Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (Oct. 1963) 300-308.

Copyright 1963 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

III. LITERARY KEYS TO THE FOURTH GOSPEL

 

The Old Testament

and the Fourth Gospel

 

Merrill C. Tenney

 

 

BETWEEN the revelations of the Old and New Testaments a

strong bond of unity exists. Augustine's little couplet,

"The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is by the New re-

vealed," expresses the relationship quite accurately. Apart

from the New Testament the Hebrew canon is a truncated

cone, solid but incomplete, its lines pointing to an apex yet

unrealized. Without the Old Testament the new revelation is

devoid of an adequate foundation, for its presuppositions are

left unexplained and its place in the total purpose of God is

undefined.

According to the record, the Old Testament was the basis

for preaching the new message. The earliest sermons of the

apostles recorded in Acts are filled with excerpts from the law,

the prophets, and the psalms, which, they said, were prophetic

of Christ (Acts 2:16-21, 25-31; 3:22; 10:43; 13:32-38). The

Gospels substantiate this practice, both by Jesus' own use of

Scripture and by the Evangelists' procedure. Mark com-

mences his narrative with a double quotation from Malachi

3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, but does not thereafter quote directly

except when reproducing the discourses of Jesus. Luke and

Matthew employ more Scripture in the body of their text.

Matthew, being concerned especially with the fulfillment of

prophecy, introduces frequently the formula, "that it might

be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet," or some similar

expression (Matt. 1:22; 2:5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17;

12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 27:9). The epistles and Revelation are

 



THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE FOURTH' GOSPEL 301

 

permeated with Old Testament language and teaching. Reve-

lation alone contains nearly three hundred quotations or

allusions.

Identification of quotations is not always easy. Seldom did

the authors give the exact derivation of the texts that they

quoted, and still less often did they quote verbatim. Very fre-

quently they made only a casual allusion, so that one may not

always be certain whether the writer intended to recall a

specific passage or whether he were simply using general

Biblical language that had become part of ordinary parlance.

Scriptural references can be generally classified under three

heads: citations, which are almost exact verbally and which

are definitely referred to a given author; quotations, which

are sufficiently close to the original to leave no doubt con-

cerning their derivation, but which are not attributed explic-

itly to a definite source; and allusions, which are often so

loosely constructed that only one or two words out of a sen-

tence parallel the Biblical text.

The exact number of references to the Old Testament in

John is debatable, for it is occasionally difficult to determine

what is a reference and what is not. Some are direct citations;

many are indisputably quotations or clear allusions; but in

other instances the language is general, or else is so indefinite

that one cannot be sure of the exact source. In at least one

case a text is attributed to Scripture which cannot be pre-

cisely located (John 7:38). The purpose of this study is not

to identify and expound each text presumably taken from the

Old Testament, but to discuss the influence of the Hebrew

Bible on the teaching of John.

A survey discloses forty-seven references to the Old Testa-

ment. Three of these are positive citations, all taken from

Isaiah; fifteen are quotations, fourteen of which can be readily

identified, and one of which has not been located; eighteen are

allusions that can be traced satisfactorily, though the text is

not quoted verbatim. In addition there are eleven general

references which imply a background that cannot be assigned

definitely. The total quantity indicates, however, that Old

Testament concepts were basic in the message of the Evange-

list, and that his teaching was intended to be an interpreta-

tion of them.

 



302 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1963

 

The appearance of these references is evenly distributed

through the Gospel, except that there seem to be few direct

connections with the Old Testament in the farewell discourses

of chapters 14 through 17. Five quotations, introduced by the

phrase, "that the scripture may be fulfilled," or one similar,

occur in the account of the last days of Jesus' life (13:18,

15:25; 19 :24, 28, 29, 36, 37). These emphasize the relation

of the suffering of Christ to the prophetic Messianic picture.

The question may legitimately be raised whether these

citations, quotations, and allusions are used for the purpose

of illustration or of argumentation. Did the Evangelist desire

to ornament his narrative with appropriate quotations from

sacred literature only to enhance his concept of Jesus? On the

other hand, was he attempting to record the completion of a

revelation that had been begun in the past, but that had been

left unfinished? In the Prologue (1:1-18) he introduced the

person of Christ by declaring that He was "in the beginning,"

eternal and coeval with God at the creation of the world (1:1).

When He became flesh He "tabernacled" (Gr. eskenosen)

among us, as the presence of Jehovah appeared in the cloud

of fire over the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex. 40:34-35).

He compared Jesus with Moses as the agent of a fuller reve-

lation: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and

truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). When John

the Baptist introduced Jesus to his disciples, he proclaimed

Him as "The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the

world" (1:29). The term that he used (Gr. amnos) appears

only four times in the New Testament, twice here (1:29, 36),

and in two other places where it clearly refers to a sacrificial

lamb (Acts 8 :32; 1 Pet. 1:19). "Lamb" is drawn directly from

Isaiah 53, and connotes the total background of its source, the

suffering "Servant of God." The title, "Son of God," which the

Baptist applied to Jesus, is an allusion to Psalm 2:7: "Jehovah

said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee."

The connection between the Testaments is vital, not accidental.

The Gospel expands and implements the promises and types

of the earlier dispensation.

In comparison with the other Gospels, John uses the Old

Testament extensively. Because of the difficulty in establish-

ing a fixed criterion for quotation, it is impossible to estimate

 



THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE FOURTH GOSPEL 303

 

accurately the ratio of usage. Scroggie attributes 63 refer-

ences to Mark, 129 to Matthew, 90 to Luke, and 124 to John.1

The latter figure seems high, but it is safe to say that John is

second only to Matthew in the frequency of his allusions to

the Old Testament. A statistical count, however accurate, does

not always afford a complete test of importance; the influence

of Old Testament concepts and predictions on the thought of

the Gospel provides a more valid standard.

The influence of the Scriptures has numerous facets. Cer-

tain books are quoted more than others. Isaiah's prophecy is

mentioned at least six times, with a possible seventh allusion.

John the Baptist identified himself (John 1:23) as "the voice

of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the

Lord" (Isa. 40:3). He connected himself with the Messianic

theme of the prophet, and equated the person of Jesus with

the Jehovah of the Old Testament, whose way he had come to

prepare. His presentation of "the Lamb of God" identified

Jesus with the "Servant" of Isaiah, who became the bearer of

Israel's sin (Isa. 53:4-7). The main quotation of John 12:15,

"Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting

on an ass's colt," is taken from Zechariah 9:9, but the words,

"Fear not," seem to be derived from Isaiah 40:9, which an-

nounces the coming of Jehovah as the Shepherd of Israel. Two

more excerpts from Isaiah appear in close succession in John's

final estimate of Jesus' public ministry (2:37-40). The first of

these, "Lord, who hath believed our report . . .," taken from

Isaiah 53:1, identifies Jesus with the "servant of the Lord,"

confirming the initial proclamation of John the Baptist. The

second excerpt, beginning, "He hath blinded their eyes, and

he hardened their hearts . . ." explaining the unbelief of the

people, is quoted from Isaiah 6:9, with the comment, "These

things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of

him" (12:41).

The "glory" mentioned in Isaiah 6 is ascribed to Jehovah

of hosts; according to John it is attributed to Jesus. The allu-

sion to Isaiah 66:14 in John 16:22 contains a parallelism in

the words, "your heart shall rejoice," but the resemblance is

not strong enough to possess interpretative value.

Except for the Psalms, Isaiah seems to have been more

 

1 William G. Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels, pp. 190, 270, 363, 426.



304 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1963

 

familiar to the writer of the Gospel than any other book.

John's use is not exceptional, for the other Gospels also refer

to it frequently, and it appears also in the sermons reproduced

in Acts. The Evangelist is witness that Isaiah must have been

regarded by the early church as prophetic both in its revela-

tion of the nature of Christ, and in its prediction of His

mission.

Since the Psalms were the hymnbook of the Hebrew

people, it is natural that they should be the best known of the

sacred writings. Probably they had saturated the speech of

the devout Jews who would remember the lines that they had

sung whether they had studied the law and the prophets ex-

tensively or not. Out of twelve parallels with the Psalms given

(in John), nine (Psalms 69:9; 78:24; 82:6; 118:25; 41:9;

35:19; 22:18; 69:21, 34:20) are either exact quotations or so

nearly exact that there can be no doubt about their origin,

and the remaining three are somewhat uncertain. Five can be

called predictive: the prophecy of Jehovah's messenger com-

ing to Jerusalem (Ps. 118:25), the lament over the treacher-

ous friend (41:10), the division of the garments (22:18), the

draught of vinegar (69:22), and the preservation of the bones

of the righteous (34:20).

Every book of the Pentateuch is represented in the Fourth

Gospel, and the prophets Daniel (12:2), Malachi (4:5), and

Zechariah (9:9; 12:10), as well as Isaiah, appear in quota-

tions or allusions. All three divisions of the Old Testament

canon, the law, the prophets, and the Psalms, were utilized in

interpreting the work of Christ.

Three aspects of the influence of the Old Testament are

apparent. The first of these is predictive prophecy. Jesus Him-

self endorsed the predictive use of the Old Testament by His

statement that the Scriptures bore witness of Him (John

5:39). Not every event of His career was outlined in advance,

but the categorical use of the phrase, "that it might be ful-

filled" (13:18; 19:24, 28, 29, 36), and the general statement

that Scripture had foretold His resurrection (20:9) are suffi-

cient to warrant the conclusion that the New Testament

specifically fulfills the Old. John consciously related his writ-

ing to prophecy, and taught that the Messianic element of

Jesus' ministry was the logical outcome of the revealed pur-

 



THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE FOURTH GOSPEL 305

 

pose of God.

Allied to predictive prophecy is typology, which finds in

the biography or ritual of the Old Testament foreshadowings

of the person of Christ. Although the typical significance of

the lives of the patriarchs or the kings, or of the structure and

worship of the tabernacle can be exaggerated, the study of

typology is still a legitimate discipline in Biblical research.

There are indications that Jesus recognized the symbolical

meaning of Old Testament events, and that He utilized them

in His teaching.

In His short conversation with Nathanael He alluded to

the experience of Jacob, who dreamed of a ladder reaching

unto heaven, over which the messengers of God ascended to

Him with their reports and petitions, and returned with His

replies (Gen. 28:12). The vision was the means of transmit-

ting to Jacob a renewal of God's promise to his forefathers,

and a fresh promise of blessing for him. Jesus informed

Nathanael that he would receive a revelation of God through

the Son of man, who would be a much more adequate link

between heaven and earth than the ministry of angels (John

1:50-51).

The parallel that Jesus drew between the revelation to

Jacob through a vision and the revelation to Nathanael

through His person can be expanded to include the entire

history of the Exodus. When the Jews, forgetful of the Egyp-

tian bondage, told Jesus that they were Abraham's descend-

ants, and had never been in bondage to any man (8:33), He

reminded them that He could make them truly free from the

more deadly slavery of sin (8:35). He became the sacrificial

Lamb of God whose blood brought a greater deliverance than

the first Passover.

Another example of typology was the manner with which

God fed the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings.

Jesus accepted the historical fact, but assured the people that

Moses did not provide the real bread from heaven (6:32-33)

which afforded spiritual nourishment. "Your fathers," He

said, "ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is

the true bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man

may eat thereof and not die" (6:49-50).

Jesus drew a comparison between Himself and the brazen

 



306 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1963

 

serpent that Moses erected in the wilderness (Num. 21:5-9).

The point of analogy centered in the act of faith. Just as

looking upon the serpent in response to the divine command

brought healing, so trust in the uplifted Christ will result in

eternal life. The verb "lifted up" (Gd. hypsoo) is used in this

Gospel only of the cross (3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34), and implies

that as the deadly serpents were representatively judged in

the bronze image transfixed on a pole or banner-staff, so the

Son of man must be publicly exhibited in death, bearing the

judgment of sin. The bronze serpent was an antidote to the

poisonous death that rebellion had caused; Jesus became the

antidote to the sin of a world.

Throughout the wilderness journey the Israelites were led

by the pillar of cloud and fire that settled over the tabernacle

wherever they camped. John says that the Word "tabernacled"

among us, and manifested His glory to the disciples (1:14).

In Christ God found a more perfect medium for contact with

men than in the material structure of the Old Testament

tabernacle, and in the nature of the living person He embodied

both the perfection of revelation and the essence of true

worship. The entire Exodus was the expression of God's con-

descension and intervention on behalf of the chosen nation

(Ex. 3:7-8); the salvation of men depends on the fact that

the Son of man descended from heaven to dwell with human-

ity (John 1:14; 3:13; 6:38). Christ is the epitome of God's

revelation, manifested in personal relationship rather than in

historical experience.

The spiritual significance of the Hebrew ritual is perfected

in Christ. In His person the various elements of ceremonial

worship are unified and integrated. He is the Lamb of God,

or the sacrifice on the altar (1:29), the bread of life that

excels the shewbread (6:51), the light of the world that out-

shines the golden candelabrum (8:12), the medium of inter-

cession through whom more effectual prayer can be offered

than at the golden altar (16:23-24), and the final revelation

of God, in whom divine law and divine life become more

accessible to men than they were through the ark of the cove-

nant (1:18). Christ is the antitype of the symbolism and

progress of the tabernacle worship.

The chronological scheme of John's Gospel is organized by

 



THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE FOURTH GOSPEL 307

 

the sequence of the Jewish ritual year. Each of the major

sections is related to some religious feast celebrated by the

Jews at Jerusalem, and the development of the plot grows

with the appearance of Christ at these feasts. His initial pres-

entation to the people of Jerusalem occurred at a Passover

(2:13), and was accompanied by "signs" and numerous con-

fessions of belief (2:23). The controversy over His claims that

evoked His declaration of divine origin and prerogatives

followed at an unnamed feast, which may have been a second

Passover (5:1). The feeding of the five thousand and the dis-

closure in the synagogue at Capernaum, which proved to be

the watershed of His public ministry, occurred at the Passover

season (6:4). Within the following year the Feast of Taber-

nacles was the occasion of His last great popular appeal and

His rejection by the national leaders (7:2, 37, 38, 43, 44).

At the Feast of the Dedication in the winter His enemies

attempted to stone Him (10:31-39), and drove Him into

retirement (10:40).

Jesus' death and resurrection took place at the Passover

(11:55; 13:1; 18:28). The long conference with the disciples

in the upper room was directly preparatory for the events

which would enable them to understand, as Paul did later, that

"our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ" (1 Cor.

5:7). The Evangelist himself asserts this truth by writing in

his record that "these things were done that the scripture

might be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken" (19:36).

The quotation finds a counterpart in the regulation for the

Passover sacrifice: "neither shall ye break a bone thereof"

(Ex. 12:46). John recognized the prophetic meaning of the

Old Testament ritual, and consequently drew the comparison

between the slain lamb and Christ.

The connection of the trends and teachings of the law and

the prophets with the incarnation of Christ does not depend

upon casual deductions, but is confirmed by His explicit testi-

mony. He accepted the title of Messiah from others (1:49-50)

and applied it to Himself (4:25-26). In the early controversy

between Himself and the Jews He declared that the Scripture

was a witness to Him, and that Moses wrote of Him (5:39,

46). In the light of this statement it is legitimate to conclude

that the apostolic affirmations concerning His fulfillment of

 



308 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1963

 

prophecy are founded on His authority.

The Fourth Gospel draws its organization, some of its

imagery, and its fundamental theological concepts from the

Old Testament. On the other hand, the revelation of Christ,

the living Word, transcends the symbols and ordinances of

the law. "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth

came through Jesus Christ" (1:17). The God who descended

in clouds and thunder on Sinai, who spoke to Elijah in the still

small voice, and who uttered His counsel through the mouths

of the prophets had remained personally inaccessible. He was

real, but external to His people. In Christ God has made per-

sonal contact with man. His grace and truth have been ex-

emplified, and His redemptive purpose has been accomplished.

The symbolic ritual and regulative ethic have found their

ultimate fulfillment.

 

 

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

3909 Swiss Ave.

Dallas, TX 75204

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu