Did New Testament Writers Misread the Context of Old Testament Passages?

"Sometimes NT writers cite or allude to the OT in ways which, at first blush, seem to disregard the context or, worse, to alter its meaning. This leads many readers of the NT to wonder if its authors were always faithful to the original intent of these passages." - DBTS Blog

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josh p's picture

The NT use of the OT is an issue that I have wrestled with a fair amount in the last few years. I would need to think on this one a little more but so far I’m not sure I’m convinced.
It seems like this puts a little too much emphasis on the human writer. It’s hard to imagine (for me) that God would inspire scripture in a way that the human author’s would use an OT quotation like that. I don’t doubt that they had many verses memorized and used them in different ways. We do this. A guy is offered a piece of pie- “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” It’s hard to see though that God would allows passage to be inscripturated in that way. Any one else have any thoughts?

ScottS's picture

I feel like too many interpreters today, when considering the NT use of the OT, forget to account for the Divine side of Scripture's authorship, and focus solely on the human side. We, as non-inspired interpreters today, have no right nor grounds to acquire what is previously written and proclaim it to be something that was not obviously its intent previously. 

But God, as Divine author of all of Scripture, can certainly do this, so long as He does not negate any original meaning also.

Jeremiah 31:15 is not merely a lament, as the article tries to affirm "Many interpreters see ... the text in Jeremiah is not a prediction," yet it is a prophecy as "Thus says the LORD" leads it. I very much believe that God often (but definitely not in all cases, nor even in most cases) gives prophecies that have both a near and far term fulfillment intended in two different events. But only God can reveal that such is the case through further revelation. So NT authors using OT texts in odd ways shows that God intended another idea as well as the original idea in those cases, and has kept that a mystery until the NT to reveal that. I have no problems with that, assuming one does not try to supplant the original meaning with the later meaning. God, as Author, is telling us what His intent is by such further revelation, without destroying the intent He may have had with the original audience as well.

So in Jeremiah's day, the prophetic lament of Jer 31:15 comes true later in Jeremiah's life, as many young captives (e.g. Dan 1:2-4, which captivity was prophesied earlier in Isa 39:7 [cf. 2 Kg 20:18]) are born away to Babylon, away from their parents, and from the staging area of Ramah (Jer 40:1; while Jeremiah is let go to return to Jerusalem). Ramah was located in the territory of Benjamin, and contrary to the article's statement (bold added)

Ramah is an unexpected place for Rachel to be weeping over the loss of her people. Although one tradition identifies her own burial place as nearby, nowhere in Scripture does she weep for her family.

The original Rachel was in mourning (which undoubtedly included weeping) at the birth of Benjamin, because she was going to lose out on seeing him (and Joseph and the rest of the family) grow up since she was dying (Gen 35:18). Her name for her son was Ben-Oni (son of my sorrow); Jacob changed it to Benjamin. So for the original Rachel, it was as if her sons were going to be no more to her, since she was the one departing; but the parallel is in the separation of parent to child (not in who is leaving who to cause the separation). So Ramah, near the heart of Benjamin's territory (from http://www.israel-a-history-of.com) ...


... is connected to Rachel because of this separation of parent to child that will occur in Jeremiah's day at Ramah. Such a widespread separation of parents to children, like Ramah, will again occur in Jesus's day around Bethlehem (Mt 2:16-18), a location connected with Rachel as her tomb is just outside Bethlehem at Zelzah (1 Sam 10:2), which was where they were at when "Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)" (Gen 35:19). Notice it is only about 1 to 2 miles from Bethlehem (from https://bibleatlas.org):

So Rachel and her mourning for the loss of her children are what connect all three events, as God used her loss to prophecy about such a loss both in Jeremiah's day (with respect to the tribe of Benjamin, the son she lost, as the location of the event) and Jesus's day (with respect to Rachel's tomb for the location of the event and to the Ramah event as to scope of the loss).

Part of why God does these dual fulfillment with some prophecies, I believe, is in relation to what was required for Israel to recognize a true prophet. Prophets had to demonstrate that what they said in the LORD's name indeed comes to pass (Dt 18:22), but also that they did not sway people from God or His Law (Dt 13:1-5, 18:20). If the event failed to occur, then they "shall not be afraid of him [that prophet]" (Dt 18:22), but the inverse then was true, if an event occurred, they should be afraid (i.e. respect) the messenger of God as a prophet. So for far out, long term prophecies, which were not going to be fulfilled in that prophet's lifetime, the only way for the people to believe the prophet regarding those was for the prophet to demonstrate in his lifetime that he was a true prophet, by having near future prophecies fulfilled. Then his far term prophecies could be heeded, as the people were to respect the man who had proven himself to be a true messenger of God.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16