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Don Stewart :: Why Don't the New Testament Writers Quote the Old Testament Word for Word?

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Don Stewart

If the Scripture teaches inerrancy, why didn't the New Testament writers cite the Old Testament writers word for word? The lack of verbal exactness in citing the Old Testament has caused some to deny the biblical teaching of inerrancy.

This objection does not carry much weight for a number of reasons. They include the following.

1. There Are Different Languages Involved First, there is the issue of languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with parts in Aramaic, while the New Testament was composed in Greek. Any quotation, therefore, cannot be given word for word because there are two different languages involved. There had to be a translation from one language to another. 2. The Ancient Practice Of Citing Another Written Work Must Be Appreciated

While in some modern cultures it is the accepted method to quote another author word for word, this was not the case in biblical times. It is not so much the exact words, as the exact content that was being cited. As long as the content is accurately stated, then it is not necessary to quote the author word for word. The Old Testament was not quoted for its words but rather for the meaning. The New Testament writers also expanded upon what was written. They gave the true meaning and application.

3. This Mistakenly Assumes The Writer Must Quote Word For Word

The attack is based on the assumption that citations must give the exact words of the writer quoted, when no such rule obtains in literature. Unless the writer specifically says that he is quoting another word for word, we should not assume that this is the case. The writer is quoting correctly if he gives the true sense of the text.

4. There Was A Free Manner Of Quoting The Old Testament

The New Testament writers frequently quote the Old Testament without verbal exactness. Most likely, many of the quotations were from memory. At times the citations were made according to the sense of the Old Testament rather than making a direct quote.

The Quotations Are Sometimes Indirect

Sometimes the quotations in Scripture are indirect not direct. An indirect quotation does not cite someone directly but does report accurately what that person said. For example, John makes the statement to us, "I was at work from nine in the morning until five in the evening." Then we, in turn, tell someone that John told us that he was at work all day. While our sentence does not quote John word for word, it does give an accurate account of what he said.

Although an indirect quotation may not use any of the speaker's original words it can correctly report what the speaker said. The point is that indirect citing of someone can be accurate without using someone's exact words.

5. There Were No Punctuation Marks In The Original

Another thing that needs to be emphasized is that the ancients did not use the same type of punctuation as we do today. There were no punctuation marks, ellipses, brackets, or other such devices in the original writings of Scripture - the autographs. Consequently, we do not know whether the ancient writer was citing something directly or alluding to it.

Therefore, in some instances, the so-called misquotation is not a citation of Scripture at all. There was no intent for the writer to cite another portion of Scripture.

There are several other points that need to be emphasized.

There Is One Author Behind All Of Scripture - The Holy Spirit

The Bible emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is author of the entire Bible.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21).

Since this is the case, we should allow the author to quote Himself as He pleases.

This Theory Assumes The Apostles Were Ignorant Of Scripture

The attack is also based on the assumption that the apostles were rather ignorant in theology, judged by modern standards. This is a rather arrogant position to hold seeing that they were two thousand years closer to the Old Testament than we now are.

There Is Hardly Ever Any Attempt To Harmonize

Whenever there is a seeming problem with the way a New Testament writer quotes the Old Testament, an error is automatically assumed - no attempt is made to find a solution.

Inerrancy Only Requires The Bible Always Tells The Truth

Inerrancy does not require word for word quotations from the Old Testament. The doctrine of inerrancy simply means that the Bible tells the truth. Time and time again we find the writers doing this.


One of the main objections against an inerrant Bible is the lack of verbal exactness when the New Testament quotes the Old. The fact that the Old Testament passage is not quoted word for word supposedly is an argument against the doctrine of inerrancy. However this is not the case. First, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew while the New Testament was composed in Greek. This makes verbal exactness impossible. In addition, in ancient writing there were no such things as punctuation marks, quotation marks or any other such devices. Consequently one can never be certain when a passage is being directly cited or merely paraphrased. It also may be asked, "Why an author must quote another word for word to be faithful to what the quoted author wrote?"

It must be remembered that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author behind all the books of Scripture. Should not He be able to quote His own work any way that He wishes? Finally, the biblical doctrine of inerrancy does not demand the Old Testament be quoted word for word in the New Testament. The doctrine of inerrancy requires that the Bible should always tell the truth. This is exactly what it does.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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