Did Jesus spiritualize the OT?

We have been thinking lately about how the OT is used in the NT. One question we should consider is how did Christ interpret the OT. The question demands far more than a blog post could offer. However, what if we take a sample from what is possibly the most Jewish of the Gospels, Matthew? Did Jesus ever interpret the OT in a spiritualized sense in Matthew’s account? Homer Kent has commented:

“Christ’s direct uses of the Old Testament employed the references in their literal sense. None were typological. All treat the Old Testament text in its obvious grammatical and historical meaning. Here is certainly to be found a significant pattern and a caution for all interpreters of Scripture” [Bibliotheca Sacra, 121:481(Jan. 1964), 41ff]. The chart below is based on Kents work.

Christ’s Quotations in Matthew

Reference In Matthew

Old Testament




Deut 8:3




Deut 6:16




Deut 6:13




Ps 37:11

Sermon on the Mount



Exod 20:13;
Deut 5:17

Sermon on the Mount



Exod 20:14;
Deut 5:18

Sermon on the Mount



Deut 24:1

Sermon on the Mount



Lev 19:12;
Deut 23:21

Sermon on the Mount



Exod 21:24

Sermon on the Mount



Lev 19:18

Sermon on the Mount



Hos 6:6

Response to criticism in Matthew’s house



Mal 3:1

John’s ministry



Hos 6:6

Sabbath controversy



Isa 6:9–10

Parabolic method

Literal (partial)


Exod 20:12;
Exod 21:17
Lev 20:9

Treatment of parents



Isa 29:13

Treatment of parents



Deut 19:15

Church discipline



Gen 1:27;
Gen 5:2




Gen 2:24




Exod 20:12–16;
Exod 21:17
Deut 5:16–20

Ten Commandments



Lev 19:18

Summary of the law



Isa 56:7

Cleansing temple



Jer 7:11

Cleansing temple



Ps 8:2

Children praising Jesus

Literal (partial)


Ps 118:22–23

Rejection of Messiah



Exod 3:6, 15

Resurrection of the dead



Deut 6:5

Summary of the law



Lev 19:18

Summary of the law



Ps 110:1

Messiah’s Lordship


23 :38–39

Ps 118:26;
Jer 12:7
Jer 22:5

Abandonment of Israel



Zech 13:7

Scattering of Twelve

Literal (partial)


Ps 22:1–2

Cry from the cross


31 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott on October 18, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Awful quiet ’round these parts – cricket. . . cricket. Hmmmm.

    Great post. The chart is very helpful. Thanks for your shepherding on this important subject.

  2. Scott,

    Thanks for your support. I thought this might have generated some discussion especially for those who insist on interpreting most OT passages apart from their authorial intent. I didn’t even argue that I agreed with Kent. I just thought this was interesting and a helpful way to inductively examine the issue.

  3. Posted by rey on October 19, 2007 at 1:27 am

    The serpent Moses raised in the wilderness (John 3:14), the 3 days of Jonah being in the whale (Matt 12:40) are presented by Christ as typological of his crucifixion, burial and descent into Hades, and his resurrection.

  4. Posted by rey on October 19, 2007 at 1:38 am

    Also, Matthew 11:14 “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” It’s an obvious reference to Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:” but Jesus declares John the Baptist who was not literally Elijah to be the Elijah referred to. The angel in Luke 1:17 presents the same interpretation to John the baptist’s father, namely that John “shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias” rather than literally be Elijah.

  5. Posted by rey on October 19, 2007 at 1:42 am

    And, I realize this in not in Matthew, but in John 6 Jesus declares the manna to be typological of himself.

  6. Rey,

    I think you might misunderstand what Kent has argued for. No one denies that Jesus makes spiritual applications such as in Matthew 12:40 (there is some question as to whether this is a quote or not). What Kent argues for at length in his article and by way of illustration here is that Jesus does not overturn the authorial intent of a quote even after extending the revelation by way of application, analogy, etc.

    For example, I’m glad you mentioned the Malachi reference to Elijah. This is not an easy passage but its fresh for me because I preached it last week!

    Note carefully that Jesus does not quote from Mal 4:5 which is about the return of Elijah but the only Malachi quote in the passage is in Matt. 11:10 where Jesus quotes Mal. 3:1 by way of analogy. I say analogy because Mal. 3:1 is most likely messianic in its original context. Nevertheless Jesus does uphold the literal meaning (authorial intent) of Mal. 4:5 later in Matt. 17:10-11 so we know He’s not overturning it in Matt. 11. Furthermore, Matt 17:12 could be further proof that Jesus is using “Elijah” again by way of analogy/example to John the Baptist.

  7. Kent concludes his article:

    “In conclusion it must be observed that the employment of the Old Testament in Matthew’s Gospel is conservative. When one makes allowance for the fact that Jewish writers were inclined to view their national history as an integrated whole, with a consummating goal ahead to be accomplished by the Lord’s Messiah, there appears to be no undue latitude in the hermeneutics employed. By far the major use of the Old Testament in Matthew was in its literal sense, without the allegorizing that characterized rabbinical exegesis. The comparatively few typological uses, to be found in the writer’s own narrative portions, are not far-fetched, but reflect a sensitivity to the nature of prophecy. May all expositors of the Word of God, whether of the Old Testament or the New, be cautioned and guided by this example.”

  8. I would affirm that Jesus quoted the OT in numerous ways. The fact that Jesus quoted from the OT by way of illustration, application, fulfillment, rhetorically and theologically and without trashing the authorial intent of a given OT passage is a significant point. If I understand him rightly, I believe this is what Kent is driving at.

  9. Posted by rey on October 19, 2007 at 6:55 am

    I will agree Jesus never overturned authorial intent. he was the author after all. I think, however, that when we focus on authorial intent as though the prophet rather than God were the author, we make a huge mistake, and one that Peter warns against in 2 Pet 1:20-21 “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Although Catholics make this mean that private men cannot correctly interpret Scripture, Peter’s real point is that the prophets were writing what God moved them to write and not their private interpretation of a dream or a vision, but that when God gave a vision he also gave an inspired interpretation thereof. It goes along with what he says in 1 Pet 1:10-12 that the prophets didn’t really understand the very prophecies that they recorded, “to whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things,”

    So, while I would caution interpreters to reign in their curiosity and not make the OT too allegorical, I would also caution against stripping passages of the Messianic significance because “Jeremiah wouldn’t have understood it that way.” How Jeremiah understood it is irrelevant, according to Peter’s rule, seeing as how the prophets didn’t understand their own prophecies and that God is the ultimate author. I’m not saying that you believe otherwise, but many do.

  10. Rey,

    I think there are a few things in your comment that need further clarification:

    You stated, “I think, however, that when we focus on authorial intent as though the prophet rather than God were the author, we make a huge mistake, and one that Peter warns against in 2 Pet 1:20-21 . . .” I think you are making a false dichotomy here. When we speak of authorial intent it is not some entity apart from the Lord’s work of inspiration. The passage you site actually teaches the dual authorship of Scripture.

    Secondly, you said, “. . . I would caution interpreters to reign in their curiosity and not make the OT too allegorical . . .” So are you saying some amount of allegorical interpretation is okay? If so, what are the rules of interpretation that you follow for determining the parameters of allegory? Who or what sets the limits for allegorical interpretation? Furthermore, do you think allegorical interpretation takes away from the plain or natural meaning of the text of Scripture? I believe allegory weakens the case for the perspicuity of Scripture and the ability to objectively interpret what it actually says.

    Lastly you said, “How Jeremiah understood it is irrelevant, according to Peter’s rule, seeing as how the prophets didn’t understand their own prophecies and that God is the ultimate author.” I’m not sure you meant to state this so forthrightly but I think you might want to consider a few things. One, your example of Jeremiah is unbiblical and ignores the prophet’s own testimony in Jeremiah 1:4-19 not to mention the other 51 chapters plus Lamentations. In fact Jeremiah dictated some of the prophecies to an assistant scribe (Baruch) so I think we can conclude that he was able to intelligibly communicate the message the Lord gave him and that he understood the message. Secondly, you have twisted the meaning of 1 Peter 1:10-12 beyond recognition. We have actually covered this passage here at ET before so please consider the following:

    Walter Kaiser has written, “it decisively affirms that the prophets spoke knowingly on five rather precise topics: 1) the Messiah, 2) his sufferings, 3) his glory, 4) the sequence of events (for example, suffering was followed by the Messiah’s glorification), and 5) that the salvation announced in those pre-Christian days was not limited to the prophets’ audiences, but it also included the readers of Peter’s day (v. 12).

    What they “inquired and searched diligently for” without any success was the time when these things would take place. The Greek phrase that gives the object of their searching was “what” [time] or “what manner of time” [eis tina e poion kairon] this salvation would be accomplished. In no case can the first interrogative “what” [tina] be translated as the RSV, NASB, the Berkeley, the Amplified, and the NEB footnote have it—“what person.” Greek grammarians such as A.T. Robertson; Blass, DeBrunner, and Funk; the lexicon by Baur, Arndt and Gingrich; and Moulton, along with such important commentaries as Charles Briggs and Edward Selwyn, are all emphatic on the point: tina and poion are “a tautology for emphasis” and both modify the word “time.”

    This passage does not teach that these men were curious and often ignorant of the exact meaning of what they wrote and predicted. Theirs was a not a search of the exact meaning of what they wrote; it was an inquiry into the temporal aspects of the subject, which went beyond what the wrote.”

  11. “I thought this might have generated some discussion especially for those who insist on interpreting most OT passages apart from their authorial intent”

    ~ Who are those who suggest this hermeneutical approach?

  12. David,

    Exhibit A: See Rey’s comment, ““How Jeremiah understood it is irrelevant, according to Peter’s rule, seeing as how the prophets didn’t understand their own prophecies and that God is the ultimate author.”

  13. But is he saying Jeremiah simply didn’t fully understand the import of his prophecy, or that the NT dismisses Jeremiah’s authorial authority?

  14. I think the reason you don’t have much discussion is that very few reasonable interpreters would disagee with your argument, or Kent’s.

  15. Posted by rey on October 20, 2007 at 12:03 am

    “If so, what are the rules of interpretation that you follow for determining the parameters of allegory? Who or what sets the limits for allegorical interpretation?”

    The line is that an allegorical interpretation must not: (1) contradict a truth plainly revealed in Scripture , nor (2) teach something not plainly revealed in Scripture.

    That allegorical interpretation is permitted when it meets these rules is shown by the fact that it is often used by the New Testament writers. Such as Sarah and Hagar being made an allegory. Not an allegory to teach some weird new doctrine, but to teach a doctrine already revealed plainly elsewhere.

    Now, what I mean when saying that what the prophet might have thought a passage meant is irrelevant, is like with Isa 7:14, where people commonly claim today “No Jews of that time would have understood almah to mean virgin” and “Isaiah plainly meant a young girl, not a virgin.” Firstly, Isaiah is dead, and if they’re conjuring him up, that’s Necromancy which is a sin. Secondly, even if Isaiah didn’t understand almah to mean virgin when he wrote it, yet it does mean that because thus it has been revealed in the New Testament.

  16. Posted by rey on October 20, 2007 at 12:11 am

    Perhaps more to the point of what I mean, is that people often assume they know what the prophet would have thought based on frivolous historical claims, rather than on the revelation of the NT. I don’t think anyone can understand what Jeremiah or Isaiah thought or meant (assuming they did understand the prophecy they wrote) without the NT. I grow weary of those who try to make Messianic passages non-Messianic based on assumptions of what a Jew was capable of believing back then, and then importing those assumptions into the prophets’ heads.

  17. Posted by rey on October 20, 2007 at 12:14 am

    So, whenever I hear someone say we should interpret the OT based on “authorial intent” I assume they are basically seeking to strip the OT of Messianic prophecy. In other words, I think that generally those who use this terminology seek to place Moses’ veil back on their hearts and the hearts of others, and interpret the OT without the NT. I’m not saying that you do this, but this generally seems to be the case in my experience, which is why I take a somewhat pessimistic attitude towards so-called “authorial intent.”

  18. David,

    You seem to imply that I have pulled this argument out of thin air like I need someone to argue with. I assure you that is not the case. In the classic work The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text, G.K. Beale, Gen. Ed. (Baker) there is a chapter by Philip Payne, about “The fallacy of equating meaning with the human author’s intention”. Payne insists, to equate meaning with the author’s intent is to make assumptions out of subjectivity. Therefore he goes out of his way to say that the meaning of what the author originally wrote cannot be understood from the syntax and grammar of the given passage.

    Additionally I would argue that though many give lip service to authorial intent yet they almost immediately abandon it when the author’s meaning does not line-up with their theological presuppositions. Then as a cover they invent “hermeneutical methods” like “Christological interpretation” to cover for the fact that they are importing things onto a text that the author never intended or actually said. Even is we allow for the fact that there is progressive revelation from Genesis to Revelation (which we should) this does not mean then that we should conclude that because Hebrews 8 gives more information than Jeremiah 31 the latter is irrelevant as to its context and specific promises (this is only one example of hundreds).

    So David, maybe its not that I have made more out of this than there is but maybe you have failed to grapple with the issues as they really are and especially as they intersect with your theological assumptions (Covenant theology, priority of the NT, etc.). I’m just saying is all.


  19. Rey,

    I’m going to make a suggestion with all the charity I can muster. Maybe you shouldn’t assume so much especially since you seem to be ignoring what we’re actually saying here. I would suggest you read the articles listed under the tag “hermeneutics” here at Expository Thoughts to see how we have dealt with your questions in recent posts. Maybe then we can have a more balanced discussion. I’m not trying to shut you down but I’m also not wanting to be overly repetitive here. This post is a continuation of about ten lengthy articles that we have done on hermeneutical issues. Context is everything. I hope this helps.

  20. Paul,

    It saddens me to see the level of sheer ignorance of people like your “good friend”, who is content to add nothing edifing to the discussion other than his own contentious and snide comment which should really be reduced to not much more than “vain babbling”.

    Yet, for the record, if there is any record, not only did I recognize Rey, but also tried to graciously and tactfully suggest his understanding of this issue is confused and uninformed to say the least. (Basically the same things you’ve said as well)

    This is born out in his comments such as,

    “So, whenever I hear someone say we should interpret the OT based on “authorial intent” I assume they are basically seeking to strip the OT of Messianic prophecy…I’m not saying that you do this, but this generally seems to be the case in my experience, which is why I take a somewhat pessimistic attitude towards so-called “authorial intent.”

    This is not a sound view of “authorial intent” whatsoever. And yet in just a couple of post above this he himself acknowledges Jesus’ own use of “authorial intent” stating,

    “I will agree Jesus never overturned authorial intent. he was the author after all.”

    So is he saying he’s pessimistic of Jesus? My suggestion is he clarify his position and write more clearly and consistently.

    And when I asked about people who oppose what you’ve written here, I was asking more about published works, not a person named “Rey” on the internet. This is not to deny the existence of Rey, but rather an attempt to draw out more extensive background from you on the issue.

    As I have not admittedly, like you said, “grappled” in much detail with the matter simply because it has not really been much of a concern in my own exegetical work. Finding the authorial intent in a given text is fundamental to sound exegetical and hermenenutical work.

    Finally, I simply want to say I am strongly reconsidering the wisdom in having linked to your site from mine. I was hoping to find measured, Spirit-filled and edifing conversation and scholarship. Not a bunch of ten year olds with keyboards.

    Paul, I pray your family is restored quickly and that the Lord brings health and prosperity to you and yours. May the Lord grant you strength both for your family and the pulpit.

  21. David,

    Out of difference to you I have removed the offending comment. My apologies.

    As for us being ten year olds with keyboards, I would have to say that is one of the nicer things I’ve been called today (seriously). I have a very odd sense of humor that not everyone shares so please forgive me for letting that get in the way of Christ-like edification.

    Thank you for praying for my family, they are a sick bunch and not in the hip-hop sense of “sick.”


  22. Thank you Paul for your kind response.

    If I may ask, do you believe many prophetic passages contain the “already, not yet” motiff?

    In other words, could Jeremiah and others have seen a fulfillment of their words and we still expect to see an ever greater (some might say, spiritualized) fulfillment based on the same passage?

  23. Another thought passage just occurred to me. Isaiah speaks of the “suffering servant”. Do you believe we can rightly interpret this servant to first come in the form as Israel “already” come, as God’s people under the Old Econony, yet fulfilled in Christ, who as of then had “not yet” appeared?

    This type of interpretation seems to do justice both to the authorial intent of the passage (a literal fulfillment) and yet leaves room for a more typological understanding as well.

  24. On the way to the doc with my five year old but yes I see already/not yet patterns but I look at them on a case by case basis. In other words its not a theological grid that I try to lay over the text. I’ll say more about it later when I have time.

  25. Posted by rey on October 24, 2007 at 12:29 am

    I never said we should not interpret the Bible as the author (God) intended, but rather than most of the time people claim that the author meant this or that they are restricting the author to man and making ridiculous assumptions on what that man might or might not have been capable of thinking based on their poor knowledge of the time in which he lived.

  26. Posted by rey on October 24, 2007 at 12:34 am

    “Another thought passage just occurred to me. Isaiah speaks of the ‘suffering servant’. Do you believe we can rightly interpret this servant to first come in the form as Israel ‘already’ come, as God’s people under the Old Econony, yet fulfilled in Christ, who as of then had “not yet” appeared?”

    So before Jesus came there was someone by whose stripes we were already healed? or Israel was healed by his own stripes yet is spoken of as though another man and a real man, a man who died childless even? Do you not now see how this so-called “authorial intent” argument is generally used to Judaize and rob Christ of his glory? Look at this blasphemy that McCory would peddle on us. And he bases it on changing the prophet past tense to a real past tense, as if men of that time obviously couldn’t prophecy future events in past tense, nay that must have been beyond their mental capacity.

  27. Rey,

    Allow me to elaborate a little regarding your concern before you condemn me altogether.

    Paul in 1 Cor. 10 1-4 says,

    “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;

    And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

    And did all eat the same spiritual meat;

    And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”

    Though Paul says Christ was the Rock (already) in the wilderness, this in no way negates His (not yet) appearence in the flesh. Paul is speaking figuratively. In a real sense he “spiritualizes” the OT i.e. saying “they drank the same spiritual drink for they drank of that same spiritual Rock”.

    The Rock is Christ in the sense it’s sole provision sustained God’s people. Just as our eternal salvation come through Christ alone, God perserved His people through His provison alone. Without God’s miracle, they’d perish in the desert and we’d perish in our sins.

    And though the rock in the Arabian desert prefigured Christ, it in no way negates it’s real valid purpose then. It wasn’t merely a symbol of Christ, it was an efficaious work of grace on behalf of God’s people.

    This is the motiff found throughout the OT. We can find Christ throughout the pages of Scripture. And not only does this not take away the glory of His advent, it brings a glorious fulfillment of thousands of years of prophetic utterance.

    So to say there was a “suffering servant” under the Old Economy, who was typological of Jesus Christ isn’t blasphemy, it’s another testimony of the coming Messiah in God’s redemptive purposes found throughout history.

  28. Posted by rey on October 25, 2007 at 9:34 am

    There’s a big difference between the rock that Moses struck and the suffering servant. The difference is Isaiah 53:5 “…by his stripes we are healed.” To say that there was another person before Jesus that fulfilled this prophecy is equivalent to saying that there is another way to heaven, that there is another man whose death atones for our sins. Do you see the problem now?

    Then there is verse Isaiah 53:8, “who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living” which means he died childless, so how will he have any “generation” i.e. offspring? The answer is given in verse 10, “when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed,” which means that those who accept Christ’s sacrifice become his children in a spiritual sense thereby. This is how his “generation” or offspring will be declared, that is, adopted. But if this passage refers to two people, then are there two people who gain spiritual offspring by faith in their sacrifice!

    This is where the blasphemy comes in. This passage is clearly not typology at all. This is a perfect illustration of my beef with the “authorial intent” idea, namely that what people generally term “authorial intent” is the opposite of author actually intended. To truly understand the author’s intent, we must look at the NT citations of this passage. And, when a passage is not cited in the NT, we must determine author’s intent by similar passages cited in the NT. Here are the citations for this passage:

    1. Acts 8:32-35 the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53, and Philip “opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.”

    Philip taught him some mystery person we’ve never heard of when viewing this passage? No, but he taught him Jesus.

    2 1 Peter 2:24 “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

    Whose stripes? Christ’s, not anyone else’s.

    verse 25 “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”

    3 Luke 22:37 “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.”

    This is a reference to Isa 53:9 “And he made his grave with the wicked….”

    4 Mat 8:17 “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”

    Reference to Isaiah 53:4 “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

    4 John 12:37-38 “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

    Reference to Isaiah 53:1.

    5 Rom 10:16 “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?”

    Reference to Isaiah 53:1. The “report” referred to by Isaiah is interpreted as being properly the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    There is at least one other references to Isaiah 53 in the New Testament I think, but I will not look for it now. Suffice it to say that you will not find a reference in the NT that sees Isaiah 53 as referring to anyone but Christ. Therefore, you cannot claim that the author intended anyone but himself, seeing Christ is the ultimate author of both Isaiah 53 an the NT.

  29. Posted by Big Al on April 20, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    I have enjoyed reading everyones post. I’m no minsiter just a sinner save by grace. I have feed on God’s Word from Gen. to Revelation many times and came away with more meaning each time. I’m bewildered that there are so many people who claimed to be Christian have no or little knowledge of the Word. I’ve had to leave 2 churches because the leadership seem to embrace cultural gospel over biblical truths and I’m now presently about to leave my present church home because a new pastor who does more spiritualizing than expository preaching and everyone thinks this is the greatest news since slice bread. Before being pastor he was or still is over “Biblical Conceling”. My wife and I not yoked together spiritually, she had little knowledge and no desire to live life God’s way, it doesn’t work to force but to encourage through the Word which she says she cannot understand. She is hearing impared and read signning minimally, she blames not understanding the Bible on her condition(which I dissagree). I thought it a good idea to her to biblical truth from another party so that she would see that I’m not making this up for just my benefit, this minister to make a long story short somehow concluded that I was trying to replace the Holy Spirit in her life and that she is a Christian without believing or wanting to live for Christ just because she’s in church. I gave him some scriptural references which I was hoping he would give us instead I get a lecture on relationships(not spiritual) and how his is working out so find. Scripture was absent from our session other than when I broght it up and all he could say was how knowledgable I am in the scriptures(an attempt I believe passify me and shut me up). I walked away from this session with nothing acomplished and no confidence in him as a minister of The Word and now he’s the pastor of the Church. What biblical advice can you sheppards give.

  30. […] Did Jesus spiritualize the OT? by Paul Lamey […]

  31. Posted by Philip Lazar on February 26, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Help me when Ap.Paul writes “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what what is written” 1 Cor 4:6. From were did got this verse??? Does the Corinthian know this verse is in the OT???

    Philip Lazar, Pastor

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