The New Testament Use of the Old Testament -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 13:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: The New Testament Use of the Old Testament
Author: Robert L. Thomas


The New Testament Use
of the Old Testament

Robert L. Thomas

Professor of New Testament

When interpreting the OT and NT, each in light of the single, grammatical-historical meaning of a passage, two kinds of NT uses of the OT surface, one in which the NT writer observes the grammatical-historical sense of the OT passage and the other in which the NT writer goes beyond the grammatical-historical sense in his use of an OT passage. Inspired sensus plenior application (ISPA) designates the latter usage. Numerous passages illustrate each type of NT use of the OT. The ISPA type of usage does not grant contemporary interpreters the right to copy the methodology of NT writers, nor does it violate the principle of single meaning. The ISPA meaning of the OT passage did not exist for man until the time of the NT citation, being occasioned by Israel’s rejection of her Messiah at His first advent. The ISPA approach approximates that advocated by Walton more closely than other explanations of the NT use of the OT.Fulfillment terminology in the NT is appropriate only for events that literally fulfil events predicted in the OT.

An earlier article, “The Principle of Single Meaning,” elaborated on an important hermeneutical maxim.1 That discussion raised the important issue of the NT use of the OT in instances where the NT writer went beyond the grammatical-historical meaning of an OT passage and assigned it an additional meaning in connection with his NT context. As a follow-up to that discussion, this essay will apply the principle of single meaning exactingly to a discussion of the NT use of the OT.

That important principle dictates that every OT passage must receive its own grammatical-historical interpretation, regardless of how a NT writer may use it. The OT must not receive multiple meanings by being read through the eyes of

the NT. When this principle is applied—i.e., when each OT passage is limited to its single grammatical-historical meaning—the results are enlightening. When this is done, one finds two kinds of uses of the OT by NT writers: one in which the NT writer abides by and applies the grammatical-historical sense of the OT passage and another use in which the NT writer goes beyond the grammatical-historical sense of the OT passage to assign the passage an additional meaning in connection with its NT context. In the former instance, a NT writer uses the OT in its literal sense. The latter instance is a nonliteral use of the OT. We may call this an “inspired sensus plenior application” (hereafter usually ISPA) of the OT passage to a...

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