On the eve of my presentation at the Southeastern Regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, a new book arrived. One of the blogs I frequent had a list of must-read books. On that list was G.K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Remembering that one of my faithful readers shamed me for not having read the book, I decided it was high time I picked it up.
I know what you are thinking. “One of your readers told you that a book exists that contains a discussion on the very topic you plan on presenting at a scholarly conference…and you haven’t checked it out till now?” To that I answer, “That is correct, sir.” In my defense, I have read G.K. Beale and D. A. Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old regarding my passage, and to my chagrin found nothing of use concerning the topic. Much like every other resource I had read in the field, the commentary analyzes John’s quotation of Isaiah, God’s pronouncement “this is my beloved Son…,” and the wilderness temptations. Otherwise, there was nothing about Jesus’ baptism. Not so in his new volume.
I quickly opened the package, took the book to my computer, referenced the comments on my blog so that I could quickly find the passage cited by my anonymous commenter, and began reading. It is a good thing I did not reference this resource in January. It would have drained every ounce of motivation I possessed. Beale draws virtually the same conclusions as I do in my paper. Let me give you a smattering of quotations:
John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, along with other Israelites. What is the significance of the water? Why is it apparently so important that Jesus be baptized by water in a river, along with other Jews, at the inception of his ministry? The answer seems ready at hand, if one is sensitive to OT precedents. Just as Israel was led by Moses and had to go through the sea at the exodus to enter the promised land, and just as the second generation had to do the same thing at the Jordan River under Joshua’s leadership, as a miniature second exodus, so again, now that Israel’s restoration is imminent through Jesus, true Israelites must again identify with the water and the Jordan and their prophetic leader in order to begin to experience true restoration… (p. 412)
In conjunction with this OT pattern of the exodus and, as we saw earlier, new creation, that Jesus’s baptism was part of his work ‘to fulfill all righteousness’ seems to allude to the fact that he came to set right what Israel and Adam had done wrong; he was coming successfully to obey, in contrast to Israel’s former disobedience, as well as that ultimately of Israel’s progenitors, Adam and Noah. ‘By his baptism Jesus affirms his determination to do his assigned work’ as God’s ‘servant’ in restoring Israel and being a light to the nations (note the reference to Abraham in Matt. 3:9, which continues the subtheme of Jesus’s mission, which includes salvation to the gentiles). (416)
Therefore, ‘all righteousness’ refers to Jesus’s obedience to God’s will and commandments throughout his ministry as the eschatological Adam and Israel, culminating with his obedience of suffering at the cross. His obedience formally begins with the baptism and the immediately following test in the wilderness. In doing so, he was fulfilling all the prophecies and types and other ways in which the OT looked forward to him. (416-417)
In essence, you have just read a summary of my paper/presentation.
There is a principle in biblical scholarship. If no one has ever said it before about passage x, then chances are that you didn’t strike gold…that glittering gleam is fool’s gold. During my research for this topic, which admittedly is far from extensive (at present I don’t know enough Latin, French, or German to explore these sources), I only found “hints” supporting my argument. The closest resource I found to support my contention wholesale was Joel Kennedy’s dissertation The Recapitulation of Israel’s History published by Mohr Siebeck in the “Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament” series costing about $115 . Admittedly, I felt a bit deterred, and I lacked confidence. Had I struck upon something real, or was I foolishly reading my own theology into the text?
Now…I feel a bit dejected. Someone else has published my argument before me. New ground is no longer being broken. I feel like my presentation will simply be a rehashing of “old” truths.
In my mind this tension always exists in biblical scholarship. If I say something radically new, have I broken with tradition and no longer see clearly? Yet, if there is nothing new to be said, then why engage in the endeavor at all?
Nevertheless, I am delighted that a topic that has enthralled me for so long has been taken up by one more capable than I. Furthermore, the writings of G.K. Beale will endure longer and affect a far greater audience than I am presently capable. I can only hope and pray that all believers will give greater attention to the Old Testament and allow it to transform their reading of the New Testament. After all, the apostles treated the Old Testament as scripture, and we must do likewise.