Duly Noted: Intertextuality


In March I posted a few different methods of note-taking, and at that time I held out hope that I would post more in the future. Well, the future is here.

In Doug Wilson’s book Heaven Misplaced he mentions a method he uses for seeing the use of the Old Testament in the New. Every time he comes across a New Testament quotation of the Old Testament, he highlights the quotation and writes the Old Testament reference in the margin next to it. Then he flips to that reference in the Old Testament, highlights the same quotation, and writes the New Testament reference. For example, he might highlight Matthew 2:15 in the NT and write “Hosea 11:1” in the margin, and then flip to the OT, highlight Hosea 11:1 and write “Matthew 2:15” in the margin there.


There are a few benefits to this method. First, while many study Bibles will cross-reference the Old Testament verse where it is quoted in the New, not as many reference the New Testament verse in the Old. This allows you to see both, and to see the explicit connections between New and Old at a glance. Second, it allows you to identify patterns in the way that New Testament authors draw from the Old Testament; by glancing through 1 Corinthians in my Bible, I can see that Paul quotes from Isaiah more than any other OT book in that letter, a fact which may or may not be significant. And third, it raises some big questions about the use of the Old Testament in the New. When you begin to highlight the exact words of the Old and the New, you find that the New Testament authors sometimes change words (this isn’t a translation issue, or an issue of the transmission of the Hebrew through the Septuagint; sometimes words are legitimately changed by the Apostles), that they sometimes leave out words and phrases, that they sometimes add words and phrases, and that they sometimes splice different passages together into one.

A few examples:

  • Ephesians 4:8 says “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men,'” citing Psalm 68:18. Psalm 68:18 says “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men” (emphasis mine). It looks as if Paul took the quotation and changed a word to make it fit his argument.
  • Ephesians 5:14 says “Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'” This appears to be stitched from several verses, possibly including Isaiah 26:19, 60:1, and Luke 1:78, but there isn’t one text which this is quoted from. It seems as though Paul was ‘quoting’ a theme from the Old Testament, rather than specific words.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 says “Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'” The first line– “Death is swallowed up in victory” is taken from Isaiah 25:8, but the second half is from Hosea 13:14.

Now, care needs to be taken here. In writing this post I saw several passages where the English Bible seems to record a discrepancy, but in fact the difference is due to the fact that the New Testament authors were quoting from the Septuagint, as in Romans 11:9-10, Hebrews 8:8-12, and Hebrews 10:37-38.

I’ve seen a lot of connections between the Old and New Testaments since I started with this method, and I hope you will as well. Let me know what you find.


2 thoughts on “Duly Noted: Intertextuality

  1. Clayton Hutchins

    How do you think about the instances where the NT authors legitimately changed words from the OT, seemingly to make it fit their argument? E.g., Ephesians 4:8?

    1. Clayton,
      It certainly seems to present a problem. I would begin by affirming what Scripture says about itself and what the Church has always affirmed, that Scripture is God-breathed, without error and infallible in the original autographs. I would also want to say that Paul can do things I can’t do, because he is an inspired apostle and I am not– but I don’t think that means we can’t examine why Paul changed the wording.
      In this specific case, I ask, ‘is there a giving of gifts which is also receiving?’ If God gives gifts so the church may be built up in Christ, so that each member may be increasingly conformed to his image to his glory, and if the exercise of those gifts glorifies him as well, then in the giving of gifts to men he is receiving gifts among men.
      There are some other ways to look at it, but I think that one’s a pretty good start.

      In the words of the eminent Tom Steller, “Apparent contradictions in Scripture are theological goldmines.”

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