VII. The Coherence of the NT’s Theology

If the NT’s twenty-seven books interrelate with one another in the respective roles mentioned in the previous posts, then theological synthesis becomes possible while simultaneously valuing the uniqueness of each book’s historical situation. From this approach, NT theology honors the historical nature of and theological proclamation in the apostolic word. With respect to the writers’ corporate unity in their individual diversity, the following is an attempt to summarize the theology of the NT using the aforementioned conclusions.

The testimony of the NT did not emerge in a vacuum; in a sense, its authors picked up the pen the Chronicler laid down and continued the Gospel-narrative set forth by the OT. Thus, Matthew opens his Gospel with the intriguing phrase biblos genesews (lit. “book of genesis”), which introduces a genealogy identifying Jesus with the expected Messiah from David’s royal line and Abraham’s progeny. Part of Matthew’s aim, then, is to acknowledge Jesus as the climax of redemptive history-hence his repeated fulfillment motif (Matt 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9) (cf. G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 219). The other Gospels are not shy about such emphases either. They too see Jesus as the fulfillment of, doubtless the one exceeding, Israel’s hopes and longings, and around whom all salvation history revolves (e.g. Mark 1:1-3, 14, 24; 11:10; Luke 2:29-32; 4:21; John 1:41; 4:26; 6:12-14). Furthermore, under such umbrellas all the Gospels tell their readers about Jesus, his life, teachings, ministries, obedience, cross-death, and resurrection. Still more, they explain with unique testimony the theological meaning of these historical events. In unison they proclaim Jesus’ unswerving allegiance to his Father’s will (Matt 11:27; 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 5:17; 8:28-29), his atoning cross-death in light of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isa 53 [cf. Matt 8:17; Mark 9:12; 14:49; Luke 22:37; John 12:38]), his triumph over evil in the ushering in of God’s kingdom (Matt 12:28; Mark 1:1-14; Luke 4:18-19 [Isa 61:1-2]; 10:9; 11:20; John 3:5), his victory over death in the Christ-exalting resurrection (Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21), and the forgiveness and bounty he bestows on his followers (Matt 26:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 1:77; 24:47; John 10:7-18).

Acts of the Apostles shares the Gospels’ testimony. In this book, Luke portrays the extended ministry of Jesus, post-Easter. His and the apostles’ concerns are not with new doctrine, but new emphases of eschatological proportions (cf. Ladd, 353). Jesus is both Christ and Lord by the resurrection and now ministers by the Holy Spirit through his apostles and his rapidly growing church. Furthermore, he shows the promises of the OT and Jesus regarding the Gentile’s soteriological participation in God’s covenant people to be true. By the preached word, “the ends of the earth” become the primary participants in “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:36-48). Therefore, in the apostolic ministry there is a swift unfolding of redemptive history that can only be explained by the supernatural work of Christ’s Gospel and the irruption (not eruption) of the kingdom of God.

With Acts of the Apostles, the missionary journeys have taken their course and communities of believers now gather all over the Mediterranean. Without question, these sinners-turned-saints are in need of great instruction. Without doubt, they know Jesus. Still, they need Jesus (i.e. all that they have received in the Gospel traditions) explained for their varying situations. Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, and the General Epistles, serve these ends with pastoral care and urgency. By interpreting the person and work of Jesus, they all agree that (1) Christ suffered for sinners, was raised from the dead, and is the exalted and reigning king; (2) justification is by faith in his finished work; (3) holiness accompanied by good works should characterize the church; (4) the nature of this age demands perseverance through suffering, yet is promised by God; (5) and the new age has dawned, yet awaits its consummation. In sum, the letters inform their recipients of the present reality and meaning of Christ’s kingdom and further exhort them in how they must live until its consummation.

Revelation, then, asserts to be “the revelation of Jesus Christ“. Its central concern is Jesus, who existed before history, entered history, and will bring history to its designed end (Rev 1:4, 8, 17, 18). He is the slain Lamb (5:6; 13:8), the root of David (22:16), the King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16). Essentially, therefore, it is Christological in its focus as are the previous twenty-six (sixty-five!) books. Nevertheless, largely accompanying its testimony about Jesus are also the severe and glorious events he will cause to transpire for the final establishment of God’s kingdom. This apocalypse explains more thoroughly, what was more so implicit in the rest of the NT; that is, redemptive history is not merely a matter of prophecy-fulfillment, but a matter of God’s sovereign control and omniscient guidance of all history. Nothing will thwart his purpose in Christ to set up his reign among his redeemed society in the New Jerusalem forever free from evil (21:1-22:5). With regard to NT theology, therefore, what Gospel-narrative beginnings the Evangelists articulated, Acts of the Apostles continued, and the epistles interpreted, Revelation concludes.

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