Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament -- Book Review

It has been said that those who can’t, teach.  I wonder if the opposite is true, even in a small way; that those who can, can’t teach (teach well?).  I am a huge fan of G. K. Beale for 2 reasons: he is a biblical theologian par excellence & his understanding and exegesis of the NT use of the OT is second to none.  However, in his recently published Handbook on the NT use of the OT, I felt that it was a bit wanting in this subject area.  Don’t get me wrong, for what it is (a broad yet brief introduction to the subject), it is good.  But I think Beale’s forte is more about doing than explaining his method for doing (the latter being the topic of this book). 

My research inquiries of late have been on this subject (mainly how salt and light were OT symbols evoked by Jesus  in Matt. 5:13-16 and the significance of the Shema in James 2:19; both need more work before I consider them “publishable”).  So I had high hopes for this book.  And that could be the cause for my less than positive review here. 

The most beneficial part of this book is that it lays out Beale’s method to study the NT’s use of the OT.  If there was a person’s exegetical methodology to emulate, it would be Beale’s.  He raises questions that interpreters need to be asking themselves when dealing with this part of exegesis and theology.  He unfolds a 9 step process for examination.  But some of these steps were either very obvious (step #1 and identifying the quotation or allusion), or could have used more clarification (step #9 and the rhetorical use of the OT), or overlapped with other steps (Steps #5 & #6; comparing the texts in the LXX, DSS, MT, OG, and Jewish sources with analyzing the author’s textual use of the OT or Steps #6 & #7; comparing the author’s interpretive/hermeneutical use with his theological use).

2 very helpful areas of Beale’s Handbook are his emphasis on 2nd temple Literature (something I have been critical of in the past but now see the importance of such a study) wherein he devotes an entire chapter to this subject (though parts were extremely wearisome to read through since there was a lot of bibliographic info) and his list with examples of multiple ways the NT uses the OT.  However this section was much too brief to really illustrate the various ways and give the reader a high level of clarity.  And even then, there was overlap between categories (something Beale himself admitted) which proved to be somewhat unhelpful.

The intended audience is certainly for students being introduced to this important subject.  As Beale stated in the preface, “The purpose of this book is to provide pastors, students, and other serious readers of Scripture with a how-to approach for interpreting the use of the OT in the NT.”  So it is definitely a 101.  However, it does cite bibliographic info that will help in the research process.  Therefore, it does have some “replay” value in that regard.

Perhaps its biggest fault in my estimation is that it was not well written.  I have to be careful here because I’m not Bill Shakespeare by any stretch.  But as I said above, I believe Beale’s strong suite is to do rather than to teach method.  There were times where the book felt tedious.  Now I must be honest and say that the tedium of this book is that it may be a consequence that it was an intro level book.  But there was something that left this realm of research something less to be desired.  I expected in an intro level book from an author such as Beale to motivate those interested in this realm of study to see the tremendous pay out of a detailed study.  The examples he gave hardly raise the excitement level, in my opinion. 

When I compare the helpfulness of this book to, say, his and Carson’s Commentary on the NT Use of the OT (they edited the book and authored some of its chapters) or Beale’s magnum opus A New Testament Biblical Theology where we see his method in action (and the return it yields in theology), I feel that this addendum did not meet the expectations of the other 2 works.  Thus I only give this book 1 thumb up.  After all, it did give a thorough working model for one of the greatest biblical theologians and exegetes of OT in the NT of the 20th-21st century.  It will be a necessary tool for the student engaging with this subject for the first time or a pastor refreshing his mind with the subject for preaching and teaching (and offering a good method to evaluate these instances of OT in the NT).  And I think its strengths stop there in that it will not go beyond an introduction or helpful refresher.  Even as a textbook to a class on the NT’s use of the OT, I feel it would have to be supplemented with other books where there is more of an emphasis on doing rather than explaining method (something such as Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament).


Scott said...

Thanks for a Truly helpful review. I have both of the two big volumes by Beale you've mentioned. Both only by me very lightly explored. You've encouraged to skip the handbook and just read the heavy material for now and hopefully learn more about the method by observation of the results of the method.

Have you read, Clowney's, "Unfolding the Mystery?" Any comparison on how that fits into Beale's work?

Timothy L. Decker said...

Thanks for the comment, Scott. I think you will do fine w/ the other 2 and skipping Beale's Handbook.

I have not read Clowney, but I am always looking for more good reads. Admittedly, I am not as well read as I'd like to be. But if I can find a cheap copy, it looks like one to add to the list. Do you recommend it?

Scott said...

I really did enjoy Clowney's book. I would recommend it very much. For example: All summer long I had been studying Psalm 24, memorizing with my daughters, meditating on the great exalted language of the Psalm and then coming to the realization that I didn't really grasp the main theme of the Psalm. What was the ultimate truth being sung within the Psalm? As I meditated on this further - resisting the easy way out by running to Poole, Gill, Calvin, Henry, Spurgeon, e-sword, biblos.com etc, I begin to find Christ exalted in the Psalm. It began to appear to me to be a concise but glorious summation of Redemptive history from the creation of the world to the ascension of Christ. Later I saw also Psalm 110 picking up where Psalm 24 left off singing further of Christ's current reign till the consummation of all things. Sweet things for the heart to rejoice in.

Later I was much disappointed as I did consult commentaries and found a fuzzy consensus that Psalm 24 is speaking to the necessity of the personal holiness of the believer as they approach God. Almost as if they were reading the Psalm to say, you must be righteous if you hope to receive righteousness from the God of your salvation.

In Psalm 24, I saw Christ as that High Priest pictured, and by the Spirit of God, David prophetically speaking of the one and only who could go into the Holy place on behalf of all those whom he represents and obtain righteousness and blessing for them and then those whom he represents would worship HIM. Some translations obscure the Psalm so much that it would be impossible to see Christ there as the one man to represent all men, for they translate the singular "he" to a plural "they." For example the New Living Translation Bible which says instead of he, they:
"Only those whose hands and hearts are pure,
who do not worship idols
and never tell lies.
5 They will receive the LORD's blessing
and have a right relationship with God their savior."

BUT CLOWNEY says plainly in his book, Unfolding the Mystery, and from memory I quote imperfectly: "In Psalm 24 Christ is the one who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, Christ can ascend the holy hill, Christ obtains blessing and righteousness on behalf of his people."

How my soul thrilled to read Clowney and hear him as one confirmation that I wasn't alone in my Christ-centered view of Psalm 24! Since I have found many others concurring. So, Yes, I loved CLowney's book.

Tim, this morning, also I thought of you as I found this "living Koine Greek" website and wondered if you had seen it.


It reminded me of the curriculum you are working on from one of your previous posts.

God's grace be with you always.


Scott said...


abebooks.com has several inexpensive copies of Unfolding the Mystery.


However it is also, brand new, less than $10 from Amazon.