The relationship of the Testaments: the NT view of the OT

I fear that pastors and theologians have assumed far more than brother Augustine ever meant when he gave his famous line, “The Old is in the New revealed; the New is in the Old concealed.” Somewhat humorously, Willem VanGemeren has caught the spirit of our hermeneutical age with a more fitting, “The Old is by the New restricted and the New is on the Old inflicted.” Humorous as it may be, VanGemeren’s wit reveals a real issue for evangelical hermeneutics and expository preaching.

Is there a discernable view of the OT from the perspective of the NT writers? That is the question before us now. There are a plethora of answers that have been offered in this regard and some have provided valuable insight into what might be one of the most perplexing issues in biblical studies. We need to tread cautiously here as some have rightly pointed out that “The NT use of the OT is a complex matter deserving much more study” [David Turner, “The Continuity of Scripture and Eschatology: Key Hermeneutical Issues,” Grace Theological Journal 6.2 (1985), 282]. In light of Turner’s wise advice I will try to summarize what I perceive to be the pivotal issues and leave the minutia to subsequent posts and future discussions.

I believe some of our overall deficiencies in preaching are cogently related to the dominant idea in evangelicalism that the NT holds the seat of priority. It does not take too many leaps in logic to see how closely this resembles Marcion’s view of the OT. While no evangelical today would affirm Marcion’s denial of the OT canon, his false view is still upheld in practical ways by those who apply a demoted authority to the OT or worse by those who ignore the OT all together. Marcion’s legacy is practically applied by those who would reinterpret the message of the OT as if it is somehow deficient and barren of meaning. I offer the following thoughts in an effort to raise questions about the status quo which assumes the NT has priority over the first testament and examine how the NT writers “used” (not interpreted) the OT.


1. Distinguish the uses of the OT in the NT

According to Roger Nicole, the NT quotes the OT some 295 times. Allusions are more difficult to pin down and estimates range from 442 to 4,105. There is not a one-size fits all when it comes to OT quotes in the NT. What can account for the hundred of quotes and possibly thousands of allusions? Roy Zuck answers that, “By quoting the Old Testament so frequently, the New Testament writers demonstrated their trust in the authority of the Old Testament. Nowhere does a New Testament writer question or repudiate the truth of an Old Testament passage he cited” (Basic Bible Interpretation, 252). So if some “new” piece of information is given in the NT it is not evidence of 1) a disagreement with the OT passage or 2) a NT “interpretation” overturning an OT meaning. I think we must conclude that it is the result of divine inspiration of the text.

There is no discernable hermeneutical pattern used by the writers of the NT when quoting/alluding to the OT. Kaiser has noted five categorical uses of the OT in the NT (apologetic, prophetic, typological, theological, and practical). However, Zuck’s categories are more definitive and practically helpful (summarized below):

  • Show accomplishment/realization of an OT prediction
  • Confirm that a NT incident is in agreement with an OT principle
  • Explain a point given in the OT
  • Support a point being made in the NT
  • Illustrate a NT truth
  • Apply the OT to a NT incident or truth
  • Summarize an OT concept
  • Use OT terminology
  • Draw a parallel with an OT incident
  • Relate an OT situation to Christ

Of the 295 quotes, we can safely conclude that there is not a single instance where the NT writer repudiates the original meaning of an OT text nor is there an instance where we can point to a definable hermeneutic used to “reinterpret” the OT.


2. Draw correct conclusions about the OT (from the NT)

The OT is a single work with a single purpose. This is how the NT writers and even Christ viewed the message of the OT. I simply want to emphasize the point that the NT writers were not writing to confirm or prove the validity of the OT. To the contrary, the NT has its literary, prophetic, and theological dependence on the OT. First Century Christians like the Bereans used the OT to verify what they were hearing from the apostles about Jesus (Acts 17:11). Against the stream of popular thought it was the OT that confirmed the claims being made in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles (in addition to their signs and wonders). This is the point of Jesus calling his hearers to a closer examination of the OT text (Luke 24:44; John 5:39) and the Apostles showing that the grounds of their messianic hope was rooted in the authority of the OT (cf. Acts 8:35; 13:23; 17:2-3; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).


3. Display Christ in the OT

In order to display Christ in the OT, it is not necessary to “re-interpret” the OT so that He can show up in the most unexpected places. The Messiah is not muted in the OT and the writers of the NT well understood this. The key point that I want to emphasize here is that the NT writers didn’t discover the Messiah in the OT they recognized the Messiah already there. That is, there was no need to import Christ from the NT when the claims of the OT are solidly messianic to begin with. Jesus is identified in the NT because of the Messianic authority of the OT. Most reverse this order and identify Jesus in the OT using the NT as the starting point. Jesus in Luke 24 showed that the proof of His messianic claims rested on the authority of the OT not NT claims (for the NT did not exist). Sailhamer has summarized this well by writing, “The NT is not so much a guide to understanding the OT as it is the goal of understanding the OT. Unless we understand the OT picture of the Messiah, we will not understand the NT picture of Jesus. The OT, not the NT, is the messianic searchlight.”

For further reading, Randy McKinion has also dealt with this issue here.




11 responses to this post.

  1. I think you have highlighted some important points, Paul, and I hope Jason and other amillers will interact with them. Once someone engages in the study of how the NT used the OT, even at an cursory level, it will become immediately apparent that there is not an “consensual” usage of the OT by the NT–which Jason seems to not see, as an amiller, apparently being more concerned with maintaining his dogmatic position (i.e. the amil position) relegating the “real issues” surrounding this topic to “secondary” concerns that we should just “overlook”. Anyway I also just posted an article in response to this issue, and the view that Jason Robertson and friends represent (i.e. the amil position).

    The link to that article is:

    In Christ

  2. Bobby,

    Thanks for the encouragement but just so you know I didn’t write this article with Jason or anyone else in mind. Let’s try our best to leave off the personal language. While those things are standard fare at other blogs we are trying to show a more charitable face.


  3. Nice work Pauly. In the future I hope you guys can cover some of the most hotly debated passages of the OT in the NT.

  4. Paul,

    I realize that, but if you note, I didn’t engage in any ad hominen–and as of late, Jason is the only one who has engaged this topic on your site (Waymeyer’s article–also Robertson has been involved in a radio critique of MacArtur’s position on the Narrow Mind program–go to his site for the links). You’re right, remaining dispassionate with a sense of stoicism is the typical sign of “scholarly” Christian “objective” engagement–but again I didn’t call Jason any names, all I’m looking for is a “fruitful” exchange with an amil., like Jason, on this all important issue. From what I’ve seen of Jason, and heard on the radio, I like the guy–he is passionate, and obviously is well researched, and loves the Lord; I just disagree with him (or his view, amil.)–as you both you and Waymeyer apparently do.

    IN Christ

  5. Jonathan,

    We have kicked around the idea but since you brought it up we’ll be happy to let you post here with the requested articles. Actually, I plan to write a series in the near future on some of the so-called Israel=the Church passages. It will probably get me shot.


    I understand what you are saying but I don’t want to bait anyone either. I think some are too quick to throw around labels describing themselves and it becomes quickly evident that they have little understanding of their own position. I like passionate and biblical argumentation…I’ve never been accused of being dispassionate. However, I know how easy it is for “passion” to overshadow a conversation. I have watched what goes on at some other blogs and I don’t recognize it as biblical argumentation but as theological hackery which deserves no place in our conversations. Thanks for your valued input here, I hope we can expect more of the same.

  6. Hey, I hope I am not one of those “other blogs” that doesn’t have as charitable a face as you guys. Actually my face is not very charitable at all thus the black silhouette :)

    Concerning these points made in the post, again, for those who wish to know, you will find agreement from most Reformed Baptist (Amil). That is until you come to the last sentence about the OT being the Messianic searchlight over the NT.

    The problem with that I have already illustrated with the fact that Paul sheds light on the Abrahamic Covenant and Peter sheds light on what the prophets knew about the NC church that seems to be nearly impossible for many exegetes to discern by using the OT only.

    Is it possible that Paul knew the OT better than we do?
    Is it possible that three years with Christ himself gave Peter an upper hand in exegeting the prophets?
    Is it possible that purposely waited to explain the OT until after the resurrection as is incenuated in Luke 24:44-45?

    I dare say Yes to all three. So, I am not ashamed to use my NT to search the OT. And any comparisons of this view to Marcion’s view of the OT ARE extreme leaps of logic. Marcion discarded the OT. CT’ers and Amillers and Reformed Baptist see the OT and NT as one story.

    And as one story, you cannot truly understand the first testament without understanding the second and vice versa. And the end of the story always sheds more light on the beginning — without changing the beginning at all!

  7. Posted by Caleb on March 19, 2007 at 6:34 am

    Paul and Matt and Randy,

    Thanks for your recent posts here. They have challenged me personally.


  8. The Bible is written in a historical progressive redemptive time frame. The Bible is set to bring the redemptive narrative to light one step at a time. That is from Genesis to Malachi than from Matthew to Revelation. God’s own eternal purpose is set forth in the narrative of Scripture.

    The narrative written in the Old Testment is design to give us God’s unveiling of His eternal purpose for mankind and His plan for all eternity. So I see the Old Testment as a historical narrative.

    The narrative in the New Testament continues to the completion of the redemptive story. (Matthew – Luke) Then I believe the narrative address the purposes for the redemptive story (Acts – 111 John). Then lastly the narrative gives us a glimpse for the future that God has purposed for all eternity.

    My approached to preaching/teaching has been to teach the New Testament which addresses the finished story of redemption. The New Testament addresses the events in the Old Testment some 295 times or allusions to events in the Old far more times. And when the New Testament writers refer to the Old Testament, I will then try to teach the Old Testament passage in light of what the writer in the New Testament is trying to bring out. Example:

    1 Peter 1:19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: the Old Testament Exodus12:5, or Isa 53:7. I would then address the text in Exodus 12:5.

    In twenty years of preaching from the New Testament, there were few sermons that I was not in the Old Testament. I believed the best method of preaching to the saints in the Church was to start with the New Testament.

    I don’t feel that I have neglected the Old Testament in my preaching/ teaching because I have not taught from the Old Testament.

    This is not to say that I have not taught the Old Testament books, because I have, but generally its been in a teaching setting.


  9. Posted by Leonard Wee on April 18, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    Read Richard Hays’ “Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul”. The OT quotations in the NT are only the tip of the iceberg. Closer examination reveals that the NT writers use the OT as “building blocks” of their theology more than we realised. Very often, instead of an outward quotation, only key terms are utilised by the NT writers to activate whole chunks of OT literature that would be familiar to their original readers grounded in the OT literature. Read also Francis Watson’s “Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith” (2004) which advances the discussion.

  10. […] How to understand OT quotations in the NT […]

  11. […] An Introduction by Paul Lamey Christological Hermeneutic by Matt Waymeyer Apostolic Hermeneutic by Matt Waymeyer The NT View of the OT by Paul Lamey […]

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