Tag Archives: hermeneutics

Did Isaiah Directly Predict the Virgin Birth?

The Christmas season is filled with many holiday traditions and religious celebrations, including the visit of many to churches for annual Christmas Eve services. In the mix of homilies and seasonal sermons, one text that often is cited is the prophecy of Isaiah 7, said to be fulfilled by the virgin birth in Matthew 1:23. Yet when reading the original context of Isaiah 7, many have had trouble with Matthew’s claim that it was indeed a prophecy, as the birth of the child originally functions to reassure the king in his particular state of distress over the threat of invasion.

While there are staunch defenders of the view that Matthew is claiming a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s predictive prophecy, others have understood the passage differently. What is in question is not the virgin birth, which is a necessary component of the Christian gospel, but rather Matthew’s hermeneutical appropriation of the Old Testament.

Jim Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has argued that what Matthew envisioned in employing a fulfillment formula is not a “direct” fulfillment, but rather a typological fulfillment. I have found this article to be largely persuasive, and in the spirit of Christmas have linked to it below.

http://www.swbts.edu/resources//SWBTS/Resources/FacultyDocuments/Hamilton/TheVirginWillConceive.7_19_05.pdf

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The Right Doctrine from the Right Text

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G. K. BealeHandbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012, 172 pp.

The New Testament’s use of the Old has been an increasingly popular area of interest in biblical studies. Throughout the diverse spectrum of scholarship, few Evangelicals have made as great a contribution as Greg Beale. Beginning with his 1984 book, The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation of St. John, a revision of his doctoral dissertation, Beale has continued to blaze a trail in the study of the New Testament’s use of the Old, with his most recent addition, a Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, which seeks to outline a methodology for identifying and understanding Old Testament quotations and allusions in the New.

The book, consisting of seven chapters, begins by surveying the introductory issues in the New Testament’s use of the Old, concluding that the New Testament authors display various degrees of awareness of literary and historical contexts of referenced OT passages (12). This conclusion, supported by lengthy bibliographic entries, is evident throughout the remainder of the book as Beale argues for a contextual understanding of OT citations and allusions.

Central to any discussion of the NT’s use of the OT is a discussion of typology, which Beale defines as “the study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in their meaning” (14, removed italics). He follows this definition by providing warrants for identifying an OT type, viewing the cyclical nature of biblical narratives as intrinsically forward-looking, which allows for the development of a type in the OT itself. The second chapter continues the discussion of chapter one by defining other significant terms, such as allusion and echo.

The third chapter forms the heart of the book, outlining a ninefold approach for studying an OT reference in the New, beginning with the New and Old Testament contexts. After these contexts have been thoroughly studied, Beale suggests surveying references to the OT passage in early and late Judaism, followed by a comparison of the relevant textual traditions (ie. LXX, DSS, Josephus, Philo, ect.). The remaining steps involve deciphering the NT author’s textual, hermeneutical, theological, and rhetorical use of the OT passage in its present context. Chapters four through six further expound the specifics of these latter steps of the process, together with examples clarifying the method and value of each. The final chapter of the book consists of an illustration of Beale’s ninefold approach that examines the use of Isaiah 22:22 in Revelation 3:7.

The usefulness of this book can hardly be stated for those seeking to rightly handle the Scripture, whether student, pastor, or laity. Beale’s clear writing style, in addition to the uncharacteristic conciseness of the book, makes the method accessible to a wide audience. Furthermore, Beale, while emphasizing the indispensable value of learning the biblical languages, formats the book in such a way that those not familiar with Hebrew and Greek are able to profit just as well from the work.

Yet, together with the method itself, one of the greatest contributions of this book is the organized bibliographic information throughout. With the discussion of each step, Beale points the reader to both primary and secondary sources, allowing the exegete to draw their own conclusion. Also, a hearty bibliography of general reference works on the New Testaments use of the Old may be found at the back of the book.

Beale is to be commended for this book, which outlines the methodology underlying much of his previous work in this field. Though the reader could gain much of the same information by studying the edited volume, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, the succinct procedure here is far more accessible. By employing the ninefold process, students may be better able to relate the contexts of New and Old Testament passages, building a genuine biblical theology that respects the unity and diversity present in the Scripture, for the ultimate purpose of knowing and loving the sovereign Lord of history.

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