Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Use of the OT in the NT

A couple of days ago I did a brief post on the issue of the citations of the OT in the NT. These quotes illustrate some of the reasons that this is such a crucial area for a right understanding of biblical theology:

Moises Silva: "If we refuse to pattern our exegesis after that of the apostles, we are in practice denying the authoritative character of their scriptural interpretation--and to do so is to strike at the very heart of the Christian faith."

Greg Beale: "If the contemporary church cannot exegete and do theology like the apostles did, how can it feel corporately at one with them in the theological process?"

Beale: "The use of the OT in the NT is the key to the theological relationship between the testaments.'

In the introduction to his edited volume, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New (unfortunately out of print), Greg Beale raises the million-dollar question: "Did Jesus and the apostles quote the Old Testament texts with exegetical respect for the broader context? This matter is at the heart of the book and is crucial for any study of the Old Testament in the New" (p. 7). This book contains a collection of essays--all previously published--that offer both positive and negative answers to that question.

Part 7 is called "Should the Exegetical Methods of the New Testament Authors Be Reproduced?" Richard Longenecker says no. Beale says yes. I would venture to say that Beale is in the minority on this question (even in the scholarly evangelical world), though I think he is correct--and that his essay alone is worth the price of the book.

I'll try to summarize some of the key points from Dr. Beale's insights.

The starting point for much of the discussion is the idea that Jesus and the apostles--like their Jewish contempories--used non-contextual hermeneutical methods. That is to say, Jesus and the apostles (it is argued) interpreted the OT with a method that served their purpose but took those verses out of context. One of the purposes of Beale's essay is to suggest that such an idea is incorrect, and to propose a better alternative in its place.

Beale cautions against the simplistic categories of "contextual" and "non-contextual." A number of passages could be considered "semi-contextual." Some passages have an ironic or polemical function. Others may be unintentional or unconscious allusion being made to an OT passage.

The heart of Beale's argument is that "Jesus and the apostles had an unparalleled redemptive-historical perspective on the Old Testament in relation to their own situation" (p. 391). "This perspective involved a framework of five hermeneutical and theological presuppositions:

  1. the assumption of corporate solidarity or representation;
  2. that Christ is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and true Israel, the church, in the NT;
  3. that history is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the latter parts (cf. Matt. 11:13-14);
  4. that the age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ;
  5. as a consequence of (3) and (4), the fifth presupposition affirms that the latter parts of biblical history function as the broader context to interpret earlier parts becuase they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors, and one deduction from this premise is that Christ as the centre of history is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises." (p. 392)

This final pressuposition is worth elaborating. While advising against the use of the term sensius plenior (=full meaning), Beale thinks it is possible that the OT authors "did not exhaustively understand the meaning, implications, and possible applications of all that they wrote." The NT therefore expands the meaning of the OT by giving it new implications and applications. Beale adds:

"I believe, however, that it can be demonstrated that this expansion does not contravene the integrity of the earlier texts but rather develops them in a way which is consistent wiht the OT author's understanding of the way in which God interacts with his people--which is the unifying factor between the Testaments. Therefore, the canon interprets the canon; later parts of the canon draw out and explain more clearly the ealrier parts" (p. 393).

The whole article repays careful reading and rereading. Here are some more quotes:

"Changes of application need not mean a disregard for OT context. Given the viability of the presuppositions, although the new applications are technically different, they nevertheless stay within the conceptual bounds of the OT contextual meaning, so that what results often is an extended reference to or application of a principle which is inherent in the OT context" (p. 397).

"I remain convinced that once the hermeneutical and theological presuppositions of the NT writers are considered, there are no clear examples where they have developed a meaning from the OT which is inconsistent or contradictory to some aspect of the original OT intention" (p. 398).

"We are also concerned with divine intention discernible from a retrospective viewpoint, which is fuller than the original human intention but does not contradict its contextual meaning" (p. 400).

"If we are concede that God is also the author of OT Scripture, then we are not concerned only with discerning the intention of the human author but also with the ultimate divine intent of what was written in the OT, which could we transcend that of the immediate consciousness of the writer" (p. 401).

"The canonical extension of the context of a passage being exegeted does not by itself transform the exegetical procedure into a non-exegetical one. Put another way, the extension of the data base being exegeted does not mean we are no longer exegeting but only that we are doing so with a larger block of material" (p. 401).

"We today cannot reproduce the inspired certainty of our typological interpretations as either the OT or NT writers could, but the consistent use of such a method by biblical authors throughout hundreds of years of sacred history suggests strongly that it is a viable method for all saints to employ today" (p. 402).

Hopefully sooner rather than later we will see the publication of a new major reference work: A Commentary on the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, edited by D.A. Carson and G.K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, forthcoming).

Craig Blomberg, in an article summarizing some of his contribution to this volume, writes: "Employing Richard Hays's categories of quotation, allusion, and echo, [the Beale-Carson book] is designed to be a fairly comprehensive analysis of the meaning of each major NT reference to the Old and, for full-fledged quotations, an assessment of the OT passage in its original context, its pre-Christian Jewish history of interpretation, the text-form used by the NT writer, and a categorization of the hermeneutic employed in its NT context."

There will be eleven contributing authors, and will be approximately 1,100 pages.

I don't have a list of all the contributors, but here are some of them. (If you know of more, feel free to send me a note and I'll update this list.)
  • Craig Blomberg on Matthew
  • Ekhard Schnabel and David Pao on Luke
  • Andreas Kostenberger on John
  • I. Howard Marshall on Acts
  • Brian Rosner on 1 Corinthians
  • Moises Silva on Galatians
  • Frank Thielman on Ephesians
  • G.K. Beale on Colossians
  • G.K. Beale and Sean McDonough on Revelation
Beale is also slated to write a NT Theology (also to be published by Baker). You can purchase the audio lectures or view the syllabus for Beale's NT Theology course recorded at Gordon-Conwell.