What did Jesus say about the Old Testament?
There is. in our Bible, 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).
This verse can be interpreted as Jesus saying that the Old Testament law ceased to be in effect from the time of John the Baptist. 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).
This verse can be interpreted as Jesus saying that the Old Testament law remains in force. Every little bit of it.
So, how can we resolve this problem? How are we, followers of Jesus today, to regard the Old Testament?
We need to understand that people in Jesus’ time did not think that their scriptures were written by God in the way that some Christians regard our modern Bibles today. Jesus, and the Jewish religious leaders with whom he was talking, habitually referred to the Old Testament law as having been written by Moses (Matthew 8:4; Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:2-4; 22:24; 12:19; Luke 5:14; 20:28; 24:44; John 1:17; 1:45; 7:19; 7:23). On one occasion, Jesus is portrayed as stating that the law written by Moses did not 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, see also Mark 10:2-9)
I should make it clear that Jesus did not always refer to the Old Testament law as the law of Moses. When speaking to the religious leaders he sometimes referred to the law as “your law” (John 8:17; 10:34). On one occasion, when talking to his disciples, he referred to “their law” (John 15:25). (It is not certain who he meant by this, but it was clearly not his followers.) He also sometimes just referred to “the law” (Matthew 11:13; 12:5; 23:23; Luke 10:26; 16:16-17). But, most often, he referred to the Old Testament law as having been written by Moses. On only one occasion is Jesus portrayed as directly referring to something said by Moses as “the word of God”:
“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God), then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:10-13).
So, there is no clear understanding as to how Jesus regarded the Old Testament. However there is no doubt that he set his own teachings, and interpretation of the law, above what was written in Old Testament scripture. (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28; 7:12; 12:1-8; John 8:1-9) and, fortunately for us, he made it very clear that the Old Testament law could be summed up in just two commands.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with 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.” (Matthew 22:37-40 – see also Mark 12:28-30; Luke 10:25-27)
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 two great commandments and, importantly, we also have the commands of Jesus. At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus is recorded as instructing 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. Those commands are simple, clear, practical and there are not very many of them. A list of Jesus’ commands can be found here.
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 when he was no longer with them (John 14:26). But he did not say that the Holy Spirit would inspire his followers to write books.
What did Jesus say about studying the Bible?
Jesus only talked about studying scripture once. He was talking to the religious leaders and said:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)
Prepare to be shocked: Jesus never commanded, or encouraged, his followers to study scripture. He regularly talked to them about the importance of prayer, instructing them to pray, how to pray and what to pray. But he never told them to study scripture. Why did Jesus place so much emphasis on praying and none on studying scripture? We don’t know. Perhaps it was because he knew that God wants to be the object of our love, not the subject of our study.