Anyone who has read through the New Testament soon realizes that it frequently quotes the Old Testament and quotes it in various ways. This is especially true with the Gospels. Sometimes, because the context of the Old Testament quotation does not seem to fit the New Testament context, it appears that the New Testament takes too much liberty with the Old Testament. Rabbinic writings frequently quoted the Old Testament in a variety of ways, and the Jewish writers of the New Testament followed the same procedure. The rabbis gave the four ways of quotation the title of pardes, which stood for pshat, remez, drash, and sod. The New Testament quotes the Old Testament in the same four ways as the rabbis did. This will be a study to see just how the New Testament does quote the Old Testament.
By way of introduction, it should be pointed out that, in the context of the Old Testament, there were four different types of messianic prophecy and four categories of quotations in the New Testament.
THE FOUR TYPES OF MESSIANIC PROPHECY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
There are four types of messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, including: messianic prophecy dealing only with the First Coming of the Messiah (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:15 19), messianic prophecy dealing strictly with His Second Coming and nothing else (e.g. Isaiah 2:1 4), messianic prophecy that blends the two Comings of the one Messiah into a single picture (e.g. ; Isaiah 9:5 7), and messianic prophecy that gives the entire redemptive career of the Messiah, which includes four elements: His First Coming, the interval between the First and Second Comings, the Second Coming, and the Messianic Kingdom (e.g. Ps 110).
THE FOUR CATEGORIES OF QUOTATIONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament quotes the Old Testament, but it quotes it in four different ways or categories. Every Old Testament quotation found within the New Testament will always fit into one of these four categories. In this study, Matthew 2 will be used as a base, simply because this one chapter has all four categories of quotations.
Literal Prophecy Plus Literal Fulfillment: Pshat
The first category is known as “literal prophecy plus literal fulfillment,” reflecting the rabbinic pshat, which refers to the simple meaning of the text. The example of this first category is found in Matthew 2:5 6.
This passage in the New Testament quotes Micah 5:2, the context of which is dealing with the birth of the Messiah. The literal meaning of Micah 5:2 is that when the Messiah is born, He will be born in the town of Bethlehem in the region of Judah and nowhere else; not the Bethlehem of Galilee or any other town in Judah.
In the New Testament, there is a literal fulfillment of that literal prophecy. When Yeshua (Jesus) was born as the Messiah, He was born in the town of Bethlehem, and no other town in the tribal region of Judah. Furthermore, He was born in Bethlehem of Judah, not Bethlehem of Galilee. This was a literal fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Hence, literal prophecy plus literal fulfillment. The prophecy makes only one point. When it is fulfilled in the New Testament in a perfect way, the New Testament quotes the Old Testament.
Literal Plus Typical: Remez
The second category of quotations can be labeled “literal plus typical.” In rabbinic theology it was known are remez or “hint.” An example of this category is found in Matthew 2:15.
This verse quotes Hosea 11:1. In the context of Hosea 11:1, the prophet is speaking of the Exodus, a literal historical event, not a prophecy. The background to Hosea 11:1 is Exodus 4:22 23. Israel as a nation is the son of God: Israel is my son, my first born. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, it is pictured by Hosea 11:1 as God bringing His son out of the land of Egypt. That is the literal meaning of Hosea 11:1; it is an historical verse dealing with an historical event, the Exodus.
However, the literal Old Testament event becomes a type of a New Testament event. Now there is an ideal Son of God, the individual Son of God, the Messianic Son of God, the Messiah Himself. When Yeshua was brought out of the land of Egypt as a babe, God was again bringing His Son out of Egypt. This is a type and anti-type. The type was Israel, the national son coming out of Egypt. The anti-type is the Messianic Son of God also coming out of Egypt.
Literal Plus Application: Drash
The third category is “literal plus application,” correlating with the rabbinic drash. The example of this category is Matthew 2:17 18.
This time, Matthew quoted Jeremiah 31:15. The context of Jeremiah 31:15 speaks about the Babylonian Captivity, which was neither historical nor prophetic, but a current event of Jeremiah’s own time. As the captivity was starting, the picture is that the Babylonians gathered all the young Jewish men together at a meeting point where they would then begin marching these young sons away to Babylon. On the way, they went by the town of Ramah near where Rachel was buried. In the Old Testament, Rachel became the symbol of Jewish motherhood. As the young Jewish men were being taken away into captivity, Jewish mothers began weeping for sons they would never see again. Jeremiah pictured this as Rachel weeping for her children; And she would not be comforted, because they are not. Rachel weeping symbolized Jewish mothers weeping because their sons were being taken away from them. They were weeping for sons they would never see again. That is the literal meaning of Jeremiah 31:15: Jewish mothers weeping for sons they would never see again.
That verse is quoted in the New Testament because of one point of similarity. It is not a literal fulfillment nor a full-scale typology, but simply an application because of some point of similarity. In this case, the one point of similarity was Jewish mothers weeping for sons they would never see again because Herod had slaughtered all the males of Bethlehem from the age of two years old and under. Therefore, because of one point of similarity, the New Testament quotes the Old Testament as an application only.
English idiomatic expressions do the same thing. For example, take the saying, “He met his Waterloo.” What does that mean? It does not mean that the man went to Waterloo in Belgium and got defeated in a battle. However, it does go back to an historical event. That historical event had to do with Napoleon, who had ambitions to build an empire, and those rising ambitions finally collapsed at the Battle of Waterloo, when he was defeated by enemy forces. Because of one point of similaritydefeat of an ambitionthat figure is used of a man who is rising to power because of ambition, then suddenly something happens and his whole kingdom collapses. “He met his Waterloo.” Not that he went to Belgium and fought a war; rather, his ambitions were suddenly wiped out because of a climactic event in his life. By the same usage, the New Testament, because of one point of similarity, will often quote the Old Testament.
The fourth category is “summation” or “summary.” The meaning of sod is “secret” or “mystery” or “something unknown.” The example of the fourth category is found in Matthew 2:23.
The supposed specific quotation is: he should be called a Nazarene. Try as one may, one will never find a single prophecy that states: he should be called a Nazarene. Some have tried to connect this somehow with Isaiah 11:1, but that connection is tenuous. Verse 23 uses the plural term prophets, not a single prophet.
The fourth category is a summary of Old Testament teaching, not a direct quotation from the Old Testament. The clue is when the word “prophet” is used in the plural, as it is used here. In the first three categories, the word “prophet” is used, in most cases, in the singular. In the fourth category, it is used in the plural: spoken through the prophets. Rather than quoting, the author is summarizing what the prophets said. In this case, the prophets said that he should be called a Nazarene.
What was a Nazarene? A Nazarene was someone who was despised and rejected (John 1:45 46).
Nathanael’s question, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? is reflecting the negative viewpoint people had of Nazarenes. The prophets predicted that the Messiah would be a despised and rejected individual, and this is encapsulated by the term “Nazarene.” In those days, calling someone a Nazarene meant he was despised and rejected. The Messiah would be a despised and rejected individual. That is a summation, not a quotation.
Every New Testament quotation of the Old Testament will fit into one of these four categories. The procedure is not simply “to interpret the Old by the New” as Covenant Theology insists. The procedure is first to see what the original quotation means in its own context. Once the context is determined, then it can also be determined in which of the four categories the quotation belongs. There is no need to conclude that the New Testament changes or reinterprets the Old Testament. Even preachers today make applications of biblical historical or prophetic texts to the modern situation without implying that that was the intent of the original author.
1. This post is a modified version of Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s original Messianic Bible Study. The full version may be obtained here.
2. In other words, the prophecy contains a prophecy of the First Coming and a prophecy of the Second Coming, but there is nothing in the text itself to indicate that there is a gap of time between the First and Second Comings.
3. The titles of these four categories come from David L. Cooper’s Messiah: His Historical Appearance (Los Angeles, Biblical Research Society, 1958), but they reflect four rabbinic usages.