The Old Testament has run into some hard times as of late. It’s seen by many as a curmudgeonly, legalistic, violent, confusing, and, maybe most of all, boring sort of book. As the atheist Richard Dawkins famously opined, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.”
On top of these sorts of complaints are questions about the historical veracity of the Old Testament. Are we really supposed to believe in a literal Adam and Eve? A global flood? Sodom and Gomorrah? People struggle to believe these sorts of things really happened.
Sadly, however, the critiques don’t come from just non-Christians. Even believers, if we’re honest, sometimes have those squirm-in-your-seat reservations about what we are reading in the Old Testament. And that sentiment isn’t helped when popular evangelical leaders suggest the OT doesn’t matter much anyway.
So, in the midst of such bad press, it may be timely to ask what Jesus thought about the Old Testament. If Jesus is who he claims to be, then surely his opinion should be very influential in shaping our own (see prior post on this subject here). Would he agree with concerns above? Should we bail on the Old Testament?
Not at all. Here are three things that Jesus believed about the Old Testament:
1. The Old Testament was historical. Generally speaking, Jesus viewed the Old Testament as telling about people that really existed and events that really happened. Sure, there are poetic portions (e.g., the Psalms) and apocalyptic portions which are highly symbolic (e.g., Ezekiel), but Jesus understood the historical portions to be, well, historical.
As a sampling, Jesus refers to Adam and Eve, Abel, Noah (and the flood), Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, manna in the desert, serpent in wilderness, David eating holy bread, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Zechariah, and more.
2. The Old Testament was authoritative. In all of Jesus’ disputes and debates (and there were many), the highest court of appeal was always what Scripture had to say. Curiously, this was even an agreed-upon reality with Jesus’ enemies. Despite all their theological disagreements, they never disagreed about the role of Scripture as the ultimate authority.
For example, when asked by the Sadducees, “who’s wife will she be?” (no doubt, what they deemed to be their toughest theological question bound to “stump” Jesus publicly), Jesus responded with the simple, “Have you not read…?” followed by a quote from Exodus (Matt 22:28-32).
Indeed, this pattern of relying on the Old Testament Scripture was a defining feature of Jesus’ ministry. Even in his own temptation in the wilderness, he depends not on his own wisdom, but consistently appeals to the wisdom and authority of Scripture (Matt 4:1-11).
3. The Old Testament was inspired. On top of this, Jesus affirmed most plainly that the Old Testament contains the words of God himself. When it speaks, God speaks. Take, for example, Matt 19:4: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother…”
In this passage, Jesus is clearly citing Genesis 2:24. But what is often missed is that he attributes the words of Genesis 2:24 to God himself even though God is not speaking in that passage! It is merely the “narrator.” Thus, in Jesus’ mind, all the words in Scripture are God’s words.
This is why Jesus can say things like, “Scripture cannot be broken,” (John 10:35), and “heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). The Old Testament was clearly a divine book.
So, what do we do with Jesus’ testimony? Well, most critically, it should make us rethink our disposition toward the Old Testament. Rather than reading it while holding our noses, in a just-take-your-medicine sort of way, we need to recognize that Jesus viewed it as the wonderful, life-giving Word of God.
Remember, it was the Old Testament that Jesus spoke of when he said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4; Deut 8:3).
Simply put, if he loved God’s law then so should we.
Joseph Valentini says
Michael Guertin says
Right on Michael!!
Excellent! Praise God.
Thank you Professor Kruger for these kinds of articles, very helpful.
Lewis Erickson says
Very well said, Dr. Kruger!
It pains me greatly to see people believe that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are different. They are not. That’s why I wrote a book on the subject. God didn’t have a personality transplant in the 400 years between the OT and the NT. Jesus was the express image of the God of the OT.
Again, very well said Dr. Kruger!
The New Testament reveals what the Old Testament conceals. (I cannot attribute, but not original with me)
Cheryl Zach says
Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. It helps to distill my answers to the skeptics I encounter on a regular basis.
BRUCE MERCER says
Have you not read what God spoke in the Scripture? Jesus
James R Johnson says
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but didn’t God send Jesus to us to teach us that we could change the world from the stuff in the Old Testament ?
It seems to me that the Old Testament chronicales man gone astray with Jesus coming to offer us a way out of the mess!
Andy Stanley, in his book “Irresistable”, shows that Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not extend it. While we can and should learn from the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) we are certainly not bound by the Law any longer. Paul rebuked the Galatians for trying to live by the Spirit and the Law, John recorded Jesus’ ultimate command to “love one another” as an expression of loving God.
Doug Sayers says
Since you offered to be corrected let me give it a try.
You would be very hard pressed to find anywhere in the gospels (or the entire NT) where the stated purpose of the coming of Jesus was to “teach us that we could change the world from the stuff in the Old Testament.” We would gladly agree that Jesus did come to offer a way out of the mess!
He is, indeed, the way out. He came that the world through Him might be saved by His perfect life, death and resurrection. (J 3:17)
He was clear that His kingdom was not of this world and His instructions to us were to trust Him, be salt and light, make disciples, and look for the city whose builder and make is God. He left to prepare a new heavens and earth for the contrite. (Isa 57:15)
It may not stop our “jet fueled” post millennial friends from dreaming but we have no instructions from Jesus, or the apostles, on how to fix (or rule) the world!
We believe in the resurrection…thanks to Jesus, the mess gets fixed on the other side of the final judgment.
Lastly, the OT does not portray a grumpy fictional god but a very Holy real one who is not playing around with unbelief and the sin that always accompanies it.
Looking for that Blessed Hope…
‘We believe in the resurrection…thanks to Jesus, the mess gets fixed on the other side of the final judgment.’
That’s only partly true. God is already fixing the ‘mess’ together with us – we are already His co-workers in furthering His kingdom. Jesus began that during His ministry by restoring people to health etc.
‘1. The Old Testament was historical. Generally speaking, Jesus viewed the Old Testament as telling about people that really existed and events that really happened. Sure, there are poetic portions (e.g., the Psalms) and apocalyptic portions which are highly symbolic (e.g., Ezekiel), but Jesus understood the historical portions to be, well, historical.
As a sampling, Jesus refers to Adam and Eve, Abel, Noah (and the flood),…’
This would seem to be a false equivalence. You’re assuming, for example, that Adam and Eve were real historical individuals, then asserting simply because Jesus refers to them to make a point about His own present time, He must have viewed them as historical individuals rather than being representative of all mankind.
Hello again Peter,
You made a similar comment on a related post by Dr. Kruger three weeks ago, and when I asked you for clarifications, you never responded.
I’ll ask slightly different question this time, and if you still don’t respond, I’ll conclude that you’re either unable or unwilling to engage in dialogue, and leave you alone:
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that Jesus didn’t believe Adam, Eve and Noah were real individuals. What point is He making when He refers to them? Would He have said something different to make the same point if he had believed they were real individuals?