A Look at Messianic Prophecy: Four Ways the New Testament Authors Use the Jewish Scriptures

Note: Some of this was adopted from the recommended readings here:

1.Fruchtenbaum, A.G, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 146-152.

2. Cooper, David L. Messiah: His Historical Appearance (Los Angeles; Biblical Research Society, 1933), 174-177.

Other recommeded readings:

1.G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation

2. Craig Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature

Introduction

When I was a new Christian I remember reading books on Christian Apologetics. In many cases these books would say there are over 300 so- called prophecies in the Hebrew Bible which were all fulfilled by Jesus. The problem was that the majority of these books explained very little about the hermeneutical methods of the New Testament authors. Much has been written on this topic. Richard Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period is one source that covers this topic. The Messianic Hope. Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? is a more current resource.

Starting Points:

We need to understand the context of first century Judaism. Remember, the Holy Spirit superintended the biblical writers while not violating the writer’s personality, style of writing, or vocabulary. Hence, the Holy Spirit’s practice of not overwhelming the writer’s background explains why the New Testament authors used several ways of quoting the Hebrew Bible that were similar to the rabbinical methods of the Second Temple period.

Four Ways the New Testament Authors Used The Old Testament In Regards to Messianic Prophecy

Direct Fulfillment/Predictive Prophecy/Literal Prophecy Plus Literal fulfillment:

In this case, the NT author wants to show something happened in the life of Jesus or in the lives of his followers is a fulfillment of a direct verbal prophecy from an OT passage. Sometimes there is an introductory fulfillment of various types (e.g., ‘that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled” or “it is written”). In other cases we don’t see any introductory formula.

Examples:

Matthew 2:5-6: Matthew quotes Micah 5:2 about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. We see that in the original context of Micah 5:2, the prophet is speaking prophetically and says that whenever the Messiah is born, He will be born in Bethlehem of Judah. Thus the literal meaning of Micah is that the Messiah will be born in the Bethlehem of Judah and not the Bethlehem of Galilee.

Other examples: Other prophecies that fall into this category include:

o Psalm 22 (describing the death of the Messiah).
o Psalm 110:1 (the Messiah will be seated; on the right hand of God).
o Isaiah 7:14 (the virgin birth); 40:3 (the forerunner of the Messiah); 52:13-53:12 (the rejection, atoning death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah). 61:1-2a (the prophetic ministry of the Messiah).
o Zechariah 9:9 (the ride into Jerusalem on a donkey); Zechariah 11:4-14 (Messiah will be sold out for thirty pieces of silver).
o Malachi 3:1 (the forerunner of the Messiah); etc.
o Remember: some of the direct prophecies used in the New Testament only refer to the first appearance of the Messiah.

Literal Plus Typical (Typology):

1. Passages which interpret their present experience in terms of a person, event, place, rite, etc, from the historical past. These events that were ‘set up’ typologically in an earlier, predictive passage, and interpreted so after the predicted event occurred.

An Example: Matthew 2:15 which quotes Hosea 11

The context of the Hosea passage is not even a prophecy but refers to an historical event, that of Exodus 4:22-23 which refers to Israel as the national son of God. Thus, according to Hosea, when God brought Israel out of Egypt, He divinely called His son out of Egypt. Pro-Judaic hermeneutics. The literal meaning of the Hosea passage refers to the Exodus under Moses. There is nothing in the New Testament that can change or reinterpret the meaning of the Hosea passage nor does the New Testament deny that a literal exodus of Israel out of Egypt actually occurred. The literal event in the Tanakh becomes a type of a New Testament event. In Matthew, an individual Son of God, the Messiah, is also divinely called out of Egypt. Remember, the passage is not quoted as a fulfillment of prophecy since it was not a prophecy to begin with. Rather, it is quoted as a type.

Other Examples Include:

Isaiah 29:13 (Israel has become religious only in the outward sense, obeying man-made commandments while ignoring the divine commandments) quoted in Matthew 15:7-9. Israel becomes a type of the Pharisees and their traditions which made them very religious. They were religious based upon man-made traditions while actively disobeying divine law such as honoring father and mother). Isaiah 6:10 (speaks of Isaiah’s ministry that will be largely rejected) quoted in John 12:39-40 (Isaiah’s ministry becomes a type of Messiah’s ministry which was also largely rejected). Psalm 118:22-23 (the rejected stone) quoted in Matthew 21:42 (a type of the rejection of the Messianic stone that becomes a stone of stumbling). Exodus 12:46 (prohibition against breaking any bone of the Passover lamb) quoted in John 19:36 (that prohibition is now a type for not breaking the bones of the Passover Lamb of God).

Literal Plus Application:

An Example: Matthew 2:17-18 which quotes Jeremiah 31:15.

In the original context, Jeremiah was not prophesying of an event in the far future, as was the case with Micah, or dealing with an event that was long history as was the case with Hosea.

Jeremiah was prophesying about a current event happening in his own time, the beginnings of the Babylonian Captivity. As the Jewish young men were being taken into captivity, they went by the town of Ramah, a town not far from where Rachel was buried. Rachel had become the symbol of Jewish motherhood. As the young men were marched toward Babylon, the Jewish mothers of Ramah came out weeping for sons they would never see again. Jeremiah pictured the scene as Rachel weeping for her children. This is the literal meaning of the Jeremiah passage.

The event is quoted as an application. The one point of similarity here is that once again there are Jewish mothers weeping for sons they will never see again. The Jeremiah event happened in Ramah, north of Jerusalem; the Matthew event happened in Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. In the Matthew passage, the sons are killed; in the Jeremiah passage, the sons are not killed but taken into captivity.

The literal meaning of the Jeremiah passage is dealing with the Babylonian Captivity. But by means of drash, (Matthew investigates and finds, the meaning deduced by investigation), the verse is quoted as an application because of one point of similarity. Another example: Acts 2:16-21: Joel 2:28-32: Just as Israel’s national salvation will be when The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all Israel, there is one point of similarity in that there was an outpouring of the Spirit in Peter’s day.

Perhaps an English expression will help explain this: “He met his Waterloo.” The expression points to an historical event which had to do with Napoleon’s imperial ambitions which collapsed at Waterloo. Because of one point of similarity, we use this story as one point of similarity when we express the ambitions of someone whose ambitions were suddenly destroyed by some climatic event in their life.

Other Examples of Literal Plus Application:

An example is Isaiah 53:4 (where Isaiah is speaking of the spiritual healing of Israel as a nation from their sins by means of the blood atonement of the Messiah) in Matthew 8:17 (applied to the physical healing of Jewish individuals by Jesus). The point of similarity is the healing by the Messiah. Isaiah deals with the spiritual healing of the Jewish nation resulting from Messiah’s atonement; Matthew describes the physical healing of Jewish individuals at a point of time when Jesus had not yet died and therefore no atonement had yet been made. Isaiah 6:9-10: (which describes the nature of Isaiah’s ministry) quoted in Matthew 13:14-15 (which applies to the ministry of Jesus). The point of similarity is that both speak in a way the unbelieving Jewish audience will not be able to understand.

Summation

Summation is not based on a single passage of Scripture nor a quotation of any specific scripture. It tended to summarize what the Scriptures said on a subject. Example: Matthew 2:23: “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene.” There is no such actual statement anywhere in the Hebrew Bible. While many try to make a reference to Isaiah 11:1, the only point of similarity is the sound of netzer, but that passage is not dealing with a town called Nazareth. Matthew is not quoting a specific statement but is summarizing what the Hebrew Bible said. The Prophets did teach that the Messiah would be a despised and rejected individual (Isaiah 49:1-13; 52:13-53:12), and this was well summarized by the term Nazarene.

What was a Nazarene? In the first century, Nazarenes were despised and rejected people (see John 1:45-46). Nathaniel’s question “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” reflects the people’s low opinion of Nazarenes. Nazareth was viewed as a poor, despised village. Another example is Luke 18:31-33: Jesus said he must fulfill all the things written in the prophets (plural). That includes the following: going to Jerusalem, the Jews turning him over to the gentiles who will mock him, spit on him, scourge him, and kill him, and also rising again on the third day. Here again, no one prophet ever said all this. However, putting the prophets together, they did say all this. Therefore, this is a summation of what the prophets said about the Messiah but not a direct quotation. Ezra 9:10-12 is an example of same thing: In this passage, his quotation can’t be found anywhere in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, he is summarizing the teachings found in Deut. 11:8-9; Isa. 1:19; Ezek. 37:25.

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