What did Jesus say about the Old Testament?
There is no clear picture as to how Jesus regarded the writings found in the Old Testament. For example, he said:
“The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed…” (Luke 16:16; see also Matthew 11:12-13).
In this verse, Jesus seems to be saying that the Old Testament law ceased to be in effect when John the Baptist came. However, he also said this:
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18).
In this verse, Jesus seems to be saying that the Old Testament law remains in force. Every little bit of it.
How can we resolve this problem? How are we, followers of Jesus today, to regard the Old Testament?
Jesus often made it clear that he set his own teachings, and interpretation of the law, above what was written in scripture. (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28; 7:12; 12:1-8; John 8:1-9). Fortunately for us, Jesus made it very clear that the Old Testament law could be summed up in two commands.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40 – see also Mark 12:28-30; Luke 10:25-27)
Jews, in Jesus’ time, did not understand scripture to be written by God in the way that some Christians regard our Bible today. Jesus, and the Jewish religious leaders to whom he was talking, habitually referred to the Old Testament law as the law of Moses, agreeing that it was written by Moses. (Matthew 8:4; Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:2-4; 22:24; 12:19; Luke 5:14; 20:28; John 7:19-23). On one occasion, Jesus clearly stated that the law written by Moses did not always reflect God’s original intentions:
Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so…” (Matthew 19:3-9 RSV)
Does God speak to us, today, through the Old Testament? Yes, of course he does. But that doesn’t mean that we should carefully examine every word of the Old Testament law, looking for detailed rules that we must obey. We don’t need to worry about keeping the Old Testament law. We have the commands of Jesus. At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus is recorded as saying that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him. So, Jesus has authority over everything, and his commands must be obeyed. Jesus instructed the apostles to teach new disciples “to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus’ instructions to us, his followers today, are that we should obey his commands. (A list of his commands is on the home page of this site. They are simple, clear and there are not very many of them. )
What did Jesus consistently tell his followers to do? Pray. Be humble. Serve each other. Interestingly, Jesus never, ever, encouraged his followers to study scripture (in his day,”scripture” meant the Old Testament). When talking to the religious people of his day, he made it clear that eternal life was not to be gained by studying scripture:
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. “ (John 5:39-40).
Jesus wants us to come to him to have life. He wants us to be in a close, personal, loving relationship with him. He wants us to make him the object of our love, not the subject of our study.
What did Jesus say about the New Testament?
Jesus didn’t say anything about the New Testament. None of the books of the New Testament had been written when Jesus was teaching. He did say that the Holy Spirit would continue to teach his followers after he had left. However, he did not say that the Holy Spirit would inspire his followers to write books.
Jesus is Lord.