This article is a supplement to the recently posted series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. In a previous post, I discussed two striking scenes in the Lukan Resurrection Narratives which speak of Jesus’ “opening the Scriptures” to his disciples (24:27, 32) or “opening their mind” to understand the Scriptures (24:45ff). It is clearly indicated in these passages that Jesus expounded or explained the Sacred Writings, in relation to their foretelling (or prefiguring) his suffering, death, and resurrection (cf. esp. v. 26 and 46). However, it is never specified exactly which Old Testament passages he used, or what manner of exposition he applied. This silence is tantalizing, and perhaps worth exploring a bit further, which I shall do directly below. First, a follow-up note on verse 44, where Jesus reiterates earlier teaching to the disciples that “it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (things) having been written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me”. This theme of the fulfillment (literally “to be made full, to be filled [up]”) of Scripture is a key theme throughout the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament as well). A concrete sense of the metaphor would depict the Writings (Scriptures) as a space or container which is filled up—that is, up to the brim, leveled off. Implied in this image, is that the Life and Person of Christ is what “fills up” the space. A more abstract sense of “filling up” is to “complete” or “accomplish” some goal or task; “filling” can also have an intensive connotation (i.e., “abundance”, “fullness”). I should wish to consider this “filling up” of Scripture from two vantage points:
- Details in the Gospels (esp. related to his death/resurrection) which Jesus himself speaks of as, in some sense, fulfilling Scripture
- Use of specific Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (or their underlying sources)
1. Details in the Gospels which “fulfill Scripture”, according to Jesus’ recorded words:
- Luke 4:17-21 — Isaiah 61:1-2 is “this day fulfilled in your ears” (cf. also Matthew 11:4-6/Luke 7:22)
- Mark 8:31 (par. Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22) — Jesus first ‘Passion prediction’: “it is necessary” (dei=) for the Son of Man “to suffer” (paqei=n), etc. The particle dei= certainly indicates a Scripture reference (cf. Luke 24:44).
- Mark 9:12-13 (par. Matt. 10:11-12) — a secondary reference to the suffering of the Son of Man (“it has been written”)
- Mark 9:31 (par. Matt. 17:22-23; Luke 9:44) — the second ‘Passion prediction’; parallels the first and third predictions, but no specific mention of Scripture here.
- Mark 10:33-34 (par. Matt. 20:18-29; Luke 18:31-33) — the third ‘Passion prediction’; in the Lukan form Jesus refers to “all the (things) having been written through the Prophets”, that these will be completed (telesqh/setai) in (or to) the Son of Man.
- Mark 12:10-11 & par. — Jesus identifies himself with Psalm 118:22-23 (“the stone which the builders rejected…”)
- Mark 14:21 & par. — The Son of Man goes “as it has been written”, in the context of Judas’ betrayal [“giving over”] of Jesus
- John 13:18 — The betrayal [“giving over”] by Judas is a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9 (cf. also John 17:12)
- John 15:25 — The world’s hatred of Christ (context of both the Passion and persecution of believers) a fulfillment of Psalm 35:19/69:4
- Mark 14:27 & par. — Passion scene the fulfillment of Zech 13:7
- Mark 14:49 (par. Matt. 26:54; cf. also Luke 22:37) — Events of the Passion, including the arrest, etc. are specifically described as fulfilling Scripture
- Mark 15:34 (par. Matt. 27:46) — fulfillment of Ps 22:1 on the cross
To which, one might also add:
- Matthew 5:17f — Jesus specifically states he has come to fulfill the Law and Prophets
- John 5:39 — Jesus says of the Scriptures that they “bear witness about me”
- Matthew 11:10; par. Luke 7:27 — John the Baptist as “My Messenger” (Mal. 3:1, cf. Mark 1:2-3)
- Matthew 12:8 & par. — Jesus (the Son of Man) is “Lord of the Sabbath” (a ‘fulfillment’ of the Sabbath?)
- Luke 9:31 — during the Transfiguration Jesus is described as conversing with Moses and Elijah about his way out [“going out”, e&codo$] which was about to “be fulfilled” in Jerusalem (the language is Luke’s, not necessarily Jesus’ own)
- Mark 10:18-21 & par. — following Jesus can be seen as a kind of ‘fulfillment’ of the commandments (law of love/sacrifice)
- Mark 11:2-3 & par. — Jesus’ instructions may be intended to fulfill Zech 9:9ff
- Mark 11:17 & par. — Jesus ties his ‘cleansing’ of the Temple with Isa 56:7 (his actions could also relate to Zech 14:20-21); the parallel account in John has a slightly different Scripture import
- Mark 12:35-37 & par. — Jesus’ short, cryptic, discussion of Psalm 110:1 (see a similar discussion involving Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34ff)
- Mark 14:24f & par. — Jesus identifies his blood as the “blood of the [new] covenant”
- Mark 14:62 & par. — reference to the future appearance of the Son of Man (cf. Daniel 7:13 ff)
- Mark 1:15 — “the time/season is fulfilled” and the Kingdom of God has come near (in the Person of Christ)
- John 7:38 — belief in Christ related to “rivers of living water” (but the exact Scripture reference is unclear)
- John 18:9, 32 — the reference is to Jesus’ word being fulfilled; whether this refers also to a Scripture passage is unclear
Others could perhaps be added to the list. For Scriptural references in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, see below.
2. Use of Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (and/or their sources):
MATTHEW: This Gospel makes by far the most extensive use of a citation-formula to indicate the fulfillment of specific Old Testament passages. A number of these citations state directly that what has occurred fulfills Scripture (1:22; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 21:4). A fair number are also unique to Matthew among the (canonical) Gospels (1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18; 4:14-16; 12:17-21; 21:4-5; 27:9-10). However, there can be no doubt that the basic citation-formula was part of the common Gospel tradition. Even John has a distinctive use of it: in addition to a cluster of citations in the Crucifixion scene (19:24, 28, 36-37), there are several verses (2:22; 12:16; 20:9) stating that the disciples did not at first understand that what they hear or witnessed was a fulfillment of Scripture (even upon witnessing the empty tomb [20:9]!).
JOHN: A different approach is utilized throughout the fourth Gospel, particularly in the great Discourses—at every turn Jesus identifies himself with key themes and images (we might call them “types”) from Scripture. This occurs at two levels:
(1) The Feasts, which are the setting for most of the Discourses and a number of narratives:
- Three different Passover settings: (a) Cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22), (b) Feeding of the Multitude & Bread of Life Discourse (chapter 6), (c) Passion Week (chaps. 12-13, [14-17], 18-20). John also makes clear allusions to Passover in the Crucifixion scene (19:14, 29, 31-36).
- Sukkoth (Feast of Booths/Tabernacles): This is the setting of chapter 7, and, presumably 8:12-59; the motifs of “living water” and light definitely seem to echo ritual imagery associated with Tabernacles (cf. esp. Zech 14:8).
- Dedication/Hanukkah (e)gkai/nia, “renewal”) is the setting of 10:22-39
- An unspecified Feast (Pentecost?) is the setting of chapter 5; more important is detail that it was a Sabbath, emphasizing the work of the Son and the Father, especially in regard to the life-giving power (5:19-29) they both share.
(2) Archetypal Old Testament motifs and symbols (others could probably be included):
- The ‘Lamb of God’ (1:29, 36), rel. also to the Passover sacrifice (19:14-36)
- “Jacob’s ladder” (this seems to be the primary reference, 1:51)
- The Temple identified with Jesus’ own person/body (2:19, 21)
- The bronze serpent “lifted up” to bring healing/salvation (esp. 3:14)
- Water (‘Living water’, esp. 4:10-14; 7:37-39)
- Resurrection, as the exclusive work of God (5:[19-24], 25-29; 6:40, 54; esp. 11:25-26, 38-44)
- ‘Bread of Life’/’Bread from Heaven’ (Manna, chapter 6 throughout)
- Light (‘Light of the world’, esp. 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; also the prologue v. 4-9)
- Shepherd (‘Good Shepherd’, 10:1-18, 25-30)
- Vine (15:1-11)
One should also note the following:
(3) In a number of passages, Jesus seems to be identified with Scripture itself (see especially 5:39). The Light/Darkness motif would appear to echo traditional OT/Jewish language for the Torah, which is often identified with Divine/personified Wisdom (the Word of God). This association is clearest in the Gospel’s prologue-hymn (1:1-18).
(4) Finally, of course, we have the famous “I Am” (e)gw\ ei)mi/) sayings of Jesus, which certainly could have been included in the lists above. It is not always clear how often this usage is meant to be taken absolutely (as an identification with the Name of God, cf. Exodus 3:14), but in passages such as 8:58 it is unmistakable.
LUKE: This Gospel adopts what I would call a literary-creative approach, whereby the core narrative traditions (inherited from Mark and/or other sources) have been given an interpretive layer shaped largely by Old Testament language and images. This is perhaps seen most clearly in the Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:5-2:52): the canticles are replete with Scriptural references (the Magnificat echoes Hannah’s song [1 Sam 2:1-10]), the angelic appearances (as in Matthew) follow Old Testament patterns, and overall the narratives seem to have been influenced and shaped especially by the stories of Samuel’s birth/youth (1 Sam 1-3). One could point to many other passages; for example, details unique to Luke’s presentation of the Transfiguration (cf. 9:29, 31, 34). In the Passion and Resurrection narratives, perhaps the following details might be noted:
- The context of the Last Supper (22:14-23) may more closely reflect the Passover ritual (especially if vv. 19b-20 are original)
- The angelic appearance to Jesus in the garden (if verses 43-44 are original)
- Emphasis of the role of Herod during Jesus’ trial is possibly influenced by OT passages such as Psalm 2:1-2 (cf. Acts 4:25-26)
- The placement of the rending of the Temple curtain—right after mention of the darkness (and before Jesus’ death)—is probably meant to enhance the apocalyptic imagery of the scene and to emphasize the theme of judgment (rel. to the destruction of the Temple—cf. Ezek. 10, etc. and later Pseudepigraphic passages such as 2 Baruch 6, 8).
- Instead of the cry of dereliction from the cross (quoting Psalm 22:1), Luke records (23:46) quite a different utterance of Jesus (quoting Psalm 31:6). This shows clearly how selection/application of various Scriptural allusions or details can create a very different (though not necessarily contradictory) portrait.
What Scripture passages did Jesus “open” for his disciples in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff? We have no way of knowing for certain; however, based on other New Testament passages and ancient Jewish traditions, here are some likely candidates (esp. those related to Jesus’ Suffering, Death and Resurrection):
- Genesis 22:1-14: The Binding/Sacrifice of Isaac (Aqedah). It is not entirely clear if the NT writers themselves made the association here between Isaac and Jesus, but by the middle of the 2nd century Christians clearly had done so (cf. Barnabas 7:2, Melito of Sardis [On the Pascha]).
- Exodus 12: The Passover ritual and sacrifice (in the context of the “Exodus”, cf. Luke 9:31). There can be no doubt that the Synoptic tradition and the Gospel of John both saw the connection (cf. especially John 19:14, 29, 31-36).
- Numbers 21:4-9: The bronze serpent (cf. John 3:14-15).
- Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (esp. vv. 15, 18-19 [Exod 20:21 SP]): The “Prophet like Moses” whom God will raise up. By Jesus’ time, this passage had been understood to refer to an eschatological Prophet, in a quasi-Messianic context (see esp. the Qumran testimonia 4Q175; also 1QS 9; CD 6; and John 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). It was definitely understood as a prophecy of Christ (Acts 3:22; 7:37-38). The refusal to listen to the Prophet (Deut 18:19) is tied in both to the Passion of Christ (Acts 7:39ff, 51-53) and the coming eschatological judgment (Acts 3:23).
- 2 Samuel 15:13-37: The narrative structure and sequence of the Passion (on the Mount of Olives) seems (at the level of the common tradition) to have been influenced by the story of David’s departure from Jerusalem. Matthew’s account of Judas’ death (27:3-5), in this context, may have been influenced by 2 Sam 17:23 (death of Ahithophel).
- Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (Servant Song): The chapters of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (40-66) were a rich trove for early Christian interpretation. Already John the Baptist had made use of Isa 40:3-5; Jesus applied Isa 61:1-2 to himself as he spoke in the Nazareth Synagogue (Luke 4:16-21ff); Matthew (12:18-20) cites Isa 42:1-4 (another “Servant Song”). As far as 52:13-53:12 is concerned, there can be no doubt that: (a) early believers recognized details related to the Passion, and also (b) that these details helped to shape the Passion narratives. A parallel can be found in nearly every verse (esp. vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12). In Acts 8:26-39, Philip interprets Isa 52:13-53:12 to the Ethiopian Eunuch in much the same manner, perhaps, as Jesus instructed the Disciples.
- Psalm 2:1-2 (see Acts 4:25-27): Very likely these verses also influenced Luke to emphasize the role of Herod in Jesus’ trial (a detail not found in the other Gospels). Luke 23:13 especially may echo verse 2 of the Psalm.
- Psalm 16:8-11: Cited in Acts 2:25-28ff (and again in Acts 13:35) as a prophecy of the death and Resurrection of Christ.
- Psalm 22: There can be no question that this Psalm had a profound influence on early Christians’ understanding of the Passion and Death of Jesus. In addition to Jesus’ own cry of dereliction (quoting Psalm 22:1-2) as recorded in Matthew-Mark, verses 7, 16, 18 offer explicit parallels to specific details.
- Psalm 31: In Luke 23:46, instead of the cry of abandonment, Jesus addresses the Father by quoting Psalm 31:5 [Heb./LXX v. 6]. Other verses in the Psalm (e.g., 7-8, 11, 13, 17-18, 22) also may have been related to the Passion.
- Psalm 41:9 [Heb./LXX v. 10]: Already cited (on Jesus’ lips) in John 13:18 as a prophecy/prefiguring of Judas’ betrayal
- Psalm 42:5, 11 [Heb./LXX v. 6, 12]: These verses seem be a source both for Jesus’ own words (Mark 14:34 par.) and the overall atmosphere of the Passion scene in Gethsemane.
- Psalm 69 (esp. verse 21 [Heb./LXX v. 22])
- Psalm 110:1: Jesus’ himself cites this verse (Mark 12:35-37 par.); but certainly early Christians saw in it a reference to the Resurrection and Exaltation of Christ (Acts 4:34-35, etc).
- Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders rejected”, applied by Jesus to himself (Mark 12:10-11 and par.); also verse 26 is used by the crowds (a festal/pilgrimage setting) at the Triumphal Entry, and by Jesus himself in a word of lament and judgment toward Jerusalem (Matthew 23:39).
- Ezekiel 37:1-14: The ‘Valley of Dry Bones’ prophecy likely was viewed early on as prefiguring the Resurrection (see Matthew 27:52-53 and the language in John 5:25-29)
- Daniel 7:13: Jesus draws upon the Son of Man imagery in the session before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62 par.) and in the Eschatological Discourse (set during Passion week, Mark 13:24-27 par.)
- Daniel 9:24-27 [esp. v. 26]: “the Anointed (One) shall be cut off…”
- Zechariah 9-14: As with Psalm 22 and Isa 52:13-53:12, these chapters had a tremendous influence on the interpretation of the Passion, and in shaping the narratives. (a) Zech 9:9: Seen as a prophecy/prefiguring of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (cited directly in Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). Jesus’ own detailed instructions (as recorded by the Synoptics, Mark 14:13-16 par.) may indicate that he himself had this passage in mind. (b) Zech 9:11: a reference to the “blood of [your] covenant” (cf. Mark 14:24 par.) (c) Zech 9:16 and chapters 10-11: true/false Shepherd imagery (see John 10:1-18, 25-30, with reference to Christ’s death/resurrection in vv. 11, 15, 17-18); see also on Zech 13:7. (d) Zech 11:12-13: the “thirty pieces of silver” thrown into the “house of the Lord, to the potter” (Matthew 26:15; 27:5-10). (e) Zech 12:10: “they shall look on me whom they have pierced…” (John 19:34-37) (f) Zech 13:7: cited by Jesus as a Passion prediction (Mark 14:17 par.); see also Zech 11:17. (g) Zech 13:1; 14:8: a fountain and “living water” in Jerusalem (see the discourse of Jesus in John 7-8 [esp. 7:37-39]). The Sukkot/Tabernacles setting pervades these chapters (14:16-19; cf. also the request for rain in 10:1). (h) Zech 14:20-21: These verses would seem to provide the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (esp. Mark 12:15-18); did Jesus himself have them in mind?
Jesus must have expounded at least some (if not all) of the above passages. Often the interpretation described by Jesus in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff has been overlooked by scholars. Critical commentators will look long and hard for explanations as to how early Christians came to associate certain Old Testament passages with the death and resurrection of Christ. Perhaps they have missed another possible explanation: that the disciples could have been introduced to them by Jesus himself.