem of pseudepigraphic authorship and concludes, although it cannot be stated absolutely, the weight of evidence suggests 2 Peter is authentic and written independent of Jude about AD 64-68.

1 John. Although the letter is anonymous, Keown accepts with the tradition the author is the same as the gospel of John. In his first volume, Keown argued the apostle John wrote the Gospel from Ephesus before he was exiled to Patmos. This implies a date between 60-81, although he prefers toward the end of that period. The recipients of the letter are residents of Asia Minor, likely the same churches addressed by the Book of Revelation. He argues the false teachers behind the letter are not full-blown Gnostics (since he dates the book early, before Gnosticism developed). Whoever the opponents are, they have a defective view of Jesus John must correct. Regarding genre, he does not think this is a traditional letter, suggesting it is more like an encyclical. There are some elements of a sermon and a letter present in 1 John. He does not deal with often complicated theories concerning the relationship of 1 John and the Gospel of John.

2-3 John. These two brief letters identify the author as “the elder,” although it cannot be absolutely certain who the elder was. Keown accepts the traditional view the elder is apostle John, author of the Gospel of John, all three letters, and Revelation. John wrote the letters about the same time as the 1 John to individual churches in Asia Minor, possibly a local congregation in Ephesus. The “elect lady and her children” in 2 John refers to a local church rather than a female church leader.

Jude. Keown argues in favor of the traditional view that Jude was the brother of James, the brother of Jesus. It is the best option, although uncertain, since so little is known about the author. He includes a brief biography of Jude based on tradition. Jude wrote early, in the 50s but certainly before AD 62. the traditional date for the death of James. There’s nothing to suggest provenance (probably Palestine written to unknown readers). The early reception of Jude in Egypt might imply Jude was written to Alexandria. The identity of the opponents is the key question. Since he dates the book too early for Gnosticism, he concludes simply the opponents are “are arrogant, self-professing Christians who dare to eat the Lord’s supper and engage in debauched living at the same time” (251). Regarding the use of non-canonical sources, Jude is using them because they were well known to the readers. This does not imply that these texts are authoritative, although reading them may be of value to modern readers.

Revelation. At 109 pages, Keown’s chapter on Revelation is by far the longest in the book. Keown argues that John the Apostle is the author of Revelation, although he is open to the idea of a Johannine school. He leans toward a date during the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96, likely 95-96), although he admits during the reign of Nero is a possibility. This section includes a few pages defining apocalyptic literature, various millennial positions, and basic methods for interpreting revelation. These methods include preterism, historicism, idealism, extreme futurism, and moderate futurism. like many conservative interpreters of revelation, he sees aspects of preterism, idealism, and futurism as valuable for understanding the theology of the book of Revelation. This eclectic view set aside extreme futurism (by which he seems to mean “left behind” dispensationalism) and historicism. For example, he takes the references to seven churches as real, historical churches, best understood in their actual geographic and historical context. Nevertheless, the message to each of the seven churches has a timeless value for the Christians living in any time and place. He concludes with several pages offering advice or strategies for reading Revelation. Keown suggests it is advisable to read Revelation with an open mind to various scholarly approaches. “The book paints a picture of the glorious victory of God, the destruction of all evil, restoration of the cosmos, the removal of all suffering, and God and his people living in joy in peace forever” (373). Almost seventy pages of this chapter are titled “some theological aspects of Revelation” (God, sin and evil, Christ, Spirit, eschatology, use of Christian tradition (allusions to the New Testament), use of the Old Testament, response to God, and angels).

Conclusion. This third volume of Discovering the New Testament continues the project of the first two. Keown does an excellent job serving general options for authorship, date, origin, and audience for the final books of the New Testament. In almost every case, he concludes the traditional view is acceptable even if he is not dogmatic. Keown presents a fair description of opposing views throughout the book. Like the classic, single volume Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan, 2005), Mark Keown’s Discovering the New Testament makes an excellent textbook for a seminary classroom.

Lexham posted an interview: Does the New Testament Have a Theology? An interview with Mark Keown


NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book, both in print and Logos format. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Benjamin L. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church (Essentials in Biblical Theology)

Gladd, Benjamin L. From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. ESBT 1; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 182pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

In the introduction to this first volume of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, series editor Benjamin Gladd explains the need for a new series of books on Biblical Theology. The ESBT series is dedicated to the essential broad themes of the grand storyline of the Bible. The goal of the series is to explore the central biblical-theological themes of the Bible. The series is intentionally limited to ten volumes supporting and interlocking with one another to form a cohesive unit.Biblical Theology, Gladd, From Adam to Israel

In this inaugural volume of the series, Gladd presents a biblical theology of the people of God within the theological framework of covenant theology. Throughout the book, he emphasizes a single covenant community from Genesis to Revelation. This is in contrast to dispensationalism, which makes a distinction between the church and ethnic Israel. For Gladd, there is one people of God throughout Scripture, beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing through the new creation.

The first two chapters of this volume examine creation and fall. Following Greg Beale, Gladd argues Eden was like a cosmic temple and God gave Adam and Eve specific roles when he created and commissioned them. God commissioned Adam and Eve to serve as kings, having dominion over creation and extending God’s rule beyond the garden. Second, God called Adam and Eve to serve as priests, caring for the garden. Third, they were commissioned as prophets, communicating God’s word to their children.

Adam and Eve failed in these roles and destroyed their commission when they rebelled against God in the fall. As kings, Adam and Eve ought to have guarded the garden and subdued the serpent; as priests Adam and Even ought to have rid the sanctuary of the defilement of the serpent;  as prophets, they ought to have meditated on God’s word and answered the serpent’s words with God’s word (p. 23-24). As a result, God exiles Adam and Eve from the garden. The rest of Scripture is the story of God restoring the image of God destroyed in the fall. Gladd contrasts the ungodly line of Cain with the godly line of Seth to show the restored image of God will continue (although he does not notice the flood destroyed both lines).

The scenario Gladd describes is compelling, but it is not clear that it is grounded in what the text actually says. I am quite attracted to Beale’s suggestion that Genesis presents the Garden of Eden as a sanctuary and there are clear connections between Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple. In fact, Adam as a priest in the cosmic garden-temple is not a problem, even if it is not explicit in Genesis 2-3. However, I am not convinced Adam and Eve functioned as kings or prophets in Eden. I know Gladd is building a typology from Adam to Israel and ultimately to Jesus and the church, but it seems (to me) that he started at the end (Jesus is a prophet, priest, and king) and read that typology back into Genesis. This is how typology often works.

The next two chapters argue God intended Israel to be a new Adam. Like Adam, Israel was to rule as kings and to function as priests and prophets. He develops a typology between Eden and Sinai and shows the Tabernacle was intentionally designed to reflect Eden. Israel is to rule the land promised to Abraham on God’s behalf. Exodus 19:5-6 describes Israel as a kingdom of priests, created to be holy and set apart from the nations so that God could dwell in their midst. This explains why Israel was to expel the Canaanites from the land; like the serpent in Eden, they must purge all forms of spiritual uncleanliness from the new Eden of the Promised Land (p. 43). As prophets, Israel ought to have confronted the idolatry of the nations, communicating the first two of the ten commandments.

However, Israel also experienced a fall, resulting in their exile from the land. The people cannot maintain the holiness demanded by the Law and worship the gods of the nations. For Gladd, “Israel” does not refer to ethnic Israel, even in the Old Testament. It is only the righteous remnant that is “real Israel.”  Gladd says, “The remnant within the nation relates to the covenant community spiritually and participates in the covenant of grace (Gen 3:15)” (p. 54, emphasis original). Gladd cites Romans 9:6 here, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”

Yet the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to a restoration of Israel to their former place in the “latter days” (ch. 4). The nature of this restoration is where Gladd intentionally draws a contrast with dispensationalism. Although he is not wrong, Gladd cites the success of the dispensational Left Behind series as the cause of much confusion about Israel’s future. He tracks many of the same Scripture dispensationalists use but concludes these prophecies do not refer to a future restoration of ethnic Israel. Commenting on Romans 9-11, Gladd states “the Old Testament, as far as I can tell, never talks about the restoration of the theocratic nation of Israel” (p. 128, emphasis original). It is possible to argue many in the Second Temple period expected a restoration of a Davidic king and a re-gathering of the exiles to the land. For Gladd, the restoration of Israel in prophetic texts refers to Jesus as the true king, priest, and prophet. Where Adam and Israel failed in these divinely appointed roles, Jesus will succeed.

Gladd argues in the next three chapters, Jesus fulfills Israel’s destiny as the king, the priest, and the prophet. The Gospels present Jesus as the king, especially the Gospel of Mark. Gladd conflates king, messiah, and the divinity of Jesus in this section. Jesus is not a conquering Davidic king, but rather the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 or the cut-off anointed one of Daniel 9. Jesus rules as the firstborn of creation (Col 1:15), connecting the rule of Jesus to Adam, the firstborn of creation.

Jesus as a priest is more difficult to demonstrate from the Gospels, so Gladd touches on the Temple “cleansing” and argues Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Old Testament as he functions as the faithful high priest. For Gladd, Jesus ushers in a new age, and God’s presence is among his people, so there is no need for a physical temple. Jesus is the true temple. The temple at the time of Jesus had become a place of rampant, so Jesus fulfilled Old Testament expectation that God would do well with humanity and act as a faithful priest by purging evil from the temple. This chapter is not as dependent on the book of Hebrews as expected because Gladd focuses on Jesus as the end times temple. As Adam and Eve’s commission was to increase the number and fill the earth, so too does Jesus commission his disciples to fill the earth by going to the nations with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20).

The chapter on Jesus as a prophet focuses on his conflict with the devil (overcoming the devil through God’s word) and “passing on the divine image” (1 Cor 15:42-53). 1 Corinthians 15 (or Romans 5:21-21) explicitly connects Adam and Christ; where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Adam’s body died because of sin; Christ’s body was raised to incorruptible flesh. Just as Adam passed the image of God on to Seth, Christ will pass the image of God on to believers at the resurrection.

As representatives of Jesus Christ in the world, the Church now functions in some like Jesus. Here Gladd extends his Christological typology to ecclesiology by arguing the church functions as kings, priests and prophets. He distinguishes between divine authority represented by Jesus as Messiah and the apostolic community and the general authority held by pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and every believer. The church does not have the same “divine authority” as the apostolic community because it is under the authority of Scripture. The church, therefore, functions like kings or priests or prophets, but not exactly like Jesus as Messiah or the apostolic (messianic) circle.

Gladd briefly touches on Romans 9-11 in his chapter on the church ruling as kings. He states this complex debate is outside of the scope of this book, but it seems to me to be more important enough to merit more than a single page. After all, if Paul thought Israel would be restored, then Gladd’s understanding of the prophecy is flawed. Gladd says he is not convinced the church has replaced Israel, nor does he think dispensationalists are correct when they argue God will keep his Old Testament promises to restore the nation of Israel physically by bringing them back to the Promised Land. Instead, he argues true Israel is composed of a remnant of Christian Gentiles and a remnant of Christian Jews (p. 129).

Finally, Gladd looks to the end of the canon by arguing the Church’s function in the New Creation. He argues the Book of Revelation presents the new creation as God’s temple, a restoration of the Edenic Temple. It is, therefore, not a surprise that God’s people will be priests in the new temple and function as kings in the new creation. It is certainly much more difficult to see how believers will function as a prophet in the new creation, but he suggests individuals will recall the redemptive acts of God in worship.

Conclusion. Gladd’s From Adam and Israel to the Church tells the story of the unified people of God from the Garden to the New Creation. It reflects classic Covenant Theology with its focus on a single people of God while avoiding replacement theology or an over-emphasis on covenants to unify Scripture. By using the Christological typology of king, priest, and prophet, Gladd can unify pre-fall Eden, Israel, and the Church around the work of Christ.

Other reviewed commentaries in the Essentials of Biblical Theology series:


NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption

Morales, L. Michael. Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption. ESBT 2; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 207 pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

As Ben Gladd says in the introduction to the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, this new series is dedicated to the essential broad themes of the grand story line of the Bible. Each volume spans the whole canon of Scripture and seeks to connect the theme to the person of Christ. In this new contribution to the series. In this new volume of the series, Morales surveys the historical Exodus out of Egypt (part 1) and the re-use of the Exodus in the prophetic books (part 2; primarily Isaiah). The final three chapters connect the New Exodus motif to the Gospel of John and the future resurrection. Morales previously published Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (NSBT 37; IVP Academic 2015; reviewed here).

Morales, Exodus Old and NewIn the first chapter of the book, Morales summarizes the first eleven chapters of Genesis as a “exile before Exodus.” He explains that the first rebellion in the Garden resulted in humanity’s alienation from God. This exile from Eden sets up the theme of redemption throughout the rest of scripture.  The call of Abraham anticipates the Exodus. God called Abraham out of his own land and brought into a land God promised to give to his descendants. The rest of Genesis explains how Abraham’s descendants came to live in Egypt.

Israel’s redemption in the historical Exodus from Egypt sets up a three-fold pattern: the (1) redemption of Israel led to the (2) the nation’s consecration by covenant Mount Sinai and then (3) to the consummation of the inheritance in the land of Canaan (107). Morales highlights several important themes in the original Exodus which conform to this tree-fold pattern. First, Morales describes the plagues and crossing of the Red Sea as the destruction of the “Sea Dragon,” the ultimate enemy of God’s people. Second, the tenth plague and the blood of the Passover lamb anticipates John’s description of Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Third, Moses is the servant of the Lord and functions as an intermediary between Israel and their God. Moses frequently intercedes for Israel in both Exodus and Numbers. Even in the Pentateuch, there is an anticipation of a new Moses in the future, a role fulfilled by Jesus. Fourth, Morales focuses on the sacrificial system in order to describe atonement as the covering of sin in anticipation of what Christ will do on the cross. He argues that the sacrificial system has the same three-fold pattern found in the overall Exodus: moving from the purification by blood to consecration and ending with a fellowship meal in the Lord’s house.

The second section of the book examines the prophesied second Exodus, beginning with a brief chapter tracing the history between the Exodus and Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. This is a “third state of sacred history the same pattern of redemption, consecration and consummation (the Temple dedication). Morales argues the dedication of the Temple is a theological reversal of the Tower of Babel and undoes the nation’s exile, the scattering of God’s people after the Exodus. Since Israel fails to keep the covenant and goes once again into exile, the prophets expect a future second Exodus. This second exodus includes five elements: the nations recognizing the glory of the Lord’s name, the coming of a new David, a return of Elijah to prepare for the Lord’s advent, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and resurrection. As is often observed, the historical return from Babylon did not exhaust the prophecies of a second exodus. Only a fraction of the Jews returned to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, a temple which was a shadow of Solomon’s temple. For Morales, these five elements of the second Exodus theme in the prophets are fulfilled by Isaiah’s suffering servant. He briefly summarizes each of the four servant songs and focuses attention on the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. He argues Isaiah 56-66 concerns the servants of the servant, the disciples of the Lord who take up the servant’s role as to be a light to the Gentiles. It is these disciples will draw the nations to Zion.

All of this second Exodus language anticipates the coming of Jesus and his role as the suffering servant to die on the cross. In part three of the book, Morales relates his new Exodus themes to Jesus as the Messiah. In chapters 12-13 he focuses on the Gospel of John because the fourth gospel vividly connects the crucifixion to the Passover. John presents as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and God’s lamb is sacrificed at Passover (John 19:31–37). Morales argues that Jesus’s resurrection is a reversal of the expulsion out of the garden of Eden. He briefly notices that John uses Eden motifs more explicitly in Revelation 22.

In the final chapter, Morales connects New Exodus to the future resurrection. Because he has connected Jesus’s resurrection to Isaiah’s new Exodus, he can examine several passages on the future resurrection in Paul’s writings and consider them “new exodus.” However, there is far more to say about a future aspect of the New Exodus motif by including Revelation in this book. Although the meaning of the images in Revelation 8-9 are controversial, it seems absolutely clear John is drawing on Exodus language to describe the wrath of God. The call to come “out of Babylon” evokes the original Exodus from Egypt. Morales includes a brief reference to Revelation 12 in his chapter on crossing the Red Sea. What God has done in the past, he will do again in the future. Unfortunately, Morales overlooks these second Exodus themes.

A major component of second exodus material from the profits is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For example, Isaiah 51:3 indicates the Spirit will be poured out on Zion, and the wilderness will become like in the desert will become like the garden of the Lord. Picking up on these threads from Isaiah, he argues that the gospel of John presents Jesus as the giver of the Holy Spirit. Finishing the old creation work with his death on the cross as the Passover lamb, Jesus finishes the work of new creation by delivering the Holy Spirit to his people (176). His last chapter focuses on the resurrection, and he lays out Paul’s view of the resurrection in some detail. Although Morales connects new Exodus and resurrection, I am not convinced Paul made the same typological connection.

Conclusion. Since one goal of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series is accessibility to beginning students and laypeople, it is not surprising Morales does not interact with the vast literature on use and re-use of the new Exodus motif in the New Testament. However, in a series which seeks to engage the whole canon of Scripture, it is odd that he does not engage Matthew (Dale Allison, Jr., The New Moses: A Matthean Typology), Mark (Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark), or Acts (David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus). These more advanced studies do not appear on the further reading page. By limiting his New Testament interaction to two chapters on John’s Gospel and a single chapter on resurrection, Morales overlooks important allusions to the historical Exodus and Isaiah’s New Exodus passages.


Other reviewed commentaries in Essentials of Biblical Theology series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.