How The Apostles And Hebrews’ Author Interpreted The Scriptures

A detailed study of the way the Apostles Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude and the writer of the Book of Hebrews quoted and interpreted verses from the Old Testament is extremely helpful in learning how to interpret Bible verses correctly. These Biblical authors interpreted various Old Testament verses as:

 

a)      prophecies. [1]

b)      Old Testament teachings which are generally applied also to New Covenant times. [2]

c)      Old Testament teachings reapplied to more specific contexts under the New Covenant. For example, see 1 Corinthians 10:26 and 10:28 which quote Psalm 24:1 and look at 1 Corinthians 15:32 which quotes Isaiah 22:13. Psalm 24:1 says: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.” But note 1 Corinthians 10:26 and 10:28 relate the teachings of the above verse to the more specific matter of whether to eat meat which had been sacrificed to idols.

A third example occurs in Hebrews 13:5 which quotes Joshua 1:5 or Deuteronomy 31:6 or 31:8. In their original contexts, the latter three verses mention nothing specifically about loving money or being content with what we have. But the writer of Hebrews applies the general teaching contained in God’s promise found in these three Old Testament verses: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” to the latter two more specific topics.

d)      historical examples which have general relevance also to New Covenant believers. [3] These verses show how wrong is the common idea that historical Biblical books like Genesis, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, Acts and so on can never be used for determining Biblical doctrine. As long as historical events in the Bible are interpreted in ways not contrary to other verses on the same topic, these events can be used as a part of determining what the Bible teaches on the matter.

e)      historical examples reapplied to new specific New Covenant contexts. [4]

f)       broad Old Testament commands being applied in a similar broad sense under the New Covenant. [5]

g)      a broad Old Testament command being applied to a wider group of people under the New Covenant. Ephesians 6:2-3 reapplies Exodus 20:12 to the broader context of all believers in all countries. In its original context, however, Exodus 20:12 related only to Israelites living in the Land of Canaan.

The broadening of the commandment of Exodus 20:12 occurred only because of the changeover from the Mosaic Covenant to the New Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant was given to the Jews but the New Covenant was given to both Jews and Gentiles. [6]

h)      broad commands reapplied to new specific New Covenant contexts. Examples of these are found in Acts 13:47, 1 Corinthians 5:13, 6:16, 2 Corinthians 10:17 and 13:1.

In 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul applies the broader command of Deuteronomy 17:6-7 to the specific sin of incest at the Church at Corinth. Deuteronomy 17:6-7 commands: “Whoever is worthy of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses, but he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil person from among you.” Note Leviticus 18:8 reveals that having incestuous sex with your father’s wife is sin. Also observe Leviticus 18:29 shows those who committed the sin of incest under the Mosaic Covenant would be “cut off from” God’s people.

In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul quotes God’s broad command found in Genesis 2:24 and reapplied it to the new specific situation of a person having sex with a prostitute.

In 2 Corinthians 10:17, Paul states: “But He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” Here Paul quotes the broad command of Jeremiah 9:24: “But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me…” In the context of 2 Corinthians 10:17, Paul applies the command of Jeremiah 9:24 in relation to the specific matter of ministering for Jesus Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 13:1, Paul quotes the broad command of Deuteronomy 19:15 and applies it to his specific situation. 2 Corinthians 13:1 states: “This will be the third time I am coming to you. ‘By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.’” Deuteronomy 19:15 commands: “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”

i)        very specific Old Testament commands being related to different specific New Covenant contexts. Examples of these are seen in 1 Corinthians 9:9, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and 1 Peter 3:14.

In 1 Corinthians 9:9, Paul taught: “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about?” Here Paul quotes from the Mosaic Law command found in Deuteronomy 25:4 which instructed Israelite farmers to not put a muzzle on their oxen while they threshed the grain. God commanded this so that the oxen could feed on some of the grain while they were working for the farmer. In the specific context of 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul is saying those who work by preaching the Gospel must receive food and/or other earthly provisions from this work.

In the specific context of 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Paul again applies the specific command of Deuteronomy 25:4 to church leaders being supported with earthly blessings through those who receive their ministry.

In 1 Peter 3:14, Peter applies God’s specific command found in Isaiah 8:12 and given to the prophet Isaiah alone to the new specific situation of believers living under the New Covenant. Isaiah 8:12 records God’s Words to Isaiah: “Do not say, ‘A conspiracy’, concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 1 Peter 3:14 commands: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.’”

j)        a mixture of a specific command which only applied to the Mosaic or Old Covenant with a general teaching which applies under both the Old and New Covenants. An example of this can be seen in Galatians 3:13 which quotes Deuteronomy 21:23. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 commands the Israelites: “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil person from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear. If a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.”

In this specific context, God refers to men being killed for certain sins which deserve death and their dead bodies being hung on a tree. Also at the end, God reveals the broader principle that anyone who is hanged is cursed by God. In Galatians 3:13, Paul applied this latter teaching “for he who is hanged is accursed by God” to Jesus Christ being hung on the Cross to die. Here we learn some other Biblical interpretation principles:

 

(i)        First, while it is correct to interpret Bible verses in their specific context, some verses or passages can contain a mixture of specific instructions related to a specific example plus a broader teaching or broader command which applies beyond the specific example. In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, all except the words “for he who is hanged is accursed by God” are specific instructions related to a specific example. But these latter nine words are a broader general teaching which applies beyond the specific situation of dead men being hung on a tree after being killed for committing certain serious crimes specifically mentioned in the Mosaic Law. In Galatians 3:13, Paul shows these nine words can also relate to being hung on a cross. A cross is not a tree. Also note Jesus was not dead when He was first nailed to the Cross. But except for the last nine words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, the rest of its words relate to being hung on a tree after dying.

(ii)       Secondly, it would be wrong for Israelites to alter any of the commands of Deuteronomy 21:22-23 about not hanging the dead body of a man on a tree overnight and about burying him. God did not permit the Israelites to leave the dead body for say one part of the night or leave the body overnight unburied in a tent. But God did want the Israelites to apply the teaching “for he who is hanged is accursed by God” to other situations than just the above example.

 

An important point

 

            Note that when Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude and the writer of Hebrews quoted and interpreted verses from the Old Testament, they never interpreted any of its teachings, historical examples or commands contrary to the other verses in the Bible which refer to the same topic. In other words, they followed the method of interpretation Jesus used in Matthew 4:5-7. [7]

 

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.         Give examples of the Apostles or the author of Hebrews:

a)             reapplying Old Testament teachings to more specific contexts in the New Testament.

b)             reapplying historical examples from the Old Testament to new specific New Covenant contexts.

c)             applying broad Old Testament commands in a similar broad sense under the New Covenant.

d)             reapplying broad Old Testament commands to new specific New Covenant contexts.

e)             applying a broad Old Testament command to a wider group of people under the New Covenant.

2.         Did the Apostles and the author of Hebrews follow Jesus’ Matthew 4:5-7 method of interpreting the Scriptures?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

[1] Examples of these are found in Acts 2:17-21, 2:25-28, 2:34-35, 3:22-23, 3:25, 4:11, 4:25-26, 8:32-33, 13:33-35, 15:16-17, 28:26-27, Romans 9:25, 9:27-28, 9:29, 9:33, 11:8, 11:9-10, 11:26-27, 14:11, 15:3, 15:9-12, 15:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 15:54-55, 2 Corinthians 6:2, 6:18, Galatians 3:8, 3:16, Ephesians 4:8, Hebrews 1:5, 1:6, 1:8-9, 1:10-12, 1:13, 5:5, 5:6, 7:17, 7:21, 8:8-12, 10:16-17, 12:26, 1 Peter 2:6, 2:7-8, 2:22, Revelation 2:27 and 3:7.

[2] Examples of these are seen in Acts 7:49-50, Romans 1:17, 3:10-18, 9:15, 10:5-8, 10:11, 10:13, 10:15, 1 Corinthians 3:19-20, 2 Corinthians 9:9, Galatians 3:10, 3:11, 3:12, Hebrews 2:6-8, 3:7-11, 3:15, 4:7, 9:20, 10:5-7, 10:37-38, 12:5-6, 13:6, James 4:6, 1 Peter 1:24-25, 3:10-12, 4:18 and 5:5.

[3] See Acts 13:22, 4:3, 4:22, 9:12, 9:13, 9:17, 11:3, 11:4, 1 Corinthians 10:7, Galatians 3:6, Hebrews 4:4, 12:20 and 12:21.

[4] For example, read 2 Corinthians 4:13 which quotes Psalm 116:10, 2 Corinthians 8:15 which uses Exodus 16:18 and Galatians 4:30 which quotes Genesis 21:10-12.

[5] See Ephesians 4:25 which quotes Zechariah 8:16 and Romans 7:7 which quotes Deuteronomy 5:21.

[6] See Leviticus 26:46, 27:34, Romans 2:14, 9:4, Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11.

[7] If we study the way that Paul, Peter and the writer of Hebrews interpreted Old Testament prophecies, we find they did not always interpret these exactly in accord with their original specific context. Examples of these are Paul’s quotes in Romans 11:8 (second part), 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:55 and Ephesians 4:8, Peter’s quote in 1 Peter 2:8 and the words of the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 1:5 (second part). These New Testament authors interpreted Old Testament prophecies perfectly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But Biblical prophecies by their very nature often have features which are different from other types of verses of Scripture.

 

 


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