Do New Testament authors misquote the Old Testament?

Sometimes, when comparing New Testament citations of Old Testament passages, there are apparent differences in the text. These instances can be troubling for those who lack a framework for interpreting them. For instance, Matthew cites Mic 5:2-4 thus,

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ (Mt 2:6, ESV)

The original text of Mic 5:2-4, however, includes much more detail:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3  Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4  And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (ESV)

Did Matthew misquote Micah? Not at all.

In such cases, we have to distinguish the writer’s intention. Was it to quote the text verbatim? Or simply to relate the gist of a text? Matthew’s audience was mostly Jewish and had access to the Scriptures. He therefore simply gives Micah’s main point in his own words. This was not extraordinary and would have been understood.

Calvin elaborates this principle very well, I think:

The scribes quoted faithfully, no doubt, the words of the passage in their own language, as it is found in the prophet. But Matthew reckoned it enough to point out the passage; and, as he wrote in Greek, he followed the ordinary reading. This passage, and others of the same kind, readily suggest the inference, that Matthew did not compose his Gospel in the Hebrew language. It ought always to be observed that, whenever any proof from Scripture is quoted by the apostles, though they do not translate word for word, and sometimes depart widely from the language, yet it is applied correctly and appropriately to their subject. Let the reader always consider the purpose for which passages of Scripture are brought forward by the Evangelists, so as not to stick too closely to the particular words, but to be satisfied with this, that the Evangelists never torture Scripture into a different meaning, but apply it correctly in its native meaning.

— John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 133–134.

In his commentary, R. T. France presents a similar take on Matthew’s use of Micah, and then observes how even today, preachers often do something similar in how we handle Scripture:

The whole point of Micah’s mentioning Bethlehem’s insignificance was by way of contrast to the glory it was to achieve as the birthplace of the Messiah; now Matthew can claim that that glory has come to Bethlehem, so that it is no longer the least (and the addition of “for” to introduce the next clause underlines the point). Rather than add a footnote, Matthew has incorporated the fulfillment into the wording of the text. For those who are familiar with the original text the alteration will stand out as a challenge to think through how Matthew’s story relates to the prophetic tradition. In a number of ways, therefore, Matthew has adapted Micah’s words to suit what he can now see to be their fulfillment, and to advance his argument for the scriptural justification of the Messiah’s origins.

This relatively free and creative handling of the text (not unlike that found in contemporary Aramaic targums) differs little from the practice of many modern preachers who, if not reading directly out of the Bible, will often (probably quite unconsciously) quote a text in an adapted form which helps the audience to see how the text relates to the argument. No-one is misled, and the hermeneutical procedure is well understood. Micah’s words have been applied appropriately, even if not with the literalistic precision which the age of the printed Bible makes possible.

— R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 73.

So, there you have it. New Testament writers don’t misquote the Old Testament. But sometimes they summarize, connect, and interpret the passages they interact with. What matters is that they are faithful to the sense intended by the Holy Spirit.

Why Four Distinct Gospels?

It’s a question many ask, and one which John Calvin addresses well in his commentary on Matthew:

The Spirit of God, who had appointed the Evangelists to be his clerks, appears purposely to have regulated their style in such a manner, that they all wrote one and the same history, with the most perfect agreement, but in different ways. It was intended, that the truth of God should more clearly and strikingly appear, when it was manifest that his witnesses did not speak by a preconcerted plan, but that each of them separately, without paying any attention to another, wrote freely and honestly what the Holy Spirit dictated.

Cf. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 127.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 1 | #42

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How the Gospel Is Shining in Sun-Drenched Phoenix

The Gospel Coalition recently interviewed several pastors on what it’s like for them to serve in the Valley.

Should Christians Abandon Christmas?

Sinclair Ferguson provides what I consider a clear, concise, and cogent argument for why Christians are not only free to celebrate Advent, but should be encouraged to.

Becoming Better Readers (Text / Video)

Enough cannot be said for the importance of developing this skill for godliness. And every tip helps.

Seven Lessons for Evangelical Scholars in the Secular Academy

In terms of scholarship, Thomas Oden went the course of salmon, driving upstream against theological liberalism to historical Christianity. So, what can we learn from his longtime interaction with the academy?

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 1 | #41

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Persuading Others of Perseverance

Rev. Spotts shares resources to help other Christians understand the sure hope of the Gospel.

When the Mission Field Comes To You

“Today there are far more Indian unbelievers in Canada than Canadian missionaries in India, more Chinese unbelievers in Canada than Canadian missionaries in China, and so on. And these numbers are not dissimilar to those in so many other world cities. A great change is afoot. What a time to be alive! What a time to preach the gospel!”

Lift Her Chin with Love

A helpful piece for (would be) husbands to help guide their wives into a biblical sense of self-image, one that celebrates Christ’s love and virtue being formed in women.

How apologetics can address six reasons why young people leave the church

This left me wondering how to better address these matters in our sermons and catechism classes.

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.

Is Water Baptism Necessary?

Some churches teach that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. I do not doubt their intentions, but I think this inverts the sacrament from it’s intended purpose. Baptism was given to comfort and assure those who desire God’s grace in Christ.

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I want to argue instead that baptism is relatively necessary. While not essential for your justification, Christ calls you to submit to it as the outward initiation into his visible people.

Background on Baptism

Perhaps a helpful way of discussing the relative necessity of baptism in the New Covenant is by seeing its relationship to Old Covenant circumcision.  Both signs are basically analogous. They picture Christ's righteousness counted and imparted to all who receive it through faith:

"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead." — Col 2:11–12 11

Notice the spiritual equivalence of the two sacraments: "you were circumcised... having been buried with him in baptism." They each point to Christ's atoning death, albeit in different ways. Jesus was violently "cut off" and "buried" for our sins. The inward application of his death, however, is received personally through faith, for, "you were also raised with him through faith."

In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul writes to predominantly Gentile converts. Although they had been baptized, some might have been tempted to think circumcision was necessary for salvation. Paul assures them however,

"We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh." — Phil 2:3

Both signs point to the same promises. What counts is faith in Christ.

Unnecessary for Salvation

God sometimes brings people to salvation prior to receiving the covenant signs. Abraham was justified prior to receiving circumcision,

"Faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised." — Rom 4:9-12

Likewise, in Acts 10, Cornelius received the Spirit by faith and even spoke in tongues, all before his baptism. Circumcision and baptism are therefore only the outward emblems of God's promise to cleanse and sanctify believers. Faith is the actual instrument of justification before God.

Relatively Necessary

There is a sense in which the covenant signs are necessary. So much so, that during the Old Covenant uncircumcised men were regarded as outside the visible church. Those who stubbornly refused it were understood as lost. The same is generally true under the New Covenant. But as we’ve seen, this cannot owe to any saving power in circumcision or baptism themselves.

You and I cannot peer into hearts to see whether one has faith. Without some visible initiation into the church, how would we determine who to consider a member of Christ’s Body? By appointing sacraments, God sets a visible boundary around his covenant people. And as commands, they are non-optional but not saving in the same way that obeying, “thou shalt not murder,” is non-optional but does not count toward our salvation. Simply put, anyone who openly rejects the outward sign shows contempt for God's word and promises. We can not regard such people confidently as members of the church. God alone knows the reality.

On the other hand, suppose someone is unable to receive water baptism. The thief on the cross, for instance, or someone converted just before martyrdom. It is a great relief to know that God looks upon the heart. Faith and the Spirit unite us to Christ. Water washes the outside of the cup, so to speak, but the Spirit performs inward washing and renewal (Cf. Titus 3:3-8). Therefore, God can impart grace to all who desire it by faith, with or without water.

Conclusion

Baptism is not essential to justification. Nevertheless, it is a necessary step in the path of discipleship to which we are called. Moreover, it is a comforting sign of grace to all who trust the promises. So, to rehash Jesus' word's concerning sabbath, "the sacraments were made for man, not man for the sacraments."


Persuading Others of Perseverance

Recently, a friend was invited by fellow Christians to discuss her belief in the doctrine of perseverance of the saints. Some of those attending are not persuaded. How would you prepare for such a discussion? Here’s some of what I shared with her. I hope you find it helpful.

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The Issue

Reformed Christians have long recognized a certain unhappy logic to the belief that one can lose salvation. If some whom the Spirit regenerated are later damned, it would mean salvation rests decisively upon one’s will, even if only to continue believing. In this case, the basic difference between those who persevere unto eternal life and others who don't would not be God’s grace given freely in Jesus Christ—both groups having received the same Spirit—but that the former were more willingness to continue cooperate. Remember, however, this ability to will faith is not itself morally neutral. Belief in Christ is absolutely good and right.

Reformed believers understand this perseverance in faith to be a gift of God imparted by the Spirit, part of the “first fruits” of sanctification. By contrast, those who think salvation can and sometimes is forfeited by genuine believers imply that faith’s decisive fortitude must be found within, and it makes all the difference in who is saved and lost. Therefore, if not explicitly teaching salvation by good works, any system of doctrine which denies perseverance fundamentally degrades the Gospel into salvation by good will, which is essentially the same thing. It’s a subtle shift away from faith in Christ alone to faith at least partly in ourselves.

Where to Begin?

The best resources are probably right at your fingertips. Namely, I recommend you carefully read the Canons of Dort (official URC version). They were written to address this very issue. In particular, the Fifth Head of Doctrine (p. 278 in the version linked above) concerns Perseverance of the Saints. The entire Canons are worth studying in detail and are probably better than most books and articles in terms of compact clarity.

Bible Verses on Perseverance

Here's a site called Five Solas that lists all the Scripture references one could hope for, such as, "he who began a good work in you will complete it to the day of Christ Jesus," and, "they went out from us in order that it might be manifest that they were not of us, for had they been of us, they most certainly would have continued with us."

Most Important

Now, most importantly, let's pray together for God to grant grace both to you and them, to have opened hearts and winsome character. After all, our goal is to comfort one another with the sure mercies of Jesus. Grace to it! I'll pray for you even now. Let me know how things go or if you have additional questions.

Rev. Spotts

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 1 | #40

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Infographic: You Have More Time for Bible Reading than You Think

How long it takes average readers to finish different books of the Bible? Here’s a striking visual representation. Takeaway: “Do you have a spare 5 minutes in your day? Take up and read the book of Jude or maybe even Obadiah. Do you have 15 minutes? Read Ruth or Philippians. Do you have an hour? Immerse yourself in Nehemiah or Romans.” HT: Nicol P.

Why did Jesus say he wouldn’t drink wine again until the kingdom when he ate and drank other things?

In Mark 14:25, Jesus says he won’t drink of the vine until the Kingdom. But soon after drinks vinegar. So how do those fit together? Here’s an answer to one of those I-didn’t-realize-that-was-a-question questions.

Jesus Celebrates Hanukkah!

An archeological look back on the history and possible significance of our Lord’s participation in this intertestamental feast.

Free Book: The Story of Redemption

In case you missed it last week… Crossway is giving away digital copies of an overview of the whole Bible. Basically, each book of Scripture receives a 1-2 page summary connecting it with the Gospel and other major themes.

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 1 | #39

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Free Book: The Story of Redemption

This month, Crossway is giving away digital copies of an overview of the whole Bible. Basically, each book of Scripture receives a 1-2 page summary connecting it with the Gospel and other major themes.

Cultural winsomeness will not be enough for Christians

“No amount of cultural sophistication or intelligence will absolve the Christian from being seen as a backward-thinking bigot.” An important reality check, especially for our younger members.

What Are the “High Places” in the Old Testament, and How Does That Apply to Us Today?

Randy Alcorn provides some biblical background and explanation for this recurring phrase.

The Tree of Life

So what’s the deal with the tree of life in Genesis? Patrick Fairbairn, an esteemed Scottish minister and theologian, provides his take.

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.