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The Old in the New, Understanding How the New Testament Authors Quoted the Old Testament by Michael Vlach

Since ten percent of the New Testament consists of Old Testament quotes and allusions (pp. i, v), the question arises as to how these quotes are to be interpreted. In particular, when the New Testament authors use Old Testament quotations which are at variance to the apparent meaning of the original texts, how are these quotes to be understood? Michael Vlach, current Professor of Theology at Shepherd’s Theological Seminary, identifies seven key approaches by evangelicals on the use of the Old Testament in the New, and devotes a chapter to each view. They are:

  1. Single Meaning – Multiple Implications (or Consistent Contextual Use of the OT by the NT Writers Approach).
  2. Human Meaning Plus Hidden Divine Meaning (or Sensus Plenior Approach).
  3. Contemporary Judaism/Second Temple Judaism (or NT Writers Used Jewish Interpretive Principles of the Day Approach).
  4. Canonical Interpretation (or Broader Canon as Basis for Understaind the OT Approach).
  5. Inspired Sensus Plenior Application (or Inspired Subjectivity Approach).
  6. Historical-Exegetical and Theological-Canonical (or Eclectic Approach).
  7. New Testament Reinterpretation of the Old Testament (or NT Priority Over the OT Approach) (pp. 3-4).

Vlach champions the Consistent Contextual Approach as does Abner Chou in his 2018 book The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers (p. 3), and Walter Kaiser (p. 6).  Vlach explains:

According to this approach, each OT passage has a single meaning, which is the human author’s meaning under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And when a NT writer quotes an OT text, he does so contextually—in accord with intended meaning of the OT author. This could take place through explaining the meaning of an OT passage or offering an implication consistent with the meaning… Yet if implication occurs, the implication is consistent with the spirit of the OT author’s meaning. The implication is not entirely disconnected from what the OT author meant. With this perspective, the NT writer respected the original meaning of the OT writer and did not use the OT text or passage out of context (p. 5).

The thesis of this present volume is: “Based on an inductive study of the biblical evidence, this book will argue that the NT uses the OT in an overwhelmingly contextual manner. The NT is not reinterpreting or transforming the texts or overall message of the OT” (p. ii). Based on Vlach’s nine years of research, he offers four main contributions. This book:

  1. Introduces key terms and statistics concerning NT use of the OT.
  2. Presents the seven major views of the NT use of the OT, with analysis of each.
  3. Reveals the major ways the NT writers used and quoted the OT.
  4. Interprets most cases where the NT quotes the OT, including the most difficult examples to understand (p. ii).

Vlach further expands his position by stating: In sum, I believe the NT writers and persons consistently quoted and used the OT in a contextual manner. Whether by explaining the meaning of an OT passage, or drawing implications or significances from an OT text, the NT persons and authors quoted the OT in ways consistent with the original meanings of the OT authors (p. 61, emphasis his). These meanings and significances can be discerned by applying grammatical-historical hermeneutics consistently to all Bible passages.

The author examines scores of texts and suggest that there are only 14 cases in which non-contextual use of the OT is possible (p. 73). In this exegesis of each case, he concludes that only three are likely examples: Galatians 4:21-31, Ephesians 4:8 and Ephesians 5:31-32. Even in these texts Vlach believes they are being used contextually, but suggest they present the greatest challenge to his view.

The Old in the New is a polemic for the single meaning—multiple implication (or consistent contextual use of the OT by NT writers approach), but it is also an excellent resource book for further study. To this end Vlach offers a handy glossary of terms used throughout the book (pp. 305-308), and two valuable indexes:  general and Scripture. The latter one will prove highly useful to the biblical exegete whenever he or she is seeking to interpret OT quotes found in the NT.

This volume is an extremely useful resource and belongs in the library of every serious student of Scripture.

The Old in the New, Understanding How the New Testament Authors Quoted the Old Testament, by Michael Vlach (Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2021), 334 pp. & xi, paper $23.00.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel