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New Book on Use of OT in the NT

May 26, 2015

In today’s post came a contributor’s copy of a new multi-author volume:  All that the Prophets Have Declared:  The Appropriation of Scripture in the Emergence of Christianity, ed. Matthew R. Malcolm (Milton Keynes:  Paternoster Press, 2015).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here.

The volume arose from a special conference held in Trinity Theological College, Perth (Australia) in August 2013, and comprises a brief Introduction by Malcolm plus twelve essays by various scholars.  Here is the list of contributions:

L. W. Hurtado, “Two Case Studies in Earliest Christological Readings of Biblical Texts.”

I. G. Malcom and M. R. Malcolm, “‘He Interpreted to Them the Things about Himself in All the Scriptures’:  Linguistic Perspectives on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament.”

Roland Deines, “Jesus and Scripture:  Scripture and the Self-Understanding of Jesus.”

D. S. West, “Acts 4:23-31 and a biblical Theology of Prayer.2

B. L. Sutton, “Becoming Prophets:  Acts 10:34-43 and Peter’s Appropriation of Prophecies about Jesus.”

M. A. Seifrid, “Scripture and Identity in Galatians.”

Lionel Windsor, “The ‘Seed’, the ‘Many’ and the ‘One’ in Galatians 3:16:  Paul’s Reading of Genesis 17 and its Significance for Gentiles.”

Martin foord, “Taking with One Hand, and Giving with the Other?  The Use of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8.”

M. J. Keown, “The Use of the Old Testament in Philippians.”

Allan Chapple, “The Appropriation of Scripture in 1 Peter.”

M. R. Malcolm, “God has Spoken:  The Renegotiation of Scripture in Hebrews.”

Rory Shiner, “Reading the New Testament from the Outside.”

In an earlier posting after the conference I summarized major points addressed in my own essay (here).  One thing I didn’t mention in that post, and would invite some others with expertise in Koine Greek literature to engage, is the curious variation-pattern that we see in NT references to Jesus “at the right hand” of God.  The expression fairly obviously derives from Psalm 110:1 (LXX 109:1).  But there is an interesting pattern of variation in the Greek phrasing used.  In all the NT instances where the Psalm is cited or clearly alluded to in describing Jesus “at the right hand” of God, the form of the Greek phrase in the LXX is consistently preserved:  εκ δεξιων (e.g., Matt.22:24/Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42; Matt. 26:64/Mark 14:62/Luke 22:69; Acts 2:34; 7:55-56; Heb 1:13 (and also Mark 16:19).  (Likewise, in Acts 2:25 the citation of Psalm 16 [LXX 15]: 8-11 uses the LXX wording εκ δεξιων.)  But in the many other places where we seem to have confessional statements declaring Jesus to be seated at God’s right hand/side, the preferred phrasing is εν δεξιᾳ (e.g., Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1;10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22).

Scholarly survey of the LXX, Jewish Greek pseudepigraphal writings, the Apostolic Fathers (and some Greek papyri) indicates that εκ δεξιων appears to have been the overwhelmingly preferred construction for describing someone/something on the right side of another.  To cite LXX usage as illustrative, I find only two instances of εν δεξιᾳ (1 Esdras 4:29; Paralipomenon 1 [= 1 Chronicles] 6:24) and many more uses of εκ δεξιων.

So, why the NT dual pattern?  And it is a dual pattern, with the LXX text followed in citations and direct allusions, but εν δεξιᾳ preferred in those “confessional” statements.  My hunch at this point is that the latter expression may have connoted a more intimate or close linkage of someone to another, and so NT writers (across the board) preferred it in making a confessional statement of Jesus’ relationship to God.

But it would take a thorough analysis of data produced through the sort of search of Koine Greek texts possible using the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae to test my hunch adequately.  So, I’ve stuck my neck out with a hunch, maybe somebody can either confirm or falsify it.

P.S.  The pre-publication version of my essay is available on this blog site under “Selected Published Essays” here.

  1. My first thought was that perhaps the language usage had shifted. So when alluding to Ps 110 it would be natural to stick with the construction the LXX had used but at other times (i.e. in confessional statements etc.) it would make more sense to use the more natural (though later) expression “ἐν δεξιᾷ”. Thoughts?

    • A possibility. Which is why I’ve invited someone to make an analysis of general Koine usage using, e.g., the TLG. My own very limited check of things suggests no such shift in general Greek preference.

  2. Bruce Symons permalink

    Thanks for this notice.
    Another (highly speculative) thought is to ask if this is an example of code switching. With the one hand being occupied by LXX citations and allusions, is this an example of 1st century (Greek) Biblish (or if you like Bibleek)?

    • It could be seen as an example of “code switching”, but I doubt it. That is, I suspect more that it’s a case of two expressions having for native Koine speakers a different nuance. So, not some special “Christian/Bible Greek,” but a choice based on general idiom.

  3. To put my point a bit more accurately: For someone to sit “at the right HAND” is a specifically Hebrew idiom, not natural in Greek. In ἐκ δεξιῶν the plural noun understood is μερη, whereas in ἐν δεξιᾷ the noun understood is χειρ, reproducing the Hebrew idiom. So NETS correctly translates Ps 109:1 as ‘on my right,’ not ‘at my right hand.’ I guess we have been a bit misled by English translations of the NT, where quotes from Ps 109/110 translate ἐκ δεξιῶν as ‘at the right hand,’ as though they were translating the Hebrew. So the NT use of ἐν δεξιᾷ in this context must represent dependence on the Hebrew independently of LXX. That would make sense in the early Jerusalem church where a Christian confessional statement could have been based simply on the Hebrew and translated into Greek. If this is right, it confirms the view that Ps 110:1 was already a text of key importance for the early Christians from a very early date (for which there is, of course, other good evidence too).

    • Richard: Your proposal seems similar to Hengel’s, that εν δεξιᾳ reflects an early/alternate translation of Psa 110:1. Could be. But see my further posting today.

      • Larry: I had forgotten what Hengel said and was responding merely to your post. What I say that goes further than Hengel is the proposal that ‘sitting ἐν δεξιᾷ’ is a Hebraism, not natural in Greek. I see Hengel gives just one non-biblical example – from Plato. Obviously this is a proposal that needs verifying or refuting through searches of Greek usage.

    • Deane permalink

      Given the unusual use of ἐκ to render the Heb. lamed-preposition, my thought was similar to Richard’s. Yet we can’t discount NT reliance on a different Greek translation, as an alternative to direct use of the Hebrew. There is no consistency in the versions for which there is evidence: Symmachus has “wait for (prosdokeson) my right [hand]”, no preposition (per Field).

      • Hmm. Maybe. But I underscore the pattern of NT usage, the consistent preference for εν δεξιᾳ in confessional statements across various writers/writings, and for centuries in Greek creeds. If all that is simply the artefact of an early variant-translation, that would be . . . remarkable.

      • Deane permalink

        Yet the NT use of either the Hebrew or Greek OT would be authoritative for all later uses, so that would make the pattern less than “remarkable”.

        The pair of “quotations” of Ps 109/110 in Heb 1:13 and 10:12-13 is interesting in this regard. While Heb 1:13 might be classified as a “direct quotation” of LXX 109:1bc, Heb 10:12-13 both directly quotes all of LXX Ps 109:1bc and also interpolates confessional material (the author’s own mix, plausibly). But while Heb 1:13 has ἐκ δεξιῶν (ek + gen), Heb 10:12-13 has εν δεξιᾳ (en + dat). Doesn’t this suggest that the difference is one of authorial translation technique (at least for the author of Hebrews, if not Paul and Peter)? When employing a direct quote, the author uses the precise forms of the words in LXX Ps 109:1. But when less directly quoting from LXX Ps 109:1, the author is less constrained, and uses a more appropriate idiomatic form.

        But I await the results of the comprehensive search of Greek usage that you mentioned was being carried out.

      • The problem with your suggestion is that both “ek dexion” and “en dexia” are perfectly idiomatic Greek. So, why the consistent pattern of usage across various authors/texts in the NT?

      • Deane permalink

        You’re right if this were non-translation Greek.

        But I just wonder about the unusual nature of ἐκ to render the Heb. lamed-preposition. Did this prompt a better translation-Greek equivalent where a quoting author did not have to adhere so strictly to the LXX? I’m not sure, and this requires a detailed word study, but I think it’s worth considering.

      • But it’s not unusual to render the lamed in these constructions with εκ. In addition to Psa 110(LXX 109):1; see Psa 109(LXX108): 31; Psa 45(LXX 44):10. Indeed, it’s more typically εκ.

  4. Looks like an excellent volume, thanks for the notification.

    I also have a hunch about the phenomenon you mention. Perhaps the idea (of Jesus in Glory at the right side of God) came first (as a result of religious experiences etc.) and was naturally expressed with ἐν δεξιᾷ and then (very quickly) the idea was subsequently linked/expressed with the Psalm, giving the ἐκ δεξιῶν formula, making the NT dual pattern you mention a kind of residual reflection of these two (or more) processes whereby early followers arrived at, expressed, and established Jesus’ exalted position at the right hand of God. Just a (highly speculative) thought I have. As you say, a thorough analysis of the data is very much needed.

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