Debates over Testament Continuity Matter

by Jacob Abshire on July 21, 2014

Remember playing Telephone when you were young? Sitting with others in a circle, one of you whispered a message into his neighbor’s ear. Around the circle, the message was quietly passed until the last person belted it aloud. It was never the original, was it?

Suppose the message was important. “Your house is on fire” was the original message. Whisper upon whisper, the message was passed until the lady whose house was burning down heard, “Your spouse is so tired.” She waved her hand and nodded, “He can sleep when he gets home.”

Continuity is key—especially with regards to the Old and New Testaments. Discontinuity may result in terrible misinterpretations—and a tired old man with no home to find rest.

When it comes to the Bible, the OT is quoted or alluded to in every writing except three.1 There are at least 343 OT quotations in the NT and no fewer than 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels.2 Besides that, the NT writers framed their teachings with the OT and brought its reality to light in the person and work of Jesus.

Discovering the way these writers developed and interpreted OT truth to their contemporaries is a divine lesson on how we ought to interpret Scripture as a whole. Its obvious these writers genuinely desired to connect the new “word” to the old “word” and not expect their Jewish friends to dump their heritage.

The writers had the truth revealed (in the NT) which was concealed (in the OT), not disconnected.

However, this doesn’t stop some of our contemporaries from hacking the testaments in two. Some argue that the NT writers were influenced by sources unrelated to the literary context of the OT, therefore rendering their interpretations ambiguous at best. Here are some of the influences.3

  1. Influence of Jewish Interpretation
    This view holds that Jesus and the NT writers used noncontextual hermeneutical methods borrowed from Jewish contemporaries. As it goes, they pour into the OT the meanings taught to them by earlier rabbinic midrashic exegesis, Qumran scrolls, or Jewish apocalyptic literature.
  2. Influence of Testimony
    Others argue that the NT writers took their OT quotes from a single source—the testimony book. This book was full of proof texts (for which the title “testimony” comes) which were used for apologetic purposes. The quotes were totally disconnected from their context and therefore easily misinterpreted.
  3. Influence of Christ
    Some argue that the NT writers were so consumed with Christ that they read into the OT Christocentric meanings that were not there. Jesus was so on their mind that they saw Him in everything.
  4. Influence of Rhetoric
    Some argue that the NT writers desired to convey OT rhetoric for the purpose of persuasion. In other words, they exploited biblical language to coerce the followers of the biblical text.
  5. Influence of Postmodernism
    Some argue that it is impossible (or nearly impossible) for anyone to discover the meaning of an ancient text because all people have presuppositions that interfere with their ability to read objectively. So, the presuppositions of the NT writers distorted the OT meaning.

For the most part, these arguments are excuses for those who shy away from Testament continuity. If there is no consistent strand of truth communicated from Genesis to Revelation, then interpretations are up for grabs. And quite frankly, no one’s interpretation is correct, at least we have no way of knowing for sure.

Fortunate for us, the NT writers interpreted and developed the OT teachings with the original meanings in mind. We should do the same.

Why does it matter? It doesn’t, unless the gospel depends on a Messiah, promised in all of the Old Testament and actually revealed in the New Testament as the perfect propitiation for the sins of those whom God saves for all eternity!

Not a big deal. Its only eternity.


  1. Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John have no Old Testament quotations or allusions.
  2. These stats are from the fourth edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek Testament (1993).
  3. Beale, G. K. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 13. Print.


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