by Bill Nugent
The New Testament contains many quotations of Old Testament passages. This is to be expected since many of the events described in the New Testament are in direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
When one examines a New Testament quotation of an Old Testament passage and then flips over to the Old Testament itself to read the original rendering one notices that in many cases the wording is slightly different. Skeptics and anti-missionaries make much of this and many even slanderously claim that New Testament writers twisted the Old Testament passages they quoted. In this article we will see that this charge is unfounded because there is a very straightforward, reasonable explanation for the variation in the quoted material.
First of all let it be known that ancient writers often paraphrased material that they quoted. The addition or deletion of words when quoting from another work was commonplace and accepted in scholarly works of the time. The Jewish people of ancient times used the Targums in their discussion and study of the Old Testament. The Targums are a paraphrased Aramaic translation of the Old Testament. Additionally we must consider that theTalmud (a major ancient Jewish scholarly work) contains many paraphrased quotes of Old Testament passages.
The paraphrases were not sloppy scholarship but rather done deliberately in order to explain the sense of the passage being quoted. We see perhaps the beginning of this custom in the time of Nehemiah, several centuries before Christ. Let’s consider this passage in Nehemiah 8:8 which describes a public reading of the Law of Moses to a group of people: “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” The above quote does not directly state that they paraphrased the reading of the law but does allow for that possibility and certainly does state that explanatory words were given in conjunction with the reading.
It is not surprising that when the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the New Testament He gave His divinely inspired interpretive paraphrase of the Old Testament passages that were being quoted.
To illustrate the principle of interpretive paraphrase with a contemporary example let’s say that a writer is discussing some of the opening words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. An exact quote would be “all men are created equal.” However, to clarify the passage the writer doesn’t quote it exactly but instead gives an interpretive paraphrase and renders it “all people are created equal.” The writer does this in order to explain that the word “men” in the original does not limit the concept of equality to only those of the male gender. The word “men” was often used to refer to all people, male and female.The above paraphrase is not a twisting of the content of those words but merely a way of explaining them. I should point out that a contemporary writer would put the word “people” in brackets to indicate that it was not in the original text. Ancient writers did not use brackets.
To conclude, it is entirely reasonable that New Testament writers add or delete words when interpretively paraphrasing Old Testament passages. They did this not at their own whim but under divine inspiration. Contemporary Bible teachers and scholars follow stricter and more rigid standards that have become formalized in our own day. Contemporary writers quote a passage word for word and enclose it within quotation marks and then go on to interpret and discuss the passage separately. Ancient writers didn’t use quotation marks.
Paraphrased quotations of Old Testament passages that appear in the New Testament do not in any way detract from its scholarly integrity or its divine inspiration.