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Saturday, April 9, 2011

NT Use of OT Part 20: Acts 13:47 and Isa 49:6

Is Acts 13:47 a case of non-contextual usage of the OT? With Acts 13:46–47, Paul and Barnabas quote Isa 49:6 in reference to their ministry to the Gentiles:

Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you [Jews] first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.
‘For so the Lord has commanded us,
“I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES,
THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.”’

Isaiah 49:6 is a strategic OT passage that is used not only here but also in reference to Jesus in Luke 2:32 and Acts 26:23. The Isaiah passage itself states that the coming “Servant” would restore Israel and be a light of the nations. What is somewhat controversial here is that Paul and Barnabas say Isa 49:6 referenced them (“us”) and not Jesus.

So is this a case of non-contextual use of an OT passage? Not at all. This is an instance where the message of Jesus, the Servant, is also the message of His followers—in this case Paul and Barnabas. Paul viewed himself as an ambassador for Christ (see 2 Cor 5:20), so why wouldn’t Christ’s message of salvation going to the Gentiles in addition to Israel also be that of Paul and Barnabas. As Klyne Snodgrass states:

Often words that find their climax in Jesus find further correspondence in his followers. If Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6 as the light to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32), the words can still be applied to Paul (Acts 13:47).[1]

G. K. Beale rightly links Paul’s connection with Jesus to that of “corporate representation”:

And it is this same idea of corporate representation which allows Paul in his own mind to understand how the very context of the Isaiah 49 servant could apply to himself without distorting the way in which he thought it may have been intended originally. Furthermore, in that he was continuing the mission of Jesus, the Servant, he could easily apply this Servant prophecy to himself.[2]

I seriously doubt that if we were able to ask the apostle Paul that he would say that Isa 49:6 only referred to him and Barnabas. He, of course, viewed Isaiah 49:6 as being ultimately fulfilled with Jesus. In fact, in Acts 26:23 Paul argued that the prophets and Moses declared that “the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” Paul probably had Isa 49:6 in mind when he stated this. Thus, Paul viewed Isaiah 49:6 as being fulfilled with Christ.

Acts 13:47, therefore, is another case of contextual usage of the OT by a NT person.


[1] Klyne Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New, ed. G. K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 38.
[2] G. K. Beale, “The Old Testament Background of Reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5–7,” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts, 230–31.

2 comments:

  1. It's helpful to hear from you that Beale has some merit. His commentary on Revelation is a metaphorical disaster, in my view.

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  2. When Beale argues for an organic connection between the OT and the NT I strongly agree with him. When it comes to how Jesus fulfills the OT I have serious disagreements.

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