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Accommodation (exegetical or special) is principally employed in the application of certain passages of the Old Testament to events in the New, to which they had no actual historical or typical reference. Citations of this description are apparently very frequent throughout the whole New Testament, but especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

It cannot be denied that many such passages, although apparently introduced as referring to, or predictive of, certain events recorded in the New Testament, seem to have, in their original connection, an exclusive reference to quite other objects. The difficulty of reconciling such seeming misapplications, or deflections from their original design, has been felt in all ages, although it has been chiefly reserved to recent times to give a solution of the difficulty by the theory of accommodation. By this it is meant that the prophecy or citation from the Old Testament was not designed literally to apply to the event in question, but that the New Testament writer merely adopted it for the sake of ornament, or in order to produce a strong impression, by showing a remarkable parallelism between two analogous events, which had in themselves no mutual relation.

There is a catalogue of more than seventy of these accommodated passages adduced by the Rev. T.H. Horne, in support of this theory, in his Introduction (ii. 343, 7th ed. 1834), but it will suffice for our purpose to select the following specimens:—

Matthew 13:35

cited from

Psalms 78:2

Matthew 8:17

cited from

Isaiah 53:4

Matthew 2:15

cited from

Hosea 11:1

Matthew 2:17-18

cited from

Jeremiah 31:15

Matthew 3:3

cited from

Isaiah 40:3

It will be necessary, for the complete elucidation of the subject, to bear in mind the distinction not only between accommodated passages and such as must be properly explained (as those which are absolutely adduced as proofs), but also between such passages and those which are merely borrowed, and applied by the sacred writers, sometimes in a higher sense than they were used by the original authors. Passages which do not strictly and literally predict future events, but which can be applied to an event recorded in the New Testament by an accidental parity of circumstances, can alone be thus designated. Such accommodated passages therefore, if they exist, can only be considered as descriptive, and not predictive.

It will here be necessary to consider the various modes in which the prophecies of the Old Testament are supposed to be fulfilled in the New. For instance, the opinion has been maintained by several divines, that there is sometimes a literal, sometimes only a mediate, typical, or spiritual fulfillment. Sometimes a prophecy is cited merely by way of illustration (accommodation), while at other times nothing more exists than a mere allusion. Some prophecies are supposed to have an immediate literal fulfillment, and to have been afterwards accomplished in a larger and more extensive sense; but as the full development of this part of the subject appertains more properly to the much controverted question of the single and double sense of prophecy, we shall here dwell no further on it than to observe, that not only are commentators who support the theory of a double sense divided on the very important question, what are literal prophecies and what are only prophecies in a secondary sense, but they who are agreed on this question are at variance as to what appellation shall be given to those passages which are applied by the New Testament writers to the ministry of our Savior, and yet historically belong to an antecedent period. In order to lessen the difficulty, a distinction has been attempted to be drawn from the formula with which the quotation is ushered in. Passages, for instance, introduced by the formula 'that it might be fulfilled,' are considered, on this account, as direct predictions by some, who are willing to consider citations introduced with the expression 'then was fulfilled' as nothing more than accommodations. The use of the former phrase, as applied to a mere accommodation, they maintain is not warranted by Jewish writers: such passages, therefore, they hold to be prophecies, at least in a secondary sense. Bishop Kidder appositely observes, in regard to this subject, that 'a scripture may be said to be fulfilled several ways, viz., properly and in the letter, as when that which was foretold comes to pass; or again, when what was fulfilled in the type is fulfilled again in the antitype; or else a scripture may be fulfilled more improperly, viz., by way of accommodation, as when an event happens to any place or people like to that which fell out some time before.' He instances the citation, Matthew 2:17, 'In Ramah was a voice heard,' etc. 'These words,' he adds, 'are made use of by way of allusion to express this sorrow by. The evangelist doth not say “that it might be fulfilled,” but “then was fulfilled,” q.d., such another scene took place.'

It must at the same time be admitted that this distinction in regard to the formula of quotation is not acknowledged by the majority of commentators, either of those who admit or of those who deny the theory of accommodation. Among the former it will suffice to name Calmet, Doddridge, Rosenmüller, and Jahn, who look upon passages introduced by the formula 'that it might be fulfilled,' as equally accommodations with those which are prefaced by the words 'then was fulfilled;' while those who deny the accommodative theory altogether, consider both as formulas of direct prophecies, at least in a secondary or typical sense. This, for instance, is the case especially in regard to the two citations of this description which first present themselves in the New Testament, viz., Matthew 2:15, and Matthew 2:17, the former of which is introduced by the first, and the latter by the second of these formulas. But inasmuch as the commentators above referred to cannot perceive how the citation from Hosea 11:1, 'Out of Egypt have I called my son,' although prefaced by the formula 'that it might be fulfilled,' and which literally relates to the calling of the children of Israel out of Egypt, can be prophetically diverted from its historical meaning, they look upon it as a simple accommodation, or applicable quotation. Mr. Horne observes, that 'it was a familiar idiom of the Jews, when quoting the writings of the Old Testament, to say, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by such and such a prophet, not intending it to be understood that such a particular passage in one of the sacred books was ever designed to be a real prediction of what they were then relating, but signifying only that the words of the Old Testament might be properly adopted to express their meaning and illustrate their ideas.' 'The apostles,' he adds, 'who were Jews by birth, and wrote and spoke in the Jewish idiom, frequently thus cite the Old Testament, intending no more by this mode of speaking, than that the words of such an ancient writer might with equal propriety be adopted to characterize any similar occurrence which happened in their times. The formula “that it might be fulfilled,” does not therefore differ in signification from the phrase “then was fulfilled,” applied in the following citation in Matthew 2:17-18, from Jeremiah 31:15-17, to the massacre of the infants at Bethlehem. They are a beautiful quotation, and not a prediction of what then happened, and are therefore applied to the massacre of the infants according not to their original and historical meaning, but according to Jewish phraseology.' Dr. Adam Clarke, also, in his Commentary on Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:15-17), takes the same view:—'St Matthew, who is ever fond of accommodation, applied these words to the massacre of the children of Bethlehem; that is, they were suitable to that occasion, and therefore he applied them, but they are not a prediction of that event.'

D.J.G. Rosenmüller gives as examples, which he conceives clearly show the use of these formulas, the passages Matthew 1:22-23; Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:17; Matthew 2:23; Matthew 15:7; Luke 4:21; James 2:23; alleging that they were designed only to denote that something took place which resembled the literal and historical sense. The sentiments of a distinguished English divine are to the same effect: 'I doubt not that this phrase, “that it might be fulfilled,” and the like were used first in quoting real prophecies, but that this, by long use, sunk in its value, and was more vulgarly applied, so that at last it was given to Scripture only accommodated.' And again, 'If prophecy could at last come to signify singing (Titus 1:12; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Corinthians 14:1), why might not the phrase fulfilling of Scripture and prophecy signify only quotation' (Nicholl's Conference with a Theist, 1698, part 3, p. 13).

The accommodation theory in exegetics has been equally combated by two classes of opponents. Those of the more ancient school consider such mode of application of the Old Testament passages not only as totally irreconcilable with the plain grammatical construction and obvious meaning of the controverted passages which are said to be so applied, but as an unjustifiable artifice, altogether unworthy of a divine teacher; while the other class of expositors, who are to be found chiefly among the most modern of the German Rationalists, maintain that the sacred writers, having been themselves trained in this erroneous mode of teaching, had mistakenly, but bona fide, interpreted the passages which they had cited from the Old Testament in a sense altogether different from their historical meaning, and thus applied them to the history of the Christian dispensation. Some of these have maintained that the accommodation theory was a mere shift resorted to by commentators who could not otherwise explain the application of Old Testament prophecies in the New consistently with the inspiration of the sacred writers: while the advocates of the system consider that the apostles, in adapting themselves to the mode of interpretation which was customary in their days, and in further adopting what may be considered an argument e concessis, were employing the most persuasive mode of oratory, and the one most likely to prove effectual; and that it was therefore lawful to adopt a method so calculated to attract attention to their divine mission, which they were at all times prepared to give evidence of by other and irrefragable proofs.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Accommodation'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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