Two Testaments, One Story
About a decade ago, Wheaton College Graduate School professor Greg Beale had the idea to develop a one-volume commentary that would address every instance a New Testament writer quotes or alludes to the Old Testament. He sought the help of D. A. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and together they began soliciting the contributions of an all-star cast of biblical experts. Finally, in late 2007, they published the hefty Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker, $54.99, 1,152 pp.). CT editor-at-large Collin Hansen spoke with Beale and Carson to learn how this new volume will help Christians understand the Bible as one progressively unfolding story of redemption.
What might surprise readers about how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament?
Beale: It's evident in our book that the New Testament writers use the Old Testament with the context of the Old Testament in mind. That's a real debate between evangelicals and non-evangelicals, but it's also an in-house debate. Some evangelicals would say Jesus and the apostles preached the right Old Testament doctrine but from the wrong Old Testament texts. They believe that what the New Testament writers wrote was inspired, but their interpretative method was not inspired, that it was just as wild and crazy as the Jewish method at the time. Our book proceeds on the presupposition that of course their conclusions are inspired. But we also show that Jesus was not a wild and crazy Jewish interpreter like those at Qumran or elsewhere, but he interpreted the Old Testament in a very viable way.
If you want a good example of someone who would disagree with our method, there's a recent book by Peter Enns called Inspiration and Incarnation. In one of the concluding chapters, he contends that Jesus and the apostles preached the right doctrine from the wrong texts and that we should do the same. I have written a lengthy review of that chapter in the periodical Themelios. Enns responded, and then I wrote a surrejoinder just on this very issue.
Where does the New Testament make things difficult for modern readers in its use of the Old Testament?
Beale: Matthew has a number of them. For example, in Matthew 2:15 it says, "And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" That's from Hosea 11:1. The problem is, when you go back to Hosea 11:1, it's not a prophecy. It's just a description of Israel coming out of Egypt hundreds of years earlier. If a student were asked on test, "Is Hosea 11:1 a prophetic statement?" many teachers would give them an F if they said yes. You can read Craig Blomberg's chapter on Matthew to learn more. Basically this falls into a category called typology, where the events of the Old Testament are seen as prefiguring events on a grander scale in the New Testament. For example, John 19 says Jesus is the greater Passover Lamb. Part of the presupposition of the Old Testament and New Testament writers is that there are two modes of prophecy, not just direct verbal prophecy but also what one might call "patterns of history" that point forward. All of a sudden it makes sense that the past exodus referenced in Hosea 11:1 is seen as an event prefiguring a greater exodus, Jesus coming out of Egypt.
I think a number of the contributors would say the more Hebrew exegesis you do in the Old Testament, the clearer the use is in the New Testament. The problem is, some New Testament scholars don't have much background in the Hebrew Old Testament. That's immediately a problem. There's such specialization in all fields today.