G. K. Beale: Twelve Ways NT Authors Use OT Texts

In chapter 4 of his Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation, G. K. Beale explains twelve ways the NT authors use OT texts. Here they are as a list, with some elaboration and examples from Beale:

  1. To indicate direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. This use is when an NT author “wants to show how something that has happened in Jesus’s life or in the lives of his followers (including the church) is a fulfillment of a direct verbal prophecy from an OT passage” (p. 56). An example would be the use of Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2:5-6.
  2. To indicate indirect fulfillment of Old Testament typological prophecy. Typology, according to Beale, is “the study of analogical correspondences among persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation that, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature” (p. 57). Indirect fulfillment “fulfills what was implicitly foreshadowed by historical events, which has been narrated. . . . In this sense, one could identify indirect typological prophecy as ‘event prophecy'” (p. 58). An example is the use of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:22-23.
  3. To indicate affirmation that a not-yet-fulfilled Old Testament prophecy will assuredly be fulfilled in the future. “Sometimes an OT prophecy is appealed to, not to indicate beginning fulfillment, but to affirm that it will assuredly be fulfilled at the very end of the age” (p. 66). An example would be the appeal to Isaiah 65:17; 66:22 in 2 Peter 3:11-14.
  4. To indicate an analogical or illustrative use of the Old Testament. “A NT writer will take something from the OT and compare it to something in the new covenant age in order to illustrate or draw an analogy (or perhaps a contrast) between the two. The purpose is to emphasize a gnomic, broad, or universal principle” (p. 67). An example would be the use of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10.
  5. To indicate the symbolic use of the Old Testament. “This is similar to the analogical use and might even be considered a subset of it. Overt symbols in an OT passage are taken over and applied again to something in the NT. Something that was already symbolic for a historical reality in the OT is used again to be a symbol for some reality in the NT” (p. 71). Compare Daniel 7:3-8 and Revelation 13:2.
  6. To indicate an abiding authority carried over from the Old Testament. In this use, “what is uppermost in mind now is to highlight the authority of the OT statement and underscore that it is just as true and authoritative today as it was when it was first spoken in the OT passage” (p. 72). See this usage in Romans 3:2-4.
  7. To indicate a proverbial use of the Old Testament. “A biblical author may use an OT word or phrase that has already been often repeated, widely known, and applied to different situations in the OT and Judaism. It comes to be used so much that it has taken on a common proverbial meaning, even without knowledge of its first use” (p. 74). An example would be the OT phrase “Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon” in places like 2 Samuel 8:12; Psalms 60:8-9; 83:6-8; 108:9; Jeremiah 9:26; 25:21; 27:3.
  8. To indicate a rhetorical use of the Old Testament. “One understanding of this use is that OT language is expressed with a view only to being persuasive or impressive in rhetorical effect. Some understand that this style does not give information from the OT context but only embellishes what the NT writer has been saying” (p. 78). But Beale counters these notions and says, “The contextual meaning of the OT passage enhances the rhetorical effect” (p. 79). See Romans 10:6-8, which uses Deuteronomy 30:12-14.
  9. To indicate the use of an Old Testament segment as a blueprint or prototype for a New Testament segment. “Sometimes a NT author takes over a large OT context as a model after which to creatively pattern a segment in his own writing. Such modeling can be apparent (1) through observing a thematic outline that is uniquely traceable to only one OT context or (2) by discerning a cluster of quotations or clear allusions (or a mix of quotations and allusions) from the same OT chapter or segment. Sometimes both are observable, thus enhancing the clarity of the OT blueprint” (p. 80). For example, Daniel 7 provides the blueprint for the vision of Revelation 4-5 (pp. 80-81).
  10. To indicate an alternate textual use of the Old Testament. “An author may choose one text form or translation of a phrase among others known to him to bring out more clearly what he sees as the intended meaning of the original OT passage. . . . For example, a NT writer could cite an OT prophecy about the Messiah to indicate that the prophecy has begun fulfillment in Christ. The writer, however, may cite the Greek translation of the OT, which is quite different from the Hebrew. The reason for doing so may be to understand better how it is beginning to be fulfilled in Christ” (p. 89). See Daniel 4:34 MT and LXX, and compare it with Revelation 17:14.
  11. To indicate an assimilated use of the Old Testament. “An author may express OT language merely because it has become part of the way he thinks and speaks. Such expressions may approximate certain OT phrases, though without any conscious intention to allude to a particular OT text” (p. 91). “This approach may at times be close to that of the proverbial use of the OT” (p. 92). For some reason, the example Beale provides is the conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” (Matt 6:13), which is probably not original to Matthew’s Gospel. Nevertheless, Beale says the words reflect the LXX of Psalm 144:11.
  12. To indicate an ironic or inverted use of the Old Testament. “Clear OT allusions are used but with the opposite meaning from the OT” (p. 92). See the phrase “Who is like . . . ?” in Exodus 15:11 and Revelation 13:4.

“We will also find that sometimes more than one category may be applicable in a use of an OT text in the NT and that some uses may even be subcategories of other uses” (p. 56).


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