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I am aware that the New Testament often quotes from the Hebrew Bible. However, I'm interested to learn whether or not it ever quotes - or alludes to - non-Hebrew / extrabiblical literature?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Jesus Himself quoted non-biblical sources. He quoted (loosely, I presume) a popular, Farmer's Almanac-type saying when He said,

"When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?"

The saying I learned when I was a child was

"Pink skies at night--sailors' delight; pink skies in morning--sailors take warning!"

Jesus also "agreed" with His contemporary critics of Roman rule when He referred to Herod as a fox (Lk 13:32), since Herod was considered by many to be as subtle as a fox, and noted for his craft, and treachery, and baseness.

Jesus quoted a proverb (from a source that is unknown) in the following verse:

And Jesus said to [those gathered in the synagogue who had just heard Him read from the scroll of Isaiah], "No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well'" (Lk 4:23).

"Doctor, heal yourself" was a proverb in use with the Jews and which is sometimes expressed thus, (Kvpn yoa lyz), "go heal thyself," and sometimes in this form, (Ktrgx yoa ayoa), "physician, heal thy lameness."

Jesus then followed up this proverb with another proverb in verse 24:

And He said, "Truly I say to you [, '] No prophet is welcome in his hometown'" [or, 'A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown'].

As an aside, this proverb and the two subsequent illustrations Jesus gave his audience in the synagogue in Nazareth (His hometown) really riled them up, to the point where they were about to throw Jesus off a cliff to get rid of Him.

Paul quoted secular poets in his Sermon on Mars Hill,

". . . for in Him [God] we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children'" (Acts 17:28).

Regarding Paul's quotation of the Greek poets, here is what Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible has to say in this regard (with minor punctuation changes):

"For in him we live, and move, and have our being [or, more briefly, 'exist']. This means, not merely, 'Without Him we have no life, nor that motion which every inanimate nature displays, nor even existence itself" [MEYER], but that God is the living, immanent Principle of all these in men.

As certain also of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his offspring'--the first half of the fifth line, word for word, of an astronomical poem of Aratus [my emphasis], a Greek countryman of the apostle, and his predecessor by about three centuries. But, as he hints, the same sentiment is to be found in other Greek poets. They meant it doubtless in a pantheistic sense; but the truth which it expresses the apostle turns to his own purpose--to teach a pure, personal, spiritual Theism."

I suggest it is possible that during his quiet retreat at Tarsus (see Acts 9:30), Paul gave himself to the study of Greek literature, which given his calling as an apostle to the Gentiles may have been conscripted to be used as fodder for future sermons.

Hence, Paul quoted Aratus and other Greek poets and playwrights, as he did in 1 Corinthians 15:33, where we read,

"Do not be deceived," 'Bad company corrupts good morals,'” [or] 'Bad company ruins good manners' [alternate reading]

This quotation came from the Athenian writer Menander in his play Thais. Menander lived from 343-291 B.C. and was famous for his comedies. Interestingly, Paul's hometown, the port city of Tarsus in Cilicia was widely known for its vice. Avoiding bad company, then, a notion which may have originated in Stoic philosophy, was to Paul a wise piece of counsel. He may have in fact admired the positive elements of Stoic morality, with its emphasis on self-control and actions based on reason and rationality rather than emotion and a "feels good" ethic. See also Titus 1:10-13, which says,

"For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision [party], who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families [in Crete] teaching things they should not each for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith."

Also from Paul in the book of Acts comes the following:

"And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks'” (26:14).

The phrase “kick against the pricks” “comes from Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.), Agamemnon, line 1624--or lines 2341 & 2342 at (see Stewart Custer, Witness to Christ, BJU Press, p.164). We do not readily think of the risen Christ quoting a Greek playwright (in Hebrew, no less!), but since Paul's educational background likely included the study of the "Greek classics," Jesus used Paul's familiarity with the work of Aeschylus to reveal to Paul the futility of resisting His grace.

"The pricks" were the jabs the farmer gave the ox that was plowing a field whenever the animal would "rebel" by refusing to do its job. The farmer would take a goad, a sharpened implement of some sort, and jab/prick the ox to get its attention! The animal would soon get the point (pun intended) and not take as many rest breaks thereafter. Paul, like a stubborn ox, was only hurting himself with his stubborn resistance to "the Way" (for "the Way," see Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 24:14,22). Just as an ox might kick at the goads to no avail, Saul, too, by kicking back at God by hurting His saints, the followers of Christ, was hurting only himself!

Wikis, above, has already mentioned Paul's quoting of Epimenides and Menander in Titus 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:33.

So-called "higher critics" like to insist that when Jude (vss.14,15) quoted Enoch (see Ge 5:18-24 and 1 Ch 1:1,2), he was quoting a non-biblical book: either "The Book of Enoch" or "The Apocalypse of Enoch." This insistence is not necessarily warranted. Jude was free, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to quote (or quote from) Enoch's prophecy as it had been handed down over the centuries as part of Jewish oral history, and this oral tradition may have preceded "The Book of Enoch" by hundreds of years (look here for the words in question).

"All truth is God's truth, wherever it may be found." While there are not many quotations of non-biblical sources in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, the quotations we do find in both testaments contain and/or underscore a truth or even a truism that bears the stamp of divine approval.

As many biblical scholars have observed--and this is particularly apropos a biblical hermeneutics site, the God-breathed nature of the Word of God in no way conflicts with the "human" or "secular" elements contained in it. God did not ignore or set aside the obviously human factors at work in the process of inspiration, such as the authors'

  • preferred style of writing,

  • existing culture and the times in which they wrote,

  • educational backgrounds and achievements, both "sacred" and "secular," and/or

  • family history.

In conclusion, there are many skeins in the fabric of Scripture. Some of them--a few of which I've listed above--are related to the individual authors. The more-important threads concern the central theme of the Scriptures (viz., the revelation of the personhood of God and His plan of salvation for the human race) and its many other themes. The more we see and understand both kinds of threads, the sounder and more coherent our hermeneutic will be, provided we rely on the same Holy Spirit who inspired all of Scripture (2 Ti 3:16,17).

"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (Jn 17:17).

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Just great!!! And this quote from Aeschylos - I had no idea - I mean this is truly sensational. Can anyone find words for that? +100 –  hannes Aug 1 '13 at 21:51
    
Thank you very much. You are very kind! –  rhetorician Aug 2 '13 at 0:38
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@rhetorician : great answer! Baffled only about your claim that "higher critics" insist that Jude was quoting from a non-biblical book of Enoch. It's incontrovertible, and has nothing to do with the altitude of the critic. :) See the relevant text (1 Enoch 1:9) from the Charles edition and the note on it there. See also the abstract of a very recent article from Journal of Theological Studies. Is it worth either explaining your rejection more cogently, or updating your answer to reflect this consensus? –  Davïd Jan 16 at 16:07
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@David: Thank you for your comments. I've edited my post in several ways. I've added information about the Greek poet Menander, and I've softened my assertion about the "higher critics." God forgive me, but I take pleasure in ripping into the critics who like to emasculate God's Word to suit their own faulty presuppositions. "Consensus" can be good and can sometimes be correct. In this instance, however, the origin of the passage in Enoch could have been an oral tradition which predated Enoch (the book) by centuries. Frankly, I lack the expertise to be dogmatic; hence, my softening. –  rhetorician Jan 16 at 17:41
    
Just stumbled across this.Very well done.Interestingly,'pricks' is still used as a derogatory term by some people to belittle people, in the country where i live.I now know where this slang has its origin. –  Bagpipes Feb 15 at 9:46

Acts of the Apostles has an unattributed quote from the ancient play, the Bacchae by Euripides (d. 406 BCE): "It hurts you to kick against the goad[or 'pricks']" (Acts 26:14). That this short passage is not a coincidence can be established because the situation and context are the same, and Acts even has Jesus using the same plural form of the noun (kentra) that Euripides needs for the metre of his line.

The story of Paul's escape from prison has reasonably close parallels to words in the play - Acts 16:26: "... and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's fetters were unfastened;” Bacchae:"The chains on their legs snapped apart by themselves. Untouched by any human hand, the doors swung wide, opening of their own accord."

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do you have line numbers for those references? Particularly lines of the Greek? Not doubting, just wanting the reference. Thank you. –  Frank Luke Jan 16 at 21:01

Not a writer but a (however windy) speaker and (unsuccessful to say the least) comforter:

Eliphas of Teman (against Job, same book 16:3).

Even though part of scripture, still it is pagan, even uninspired, but written it is. (The saying there, not the writing down.):

'He catches the wise in their own craftiness' (Job 5:13).

Paul still esteems him, rather the word, worth quoting 'as it is written' in 1Cor 3: 19:

'He catches the wise in their own craftiness'.

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Good catch, Hannes. –  rhetorician Aug 6 '13 at 15:58

Yes. Titus 1:12:

One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’

The footnote in the NIV says, "From the Cretan philosopher Epimenides".

Researching Epimenides led me to Non-canonical books referenced in the Bible which also mentions 1 Corinthians 15:33:

Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’

Here the NIV footnote says, "From the Greek poet Menander"

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