A Necessary Tweak of Greg’s Beale Thoughts on Exegesis of the Old Testament

Recently WTSBOOKS interviewed Dr. Greg Beale in conjunction with the release of Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. The interview asks Dr. Beale a few questions related to the interpretation of the text.

I appreciate Dr. Greg Beale’s grounding of interpretation in the inspiration of the words of the writers of Scripture. However, he conflates two ideas that should remain separate in order for us to interpret the text faithfully.

1.  Divine Inspiration – by which Beale means revelation, for he is speaking of the broadening of what the author and the Lord are saying through the speaker – and understanding the interpretation of what has been spoken are vastly different concepts. Even knowing that one is speaking, “Thus saith the Lord,” would not necessarily mean that the author would have known his words would go beyond the immediate historical context. One can see this if one appeals to a text like the death of the man of God in 1 Kings 13 rather than a more obviously prophetic passage like the construction of the Tabernacle Exodus 25. The passage on the man of God warned the generation reading 1 and 2 Kings of the authority of the word of the Lord even in the life of one called by God. One does not immediately think that this passage typifies Jesus always doing his Father’s will (cf. Jn. 8:28; 12:49; 14:10) and yet being brought to death by the word of the Lord (Jn. 17:4; cf. Isa. 53:10), does he? Yet with the Tabernacle passage, one has a textual clue that there is more to the instructions than simply earthly blueprints because there is a “pattern” involved (Ex 25:9, 40; cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:23; 10:1).

2.  “Context” for spoken words is different than for written words. That is, the words on a page are limited by all of the words around them. The additional, unexpressed mental thoughts of the author that were not communicated in the words do not matter to our task as exegetes, for as readers we have no access to them. We only have access to what is written on the page. If Beale, by intention, means more than “the author’s central idea in the narrow historical context and additional later revelation unknown but suspected by the author,” then I cannot know this, for this is all Beale’s words reveal to the readers of the interview. If he also means by intention, “the author’s effectual hope in the life of the believer and the purposes for which he wrote in response to a historical catalyst,” I cannot know this for it does not come through in the interview. It would be unfair (and illogical) to say that I missed Beale’s “central idea expressed in the text” because I missed Beale’s “effectual hope for the believer.” When E. D. Hirsch spoke of author’s intention, he meant “the author’s central idea in the narrow historical context as able to be discerned by willed verbal meaning and literary clues.” But Beale speaks of a different intention when he says “larger than even he understood,” for he is then speaking of “additional later revelation unknown but suspected on the basis of inspiration.” The two are not the same and should not be confused even though they both fly under a banner of “intention.”

3.  In his illustration of enjoying Bach, the listening student, when asked, “Does he like other composers like Vivaldi,” would have been correct to say, “I do not know, for Dr. Beale did not say anything about other composers, neither did he speak of enjoying classic compositions as a whole or of other composers while speaking of enjoying Bach.” The student has no clues in the context to indicate that Beale’s verbal meaning goes beyond “Bach” to “other composers.” No one could fault the student for not knowing Beale’s unexpressed idea(s).  However, imagine if the student were reading a paragraph by Dr. Beale that said, “Summer is great! I get uninterrupted time to enjoy my downloads of the Westminster Brass, London Symphony Orchestra, and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra playing the great masters of history. Ah, there’s nothing I enjoy more in the summer than sitting on the patio, sipping lemonade, and listening to Bach. Listening to the grand symphonies of the Western musical canon rescues my mind from the torture of having to hear Carl Trueman play his rock music around the WTS campus.” Then if someone asked, “Does Dr. Beale also like Vivaldi, or only Bach,” the student could have said, “I suspect he does like Vivaldi, for he likes Bach and ‘the great masters.’” If Beale does not express his intention, it cannot be interpreted, even if it is in his head. He wants the intention in his head to be something that we access in the process of exegesis. However, we cannot because exegesis focuses on ideas expressed (which are limited by the words around them), not unexpressed mental ruminations (which could go on forever). The only ideas upon which we can do exegesis are those expressed by the words in the text, not unexpressed ideas. The resurrection of Christ in Psalm 16 is an expressed idea because “not see corruption” is something that could not refer to David (as Peter notes in Acts 2:29-31, of which Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. provides good exegesis). However, the equal access of Gentiles and Jews as fellow heirs in Christ is not an expressed idea in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:6). It cannot be gained by exegesis, even though it is the Lord’s express purpose (intention) throughout Old Testament Redemptive History to include the Gentiles in redemption with the Jews as one new man.

In the full interview, WTSBOOKS asks Beale,

You express your own position as situated “on the side of those who affirm that the NT uses the OT in line with the original contextual meaning.” (Handbook, p. 13). What do you mean when you speak of “original contextual meaning”? How does this differ—if at all—from strict adherence to a grammatical-historical approach?

If Beale’s answer to the interview questions means something other than, “One’s exegesis of the Old Testament text must factor in that – as the Old Testament authors understood – the spoken/written revelation, as divinely inspired, has thicker intentions that go beyond narrow historical context of the original speaking author, as illustrated by a modern example related to listening to ‘Bach,’” he did not adequately express that as his intended meaning so as to give us access to it.

It is not that intentions are “thicker” and need to be unpacked. Instead, the definitions of “intention” are many, and they need to be expressed. I would recommend Elliott E. Johnson’s Expository Hermeneutics for more on how the written paragraph is the smallest context of interpretation for willed verbal meaning in a text.

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One response to “A Necessary Tweak of Greg’s Beale Thoughts on Exegesis of the Old Testament

  1. Thanks for making aware of your post on this. As far as the prediction of the church in the Old Testament, I think that we can show some latitude when it comes to the expression of ideas without requiring the exact language be used. I think that Isaiah 19:24-25, Isaiah 56, and Ezekiel 47 give some glimpses. But I would agree that there is not a clear statement. Though I believe that Genesis 12:2-3 point in that direction.
    I liked Beale’s book on the Temple and the Church’s Mission, but I disagreed with his concern to identify the New Jerusalem with the New Creation. I feel like as I read Revelation 20-22 that the NJ will be an entity within the NC, not simply identical to it. Beale says that that interpretation is the only that can satisfy the hermeneutical difficulties in the flow of the passage. But I don’t find problems where he does.

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