What Did Jesus Say About The Old Testament?

It's commonly believed that Jesus's message was to replace the outdated Old Testament laws with a new religion based on love and kindness to others. An analysis of what he actually said about this in the Gospels shows something quite different though.

Notes (Common to all these pages)

This is one of a series examining what the Gospels actually say about some specific topics:

Copyright © 2024, Ray Butterworth.


Each verse is presented here in two translations, the traditional familiar King James Version, which provides a very literal translation of the original Greek language, and the New Living Translation, which is written in modern English and stresses the presumed intended meaning of the original.

Looking at both literal translations and paraphrases can be beneficial when studying the Bible, especially when the two approaches are in agreement. Studying the text for the purpose of determining what the original authors actually meant, is known as exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture).

Unfortunately, when paraphrasing the intended meaning, sometimes the translators end up including either their personal beliefs or those of their target audience. Studying the text for the purpose of confirming what one already believes, is known as eisegesis (the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas).

The Gospels

The four Gospels contain almost everything that was recorded about what Jesus taught.

Two thousand years ago, Jerusalem had Jewish religion, Greek culture, and Roman governance. Each of the four Gospels was written to present Christianity to a different audience.

What Jesus Said About The Old Testament

During Jesus's life, and for decades thereafter, the only scriptures considered sacred by Christians were the books of the Old Testament. Whenever the Gospels or other New Testament books refer to scripture, they are talking about the Old Testament.

Jesus himself studied the scriptures regularly. Ten times in the Gospels, he asks others Have you not read …? to make his point.

Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.
Mark 12:26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? “But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’

Jesus demonstrated his belief in many aspects of the Old Testament.

(Unlike in other items in this series, the scriptures quoted here are only a selection of examples, not an exhaustive list.)

Scripture is Authoritative

Jesus frequently quoted from or paraphrased the Hebrew scriptures, using them as authoritative:

Matthew 4:7 quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.’
Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah. You must not test the LORD your God as you did when you complained at Massah.
Matthew 4:4 quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Matthew 4:6 Satan quotes Psalms 91:11–12 to Jesus And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
Mark 7:6 quotes Isaiah 29:13 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Matthew 26:31 quotes Zechariah 13:7 Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, the man who is my partner,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn against the lambs.

Notice that Jesus quotes from all three parts of the Old Testament: the Torah (Deuteronomy), the Writings (Psalms), and the Prophets (Isaiah and Zechariah).

Scripture is Infallible

Jesus blamed the Pharisees for not knowing the scriptures. He also said that scripture cannot be broken, that God's word (scripture) is truth, and that scriptural prophecy will be fulfilled.

Matthew 22:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.
Matthew 26:54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”
Matthew 26:56 But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. … But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” …
John 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered. So if those people who received God’s message were called ‘gods,’
John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.

Jesus made the point that the testable physical details given in scripture must be true, otherwise there would be no reason to believe the unprovable spiritual things.

John 3:12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Jesus referred to biblical events, such as the Flood and Jonah, taking them for granted as true. He also mentioned specific prophecies and their fulfillment.

Matthew 24:37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day.
Matthew 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
Matthew 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 'Whenever, therefore, ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever is reading let him observe)
Matthew 13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.
Luke 4:17,21 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, … And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: … Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Scripture Trumps Tradition

Jesus condemned following tradition and man-made rules that conflict with God's Law:

Matthew 15:7–9 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”
Matthew 15:3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? esus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?
Matthew 15:6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.

Scripture is Eternal

Jesus quite explictly stated that he had no intention of changing or eliminating the Law, which will remain in effect until the end of the world. Not only must Christians obey God's commandments, as defined in the Old Testament, they are expected to teach them to other people. Attempting to change or deny any of the Laws is itself a sin.

But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
Matthew 5:17–18 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.
Matthew 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
John 5:46–47 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.
But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

Yes, Jesus did teach a new spiritual way of understanding God's Law, but the Law itself remains in effect, unchanged. In fact, Jesus actually expanded the application of the Law, from applying only to physical actions to also include one's thoughts:

Luke 16:16–17 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in. But that doesn’t mean that the law has lost its force. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned.
Matthew 5:27–28 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery'. But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Christianity and the Old Testament

Given how much Jesus used and respected the scriptures, and how he explicitly stated that its laws would never change, it's obvious that Christianity is an extension of the religion of the Israelites, not a replacement thereof.

The apostle Phillip later converted an Ethiopian by studying Jesus using the Book of Isaiah: Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus (Acts 8:35). The apostle John summarized Jesus's teaching: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments (1John 5:3), so why do many Christians today believe that Jesus did away with God's Law, and that the Old Testament is irrelevant to Christianity?