Monday, March 14, 2011

NT Use of OT Part 13: Matt 2:15/Hos 11:1 and Divine Correspondence between Israel and Jesus

Matt 2:15 may be the most discussed and debated verse when it comes to the NT use of the OT debate. In fact, when I tell people I’m studying this topic I often hear something like, “So what’s your view of Matt 2:15 and its use of Hosea 11:1?” So let’s introduce this text and I’ll give you my thoughts.

Matthew 2:13–14 states that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempt to kill the child. Matt 2:15 then relates Jesus’ return from Egypt with Israel’s journey in the exodus from Egypt centuries earlier:

He [Jesus] remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”

Jesus’ return from Egypt is said to “fulfill” the event of Israel’s journey from Egypt at the time of the exodus. The natural question is, “How can Jesus’ return from Egypt be a fulfillment of an historical event that happened centuries earlier?” It appears that Hos 11:1 is referring to a historical event. So how can a reference to an historical event hundreds of years earlier be fulfilled in Jesus?

Some claim this is an example of Matthew using second temple Judaism hermeneutical principles in which an OT text is taken out of its original historical context and applied to the present. If this is the case, this would be a non-literal or non-contextual use of Hos 11:1. Others have said that Matthew is reinterpreting Hos 11:1 and changing a historical reference into a prophecy about Christ.

I do not believe that either option above is accurate. Instead, I believe this is a case, similar to Matt 1:22-23/Isa 7:14, where Matthew is highlighting a correspondence between an important event in Israel’s history and an event in Jesus’ life to show the strong connection between the nation Israel and her corporate head—Jesus Christ. In sum, I believe Matt 2:15 is a case of “Divine Correspondence between Israel and Jesus.”

Remember that the term “fulfill” (pleroo) does not always refer to a verbal prophecy. The word can refer to a strong connection between historical events. Events in Jesus’ life can “fill up” or “heighten” the significance of earlier events. So not just verbal prophecies point to Jesus; events in Israel’s history also can point to Jesus. Here are key points of correspondence between Matt 2:15 and Hos 11:1:

            --Just as the people of Israel left Egypt so too Jesus left Egypt.
            --Just as Israel was called by God, so too Jesus is called by God.
            --Just as Israel was God’s son, so too Jesus is God’s Son.
--Just as Israel needed deliverance from bondage under a leader—Moses, so too Israel again needed deliverance from bondage under the leader—Jesus Christ.

It may also be the case that Matthew intended to show Jesus as succeeding where the people of Israel failed. Thus, under inspiration, Matthew tells us there is a divine correspondence between Israel’s exodus from Egypt and Jesus’ leaving Egypt.

This form of argument may not be impressive to a 21st century reader. But such a historical connection would have been persuasive to a first century Jew. As Craig Blomberg notes, “[F]or believing Jews, merely to discern striking parallels between God’s actions in history, especially in decisive moments of revelation and redemption, could convince them of divinely intended ‘coincidence.’”[1]  He also says, “The logic is not identical to the classic ‘proof from prophecy’ arguments of much of church history, but given the theistic worldview that presupposes, it was every bit as compelling in first century Judaism.”[2]  In other words, historical correspondence may not be so impressive to a modern reader but it was a big deal to a first century Jew. To the first century audience, it could not merely be by chance that both Israel and Jesus were called out of Egypt.

But what did Hosea understand when he penned Hos 11:1? Hosea clearly was referring to the historical event of the Exodus so no further revelation can or will change this fact. But did Hosea also intend more? Is there a hint of futurity or prophecy in his statement? Some have noted that the concept of “son” is a pregnant concept loaded with messianic significance. The term has such messianic significance in 2 Sam 7:14; and Psalm 2:7. Thus, the antecedent or previous theology of which Hosea was aware may have automatically caused him to see future significance in his use of “son.” Some disagree arguing that Hosea’s other uses of “son” in his book carry no such future significance.

So whether Hosea foresaw a future aspect of his “son” reference is hard to say. I slightly lean against the view that he did. Clearly God knew that Hosea’s reference to “son” would have future significance to Jesus. And Matthew, under inspiration, recognized this relationship. Some have claimed that this is a case of sensus plenior in which God intended a meaning beyond what Hosea meant. While I agree that God knew and intended a significance that Hosea did not consciously understand, I am reluctant to call this a case of sensus plenior. I think it is always the case where God understands the full significance of OT passages more than the OT authors themselves knew, but I am reluctant to call this fuller or double meaning. In this regard I think we need to distinguish between “meaning” and “significance.” Instead, I think this is a case where Matthew understood Hosea 11:1 contextually and in doing so noted a divine correspondence between Israel and Jesus. This is not non-literal hermeneutics but the use of contextual hermeneutics to discover a correspondence or type.

[1] Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, eds. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 8.
[2] Ibid.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for your post. I sense a real reluctance on your part to subscribe to sensus plenior, and I can see why. To do so is to open Pandora's Box wide enough to let amillennialism out. On the other hand, Peter himself admitted that the prophets didn't understand all they wrote (1 Peter 1:10-12).

  3. Hi Al, Thanks for your comments. I don't see sensus plenior as an amillennialism vs. premillennialism issue. A lot of dispensationalists believe in sensus plenior. But I think I see what you're getting at.

  4. Merry Christmas from Genesis 38 (in sensus plenior):

    and the rules which keep it from free-for-all allegory:

    I hope it blesses you.