Sunday, February 20, 2011

NT Use of OT Part 1: Introduction to the Issue

The first topic I want to address on this blog is New Testament use of the OT. Now that I have finished my book, Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation, I have spent most of my research time looking into how the NT authors use the OT. The more I dig into this issue the more fascinated I am by it. Here are some stats that highlight the importance of this topic:

--There are 224 direct citations introduced by a definite formula indicating that the NT writer purposed to quote the OT.

--The references to the OT in the NT occupy 352 verses of the NT. This is 4.4 percent of the NT.

--One verse in 22.5 of the NT is a quotation of the OT.

--When allusions are taken into consideration it can be said that more than ten percent of the NT is made up of citations or direct allusions to the OT (figures are from Roger Nicole, “New Testament Use of the Old Testament”).

NT use of the OT is one of the most important topics in biblical interpretation. As Walter Kaiser stated, “The relationship between the OT and the NT stands as one of the foremost, if not the leading, problems in biblical research of this century.”

I also believe that this issue is one of the most neglected topics in hermeneutics. If you read textbooks on hermeneutics often there is little specific discussion and instruction on how to understand how the NT authors use the OT. I have taken several hermeneutics courses in my academic career but I don’t think I ever received detailed instruction on this issue. In the past I have also taught several classes on Bible interpretation in churches, but to be honest I do not think I have offered much help on this topic. Ask yourself, when is the last time you heard a serious discussion in your church about how the NT writers used the OT? Perhaps there are some who can think of a time, but I would guess that most cannot.

So why is NT use of the OT an oft-neglected topic? Here are some possible reasons:

First, I don’t think Christians are aware of how often the NT uses the OT. It is often not on their radar. Nor are they aware that how the NT uses the OT has a great bearing on how one understands the kingdom of God, the people of God, the law of God, and the covenants of Scripture.

Second, there are major areas of disagreement on this issue from Christian leaders and scholars. This can lead us to throw our hands up in the air in frustration. Major differences exist between Covenant theologians and Dispensationalists. And not only that, differences within these camps exist.
Third, the articles and books that address this issue are often technical, sometimes confusing, and generally difficult to understand. Even those who are making good points often state their points in ways that are difficult to grasp and apply.

Fourth, this is a complicated issue with no silver bullet solution or formula that answers all our questions.

For the student of Scripture, understanding how the NT uses the OT is an important and worthwhile task, but one that will take much study and skill.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to blog on this topic! I'm incredibly excited to read your thoughts. I just purchased "Commentary on the NT Use of the OT" by Carson & Beale on Logos.

  2. Morgan, thanks for your interest. I have interacted with this book too. Maybe that can be part of our discussion.

  3. Mike, thank you for taking time to teach the Body of Christ online. I have always greatly benefitted from your indepth research and clarity of thought. Keep up the good work, brother! I look forward to more in the future. Go Huskers!

  4. Hey Phil, great to have contact with you again. I'd like to hear what you are doing and where you're at.

  5. Dr. Vlach,

    I'm looking forward to your posts! I sincerely appreciate the way you consistently make theological issues so clear. God has given you a tremendous gift to articulate biblical truth in a way that vast ranges of listeners can understand. I thank the Lord for having had the opportunity to study underneath you at TMS.


  6. Thank you Jeff. I hope I can be clear on this topic. This is a tough one.

  7. Thanks for blogging and specifically for spending time on this topic. I am amazed - literally amazed - that there is not more interest in it. Given that Luke 24 describes how Jesus opened the eyes of His apostles to the Scriptures after His resurrection, it obvious that if we study their writings and how they viewed the OT, we will learn the Lord's hermeneutic.