John’s Use of the Old Testament

In light of the stated historical purpose of the book from the last study, it behooves us to consider briefly John’s use of the Old Testament. Any detailed remarks and analysis of texts will be saved for the studies themselves as we come across different texts.

Last study I asserted my belief that the Gospel was initially written as an evangelistic book for Jews and proselytes. Something that Jews and converts to Judaism would have had in the first century is an expectation of the Messiah and that being, to varying degrees, based on a reading of their Bible, the Old Testament. For this reason (as well as others), it makes sense that John would quote and allude to the Old Testament significantly and Jesus, as the Messiah, would quote and allude to it as well.

There are a few ways the book uses the Old Testament that I’ll briefly highlight so that we can watch for them as we progress through the book.

In the first place, there are direct quotations of the Old Testament. These are generally easy enough to spot. Many of the quotations are introduced by “as it is written” (6:31), or “as Scripture says” (7:38), or “in order that Scripture might be fulfilled” (19:24), etc. Sometimes these quotations can be rather loose and so discerning what fits in this category and what fits in the next can be difficult.

Somewhat harder to spot, and requiring some familiarity with the Old Testament, are allusions. An allusion makes reference to something less directly and calls our attention to it as background for the point currently being made. Very early on in the book we will encounter allusions to the Old Testament, especially from the book of Exodus, although John will show familiarity with much of the Old Testament throughout.

The categories of echo and typology I’ll save for the text analyses.

Not directly related to the use of the Old Testament but worth mentioning here, is how John is also culturally located in 1st century Palestine and the setting of Jesus’ life occurs here, especially including a Jewish culture, though not exclusively Jewish (e.g., Greco-Roman culture). Therefore there are references to Jewish festivals and Jewish life that will be taken for granted by John, but we might like to do a little more research to fill in the gaps given that Jesus and John’s culture is not our culture today.

To close, it is helpful to quote Andreas Kostenberger (relying on Porter and Evans): “The overall purpose of the use of the OT in John’s Gospel, as evidenced by the formal quotations, is to show that both Jesus’ public ministry and his cross-death fulfilled scriptural patterns and prophecies” (Kostenberger, “John” in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 415-16).

The next study will look at the authorship and date of John’s Gospel.

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3 comments

  1. David

    What about John’s use of the Old Testament in John 10:22 which refers to the Deutero-Canonical book of 1 Machabees 4:36, 4:52-59 in regards to the Festival of the Dedication of the Temple?

  2. Andrew Rozalowsky

    Thanks for the question, David.
    In the first place I mentioned I’d be brief and deal with OT quotes, allusions, echos, and typology as they arise in the texts.
    Since you asked though, a couple of things could be said.

    John 10:22 says, “Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter….” The text is narrating an event occurring in the life of Jesus, setting the scene for some conflict between Jesus and the authorities at the Temple. It would be saying too much to say John is referring or using 1 Maccabees here. He is only referring to an event that was taking place. The event may find grounding in 1 Maccabees but that’s another question outside the scope of John’s mentioning it.

    The next thing I’d say is 1 Maccabees isn’t in the Hebrew canon so that’s why I wouldn’t have dealt with it anyway in my brief study on the OT above.

    The last thing I’d say for now is, what question are you asking? You’ve assumed there’s a use of 1 Maccabees but haven’t shown what you think that use is in order for me to comment on it.

  3. David

    My questions was more pointing out to a reference of the OT that wasn’t mentioned in your post. However, you did answer as to why you didn’t look at it.

    I understand why now you wouldn’t look at the use of John’s reference. Although, something to consider since the OT Deutero-Canonical books are referenced by Paul 5 times and a few in Matthew and Luke. Since at the time of Christ both the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text were both held in great respect.

    Interesting side note: Since the discovering of the Dead Sea Scrolls, copies of some Biblical books found at Qumran reveal sharp divergences from the Masoretic text. However, scholars were amazed to find that the texts and cannons agreed with the Septuagint. (I digress but say this as a side study to not dismiss the Deutero-Canonical books). Something to think about.

    God Bless and keep up the good work!

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