Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament Summary

Title: Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament
Authors: Kenneth Berding and Jonathan Lunde (editors)

TLDR: This book explores how New Testament writers use the Old Testament, featuring three prominent viewpoints from scholars Walter Kaiser Jr., Darrell Bock, and Peter Enns. Each argues for a different understanding of how meaning is connected between the testaments, sparking debate about sensus plenior, typology, context, and ancient Jewish interpretive methods.

Introduction: An Introduction to Central Questions in the New Testament Use of the Old Testament – Jonathan Lunde

Lunde sets the stage by acknowledging the interpretive distance between modern readers and the NT writers concerning how the latter utilize the OT. The introductory chapter functions as a guide, illuminating five key questions orbiting the central issue: the relationship between the intended meaning of OT authors and the meaning derived from those texts by NT authors.

The Central Issue:

The core tension lies in how NT authors extract meanings from OT texts that often appear inconsistent with, or even divergent from, the original intentions of the OT writers. This tension raises questions about legitimacy and authority, challenging our understanding of the literary sensitivity of NT authors and the nature of their approach to the OT.

The Five Orbiting Questions:

  1. Sensus Plenior: This question deals with the possibility of multiple layers of meaning within the scriptural words themselves. Is there a divinely intended “fuller sense” (sensus plenior) discernable by inspired NT authors, exceeding the understanding of the original OT authors?
  2. Typology: This question focuses on the concept of “typology,” where events, institutions, or people in the OT foreshadow later realities. How is the forward-referring, typological reference related to the human author’s intention? Was the divinely intended, prospective element known by the OT author, or only perceived retrospectively from the NT’s vantage point?
  3. Context: This question explores whether NT writers consider the larger context of the OT passages they cite. Do they “proof-text” by extracting verses atomistically, or do they keep the larger context in mind when discerning meaning and making applications?
  4. Jewish Exegetical Methods: This question investigates whether NT writers utilize Jewish interpretive methods common in their era (e.g., midrash, pesher, allegory). If so, does their use of these methods, some of which allow for interpretive freedom, explain the apparent discrepancies between OT and NT meanings?
  5. Replication: The final question grapples with whether modern interpreters can legitimately replicate the NT’s approach to the OT. Can we utilize the same methods, or are we limited to following their use of the grammatical-historical method while acknowledging their unique, inspired authority?

Lunde concludes by summarizing the “interpretive assumptions” of the NT authors, noting the largely agreed-upon presuppositions with which they approached the OT. These include:

  • Jesus as the Fulfillment of Scripture: The NT writers assume Jesus is the Messiah, the one to whom the Scriptures point and in whom they find their fulfillment.
  • Arrival of Fulfillment: The NT writers believe they are living in the days of fulfillment, ushered in by Jesus’ arrival and vindicated by his resurrection.
  • Corporate Solidarity: The NT writers employ the concept of “corporate solidarity,” perceiving a unity between a representative figure (e.g., a king, a prophet) and the group they represent, allowing for a transfer of meaning and application.
  • Pattern in History: The NT writers perceive history as expressive of God’s intent, revealing his unchanging character through divinely designed patterns and foreshadowings.
  • Inaugurated Fulfillment: Although Jesus inaugurated the messianic age, the NT writers recognize the fulfillment of Jewish hopes has only begun, anticipating their climactic culmination in the future.

Lunde concludes by briefly introducing the three perspectives on the central issue that will be elaborated in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 1: Single Meaning, Unified Referents – Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Kaiser argues for a single meaning within Scripture, where the intention of the OT author and the intention of the NT author are in fundamental agreement when an OT text is cited. This extends to the referents of the text; both OT and NT writers ultimately have the same people or events in mind. Kaiser rejects the concept of sensus plenior, arguing that it undermines the authority of the human authors and introduces uncertainty into biblical interpretation. He contends that the original meaning of the OT text, discernible through grammatical-historical exegesis, provides a sufficient basis for understanding its use in the NT.

Key Arguments:

  • Rejection of Sensus Plenior: Kaiser argues that sensus plenior undermines the authority of the human authors and Scripture itself. If meaning is not found in the words of the text, it becomes subjective and arbitrary, opening the door for unbridled interpretations.
  • Generic Wholeness of the Promise-Plan: Kaiser contends that the prophets were aware of God’s overarching “promise-plan” unfolding throughout history. This awareness allowed them to see both near and distant fulfillments of their pronouncements, anticipating their ultimate realization in Christ.
  • Divine Authority of the OT: Kaiser emphasizes the divine authority of the OT text, arguing that NT authors were careful not to impose new meanings on the original text. Rather, they elucidated the intended meaning of the OT text in light of the progress of revelation, revealing its fuller implications in Christ.

Specific Examples:

Kaiser analyzes several NT uses of the OT to support his arguments:

  • John 13:18 (Psalm 41:9): Jesus’ citation of Psalm 41:9, referring to Judas’ betrayal, is seen as a natural extension of the psalmist’s words. The treachery experienced by David (the type) foreshadows the betrayal Jesus (the antitype) faces.
  • Acts 15:13-18 (Amos 9:9-15): James’s use of Amos 9 at the Jerusalem Council is understood as directly addressing the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s plan. The restoration of “David’s tent” encompasses not only the reunification of Israel but also the ingathering of Gentiles, a promise already present in the Abrahamic covenant and reiterated to David.
  • Acts 2:25-31 (Psalm 16): Peter’s use of Psalm 16 to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection is defended as a legitimate interpretation. David, as God’s “Holy One” (hasid) and representative of the messianic line, anticipated resurrection. This hope is ultimately realized in the Messiah, Jesus.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:7-10 (Deuteronomy 25:4): Paul’s application of Deuteronomy 25:4 (not muzzling an ox) to pastoral support is seen as an extension of the original principle. The OT text establishes the principle that all workers deserve compensation, a principle that Paul applies to a new context.


Kaiser emphasizes the need for careful attention to the original context and meaning of the OT text, arguing against imposing foreign meanings derived from later revelation. He affirms that the NT authors employed grammatico-historical exegesis, making their interpretations accessible and replicable by modern readers.

Chapter 2: Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents – Darrell L. Bock

Bock argues that while there is a single, stable meaning to the OT texts employed by NT authors, these meanings can take on fresh dimensions of significance and refer to new situations as God’s purposes unfold in the canonical context. Bock recognizes that God’s plan progressively develops, and therefore later revelation can clarify and complete earlier promises. His approach, while emphasizing continuity in meaning, allows for referents to shift in light of God’s continuing activity.

Key Arguments:

  • One Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents: Bock contends that the original meaning of the OT text remains constant, but that new contexts and referents emerge through the progress of revelation. The sense of the term is fixed, but the referent can expand as God’s plan unfolds.
  • Importance of Historical Contexts: Bock stresses the need for considering both the OT context and the NT context to fully grasp the meaning of a text. A careful examination of both contexts helps to reveal the connection between the original meaning and its application in the new era.
  • Canonical Reading and the Progress of Revelation: Bock argues for a “canonical” reading of Scripture, where later revelation refracts on earlier passages, clarifying and developing the text’s meaning beyond what the original author could have grasped.

Specific Examples:

Bock analyzes three specific OT/NT examples to support his thesis:

  • Acts 4:25-26 (Psalm 2:1-2): The early church’s use of Psalm 2 in Acts 4 to refer to both Jewish and Gentile opposition to Jesus is seen as an expansion of the original referent. The “central idea” of the psalm—that many stand opposed to God and his Messiah—remains fixed, but the referent now includes those who were not originally envisioned as the primary opponents.
  • Romans 10:6-8 (Deuteronomy 30:12-14): Paul’s application of Deuteronomy 30 to Jesus is justified by appealing to the text’s “inherent sense” and the progress of revelation. While originally addressing the accessibility of the law, the text’s underlying meaning—the attainability of God’s revelation—is now realized in Christ, who embodies and fulfills the law’s intent.
  • 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 (Leviticus 26 and 2 Samuel 7:14): Paul’s use of Leviticus 26 and 2 Samuel 7:14 to refer to the church as God’s dwelling place and his sons and daughters is seen as a deepening of the original meaning. The familial relationship God promised to Israel now extends to Gentile believers through their union with Christ, who embodies and distributes the promise’s benefits.


Bock advocates for careful attention to both the OT and NT contexts, allowing for the expansion of referents in light of God’s continuing activity and the progress of revelation. He affirms that meaning remains stable at the level of sense, but that later revelation can clarify, complete, and deepen our understanding of earlier promises.

Chapter 3: Fuller Meaning, Single Goal – Peter Enns

Enns argues that NT authors often perceive new meanings in OT texts that are not necessarily closely related to the original author’s intentions. These new meanings are legitimized by the NT authors’ “Christotelic” conviction, their unwavering belief that the OT ultimately points to and is fulfilled in Christ. While acknowledging the importance of grammatical-historical study, Enns contends that the NT’s interpretive framework is shaped by its eschatological focus on Christ’s coming, leading to a “fuller meaning” than what was envisioned by OT authors.

Key Arguments:

  • Importance of Second Temple Literature: Enns emphasizes the need for engaging the NT use of the OT against its Second Temple backdrop. He argues that understanding the interpretive practices and traditions of Second Temple Judaism is crucial for grasping the NT’s interpretive framework.
  • Christotelic Hermeneutic: Enns contends that the NT authors’ primary interpretive framework is “Christotelic.” Their understanding of the OT is shaped by their conviction that Jesus is the culmination of God’s plan, the “end” to which the OT story is heading.
  • Embrace of Scripture’s Humiliation: Enns embraces the idea of Scripture’s “humiliation,” recognizing the ancient, human feel of the NT’s interpretive methods. This “creatureliness” should not be seen as a liability but as a positive theological construct, highlighting God’s condescension and his willingness to communicate through flawed human instruments.

Specific Examples:

Enns examines three key examples to illustrate his viewpoint:

  • Galatians 3:15-29 (Genesis 12-17): Paul’s interpretation of the Abrahamic promise, arguing that the “seed” refers to Christ, is seen as a deliberate exegetical decision that capitalizes on the grammatical flexibility of the collective noun “seed.” This approach, common in Second Temple hermeneutics, allows for a Christological reading, even though the original context clearly refers to numerous offspring.
  • Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2 (Deuteronomy 33:2): The NT authors’ reference to angels being involved in the giving of the law is attributed to an extrabiblical interpretive tradition, rather than to a historical event explicitly found in the OT. This illustrates the influence of Second Temple interpretive traditions on the NT, highlighting Scripture’s “humiliation” and the diversity of ancient approaches to the OT.
  • Matthew 2:15 (Hosea 11:1): Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 to refer to Jesus’ trip to Egypt is seen as a Christologically driven interpretation. While Hosea’s original words are retrospective, Matthew reads them prospectively in light of his knowledge of Christ as the true Israel and God’s true Son.


Enns argues for a Christotelic approach to the NT use of the OT, where the ultimate meaning of OT texts is unveiled in Christ. He emphasizes the importance of Second Temple literature and hermeneutics for understanding the NT’s interpretive framework, embracing Scripture’s “humiliation” as a positive theological construct that reveals God’s willingness to speak through human forms.

Concluding Analysis:

The book ends with a concluding analysis by Kenneth Berding, summarizing the three views and offering critical insights. He highlights the benefit, potential problem, and a probing question for each contributor:

Kaiser’s Single Meaning, Unified Referents:

  • Benefit: Satisfies the desire for a clear connection between prophecy and fulfillment.
  • Potential Problem: May overemphasize the conscious intention of OT authors.
  • Probing Question: Are there no positive benefits of comparing NT methods with those of Second Temple interpreters?

Bock’s Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents:

  • Benefit: Encourages a “canonical” reading of Scripture, connecting passages and themes across contexts.
  • Potential Problem: May overemphasize canonical themes while neglecting the immediate context.
  • Probing Question: Is the linguistic distinction between sense and referent applicable to the macro-movement of theological concepts across the canon?

Enns’s Fuller Meaning, Single Goal:

  • Benefit: Allows for NT authors to be understood on their own terms, within their historical context.
  • Potential Problem: May leave readers with a sense of discontinuity between OT and NT meanings.
  • Probing Question: Is Christ-as-telos the only way OT passages connect to the NT?

Overall, the book provides a valuable introduction to the complexities of the NT use of the OT, showcasing different perspectives and encouraging thoughtful engagement with the Bible’s own interpretive practices. It highlights the importance of historical context, the progress of revelation, and the overarching Christological framework in which the NT authors operated.

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