October 25, 2016
Through Old Testament Eyes 1: Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels
Many Christians function with half a Bible. When we feel troubled we may go to the Psalms, or when we need an exciting story to keep children entertained we may go to Daniel or Jonah. But that may be about it. We say the whole Bible is authoritative and inspired by God, but sadly the Old Testament remains largely a closed book.
Yet we cannot understand God or the New Testament fully without understanding the Old Testament. We can certainly read the gospels and letters, learn from them, enjoy them and benefit from them on their own. But if we read them through the lens of the Old Testament, we find richer, deeper layers of meaning--and hard to understand passages often become clear.
The reason is that the New Testament writers were saturated with the images, stories, motifs and themes of the Old. It's the world they lived in. So if we want to understand how they thought, we need to know what filled their minds and hearts.
Richard B. Hays opens up the importance of this in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. He shows in multiple examples how each of the four gospels writers made profound use of the Old Testament to explain who Jesus was and what he did. This was not only through direct quotation or reference, but by using associations, symbols, metaphors and narrative patterns from what John Goldingay calls the First Testament.
Each gospel writer has a distinct approach to his use of Israel's Scripture which creates a rich theological polyphony for those ready to hear it. Mark uses indirect references to paint a picture of the mystery of the kingdom. Matthew is much more explicit about how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, with Jesus reconfiguring "both Israel and Torah by carrying forward Israel's story" (p. 351). Luke lies between Mark and Matthew regarding Jesus' link to the Old Testament. He emphasizes promise and fulfillment, demonstrating God's faithfulness which leads to joy for the community of believers. While John is much more selective in his use of Old Testament quotations and images, he goes deeply into them, including the feasts, signs, Logos and shepherd.
This book expands on much of the excellent material found in Hays's earlier and briefer volume Reading Backwards (see here). Both books are immensely helpful guides to reading the New Testament through Old Testament eyes.