Baker Academic kindly provided me with a copy of Greg Beale’s recent Handbook of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. Beale is well-known for his studies of how the OT is used in the NT. This book provides the method behind the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament which he edited with D.A. Carson (see also his A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New). Consistent with the title, the book functions more as a primer to the issues than a technical assessment.
Chapter 1 addresses several current debates about the use of the OT in the NT. Beale does not present full argumentation for his views, but rather introduces a topic and then states his position. He is particularly concerned to demonstrate that the NT authors read the OT within its context (which eventually is clarified to be the literary context). He also spends some time discussing ‘typology’.
Chapter 2 deals with how to identify quotations and allusions. Beale notes briefly Richard Hay’s method of identifying allusions and the critiques offered by Stanley Porter. In the second half of the chapter Beale highlights key sources to help with identifying allusions (e.g., NA27, commentaries).
Chapter 3 ‘is the core of the book’ (p.41). Beale presents nine steps for assessing how the OT is used in the NT (pp.42–43) which are then explained in the chapter:
- Identify the OT reference. Is it a quotation or allusion? If it is an allusion, then there must be validation that it is an allusion, judging by the criteria discussed in the preceding chapter.
- Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
- Analyse the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially thoroughly 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 (including their textual variants): NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Phiilo). Underline or color-code the various differences.
- Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT. (Which texts does the author rely on, or is the author making his own rendering, and how does this bear on the interpretation of the OT text?)
- Analyze the author’s interpretative (hermeneutical) use of the OT.
- Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
- Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT.
Although considered the core of the book, I’m somewhat disappointed with this chapter. First, I’m struggling to see what is different or profound about this approach than just teaching someone to be a good reader. Second, I’m wary of ‘step’ approaches. They give the impression that if someone simply does each step then he will arrive at the right interpretation. I realise that Beale will be aware of this, but students often think that if they simply follow the steps they will get things right and thus get a good grade. They are shocked when I say back, ‘Well yes you followed the steps, but you didn’t realise that there is more to it than just plugging in the right material’. Anyway, I think the approach offered by Beale is good, but it could use some slight refinement.
Chapters 4–6 take up specific steps from Beale’s nine-step method. Chapter 4 develops step 7 by categorising the primary ways that the NT uses the OT. Although Beale views chapter 3 as the core, primarily because it outlines a method, I found this chapter to be more interesting and potentially useful. Beale provides some 12 main ways in which the NT author’s interpret the OT, such as ‘direct fulfillment’; ‘indirect fulfillment of OT typological prophecy’; ‘symbolic’; ‘ironic’. He is careful not to make every use of the OT fit into one of the categories as he acknowledges both that he is offering only key categories and that there is overlap. Although I doubt that any nomenclature will ever be universally adopted, his attempt here at least provides a focal point around which scholars could work even if someone opts for a different label.
Chapter 5 develops briefly step 8. Beale identifies five basic presuppositions at work for the NT authors (pp.96–97):
- There is the apparent assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.
- In the light of corporate solidarity or representation, Christ as the Messiah is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel—Church—in the NT.
- History is unified by 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 who inspires the various human authors. One deduction form this premise is that Christ is the goal toward which the OT pointed and is the end-time center of redemptive history, which is the key for interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises.
Chapter 6, which has the title ‘Relevance of the Jewish Backgrounds for the Study of the Old Testament in the New: A Survey of the Sources’, expands on step 4. This chapter doesn’t actually describe the relevance of the contemporary sources. Rather, it is an (annotated) bibliography of works about the primary sources: translations, introductions, etc. He gives three points of guidance for locating Jewish texts that refer to Old Testament texts quoted in the New (pp.104-08):
- Consult background commentaries on key NT passages
- Consult major New Testament commentaries
- Consult primary sources in Jewish literature by utilizing topical and especially Scripture indexes of these sources in English translation
Chapter 7 is a case study of the use of Isaiah 22.22 in Revelation 3.7.
The volume ends with a ‘Select Bibliography on the New Testament Use of the Old’. The bibliography is somewhat dated and lacks direction at a number of points (e.g. General Epistles).
In general, I think this book can be helpful for students, but a few cautions would be in order. In addition to what I said about chapter 3, I would also add two other points. First, I was disappointed in the way that Beale handled the Jewish literature. Although Chapter 6 has the title ‘Relevance of the Jewish Backgrounds …’ Beale seems to keep the Jewish literature at some distance. He doesn’t actually show a student why this literature matters. I think that more careful attention to how the contemporary Jewish authors read the OT will help us better understand the NT authors as engaging in interpretative debates about the text. At times we will see that their readings match one segment of Judaism and disagree with other segments. Also, more careful attention to the Jewish literature will help us see where the presuppositions of the NT authors (particularly with regard to their understanding of Jesus as the Christ) have reshaped the way they read a text.
Second, I would have liked to see Beale address in more depth some of the problem texts like Rom 10.6–8 or Christ as the rock in 1 Cor 10.4. Hebrews is also poorly represented in the book which is surprising given the way in which scripture drives the argument. I realise that the volume is a handbook and cannot address every appearance of the OT in the NT, but problem passages of these kind are the ones that students do ask about.