The NT Use of the OT5 min read
The following article is taken from my personal notes on Isaiah. As I came to the prophecies of chapter 2, I had to determine what my standard approach was going to be for interpreting them. The influence of Reformed theology has popularized and even glorified the ignorance of end-times prophecy. Much of that is based on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, which (so they claim) shows a deeper meaning to many Old Testament prophetic texts apart from their authorial intent. This is where Amillenialism and replacement theology comes from — the ability to interpret Old Testament promises apart from their original context. Since prophecy takes up a large fraction of Scripture, we must be settled on how to approach it normatively. So, here is a study on the New Testament use of the Old Testament to prove that we can indeed take Old Testament texts at face value by default. As well, I will show that even broader applications of Old Testament texts do not deny the original intent. Though all the passages are taken from Isaiah, the principle extends throughout all of the Old Testament. This leads to the hermeneutic that dispensationalists use.
Literal Fulfillment. Scripture writers deemed it right to understand the Old Testament in its plain and clear sense. The prophecy of Israel’s spiritual blindness in chapter 6 is used multiple times for the judicial blindness of the nation from Isaiah’s day to Christ’s day (Matt. 13:14-15; Acts 28:26-27; John 12:40; Luke 8:10). That four New Testament authors were unanimous in their view of Isaiah 6 should tell us that Old Testament prophecy is not exempt from meaningful exegesis in and of itself. It contains authorial intent just like the New Testament does. Isaiah 7 and the virgin birth is an example. The Servant Songs of chapters 42-53 are another example. Though the New Testament added clarity to Messiah’s first coming, all of what Isaiah said was true. God did not fail to keep His clear promises. This applies to apocalyptic passages as well (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15). There is simply no warrant for allegorical hermeneutics.
A Timeless Principle. Because God is timeless, His principles are also timeless. This is a conviction New Testament writers possessed when looking at God’s ways in the Old Testament, and this allowed them to apply phrases with their own contexts to current situations. An example is found in Matthew 15:8-9 where the Lord quotes Isaiah 29:13, “These people draw near with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Obviously “these people” were those of Isaiah’s day, but the principle could be applied to Christ’s day without taking from Isaiah’s particular situation.
Adoption of Language to Another Concept. This serves the purpose of illustrating a New Testament concept by paralleling it to an Old Testament instance that has a common factor. This would bring greater clarity to the Jewish readers of the first century. For instance, Isaiah 8:17-18 is clearly the prophet himself speaking, but his words are applied to Christ in Hebrews 2:13. This does not turn Isaiah’s words into a prophecy. Nor does this quotation allegorize or nullify the authorial intent of that passage. Rather the Hebrew author is using language from a genuinely dependent prophet to expand on his theme of the genuinely dependent Christ.
Expansion on an Old Testament Theme. An example of this is Paul’s treatment of Isaiah 25:8 – “He will swallow up death in victory, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. . .” Israel could never have derived the doctrine of 1 Corinthians 15:54 from this passage. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of the rapture, which was concealed in Old Testament times, as fulfilling the Isaiah passage. Thus, the New Testament has the ability to take a general Old Testament promise and show that it has many legitimate layers of fulfillment. This does not deny the significance of the original passage. Rather it upholds the original meaning and expands it. This is not either/or, but both/and.
Topical Contribution to a New Testament Theme. Some New Testament passages are not looking to interpret Old Testament passages at all when quoting them. These simply have a topic to develop and use the Old Testament as a contribution to understanding that topic. This is similar to how we do topical studies today. For example, Romans 11:34 quotes Isaiah 40:13 simply to support and expand on Paul’s meditations on the depths of God’s wisdom. Or when the Lord quotes Isaiah 56:7 as He clears the temple, He takes a description of God’s house as a place of prayer and contributes it to his statement, “You make it a den of robbers.” The Isaiah passage in itself would not lend to that principle. Rather, the Lord had a pre-established point to which the Isaiah passage contributed.
General Application. Just as with any good preaching, the New Testament is full of applications of Old Testament texts for practical lessons. After all, “Things written aforetime were written for our learning” (Romans 15). An example of this is 2 Corinthians 6 using Isaiah 49:8 to emphasize the theme of “the day of salvation.” Isaiah 49 is actually referring to Yahweh’s Servant, the Lord Jesus. Paul is not interpreting the passage, nor is he allegorizing it. It is quite simple what Paul does. Paul’s logic is like this: “See how Isaiah speaks of a specific day of salvation as if there is a limit on its duration? [The implication has been noticed]. Well, I’m telling you that now is the day of salvation, and you need salvation now [application made]. Christ Whom Isaiah spoke of brought about this day of salvation; I’m using the “now” part to impress its urgency on you.”
To allegorize Old Testament prophecies is next to sin for how destructive it is to our understanding of Scripture. Old Testament passages had a message God wanted to convey. Since God cannot lie, the original context and meaning of those passages must be fixed in their significance. The original meaning must be wholly respected. Whatever prophetic passage we are studying, we must assume the historico-grammatical hermeneutic. Only this approach handles divine revelation justly; only this approach will yield meaningful richness in our studies.