In Matthew 4:14–16, the Gospel writer references Isaiah 9:1–2, but the quotation is not verbatim. This raises a question: Is Matthew's representation of Isaiah's prophecy accurate or a distortion? Understanding the context and purpose of biblical quotations and paraphrasing is crucial in resolving this issue.
The Nature of Biblical Quotations
Summarization in Scripture
Biblical writers often summarized or condensed passages from the Old Testament. This practice is not unique to Matthew; it is a common method in ancient Jewish and Christian writings. The key is that the essence and intent of the original passage remain intact.
Literary and Theological Context
Matthew's Gospel, written primarily for a Jewish audience, frequently references Old Testament prophecies to demonstrate Jesus as the fulfillment of those prophecies. The nuances in Matthew's quotation of Isaiah should be examined in this light.
Analysis of Matthew 4:14–16 and Isaiah 9:1–2
Comparison of Texts
Matthew 4:14–16 reads, "so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 'The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.'" This paraphrases Isaiah 9:1–2, which is more detailed and poetic in its original Hebrew context.
Intent and Message
Matthew captures the essence of Isaiah’s prophecy—the emergence of a great light in a region characterized by darkness. The "light" symbolizes hope and deliverance, ultimately realized in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Matthew's version aligns with this overarching theme.
The Purpose of Paraphrasing in Matthew's Gospel
Conveying Theological Truths
Matthew's paraphrasing serves to highlight the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus' life and ministry. His approach is not to provide a scholarly exegesis of Isaiah but to demonstrate how Jesus' actions and presence fulfilled the words of the prophets.
Accessibility to the Audience
By condensing Isaiah’s prophecy, Matthew makes the message more accessible to his primarily Jewish audience, emphasizing the realization of the long-awaited Messiah in Jesus.
The Accuracy of Matthew's Quotation
Faithfulness to the Original Meaning
Matthew’s paraphrasing of Isaiah does not distort the prophecy’s meaning. Instead, it encapsulates the prophecy's core message: the arrival of a great light (a metaphor for the Messiah) bringing hope and salvation.
The Legitimacy of Paraphrasing in Historical Reporting
Just as in modern news reporting and historical accounts, summarizing or paraphrasing is a legitimate and effective way to convey information. Matthew employs this technique appropriately, maintaining the integrity of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Upholding the Integrity of Biblical Texts
Matthew's quotation of Isaiah in Matthew 4:14–16, while not a verbatim reproduction, accurately reflects the essence and intent of the original prophecy. This approach is consistent with the ancient Jewish practice of scriptural interpretation and application.
The Role of Matthew's Gospel in Prophecy Fulfillment
Matthew's Gospel serves as a bridge between Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His use of paraphrasing is a deliberate and effective tool to highlight Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, reinforcing the theological message of the Gospel.
In sum, Matthew's quotation of Isaiah is not a distortion but a concise representation that aligns with the broader narrative of Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, the "great light" for those in darkness.
About the Author
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).