When I first rededicated my life to Christ, I found that I had a hard time understanding the relationship between the two Testaments. My childhood training on this matter had been sparse at best, so I had absolutely no framework on which to fall back. I have since come to a better understanding through intensive study and prayer. I have determined that the link between the two is Jesus, it has always been Him, and I intend to show all of you how. My hope is that you, the readers, will come away with a better understanding as well.
In recent times, I have had several people declare that there is no connection between the two Testaments. They have also declared that there is absolutely no relationship between the Old Testament, Judaism, and Jesus’ teachings. They seem to think that Jesus and His teachings just sort of appeared out of nowhere, almost as if on cue. In the words of one objector, “His teachings have nothing to do with Judaism. Quite the opposite.”
Truth be told, there was a time when I would have been hard pressed to come up with an answer to this objection. The good news is, that is no longer a problem. If you are someone who has had a hard time understanding the interplay between the two, or if you are one of those who has been taught that there is no interplay, then this post is most definitely for you. As always, I invite comment, regardless of whether or not you agree.
Jesus and the Old Testament
In the First Century, when Jesus was wandering the countryside, preaching on mountains, plains, in cities, synagogues, and on street corners, the Bible consisted solely of the Old Testament, or Tanakh, as it is known in Hebrew. Every time Jesus made reference to Scripture, quoted Scripture, or taught from Scripture, He was teaching from the Old Testament. This is important, because there are too many who try to divorce the Old Testament from the New, and wrongly so. Jesus’ teachings were strongly rooted in the principles of the Tanakh, as He was and is the physical embodiment of the Law.
In his book, “Jewish Literacy”, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin says, “The New Testament depiction of Jesus suggests that he was largely a law-abiding and highly nationalistic Jew, and a man with strong ethical concerns. Like many of Judaism’s great rabbis, he saw love of neighbor as religion’s central demand…On at least one specific legal issue, Jesus identified with the stricter rather than the more lenient rabbis. The prevailing School of Hillel taught that divorce was permitted for any reason, while the School of Shammai only permitted it in cases of sexual misconduct (Mishna Gittin 9:10)- the position later attributed to Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 5:31-32).” (“Jewish Literacy”, pg. 126)
As Rabbi Telushkin has pointed out, Jesus’ teachings were in line with Jewish teachings, which means they were grounded in the Old Testament. He goes on to note that there were, of course, exceptions. “Most statements attributed to Jesus in the New Testament conform to Jewish teachings. This is, of course, not surprising, since Jesus generally practiced Pharisaic (rabbinic) Judaism. However, at least three innovative teachings ascribed to Jesus diametrically oppose Jewish teachings.
- Jesus forgives all sins…
- Jesus’ attitude toward evil people…
- Jesus’ claim that people can come to God only through him…” (“Jewish Literacy”, pg. 128) [Note: I shortened the second quote for the sake of brevity. If you wish to see the full text, you will have to acquire your own copy of “Jewish Literacy”, which I highly recommend anyway.]
The Sermon on the Mount
During a recent discussion on the relationship between both Testaments, I had occasion to take a quick tally of how many direct and indirect references to Old Testament Scripture were made by Jesus during His famous Sermon on the Mount. All told, there were more than 50 references made. In case any of you are wondering, the Sermon on the Mount begins in Matthew, Chapter Five, and ends in Chapter Seven. I was able to arrive at this number by way of my Study Bible, which has a very thorough cross-reference in the center of each page.
To give an example of the interplay between the Old Testament, and Jesus’ teachings, we will look at a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, along with a corresponding passage a few chapters later, where Jesus deals with the issue of divorce. Matthew 5:31-32 says, “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” As you may have noted, this is the example Rabbi Telushkin gave to highlight his assertion that Jesus’ teachings were Jewish in origin, which is why I chose to use it here.
According to my Study Bible, verse 31 is a direct reference to Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,”. As Rabbi Telushkin noted, the School of Hillel believed that one could divorce his wife for any reason he deemed sufficient. This was likely one of the verses Rabbi Hillel used to justify his position. Verse 32 has no Old Testament reference, however, in Chapter 19, Jesus is asked to expound on His position on divorce, and He goes into much more detail there, providing the Old Testament justification for His statement in verse 32.
Matthew 19:4-5, “And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 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’?” These two verses have two direct references, and one indirect. In verse 4, Jesus is quoting Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” He is also making reference to Malachi 2:15, “But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit?” In verse 5, Jesus is quoting Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Now, let’s take a moment and delve a little deeper into Malachi 2, specifically verses 15 and 16, “But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
16 “For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”
To further highlight the interplay of all of these references, let’s turn to my favorite Bible commentator, Alfred Barnes, a noted 18th Century preacher and theologian. With reference to Matthew 19:4-6, he says in part, “The argument of Jesus here is, that since they are so intimately united as to be one, and since in the beginning God made but one woman for one man, it follows that they cannot be separated but by the authority of God. Man may not put away his wife for every cause. What God has joined together man may not put asunder. In this decision he really decided in favour of one of the parties; and it shows that when it was proper, Jesus answered questions without regard to consequences, from whatever cause they might have been proposed, and however much difficulty it might have involved him in. Our Lord, in this, also showed consummate wisdom. He answered the question, not from Hillel or Shammai, their teachers, but from Moses, and thus defeated their malice.”
Clearly, Jesus’ teachings were very much based in the Tanakh, given that He not only directly quotes from Scripture, but also makes indirect reference. That He was also able to use it to speak circles around His opponents only sweetens the deal. There is a certain bit of satisfaction that goes into seeing how they laid out multiple traps for Him, and He was able to stop them in their tracks every time.
Jesus IN the Old Testament
If you have read my previous posts, you may have noted that I make a case for Jesus’ appearance in the Old Testament, in the person of the Angel of the Lord, or Malakh Adonai. I was sent down that particular line of reasoning by something Jesus said in the Gospel according to John. He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:48-59) You may recall that one of the names for the Lord God is “I AM”. This comes from the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15).
The first thing to note in this story is that this passage states that the one who called out to Moses was the Angel of the Lord. Next, the text somehow shifts over into a conversation between the Lord and Moses, but somehow does not mention anything about a change in who was speaking.
In verse 2, the account states, “And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.” Then, in verse 4, it states, “So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”“
While one might believe that this is an indication that there was a switch from the Angel of the Lord to the Lord God, we must remember that there are other points where the Angel of the Lord is called “God” (Genesis 16), and even where He calls Himself “God” (Genesis 22, 31). Given the claims of divinity, it’s safe to infer that the Lord referred to here is the Angel of the Lord.
There is a point in the story where Moses dares to ask who he is to tell his people sent him. The response from the Lord was, “I AM who I AM”. This is the part that I believe is really indicative of what Jesus was intimating to the Jews in John 8:58, especially when you consider that the very next verse shows that the Jews Jesus was speaking with immediately took up stones with which to stone Him. Why did they do that? Because Jesus had just made a claim to divinity, which they took to be blasphemy.
Jesus in the New Testament
While it is obvious that Jesus is every bit the main reason for the existence of the New Testament, the reason why we’re going here is that His every word and deed pointed back to the Old Testament. As we say here in the U.S., “Actions speak louder than words”, and His actions pointed to Messianic texts, while His teachings pointed back to the rest of the Old Testament. For a categorical list of His words, and deeds, as they relate to Messianic texts, we must turn first to the Gospel according to Matthew.
The Book of Matthew is very much a Jewish book, written by a Jew, with the intent of convincing a Jewish audience of the Messiahship of Jesus. This is evidenced by the fact that Matthew’s narration makes reference to Old Testament prophesies every time Jesus fulfilled one, and this goes all the way back to His birth. For example, in Matthew 2:6, “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’“
This is reference to a prophecy found in Micah 5:2, which states, ““But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” This means that Micah 5:2 is the prophecy that was fulfilled in Matthew 2, with the birth of Jesus. This is just a snapshot, mind you, but you get the point. As Jesus was running through the Messianic checklist, Matthew was keeping track, and Matthew was very thorough.
Throughout this post, I have taken great pains to clearly demonstrate how the two Testaments relate to each other, how Jesus’ Mission was not to do away with the Law, but rather to bring us back into right relationship with God, as the Law was intended to. My hope is that you, the reader, came away from this with a much better understanding of our Lord and Savior. I’ll just finish with this final note.
In John 1:1, 14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men...14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” What we find is, I think, the greatest correlation between both Testaments, the revelation that Jesus is the one who created the universe. He is our Creator, and to Him we owe our entire existence. As if that was not humbling enough, we then must realize that our Creator CHOSE to clothe Himself in human flesh, come to the earth to live among us, and finally die on the Cross to atone for our sins, all with the goal of returning us to the state of grace that existed prior to the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden. If the profound nature of that realization is enough to bring you to your knees, that is what is known as an “Aha” moment, and you are welcome.