New Testament Texts Citing the Old Testament

The next chapter in Preaching the Old Testament carries a lengthy title (“Toward the Effective Preaching of New Testament Texts That Cite the Old Testament”) but an important message. According to Roy E. Ciampa, passages that quote from or are based upon OT texts provide special challenges and unique opportunities for the preacher. Therefore, his thesis is as follows:

In order to effectively use a New Testament text that quotes the Old Testament, a preacher will want to help the embedded Old Testament text play the same role with their audience that it played with the original audience. (152)

His arguments can be framed around the following questions.

  • Why did NT authors quote the OT?

According to Ciampa, the OT is quoted for a variety of reasons, such as the following (152):

  • to defend or support their theological arguments,
  • to clarify an issue using an illustration from the OT,
  • to reveal the significance of a contemporary event or reality,
  • to bring credibility to an author, showing his abilities to interpret Scripture,
  • to establish a sense of rapport with the readers.

Therefore, it is important for the preacher to discern the purpose for the quote within the NT context.

  • How did NT authors receive revelation?

As opposed to “divine downloads” of information and revelation, Ciampa makes the important point that NT writers were for the most part directly dependent upon the OT. He appeals here to 2Tim 3:16; 4:2 and Acts 17:11. Although the final product of these writers was an inspired text, the process of writing was one done by skilled exegetes and theologians. Therefore, I would add, they were simply reading correctly the OT texts. Thus, the preacher should always consider “the way in which the message of the New Testament authors fits into and flows out of the pattern of revelation that had been previously communicated from God to his people” (154). As such, then, the preacher can show a congregation the way the NT writer has theologized the OT text by thoughtfully retracing the exegesis and theologizing of the author. Preaching from these texts provides the opportunity for the preacher to bring a congregation along in both hermeneutics and biblical theology.

  • What did such ancient exegesis consist of?

How the NT writers interpreted the OT is a highly debated issue, but Ciampa does a good job of explaining some difficult issues here. He states, “The bottom line is that the authors of the New Testament rarely quote and use the Old Testament the way we would if we were using the texts to support our own arguments” (156). That is, we often arrogantly believe we have the corner of the market on biblical interpretation. Yet, we should not be surprised if their methods differ from ours. In this light, he makes the following apt statement:

The New Testament authors reflect an acute awareness of the importance of grammar, context, and word meanings in their interpretations. But they do not value compartmentalization and hermetically sealed working environments the way we do. (157)

Thus, one of the most effective means of using the OT was the bringing together of two or more texts (such as those that share common terms and expressions) to shed interpretive light on one another. An example would be the way Jesus brings together Lev 19:18 and Deut 6:5 to summarize the law. These tendencies of the author are best reflected in what Ciampa (quoting Kaiser) calls “antecedent theology” (158), i.e. the way NT writers read a text in light of all the texts that precede it.

This is a good point, but I am not sure Ciampa and Kaiser go far enough. I believe that the completed canon gives even more of a context for the NT writers to read. In other words, I’m not sure that NT writers had blinders on when approaching a text so that they only read the text in light of the texts that preceded it. I believe they were having more of an interpretive interaction with the whole, not just the parts.

  • What about texts that are different?

This is another tough issue. It is difficult at times to discern whether a NT writer was quoting a text verbatim or translating the text from the Hebrew. As such, there are times when the text in the NT may reflect the LXX, the Masoretic text, or neither. Moreover, when it reflects none of the ancient versions, the preacher may have to discern how and why the author altered it. Ciampa’s advice in this regard is to consider carefully whether this needs to be explained in your preaching. At times, he believes, explaining the important contribution of the ancient versions may be helpful. He states:

An explanation of the difference between fidelity to the exact wording of a text and fidelity to the meaning and point of a text and of the freedom enjoyed by New Testament authors to tailor their quotation for the sake of the clarity of their communication and application may go a long way toward helping the congregation understand a phenomenon that may seem strange to them. (163)

  • What context?

Ciampa’s contribution here is important in that he reminds the reader that both the NT and OT contexts are important. More times than not, sermons I’ve heard that deal with this type of text basically give mere lip service to the OT quotation. His reminder here is well taken: We must consider the development of the OT text within its context. I think this is very important, because most of the time in my experience we may be surprised to find that the NT writer is simply reading the OT text in its proper context. Moreover, he is probably assuming that the reader understands this context and can discern how and why he is using it for his argument. Very important!

Any thoughts?

4 responses to this post.

  1. […] (HT: Transforming Sermons) * Expository Thoughts touch on a subject that fascinates me: New Testament Texts Citing the Old Testament. * The new edition of Preaching Now is available. Check out the ten deadly sins of […]

  2. […] For further reading, Randy McKinion has also dealt with this issue here. […]

  3. Thank You

  4. Posted by Bob Jones on July 29, 2007 at 1:06 am


    I offer the following as evidence of what I believe is the application of the NT author hermeneutic. In this example the “prostitute” Tamar is shown to be a shadow of Mary.

    Tamar:Mary made herself available at Timnath:the appointment
    Tamar:Mary was promised a goat:scape goat “for he shall save his people from their sins.”
    When Tamar:Mary asked for assurance of the promise, she was given three things:
    Rod: “The power of God will overshadow you”…”
    Signet ring: “He shall be called the Son of God”
    Bracelets: Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife (in Numbers an empty vessel without bracelets is unclean. Mary was not unclean, and Judah was told “there was no prostitute here”
    Tamar:Mary conceived , not by her legitimate husband, but by his father Judah:God
    Tamar:Mary was going to be killed:divorced but was honored when the true father was discovered.
    Tamar:Mary had twins: God-man
    Phares:Jesus though born to Tamar:Mary first, was really the second breach:second man

    Some have called the apostolic exegesis “charimatic” as though it were a special gift. I can show that it is the result of formal hermeneutical processes.

    A second shadw is that of Uzziah. He was the king who did everything according to his father:: (he who knew no sin) then offered incense::(through perfect obedience) and became leperous::(became sin). In th ebook of Chronicles he is calles Azariah, which is the name f the high priest who confronted hm in the temple :: (he became our high priest).

    These shadows are literally on every page of the Bible and continue into the New Testament.

    The “odd” citings of the OT are consistent with this hermeneutic.

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