The Interpretation of Old Testament Prophecy in the New Testament

During the early formation of Christianity, the writers of the New Testament considered the Biblical Scriptures of the Old Testament in order to understand the significance of Jesus Christ. As a Christian, this writer holds the view that Jesus Christ is the son of the Most High God of the Old Testament of the Bible thus this paper shall reflect that. There are contrasting views about whether or not the New Testament fulfills Old Testament prophecy, and this writer shall seek to clarify an interpretation that is most likely as plausible both with the exegetical understanding of the Old and New Testament writers, and the hermeneutics of personal interpretation. Further, contemporary reflection will suggest the relevance of studying the Biblical Scriptures as we may understand them with the now available scientific process of evaluation. This paper examines various research by scholars throughout history to understand the merit of New Testament interpretation of Old Testament prophecy.

Prophecy in the Old Testament

About the future, the Old Testament has much to say, and among the many prophecies, there are many verses about the future messiah of Israel. The reader may wonder what the messiah is. In the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah says that “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (NIV, Isa 7:14). Immanuel means “God with Us” (Gundry 2012, pg. 197). Further description of the messiah is in Isaiah 9:6-7. These were saying that the Lord would show humanity a true savior of his people with specific signs, and furthermore, there would be a general narrative fulfilled.

For Old Testament Jews, prophecy of the messiah was that he would be a sacrifice for sin (Isa 53:5-12), he would be an aforementioned virgin (Isa 7:14), and perhaps that he would be reborn from the dead (Psa 16:10). Together, these three parts of the Old Testament are collectively a message stating that the messiah would be an extraordinary person who ultimately does what other ancient religions viewed as not possible in the form of resurrection. Robert H. Gundry shared insights into the religion of ancient Egypt. Gundry said, “When the fourteen pieces of the dismembered corpse of Osiris were reassembled, for example, he became the king of the dead in the underworld” (Gundry, 2012, pg. 70). The ancient Egyptians believed that the most that could transpire after death is a transition to the another world that is not becoming born again but rather confirming the utter finality of death as a state of being from which no one may return.

In contrast, according to R. L. Routledge, the Old Testament does have some information about resurrection. Routledge said, “It is a common view among scholars that the idea of resurrection was a relatively late development in Old Testament theology—found in the Old Testament only in Daniel 12:1-3, which is generally dated in the second century BC” (Routledge, 2008, pg. 23). Routledge’s comment is regarding the passage in Daniel related to the end times, when “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). The understanding of this writer is that the passage from the book of Daniel expresses a resurrection from death. G. Goswell shared insights about the meaning of sleep in Daniel 12:2. Goswell asserted, “It is plain that the reference to ‘sleep’ in Dan 12:2 is a metaphor for death (cf. 1 Sam 28:15; Ps 13:3 [Heb 40; Jer 59:39, 57; Job 3:13, 14:12; 1 En. 90:9-10” (Goswell, 2013, pg. 149).

While this is approved by the scholarly community, an alternative view on the meaning of sleep in Dan 12:2 was proposed by C.E. Armerding. Armerding wrote in a periodical titled Asleep in the dust (1964), to paraphrase, “The translators of the Septuagint evidently believed that katheudo gave the sense of the word yashen (sleep) in Daniel 12:2, rather than the word koimao (death)” (Armerding, 1964, pg. 156). However, modern analysis of ancient texts has resulted in the New International Version that states, to paraphrase, “or I will sleep in death” (Psa 13:3). This can be cross-referenced with Isaiah 26:19 in, to paraphrase, “But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy” (Isa 26:19). Therefore, it is likely that the original text in Daniel 12 meant to sleep in death, rather than to sleep and stay alive as the Greek Septuagint argues. Theologically, the ancient Israelites were seeking a messiah who would be the basis of an eschatology for realized hope in life rather than a final death, sheol.

Interpretation in the New Testament

When the New Testament writers formed their theology, they utilized hermeneutical understandings of Old Testament prophecy in order to process the events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Shirley Jackson Case explained the methodology that they enacted was not strictly logical. Case said, “But the New Testament writers and their readers, rigid logic was not a necessity. They were moved by suggestions, figures, types, analogies, allegories” (Case, 1911, pg. 100-101). Case was saying that both the New Testament writers and readers in the early Christian churches interpreted Christ’s personhood and divinity as characteristically unexpected. Therefore, Immanuel’s statement about law requires understanding that comes with faith that leads to reason.

Within the Bible, there is the verse, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mat 5:17). One thousand years ago, Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the famous phrase, “’credo ut intelligam’” (Cessario, 1990, pg. 209). This means having faith to understand. It is this writer’s view that St. Anselm and the early Christians were in agreement about the interpretation of the Old Testament related to Jesus Christ because of the fact that Jesus Christ lived on earth during history. N.T. Wright shares what the first-century world was probably like for the average Jewish person. N.T. Wright said, “It was never envisaged that one person might receive “the resurrection” while the rest of history continued unchecked” (Borg, Wright, 1999). While this is argued, so too is likely that there were many aspects of the messiah that were expected of him on his arrival that occurred, such as his triumphal arrival on an unridden donkey recorded in all four Gospels (Mat 21:1-11, Lu 19:28-44, Joh 12:12-19).

The sight of the lowly Christ on a donkey entering Jerusalem, for example, perfectly matches Zechariah 9:9. Having said that, there were other aspects of Old Testament culture that were relevant to its interpretation, and Samuel E. Balentine shared information about them. Balentine said, “For this purpose three sources are of primary importance: the rabbis, Philo, and Qumran” (Balentine, 1981, pg. 48). According to Balentine, beyond the Old Testament, extra-Biblical aspects of intertestamental culture was involved in the formation of New Testament theology. The inverse of this can be hermeneutically understood as the Old Testament Scriptures thus not being isolated to one part of culture. As rabbis who were “ritualistic” (Gundry, 2012, pg. 86), Philo’s combination of “Judaism and Greek philosophy” (pg. 91), and Essenes who “produced the Dead Sea Scroll from Qumran” (pg. 30), it is thus that the interpretation of the Old Testament came from a variety of backgrounds, which were both Jewish and Gentile, in order to understand how the messiah was someone who was punished, died and rose again of all the possible outcomes.

Conclusions and Contemporary Reflection

In the New Testament, there is the realization of Old Testament proposals and assertions about revival. Ervin Budiselić asserted that the Old Testament concept of revival is present in the New Testament. Budiselić supported, “We should not seek to experience revival without anticipating true reformation” (Budiselić, 2014, pg. 46). This is saying that revival leads to what could be correctly described as an improvement. Biblically speaking, this is what Jesus Christ intended for the God’s people when he fulfilled the Mosaic law. As a result, the law has been perfected. Thematically, the New Testament tells a story of new beginnings without forgetting the past. On the contrary to forgetting the past, it has utilized it to thoroughly supplant itself in the world as a source of moral guidance that goes even further beyond the law to describe a kind of grace that could be said to delineate the purpose of the third commandment.

The Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exo 20:8). After the bondage of the Hebrews in Egypt essentially considered beasts of labor, the single day of rest changed humanity from that to sanctified creatures. In the same way, the act of grace by Jesus Christ fulfills this commandment’s full purpose by giving humanity, which is, to paraphrase, “formed from the dust of the earth” (Gen 2:7), a piece of divinity in the form of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s perfect law is God’s kingdom on earth, and God’s dwelling place is the body of human being. As Paul said to the Corinthians, to paraphrase, “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God” (1 Cor 6:19). It follows that in addition to the narrative of the Biblical Scriptures saying that the Jews’ messiah shall come and do as Old Testament prophecy says he would, New Testament reformation shows that the meta-narrative of the Biblical Scriptures is that God intends for his people to receive blessings exceedingly.

The Bible’s meta-narrative can be said to represent a kind of epistemology about the world based on faith. Jacobus W. Gericke said that the writings of the Old Testament are philosophically interesting because of this. Gericke (2013) asserted:

For whilst the Old Testament is not philosophical in nature, the prophecies in the world in the text contain nascent metaphysical assumptions about the nature of divine foreknowledge, the deity’s relation to time and human freedom, whether the authors were aware of holding these or not. (pg. 2)

For the reader who studies the Biblical Scriptures, it is this writer’s assertion that understanding the exegetical assumptions of the writers of the Old Testament and the New Testament can assist in apprehending, to paraphrase, the meaning of Paul’s statement, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). Therefore, it makes sense to assert that the New Testament interpreters were aware of assumptions as the world equally similar to that of Old Testament prophesiers as the message of the Biblical Scriptures seems consistent.

References

Armerding, C. E. (1964). Asleep in the dust. Bibliotheca Sacra, 121(482), 153-158.

Balentine, S. E. (1981). The interpretation of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Southwestern Journal Of Theology, 23(2), 41-57.

Borg, M. J., & Wright, N. T. (1999). The meaning of Jesus: Two visions. San Francisco, CA: Harper.

Budiselić, E. (2014). The Old Testament Concept of Revival within the New Testament. Kairos: Evangelical Journal Of Theology, 8(1), 45-74.

Case, S. J.. (1911). The New Testament Writers’ Interpretation of the Old Testament. The Biblical World, 38(2), 92–102. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3141526

Cessario, R. (1990). The Godly Image: Christ and Salvation in Catholic Thought from St. Anselm to Aquinas (Vol. 6). St Bede’s Publications.

Goswell, G. (2013). Resurrection in the Book of Daniel. Restoration Quarterly, 55(3), 139-151.

Gericke, J. W. (2013). Why Old Testament prophecy is philosophically interesting. Hervormde Teologiese Studies, 69(1), 1-6. doi:10.4102/hts.v69i1.1197

Gundry, R. H. (2012). A Survey of the New Testament (5th ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Pg.197

Routledge, R. L. (2008). Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament. Journal Of European Baptist Studies, 9(1), 22-39.

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Author: Jonathan Kelly

For university education, Jonathan Kelly studies liberal arts and sciences. In his free time, he studies history and ethics in science fiction.

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