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Our Lord's Use of the Old Testament

R.V.G. Tasker
(Professor of New Testament Exegesis in the University of London)

The Campbell Morgan Memorial Bible Lectureship, No. 5
Wednesday 10[th] June 1953
Westminster Chapel, Buckingham Gate, London, S.W.1
[Reproduced by permission]

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"The Son of man goeth even as it is written of Him."
(Matt. xxvi. 24).
"He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures."
(Luke xxiv, 45, R.S.V.)

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I should like first of all to say how much I appreciate the invitation to deliver this fifth Campbell Morgan Bible Lecture, I am conscious, however, of a sense not only of privilege but also of responsibility; and, should I fail to discharge my obligation as well as I myself might wish or as you might expect, the failure will not be due to any lack of appreciation on my part of the very high ideals of biblical exposition and preaching which Campbell Morgan so faithfully followed. And I rejoice with you that these ideals are still exemplified in this place to the glory of God and the edification of His people in the widely-valued and much-blessed ministry of his successor.

The subject which I have chosen to bring before you on this occasion is one which, we may be very sure, would have appealed to him, whose memory this lectureship was founded to perpetuate. it is indeed a subject of fundamental importance for a true appreciation of the unity of the Bible, and for a right understanding of our Lord's person and work; and it is therefore of special interest and concern to all who are unashamed champions of Biblical Christianity. It is obvious that nothing approaching an exhaustive treatment is possible within the limited space at our disposal. I shall therefore content myself with trying to illustrate from the Gospels the three following propositions, which I regard as axiomatic in any sound exegesis of the New Testament.

I. In our Lord's judgment the Old Testament foreshadowed the part which He Himself was to play in bringing to its glorious climax the divine plan for man's salvation. "Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms", as He subdivided the contents of the Old Testament (Lk. xxiv. 44), all contained "things concerning Himself"; and in consequence they were the vital and determining factor in the shaping and in the fulfilment of His divine vocation.

II, The numerous allusions to the Old Testament to be found in our Lord's teaching, some direct and others indirect, some explicit and others implicit, some transparent and obvious and others more hidden and subtle, afford unmistakable evidence not only of His comprehensive knowledge of the Old Testament in all its parts but of His evaluation of it as eternal truth, the word of God "spoken", as the Epistle to the Hebrews asserts, "unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners" (Heb. i. 1).

III. The Old Testament was the final and absolute authority to which our Lord invariably appealed without apology in His controversies with His opponents in order to justify His claims, vindicate His authority, and substantiate His judgments.

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In the light of the evidence produced in illustration of these three propositions I shall in conclusion offer some criticism of the attempts made by many in the modern world to explain away, or at least radically to discount the validity of our Lord's treatment of the Old Testament, particularly at those points where it conflicts with their own critical conclusions about the origin and nature of the Hebrew Scriptures.


I

The Gospels, which are not psychological studies, do not tell us how or when our Lord first became conscious that He was a unique person with a unique task to perform. The mystery of the developing consciousness of One who was perfect God as well as perfect Man, must always be beyond the capacity of our finite understanding. It is, however, illuminating that the only incident recorded about our Lord's boyhood suggests that the Old Testament was already for Him at the age of twelve a subject not only of absorbing general interest but of special personal significance. He is now aware that God is His Father in a unique sense and that "His Father's business" must be the prime concern of His life; and He is also aware that in order to understand His Father's business He must learn by every means available to Him all that can be learned about His Father's dealings with His own chosen people Israel, into which He Himself had been born, It is surely very revealing that His parents found Him after that Passover festival in the temple "sitting in the midst of the doctors and asking them questions" (Lk. ii. 46): and who can doubt that many of His questions were concerned with the Passover ritual which He had just witnessed; with the age-long hope of Israel and the coming of the long-expected Messiah; and whether or not the signs of the times justified the hope that that coming might be immediate.

Be this as it may, when the curtain rises again in the Gospels on the drama of our Lord's earthly life, the Old Testament is found to be uppermost in His thoughts. He is now about thirty years old. News has reached Him in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth that the note of true prophecy is once again being sounded in the land after a silence of four hundred years. John the Baptist is calling Israel to return to the Lord, as the prophets had so often done in the past. But now the call is being made with a very special urgency, for the Kingdom of God is at hand, and One is coming who will baptise "with spirit and with fire", One, in other words, who has both divine power to bestow and divine judgment to dispense. Our Lord, it would seem, is at once aware of the significance of the appearance of John. Because the Old Testament has become by now so much a part of Himself, He knows that in John the divine words spoken through the prophet Malachi are being fulfilled. "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" (Mal. iv. 5). John himself was too humble to regard himself as another Elijah (Jn. i. 21): but that our Lord regarded him as such

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is very clear from the words He uttered later to His apostles on the way down from the Mount of Transfiguration: "I say unto you that Elijah is come already and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, even as it is written of him" (Mk. ix, 13). There is no direct prophecy in the Old Testament of the persecution and martyrdom of John the Baptist: but Elijah was a type of the messenger who would precede the Messiah; and our Lord clearly recognised that John had suffered the fate that his enemies had intended for Elijah. He had found in Merodias his Jezebel (1 Kings xix. 2, 10).

Our Lord associated Himself very closely with this national return to God on the part of Israel; and, unconscious though He was of personal sin, He presented Himself for John's baptism as an act of vicarious penitence. The significance of the account of His Baptism, for our present purpose, lies in the message from heaven which He heard as He emerged from the water: "Thou art my beloved Son; in Thee I am well-pleased". The voice was the same voice that He had heard speaking through psalmist and prophet, and it was still speaking the same language. Passages that stood in the Old Testament in separation, part of a verse from a psalm and part of a verse from Isaiah, were now combined in order to present Him with a special message of direct application to Himself. He was God's unique Son, and He was chosen by His Father to play in all its perfection the part delineated for the ideal servant of God (Ps. ii. 7; Is. xlii. 1). There were therefore to be two sides to His work upon earth. He was to demonstrate that He was God's Son by a display of His divine powers; and He was to spend Himself in the service of mankind by suffering even unto death.

The temptations that followed immediately were temptations to rely upon the first part of the message spoken to Him at His baptism to such an extent that He might be able to avoid treading the way marked out for Him in the second part. He was tempted to end too soon the fast which He imposed upon Himself in self-discipline; to try to win men's allegiance by some startling act which would apparently lead to His self-destruction, but from which fate He could rely on being saved by the intervention of His Father; and to avoid the hard road of suffering and sacrifice by capitulating to the forces of evil and using the devil's weapons to further God's work. But so strong an armoury of defence had the Old Testament become to Him that in every instance authoritative words from the story of Israel's temptations in the wilderness of Sinai came at once to the aid of Israel's Christ in the wilderness of Judaea (Mt. iv. 1-10). Israel had learned through bitter experience that what was of paramount importance if it was to be indeed God's people was obedience to the expressed will of God; for "man doth not live by bread alone but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Deut, viii. 3). So too must the Christ be utterly loyal to His calling. Israel had been warned that it must not tempt God by trying to create situations in order to force God to display His power within those situations (Deut. vi. 16), Neither must the Christ. Israel had been sternly

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admonished that God was a jealous God who would never be satisfied with the allegiance of a divided heart or with a worship shared with other "gods" (See Deut. v. 9). Still less must the divine Son offer to His Father anything other than entire loyalty and absolute obedience.

The mighty works of our Lord, so characteristic of the first part of His ministry, were not, let us notice, performed in any haphazard manner, or from merely humanitarian considerations, though His compassion for sinful and suffering men and women was unbounded. Behind His actions lay the consciousness that He was doing precisely what it was foretold in Scripture that God's Servant should do. As He informed the congregation in the Synagogue at Nazareth the prophecy of Isaiah lxi. 1 was being fulfilled in Himself. His own mighty deeds could not be dissociated, He said in effect, from the gospel He had come to proclaim to those who were humble enough to receive it wherever they might be found, a gospel of release from the fetters of human sin (Luke iv. 18). And it is significant that to John the Baptist's question from prison 'Art thou He that should come or look we for another?' our Lord's answer took the form of an appeal to His own mighty deeds as constituting an exact fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecies of the blessings that would characterise the Messianic age (Mt. xi. 23; Isaiah xxxv. 5, 6). Capernaum, which witnessed these mighty deeds but was so blinded by pride that it failed to see their significance, rendered itself in our Lord's judgment liable to more severe penalties even than those which awaited Sodom and Gomorrah; and He denounced it in the language with which God had denounced Babylon of old through the mouth of Isaiah, "And thou Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? Thou shalt go down unto Hades." (Matthew xi. 23; Isaiah xiv. 13, 15.) This failure to accept Him did not come as a surprise to our Lord. He was well aware that His presence amongst men would cause divisions even within the intimate circle of the family. He described the nature of those divisions in the words used by Micah as a description of the degenerate features of the age in which the prophet lived. "I am come," He said, "to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother." The inevitable result of His coming is here described, according to Semitic idiom, as though it was His deliberate intention to bring it about. (Matthew x. 35; Micah vii. 6).

But the many mighty works of Jesus which constituted His miracles were preliminary to His one supreme work of giving His own life a ransom for many. He had given hints at an early stage in His ministry of this inevitable consummation of His life. Knowing that He must be lifted up on a cross that men and women, stricken with the mortal disease of sin, might be healed and restored to life, He had seen in the exaltation by Moses of the brazen serpent on a pole for the removal of the physical suffering of the people a symbolic representation of the greater salvation which He had come to make possible for mankind (John iii. 14). It was essentially because His destined task was to bring men the redemption without which there can be no real wisdom, that

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He could assert that there was present something greater than Solomon, whose wisdom the queen of the South came from the ends of the earth to hear (Luke xi. 31). And because He had come to bring the gift of forgiveness and eternal life to all who would repent, something greater was present than Jonah, by responding to whose call to repentance one city, albeit the wicked city of Nineveh, was saved from destruction (Luke xi. 32). It was not however till after Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi that our Lord gave explicit teaching about His death. And at the transfiguration six days after the confession not only did Peter, James and John receive the divine command to accept the teaching of God's beloved Son even, the context implies, when He spoke of Himself as one destined to be humiliated and put to death; but our Lord Himself came to understand more fully in the mysterious conversation between Himself, Moses and Elijah that the "exodus" of God's people from the bondage of sin which He was to bring about could not be accomplished, as the exodus of the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt had been accomplished in the days of Moses, before the death of the deliverer: nor could He be translated into heaven, as Elijah had been, without experiencing first the kind of death that Elijah's enemies had plotted for him. It behoved the Christ to consummate His life's work in death; to suffer and so enter into His glory (Luke ix. 28-38 Luke xxiv. 26).

Our Lord did not however cease to be Israel's King because He was God's suffering servant. On the contrary it was precisely in witnessing to the truth of the love of God for sinners in His own suffering that His Kingship lay. It was nevertheless important that the nature of His Kingship should not be misunderstood. So when the Jerusalem crowd went out to meet him on Palm Sunday carrying palm branches and crying, 'Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel,' He deliberately, so St. John's narrative seems to imply, found a young ass, and sat upon it so that He might ride into the holy city as Zechariah had foretold that one day a King would come, not mounted upon a war-horse but 'just and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass'. (John xii. 12-15; Zech. ix. 9).

Our Lord's Kingdom was in reality a kingdom in which He could reign over men's hearts just because He was their perfect High-Priest, who established for them a new covenant with God, ratified by the shedding of His own blood, To this truth He gave dramatic and memorable expression, when against the Old Testament background of the passover meal He brake bread inthe Upper Room and bade His disciples see in it a symbol of His own body given in sacrifice; and when He poured out wine and said: 'This is My blood of the covenant which is shed for many'. (Mark xiv. 24). Although all manuscripts do not have the word 'new' before 'covenant' in this passage, it reveals clearly that our Lord was conscious that by His own death complete remission of sins would be effected. He was ratifying a new covenant between God and man and bringing to fulfilment the great prophecy about the new covenant in Jeremiah (Jer. xxxi. 33-34). The influence moreover of

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Isaiah liii. 11, 'My righteous servant shall justify many 'is also unmistakable in the words 'shed for many'.

In the closing stages of the great drama of redemption, as our Lord drew nearer to His appointed cross, it was the Old Testament which interpreted for Him incidents that might otherwise have been bewildering. Sometimes He was able to anticipate events in the light of prophecy and so was unsurprised when they occurred; at other times any shock that events might at first cause Him was at once removed as He recollected how inevitable it was that all should happen in accordance with the Scriptures.

On the way from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives He warns His Apostles of what the immediate future holds in store both for Himself and for them. He is the Shepherd and they are His little flock; but the sheep are to be temporarily scattered, though (with a single exception) not finally lost, while the Good Shepherd lays down His life for them. He knows that this must be so in view of what stands written in the prophet Zechariah: 'I will smite the Shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered abroad' (Zech. xiii. 7): and the subtle change which He makes in the quotation, substituting 'I will smite' for 'smite', would seem to be due to His desire to emphasise that it was His Heavenly Father who was the prime mover in the incidents which constituted the passion of His Son.[1] As Isaiah had foretold 'it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. He hath put Him to grief' (Isaiah liii. 10).

It must indeed have been very terrible to our Lord that one of His chosen twelve who had so often shared meals with Him in the fellowship of the apostolic band should be His betrayer; but, as He had told them in the Upper Room, the Psalmist's words had to be fulfilled: 'He that eateth my bread lifteth up his heel (like a rampageous horse resisting his master's control) against Me.' (John xiii. 18; Psalm xli. 9). Our Lord could and did keep eleven of His apostles out of the clutches of the evil one; but one of the twelve was doomed to be lost, and it was part of the deep mystery of the divine purpose that this should be so. 'I guarded them,' He said to His Father in His final intercessory prayer, 'and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled' (John xvii. 12).

It clearly seemed strange to our Lord at first that the chief priests and the scribes, who were taking joint action to bring about His downfall, instead of arresting Him openly in the temple, where day by day He had been teaching, should have stooped to methods usually taken to bring about the capture of some desperate bandit. 'Are ye come out, as against a robber,' He asked, 'with swords and staves to seize Me?' But all such amazement was soon transformed into resignation as He remembered that to be treated as such a dangerous outlaw, to be 'numbered amongst the transgressors', was precisely part of the role ordained for Him. So He concluded His protest to His assailants wvith the words 'But let the scriptures be fulfilled' (Mark xiv, 49 R.S.V). Though He could have escaped the shame that awaited Him by sum-

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moning to His aid twelve legions of angels, He bowed His head submissively before the march of events, for 'how otherwise', He asked, 'should the scripture be fulfilled that it must be?' (Matthew xxvi. 54).

And the Scriptures continued to be consciously fulfilled by Him to the very end; in Gethsemane, when He consented to drink 'the cup of the Lord's fury', as Isaiah had called it (Isaiah ii. 22), and so experience the sum total of sin's outrage against the holiness of God; at the trial before Caiaphas, when He was able to say to His human judges in a composite quotation from the psalmist and the prophet Daniel 'Henceforth' (i.e. because the conditions of His entrance into glory were now being satisfied) 'ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven'; (Mat. xxvi. 64; Psalm cx. 1; Daniel vii. 13); at Golgotha when, knowing that the Servant of God must make intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah liii. 12), He prayed 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do' (Luke xxiii. 34); and on the cross itself, when He experienced the horror and the desolation of the separation from God that is created by human sin, and cried, giving the Psalmist's words an intensity of meaning that they had never had before, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' And because He had in this manner 'endured the cross despising the shame' He was able to surrrender His incarnate life to His Father before He died in the words of the Psalmist, no doubt long familiar to Him, 'Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit' (Luke xxiii. 46).

At that point we must bring the first part of our study to a close; and in doing so I would submit that enough evidence has been given to justify the assertion that at every vital point in our Lord's earthly ministry the Old Testament was there, in His heart if not in His hands, in His thoughts if not in His words, determining the course that ministry should take, and providing the only possible language for its interpretation.


II

When we consider the use of the Old Testament by our Lord in illustration of His more general teaching, two things at once strike us. First, we notice that the quarry from which these illustrations are taken is as large as the Old Testament itself. That our Lord had the entire collection of Hebrew Scriptures under His review and at His service becomes clear when we find that to His warning that the blood of all the prophets that was shed from the foundation of the world would be required of the generation that He was addressing He made the revealing addition 'from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the sanctuary' (Luke xi. 51): for the record of Abel's murder is found at the beginning of Genesis, the first book in the Hebrew Canon, and that of Zechariah's in 2 Chronicles the book with which the Hebrew Scriptures closed (2 Chron. xxiv. 21). It is also relevant to notice that, when our Lord appealed to a verse in the Psalms which speaks of the judges of Israel as 'gods' (Psalm lxxxii,

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6), He asserted that the statement was true because it came from a book which was part of Scripture, and possesses an authority so absolute that it 'cannot be broken'. It is authoritative in all its parts (John x. 34-36). Although the expression "the scripture" in the singular usually seems to refer to a particular passage of Scripture, it may be that the words in Jn. x. 35 translated in R.S.V. "and scripture cannot be broken" mean "and scripture cannot be disintegrated". If this is so, our Lord would here be deprecating any selective treatment of Scripture. It must be seen and treated as a whole.

Secondly, we cannot fail to be struck by the tremendous solemnity with which our Lord speaks, as He recalls the catastrophes that overtook the primitive world in general, and Israel in particular in the days of her greatest iniquity. These He presents as proof positive of the destruction which must come upon all civilisations built upon human pride, and of the final retribution that awaits the unrepentant sinner. When He would teach men the nature of true spiritual glory, the glory of unostentatiously doing the will of God, He contrasts it with the artificial glory, for which men so often and so feverishly strive, the glory attained by a conscious straining after effect and by the lavish display of wealth, the glory that is fed by the love of luxury and the lust for power. Combining a sensitive appreciation of nature as God's handiwork with an intimate understanding of Scripture as God's word, He contrasts the glory of a single one of the common flowers of Palestine with the glory of the reign of King Solomon, when wealth of mine and forest poured into Jerusalem for the execution of the monarch's stupendous building programme, which brought much outward glory but no permanent blessing to Israel. "Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Mt. vi. 29).

When, moreover, our Lord wished to emphasise how easily preoccupation with the affairs of this life blinds the soul to the inevitability of coming judgment, He reminds His listeners how men ate and drank, and married and were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed them (Lk. xvii. 27). Similarly, when He would warn men against the danger of moral backsliding and spiritual relapse, He recalls to their memories the shortest biography in the world, encompassed in the Old Testament within the limits of a single sentence (Gen. xix. 26) and retold by Himself in three penetrating words "Remember Lot's wife" (Lk. xvii. 32). How naturally and how spontaneously did these exemplary acts of divine judgment come to our Lord's mind as concrete illustrations of the truths He wished to underline: and now that they have a place in the New Testament as well as in the Old, having received the imprimatur of the incarnate Son of God, with what added solemnity must they speak their message to all who have ears to hear them. No external piety practised within the supposed sanctity of a sacred building can render the unrepentant sinner immune from divine judgment: a truth to which our Lord Himself gave expression in an act of effective symbolism, when ±Ie drove the moneychangers

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from the temple, because they were turning what God had intended to be, in Isaiah's words, "a house of prayer for all nations" (Is. lvi. 7) into a place where they sought to salve their consciences after fraudulent practices, a "den of robbers" as Jeremiah described it (Jer. vii. 11).

Such direct references to the Old Testament as these stand out so clearly in our Lord's teaching that no reader can miss them. There are, however, other references of a more indirect and subtle kind, whose significance is not so readily detected even by the careful student; and to some of these I would now call your attention.

No reader can fail for example to notice that when our Lord quotes the Psalmist's words "The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner" (Lk. xx. 17; Ps. cxviii. 22), He sees in them a prophecy of the triumph which will follow His own rejection. It is not however so obvious, but equally true, that in the following words, as recorded by St. Luke, He is drawing upon another passage of Scripture (Is. viii. 14-15) to illustrate a complementary truth. Just as Isaiah had taught that the Lord of Hosts was not only a Sanctuary to those that feared Him but also a "stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" to those who neglected Him or approached Him in the wrong spirit, so too our Lord asserted that everyone who set himself in deliberate opposition to Him who was "the headstone of the corner" in the divine edifice which was the true Israel of God would find that that Stone would fall upon him in judgment. "Everyone that falleth upon that stone shall be broken in pieces; but on whomsoever it shall fall it shall scatter him as dust" (Lk. xx. 18).

Nor is it generally realised that there are certain details in our Lord's parables which become far more full of meaning when interpreted in the light of the Old Testament. Why for example did the father of the returning prodigal order that a ring should be placed on his hand and that he should be dressed in the best robe (Lk. xv. 22)? The answer is clear. The ring was a sign of his restored status of sonship, even as the gift of a signet ring by Pharaoh to Joseph was a sign that he occupied a recognised position in the royal court and was invested with the king's authority (Gen. xli. 42); and to be clothed with rich apparel was a sign that his iniquity was forgiven, as it had been in the days of the prophet Zechariah, when the angel of the Lord confronted Joshua the high-priest and said to those that stood before him "Take the filthy garments from off him", and then added to Joshua, "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with rich apparel" (Zech. iii. 4).

Another similar indirect allusion to the Old Testament may perhaps be found in the parable of the Great Supper. When we read in St. Luke's version of that story the excuses put forward by three of those who refused the gracious invitation, we are apt at first to think they were very good excuses. Particularly perhaps do we feel this in the case of the man who said "I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come" (Lk. xiv. 20). For how preposterous that a honeymoon should be postponed that the bridegroom might attend a supper party! And

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the man in question might reasonably have argued that he had the law on his side. For was it not written: "When a man taketh a new wife, he shall not go out in the host, neither shall he be charged with any business" (Deut. xxiv. 5)? The fact that in the parable this excuse is regarded by our Lord as invalid only goes to show still more clearly that it was no ordinary supper to which these men had been invited. They had been bidden to do nothing less than eat bread in the Kingdom of God (Lk. xiv. 15): and when God gives such an invitation the answer must be immediate, unequivocal and unconditional.

In the same way, when we read in the parable of the mustard seed that the seed grew into a tree with large branches "so that the birds of the heaven could lodge under the shadow thereof" (Mt. iv. 32), these last words are not just an extension of the superlative language used to underline the contrast between the greatness of the result and the smallness of the beginning. They are an allusion to the universal character of God's kingdom made in the light of Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream of "the tree upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation" (Dan. iv. 21). Similarly, the parable of the seed growing secretly (Mk. iv. 26-29) becomes a parable of judgment precisely because the concluding words, "he putteth forth his sickle because the harvest is ripe", are a quotation from Joel iii. 13, a passage which forms a picture of divine judgment used again in Rev. xiv, 15. The dramatic climax of the parable of the rich fool (Lk. xii. 20) would seem also to have been influenced by the statement in Job xxvii. 8, "What is the life of the godless, though he get gain, when God taketh away his soul?"

Finally in this connection, we may notice that the parable of the wicked husbandmen demands for its understanding the identification of the vineyard with God's people Israel, to whom His Son was finally sent only to be thrown outside the vineyard and put to death; and our Lord makes that identification by carefully describing the vineyard at the beginning of the Story in the same language as that used of Israel by Isaiah (Mk. xii. 1; Is. v. 1-2). In these last three instances it would seem perverse of commentators to assert that the stories have been rewritten by the evangelists in order to bring out the truths latent in these Old Testament passages, when there is no reason for supposing that our Lord did not Himself deliberately tell the stories in this way that they might convey to the listeners these particular interpretations.

There are other passages where a realisation that our Lord's language is influenced by the Old Testament gives light and colour to His words and enables us to have a richer understanding of them. For example, His much-discussed teaching about non-resistance to personal injury in the sermon on the mount (Mt. v. 39-40) has deeper significance when we discover that it is couched in terms used by Isaiah to depict the ideal servant of God, who says: "I gave my back to the smiter and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Is. 1. 6).[2] As the character of the ideal

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servant has been manifested concretely only in one person, our Lord Jesus Christ, we are thus reminded of the very important truth that the teaching in the sermon on the mount is not a general ethic for all and sundry to try and practice, but the ideal of personal character which every believer should strive to attain, as under the influence of the divine Spirit Christ is formed within him.

Or again, when our Lord asserts that if He "by the finger of God" is casting out devils then the Kingdom of God is come (Lk. xi. 20), His words become more meaningful when we remember that the Egyptian magicians in the days of Pharaoh failed in their attempt to bring forth lice and so emulate the plague induced by the rods of Moses and Aaron; and admitting the impotence of the magical powers at their disposal in the face of this divine visitation they confessed to Pharaoh "This is the finger of God" (Ex. viii. 19).[3]

Or yet again, we all remember the poignant words of our Lord, when on the way down from the Mount of Olives some of the Pharisees asked Him to rebuke His disciples for rejoicing and praising God for all the mighty works they had seen, and for greeting Him as the King that was coming in the name of the Lord. "I tell you," He said, "if these should hold their peace, the stones will cry out" (Lk. xix. 40). But the nature of the cry that He imagined would break forth from the lifeless stones of the houses of Jerusalem becomes clearer, if we can suppose that He had in mind the passage where the prophet Habakkuk pictures the accusation that would be brought against the fraudulent builders of his day who obtained evil gain from their buildings. It was as though their own ill-gotten houses would be given the gift of speech precisely in order to condemn them: "For the stone," says the prophet, "shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it" (Hab. ii. 11).

How naturally and how readily does our Lord turn from the stories of the patriarchs to the utterances of the prophets and vice versa in the sayings that fall on various occasions from His lips. The language of the Bible is His native language. It is also His natural, or perhaps we should say His supernatural, channel of expression, because it is with His Father's business that He is concerned, and the Old Testament is His Father's living and abiding word. That word had gone forth to His servants in ancient days to find a permanent record in the Old Testament; and that word had now descended into human flesh in the person of His incarnate Son. This latter truth our Lord expressed during His interview with Nathaniel in words coloured by the story of Jacob. Jacob had dreamed of a ladder, on which angels ascended and descended, bringing messages from God to man and lifting man's thoughts to God. Nathaniel, "an Israelite indeed," free from the deceit that characterised Jacob before he was given, the new name "Israel," had already recognised in Jesus Israel's King; but Jesus tells him that his discipleship will enable him to see in the realm

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of fact what Jacob had seen only in a dream. For Jesus Himself was the ladder that alone could bridge the gulf between heaven and earth, between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. "Verily, verily I say unto thee Thou shalt see greater things than these. You shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (Jn. i. 51).

A few other instances of our Lord's more indirect allusions to the Old Testament may be briefly mentioned, so that our selection may be as representative as possible. In His exhortation to the seventy on their return from their successful Galilean mission to rejoice that their names were written in heaven (Lk. x. 20), our Lord is recalling, it would seem, the belief, as old as Moses, in the existence of a divine book containing the names of the righteous. Moses was instructed by God that all who had committed the cardinal sin of idolatry by worshipping the golden calf erected by Aaron would be blotted out of that book (Ex. xxxii. 33); and later the Psalmist prayed that the same fate might await those who unjustly persecuted him (Ps. lxix. 28).

Our Lord's reply to His apostles when they complained that the alabaster phial of precious ointment which the woman of Bethany broke over His head might have been sold for much and the proceeds given to the poor (Mk. xiv. 7), is based on the prediction found in the Mosaic law "that the poor shall never cease out of the land" (Deut. xv. 11). And His assurance to His disciples that "nothing is impossible with God", when they asked somewhat faithlessly "Who then can be saved?" (Mk. x. 26) echoes the divine words spoken to Abraham when Sarah laughed at the promise that had been made to her: "Is anything too hard for God?"; words in which the faith of Job found expression when his long trial was ended: "I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be restrained" (Job xlii. 2).

And finally we may notice in passing on to our third proposition, that when our Lord heard that the Pharisees were offended because He had taught that it was only what. came out from the heart of a man that could really defile him, the words that He at once uttered, "Every plant which My Heavenly Father planted not shall be rooted up" (Mt. xv. 13), were based on Isaiah's description of Israel as "the branch of God and the work of His hands" (Is. ix. 21); so that the implication clearly is that in our Lord's judgment these Pharisees were not members of the true Israel in whom God could be glorified.


III

The supreme authority which Our Lord assigned to the Old Testament is again seen most conspicuously in His disputes with the religious leaders of His day. It is clear that the observance of the moral law contained in the Decalogue constituted for Him,, as it did for them, the divinely appointed means of entering into eternal life. "If thou wouldst enter into life," He said, "keep the commandments"; and He then proceeded to recite some of them in detail (Mt. xix. 17-19).

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On another occasion, He stated dogmatically that the divine will with regard to the institution and purpose of marriage was irrevocably stated in two passages in Genesis: "Male and female created He them" and "A man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh" (Mk. x. 6-7; Gen. i. 27; ii. 24). That our Lord in any way set aside the Law of Moses is untrue to the evidence (see Mt. v. 17-19): and His readiness to comply with the regulations of the Law in comparatively secondary matters can be illustrated from His command to the leper to show himself to the priest (Mk. i. 44); from His respect for the Jewish law of evidence (Mt. xviii. 16; Jn. viii. 17), and from His payment of the temple tax (Mt. xvii. 24).

But our Lord knew that before the moral commands of the divine law could be fully kept by sinful man a new birth was necessary; and He expressed surprise that Nicodemus, "the ruler of Israel," should not have known that the promise of this new birth had been given in the Old Testament (Jn. iii. 10). Presumably He had in mind such a passage as Ezekiel xxxvi. 25-27: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you."[4]

Our Lord came into conflict with the Pharisees not because Me was opposed to the written word of the Law, to which both He and they appealed, but because in His judgment the formalism and the casuistry of the legal system which the Pharisees had superimposed upon the Law rendered them insensitive to the living word of God; beguiled them into thinking that the observance of their own rules and regulations must inevitably secure for them the divine favour; and blinded their eyes to Him in whom the divine Law found its perfect fulfilment. What roused His antagonism were such things as the casuistry which justified the practice of Corban; the false deduction that the command to love one's neighbour implied that one should hate one's enemies; the limiting of the divine prohibition of murder and adultery to the specific acts of murder and adultery; the assumption that the only oaths which need be taken seriously were those made by the actual use of the divine name; and the extension of the exception clause in the law of divorce so as to permit divorce "for any cause" whatever.

It was because of all these things that our Lord bade the Pharisees go to school again and learn to interpret the letter of individual passages of Scripture in the light of the Spirit which pervaded Scripture as a whole. When they accused His disciples of desecrating the Sabbath by plucking the ears of corn, not only did He bid them remember the precedent of David when on the Sabbath he ate the shew-bread; but He pointed out to them that if they had known the significance of God's revelation of Himself in the words "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" they would not have condemned the guiltless (Mt. xii. 4-7; Hos. vi. 6). And it was to the same text of Hosea

[p.16]

that He bade them go and learn how completely in accordance with the divine will was His offer of the Kingdom of God not to the self-righteous, but to sinners conscious of their desperate need (Mt. ix. 12, 13). When, moreover, the Sadducees tried to pour scorn on belief in a future life by posing a hypothetical situation in which on the assumption of a life after death the observance of the law of levirate marriage (Deut. xxv. 5ff.) would issue in a reductio ad absurdum, He stated that they greatly erred through ignorance of what the divine words recorded in "the book of Moses" implied, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Mk. xii. 26).

It was to all who in wilful ignorance made these false assumptions and drew these wrong deductions from Scripture, and relied on manmade traditions for salvation, that our Lord applied the words spoken by God through Isaiah to those who combined the worship of God with an insistence upon obedience to their own traditions. "This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrine the precepts of men" (Mk. vii. 6-7; Is. xxix. 13). How much dearer to the heart of our Lord was the lip-service rendered to Him by the children in the temple, when they raised again the shout they had heard on Palm Sunday: "Hosanna to the Son of David." So far from being pained or indignant at the children's behaviour, He recognised that it was His adversaries and the chief-priests and the scribes who were, in fact, being rebuked by the children; and it was to the truth revealed in the eighth Psalm that He drew their attention: "Have ye never read: Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise" (Mt. xxi. 16. R.S.V.).

In the words recorded in John v. 39-47 we have another clear statement of the nature of the conflict between our Lord and His opponents. In this passage He is not condemning them for searching the Scriptures or for thinking that they will find in them eternal life. He attacks them for not seeing that the Old Testament is all the time pointing beyond itself to One still to come, without whom it remains essentially incomplete and imperfectly co-ordinated. They were in reality looking at Scripture apart from the living God who inspired it, and who was still speaking and offering men the gift of eternal life, so that when the Christ came "in the Father's name," with His authority and as His representative, they rejected Him. They had set their hope on Moses' prediction that God would cause all their enemies to vanish before them; but Moses, our Lord tells them, was their accuser, for God had told Moses that He would raise up a prophet like unto himself to whom Israel must hearken (Deut. xviii. 18).

And not only was our Lord conscious that this prophecy of Moses found its fulfilment in Himself. There was also a prophecy of David which clearly had profound significance for Him. This comes to the surface when He questions the Pharisees about the adequacy of the term "Son of David" as a complete description of the Messiah. For David, speaking as our Lord expressly states under divine inspiration,

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indicated that great David's greater Son was in fact David's Lord sharing the dominion of God Himself (Mt. xxii. 43-44; Ps. cx. 1).


IV

This last illustration, in which our Lord not only ascribes the authorship of Psalm cx. to David but also recognizes the divine inspiration with which David spoke, may serve as a fitting transition to a brief consideration of the three main grounds on which our Lord's attitude to the Old Testament as it is presented in the Gospels, tends to be discredited in the modern world. First, it is said that, as the evangelists and other writers of the New Testament have the same attitude to the Old Testament as that alleged to have been held by Jesus Himself, we must allow for the probability that they have attributed to Him many references and allusions which He did not actually make. In other words, when He says "It is written" it is not His acceptance of the authority of Scripture but theirs to which expression is being given. Or, when He alludes to David as the author of Psalm cx, it is their view and not His which is being stated. Some would go further, and maintain that the incidents in which these Old Testament references are found were actually created by the evangelists in the light of those references.

Against this, we may confidently point to the fact that the evangelists, so far from acting haphazardly in this matter, seem to be exercising great care to differentiate their own use of Old Testament proof-texts from quotations made by Jesus Himself. In any case it is most probable if not certain, that the reason why the Apostles and Evangelists' were able to bring together very different passages of Scripture and find in them a source of light illuminating the meaning of their Master's person and mission was precisely because that Master Himself had first directed their minds to the true bearing of such passages; so that some of the quotations from the Old Testament made by the Evangelists, of which no mention has been made in this lecture, may very well have been first made by our Lord Himself. It was not they but He who was the originator in this matter.[5] Any assumption that He could not have used the Old Testament in the manner in which He is reported in the Gospels to have done, would also appear to be in direct conflict with the definite evidence that His fellow-townsmen after hearing Him expound the Scriptures in their local synagogue were astonished at the degree of wisdom He showed in view of His humble earthly origin and His entire lack of professional training (Mt. xiii. 53-56).

Why, moreover, we may pertinently ask, were not more references. to the Old Testament attributed to Him, and in an even clearer and more direct manner, if what is here suggested as the explanation of the' phenomena is really what happened? Above all, why did not the evangelists see to it that the quotations they attributed to our Lord

[p.18]

were always in strict agreement with either the Hebrew or the Septuagint version of the passages in question?' As it is, we sometimes find changes, such as that already noticed in the quotation from Zechariah xiii. 7. ("I will smite" for "Smite"), allowed to remain unaltered in the text. Later copyists of the Gospel manuscripts, as we know, very often brought such passages more into line with the original; as for example when we find the verse from the second Psalm spoken by the heavenly voice at our Lord's baptism quoted at Luke iii. 22 by some authorities in its complete form "Thou art My beloved Son, this day have I begotten Thee". Similarly, it would seem possible from the manuscript evidence both of Matthew and Luke that our Lord quoted the words from Jeremiah xxii. 5 in the form "Your house is left unto you", abandoned, that is to say, to your own devices, God having withdrawn His protection (Mt. xxiii. 38); but that later scribes rendered the quotation more complete by adding the word "desolate". As a more general and more incisive criticism of this attempt to explain away the evidence we may accept the words of B. J. Warfield that "not only is the testimony of our Lord to the Old Testament too constant, minute, intimate, and in part incidental, and therefore, as it were, hidden, to admit this interpretation; but it so pervades all our channels of information concerning Jesus' teaching as to make it certain that it was actually from Him."[6]

Secondly, it is often said that our Lord in many of His references to the Old Testament was using arguments ad hominem. In other words, He was talking down to the level of a popular ignorance which He did not Himself share. It is not therefore necessary, on this assumption, to suppose that He accepted the historicity of many of the incidents to which Me refers as though they were historical; nor that He believed that the books, whose authors He mentions by name, were actually written by them. Such an explanation, however, would seem not only to be inconsistent with the note of absolute sincerity which runs so conspicuously throughout His teaching, but also to conflict with the very great care with which He separates, for example, in the sermon on the mount features of the divine law, which were permanently binding, from later misconceptions and false deductions, which became enshrined in scribal tradition and formed part of Pharisaic practice.[7] Surely He would have made it clear at other points also, had it been necessary to do so, exactly where His own better and higher knowledge was in conflict with the less enlightened views of His more ignorant and credulous contemporaries.

The third attempt to devaluate our Lord's testimony to the Old Testament recognises His absolute sincerity as a teacher and absolves Him from any charge of withholding knowledge which He really possessed. It maintains however that He was as devoid as His contem-

[p.19]

poraries of any true knowledge of the origin and nature of the Old Testament, which has only been reached by critical scholars in the last two hundred years. Although prima facie this conclusion would seem to be derogatory to a belief in our Lord's divinity, there are many claiming to be Christians who do not hesitate to hold it, on the ground that the incarnation of the Son of God involved in their judgment the abandonment of all such higher knowledge as He enjoyed in His pre-incarnate state and the acceptance of the wholly uncritical and erroneous views of His contemporaries. This is a position which I suggest it is very difficult, if not impossible, to hold, if the main thesis of this lecture is sound, that our Lord grounded His personal claims, His sense of a special vocation and of what it involved, and the validity of much of His teaching on the belief that the Old Testament was not only a true self-revelation of His Father, but the incontrovertible expression of His Father's will for Himself, His Son. Here, if anywhere, we should expect our Lord to speak with divine authority and absolute truth. Indeed, if He could be mistaken on matters which He regarded as of the strictest relevance to His own person and ministry, it is difficult to see exactly how or why He either can or should be trusted anywhere else. It is not surprising that the extension of the "kenotic" theory of the incarnation to our Lord's attitude to the Old Testament has led to a growing disinclination on the part of Liberal-Catholics and Liberal-Protestants alike to use the Old Testament in preaching and in worship,[8] and to undue concentration on those aspects of our Lord's teaching which are least influenced by the Old Testament revelation. This nearly always means that attention is given to the love and mercy of God to the virtual exclusion of His severity and His wrath; to an emphasis upon the incarnation at the expense of the atonement; and to a whittling down of the teaching about our Lord's return in judgment.

The testimony of our Lord to the Old Testament and His claims to divinity are, it would seem, more closely associated than many in our day are prepared to acknowledge. I would therefore urge in conclusion that, while we should welcome all the light that archaeological, linguistic and textual studies can throw upon the Old Testament, nevertheless, as Christians, we are bound to look at that unique literature primarily through the eyes of Him who claimed to be the Light of the world, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


References

[1] Jesus and His Sacrifice. Vincent Taylor. p. 147.

[2] See Jesus the Messiah W. Manson. pp. 30-32.

[3] See The Teaching of Jesus. T. W. Manson. p. 83; The Authority of the Old Testament. A. G. Hebert. p. 125.

[4] See The Christian's Use of the Old Testament. B. F. C. Atkinson. p. 17. (InterVarsity Fellowship, 1952).

[5] See According to the Scriptures. C. H. Dodd. pp. 109, 110. (Nisbet, 1952).

[6] Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. p. 144.

[7] See The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ. N. B. Stonehouse, ch. 7; and the expositions of the Sermon on the Mount by D. M. Lloyd-Jones, published in the Westmtnster Record, 1951-53.

[8] "Not by overt dogma but by actual practice:" writes G. E. Wright, "the Protestant Church has tended to emend radically the official canon of Scripture." (God Who Acts. S.C.M. Press. 1952. p. 16).


Prepared for the web by Robert I. Bradshaw in July 2005. Reproduced by kind permission of Westminster Chapel, London.


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