Friday, December 20, 2013

Old Testament Quotations in Matthew 2: Some Comments

Matthew is very keen to see the life of Jesus in relation to the prior scriptural witness.  This is demonstrated by his quotation of the Old Testament and by his use of the word “fulfill.”  Matthew has, however, been accused of mishandling the Old Testament.  This is usually a result of his handling of the Old Testament in a manner modern interpreters find incompatible with their exegetical techniques.  Two references in Matthew chapter two provide a reference point for the discussion: Matthew 2.15 and 2.17-18.

In Matthew 2.15 there is a quotation from Hosea 11.1 which Matthew utilizes: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  In the context of Matthew two this is in reference to Jesus being taken into Egypt by Joseph and Mary to avoid the persecution of Herod (Matt 2.13-14).  In the original context of Hosea 11.1 the Lord is not offering a prediction of the future but, rather, speaking of the past event of the exodus when he delivered his people from Egypt.  Is Matthew misreading Scripture?  Has he misunderstood the original context or does he show a complete disregard for the original context? 

It seems as though this citation is “a classic example of pure typology.”[1]  Matthew has noticed a correspondence between the events that Israel as a nation has undergone and the events happening to Jesus.  Craig Blomberg exlains:

“The original event need not have been intentionally viewed as forward-looking by the OT author; for 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.’”[2]

Matthew is not trying to exegete Hosea 11.1 in an attempt to get at the authorial intention of Hosea.  He is attempting to draw broad parallels with Jesus and Israel.  This paralleling of Israel and Jesus comes out especially in chapters three and four in the baptism and temptation narratives.[3]  By quoting Hosea 11.1 Matthew wants his readers to grasp the larger context of that single verse.  Hosea is referencing the exodus—the redemption of God’s people in the past.  By linking this passage with the birth of Jesus Matthew intends to signal a new exodus—a new redemption—that is to come through Jesus Christ.

The same dynamics are at work in Matthew’s citation of Jeremiah 31.15.  In the context of Matthew chapter two this verse is cited in reference to the slaughter of the sons by Herod.  There is obviously a correspondence of emotion in that both the text of Jeremiah 31.15 and the event of the death of these children will call for weeping.  But there is more.  Matthew, in all liklihood, has his eye on the larger context of Jeremiah 31.  The citation occurs in a section of Jeremiah often called the “Book of Consolation.”  This is a section of Jeremiah speaking of God’s gracious removal of his judgment and restoration of his people Israel.  In the specific context of Jeremiah 31.15 there is God’s command to stop weeping (verse 16) because “there is hope for your future…and your children will return to their own territory” (verse 17).  This “return-from-exile” theme is important for Matthew.  In the same way that he sees a new exodus so does Matthew present the ministry of Jesus as providing an ultimate answer to the end of exile.

Can we adopt Matthew’s hermeneutical principles today?  Greg Beale takes up this question and answers in the affirmative in his essay “Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?”[4]  He points to the way in which the New Testament authors consistently utilize the broad redemptive-historical framework in which to understand the Old Testament and its relationship to Christ Jesus.  He articulates five crucial presuppositions that are shared by the writers of the New Testament:

1.     the assumption of corporate solidarity or representation;
2.     that Christ is viewed as representing the true Israel of the Old Testament and true Israel, the church, in the New Testament;
3.     that history is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the latter parts (Matt. 11:13-14);
4.     the age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ;
5.     as a consequence of (3) and (4), the fifth presupposition affirms that the latter parts of biblical history function as the broader context to interpret earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors, and one deduction from this premise is that Christ as the centre of history is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the Old Testament and its promises.[5]

To the extent we share these presuppositions we also can engage in their hermeneutical techniques.  Beale makes a helpful distinction between reproducing apostolic exegesis (which he affirms) and the ability to reproduce “the inspired certainty of our typological interpretations as either the Old Testament or New Testament writers could.”[6]  This seems to me to be a helpful distinction that provides direction for both our exegetical efforts and our tentativeness with which we ought to hold our exegetical conclusions.

     [1] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 8.
     [2] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 8.
     [3] David E. Holwerda Jesus and Israel: One Covenant or Two? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995)—see especially chapter two entitled “Jesus and Israel: A Question of Identity.”  For a chart reflecting these parallels see my blog post entitled Jesus and Israel Parallels.
     [4] G. K. Beale, “Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?” in 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, MI.: Baker, 1994), 387-404; reprint from Themelios 14 (1989).
     [5] G. K. Beale, “Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?” 392.
     [6] G. K. Beale, “Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?” 402.