The New Testament Use Of The Old Testament

Many books and articles have been written on the use of the Old Testament made by the New Testament writers.1 In the present context, the discussion will be limited to an examination of how the apostles and the other writers of the new Testament had the same high view of the Old Testament as did Jesus and the authors of the Old Testament themselves.

The apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 14:21, quotes from Isaiah 28:11 and refers to it as the law. Thus, according to his methodology, whether a passage is from the Pentateuch or from another portion of the Scriptures, it is equally binding as law. Paul's idea of inspiration extends to the very words. This can be clearly observed in Galatians 3:16, where he bases his argument upon a single word in Genesis 12:7.

The authors of the New Testament referred to New Testament history as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It is clear from this that they considered Old Testament prophecy to be authoritative. For example, Matthew 1:21-23 quotes Isaiah 7:14 as follows:

"And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Behold, the Virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us."

Of course, this passage would be meaningless unless Matthew really believed that the book of Isaiah had absolute authority as Scripture. The New Testament continually refers to passages of the Old Testament in this way. For example, John 12:37,38 refers to Isaiah 53:1 as follows:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"

Examples of a similar nature can be found on almost any page of the New Testament.

Particularly illustrative of the reverence that the apostles had for the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures is Acts 26:22-29, in which Paul gives his defense to Festus and King Agrippa:

And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.

Here, it is evident that the Prophets and Moses are completely authoritative on matters that were to take place many generations after they wrote and spoke, and their authority was taken for granted, not only by Paul, but by Agrippa:

"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." And Agrippa replied to Paul, "In short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."

All that Paul is saying here rests upon the basis of Old Testament authority. Concerning this passage, Francis A. Schaeffer has said:

You have here, I think, one of the most striking things I know in this regard. I've never seen much made of it. But I feel [it is] overwhelmingly crucial. Here on the basis of his knowledge of the Old Testament prophets, and Paul appealing from them . . . the flow of it is a tremendous thing. . . . And now he says, "Why do you think it's surprising that there's a resurrection? And furthermore, why do you think it's surprising that God would say something to the Gentiles? What do the Old Testament prophets say?"2

Here, both Paul and King Agrippa take for granted the absolute authority of the Old Testament prophets.

As far as the New Testament is concerned, wherever Scripture speaks, God is speaking. For example, Romans 9:17 says, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, `For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and the My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.'" The citation in this case is from Exodus 9:16, where it is God Himself who is speaking. Similarly, we read in Galatians 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, `All the nations shall be blessed in you.'" In this case, it is God who did the preaching in Genesis 12:3, but He is so closely identified with Scripture that there is no distinction in this passage. In both of these examples, "the Scripture" was speaking even before the first five books of the Bible were written: at the time of Abraham and at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Moses later recorded these things in the Pentateuch, but God had nevertheless spoken. "The Scripture" is thus the equivalent of words spoken by God. Scripture carries the full authority of God Himself.

The assumption of the New Testament that the Old Testament is the word of God is also evident in the other formulae that the New Testament writers used to introduce quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures. Such statements as "it is written," "God says," "He says," and "it says," all carry with them the assumption that what is cited is of absolute authority as God's word.

According to I Peter 1:10-12, the Old Testament prophets prophesied by the Spirit of Christ, and therefore did not always fully understand the words that they were given:

The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory.

The prophets, therefore, were not expressing their own ideas. Their writings were not the expression of religious genius; rather, what they wrote was given to them by God.

1 S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., The Old Testament in the New: An Argument for Biblical Inspiration (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980); Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Uses of the Old Testament in the New (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985); John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1988); Roger R. Nicole, "Patrick Fairbairn and Biblical Hermeneutics as Related to the Quotations of the Old Testament in the New," in Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus, eds., Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1984), pp. 765-799; Edwin A. Blum, "The Apostles' View of Scripture," in Norman L. Geisler, Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1979), pp. 39-53; Roger Nicole, "New Testament Use of the Old Testament," in Carl F. H. Henry, ed., Revelation and the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1958), pp. 135-151.

2 Francis A. Schaeffer, L'Abri tape #17, "What the Bible Claims for Itself" (Huemoz, Switzerland: L'Abri Fellowship Foundation, n.d.).

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