If you have ever read from the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D.A. Carson and published by IVP Academic, you know that it is a major blessing to the Church for providing us rich explorations into what the Bible truly has to say, cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation. That is the point of biblical theology, after all; to help us gain a wider lens, so that when our focus on a particular book or passage narrows, we can look deeper into it. But is this the only path for biblical theology to travel? As Shead remarks:
“It is all too easy for preachers school in biblical theology to move from an Old Testament passage to the grand story of redemption and on to Christ, without giving enough time to reflecting on the character of God and, dare I say, the character of Christ, as presented in the passage in its own right.” (21)
Shead’s task in his volume of this series is to try the opposite course: the basis of his study stays anchored in Jeremiah, with the goal of showing that a deeper understanding of Jeremiah will actually positively help a wider reading of Scripture. “My modest goal,” Shead comments, “is to suggest some ways in which a doctrine of the word of God from the book of Jeremiah can contribute to ongoing conversations between biblical studies and dogmatic theology on the subject.” (40)
Coming off of my own personal study through Jeremiah, I found that this book immensely helpful. Anyone who seeks to understand Jeremiah as a theological book and a primary resource for the doctrine of the word of God cannot miss this volume. Shead orders his entire work around two key ideas: “the words of Jeremiah, and the word of God that came to him.” (42) Never before had I seen just how prevalent the theme of the word of God was to this particular book in Scripture. Shead’s arguments are extremely compelling. There is a distinction between the “word” and the “words.” This distinction is not only critical to understanding Jeremiah, but to understanding Scripture.
After making these introductory arguments in Chapter 1, Shead structures the book of Jeremiah around this theme. In Chapter 3, Shead compellingly talks about how this word of God interacts with the speaker, Jeremiah, in the book. Interestingly, Shead talks about the different ways in which we see God’s words, not Jeremiah’s words, through the embedding of speech “telescoping,” and other techniques. Not only does God’s Word affect the speaker, but also the hearer, the subject of Chapter 4. The act of hearing in Jeremiah is more frequent than in any other Old Testament book (147), each hearer with the responsibilities of “recognition” and “reception” of God’s Word. In Chapters 5-6, Shead presents the power and permanence of God’s word in the prophet’s writings. Finally, in Chapter 7, Shead compiles what we’ve discussed to present a robust doctrine of the Word of God based on Jeremiah, with the help of Karl Barth.
Whether you have spent tons of time pouring over the words of Jeremiah or you’ve never taken the time to read the book, accompanying your Jeremianic studies with Shead’s dense and brilliant volume will prove extremely fruitful. This is one of the better NSBT volumes I have read to date. Its laser-sharp focus has helped me see, deeply, the point of Jeremiah, but also how Jeremiah can inform and shape what I know about the Pentateuch, the other Prophets, the Gospels, and so on. I’m grateful to Shead for his excellent work on this volume and would highly commend it to your study.