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Old Testament in the New Testament

Note of the Day – December 17

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The exact nature and composition of the Infancy narrative(s) in the Gospel of Luke has been much discussed and debated by scholars. One of the most certain conclusions is that there is a higher incidence of Semitic coloring and detail in the language and style of chapters 1-2, than in the rest of the Gospel. There are two main explanations for this: (1) it is the result of specific sources (written or oral) used by the author, or (2) it is a product of the influence of the Old Testament (particularly that of the LXX) on the author. Most scholars and commentators today opt for some form of the latter explanation, although the exact place and nature of the ‘hymns’ in Luke 1-2 creates an added complication. One can see the influence of the Scriptures here in a variety of ways:

(a) quotation of verses,
(b) use of similar words and phrases,
(c) use of 1st-cent. B.C/A.D. Jewish phrases (influenced themselves by the OT),
(d) application of OT narrative forms and motifs,  and
(e) parallels drawn between similar characters and scenes.

(a) is relative rare in Luke, being far more common in the Matthean Infancy narratives; it is hard to judge the extent of (c), but (b, d-e) abound in Luke.

Let us examine this use and influence of the Old Testament in the first Lukan episode: the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25). One can recognize echoes and allusions to several passages:

1. The Birth of Samuel narrative(s) (1 Sam 1-2). The Gospel writer (referred to by his traditional designation as “Luke”) has made extensive use of this section of Scripture; it has shaped the Infancy narratives in a number of ways: sometimes the parallel is made with John the Baptist, other times with Jesus.

Similarities in wording and setting:

Compare for example the wording of Luke 1:5 and 1 Sam 1:1-2 (LXX):

There came to be [i.e. was]… a certain sacred-official [i.e. priest], Zakaryah by name, out of the daily-service (order) of Abiyah, and the woman [i.e. wife] for him was out of the daughters of Aharon, and her name was Elisheba

There was a man out of Ramathayim-zophim… and the name for him was Elkanah… and two women for this (man), (the) name of the one (was) Hannah…

Both Elisheba [Elizabeth] and Hannah are without child, though for different reasons: kai\ ou)k h@n au)toi=$ te/knon (“and there was no offspring for them”, Luke 1:7);  kai\ th=| Anna ou)k h@n paidi/on (“and for Hannah there was no child”, 1 Sam 1:2).  Note also the parallel between Luke 1:23-24 and 1 Sam 1:19-20:

  • “and Elkanah went into his house… and Hannah received together (in the womb) [i.e. became pregnant]… and she brought forth a son, and she called his name…
  • “and he [i.e. Zechariah] went from (there) into his house… and Elizabeth received together (in the womb) [i.e. became pregnant…” (the naming is not related until v. 60: “he will be called John”)

Similarities in location: Zakaryah [Zechariah] is officiating in the Temple (Luke 1:8ff); Elkanah sacrifices (1 Sam 1:4ff), and Hannah prays to God (1 Sam 1:9ff) at the Temple.

Similarities in narrative detail: (a) message regarding God’s granting of their request/petition, in the Temple location (Luke 1:13; 1 Sam 1:17); (b) context of the Nazirite, with emphasis on drink, for both the child Samuel and John (Luke 1:15; 1 Sam 1:11, 13-15)

2. Abraham and Sarah (regarding the Birth of Isaac):

  • Abraham/Sarah and Zechariah/Elizabeth are both too old for children (probebhko/te$ e)n tai=$ h(me/rai$/probebhko/te$ h(merw=n, “having advanced forward in days”, Luke 1:7; Gen 18:11). Sarah and Elizabeth were both “barren” (stei=ra); for Sarah a different idiom is used.
  • The (angelic) birth announcement (Luke 1:13f) is formally similar to many Old Testament passages, including those involving Abraham (Gen 16:11; 17:16).
  • At the heavenly announcement that he will receive a son, Zechariah responds in a manner similar to Abraham (Gen 17:16-17; Luke 1:18)—note also the identical wording, in a similar but different context (1:18; Gen 15:8) kata\ ti/ gnw/somai “by what shall I know [this]?”

3. Angelic announcements (often involving the birth of a child). These follow a general pattern in the Old Testament narratives (e.g., Gen 16-18; Ex 3; Judg 6; 13, etc), which is reflected in the Infancy narratives (not only Luke 1:8-20ff and 1:26-38; 2:8-14, but also Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-15). Luke 1:8-23 follows this pattern relatively closely:

  • The setting for the episode (vv. 8-10), here especially dramatic as: (a) Zechariah is a priest serving in the Temple, (b) he enters the Sanctuary (‘Holy Place’) to offer incense, (c) it is the time of prayer (afternoon/evening offering) and many are praying outside.
  • The appearance of the heavenly Messenger (v. 11)
  • Fear comes upon Zechariah at the sight (v. 12)
  • The Messenger tells him “Do not fear” (v. 13)
  • The Message, addressed to Zechariah by name, with an explanation and promise (including, for birth announcements, the name the child shall be called) (v. 13-17)
  • The fearful response (question) of Zechariah “by what will I know this? for I am old…” (v. 18) (implied is a request for some sign to know that the message will be true)
  • A sign given by the Messenger (often with a rebuke implied)—here the sign can be viewed as a kind of punishment for Zechariah (v. 18-20)
  • The response/effect of the angelic appearance (v. 21-23)

Similarities to other passages:

  • The appearances of Gabriel to Daniel (Dan 8:17ff; 9:20ff; 10:7ff); the appearance in 9:20ff occurs during a time of prayer (Luke 1:10-11)
  • Malachi 3:1, 23-24 [EV 4:5-6]: wording related to Elijah, applied by the heavenly Messenger to the child John in Luke 1:17. This association between John and Elijah occurs at numerous points in the Synoptic Gospels, and will reoccur in the song of Zechariah (‘Benedictus’) in Luke 1:76-79. Cf. also Sirach 48:10.
  • Gen 30:23: Rachel’s response to the ‘miracle’ of becoming pregnant: a)fei=len o( Qeo/$ mou to o&neido$ (“God has taken away my disgrace”, i.e. barrenness as “reproach/disgrace/insult”); compare the response of Elizabeth in Luke 1:25: e)pei=den a)felei=n o&neido/$ mou e)n a)nqrw/poi$ (“He looked upon to take away my disgrace among men [i.e. among people]”).

For a fine summary of most of the points of comparison above, along with additional detail, see R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (Anchor Bible Reference Library), 1977, 1993, pp. 270 ff.

On the Interpretation of Prophecy

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It may be helpful to outline various ways Christians have sought to deal with the (predictive) prophecies found in the Old Testament Scriptures—as these are still the primary methods for applying such passages today. A particular difficulty comes in regard to those Scriptures taken by early Christians (and even the New Testament authors themselves) to apply to Christ and the Church—events often centuries removed from the original historical context, and, not infrequently, with a meaning quite different from that of the original passage.

Bear in mind, these interpretive approaches only relate to those readers and commentators who wish to maintain the validity of both the original meaning of the Old Testament passage (according to the grammatical-historical sense) and the traditional (and/or New Testament) Christian interpretation.

  1. The grammatical-historical sense of the passage, focusing on the original context alone, is the (only) proper mode of interpretation as such (or is by far the most important, primary mode). All other ‘interpretations’ are secondary applications or adaptations (whether unconscious or intentional) to the circumstances of later readers. From a theologically conservative point of view, such interpretations in the New Testament are still valid, but in a qualified sense as “inspired applications” in light of subsequent revelation.
  2. There are two equally valid sets of meaning for the original passage: (1) one present, i.e. related to the circumstances and worldview of author and ancient audience, (2) the other future (primarily christological or eschatological) applicable to a far distant time (age of the New Testament or present day, etc).
  3. The original historical context is maintained as primary (and exclusive) for the ancient author and audience, but the inspired text contains ‘hidden’ within it a special meaning (which is, or becomes, primary) for future audiences. In this regard, some might debate whether: (a) the inspired prophet knew or glimpsed this future meaning, or (b) was essentially unaware of it, being the secret work of the Spirit (that is, he spoke ‘even better than he knew’).
  4. The primary meaning of at least certain passages is futuristic (that is, related to Christ, the Apostolic age, or the present day), and it is actually the ‘original’ historical context that is secondary or incidental to the circumstances, language and thought-world of ancient author and audience.
  5. One should also perhaps mention the so-called dispensational method—that each prophecy applies specifically (that is, exclusively, or at least primarily) to a particular period in time (or ‘dispensation’), sometimes identified with specific covenants established throughout biblical history.

One could perhaps delineate other kinds of approaches, however, I suspect they would end up being just slight variations on the five (particularly the first four) I have outlined here.

Approach #2, would, I think, be favored mainly by traditional-conservative commentators concerned with upholding the doctrinal view that all of Scripture (Old & New Testament) is equally inspired. As such, I would consider it valid, with a few possible exceptions, only in a terminological sense. Practically speaking, it can be extremely difficult to maintain, especially for instances where a New Testament author cites an Old Testament passage is a completely different (even opposite!) sense from its original meaning and context.

#4 was, effectively, favored by many theologians and commentators in the early (and medieval) Church, particularly those who gave emphasis to an allegorical-typological or spiritual-mystical mode of interpretation, virtually to the exclusion of the grammatical-historical sense (as we would seek to establish it). This sort of emphasis has largely been abandoned today—indeed, the pendulum, often enough and sadly, has swung overly far in the opposite direction!

#5 has been (and remains) popular in many circles, whether applied loosely or in a highly systematic fashion. However, in my view, the common modern “dispensational” approach, is highly flawed, and the attempt to fit prophecies into specified ‘dispensations’ (often in an eclectic manner) tends to create more problems than it solves.

In my estimation, #1 and #3 are much to be preferred, in every respect, both as a method of interpretation, and as an aid in treating the question of the nature and extent of inspiration. Approach #1, on the whole, is probably closer to being correct, as long as one emphasizes that the creative adaptation of Old Testament passages by New Testament authors (and other early Christians) is a vital aspect of the nature (and extent) of inspiration (in the theological and doctrinal sense). However, I must confess that aspects of #3 are most attractive and should not be ignored, as this approach is, I think, relatively close to the New Testament authors’ own understanding of the matter (3a moreso than 3b).

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 7:14, part 2)

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In an earlier Advent season note I discussed briefly the original context of Isaiah 7:14. Now I must address the most notorious points of translation and interpretation in the verse: (1) translating hm*l=u^ (±almâ), and (2) identifying the woman and son of the prophecy.

To begin with the translation, I should first point out that dozens of studies on this verse (and the translation of it) have been made, in recent decades alone; I am breaking no new ground here. The feminine noun hm*l=u^ occurs 6 times in the Old Testament, apart from Isa 7:14:

Three references in the plural (all from poetry):

  • Psalm 68:26 (English v. 25)—describing a ritual procession in the Sanctuary, women (toml*u&) are among those playing instruments following the singers.
  • Song of Songs 1:3—the bride/beloved sings: “your name is oil [i.e. perfumed ointment] poured out, upon this [i.e. therefore] toml*u& love you”.
  • Song of Songs 6:8—the man/lover/bridgegroom sings of the beloved: “sixty queens they (are), and eighty <yv!g=l^yP!, and (of) toml*u& there is no counting, [v. 9] (but) one she (is), my dove…”. The second plural noun in the series is usually translated “concubines”, but the exact derivation is uncertain.

One reference in the single, without the article:

  • Proverbs 30:19—One of a list of three/four things ‘too wonderful to understand’ is the way of a rb#G# with an hm*l=u^. rb#G# here refers to a “strong” (in the sense of vibrant, virile) young man, and hm*l=u^ may have something of the same basic meaning (see below).

Two other references in the single, with the article (as in Isa 7:14):

  • Genesis 24:43—the servant of Abraham, looking for a bride for Isaac, prays to God for a sign, “…it shall be [i.e. let it be] the hm*l=u^ coming out to draw water, and I say to her…”
  • Exodus 2:8—the reference apparently is to Moses’ sister Miryam, who upon her request of Pharaoh’s daughter is told to “go” and fetch the child’s [that is Moses’] mother; the narrative simply states “and the hm*l=u^ went and called…”.

Several points can be determined from the data:

First, that the instances in the plural all appear to represent at least semi-technical terms (ritual musicians, women in the royal court or harem); the term[s] may correspond to “virgins”, but not necessarily specifically so (except perhaps in Song 6:8). Instances in the singular, on the other hand, appear to be used in the more general sense of a girl or young woman, especially in the case of Exodus 2:8.
Second, with the exception perhaps of Exodus 2:8 (and Ps 68:26?), the references have a clear sexual implication. At the very least, the idea of sexual maturity (and attractiveness) seems to be implied. Proverbs 30:19 may draw upon an original sense of “strength”—that is, the sexual strength or virility of a young woman, parallel to the word rb#G#. There is a corresponding male term <l#u# (±elem) for a ‘strong’ young man (1 Sam 17:56; 20:22, etc), and abstract noun <ym!Wlu& (±¦lûmîm) with the sense of “youthful strength/vigor” (Job 20:11; 33:25; Psalm 89:46; Isa 54:4).
Third, all references using the singular form can be understood in terms of female youths who have reached, or are just coming into, adolescence—that is, of physical/sexual maturity. In Genesis 24:43, and presumably Prov 30:19, an age suitable for marriage is indicated. Whether these conditions apply equally to the technical usage in Psalms and the Song of Songs is not as readily apparent.
Fourth, while a marriageable age may be implied, in no instance (singular or plural) is hm*l=u^ clearly and specifically used of a married woman.
In conclusion, I would say that hm*l=u^ (in the singular and/or general sense) most accurately refers to a young teenage girl, sexually mature, who, according to the cultural norms of the period, is at the age suitable for marriage.

From this, it should be clear that “virgin” in modern English is not a suitable term overall for translating hm*l=u^; the word hl*WtB= is the correct term for a virgin per se (as countless Jewish, Christian, and secular scholars have pointed  out). However “virgins” may, perhaps, fit the technical sense of the plural, at least in Song 1:3; 6:8, but even this is by no means certain. On the other hand “young woman” or “(young) girl”, while correct in the most generic sense, is more appropriate for translating hr*u&n~ (as Jerome [Against Jovinian 1:32] and others had already pointed out many centuries ago). “Maid(en)” is perhaps better as a compromise translation, but it is still not entirely accurate. The fact is, no term in English properly captures the meaning of hm*l=u&, which leaves the translator in something of a quandary.

Let us consider how the word was rendered in the Greek:

In the Septuagint (LXX) version, in 5 of the 7 instances hm*l=u^ is translated by nea=ni$ (pl. nea/nide$), which in turn would be translated “young girl/woman”, “female youth”, etc. Prov 30:19 uses the cognate word (fem. of neo/th$). parqe/no$ more commonly translates hl*WtB=, to indicate a (chaste) unmarried woman or “virgin” per se. Interestingly, parqe/no$ originally seems to have much the same basic sense as hm*l=u^, that is, for a young sexually mature girl of a marrying age. The LXX does translate hm*l=u^h* with h( parqe/no$ in Gen 24:43, presumably to indicate a chaste girl (a “virgin” as such).

Famously, the LXX also translates hm*l=u^h* with h( parqe/no$ in Isa 7:14. Subsequent Greek versions (Symmachus, Aquila, Theodotion), attempting to keep closer and more consistently to the Hebrew, use h( nea=ni$ instead. It is difficult to know the intention of the translator here, particularly since the LXX books were almost certainly translated by different people (in different places?) over a considerable number of years. It is possible that in Gen 24:43 the ‘original’ sense of parqe/no$ is meant (see above), and perhaps also in Isaiah 7:14. Since the Isa 7:14 prophecy speaks of a “sign” (shmei=on, for Hebrew toa), which can, occasionally refer to a wondrous event or omen, the translator may have a miracle in mind (certainly this is how Matt. 1:22-23 and the early Church understood it). Scholars have occasionally suggested that parqe/no$ is a gloss by later Christian scribes. More likely, I think, is that it is an “interpretive gloss” by the original (Jewish) translator, in order to clarify the chaste condition of the “young woman” in question. The same may be true in Gen 24:43—the purity of the mother of Israel, just as that of mother of the prophesied child, is being safeguarded, to avoid any possible misunderstanding. It is would be as if to say “the young girl, who is chaste”. Indeed, if Matthew had used nea=ni$, early Christian scribes almost certainly would have modified it to parqe/no$ themselves, in order to avoid having readers misconstrue the meaning. In the any event, the Gospel writer (Matt 1:22-23) uses h( parqe/no$, as in the LXX, clearly indicating a miraculous (virginal) birth (cf. vv. 19, 25 and also the wording [and variants] in v. 16).

In conclusion, I would make two fundamental points:

  1. “Virgin” does not seem particularly appropriate to translate hm*l=u^ in Isaiah 7:14 (nor exactly does “young woman”)
  2. This fact, in and of itself, does not affect the traditional Christian understanding of the verse (in spite of frequent protestations to the contrary).

To demonstrate this more clearly, it is necessary to delve deeper into the identity of the woman and child in the prophecy, as well subsequent Messianic (including Christian) interpretations of the verse, which I will do in the next day’s note.

English Translations which departed from the traditional rendering of “virgin” in Isa 7:14 have endured sharp criticism and protest at times from religiously and theologically conservative circles, including publicized incidents where copies of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) were burned. According to a certain level of religious logic, using another word or phrase (instead of “virgin”) to translate hm*l=u^ is tantamount to denying the virgin birth of Jesus. However, this need not (and certainly ought not) to be the case.

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 7:14)

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Isaiah 7:14 is one of the most familiar verses of the Old Testament, mainly due to its association with the birth of Jesus, an application which goes back to at least the time of the composition of the Gospels (c. 70-80), if not several decades prior, for the Gospel of Matthew cites it explicitly (1:22-23). Yet, an examination of the verse in its original context shows clearly enough that it had little to do with a miraculous ‘messianic’ figure of the distant future. What is one to make of this?

The original setting of Isaiah 7:14—indeed, I would say, of the larger section 6:1-9:6—is the so-called Syro-Ephraimite crisis of 735-4 B.C.:

Threatened by Assyrian advances (under Tiglath-Pileser III), Aram-Damascus (led by king Rezin) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (“Ephraim”, led by the usuper Pekah [“son of Remalyah”]) formed an alliance (along with the city of Tyre) in hopes of repulsing Assyria, similar to the coalition which resisted Shalmaneser III at the battle of Qarqar a century earlier. It was most likely for the purpose of forcing the Southern Kingdom of Judah (led by Aµaz) into joining the alliance, that Rezin and Pekah marched and laid siege to Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:6 indicates that they planned to set up a new king, “son of Tab±al“). Isa 7:1 states that they were “not able to do battle against” Jerusalem, perhaps in the sense of being unable to prevail/conquer in battle (so the parallel account in 2 Kings 16:5, but 2 Chronicles 28:5ff tells rather a different story).

Isaiah 7:3-9 and 10-17ff should be understood as taking place prior to the main event summarized in verse 1. Verses 10-17, in fact, need to be read in tandem with vv. 3-9, and in context with the larger section 6:19:6. Here is a fairly literal translation of vv. 10-17:

10And YHWH continued to speak to Aµaz, saying 11“Ask for you(rself) a sign from YHWH your God—made deep (as) Sheol or made high (as) from above [i.e. the sky]”. 12And Aµaz said, “I will not ask and will not test YHWH.” 13And he [i.e. Isaiah] said, “Hear ye, house of David: (is it) a small (thing) from you to make men weary, that you would also make weary my God? 14Thus (the) Lord himself will give for you a sign—See! the ±almâ (becoming) pregnant will bear a son and (she) will call his name ‘God-with-us‘. 15Curds and honey he will eat to (the time of) his knowing to refuse by the evil and to choose by the good; 16for by (the time) before the youth knows to refuse by the evil and choose by the good, the land, which you dread from the faces of her two kings, shall be forsaken! 17YHWH will bring upon you—and upon your people and upon the house of your father—days which have not come from [i.e. since] the day (of) Ephraim’s turning (away) from alongside Judah—the king of Assyria!”

Note that I have translated the name la@ WnM*u! (±immanû °¢l), and have temporarily left untranslated the word hm*l=u^ (±almâ). This latter word has been variously translated “virgin” or “young girl”, etc.—a point of longstanding dispute and controversy, which I shall discuss (along with the identity of the ±almâ) in a subsequent note.

Apart from the overall historical context, a number of details in the passage speak clearly against the child as a (messianic) figure coming only in the (distant) future:

  • It is meant to be a sign for the “house of David” (that is, the kings of Judah) which they, and presumably Ahaz in particular, would be able to recognize (in their lifetime)—v. 11, 13-14.
  • The use of the definite article (hm*l=u^h*, the ±almâ), would seem to indicate a woman already known to Isaiah and/or Ahaz—v. 14
  • The interjection hN@h! (“see/behold!”), as well as the construction td#l#)yw+ hr*h* (verbal adjective + Qal participle) seem to imply an immediacy (i.e. “see! the ±almâ, being pregnant, is about to bear…”)
  • The key temporal detail of the prophecy vv. 15-16, would seem to specify that within 2-3 years of the child’s birth, the main event will take place.
  • The event so indicated has a two-fold reference:
    a) The land of the ‘two kings’, which (currently) causes you dread, will be forsaken (“the land” primarily in reference to Aram-Damascus)—v. 16
    b) YHWH will bring the king of Assyria (with special reference to judgment on the Northern Kingdom [“Ephraim”])—v. 17
    This prediction was fulfilled, to large degree, in 732 B.C. (that is, within 2-3 years), with the fall of Damascus and the effective loss of much of the Northern kingdom (conquest of territory, deportations, installment of a puppet king, etc.)

In light of this, one must turn to the traditional Messianic and/or Christian interpretation of the verse 14, especially as it relates to the citation in Matthew 1:22-23: for the Gospel writer applies the verse to the (virgin) birth of Jesus, apparently without any regard for the original historical context. If the (inspired) New Testament author treats the passage thus, why should we be so concerned to understand and appreciate the ‘original context’? Looking at it from the opposite side, if there is no clear reference to Christ (or a future Messiah) in the Isaiah passage, should we continue to accept the traditional Christian/Messianic interpretation without exception?

In response to the first question, I would suggest that believers in each place and each generation must study and contemplate the Scriptures anew. There is available to us today a wealth of information—linguistic, historical, archeological, and so forth—which earlier generations did not possess. We approach and use texts in many respects very differently than did early Christians in the ancient Near East. Protestant readers and commentators, in particular, tend to emphasize an “historical-grammatical” approach as the primary (and fundamental) mode of interpretation; on the whole, I agree with this. I would add that the first goal of interpretation then is to analyze and consider what the (ancient) text would have meant to the (ancient) author(s) and audience; without at least a basic sense of this, any secondary interpretation or application runs the risk of distorting the fundamental meaning. We ignore or disregard these factors very much at our own peril.

With regard to the second, opposite question, I find there to be at least as great a danger in ignoring the ways in which Christians have (traditionally) made use of the Scriptures. We see today, for example, a tendency to disregard completely earlier mystical-spiritual or allegorical-typological modes of interpretation, so prominent and vital to the thought and spiritual life of the early Church. Even with regard to the New Testament, we often fail to appreciate just how creatively the authors (and/or their sources) made use of the Old Testament Scriptures. Scores of examples could be cited where the wording (and even the basic sense) of the original passage were altered by the (inspired) author. If this be admitted, we must always be careful to examine how, and for what purpose, the Scriptures were adapted. Surely inspiration, as the work of the Spirit, far exceeds the limitations of any one view.

With this in mind, let us explore Isaiah 7:14 in relation to the birth of Jesus in a little more detail…

There is a rough extrabiblical parallel to the “God-with-us” prophecy of Isaiah 7:10ff, from earlier in the 8th century (c. 785): the Zakkur (or Zakir) stele. Another ruler (of Hamath in Syria [“Aram”]) is besieged by an enemy force, and the seers deliver a message from the deity to the king which reads, in part: “Do not fear, for I have made you king, and I shall stand by you and deliver you” (transl. from ANET, 501-2).

The Old Testament in the Book of Acts

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This study is preliminary to a series on the Speeches in the Book of Acts.

It hardly need be said that the Writings (Scriptures) which make up what we call the Old Testament were essential in early Christian thought and practice, and yet one may tend to overlook just how central they were to the earliest proclamation (kerygma) of the “good Message” (Gospel) and the formation of Christian teaching. Jesus and the apostles were immersed in the language and imagery of the Scriptures, both in the original Hebrew and in Aramaic and Greek translation. The slightest nuance or similarity of phrasing led early believers to associate Scripture passages with Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, even when they originally had a very different context. Almost certainly, florilegia—collections of relevant quotations—began to be compiled early on. We can see this use of Scripture—the stringing together of verses and phrases—throughout the New Testament (cf. Romans 3:10-18; 15:9-12; Hebrews 1:5-13, etc.). Among the Gospels, Matthew in particular frequently cites specific ‘prophetic’ passages: “now this whole (matter) came to be (so) that it might be fulfilled the (word) uttered by the Lord through the Foreteller [i.e. Prophet], saying…” (Matt. 1:22), etc. Of course, Jesus himself is recorded as frequently quoting Scripture.

However, the Gospels make use of the Old Testament in other ways as well. The Gospel of John, especially in the great Discourses (see throughout John 2:13-10:42), emphasizes the festival and holy day settings (Sabbath, Passover, Sukkoth [Tabernacles], etc.) with their associated themes, images and Scripture passages; of the Gospels, John most clearly identifies the death of Jesus with the Passover (John 19:14, 29, 31-36, etc.). As for Luke-Acts, Old Testament stories and details (often using language which directly echoes the Septuagint) shape some of the most distinctive narratives: the Infancy narrative(s), for example, draw upon the birth/childhood of Samuel and the various angelic appearances; the transfiguration account adds details related to the Sinai theophany, and so forth. This extends into the book of Acts: the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-13) likewise echoes the Sinai theophany and giving of the Torah with its related traditions, the exilic/post-exilic theme of the restoration of Israel, etc.—as I discussed in an earlier post.

Two passages, unique to the Gospel of Luke, offer a glimpse behind the early Christian thinking in this regard:

  1. In the resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus, Jesus rebukes the disciples for being “slow to trust all that was spoken by the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]… was it not necessary for the Anointed to suffer and come into his glory?” (24:25-26)—then it is stated that Jesus, “beginning from Moses and from all the Foretellers he explained through to them the (things) about himself in all the Writings” (24:27, cf. also v. 32).
  2. In the second appearance, to the larger group of disciples, he reiterates earlier teaching that “it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (things which) have been written in the law of Moses and in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] and Psalms about me” (24:44)—then it is stated that Jesus “opened their mind through to understand [lit. put together] the Writings” (24:45), saying “thus it has been written (of) the Anointed suffering and rising [lit. standing up] on the third day…” (24:46).

Nothing is said of just which Writings (Scriptures) were indicated, or how they were “put together” for the disciples. Indeed, scholars have been hard pressed to find passages (outside of Isaiah 53) which could be said to refer specifically to the suffering and death of the Anointed (i.e., Christ/Messiah); the same could be said for other details of Jesus’ life and Passion. However, based on evidence from the Gospels and Acts—as well as other early Christian writings and contemporary Jewish traditions—I have compiled a list of relevant Old Testament references, which I included in an earlier post.

The theme encapsulated in Luke 24:25-27, 44-47 continues on in the Book of Acts, both in the historical introductions to the specific narrative episodes and speeches and within the speeches themselves. The disciples, in their preaching and ministry, sought to:

  • Demonstrate that the Scriptures refer to the suffering (followed by the resurrection/exaltation) of the Anointed (Christ/Messiah)—Acts 1:16; 3:18; 17:2-3; 18:28; 26:23; cf. also 8:32-35; 17:11
  • That Jesus was in fact the Anointed—Acts 2:36; 3:20; 5:42; 8:5, 35; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28, etc.

The frequency of these references suggest that both points of belief posed great difficulty and a challenge for the disciples as they proclaimed the early Gospel message to their fellow Jews. The very fact of Jesus’ apparently ignoble death (on the stake [i.e. cross]), without “restoring the Kingdom to Israel”, would have been a tremendous obstacle to viewing him as the Anointed (“Messiah”). Apart from Isa 53 (cf. Acts 8:32-35), very few Scripture passages describe anything like the suffering or death of a (future) Anointed figure; indeed, to judge by contemporary Jewish writings, nearly all of the most commonly cited ‘Messianic’ passages (Gen 49:10; Num 24:17ff; 2 Sam 7; Ps 2; Isa 11:1-5ff, etc) emphasize the victorious (even military) exercise of kingly power. The same is true when one looks at ‘Messianic’ belief and expectation in the Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. (the Qumran texts, Psalms of Solomon, Testaments of Judah/Levi, 1 Enoch [esp. the Similitudes, chs. 37-71], and 4 Ezra)—of these, only 4 Ezra (i.e. 2/4 Esdras) refers to the death of the Messiah (7:29ff), but in a very different setting. It is perhaps noteworthy that only Isa 53 is specifically cited in the narrative context of the disciples expounding the Scriptures (the passages listed above) regarding this very point, and that some of the most common ‘Messianic’ passages are not used in the New Testament at all.

If specific Scriptures are not indicated in these narrative introductions and summaries in Acts, they are central to the great speeches (or sermons) which represent early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) and preaching of the Disciples. The main sections of Acts tend to follow a basic pattern:

  • Narrative introduction
  • Speech by a principal character (Peter, Paul, Stephen, etc), usually centered on the quotation and exposition of a passage (or passages) of Scripture
  • Historical/editorial summary (sammelbericht, to use a technical term from German scholarship)

Most of the citations of Scripture come from speeches in the first half of the book (Acts 2-4, 7, 13). Here is a list of quotations (for the sake of convenience, I have adopted this from J. A. Fitzmyer, Anchor Bible Vol. 31, Introduction § 73, p. 90):

  • Acts 1:20—Psalms 69:26; 109:8
  • Acts 2:17-21—Joel 3:1-5
  • Acts 2:25-28—Psalm 16:8-11
  • Acts 2:30—Psalm 132:11
  • Acts 2:31—Psalm 16:10
  • Acts 2:34-35—Psalm 110:1
  • Acts 3:13—Exod 3:6, 15
  • Acts 3:22-23—Deut 13:15-16, 19; Lev 23:29
  • Acts 3:25—Gen 22:18; 26:4
  • Acts 4:11—Psalm 118:22
  • Acts 4:24—Psalm 146:6
  • Acts 4:25-26—Psalm 2:1-2
  • Acts 7:3, 5—Gen 12:1; 17:8; 48:4
  • Acts 7:18—Exod 1:8
  • Acts 7:27-28—Exod 2:14
  • Acts 7:30-34—Exod 3:2, 5-8, 10
  • Acts 7:35—Exod 2:14
  • Acts 7:37—Deut 18:15
  • Acts 7:40—Exod 32:1, 23
  • Acts 7:42-43—Amos 5:25-27
  • Acts 7:49-50—Isaiah 66:1-2
  • Acts 8:32-33—Isaiah 53:7-8
  • Acts 13:22—Psalm 89:21; 1 Sam 13:14
  • Acts 13:33—Psalm 2:7
  • Acts 13:34-35—Isa 55:3; Psalm 16:10
  • Acts 13:41—Hab 1:5
  • Acts 13:47—Isaiah 49:6
  • Acts 15:16-17—Amos 9:11-12
  • Acts 23:5—Exod 22:27
  • Acts 28:26-27—Isaiah 6:9-10

As throughout the New Testament, these quotations often differ in some respect from the standard Greek version (LXX), but occasionally also from any known version, Hebrew or Greek. In this regard, several possibilities ought to be examined:

  1. The extent to which a quotation matches a Greek (or underlying Hebrew) version
  2. It may be a free or loose quotation (from memory)
  3. The quotation may have been consciously or purposefully modified, sometimes yielding an entirely different sense or meaning than that which the text had originally

Scholars and theologians are, at times, bothered by the second and third possibilities, as they seem to violate the ‘sacredness’ of the text, not to mention a straightforward ‘grammatical-historical’ method as the first and most reliable interpretive approach. Even traditional-conservative commentators are forced to admit instances of “inspired (secondary) interpretation” or “inspired application” of the text by New Testament authors and speakers. At the very least, one should recognize the early Christian approach to Scripture, much as that of contemporary Jews (at Qumran and elsewhere), as reflecting a more creative use of the sacred Writings. If one today adopted similar methods, he or she would no doubt be accused of eisegesis—of reading a meaning into the text which was not originally there.

Let us look at an example from the above list:

The Speech of James—Acts 15:13-21

The speech given by James is central to the account of the so-called ‘Jerusalem Council’ (Acts 15:1-35). It works in tandem with another short speech (by Peter, vv. 7-11), and serves to join the two parts of the narrative: (1) the ‘Council’ dealing with the question of whether Gentile believers must keep the Law of Moses [esp. circumcision], and (2) a letter sent to Gentile believers advising them on what requirements of the Law they ought to keep. Peter’s speech centers on an earlier episode recorded in Acts—the conversion of Cornelius (10:1-11:18). James’ speech, by contrast, uses a passage of Scripture—Amos 9:11-12.

Here is a comparison of Amos 9:11-12:

Translation of the Hebrew (MT)

11 In that day I will raise up [lit. make stand] the woven-shelter of David th(at) is fallen,
and I will wall up her [pl.] (holes that are) bursting out;
And I will raise up [lit. make stand] his [sg.] torn-down-remains [i.e. ruins],
and I will build her [sg.] as in (the) days of distant (past)
12 In order that they possess the remainder of Edom
and all the nations (for) which my name is called upon them—
utterance of YHWH (the one) doing this.

Greek (LXX) with translation

11 e)n th=| h(me/ra| e)kei/nh| a)nasth/sw th\n skhnh\n Dauid th\n peptwkui=an kai\ a)noikodomh/sw ta\ peptwko/ta au)th=$ kai\ ta\ kateskamme/na au)th=$ a)nasth/sw kai\ a)noikodomh/sw au)th\n kaqw\$ ai( h(me/rai tou= ai)w=no$
12 o%pw$ e)kzhth/swsin oi( kata/loipoi tw=n a)nqrw/pwn [to\n ku/rion] kai\ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh e)f’ ou^$ e)pike/klhtai to\ o&noma/ mou e)p’ au)tou/$ le/gei ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ o( poiw=n tau/ta

11 In that day I will raise [lit. stand] up/again the tent of David th(at) has fallen and I will build up/again her [sg.] fallen-parts, and I will raise [lit. stand] up/again her [sg.] dug-down-remains [i.e. ruins] and I will build her [sg.] up/again even as (in) the days of the (past) age
12 how that the (ones) remaining down [i.e. the remainder] of men, and every nation upon whom my name has been called, might seek out [the Lord], says the Lord God the (one) doing these things.

Acts 15:16-18

11 meta\ tau=ta a)nastre/yw kai\ a)noikodmh/sw th\n skh/nhn Daui\d th\n peptwkui=an kai\ ta\ kateskamme/na au)th=$ a)noikodomh/sw kai\ a)norqw/sw au)th/n
12 o%pw$ a&n e)kzhth/swsin oi( kata/loipoi tw=n a)nqrw/pwn to\n ku/rion kai\ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh e)f’ ou^$ e)pike/klhtai to\ o&noma/ mou e)p’ au)tou/$ le/gei ku/rio$ poiw=n tau=ta
gnwsta\ a)p’ ai)w=no$

11 After these (things) I will turn up/again [i.e. return] and I will build up/again the tent of David th(at) has fallen and her [sg.] dug-down-remains [i.e. ruins] I will build up/again and I will set her [sg.] straight up/again,
12 how that the (ones) remaining down [i.e. the remainder] of men, and every nation upon whom my name has been called, might seek out the Lord—says the Lord doing these things,
known from (the) age.

The LXX generally follows the Hebrew of v. 11, although in very flat translation, having lost nearly all of the color and texture of the verse. The citation in James/Acts matches neither the Hebrew or LXX all that closely; it generally follows the vocabulary of the LXX, but in a much simpler form. The most notable differences between the LXX and James/Acts for v. 11 are:


e)n th=| h(me/ra| e)kei/nh| (“in that day”)

{no corresponding phrase}

repeats a)noikodomh/sw (“I will build up/again”)

kaqw\$ ai( h(me/rai tou= ai)w=no$
(“even as [in] the days of the [past] age”)


meta\ tau=ta (“after these [things]”)

a)nastre/yw (“I will turn up/again [i.e. return]”)

uses a)norqw/sw (“I will set straight up/again”)

{no corresponding phrase}
(reflected in gnwsta\ a)p’ ai)w=no$?)

For verse 12, LXX (A) and James/Acts are nearly identical, and both are very different from the Hebrew: “they may possess the remainder of Edom” has turned into “the remainder of men might seek out [the Lord]”—this seems to be the result of a two-fold error in translation:

  1. <d)a$ (Edom, defective spelling) was mistaken for <d*a* (Adam/man)
  2. Wvr=yy] (“they [may] possess”) was either mistaken for (or ‘corrected’ to) Wvr=d=y] (“they [may] seek”)

The lack of a clearly identified subject for the verb in Hebrew would have added to the confusion: the ‘remainder’ and ‘all the nations…’ became the subject (who/what seeks out) in the Greek version. There being no clear object for the ‘seeking’ it was easy enough to add a pronoun or “the Lord” as both the A-text and Acts/James do. That these verses would have proved difficult for Greek translators to understand, several centuries after the fact, is not surprising; it remains troublesome even today. Consider, for example, the complex set of referents indicated by the various pronominal suffixes in verse 11. As for verse 12, there are three ways to read the text:

  1. “all the nations…” is a coordinate object with “Edom”. That is, Israel will possess “Edom and all the nations”. There are two difficulties with this view: (a) the lack of a parallel object marker (Áta) for “all the nations”, and (b) the phrase “my name is called upon” being applied to the nations, which is unusual in the Old Testament. The sense would be that the nations possessed by restored Israel will come to have God’s name called upon them—that is, they will effectively be converted.
  2. “all the nations…” is the subject, coordinate with Israel (implied). This would be translated as follows: “They—even all the nations (for) which my name is called upon them—will possess the remainder of Edom”. Though such a role for the nations may fit the outlook of the LXX and Acts, it seems rather foreign to the original context of Amos; however the idea of nations united/cooperating with Israel could conceivably be in mind.
  3. The phrase “which my name is called upon them” is substantively the subject, but does not apply to “all the nations”. This would be translated: “They—(those for) which my name is called upon them—will possess the remainder of Edom and all the nations”. Here the sense would be that the (restored) Israel is identified (only) with those upon whom God’s name is called. This is an interesting possibility, and one which does fit the context of Amos to some extent.

Despite some syntactical awkwardness, I feel that the first way of reading the verse remains the best option. Of course, there is always the possibility of corruption having crept into the Masoretic text; unfortunately, only one Dead Sea document (a Prophets scroll from Wadi Murabba‘at) contains v. 12, highly fragmentary, but apparently conforming to the MT. Otherwise, apart from the variant reading of LXX/Acts, there is little basis for asserting textual corruption here.

There are other textual, literary and historical-critical difficulties regarding the citation of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts, such as:

  • At the historical level, would James have cited such a passage of Scripture from the Greek? If so, did he recognize a discrepancy with the Hebrew?
  • To what extent is this quotation the product of the author (traditionally Luke) rather than the speaker (James), whether in terms of translation or insertion?
  • What is one to make of either author or speaker using a version of Scripture which is apparently at odds with the original (inspired) Hebrew text?

These are important questions, both for an understanding of the composition of the book (Acts), and in terms of how we regard the nature and extent of inspiration. However, both are rather too complex to deal with adequately here; I will be treating such questions in at least some detail in the series on the Speeches of Acts.

Admitting that there are difficulties with the version of Amos 9:11-12 cited by Acts/James, just how does the author/speaker make use of it, and how does this differ from the original context of the passage?

Consider first the original setting of these verses in the book of Amos: they are part of an ‘epilogue’, both to the sequence of visions (7:1-9:6) and the book as a whole. After searing proclamations of judgment, concluding with a vision of destruction for Israel (9:1-6), there is a promise of restoration, beginning in vv. 7-8, and more fully in vv. 11-15. The “woven-shelter” (hKs often translated “hut”, “booth”) of David, central to this passage, is a curious image—overall, the reference seems to be to the Kingdom (of Judah) and Jerusalem (but perhaps representative of the whole Kingdom) in ruins; however the “booth”, with its echo of the exodus and wilderness wandering (commemorated by the festival of toKs), may refer to an Israelite identity that predates/transcends the Kingdom (at least the divided Kingdom of Amos’ time). The restored Israel will possess again the land (vv. 14-15), including the territory of Edom and, it would seem, the surrounding nations (v. 12), accompanied by a time of renewed prosperity (vv. 13-14).

In James’ speech (Acts 15:13-21), these verses are applied to the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, in particular to the episode of Peter and Cornelius (vv. 7-11, 14; cf. 10:1-11:18). This is done by “catchphrase bonding”, an ancient interpretive method, but one which is rather foreign to us today. By this method, different passages of Scripture (which may be otherwise unrelated), are connected by the presence of a common/similar word or phrase. Here the triggering phrase is “a people for/to His Name”:

V. 14: Simeon [i.e. Simon Peter] has related [lit. led out] even as (at the) first God looked closely upon (it) to take out of (the) nations a people for/to His Name.

The verb e)piske/ptomai (or e)piskope/w), here translated somewhat literally as “look closely/carefully upon”, has a relatively wide semantic range—”consider [i.e. think upon]”, “observe”, “examine”, “inspect”, and ultimately to visit/attend (for the purpose of examination, inspection, etc). This latter technical meaning underlies the word e)pi/skopo$ (typically translated “overseer”).
The verb lamba/nw can have the sense of “take” or “receive”, depending on the context.
“Name” is in the dative (tw=| o)no/mati), but there is no preposition, which has to be supplied in English.

One well-versed in the Scriptures—whether James of the author of Acts—might quickly associate this phrase with the reference in Amos 9:12; and, while the context of the Hebrew is perhaps not so suitable, the Greek of the LXX is very much to his purpose, for it speaks of the nations “upon whom My Name is called” seeking out [the Lord]. Unmistakably, this here is a reference to ‘God-fearing’ Gentiles (such as Cornelius) seeking God (the Lord) and responding to Christ (the Lord) in the proclamation of the Gospel. In other words, James associates the LXX version of Amos 9:12 with the early Christian mission and conversion of the Gentiles. Interestingly, in the Greek, it is no longer the remnant of Israel specifically involved but rather the remnant of (all?) men.

It is all the more extraordinary that this universal reference to the nations would be associated with the “fallen booth/tent of David”, which in Amos clearly refers to Israel and the Davidic Kingdom. However, this is fully in accord with the implicit theme (in Luke-Acts) of the “restoration of Israel” in terms of the early Christian mission—beginning with the Twelve (symbolic of the twelve Tribes) and other believers in Jerusalem, to the Jews of the dispersion (among the nations), and then to ‘God-fearers’ and other Gentiles (non-Jews among the nations). Even in the Hebrew of Amos 9:12 there is the idea of nations who are (or come to be) associated with Israel and share “God’s Name upon them”.

In this light, one should also recognize an eschatological aspect of this reference in Acts. The introductory phrase itself (“after these [things] I will return”), found neither in the LXX or the Hebrew, seems to carry such a nuance. God returns to His People (cf. for example the echoes of the Sinai theophany in Acts 2), establishing His Kingdom in the new Age (“last days” cf. Acts 2:17ff, etc) which now consists of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Paul’s grand eschatological hope/expectation in Romans 9-11). It is clear from the Qumran texts that Amos 9:11 was understood in an eschatological/Messianic sense. The Florilegium (4Q174), which strings together related Scripture passages (with a brief interpretation), associates Amos 9:11 with the promise of the Davidic dynasty in 2 Sam 7:

This (refers to the) “Branch of David”, who will arise with the Interpreter of the Law who [will rise up] in Zi[on in] the [l]ast days, as it is written: “I will raise up the hut of David which has fallen”, This (refers to) “the hut of David which has fall[en”, which he will raise up to save Israel. (translation from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Vol. 1 [Leiden/Brill, 1998/2000], p. 353)

Here the “booth/hut of David” is identified with the Messianic designation “Branch of David”, that is to say with a specific Anointed (Messianic) figure. A similar use of Amos 9:11 is found in the Cairo version of the Damascus Document (CD 7:15-16 [MS A]); this passage mentions in sequence: (a) coming days of judgment and tribulation [citing Isa 7:17], (b) exile of the ‘booth of the king’ [Amos 5:26-27], (c) raising up the ‘booth of David’ [Amos 9:11], (d) the coming of the ‘star’ [Interpreter of the Law] and ‘sceptre’ [Messiah/Prince] who will smite the nations [Num 24:17]. Such eschatological expectations are very far removed from the book of Acts (cf. 1:6ff, not to mention most of the New Testament as a whole); that is to say, they have been transferred into a different framework:

Jewish expectation c. 1st century B.C./A.D.
(Qumran texts, etc.)

  • Signs of travail, persecution, etc
  • Appearance of an Anointed figure (Messiah)
  • Judgment/war on the (wicked) nations
  • Restoration of the Kingdom

Early Christian expectation (1st cent. A.D.)
(Jesus’ teaching, Apostolic preaching, rest of NT)

  • Signs of travail, persecution, etc
  • Judgment on the World
  • Return of Christ (Parousia)
  • Entry into Life in Heaven with God/Christ
    (references to an earthly ‘Messianic’ kingdom are rare in the NT)

Finally, it is interesting to consider the wider context of James’ speech in Acts—namely, the question of whether, or to what extent, Gentile believers must keep the Law of Moses. Many Jewish Christians held the strict view that it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised to keep the Law of Moses (i.e. in its entirety)—cf. Acts 15:5, etc., and all of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In response, James limits the ‘requirement’ to those things which traditionally applied to those associated with Israel (as aliens/sojourners), cf. especially Lev. 17-18. The nature and historical context of this resolution (Acts 15:19-21, and in the letter, vv. 22-29) continue to be debated; and, of course, as the Church grew to become predominantly Gentile, and influenced greatly by Paul’s writings, these restrictions soon disappeared. However, the theme of the believer’s relation to the Old Testament Law code(s) continues to be a significant and controversial matter.

The association of Amos 9:11-12 with this question of keeping the Law has an interesting parallel in the passage from the Damascus Document mentioned above. There the “fallen booth of David” is specifically identified with the Books of the Law (Torah), related to the congregation as a whole. The reference in Num 24:17 (“star” and “sceptre”) was understood as foretelling the coming of an “Interpreter of the Law” and a “Prince of the Congregation”—these two will restore obedience to the Books of the Law (and Prophets) “whose sayings Israel has despised”. So here we have two distinct interpretations of the “booth of David” found in the Qumran community (and related groups):

Identified with the coming (Anointed) One
who will save/restore Israel

Identified with the Torah, which the coming (Anointed) One[s]
will restore to Israel

Can we not see Jesus as both Anointed (Christ) and Torah (Word of God), who comes to save His People?

“He opened to us the Scriptures”

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In a previous post, I discussed two striking scenes in the Lukan Resurrection Narratives which speak of Jesus’ “opening the Scriptures” to his disciples (24:27, 32) or “opening their mind” to understand the Scriptures (24:45ff). It is clearly indicated in these passages that Jesus expounded or explained the Sacred Writings, in relation to their foretelling (or prefiguring) his suffering, death, and resurrection (cf. esp. v. 26 and 46). However, it is never specified exactly which Old Testament passages he used, or what manner of exposition he applied. This silence is tantalizing, and perhaps worth exploring a bit further, which I shall do directly below.

First, a follow-up note on verse 44, where Jesus reiterates earlier teaching to the disciples that “it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (things) having been written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me”. This theme of the fulfillment (literally “to be made full, to be filled [up]”) of Scripture is a key theme throughout the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament as well).  A concrete sense of the metaphor would depict the Writings (Scriptures) as a space or container which is filled up—that is, up to the brim, leveled off. Implied in this image, is that the Life and Person of Christ is what “fills up” the space. A more abstract sense of “filling up” is to “complete” or “accomplish” some goal or task; “filling” can also have an intensive connotation (i.e., “abundance”, “fullness”). I should wish to consider this “filling up” of Scripture from two vantage points:

  1. Details in the Gospels (esp. related to his death/resurrection) which Jesus himself speaks of as, in some sense, fulfilling Scripture
  2. Use of specific Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (or their underlying sources)

1. Details in the Gospels which “fulfill Scripture”, according to Jesus’ recorded words:

  • Luke 4:17-21 — Isaiah 61:1-2 is “this day fulfilled in your ears” (cf. also Matthew 11:4-6/Luke 7:22)
  • Mark 8:31 (par. Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22) — Jesus first ‘Passion prediction’: “it is necessary” (dei=) for the Son of Man “to suffer” (paqei=n), etc. The particle dei= certainly indicates a Scripture reference (cf. Luke 24:44).
  • Mark 9:12-13 (par. Matt. 10:11-12) — a secondary reference to the suffering of the Son of Man (“it has been written”)
  • Mark 9:31 (par. Matt. 17:22-23; Luke 9:44) — the second ‘Passion prediction’; parallels the first and third predictions, but no specific mention of Scripture here.
  • Mark 10:33-34 (par. Matt. 20:18-29; Luke 18:31-33) — the third ‘Passion prediction’; in the Lukan form Jesus refers to “all the (things) having been written through the Prophets”, that these will be completed (telesqh/setai) in (or to) the Son of Man.
  • Mark 12:10-11 & par. — Jesus identifies himself with Psalm 118:22-23 (“the stone which the builders rejected…”)
  • Mark 14:21 & par. — The Son of Man goes “as it has been written”, in the context of Judas’ betrayal [“giving over”] of Jesus
  • John 13:18 — The betrayal [“giving over”] by Judas is a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9 (cf. also John 17:12)
  • John 15:25 — The world’s hatred of Christ (context of both the Passion and persecution of believers) a fulfillment of Psalm 35:19/69:4
  • Mark 14:27 & par. — Passion scene the fulfillment of Zech 13:7
  • Mark 14:49 (par. Matt. 26:54; cf. also Luke 22:37) — Events of the Passion, including the arrest, etc. are specifically described as fulfilling Scripture
  • Mark 15:34 (par. Matt. 27:46) — fulfillment of Ps 22:1 on the cross

To which, one might also add:

  • Matthew 5:17f — Jesus specifically states he has come to fulfill the Law and Prophets
  • John 5:39 — Jesus says of the Scriptures that they “bear witness about me”
  • Matthew 11:10; par. Luke 7:27 — John the Baptist as “My Messenger” (Mal. 3:1, cf. Mark 1:2-3)
  • Matthew 12:8 & par. — Jesus (the Son of Man) is “Lord of the Sabbath” (a ‘fulfillment’ of the Sabbath?)
  • Luke 9:31 — during the Transfiguration Jesus is described as conversing with Moses and Elijah about his way out [“going out”, e&codo$] which was about to “be fulfilled” in Jerusalem (the language is Luke’s, not necessarily Jesus’ own)
  • Mark 10:18-21 & par. — following Jesus can be seen as a kind of ‘fulfillment’ of the commandments (law of love/sacrifice)
  • Mark 11:2-3 & par. — Jesus’ instructions may be intended to fulfill Zech 9:9ff
  • Mark 11:17 & par. — Jesus ties his ‘cleansing’ of the Temple with Isa 56:7 (his actions could also relate to Zech 14:20-21); the parallel account in John has a slightly different Scripture import
  • Mark 12:35-37 & par. — Jesus’ short, cryptic, discussion of Psalm 110:1 (see a similar discussion involving Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34ff)
  • Mark 14:24f & par. — Jesus identifies his blood as the “blood of the [new] covenant”
  • Mark 14:62 & par. — reference to the future appearance of the Son of Man (cf. Daniel 7:13 ff)

Perhaps also:

  • Mark 1:15 — “the time/season is fulfilled” and the Kingdom of God has come near (in the Person of Christ)
  • John 7:38 — belief in Christ related to “rivers of living water” (but the exact Scripture reference is unclear)
  • John 18:9, 32 — the reference is to Jesus’ word being fulfilled; whether this refers also to a Scripture passage is unclear

Others could perhaps be added to the list. For Scriptural references in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, see below.

2. Use of Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (and/or their sources):

MATTHEW: This Gospel makes by far the most extensive use of a citation-formula to indicate the fulfillment of specific Old Testament passages. A number of these citations state directly that what has occurred fulfills Scripture (1:22; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 21:4). A fair number are also unique to Matthew among the (canonical) Gospels (1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18; 4:14-16; 12:17-21; 21:4-5; 27:9-10). However, there can be no doubt that the basic citation-formula was part of the common Gospel tradition. Even John has a distinctive use of it: in addition to a cluster of citations in the Crucifixion scene (19:24, 28, 36-37), there are several verses (2:22; 12:16; 20:9) stating that the disciples did not at first understand that what they hear or witnessed was a fulfillment of Scripture (even upon witnessing the empty tomb [20:9]!).

JOHN: A different approach is utilized throughout the fourth Gospel, particularly in the great Discourses—at every turn Jesus identifies himself with key themes and images (we might call them “types”) from Scripture. This occurs at two levels:

(1) The Feasts, which are the setting for most of the Discourses and a number of narratives:

  • Three different Passover settings: (a) Cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22), (b) Feeding of the Multitude & Bread of Life Discourse (chapter 6), (c) Passion Week (chaps. 12-13, [14-17], 18-20). John also makes clear allusions to Passover in the Crucifixion scene (19:14, 29, 31-36).
  • Sukkoth (Feast of Booths/Tabernacles): This is the setting of chapter 7, and, presumably 8:12-59; the motifs of “living water” and light definitely seem to echo ritual imagery associated with Tabernacles (cf. esp. Zech 14:8).
  • Dedication/Hanukkah (e)gkai/nia, “renewal”) is the setting of 10:22-39
  • An unspecified Feast (Pentecost?) is the setting of chapter 5; more important is detail that it was a Sabbath, emphasizing the work of the Son and the Father, especially in regard to the life-giving power (5:19-29) they both share.

(2) Archetypal Old Testament motifs and symbols (others could probably be included):

  • The ‘Lamb of God’ (1:29, 36), rel. also to the Passover sacrifice (19:14-36)
  • “Jacob’s ladder” (this seems to be the primary reference, 1:51)
  • The Temple identified with Jesus’ own person/body (2:19, 21)
  • The bronze serpent “lifted up” to bring healing/salvation (esp. 3:14)
  • Water (‘Living water’, esp. 4:10-14; 7:37-39)
  • Resurrection, as the exclusive work of God (5:[19-24], 25-29; 6:40, 54; esp. 11:25-26, 38-44)
  • ‘Bread of Life’/’Bread from Heaven’ (Manna, chapter 6 throughout)
  • Light (‘Light of the world’, esp. 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-26, 46; also the prologue v. 4-9)
  • Shepherd (‘Good Shepherd’, 10:1-18, 25-30)
  • Vine (15:1-11)

One should also note the following:

(3) In a number of passages, Jesus seems to be identified with Scripture itself (see especially 5:39). The Light/Darkness motif would appear to echo traditional OT/Jewish language for the Torah, which is often identified with Divine/personified Wisdom (the Word of God). This association is clearest in the Gospel’s prologue-hymn (1:1-18).

(4) Finally, of course, we have the famous “I Am” (e)gw\ ei)mi/) sayings of Jesus, which certainly could have been included in the lists above. It is not always clear how often this usage is meant to be taken absolutely (as an identification with the Name of God, cf. Exodus 3:14), but in passages such as 8:58 it is unmistakable.

LUKE: This Gospel adopts what I would call a literary-creative approach, whereby the core narrative traditions (inherited from Mark and/or other sources) have been given an interpretive layer shaped largely by Old Testament language and images. This is perhaps seen most clearly in the Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:5-2:52): the canticles are replete with Scriptural references (the Magnificat echoes Hannah’s song [1 Sam 2:1-10]), the angelic appearances (as in Matthew) follow Old Testament patterns, and overall the narratives seem to have been influenced and shaped especially by the stories of Samuel’s birth/youth (1 Sam 1-3). One could point to many other passages; for example, details unique to Luke’s presentation of the Transfiguration (cf. 9:29, 31, 34). In the Passion and Resurrection narratives, perhaps the following details might be noted:

  • The context of the Last Supper (22:14-23) may more closely reflect the Passover ritual (especially if vv. 19b-20 are original)
  • The angelic appearance to Jesus in the garden (if verses 43-44 are original)
  • Emphasis of the role of Herod during Jesus’ trial is possibly influenced by OT passages such as Psalm 2:1-2 (cf. Acts 4:25-26)
  • The placement of the rending of the Temple curtain—right after mention of the darkness (and before Jesus’ death)—is probably meant to enhance the apocalyptic imagery of the scene and to emphasize the theme of judgment (rel. to the destruction of the Temple—cf. Ezek. 10, etc. and later Pseudepigraphic passages such as 2 Baruch 6, 8).
  • Instead of the cry of dereliction from the cross (quoting Psalm 22:1), Luke records (23:46) quite a different utterance of Jesus (quoting Psalm 31:6). This shows clearly how selection/application of various Scriptural allusions or details can create a very different (though not necessarily contradictory) portrait.

What Scripture passages did Jesus “open” for his disciples in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff?

We have no way of knowing for certain; however, based on other New Testament passages and ancient Jewish traditions, here are some likely candidates (esp. those related to Jesus’ Suffering, Death and Resurrection):

  • Genesis 22:1-14: The Binding/Sacrifice of Isaac (Aqedah). It is not entirely clear if the NT writers themselves made the association here between Isaac and Jesus, but by the middle of the 2nd century Christians clearly had done so (cf. Barnabas 7:2, Melito of Sardis [On the Pascha]).
  • Exodus 12: The Passover ritual and sacrifice (in the context of the “Exodus”, cf. Luke 9:31). There can be no doubt that the Synoptic tradition and the Gospel of John both saw the connection (cf. especially John 19:14, 29, 31-36).
  • Numbers 21:4-9: The bronze serpent (cf. John 3:14-15).
  • Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (esp. vv. 15, 18-19 [Exod 20:21 SP]): The “Prophet like Moses” whom God will raise up. By Jesus’ time, this passage had been understood to refer to an eschatological Prophet, in a quasi-Messianic context (see esp. the Qumran testimonia 4Q175; also 1QS 9; CD 6; and John 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). It was definitely understood as a prophecy of Christ (Acts 3:22; 7:37-38). The refusal to listen to the Prophet (Deut 18:19) is tied in both to the Passion of Christ (Acts 7:39ff, 51-53) and the coming eschatological judgment (Acts 3:23).
  • 2 Samuel 15:13-37: The narrative structure and sequence of the Passion (on the Mount of Olives) seems (at the level of the common tradition) to have been influenced by the story of David’s departure from Jerusalem. Matthew’s account of Judas’ death (27:3-5), in this context, may have been influenced by 2 Sam 17:23 (death of Ahithophel).
  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (Servant Song): The chapters of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (40-66) were a rich trove for early Christian interpretation. Already John the Baptist had made use of Isa 40:3-5; Jesus applied Isa 61:1-2 to himself as he spoke in the Nazareth Synagogue (Luke 4:16-21ff); Matthew (12:18-20) cites Isa 42:1-4 (another “Servant Song”). As far as 52:13-53:12 is concerned, there can be no doubt that: (a) early believers recognized details related to the Passion, and also (b) that these details helped to shape the Passion narratives. A parallel can be found in nearly every verse (esp. vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12). In Acts 8:26-39, Philip interprets Isa 52:13-53:12 to the Ethiopian Eunuch in much the same manner, perhaps, as Jesus instructed the Disciples.
  • Psalm 2:1-2 (see Acts 4:25-27): Very likely these verses also influenced Luke to emphasize the role of Herod in Jesus’ trial (a detail not found in the other Gospels). Luke 23:13 especially may echo verse 2 of the Psalm.
  • Psalm 16:8-11: Cited in Acts 2:25-28ff (and again in Acts 13:35) as a prophecy of the death and Resurrection of Christ.
  • Psalm 22: There can be no question that this Psalm had a profound influence on early Christians’ understanding of the Passion and Death of Jesus. In addition to Jesus’ own cry of dereliction (quoting Psalm 22:1-2) as recorded in Matthew-Mark, verses 7, 16, 18 offer explicit parallels to specific details.
  • Psalm 31: In Luke 23:46, instead of the cry of abandonment, Jesus addresses the Father by quoting Psalm 31:5 [Heb./LXX v. 6]. Other verses in the Psalm (e.g., 7-8, 11, 13, 17-18, 22) also may have been related to the Passion.
  • Psalm 41:9 [Heb./LXX v. 10]: Already cited (on Jesus’ lips) in John 13:18 as a prophecy/prefiguring of Judas’ betrayal
  • Psalm 42:5, 11 [Heb./LXX v. 6, 12]: These verses seem be a source both for Jesus’ own words (Mark 14:34 par.) and the overall atmosphere of the Passion scene in Gethsemane.
  • Psalm 69 (esp. verse 21 [Heb./LXX v. 22])
  • Psalm 110:1: Jesus’ himself cites this verse (Mark 12:35-37 par.); but certainly early Christians saw in it a reference to the Resurrection and Exaltation of Christ (Acts 4:34-35, etc).
  • Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders rejected”, applied by Jesus to himself (Mark 12:10-11 and par.); also verse 26 is used by the crowds (a festal/pilgrimage setting) at the Triumphal Entry, and by Jesus himself in a word of lament and judgment toward Jerusalem (Matthew 23:39).
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14: The ‘Valley of Dry Bones’ prophecy likely was viewed early on as prefiguring the Resurrection (see Matthew 27:52-53 and the language in John 5:25-29)
  • Daniel 7:13: Jesus draws upon the Son of Man imagery in the session before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62 par.) and in the Eschatological Discourse (set during Passion week, Mark 13:24-27 par.)
  • Daniel 9:24-27 [esp. v. 26]: “the Anointed (One) shall be cut off…”
  • Zechariah 9-14: As with Psalm 22 and Isa 52:13-53:12, these chapters had a tremendous influence on the interpretation of the Passion, and in shaping the narratives.
    (a) Zech 9:9: Seen as a prophecy/prefiguring of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (cited directly in Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). Jesus’ own detailed instructions (as recorded by the Synoptics, Mark 14:13-16 par.) may indicate that he himself had this passage in mind.
    (b) Zech 9:11: a reference to the “blood of [your] covenant” (cf. Mark 14:24 par.)
    (c) Zech 9:16 and chapters 10-11: true/false Shepherd imagery (see John 10:1-18, 25-30, with reference to Christ’s death/resurrection in vv. 11, 15, 17-18); see also on Zech 13:7.
    (d) Zech 11:12-13: the “thirty pieces of silver” thrown into the “house of the Lord, to the potter” (Matthew 26:15; 27:5-10).
    (e) Zech 12:10: “they shall look on me whom they have pierced…” (John 19:34-37)
    (f) Zech 13:7: cited by Jesus as a Passion prediction (Mark 14:17 par.); see also Zech 11:17.
    (g) Zech 13:1; 14:8: a fountain and “living water” in Jerusalem (see the discourse of Jesus in John 7-8 [esp. 7:37-39]). The Sukkot/Tabernacles setting pervades these chapters (14:16-19; cf. also the request for rain in 10:1).
    (h) Zech 14:20-21: These verses would seem to provide the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (esp. Mark 12:15-18); did Jesus himself have them in mind?

Jesus must have expounded at least some (if not all) of the above passages. Often the interpretation described by Jesus in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff has been overlooked by scholars. Critical commentators will look long and hard for explanations as to how early Christians came to associate certain Old Testament passages with the death and resurrection of Christ. Perhaps they have missed another possible explanation: that the disciples could have been introduced to them by Jesus himself.



April 2 — Easter Week, continued

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A unique (and often overlooked) detail in the Lukan Resurrection narratives is the way in which the Risen Jesus interprets the Scriptures for the disciples, showing how his suffering, death, and resurrection were foretold (or prefigured) in the Sacred Writings. This is specifically narrated in two episodes: (1) on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27, 32), and (2) the Appearance to the Eleven (Luke 24:44-47).

1. On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27, 32)

I discussed this episode in a prior post. In my view, it is the two-fold exposition of vv. 19-27 which is central to the scene:

(a) Vv. 19-24: The two disciples, in response to Jesus’ question (poi=a; “what [things]?”), unintentionally (in the narrative context) present a summary of the Gospel, an early bit of kerygma (cf. Acts 2:22-24): describing the death and resurrection (i.e. report of the empty tomb).
(b) Vv. 25-27: After rebuking the disciples,
a)rca/meno$ a)po\ Mwu+se/w$ kai\ a)po\ pa/ntw=n tw=n profhtw=n diermh/neusen au)toi=$ e)n pa/sai$ tai=$ grafai=$ ta\ peri\ e(autou=
“beginning from Moses and from all the Prophets he explained through [i.e. interpreted] to them the [things] about himself in all the Writings” (v. 27).

Once the disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (sacramental symbolism), and he becomes invisible to them (an interesting reversal of the symbolism), they specifically recall the earlier exposition (v. 32):

ou)xi\ h( kardi/a h(mw=n kaiome/nh h@n [e)n h(mi=n]
“was not our heart burning in us”

w($ e)la/lei h(mi=n e)n th=| o(dw=|
“as he spoke with us in the way”
w($ dih/noigen h(mi=n  ta\$ grafa/$;
“as he opened through [i.e. explained] to us the Writings?”

2. The Appearance to the Eleven (Luke 24:44-47)

There are two parts to this scene: (a) the Appearance (vv. 36-43, cf. John 20:19-20), and (b) Instruction/Commission to the Disciples (vv. 44-49). With regard to (b), I would structure it as follows:

i. v. 44 “These are the words/accounts [logoi] of mine which I spoke to [lit. toward] you, being yet with you:”

o%ti dei= plhrwqh=nai pa/nta ta\ gegramme/na
“that it was necessary to be fulfilled all the (things) having been written”

e)n tw=| no/mw| Mwu+se/w$
“in the law of Moses”
kai\ toi=$ profh/tai$ kai\ yalmoi=$
“and (in) the Prophets and Psalms”

peri\ e)mou=
“about me”

ii. v. 45-47 “Then he opened [lit. opened through] their mind for the(ir) putting-together [i.e. so as to understand] the Writings…” (indirect discussion)
“…and he said to them” (direct discourse):

ou%tw$ ge/graptai
“Thus it has been written”  (note the three clauses each beginning with an infinitive)

paqei=n to\n Xristo\n
to suffer the Anointed (One) [i.e., that the Anointed would suffer]”
kai\ a)nasth=nai e)k nekrw=n th=| tri/th| h(me/ra|
“and to stand up [i.e. rise] out of (the) dead ones in the third day”
kai\ khruxqh=nai e)pi tw=| o)no/mati au)tou= meta/noian
“and to proclaim upon his name change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]”

ei)$ a&fesin a(martiw=n
“unto release of sins”
ei)$ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh
“unto all nations”

iii. v. 47b Transitional clause: “(the ones/things) beginning from Jerusalem…”

iv. v. 48-49 The commission: “…you are witnesses of these (things)”

“and see—I set (forth) from (me) [i.e. send] the anouncement of my Father upon you”
“but you—sit [i.e. settle/remain] in the city until the (moment in) which you should be put in power out of (the) height [i.e. clothed in power from on high]”

The Scriptural exposition of vv. 44-47 leads to the Apostolic commission in vv. 48-49. The hinge is the transitional clause “beginning from Jerusalem…”; this also symbolizes the joining line of Luke’s two-volume work—the Gospel and Acts. With regard to the exposition of Scripture, as indicated above, this is presented in two aspects: (i) a reiteration of Jesus’ earlier teaching (“it is necessary…”) regarding the fulfillment of Scripture, and (ii) the “opening” the disciples mind to understand the Scriptures. For (ii) I would point out that this is likewise presented under two aspects:

First, the act of “opening” (v. 45)—here it is a specific moment, indicated by to/te (“then, at that time”). The verb (dianoi/gw, an intensive stem from a)noi/gw, “to open”) would be rendered literally, “opened through” or “thoroughly opened”; it is the same verb used in the Emmaus narrative: “their eyes were opened (dihnoi/xqhsan)” v. 31, and “as he opened (dih/noigen) the Scriptures to us” v. 32.

Second, a summary of the “opening” of the Scriptures (vv. 46-47, cf. v. 32)—under the declaration “thus it has been written” (ou%tw$ ge/graptai), what follows is a terse credal statement, a sequence of infinitives: “to suffer” (paqei=n), “to stand/rise up” (a)nasth=nai), “to be proclaimed” (khruxqh=nai).

Interestingly, neither in this episode, nor in the Emmaus narrative, is it ever demonstrated exactly what Jesus taught—just what Scriptures did he expound and explain to the disciples, and how was this done? It is this question, along with a further discussion of the theme of the fulfillment of Scripture (cf. v. 44 et al.), which I will address in a follow-up article.