Tag Archives: Typology

When the New Testament Writers Quote the Old Testament, … Uh… Are They Crazy?

Saint Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot among the original 12 apostles, following Judas' death, as described in Acts 1. The Bible tells us nothing more about Matthias, but one tradition says that he founded the first Christian community along the Caspian Sea (credit: Simone Martini, Wikipedia)

Saint Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot among the original 12 apostles, following Judas’ death, as described in Acts 1. The Bible tells us nothing more about Matthias, but one tradition says that he founded the first Christian community along the Caspian Sea, before being martyred. (credit: Simone Martini, Wikipedia)

Have you ever wondered why the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament, the way they do? Sometimes, it looks rather strange, if not outright crazy. Is there an explanation for this? Let us explore an example from the Book of Acts.

In Acts 1:15-22 (ESV), we have come to the point in Luke’s story, just after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The disciples are waiting in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, when Peter stands up and convinces the rest of the group that they must replace the position, among the apostles, vacated by Judas Iscariot, after Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Luke records what happens, as follows:

(v.15) In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, (v.16) “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. (v.17) For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (v.18) (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. (v.19) And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) (v.20) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;
and

“‘Let another take his office.’

(v.21) So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, (v.22) beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Let us ignore the whole question of how Judas died, and instead, focus on what I have highlighted, namely Peter’s statement, “the Scripture had to be fulfilled,” in v. 16. In v. 20, Peter quotes from two psalms, Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8.  But if you read either of those Psalms in the Old Testament, say Psalm 69, you will notice that this psalm says absolutely nothing about Judas Iscariot, and nothing directly about Jesus as the Messiah. How does this have anything to do with replacing the apostolic position left open by the death of Judas? How can prophecy be “fulfilled” in Acts, when neither psalm appears to be predicting anything?

So,… Is Peter’s use of the quotations from the Old Testament, a bit…. uh…. crazy???? Was Peter suffering from some form of “post-Ascension” stress?

The answer to that is “no,” but it requires taking a closer look at the original context of the Biblical speakers, writers, and their audience.

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Paul, Moses, Romans 10, and How New Testament Writers Use the Old Testament

Targum Neofiti. Now online at the Vatican Library. This 2nd century Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament, used in Jewish worship, may hold the critical clue for how Paul references Moses in Romans 10 to teach that Christ is the end of the Law.

Targum Neofiti. Now online at the Vatican Library. This 2nd century Aramaic paraphrase of part of the Old Testament, used in Jewish worship, may hold the critical clue as to how Paul references Moses in Romans 10 to teach that Christ is the end of the Law.

I do not know about you, but I must be honest: I like reading things in the Bible that come across crystal clear. If I bump into something that forces me to dig back into some other part of the Bible, and it STILL comes across as a bit confusing, then I am like… well….uh… perhaps I should just move on to the next verse.

Sometimes (though thankfully, not every time), studying the Bible to really understand it is a lot of work. But if we are willing take the effort to do the digging, we can discover some riches that can not be had simply by skimming over the top. A classic case of this can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, specifically Romans 10:4-9. Paul is in the middle of making the case that God has not forgotten about the promises He made to the Jewish people, even though the Jews had confused their zealous observance of the Law of Moses (Mosaic Law) with genuine righteousness. In Romans 10:4, Paul comes to this conclusion that has intrigued students of Scripture for centuries:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (ESV).

What exactly does this mean? Has Christ rendered the Law of Moses meaningless? Has He in some sense fulfilled the Law? Chances are pretty good that your pastor’s library is filled with books that debate this very subject.

Then, Paul does something that is, well, frankly, a bit weird…. at least to modern readers. Check out Romans 10:5-9:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says,“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (ESV).

Okay. What is all of this talk about living by the Law, much less ascending into heaven and descending into the abyss? I kind of look at that and go, “Uh, Paul…. you could have used a clearer illustration. I have no clue what this is about.” I am a 21st century American reading a 1st century text written by a Jewish convert to Christianity, and I am drawing a blank. This is when people start to peer into their notes in their study Bibles to see if they can figure out what in the world is going on. There is lot going on here, but I want to focus on just few aspects of this curious passage that will help us to understand how the New Testament writers, such as Paul, use the Old Testament to teach their message. Do you care to dig a little bit with me?
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Son of Man: In Search of That Missing Prophecy

Is this Jonah being swallowed by the big fish, or is this how I felt at a Bible study the other night when I was stumped by a really good question?

Jonah and the big fish… or small group Bible study leader stumped by a really good question?

So, we had a “mini-crisis” in our small group Bible study recently. We were looking at the question of how Jesus fulfills prophecy in the New Testament. Someone read from Luke 24:45-46:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead”(ESV)

Then, the question came: “Does anyone have a reference for this prophecy given in the Old Testament?”

Pages started to rattle. Folks were hunting for a cross-reference. Someone looks around the room for a concordance. Others were pulling out their iPhones to ask the “Almighty All-Knowning Google” for the answer. Whew, boy. I was in trouble.

You see, I’m like, uh, the small group leader. Not only that. I got a seminary degree. Yet, I was completely stumped. All that theological mumbo-jumbo and graduate school $$$  and I was busted.  I tried to mutter something spiritual and intelligent sounding. It was not really working. Folks were looking at me like, “Nice try, no dice, buddy”. I was thinking that Professor Hagner back in seminary was watching, peering over the top of his glasses down at me.  Sweat was pouring down my brow. The room was uncomfortably warm. I was glad I had my day job. Perhaps I could have tried to sneak out the backdoor…. Whoops. That would not have been good…. We were meeting at our house.

😉

OK. I am exaggerating quite a bit. We have a wonderful small group, after all. But it is a great question: Where in the Old Testament do you find the prophecy where Jesus says He will rise again from the dead on the third day? Well, unfortunately, you might be searching a long, long, long time for a specific verse…..
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Son of Man and Prophecy

Perplexed by those making predictions in the economy?  Likewise, many are perplexed by prophecies in the Old Testament that are cited as being "fulfilled" in the New Testament.  Thankfully, there are useful ways of working through these difficulties.

Perplexed by those making predictions in the economy? Likewise, many are perplexed by prophecies in the Old Testament that are cited as being “fulfilled” in the New Testament. Thankfully, there is a useful way of working through these difficulties.

I don’t know about you, but I am terrible when it comes to understanding predictions, particularly when it comes to the stock market. Some say,  “buy gold, because it will double in price”. Some say to invest in the stock of company X, etc. All of this is based on supposedly predictive factors. It is like you need a “prophet” if you want to make a “profit”.

However, the best advice I have received is that you should stick with good, sound financial principles learned retrospectively over time and leave the rest to the speculators who have more money than sense in their heads: Diversify your portfolio instead of chasing the latest stock pick, get out of debt, etc., principles like that. Sometimes, the best way we can understand “prophecy” is only when we have the privilege of looking back.

The challenge can be no less different than when it comes to the prophecies of the Old Testament about what we see in the New Testament. Critics sometime charge that Christians misread prophesy in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of Christ. As we continue to look at Jesus as the Son of Man (start here then go to here), we need to step back for a moment and first address the issue of prophecy. This can be a complex topic for sure, but a lot of our problems about Bible prophecy sometimes come from not understanding the importance of looking back for perspective.
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