The Bible contains a lot of attempts to quote earlier parts of the Bible. Most of the time, those quotes are either misinterpreted, misquoted, or don’t even appear in the earlier scriptures at all.
The gospel of Matthew claims that the prophets said the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. But it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Old Testament. (Maybe the author was thinking of the part where it says somebody will be a Nazirite… which is not the same thing as a Nazarene. And was not said by the prophets. And was clearly about Samson, not Jesus.)
The gospel of John says people knew that when the Messiah came, no one would know where he was from. And that he definitely wouldn’t come from Galilee. I don’t know where they got those ideas. There is nothing like that in the books of the prophets.
Jesus claims that the Old Testament Law says the priests are allowed to “desecrate the Sabbath“. That would be a pretty weird rule. I don’t think that’s in there.
Jesus told his disciples that everything that was written by the prophets about him (also in the books of the law and the Psalms) was about to be fulfilled: He would be handed over to the Gentiles to be tormented and killed. He would come back to life on the third day. And forgiveness through repentance would be preached everywhere in his name. Paul said the prophets predicted something like that as well. None of that is actually in the Old Testament, though.
Jesus also claimed that Judas had to be doomed to destruction so the scriptures would be fulfilled. But there doesn’t seem to be anything about that in the Old Testament scriptures.
Peter claims that all the prophets said that anyone can get their sins forgiven by believing in Jesus. Really, all of them? I’m not sure I can find even one Old Testament prophet who even sounds like he was saying that.
Paul, who never actually met Jesus and never really learned anything about him from anyone who had known him, claims that Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I’m pretty sure being blessed itself involves receiving what you want, so that statement doesn’t make much sense. I won’t blame that one on Jesus though, since it doesn’t appear in the gospels. I’ll assume Paul made it up.
Paul attempts to quote a passage about a deliverer coming from Zion and changing Israel’s behavior. Paul seems to think that’s a prediction about Jesus enabling both Jews and Gentiles to be saved, or something. But that passage doesn’t even appear in the Old Testament at all. The closest thing I can find is Isaiah talking about a redeemer coming to Zion in response to Israel’s behavior changing.
Paul also has a quote that he claims “is said”, about Christ shining on a sleeper who rose from the dead. I don’t know what he’s trying to quote, but that’s obviously not in the Old Testament.
1 Timothy has Paul quote “scripture” saying the worker deserves his wages, even though that’s not in the Old Testament. It’s from the gospel of Luke, which wasn’t even written till after Paul died. Clearly Paul didn’t actually write that. It was written by someone who lived in a time when the gospel of Luke existed, and was considered scripture.
James claims that scripture says God “jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us”. I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, but it’s not actually in the Old Testament.
Joshua claims that Moses promised that a certain part of the promised land would belong to Joshua. Moses did say something like that in the Bible… except he was promising the land to Caleb, not Joshua.
When the Jewish religious leaders ask Jesus if he’s the son of God, he falsely accuses them of stating that he’s the son of God. Then they falsely accuse him of stating that he’s the son of God, when all he’d said was that they said so. They’re each disastrously misquoting what the other just said.
Peter quotes something from Deuteronomy about a prophet who was to be Moses’s successor, which Peter would like you to think means Jesus. It says the Israelites must listen to this prophet. But Peter tacks on a specific threat toward people who don’t obey the prophet, like it’s part of the quote, even though that part is not in the original passage in Deuteronomy.
The book of Acts has James quote a Greek mistranslation of Amos, even though both he and the people he was talking to really should have known that the original Hebrew said Edom, not “Adam” or “man”. He takes Amos’s statement about God’s people possessing the remnant of Edom and other nations, and changes it into a statement about all of mankind seeking God.
Paul criticizes the sin and hypocrisy of some of his followers by trying to quote a biblical passage about certain people causing Gentiles to blaspheme God’s name. It sounds like he’s trying to quote something from Ezekiel. But of course Ezekiel wasn’t talking to, or about, the same people Paul was. And the Gentiles Ezekiel mentioned were unimpressed with God because of God’s own actions, not because they disapproved of anyone’s sin or hypocrisy.1
Paul correctly quotes2 a psalm that says God put all of somebody’s enemies under that person’s feet. But then he tries to say it again and gets it wrong, this time saying that God put everything under that person’s feet. And then he has to spend almost twice that many words trying to explain away the inconsistency he just created by saying it wrong.
The book of Hebrews says Moses said he was “trembling with fear” at the sight of the scorched forbidden mountain where God tried to talk to his people. But the closest thing to that in the Old Testament is when Moses says he feared God’s wrath a while later, when God was threatening to kill all his people over a golden calf.
Isaiah states that no one has seen or heard any god besides God that ever does anything for anyone. But when Paul claims to be telling what’s written there, he roughly quotes the first half of the sentence, adds something about minds conceiving things as if that was part of the quote, and then makes up his own ending for the sentence, without even mentioning other gods, which are what the original verse was about.
It also claims that Enoch never actually died… based on a quote that could easily mean he did die. Even if you ignore the fact that the actual verse in Genesis says “he was no more“, rather than “he could not be found”.
Misquoting the rules
There’s a verse in Deuteronomy about God giving people bread to somehow teach them that they need something other than bread. Jesus uses this verse as an excuse for refusing to eat bread. He’s misquoting it as if it was a command to not eat bread, or something.
When Jesus shares his thoughts on the Law, he shows not just his contempt for God’s Law, but his ignorance of it. He claims that the Law says a divorce must involve a man giving his wife a certificate of divorce. The closest thing to that in the Old Testament is a law about remarriage, which just mentions in passing that the divorce certificate thing is something that could happen. And then the actual law is about something else, that could happen after that.
Jesus also claims that the Law says you should love your neighbor and hate your enemy. His focus is on the part about your enemy… which is the part that isn’t actually in the Old Testament verse he’s trying to quote.
Peter quotes little pieces of two different psalms out of context, to try to make it sound like David had been writing instructions for the twelve apostles so they would know what to do now that there were only eleven of them. The two supposed instructions contradict each other (which Peter doesn’t acknowledge), and the first of those verses isn’t even quoted correctly. They’re both actually about David’s enemies, but the first one is specifically about multiple enemies. Peter changes it to make it sound like it’s about one person, Judas.
There’s a passage in Isaiah where the Israelites complain that God is acting like they don’t know anything. He’s patronizingly teaching them basic moral rules that are obvious to them. God just sees his people scoffing and not listening to him, so he chooses to respond by going too far in the other direction. He decides to talk to them in foreign languages so they can’t understand him, and can’t benefit from his instructions.
So that was stupid, but when Paul tries to quote that passage, he gets it wrong and ends up making God look really stupid. He makes it seem like God was expecting the people to understand him better because he used a language they didn’t know. And this somehow leads Paul to the conclusion that people should only speak in tongues to unbelievers. Even though Isaiah had said nothing about people speaking in tongues, or about unbelievers.
Paul quotes three passages to try to back up his opinions about Christians being “yoked together with unbelievers“. But he does it so badly you can’t tell exactly what passages he’s trying to quote. Obviously there aren’t any Old Testament passages that are actually about Christians. And two of the “quotes” Paul gives just have absolutely nothing to do with anything he was saying at all.
The other quote he gives is about people coming out from another nation and separating themselves and avoiding unclean things. He seems to be trying to quote a verse where Isaiah tells Jewish priests (not Christian laymen) to come out of something (it doesn’t say what) and avoid unclean things (not people). And that doesn’t say anything about what people believe.
Misquoting Jewish scriptures to make them sound Christian
Jesus told one of his disciples that he would see heaven open, and angels ascending and descending on Jesus. He said that like he was quoting a passage from Genesis, but that passage doesn’t say anything about angels climbing on Jesus. It says they were climbing on a stairway. It doesn’t say anything about heaven opening, either.
When some Jews don’t find Paul’s arguments for Christianity convincing, Paul decides that when God told Isaiah he would be appointed to preach to the Gentiles and bring salvation to the world, God must have actually meant to say that to Paul. And he leaves out the “also” part, so he can conclude that all the Jews will be excluded from all this.
Paul appears to be quoting the Old Testament when he says God will repay everyone in the afterlife according to what they’ve done. Except the Old Testament verses he appears to be quoting don’t actually say anything about the afterlife.
Paul and Peter both try to quote what Isaiah said about a stone, but they don’t get it quite right. In particular, unlike Isaiah, they talk about the stone like it’s a person, because they want that verse to be about Jesus.
The book of Hebrews tries to prove that Jesus is willing to call Christians brothers and sisters, by quoting something David said about the Israelites without mentioning brothers and sisters, and misattributing that quote to Jesus.
Hebrews also misattributes to Jesus another misquotation of David. Instead of what David said about opening his ears, it says something about God preparing a body for Jesus. It doesn’t even make sense to quote this passage about God not wanting sacrifices, when it’s trying to make it seem like this is about God preparing to sacrifice Jesus.
Hebrews has a quote saying the one who is coming will come in just a little while, and will not delay. The closest thing to that in the Old Testament doesn’t say anything about anyone coming. It’s just about the time of the end coming.
A psalmist claimed that God wanted him to break the nations with a rod of iron. Revelation repeatedly misquotes that psalm, as if it was about Jesus and some other person ruling the nations with an iron scepter.
Changing passages to make them seem like fulfilled prophecies
When Jehu killed one of Ahab’s sons and then had him thrown into Naboth’s vineyard, he attempted to quote a prophecy that he thought he was fulfilling. The actual prophecy was a lot more clear that it was about Ahab dying in the vineyard, not Ahab’s son dying and then getting thrown into the vineyard.
Some of the gospels claim that Jesus came from a virgin birth. And they claim that the prophet Isaiah had predicted that would happen. But Isaiah never actually said anything about a virgin giving birth. Thinking Isaiah was predicting the miraculous birth of an important individual in the distant future misses the point of what he was saying. Isaiah’s point was to give an idea of how soon the kingdom of Israel was going to end. He was definitely not talking about someone who wouldn’t even be born till hundreds of years after Israel was conquered.
If Isaiah had actually intended to predict a miraculous virgin birth, he would have made that clear by using the Hebrew word that specifically means a virgin. Instead, he used a Hebrew word for a young woman. So where did the gospel writers get that whole idea about a virgin? It looks like they got it from a previous mistranslation of the scriptures. This mistranslation of “young woman” as “virgin” first occurred a few hundred years after Isaiah and a few hundred years before Jesus, in the first-ever attempt to translate the Bible.
(Now, since the New Testament needs the Old Testament to provide a prediction of a virgin birth for Jesus to fulfill, most Christian Bibles opt to also translate that part of Isaiah from that Greek mistranslation instead of from the original Hebrew, which makes it harder to notice the misquotation.)
Two of the gospels say Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Though their two stories of Jesus’s birth have almost nothing in common besides that. It’s like they both independently decided to make up an origin story for Jesus, just so they could say he was born in Bethlehem, to make it seem like he had fulfilled a messianic prophecy. But the prophecy the gospel writers are trying to “fulfill” might not even be about the town of Bethlehem. Micah actually referred to the clan of Bethlehem Ephrathah.
(The gospels also ignore the original context of the Old Testament passage, where Micah says the guy he was talking about is going to rescue Israel from the Assyrians, making it clear that this is not about Jesus.)
The gospel of Mark claims to be quoting a prediction of John the Baptist from Isaiah. But he starts it with a verse that comes from Malachi, not Isaiah. Then when he gets to the part that actually is from Isaiah, he says it like the one calling is in the wilderness. The original passage appears to have meant that the way would be prepared in the wilderness. This doesn’t look like it was even meant to be a prediction. And if it was, it’s an excessively vague one, that could have just as well meant a lot of other things.
The gospels have Jesus misquote Malachi, mentioning a messenger sent by God to prepare the way for someone else. Malachi actually said the messenger was to prepare the way for God, and didn’t say anything about a man coming.
The gospel of Luke says Jesus read a passage from Isaiah and claimed to have “fulfilled” it. Even though it was just Isaiah talking about what God had told him to do, not predicting what somebody else would do. Jesus also throws in a line about healing the blind, which isn’t actually in the original passage. Which is too bad, because that was the main thing that made it sound like it could be about Jesus.
The gospel of Matthew misquotes a verse from Isaiah in order to claim that it’s about Jesus healing people. But even Matthew’s version of that verse doesn’t accurately describe what the gospels say about Jesus. He makes it sound like Jesus ended up suffering from all the conditions he took away from other people!
The gospel of John suggests that Jesus’s temple tantrum was a fulfillment of a scripture about being consumed by zeal for God’s house. Paul thinks the other part of the quoted verse, about someone getting insulted, is about Jesus too. But if you look at the psalm they’re quoting from, what the New Testament writers imagine is about Jesus is clearly just David describing his own current situation, as usual. John even misquotes it, putting it in the future tense to make it sound more like a prediction.
Matthew gives a mangled attempt at a quote that he thinks is from Jeremiah. He claims this was fulfilled when Judas gave the 30 pieces of silver back to the priests and they bought a potter’s field with it. Jeremiah did mention buying a field, but not from a potter or for 30 pieces of silver.
Perhaps what Matthew was trying to quote was Zechariah’s confused shepherding story, where he gets paid 30 pieces of silver for his work, and then “throws it to the potter”. Either way, neither of the prophets’ stories really matches the gospel account very well.
Paul attempts to quote a verse from Isaiah, which he thinks is about a descendant of David ruling over foreign nations. Why should anyone take that to be about Jesus, rather than about one of the actual kings descended from David who reigned after Isaiah said that? Maybe none of them ruled over foreign nations? Well, Jesus didn’t rule over any nations. (Not that the original passage actually said anything about ruling in the first place.)Continue reading The Bible misquotes itself