Did Jesus and the apostles preach the right doctrine from the wrong Old Testament texts? Dr. G.K. Beale surveys the New Testament use of the Old Testament and describes how Jesus and the apostles interpreted Scripture.
One of the courses I teach and one of the areas that I do research in is the New Testament use of the Old Testament. And there are two things about that that I want to address here. One is how important it is to pay attention to allusions.
Allusions and Quotations
Many pastors and scholars only pay attention to the quotations, but in fact, it is true that the majority of Old Testament references in the New Testament are allusions, not quotations. If you’re missing the allusions, you’re missing most of the use of the Old Testament in the New. And how do you make yourself aware of those allusions? The majority of Old Testament references in the New Testament are allusions, not quotations.One of the best sources is the Greek New Testament, the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland New Testament. They have the best margins. And even if you don’t know Greek, buy that Greek New Testament, because the references in the margins will give you all kinds of references to allusions in the body of the text. And it will help you to teach Bible studies, to preach more redemptive-historically, that is, locating your passage where it should be located in redemptive history and how it’s making reference back to the Old Testament.
How the Apostles Interpreted the Old Testament
Speaking now more generally about the New Testament use of the Old, the reason it is a very important area is because it is difficult and some have said that Jesus and the apostles preached the right doctrine from the wrong text. They were still inspired and the Scripture still inerrant, but God does not inspire interpretive method, only the conclusion, so what we have in the New Testament are the conclusions. So if you look at their interpretive method, they’re not developing the Old Testament in line with its original meaning, but giving it a new meaning. I disagree with that. I find again and again, as difficult as some passages may be, they are developing the original meaning.
Just to give one illustration, the use of Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15 is often seen as a classic case where Matthew preached the right doctrine from the wrong text. Hosea 11:1 says, “Out of Egypt I call my son.” And that is a historical reference to the first Exodus. Matthew sees it, quotes it, and says it was fulfilled in Jesus entering and coming out of Egypt. And so that doesn’t seem like a right use. How can you take a historical reference from Hosea 11:1 to the past Exodus and say it’s a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus? Well, one of the ways to understand that is the notion of typology: that God arranges earlier events and he arranges later events, and he designs them to be very, very similar. Why does he do that? Because he wants us to discern that the earlier events point to the later events. And if you look at the book Hosea itself, Hosea himself repeatedly refers to the first Exodus. God arranges earlier events and he arranges later events, and he designs them to be very, very similar.And intriguingly, he repeatedly refers to a second-in-time Exodus. And the reason he does that is because he sees that the first Exodus pointed to an end-time Exodus. And all Matthew is doing is using the typological exegesis of Hosea himself, who saw that the first Exodus pointed to a last Exodus. Matthew was saying the same thing and seeing it fulfilled in Jesus, who inaugurated the end times.
I have a number of other things to say about this, but I’ll just conclude with one thing, and that is: How can you apply what was true of the nation coming out of Egypt in Hosea 11:1 and apply that to one individual? Well, the reason you can do that—there are a number of explanations here—but if you study the use of the Old Testament in Hosea, Hosea himself will use Adam or Jacob, who perform certain sinful actions—of course, Adam is very clear that he did that—and Hosea will take Adam or he will take Jacob and apply it to Israel’s present sin, or take positive things about the patriarchs and apply it positively to Israel. But what’s interesting is he’s going from the individual patriarch to the nation. He’s going from the one to the many. Matthew’s just reversing that, going from the many to the one. What was true of the nation is now true of the individual. And so I think when we get to heaven, if we ask Hosea, “Is that what you were doing?” I think he would say “Yes.” And I think he would say that Matthew had the right hermeneutic.