Peter Krol

What to Do When the New Testament Quotes the Old

When a NT author quotes the OT, he believes the OT passage has an argument to make that he now commandeers for his own use. The quotes are not window dressing, with the real argument coming before or after the quote. No, the quotes are a fundamental part of the argument. The quotes contain the premises upon which the conclusion stands. We might misunderstand the conclusion if we haven’t identified the premises (in their original context).

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” (Matt 1:23)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)
“Not one of his bones will be broken.” (John 19:36)
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” (Heb 5:5)
Since the Bible had no verse divisions until the 16th century AD, we ought to consider what this implies about how to read and study the Bible. Ancient readers had no map or reference system to pinpoint particular statements. They could not speak with precision about a textual location such as Isaiah chapter 7 verse 14.
Instead, they referenced Scriptures by broad indicators such as:

“…in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush…” (Mark 12:26)
“…the scroll of the prophet Isaiah…He found the place where it was written…” (Luke 4:17)
“the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah…” (John 12:38)
“he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way…” (Heb 4:4)

They did not quote things the way we do. They did not have MLA- or APA-style citations, word-perfect precision, or bibliographical indices.
In fact, most people didn’t read their own copies of the Scripture. Most of what they knew about Scripture came through oral delivery, repetition, and memorization.
So if we read our Bibles only like 21st century students at institutions of higher education, we will not be reading them like 1st century commoners, or even nobility, receiving these remarkable works of literature from the hands of Jesus’ first followers.
What does this mean?
1. NT quotes of the OT are referencing passages, not verses.
Often there’s a verbal connection to the exact verses being quoted. For example, when Peter wants to make a point about being “living stones” (1 Pet 2:5) he grabs a few key statements with the word “stone” in them (1 Pet 2:6-8). But his goal is not to produce sound bytes fitting for a radio interview, or back-cover blurbs promoting a book.
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Why it Matters that the Bible was Written to Specific People at a Specific Time

The historical context is an important piece of the puzzle we call Bible study. By placing yourself in the shoes of the original audience, you are more likely to grasp the intended message for them in their day. And when you have done so, you will unsurprisingly find the Bible becoming even more — not less — relevant to our lives today.

While the Bible was written for us (1 Cor 10:11), it was not written to us. When we read the Bible, we are reading someone else’s mail.
This is why context matters. It is not appropriate to isolate sentences and sentiments and use them to our own ends. We must grasp the author’s main point to his original audience. We must consider how that main point either looks forward to Christ or reflects back upon him. And only when we have done those things are we in a position to consider how the text ought to produce change in anyone’s life today.
Historical Context Defined
We’ve spent much space on this blog giving examples of how the literary context matters. But that is not the only kind of context.
One other such context is the historical context. How does the historical situation of this text affect the way we read it? And by “historical situation,” I’m not referring to cultural practices or artifacts within the text. I’m talking about the real-life situation of the author and audience of the text. What was going in the lives of the author and audience that caused this person to write this text to these people at this time?
We cannot answer that question with certainty—or even high probability—for every book of the Bible. But whenever we can answer it, we ought to make sure that answer guides us whenever we seek to understand a text.
An Example
Have you ever noticed the difference between how the books of Kings and Chronicles describe the moral character of King Abijah (Abijam) of Judah?
In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam… Abijam began to reign over Judah… He walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to Yahweh his God, as the heart of David his father. Nevertheless, for David’s sake Yahweh his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem. (1 Kings 15:1-4)
The Abijah stood up…and said… “But as for us, Yahweh is our God, and we have not forsaken him… Behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with their battle trumpets to sound the call to battle against you. O sons of Israel, do not fight against Yahweh, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed.” (2 Chron 13:4-12)
Both Kings and Chronicles go out of their way to label each king of Judah as doing either what is right or what is evil in God’s eyes.
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What We Need More Than the Mountaintop Experience with God

As you pursue spiritual formation, please don’t wait for mountaintop experiences or voices from heaven to initiate change in your life. God has already spoken by his Son (Heb 1:1–3), and the apostles took great care, at times upon pain of death, to write it down for our assurance. If you want to hear the voice of God, all you need to do is open the book and read. See and hear your Master within these pages.

“I need to hear a voice from heaven.”
That’s what Robert, an atheist, told me after we met together to read the Bible for most of an academic year. We had studied John, Romans, and selections of the Old Testament to examine both the claims of Christ to be the Savior of the world and his resurrection from the dead to vindicate those claims. In the end, Robert refused to believe, asserting it was nothing but a cleverly devised myth.
Now it’s one thing when an atheist approaches the Bible this way with respect to converting to Christ. But surely true followers of Jesus wouldn’t approach the Bible that way with respect to their spiritual formation. They wouldn’t require a voice from heaven before repenting of sin or conforming to Christlike character. Right? … Right?
Consider Jonathan, rejecting counsel to refrain from sexual sin because he hadn’t yet heard an inner voice from God telling him to stop. Or Claudia, desperately wanting to share the gospel with her unbelieving roommate, but crippled with fear until the Holy Spirit tells her precisely when and how to do so. Or Anderson and Samantha, hopping from church to church, attending conference after conference, waiting for God to speak audibly and do something miraculous to restore the joy in their marriage. Or Nathaniel, investigating monastic orders under the impression that only there could he escape the world’s defilement and draw near to Christ.1
The apostle Peter heard a voice from heaven during his mountaintop experience. And he concluded that the spiritual formation of Christ-followers relies not on repeating such an experience but on something even more certain.
Let’s look at how 2 Peter 1 reveals both our desperate need for the knowledge of Christ to shape us and the priority of the Book to form us.
Our greatest need
Peter writes his second letter to the second generation of Christ-followers who would have to carry forward the true faith without direct intervention or direction from the apostles. Upon assuring them that their faith is every bit as legitimate as his own (2 Pet 1:1), he expresses his chief wish: that God’s grace and peace would take the form of ever-increasing knowledge of God and Jesus (2 Pet 1:2).
What Peter wants for generations of Christians after him is nothing short of “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:11)—which will take place at Jesus’ “coming” (2 Pet 1:16, 3:4, 3:12). And entrance into this future kingdom is provided now for those who practice the qualities (2 Pet 1:10) that supplement faith: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Pet 1:5–7).
Please note that Peter’s focus is on the future. He is not talking about how to “get saved”; he’s talking about how God is shaping his people so they may enter his eternal kingdom on the day of judgment.
Spiritual formation does not itself cleanse us from our sin. It is the direct result of having already been cleansed of sin (2 Pet 1:9). Having been saved by grace through faith (the starting point in 2 Pet 1:5), we are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4b) and grow in Christlike character (2 Pet 1:5–8). Practicing these qualities is thereby something of a dry run for our entry into the eternal kingdom when Christ returns (2 Pet 1:10-11)—a kingdom where only righteousness can dwell (2 Pet 3:13). This complete process is what it means to multiply the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 1:8), which is our greatest need (2 Pet 1:2).
In short, Peter wants subsequent generations of believers to be ready for the kingdom of righteousness when it fully arrives. In order to get there, they must know Jesus Christ more every day and become like him. Peter took great pains to ensure we could find this very knowledge after he was gone (2 Pet 1:12–15), especially since he knew detractors would rise up (2 Pet 1:16, 2:1–3).
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The Art of Observing What’s Not Said

Observing what’s not said is definitely an art and not a science, so you need to use common sense. Identify what you might expect from a passage. Then make sure to observe how (and whether) the text subverts those expectations to sharpen its argument. The biblical authors are constantly working to subvert our expectations so they might better persuade us to trust the Lord and seek first his kingdom.

We’ve mentioned it a thousand times: When we observe a passage of the Bible, we’re trying to figure out what it says. However, sometimes we won’t fully grasp what it says without first observing what it doesn’t say. Ryan has made this point in two recent posts with respect to characters’ names. But what’s not said applies to many other types of observation as well. Here are three examples.
Example #1: Luke 15:11-32
The parable commonly known as “The Prodigal Son” is really about Two Brothers. We’re told of the bad choices of the younger son (Luke 15:12-16), and his risky decision to come back home (Luke 15:17-19). We’re told about what happened upon his return (father runs to meet him, throws a party, etc., in Luke 15:20-24).
Then we’re told of the bad attitude and choices of the older son (Luke 15:25-30). We hear the father’s appeal to his grumbling son (Luke 15:31-32). But we never find out what he decided or what happened.
The two brothers are parallel to one another. Their stories are parallel. Up to the point where we expect to hear the choice and results of the older son’s decision. But that choice and its results are left unsaid. The parable simply ends on a cliffhanger.
What is the point of the omission? Jesus lets the end of the story play itself out in the response of the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling (Luke 15:2). Luke 13-14 was all about the feast and joy of the kingdom of God. Will these grumbling scribes and Pharisees enter? Will those who are saved be few (Luke 13:23)?
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Know Your Literary Devices

This list doesn’t cover every possible literary device employed by biblical authors, but it contains what I have found to be the most common and directly useful ones when observing a passage. Again, you don’t need to memorize the list, but you should be able to spot these “children” in a sea of words when you buckle down to observe the text. It’s not sufficient to propose a main point for your passage based on what simply feels right. You should be able to defend that proposed main point from the text itself—primarily by enumerating the literary devices that directed you toward your main point.

Though your top priority when studying the Bible is to grasp the author’s main point, you will do well to develop a few skills to help you get there. One such skill is the ability to spot various literary devices. You don’t need to memorize a lengthy list of such devices, as long as you can recognize them when you see them. It’s sort of like being the father of a large number of children. Sometimes you mix up the names, but you can always point them out in a crowd when necessary.
Word Devices
Some literary devices have to do with the use of words. Identifying key words can help you grasp the author’s main point.

Repetition is perhaps the easiest device to observe. You would do well to begin any study by simply looking for, counting, and highlighting repeated words. For example, Genesis 14 repeats the word “king” more than 28 times, giving that word tremendous prominence in the author’s argument.
Continuity is similar to repetition, except it refers to repeated synonyms, thoughts, or ideas. So if a particular concept is repeated in a passage, even without repeating the identical word, it is worth taking note of. For example, Psalm 145 contains continuity of the ideas of “praise” for God’s “works,” even though the poem uses a variety of words (such as “bless,” “thanks,” etc.) to communicate those ideas.
Inclusio is a particular kind of continuity, where the same word, phrase, or idea is repeated at the beginning and end of a passage. In addition to marking structural boundaries, an inclusio often highlights the author’s thesis. For example, Psalm 8 begins and ends with “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,” showing that the poem’s main idea has something to do with how God’s majesty is made visible on earth.

Logic Devices
Some literary devices reveal a text’s logic, which will help you to grasp the argument (main point) an author is making.

Comparison is when two or more things are shown to be similar to one another. For example, in 2 Timothy 2:3-6, Timothy on mission is compared to a soldier, and athlete, and a farmer. By figuring out what the points of comparison are, you’ll better understand why Paul gives the instructions of verses 1-2.
Contrast is when two or more things are shown to be different from one another.

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Ephesians: Uniting All Things in Christ, Part 2

The unified God has united believers to himself, the church ought now walk worthy of its calling by pursuing a full-orbed unity. This unity does not require uniformity, but it presumes a diversity of opinions, personalities, social roles, and people groups. Because diversity naturally produces friction, the church ought to give particular attention to humble and patient purity, love, wisdom, and spiritual warfare in its pursuit of unity. This is the sort of walk worthy of the calling of the one God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit.

The first half of Ephesians lays out God’s plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1:10). Paul’s doctrine of unity can be summarized in the shape of a capital “I” (in a font with bars across top and bottom). The top horizontal bar represents the unity God has with himself, among the persons of the Trinity. The vertical bar represents the unity between God and his people, brought about by grace through faith. The bottom horizontal bar represents the unity among God’s people that ought to result.
Having followed Paul’s argument in Ephesians 1-3 in the previous post, let’s now walk through Paul’s application of the doctrine of unity within the life of the church.
Diversity Shouldn’t Divide the Church
Paul transitions to application with the urging to walk in a manner worthy of the calling described in the first three chapters (Eph 4:1). And what exactly is a manner of life worthy of the call to unity, in light of God’s plan to unite all things in Christ? It requires humble, gentle, and patient forbearance toward fellow church members (Eph 4:2). Such character arises only from an eager commitment to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
Paul roots the unity of the church, explicitly, to the unity of the Trinity (Eph 4:4-6), which includes a victorious Christ ascending to take his throne while dishing out good gifts to his people. Psalm 68, quoted in Eph 4:8, likens the ascension of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem to the arrival of God’s glory-cloud on Sinai. And Paul capitalizes on the image to explain how Jesus, the true ark, has entered heaven, the true sanctuary. This king cares enough about the unity of his body that he provides the church with leaders tasked with equipping members to serve one another—all so the community can grow together to maturity, according to the image of Jesus himself (Eph 4:9-14). That theological truth plays out in real life as people speak the truth to one another with love and build up one another in love (Eph 4:15-16).
In short, Eph 4:1-16 teaches that every church member is not required to be the same thing, do the same thing, or think the same thing. It assumes that there are differences among people, requiring patience and loving speech toward one another. In other words, diversity shouldn’t divide the church. But sadly, it often does, so the rest of the letter tells us what to do about that. We must give attention to four key areas, each marked with a renewed exhortation to walk (or, in the last case, to stand — Eph 4:17, 5:1, 5:15, 6:10-13).
Four Areas With Potential for Divisive Behaviors
The first area that requires attention in pursuit of unity is purity (Eph 4:17-32). However, notice that the chief problem of impurity is that it makes people like those who are alienated from—not unified with—God (Eph 4:18). The opposite of building up others in love is to serve oneself in sensuality and greed (Eph 4:19). This is not how you learned Christ! (Eph 4:20). A pure life according to the truth in Jesus requires each church member to do three things with their divisive behaviors:

Put off the old self, with its divisive and selfish desires (Eph 4:22).
Get a new way of thinking about how the calling to unity ought to drive your behavior (Eph 4:23).
Put on the new self, which is like God—fully unified with himself and with his body (Eph 4:24).

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The First Commentator to Plead His Case

There is a sense in which commentaries are one form of New Testament prophecy, in that they proclaim the word of God. We ought to test them, every one. Hang on to whatever is good, helpful, and true in them. Reject whatever is false, misleading, or evil in them. But you’ll limit your ability to do that unless you consult a second, third, or fourth opinion on a matter. 

My fourth commandment for commentary usage is:
You shall not read only one commentary, but shall invite a plurality of voices into the conversation.
Is this because I think you have no limits on your time, or that you must become a professional researcher in order to study the Bible? No, it is simply because our Bible study is part of a conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. We were created to live and learn in community, and therefore, having a single influence on your study is counterproductive to your study.
Let me give two reasons.
The First to Plead His Case Seems Right, Until…
Consider Proverbs 18:17:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Unless you are among the most naturally skeptical of learners, if you read only one commentary on a passage, you will be inclined to presume the commentator you read is right. Especially if that commentator engages with other commentators and points out all the places where they are wrong. It is simply part of being a creature with limited knowledge that “the one who states his case first seems right.”
Nobody chooses to write a commentary—or gets a contract to write a commentary—because they believe they have all the wrong ideas about their subject matter. No, they write it because they believe they are right, and that they have something to add to the historic conversation that ought to be considered by others! So they are going to write with as much clarity and confidence as they can muster regarding their interpretive conclusions.
But if you read at least two commentaries, it will help you to recognize that there could be a variety of perspectives out there. And each of them could be argued cogently. And each of them is worth considering and discussing. In the process, it will help you to demystify the priesthood of experts that is so easy to presume.
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The Potter’s Right Over the Clay

Jeremiah uses the authority-of-the-potter-over-the-clay metaphor to explain that God himself may change course and treat his people differently than he had predicted if they either repent from, or turn toward, evil. This point is especially striking in the background of Romans 9, where, even after calling unbelieving Israelites “not my people” and “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” Paul goes on to express his heart’s desire and his prayer to God that they might still be saved (Rom 10:1). In other words, though the Lord has promised to uproot Israel and remove its branch from his tree (Rom 11:11-24), as soon as they repent and set their hope in Jesus the Messiah, he stands more than ready to smush their clay and begin again with them as a clean and holy vessel.

Earlier this week, I completed my 2022 Bible readthrough, which was nothing short of a delightful romp through the Scriptures. I always appreciate seeing what new connections the Lord may bring to my attention as I read rapidly.
And one thing that especially struck me this year was the potter metaphor used of the Lord throughout the prophets. This may have been on my mind because my church small group recently studied Romans 9 and discussed the potter metaphor in Rom 9:20-21. I had not fully considered before how Paul draws this imagery from the Old Testament.
When Paul says “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom 9:20), he appears to be drawing directly on Isaiah 29:16: “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” The context of Isaiah 29 is that of God’s people drawing near to him in their rituals while their hearts remain far from him, attempting to hide from their maker their dark deeds. Paul uses it to support his larger point that not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel. Just because God made some people ethnically Jewish, but still exerts his wrath on their unbelief, does not make him unjust.
The connection I found even more interesting is that with Jeremiah 18:1-12, which I will quote in full:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.
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Song of Songs: The Intoxication of True Love in its Time

Church history is filled with the debates over whether to read this book as an allegory of God’s love for his people or as a literal picture of human marriage. Frankly, I’m not convinced we have to choose only one of those options. If it’s not about human marriage, then the metaphors of God’s relationship with his people would make no sense at all. And if it’s not also about God’s relationship with his people, then Paul, Hosea, and Ezekiel (among others) wouldn’t have gone there. This book gives us much wisdom for dating, marriage, sex, and conflict. And in so doing, it shows us the paradise of knowing Christ and being known intimately by him.

When the Lord God made the heavens and the earth, there was only one thing that he declared was not good: the man’s being alone. So God promptly invented romantic love, and his word is very clear about how such love works. It begins with the problem of loneliness, which is not a result of sin but simply a result of being a created being. It proceeds when boy meets girl, and things start to feel really awkward. And the only way to make progress is with poetry, song, and celebration. The World’s Greatest Song (aka The Song of Songs) is here to help.
Literary Markers
The poetry in the Song of Songs flits about from character to character, as the woman, the man, and the daughters of Jerusalem all lift their voices in an intricate back-and-forth befitting the subject matter. As a result, the poetry can appear quite mysterious and dense. Thankfully, the poet makes use of two refrains that serve, with minor variations, as paint blazes on the trail to help us follow his train of thought.
Each refrain occurs three times in the book. The first refrain is “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). The second refrain is “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16, 6:3, 7:10). These two refrains provide the chief applications to the unmarried (do not awaken) and the married (join in mutual possession). And in addition, they help us to mark many of the book’s divisions.
In addition, the flow of most of the poems moves from separation to union (or reunion). The arcs of each section follow this general pattern where the lovers begin apart from one another and move toward one another to be together.
The chief audience for the Song of Songs is the virgin daughters of Jerusalem, who are addressed all throughout the book. In this way, this book is something of a complement to the book of Proverbs, whose chief audience is the young men of Israel. This doesn’t mean that men have nothing to gain from the Song, but it helps us to understand why the woman is in the spotlight for much of the book.
After the book’s title (Song 1:1), we’re immersed right into the intoxicating nature of love, which is better than wine (Song 1:2-4). Then in the first main poem, the couple delights in the playful back-and-forth of getting to know one another and finding ways to spend time together as their attraction develops (Song 1:5-2:3). As they draw close, however, and move into a place of profound intimacy (Song 2:4-6), the woman emerges from the chamber to warn the virgins of Jerusalem not to awaken such love in themselves until the time is right (Song 2:7).
The second poem (Song 2:8-3:5) focuses on the wooing and courtship, but completely from the woman’s perspective. She describes the man coming to see her (Song 2:8-9), before quoting what he says—or what she hopes he’ll say?—to win her heart for life (Song 2:10-15). She longs for them to achieve mutual possession of one another (Song 2:16) but must still say goodbye at the end of the evening and send him back to his home (Song 2:17). This leads her to dream of what life would be like without him—a reality she cannot bear to accept (Song 3:1-4).
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5 Reasons to Read Your Bible Beyond Practical Application

Reading your Bible saturates your mind and heart in the love of God for you, which will motivate you to even greater obedience in the future. Though you may not get a nugget of practical application right now, the good news will inflame your desire for such obedience in perpetuity.

I believe in practical application. Here are more than ten biblical reasons why you should do it. But the dangers are legion if you come to your Bible reading with nothing but practical application on your mind. You might rush—or even worse, skip!—your observation or interpretation for the sake of that practical nugget. Your application might come unmoored from the text and take you in exactly the wrong direction. You might fall into the well-worn path of failing to identify any applications beyond the Big Three.
And there is a major opportunity cost involved. Treat personal application as the only consistent outcome for your Bible reading, and you may simply miss out on these other benefits the Lord wishes for you.
1. Storing Up Now for the Coming Winter
A regular habit of Bible reading is worth maintaining, even when no urgent or timely application comes readily to mind, because you are depositing divine truth in the storehouses of your soul from which you can later make withdrawals. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11). “My son, keep your father’s commandments … bind them on your heart always … When you walk, they will lead you … For the commandment is a lamp … to preserve you from the evil woman, from the the smooth tongue of the adulteress” (Prov 6:20-24).
We ought to consider the ant and be wise (Prov 6:6-11, 30:24-25), not only with respect to our work ethic but also with respect to our truth ethic. It is foolish to abstain from Bible reading because it’s not practical enough for today. When the time of temptation arrives, you will have an empty storehouse—an empty heart—with no stockpile of resources available to supply your resistance.
2. Receiving Comfort Amid Sorrow
It is true that suffering people need time and space to process. Yet may it never be that our “time and space” isolate us from the Lord, when they ought to bind us more tightly to him. The laments of the Bible are wonderful for giving us words when we don’t know what to say, and feelings when we don’t know what to feel. The Spirit who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26) is the same Spirit who inspired the words of the prophets and apostles to give expression to such groanings (1 Pet 1:10-12).
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