1. As it respects inspiration, and consequent infallible authority, the quotations of the New Testament stand on a level with the rest of the apostolic writings. The Saviour's promise was: |When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth;| literally, |into all the truth,| that is, as immediately explained, all the truth pertaining to the Redeemer's person and work. When, therefore, after the fulfilment of this promise, Peter and the other apostles expounded to their brethren the Scriptures of the Old Testament, wherein the Spirit of Christ |testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow,| the same |Spirit of Christ| guided them to a true apprehension of their meaning. If we cannot trust Peter and Paul, whom Christ himself personally commissioned to preach his gospel, qualified for this work by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and endowed with miraculous powers as the seal of their commission -- if we cannot trust these men to interpret the words of the Old Testament, then we cannot trust the guidance of the Divine Spirit himself. But when we have admitted, as we must, the authority of the New Testament writers as interpreters of the Old Testament, a very important question remains to be considered; and that is the manner of their quotations
. This question we propose briefly to examine in respect to both outward form
and inward contents
2. As it respects outward form, we cannot but notice at once the very free spirit of these quotations. It is manifest that these inspired penmen are not anxious about the verbal accuracy of the words cited. The spirit and scope of a passage, which constitute its true life and meaning, are what they have in view, not the exact number of words literally translated from Hebrew into Greek. It is well known that a very large part of their quotations is made from the Greek version of the seventy, called the Septuagint, which was in common use in their day. No one pretends that the translators who made the Septuagint were inspired, or that they always succeeded in hitting the exact meaning of the Hebrew original. Yet, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the robust good sense of the New Testament writers went straight forward without stopping to notice or criticise deviations from the Hebrew, provided they did not affect the use which they wished to make of the passages quoted.
But the New Testament writers do not always conform their quotations to the Septuagint. They frequently follow the Hebrew wholly or in part where the Greek version departs from it. Matthew, in particular, follows the Hebrew in the Messianic quotations. Chap.29, No.19. Yet in these cases also they cite in the same free manner, abridging sometimes the Hebrew passage quoted, or giving only its general sense. It may be that thus the wisdom of God intended to bear testimony against the undue exaltation of the letter of inspiration above its spirit.
From a list of some two hundred and fifty citations placed side by side with the original Hebrew passages and the Septuagint version of the same we select the following as illustrations of the above remarks, each passage being literally translated. The words in brackets are regarded by some as not belonging to the true text.
Hebrew. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek: he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to the bound; to proclaim a year of acceptance to the Lord. Isa.61:1,2.
Septuagint. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. Isa.61:1, 2.
New Testament. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor, he hath sent me [to heal the broken-hearted,] to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to send away free the bruised (perhaps from the Greek of Isa.58:6); to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. Luke 4:18, 19.
Hebrew. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy king shall come to thee: he is just and endowed with salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. Zech.9:9.
Septuagint. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; proclaim, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold the king cometh to thee, just and exercising salvation; he is meek, and mounted on an ass and a young colt. Zech.9:9.
New Testament. Say ye to the daughter of Zion (Isa.62:11): Behold thy king cometh to thee, meek, and mounted upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. Matt.21:5.
Fear not, O daughter of Zion; behold thy king cometh sitting upon an ass's colt. John 12:15.
Hebrew. In hearing hear ye, but understand not; and in seeing see ye, but perceive not. Make fat the heart of this people, and their ears make heavy, and their eyes cover over: lest they see with their eyes, and with their ears hear, and with their heart understand, and turn, and one heal them. Isa.6:9,10.
Septuagint. In hearing ye shall hear, but understand not; and in seeing ye shall see, but perceive not. For the heart of this people became gross, and with their ears they heard heavily, and the eyes they closed; lest at any time they should see with the eyes, and with the ears should hear, and with the heart should understand, and should turn, and I should heal them. Isa.6;9, 10.
New Testament. In hearing ye shall hear, but understand not; and in seeing ye shall see, but perceive not. For the heart of this people became gross, and with the ears they heard heavily, and their eyes they closed; lest at any time they should see with the eyes, and with the ears should hear, and with the heart should understand, and should turn, and I should heal them. Matt.13:14, 15; also Acts 28:26, 27.
That in seeing they may see and not perceive, and in hearing they may hear and not understand; lest at any time they should turn, and [their sins] should be forgiven them. Mark 4:12.
That in seeing they may not see, and in hearing they may not understand. Luke 8:10.
He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they might not see with the eyes, and understand with the heart, and be turned, and I should heal them. John 12:40.
These quotations of the same passage by different New Testament writers furnish a remarkable example of their free manner, while the spirit and scope of the prophet are kept by all.
In Heb.10:5 we have a quotation from the Septuagint where it differs widely from the Hebrew of Psa.40:7. This reads: |Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened| (Heb. bored or digged). But the apostle quotes after the Septuagint: |Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared for me.| The attempted explanations of this difference are not very satisfactory. It is to be noticed, however, that the apostle builds no essential part of his argument upon the clause in question.
In the long quotation from Jeremiah in Heb.8:8-12, the clause, |and I regarded them not| (ver.9), is perhaps correct for substance; since many prefer to render the corresponding Hebrew clause not as in our version -- |though I was a husband unto them,| -- but, |and I rejected them.|
When, on the contrary, the spirit and scope of a passage are lost in the version of the Seventy, the New Testament writers quote directly from the Hebrew. Examples are the following:
|When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.| Hosea 11:1, quoted in Matt.2:15. Here the Seventy render: |Out of Egypt I called my children,| a variation from the original which makes the passage inapplicable; since Israel, as God's first-born son (Exod.4:22, 23), was the type of Christ, and not the individual Israelites.
Again, to the passage Isa.42:1-4, quoted in Matt.12:18-21, the Septuagint gives a wrong turn by the introductory words: |Jacob my son, I will help him: Israel my chosen, my soul hath accepted him: I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles,| etc.; whereas the Hebrew speaks not of Jacob and Israel, but of God's servant: |Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth,| etc. Matthew accordingly follows the Hebrew, yet in a very free manner: |Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul delighteth,| etc.
For other examples see Mal.3:1, as quoted by Matt.11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; Isa.9:1, 2, as quoted by Matt.4:15, 16.
3. Passing now to the consideration of the New Testament citations on the side of their inward contents, the first question, that arises has respect to the so-called principle of accommodation. There is a sense in which the writers of the New Testament sometimes employ the language of the Old in the way of accommodation; that is, they use its phraseology, originally applied in a different connection, simply as expressing in an apt and forcible manner the thoughts which they wish to convey. Of this we have a beautiful example in Rom.10:18, where the apostle says, in reference to the proclamation of the gospel: |But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world,| meaning that what the psalmist says of the instruction given by the heavens, Psa.19:1-4, is true of the preaching of the word; so that none are excusable for their unbelief. Another striking example is found in the same chapter (ver.6-8), where |phraseology originally used by Moses to express the way of justification contained in the law (Deut.30:11-14) is adapted to the gospel as properly descriptive of the salvation propounded in it.| Davidson's Hermeneutics, p.471.
But that the Saviour and his apostles used accommodation in the commonly received sense of the term; that is, that they quoted, in accommodation to the ideas of their age, passages from the Old Testament as applicable to the Messiah and his kingdom, which they knew to have no such application when fairly and legitimately interpreted; that, for example, they used the hundred and tenth psalm as a prophecy of the Messiah (Matt.22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:34, 35; Heb.1:13), simply because this was the current interpretation of their times -- this is not to be admitted for a moment. That the Saviour dealt prudently with the prejudices of his age is admitted; but he did not build upon them his claim to be the Messiah, nor solemnly appeal to the authority of Moses and the prophets knowing this to be only a dream of fanciful interpretation. If Christ and his apostles taught any thing, it was that he had come in accordance with the prophecies of the Old Testament, and in fulfilment of these prophecies. Did they indeed, in all this, only act upon the maxim which Paul rejects with abhorrence as damnable? |If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil that good may come? whose damnation is just.|
4. The writers of the New Testament often cite the Old by way of argument. Thus the Saviour argues against divorce at the husband's will |for every cause| by an appeal to the original institution of marriage (Matt.19:3-6); and Paul proves that the man is the head of the woman, and that she owes subjection to him, from the order of creation and its accompanying circumstances.1 Cor.11:8, 9; 1 Tim.2:11-14. Respecting this class of quotations, it is only necessary to remark that the validity of the arguments depends on the historic truth and divine authority of the passages adduced. The Saviour and his apostles professedly build their arguments on the record of the Old Testament. If this is sand -- mythical quicksand -- their house falls, and their authority with it. But if the foundation is rock -- an inspired record of facts -- their house stands, and with it their character as truthful teachers.
5. Far more numerous are the passages which are cited as prophecies of Christ and his kingdom. These are introduced by various formulas: |That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet;| |that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet;| |in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias;| |this day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears;| |this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled;| |it is contained in Scripture;| |another Scripture saith;| |this that is written must yet be accomplished in me,| etc.
The common formula, |that it might be fulfilled,| means that the event recorded took place in order that the purpose of God announced in the prophecy might be accomplished. The prophecy was not the main thing, but the purpose of God contained in it. For the accomplishment of this purpose, and thus of the prophecy which revealed it, God's truth was pledged. In the same way are to be understood the words of John (chap.12:39, 40): |Therefore they could not believe because that Esaias saith again, He hath blinded their eyes,| etc. The hinderance to their belief lay not in the prophecy, but in that which the prophecy announced.
6. Of the prophecies quoted, some refer immediately to Christ. Such are the following: |The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool| (Matt.22:44, from Psa.110:1); |The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek| (Heb.7:21, from Psa.110:4); |He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth,| etc. (Acts 8:32, 33, from Isa.53:7, 8); |A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear,| etc. (Acts 3:22, 23; 7:37, from Deut.18:15, 18, 19).
7. Others refer ultimately to Christ, but under a type. An undeniable example is the following: |A bone of him shall not be broken| (John 19:36, from Exod.12:46; Numb.9:12); words originally spoken of the paschal lamb, which was the type of Christ, and now fulfilled in the great Antitype. Again, we read in Hosea (chap.11:1): |When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt;| words which Matthew quotes as fulfilled in Christ (chap.2:15). It was the purpose of God, namely, that the history of Israel, God's first-born son (Exod.4:22, 23), in his national childhood, should foreshadow that of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God.
To the same class belongs apparently the following citation: |What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.| Heb.2:6-8, from Psa.8:4-6. It seems impossible to deny that the immediate reference of the psalm is to man's exalted dignity and high prerogatives as the lord of this lower world. But, as the writer to the Hebrews argues, the words have no complete fulfilment in man considered apart from Christ. It is in the person of Christ alone that the high destiny of human nature finds its full realization. He is made Lord of all, and |crowned with glory and honor| for himself and for all his disciples also, who shall reign with him in glory for ever. We add one more example from Heb.1:5, where the writer quotes and applies to Christ the words of Nathan to David: |I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.| 2 Sam.7:14. The promise undeniably had immediate respect to Solomon; not to Solomon, however, in his simple personality, but to Solomon as the first after David of a line of kings that should end in Christ, in whom alone it has its true fulfilment. God took Solomon, and in him the whole line of kings on David's throne, into the relation of sonship, and thus of heirship. Rom.8:17; Gal.4:7. To Solomon, as God's son, the kingdom was confirmed for ever through Christ; and Solomon's lower sonship, moreover, adumbrated the higher sonship of the last and greatest of his sons, to whom the promise was: |He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.| Luke 1:32, 33.
To draw the exact line of separation between the two above named classes of citations is difficult, and in some cases perhaps impossible. Nor is it necessary, since the essential truth is, that all these prophecies find their accomplishment in Christ; those of the former class directly, those of the latter through types of divine appointment.
The exegesis of the New Testament quotations presents many difficult questions, relating partly to the true rendering of the original words, partly to the deviations of the Septuagint from the Hebrew, and the citations from both the Septuagint and the Hebrew; partly to the original application of the passages cited and the use made of them in the New Testament. For the details the student must be referred to the commentators. All that has been here attempted is a statement of the general principles that must govern us in interpreting the quotations from the Old Testament which are found in the New.