New Testament use of the Old Testament

The New Testament use of the Old Testament is a topic in New Testament Studies where scholars study why NT authors quoted various OT passages. It is an important issue within the study of the interpretation of the Bible, especially in the area of messianic prophecies concerning Jesus. "The fourth edition of the United Bible Societies' Greek Testament (1993) lists 343 Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, as well as no fewer than 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels. The books most used are Psalms (79 quotations, 333 allusions), and Isaiah (66 quotations, 348 allusions). In the Book of Revelation, there are no formal quotations at all, but no fewer than 620 allusions."^[1]^ Furthermore, "the OT is quoted or alluded to in every NT writing except Philemon and 2 and 3 John."^[2]^


Writers in the New Testament felt free to use Old Testament passages for many different reasons (e.g. apologetic, moral, doctrinal). What exactly were the interpretive techniques used by the NT writers? Are they justified in the way that they quote the OT? Did they have a concern for context? These questions are important and too often neglected in the study of the NT. In order to interpret passages correctly, it is important to understand how and why they used the OT as they did.

Interpretive assumptions by NT authors

Evident among the NT writers are varying assumptions, that is, presuppositions they held that shed light on how and why they interpreted the OT as they did.

View of the OT

Relevance of the OT

The NT writers viewed the Old Testament as an entire unit. God was it's author, and the NT writers believed that what was written then still had meaning for their day and time. Because the OT was true, prophecy found within its texts were to also be regarded as true, meaning the promises that were made were to accompany an expectation of fulfillment.^[3]^ Paul's view of the OT fits this mold when he says that everything that "was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

The OT as the Word of God

It should also be noted that the NT writers, including Jesus himself, believed the OT to be the Word of God. An often quoted passage, 2 Timothy 3:16 states that "All Scripture is God-breathed." The "all Scripture" is to be understood as a reference of Paul to the OT. Elsewhere, Paul writes that "They [the Jews] have been entrusted with the very words of God," (Rom 3:2). Jesus, while dealing with the topic of divorce, quotes Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:5. It is interesting to note that Genesis 2:24 is part of the narrative of creation rather than a direct utterance of God ^[4]^. Other general examples of the OT as the Word of God include Mark 12:36, Acts 1:16, Acts 28:25, and Hebrews 1:5-8.


The term typology comes from the Greek word typos which literally means "impression," or "mark". Also, "it is not so much a method of exegesis as it is a presupposition underlying the Jewish and Christian understandings of Scripture, particularly its historical portions" ^[5]^. The basic idea of typology is that the story of the past has some kind of bearing on the present. Furthermore, the present can be seen as having been foreshadowed in the biblical story. What makes typology different from allegory (see below) is that typology is closely tied to history.

Within typology, the event (or even person) that happened in the past is seen as the "type". For example, the great event of the exodus is seen as a "type" for the post-exilic return to the land of Israel (Isaiah 43:16-17). Moreover, Jesus gives a comparison of the judgment that fell on Sodom with the coming final judgment (Luke 17:28-30). Probably the best known example in the NT is that of Jonah's experience with that of Jesus' burial and resurrection. Yet, of all the writings in the NT, Hebrews makes the shows the most extensive use of typology (ibid., p. 134; Matt 12:40; Luke 11:30).

Exegetical methods

Differing exegetical methods existed during the time of the NT writers. By "exegetical methods" it is meant the methods by which individuals used to interpret portions of the Old Testament.


Midrash comes from the Hebrew word darash, meaning "search" or even "commentary". It "entails searching the text for clarification beyond the obvious ^[6]^. In other words, midrash is a method which involves commentary on a specific passage of the Bible. "In 'searching' the sacred text, the rabbis attempted to update scriptural teaching to make it relevant to new circumstances and issues. This was approach was felt to be legitimate because Scripture was understood as divine in character and therefore could yield many meanings and applications..." ^[7]^. One of the best examples in the NT is John 6:25-59 which comments on Exodus 16:4, Psalm 78:24 (cf. Jn 6:31). Jesus' words are considered by some scholars as a running "commentary" on this passage found in the book of Exodus.

Light and heavy

One of the most significant midrashic methods is known as light and heavy. According to this method, if something is true in a less important, "light" situation, it proves important in a greater, "heavier", situation. For example, Jesus assures his disciples that since God cares for the birds (light), he also cares for them (heavy; Matt 6:26; cf. Luke 12:24). This method is usually recognized by an "if" statement followed by a "how much more...", found both in the words of Jesus and Paul (cf. Matt 7:11; Rom 5:10).


The rule of equivalence is seen when "passages clarify one another if they share common vocabulary ^[8]^. Consider 1 Peter 2:4-8 which quotes Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14. Here, the term "stone" is used in equivalent regulation. Another example is Jesus' use of 1 Samuel 21:6 in Mark 2:23-28.


After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), scholars concluded that these and other writings found were from a community called Qumran. The community was a group of Essenes, considered isolationists, who had split off and found the area known as Qumran. Qumran serves as a good example of the method of pesher, for at Qumran "scripture was viewed as containing mysteries in need of explanation. The 'pesher' was the explanation of the mystery", usually involved in prophecies ^[9]^. Examples include Acts 2:17-21 citing Joel 2:28-32, and Mark 12:10-11 citing Psalms 118:22-23 (cf. Eph 3:4-6).


Some NT writers also understood the OT allegorically. Caution is due, in that this method is the least common, yet its place and presence in the NT should still be noted. Allegorical interpretation typically involves a symbolic meaning found within a text. There is, to some degree, a deeper meaning that is beneath the obvious letter of the passage ^[10]^. The best known first-century allegorist was Philo of Alexandria. However, the most obvious example in the NT can be found in on of Paul's letters, Galatians 4:24-31. In this text, Sarah and Hagar symbolize two covenants. It should be noted that Jesus' parables are not allegories although they do sometimes contain allegorical features (ibid.; cf. Mark 12:1-9).

Other issues

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Sensus plenior

Double fulfillment

See also


  1. The Old Testament in the New Testament (Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
  2. Evans, "The Old Testament in the New", in The Face of New Testament Studies, edited by Scot McKnight and Grant Osborne (Baker Academic, 2004), p. 130.
  3. Nicole, "The Old Testament in the New Testament", in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Introductory Articles (Zondervan, 1979), p. 618.
  4. Nicole, p. 621.
  5. Evans, "The Old Testament in the New", p. 133
  6. Evans, "The Old Testament in the New", p. 131.
  7. Evans, "Jewish Exegesis", p. 381.
  8. Evans, "The Old Testament in the New", p. 132.
  9. Evans, "The Old Testament in the New", p. 132.
  10. Evans, "Jewish Exegesis", p. 383.


  • G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Baker, 2007.
  • Jonathan Lunde and Ken Berding, eds. Three Views on the New Testament's Use of the Old Testament. Zondervan, 2008.
  • G.K. Beale, ed., The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New. Baker, 1994.
  • Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 2nd edition. Eerdmans, 1999.
  • Stanley E. Porter, ed. Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament. Mcmaster New Testament Studies. Eerdmans, 2006.
  • Craig Evans, From Prophecy to Testament: The Function of the Old Testament in the New. Hendrickson, 2004.
  • __ "The Old Testament in the New", in The Face of New Testament Studies, edited by Scot McKnight and Grant Osborne. Baker Academic, 2004.
  • __ "Jewish Exegesis", in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin Vanhoozer; Associate editors, Craig Bartholomew, Daniel Treier, and N.T. Wright. Baker Academic, 2005.
  • Roger Nicole, "The Old Testament in the New Testament", in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Introductory Articles. Zondervan, 1979.

Online articles