Review of Deuteronomy in the New Testament, edited by Steve Moyise and Maarten J. J. Menken

Review of Steve Moyise and Maarten J. J. Menken (editors), Deuteronomy in the New Testament: The New Testament and the Scriptures of Israel (Library of New Testament Studies, 358; New York: T & T Clark, 2007).

Deuteronomy in the New Testament follows volumes in the same series on the Psalms and Isaiah in the New Testament, working down the list of the most frequently-cited books from the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament. As Deuteronomy includes the Decalogue, references and allusions to which are extremely frequent, the decision was made to not include treatments of Ephesians and James, for instance, which cite the Decalogue but show no evidence of having Deuteronomy specifically in mind (p.4), thus leaving more room for treatments of those NT works that do clearly allude to Deuteronomy – although in the case of these, references to the Decalogue are also covered. The book’s introduction, after a brief summary of the chapters that will follow, helpfully mentions four general trends that seem to run throughout the use of Deuteronomy by NT authors. Among these are the tendency to cite the LXX version, and the attention given to the Song of Moses.

The first chapter, by Timothy Lim, is devoted to the place of Deuteronomy in Second-Temple Judaism, and begins with the redactional, compositional, and textual history of Deuteronomy, reminding us that we too readily assume that reference to “Deuteronomy” indicated a text the wording of which was precisely fixed. The evidence from Qumran, the LXX, and other sources is surveyed, as is the use of passages in mezuzot and phylacteries, where writing from memory was allowed. Such evidence is relevant not only to the specific question of the use of the Jewish Scriptures in the New Testament, but also to the broader topic of memory and orality in that time. On the whole, this chapter makes clear how important Deuteronomy was in the Judaism of this period. “On virtually every page and column of Second Temple Jewish literature, one is able to detect a verbatim citation, oratio oblique or allusion to a deuteronomic source” (p.20).

The second chapter, by Steve Moyise, is on Deuteronomy in Mark. Mark’s quotation of the Decalogue is unusual inasmuch as it refers to a commandment not to defraud, which is interesting. (One wonders whether this could reflect an understanding of Leviticus 19 as a version of the Decalogue, a subject that would be worth exploring in its own right). An interesting discussion is offered about the Qorban tradition in the Rabbinic literature, which likewise appears to accept the need to prioritize commandments in relation to one another, although Moyise could have done more justice to the fact that frequently in the Rabbinic corpus it is impossible to speak of a Rabbinic view, but instead one must reckon with a diversity of opinions that is never resolved. Mark’s version of the Shema (Mark 12:30) is also intriguing, pointing out that the different wording offered by the scribe in this story may be presumed to be significant, yet no one has yet come up with a plausible explanation what that significance is. Moyise’s chapter, as is typical of all contributions to this volume, treats explicit and unambiguous references, but also treats possible allusions to Deuteronomy as well. The possibility of multiple allusions to Deuteronomy in the “little apocalypse” in Mark 13 is fascinating. I wish more had been said about the possible allusion in Mark 14:7. The allusion there to Deuteronomy 15:11 makes clear that we are not dealing with a blanket prioritization of devotion over concern for the poor, but a contrast between a unique opportunity to do something for Jesus while he is physically present, and something that may be done at a later time when other opportunities present themselves. Moyise’s conclusions on the overall character of Mark’s use of Deuteronomy are helpful, in particular when he emphasizes that there is no simple prioritization of creation over against the law, but rather a prioritization of some parts of the law (or some laws) over others.

Menken’s chapter on Deuteronomy in Matthew begins with a list of the fifteen quotations that are broadly agreed upon by scholars. The importance of determining what version Matthew used wherever possible is emphasized, since “we have to know what he interpreted before we can investigate how he interpreted it” (p.45). As the only use of Deuteronomy in Q is in the temptation story, this topic is included in this chapter, rather than a separate treatment being devoted to the Q material. In the Sermon on the Mount one encounters allusions to the law that may have had Deuteronomy in mind, at least partially. There we find emphasis placed on the importance of the whole of Torah, in every detail, but with its “governing principle” identified as “love and mercy” (p.52). This chapter on the whole does a good job of showing how even minor changes to source material reflect Matthew’s overarching concerns. If there is one point that it would have been useful to elaborate on, it is the translation of porneia as “adultery” without any comment on whether that is the most appropriate rendering, or how other possible meanings might impact the relationship of the Matthean treatment to Deuteronomy.

In Rusam’s chapter on Luke-Acts, we learn early on that all but two instances of Deuteronomy in Luke’s two volumes are taken over from Mark or Q, the only additional appearances being the use of Deuteronomy 18:15 twice in Acts. It is noted where Deuteronomy occurred in source material but was not reproduced in Luke (p.63). Evidence is also considered which suggests that Luke may have verified Mark’s quotations against the LXX (p.64). Despite this strong start, and the not insignificant overlap with the treatments of Mark and Matthew that preceded it, chapter 4 must be judged the weakest in the volume. The author’s views which are presented are regularly unpersuasive, and little effort is made to argue the case for them. I realize such criticism is harsh, but (for instance) when the reason given for the Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 being considered “a model for Jews” is that “Samaritans are neither Jews nor Gentiles” (p.71), one can easily feel frustrated. Some of the issues may be the result of non-native speakers seeking to express themselves in English. Such issues are not uncommon throughout the volume, and are concentrated in some chapters more than others. The author’s reference to “the other side of the medal” (p.78, emphasis mine) is a case in point. The treatment of the Prophet like Moses in Acts 7 towards the end of the chapter (pp.80-81) goes a long way to redeeming it. I am reminded of the movie Adaptation, which suggests that for a movie to be a success, it is enough to “wow them with the ending”. If this is equally true for academic studies, then the fourth chapter can be deemed a success.

Michael Labahn’s chapter on John’s Gospel begins by noting the existence of a consensus that there are no “marked quotations from Deuteronomy in John” (p.84), proceeding to argue that John 8:17 ought perhaps to be considered such a case. The allusions to (or inexact quotations of) Deuteronomy found in John are interesting: the theme of the need for 2-3 witnesses is a recurring one, and there is also a focus on God alone. In view of the tensions that many readers perceive between Deuteronomy’s monotheism and John’s Christology, and the classic discussions of whether the Fourth Gospel is theocentric or Christocentric, more could have been said on this topic, and the understanding of the Shema in the context of first century monotheism, although most likely a treatment of that subject would inevitably range beyond the bounds of the strict focus on this volume. But without such a treatment, the conclusion that “John shares a strong emphasis on monotheism but within a christological [sic] universe of thought that is unacceptable to his opponents within (and outside) the text” (p.97) leaves questions unanswered. Is the issue the understanding of monotheism itself, a monotheism redefined to include Jesus (as Wright, Bauckham and others have argued), or is the issue the application to Jesus of ideas that were acceptable within the context of Jewish monotheism (as I have argued in my John’s Apologetic Christology)? In this chapter too the issue of the author’s native language comes up, for instance when Jesus is described as a spender of life on p.90, reflecting the meaning of the word in German: “dispenser”.

Roy Ciampa begins his chapter on Deuteronomy in Galatians and Romans by pointing out that the latter letter has the highest density of biblical quotations of all the book in the New Testament. Galatians comes in fourth (p.99). An interesting parallel is made between the anathematization of those who turn to other gods in the LXX of Deuteronomy, and Paul’s use of similar language in reference to the Galatians’ turning to a different gospel. Deuteronomy likewise provides the source of Paul’s discussion of the “curse of the Law”. Allusion is made to the connection of this idea to the exile, but there is no explicit discussion of the possibility that Paul and many of his contemporaries thought of the exile as something that had continued until their time, and brought to an end through Christ. Given the controversy around such ideas at present, perhaps it is just as well that Ciampa did not pin too much on such a background. His points stand on their own merits and do not assume this particular view of the exile, although they are compatible with it. The apparent post-exilic focus of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 is at least alluded to (p.109). The relationship of Deuteronomy 9:4 to Paul’s emphasis on grace ought to have been explored. The significance of the differences between the MT and the LXX of Deut. 32:43 for Paul’s thought is also discussed (pp.114-115).

Brian Rosner’s chapter on Deuteronomy in 1 and 2 Corinthians is particularly interesting, since there are a number of points in this particular letter when Paul seems to present his own ministry in the context of echoes of Moses (pp.119-120). 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 presupposes the Shema (Deut. 6:4), and Rosner does little more than assume and summarize Wright’s view of Paul having “split the Shema” at this point (p.127). No attempt is made to explain how, if that was what Paul was in fact doing to a central statement of Jewish belief, it could be done through a brief allusion to the Shema. Paul’s statements about the Law were controversial, and he had to defend them at length. What is the significance of the fact that Paul could make a connection between Jesus and the Shema in passing? Does it indicate the breadth of Jewish “monotheism” in this time? Or does it rather suggest that interpreters have often misunderstood what Paul was doing here? Such issues are not answered in the brief treatment of this particular point of intersection with Deuteronomy. The treatment of other points of intersection with Deuteronomy are equally brief but, because they are less dependent on broader concerns and issues, are much more satisfactory.

Gerd Haefner offers a treatment of the Pastoral Epistles, noting that “Explicit scriptural references are only rarely attested in the Pastorals and it seems clear that the author of these letters is no expert in Scripture-based reasoning” (p.137). The subject of the use of Deuteronomy thus provides a wonderful testing ground for Haefner’s presupposition of these letters’ pseudepigraphic character, since the contrast with Paul’s authentic letters on this point could hardly be more striking. Haefner’s study highlights the interesting way in which Scripture is emphatically important for the author of the Pastorals, even while not being used more than occasionally, in allusions to passages that were of interest to Paul. The discussion of the application of Deuteronomy 25:4 by Philo, Josephus and other ancient Jewish sources is fascinating, as is the discussion of the influence of Deuteronomy on the author’s thinking about works and righteousness.

The chapter on Deuteronomy in Hebrews by Gert Steyn begins by helpfully surveying not merely the instances of quotation and allusion, but also their distribution: they are concentrated towards the end of the letter, in chapters 10 and 12. The possibility that Hebrews may show knowledge of Paul’s letter to the Romans is mentioned, but not explored (p.154). There is particular use of the Song of Moses (from Deuteronomy 31-32). With so many actual quotations, little space is devoted to the allusions, and the possibility is raised that these may be instances of the use of “scriptural language” rather than allusions to specific texts. Particularly intriguing is Hebrews 13:5, where the words, which are similar to Deut. 31:6 in the LXX, the words are identical to those found in Philo, Conf. 166 (pp.163-164). A section (pp.164-167) is then devoted to themes and motifs from Deuteronomy in Hebrews. The conclusion sums up the distinctly Christological character of Hebrews’ reading of Deuteronomy (p.168).

The final chapter by Michael Tilly is on Deuteronomy in Revelation, and offers an exploration of the allusions in Revelation to the Exodus plagues, the curse in Deuteronomy, and how these impact our understanding of the book’s eschatology. The focus on idol-worship is also a point of intersection between Deuteronomy and Revelation, and it too is explored. The concluding “integrity formula”, warning against adding to or subtracting from the book’s words, is devoted particular attention (pp.177-186). The irony of this is noted: “It must be asserted that here the author of Revelation forbids his readers the precise thing he himself does to the texts, that is the creative new contextualization of a document of revelation” (p.185). The author is thus to be viewed as in conflict with other prophetic voices (p.186).

The book concludes with indexes of quotations from and allusions to Deuteronomy, one organized by the New Testament works, the other by the order of Deuteronomy. After these there follows an index of authors.

It is always difficult to provide an overview of a volume that is the work of multiple authors. Let me emphasize that, unlike a chain, a multi-author academic volume is not only as strong as its weakest length. Even the weakest chapter in this volume provides thought-provoking material. The strongest chapters themselves make the entire volume worth reading. Taken as a whole, this book might be thought of as a volume in an encyclopedia of intertextuality in the New Testament: The subjects treated are of necessity broad and somewhat general, and so those looking for a survey of the place of Deuteronomy in the earliest Christian writings may find here all they are looking for. Those working on scholarly articles, doctoral dissertations or other such detailed projects will need to go beyond this volume into more detailed studies focusing in greater depth on one given instance of a citation. Yet there is in such work always the danger of losing sight of the forest for the trees, or making a plausible case with respect to a single verse that fits poorly with respect to others, and a general treatment of the sort provided in this book can help one avoid that pitfall.

In short, this volume provides a very useful overview of the place of Deuteronomy in the New Testament, and whatever shortcomings the volume may have, its usefulness and importance cannot be denied. I am persuaded that scholarship on intertextuality and the Jewish Scriptures in the New Testament will benefit much from its publication.

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  • “1 Corinthians 8:5-6 presupposes the Shema (Deut. 6:4), and Rosner does little more than assume and summarize Wright’s view of Paul having “split the Shema” at this point (p.127). No attempt is made to explain how, if that was what Paul was in fact doing to a central statement of Jewish belief, it could be done through a brief allusion to the Shema.”Hi James, thanks for this review – very helpful. In light of the citation above, would you doubt that there is allusion to Deut 6:4 in 1 Cor 8:6?I would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Hi Chris! I have no doubt that the Shema is in view, but I’d argue that Jesus is added alongside rather than into the Shema. The short version is that this seems to me akin to the statements “One God, therefore one people” or “One God, one temple”. If Paul had been modifying the fundamental Jewish statement of faith, I can’t believe it could be done in passing. His view of the Law and circumcision was controversial, and this is reflected in his letters. If his view of Jesus was in a similar way, I’d expect a similar controversy to be reflected.

  • Thanks, James. Fascinating.I think you may find some of my doctoral work interesting, and I would really love to hear your feedback on it.In relation to the theme of this post, I argue that 1 Cor. 8:6 is to be quite expected, given the broader pattern of evidence, that Paul meant to include Christ in the ‘Godhead’, divine ‘identity’ … whatever! My main argument concerns the whole divine-Christology debate in Paul. As I said, would love to hear any thoughts you have on my own work, especially given your own work, John’s Apologetic Christology. Perhaps I could post it to you when I’ve done some necessary proof-reading, and completed a couple of important chapters?All the best,Chris

  • Christ, I’d be delighted to read what you’ve been writing. I actually have a second book coming out (hopefully in Spring of 2009) on monotheism and Christology in the New Testament and its Jewish context. I’ll let you know when it appears. It will be published by University of Illinois Press, and the title will be The Only True God.

  • Brilliant times two: so glad you want to read my stuff, and excited about your forthcoming. If you need any proof reading done …. (shameless strategy to read it before I hand my doctoratre in ;-))Oh yes, and brilliant three: “Christ, I’d be delighted to read what you’ve been writing“I didn’t know Christ the Lord himself was about to publish?! Exciting times!

  • It is amazing how pretty much every time I type your name it comes out that way, and I have to catch it and fix it. Perhaps it is simply the habit of typing “Christ” and the fact that in your case one must type “Chris T…”. Perhaps it is something far more significant…