By Billy Doolittle
Matthew Emerson is the Dickinson Assistant Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Baptist University. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and his M.Div and Ph.D. from the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has published numerous articles and books in his specialty, biblical hermeneutics, and theological method of the Old and New Testaments. He is currently serving as co-editor of the Journal of Baptist Studies and is involved in numerous biblical societies.
Emerson starts his introduction by making claims that the canonical order of the New Testament is not based on genre and size but gives a theological and textual rendering of the order. Little work has been done to explain a theological rendering of the New Testament canon. He lists multiple works that have arisen yet shows how they fall short to provide a consistent framework for the task at hand. Emerson’s intention is to explain the New Testament canon as having an exact editorial order for the purpose of communicating recurring themes thus binding each book to one another. He does this for two key reasons: 1) to provide a framework for future work on this subject, and 2) to show the focal point of New Testament theology as being the aim of the canonical order, namely Christ’s future coming and the New Creation. He admits this is not to downplay other theological themes within the NT nor are these two the only significant themes.
The underlying aim of a hermeneutical method is a theological method. Emerson defines a theological method as a lively collaborative activity between the reader and text, not a set of cold rules to follow in a method. The theological method of the interpreter will determine his or her hermeneutical practice. Simply put, the theological method is the foundation on which interpretation is constructed. If the history and/or worldview of the author is a defining factor for interpreting a text then the history around the text is of utmost importance and that has detrimental theological ramifications. Chapter 2 constructs Emerson’s compositional approach which is the belief that the biblical authors have sealed the books of the bible together with the aid of the Holy Spirit textually and theologically to mandate a holistic reading so as to understand the author’s intent and meaning with the tools they have provided. This approach has been popularized in the last 50 years by Brevard Childs and John Sailhamer, particularly in the OT. Emerson’s goal is to argue for a compositional shape to NT canon.
Chapter three presents the canonical form of the four gospels and the book of Acts. Each of these books contains a purposeful series of events recounted by Jesus. They are not simply a collection of stories. These stories are articulated together to give a holistic picture of Jesus, revealing the intent of the author. The synoptic books give an interconnected picture of Jesus which fits in the context of Old Testament prophetic imagery. Each book shows Jesus as not only fulfilling prophecy on a micro-level but also clarifying and re-enacting major biblical figures. Mainly the authors show Jesus fulfilling the prophet-priest-king person which Israel had awaited with the purpose of restoring Israel from exile. John then seals this by expanding the new creation theme in the mind of the reader. At the end of John, Jesus, the new Adam, mandates an echo of “be fruitful and multiply” by saying “feed my sheep.” The story of acts is a narrative of just that, to both Jew and Gentile.
Chapter 4 then considers Jews and Gentiles as equals living as new creations in Christ. This chapter covers Romans – Colossians giving evidence of a canonical order as intended by the biblical compilers. Emerson says there is a possibility that the catholic epistles (James, 1, 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, and Jude) could come after the Acts. The evidence of the Pauline epistles being circulated together keeps these epistles in one single codex. Separating these books from the Catholic epistles would not make sense. It should be noted that in separate ancient traditions, the catholic epistles between the Pauline epistles and Acts. For Emerson, intertextuality wins with Acts 28:28 being connected to Romans 1:1-17 and the name of the author. He presents a separate case with the content of Romans proclaiming the community relationship Jews and Gentiles share together. The major theme intertwining the four major sections of Romans is the new creation. This leads to his discussion of 1-2 Corinthians which is living as new creations and his discussion of Galatians through Colossians. Ultimately Galatians through Colossians provides theological exhortation through ethical situations. The new life that believers have been introduced to comes through the new creation.
Chapter 5 covers the change in emphasis from the rest of the Pauline epistles to now. There is a stronger emphasis on living holy lives because the second coming of Christ is approaching. The second coming has been mentioned before yet not has been a theme of a book. The result is an emphasis on the eschaton instead of the new life of faith. 2 Thessalonians follows suit. The pastoral epistles’ connection to the new creation is their concern with guarding the church against false teachings and guiding the church in spreading the gospel. Thus showing the primary concern to be the new creation. Hebrews then provides a transition into the general epistles. The new creation is in view within Hebrews by the exhortations for the believers to remain faithful so as to enter the new creation.
The ordering which we have today (James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude) reflects the historical order from ancient Christian manuscripts. These epistles came to be known as the “general” or “catholic” epistles. He gives multiple analyses of the book of Hebrews, and the catholic epistles but not any other books. These studies include a structural, thematic, and semantic analysis. This is lacking in the study of the other books. He also creates a section just for textual connections which is also lacking in other sections, however, it is very helpful for a textual defense of a canonical rendering of the NT canon.
Revelation is the climax of Emerson’s canonical approach to not only the NT canon but the entire biblical canon as a whole. He looks at the book of Revelation’s content to span from the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the church sharing the kingdom as the two witnesses, and finally, the kingdom is fully restored “at the end of days”. This chapter particularly stood out as giving God glory through the heavily detailed authorship in which this book was penned.
If you would like to purchase Christ and the New Creation, you may do so here.
Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament, by Matthew Y. Emerson. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2013. 184 pages.
Billy Doolittle is a graduate of Boyce College and is married to Brittany Doolittle. He is a member of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. You can follow Billy Doolittle on twitter @BillyDoolittle