Zondervan Academic recently released a new biblical reference tool that is sure to end up in pastors’ personal libraries.
The book is titled Old Testament Use of Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Guide by Gary Edward Schnittjer. Weighing in at over four pounds, with over a thousand pages, it promises to be the definitive work on the Scripture’s use of Scripture for years to come.
Preaching on the New Testament without a firm grasp on the Old Testament bears some resemblance to a child’s retelling of her parents’ romance story—which can blend multiple events or conversations into one and confuse identities or timelines.
The truth is, a whole lot happened in history before Matthew or Paul showed up on the scene in the first century—but that fact can sometimes be missed when reading a standard Bible.
Some Bibles include footnotes for verses in the New Testament that refer to Old Testament passages—but they do not show how a particular phrase or theme evolved within and across the Old Testament itself. Simply identifying the Old Testament background of a New Testament text often collapses the trajectory of its development into a single reference point.
To tell the story of Scripture well, we must trace an idea’s full development before it showed up in the New Testament. Because by the time the authors of the New Testament appeal to an Old Testament text, it has often already had its own history of interpretive reuse within the OT.
While several reference tools explore how New Testament authors quote or allude to Old Testament texts, this work presents how Old Testament authors quote other Old Testament texts.
Schnittjer does not answer all the exegetical questions at play in each instance, but he organizes the data based on shared linguistic or thematic similarities in the text. His organizational approach allows readers to explore exegetical allusions throughout the Bible—where Scripture interprets Scripture.
To my knowledge, no one has attempted anything quite like this before.
Old Testament Use of Old Testament is rigorous in its methodology, creating a helpful system to classify allusions in the text. In each instance, Schnittjer assesses the likelihood that biblical authors were interpreting or cross-referencing based on another Old Testament text.
To illustrate how a pastor might use this tool to prepare for a sermon, I will offer an example. Imagine a pastor is preaching through Hebrews and comes to chapter 2, verses 6–8:
But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.
It is widely recognized that Hebrews 2:6–8 references a quotation of Psalm 8. However, Psalm 8 is itself dependent on an earlier Old Testament passage, Genesis 1:16, 26, 28—and it is further evoked in Job 7:17. So before we ever interpret Hebrews 2, we should first develop a clear sense of how Psalm 8 is interacting with these Old Testament texts.
For those unable to read Hebrew and Greek, Schnittjer’s tool provides a comparison of the following passages for English Bible users to highlight the similarities:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Gen 1:26)
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,” what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put every thing under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. (Ps 8:3–8[4–9]. V. 5 lit.)
In the tool, bold and italics indicate use of the same words in Hebrew, underlined words are similar, and the dotted underline (depicted in bold italics above) draws attention to interpretive aspects of the text.
In the discussion that follows, Schnittjer considers whether the statement “Let us make mankind” in Genesis 1:26 is a reference to the divine council. He decides in favor of this view but notes the act of creation is still written in the masculine singular form: God alone makes humanity in his image alone.
This question ties to Psalm 8:5, which reads “God” in Hebrew and “angels” in Greek and is echoed in Heb 2:7, 9 as “angels.” Schnittjer considers possible explanations for this shift, noting that the Septuagint often employs euphemistic language.
He concludes that “the psalmist uses Elohim from Gen 1 in its sense as ‘God’; the Septuagintal translators use ‘celestial delegates’ as a euphemism; and the author to the Hebrews takes advantage of the Septuagint’s translation to advance revelation concerning Messiah”.
In other words, Schnittjer does not take Hebrews 2 as offering the definitive interpretation of Psalm 8; rather, he sees it as faithfully advancing revelation about Jesus. And whether one agrees with this assessment or not, Schnittjer’s insights have made plain what is at stake.
Finally, we turn to Schnittjer’s chapter on Job, where again he identifies the exegetical allusion as correlating to Psalm 8:4. In the section on Job 7:17, we encounter another two-page discussion of its allusion to Psalm 8, with attention to the role of Psalm 144.
As before, Schnittjer has helpfully laid out the relevant passages and flagged repeated words (bold or italics) and used a dotted underline line (in bold italics below) to indicate interpretive activity:
What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet. (Ps 8:4-6)
Yahweh, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. (144:3-4)
[Job] What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention, that you examine them every morning and test them every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who sees everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? (Job 7:17–20)
Schnittjer discusses this development and provides an interpretation of the allusion. In this case, he argues that Job is unhappy with the conditions outlined by Psalm 8—in which humanity is the center of God’s attention. By contrast, Job would prefer to be left alone by God.
Eliphaz also evokes Psalm 8 in Job 15:14, exposing his distorted view of how retribution works—a theme that Job picks up again in 19:19.
In his summary, Schnittjer concludes that “all of this demonstrates ways that the use of scriptural traditions in the debates in Job challenge the book’s readership to rethink and modify their faulty views of retribution.”
Careful attention to the contours of these exegetical allusions suggests that Job draws on a previous paradigm from Psalm 8 (and perhaps Psalm 144), which itself is an allusion to Genesis 1. A sermon on Hebrews 2, then, has a rich field of texts from which to draw insight.
Being aware of these possibilities helps pastors and scholars determine what to look for as they teach on both Old and New Testament passages—so they can present their congregations with a richer view of God and a fuller picture of Jesus as the fulfillment of the scriptural narrative.
Carmen Joy Imes is associate professor of Old Testament at Biola University and the author of Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters (InterVarsity Press). She’s currently writing a follow-up book, tentatively titled Being God’s Image: Why Creation Still Matters.