A Look at Books

The Prophets and the Promise by WILLIS J. BEECHER, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1963 (Reprint of 1905 edition), 427pp. including 7 pages of index, $4.95.

In considering the worth of any theological book, its content on balance with its cost in money and reading time, one is compelled to ask what contribution it makes to his understanding of Scripture, and to his understanding of current theological discussions.

On the latter point, The Prophets and the Pr0m.i8e comes off poorly since it is a reprint of a 1905 publication and hence is unmistakably dated. But, then, the purpose of this study was not first of all to survey the state of the question of prophecy at the turn of the century. The author has rather undertaken to assemble. in almost exhaustive manner. the biblical data relevant to the nature, history, role, and message of prophecy in Israel, and to present it in a manner that does justice to the prima facie intent of Scripture. In this undertaking he has done creditable service. If long on data and short on elucidation of problems, this work is still of considerable value.

The early chapters Dr. Beecher devotes to prophecy as such. In the second part he discusses in detail the message of the prophets. In brief his basic theses ale two: (1) the prophets were “citizens with a message;” not mad-men. or queers, or “medicine-men,” or professionals, or a sacerdotal order, or an organized class, or alumni of a prophetic school, or given to frenzies or distinctive garb, but ordinary and “manly” citizens of the Israelite commonwealth who spoke to Israel the message of the Spirit; and, (2) the message of the prophets was “the promise,” i.e., the promise given to Abraham, fulfilled, and particularized (especially in the Messianic prophecy), in the course of history, and applied by the prophets to the ethical and religious needs of “the Promise-people” in the changing circumstances of its life.

These two themes are effectively worked out in great detail and, the latter especially, in a most illuminating manner. As such it contributes substantially to the development of sound biblical theology. This reviewer was particularly intrigued by the evident fruitfulness of seeing the promise as the heart of the biblical (particularly the Old Testament) revelation.

In this study, both the Old and the New Testaments have been thoroughly sifted (the store of detailed data assembled is truly impressive) and the writer moves sure-footedly through the whole range of biblical material.

The book has faults (even a mountain goat sometimes slips). It is—as I have already noted—dated; and must be supplemented with later studies. It is also at times superficial, being in places little more than a catalogue of data. Although written from an orthodox view of Scripture, it seems at times to minimize the effects of the radical critical position. And at times the author asserts too much, as when he declares that the religio-ethical and cultural contributions of the Jews and of Mohammedanism must be viewed as in some sense fulfillments of the promise that in Abraham’s seed God would bless the nations. Furthermore, his reconstruction of the apologetic argument from the fulfillment of prophecy (viewed hero as fulfillment of promise). while highly suggestive, is weakened by his failure to indicate the specific role and limitations of such an apologetic.

But, in the end. the accounting turns out favorable. The value—at least for serious students of the Bible—more than offsets the cost. In any discussion of the prophets, of biblical theology, and even of apologetics, this work deserves a hearing; not as the last word but as a thoroughly documented contribution to the discussion.

Since readers of this review may wonder, the information is volunteered that Willis J. Beecher, while being a later contemporary of the famous Beecher family (seven minister brothers and three literary sisters, including Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe), was not a member of that clan. He was a Presbyterian, was for many years professor at Auburn Theological Seminary, and in 1902 delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton, of which lectures the present work is a selection and expansion.


Romans, An Interpretive Outline by D.N. STEELE and C.C. THOMAS, published by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, PA, 1963; 200 large pages; price $5.00

This work merits a hearty recommendation. It is theologically sound and pedagogically very helpful. It can and should be used in combination with the more detailed, exegetical Commentaries. The Charts definitely assist the reader in grasping what the authors are trying to convey. The Appendices, too, are valuable. The language is clear. The argumentation is generally convincing. I am in hearty agreement with the authors when, in connection with Rom. 7:14–25, they state, “Is Paul telling of his past experience as a lost man who tried to keep God’s law but failed? Or is he describing his present experience as a saved man, a believer struggling with indwelling sin? The purpose of this Appendix is to show that Paul is writing of his experience as a mature Christian. The state described in these verses was the state of Paul’s heart when he wrote the Roman letter. It is a description of the great apostle’s struggle with his carnal nature” (p. 126).

I am not in agreement with the authors when they state, “When the full number of the Gentiles have been grafted into God’s people, national Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25, 26a). I do not believe that the passage says that. I agree with the interpretation of Dr. Hennan Ridderbos, “All Israel means the divinely ordained full number of Israel, whim one day will have been delivered by God from all sin and ruin and in which God’s promises to Israel will have fulfilled themselves” (Commentaar 0p het Nieuwe Testament, p . 263). That author completely rejects the idea of a conversion of the Jews that would follow a conversion of Gentiles (same work, p. 264). He is convinced that the term “the fullness,” as applied to the Jews, cannot have reference to any mass-conversion that will take place at this or that specific period in history. The work of Ridderbos was published. in 1959. Much earlier (in 1945) I already defended that same view in my booklet, And So All Israel Shall Be Saved.

This however, does not in any way cancel the admiration I have for this excellent book by Steele and Thomas. I would urge everyone to purchase a copy at once and to use it diligently in connection with the best Commentaries.


Origins of the Synoptic Gospels, Some Basic Questions by NED B. STONEHOUSE, Published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1963, 201 pages, price $4.50

It is with keen delight that I undertake to write a few words about this fine book by my former class-mate, the late Dr. Ned B. Stonehouse, who served for many years as Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Stonehouse writes about the Synoptic Problem. How is it that Matthew, Mark, and LuXe, who see things together (whence the name given to their writings: Synoptics) have given us so much material that is almost Or quite identical in all three Gospels, yet at times go their own separate ways? What accounts for the differences in the midst of the similarities, or vice versa? Just how did these Gospels come into being?

In dealing with this tremendously involved subject, on which already so very much has been written, Stonehouse shows a happy combination of excellent scholarship, notable common sense, and genuine, childlike faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his self-revelation. The scholarship is evident from the footnotes and thorough documentation, as well as from his summaries and criticisms of the views of other authors, both ancient and modern. The common sense is clear from the fact that in opposition to many conservatives—he boldly asserts the literary dependence of both Matthew and Luke upon Mark (p. 63) whose priority he definitely accepts (p. 76). The delightful simplicity of his faith in Christ as revealed in the Gospels is clear from these words found on p. 19.2: “And once it is acknowledged that the divine Messiah alone can explain the origin of that tradition will one be in a position to discern how, as part of a single historical movement, the Gospels not only as matchless historical documents but as integral parts of Holy Scripture came into being. Only if he was the divine Messiah, can we understand the history in which those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, acting with his authority, delivered over to the Church a knowledge of the Gospel tradition.”

Though, to be sure, here and there the student of the Synoptic Problem may raise a question with respect to this or that conclusion on some minor matter, there can be no quarrel with the main thesis of the book, namely, that these three Gospels owe their similarity not only to strong oral tradition but also to the use of common written sources, and their difference to the fact that their authors were no mere scissors and paste editors (see p. 111). One could have wished that the author had elaborated on his strong conviction that Luke used Mark’s Gospel as one of his sources (see what he says about this on p. 49), and especially that he had discussed “Q” (for explanation of this symbol see my Bible Survey, p. 385) at greater length than be does in a mere footnote on p. 145. One is inclined to say, “Surely this phase or the problem, which by many is regarded as being so central in the entire discussion of the Synoptic Problem, deserved more than a brief reference in a footnote!” In fairness to the author, however, we should remember that he never promised to discuss the entire problem but only “some basic questions,” as the sub-title indicates. What he has given us deserves deep appreciation.