Did the New Testament authors quote from or use the Old Testament in irresponsible ways, or were they on to something?
Some modern scholars have concluded that the New Testament apostles and gospel authors didn’t apply a consistent interpretive approach to the Old Testament; they ignored the original context in order to draw lessons from their “Bible” that weren’t at all intended by the writers.
This week’s lesson contains some of the most important interpretive principles for approaching the Old Testament, and it comes by understanding how the New Testament authors, and Jesus Himself, read and interpreted it. How did they approach the text? What authority did they ascribe to it? About what was it really speaking, especially the passages that seem to extend beyond the time of the original prophet and his audience? Could the O.T. prophet(s) have foreshadowed the Messiah, whether through their prophecies, or even their own experiences which they recorded?
Jesus used scripture to defend against the temptations of Satan. But the lesson fails to bring out the broader context. Jesus (Hebrew name is actually Joshua) began his ministry by being baptized, then going into the wilderness for 40 days where he was tempted by Satan. The parallels between Jesus and Israel in the Old Testament are many. Israel left Egypt (where Jesus was as a boy, too), passed through the water (baptized in the Red sea into Moses, according to Paul), and entered the wilderness where they were tempted. Israel failed, multiple times; Jesus succeeded. The passages from which Jesus quotes are all from Deuteronomy, the reading of the Law immediately before Joshua took over for Moses and led Israel into Canaan. That Jesus is a new Israel becomes obvious when reading the scripture more broadly.
Is the Bible also a shield against temptation for us personally? Certainly! However, we cannot use what we do not know. Thus, as Jesus knew Deuteronomy by heart, so we should commit scripture to memory, in order to call on God’s promises in times of difficulty, and psalms of praise in moments of joy and victory.
What does Jesus’ use of the book of Deuteronomy in his use of Scripture against Satan’s attacks reveal about His view of the Old Testament?
The O.T. Law and Jesus
Read Matthew 5. When Jesus quoted from the law in the sermon on the Mount, He not only noted it wasn’t His purpose to destroy it (but to fulfill it), but He also showed the spiritual nature of the law. This was in stark contrast to the legalistic attitudes of the Pharisees who prided themselves on outward show, but inwardly had hearts of stone. The purpose of the law had ever been to point out human need of a substitute, the lamb sacrificed for their forgiveness. This kindness was meant to lead to repentance. Jesus doesn’t violate the O.T. law, but lived it. As long as the 10 commandments are merely rules on stone, they are of little value; in fact, they are a ministry of death since they could only point out the sin of those they govern. They had no power to cleanse anyone from sin. Jesus removed the legal loopholes of Judaism, and condemned everyone under sin. The need for a Savior only grew with Jesus’ teaching about the law. Grace became exceedingly generous as the spiritual nature of the law made sin exceedingly sinful.
In numerous gospel texts read this week, it’s clear that Jesus’ Bible, the Old Testament, was not just stories from the past, but had present authority for Him, as well as the Apostles. The account of human creation, the Sabbath and marriage forms the foundation for all future Sabbath rest and marriage. Old Testament characters are never undermined as merely mythical, but assumed to be both historical as well as spiritual-educational examples of both brokenness as well as victory.
How can we respond to Christians who say the law was meant only for Israel and is now done away with, but the church is under grace.?
Perhaps the most important principle learned from New Testament interpretation of the Old Testament is that nearly every citation from it by Jesus or the Apostles is used to exalt God’s salvation as fulfilled in the Messiah, through the experiences of His church, or in the final events on earth before Christ returns. Thus, the Old Testament is not at odds with the New, but is a vital foundation for all that happens in the 1st Century and beyond. One cannot understand the New without the Old, for it would have no context; likewise, we will never see the fulfillment or completion of God’s work in Israel without the writings of the gospels and apostles.