The Daily Brew

Christ Culture

An interview w/ Dr. Greg Beale

An interview w/ Dr. Greg Beale

An Interview with G. K. Beale

 

1)      Can you tell us a little about yourself – church background, education, interests, and family life?

I earned my Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and an MA in Historical Theology from Southern Methodist University in 1976 and my Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1981. I have taught in various capacities at Grove City College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Wheaton College Graduate School. I am currently serving at Westminster Theological Seminary as Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology. Some of the courses I teach are Introduction to the New Testament (NT111), New Testament Interpretation: Acts and the Pauline Epistles (NT223), New Testament Theology (NT912), and New Testament Use of the Old Testament (NT641/941). I was ordained for many years in the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC USA). About four years ago I transferred my ordination into the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). My wife Dorinda and I currently attend Calvary OPC in Glenside, PA. We have three children.

2)      What has been your single most difficult academic achievement (a course, writing project, or otherwise)?

A number of the things I have decided to write on have been especially challenging.  My Th.M. thesis on the hardening Pharoah’s heart in Exodus 4-14 was difficult because there are statements that Pharaoh hardened his own heart or that God hardened his heart or merely that it was hardened.  Which is it? My commentary on Revelation was very difficult because the meaning of so many of the pictures in Revelation is debated.  In addition, my book titled Hidden But Now Revealed: a Biblical Theology of Mystery was quite hard because of the problem of why the NT says certain things (like why Gentile salvation in Christ is a mystery or why the appearance of the Antichrist, is a mystery, etc.).  Why were such things “mysteries” from the Old Testament vantage point.  The hardest single verse that I have ever had to interpret was Isa. 65:20 (an essay by me on this text will appear in JETS in the fall of 2018).

3)      Who or what has had the most significant influence on your identity as (a) a father and husband, (b) professor and academic, and (c) church leader?

In terms of my life in the academy and the church I would say the Reformers have played a significant role because they put the two spheres together. Calvin and Luther, as well as Augustine and Abraham Kuyper all come to mind because they were all concerned with both sides of the equation—the life of the heart as well as the mind.

One of the things that has helped me the most over the years has been reading biographies of some of the great theologians. My wife and I have read together out loud Jonathan Edwards’ biography, the biography of J. Gresham Machen, Augustine, and Arthur Pink. We have read some other biographies and it has been very helpful because you see both the rigorous academic pursuits and yet you also see the practical difficulties of the ministry, that sometimes people would fail but also that they had great successes. It is also very helpful to read these biographies because you get glimpses of family life that is very instructive. One of the most important things people can do is read these types of biographies because you understand their greatness but you understand their fallibility and you can learn from both.

4)      What is your involvement in the local church? How has this involvement impacted and shaped your role in the academy?

Right now, as I said I am in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and occasionally when I’m in town I will preach at my own church and at various other churches in the area. I often do conferences for churches both inside and outside of the United States. I’m very concerned that my work be related not just to academic types but also to seriously minded people in the church, including pastors and students. I hope that my work will be appreciated by scholars, but everything I have written—whether its my commentary on Revelation, my book on the Temple, or my recent New Testament Biblical Theology—I have tried to aim for the church in general.

5)      What projects are you currently working on?

I have just finished a commentary on Colossians and Philemon in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series, which will appear in January of 2019. I am also in the final stages of finishing a book titled The Weapons of Weakness and the Weakness of the World: the Ironic Patterns of Biblical Theology (for Crossway publishers).  In addition, I am starting a sequel to my Biblical Theology of the New Testament in which I will develop further the notion that the main doctrines of the New Testament are to be understood through the lens of the already and not yet eschatology of the new creational kingdom expressed in Christ’s death and resurrection. Also, I am commencing a commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (with my former student Christopher Beetham) for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series.  Furthermore, I am doing research on a book, titled Christ Among the Myths (co-authored with my son, Stephen Beale). Moreover, I am in the beginning stages of editing a project (together with D. A. Carson, B. J. Gladd, and A. Naselli) titled A Dictionary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker). Finally, I am in the final stages of submitting some articles to journals.

6)      What do you see as the greatest needs in the church today with respect to preaching and teaching? How does your Handbook on the New Testament use of the Old Testament aim to address some of those needs?

My own view is that pastors need to be serious about interpreting the biblical text. This doesn’t mean presenting all the details of their exegesis, but they should faithfully present what the text is saying to their congregations. Their messages should be molded by the biblical text in that regard. A very important part of this is to let scripture interpret scripture, which is where my Handbook will hopefully prove useful. Wherever there is an Old Testament quotation or allusion the handbook is meant to guide pastors and students through the process of interpreting each occurrence. The Handbook essentially presents the method behind the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament that Don Carson and I edited. It also represents the method behind my New Testament Biblical Theology. So, in terms of the church, I think pastors need to preach consistently and expositorally through books and to continue to give their congregations Sunday in and Sunday out doses of that, especially being aware of how the passages they preach from relate not just to prior redemptive history but also to subsequent redemptive history. I think it is especially important that this is done through an awareness of how the Old Testament is used in the New and even how parts of the New Testament relate to other parts of the New Testament.

7)      What have been some encouraging developments within the church in the last twenty-five years? How about in your specific field of New Testament studies?

With respect to my own field of New Testament studies, I think more and more you are finding scholars—whether conservative or liberal—who look at the shape of books as they are found in the canon rather than dividing them up into a variety of sources or forms. It just so happens that the postmodern culture of story and the varieties of rhetorical criticism have helped to capture this interest in the final forms of texts. These developments have greatly aided the very notion of biblical theology and have allowed more contribution and input by people beyond just the conservative sector of scholars. This has been a welcome development, one that was not the case for most of the 20th century.

In terms of canonical criticism, Brevard Childs was someone who said “lets begin to pay attention to the canonical shape of the Bible.” Even though he was still a higher critic on the inductive level—which was a major tension within his own thinking at that point—his overall emphasis is helpful with regard to trying to link things through a canonical final form.

8)      Your latest work, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, seeks to “set forth an approach to interpret OT citations and allusions in the NT” (ix). What is at stake in current discussions regarding the hermeneutical methods of the NT writers? How does biblical authority relate to and intersect with this topic?

I think what is at stake is the unity of the Bible. For most of the 20th century higher critical scholars would say that New Testament writers dealt with the Old Testament in a way that was not in line with its original meaning. There were some who saw that this understanding conflicted with a high view of Scripture. Beginning perhaps in the 1980s and into this century, evangelical scholars more and more began to pick up on that idea while still trying to hold to a high view of Scripture. This is why I edited a book in the mid-1990s called Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? {will link to 1989 Themelios Article}. I was reacting there in part against some evangelical scholars who argued that Jesus and the apostles did not interpret Old Testament texts in line with the original meaning of the Old Testament. Nevertheless, these scholars argued that God does not inspire exegetical methods, only results. So, from that perspective, what the apostles said was right doctrine, but their exegetical method was seriously flawed. What used to be an out-house argument—higher critics vs. evangelicals—became an in-house argument and debate between evangelicals themselves, which has continued on into our current situation.

This is an important issue because, first of all, for Biblical Theology the idea that the apostles preached the “right doctrine from the wrong texts” flies in the face of the unity of Scripture. That the New Testament writers did Biblical Theology in a way different than we do today presents quite a significant hiatus between the early church and us, one that I really don’t think is there. Secondarily, I do think this issue bears on the authority of the Bible. If you consistently see New Testament writers developing the Old Testament in ways not at all in mind to any degree with the Old Testament writer’s thought, then you are effectively undercutting confidence in the Scriptures, even if you do not intend to do so. This is especially so if you start preaching that and teaching that in the church. I think that the overall effect of that will undercut confidence in God’s word by those who continually hear this. Even if someone still wants to say “Oh, the Scriptures are still inspired,” what kind of confidence is that going to give people listening to that kind of preaching and teaching?

I ultimately think it is an inconsistent position because I don’t think epistemologically you can separate exegesis from conclusions drawn from that method. It is very difficult to extricate exegesis from the conclusions of exegesis. There is a difference between us and the New Testament writers, but the difference is that they were inspired and we are not. Despite that difference, we can still imitate their interpretative methods because all interpretation is a matter of possibility and probability. Even their typological method I think we should imitate. I do realize that since they were under inspiration they had a far higher level of certainty about their interpretations than we have, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to imitate their method.

9)      What is missed when readers do not adequately reckon with the vast use of the OT in the NT? For instance, how might one’s reading and preaching of the book of Acts be shaped by knowledge of the OT and its role in that particular book?

Well, again we can talk about the continuity of the book of Acts: how is it related to the Old Testament and how does that shape the message of the book itself? I think what should immediately come to mind is to explore the occurrence and use of Old Testament quotations and allusions in the book of Acts. In doing so, one will notice quite a significant amount of references and allusions to the first exodus and then especially the second new exodus prophesied by Isaiah. In this way the book of Acts is about the continuation of the new exodus that Jesus starts in the first volume, the Gospel of Luke. It is now Jesus’ body—the church—that continues this new exodus that he has begun. Acts is so much soaked in this that the very name of the Christians is “The Way” which comes out of Isaiah 40 referring to the second exodus. In Acts, the progress of the evangelization that one observes is the progress of the new exodus of people being delivered out of captivity to sin and Satan and delivered into the kingdom of God’s son and beginning “on the road” to the consummate exodus—the resurrection of the body, when one is fully delivered out of exile in the old world. But this consummate reality begins in this world through the regeneration of the heart.

10)  In many of your writings you cite frequently from ANE sources (e.g. The Temple and the Church’s Mission, your commentary on Revelation, etc.). However, you also seek to maintain the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture as its own interpreter (cf. WCF, I.9). Could you give us a sense of how your approach to those sources differs from other scholars in the guild?

There are some scholars, even evangelicals, who would say that ancient writers—like modern people—are socially constructed, which includes the notion that the religious beliefs of that culture become so much a part of that person’s thinking that they express themselves through that thinking and assume the truth of this thinking. If this is the case, what we have to do is take off the husk to reveal the spiritual truth in the Old Testament writings because the authors’ scientific notions and legendary notions need to be discarded. My own approach is that they were very aware of Ancient Near Eastern beliefs and legends, but when you begin to look at Israel they were very conscious that they had one God, not many, and again and again what one finds is their awareness about this is very obvious.

For instance, Psalm 29 alludes to the attributes of Baal, but I think it is largely polemical—those who think Baal is able to control nature are wrong, since it is only Israel’s God who can do this. Some of the polemics are very clear, especially in the exodus plague narratives where different plagues are directed at the gods of Egypt, so much so that even the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is directed against the sun god because Pharaoh himself is considered to be the incarnation of the sun god whose heart is said to control everything. Yet here we see that God controls even Pharaoh’s heart. We can go on and on with examples.

My own use of all of that material is on parallel with my use of Jewish traditions, which one finds quite a bit in the temple book and my commentary on the book of Revelation. Why am I dealing so much with non-canonical material? Well, because I want to bring every thought subject to the thinking of God and of Christ. If we’re going to get the best modern “commentary literature” on these things why not draw from the ancient commentaries of Judaism and the Ancient Near East? I treat these things as the earliest commentary literature. There are things we can glean from these traditions that help us understand the Scriptures. It’s very important when you’re interpreting an Old Testament text in the New Testament to see how Judaism understood that same text. Why is that important?

First of all, it may be important because there may be a new perspective that Judaism gives on that text that in fact that NT author himself had that we never might have considered.

Secondly, it’s very important to look at Jewish traditions because sometimes you’ll find that Judaism will interpret the same text in a diametrically and consistently opposite way than the New Testament, which demonstrates the uniqueness of the New Testament in its time.

All of this is just commentary material. If we’re interested in the value of modern commentaries, we should push it back not just to Judaism but also to the Ancient Near East, which can function something like commentary literature.

Having said all this, I don’t believe that the basic meaning of any text in the Bible is completely dependent on an outside ANE or Jewish text, though such texts can significantly enhance the meaning of biblical texts.

A special thanks to our sponsor Whitefield Theological Seminary

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