Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

December 10, 2012 — 18 Comments


G. K. Beale is the kind of guy who reads books while brushing his teeth. In fact, he read The Resurrection of The Son of God a few pages a day this way. In some ways, that’s about all you need to know about the kind of scholar Beale is. “Meticulous” sounds petty, but Beale is that in a good way. I guess we could say “extremely thorough.”

Beale spent his share of time in Dallas, first at SMU, and then as a Th.M student at DTS. Then we went to Cambridge and after teaching in various settings, is a professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. In a way, I feel like he is a kindred spirit, and though we are both Dallas grads, neither of us are dispensationalists, and in my case, it was Beale’s earlier writings that played a part in my theological development while at DTS.


In Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Beale is supplementing other published works, namely A New Testament Biblical Theology and Commentary on The New Testament Use of The Old Testament. As you can see, this particular work is the bitesized manual explaining the method employed in the commentary.

After very brief introductory matters, Beale’s handbook jumps right into the challenges of interpreting the use of the OT in the NT. Just in case anyone thought this was just a straightforward interpretive matter, Beale summarizes the contemporary debate, which is multifaceted:

  • The debate about the influence of Jewish interpretation on the NT writers
  • The testimony book debate
  • The Christocentric debate
  • The rhetorical debate
  • The postmodern debate
  • The debate over typology (which is itself multifaceted)

Having established the nature of the debate, Beale turns to his constructive proposal for who to work in this particular jungle. His second chapter proposes his definition of both quotations and allusions and the criteria he uses to discern each. Once he has done this, chapter 3 turns to Beale’s actual approach to interpreting the Old Testament in the New (42-43):

  • Identify the OT reference. Is it a quotation or allusion?
  • Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs
  • Analyze the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially thoroughly interpeting 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 Pseudapigrapha, Josephus, Philo). Underline or color-code the various differences
  • Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT (which text 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 interpretiave (hermeneutical) use of the OT
  • Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT
  • Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT

Interestingly (to me at least), Beale notes that the essence of this approach came from his class on the OT in the NT he took at DTS (taught by S. Lewis Johnson). Beale’s elaboration of these bullet pointed steps surprisingly only spans about 10 more pages. Since that would certainly qualify as a handbook on exegesis (especially by Bealean standards) there are four more chapters in the book.

Chapter 4 takes on the primary ways that the NT uses the OT. Because I like you, I’m going to take the time to list these primary ways out. Beale takes 40 pages to unpack it all, but were it just a bullet point list, it would look like this:

  • To indicate direct fulfillment of OT prophecy
  • To indicate indirect fulfillment of OT typological prophecy
  • To indicate affirmation that a not-yet-fulfilled OT prophecy will assuredly be fulfilled in the future
  • To indicate an analogical or illustrative use of the OT
  • To indicate the symbolic use of the OT
  • To indicate an abiding authority carried over from the OT
  • To indicate a proverbial use of the OT
  • To indicate a rhetorical use of the OT
  • To indicate the use of an OT segment as a blueprint or prototype for a NT segment
  • To indicate an alternate textual use of the OT
  • To indicate an assimilated use of the OT
  • To indicate an ironic or inverted use of the OT

In chapter 5, tackles the hermeneutical and theological presuppositions of the NT writers. He presents 5 (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 the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel—the 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 (cf., e.g., Matt. 5:17; 11:13; 13:16-17).
  • The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ.
  • As a consequence of the preceding presupposition, 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 from 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 to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises.

Compared to the previous chapter, this one wraps up relatively quick and with little fanfare before Beale moves on to explaining the relevance of Jewish backgrounds to the study of the NT. This chapter thankfully has important bibliographic lists scattered throughout (on such things as Qumran, the Pseudapigrapha, targums, midrash and talmudic sources) before it concludes with an extended exegetical example of the relevance of the Jewish background for interpreting Acts 2. In doing so, Beale follows the 3 step approach he presented earlier in the chapter:

  • Consult background commentaries on key NT passages
  • Consult major NT commentaries (ICC, WBC, NIGTC, BECNT, NICNT, Hermeneia, and various other major commentaries not in a series)
  • Consult primary sources in Jewish literature by utilizing topical and especially Scripture indexes of these sources in English translation
As each of these steps were elaborated earlier in chapter 6, Beale gave appropriate bibliographies and so it is helpful to see him employ the steps themselves briefly in conclusion. Before he wraps up the book completely, chapter 7 itself is just a case study using Revelation 3:7 (and its use of Isaiah 22:22) to present the whole methodology of the book in action. The book then concludes with a more extensive bibliography but still manages to clock in sans index at just over 150 pages.


To be honest, I am probably not qualified to spot a weakness in Beale’s method or his presentation of sources. So, let’s just focus on the strengths. If you want a concise handbook that will walk you through a sound approach to interpreting the NT’s use of the OT, this is the book for you. Though Beale is thorough and scholarly, the actual text is very readable and easy to follow. It is not however the smoothest Starbucks comfy chair reading because of the bulky footnotes, frequent bibliographic diversions, and general seminary note handout feel. If you’re looking for a book explaining the general ways the NT uses the OT, chapter 4 comes pretty close to introductory reading. The rest of the book though is aimed at practitioners and so the strength lies clearly explaining a method with the hopes that you will put it to use. If you’re not going to be actively trying to interpret the NT’s use of the OT, I’m not sure this is a book to just pick up and read. So for instance, as interested as many of the college students are in the Bible and theology, I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of them.


That being said, if you are actively engaged in interpreting the Bible in depth, then you probably need this book. I’m not sure there is a better handbook out there that is purely devoted to not just explaining how to interpret the NT use of the OT, but walking you through it step by step and pointing you to the appropriate background sources to flesh out your interpretation. It makes a great companion volume to Commentary on The New Testament Use of The Old Testament since the contributors there were asked to follow this method closely in their work. It is also of course the method Beale himself uses in A New Testament Biblical Theology and so even more examples of the method in action can be found there.

G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, September, 2012. 192 pp. Paperback, $17.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!


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18 responses to Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

  1. “What do you think is most difficult aspect of interpreting the NT writer’s use of the OT?”

    I think the contextual issues are challenging. Sometimes it seems as though the NT authors pluck passages from the OT without any regard for it’s context and apply it only in ways that suit their desires: major no-no by today’s exegetical standards!

    Also, the actual text they use is sometimes odd; as your Beale bullet point mentions: “…which text does the author rely on, or is the author making his own rendering…”

    So, basically, if I’m a NT author, I can, if needed, ignore context and rewrite texts to get my point across, but it’s cool, I’m an apostle or friends with the apostles.

    • I think that’s a great point, especially in terms of whether this kind of interpretive behavior is prescriptive or descriptive for us today. I’ve criticized authors in book reviews before for appearing to select which English translation better suits their overall point, especially when I can look at the Greek/Hebrew and see that the one they chose isn’t the best option.

  2. “What do you think is most difficult aspect of interpreting the NT writer’s use of the OT?”

    Well, I think that noticing all of the allusions to the OT can be difficult. We don’t know the OT nearly as well as the Jewish converts in the first century. So, I think that we often miss the OT references due to our own ignorance of the OT.

    • Definitely agree. It gets even more complicated when you have authors arguing that we can hear “echoes” which are even fainter than allusions.

  3. “What do you think is most difficult aspect of interpreting the NT writer’s use of the OT?”

    I think the most difficult aspect is knowing what elements/methods we can use and what methods are reserved soley for the writers of the NT. It appears to be a fine line.

    • I think this kind of summarizes the overall issue. It’s one thing to see what was done, it’s another to recognize what is prescriptive for us!

  4. Understanding how the NT writers reached their conclusion on how to use a particular OT passage…whether they saw it as typology, allegory, etc.

  5. “What do you think is most difficult aspect of interpreting the NT writer’s use of the OT?”

    Getting inside the mind of the authors and which aspect of their quotation they’re actually trying to highlight; having a good enough understanding of the OT to recognize what lies behind a quotation without reading our own assumptions.

    Thanks Nate!

  6. “What do you think is the most difficult aspect of interpreting the NT writer’s use of the OT?”

    The most difficult aspect is shaking the idea that they’re doing something funny by seeing Christ in the OT. Hermeneutics books often tell us that there’s one and only one meaning in any given text, i.e., what the author originally intended. Well, if that’s true, then the one and only one meaning is Christ! But we’ve been trained to believe that seeing Christ in the OT is an imposition; something Isaiah or Moses or whoever couldn’t have possibly intended. But this exposes flawed presuppositions about OT authorship and authorial intent. Does not the divine author intend something? And when that author becomes incarnate and walks with his disciples on the road to Emmaus does he not begin to show them how the OT spoke of him?

    • I found Poythress helpful on this, especially In The Beginning Was The Word. I think I’ve seen you post about that before (or at least other writings by him). Has been as helpful for you?

      • Nate: I still have much to read in that book (as well as all of his books that I own!) but presuppositionalists in general (and Frame in particular) have helped to shape my thinking on the subject.

  7. The variety of interpretive methods employed is always challenging

  8. Douglas K. Adu-Boahen December 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Keeping to a grammatical-historical hermenuetic while being Christ-centered in one’s reading of the NT as it uses the OT

  9. The most difficult type of interpretation is when the writers use the the OT out of context in the NT.

  10. I think the main difficulty in interpreting the NT’s use of the OT is developing and applying a hermeneutic which is not the placing of a theological system upon the text, but rather one which makes allowance for the text to speak and to make known the theological context of the NT authors.

  11. One of the hardest things for me is figuring out how the OT relates to Christ. On a macro level, I can see the themes pointing to him and having the tensions resolved in him, but I have a hard time with some of the details. For example, I did 9 months of research on Dt 21:10-14 which contains regulations concerning females taken captive in war. I tried to apply Graeme Goldsworthy;s hermeneutic to these verses, and I read lost of other people trying to relate these verses to Christ. But the relation always seemed forced. I can relate much of the OT to Christ, but with some things, I do not see how they bear witness to him. So, the question is…When Christ says that the OT is about him, does he means macro, micro or sometimes macro and sometimes micro.

  12. “What do you think is most difficult aspect of interpreting the NT writer’s use of the OT?” It’s simple: context, context, and context.

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