New Testament

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:

  1. Identify the OT reference. Is it a quotation or allusion? If an allusion it must fit the criteria mentioned earlier.
  2. Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
  3. Analyze the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially interpreting the paragraph in which the quotation or allusion occurs.
  4. 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.
  5. Compare the texts: NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo)
  6. Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT.
  7. Analyze the author’s interpretive use of the OT.
  8. Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
  9. 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:

  1. There is an apparent assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.
  2. 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.
  3. History is unified as a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.
  4. The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ.
  5. 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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Do historical matters matter to faith? This is an intriguing question. Though the answer may seem obvious to many it is not so to others. To many evangelical Christians, Scripture, among many things, is an historical book that gives us a window into a time gone by in world history. There are events, places and people it gives an account of that only it gives us an account of. To those would answer no to the beginning question these historical discrepancies leave them questioning the historical accuracy of the text and sometimes abandoning it all together. To those who would answer yes, they either have to say Scripture is plain wrong or, as a historically reliable witness to these things, it is the only record we have of them and can be trusted as much as any other historical text as a single witness to the past. What are Bible believing Christians to make of this?

For decades, this discussion has been raging but it seems to have picked up more steam more recently with the work, among others, of Kenton Sparks and his book God’s Word in Human Words. In short, Sparks calls into question the inerrancy of Scripture in regards to its historical reliability. To Sparks, Scripture is no less authoritative in its theological assertions and worldview even if the historical references it makes are tied to those theological assertions. To many evangelical Christians who hold to the traditional understanding of Scriptures authority and inerrancy this is problematic.

In an effort to respond to Sparks work, and that of others, James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary have edited a new book titled Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. This is an academic work that addresses the issues the authors see in the works of Kenton Sparks, Peter Enns, Donald McKim and others in regards to their view of inerrancy and subsequently their interwoven view of the historicity of Scripture.

To the contributors of this book their basic assessment is this:

Spark’s proposal and similar proposals have been frequently weighed and found wanting in the history of the Christian churches. Not only does his viewpoint depart from a traditional Christian understanding of Scripture’s truthfulness, but it likewise does not accord with Scripture’s self-attestation about its truthfulness or trustworthiness. (p. 17)

This is no small accusation but their desire to respond to and interact with Sparks and others shows the seriousness of the issue at hand when questioning the Bible’s accuracy when it comes to historical matters.

The book is broken into four major sections: Part One deals with biblical, systematic and historical considerations, Part Two deals with the Old Testament and historicity, Part Three deals with the New Testament and historicity and Part Four deals with the Old Testament and archeology.

Part One lays the foundation for ones understanding of the relationship between history and Scriptures account of it within the narrative. In the first chapter Thomas Mccall deals with the issue of knowledge as it relates to history. How can we know what happened in the past, how sure can we be that we are right in our knowledge of it and how does this effect or reliance of Scriptures attestation of the past? To be sure, these are important questions. Also related to the discussion is the place of critical biblical scholarship (CBS). CBS has traditionally seen itself and its method as authoritative and binding on all historians and historiography. Following C. Stephen Evans, McCall essentially concludes that while CBS provides some helpful guidelines for accurate historical method, they are just that – helpful guidelines that are not authoritatively binding on the method (p. 45-46).

In the second chapter Graham Cole addresses the issue we are faced if we have a “historyless systematic theology.” “Sensitivity to the historical dimension of Scripture is not an option. It is inescapable if justice is to be done to the Bible’s own content” (p. 57). If Christians are to rightly regard Scripture as an interpretation of history than surely, its accuracy on historical events matters to faith and its subsequent theology. Cole later argues that the actual happenings of history matter for systematic theology for three reasons: it is of valuable source for ancient cultural expressions such as weights and measurements, it is of value as a witness to God’s deeds in the past such as the Exodus and it is of greatest value is God’s breathed out Word as stated in 2 Tim. 3:14-17 (p. 66).

Perhaps the most accessible and helpful chapters in the Part One, and the book, are Mark Thompson’s chapter on the theological account of biblical inerrancy and James Hoffmeier’s chapter on the historicity of the Exodus as essential for theology. These two chapters alone are worth the book. Thompson gives five theological pillars of the doctrine of inerrancy which I have spelled out in an earlier post. As I have also discussed more fully in an earlier post, Hoffmeier uses the Exodus as a test case to show why it is necessary for theology and Christianity that the historical events recorded in Scripture actually took place.

Parts two and three address a number of historical accounts in Scripture in both testaments in order to show both why their historicity is a necessary part of the theological foundation for the text and that in fact the events, people and places recorded in the text can be assuredly trusted to have actually existed in the past. Many of these chapters take up the issues presented in various forms of critical reflections of the Biblical text such as form and literary criticism.

Part four deals with archeology and the Old Testament. The authors here show the relationship with and the role that archeology has in supporting the historicity of the Bible. John Monson’s chapter on the conquest of Canaan is a breath of fresh air as he removes the dirt and fog that CBS has tried to put on our Biblical reading glasses. Monson rightly contends, as do a number of the other contributors, that it is wrong to conclude that the absence of archeological evidence is evidence against something. There is more to providing reliable support for an event than archeological evidence. “Cumulative evidence that yields strong possibilities in favor of the biblical text is far more convincing than nonevidence (p. 456).

Do Historical Matter Matter to Faith? is evidence that the traditional view of the authority, reliability and inerrancy of Scripture is not without merit, evidence or a strong scholarly case. This is a scholarly and academic work that proves its case well. I recommend this book to every biblical student, pastor and teacher. The only drawback to the book is its lack of accessibility to the lay audience. Chapters like eight which deals with Word Distribution as an Indicator of Authorial Intention: A Study of Genesis 1:1-2:3 will be lost by even many Bible students and pastors unless they have a very good grasp of Hebrew and textual analysis.

Do historical matters matter to faith? The answer to this question is a water shed issue with very divergent conclusions. The contributors of the book believe they do for a number of reasons not the least of which is the trustworthiness of Scripture and God Himself who has spoken through it to us. The character of God, our relationship to Him and our theology depend, in part, on the historical accuracy and reliability of Scripture.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Crossway and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The words and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Biblical theology is one of my favorite areas of study. G. K. Beale is one of the finest biblical theologians. Among his many solid works Beale’s latest book A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Transformation of the Old Testament in the New will be a most welcome addition to the ever growing field of New Testament biblical theology.

Here is the publishers description of the book:

This comprehensive exposition is the first major New Testament biblical theology to appear in English in fifty years. G. K. Beale, coeditor of the award-winning Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, examines how the New Testament storyline relates to and develops the Old Testament storyline. Beale argues that every major concept of the New Testament is a development of a concept from the Old and is to be understood as a facet of the inauguration of the latter-day new creation and kingdom. Offering extensive interaction between the two testaments, this volume helps readers see the unifying conceptual threads of the Old Testament and how those threads are woven together in Christ. This major work by a leading New Testament scholar will be valued by students of the New Testament and pastors alike.