We can learn more about the teaching of the apostles when we carefully analyse their words. The Bible has been carefully written, and the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament enable us to interpret the Old Testament, and in turn the context of the Old Testament expands and elaborates the points being made in the New Testament. We are on solid ground when we allow the New Testament quotes to expound the Old Testament.Sometimes the quotations are more complicated, being “broken” or, as in this article “combined”. This calls for more careful analysis, and often the lxx is helpful.
In this article we shall look at quotations from the Old Testament which are not simply from one text but draw together a number of passages. Again we will find the Septuagint helpful in determining exactly what is being cited from the respective texts. We will also notice that on occasions a hint is given to us that multiple texts are being referred to because what is quoted is said to have been spoken by the prophets, plural (Acts 13:40; 15:15).
“Behold, I Lay in Zion a Stumblingstone” (Romans 9:33)
In the last verses of Romans 9 Paul explains the paradox of Israel’s failure to attain righteousness even though they followed after the law of righteousness, whereas the Gentiles that followed not after righteousness have attained to righteousness. It all depended upon attitude. The self righteous Jew sought righteousness based on law-keeping, and deemed himself righteous; but the Gentile, who was not under the law believed the work of God in Christ. He had no confidence in himself, but what God had done for him, and thus he attained to the righteousness of faith, the righteousness which God acknowledges.
Not only was the self righteous attitude of the Jew obnoxious to God, but it meant that when the Saviour came he was not humbly looking for him and did not recognize him. In answer then to the question, why Israel did not attain the law of righteousness, the apostle answers, “Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Rom 9:32-33).
This is an amazing quotation because it combines two quotations from Isaiah where Messiah is likened to a stone; and there is a verbal allusion from Joel which emphasises that salvation would be available for all, both Jew and Gentile, which is one of the points the apostle has been teaching in Romans 9. The best way to analyse this combined quotation is to list the three Old Testament references and to put in italics the actual words cited.
1 Isaiah 28:16 “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.”
Note Paul’s citation is from the lxx which reads, “he that believes in him shall by no means be ashamed”. The ideas of “making haste” or fleeing and “being ashamed” are closely related.
2 Isaiah 8:14–15 “And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble and fall [cp Rom 11:11] and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”
3 Joel 2:32 “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever [Grk pas] shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.”
Thus we can see that Paul has synthesised this verse from significant Old Testament prophecies and contexts which demonstrate wonderfully the points he is making—that God would lay in Zion the foundation of a new house with Jesus Christ as the foundation stone (Eph 2:20), that tragically many people would stumble in unbelief upon him, and that this would not change the fact that “whosoever”, both of Jews and Gentiles, believed on him would not be ashamed in the day of judgment.
On reading further in Romans, we find that Paul again affirms that God’s righteousness is available for all because God is “Lord over all and is nigh unto all that call upon him”. In Romans 10:11 the same quotation is found as occurs at the end of chapter 9:33, “Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed”.
This is a combined quotation, basically coming from Isaiah 28:16, but with the word “whosoever” (Grk pas) being drawn from Joel 3:32. Be it noted the Greek word pas (whosoever, everyone) does not occur in Isaiah 28:16. It comes from Joel. Significantly, a fact which ratifies our exposition, we find that Paul cites Joel 3:32 to round out and include this point in verse 18.
“Behold, Ye Despisers, and Wonder, and Perish” (Acts 13:41)
Towards the end of his discourse in the synagogue in Antioch, Paul issues a warning to his predominantly Jewish audience: “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you”.
Paul gives us the clue that these words are drawn from more that one prophet: “… spoken of in the prophets”. We are not told how many prophets, but perhaps as many as three were alluded to, for three speak of “wondering” in unbelief and perishing as a consequence. Perhaps the apostle actually cited the other prophets, but Luke, the writer, in his précis gives us a condensed version. Obviously Paul spoke more words than we have recorded.
As with the previous passage, the Old Testament quotations will be listed with the words actually cited in Acts 13:41 being in italics.
1 Habakkuk 1:5 av “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you”.
This is the translation of the Hebrew text. It will be noted that the llx which follows is closer to Paul’s words and is clearly the text cited.
lxx “Behold, ye despisers, and look, and wonder marvellously, and vanish: for I work a work in your days, which ye will in no wise believe though a man declare it unto you.”
Be it noted that God is not referring to the Jewish rejection of Messiah here, but to Habakkuk’s inability to accept that He would bring the dreaded Chaldeans against Judah. It is the principle that Paul is alluding to in the synagogue at Antioch—beware lest history repeats itself and you perish, as have former generations because they have not heeded the Word of God.
Paul’s reference, as per the lxx, to a “man” and a “work” recalls his specific commission: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2; 14:26).
2 Isaiah 29:14 “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do… a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid”.
Again it is the principle that the apostle is alluding to, and warning his hearers that God had done a great work in their midst and the consequences of failure to recognize its significance would be fatal.
3 Psalm 118:22–23 “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous [Grk thaumaste] in our eyes”.
This passage is continually referred to in the New Testament to show how the Jewish response to Messiah had been clearly forecast. Jesus cited it to his enemies (Matt 21:42), and Peter applied it to the Jewish rulers (Acts 4:11). So it was prominent in the apostolic vocabulary, and may well have been one of “the prophets” Paul was referring to. It certainly fits the context.
When a work of God brings wonderment to men it can either lead to belief and salvation, or tragically, as is so often the case, unbelief and destruction. Look at the use of the same cognate Greek word (thaumasia) in the same chapter, Matthew 21, “wonderful things” (verse 15), where unbelief was the result; and “marvelled” (verse 20) where belief was strengthened.
So we can see that the single “clue”, that more than one prophet “said” the words of Acts 13:40, opens up the intriguing question as to which prophets? We have looked at three possibilities which have significant and relevant contexts.
“God at the First Did Visit the Gentiles” (Acts 15:14–18)
James, the brother of the Lord, summarised what had been attested at the Jerusalem conference, affirming that it was indisputably God’s will to call Gentiles unto His Name and Kingdom. The evidence of Peter being directed by God to the house of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, was conclusive, and corroborated the divine activity and miracles “wrought among the Gentiles” by Barnabas and Paul. To this he added the voice of “the prophets”, and note again, more than one.
The following quotation of the “words of the prophets” was made by James: “After this I will return, and will build again the Tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world…”.
From Luke’s précis of what James said it appears that at least three prophets were referred to. Again the words cited will be put in italics.
1 Jeremiah 12:14–16 “Thus saith Yahweh against all my evil neighbours, that touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit; Behold, I will pluck them out of their land, and pluck out the house of Judah from among them. And it shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage… And it shall come to pass if they will diligently learn the ways of my people… then shall they be built in the midst of my people…”.
Here then was a prophecy which plainly foretold the inclusion of the Gentiles in the hope of Israel, upon whom the grace and compassion of God would be shown. It was therefore in harmony with what James was proposing and the conference would decide.
2 Amos 9:11,12 “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen [nations], which are called by my name, saith Yahweh that doeth this”.
There are a number of significant points in this quotation. Firstly the restitution of the “Tabernacle of David” speaks of the fulfilment of the promise to David with Jerusalem as the throne of David’s greater Son. The “Tabernacle [Heb sukkah, booth rsv] of David” recalls worship under David’s rule, and this was characterised by the inclusion of Gentiles as will be the case in the age to come.
James’ citation appears to come from the lxx which reads in part as follows: “… that the remnant of men (Heb edom), and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, may earnestly seek me…”. Rotherham’s translation makes it clear that at the time when this restoration takes place many Gentiles will already bear God’s name. He speaks of “The Gentiles upon whom my name has been called”. There must be a period before then, when God would “take out of the Gentiles a people for his name”. Peter and Paul’s experiences were consistent with the voice of God in the prophets.
3 Isaiah 45:22 “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”
In Isaiah, God calls upon “all the ends of the earth” to “look unto him”. James appears to pick up these thoughts when he speaks of Gentiles who have “turned unto God”. James also declares that God has foreknowledge – “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world”, and this is the thought in the previous verse in Isaiah “…who hath declared this from ancient time…?”
The prophet goes on to declare that “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” to Yahweh. Outside of Him no flesh, Jew or Gentile, shall be justified (v23–25).