Book Review: Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, by D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale
Many of us studied under professors who said something like this: "the authors of the New Testament made the Old Testament say whatever they wanted it to say, but they had the right to do so because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. You can’t interpret the Old Testament the way they did because you’re not inspired."
Okay, maybe they nuanced the statement more than that, but the idea was plainly communicated that the authors of the New Testament had not interpreted the Old Testament according to the Old Testament’s own meaning in its own historical context. Thus, whatever the authors of the New Testament may have been doing, we were not to read the Old Testament the way they read it. And we were taught this by evangelical scholars who signed a doctrinal statement that had the word inerrancy in it.
For some of us, that settled it. We trusted our professors, and what they said seemed to make sense. For others of us, a pesky thought lingered that we tried to push out of our minds and that went something like this: if the authors of the New Testament didn’t interpret the Old Testament correctly, doesn’t that invalidate their message? But we were busy, and maybe we didn’t pursue that line of thinking any further. Maybe we just filed it away with the other suggestions from Bible professors that traditional Christian theology might really be a house of cards that won’t bear the weight of evidence.
Then some of us ran across things like Greg Beale’s article, "Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?," and we began to suspect that maybe those professors weren’t to be trusted. Moisés Silva’s comments only eroded our trust further, as when he declared, "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."
More and more statements like these came to our attention, and we began to desire something that might enter the lists in defense of the Lord and his apostles; something that might vindicate them against all those slanderous insinuations; something that would demonstrate that the house of cards was built by the unbelieving academy, not by Christian theologians; and something—because we love them—that would lead our benighted Bible professors toward the truth that Jesus and the apostles were not playing fast and loose with the Old Testament.
And now we have that something.
That something would have to have academic credibility, and which evangelicals have more than G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson? It would have to be thorough, and what’s more thorough than a commentary on the whole of the New Testament that treats every OT quotation and probable allusion? It would have to be sensitive to the evidence, and it would be hard to come up with a more careful or more sensitive treatment than the one pursued in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
Carson and Beale have brought together well known scholars, many of whom have written monographs and/or major commentaries on the books they were assigned (Craig Blomberg on Matthew; Rikk E. Watts on Mark; David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel on Luke; Andreas Köstenberger on John; Mark Seifrid on Romans; Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner on 1 Corinthians; Peter Balla on 2 Corinthians; Moisés Silva on Galatians and Philippians; Frank Thielman on Ephesians; G. K. Beale on Colossians and Revelation with Sean McDonough; Jeffrey Weima on 1 and 2 Thessalonians; Philip Towner on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; George Guthrie on Hebrews; D. A. Carson on James through Jude).
And this all-star lineup has adopted a methodology beyond questioning: (1) attention to the NT context of the citation or allusion; (2) attention to the OT context of the citation or allusion; (3) attention to the use of the OT passage in the literature of Second Temple Judaism; (4) attention to textual factors—is the NT passage citing the Hebrew, the Greek translation of the Hebrew, or the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew or could the author be citing from memory?; (5) attention to the way in which the OT quotation or allusion is intended to function; and (6) attention to the theological contribution the NT author uses the OT text to make. To this point, all this may sound rather bookish, but the utility of this volume is not limited to the groves of academe.
GOOD FOR PREACHING?
Preaching through a book of the New Testament? A great place to begin the study of that biblical book is this commentary, particularly in conjunction with articles in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. For example, I found the Commentary’s treatment of the structure of 1 Corinthians particularly insightful. The discussion of 2 Corinthians 3 sheds light on how Paul reads the Old Testament and will prompt long reflection on how Christians should read the Scriptures. The treatment of Paul’s quotation of Psalm 68 [ET 69] in Ephesians 4 is fully conversant with the scholarly literature and advances the discussion in a creative, honest, and helpful way. Many more instances could be cited.
This new Commentary will establish its place among those reference works that every student and teacher of the Bible will constantly consult. There is simply nothing else like it, which augments the quality of the work done by the contributors and editors. Careful readers of the Bible will praise God for the help they receive from this book, and may the idea that we should not pattern our exegesis of the Old Testament after the method exemplified for us by Jesus and his apostles be dismissed to that place of darkness whence it came.
1 G. K. Beale, "Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Themelios 14 (1989): 89–96.
2 Moisés Silva, "The New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Text Form and Authority," in Scripture and Truth, ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 164.