The Johannine Split

If you were to walk into a bookstore or library with a section on the New Testament, and if you were to look for the books that discussed Luke, chances are you’d find a large number of volumes combining Luke and Acts under whatever topic. So “A Commentary on Luke-Acts,” “A Theology of Luke-Acts,” “The Spirit in Luke-Acts,” and so on. This is true also of NT Introductions, which often discuss Luke and Acts together. On one level this makes sense; Luke is the author of both books, the introduction to Acts calls it the second part of a two part work, and there are a myriad of linguistic, narrative, and theological points of continuity.

But on another level, the canonical one, it makes little sense. The fact is that John almost always comes at the end of the Fourfold Gospel corpus (see Metzger, The Canon of the NT, 296), and there are only three cases of Luke coming at the end, each of which are late (6th, 14th cents.) and regionally isolated.

Why don’t we follow the overwhelmingly dominate order of the NT in our interpretive practice when discussing Acts? While I would not go so far as to say we should start having “John-Acts” monographs, we ought to consider seriously the fact that Luke almost never comes immediately before Acts in any of our available lists, codices, or MSS. The arrangement of material matters in interpretation, even on a canonical level, and John splitting Luke and Acts ought to give NT readers pause in how the interpret the NT exegetically, narratively, and theologically.

Beale’s Method

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I’m currently reading through G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology and it is phenomenal. I’ve always loved Beale’s work, particularly because he is one of the few scholars I know that can weave biblical studies and theology together almost seamlessly. He is, in my opinion, the epitome of a biblical theologian. It’s no surprise to me, then, that I love every page I read out of this book.

One thing, though, that I find the most commonality with in Beale’s work is his consistent method. In both The Temple and the Church’s Mission and We Are What We Worship, Beale demonstrates an ability to both see the big picture of the entire Bible and exegete particular texts in their original context. He thus can study the individual trees without losing sight of the forest. Just as importantly, he can look at the whole forest without forgetting it is made up of individual trees.

Beale articulates this method in the following way in his new book (p. 15):

. . . I categorize my biblical-theological approach to be canonical, genetic-progressive (or organically developmental, as a flower develops from a seed and bud), exegetical, and intertextual. This approach could be summarized as a ‘biblical-theological-oriented exegesis.’

What I’ve seen from Beale in previous works is still here (canonical, exegetical, and intertextual), but the genetic-progressive element, while not new to him, is most explicitly articulated and applied here. This to me is an especially helpful addition, both for constructive use in my own understanding and application of biblical theology and also negatively as a counter to the way “progressive revelation” is sometimes articulated. Often I hear proponents of “progressive revelation” arguing that we can only understand texts like Gen. 3:15 as Adam and Eve (or more properly Israel on the plains of Moab) or other original hearers would have heard them. For Gen. 3:15, then, we cannot teach or preach it with the fullness that we might preach Romans 1-5 in terms of the robustness of the gospel. But what Beale is arguing is that although Gen. 3:15 does not explicitly relate the entire gospel, it is like a seed of a flower that will eventually blossom into, and thus implicitly contains, the entire gospel.

Like the rest of the book, I find that particularly helpful.