BiblicalStudies.org.uk


Jesus' Use of the Old Testament, As Portrayed By the Synoptic Gospels

Steven Jenkins

 



Introduction

The object of this project is to discuss the use of the Old Testament by the Lord Jesus, as portrayed by the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke). The structure will take the form of a statement of the general teaching of Jesus and its application to the OT. In addition, a brief study of this teaching with regards to each of the Synoptics will be given.


Findings

The Teaching of Jesus

Jesus' teaching was based upon the OT as God's word and upon Himself as the only Son of God. He drew information from the OT (the Torah, Nebiim & Ketuvim) and placed himself in relation to the OT Law, Prophets and Writings as the only one who had authority to teach their meaning.

Jesus applied the prophecies to himself (Luke 4:18), He made it clear that He had come to fulfill the Law (Matt.5:17-20) and when speaking of His death and resurrection He referred to the 'Sign of Jonah' (Matt.12:39-40). He also showed others "the Scriptures concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27) and demonstrated the He had a unique position in relation to the OT Scriptures. He was "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28) and He introduced a new 'standard' that was superior to what was revealed in the OT - e.g. "You have heard it said... I tell you..." (Matt.5). This according to J. Jocz, was novel, even revolutionary: not only would He abrogate such things as fasting, but also even permit the foods forbidden in the Law of Moses[1]. However, Jesus was a Jew and His attitude to the Law simply represented a different point of view, though He still stood within the Jewish tradition. Another view states that Jesus undermined the authority of the Torah and endangered the religion founded on it. Jewish scholars have been divided on these two issues. According to Prof. T.W. Manson, Jesus neither rejected the Law nor did He rightly disregard any of its commands. If he breaks them He does so in the interest of something greater than the Law and the Temple[2]

Jesus surely came with something greater. Yet, according to Matthew Henry, He destroyed not the Law, but the works of the Devil. He fulfilled it and was made under the Law (Gal.4:4) and charged His disciples to preserve the Law (Matt.5:19)[3]. However, Christ knew the hearts of the so-called 'Law keepers' who saw their righteousness in the Law. They concentrated on external Godliness: God was, and is, concerned with internal Godliness. What Christ came with was the ability to allow men to be Godly inside. He alone knew that the requirements of the Law could never be kept. Our righteousness is through the salvation which Christ purchased.

Paul says,

Though Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" (Rom.8:2-3)


The Synoptic Gospels

In the Synoptics, it would seem that Jesus referred both directly and indirectly to the OT. When I say directly I mean quoting OT Scripture; and indirectly by either mentioning 'the Law', 'the Prophets', OT characters or OT places.


The Gospel of Matthew

When writing his account, it would seem that Matthew had the Jewish people in mind and it therefore makes an excellent bridge between the Old and New Testaments. Because of his 'audience' he includes many OT prophecies & Scriptures - some used by Jesus Himself. Matthew, no doubt, wanted to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah.


Direct References

Jesus used direct quotations of OT Scripture to:

  1. Defeat the enemy (Matt.4:4, 7, 10).
  2. Rightly interpret the Law (5; 15:4, 8-9; 22:32).
  3. Explain the purpose of His coming (9:13; 10:36).
  4. Explain the ministry of John the Baptist (11:10).
  5. Explain God's requirements (12:7).
  6. Explain the response of some people who heard Him (13:14-15).
  7. Explain particular points He was making (18:16; 19:4-5; 21:42; 23:39).
  8. In answer to questions asked Him (19:18-19; 22:37, 39).
  9. Show an OT Scripture that needs to be fulfilled (21:5; 26:31).
  10. Remind evil-doers what the prophets say (21:16).
  11. Ask others a question (22:44).
  12. Remind people of unfulfilled prophecies (24:15; 24:29).
  13. Express His emotions on the cross (27:47).

Indirect References

1) Jesus mentioned OT characters:

  • Moses (Matt.19:8).
  • David (22:43).
  • Abel (23:35).
  • Zechariah (23:35).
  • Daniel (24:15).
  • Noah (24:37).

2) Jesus used the words 'the Law & the prophets' to explain a point he was making about the 'Greatest Commandment' (22:40).

3) Jesus used the words 'the Scriptures' to explain a point while He was being arrested (26:54).

4) Jesus used the words 'the Law' during the Sermon on the Mount (5:17-20).

5) Jesus mentioned OT place names:

  • Gomorrah (10:15).
  • Sodom (10:15; 11:23-24).

The Gospel of Mark

Mark's Gospel was probably of interest to a Roman 'audience'. For example, he used a Latin term in Mark 15:16 and mentioned Rufus in 15:21 (He is mentioned in Paul's letter to the Romans [16:13]). Mark also emphasises the active ministry of Jesus and how He carried out His mission with zeal and purpose. Therefore, Mark was not interested so much in the OT Scriptures and so did not record Jesus' references to the OT as much as Matthew.


Direct References

Jesus used direct quotations of OT Scripture to:

  1. Explain the response of some people who heard him (Mark 4:12).
  2. Remind people of OT Prophecies (7:6-7).
  3. Explain a point He was making (7:10-11; 9:48; 10:6, 8; 12:10-11).
  4. In answer to a question (10:19; 12:29-31).
  5. Remind evil-doers what the Prophets say (11:17).
  6. Rightly interpret the Law (12:26).
  7. Ask others a question (12:36).
  8. Remind the people of unfulfilled prophecies (13:14 & 24).
  9. Show an OT Scripture that needs to be, or will be, fulfilled (14:27).
  10. Express His emotions on the cross (15:34).

Indirect References

1) Jesus mentioned OT characters:

  • Moses (1:44).
  • David (2:25).
  • Abiathar (2:26).
  • Elijah (9:12-13).

The Gospel of Luke

Luke seemed to bring out the humanity of Jesus as well as Jesus' special interest in people (e.g. women, children, outcasts and the poor). Luke, being a doctor, had an interest in people and the majority of the parables and miracles recorded show this. Like Mark, he did not emphasise the OT background Scriptures and prophecies, as much as Matthew; rather they emphasised what He did while He was on earth.


Direct References.

Jesus used direct quotations of OT Scripture to:

  1. 1) Defeat the enemy (Luke 4:4; 8:12).
  2. Explain the fulfilment of a prophecy concerning His coming (4:18-19).
  3. Explain the ministry of John the Baptist (7:27).
  4. Explain the response of some people who heard Him (8:10).
  5. Explain a point He was making (13:35; 20:17).
  6. In answer to a question asked Him (18:20).
  7. Remind evil-doers what the prophets say (19:46).
  8. Show an OT Scripture that needs to be fulfilled (21:5; 26:31).
  9. Rightly interpret the Law (20:37).
  10. Ask others a question (20:42-43).
  11. Remind people of unfulfilled prophecies (23:30).

Indirect References

1) Jesus mentioned OT characters:

  • Elijah (4:25).
  • Widow in Zarephath (4:26).
  • Elisha (4:27).
  • Naaman (4:27).
  • Moses (5:40).
  • David (6:3).
  • Jonah (11:29-30).
  • Lot (17:28).
  • Queen of Sheba (11:31).
  • Solomon (11:31).
  • Abel (11:51).
  • Zechariah (11:51).
  • Abraham (13:16).
  • Isaac (13:28).
  • Jacob (13:28).
  • Noah (17:26).

2) Jesus used the words 'the Law' when asked about eterrnal life (10:26).

3) Jesus used the words 'the Law & the Prophets' when giving additional teaching and talking to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (16:16-18; 24:27).

4) Jesus mentioned an OT place name - Sodom (10:12; 17:29).

5) Jesus mentioned an OT book - Psalms (20:22; 24:44).


Conclusions

To conclude, Jesus refered both directly and indirectly to the OT. When referring indirectly He:

  1. Mentioned OT characters, places & books.
  2. Used the words 'the Law & the Prophets' in various situations.
  3. Used the word 'the Scriptures'.

When referring indirectly, He used Scripture to:

  1. Defeat the enemy.
  2. Explain the fulfullment of a prophecy regarding His coming.
  3. Explain the response of some people who heard Him.
  4. Explain the ministry of others.
  5. Explain points He was making.
  6. Answer a question.
  7. Ask a question.
  8. Remind evil-doers what the Prophets say.
  9. Rightly interpret the Law.
  10. Remind people of unfulfilled prophecy.
  11. Explain what God requires.
  12. Express His emotions on the cross.

References

[1] Jocz, J. The Jewish People and Jesus Christ. (London: SPCK, 1949) 22.

[2] Manson, T.W. cited by Jocz, 23.

[3] Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Four Gospels. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985) 37.

[Note that this article was written by an undergraduate student at Mattersey Hall Bible College. It should not therefore be directly quoted as a reference in another essay.]