How new is the New Testament?

How new is the New Testament?

How is it that the Old Testament (OT) seems to predict the coming of Christ?  Was the OT inspired by the God revealed in the New Testament (NT)?  Could be, but an answer internal to the Bible itself is persuasive.  The Gospel writers looked backward more than they looked forward, reinterpreting the experience of Jesus, which none had firsthand, as the fulfillment of OT prophecy.  Almost any statement about a good man who suffered, such as the suffering servant songs of Isaiah 52-53, was put to this use.

The gospels were written no earlier than 40 years after the death of Christ.  Mark was written in about 70 CE, John about 100 CE.  Educated men wrote them in Greek.  The apostles were uneducated, probably illiterate, who spoke Aramaic.  The Gospels were written to make sense of the fact that the Messiah, who was supposed to be a mighty warrior who would liberate the Jews, died a miserable and degrading death by crucifixion. 

Even that seems to have been predicted by the OT, which says that if a man is guilty of a capital crime “you hang him on a tree.” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23*)  Acts refers to this passage three times (5.30; 10.39; 13.29).  The principal goal of the NT was to transform a humiliating death into the liberation of humankind from the grip of death.  The OT provides plenty of evidence for this reinterpretation.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53.5)

Certainly sounds like the prophet Isaiah was talking about Jesus.  But was he? 

Hardly any passage of the Hebrew Bible is and has been of such fundamental importance in the history of Jewish-Christian debate . . . or has played such a central role in it, as has the fourth Servant Song of Second Isaiah.  Nor has any other passage experienced such different and sometimes mutually exclusive interpretations as this one. (Schreiner, p 419)

For example, it is said that the term pierced (כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י [karah] Strongs Hebrew 3738) is a metaphor for the ravages of leprosy (Zondervan).  About that, I can’t judge, but it’s worth remembering that the context of Isaiah is not that of the NT.  Or today.    

Almost everything Christ says or experiences is interpreted as the fulfillment of OT prophecy

The key OT sources that seem to predict a Christ-like figure are:

  • Isaiah 52-53
  • Psalm 22
  • Zachariah 1

Mark’s portrayal of the crucifixion alludes to Psalm 22.  The mocking crowds, their sarcastic suggestions that God should deliver him, the casting of lots over his garments, and Jesus’ final cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” are all taken from the Psalm.

They have pierced my hands and feet . . . they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.  (Psalm 22:16-18)

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