The Promise and the Blessing: A Historical Survey of the Old and New Testaments

By Michael A. Harbin
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (2005). 681 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
19.1 (Spring 2008) : 123-124

The purpose of The Promise and the Blessing is to survey the whole Bible as a unit. The book is designed “to provide a general framework, showing how pieces [of the Bible] fit together. This framework is derived from the Bible itself and developed through a historical perspective” (23). The author, Michael Harbin, is chair of the biblical studies, Christian education, and philosophy departments at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. The volume is based on his more than thirty years of teaching the Bible in two courses, Old Testament survey followed by New Testament survey. The result is this textbook that the author envisions will be used in either a one-semester or two-semester course(s) in Bible survey (24).

His work has a definite textbook approach in its structure and content. An introduction and twenty eight-chapters have the same structure. Each begins with a page that includes an overview and study goals for the material that follows. The material itself is then presented on two different levels. The text is written so that the reader can follow the flow of the general argument. The text is amplified in sidebars in the chapters and endnotes at the back of the book (609-51) that explain points in the text in more detail, evaluate alternate views, and/or direct the reader to other sources for further information. Review questions on the text material conclude the introduction and every chapter. Throughout the book, the author includes numerous visuals, including pictures, twenty-three maps, and fifteen charts. A helpful six-page glossary of significant terms (595-600), a bibliography detailing works the author has found valuable in writing this book or helpful in proving a different perspective (601-6), and an index of people and topics in the text (653-81) complete the volume. Since the author takes a historical approach in his presentation, in his introduction he defends the traditional view that accepts the biblical documents against the modern view which approaches the biblical documents as suspect at best (27-40). Part One, entitled “The Promise,” surveys the OT in sixteen chapters (41-346). Part Two, “The Blessing,” surveys the NT in twelve chapters (347-593).

Harbin’s historical approach, developing the Bible according to its chronological sequence, puts a spotlight on his interpretation of biblical history. This reviewer was encouraged with the author’s conclusions, especially since this textbook is directed to the beginning Bible student. The historical creation, fall, and global flood are affirmed. The early date for the birth of Abraham in 2166 B.C. (90), based upon the date of Exodus around 1446 B.C. (135-38) is argued for by the writer. The Bible’s account of the Conquest, Judges, Monarchy, Exile, and Return is also affirmed as historically accurate. The author equally supports the historical veracity of the NT. Theologically, Harbin views the OT as preparatory, declaring the “promise” of the Messiah upon which the NT bases its claim concerning the person of Jesus (347) and the resulting “blessing.” Though not overt, a premillennial perspective underlies the biblical presentation.

In a volume that has so many positives, the reader needs to be aware of some weaknesses. First, with an historical approach, a time-line, either developed in parts throughout the text or as a full-scale chart in an appendix, would have been helpful for the beginning reader. Second, the literary structure of most of the biblical books is ignored. For example, the content of the four Gospels is blended together into a description of the life of Christ. The unique literary, theological development of each Gospel is overlooked. Third, because the endnotes many times amplify and clarify what is written in the main body of the text, it would be more helpful to have them on the same page as the material to which they pertain.

Overall, Promise and Blessing is a valuable survey of the Bible for the beginning student. It is a good introduction to a basic biblical theology with a good discussion of historical issues. It can be read along with a resource like the introductions to the biblical books in The MacArthur Study Bible, which orient the student to the literary structure of the individual books. Along with this help on the literary structure, Promise and Blessing provides an adequate foundation for further biblical study.