Have you ever noticed that some quotations from the Old Testament seem to be ‘broken’ or incomplete? On other occasions the sense of an Old Testament quotation seems to have been changed because words not in the original are included. Such ‘anomalies’ should arrest our attention as students of the Bible, striving to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). We will find the Septuagint Version (lxx) useful in solving some of these interesting cases.

Peter, Pentecost and Joel 2 (Acts 2)

On the day of Pentecost an audience of “devout men out of every nation under heaven” heard the apostles of Christ speak in their own tongues, “wherein they were born” (Acts 2:5,7). They were amazed for they knew the apostles were Galileans and had never learned these languages. What was the explanation for this unprecedented miracle? It was Peter who enlightened them. He told them that the phenomenon was a fulfilment of the words of the prophet Joel, who had spoken of a time, “the last days”, in which God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. Joel also said that this outpouring would herald the destruction of the Jewish State (AD70; v19). But the most important thing to happen at the same time would be the proclamation of salvation in the name of Yahweh: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v21). With these words Peter ‘breaks’ this quotation from Joel, but he does return to it in verse 39, when he picks up the final words of Joel 2:32 in his appeal to his audience to respond to his saving message: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call”.

The question emerges; why did Peter ‘break’ the quotation? When we examine the intervening words (verses 22–38), we can see that he has made a lengthy diversion to explain how and why salvation is available in the “name of the Lord”. In the Hebrew text “Lord” is “Yahweh”. “Whosoever” called upon this name would be saved. But Peter in his lengthy treatise explains that the name of “Yahweh” has been ‘historically developed’. He points out that Jesus of Nazareth was approved by God, by miracles in his life; that his death was in accordance with God’s predetermined purpose and that God had raised him from the dead. He was the Saviour, and this salvation was available to men who believed in him and were baptised into the Name of Yahweh, alias “the Lord Jesus Christ” (v36–38).

Having proclaimed this crucial message with outstanding effect, for 3 000 responded, he returns to Joel’s words, pointing out that “as many as the Lord our God shall call” will receive the promise. There was added urgency in his preaching, for Joel had also foretold the demise and destruction of Jerusalem: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation”.

Notice how Peter used the prophecy of Joel as a stepping stone to make the first public proclamation of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit enabling the apostles to speak in tongues miraculously attracted a huge audience and Peter makes full use of the opportunity to preach the truth. What a remarkable event this was!

Another ‘Broken’ Quotation in Acts 2

In order to show that the resurrection of Messiah was foretold in the Old Testament, Peter makes another lengthy quotation, this time from Psalm 16. This psalm plainly states that God’s Holy One would not “see corruption”. As David, the writer of Psalm 16, was dead and buried and had seen corruption, the words could not apply to him. David knew that a mortal descendant of his would sit upon his throne forever, and for this to be the case he would have to be resurrected and given eternal life (v29,30). Understanding this, he prophesied the resurrection of the Messiah, his son, in the words of Psalm 16. But the last words of this psalm speak of the ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father: “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (v11).

When you compare these words with Acts 2:28, you will notice that the last phrase is omitted! Careful reading of the context, however, will show that Peter does return to these words, for in verse 33 we read, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted …”

So we can see that Peter again breaks his quotation, explains the important matters raised, and then returns to complete the citation.

It is interesting, too, that he next quotes Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool” (Acts 2:34,35). This psalm also, though written by David, does not apply to him seeing he has not “ascended into the heavens”. It must therefore apply to his son who is greater than him, for he addresses him as his “Lord”. It is the other great ‘stock’ apostolic quotation used to prove Christ’s ascension, and therefore to explain his “absence”.

“Thou Hast Ascended on High”

There is one further point of interest in Peter’s words in Acts 2:33, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted” (Greek hupsothei). He may well have been alluding to the words of Psalm 68:18, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them”. These words are quoted by Paul of Christ’s ascension and the consequent pouring out of the Holy Spirit gifts upon the believers (Eph 4:8–11). So the words relate directly to the matters Peter was expounding in Acts 2. In the lxx the words are not identical but closely related (Greek anabas eis hupsos—“thou art gone up on high”).

“Every Soul That Will Not Hear That Prophet …” Acts 3:23

On the day following Pentecost Peter again spoke forth the Gospel encapsulated in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem would receive from Peter something of greater value than silver and gold: “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). This outstanding miracle captured the imagination of those who knew the lame man. With the lame man clutching Peter and John, a huge crowd ran together into Solomon’s porch looking for an explanation.

Again the miracle created an audience and Peter was not slow to grasp the opportunity to proclaim the gospel. After divesting any suggestion that he personally had any special powers whereby he could perform such a phenomenon, he directs attention to “the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob” (Acts 3:12,13). Now these words are a quotation from Exodus 3:6, where God visited Moses at the bush and appointed him the deliverer of His people and told him to speak to Pharaoh in the Name of Yahweh. So we can see a parallel between the events of Exodus and Acts 3. Now, in Peter’s day, salvation is being made available in the name of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 3:16,18,20; 4:7,10,12,17,18,30).

As in Acts 2, Peter puts the death of Jesus into its rightful context in the purpose of God, and appeals to his hearers to respond while there is time and opportunity. In verse 22 he returns to the period of Moses and cites Deuteronomy 18:15,18: “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you”. Notice that this verse combines and condenses words found in Deuteronomy 18:15, which Moses himself speaks, and the words of verse 18 which God speaks.

The words of verse 23 are taken in part from Deuteronomy 18:19, namely, “And it shall come to pass that every soul which will not hear that prophet …”. The remaining words are not, however, to be found in Deuteronomy 18:19, for there the sentence concludes, “I will require it of him”. The words in Acts 3:23, “shall be destroyed from among his people” (Greek exolethreuthesetai ek tou laou) are drawn from Genesis 17:14, where the man child who is not circumcised “shall be cut off from his people” (Greek exolothreuthesetai he psuche ekeine ek tou genous autes).

Peter has returned to the subject of the Abrahamic Covenant, and the fate of those who do not comply with it. Christ has confirmed this covenant (Rom 15:8). Continuing with this theme he informs his audience that they were in a special way the “children [Greek huios—sons] of the covenant which God made with our fathers saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed all the kindreds of the earth shall be blessed” (verse 25).

So we can see in Acts 3 that the theme of the Name and its relationship to salvation in Christ, the seed of Abraham, pervades Peter’s words. We could not say that Peter actually ‘breaks’ a quotation here, but he does interrupt and then return to his theme.

“Ye are the Children of the Prophets” Acts 3:25

The citation of Genesis 22:18 in Acts 3:25 is intriguing from a number of aspects. Firstly Peter specifically applies it to his audience, to Jews in Jerusalem: “Ye are the children of the prophets, of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God …” This is strange because when we look at Genesis 22:18 we find that a word is used that cannot be confined, but is used of the nations, namely goyim in the Hebrew text and ethne in the Greek text (lxx).

The word here translated “tribes”, which Peter ‘inserts’ in the quotation from Genesis 22:18, is the Greek word patria. It is used three times in the New Testament for families (Acts 3:25; Luke 2:4, “lineage”; Eph 3:15), and in the Old Testament (lxx) is used for the families of Israel, as for example in Exodus 6:14 “… and these are the heads of their fathers’ houses …”. The lxx reads, “And these are the heads of the houses [oikon] of their families [patron auton]”. How can this strange use of Genesis 22:18 be explained?

Whilst Peter uses a word which makes his application of the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant special to his Jewish audience, he does not limit it to them. Notice that he says, “Unto you first God, having raised up…”. The blessing of forgiveness associated with the “new covenant”, which is the Abrahamic covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Heb 10:16–18), was indeed for the seed of Abraham first, but afterwards for all nations also.

“In Thee Shall All Nations be Blessed” Galatians 3:8

It is intriguing to consider Acts 3:25,26 alongside Galatians 3:8. In both passages the primary blessing of the Abrahamic covenant is explained to be justification or the equivalent, “the turning away … from … iniquities”. Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, is concerned to make this knowledge of salvation known to his kinsmen, according to the commission given him. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is equally concerned to make the Abrahamic blessing available to all nations. When the Jews of the synagogue rejected Christ, Paul turned to the Gentiles. This happened dramatically in Antioch in Galatia (Acts 13:46–48).

In his epistle to the Galatian ecclesias Paul explained that it was God’s purpose to include Gentiles—Scripture had foretold the justification of the nations in the words of promise spoken to Abraham, “In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal 3:8; Gen 12:3).

When you look at this phrase in the AV in Genesis 12:3 you will notice a significant difference: it does not say “all nations”, but “all families”. The lxx reads, “in thee shall all the tribes [Greek phulai] of the earth be blessed”. Jews have interpreted this to mean the tribes of Israel, but the phrase is not limited in this way: all the tribes of the earth, clearly intending to embrace all nations.

With what propriety can Paul change this word and give the passage a broad application? What Paul does is combine Genesis 12:3 and 22:18, making clear what was the intended meaning. We can see in this the wonderful scope of God’s purpose and His foreknowledge. At the time when Abram was called and the purpose with him commenced, God made it clear that He was not being exclusive but inclusive: all nations would ultimately be incorporated.

Conclusion

The apostles’ use of the Old Testament sometimes presents challenges to the careful Bible student. Unveiling the ‘difficulties’ is enlightening and informative. Sometimes quotations are interrupted and matters expounded before the original quotation is recalled. In other cases, words drawn from significant Old Testament contexts (in Acts we have but a précis), were probably referred to at greater length by the speaker. We have found that words are taken and inserted into quotations to make the application more powerful.

In the next article, God Willing, we shall consider more examples of combined quotations.