Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ways the NT Uses the OT

Someone asked if I would post something like the following, so here it is.  What are the ways in which the New Testament uses the Old Testament?

1. Literal Interpretation
There are clearly instances where the NT takes an OT passage literally. For example, the examples/exempla of Hebrews 11 take individuals from Old Testament stories as literal examples of faith.  Abraham demonstrated faith when he left Ur and Haran for what would become the land of Egypt (Heb. 11:8). Of course here we are not surprised that the NT interpretation took place within the framework of understanding of the interpreter (e.g., contemporary traditions of authorship were assumed). The point here is that the author's intention was to interpret the OT literally.

Hebrews uses the "lesser to greater" argument several times on the basis of a literal interpretation. If the punishment under the old covenant was severe, and the new covenant is greater than the old covenant, then the punishment under the new covenant should be greater than the punishment under the old covenant.

2. Typological Interpretation
The category of typology is an invention of the Protestant Reformation, as it was important for some Protestants to make a distinction between allegorical interpretation (which was considered bad by the Reformers and associated with Roman Catholic interpretation) and typological interpretation (which was said to take the literal meaning seriously and was thus considered acceptable). 

An example is when Hebrews 3-4 consider the pilgrimage of Israel from Egypt to Canaan as analogous to the audience's pilgrimage in faith. The audience did not want to be like the wilderness generation. They left Egypt but did not enter into God's rest because of disbelief. So the audience was in danger of not entering into God's rest, of not making it to the promised heavenly homeland.  

3. Allegorical Interpretation
The New Testament obviously uses allegory from time to time and doesn't blink an eye. The most obvious example is in Galatians 4:21-31, where Paul even uses the word allegoreo.  Sarah and Hagar become allegories for the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem--clearly nothing that Genesis itself had in mind.  Nor is it based on a contextual reading of the story.

Another example include when Paul makes Deuteronomy 25:4 an allegory for supporting ministers. "Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain" becomes "Take care of your ministers when they are ministering to you." Some might argue that this comparison is typology because there is a similarity between the original meaning and the NT meaning.  That is possible in our breakdown, but it would have been an allegory in NT times. 

4. Spiritual Interpretation
In a number of instances, Hebrews changes the meaning of Old Testament words by a number of techniques. These include techniques like 1) excerpting words from a passage, 2) putting the words on Jesus' mouth, or 3) mixing more than one passage together.

a. excerpting
Matthew especially will lift a set of words from somewhere in the OT and put them against the context of Jesus. This method reminds us of the "pesher" interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Matthew 2:15 lifts the words "out of Egypt I called my son" and uses them not of Israel leaving Egypt but of the baby Jesus leaving Egypt. Matthew gives us no indication that he is comparing the exodus with Jesus leading us out of sin. The comparison is between the two sons and the geographical leaving of Egypt.

b. scripting
In a number of places, NT authors put OT words on Jesus' lips. Hebrews 10, for example, puts Psalm 40 on Jesus' lips in a way that obviously was not part of the original meaning.  The psalmist originally was saying that God would rather have obedience that animal sacrifices. Put on the lips of Jesus in Hebrews, the psalm comes to point to the end of the sacrificial system altogether in light of the body of Jesus on the cross. Hebrews makes this point, by the way, on the basis of a difference in the Greek text of Psalm 40 from the original Hebrew text.

c. cross-reference
Biblical authors, like other interpreters of their day, sometimes mixed diverse biblical passages together.  Gezera shewa, for example, was a technique that joined passages on the basis of stitch words or words two passages hold in common.

The NT authors traditionally mixed together Psalm 8 and Psalm 110, two psalms that originally had nothing to do with each other on the basis of things being under feet. Hebrews 4 mixes together Psalm 95 with Genesis 2:2-3 by the theme of "rest."

We might call the above examples types of "spiritual interpretation" because the passages are taken out of context and given a distinctly new significance.


Susan Moore said...

Your post was helpful in understanding the different interpretations people come up with. Now if I could just order them based on denominations... :-)
The linguistic interpretation would be number five. It neither deletes nor replaces an earlier understanding, it simply builds on it for the purpose of our better understanding of the unseen, spiritual realm, including of God.

Bob MacDonald said...

I would like to see another category - the faithful interpretation - the obedience of faith - see Romans; or the obedience of the poet of the Psalms - see the Beatitudes. Of Romans, one could mark particularly the ingathering of the Gentiles. Of the Psalms - I was searching here - and it is worthwhile to note I think.

Ken Schenck said...

I can see that my list could be perfected. For example, is it really appropriate to have a category like typology that would not have made any sense to the NT authors. I will say that I don't believe that contextless words have any meaning (I'm not sure if this is what you mean by linguistic, Susan). I'm not exactly sure what you mean Bob. Are you thinking something like an anagogical meaning?

Bob MacDonald said...

I need to spin this out but not in a comment - it demands an essay. But quickly, Romans uses the OT extensively and in it I think Paul is teaching exactly what the Psalms teach also. Or Matthew and Luke quoting the words of Jesus like in the Beatitudes etc. Herbert Basser points out just how faithful Matthew is in his Rabbinic reasoning. And the words of Jesus as one might expect given the teaching of Hebrews, are chock full of psalm allusions. It's not a matter of a quote (though there are some) but of the language itself and its compact form.

Brian Small said...

You wrote: "Hebrews 4 mixes together Psalm 40 with Genesis 2:2-3 by the theme of "rest." Don't you mean Psalm 95?

Ken Schenck said...

Good catch, Brian. Psalm 40's in chapter 10. Thanks, I'll change it.

Susan Moore said...

No, that's not what I mean. The new context is what gives the key word its new, embellished meaning. Did you read the email I sent you on zera (seed? To share with your class a couple months ago?)
If I was there it would be so much easier to flip open a Bible and show you what I mean!!

Martin LaBar said...

A good list. Thanks.