Book Reviews

Book Review: Biblical Theology (Köstenberger/Goswell)

Biblical theology (BT) has been flourishing for the last forty years, particularly within North American evangelical world, though there is no single agreed-upon methodology on how to do BT. OT scholar Gregory Goswell and NT scholar Andreas Köstenberger (well-known for his works on John’s Gospel) have teamed up to write a comprehensive BT of the whole Bible, “seeking to discern the theological contributions of the biblical writers themselves” (8).

In doing this these two scholars “adopt a thematic, ethical, and canonical approach” (7). This means that they seek to show the themes and ethics of each of the Bible’s 66 books as well as how that book fits into the storyline of Scripture.

Chapter 1 gives a quick history of the biblical theology movement, beginning with Johann Gabler in 1787 and moving through history up to James Barr’s critique of the BT system in the 1960s and 1970s. What BT needs today is a more unified approach. The authors (KG) write, “Starting with a given book or corpus of Scripture (book by book), then aiming to identify major topics (central themes), and finally attempting to understand how these all fit together in the storyline of Scripture (metanarrative) combines the strengths of the various approaches and avoids potential weaknesses” (32).

What good does this do? As interpreters study each book in-depth in this manner, they are more likely to “to discern the theology of the biblical writers themselves… not just to rehearse the story interpreters themselves have composed based on what they see as the highlights in the biblical narrative” (32). KG offers two case studies of Paul’s theology in the letters to Timothy and Titus as well as on the theme of the Holy Spirit (33-43).

One highlight of the book (even if it can sometimes be pedantic) is the discussion of book order (also called “paratext”) and its effect on hermeneutics. Does it matter that the order of OT books in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts differ? Or that even the order of NT books differ in various manuscripts (such as how the Catholic Epistles follow the book of Acts in all of the Greek manuscript witnesses). The order of books is not inspired, so it is not on the same level of authority as the biblical text itself, but it does shape how we read the biblical books due to the company they keep, that is, the books that surround them (366).

One example of this is the book of Ruth (See Goswell’s excellent book on Ruth). In the Greek tradition (LXX), Ruth is placed between Judges and 1 Samuel (where it is in our English Bibles). There she, a foreigner, is a moral contrast to the rampant evil of God’s own people. We also see how God providentially cares for the family that would come to produce David, Israel’s future king. In the Hebrew order, Ruth is placed after Proverbs. Ruth is an embodiment of the “Proverbs 31 Woman.” There is a connection between Prov 31:31 and Ruth 3:11 and 4:11-12. Ruth is portrayed as “an ethical paradigm, namely a pattern of behavior worthy of emulation by readers” (56).

On top of all that, Ruth is placed before the Psalter in the Talmudic tradition. KG writes, “The conjoining of Ruth and the Psalter helps to bring to light the thematic links between the two books that include the key terms ‘refuge,’ ‘wings,’ and ‘kindness.’ This way of ordering the books highlights the connection of Ruth with David the psalmist, and Ruth personifies the implied ethic of total reliance on God as taught in the Psalter” (57).

The book is the divided into two parts: the Old Testament (Part One) and the New Testament (Part Two). Both sections begin with the order of the books (chs 2 and 6). I really enjoyed this section, even though it can certainly feel pedantic reading about the different book placements in various manuscript traditions, and trying to remember which book sits where in both the Hebrew and Greek orders. That said, I found it fascinated to read about what it would mean to read the Old Testament if certain books were in a different order (like those of the Writings) or if Daniel were the last book of the OT, or Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, or even Esther.

Next KG covers the Torah (ch 3), the Prophets (ch 4), and the Writings (ch 5). Each chapter ends with its own section covering the main themes, ethics, and place within the storyline of Scripture. This occurs twice in the chapter on the Prophets as it is split into the Former Prophets (Joshua-Kings) and the Latter Prophets (containing both the major and minor prophets).

Chapter 7 covers the relationship between the testaments, a huge deal in NT studies now. This chapter looks at possible influences of the OT on the structure of the NT. They give a brief book-by-book look at the NT books and when they make reference to the OT.

The authors then examine cover the themes, ethics, and storyline placement of the Gospels (ch 8), Acts (ch 9), Paul’s letters (ch 10), the Catholic/General Epistles (ch 11), and Revelation (ch 12).

The book ends with a final chapter surveying biblical themes and ethics in both testaments and a brief storyline of both OT and NT. The authors synthesize the message of the whole Bible here so that OT themes like creation have forward-thinking NT ideas in them. God created all things, but human sin spoiled his good work, so “the history of salvation has as its goal the renewal of the created order and the return of redeemed humanity to the garden” (694). Be aide of that, salvation is re-creation (John 20:22; 2 Cor. 5:17), and God’s plan of salvation will be complete when the new heavens and new earth are brought to be (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). The prophets often give us the picture of a repaired creation which no longer suffers under the reign of sin. Chronicles begins his work of Israel and the world from the very beginning with the first man at creation—Adam. “Isaiah 40–55 depicts Israel’s redemption from exile as a new creative work (e.g., Isa. 43:1, 15)” (694).

A few other OT themes deal with prophecy, Israel and the nations, covenant, kingship, and sanctuary, while some NT themes would be the kingdom of God, new covenant/exodus/creation, the cross, the Spirit, the gospel, and the church.

Biblical ethics deal both with what the Bible describes as being right and wrong and what God expects of and requires of people and with what it prescribed—what we and the church should do. OT ethics deal with, for example, gratitude, love and generosity, being a holy people, loving wisely, repentance and forgiveness, and having a social conscience (thinking primarily of Deuteronomy’s ethical laws).

NT ethics deal with all of this as well as faith, hope, love, mission, suffering, our spiritual transformation into Christlikeness, which is performed within the messianic/church community. It is in that community where we see a reversal—all believers are equal in God’s house, and we should care for the poor. In this reversal as well is the fact that those who have put their faith in Jesus show that God’s “foolishness” (the cross) is wiser than the wisest human thinking.


This is a hefty, careful, and important work. It is a book that not only draws together threads from all across the Bible, but one that is concerned with how we live, with ethics that come from the full scope of Scripture. This is a reminder that we cannot stop at mere knowledge of theology. Scripture should transform us into ethical and virtuous people who walk God’s paths. They briefly teach a proper methodology and then show it, book-by-book, emphasizing both the diversity of the different books in the Bible and the Bible’s own unity. This magnum opus comes highly recommended.


  • Author: Andreas Köstenberger & Gregory Goswell
  • Paperback: 1016 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (March 21, 2023)
  • Read the Intro + Chapter 1

Buy it from Amazon or Crossway!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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