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Old Testament (II. Christ As Student and Interpreter of).

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OLD TESTAMENT (II. Christ as student and interpreter of).

1. Importance of the subject.—In studying the Gospels, it is hardly possible to exaggerate the importance of the subject of Christ’s knowledge of and use of the Scriptures of the OT. These constituted the main part of the literature of His fellow-countrymen, and by all of them were regarded with a reverence second to nothing else.

In our own day it has become possible to study this subject as no previous generation has ever had the opportunity of doing. Careful textual investigation of the NT has enabled us to be much more sure of the actual form of the text than ever before, and the patient comparative study of the Gospels has set forth their inter-relation and dependence upon one another in a clearer fashion for the ordinary reader than at any other time. Much more care has also been expended on the study of the OT, both In Hebrew and in Greek, and, consequently, the influence of the latter version upon the language of the NT has been rendered clearer. Much study has also been given to the language of the NT, so that we are better able to tell when the LXX Septuagint influences it, and when the vocabulary is less that of the OT than it is of the common contemporary speech. The discoveries of recent years among the papyri of Egypt have given us much insight into the ordinary Greek of the period, so that many words formerly supposed to belong exclusively to the LXX Septuagint are now known to belong to the everyday language of the market-place. Investigations of another order have made us better acquainted than before with the vast amount of literature current in the circles of Judaism, only a small portion of which is contained in the Apocrypha of our English Bible. The various Apocalypses in particular exerted an immense influence upon the generation to which our Lord belonged, and much of their language and ideas can be traced in the pages of the Gospels. Again, the mere improvement in the methods of printing has made the study of this subject easier for present-day students. Take such a copy of the Greek text as that of Westcott and Hort. A cursory examination of it shows that not only actual quotations, but even reminiscences, when these consist of not more than a word or two, are printed in uncial type, and so reveal at a glance the fact that there are traces of the OT in the passage. It is very striking to run through the Gospels in such a form, and to find how large a portion of them, comparatively speaking, is made up of OT phraseology. A similar expedient is carried out in the Twentieth Century NT, save that there quotations and reminiscences from the Apocryphal literature are also indicated. In Weymouth’s translation, The NT in Modern Speech, the actual quotations from the OT are also indicated in special type, and more clearly still these various sources are indicated in Weizsäcker’s German translation of the NT. All these are indications of how thoroughly modern scholars realize the importance of setting forth the presence of OT language in the text of the NT. This, however, is not mainly of antiquarian or historical interest, but derives its greatest significance from the bearing that it has upon the personal thought and action of our Lord. It is always of the greatest interest and significance to discover the intellectual forces that have moulded any great personality. ‘Books that have influenced me’ always constitute an illuminative section of the autobiography of any great thinker or writer; and to discover that the recorded conversations and addresses of our Lord reveal to us as clearly as they do the literature upon which He has nurtured His own soul, is a great help both in the interpretation of His teaching and in the understanding of His message and mission.

2. Difficulties of the subject.—Fascinating as this study is, it is beset with many peculiar difficulties, (a) First among these is the question of language. It is now generally recognized that the language our Lord spoke was Aramaic, the then current colloquial speech of Palestine. This is, as is well known, revealed in certain expressions in that language quoted in the Gospels, as, for example, the words upon the Cross and those spoken at the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The fact that our Lord commonly spoke Aramaic implies, of course, that all the reports of His speeches and conversations are translations, and this at the outset necessarily complicates the question we wish to investigate, for the references that are clearly obvious to the OT or other writings may be the work of the translator; and, on the other hand, many traces of OT language present in the original address may now be lost sight of. It is a further question whether and how far the existing Gospels depend upon an Aramaic original or originals. The well-known tradition, derived from Papias, that Matthew’s Gospel was originally composed in Aramaic, has been taken as a basis for various theories, that seek to account for existing divergences among the Synoptics by the supposition that these consist of different translations of the same original.

(b) The second difficulty that attaches to the preliminary investigation of the subject is as to whether our Lord Himself quoted from the original Hebrew text of the OT, or from the Septuagint. A knowledge of Hebrew was not usual among the common people, and in the synagogue services the reading of the Hebrew text was always accompanied by that of an Aramaic paraphrase;* [Note: It has been thought that a trace of this Aramaic paraphrase of Proverbs 15:27, which uses the expression ‘mammon of unrighteousness,’ may be found in our Lord’s use of the phrase, Luke 16:9 (see Expos, iii. vii. [1888] p. 112).] but, of course, it is impossible to tell whether in any one individual case a knowledge of the sacred language might not in some way have been acquired. But the evidence goes to show that the Greek version of the OT was that most commonly in use, and the majority of the quotations in the Gospels are made from it. Swete has pointed out that the large number of citations common to the three Synoptics, or to two of them, are directly taken from the LXX Septuagint , while in the case of citations that are peculiar to one Gospel a larger proportion show independence of the LXX Septuagint text. Some of these peculiar instances will be examined in detail later in this article; but a curious discovery has been made, namely, that certain quotations contained in the Gospels reveal a closer agreement with Cod. A than with any other existing text of the Greek OT—a tendency that has also been discovered in the writings of Josephus and of Philo, while Swete also points out that there is an ‘occasional tendency in NT quotations to support Theodotion against the LXX Septuagint ’ (Introd. to the OT in Greek, p. 395). It would thus, appear that the NT writers may have employed a form of text different from that of the LXX Septuagint as now known to us in what we reckon its best textual form; but whether, of course, this is only a peculiarity of the writer or was also the form of text familiar to and used by our Lord Himself, is impossible to decide.

An interesting illustration of our Lord’s apparent intimate acquaintance with the LXX Septuagint , where that differs from the Hebrew, is given by Dr. Horton in the case of the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 9:12 there is a long addition in the LXX Septuagint text to that of the ordinary Hebrew, the latter part of which runs as follows: ‘For he hath forsaken the ways of his vineyard, and gone astray in the paths of his field; for he walketh through a desert without water (διατορεύεται διʼ ἀνύδρου ἐρήμου) and over a land that is set in thirsty places; and with his hands he gathereth that which is without fruit.’ The phrase used above for ‘through a desert without water’ is that employed in the description of the conduct of the unclean spirit in our Lord’s parable in Matthew 12:43. Again, in Proverbs 4:21 the LXX Septuagint , instead of ‘Let them not depart from thine eyes,’ reads ‘in order that thy fountains may not fail thee,’ using a metaphor which recurs frequently in the pages of the book (see Proverbs 18:4; Proverbs 14:27; Proverbs 16:22), and is frequently employed by our Lord Himself in His language with reference to the ‘water of life’ (cf. John 7:38, and what is said of that passage below).

(c) The third difficulty is that which attaches to the method of the Evangelists in reporting our Lord’s sayings. For instance, in Luke 11:29-30 our Lord says that no sign shall be given to the men of His own generation save the sign of Jonah; ‘for even,’ He adds, ‘as Jonah became a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation … the men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold a greater than Jonah is here.’ It is obvious that in Lk.’s understanding of the saying the parallel between Jonah and Christ is that of the preacher of righteonsness, and the result that his preaching had upon his hearers; but when we turn to the parallel in Matthew 12:40, we find the sign distinctly given as the fact of Jonah’s being three days and nights in the maw of the sea-monster, and as a parallel with the Son of Man’s being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. But the close of the passage is the same as that given by Lk., so that it seems pretty certain that this fantastic and allegorical interpretation was not due to our Lord Himself, but to the Evangelist, a fact that is made the more probable by the consideration that He seems never to have hinted at His resurrection except to the immediate circle of His disciples. Another instance is to be found in Mark 7:11-12 and its parallel in Matthew 15:5-6, where Mk. in the explanation of the custom of Corban makes our Lord say, ‘Ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother,’ while Mt. says, ‘He shall not honour his father (or his mother).’ A further study of these two parallel passages will also reveal the fact that a passage from Isaiah quoted in each of them has a different connexion in each Evangelist, and that either considerable freedom must have been used in reporting our Lord’s words, or the Evangelists have themselves introduced the passage as appropriate to the occasion. The well-known method of Mt., in particular, of introducing OT passages as illustrative of incidents in our Lord’s history or as explicative of His teaching, makes it the more difficult in the case of the First Gospel to feel certain when we have our Lord’s own words and when the sayings are attributable to the writer.

3. How Jesus learned to know the OT.—Jewish boys were from their earliest years made familiar with the contents of the OT, particularly with the books of the Law (see Boyhood, and Education). They were not only taught to commit many passages to memory, but there seems to have been a pretty widespread knowledge of reading. While the primary steps in such education were no doubt carried out in the home, there is pretty clear testimony that everywhere schools for at least elementary education were established. Within the home circle also children were accustomed from a very early age to observe certain practices enjoined by the Law, e.g. the keeping of the Sabbath, fasting on the Day of Atonement, the simpler forms of prayer, and grace at meals. Boys at least, as soon as they could walk the requisite distance, were required to be present at the chief festivals in the Temple, and in particular were bound to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. At the earliest manifestation of manhood’s estate being reached, the full observance of the Law was enjoined upon the youth, and, consequently, our Lord’s appearance in the Temple at the age of twelve is quite in accordance with the regular practice of the time. On this occasion the boy Jesus gained His first insight into the Temple worship. Whether He returned at all, or frequently, during His youth and early manhood, to the Holy City, we have no means of ascertaining; but in Nazareth He would seem to have been a constant attender at the synagogue services, for such is noted in the Gospels as being His practice; and when He returned to the town, after His public ministry had begun, it was not His presence in the synagogue that surprised His fellow-townsmen, but the learning of one whom they had previously regarded as an ordinary comrade. In the services of the synagogue He would be familiar not only with the recognized reading of the Law in accordance with the prescribed practice and order, and may even have been frequently called upon in His youth to read, but in the chief Sabbath service He would also become familiar with passages read from the Prophets. These might be chosen at will by the appointed reader, a practice of which Jesus probably availed Himself (Luke 4:17). The Scriptures were not only read in these services, but were paraphrased into the popular language of the people. It is uncertain whether the interpreter was a fixed official, or whether his function was left open to be undertaken by any competent member of the congregation. It is at least permissible to think that Jesus may Himself have played this part many times in the quiet of the Nazareth synagogue, and by the exquisite appropriateness of His language have already shown Himself capable of making the word of God an attractive message to the common people. This is at least a possible fancy, and if it is true, it would form an excellent training for His subsequent service as a deeper interpreter of the inner meaning of both Law and Prophets.

It is almost certain that our Lord would have another advantage in gaining a familiar knowledge of the OT, and in enabling Him to use that knowledge for the benefit of His countrymen, the advantage, namely, of being familiar with another language that was then the common speech of the civilized world, namely, Greek. The LXX Septuagint was, as we have already seen, the Bible most generally used by the Jewish community, and it is quite possible that Jesus Himself read it. In any case, if He could speak Greek (see art. Language of Christ), He would have the immense advantage that belongs to any one who grows up able to speak and think in two languages almost indifferently. It seems as if the condition of affairs then prevalent in Palestine was similar to that which exists in many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, or in Wales, at the present moment. The people will always read a book like the Bible by preference in their own tongue, and its language will naturally be most familiar to them in that form, but they can at will translate it into English, though that English may not, and very likely will not, agree verbally with the version in use. Some such process as this may account for many variants that are found in the Greek quotations from the OT in the pages of the NT. But the alacrity thus attained in mental processes and in the rapid change, not only from the idiom of one speech to that of another, but also from the mental atmosphere of one to that of another, is a great education, and helps the man with a natural gift as a teacher to develop his inborn genius in directions very valuable for those he has to teach.

4. Jesus as interpreter of the OT.—Having now seen how Jesus acquired His knowledge of the OT Scriptures, the next matter of importance is to discover how He attained to His position as an interpreter of them. There was a class of official interpreters, and neither by training nor by personal claim did He belong to this section. Yet His methods of interpretation created far more surprise among His hearers than did the teaching of the orthodox and recognized men of learning. It was not only that His methods possessed the charm of novelty, but that they enabled the people to feel that for the first time their Scriptures had become a new and living book, which no longer pressed upon their souls like a heavy burden, but itself enabled them to bear life’s greatest loads. He became, therefore, a popular interpreter of the Book to the weary heart of humanity; while He became, on the other hand, a hated teacher to the privileged class, who felt their profession endangered both by His methods and by the reception they met with at the hands of the crowd. He regarded the OT with much more real reverence than did the scribes, and, indeed, He spoke of it in a way that might almost sound extravagant in its praise, but He also treated its message with a freedom that was surprising, and broke through the husk of the letter till He found for men the strength and the sweetness of the kernel they had not before tasted.

(a) The great ideas that were regulative of the OT revelation were also those which guided the conduct and practice of our Lord, ideas that were central to His thinking, and loyalty to which He demanded not only from all His followers, but from the people who themselves professed to reverence them. The OT idea of righteousness of conduct as consisting in both outward obedience to the ceremonial observance of the Law and inward obedience to its spiritual precepts, were the two points round which His own teaching and practice appear to have centred. It was this, we are told (Matthew 3:15), that led Him to undergo the ceremony of baptism at the hands of John, as it was this also that on more than one occasion made Him quote the great spiritual commandments of the Law as containing within themselves the secret of eternal life.

(b) It is not, of course, possible to judge fully from the scanty references preserved in the Gospels as to how far our Lord employed the histories of the OT to illustrate His teaching; but inasmuch as we have no material other than these upon which to form a judgment, we must examine the records that we possess. The difficulty is increased, moreover, by our uncertainty as to when the statements are clearly those of the Master Himself, and when they are due to the editing hand of the Evangelist.

In the passage, for example, in which He refers to Noah’s flood (Matthew 24:37 ff., Luke 17:26 f.), He has been dealing with the question of the future history of the world. In Mt. the words occur in the middle of the great apocalyptic passage, which is more than likely to have been much influenced by later ideas, and more altered than many sections of the Gospel. As Lk. reports the reference, it is contained in a short section of teaching to the disciples that follows upon a question asked by the Pharisees; but it is a section which also bears upon it the impress of apocalypse, and may be a passage extracted by the Evangelist from what the present writer regards as most probably the first collection of the sayings of Jesus, i.e. His apocalyptic utterances about the future. Apocalypse was so favourite a form of literature in our Lord’s day, and exercised so strong an influence upon His contemporaries, that it seems more than likely that the first series of His words to be reduced to writing would be that which in form and substance most readily fell in with current conceptions. Such a collection of sayings also best accounts for the variety of form in which this particular section appears in the first three Gospels, and may also lie behind St. Paul’s well-known passages in the Epp. to the Thessalonians. If the theory here suggested is a sound one, that collection of our Lord’s sayings would be in the hands not only of St. Paul, but probably also of his correspondents; and consequently his language and imagery would not only be familiar and intelligible, but would have the authority of Christ behind it. In the parallel passage in Lk., above referred to, there is added to the reference to Noah a reference to the history of Lot, and the fate of Sodom and the Cities of the Plain is again referred to by our Lord when He utters His judgment upon the generation that rejected Him, and declares that in the Final Judgment it shall be more tolerable for Sodom than for them (Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:24, Luke 10:12). In the same connexion He makes reference to the fate of Tyre and Sidon. According to Matthew 12:40, our Lord speaks of Jonah’s being swallowed by the sea-monster, but from the parallel in Lk. we should judge that the reference was made only to Jonah’s preaching and the subsequent repentance of the Ninevites (Luke 11:29; Luke 11:32).

All the Synoptics (Matthew 12:3 f., Mark 2:25 f., Luke 6:3 f. contain a reference to an incident in the life of David, viz. his eating the shew-bread, and, according to Mk. and Lk., his sharing it with his companions. The account of Mk. has a peculiar difficulty, inasmuch as ‘Abiathar’ is given as the name of the priest, where the OT narrative (1 Samuel 21:1 ff.) states that it was ‘Ahimelech’ (see Abiathar). To Elijah the prophet there is more than one reference. In answer to the question asked by the disciples as to what is meant by the statement of the religious authorities that Elijah must be the precursor of the Messiah (a doctrine founded on Malachi 4:5), our Lord replies that the advent of Elijah has already taken place—a statement which in one connexion (Matthew 11:14) is directly referred by Jesus in its fulfilment to John the Baptist, whereas in another place (Matthew 17:13) this interpretation is given by the Evangelist himself. Another reference to the history of the same prophet is-that to his visit to the widow of Sidon in the time of the great famine (Luke 4:25 f.), where also an illustration is taken from Elisha’s cleansing of Naaman the Syrian. In the former passage there is again a divergence from the OT as to the length of the period of famine. The latter two passages occur in the address in the synagogue of Nazareth, for which, of course, we have only the authority of Lk.; but inherent probability is in favour of our Lord’s using such illustrations to show the wider reach of His mission, though it is not perhaps quite probable that He would have done so, as Lk. represents, at the very outset of His ministry. We may therefore, perhaps, regard the fact of the reference as a correct tradition, but the place and manner of it as due to the Evangelist himself.

The glory of the court of Solomon is twice referred to in the Gospels, and that in words of Christ. The first instance is the unfavourable comparison between the splendour of the great monarch and the beauty of the field flowers (Matthew 6:29, Luke 12:27). The second occasion is the reference to the story of the visit of the ‘queen of the South’ to the court of Solomon, and the argument that inasmuch as a greater than Solomon is here,’ she will bring into condemnation Christ’s contemporaries. A general reference to the ill-treatment of the prophets at the hands of their countrymen is made in the pathetic lament over Jerusalem, attributed to our Lord in Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34, while a more specific reference is contained in the immediately preceding verses in Mt.—a passage, however, that is fraught with peculiar difficulties. The whole section is that which contains the woes uttered against the scribes and Pharisees, and bears considerable trace of later editing, even if it is to be attributed, in very much of its present form, to the writer of the Gospel. The passage referred to is contained in Matthew 23:29-36, where the religious teachers are spoken of as those who ‘build the sepulchres of the prophets and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and who say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ The passage then proceeds to a prophecy of what is to happen later to further witnesses that will be sent, and of their ill-treatment; they are to be scourged and persecuted from city to city—an obvious reference to the treatment of the early Christian missionaries, and, in all likelihood, with the knowledge of their fate before the writer’s mind. The conclusion of the passage speaks of the judgment that is to come upon the men of that generation for all the blood shed on the earth, from that of ‘Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah, son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar.’ It is very difficult to decide what is meant by this last reference, the supposed original passage (2 Chronicles 24:21) having a different name for the father of Zachariah (see Barachiah). In John’s Gospel there is a reference (2 Chronicles 3:14) to the brazen serpent raised by Moses in the wilderness, and in His controversy with the Sadducees our Lord shows His acquaintance with the passage in the life of Moses that relates the revelation at the burning bush (Mark 12:26).

These historical references may seem very slight, but they are sufficient to show Jesus’ intimate acquaintance with the history of His people, seeing that He was able to employ at will illustrations from what one might consider remote and unlikely incidents in the national story. We must remember also that He was not dealing with historical questions in His teaching, and that all references to these are purely casual. He seems to have accepted the history as it stood recorded, and not to have dealt with it in any critical spirit; for what concerned Him most was its spiritual significance, and this He could best show by accepting the narratives as they stood in the recognized Scripture.

(c) It is of extreme interest to discover, if we can, what books of the OT Jesus turned to with the greatest interest and affection. So far as the available evidence is concerned, it would seem, as we might expect, that the writings which were most familiar to Him were those in which the spirit of the prophets reached its highest level, and on which His countrymen and fellow-religionists had most perfectly matured their own spiritual life—such books as Isaiah, the Psalms, and that most spiritual setting forth of the Law, the Book of Deuteronomy. There is another of the prophets—in all likelihood a native of Galilee, where our Lord Himself was brought up—who seems to have influenced His thought and teaching not a little, viz. Hosea. Out of the 39 books which compose the OT, 14 are directly quoted by Jesus in the records we possess. These are Gen. [Note: Geneva NT 1557, Bible 1560.] , Ex., Lev., Num., Deut., Sam. [Note: Samaritan.] -Kings, Ps., Is., Jer., Dan., Hos., Zech., Malachi. His particular interest in Deut. is shown in the fact that in the narrative of the Temptation all the quotations with which He meets the assaults of Satan are taken from that book; and when He declares the essence of the Law to inquirers who ask for it, He invariably states it in the Deuteronomic form. Passages from the Psalms were apparently not only frequently upon His lips, but He used their language on various occasions to describe the real significance of His mission, as when He refers (Matthew 21:42 ||) to the ‘stone which the builders rejected’ as being significant of Himself, and so consecrated the passage to the later usage of the Church. That He used the Psalms to strengthen His own spiritual life, is pretty clear from various instances in His recorded language of their phraseology underlying His own forms of expression; but most clearly from His words upon the cross, where it seems that one of the Psalms, the 22nd, was the subject of His reflexion in that supreme hour. Of the prophet Isaiah He evidently made frequent use. According to the narrative in Lk. (Luke 4:17 f.), His ministry opened with an appropriation and interpretation of the great passage in Isaiah 61, which is elsewhere (Matthew 11:5) employed as part of the proof that He Himself is carrying out the Messianic programme. If the reference to the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 16:19) be authentic, the phrase probably comes from another passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 22:22), which reads, ‘The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder, and he shall open and none shall shut, and he shall shut and none shall open.’ In the case of Hosea it is not only that the suggestive words from Hosea 6:6 are twice quoted (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7), but that the words in which He is accustomed to speak of His resurrection are also found in Hosea 6:2. Hosea is a prophet who is fond of parables, and some of his illustrations from nature are those also employed by Jesus; e.g. husbandry (Hosea 10:12), grape culture (Hosea 14:7), the flowers of the field (Hosea 10:4), the chaff on the threshing-floor (Hosea 13:3; see, further, ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] x. [1899] p. 281). It is very remarkable that the Wisdom literature of the OT should not be directly quoted by Jesus, and that, in particular, there should be no specific quotation from the Book of Proverbs, though it will be shown in a later section of this article that much of its language finds an echo in His teaching. We shall find, too, traces of the later Wisdom literature in the words of Jesus, who came Himself to be regarded as the incarnate Wisdom.

(d) Jesus’ attitude to current modes of interpretation.—The teaching of Jesus was recognized by His contemporaries as being different in character from that of the scribes; yet He employed, to some extent, the same methods. He based His teaching upon that of the OT, which He interpreted not in their manner, but on authoritative lines of His own. The objections that He urged against the current modes of interpretation were that they hid under an accumulation of worthless tradition the real truths which the Divine word was designed to teach; while His own method, in the first place, made clear the meaning of the original utterance; and, secondly, interpreted it in a clearer and fuller manner to those whom He addressed. His method of dealing with current interpretation can best be studied in the records of His controversies with His opponents. For example, they based their teachings on divorce on the permission given in the Law of Moses; Jesus goes behind it to the narrative of the Creation, and shows how husband and wife were destined to be one higher and distinct unity from the very beginning. This note of idealism and spirituality is manifest in all our Lord’s teaching, and marks it out as distinct from the verbal trifling of His contemporaries. He was not afraid to tell some of those who prided themselves on the subtlety of their arguments that they were in error, and unable to understand those very Scriptures which they professed to interpret (Matthew 22:29, Mark 12:24; Mark 12:27). In His judgment many of those who were the professional interpreters of Scripture were doing more harm than good by their methods. ‘Ye have made void the word (or law) of God because of your tradition’ (Matthew 15:6, Mark 7:13), He said, meaning that what they considered to be an improvement upon the original commandment was so contrary to its spirit as absolutely to make of none effect its purpose. But in the case of His own teaching, however revolutionary it might at first sight appear, He claimed that it constituted a fulfilment of the Law; and not only so, but He asserted that loyal obedience to the commandments, both in act and precept, would be the ground of advancement in the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17; Matthew 5:20). There is even a stronger passage in the same Gospel, where our Lord is represented as enjoining upon His disciples observance of all the precepts taught by the scribes and Pharisees, since they are the legitimate successors of Moses (Matthew 23:2); but the whole passage in which the words occur shows considerable traces of the influence of later ideas, and can scarcely be pressed into the service of a definite statement of Christ’s own Personal teaching. There may be in it a trace of Jewish prejudice in favour of the letter of the Law; but the immediate context, in which the Pharisees are most severely criticised, proves that the prejudice, if it existed at all in the mind of the writer, cannot have gone very deep, and we may be justified in seeing in the words at least an accurate reflexion of the teaching of Jesus in this matter. If we may so regard it, it is then clear that He had the very highest estimate of the spiritual and ethical teaching of the OT, and objected only to such interpretation of it as obscured its meaning or altered its emphasis.

(e) We now turn to the very important and somewhat difficult section of our subject which deals with Christ’s discussion or use of special passages in the OT. The first passage in which we meet this is in the narrative of the Temptation. This is, of course, a pictorial representation of an inward struggle, which must have been related to His disciples in the parabolic form in which we now possess the story. But it is nevertheless extremely important to find Him reverting time and again to that one book in the OT (Deut.) which we have already discovered was one of His favourites. In its highest spiritual teaching He seems to have found the best antidote against the poison of the evil suggestions that reached Him from the current conception as to the Messianic Kingdom prevalent among His contemporaries, and which also affected even the inner circle of His disciples. In following the course of the First Gospel, we next come upon the long series of teachings contained in the so-called ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ and there (Matthew 5:21) the first passage to be considered is that which consists of a condemnation of quotations from Ex. and Deut. where the old Law had spoken of killing. Jesus interprets its meaning as signifying an attitude of the inward temper rather than an outward act, and, according to the form in which the saying has reached ns, increases the severity of the judgment in proportion to the contempt shown in the expression of inward hatred used against a brother. Here again, however, the whole nature of the expressions employed seems to point toward a colouring of this original saying under the influence of a later Christian tradition; and it is probably a narrowed and intensified form of some simpler word of Jesus which the early Christian community edited in such a way as to contain a severe and solemn warning against careless speech—a fault which, as is evident both from the Gospels and the Epistle of James (Matthew 3:5-12; Matthew 4:11-12), was sadly prevalent. In the same passage of Mt. (Matthew 5:22) we have the first reference to Gehenna, a word which occurs frequently in the records of our Lord’s teaching. This name for the place of punishment of the dead had become familiar in the literature of later Judaism, meeting us frequently, for instance, in the Book of Enoch (see 27:2; 84:2; 90:26). A similar elevation and intensification of the law of purity is found in 90:27–32. In Matthew 5:33 we have quotations from Num. and Deut. with reference to false swearing. Here, in interpreting the passage, Jesus goes much further than the precept of the older Law, and inculcates such perfect truthfulness as not to necessitate any form of oath. Again we are reminded of the Epistle of James (James 5:12), so that we feel ourselves in the atmosphere of the early Christian assemblies. But there is nothing to prevent the statement, substantially as we find it, being attributed to Jesus. Such teaching had already been given in Judaism, and a close parallel is found in Sirach 23:7-11, in the course of which we read: ‘Accustom not thy month to an oath, and be not accustomed to the naming of the Holy One. A man of many oaths shall be filled with iniquity, and the scourge shall not depart from his house.’ In the book of the Slavonic Enoch also (48:1) the sons of Enoch are taught not to swear by heaven, by earth, or by any other creature. The next citation deals with the law of retaliation (v. 38), and here again the interpreter goes even further, and practically reverses the theory of the OT. In place of exacting an equivalent for any injury, He definitely inculcates the principle of rendering voluntary service where unreasonable exaction has already been practised. To the next quotation (v. 43) no direct parallel can be discovered, the nearest equivalent to the sentiment, ‘Hate thine enemy,’ being Deuteronomy 23:6 ‘Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever’; so that we are compelled to assume that the form of the word here quoted by Jesus either represents some traditional form of the Law which has not been otherwise preserved, or that it embodies in a succinct form an idea that had hardened itself into ordinary practice.

In the eulogy of John the Baptist, reported in Matthew 11, Jesus is represented as quoting the passage in Malachi 3:1 with reference to His great predecessor. Inasmuch as this verse is elsewhere used by the Evangelists as descriptive of John, and as we have other traces of the fact that they did not, till a later time, understand our Lord’s reference to him as fulfilling the function of Elijah, and as we remember also Mt.’s fondness for introducing OT quotations on every possible occasion, we cannot feel certain about the attribution of these words to Jesus, but they seem quite probable. Later in the same chapter (Matthew 11:23) the form in which the judgment is pronounced on Capernaum is taken from the Greek of Isaiah 14:13-17, and serves to show not only how, on solemn occasions, Jesus would readily fall into the familiar language of OT prophecy, but how He was always prepared to apply its teaching to the needs and moral issues of His own time.

We pass next to the passage in Matthew 15:4, where again our Lord is discussing a definite commandment of the Law, which He cites in a double form contained in Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:17, combining the passages without strict verbal accuracy. Starting from this precept, He proceeds to discuss and to condemn the casuistical tradition that had been reared upon it, and reveals perhaps an acquaintance with Proverbs 28:24, where the writer is in sympathy with Jesus in condemning the man who regards the robbery of father and mother as being no transgression. In the same context our Lord is made to quote Isaiah 29:13 in a form that diverges even from the LXX Septuagint . The usual difficulty has here, of course, to be faced,—Did Jesus actually use the words, or are they inserted by the Evangelist in order to give a definite completion to his paragraph, and to carry out his theory of finding appropriate illustrative passages from the OT for as many as possible of his events? The rebuke which our Lord gave to the defilers of the Temple (Matthew 21:13) consists of a combination of Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, but does not call for more than a simple note of the fact that here also we see that intimate knowledge which could seize at once on the phrases most appropriate for His purpose. In Matthew 22 we find three special discussions of passages recorded. The first (Matthew 22:31 f.) is that of Exodus 3:6, which Jesus uses as an argument for the reality of the life after death. We cannot tell whether this was His own original interpretation of the passage, or whether He was here giving His assent to some ideas about it that were then current; but in any case it is a striking instance of the high level to which He was able to raise the frequently trivial discussions of the literalists. In vv. 37–39 He shows Himself in sympathy with the most spiritual teachers of His own day, insisting on the primary importance of the inward precepts of the Law, and upon Love as its most perfect and adequate fulfilment. According to another version of the same incident (Mark 12:32), His answer won from His interlocutor the response, ‘Of a truth, Master, thou hast well said that he is one, and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ If this, as it appears to do, represents the actual circumstances of the case, it shows how Jesus won the sympathy of the finest spirits of His day, and by His interpretation of the Law was enabled to appeal to their better nature.

The final example in this chapter (Mark 12:42 ff.) is the difficult one of Christ’s question about Psalms 110:1. An altogether exaggerated importance has been attached to this passage, because of its supposed bearing on questions of criticism. It is, of course, obvious that Jesus speaks under the limitations of the literary knowledge of His time, and that He and His hearers regarded the Psalm as representing David’s own personal sentiments. But a matter that is often overlooked is that the point of the argument lies in David’s being regarded as under the influence of the Divine Spirit in what he said. He designates the expected Messiah as his Lord, and yet the Messiah is regarded as being, according to the flesh, David’s son. This seems to involve a contradiction in terms. All that Jesus does is here to state the dilemma, and enjoy the discredit of His adversaries when they were unable to solve it. He Himself offers no solution. In this case it appears that, as on one or two occasions, He was suggesting to the thoughtful among His auditors that the ordinary literal interpretations of Scripture were perfectly inadequate to meet the needs of the religious soul, and that His main endeavour was to lead them to revise their methods, and to understand that only the spiritually minded could understand the Divine revelation. Cf., for the same purpose, His statement that John the Baptist was the Elijah spoken of by Malachi.

The difficulties that we have encountered in Mt. are even more pronounced when we pass to the discussion of several passages in John’s Gospel. There the idealizing process has been carried so far that we cannot be definitely certain, especially when we are dealing with quotations, that we have the words of Jesus at all. In John 6:45, where Jesus is speaking of the impossibility of any man’s attaining a knowledge of Him without the previous influence of His Father, this statement is supported by a. quotation from Isaiah 54:13, wherein the prophet speaks of the people being directly enlightened by God. This is one of the references that would suggest themselves to a writer familiar with the OT, but it has no special bearing on the argument of the passage, and has all the appearance of a gloss. The next passage is a very difficult one, though its very difficulty makes it more probable that it is to be referred in its present form to Jesus Himself, since it is not at all likely that a later writer would have added to his own problems by quoting as Scripture something of which the origin is so obscure. The words referred to are those in John 7:38 ‘He that believeth in me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now the passages suggested as the origin of this saying—e.g. Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 43:20; Isaiah 44:3 to Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 58:11, Ezekiel 47:1-12, Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:8, and John 4:14—have, it must be confessed, very little resemblance to it. The passage last cited, with its phrase, ‘a well of water … unto eternal life,’ has the closest resemblance to the form of the words, but we can scarcely suppose it to be the actual source. One seems driven to conclude, with Hühn, that the reference must be to some passage in a writing not now known to us (see, for some interesting suggestions as to the possible origin of the phrase, H. J. Holtzmann, Hdcom. ad loc.).* [Note: Albert J. Edmunds (Buddhist and Christian Gospels) contends that the words are quoted from a Buddhist writing, the Patisambhida-maggo (‘Way to Supreme Knowledge’). See ExpT xviii. [1906] p. 100. Cf. also Clemen, Der Gebrauch des AT in den NT Schriften, pp. 36, 37, who regards the words as referring not to one passage, but to the general teaching of the OT on the gift of the Holy Spirit. A third passage in John’s Gospel should also be noted where (10:34) Jesus quotes Psalms 82:6, where the words are applied a fortiori to Himself. In. John 8:44 we have a reference to the story recorded in Genesis 4:8-9. Cf. Wellhausen, Erweiterungen und Aenderungen im Vierten Evangelium [1907], pp. 19–24. Cf. also John 15:25; John 13:18.]

(f) It is not only, or perhaps mainly, in such definite quotations as we have already considered that our impression of Jesus as a student of the OT is most clear, but when we read through the body of His teaching, and see how it is everywhere permeated by OT ideas and coloured by OT language. When, for example, we read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, we can almost parallel them from passages in the OT. For example, Psalms 37:11 ‘The meek shall inherit the land’; Proverbs 2:21 ‘The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it.’ Again, as illustration of Proverbs 2:5-8, we have the words in Psalms 24:3 ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath … a pure heart’; while the very form in which these great utterances are couched is reminiscent of OT language, where the Beatitude is a favourite form of stating great and precious truths. When, again, we regard the continual teaching of Jesus as to God’s Fatherhood, which many have considered to be the central point of His revelation, we are reminded how widespread a basis He found for this in the OT, in such passages as Deuteronomy 32:6, Malachi 2:10; Malachi 2:16, Isaiah 63:16, and elsewhere. The idea of the catholicity of the Kingdom of God, which is so often upon His lips—e.g. in Matthew 8:11 ‘I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and the west,’ etc.—finds its prototype in such passages as Isaiah 43:5 f., and more closely still in Psalms 107:3. For the darker as well as for the lighter colours of His picture He seems also to be dependent on the words of His predecessors, since we find that the foreshadowing of trouble within the family circle, owing to obedience to His message as set forth in Matthew 10:21, has the closest parallel in Micah 7:6. One is sometimes tempted to think that the actions of Jesus, as well as His words, were prompted by reminiscences of the OT. For instance, the story of Elisha, recorded in 2 Kings 4:42-44, may have suggested the providing of a meal for the multitude in the desert place, the words of Psalms 69:9 the cleansing of the Temple (see John 2:17), and the memory of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 may have been the thought that prompted the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Sometimes also the OT seems to have afforded a theme for a parable, as in the case of the Vineyard (cf. Isaiah 5:1 with Matthew 21:33), or the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3); and the allegory of the Shepherd in John 10 may have as its literary origin Ezekiel 34:11. Jesus’ great utterance about the future of His Church, as well as about the perils that were about to come upon His fellow-countrymen, has many points of contact with the OT (cf. e.g. Matthew 24:21, with Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:24, Deuteronomy 13:2-4; Matthew 24:29 with Isaiah 13:10, Amos 8:9; Matthew 24:31 with Isaiah 27:13, Zechariah 12:10). A careful examination of the passage will reveal many more. Very pathetic is the interest of the sayings recorded from the Cross, where Jesus is reported to have quoted, in the language of His childhood, the first verse of the 22nd Psalm. The appropriateness of the whole of this to the circumstances has been frequently pointed out; and, according to Luke 23:46, His last words were an adaptation of Psalms 31:5.* [Note: Traces of the Book of Proverbs are to be discovered in several places in the teaching of Jesus, e.g. the metaphors of the way and the light (cf. Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 4:18-19 with Matthew 7:13, John 11:10; John 12:35), those of hid treasure and merchandise (cf. Proverbs 2:4; Proverbs 3:14-15 with Matthew 13:44-46). The germs of certain parables are also to be found there: e.g. Proverbs 3:28 as that of the parable recorded in Luke 11:5-8; Proverbs 9:1-5, cf. Luke 14:16, Matthew 22:10; and even more clearly Proverbs 25:6-7, cf. Luke 14:10; and Proverbs 24:27, cf. Luke 14:28.] These are to be taken only as instances of what a careful examination of the Gospels, by the help of such a guide as Hühn, will reveal to any student in frequently unsuspected places; and the great significance of the study does not, of course, arise from the interest or ingenuity of the parallel that can be drawn, but from the fact that such a study reveals how thoroughly imbued Jesus was with the thought and spirit of the OT.

(g) A subject of wider reach, though also of greater difficulty, is the endeavour to discover to what extent Jesus was familiar with, and employed, the Jewish literature that lies outside the OT. It is only in comparatively recent times that much attention has been given to this subject; but the more carefully it is investigated, the more clear does it become that if He does not actually quote from any of that literature, He was either Himself familiar with it at first hand, or its ideas and language had so influenced Himself and His contemporaries that many of His ideas, and even forms of speech, are practically identical with what we find in that literature.

In the extra-canonical Wisdom literature we are familiar with many personifications of Wisdom, and traces of this are found in two passages given in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:35. The ordinary text of the former passage reads, ‘Wisdom is justified by her works’; but some Manuscripts read ‘children’ in place of ‘works,’ thus conforming it to the passage in Lk. where the verse stands, ‘Wisdom is justified of all her children,’ and a comparison may be made with Wisdom of Solomon 7:22 to Wisdom of Solomon 8:1 and Sirach 1:1-20. Again, the passage at the close of Matthew 11 has several reminiscences of the same literature, e.g. Sirach 24:19 reads, ‘Come unto me, ye that are desirous of me, and be ye filled with my produce’; Sirach 51:23 ‘Draw near unto me, ye unlearned, and lodge in the house of instruction’; cf. also Sirach 17:24. The whole tenor of the passage suggests the manner in which Wisdom speaks in the books referred to. Again, the longer and more elaborate addresses in Jn. have a suggestion of the speeches of Wisdom, and may well be modelled upon them. In some such way the marked difference between the addresses in the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptics may be accounted for. Wisdom is always represented as addressing her disciples, and so these words delivered in the hearing of the innermost circle of His chosen friends may have been modelled by the Incarnate Wisdom on the lines of His great forerunners. In this connexion there is one very interesting reference also contained in Lk. (Luke 11:49), ‘Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send unto them prophets,’ etc. No OT parallel can be discovered for these words, and we are driven to the conclusion either that they are quoted from some work now lost, or that our Lord here uses the term ‘wisdom of God’ in the most general sense as indicative of the Spirit which moved in all the prophets. In Copyright Statement
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Old Testament (II. Christ As Student and Interpreter of).'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​o/old-testament-ii-christ-as-student-and-interpreter-of.html. 1906-1918.
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