I’ve done a few other blogs on John’s use of the Old Testament (see especially John 2b, 3a, and 7b). It’s a topic of interest for me and I always find myself studying a lot more into it than will ever show up on a Sunday morning.
This week’s passage was packed with both explicit quotations of the Old Testament and implicit references to fulfilled prophecy. I was particularly fascinated with the different ways that John tends to use Scripture – sometimes exactly, sometimes not.
For instance, when you look at John’s quote of Psalm 22:19 (21:19 in the Greek) in John 19:24b, here’s what you’ll see:
John 19:24b διεμερίσαντο τὰ ἱμάτιά μου ἑαυτοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν ἱματισμόν μου ἔβαλον κλῆρον
Psalm 21:19 διεμερίσαντο τὰ ἱμάτιά μου ἑαυτοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν ἱματισμόν μου ἔβαλον κλῆρον
You don’t need to know Greek to see that John has quoted Psalm 22 exactly as it was in the Greek translation (we call that translation the LXX or the Septuagint).
John’s quote in 19:36 from Exodus 12:46b // Numbers 9:12b is also pretty exact:
John 19:36b ὀστοῦν οὐ συντριβήσεται αὐτοῦ
Exodus 12:46b ὀστοῦν οὐ συντρίψετε ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ
Numbers 9:12b ὀστοῦν οὐ συντρίψουσιν ἀπ᾽ αὐτου
Again, you don’t need to know Greek to at least visually see the exactness of the quote. John really only leaves out one word – “from” (ἀπ᾽) – and switches up the verb from a 2nd person plural active to a 3rd person singular passive. But as far as quotes go, this one is still pretty close (though note that some people think that John is actually referring to Psalm 34:20 [33:21 LXX], which is even further off in both exactness of wording and contextually).
Then John goes and quotes Zechariah 12:10 in John 19:37b. Compare these two quotes:
John 19:37b ὄψονται εἰς ὃν ἐξεκέντησαν
Zechariah 12:10b ἐπιβλέψονται πρός με ἀνθ᾽ ὧν κατωρχήσαντο
When you compare these two references, you’ll see that John is almost certainly not quoting the Greek Old Testament here. Not a single word matches up! Most scholars (including me) believe that John instead is giving his own translation straight from the Hebrew text, which matches up more exactly.
Finally, in our passage we also saw that Jesus said “I thirst” in order to fulfill/finish the Scripture (19:28). We saw this was a reference to Psalm 69:21 (verse 22 in Hebrew; 68:22 LXX) or possibly Psalm 22:15 (verse 16 in Hebrew; 21:16 LXX). This isn’t considered a quote at all, but instead a typological fulfillment of the Old Testament.
What this shows us is that when the New Testament references the Old, it can come in the form of a quotation/translation from Hebrew to Greek, a quotation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew, or just a reference to the text itself. In the case of John 19:36, it might even be consciously referring to two passages at once!
This is why it’s so important to trace the quote back to the Old Testament, study it in context, and determine how the New Testament author is using it. It will enrich our appreciation of the Bible and deepen our understanding of the author’s meaning.