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The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments

The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments

by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

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What is the central theme of the Bible? Given the diversity of authorship, genre, and context of the Bible’s various books, is it even possible to answer such a question? Or in trying to do so, is an external grid being unnaturally superimposed on the biblical text? These are difficult questions that the discipline of biblical theology has struggled to


What is the central theme of the Bible? Given the diversity of authorship, genre, and context of the Bible’s various books, is it even possible to answer such a question? Or in trying to do so, is an external grid being unnaturally superimposed on the biblical text? These are difficult questions that the discipline of biblical theology has struggled to answer. In this thoroughly revised and expanded edition of his classic Toward an Old Testament Theology, Walter Kaiser offers a solution to these unresolved issues. He proposes that there is indeed a unifying center to the theology and message of the Bible that is indicated and affirmed by Scripture itself. That center is the promise of God. It is one all-encompassing promise of life through the Messiah that winds itself throughout salvation history in both the Old and New Testaments, giving cohesiveness and unity to the various parts of Scripture. After laying out his proposal, Kaiser works chronologically through the books of both testaments, demonstrating how the promise is seen throughout, how the various sub-themes of each book relate to the promise, and how God’s plan to fulfill the promise progressively unfolds. Here is a rich and illuminating biblical theology that will stir the emotion and the intellect.

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The Promise Plan of God
A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments

By Walter C. Kaiser Zondervan
Copyright © 2008
Walter C. Kaiser Jr.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-27586-2

Chapter One Prolegomena to the Promise: The Pre-Patriarchal Period Genesis (From the beginning to about 2150 BC)

Genesis 1-11

The Structure and Purpose of Genesis

The purpose and teaching of the book of Genesis are found in its literary structure. Eleven times, the phrase "This is the account of ..." introduces each new section (Ge 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2). Accordingly, this repeated phrase serves as a framework for the whole book and shows that there was a continuum from creation to Adam's line, from Adam's line to Noah's line, from Noah's line to Noah's three sons, from them to his son Shem, and then on to Terah, the father of Abraham. About half of this literary framework appears in Genesis 1-11, thereby placing the story of these early chapters in the same historical context as the other half, with the same literary structure appearing in the patriarchal narrative of Genesis 12-50.

The theology of the whole book of Genesis is centered around the goodness of God in extending his "blessings" of the promise-plan so generously all the way from creation to the choice of Abraham's line to be the means by which God would bless the nations of the world with his gift of the good news. The word for the promise-plan of God that dominates the theology of Genesis is blessing, a word that occurs in both its verbal and nominal form some 88 times in the whole book of Genesis. However, it must always be remembered that the theology of Genesis is only a part of the whole, which in this case is the complete Torah, also called the Pentateuch, the teaching of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Genesis 1-11 provides the broadest, most universal and cosmic setting for the total promise-plan of God. The sweep of these initial chapters of the Bible strongly indicates that God's concern was for the whole world, even before he announced the role the patriarchs and their offspring would play in carrying out this mission for "all the families of the earth" (12:3).

The hallmark of Genesis 1-11 is to be found in the "blessing" of God as expressed in the Edenic, Noachic, and Abrahamic covenants. He was the one who had promised to "bless" all created beings at the beginning of the pre-patriarchal narrative (1:22, 28), later at several strategic points in the course of its narrative (5:2; 9:1), and at the conclusion to this first section in the Bible (12:1-3). Thus, the promise-plan of God began using the theme of blessing or "to bless" as one of the terms that signaled the introduction of the promise-plan of God, thereby insuring the unity, parameters, and center for the theology of Genesis 1-11, even though it did not use the term "promise," which would become the label of choice later in New Testament times.

Unfortunately, this block of biblical materials has rarely been treated in its unified contribution to theology. All too often, as Claus Westermann observed, theologians have restricted their attention to a discussion of creation, the fall, and humanity's personal sin before God. However, the canonical shape of the message as we have it in Genesis 1-11 asks of the interpreter much more than those meager results. Humanity is placed before God in the fall but is likewise located in a society and in the gifts of government and the state, according to Genesis 4 and 6. Accordingly, humanity was the recipient of much more than life and successive curses for disobedience - principally, that they would also receive the coming Man of promise.

The pattern of events in all eleven chapters is too closely interwoven to be left aside by the exegete or theologian. Structurally, they exhibit the juxtaposition of God's gift of blessing with humanity's revolt. The divine word of blessing initiates every type of increase and all legitimate dominion; it follows the central tragedy of the section - the flood - and concludes in the transitional section of Genesis 12:1-3 in the blessing of the gospel itself as described in Genesis 12:3b (cf. Gal 3:8).

Humanity's revolt, on the other hand, is evident primarily in the three catastrophes of the fall, the flood, and the "flop" of the tower of Babel. Here too, in each of these disasters and crises for human civilization, the divine word was present - only it was a word of judgment before it was a word of blessing.

But even this triple rhythm of blessing and curse, hope and doom, did not exhaust the basic structure and theology of the text in its wholeness. God's goal for history, while marked by the insertions of his word at critically important junctures, was opposed by humanity's continual rejection of these divine blessings in a doctrine of work (2:15), in the area of the family (4:1-16), in cultural achievements (vv. 17-24), in the development of the human race (Ge 5; 10; 11:10 - 32), and in the gift of government and the state (6:1-6).

The double line of humanity's failure and God's special word of grace or blessing can be represented this way:

Humanity's Failure: God's Blessing: 1. The fall (Ge 3) a. Promise of a seed (Ge 3:15) 2. The flood (Ge 6-8) b. Promise of God's dwelling in Shem's tents (Ge 9:25-27) 3. The flop and the scattering (Ge 11) c. Promise of worldwide blessing (Ge 12:1-3)

The Word of Creation

But as the theology of this section began, so did the world - by the divine word of a personal, communicating God. Ten times over, the text reiterated this lead-off statement: "And God said" (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 29; 2:18). Creation, then, was depicted as the result of the dynamic word of God. To call forth the world in direct response to God's spoken word was to act as Jesus of Nazareth did when, in response to his word, men and women were healed. For example, the centurion pleaded, "But just say the word, and my servant will be healed" (Mt 8:8). And his servant was healed at that very hour (Mt 8:13). So the word was likewise spoken in Genesis 1, and the world came into being. This theological affirmation appears later in the Psalms:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.... For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalm 33:6, 9, emphasis mine)

Whether secondary causes were also thereby set into motion in effecting the result cannot be determined from the text. Every time the text would seem to imply a mediate creation (i.e., where the existing materials or forces of nature might be authorized or endowed by God to do the work of carrying out the creation order - the three instances being: "Let the earth bring forth" [Ge 1:11]; "Let the waters bring forth" [v. 20]; "Let the earth bring forth" [v. 24]), the next verse in two of the three instances (vv. 21, 25) attributes the same things as having been done directly by God. Only Genesis 1:11 (the land producing vegetation) might be an exception to representing God's work as immediate creation, since verse 12 continues that same way of speaking without the qualifying phrases seen in Genesis 1:21 and 25. However, that may simply be a way of highlighting the recipient (the earth or the waters) of the forthcoming benefits of God rather than textually providing for a mediate or secondary agency in these instances.

On the whole, the method of creation was as clear as its source: it was God who created, and the method he used was his word. But word-creation stresses more than method. It emphasizes that creation was in accordance with God's knowledge as embodied in his word. Likewise, his purposeful design and the predetermined function of all things was underscored, since he often named what he created. Thus the essence and purpose of his creation was outlined from its inception. And if he named these things, he then owned them, for one only names what one owns or is given jurisdiction over.

Often the discussion of the time of creation consumes more time and energy than it should in our modern attempts to interpret the text. Biblical theology generally is disinterested in this discussion. However, the decision over whether Genesis 1-2 reported an absolute beginning or merely a relative beginning is central to the concern of theology.

Recently, many modern translations have preferred a "when ... then" construction for Genesis 1:1-3: "When God created, ... the earth being without form, ... then God said" (emphasis mine). While such a construction is possible on certain grammatical grounds, there are strong arguments against such an explanation or translation in this instance. Both the punctuation of the Hebrew Masoretic text and Greek transliterations of the Hebrew text into Greek letters show convincingly that there was quite a respectable history of interpretation that took the first word, beresît, as an absolute noun, "in the beginning," rather than as a Hebrew construct noun, "in beginning of creating," or "When God began to create." Therefore, Genesis 1:1 commits itself to the absolute beginning of everything ("heaven and the earth") outside of God.


Excerpted from The Promise Plan of God by Walter C. Kaiser Copyright © 2008 by Walter C. Kaiser Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (PhD, Brandeis University) is distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Dr. Kaiser has written over 40 books, including Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching; The Messiah in the Old Testament; and The Promise-Plan of God; and coauthored An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. Dr. Kaiser and his wife, Marge, currently reside at Kerith Farm in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. Dr. Kaiser’s website is www.walterckaiserjr.com.

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