Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Written by Steve Moyise Reviewed By Christopher A. Beetham

Steve Moyise is professor of New Testament at the University of Chichester (UK). He has authored or coedited several books on the use of the OT in the NT and is a specialist in the subdiscipline with which the present book is concerned.

The book is an introduction to the use of the OT in the Gospels. It consists of an introduction, seven chapters, a conclusion, and two appendices. Chapters 1-4 overview the use of Scripture in each of the four Gospels. Chapters 5-7 introduce the reader to three diverse approaches of scholarship to the subject at hand, which Moyise labels “minimalist,” “moderate,” and “maximalist,” largely by acquainting the reader with their major practitioners.

As in his earlier companion volume to Scripture in Paul (Paul and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010]), shaded boxes are placed at appropriate points in the book to highlight important topics that may be new to a student, but are relevant to the discipline such as “New English Translation of the LXX (NETS),” “The text of the LXX known to Matthew,” and “Hillel's seven exegetical rules.” More than a few of these boxes, however, reflect that Moyise is interested in questions tied up especially with historical Jesus research (e.g., “The criterion of embarrassment”; “Critical editions of Q”; “Were the Gospels written by eyewitnesses?”; “Gospel of Thomas”).

Moyise is not an evangelical (he explicitly places himself in the “moderate” camp; pp. 120-21), and he regular questions the historical authenticity of OT quotations placed on the mouth of Jesus in the Gospels. For those who, with solid rationale, believe that the Gospels present a reliable picture historically of what Jesus said and did, Moyise's skepticism will become onerous. It becomes evident that Moyise is less interested ultimately in the use of the OT in the Gospels per se and more interested in how its use contributes to our knowledge of the historical Jesus. The subtitle of the book perhaps should have been instead, Studying the Historical Jesus through the Gospels' Use of the Old Testament. It is not that the question of historicity is not important to evangelicals (Moyise's “maximalists”). Christian faith stands or falls upon whether the events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection actually occurred. But evangelicals, by virtue of their presuppositions, have already embraced a position that understands the Gospels to convey historically reliable information. They are not wrestling, like Moyise, about what OT quotations can or cannot be traced to the historical Jesus. Evangelicals tend to take the text at face value and believe that all the quotations put in the mouth of Jesus in the Gospels are there because they do, in fact, ultimately derive from his lips. That the Gospel writers probably felt free to paraphrase Jesus' OT quotations on occasion does not detract from this. Therefore, evangelicals are usually asking a different set of questions than Moyise when it comes to the use of the OT in the Gospels. Evangelicals want to understand the significance of the quotation in its new context (its “meaning-effects”) and its contribution to biblical theology. Furthermore, despite Moyise's comments that questions about original authorial intention are passé (pp. 119-20), evangelicals remain and should remain deeply concerned with this issue. I would submit that Jesus and his Jewish interlocutors were deeply concerned with this issue. There is no sense in having a debate over Sabbath or divorce if there is no original authorial intention to which one can appeal to validate one's interpretation. The appeal to Moses is an appeal to what Moses “meant.” A debate over a text's meaning betrays the assumption that an author meant something, that this authorial intention is recoverable, and that this something functions as the agreed-upon arbiter between the diverse interpretations being advanced. Moyise and I do not disagree over the importance of “how a text applies/speaks to the present” (p. 120); the difference, in my view, concerns how one arrives at such a valid application. I remain unconvinced that a faithful application of Scripture can be obtained apart from a prior consideration of authorial intent and original context.

Several evangelical publishing houses have recently introduced an “academic” division into their array (e.g., IVP, Broadman & Holman, Baker). What is noteworthy is that such publishers have consequently attracted writers other than those of an evangelical stripe. The problem arises when evangelical students-trusting evangelical publishers to produce works that reflect evangelical presuppositions-read Moyise's remarks concerning the general unreliability of John (p. 9 and throughout), with little notice from the back cover or introduction of Moyise's less than evangelical approach. Because the publishing name “Baker” graces its cover, many will assume that Moyise is an evangelical. Therefore, uninitiated students may interpret Moyise's statements about John as a major position within their camp. Recent critically engaged yet thoroughly evangelical works have argued that solid rationale exists to hold the opposite in John's case (e.g., Keener, Blomberg, cf. Richard Bauckham's volume on eyewitness testimony). These works are not found in Moyise's select bibliography, and Bauckham's significant tome is relegated to an endnote (p. 133n1).

I do recommend the book, nevertheless, to evangelical students. Moyise offers a brief yet intelligent survey of the use of the OT in the Gospels. Much in the book is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Moreover, Moyise has written his overview “not to propagate my conclusions” but “to encourage readers to work out their own” (p. 121). Evangelical students can learn much from him. Despite the stated purpose, however, an introduction to the OT in the Gospels, which provides help to questions that Moyise's “maximalists” are finally asking, still remains to be written.

Christopher A. Beetham

Christopher A. Beetham
Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology and Evangelical Theological College
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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