How the New Testament Used Prophecy of the Old Testament

Introduction

There is a widely held opinion among many theologians and literary critics that there is virtually no connection between the Old and the New Testaments, and that there is no reason to view them as the two parts of the whole. They support their argument in the following way, first, the concept of God, (or probably it would be better to say the perception of God) undergoes drastic change in the New Covenant.

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Discussion

For instance, Vetus Testamentum usually views God as a judge, prone to punish people for their sins, whereas Christian Scriptures state that He is a loving and merciful father, always willing to forgive His children.

In addition to that, the supporters of this theory say that the Old Testament never mentions the advent of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. According to them, the authors of the New Covenant interpreted OT for the needs of their own theological doctrine.

To substantiate their point of view, they draw many examples from both parts of the Bible; in particular, from the New Testament refers to the old prophecies that allegedly predict coming of Gods Son to Earth. Our task is to describe the interconnection between the two parts of the Bible.

The above-mentioned standpoint has always been a subject of heated debate. It is often maintained that two parts of the Bible are closely intertwined, and that they can be adequately interpreted and understood only if they are viewed as a single entity.

Such approach appeals to me, the Holy Scripture cannot simply be divided into parts, because thoughts and ideas, expressed in this book are interconnected, and reminiscent to each other. Certainly, it is impossible to deny the fact that Christs disciples often refer to the Old Testament, but it is of the crucial importance to show how they use old texts, whether it is christocentric exegesis or it is something different. In my opinion, the New Testament gives new meaning to the old texts, but it does not change or even distort the original prophecies as it is often argued (Manson, pp 88-100). However, this is just a hypothesis that should prove (or disproved, if it is erroneous).

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This research is aimed at analyzing the relationships between the Old and the New Testaments. In particular, I intend to analyze such passages as the Epistle to Hebrews (2:6-8) and Psalm 8. The primary focus of this paper is the textual differences between the Old Testament text and its New Testament version.

It is necessary to explore the contextual settings, hermeneutical technique, and naturally, theological doctrine that arises from the New Testament text. It is of the utmost importance to show the crux of the change (if there is any). The main issue to be discussed is interconnection between these passages.

The thesis is the author of the Epistle to Hebrews does not resort to chistocentric interpretation of Davids Psalm, in other words he does not want to show that the Old Testament contains textual evidence of Messiahs coming, instead, he wants to emphasize the idea of Christs humanity.

In this respect, it is necessary to take into consideration that humanity and divinity cannot be separated, because when they are assembled they create an entirely new phenomenon. However, this statement can only be substantiated by comparative and contrastive analysis of both texts.

The first text that I would like to analyze is Psalm 8 (4-6). Naturally, there are many English translations of this extract; however, I would like to cite the New International Version.
What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him
You made him little a lower that the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet.

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Certainly, this extract can be analyzed and interpreted from various standpoints, and many figures of speech can be understood literally of metaphorically. First, it is necessary to identify the contextual settings of this psalm. Whom this psalm is addressed? What is the main message of the author?

It should be mentioned that exegesis always allows dubious dual understanding of the same text. Overall, the word “psalm” can be translated into English as a song of praise (Mays, pp. 77-80). Naturally, this extract eulogizes Gods grandeur. He, the creator of the Universe, granted people, who in fact stand lower than “heavenly beings” the power over the works of “his hands”, but this is not the only message, that the audience has to learn from this psalm (Terrien, pp. 50-55).

For example, the word ruler should not be interpreted only in the literal sense, as for instance “master or lord” but also as “the caretaker”. Probably, the main message is that God wants man to take care of his work, his masterpiece.

Thus, it is quite possible to say that the target audience of this text is humankind. The writer wants to show that God puts great trusty in people and that we should live up to these expectations.

Another important issue that should be discussed is the notion of mans grandeur. In Christian tradition, “Gory and honor” have always been considered as Gods attributes. This extract stresses the idea that man was created after His image and likeness. Moreover, the expression “son of man” refers to humankind in general. The Old Testament is full of such example , that refer to mankind in this way.

At first glance, it seems that the Epistle to Hebrews is just another version of the Old Testament psalm. Certainly, they seem to be very similar; however, there are certain deviations from the original text, and they change our perception of the Epistle. While referring to man the author of the new version says “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him”.

To some extent, this “amendment” represents the main principles of the New Testament, in particular, the imperfection of the human, and his way for salvation through Jesus Christ. Certainly, at first such statement seems to be unsubstantiated. Perhaps, it would be prudent to show how this idea is reflected in this biblical text.

First, it should be mentioned that the author of the Epistle (supposedly it was Paul, ) restates Davids psalm saying that God made human being “a little lower than angels and “put everything under his feet. Probably, it can be interpreted in the following way: a man is able to make free choices and he or she is entitled to free will.

However, this ability eventually brought his downfall (the Fall of Adam and Eve). Saying “Yet, we do not see everything subject to him” the disciple implies the idea that man needs assistance (or even salvation). Now, the figure of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior becomes the dominant one. In addition to that, previous lines can be interpreted in a different way.

At first glance, it may seem, that that the author of the New Testament texts views Davids psalm as a prophecy. The “Son of man” in this case is the indirect reference to Jesus Christ, but it should be taken into consideration, that initially, Psalm 8 analyzes the role of humankind and its relationships with God.

As regards, the Epistle to Hebrews, it is quite possible to see that the author compares draws parallels between Jesus Christ and mortal human beings, he says:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels.
for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.
that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
To some extent, the author reduplicates the previous lines. However, they acquire new meaning. It is no longer clear, whether the words “son of man” refer to a human being or to Jesus Christ.

Providing that the author of the New Testament interprets Davids psalm as a prophecy, it is necessary to analyze the hermeneutic technique that he employs. It is the crucial importance to show the way, in which he arrives at such conclusion. Some theologians believe that his approach can be defined as” christocentric interpretation” In other words, he attempts to prove that the Old Testament contains evidence as to advent of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

It has always been disputed whether the Old Covenant supports the idea of Gods Son coming to save sinners or not. To some extent, his allusion to the Psalms creates the impression that there is some connection between these two texts. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the author of “The Epistle to Hebrews” refers to the Old Testament just to describe the nature of Jesus Christ, which is divine and human (MacArthur, pp 7-8). He does not distort the original text; it is just incorporated into his own work (Porter, pp 64-78).

Richard Longenecker in his book “Biblical Exegesis in Apostolic Period ’ says that the authors of the New Testament were hardly aware of hermeneutical techniques such as for instance allegorical treatment or midrashic exegesis. To a certain degree, the method employed by the author can be classified as “the illustration by means of analogy”(Longenecker, pp 132-140).

He refers to the Old Testament text (practically literally). It is quite possible to see that the vocabulary and grammatical structures coincide (that can be applied not only to the New International Version, but also to King James Bible).

However, there is no textual evidence, that Christs disciple intends show that Davids psalm is some kind of prophecy. Richard Longenecker argues that the two parts of the Holy Scripture are dependant on each other, but that does not mean that the New Testament authors view the old texts as prophetic.

Comparing this two passages, it is necessary pay extra attention to the use of such idiom as “the son of man”. First, it should be taken into account that the English variant of this Semitic expression is just a verbatim translation. In the most general sense, this phrase can be interpreted as “human being, or man”, very often, this expression refers to humankind, not only to the individual in general.

The author of the Old Testament uses these words in order to address humankind. Overall, there are many passages in Vetus Testamentum, (apart from this psalm), that illustrate such usage of this idiom. For instance, it is quite possible to mention Psalm 144.

What is man that you care for him?
Or the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath,
His days are like a shadow that passes away

These lines clearly indicate that the authors of the Old Testament employ this expression to refer to human beings, and especially to emphasize the brevity of their lives. As regards, the New Testament, we can say that this idiom appears several times, not only in the Epistle to Hebrews, but it acquires a new shade of meaning.

For example, Mathew says, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” Obviously, the “son of man” it refers to Jesus Christ. Additionally, Mathew stresses the idea that this idiom has dual nature, especially in the “Parable of the Weeds” He says “He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man…. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire.”( Matthew 13:37,41-42) According to many theologians, the frequent use of this expression indicates, Jesus Christ referred to himself in this manner. It is very unlikely that the apostles could give him such a title, especially considering their belief in his divinity.

The same interplay can be observed in “Hebrews”. The focus of this text is the person of Jesus Christ, especially the duality of his nature. However, human and divine cannot be separated, because they supplement each other and create a single entity.

Certainly, it is not stated by the author, that Virgin Mary, who gave birth to the Savior was a woman and she was a human being. The death and resurrection of Christ only stress this idea, the human nature is bound to die, but his divinity is immortal. The idea of union is the dominant one in the Epistle to Hebrews; however, this idea does not lie on the surface.

A human being is liable to sin, Jesus Christ resisted the temptation, and it can be ascribed only to his divinity. This idea finds its reflection in the original text. The author contrasts man with Jesus. He says “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him”. This line emphasizes the imperfection of man, who will be delivered by Jesus Christ.

Being divine in his nature, Jesus is viewed as the part of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is based on the belief that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God, not only the Son of God (orthodox Christianity usually differentiates between these two notions).

According to the Catholic Church, Jesus can only be considered as fully man and fully God. Any deviation from this belief is heretical in its core. Perhaps, it would be better to show how the concept of Trinity is illustrated in the Old Testament and compare it with the Epistle to Hebrew.

There are many textual evidences, showing that Jesus should be viewed not only as the son of God, but also as God the Son (the part and the whole simultaneously). For example, we can mention prophet Isaiahs words “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)”.

Regarding the Epistle to Hebrews, it should be mentioned that the author does not explicitly state the idea of Trinity. He says “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels” In fact, his words are not in line with the traditional concept of the Holy Trinity; the extra attention should be paid to the use of the Passive Voice “We see Jesus, who was made”. If the author has perceived Jesus as the part of the Trinity, he would have avoided such a construction.

Conclusion

Probably, it is a far-fetched conclusion but these lines indicate that Jesus Christ is not the part of the Trinity. It is also worth mentioning that such formulation as “God the Son” is never used in the New Testament.

Thus, having analyzed two extracts from the Old and New we arrive at the conclusion that the author of the Epistle to Hebrews employs such hermeneutical technique as illustration analogy. As it has already been mentioned he does not resort to Christocentric interpretation of the Psalm and does not view it as a prophecy.

The main message is to emphasize the duality of Christ’s nature, divine and human. In addition to that, the author does not view them separately, in his opinion; these two natures merge into a whole. As regards the doctrine of Trinity, we can say that the grammatical structures, used by the author suggest that that Jesus Christ should not be considered as God the So.

Bibliography

  1. Carl Joachim Classen (2002). Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament. Boston.
  2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1974). Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. Augsburg Fortress, Publishers.
  3. G. B. Caird (1996). New Testament Theology. Clarendon Press.
  4. James Luther Mays (1994). Psalms. Westminster John Knox Press.
  5. John MacArthur (1983). HEBREWS. Moody Press/Chicago.
  6. Norman Perrin (1982). The New Testament, an Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  7. Oscar Cullmann (1963). The Christology of the New Testament. Westminster Press.
  8. Porter E (2002). Stanley. Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament. Boston.
  9. Richard N. Longenecker (1999). Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
  10. Samuel Terrien (1952). The Psalms and Their Meaning for Today. Bobbs-Merrill.
  11. William Manson (1966). The Epistle to the Hebrews. Hodder and Stoughton.
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