B310 The Old Testament in the New
Purpose: An examination of the use of the Old Testament scriptures by the authors of the New Testament. The general purpose of this course is to supply the student with a general knowledge of the uses which were made of the Old Testament by the New Testament writers.
The Scriptures of the early Church, of Jesus, Paul, Matthew, Peter, and John, were the Scriptures that came to be called the Old Testament. There was no New Testament, in the form we have it today, until the middle of the fourth century. The books of the New Testament were written over a span of some 75 years. The one thing they all have in common is that they draw much of their imagery and theology from the Old Testament.
The Bible Paul read was the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament which was the version common among Greek-speaking Jews of the first century. The Bible Jesus quoted was the Hebrew Old Testament, the version in use among the rabbi's of Palestine in the first century. When we speak, therefore, of the Old Testament we need to be careful that we specify what we mean, for as everyone knows, the Hebrew Bible is different than the Greek Bible.
When we study the use of the Old Testament by New Testament writers we need to be careful that we determine: 1) which version is being quoted, and 2) why the quotation is being made.
In order to facilitate our study we shall take a "sounding". That is, we shall examine explicit quotations of Isaiah as they are found in the gospel of John. We have neither time nor space to examine every explicit quotation, allusion, verbal parallel, or other citations. Yet this sounding will arm us with a very concrete example of how a New Testament theologian utilized the Old Testament.
ASSIGNMENT: Read: C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures.
SECTION 1: THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW - A GENERAL SURVEY
Every book of the New Testament includes somewhere on its pages a citation, quotation, or allusion to the Old Testament. A citation or quotation is a specific utilization of a text. For instance, Matthew quotes Isaiah when he writes "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son..." An allusion is the use of a general idea. For instance, when Jesus has the multitudes sit down on the grass to feed them, the Gospel writer is alluding to the 23rd Psalm where the author says, "he makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul". Allusions are very frequent in the New Testament because the authors of the New Testament were steeped in the Old. It was their thought world. They drew on it for illustrations and ideas almost unconsciously.
Yet they also quoted it explicitly. The chart indicates the number of explicit Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament:
Though some of the books have no explicit quotations -- all of them have numerous verbal parallels and allusions.
EXPLICIT QUOTATIONS OF ISAIAH IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
ASSIGNMENT: Read E.E. Ellis, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament; K. Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew and its Use of the Old Testament.
The Gospel of John utilizes Isaiah in order to present his theological vision of the significance of the life and ministry of Jesus. John does not merely use Isaiah as a source of prooftexts -- he uses the theological data of Isaiah and uses it as an aid for interpreting the significance of Jesus.
It will now prove necessary that we examine some of these Johannine texts in some detail. Most studies of the Gospel of John center on historical or theological themes. There are very few works which consider John’s use of the Old Testament.
Some scholars suggest that when John does use the Old Testament, he misuses it. What exactly is John’s understanding of the texts he quotes? And by extension, what do the New Testament authors mean to say when they use the Old Testament? When we have examined John’s use of the OT, we will be able to, by extension, understand how the writers of the NT used the OT.
The Gospel of John first utilizes Isaiah in the very beginning of the work. John1:23 contains an explicit quotation of Isaiah 40:3. What we shall be doing is examining the textual and contextual similarities and dissimilarities between Isaiah and John. Isaiah 40:3 says “A voice calls, in the desert prepare the way for Yahweh; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God’. John 1:23 says “Say, I am a voice of one crying in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, just as Isaiah the prophet said”. Several differences exist between the wording of this text and its counterpart in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT -- hereafter LXX). The writer of the Gospel has added “I am” seemingly to indicate that John the Baptizer is quoting this verse in his message.
The Gospel writer has also changed “prepare” to “make clear’; and finally John adds the source of his quote, “just as Isaiah the prophet said”. What one discovers when one compares the text of John to the LXX and the Hebrew text (hereafter HT) of the OT, is that John has not quoted directly from either text form. John either had a different version of the OT or he made his own translation of the HT.
The context of Isaiah 40:3 is the postexilic period. The exilic preacher conducted his ministry for the benefit of the exiles. This means that the prophet was addressing a community that has lost its homeland and thus was in need of a word of comfort and encouragement. This word is expressed by one who calls for the rebuilding of Yahweh’s road to Jerusalem. Everything said in this passage is intended to be a word of comfort. This is the central theme and thus the key to the text. It is a new exodus which the prophet proclaims. This restoration demands divine intervention; thus God is called upon to act on behalf of His people. This is the context and thrust of the passage in Isaiah.
Is this how John understood and used the text? It seems so -- for John the Baptist is summoned to proclaim that Yahweh is about to make his presence known among His people- in Jesus. The new exodus has come to the door, and now it only waits for the one who can open the door and lead the people through it. John quotes Isaiah because the Baptist, like the herald of Isaiah, was called to prepare the way for the coming Lord. This means that for the author of the fourth Gospel, Jesus is the equivalent of Yahweh. Both of these texts intend to encourage their respective audiences to be aware of the coming of the Lord. John has quoted Isaiah because it was a part of the stock of traditions which were available to him and the other communities of the early Church which they drew on to explain the faith to outsiders. Yet John was also aware of the context of Isaiah. John has thereby demonstrated himself to be not simply an empty redactor but an editor of incredible theological awareness and sensitivity. As we shall see, these talents will be displayed in every instance in which he quotes the Old Testament. His purpose in quoting Isaiah here is to show that Jesus is God: a theme we shall encounter again.
The next text which John quotes from Isaiah is found in John 6:45 where he quotes Isaiah 54:13. This and the following examples will simply be overviews of established research results. Isaiah 54:13 was modified by the author of the Fourth Gospel, because he intends to speak of Jesus rather than buildings. This demonstrates John’s Christological intention. More specifically, Isaiah is promising his audience that Yahweh will once more be present with them to teach them how to rebuild the city and the temple which he and they will inhabit. John has modified this text and applied it to Jesus and his coming. Therefore it seems correct to suggest that John has used this text to make a claim concerning Jesus, that he himself is God who will teach not architecture and engineering but Theology.
Our next example of how the New Testament uses the Old is found in John 12:15 (which quotes Isaiah 35:4). This quotation is a conflation of Isaiah 35:4 and Zechariah 9:9. The text in its Isaianic context is concerned with showing the post exilic community that they have free access to Yahweh’s presence because he has cleared the way to the holy city. John has adapted this theme in a profound way by showing that in Jesus God has returned to the city and thus access to God in the person of Jesus is unhindered. John has, quite simply, replaced the concept of Yahweh’s return to Zion, and thus open access to him, with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and free access to him. In short, John has once more interpreted Isaiah Christologically.
John 12:38 quotes Isaiah 53:1; and this is our next example of the OT in the NT. What is evident here is that Isaiah has originally addressed a word of encouragement to the exilic community; a word intended to strengthen their faith in Yahweh’s deliverance, symbolized by the arm which he spreads forth to guide them into deliverance from exile and sin. When John uses the text, he suggests that in their rejection of Jesus the Jews have failed to know God. This is the cause of their unbelief. Since they do not recognize God’s hand stretched out to them in the person of the Messiah, they are doomed to the only fate that unbelief can have, and that is condemnation. This is once more a clear indication that for John Jesus himself is God. This shows that when john used the Old Testament, he used it with a Christological intention. His transferal of Yahweh’s outstretched arm in Isaiah to Jesus’ outstretched arm to the Jews is fascinating and important. John, as well as perhaps other early Christians, saw in Jesus the clearest and best picture of God, and, in fact, there is no doubt that John saw Jesus as God.
These few examples of the OT in the NT give us very strong evidence that, for John at least, the OT is a source of Christological theology. This trend is followed by other NT writers as well. This means that though the OT was valued by the early Church, it was valued for what it was made to say of Christ and not in and of itself.
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