Jeffrey Niehaus has wide-ranging interests, both in literature and Hebrew Bible. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard and has taught at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary since 1982. He also did graduate work in Assyriology at the University of Liverpool and has contributed to peer-reviewed journals such as Tyndale Bulletin, Vetus Testamentum, and the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. His recently published Biblical Theology is primarily a study in covenant theology and the early chapters of Genesis. In some respects it is reminiscent of books by M. G. Kline, who is one of his former colleagues. This book is the first installment in an expected two-volume work on biblical theology. Though the volume has some strengths, it also has many linguistic problems and theological weaknesses that adherents of the Westminster Confession of Faith and classic, orthodox Federal Theology, such as myself, will find hard to affirm.
Niehaus begins with a section on prolegomena (i.e., first things), to which he alludes throughout his book. Here he claims that the Adamic and Noahic covenants constitute one “legal package” (p. 32) under which all humans live until the eschaton. Undoubtedly, the obligations of the Noahic covenant (cf. Gen 9:1–7) are grounded in Gen 1 and 2; however, Niehaus should have said more and also less in his book on this point (see below). The next three chapters cover the creation covenant. Chapter 4 covers Cain. Chapters 5 and 6 cover Noah and chapter 7 is a summary discussing “Life under Two Covenants,” that is, life under “one legal package” (p. 225). There are also a number of excurses along the way on a variety of topics. Moreover, there are four appendices at the end of the book.
The book has several strengths. First, the author’s background in English makes his prose clear and easy to follow. Indeed, sometimes his prose is laconic such as when he refers to the Serpent’s interaction in the garden as “[t]he question seems innocent, but is barbed.” Second, Niehaus recognizes a two-Adam typology scheme in Scripture (p. 96). Third, he is sensitive to the time-honored exegetical position that Gen 2:15 entails priestly functions operative in the garden. Fourth, he also rightly argues against N. T. Wright’s view of the much debated phrase, “the righteousness of God.” Fifth, he consistently pushes back against the overconfident pretensions of source-critical conclusions regarding Genesis.
Some of the weaknesses of the book are, first, given Weaver Books’ target audience of laypeople, more consistency would have been helpful in offering translations of foreign language words (e.g., pp. 50, 110), especially German. Second, sometimes the author falls into linguistic errors. For example, his discussion of “eternal” (Heb. ‘olâm) covenant is in part based on the etymological fallacy (pp. 210–213). Appeal should have rather been made to the work of Ernst Jenni’s entry on ‘olâm in the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Third, the discussion of the possibility of a “consultative plural” (Gen 1:26 as spoken in the midst of the divine court with an attending retinue of holy angels) rather than a reference to the Trinity in Gen 1:26 is underdeveloped. Niehaus opts for a possible double entendre but then only discusses the potential implications for the Trinitarian interpretation and does not entertain the profound implications of the consultative plural for the imago Dei. The work of Randall Garr would have been useful here (see Garr, In His Own Image and Likeness: Humanity, Divinity, and Monotheism [Leiden: Brill, 2003]).
Fourth, Niehaus claims repeatedly that OT saints were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit (e.g., pp. 137, 144, 174).Surely, there are biblical distinctions to be made between pre-Pentecost saints and post-Pentecost saints; however, not along the lines that Niehaus suggests. Pace Niehaus, it seems that OT saints were indwelt by the Holy Spirit (e.g., Exod 31:1; Ps 51:11; Luke 1:41) and the reader should consult WCF 16 to see that good works in Saints (OT and NT) occur through Spirit-wrought obedience. The magisterial work of Abraham Kuyper on the Holy Spirit is a helpful place to start for differences between pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost believers.
Fifth, the discussion about Noah’s typology is less effective than it could be because Niehaus restricts functional typology to office rather than including character (see p. 179). The fallacy here is that historical essences cannot be left behind when doing biblical typology, including when analyzing Noah’s righteousness (albeit imperfect and Spirit-wrought), which points to the antitypical Righteous One.
Sixth, more serious yet is the undermining of a bi-covenantal arrangement that is enshrined in the classic covenant theology of the Westminster Divines and elsewhere. This is embodied in the Covenant of works and Covenant of Grace scheme (most clearly denied on p. 224). Consequently, an entailment of this move is the loss of the law-gospel distinction. Furthermore, the book fractures necessary terminological distinctions. Although I suppose it is permissible to change the use of “common” to encompass the fact that all people are under the Adamic covenant as well as the Noahic; however, by this move Niehaus lacks the precision and clarification necessary (pp. 213–221). Common grace is actually the corollary to the common curse (see Gen 3:15ff.). It is meant to provide a stable platform within the world in which the purposes of redemptive history can be enacted. However, since Christ bore the curses of the broken covenant of works and fulfilled all righteousness by providing the obedience that Adam did not, Christians have been delivered from the dire consequences of that broken covenant of works. One can appreciate the efforts to clarify the nature and function of the much neglected Noahic Covenant, especially in respect to the Adamic administration; nevertheless the reader can find more reliable guides than Niehaus’s book to do so (e.g., David VanDrunen, Divine Covenants and Moral Order: A Biblical Theology of Natural Law [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014]).