I've heard this theory before, but I'm trying to find a reliable source to cite. In English, sometimes we say things like, "when in Rome..." and expect our hearers to complete the figure of speech in their heads. Does Jesus have a tendency to quote OT scripture and leave off the end with the expectation that his followers will finish the sentence (or passage) from memory, possibly giving significance to the unspoken part of the statement?

For example, in Luke 4:19 while reading from Isaiah, he says "to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor..." but leaves off the rest of the verse about the day of vengeance of our God. And when Jesus is talking to the disciples of John about whether he is "the one to come," he gives a list of Messianic indicators from Isaiah (healing the blind, raising the dead, preaching the good news to the poor) but notably leaves off any reference to setting the captives free, which John might understand to mean that it is not the purpose of Jesus' ministry to free John from prison.

Is there anything to this theory? Should we consider the things Jesus notably leaves unsaid when he quotes scripture? Are there examples of this technique being used in other parts of scripture? And are there any scholarly sources that discuss this?

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    I know not answer yet, but the question is good! I think it must be answered by referring to the general situation and custom among the Jewish religious people of the time of the Lord's preaching. There are 2 possibilities, at least: a) He leaves unsaid asking them silently to finish it themselves and b) by omitting parts, He interprets the Scripture, retaining the most important and leaving out less important or that which became obsolete after and due to His Incarnation. Sep 10, 2022 at 6:59
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    Hi Jeff, I'd encourage you to anchor this on analysis of a specific text (Lk 4:19?) or provide a few concrete examples. As it stands this is more of an 'idea' than a clear question about a text that can be exegeted.
    – Steve can help
    Sep 10, 2022 at 11:48
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    I think I have heard that When in Rome from James White.
    – Michael16
    Sep 15, 2022 at 4:21
  • Steve Taylor, the idea is about a common doctrine of Religious protestants eisegesis approach. The question is clear about the hermeneutics.
    – Michael16
    Sep 15, 2022 at 4:22
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    I remember it must have been some youtube response to muslims. I also couldn't find a written mention of it on duckduckgo search for James White. You need to check his dividinline show videos on this.
    – Michael16
    Sep 18, 2022 at 8:14

3 Answers 3


The NT quotes of the OT vary significantly such as:

  • Some quote very accurately, verbatim from the Hebrew
  • Some quote from the LXX which varies from the Hebrew
  • Some "quote" from the OT that amounts to a paraphrase
  • Some merely allude to the OT
  • Some "quote" from passages that are not even in the OT
  • Some quote selectively deliberately omitting key phrases
  • Some quote from non-biblical writers
  • etc, etc.

Thus, the NT writers' practice is quote varied and often "creative", occasionally deliberately changing the meaning, for example, Rom 3:4 quotes Ps 51:4; note the difference:

  • Ps 51:4 - ... so that You may be proved right when You speak and blameless when You judge.
  • Rom 3:4 - ... That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.

Note that in Psalms 51:4 it is God who is the judge, but in Rom 3:4 it is God is being judged.

Thus, each NT quote of the OT and its import must be evaluated on its merits, case by case.

In the case of Jesus' keynote speech at the start of His ministry in Nazareth, Luke 4:18, 19 (some of which is disputed), Jesus quotes an extended passage from Isa 61:1, 2. The oldest MSS appear to suggest that Jesus quoted selectively and omitted parts of the Isaiah text:

Luke 4:19, 20: The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Isa 61:1, 2 - The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of our God’s vengeance, to comfort all who mourn

Note that when Jesus quotes from the this OT passage, He selectively, deliberately omitting parts of the original because they were not relevant to His mission (Jesus said He had not come to judge, John 12:47, and administer God's vengeance - that would be reserved for the last days.)

This perfectly illustrates the creative ways that NT writers quoted freely and at times, creatively from the OT.

  • These are very helpful examples, and your bullet points at the beginning of the post are right along the lines of what I'm looking for. Do you know of any scholarly sources that give a broad overview of the ways scripture is quoted differently or with phrases missing? I'm less interested in an exegesis of a single scripture here and more interested in a scholarly treatment of the various different ways scripture is quoted incompletely. Sep 12, 2022 at 2:54
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    @JeffWilhite - this is much debated with much silliness written and much ink wasted. The best is to get a list of OT quotes from the NT and examine them. It amounts to a few hundred. Such a list can be found in the appendix to UBS5 or NA28 and similar. You will discover much variation in the way it is done.
    – Dottard
    Sep 12, 2022 at 3:29

Perhaps the most compelling and important application of this 'theory' is Jesus quoting Ps 22. He quotes the first and the last lines while on the cross - knowing his hearers, the Jews, will know this word for word and begin to see its matured purpose in him.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

...he has done it. (Or, "it is finished")^

He was the awaited one, the promised one and the one God was always going to send, and here he was hanging on a cross! And they had basically killed him themselves! (as Peter pointed out later Acts 2:22)

The point was the other bits that he did not mention - while in various stages of agony and failing strength, were the bits that pointed directly to him and the things he experienced and suffered. The old prophecy was coming true!

In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them. 5They cried out to You and were set free; they trusted in You and were not disappointed. v4-

All who see me mock me; they sneer and shake their heads: 8“He trusts in the LORD, let the LORD deliver him; let the LORD rescue him, since He delights in him.” v7

From birth I was cast upon You; from my mother’s womb You have been my God. v10

For dogs surround me; a band of evil men encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet. v16

They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. v18

Essentially Jesus is speaking to the wise, the ones with ears to hear, with centuries of learning. His parables and quotations would only be grasped by the ones who understood the significance. Yet sadly, their hearts were not partial to the corrective and sobering message he brought.

^ the one Greek word teleō means “to complete an activity, thus, to finish, to close; to carry out an obligation, thus to accomplish, perform, fulfill; to pay what is due” (BDAG)

  • Yes, this is an excellent example. Although, I always imagined that Jesus actually recited the entire Psalm on the cross, possibly over and over, and the gospel writer only recorded the beginning and ending. But maybe you are right that He only actually spoke those two lines intended for us to fill in the blanks. Sep 12, 2022 at 2:57


It is a bizarre conjectural hermeneutics of the modern theologians who also call themselves scholars. What you mentioned is the typical dogmas of the Evangelical or American Protestants. The conjectural hypothesis is turning the scripture into codes and puzzles that the hearer (Gnostic?) must is supposed to magically decode the code as soon as hearing, but it makes no sense. It is impossible that John could have reached the absurd conclusion that Jesus was referring to not setting him free. When did John ask or expect Jesus to liberate him from the jail anyway? This example was the most ridiculous I have heard so far.

However, the most common or popular example of this view is the "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" in the Gospels (Matt 27:46) to be a cryptic half quote of Psalms 22:1. The conjecture of the "theologians" is that the readers and hearers would have immediately decoded that the actual message is not a cry in anguish & despair at the death moment, but he was actually answering his own question by pointing out to the Psalm 22, and "fulfilling a prophecy". "Jesus is pointing to the scriptures to substantiate His messianic mission" according to CARM site.

In one article:

It could be that Jesus’ intent in quoting Psalm 22:1 was to point His hearers to that psalm. When they read Psalm 22, they would no doubt see the many fulfilled prophecies included in that song of David. Even while experiencing the agony of the cross, Jesus was teaching the crowds and proving yet again that He was the Messiah who fulfilled the Scriptures.

And another writes,

But as he prays through that, you get down to Verse 3 in Psalm 22, he says, "Yet you are Holy." So though he was being forsaken by the father, he knew why. It's because God is Holy. I have become sin, and that's why he uttered that cry. God was forsaking him, the perfect, Holy, sinless Jesus. Once my sin was put on Jesus, he was forsaken by the father. So Jesus was forsaken so people like us would not have to be forsaken. We could be received if we come through Jesus to the Father.

Bob Utley:

These are the first words of Psalm 22. By quoting them Jesus wants to bring to His hearers'minds the complete Psalm. Jesus was experiencing separation from God, the last great experience of sinful mankind (cf. Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21). However, the Psalm also expresses faith in YHWH's faithfulness!

The interpretation shouldn't be more than what the text says, as if there is a hidden cryptic message we are supposed to read between the lines. The apologetic conjectures created to explain away the apparent embarrassment of the scholars from the text, or the motivation is just to be innovative.

If you study the fundamentals of Jewish hermeneutics, that is midrash, from the Rabbinic & NT sources, you will realize that snippets or small phrases, are used as allusions, not "quotes"; and the midrashic quotes are almost always out of context, because the author is using the phrase in a fresh personal purpose. The original context has to be ignored in most of the OT prophecies, which the Rabbinic Jews of today, erroneously argue that the out of context texts are shoe-horned around the agenda of Jesus. There is no reason to read between the lines and turn the scripture into cryptic codes and puzzles that are solved with cross-referencing. Cross-referencing is a typical tactic of eisegesis.

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