As I have indicated in an essay on the subject, like Irenaeus the father of theology I believe in recapitulation. (See my other articles at www.kenstothard.com, in particular I Believe in Recapitulation). I argue that in order to save his fellows Jesus had to recapitulate their human experience and, as a son of the first (Luke 3:38), become the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:47f., cf. Heb. 2:17; 4:15). Here I attempt to show that many of the miracles that Jesus performed are recapitulations, as opposed to repetitions, of miracles that appear in the OT. (According to Twelftree, p.127, of all the healing miracles in the NT the only category not having an OT precursor is the giving of sight to the blind.)
Recapitulating the Actions of Men
(1) Changing Water into Wine
I begin with Jesus’ first miracle or sign, the changing of water into wine at Cana. In Numbers 13:23 we read that the first evidence of blessing in Canaan was a cluster of grapes. Just as grapes signified blessing under the old covenant, so they do in an enhanced form under the new. While in the OT God had given his people water (Ex. 17; Numbers 20), in the NT he gives them wine. Elsewhere in the NT Jesus’ emphasizes the change from the old to the new wine (Mark 2:22). And the difference between living water and water that merely quenches thirst in this world is clearly etched (John 4:13f.). The wine or blood of Jesus who is the true vine (John 15:1-5) is indispensable (John 6:55) and is surely symbolized at Cana (John 2:11).
Jesus’ multiplication of the five loaves and two fish (Luke 9:16f.) recalls the multiplication of the widow’s oil by Elisha (2 K. 4:1-7).
(3) Bread from Heaven
John 6 depicts the need for bread from heaven. In the OT the Israelites in the wilderness were fed with manna from heaven (cf. John 6:30f.). In the NT Jesus spreads a table in a desolate place (Mt. 14:13, cf. Ps. 78:19) and multiplies bread like Elisha (2 K. 4:42f.) when he feeds the 4,000 and the 5,000 (Mt. 16:8-10; John 6:1-14). But more importantly as a prophet greater than Elisha he also portrays himself as the true bread from heaven, the bread of life (John 6:35,48,51). There is a true sense in which he is fed on at the Communion Table (John 6:51-58; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).
Exodus 34:29-35 describes how the face of Moses shone because he had been talking with God. What is known as the transfiguration occurs when Jesus prays to his heavenly Father who bears visible witness to him (Luke 9:28f., cf. Mt. 17:1-8, 2 Cor. 3:12-18; 2 Pet.1:16-18).
(5) Floating Iron
In 2 Kings 6:1-7 Elisha makes a borrowed iron axe head float. Jesus does something greater when he provides a coin to be used for taxation purposes from a fish’s mouth (Mt. 17:27).
(6) Raising the Dead
Just as Elijah (1 K. 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 K. 4:18-37) raise the dead, so does Jesus. More to the point, Jesus makes no physical contact but merely speaks a word to the son of the widow of Nain and raises him (Luke 7:11-15). He does the same with regard to Lazarus who is called out of his tomb (John 11:43). However, the fact that he takes the hand of Jairus’ daughter is perhaps a gesture of kindness to a child (Luke 8:54-56).
(7) Healing the Blind Man
Elisha’s miraculous cure of Naaman’s leprosy in the Jordan (2 K. 5) is eclipsed by Jesus’ healing of the blind man at the pool of Siloam (John 9:6-12). As the passage indicates (9:32) this miracle surpassed any that had occurred in the OT.
According to 2 K. 13:21, a dead man whose corpse touched the bones of Elisha came to life and stood on his feet. The lady who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment and was healed (Luke 8:43-48). As was indicated above, Jesus took the hand of Jairus’ daughter.
The miracle involving the restoration of king Jeroboam’s hand recounted in 1 K. 13:4-6 is recapitulated by Jesus (Mt. 12:13, cf. 11:5; 15:30f.; 21:14; John 5:3-9) and by Peter who restores the limbs of the man lame from birth (Acts 3:1-9).
Dillard has noted the similarity between the miracles of Jesus and those of Elisha. Jesus sends messengers to John the Baptist in prison to tell him that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is preached to the poor (Mt. 11:2-5). This list is a recapitulation of incidents recorded in 2 Kings 4-8 which are conflated with those of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 61:1-3. As Dillard comments, Jesus is in effect telling John that he is Elijah’s successor as Elisha who had been given a double portion of the Spirit had been before him (p.12).(Note Alan Richardson’s Introduction, pp. 21f.)
(11) Calming the Storm
Jesus does what God does in the OT and calms the storm. In Luke 8:25 we read of him rebuking the stormy sea which threatened to overwhelm his disciples as God had rebuked the Red Sea at the time of the exodus (cf. Ps. 106:9). Again, just as God is said to rule the waves (Ps. 65:7; 89:9; 107:25-29), so does Jesus in the power of God.
(12) Walking on Water
When the Saviour walks on water he reminds us of what God had done before him in OT times (Job 9:8; Ps. 77:19; John 6:19). In Matthew 14:26-33 it is not merely Jesus who walks on the sea but so does Peter reminding us of Psalm 37:24 and perhaps again of 107:25-29.
(13) Jonah and the Resurrection
According to Matthew 12:40 Jesus’ resurrection was a recapitulation of the miracle of Jonah’s three days spent in the belly of a great fish (Jon. 1:17).
(14) Entering the Promised Land
The truth of this is underlined by Jesus’ entering heaven, the Promised Land of the NT (cf. Heb. 11:16), which recapitulated Joshua’s (not Moses’) securing possession of the OT Promised Land (cf. Dt. 1:38). It is significant that Joshua, the Jesus of the OT, is presented to us as one who was always obedient and is never said to sin (Jos.1:1-9; 11:15, etc.). By contrast, Moses who was the law’s representative certainly sinned and failed to enter the Promised Land. Truly, like Adam we cannot get to heaven by keeping the commandment/law.
(15) Adam recapitulated by the second Adam
Jesus’ life like ours and the race’s is covenantal. It begins uncovenanted like that of Adam, proceeds under Noah in Egypt (cf. Mt. 2:15), and under the law of Moses (cf. Luke 2:40-52). However, when he had kept the law and gained eternal life (Lev. 18:5), he himself pioneered regenerate life here on earth until he ascended transformed into heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-53).
(16) Jesus the Pioneer
If Jesus initially recapitulated to perfection the life of mankind as flesh in the image of Adam and then pioneered the regenerate life (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.), we now recapitulate or follow the path he trod (Rom. 13:14; 1 Pet. 3:9, etc.).
If Jesus was perfected so are we and are:
Baptized by the Spirit
Transformed (1 Cor. 15:50-53) and made perfect along with all the saints throughout history (Heb. 11:39f.).
If Jesus was glorified as an individual, so are we (Rom. 8:30). Though together forming the body of Christ, we are separate entities and not absorbed Nirvana-like into God. As the sons of God (Rom. 8:14; Eph. 1:5) we are gods (John 10:34), Jesus’ brothers (Heb. 2:11) and, conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29), we are fellow-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17).
When Jesus rose again from the grave he was physically restored; we who suffer corruption like David (Acts 2,13) are raised corporeally and given a new spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42-53). While Jesus recapitulated first Adamic man to perfection in the flesh and so gained life (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5), we recapitulate the regenerate life of Jesus as we are led by the Spirit. If Adam was in some sense our pioneer in the flesh, Jesus is our pioneer in the Spirit (Heb. 2:10; 6:19f.; 10:20; 12:2). We thus become imitators of him (1 Cor. 11:1, etc.) and conformed to his image (Rom. 2:29; 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).
Why, it may be asked, did Jesus recapitulate various miracles performed by God in the OT? The answer must surely be that he was implicitly answering the question he posed to his disciples and in effect to all of us regarding his identity (Mt. 16:13,15). Even though he apparently did not fully understand his own confession at the time, Peter’s reply, according to Jesus himself, was supplied by the inspiration of God himself. The point here is that Jesus’ miracles provided undeniable evidence of his identity as the Son of God (cf. John 10:25,37f.). As Nicodemus testified no one was capable of doing the things that he did apart from God. (John 3:2). According to Schreiner, the central theme of Mark’s gospel is the recognition that Jesus is God’s Son (p.461). In other words, Jesus’ identity is of fundamental importance and it is certainly underscored by his recapitulation of miracles which in the OT were performed by God himself.
Raymond B. Dillard, Faith in the Face of Apostasy, Phillipsburg, 1999.
T.R.Schreiner, The King in his Beauty, Grand Rapids, 2013.
G.Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, Downers Grove, 1999.