Can that be Right? The Use of Old Testament Prophesy in the New Testament
by Kevin DeYoung
It’s Christmas season and that means renewed attention on Messianic prophecy. Ah, the familiar sounds of “a virgin shall give birth,” “the government shall be upon his shoulders,” and good ole “Bethlehem Ephrathah.” It makes a churchgoer feel all warm and cuddly inside.
And frankly, a bit confused.
If we’re honest, the way the New Testament uses the Old Testament seems a little far-fetched. I mean, we can see, just like the scribes did, that Micah 5:2 is a foretelling of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-6), but was Hosea really making a prediction about the Christ just because he happened to mention “Egypt” (Hos. 11:1) and Jesus’ family fled to Egypt (Matt. 2:15)? If we interpreted Scripture like Matthew does, we’d be chased out of our pulpits and small groups, right?
The New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is a complicated subject. Even evangelical scholars don’t agree on all the particulars of the best approach (see for example this book and D.A. Carson’s review). Still, there are several principles, clarifications, and reminders that can help us make sense of the Apostles’ seemingly willy-nilly use of the Old Testament.
(For the most part, the following points were gleaned from Doug Moo’s chapter “The Problem of Sensus Plenior” in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon [edited by D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge]. Jared Compton makes many of the same points in his fine Themelios piece, Shared Intentions? Reflections on Inspiration and Interpretation in Light of Scripture’s Dual Authorship.)
1. Keep in mind the NT’s purpose in referencing the OT. We often think every time the OT is referenced it must mean the NT author is trying to exegete the OT passage. But there is no rule of inerrancy which says the NT author must always be attempting to give the correct interpretation of a given passage. The NT author may not be attempting an interpretation at all. If someone asks me, “How is the editing work going” and I say, “It’s tedious–line upon line, precept upon precept” this doesn’t mean I’m trying to exegete Isaiah 28:10. I’m simply employing the familiar language of a familiar passage…
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