Book review – Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel

Reviewed by Martin Paterson

Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel
New Studies in Biblical Theology
By Matthew Barrett.
Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.
ISBN 978-0-8308-2929-3. 384pp

Mission Round Table Vol. 15 No. 3 (September-December 2020): 40-41​​​​​​

Browse articles in Mission Round Table Vol. 15 No. 3

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Questions relating to the authority and unity of the Bible come to the surface in every context of gospel ministry. It is therefore essential that those who seek to make disciples develop a reasoned response to such crucial questions. Matthew Barrett’s recent addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Canon, Covenant and Christology, is a resource which does exactly that.

Although we can draw on the apostolic witness to defend the divine authorship and integrity of the Bible (2 Tim 3:16), Barrett seeks to advance the discussion in a way that avoids falling into the trap of proof texting. His suggestion is that we recognise the way Jesus interacts with the Scriptures (the Old Testament) in light of the covenants which God has made with his people. Barrett sums this up by stating that “showing Jesus to be the ‘Christological clamp’ is paramount to confirming canonical unity and the canon’s divine origin” (39).

Barrett takes the reader through the covenantal framework of the Old Testament (chapter 2) and then illustrates how Jesus read, taught, and thought about the Scriptures through case studies in Matthew and John (chapters 3 and 4). In this way, we come to realise more clearly, or certainly in a fresh way, how integral Christology is to our understanding of the canon of Scripture. This is one of the book’s greatest contributions and will provide stimulus for further reflection concerning the unity of the canon for years to come.

The book then illustrates how Christ’s filial relationship with the Father in covenant obedience (as opposed to the disobedience of Adam and Israel) proves the unity of the canon (chapter 5). The author advocates that our Christology should be directly linked to our understanding of the intrinsic unity of the Bible. He sums this up by saying: “scriptural authority comes unhinged if not rooted in biblical Trinitarian Christology” (248). Finally, Barrett asks how evangelicals will hold to the unity of the Bible in the future. His suggestion is that “there is a Christological warrant for inerrancy, one that moves our defence of inerrancy away from shallow proof texting to a more organic, redemptive-historical approach that reflects Scripture’s typological and Christological focus, fulfilment and finality” (302).

On a far more practical level, this volume is helpful as it brings a needed corrective to common oversimplifications and oversights concerning the Old Testament. Barrett rightly argues that “the Old Testament Scriptures are not adopted by Jesus and the church (that is the approach of most sects and cults), but the Old Testament Scriptures give birth to Jesus himself and are the genesis of his church” (197). As we seek to answer people’s genuine objections to the Bible—and therefore the God of the Bible—it is essential that we are clear concerning its unity and focal point. We do not worship a made-up deity who was subsumed into the Jewish Scriptures. Rather, we follow God’s chosen King who brings to fulfilment all of his promises.

If you serve in a context where the integrity of the Bible is suspect, you will find this book to be a helpful companion. If your context values narrative over proof texting, Barrett’s demonstration of how Christ is the focal point of the Bible will be useful. If you are involved in a church planting ministry or are considering doing so in the future, it is essential to understand that the Bible’s unity flows from Jesus Christ as its focal point. For everyone who serves the church in such a role, this book provides important insights and structure.

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