NT Studies and Intertextual Interpretation

I. Howard Marshall published his review of G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology yesterday in Themelios, and was generally positive towards Beale’s work. After giving an extensive summary of the book, Marshall praises Beale for being exegetically mindful, but then brings up three areas “for discussion.” One of these is Beale’s use of intertextuality as a hermeneutical method. Marshall says this concerning Beale’s attempt to demonstrate verbal connections between different biblical passages:

[T]his area includes both Beale’s own interpretation of what OT passages would have meant for the original authors and readers, and also what meaning was seen in them by the NT authors who cite or allude to them. Beale is influenced here by the kind of research stimulated by Richard Hays, which attaches lots of significance to verbal coincidences that may or may not be significant. There may be a tendency to assume that the author of one passage shares the thoughts of another author without actually referring to them.

Marshall here appears cautious at best about using textual similarities between books as an interpretive grid for understanding the author’s point. I don’t intend here to justify Beale’s method; check out his opening chapter in We Are What We Worship, look at Hays’ Echoes of Scripture, or read Sailhamer, Childs, Chapman, Rendtorff, Seitz, or a number of other OT scholars to gain a sense of the legitimacy of the exercise.

My question here is twofold: 1) does it seem to you, as it does to me, that intertextuality as a hermeneutical method is more acceptable in OT studies than in NT studies? And 2) if so, why do you think that is the case?

Article Accepted

I received news tonight that my article “Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21-31” was accepted for publication in Biblical Theology Bulletin. It still has to go to the copy editor, and I have no clue on the timeline for publication. But, the hard part is over.

I’ve been looking for a home for this article for a year now, and its been a hard search. This is probably my favorite piece from what I’ve worked on so far (even my dissertation – but who likes their dissertation anyway?), so I’m excited that the LORD has blessed me with the opportunity to publish it.

Here’s the abstract:

“This article begins by surveying the modern history of interpretation of Gal 4:21–31, and in doing so demonstrates that virtually no commentators from the time of Calvin have concluded that Paul accurately conveys the message of the Pentateuch’s narratives to which he alludes in his “allegory.” It then provides an alternate approach to the analysis of Paul’s interpretation of the Pentateuch in this passage, relying on the hermeneutical tool of intertextuality. It demonstrates, through four sets of intertextual connections within the Pentateuch, that the Hagar and Sinai narratives are intricately related and therefore appropriately read by Paul. It concludes that, instead of viewing Paul’s interpretation in Gal 4:21–31 as arbitrary allegory, modern commentators should give Paul a bit more grace in their analysis of his hermeneutic.”

David’s Census

I just got word that my paper, “Intertextuality Between 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 and Genesis 13 and the Problem of David’s Census,” has been accepted for presentation at this year’s ETS meeting. I’ll be presenting in the Textual Strategies in the Hebrew Bible section at 4:40 on Wednesday.

I’m excited but also nervous – those Hebrew Bible folks are intimidating!

Beale’s Method

Picture from Amazon.com

I’m currently reading through G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology and it is phenomenal. I’ve always loved Beale’s work, particularly because he is one of the few scholars I know that can weave biblical studies and theology together almost seamlessly. He is, in my opinion, the epitome of a biblical theologian. It’s no surprise to me, then, that I love every page I read out of this book.

One thing, though, that I find the most commonality with in Beale’s work is his consistent method. In both The Temple and the Church’s Mission and We Are What We Worship, Beale demonstrates an ability to both see the big picture of the entire Bible and exegete particular texts in their original context. He thus can study the individual trees without losing sight of the forest. Just as importantly, he can look at the whole forest without forgetting it is made up of individual trees.

Beale articulates this method in the following way in his new book (p. 15):

. . . I categorize my biblical-theological approach to be canonical, genetic-progressive (or organically developmental, as a flower develops from a seed and bud), exegetical, and intertextual. This approach could be summarized as a ‘biblical-theological-oriented exegesis.’

What I’ve seen from Beale in previous works is still here (canonical, exegetical, and intertextual), but the genetic-progressive element, while not new to him, is most explicitly articulated and applied here. This to me is an especially helpful addition, both for constructive use in my own understanding and application of biblical theology and also negatively as a counter to the way “progressive revelation” is sometimes articulated. Often I hear proponents of “progressive revelation” arguing that we can only understand texts like Gen. 3:15 as Adam and Eve (or more properly Israel on the plains of Moab) or other original hearers would have heard them. For Gen. 3:15, then, we cannot teach or preach it with the fullness that we might preach Romans 1-5 in terms of the robustness of the gospel. But what Beale is arguing is that although Gen. 3:15 does not explicitly relate the entire gospel, it is like a seed of a flower that will eventually blossom into, and thus implicitly contains, the entire gospel.

Like the rest of the book, I find that particularly helpful.

Making James and Paul Play Nice

Since all Bible blogging roads lead back to Near Emmaus, and since Brian LePort seems to continually blog about things that I’m already thinking about (get out of my head Brian!) I’m going to piggyback off of another one of his posts today. Yesterday Brian posted on the question of whether or not James and Paul were involved in a dispute or rivalry. While I’m not going to engage with much of his material here, I do want to argue for some similarities between Paul and James, and namely similarities in their writings to Christian churches and their use of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Romans and James’ epistle both exhibit a number of parallels, including the following.

First, Ryan Armstrong lists parallels between Rom 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 (suffering produces endurance, etc.), Rom 6:23 and James 1:15-16 (the wages of sin is death), and Rom 2:13 and James 1:22 (doers of the law).[1] None of these parallels is particularly strong in the Greek; they should probably be categorized more as conceptual similarities rather than as textual connections. They do, however, show that James and Paul were at least thinking similar thoughts on different issues.

A more important and more textual parallel, though, lies between Rom 1:17 and James 2:23. Romans 1:17 is a quotation of Hab 2:4, which in turn is an allusion to Gen 15:6 where Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness. As Richard Hays has shown, because Paul has left out the crucial personal possessive pronoun of Hab 2:4 (“his faith”), Rom 1:17 should be taken as showing Paul’s twofold concern for “God’s own righteousness” being shown in the gospel and for “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.[2] Paul’s use of Hab 2:4, then, combines it’s original intention in Habakkuk of arguing for God’s covenant faithfulness while also making use of its allusion to Gen 15:6 and the need for all men to come to God through faith for justification. Gen 15:6 is also quoted by James 2:23. Thus both passages make reference to passages in the Old Testament that are intended to show how God operates in terms of salvation. Righteousness comes through faith. In other words, both of these writers use allusions ultimately to the same passage of the OT to help their readers understand what they are saying about justification.

This connection is made stronger by what comes after Romans 1 and what comes before James 2. In Rom 2:1-11, Paul argues that God has no partiality, specifically concerning ethnicity, and in James 2:1-13 God is said to have no partiality, specifically between the rich and the poor. Rom 2:6 says that each will be judged according to his works, and James 2:24 says that man is justified by works as well as faith.[3] More parallels could be shown, but the fact that these, along with the one noted by Armstrong between Rom 2:13 and James 1:22, all surround what are arguably the most important statements in each of the books – Romans 1:17 and James 2:23 – should point the reader to the fact that the two passages, and moreover the two books and thus the two corpuses, are clearly connected.

How we interpret these connections, as Richard Hays has noted in Echoes of Scripture (29-33), is of course the million dollar question. I’m inclined to say that they demonstrate that Paul and James are much closer on the issue of justification and even on their articulation of it than some scholars want to allow.

What about you?


[1] Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 41.

[2] Ryan Armstrong, “Canonical Approaches to New Testament Theology: An Evangelical Evaluation of Childs and Trobisch,” Th.M. thesis., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007, 104. The last two verses listed are also parallel to Matthew 7:26.

[3] I take ‘justification’ here in the sense that Paul uses ‘judged’ in Romans 2:6.

Where in the NT are Joseph and Joshua?

Image from Wikipedia

A few weeks ago at Near Emmaus, Brian LePort asked an intriguing question: Why didn’t the Apostle Paul cite the Book of Jonah? The question fueled some conversation but I’m not sure there was ever a definitive answer. Although I didn’t weigh in on the discussion, I’ve been turning the question over in my mind for the last two or three weeks, not so much in relation to why Paul doesn’t cite Jonah but more broadly on why the NT doesn’t use a number of books as sources or figures as types. Jonah is at least cited and used in the Gospels, if not by Paul. Other rich OT imagery isn’t even mentioned by the NT.

For instance, Joseph and Joshua, two figures replete with Second Adam and New Moses imagery, are never cited, mentioned, or alluded to in the NT as types of Christ. They are referenced in Heb 11:21-22 and 4:8 respectively, but as moral examples and not as figures who point to or tell us anything about Christ (thanks to David Stark for clarifying my language here). These men give, at least in my opinion, a strong typological picture of Christ. Of course, some scholars would say that to recognize anything as a type in the OT that is not recognized as such in the NT is illegitimate. But, as G. P. Hupenberger points out in his essay “Introductory Notes in Typology” in G.K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?,

“Perhaps as a safeguard against interpretive excess, some scholars have suggested that ‘types’ should be limited to those examples which are explicitly identified as such within the New Testament. … While attractive for its restraint, this approach would fail to recognize several…examples for which there is impressive literary evidence of deliberate parallelism” (339).

The literary parallels between Adam and Joseph are particularly striking. Here are several:

  • He is dependent upon God for wisdom and power (Gen 41:16)
  • He discerns between good and evil (41:19)

    1. The word for “thin” is the same word used for “evil” in Hebrew
    2. V. 22 – “good” corn
    3. These should remind us of Gen. 2 and 3 and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
    4. Joseph can discern between them, unlike Adam
  • He is full of the Spirit of God (41:38)
  • He has dominion and authority over the land under the direction of the Pharaoh (41:40, 44)
  • He is given the land (41:41, 43)
  • He is clothed in the image of the Pharaoh (41:42)
  • He is given a bride by the Pharaoh (41:45)
  • He is fruitful and multiplies (41: 50)
  • Ephraim means “root of fruitfulness
  • He is able to provide for those in need (41:53-56)
  • The nations come to Joseph (41:57)

There are also of course the parallels between Joseph’s relationship to his brothers in Gen 37 and Christ’s relationship with Israel in the Gospels, but these are not directly related to Joseph as a New Adam.

We could say the same thing about Joshua and his connection to Moses. And since the New Adam and New Moses images are used in the NT (or at least in parts of it) to explain who Christ is and what he has done, the question can be asked as to why Joshua and Joseph are never used in those explanations. I wonder particularly about Matthew’s use of the New Moses theme and Paul’s contrast of Adam and Christ in Romans 1-8.

For me, though, there is a rather simple explanation to this question. Other than the easy answer of the Spirit’s inspiration of the biblical authors (and I’m not saying we should ignore that answer, just that we need to add to it), we have the functional answer of the fact that the NT authors were writing occasional books and letters to a specific group of individuals within a certain time frame. I propose that they certainly could have included this material in their books, and that it would have fit nicely in certain places. But they didn’t, and for the above two reasons – the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire them to do so and their own theological reflection was constrained by the practical factors of time, occasion, and purpose.

For those of us who want to reflect on the OT in the 21st century, the point, then, is that the NT should not be considered by us as the end of Christian reflection on it. It is of course the final apostolic and Spirit-inspired reflection (i.e. Scriptural) reflection on it, but in my mind the NT authors never intended for their books and letters to be the end of Christian engagement with the OT. What they have given us, beyond the inspired interpretation of the events of Jesus and the early church and their relation to the OT, is a model for Christian theological reflection on the Hebrew Bible. This is what the Church Fathers and Medieval theologians set about to do – to continue the Christian reading of the OT that had been modeled for them by the NT authors – and is what we can and should be about doing in our reading of the OT today.

One final comment: I’m not writing this to critique Brian’s question – his was slightly different than mine. I was using his post more as a starting point than as a focal point.

(NOTE: I owe the Adam/Joseph parallels to my PhD mentor, Dr. David Hogg. He may have found them elsewhere, but the ones I noted are from a course with him.)

Pet Peeves, Soapboxes, and Hobby Horses

Was Paul intending for his readers to conjure this picture in their minds in Ephesians 6:10-20?

Or this?

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins (Isa 11:5).

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’ (Isa 52:7).

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives. ‘And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,’ declares the LORD (Isa 59:15b-20).

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness… (Isa 61:10).