Scripture Quoted in Scripture
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Hermeneutics — Overview |
Scripture Accessible to all Believers | The Nature of Communication | False Principles of Interpretation | Good Principles of Interpretation | Scripture Quoted in Scripture | Symbolism
The scripture itself contains many examples of the writers quoting from portions of scripture written earlier,and describing their perception of what these passages mean. Therefore, scripture contains within itself principles of interpretation. By analyzing these passages we can obtain insight into which principles of interpretation scripture itself uses.
As we study this subject we must seek to answer certain questions, such as:
One thing we notice in this study is that the New Testament writers who quote passages from the Old Testament interpret the original words themselves in their most obvious meaning. An example of this is the words of Jesus as he was speaking about hell:
It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (in Mark 9:47,48)
Jesus is quoting from the book of Isaiah in speaking about the worm which does not die and the fire which is not quenched:
'All mankind will come and bow down before me,' says the Lord. 'And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind. (Isaiah 66:24)
The image of the worm and the fire are being used in exactly the same way and with exactly the same meaning by both Isaiah and Jesus. Therefore, when we read Old Testament passages we must be careful to interpret them exactly as they were understood by the original readers.
Another interesting example of an Old Testament passage being quoted concerns Peter's suggestion that the disciples choose another to replace Judas:
May another take his place of leadership. (Acts 1:20)
The original passage is in Psalm 109:8 and is a prayer by David to the Lord asking for judgment on the "wicked and deceitful men" (cf. Psalm 109:2) who have opposed him. Although Peter used this verse from Psalm 109 in order to support his argument that they should find another to replace Judas, he did not change the original meaning of the verse in the Psalm. Both verses refer to a wicked man who loses his position of authority in Divine judgment and that, since the position he formerly occupied was now vacant, another man would need to be appointed to fill this position.
It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze every passage in the Old Testament that is quoted in the New Testament, but I will give examples of every type of usage. I would recommend that the reader look up every passage of this type using a Study Bible to locate them.
There are many examples of Old Testament prophecy being fulfilled in New Testament times. The writers of the New Testament recorded many of these. One example is the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people. (Acts 2:17)
Peter affirms that this is, indeed, a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy:
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. (Acts 2:16)
The complete prophecy is recorded in Joel 2:28-32.
One thing we should notice is that much prophecy of this category is related to the person of Jesus, his work and his deity. As an example of this:
Zeal for your house will consume me. (John 2:17b)
This prophecy refers to Jesus' clearing of the temple. The prophecy was spoken by David in Psalm 69:9a. In this prophecy David is declaring to the Lord that he has committed his life to seeking the Lord and His will. This attitude of commitment was fulfilled perfectly in Jesus who was without sin.
Notice that not all Old Testament prophecy which was fulfilled in New Testament times was referred to in the New Testament. One example, speaking of Jesus:
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles. (Isaiah 42:6)
While this prophecy was certainly fulfilled by Jesus, it is never quoted in the New Testament. It is, therefore, a valid principle of interpretation to search the Old Testament for prophecy which is fulfilled in New Testament times. Additionally, this highlights the fact that the New Testament does not contain all possible teaching about truth. In other words, there are truths which are not in the New Testament. This is why we need sacred Tradition.
Some of the prophesies which were fulfilled in New Testament times are of such a nature that they had already been fulfilled in the past, perhaps several times, and were again being fulfilled in the New Testament. An example:
These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. (Mark 7:6b,7)
According to scripture, this prophesy was fulfilled by the Pharisees and teachers of the law:
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. (Mark 7:6a)
Yet this prophecy is written in Isaiah 29:13 and clearly referred to the people of Isaiah's day as well.
We must be careful to not add a prophetic quality to New Testament passages which were interpreted at the time as not being prophetic. Or, expanding this theme a bit further, we should not in our day declare that the writers of the New Testament "missed" in their understanding of what they preached and wrote. We cannot add to their teachings by declaring that they "missed" something that the Holy Spirit has chosen to reveal only in our day. Many false cults have been born out of this kind of modern day prophecy.
But thus is not to say that there is no development of doctrine, because, of course, there is. For example, the Trinity and the Canon of scripture are both examples of doctrinal development. These two doctrines were not fully present in the Early Church but developed over time. We need the Holy Spirit-inspired teaching authority of the Churchto assist is in these matters.
Another use of Old Testament prophetic passages in the New Testament concerns not their fulfillment, but merely their inclusion in an expanded prophecy of events still future as of the time of the writing. These prophecies add detail and clarification to the original prophecy so that it may be understood more fully. An example of this is in the book of Matthew:
'The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' (Matthew 24:29b)
This prophecy was originally given in Isaiah 13:10.
The scripture records Satan's misuse of scripture in his pursuit as tempter. In two of his three temptations of Christ he misused Old Testament scripture.
From this we can see several ways in which Satan misused scripture. Firstly, he quoted it out of context by ignoring what is immediately before and immediately after; secondly, he ignored the intent of the original and gave it a meaning to suit his own purposes; and, thirdly, he completely ignored other scripture which must be understood along with the passage in question in order to gain a proper understanding of the meaning of the passage.
Satan quoted this passage to tempt Christ:
He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' (Matthew 4:6b)
This passage is from Psalm 91:11,12. However, based on the context of Psalm 91 we see that this passage was taken out of context. In Psalm 91:2:
I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'
Notice that we are to look to the Lord to protect us as an act of submission. In verses 9 and 10a,
If you make the Most High your dwelling — even the Lord, who is my refuge — then no harm will befall you.
In verse 14,
'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.'
The attitude required here must be one of humility and subservience. However, Satan's attitude is one of rebelliousness and deceit; but Jesus correctly read his intent when he answered:
It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' (Matthew 4:7)
Thus we see that God is concerned with the condition of the heart. When we apply a passage of scripture to a situation in our lives, we must not separate the words from the attitude of the heart.
We must avoid at all cost misusing the scripture. Satan has been very effective in warping the meaning and intent of the Word of God in deceiving many.
Jesus used scripture in spiritual warfare in response to Satan's temptation.
It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' (Matthew 4:4)
The passage he is quoting is from Deuteronomy 8:3. Notice that he was responding to Satan's temptation:
If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. (Matthew 4:3)
Satan was attempting to convince Jesus to use his position as the Son of God to take care of his personal needs, but Jesus reminded him from scripture that we are to look to God to supply all our needs.
Jesus was not merely speaking these words in a shallow manner but was responding to Satan's temptation with a deep understanding of God's will and purpose. Jesus was not using scripture as a formula in the manner that the "word faith" teachers today use the phrase "in the name of Jesus;" rather, he was rejecting Satan's suggestion from an understanding of Satan's evil intent.
Satan was tempting Jesus to use his power as God in order to satisfy a self-centered desire, but Jesus saw Satan's evil intent and refused using the verse from Deuteronomy to demonstrate that our focus should be fixed only on God. Therefore, when we quote scripture in spiritual warfare it must be with this depth of understanding.
Old Testament scripture is quoted by believers as worship. In Matthew 21:9:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
This passage is from Psalm 118:26. In effect, these believers were using this passage to declare the Lordship of Jesus much as today we would sing a song of worship to the Lord using passages from scripture.
Jesus, Himself, used scripture as prayer as he cried out to God:
'"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Matthew 27:46)
This passage is from Psalm 22:1. David used these same words in a moment of despair just as Jesus used them just before he gave up His spirit. We can, therefore, use passages from scripture in our prayers as long as the context and meaning of the passages we use is the same as in scripture.
The Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament to support the gospel. Sometimes this is a fulfillment of prophecy in order to demonstrate that Jesus is God or some other aspect of His mission. The following is typical:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. (Acts 3:22)
This passage is from Deuteronomy 18:15,18,19. In Deuteronomy, God is exhorting His people to believe His prophets and to obey them.
When Peter preached the gospel he reminded the crowd of this passage in Deuteronomy in his defense of the gospel. He was demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ and, therefore, that they should listen to what Jesus has told them:
Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people. (Acts 3:23)
A similar use of Old Testament scripture in the New Testament is in demonstrating the nature of God which, of course, plays a big part in the gospel. An example of this is:
Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:13)
This passage was quoted by Jesus from Hosea 6:6. Jesus was answering the objections of the Pharisees as to why he was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus quoted the passage from Hosea to demonstrate that his actions were in line with the nature of God as revealed in the Old Testament, and that they should, therefore, be able to accept Jesus, himself, as God because he was acting in the manner in which God acts. We can, therefore, use scripture in order to understand the nature of God and to understand that Jesus is, indeed, deity.
Sometimes the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament to demonstrate truth or in a discussion about truth. An example of this is:
The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.' (Matthew 22:44)
This is quoted from Psalm 110:1. Jesus was using this passage to demonstrate that the son of David is the Lord and that Jesus, Himself, is this Lord. Since Psalm 110 is prophetic and relates to the kingship and glory of the Messiah it was definitely appropriate for Jesus to quote portions of it and apply it to Himself. Just as Jesus applied this passage in Psalm 110 to Himself, we too can apply passages of scripture concerning the Messiah to Jesus.
Another example of quoting the Old Testament in the New Testament to demonstrate truth or in a discussion about truth is:
Their sins and lawless Acts I will remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)
This passage is quoted from Jeremiah 31:34. This passage in the book of Hebrews is a declaration that the prophecy in Jeremiah is fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ.
There are many instances of New Testament writers quoting Old Testament passages simply to recount Old Testament history. This, of course, does not diminish the importance of these passages, because God uses historical events to demonstrate spiritual truths.
An example of this is Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin using the events in the life of Moses in his argument:
Who made you ruler and judge over us? So you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday? (Acts 7:27b,28)
It is quoted from Exodus 2:14. This passage is within a long section in which Stephen reviews the highlights of Old Testament history to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. But notice that Stephen's argument comes to a conclusion which is true and can be confirmed by other scripture. Therefore, we can not use true historical events to build an argument which reaches an untrue conclusion.
There are many examples of the New Testament writers quoting passages from the Old Testament and applying the original passage in a new way under the direction of the Holy Spirit. An example of this is:
These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. (Mark 7:6b,7)
The original passage is in Isaiah 29:13. This example demonstrates the Holy Spirit applying an Old Testament prophecy to a New Testament situation. Since the Holy Spirit knows the condition of a person's heart, he is able to correctly apply a passage from scripture to a current situation. We must be careful when we prophesy that we are truly motivated by the Holy Spirit and not by the desires of the flesh or the meaning of a passage of scripture can be very badly distorted.
In the following example, Jesus takes an Old Testament law and gives it a new significance.
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27b)
This passage is quoted from Leviticus 19:18. Then in verse 36:
Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
and verse 33:
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was: and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
Here Jesus makes it clear that we should love our enemies. The Holy Spirit uses this opportunity to demonstrate that the expert on the law who asked the question had hatred in his heart for the Samaritan who was a hated foreigner, and that he was, therefore, in violation of the law.
Another example of the intervention of the Holy Spirit in a New Testament interpretation of an Old Testament passage:
For it is written in the Law of Moses: 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' Is it about the oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us.' (1 Corinthians 9:9,10a)
The Old Testament passage is from Deuteronomy 25:4. Notice that here there is added meaning. The Old Testament people understood this passage to refer to the oxen but Paul has expanded the meaning to refer primarily to workers of the gospel.
This particular technique of adding to the original meaning or applying a passage to a new situation must be used with great care. Many false doctrines have been created by man in the name of the Holy Spirit.