Take Not Thy Holy Spirit from Me

On the way to chapel one Sunday in early February, we were listening to the classic worship song by the late Keith Green, “Create in Me a Clean Heart”.  It is a great tune, set to the words of Psalm 51.

The chorus is from verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” The first verse is from verses 11-12: “Cast me not away from thy presence, O Lord. And take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and renew a right spirit within me.”

The occasion for this psalm of David, as indicated in the inspired instructions written above verse 1, was “when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” What a great psalm of confession and repentance! It is a useful template for our own prayers of contrition whenever we are convicted by the Holy Spirit over a particular sin in our own life.

However, I want to clarify something that many Christians may not have considered. When David asks God to not take His Holy Spirit from him, this is not something Christians need to worry about.

Let me discuss the Holy Spirit’s relationship to Christians, share a bit of what I have learned recently about the Holy Spirit and OT believers, and how we can use Psalm 51 in our personal worship.

The Holy Spirit dwells in all Christians

Jesus taught His disciples that God the Father would be sending a Counselor (or Comforter) who would be present with them forever. Jesus indicated that the third person of the Trinity would not only be with them but would reside in them (John 14:16-17). Later, Jesus reminded the disciples that it was good He was going away, since He would be sending them His Holy Spirit (John 16:7).

The early church experienced the work of the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) as He was poured out on all believers as it was prophesied in the last days. (See Joel 2:28-32.)

The Apostle Paul taught extensively on His role in the Christian’s life. In Rom. 8:9-11, Paul makes it clear that the Holy Spirit indwells all Christians. In 1 Cor. 6:19, he reminds the Body of Christ that their bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in them. This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is just one of the many irreversible transformations that happens to every believer when we receive Jesus.

The indwelling Holy Spirit was not normative for all OT believers

James Hamilton Jr., in his book, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments presents and in-depth discussion on a fascinating topic that has rarely been taught.

He contrasts the relationship between believers and the Holy Spirt in the OT and the NT. He states, “The Old Testament does say that some have the Spirit (see e.g., Num 27:18), but it is by no means clear that this is the experience of every member of the old covenant remnant. The New Testament, on the other hand, indicates that the Spirit regenerates and indwells all believers (see Rom 8:9-11).”

Hamilton points out that only select individuals in the OT had the Holy Spirit dwell in them. These were the prophets and kings whom Yahweh had chosen, called, and equipped to fulfill His purposes.

When David prayed that God would not take His Holy Spirit from him, in addition to his real and raw grief from displeasing God due to his sin, I believe that David was also begging God not to remove His blessing and anointing as Israel’s King, like God had done previously with Saul (1 Sam. 16:14).

The purpose of confession

We do not confess our sins in order to receive God’s forgiveness. We received His forgiveness the moment when we were saved. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sin. David exclaims in another psalm, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:11-12).

No, we confess our sins, as needed, whenever a sin is brought to our attention, to experience God’s forgiveness, to restore our fellowship with Him as a child of God, and resubmit to His lordship. (I invite you to read an article I wrote on losing and regaining our sense of God’s presence.)

In the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, it was said of Brother Lawrence, “When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: ‘I can do nothing better without You. Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make.’ After that he did not feel guilty about the sin.”

How should we pray Psalm 51?

I still think this is a valuable psalm for Christians to personalize and make it their own prayer of repentance when they find themselves aware of or convicted by the Holy Spirit of a sin. You could read the psalm word for word, as it is. The words are right and true and sincere. But here’s what I usually do. I take my time and modify it to my own situation as needed, changing the words slightly.

Instead of praying, “Have mercy on me” and “blot out my transgressions” (v. 1), I simply thank God for His mercy that He has already lavished on us in Christ through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. I thank Him for completely blotting out all my transgressions – past, present, and future, according to His promises. I pray with the confidence of a Christian, not with the uncertainty of an OT believer.

When I get to Ps. 51:11, I cannot in good conscience pray that God would not take His Holy Spirit from me. I believe that is something He cannot do, based on Jesus’s promises as discussed earlier. I have to modify this part. I just thank God for the gift of the Comforter who will be with me always.

Closing challenge

The thing about worship songs is that we sometimes find ourselves singing spiritual truths that we may not fully understand. We have to be careful to worship with our hearts and minds fully engaged.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

What I’ve Learned About the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament (Part 4)

In my last article, I discussed the concept of a type, which is how the OT foreshadowed the coming Messiah. In this fourth and final article in this series, I will share excerpts from a research paper that I did on a NT passage that is full of references to the OT to highlight a useful interpretative approach.

The purpose of this paper was to present a detailed analysis of the use of the OT in one of the NT epistles. I selected 1 Cor. 10:1-13, which directly quotes Ex. 32:6 and alludes to several other events in the books of Exodus and Numbers. I will uncover the meaning of the NT text first and the OT texts second, and then offer a few applications for life and ministry. (Read this text before moving on.)

Meaning of the New Testament Texts

My Bible has an appropriate title for this portion of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians: Warnings from Israel’s History. Paul brings his readers back to the wilderness to remind them that they have much in common with the OT saints. The Israelites had been identified with Moses and had personally seen and experienced God’s deliverance and provision. Despite many blessings, they still fell into idolatry and God’s judgment. So too, the church in Corinth, who had been blessed even more through their identification with Jesus, could easily fall into idolatry and experience eternal consequences.

Carson and Moo, in An Introduction to the New Testament explain that the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness offers an example that is directly applicable here: “it is all too easy to begin well but not persevere, and thus to fall under God’s judgment.” Also, note that the theme of God’s deliverance bookends this section. Paul starts by alluding to God’s physical deliverance of the Israelites in and after the exodus and ends with practical suggestions for the church to deal with temptation by drawing upon the resources of God’s spiritual deliverance in order to stand.

Paul alludes to several important features of Israel’s history in verses 1-5 that are found in the Exodus narrative: the cloud, food, drink, and rock. According to Goppelt, in The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New the cloud that Paul is alluding to is the one that protected the Israelites from the Egyptians right before they crossed the Red Sea towards the Promised Land (Ex. 14:19-20). The “spiritual” food Paul speaks of is the manna that God’s people gathered daily for their sustenance. The drink is the water that Yahweh faithfully provided as needed through rain and miraculously through Moses. Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament suggests that the food and drink mentioned here correspond with the bread and wine that represent the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, which Paul brings up later in 1 Cor. 10:16. The rock mentioned here brings to mind those instances when Moses spoke to or struck a rock and water came forth.

The word translated “example” in 1 Cor. 10:6 and 11 is the Greek word, typos, where we get the words type and typical. Goppelt announces, “God dealt in a typical way with Israel in the wilderness, in a manner that is a pattern for his dealing with the church in the last days.”

In a discussion of a similar passage where Paul quotes the OT in 2 Cor. 8:15, Hays, in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul highlights Paul’s method of operation which effortlessly applies to our passage in 1 Cor. 10. “By implicitly likening the Gentile Corinthian church to Israel in the wilderness, it suggests an extensive series of suppressed correspondences – silent echoes – that Paul chooses to leave unexplored here. Israel redeemed and graced, Israel as pilgrim people, Israel grumbling and unfaithful: here is the original story that is now played out again in the experience of the church.”

Meaning of the Old Testament Texts

The main idea of Ex. 32:6 that Paul cited with an introductory formula, “as it is written”, in 1 Cor. 10:7, was that in Moses’ absence, some Israelites convinced Aaron to build a golden calf and an altar. They worshipped it and “sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” Hays proposed that the reason Paul quoted this verse was to draw attention to the eating and drinking of the idolatrous Israelites to contrast with the eating and drinking they did as Yahweh provided for them in the desert. The main idea of the other portions of Scripture from the book of Numbers that Paul alludes to in vv. 8-10 is that God’s people disobeyed Him by committing sexual immorality. Due to their lack of trust in God’s faithfulness, they had put the Lord to the test and complained, resulting in God’s judgment.

The other incidents of disobedience mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:8-10 come from Numbers. Verse 8 takes us to Num. 25:1-9, where we see Israel committing sexual immorality with the Moabite women, which led to idol worship, which resulted in the death of 24,000. Verse 9, regarding putting the Lord to the test, alludes to Num. 21:4-6, where “the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses” and complained about the lack of bread and water. As a result, Yahweh sent poisonous serpents and many died. The last incident Paul alludes to in v. 10 is not clear as to its source. Numbers 14:2 seems to be the best fit, where the entire generation (except Joshua and Caleb) perishes.

It is noteworthy that the words “eat” and “drink” in this verse quoted in 1 Cor. 10:7 are found between v. 3, where Paul states that the Israelites ate and drank the food and water that God provided them in the wilderness, and v. 16, where Paul mentions the cup and the bread the Corinthian church holds as they participate in the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor. 10:1-2, Paul alludes to the cloud and the sea, linking them to a baptism “into Moses”.  Goppelt believes that the “immersion under the clouds” that precedes the crossing of the Red Sea creates a one-time “redemptive event that corresponds to Christian baptism.” In a subtle but undeniably intentional way, Paul has shown a typological relationship between the Israelites and the church.

Paul cites Ex. 32:6 and alludes to other OT narratives to effectively warn the church in Corinth not to have anything to do with idol worship. Goppelt concurs: “God’s dealing with Israel should discourage the church from participating in sacrificial meals where idolatry is clearly involved.” But there is more. 

This text is foundational to our basic understanding of the church. They are just like the Israelites in many ways. If they saw God’s deliverance and yet struggled with disobedience, the church will do no less. Hays states, “Here Paul regards the written scriptural witness as a word for the instruction of his own community, a word intended by God precisely for the eschatological moment in which apostle and church now find themselves . . . the community is to flee from association with idols (10:14) and to beware of overconfident presumption upon the grace of God (10:12).” 

Applications for Life and Ministry

This rich passage has several practical applications that are worth unpacking here.

First, Baker, in Two Testaments, One Bible mentions that this passage, along with several others (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:14-17), confirms the “permanent value of the Old Testament.” This should motivate Christians to diligently study the OT Scriptures. Baker also indicates that the OT “is the essential historical basis of the New Testament and Christianity, without which they cannot be properly understood. The coming of Christ was the consummation of a long history of God at work in human affairs.” Baker concurs. He declares that “every part of the Bible reflects the consistent activity of the One God.” We would do well to consistently study the OT to find common redemptive threads.

Secondly, these repeated warnings from the Scripture of how God’s chosen, delivered, and blessed people experienced the consequences of their own sin and idolatry should cause us to take a second look at our own conduct. Hays instructs us that Paul brings the story of the exodus to the attention of the church in Corinth in order to force them to consider: “let the one who thinks he stands (the ‘strong’ in the Corinthian church) take heed lest he fall (1 Cor 10:12). The story is not over yet, and the church should imagine itself to be, analogously to Israel in the wilderness, a pilgrim people that has not yet arrived at its promised destination.” We cannot take for granted our relationship with God. Just because we have been born again, walked with the Lord, served Him for decades, and are saved eternally, does not mean we are above causing damage to the Kingdom by our sins.

Third, this section is extremely helpful for believers today in handling the various temptations we face daily. They are a common experience for all who believe. God has not only provided instruction from the Scriptures to warn us, but He still continues to provide His own presence through His Holy Spirit to empower us to fight, flee, and have faith in God’s deliverance in every battle that we face.           

I trust that this in-depth look at this NT passage that uses the OT extensively was helpful for you to see how to apply some of the things we discussed in this series and that this increases your understanding.

(Note: I invite you to read a series of articles I wrote a few years ago on a similar topic: how David and the other psalmists often take God’s people back to earlier OT themes.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

What I’ve Learned About the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament (Part 3)

In my last article, I discussed how Old Testament references found throughout the New Testament come in various forms: quotations, allusions, and echoes. In this third article of a four-part series, I want to discuss the concepts of types and typology, which is how the OT foreshadowed the coming Messiah.

What is a type?

With respect to biblical interpretation, a “type” is simply a historical person, place, or thing from the OT that has some kind of similarity with a historical person, place, or thing in the NT. Noticing such valid parallels are sometimes very helpful for us to understand the author’s intended meaning of a NT passage.

Edmund Clowney, in his book, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament states, “The Old Testament gives us types that foreshadow the New Testament fulfillment. A type is a form of analogy that is distinctive to the Bible. Like all analogies, a type combines identity and difference. David and Christ were both given kingly power and rule. In spite of the vast differences between David’s royalty and Christ’s, there are points of formal identity that make the comparison meaningful.”

In Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, by Leonhard Goppelt, we read in the foreword that the OT events that point to corresponding NT events are not a mere repetition or continuation, but an “escalation”. “The OT type not only corresponds to the NT antitype but also is complemented and transcended by it,” He cites the well-known example that the nation of Israel corresponds with the church. They both represent the people of God, but the church is so much more.  

Osborne, in The Hermeneutical Spiral, explains, “The early Christians (like the Jews) saw all of salvation history (God working out his plan of salvation in human history) as a single continuous event. Therefore, events in the past are linked to those in the present, so that God’s mighty deeds like the exodus or the return from exile foreshadow the experiences of God’s present community, the church. This does not see a direct prophetic link but rather a correspondence in history, in which the current experience relives the past.”

When we look at the OT through a NT lens, we see persons, places, and things designed by a sovereign God to be incomplete. They point forward, when their fulfillment would only be realized in Jesus Christ.

Examples of types

Several examples of types are identified by Jesus, Paul, and other NT writers. Here are just a sample.

In Genesis, chapters 1-2, we read the story of the Creation. In Revelation, chapters 21-22, we see the New Creation. Instead of a temporary garden that was ruined by sin, it is an eternal city where there is no sin.

In Gen. 2:7, God breathes life into the first man, Adam. The Apostle Paul, in Rom. 5:14, specifically mentions that Adam is a “pattern of the one to come.” In Rom. 5:15-21, Adam is contrasted with Jesus.

In Matt. 12:40, Jesus clearly states that the prophet Jonah typifies Himself. As Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, Jesus said, the Son of Man would spend three days in the earth. In the next verse, Jesus boldly claims that “one greater than Jonah is here”, demonstrating the heightened comparison.

In Acts 3:22, the Apostle Peter preached that Moses had said that Yahweh would raise up a prophet like himself. He was of course, speaking about Jesus, who was the one who fulfilled the OT prophecies.

Richard Hays, in his book, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul As Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture observes that when Paul refers to the Israelites in the desert as “our fathers” in 1 Cor. 10:1, he is making an important point: “Israel’s story is not somebody else’s history; rather, Paul addresses the Gentile Corinthians as though they have become part of Israel. They are invited to understand themselves now as descendants of the characters who appear in the pages of Scripture.” This is an amazing truth.

How do we know for sure what is and is not a type?

In all of the examples above, Jesus or the writers of the NT pointed out the comparisons, making it legitimate. It is also possible that a comparison between an OT person or event has such a clear parallel that preachers, teachers, and commentators have made it clear enough to be believable and trustworthy.

I also think that a Christian who may not have any formal theological education can identify basic types under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Here is one example that I have taught for many years. I have not confirmed it in Scripture or read in any commentary that this is so, but it definitely fits the pattern.

I noticed that the crossing of the Red Sea in the OT and the cross in the NT both resulted in deliverance for God’s people out of His mercy. The Israelites were delivered from Egypt and eventually brought into the Promised Land in the OT; followers of Jesus were saved from their sins at the cross and through the process of sanctification were brought into the abundant life Jesus promised to all who believe. Both of these salvation-bringing historical events have similar elements that are greatly enhanced in the NT.

Closing challenge

I have to admit that I have only scratched the surface on unpacking this important topic that is one of the keys to interpreting NT passages that refer to OT people, places, and things that point forward to Christ. At the very least, I hope that as you read and study the Scriptures on your own in the future, you will be more attuned to this common pattern, and will marvel at the sovereignty of God in linking the past to the future.

(Note: I invite you to read the final article in this series, where I share excerpts from a research paper that I did on a NT passage that is full of references to the OT to highlight a useful interpretative approach.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

What I’ve Learned About the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament (Part 2)

In my last article, I introduced this topic, emphasizing the importance of the Scriptures to Jesus, the early church, and the NT writers. I showed how frequently they all used it. In this second article of a four-part series, I want to show that Old Testament references to the New Testament come in many forms, from loud to soft, in quotations, allusions, and echoes. 

Quotations

Beale, in his Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament indicates, “One must start somewhere in studying the use of the OT in the NT. The obvious starting point is first to identify where the NT quotes and alludes to the OT.” He provides a helpful definition:

A quotation is a direct citation of an OT passage that is easily recognizable by its clear and unique verbal parallelism. Many of these quotations are introduced by a formula, such as ‘that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled’ (Matt.2:15), ‘it is written’ (Rom. 3:4), or another similar expression. Other citations without such introductory indicators are so obviously parallel to an OT text that clearly a quotation is being made.

Most versions of the Bible show when a NT author quotes the OT by indenting the paragraph. Also, you may see a footnote at the bottom that indicates the verse or verses where it came from.

To understand the point that the NT writer is trying to get across, you should read the OT source of the quote. Compare what the NT says and what the original OT quote says Sometimes it is identical; sometimes there are distinct differences. Quite often, there are minor differences in translation into English from the Hebrew that was used in the OT and the Greek used in the NT.

There are occasions that the NT author paraphrases the OT quote for his NT audience. Eph. 6:2-3 is a good example. Paul has told children to obey their parents in v. 1. He then quotes the fifth commandment from Ex. 20:12 and Deut. 5:16. What Moses says is the primary motivation to obey their parents is so they may “live long in the land.” Paul puts it in a contemporary context, telling them that they should obey their parents so that “you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Allusions

Beale explains that “An ‘allusion’ may simply be defined as a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage. . . Allusions are indirect references.”

Rodgers, in Exploring the Old Testament in the New explains: “A good example [of allusion] is 1 Pet 2:21-25, where Peter cites a number of phrases from Isa. 53, but makes no reference to the text as coming from Isaiah’s fourth servant song: ‘He committed no sin, no deceit was found in his mouth . . . etc.’ There is no doubt that Peter is referring consciously to Isaiah 53, and that his readers or auditors would be expected to recognize the reference.” Later, he observes, “The Book of Revelation has no quotations from the Old Testament introduced with a formula. But it is widely recognized that there are many scripture allusions and echoes throughout the book.”

Let us take a brief look at Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22. Heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove, and God spoke about His Son. Looking closer, we see three OT allusions.

The connections are fairly easy to see. God said about Jesus, “You are my son”. Psalm 2:7 uses this same exact phrase. When God added “whom I love”, this brings to mind Gen. 22:2. In this narrative, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, “your only son, whom you love”. God’s final words at Jesus’ baptism, “with whom I am well pleased” are quite similar to what the prophet had said about the Servant of the Lord in Isa 42:1: “my chosen one, in whom I delight”.

When you see all of the parallels between what was spoken in Luke and what was written in these OT verses, it should cause you to marvel at the unity between the testaments and the vast number of clues scattered throughout the Hebrew Bible (OT) that point to Jesus as the Messiah.

Echoes

Beale defines an echo as “a subtle reference to the OT that is not as clear a reference as an allusion. Another way to say this is that an echo is an allusion that is possibly dependent on an OT text in distinction to a reference that is clearly or probably dependent.” [Emphasis mine.]

Rodgers sheds some light on the concept that may help clarify. He explains, “These echoes of the Scriptures of Israel in the New Testament are not introduced with any formula because often the word or phrase is so familiar to writer and reader alike that no introductory formula is needed.”

Rodgers unpacks this further.  He writes, “For example, in any speech or essay in contemporary America one can use the expressions ‘Pearl Harbor,’ or ‘Watergate,’ or ‘9/11’ without having to give any explanation . . . The story is so widely known and deeply imbedded in our cultural consciousness that the mere mention of the word ‘Watergate’ evokes the whole incident.”

One example is found in 2 Cor. 4:6.  This is a soft reference, a probable echo of Gen. 1:3-5. Paul states that God had said “Let light shine out of darkness” to show that He did something similar in the heart of every Christian, whose heart was also dark, but God transformed it into light. This is clearly not an exact quote, but a subtle reference to what God did on day one of creation.

I trust that this discussion of the various ways in which the OT is quoted, alluded to, and echoed throughout the NT will help guide you in your own personal Bible study of God’s Holy Word.

(Note: I invite you to read the next article in this series, where I discuss the concepts of types and typology, which is how the OT foreshadowed the coming Messiah.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

What I’ve Learned About the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament (Part 1)

Did you ever notice how frequently the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament? Have you ever wondered why that is? Do you know any good techniques on how to properly interpret its use?

I studied this topic in depth as an independent study while earning my master’s degree from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in the fall of 2014. It was such a fascinating journey! What surprises me is that in the eighty articles that I have written and posted on my blog over the past six years on topics other than faith and work issues, I have never written about what I learned in this class.

Rodgers, in Exploring the Old Testament in the New states, “Whether it is a quotation introduced by a formula like ‘as it is written,’ or an allusion or echo of the Hebrew Scriptures embedded in the writing, on almost every page of the New Testament we find some reference to the Old Testament.” Osborne, in his book, The Hermeneutical Spiral quantifies how much the OT is used in the NT: “There are approximately three hundred quotes in the New Testament and literally thousands of allusions.” 

I want to share some observations that ordinary Christians might find useful in their own Bible study. I want to show how prevalent the OT is used by Jesus, preached by the early church, and cited by every NT writer so that they can better understand and appreciate the unity of Scripture and how the NT fulfills what the OT points to in types and shadows. I will also discuss the primary ways the NT uses the OT (especially Paul), the use of quotations (with and without an introductory formula), allusions (an indirect reference to an OT passage), echoes (references that are less extensive or less obvious than allusions), and types (a person, action, or event which prefigures something better in the future).

Let us discuss how the OT was used by the NT writers. We will begin with Jesus and the Gospels.

Jesus and the Gospel writers cited the OT

Jesus quotes the OT quite frequently in His sermons for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason is that the majority of the people in His target audience knew the Old Testament. From the learned scribes and Pharisees to the common man and woman, all Jews were taught the Scriptures from birth. 

When Jesus refers to something in the OT, He most often uses a standard introductory formula, “You have heard that it was said”, or something to that effect. He then contrasts the requirements of the Old Covenant with what He brings in the New. His standards are more internal, not merely external. 

For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made this bold proclamation: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22).

In Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, Baker states, “He frequently used Old Testament language in formulating his own teaching. . . On the one hand, he asserted firmly the absolute authority of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-20; 22:34-40); on the other, he ventured to sharpen or suspend some of its provisions (Matt. 5:21-48; Mark 7:14-23)”.

When the Gospel writers use the OT, they often show how Jesus fulfills prophecy and so much more. Osborne wisely observes, “The life of Jesus fulfills or completes all the promises of God found in the Scriptures. . . Matthew sees all three sections of the Old Testament – the Law, the Writings, and Prophets – fulfilled in Jesus. He has completed their expectations and fully interpreted their meaning.” 

Matthew does this more than the other Gospel writers. A good example of Matthew demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled OT prophecy is found in Matt. 1:22-23. Matthew writes, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a so, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’” This is a quote from Isa. 7:14.

The early church cited the OT

There are many OT quotes in Acts. The main reason they did this as they preached the gospel to their predominantly Jewish audience was to demonstrate how Jesus fulfilled OT prophecy about the coming Messiah. Osborne concurs.  He explains, “For Luke the Jesus story is both in continuity with and the climax to the metanarrative of all of Scripture. . . The use of the Old Testament in Acts is preeminently christological, as the passages intend to show that Jesus is the one foretold in Scripture.”

On the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32, regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in the last days (Acts 2:17-21). He quotes David in Acts 2:25-28 (Ps. 16:8-11) and in Acts 2:34-35 (Ps. 110:1). 

Another good example is Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:1-53, where he summarizes the main points of the narratives of Abraham and Moses. He does not recite this history to confirm that Jesus is the Messiah, but to address the Sanhedrin and the false witnesses who charged Stephen with speaking against the law of Moses and the temple. He quotes several verses from Exodus in vv. 28, 32, and 34 and Deut. 18:15 in v. 37. He also quotes Ex. 32:1 in v. 40, Amos 5:25-27 in v. 43, and Isa. 66:1-2 in vv. 49-50.

Paul cited the OT

Goppelt, in his excellent work Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New concludes, “The way Paul uses Scripture is different from the way it is used in the Gospels . . . His basic view of the OT is that its content corresponds to the gospel, and that its task is to present the gospel to the church. Christ is the affirmation of all God’s promises (2 Cor 1:20). . . Paul no longer viewed Scripture primarily as law, but as a witness to the redemptive history that leads to Christ.”

Hays, in his book, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul As Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture summarizes Paul’s unique approach this way: “Paul rereads Scripture with an imagination converted by the death and resurrection of Jesus. . . Paul sees the church that has come into being in his own day as the heir of that vast ancient story and as the remarkable fulfillment of the promises made to Israel.”

Paul quotes the OT frequently in Galatians to address the false teachers who wanted Christians in the church to keep the Law, which was contrary to the gospel of justification by faith in Jesus Christ.

In Gal. 3:6-11, we read the heart of Paul’s argument that salvation comes by grace through faith. He goes back to key passages in the OT that highlight that faith is essential, not keeping the Law. Paul begins with Abraham in v. 6, where he quotes Gen. 15:6 where Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness. In v. 8, he quotes Gen. 12:3 (the Abrahamic covenant), where God promised to justify the Gentiles through faith. In v. 10, Paul quotes Deut. 27:26. In verse 11, he quotes Hab. 2:4, “The righteous will live by faith.” He later uses several quotes from Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Genesis.

Other NT writers cited the OT

As you would expect, the other NT authors often quote the OT to tie in their messages that were mostly written in response to church problems. They did this to strengthen the church’s understanding of how Jesus fulfills the OT and is supreme. The book of Hebrews is probably the richest source.

In Heb. 1:1-13, you see several quotes as the writer shows how Jesus is superior to angels. He quotes Ps. 2:7 in v. 5, Ps. 104:4 in v. 7, Ps. 45:6-7 in v. 9, Ps. 102:25-27 in v. 12, and Ps. 110:1 in v. 13.

Rogers states that Peter quotes from or alludes to Psalm 34 many times in his first epistle (see 1 Peter 3:10-12). Carson, in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament notes that there are about twenty quotations in Peter’s first epistle. Peter uses the OT to provide encouragement and warnings to Jewish Christians in 1 Pet. 2:6-8, where he quotes Isa. 28:16, Ps. 118:22, and Isa. 8:14.

Closing challenge

Let me share a quote from Beale in his Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.  He says: “Jesus and the apostles believed that the OT Scriptures were ‘sacred’ and were the Word of God. Therefore, all authoritative theological discussion had to be based on and proceed from this sacred body of literature. For Jesus and his followers, what the OT said, God said; and what God said, the OT said.”

I am afraid that far too many Christians have focused exclusively on the NT in their own personal study and have missed the richness of God’s unfolding redemptive story. I am hoping that those who begin to notice how frequently the OT is mentioned in the NT will be interested in studying it more.

(Note: I invite you to read the next article in this series, where I discuss how OT references to the NT come in many forms, from loud to soft, in quotations, allusions, and echoes.)

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)