G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007. Jacketed Hardcover, 1239 pp.
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The Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (CNTUOT) is not a commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament in the sense of, “This is how the NT writers used the OT, and now we will talk about a method to use for interpreting the OT today.” This work is, however, about specific ways that specific OT references were used by specific NT writers in their specific contexts. The purpose of the book is not to “survey contemporary debates over the use of the OT in the NT,” but to provide a “reasonably comprehensive survey of all the textual evidence,” examining the New Testament context of the quotation or probable allusion, the Old Testament context from which it is drawn, how it was handled in Second Temple Judaism or early Judaism, textual factors such as manuscript traditions, how the New Testament employed the Old Testament in the specific example being considered, and the theological use to which the quotation or allusion is put (xxiii-xv).
The book aims to show the flexibility and variety of ways in which NT authors used the OT, the way they applied Scripture to Jesus and the church, the interpretive difference between the NT writers and Jewish contemporaries who rejected the Messiah, the question as to whether a writer used a text to expound a teaching from the OT or whether he used the OT to confirm or justify Christian experience, and that an eclectic grammatical-historical method can be used to assess the use of the OT in the NT, with the caveat that NT authors would have looked at Scripture differently than “any of the dominant historical-critical orthodoxies of the last century and a half” (xxvi-xxviii).
G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson have edited the contributions of 18 biblical scholars (including themselves) into this large reference work. Besides the editors, the writing team is comprised of Peter Balla (2 Corinthians), Craig Blomberg (Matthew), Roy Ciampa (1 Corinthians), George Guthrie (Hebrews), Andreas Kostenberger (John), I. Howard Marshall (Acts), Sean McDonough (Revelation), David Pao (Luke), Brian Rosner (1 Corinthians), Eckhard Schnabel (Luke), Mark Seifrid (Romans), Moises Silva (Galatians, Philippians), Frank Thielman (Ephesians), Philip Towner (1-2 Timothy and Titus), Rikk Watts (Mark), and Jeffrey Weima (1-2 Thessalonians). Carson handles James through Jude and Beale covers Colossians and Revelation. The book has a brief introductory overview, followed by treatment of each New Testament book in canonical order, followed by a bibliography. The one exception is Philemon, since it has no quotes or probable allusions to the OT; a single paragraph touches on a relevant OT background text and recommends a couple of resources for studying this epistle. A sizable index of references to Scripture and other ancient literature is provided at the end, while the work begins with a table of abbreviations for various scholarly publications referenced.
In evaluating this resource, I want to raise and answer two questions.
First, who could benefit from this work?
Generally speaking, the treatments in the book are not only thorough, but often thoroughly academic in their language and tone. There is a great deal of interaction with other sources and viewpoints (though the authors are generally conservative theologically). The target audience is presumably Bible scholars, theologically trained pastors, and seminary students. Someone who has learned through self-study will need to have attained to an advanced level or be willing to learn some new vocabulary to get the maximum benefit from this work. Some use of the biblical languages, as well as terms like midrash, targum, and pesher may present difficulties to those without adequate education. That being said, this would be a great resource to have in a Bible college or seminary library, or in the study of a scholar or theologically educated pastor , or student receiving a theological education. It would not be a helpful resource for those without this training. For those with such training, the use of this work will hopefully help their understanding of the biblical text in the early stages of their study, so that they can rightly interpret and apply it.
Secondly, is this work necessary?
I’m not sure this work is necessary for everyone who could benefit from it. I am currently consulting it as I preach through Ephesians, and it gave me some considerations to chew on as I looked at Paul’s use of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8. But I also have several commentaries on Ephesians I am using, in addition to notes from various study Bibles. The CNTUOT went into much greater detail to examine the questions surrounding this passage than any of the commentaries I had. However, I ended up finding the most plausible approach in a study Bible note that gave an explanation not even considered in the CNTUOT. While such instances are probably rare exceptions, this reference work may not be necessary for people who have libraries of scholarly commentaries that treat the handling of OT quotes and allusions in the NT. Some of the better study Bibles should also treat the NT use of the OT, and busy pastors probably will find all they need if they have several key commentaries and consult several helpful study Bibles (such as MacArthur, ESV, HCSB, Reformation Heritage, Zondervan study Bibles). If a pastor has a large part of his week devoted to study, this work should enrich that study, but I would not consider it indispensable if he has access to plenty of quality resources.
On the other hand, if one needs a one-stop, thorough treatment, and one has adequate training, this could easily and affordably fill a needed gap. A student specializing in either the OT or NT could greatly benefit from this volume, as could a trained pastor with a very limited library.
Using this resource in tandem with further study in the area of Christ-centered interpretation as dealt with in books such as Edmund Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery, James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, and David Murray’s Jesus on Every Page could help one fill out and process some of the specific details when going through each passage and will hopefully help one to better understand God’s Word and how its parts relate to each other. Including this study of Christ-centered interpretation will also help one grapple with whether the apostolic interpretation of the OT is a matter of historical record only or whether they provide a model for today, something this book is related to, but is not designed to address on its own.
Thanks to Baker Academic for providing me a copy of the book at half price in exchange for a review.
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Reviewed by Doug Smith