A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Mark Joseph Kiefer
Covenant Continuity and Fidelity was written by Jonathan Gibson, and this book serves as the publication of his PhD dissertation. Gibson completed his Bachelor of Science at The University of Ulster, his Bachelor of Divinity at Moore Theological College, and his PhD in Hebrew Studies at Girton College. He is ordained as a teaching elder in the International Presbyterian Church, UK, and he currently serves as Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Among other places, Gibson has published in The Journal of Biblical Literature, Themelios, and The Tyndale Bulletin, and he has contributed to works including From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective; Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present; and David’s Son and David’s Lord: Christology for Christ’s People.
In Covenant Continuity and Fidelity, Gibson aims to demonstrate that by investigating Malachi’s use of inner biblical interpretation, one discovers the chief mechanism with which Malachi develops his primary theme. Specifically, he claims that “Malachi’s theme of covenant continuity and fidelity is heard most clearly when set against the backdrop of his inner-biblical allusion and exegesis of a range of texts in the Hebrew Bible” (22). Gibson argues this claim first by introducing the book of Malachi, second by outlining his analytical approach, third by applying his method to Malachi’s various pericopes, and last by recapitulating the results of his investigation. This work is valuable because it provides an approachable yet highly meticulous analysis of Malachi’s intentional use of inner-biblical interpretation. Gibson’s audience is the Christian seminary student or scholar.
First, Gibson introduces Malachi’s theme of covenant. He says that Malachi’s theses “reaffirm [YHWH’s] commitment to his covenant promises: he has loved Israel (1.2) and, though he will punish covenant-breakers because he does not change, the children of Jacob will not be consumed (3.5-6)” (2). Gibson means that Malachi’s main point centers on God’s covenants with his people, and he specifies the patriarchal, Levitical, Mosaic, and marital covenants (2). Though others have studied Malachi, Gibson states that only a few, such as McKenzie and Wallace, have produced scholarship on Malachi’s covenant themes, and even their work merely introduces the topic (3-8).
From here, he notes the features of Malachi’s inner-biblical interpretation, including the use of proper nouns, key names, Deuteronomic terms, rare and unique word or root combinations, simple words in specific contexts, lexical and syntactical parallels, and speech interjections (9-10). In other words, Malachi’s choice of language and syntax evokes historical biblical texts relevant to expressing his message. Gibson considers other Malachian research but determines that poor methodology has led to inconsistent inner-biblical interpretation (10-21).
Second, Gibson outlines the method with which he exposes Malachi’s inner-biblical interpretation. He summarizes it as “(1) evaluating the evidence for correspondence between texts; (2) determining the direction of dependence between texts; and (3) defining the kind of correspondence between texts” (33). Said differently, Gibson assesses two texts for interrelated elements such as those enumerated above, he considers the plausibility of textual reliance, and he discerns the manner with which the later text evokes the earlier. Upon recognizing a source text via these criteria, Gibson then scrutinizes the source text’s function and rhetorical purpose to “discern the interpretive significance of the source text for the alluding or quoting text” (44). All of this serves as his technique to discover and understand Malachi’s inner-biblical interpretation.
Next, Gibson systematically applies his method to each of Malachi’s pericopes. As an illustrative case, Gibson evaluates Malachi’s use of inner-biblical interpretation in his first pericope—Malachi 1:2-5. He starts by noting that “a few textual variants exist among the versions, but none that challenge the MT” (46). Gibson then examines the structure of the pericope, and within this structure, he observes that Malachi offers two examples of God communicating his love for Israel (47).
These examples, he says, both reveal Malachi’s use of inner-biblical interpretation of prior OT texts and “serve to enhance the central theme of YHWH’s covenant love for his people” (48). Despite no use of the term ברית, Gibson finds from the language of love and hate, the context of Jacob’s birthright and land, and Edom’s cursing as the result of the Abrahamic covenant that Malachi intends covenant themes—specifically those of the patriarchal covenant (48). In other words, the elements of Malachi’s first pericope lead Gibson to see Malachi issuing his message by calling to mind the patriarchal covenant.
From there, Gibson seeks to reveal these covenant realities in each of Malachi’s two examples. Gibson says Malachi’s first example of YHWH’s covenant love for Israel occurs in Malachi 1:2-3a, and in particular, Malachi evokes the Jacob-Esau tradition. He notes that names and words including יעקב, עשו, and אח call to mind Genesis 25-36; שנא and אהב evoke God’s respective posture toward Esau and Jacob; the word order reversal in Malachi 1:2d-3a mirrors God’s reversal in choosing the younger over the older (Gen 25:23); and the third person singular addresses to Jacob and Esau personalize Malachi’s words toward these two patriarchs (49-50).
Then, Gibson couples these findings with Malachi’s contextual and thematic parallels. He observes both that the lives of Jacob and Esau “play out in relation to the land promise of Abraham. Jacob goes into ‘exile’ for a time, while Esau remains in the land (Gen. 28-33),” and that Malachi “focuses on the territory of Edom (explicitly) and Israel (implicitly) (1.3-5)” (50). He means that land is a shared context in both the Genesis and Malachi passages. Additionally, Gibson points out the mutual theme of election in both Genesis and Malachi 1:2-3a (50). All of this suggests to Gibson that Malachi is intentionally evoking patriarchal covenant ideas by hearkening back to the Jacob-Esau tradition of Genesis 25-33.
Before concluding as such, however, Gibson reviews evidence for the availability of the Genesis tradition at the time Malachi prophesied, and he cites two primary arguments supporting its availability. First, he says that Malachi’s use of a rhetorical question suggests that the recipients of his message would have known the answer, and this implies familiarity and access to the tradition (50). Second, Gibson notes that Malachi employs past tense language regarding YHWH’s love for Jacob and hate for Esau (50), and this language along with his first argument gives Gibson confidence in “historical distance between Malachi and the Genesis tradition or text to which he alludes” (51). That is to say that internal evidence suggests the Jacob-Esau tradition would have been available for Malachi’s use.
Thus, Gibson concludes that in Malachi’s first example, he employs “a creative reapplication of the fraternal tradition for his own audience … he chose the illustration of divine election that carried the most rhetorical impact: YHWH’s choice between twin brothers, both of whom were descendants of Abraham and Isaac” (52). In other words, Gibson recognizes that Malachi purposely drew from the OT, specifically from the Jacob-Esau tradition, in order to powerfully show Israel that God’s covenant love, established long ago, remains active and distinctively set upon his people Israel.
After that, Gibson evaluates Malachi’s other example in his first pericope of God’s covenant love. Here, he discerns overlapping lexical, syntactical, contextual, and thematic coordinates between Malachi and Isaiah 34:5-15, Joel 4:19-20, and Ezekiel 35 (53-61). Also, these other prophets’ yet unfulfilled judgments on Edom imply historical distance to Malachi, and so Gibson is confident of their availability for Malachi’s use (61). That said, he recognizes varying degrees of connection between Malachi and these prophecies, and Gibson concludes that Malachi uses them to illustrate that “the attitudes and actions of Esau’s descendants … provide justification for Edom’s condemnation…. The Abrahamic covenant is still in operation: those who curse the chosen seed will be cursed (Gen. 12.3; esp. 27.29)” (63).
Said another way, Malachi points out that Edom’s later destruction reveals YHWH’s covenant faithfulness to the patriarchs: he has cursed Edom for Edom’s evil treatment of his chosen Jacob. While Gibson sees this explicitly, he also subsequently argues for an implicit allusion to Israel’s restoration (63-69), and he summarizes his findings noting that “Malachi 1.2-5 is all about YHWH’s favor” (74).
As a second representative case, Gibson evaluates Malachi 2:10-16, and he starts by logging text-critical issues so as to responsibly diagnose its textual associations (116-21). He then explains the passage’s covenantal content noting, “Two covenants are explicitly mentioned in this pericope: the covenant with the forefathers (ברית אבתינו; 2.10) and the covenant with a marriage partner (אשת בריתך; 2.14)” (122). This guides Gibson to identify potential source texts from which Malachi drew. Before Gibson evaluates Malachi’s inner-biblical interpretation, he works to “first resolve a number of textual, exegetical and syntactical issues in Mal. 2.15” (125).
Next, Gibson begins his inner-biblical analysis by observing lexical parallels between Malachi 2:10-16 and Genesis 1-2. For instance, he associates God having made (עשה) man and woman one (אחד) in Malachi 2:15 with God making (עשה) humanity male and female in Genesis 1:26, God making (עשה) man’s helper in Genesis 2:18, and God calling man and his wife to be one (אחד) in Gen 2:24 (137). Gibson then combines this analysis with additional Malachian textual, contextual, and thematic content corresponding to the Genesis passage (137-39) and concludes that Malachi alludes to Genesis in order to highlight God’s design for marriage and Israel’s covenant infidelity on the matter (139-40).
Gibson next connects Malachi 2:10-16 to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 using the same technique (140-53), and he determines that “Deuteronomy 24 put a check on the husband to avoid him divorcing his wife for whatever reason he liked; Malachi denounces divorce in accordance with the spirit of the same law” (154). In other words, Malachi’s allusion here to Deuteronomy and earlier to Genesis are both oratorical tactics to decry unwarranted divorce and promote godly marriages. By this same method, Gibson evaluates all of Malachi, and he presents Malachi’s use of inner-biblical allusion as his primary vehicle for emphasizing covenant themes.
Finally, Gibson rehearses his approach and the major findings from his investigation, and he concludes that Malachi employs a degree of hermeneutical liberty in gathering available OT texts, in focusing on relevant language and ideas from these texts, and in rhetorically redirecting such content to address his contemporaries and their present situation (258-59). In particular, Gibson says that Malachi does this to “expose Israel’s covenant infidelity . . . give effect to YHWH’s covenant curse . . . [and] underline YHWH’s covenant fidelity” (261-62). To state it differently, Malachi’s strategic and varied use of inner-biblical interpretation throughout his prophecy functions to purposefully promote the covenant themes central to his message.
One strength of Gibson’s book is his precise definition, differentiation, and use of formal correspondence terms including citation, quotation, allusion, echo, and trace. Specifically, he defines a citation as “an intentional, attributed quotation” (41), an allusion as “an intentional, implicit reuse of keywords of a phrase from an earlier work” with interpretive significance (41), and an echo as “an unintentional reuse of keywords or a phrase from an earlier work” with no interpretive significance (43). Then later, when assessing the potential correspondence between Zechariah 1:2-6 and Malachi 3:7, he explains that the “question is whether Malachi exhibits a verbal dependence on Zech. 1 or simply verbal correspondence. (187). Gibson goes on to say that the lexical and syntactical matching with slight changes typical of textual reuse indicates a high likelihood that Malachi is dependent upon and makes an allusion to Zechariah’s writing (188).
By defining and working out of these terms of correspondence, Gibson avoids terminological confusion common in other inner-biblical studies. He meaningfully identifies and classifies Malachi’s inner-biblical interpretive moves out of a nuanced framework, and the precision of his language allows him to do so without claiming to prove too much or too little regarding Malachi’s intentional reuse of Scripture. Freed from overstatement, Gibson’s claim that Malachi uses inner-biblical allusion to present covenant themes is greatly strengthened.
A second strength of Gibson’s work is the sheer consistency of compelling results from applying his method. For instance, he considers Malachi 1:6-2:9’s text-critical issues, structure, theme, and covenantal connection. Then he evaluates several Pentateuchal texts—Leviticus 22:17-25; Deuteronomy 15:21; 28; Numbers 6:23-27—for lexical, syntactical, contextual, and thematic parallels; availability; textual correspondence; and interpretive significance to this Malachian pericope.
Through this process, Gibson deftly shows that priestly dereliction of sacrificial law has prompted “Malachi’s transformation of the Priestly blessing into a curse: Malachi puns the content of the Blessing . . . he also fractures its form . . . the Priestly Blessing has become an anti-Blessing” (115). He means that Malachi purposely recalls familiar and pertinent OT texts to indict the Levitical priests for their covenantal negligence. By applying his method to all of Malachi’s pericopes and consistently finding related conclusions regarding Malachi’s covenant evocations from OT texts, Gibson generates a repeatability that inspires confidence and creates a momentum supporting his book’s chief argument.
Another strength of Gibson’s book includes his wrestling with potential source texts when investigating Malachi’s inner-biblical interpretation. In one case, he compares Numbers 25:10-13 with Malachi 2:1-9 in search of corresponding content, but his analysis “reveals that the connections to each text are not as close as might at first seem” (103). He sees some related vocabulary, phraseology, context, and themes; however, none offer a definitively matching parallel between the texts. He, therefore, concludes that “an intended allusion to Num. 25.10-13 remains uncertain” (104).
Similarly, when tracing possible correspondence between Malachi 3:2 and Joel 2:11, Gibson grapples with assessing Joel’s availability for Malachi’s use noting the uncertainty as to whether Joel’s prophecy precedes Malachi’s (178). In closely analyzing the two texts, he observes that Malachi contributes new content to the overlapping textual features and thus deduces that Joel’s writing was available to and alluded to by Malachi (179). By including unconfirmed or marginal cases of Malachi’s allusion to other biblical texts, Gibson presents his method as discerning. Consequently, when he argues elsewhere that Malachi certainly alludes to other biblical texts, he comes across as credible, and all of this invites his reader to accept his chief claim that Malachi indeed uses inner-biblical interpretation to promote covenant ideas.
A final strength of Gibson’s book is his navigating exegetical issues before determining whether Malachi intended allusions to specific source texts. For example, he recognizes a diversity of views regarding the meaning of the word סגלה in context with its neighboring language in Malachi 3:17, and so Gibson first evaluates and settles on the best interpretation of Malachi 3:17 before proceeding to identify source texts to which Malachi alludes (206-7).
By first overcoming such exegetical hurdles, Gibson demonstrates a recognition that the meaning of lexical coordinates—not just the words—must also share correspondence with legitimate source texts, and thus the interpretation of lexical constructions must precede their comparison with potential sources. Such logical preliminary steps cultivate confidence in Gibson’s subsequent arguments for an inner-biblical allusion because they serve to preclude the risk of later making invalid claims of textual correspondence.
One weakness of Gibson’s work is his underexplained inclusion of an excursus defending the originality of Malachi 3:22-24. He states, “Since the earliest translations, questions have been raised about what was original to the final verses of the prophet’s oracle and what was added later” (215). Then, Gibson assesses different views on the purpose of this text along with the textual, terminological, phraseological, stylistic, structural, canonical, and thematic arguments for it being a late addition to Malachi (215-35). Upon completing his assessment, he simply asserts, “The evidence is weighted toward the originality and integrality of Mal. 3.22-24[4.4-6] with the rest of the book…. This lays the foundation for the final part of the present study” (235).
To Gibson’s credit, he levels formidable arguments for the originality of these verses; however, his readers may wonder precisely how this serves to reveal Malachi’s use of inner-biblical interpretation as a vehicle for evoking covenant themes—the author’s thesis. Has not such a thorough analysis already been conducted, and if not, is this the place for it? One may imagine reasons for its inclusion, but Gibson seemingly leaves it unqualified. Therefore, the study appears of value but remains underexplained and is perhaps better relegated to a separate work.
Another weakness of Gibson’s book is the author’s continued attention to apparently deficient scholarship despite having already noted that poor methodology has led others to invalid conclusions. For example, he asserts that since Malachi 3:23-24 “is the first mention of Elijah in Malachi (and indeed the Latter prophets), the question arises as to why he is appointed to be the messenger of 3.1” (236-37). He then appraises Lotta Valve and Brevard Childs’s proposals on this potential inner-biblical move, but he dismisses Valve as lacking “any clear ‘criteria breaks’ and . . . any sense of hermeneutical control” (243), and he says that Childs lacks matching textual coordinates and “is misplaced” (245). Then returning to his own approach, he argues his view (246-56). For six consecutive pericopes, Gibson compares Malachi’s text with other OT texts using his own disciplined methodology, and so it is surprising and seemingly unnecessary that he argues his thesis by overviewing and dismissing other views for lack of methodological discipline—a point he has already addressed.
Though not without some minor weaknesses, Gibson is largely successful in proving his thesis. By overviewing the book of Malachi, outlining his analytical approach, applying his method to Malachi’s various pericopes, and recapitulating the results of his investigation, Gibson demonstrates that Malachi’s inner-biblical allusion and exegesis of a variety of OT texts stresses Malachi’s primary theme of covenant continuity and fidelity. All of this reveals inner-biblical interpretation as chief mechanism by which Malachi issues his prophetic declaration, and thus Gibson fulfills the goal of his work. Not only that, but the content of the book matches the intended audience of seminary-level students or scholars. I find this book to be a fascinating, thoughtful, and methodical book that will serve as an exemplar for properly approaching analysis of inner-biblical interpretation. I expect to reference it often and would recommend it to all interested in acquiring a methodologically driven aptitude for biblical-theological analysis.
Set in a Broader Context
More broadly, Gibson charts a fresh course for discerning both Malachi’s and any biblical author’s inner-biblical interpretation of historically available biblical texts. As it pertains to Malachi, historical scholarship has perceived his use of a vast range of source texts, but Gibson rightly understood this to be “an indication of the methodological confusion that besets the study of inner-biblical connections within the Hebrew Bible more generally” (21).
Gibson, however, differentiates his scholarship through his strategic deployment of nuanced terminology and a disciplined analytical method. For instance, he recognizes the reader-response connotation inherent in the word intertextuality and scrupulously avoids such semantically charged language “when speaking about the diachronic analysis of texts. For this study, the terms ‘inner-biblical allusion’ and inner-biblical exegesis’ (with inner-biblical interpretation’ as an umbrella term for the two) are preferred” (32). Similarly, and as was already mentioned, he supplies and employs well-defined terms of formal correspondence throughout his work so as to carefully and consistently argue the degree to which Malachi intends to reference OT passages.
Additionally, Gibson’s research profits Malachian scholarship because of the reality that “[m]any scholars do acknowledge the predominance of covenant in the book. Few, however, move beyond the surface observation” (8). Gibson helpfully sees Malachi’s primary covenantal emphasis and seizes this opportunity to “fill the lacuna in studies on the covenant theme in Malachi as well as to redress the disconnect between Malachi’s central theme and his inner-biblical interpretation” (9). That is to say that Gibson does not merely observe covenant ideas within Malachi’s prophecy as others have done, but instead he advances the discussion by both successfully discerning Malachi’s purposeful inner-biblical interpretations of OT passages and shrewdly connecting these with Malachi’s goal of emphasizing covenant themes and ideas. This, I believe, is a unique contribution to the field of Malachian studies.
Beyond Malachian scholarship, however, Gibson’s work also introduces a measure of clarity to inner-biblical allusion and exegesis along with a methodological rigor that emboldens future such studies. A careful evaluation of his work reveals concepts and processes that presumably may be replicated for and reappropriated to other, less carefully developed books of the Bible, and such diligent studies would offer the prospect of realizing similarly fruitful discoveries within the Word of God.
In other words, Gibson’s work presents his acolytes with the means by which to discover how biblical authors naturally drew on extant Scripture to promote their prophetic message, and they may do so without either becoming encumbered by endless potential source texts or becoming disillusioned by an inability to discern the degree to which an author intends to reference his source texts. Given Gibson’s conservative background and associations—he has also worked in conjunction with The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, and Ligonier ministries—his monograph invites similarly minded individuals holding to conservative views on canonicity and authorial intent to pursue equally compelling investigations for the glory of God.
Mark Joseph Kiefer is a PhD student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary