Reviewed by Nathanael Warren
David Baker’s Two Testaments, One Bible engages the basic question of what constitutes the “essential bible” and whether or not the Old Testament has continued pertinence to the church today. This third edition represents a revision of Baker’s 1975 PhD dissertation at the University of Sheffield under the supervision of D. J. Clines. Baker formerly served as Deputy Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge, England, and is currently Senior Lecturer of Old Testament at Trinity Theological College in Perth, Australia. He is the author of Tight Fists or Open Hands? Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law (2009, Eerdmans) and a contributor to The God of Covenant (2005) and Transforming the World? (2009, Apollos).
Written in four parts, Baker begins (Part One) with a historical survey of how the church has responded to this question, from the apostolic fathers to the modern era. Baker asserts that the acceptance of both the OT and NT canons as scripture reigned virtually unchallenged until Marcion (middle second century). Marcion was quickly refuted by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertulilian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and others. Nonetheless, Marcionism has seen several near-resurgences throughout history, and Baker notes traces of “implicit Marcionism” within the church even today. Baker traces the major defenses and challenges to Scripture from the Middle Ages to the Reformation, through the Enlightenment, the four key decades of the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s, and the recent advent of postmodernism.
Part Two examines four major modern approaches to the question of the relationship between the testaments as well as their major proponents. Rudolf Bultmann serves as the strongest modern representative of the “NT as essential bible” view. Bultmann reacted against the view of the OT as the essential source of Christianity, arguing instead that the OT’s function was to make humanity aware of their inadequacy under the law before Christ came as the fulfillment of the law. However, even Bultmann does not reject the OT outright like Marcion, rather holding the OT to be the “presupposition” of the NT, preparing humanity to better understand the key salvation event of Christ. Baker critiques Bultmann’s methodology for inconsistency and depreciation of history.
Wilhelm Vischer serves as the representative of the two testaments as equally Christian Scripture, with the OT defining “Christ” and the NT providing the name of Jesus. Vischer argues that intelligent study of the OT will show that it naturally demands a “Christ” (or messiah), and that the NT authors clearly present Jesus to be in every way the fulfillment of that particular OT Christ. Thus the two testaments present a unified Christian theology, a view which Baker notes to be the “traditional” stance of the Church from the rise of Christianity to the historical-critical era. While this view has much to offer, Baker critiques Vischer for undermining the revolutionary character of Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT Christ.
Arnold van Ruler represents the OT as the essential Bible, with Christ representing one salvation event within the broader history of God’s interaction with national Israel. Baker argues that van Ruler’s approach underplays explicit messianic prophecies of the OT and fails to take into account the essential failure of the Israelite theocracy.
Finally, Gerhard von Rad represents the position of the two testaments as one salvation history. Drawing upon his tradition-historical approach, von Rad asserts that both testaments present a dynamic and evolving religion, marked by the constant reappropriation of earlier traditions within the OT framework as well as the NT usage of the OT. Baker critiques von Rad’s treatment of “salvation history,” accusing von Rad of taking neither “salvation” nor “history” seriously but treating both primarily as constructs of Israel’s imagination.
For each major position treated, Baker compares the major representative of that position to other scholars of similar opinions, further elucidating each position and providing a balanced historical survey and background for additional research.
In Part Three, Baker defines four key terms which he believes to be essential to describing the relationship between the testaments. The first term is typology, which Baker treats broadly as more or less a synonym for “analogy.” Baker, following Hans Wolff, asserts that only the OT and NT have a truly fundamental analogy between each other – unlike Rabbinic, Hellenistic, Oriental, and ANE studies, which are useful but have little analogy (pp173,187–188). Baker departs from many scholars (Moorehead, Amsler, Wright, etc.) in arguing against the treatment of typology as a literary device, bound to such conventions as being concerned with Christ, expressing a progression or heightening, or the literary development of an anti-type. Rather, Baker prefers a broad definition as (1) being concerned with history and (2) implying a real correspondence – that is, “there must be a correspondence in history and theology, or the parallel will be trivial and valueless for understanding the Bible” (180).
Baker next deals with the terminology of prediction, prophecy, and promise. Baker surveys key British and German scholarship and discusses the important work of the Biblischer Kommentar group before discussing an emerging consensus in preferring the term “promise” over the more narrow “prediction” or “prophecy” for describing the relationship between the testaments.
Baker next examines continuity and discontinuity between the testaments. Besides a more or less continuous history between the testaments, there are various continuities and discontinuities which paradoxically find their greatest expression in the person of Christ. This also raises the question of the continuity between national Israel and the modern church, and Baker does not skirt around heated debates in his examination of this relationship. In Baker’s view, the modern state of Israel is not the fulfillment of OT prophecies, NT Israel is spiritual and not physical, and the promise of land to Israel was conditional upon their obedience. Baker maintains that the Jewish people have a special place in God’s plan of salvation, but he does not postulate as to what it may be.
Finally, Baker examines the covenant motif in binding the testaments. Baker sees a continuous and unified covenant history between the testaments, initiated in the covenant with Abraham, renewed at Sinai, Moab, and Shechem, re-envisioned in the prophets, and perfected in the “new covenant” of Christ. Baker again challenges a long history of scholarship in not differentiating between the Abrahamic royal grant and Sinai suzerain-vassal treaty (241), arguing instead for the essential unity of these covenants within a canonical framework.
In Part Four, Baker summarizes the evidence examined in previous chapters before arriving at his own conclusions. Six core concepts are put forward as fundamental to understanding the unity of the testaments: Christology, salvation history, typology, promise and fulfillment, continuity and discontinuity, and covenant. The implications of this study to the church are also examined. Perhaps most significant are the affirmation of the OT’s authority for teaching doctrine and ethics, as well as the implications for the interpretation of the testaments within a unified “biblical” framework.
Baker provides an excellent survey of the major historical positions regarding the theological relationship between the testaments, and a good starting point for further research on the topic. However, the weakness of any broadly synthetic work (Baker covers over two millennia of Christian history within the first quarter of the volume) is that it will inevitably raise more questions than it answers. Baker’s commitment to examine only the theological aspects of the relationship between the testaments is admirable, but he consigns to footnotes such significant issues as the closing of the OT canon (164 n.57) as well as any significant discussion of the acceptance or rejection of the deuterocanon and other apocryphal works within early Christendom.
Further, Baker’s discussion of “covenant” and its ancient and modern implications is, in this reviewer’s opinion, substantially underdeveloped given the boldness of his claims. For example, the discussion of circumcision as a condition of the Abrahamic covenant (243), pursuant to Baker’s exegetical decision to treat Gen 17 as the essential covenant event, rather than the canonically prior Gen 15, seems to directly contradict Paul’s teaching in Romans 4:9–12.
Nonetheless, this volume represents a significant contribution to the church and the academic study of the testaments and is highly readable.
Nathanael Warren is a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he is working on a Master of Arts/ Old Testament.
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Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship Between The Old And New Testaments