When it comes to the study of hermeneutics the New Testament use of the Old Testament is one of the most controversial areas. Central to the swath of differing interpretations is the idea of continuity and discontinuity between the testaments and the definition, nature and use of typology and allusions.
There is perhaps no one else on the contemporary scene who is known for their studies on the NT use of the OT than G.K. Beale. In 2007 Beale and D.A. Carson released a co-edited book Commentary on the New Testament us of the Old Testament. This book has no doubt set an example on how to understand this important topic. Along these lines, Baker published Beale’s new book A New Testament Biblical Theology. In this book readers saw a stellar defense of what is essentially an amillennial interpretation of the NT. Agree with it or not, Beale provides a compelling model and case for how the NT uses and interprets the OT and how that should inform our understanding of the OT’s intent. Among other things, the primary basis for Beale’s understanding of the NT’s use of the OT is that there is a high degree of continuity between the testaments and that typology and allusions run rampant throughout the NT text. While Beale does tip his hat to some of the hermeneutical pillars of his understanding of the NT use of the OT in the introduction to this book, for those who have read or are reading this work and would like a more detailed description of the criteria by which he makes the hermeneutical decisions he does the wait is over.
Baker has now published Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. While some would have rather seen a more exhaustive treatment of the subject, Beale is clear that “the purpose of this handbook is to provide a short guide to the use of the OT citations and allusions in the NT.” (p. xvii) As a handbook, as opposed to a more detailed study, Beale is more general in his assessments of thoughts and a lot of the content is taken up with surveying the various views within the field of NT use of the OT. It is the guidelines laid out in this book that served as the basis by which all the contributors to the Commentary on the NT use of the OT followed.
Fundamental Issues in Interpreting the NT use of the OT
For Beale, there are two main and foundational issues that need to be brought to the fore in order to effectively understand how the NT uses the OT. First there is the issue of continuity between the testaments. Central to this issue is deciding “whether the NT interprets the Old in line with the original OT meaning.” (p. 1) Even a cursory reading of just the OT quotations in the NT brings the attentive reader to ask how did Paul or the others authors get such and such conclusion from that OT passage? This is a question everyone’s method must answer. After surveying various answers to this question Beale concludes “that NT authors display varying degrees of awareness of literary contexts, as well as perhaps historical contexts, although the former is predominant.” (p. 12)
The second foundational issue is that of typology. Defining typology is of great importance because it can determine what and how much of the NT is typological. Beale defines typology as the following:
The study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in their meaning.” (p. 14)
This definition is long but helpful as it rightly includes several elements: analogical correspondence, historicity, a pointing-forwardness/foreshadowing, escalation and retrospection (p. 14). Lest some think that typology cannot be listed under the umbrella of exegesis since it seems to fall out of the parameters of authorial intent Beale says the following:
Typology can be called contextual exegesis within the framework of the canon since it primarily involves the interpretation and elucidation of the meaning of earlier parts of Scripture by later parts…..the expansion of the database being interpreted does not mean that we are no longer interpreting but only that we are doing so with a larger block of material. (p. 25)
For some this may be stretching it in order to make ones conclusions about the text fit just so they can be called “exegetical”. Anyone who has red his NT biblical theology will feel that there a places where Beale has crossed the line with his broad use of typology and Beale is reasonable to recognize that not everyone will go the extra mile with him in a number of passages. However, this should not cause the reader to toss his definition out the door.
Along these same lines, which the discussion of quotations is important, what is perhaps more germane to the discussion of typology is the definition of an allusion. It is here again that various interpreters and theologians widely disagree. While a simple definition of an allusion maybe that of “a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage,” this needs more explanation (p. 31). Beale expands this a bit when he says, “The telltale key to discerning an allusion is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording , syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure.” (p. 31) For Beale, there is not necessarily a minimum word count or other similar type criteria for identifying something as an allusion. In fact, he goes so far as to say that “it remains possible that fewer than three words or even an idea may be an allusion.” (p. 31) This will no doubt strike some readers as odd and wonder then how can anything not be termed an allusion so long as a connection can be made. To be fair, Beale is not setting up a definition so he or others can get away with exegetical abuse just to see an allusion anywhere they want. While readers will find a number of his allusional finds to be stretching it, Beale does the hard work of exegesis and is persuasive nonetheless.
The Nine Step Process to Interpreting the NT use of the OT
With foundational matters and definitions take care of, Beale spends the second shortest chapter in the book outlining his nine step process for interpreting the NT use of the OT. In regards to these steps Beale notes, “The procedures discussed here suggest different angels from which we can look at a passage. When all these approaches are put together, they will provide a cumulatively better understanding of the way the NT interprets the OT.” (p. 42) The steps are as follows:
- Identify the OT reference. Is it a quotation or allusion? If an allusion it must fit the criteria mentioned earlier.
- Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
- Analyze the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially interpreting the paragraph in which the quotation or allusion occurs.
- Survey the use of the OT text in early and late Judaism that might be of relevance to the NT appropriation of the OT text.
- Compare the texts: NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo)
- Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT.
- Analyze the author’s interpretive use of the OT.
- Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
- Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT.
The whole of chapter three fleshes out these nine steps more fully. While there may be debate as to what counts as an allusion I cannot see how any camp would have much grounds for rejecting any of these steps. These would be steps used by all sides of the debates. Following this, chapter four is spent discussing the twelve primary ways in which the NT uses the OT. Once a passage, verse, phrase, word or concept is identified as an allusion then it helps to be able to categorize what use the allusion fits into. Various examples are given for each category. For the fourth and fifth steps Beale deals with these at length in chapter six. There is a multitude of works listed and the sheer sight of them is daunting making one wonder if they can ever complete the task without owning or having access to them. In chapter seven Beale uses Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7 as a case study in showing these steps work.
Tucked in the smallest chapter in the book and briefly touched on in chapter three (p. 53), chapter five addresses what he believes to be the five hermeneutical and theological presuppositions of the NT writers:
- There is an apparent assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.
- In light of corporate solidarity or representation, Christ as the Messiah is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel – the church – in the NT.
- History is unified as a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.
- The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ.
- As a consequence of the preceding presuppositions, it follows that the later parts of biblical history function as the broader context for interpreting earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author which inspires the various human authors. One deduction from this premise if that Christ is the goal toward which the OT pointed and is the end-time center of redemptive history, which is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises.
Even if everyone could agree on Beale’s nine steps mentioned above and the definition of typology and an allusion, it is here where readers of one theological persuasion or another will find great disagreement. No doubt, Beale’s theological bent plays a clear role in seeing these as theological and hermeneutical presuppositions. Some readers will use this list to toss his whole method but I think that would be unwise. There is still much to be gleaned from Beale’s approach to the subject.
As a guide book the Handbook on the NT use of the OT will serve as a helpful tool for this field of study and I expect it to be used in school classrooms of varying theological persuasions. Despite the theological differences some readers will have with Beale there is much take away from Beale’s methodology and proposed steps of interpreting the NT use of the OT. Despite differences, Beale must be respected for his desire to rightly understand and interpret Scripture’s intended meaning. He has a high view of the text and the task of exegesis. This is a book that should be broadly read and will provide exegetes of all levels with many things to think about.
NOTE: I received this book for free from Baker Academic in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the words and thoughts expressed are my own.
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