This is the fourth in a series of posts on Understanding the Bible in the 21st century. We have seen that the Bible doesn’t claim as much for itself as some christians do.
Now I test these conclusions by examining how Jesus and his apostles treated their Bible – our Old Testament.
In a previous post (Interpreting the Old Testament) I pointed out that Jesus and his apostles don’t always quote the Old Testament precisely and apply it literally. As often as not, they draw meanings out of passages that were not in the original, and seem to our literal western minds to be quite fanciful at times.
- In Luke 4:18 Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-2, but omits a couple of phrases and inserts one from Isaiah 58.
- At the last supper (Mark 14:27), Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7, but changes the words from “strike down the shepherds and draw out the sheep” to “I will strike down the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered”. This appears to change the meaning.
- When Paul quotes Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4:8, he changes the wording from “you took many captives; you received gifts from people” to “he took many captives and gave gifts to his people” Again the meaning is thereby changed from God receiving gifts to giving them.
- Matthew 27:9-10 quotes Zechariah 11:12 (but ascribes it to Jeremiah), which mentions 30 pieces of silver as part of a narrative, and turns it into a prophecy of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus – this is a significant change in the original meaning.
What does this tell us?
None of these, and the many other examples, are all that shocking, but they do suggest that:
- Jesus and the apostles were not concerned to use the exact words of the Old Testament. One can conclude that either they didn’t think the exact words were given by God, or they felt free to change the words given by God.
- Likewise, they felt quite free to re-interpret or change the meaning of some Old Testament passages if it suited their purpose.
- Interpreting literally and in context, which are very important to us today, was not always necessary.
Therefore we have to be careful when we insist on literal interpretations in every situation. God’s truths can be conveyed through non-literal understandings – perhaps sometimes they can best, or only, be conveyed that way.