The concept of this short blog series is simple: We’re simply asking, Is the Old Testament relevant to the Christian faith? and then reading through the Gospels and seeing what Jesus’ attitude towards the Old Testament tells us.
In the first part of this series, we looked at the Gospel of Mark, the shortest Gospel. We found…
THE GOSPEL OF MARK
18 References to the Old Testament (OT).
15 of those references to OT were made by Jesus.
Thus, 83% of OT references in Mark are made by Jesus.
This time, with the Gospel of Matthew, again we read and counted OT references, excluding again many of the times Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, which is an OT reference.
Matthew has 28 chapters – noting that these chapters are not part of the original text but give us a rough idea of a Gospel’s length compared to the other Gospels. I counted 65 references to the OT. Matthew’s Gospel, the most Jewish of the Gospels, has the major theme of Jesus being the Jewish Messiah; thus, it’s not surprising that the author, Matthew, includes many references to the OT, especially in the first three chapters, to support this idea.
Yet, again, like Mark’s Gospel, we find the majority of OT quotes and references – 44 of them – belong to Jesus.
This means Jesus makes 68% of the OT references in the Gospel of Matthew.
THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
65 References to OT
44 References to OT made by Jesus
68% of OT references are made by Jesus
In these references, Jesus speaks of Solomon, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Sodom and Gomorrah, Elijah, Jonah, Isaiah, the Ten Commandments, Abel, Zechariah, Daniel, and Noah and the Flood. He quotes from the books of the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Zechariah, and others.
Many of the highlights we looked at in the previous blog on Mark also appear in Matthew. Let’s look at some highlights we don’t find in Mark…
#1 – JESUS VS. SATAN: Matthew 4:1-11
We’ll start was a popular episode, which is also recorded in Luke but only briefly summarized in Mark: Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
We’re told of three ways the Devil tried to temp Jesus to sin, and all three times Jesus shuts Satan down by stating “It is written…” and then quoting from the OT book of Deuteronomy.
One thing particularly interesting to note is that Satan quotes the Psalms to Jesus to manipulate him, but Jesus counters Satan’s use of Scripture with more Scripture:
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
This is something we see all the time: someone rips a quote from Scripture out of context for his own selfish gain. Jesus, thus, models for us how to respond: by properly using Scripture, by understanding and using it in its proper context!
Lastly, it’s interesting that Jesus rebukes Satan by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3:
“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
For Christians today, “every word” from the mouth of God includes both the New and Old Testament.
#2 – I Came to FulFill the Law: Matthew 5:17-19
What Matthew has that the other Gospels do not is the amazing Sermon on the Mount (though some of the teachings are also found spread throughout Luke’s Gospel). Jesus concept of the OT is clearly seen within it, so we’ll briefly look at several passages from the Sermon. The first, perhaps being one of the most important quotes by Jesus for giving Christians insight into how they should understand the OT, states:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The phrase “The Law and the Prophets” is often how Jesus and others in his day referred to what we call the OT. If there is one big idea from this passage that can’t be ignored, it’s that Jesus is explicitly teaching that the OT is NOT irreverent – “not an iota, not a dot”! How much more clear can Jesus be?
But this leads us into a theological question (which we also addressed in other blogs): Why do Christians follow some of the OT commands and not other? Jesus gives us the answer above: became he came to fulfill the OT. How? Through his life in perfect obedience to it and his atoning death on the cross. Because of this, Christians no longer make sacrifices or follow other OT religious laws, which all point forward to the Christ’s atoning sacrifice, yet Christians still do follow the OT moral law, because morality is based in the nature of God and God’s nature doesn’t change.
#3 – The 6 Anti-Theses: Matthew 5:21-47
Immediately after the above quote, Jesus gives what is sometimes called “the six anti-theses,” where Jesus starts each section by saying, “You have heard… But I say to you…”
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’…
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart…
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely… 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all… 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil….
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…
In each of these, Jesus is first referring to a passage in the OT (“You have heard..”) and then drawing out its deeper significance (“But I say to you…”) or citing a misunderstanding or abuse of an OT passage and correcting it. Take note, by saying “I say to you” Jesus is not speaking as a prophet speaking on behalf of God but as God himself. By doing this, Jesus is showing the importance of studying the OT and understanding it correctly.
#4 – The “Golden Rule” – Matthew 7:12
12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
This final verse we’ll look at from the Sermon on the Mount is a famous one. Often called “the Golden Rule,” it’s a personal philosophy of conduct many people – even non-Christians – are familiar with: Treat other like you want to be treated. But where many people – both Christians and non-Christians – know the first part of this verse, they don’t know the second part: “for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Interestingly, Jesus is summing up the whole of the OT (“the Law and the Prophets”) in a terse command. It’s interesting that many believe there is a disconnect between the “harshness” of the OT and the teachings of Jesus, yet Jesus himself affirms again and again that his teachings are simply a continuation (and fulfillment) of the OT.
#5 – From Abel to Zechariah: Matthew 23:35
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
This is one of those passages that I would’ve never picked up the significance of if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me. Here, Jesus condemns the religious hypocrites of his day with those hypocrites that came before them, who claimed to be godly people but persecuted and killed the prophets and other righteous men of God starting with Abel all the way to Zechariah.
The fact that Jesus says from Abel to Zechariah is profound. As many know, Abel was the first victim of murder in history. He was devoted to the LORD and a son of Adam and Eve, but his brother Cain, in jealousy and rage, murdered him (Genesis 4:8-11). Zechariah, too, was righteous and murdered (2 Chronicles 24:20-22).
Now, the ordering of our books in the modern Bible is not inspired by God or inerrant; they could just as easily be organized in another way. In the ordering of the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament), Genesis is the first book and Chronicles is the last book. (And Chronicles is not split into two books like in the Christian Bible.)
Abel (in Genesis) is the first person murdered and Zechariah (in Chronicles) is the last person murdered within the Hebrew canon of Scripture. By saying from Abel to Zechariah, Jesus is basically saying from Genesis (first book) or Chronicles (last book) of the Jewish Scripture.
Thus, Jesus confirmed all the books of the OT – from the first book to the last.
READ PART ONE: The Gospel of Mark & the Old Testament
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