Bound for the Promised Land: The land promise in God’s redemptive plan (Oren Martin)

Oren R. Martin. Bound for the Promised Land: The land promise in God’s redemptive plan. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 208 pp. $25.00.

Bound for the Promised LandBound for the Promised Land, the latest volume in IVP Academic’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series under the editorship of D. A. Carson, is a substantial revision of Dr. Oren Martin’s doctoral dissertation completed in 2013 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under Dr. Bruce Ware. The aim of the study is “to demonstrate that the land promised to Abraham advances the place of kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land – prepared for all God’s people throughout history – that will come as a result of the person and work of Christ. In other words, the land and its blessings find their fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth won by Christ” (17).

Martin begins in Chapter 2 with providing a biblical-theological framework for understanding the land promise in redemptive history. In this framework, kingdom is key; “fundamental to the story line of Scripture is the notion that God, the Creator and King of the cosmos, has a people who live under his reign” (31). Chapters 3-6 examine the unfolding of the land promise across the Old Testament. Chapter 3 focuses on Genesis and argues first of all that the first 11 chapters are more than just a prologue to the story of Abraham and Israel, but is instead “crucial for the development of a biblical theology, for Abram is God’s response to a problem that emerges from Adam” (61). Secondly, Martin demonstrates through Genesis 12-50 that the land promise is both conditional and unconditional, both national and international, and both temporal and eternal. Chapter 4 traces the theme of land throughout Exodus and Deuteronomy and highlights the anticipation of the people of Israel for acquiring the Promised Land. By the end of the Pentateuch, God’s people are poised to enter. Chapter 5 examines the partial fulfillment of the land promise from Joshua – Kings. In Chapter 6, Martin investigates the loss of land through exile and the eschatological hope of the Prophets.

[T]he promise of restoration goes far beyond what was previously experienced and is described in astonishing realities, for it includes not only the nation of Israel but also the nations, and not only the boundaries of the promised land but also the entire earth. The universality stressed in the latter prophets revives the consciousness of the worldwide significance of the Abrahamic promises.

(Martin 96)

Moving on to the New Testament, Chapter 7 covers the Gospels, focusing mainly on Matthew. Martin points out the interesting and significant connections between Jesus and the story of Israel as seen through the opening “βίβλος γενέσεως” and the subsequent genealogy. In relation to the land promise, Martin notes that the fulfilment of the Abrahamic and Davidic promises as well as the promised return to exile must include land (122). He spends some time on the first connection with land in Matthew (2:15), the first appearance of ‘land’ in Matthew (5:5), the fulfilment in Jesus of the promise of rest in Matthew 11:28-30, and the connection between the mandate of Matthew 28:18-20 and the original creation mandate. Roughly two-and-a-half pages are devoted to the Gospel of John, centering on 15:1-6.

Chapter 8 addresses the inaugurated fulfillment of the land promise in the epistles, focusing on Romans 4:13, Hebrews 3:7-4:13 and 11:8-22, and the Petrine epistles. In regards to Paul and the land promise, Martin notes the importance of the OT concept of inheritance as well as its connection to sonship, and how Paul develops the motif and points to its eschatological fulfilment in a new creation. Concerning Hebrews 11:8-22, Martin shows that it firstly “underscores the relationship between the Abrahamic promises and the promised inheritance. Secondly, this passage advances the argument that the promised inheritance was not finally fulfilled in the land of Canaan, but rather in the city of God, the heavenly homeland, greeted from afar” (146). Finally, Martin shows how Peter also deals with the concept of inheritance against the backdrop of its OT significance. Chapter 9 briefly covers how Revelation 21-22 “interprets the future fulfillment of the prophets, and the entire Old Testament, by collapsing temple, city, and land into one paradisal end-time picture portraying the final reality of God’s covenant presence with his people” (154). A concluding chapter presents some theological reflections on the study, applying the findings to eschatology and evaluating how the land promise is interpreted and fulfilled in dispensationalism and covenant theology. Ultimately, Martin briefly argues for a via media between how the two theological systems interpret the fulfillment of the land promise

Bound for the Promised Land is an excellent introduction to a whole-Bible biblical theology of the land promise. Because this is somewhat of a lacuna in the literature, Martin’s volume may very well become the go-to introductory survey of the topic. Beyond those with specific interest in this topic, for the typical person in the pew Bound for the Promised Land has tremendous value in that it would help one read the Bible (especially the OT) better. This is a book I can see myself recommending often to newer Christians or those who haven’t read widely in biblical theology or hermeneutics. The flip side is that for the more advanced Christian, especially those somewhat well-read in biblical theology, this book is a bit elementary. If you’ve read the likes of Dempster, Beale, Gentry & Wellum, etc., you likely won’t derive much new insights from this book. There were many places where I wished Martin would have gone deeper, but I also recognized that he cannot be faulted for the lack of depth because of the externally-imposed length constraints. Writing a whole-Bible biblical theology in 171 pages on any topic would be extremely difficult and by nature has to be sweeping and somewhat superficial. I assume that Martin’s dissertation was intentionally revised to be very accessible; my hope for those of us who wanted a bit more from Bound for the Promised Land is that Martin’s full dissertation might be published, without the editing for length and accessibility.

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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3 Comments

  1. You are far too kind to this book Jennifer. I found it a lackluster treatment o the subject, which read more like a MA thesis than a dissertation. I also found the lack of citation to secondary literature outside of evangelical scholarship to be rather disappointing. It felt more like a fireside chat with friends than it did a piece of serious scholarship.

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    • I definitely agree that it reads more like an MA thesis than a dissertation. Like I conveyed in my concluding paragraph, I’m assuming that the original dissertation is much deeper and more advanced than the form we have in this volume. Because the NSBT is not an academic series I doubt any dissertation could enter at its original level.

      That being said, to me it does seem like even within this series targeted at a nonspecialist audience, there is a big range in not just quality of scholarship but also accessibility. Some volumes, like Bound for the Promised land, are excellent for the beginning Christian but a bit lackluster, as you say, for those of us more advanced. Others, like Beale’s, are challenging for the uninitiated but riveting for the rest of us. I do find the range in the series surprising, so when I don’t recognize the name on the cover I really have no idea what to expect.

      I can understand your disappointment in lack of citation outside of evangelical scholarship, but this isn’t something I expect from volumes in this series, and so I wasn’t disappointed. From what I’ve read, the books in this series typically stay in that circle, right? Of course there are exceptions, but in general it seems to me that the volumes in this series are intended more to be fireside chats than serious scholarship…

      At the end of the day, because this is not an academic series but rather is aimed at a more popular level audience, when I’m personally dissatisfied with a volume I try to evaluate it from the perspective of the target audience. I do think this is a great book for the average person in the pew who hasn’t really studied biblical theology. However, I personally share your negative sentiments.

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