The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27
Lecture I. Introductory
Lecture I. Introductory.
One of the oldest, most popular, and most effective arguments in favour of the view that Jesus Christ was God, or at all events, a miraculous or supernatural, and therefore exceptional being, is the alleged existence of passages in the Old Testament, which are held to be predictions of his birth, mission, character, life, and death. This argument has appealed to a variety of peculiarities in human nature, which have caused it to be a telling one. People who could not appreciate a close train of reasoning, or be influenced by purely moral and spiritual considerations, have their sense of wonder gratified and their imagination excited by the consideration that the coming of Jesus and the circumstances of his birth, life, and death, were all foretold, ages before he appeared.
And here, at the very outset, I fully admit that the New Testament does more or less distinctly set forth Jesus Christ as the fulfiller of Old Testament predictions. The passages will come before us afterwards; here it will be enough to admit that the fact is so. But, while admitting that, we are forced on to the question—What then? Even in cases where there is a definite assertion of fulfilled prophecy, are we to give in to the evangelists without personal examination and the use of our own judgments? To do so would not only be foolish but base.
But the question is a far more complex one than it appears to be. As we go on, we find we are obliged to ask such questions, for instance, as these:—Were these alleged fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies afterthoughts? Did the Old Testament prediction suggest and half compel the New Testament fulfilment? Did Jesus himself believe that he was the fulfiller of Old Testament prophecies? If so, how far did ho consciously try to fulfil them, and, as it were, lay himself out for their fulfilment? Or, if Jesus did hold that he fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, did he not also lift those prophecies into an entirely new region, giving a moral and spiritual meaning and value to an altogether page 4 political and material reference? If so, how far did he suggest the higher truth, that not only he, but that any moral and spiritual reformer may be a true fulfiller of Old Testament prophecies—their fulfilment being not a personal but a perpetual one;—so that he claimed to be the Messiah, as he also claimed to be a son of God, not as an exceptional being, but as one who presented conditions and reaped blessings within the reach of us all? I feel sure there is a great deal this, and that a cool, impartial, and close examination of the alleged fulfilments of Old Testament prophecies in the New, would lead to the discovery that the all-pervading idea is, that the hopes of Israel found in Jesus, not the intended and expected, but the true, because the moral and spiritual, realization.
The question thus becomes forced upon us, whether the evangelists themselves, in stating that such and such prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, really meant that the Old Testament prophecy referred to him, or only that it spiritually received its moral and religious fulfilment in him. Jesus himself certainly never gave in to the political and material hopes of the nation, and neglected, in a striking and defiant manner, obvious political and material references of the prophecies. He announced that he came to fulfil, but he only fulfilled by spiritualising, and by acting out on a heavenly stage the drama intended for an earthly one. It will thus be seen that the question is far from settled, even when we have admitted that the evangelists held the Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled in Christ.
When we, however, examine these passages in the New Testament which affirm fulfilments of passages in the Old, several very curious facts come to light; these, for instance,—that many of the passages from the Old Testament, quoted by the writers of the New, are mere descriptions, misread or used by them as prophecies; or that, as quotations, they are vague, or palpably inaccurate, or mere illustrations. It will well repay us here to look a little at this.
Take, for instance, as illustrative of the use of mere descriptions as prophecies, the following:—In Matt. xiii. 14, 15, we find it stated that Jesus spoke in parables to the people, because they were dull and blind, and because it was "not given" to them to know" the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven;" and "in them," we are expressly told, was "fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. "In John xii. 87-41, the passage is quoted with the added statement, that the people "could not believe" in Christ, "because" Isaiah said or wrote that;—a horrible statement, which of itself demands of us a sharp scrutiny of these alleged fulfilments.
Now what do we find in the passage itself in the Old Testament'? We find not a prophecy at all, but a statement of fact—a descrip- page 5 tion of the dull, blind condition of the people in Isaiah's time. And it is this description of a fact before the prophet's eye that is taken as a prophecy of a far-distant event! Many other examples could be quoted,* but it is not necessary to encumber the lecture with texts. It is sufficient to point out here, and to lay emphasis on the fact, that Old Testament passages containing descriptions of present facts are taken by the New Testament writers as prophecies of future events.
Instances of the second kind, mere vague quotations, are as frequent. It is, in fact, one of the singular and most suggestive peculiarities of these quotations, that they are often so vague and far-fetched as to almost hint, after all, that the quoters did not really mean to suggest that the Old Testament writers actually intended to point out the events of New Testament times, and to hint further, that the New Testament writers only used the Old Testament passages as descriptive illustrations. In one place, Matt, xxvi. 56, we have the vague general statement, that" all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." And yet the very vagueness and generality here may indicate that the writer really regarded the events he alluded to as actual fulfilments of Old Testament prophecies. In Matt. ii. 28 we have the statement that Jesus dwelt in Nazareth," that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.' "But such a passage is nowhere to be found. In John xv. 25, we have the very vague statement concerning the Jews' hatred of Christ,—"But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause." But it is well nigh impossible to fix upon any definite passage as that which is here said to be quoted. In John xix. 28, in a description of the crucifixion, we have this—" After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst." Again, however, we look in vain for any definite" scripture" where this is to be found. To say the least of it, it is utterly vague. In John xx. 9, we read that the disciples did not yet know the Scriptures, that Jesus" must rise again from the dead." Here is the perfection of vagueness. Where are the scriptures that prophesy the resurrection of Jesus? The evangelist does not tell; and most assuredly the Jews knew nothing in their own Scriptures of a dying and rising Messiah.
Inaccurate quotations form another though a closely allied class of quotations from the Old in the New Testament. One fact is important, that the majority of the passages in the New Testament quoted from the Old, as fulfilled by Christ, are not taken from the Hebrew Bible at all but from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew. The original writers of the Greek New Testament, then, quoted at second-hand from the Greek Old Testament, errors and all; and, in addition, often quoted from memory, and quoted wrongly.
* See Luke iv. 16-21; John ii. 17; John xiii. lb; John xix. 36; Acts i. 16-20; Heb. x. 4-7.
Then, finally, we have passages that are purely illustrative, which are hardly quoted as fulfilments, such as John iii. 14, 15, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever, believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." In a passage like that, we have suggested the possibility of a use of passages for the mere purpose of illustration and analogy, even where the formula occurs, "That it might be fulfilled."
Besides these, we have a great number of passages to which, in subsequent lectures your attention will be directed, as furnishing abundant examples of palpably inaccurate and forced application. Many of these are in the Gospels; others are to be found in the writings of Paul. Of these last, Mr. Jowett frankly says:—"There is no evidence that the apostle remembered the verbal connection in which any of the passages quoted by him originally occurred. He isolates them wholly from their context; he reasons from them as he might from statements of his own," going off upon a word," as it has been called—in one instance, almost upon a letter (Gal. iii. 16), drawing inferences which, in strict logic, can hardly be allowed, extending the meaning of words beyond their first and natural sense. But all this only implies, that he uses quotations from the Old Testament after the manner of his age;" so that this very emphatic and suggestive statement about Paul's loose way of dealing with the Old Testament must be made applicable to other New Testament writers. That this must be so, I shall in future lectures abundantly prove.
* From the play of Hamlet alone, we have taken out of their connection and applied to a thousand things, persons, or events, such phrases as these, for instance:—"Weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable"—" There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy"—"Brevity is the soul of wit"—"Let the gall'd jade wince; our withers are unwrung"—"More honoured in the breach than the observance "—"There's method in his mudness."
But, after making a liberal allowance for that, the fact seems to remain that the New Testament writers do deliberately quote from the Old Testament, for the purpose of affirming that the passages they quote were actually prophecies of Christ. Can we account for this? I think we can. The New Testament writers probably believed that Jesus was actually the expected Messiah, and if so they would naturally take it for granted that what were regarded as Old Testament descriptions were applicable to him. If they remembered a passage that bore a verbal resemblance to what they were writing about, they quoted it; if not, they felt so sure lie did everything as the fulfiller of Scripture that they inserted only a general reference to the Scriptures, such as" That the Scriptures might be fulfilled." In the time of Christ, there was a revival of Messianic hopes and expectations. Pretenders and fanatics had arisen to gratify the eager longing of the nation, and it was of the greatest possible importance that the life of this candidate for Messianic honours should have his life, work, and death, linked on to the Old Testament records. Innocently and naturally, therefore, the writers seized upon everything that could possibly help them. It mattered not to them that they tore a scrap from its context to furnish a fulfilment of prophecy: it mattered not to them that the passage they conveyed away plainly referred to ancient political events. Christ must have fulfilled all Scripture, and so all Scripture had to submit to be mutilated or appropriated, to furnish triumphant credentials to Christ. They were not dishonest, they were only fanatical: they did not intend to pervert and wrest the Scriptures, they only meant to glorify them by linking them to the life and work of their glorious Lord. They acted as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews acted when he assumed that Christ, as the true High Priest, and, strangely enough, as the perfect sacrifice also, fulfilled and completed in himself all old sacrificial forms and truths; or when he took the Jews on their own ground, as believers in those old sacrificial ideas, and showed them that divine and deeper purposes and transactions were accomplished by Christ. So indeed, may the other writers of the New Testament, in their affirmations of Christ's fulfilments of Old Testament prophecies, have mainly intended to show how far more gloriously this spiritual Messiah could fulfil the old national hopes than any agitator, warrior, or king.
But we need not be surprised at the most literal appropriation of old records as prophecies of new events. We have only to remember the history of the Christian Church, from its first centuries until now. What the New Testament writers did, the Fathers did, page 8 the old Presbyterians and Puritans did, Oliver Cromwell did, Joseph Smith did. One of our own writers* has well indicated that fact:—" Some persons have found, in every individual thing in Jewish Scriptures, a type and prophecy of something in the "" Christian. Swedenborg imagined a spiritual mystical sense to belong to the commonest incidents of the patriarchal and Jewish history. The Puritans and Scotch Covenanters applied to themselves, with undoubting faith, all the Old Testament promises and exhortations delivered to the Jews as the people of God; and they heartily launched against Popery, Prelacy, and Monarchy, all the woes of the Hebrew Scriptures against Babylon, Tyre and Edom, the heathen and their idols!" The very morning on which I wrote these words, I saw a report of a statement, made by a popular preacher, that the Bible is everything or nothing, and that, as it was in his opinion, everything, yon must find in it prophecies of the late French and German war, of Mr. Gladstone's assault upon the Vatican, and of all the Papal and anti-Papal struggles yet to come. How much more necessary would it appear to the New Testament writers, to find somewhere and somehow, in the New Testament, references to one whom they believed to be the flower and consummation of the ages!
* Higginson's Spirit of the Bible Vol. II., p. 165.
Mr. Jowett plainly says that the Old Testament passages quoted by New Testament writers, are used "almost always without reference to the connection in which they originally occur, and in a different sense from that in which the Prophet or Psalmist intended them:" and it is that fact which makes it necessary to examine the alleged prophecies, and to resolutely see what it was that the original writer really meant. It is in doing this that we come across the undoubted fact that all the alleged prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament relate, in the original records, not to any remote future, not to any person unconnected with events then happening, but to scenes, circumstances, events, and persons all livingly connected with the prophet's own time.
Having got thus far, our way is perfectly clear; and all I have to do is to follow these alleged prophecies home to their source, and see what they really mean there. It will be an interesting and a curious investigation, and one that will well repay us in the end. If, however, in prosecuting this inquiry, any of those who rely upon external evidences should lament to see one of the great buttresses crumble beneath our hand, let this be remembered,—that it cannot be a bad thing to know the truth, that it must be a bad thing to be depending on that which is ready to pass away, and that it can only be useful and good to lead God's children to rely upon the manifestations of Himself in the living soul.