Intertextuality in Revelation

Today on Twitter (and by today I mean 2 minutes ago) I mentioned that I think there is much work to be done on intertextuality between Revelation and the rest of the New Testament. Because of John’s obvious reliance on the Old Testament, there have been an increasing number of articles and books published on intertextuality between Revelation and the OT. For instance, G. K. Beale in his commentary, as well as in his earlier John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation (which has been assimilated into the much larger commentary), notes all kinds of fascinating intertextual connections, but they are largely confined to Revelation’s use of the OT. So far there has been surprisingly little published on how Revelation alludes to other NT books.

Alistair Roberts pointed me to the John-Revelation project, which is a fascinating and compelling textual comparison of the two books, and he also mentioned Peter Leithart’s forthcoming commentary on Revelation as a possible source for this kind of work. In my book I point to a number of textual parallels between Revelation and Hebrews-Jude, and early in the twentieth century R. H. Charles in his ICC volume noted the distinctive connections between John’s Apocalypse and the Gospel of Matthew. But, given Revelation’s status as the canon closer and its relatively late date in comparison with the rest of the NT, we shouldn’t be shocked if there are a plethora of connections between it and the Gospels and Letters. I for one believe this is an area where NT scholars can find hundreds of treasures in a relatively unexplored field.

On Mimicry

Should Christian interpreters attempt to mimic the exegetical method of the NT authors and their use of the OT? To put it another way, is the NT authors’ use of the OT a valid method of interpretation?

G. K. Beale responds:

If the contemporary church cannot interpret and do theology as the apostles did, how can it feel corporately at one with them in the theological enterprise? If a radical hiatus exists between the interpretive method of the NT and our method today, then the study of the relationship of the OT and the NT from the apostolic perspective is something to which the church has little access. Furthermore, if Jesus and the apostles were impoverished in their exegetical and theological method, and if only divine inspiration salvaged their conclusions, then the intellectual and apologetic foundation of our faith is seriously eroded. What kind of intellectual or apologetic foundation of our faith is this? Moisés Silva is likely correct in stating, ‘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’ (Handbook on the NT Use of the OT, 26).

In the nerd kingdom that’s what we like to call laying the smack down. BOOM.

“In Christ” not “In Law”

One of the most frequent and toughest questions I get asked is how Christians are to treat the Mosaic Law. Why don’t we have to avoid wearing blended clothing or be circumcised or avoid eating shellfish?

G. K. Beale, in his A New Testament Biblical Theology, argues for what I believe is the correct answer to this question. The following is a lengthy quote (pp. 424-425), but I think it’s well worth reading (as is the entire book):

…Jesus redefines a true Israelite as ‘whoever does the will of my Father’ [Matt. 12:46-50]…. Jesus’ true family consists of those who trust in him, not those who are related to him by blood. Because Jesus is restoring not only Israel but also all of creation, including gentiles (Matt. 15:21-28; 21:40-44), the true people of God no longer can be marked out by certain nationalistic badges that distinguish one nation from another. … Jesus is redefining the true Israel, the true people of God, by saying that loyalty to him is the mark of a faithful Israelite. People no longer must possess the badges of old national Israel in order to be part of the true, new Israel. … You do not have to be of the bloodline of Abraham to be his true child, nor do you have to move to Israel geographically to become an Israelite; you merely have to move to Jesus, true Israel, and embrace him. As we will see, this applies to the temple (Jesus is the temple), circumcision (in him we have been circumcised [Col. 2:11]), and the Sabbath rest (true ultimate rest is found in him forever, not merely physical rest on the seventh day).

In other words, the Mosaic Law served as a covenant boundary marker around ethnic Israel, but now Jesus as true Israel serves as the covenant boundary marker around spiritual Israel (as Beale notes [p. 425, n. 93], this was argued previously by, among others, N. T. Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God [401-403]).

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?

Jesus and the Last Days

Last night I attempted to explain to my New Testament class that the Old Testament anticipates certain things to happen in the “last days” that are fulfilled in Jesus in the Gospels and Acts – e.g. the coming Davidic King, the new Temple, the resurrection, etc. After I demonstrated (hopefully successfully) that the “last days” anticipated by the Old Testament are inaugurated by Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Spirit, and culminated by his return, I made this summary statement: “In Christ, the end of time has entered into the middle of time.” In other words, we are now living in the end times because of Christ’s life and work.

I came across this quote today from G. K. Beale’s new NT theology that summarizes what I was attempting to say:

. . . Christ’s resurrected body was the first newly created body to to pass to the other side of the new creation. The coming new creation penetrated back into the old world through the resurrected, new-creational body of Jesus. Although his postressurection existence was on this old earth for a time, he ascended to the unseen heavenly dimension of the beginning new creation, which will finally descend visibly at the end of time, when the old cosmos disintegrates (Rev. 21:1-22:5).