Where in the NT are Joseph and Joshua?

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A few weeks ago at Near Emmaus, Brian LePort asked an intriguing question: Why didn’t the Apostle Paul cite the Book of Jonah? The question fueled some conversation but I’m not sure there was ever a definitive answer. Although I didn’t weigh in on the discussion, I’ve been turning the question over in my mind for the last two or three weeks, not so much in relation to why Paul doesn’t cite Jonah but more broadly on why the NT doesn’t use a number of books as sources or figures as types. Jonah is at least cited and used in the Gospels, if not by Paul. Other rich OT imagery isn’t even mentioned by the NT.

For instance, Joseph and Joshua, two figures replete with Second Adam and New Moses imagery, are never cited, mentioned, or alluded to in the NT as types of Christ. They are referenced in Heb 11:21-22 and 4:8 respectively, but as moral examples and not as figures who point to or tell us anything about Christ (thanks to David Stark for clarifying my language here). These men give, at least in my opinion, a strong typological picture of Christ. Of course, some scholars would say that to recognize anything as a type in the OT that is not recognized as such in the NT is illegitimate. But, as G. P. Hupenberger points out in his essay “Introductory Notes in Typology” in G.K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?,

“Perhaps as a safeguard against interpretive excess, some scholars have suggested that ‘types’ should be limited to those examples which are explicitly identified as such within the New Testament. … While attractive for its restraint, this approach would fail to recognize several…examples for which there is impressive literary evidence of deliberate parallelism” (339).

The literary parallels between Adam and Joseph are particularly striking. Here are several:

  • He is dependent upon God for wisdom and power (Gen 41:16)
  • He discerns between good and evil (41:19)

    1. The word for “thin” is the same word used for “evil” in Hebrew
    2. V. 22 – “good” corn
    3. These should remind us of Gen. 2 and 3 and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
    4. Joseph can discern between them, unlike Adam
  • He is full of the Spirit of God (41:38)
  • He has dominion and authority over the land under the direction of the Pharaoh (41:40, 44)
  • He is given the land (41:41, 43)
  • He is clothed in the image of the Pharaoh (41:42)
  • He is given a bride by the Pharaoh (41:45)
  • He is fruitful and multiplies (41: 50)
  • Ephraim means “root of fruitfulness
  • He is able to provide for those in need (41:53-56)
  • The nations come to Joseph (41:57)

There are also of course the parallels between Joseph’s relationship to his brothers in Gen 37 and Christ’s relationship with Israel in the Gospels, but these are not directly related to Joseph as a New Adam.

We could say the same thing about Joshua and his connection to Moses. And since the New Adam and New Moses images are used in the NT (or at least in parts of it) to explain who Christ is and what he has done, the question can be asked as to why Joshua and Joseph are never used in those explanations. I wonder particularly about Matthew’s use of the New Moses theme and Paul’s contrast of Adam and Christ in Romans 1-8.

For me, though, there is a rather simple explanation to this question. Other than the easy answer of the Spirit’s inspiration of the biblical authors (and I’m not saying we should ignore that answer, just that we need to add to it), we have the functional answer of the fact that the NT authors were writing occasional books and letters to a specific group of individuals within a certain time frame. I propose that they certainly could have included this material in their books, and that it would have fit nicely in certain places. But they didn’t, and for the above two reasons – the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire them to do so and their own theological reflection was constrained by the practical factors of time, occasion, and purpose.

For those of us who want to reflect on the OT in the 21st century, the point, then, is that the NT should not be considered by us as the end of Christian reflection on it. It is of course the final apostolic and Spirit-inspired reflection (i.e. Scriptural) reflection on it, but in my mind the NT authors never intended for their books and letters to be the end of Christian engagement with the OT. What they have given us, beyond the inspired interpretation of the events of Jesus and the early church and their relation to the OT, is a model for Christian theological reflection on the Hebrew Bible. This is what the Church Fathers and Medieval theologians set about to do – to continue the Christian reading of the OT that had been modeled for them by the NT authors – and is what we can and should be about doing in our reading of the OT today.

One final comment: I’m not writing this to critique Brian’s question – his was slightly different than mine. I was using his post more as a starting point than as a focal point.

(NOTE: I owe the Adam/Joseph parallels to my PhD mentor, Dr. David Hogg. He may have found them elsewhere, but the ones I noted are from a course with him.)

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11 thoughts on “Where in the NT are Joseph and Joshua?

  1. Those are two additional characters are raise the same question. I like your answers. As regards Paul’s use of Jonah I asked this in part because I can’t think of a single OT book that fits so perfectly into Paul’s Gentile mission as does Jonah. There was at least one good and plausible answer given.

  2. @Brian Yes I do agree that one commenter had a plausible answer (I think his name was Michael Rios?). After you commented I was also thinking of another possible answer to the question: what if Paul and the other NT authors thought of the Minor Prophets as one book, i.e. the Book of the 12? Does he quote from any of them in Romans? If so, maybe that’s why he left out Jonah – he doesn’t have to quote from all parts of the “Book” to convey the point of the whole thing… But maybe not.

    • Good call on those other quotations. I was writing in haste when I responded to you the first time; how could I forget Hab 2:4, ha! It’s interesting to me that three of the four quotations you’ve cited occur in books within the Book of the 12 that are before Jonah. I don’t know what that has to do with the answer to either of our questions, but now I wonder if the actual shape of the 12, and not just the fact that it can be taken together, has anything to do with the answer.

      And yes, now I’m just making stuff up (sort of).

      In all seriousness, though, a major theme throughout the 12 is the inclusion of the Gentiles (along with the judgment of both Jew and Gentile). We could point to James’ interesting use of Amos 9 as an example of that. So I’m wondering if this really might be a plausible explanation for the Jonah question.

  3. Pingback: The Apostle Paul’s use of the Book of the Twelve « Near Emmaus

  4. Matt, the blog’s looking good here. :) I just saw Brian’s related post, and your point about the NT’s occasionality seems to be a very good one. Might Heb 4:8; 11:21–22 play into this discussion on the Joshua-Joseph sub-points? These texts appear to refer to Joseph and Joshua, the first (4:8) as an implication that there’s a still-coming rest and the second (11:21–22) as an example of a means by which Christians can preserve their souls (10:39). Just curious. I’ve got the new URL in my Google Reader, so I’ll look forward to following what you’ll be putting out here in the future.

    • David, yes good points on the Hebrews references. I suppose I should change my post to say “are never cited, mentioned, or alluded to in the NT *as types of Christ.*” I’d still say it’s interesting that both of these figures are only used as ethical examples, and briefly at that. Thanks for the comment!

  5. This doesn’t really help this discussion that much since I get Matt’s basic point, but does anyone see a possible Jesus-Joshua theme underlying the Apocalypse. I have often thought that it seemed to position Jesus in such a way that he sounds a lot like Joshua purging “the land” (now the cosmos) of evil via a God-supported and inspired invasion. Thoughts?

    • Great question Brian. There’s definitely New Exodus motifs throughout Revelation, but I hadn’t thought about specifically relating those to Joshua (instead of say Isaiah). Sounds like a good dissertation topic to me!

  6. Pingback: Elsewhere (06.09.2011) « Near Emmaus

  7. This is way after the fact, but I just wanted to note that in second temple Judaism there was a messianic figure associated with Joseph. In fact, the general outlines of the Joseph story, combined with messianic figuration of the Joseph story in Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Gen 49, lead to an intriguing parallel to Jesus’ eschatological story: denied by Jewish brothers and sent to death, exalted to a great position of power amongst the Gentiles, restoring a relationship with brothers through their repentance, salvation of both brothers and Gentiles through wisdom. Though the NT doesn’t directly signal these parallels through citation, I do find it interesting that seem to provide a basic backdrop to a lot of Paul’s ideas, for instance, in Romans 11. They seems to be part of the theological fabric of the the Two-Testament prophetic-eschatological vision.

    As a side question: why do the NT authors have to cite the OT books? They all obviously make up an important part of the the biblical worldview, and the NT are working within this. Moreover, Joseph makes up an important part of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7; and Rahab is included in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1. So the apostles were certainly aware/appreciated the OT witnesses in Genesis and Joshua. The plot of Joshua also plays an important role in the book of Hebrews when talking about what it means to have “rest.”

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