How Did Jesus Read the Old Testament?

Before college, I read the Old Testament with confusion and disarray. I had no idea what was going on and I thought it was somewhat unhelpful and consequently, I didn’t think I should read it as much because the New Testament “really” was the part of the Bible that talked about Jesus. However, I was drastically wrong after I learned the discipline called biblical theology. How does biblical theology affect our interpretive and reading stance of the Old Testament? 

Well, biblical theology affects how we read the Bible as a whole because is “the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing.”[1] That is, biblical theology tries to mirror what the Bible’s authors (and thus contents) do. And so, if the New Testament authors read the Old Testament a certain way, we should do likewise. Hence, “the Bible teaches Christians how the Bible should be read.”[2] And since Jesus—God the Son, whose Spirit inspires the authors—is the ultimate author of the Bible, we should read Scripture as he did.

How did Jesus read the Old Testament? First, we ought to know that Jesus read the Old Testament as Scripture—in fact, the gospels weren’t written yet, Paul’s letters weren’t written yet, none of the New Testament was written during Jesus’s ministry. Jesus’s Bible was the Old Testament,[3] and he was devoted to reading it, and confessed it as the authoritative (Matt 4:4–10) word of God (Mark 7:13; 12:36), which could not be broken (John 10:35).[4] As such, we should be reading our Old Testament for our own good and benefit because it is God’s very word.

Second, if we are to read as Jesus did, we must see that the Old Testament is really about Jesus. On multiple occasions, Jesus said the Old Testament is about him. When the Pharisees rejected Jesus, he responded, saying, “if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). Moses wrote the Torah—the Law—the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This law was central to Israel’s life and history. And Jesus says, Moses wrote about him.

Further, after Jesus rose from the dead, Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Then Jesus said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (24:44). 

Here, Jesus says “all the Scriptures,” which at that time was the Old Testament, had things concerning himself, and he also says that each section of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament)—the Law, Prophets, and Writings (indicated by “Psalms,” the largest book of the Writings)—were about him. Hence, the Old Testament is about Jesus! One book comments on this, saying, “It’s foolish to read the Old Testament and not understand that Jesus is the point. The whole story is about him. The Old Testament promises and points forward to the Messiah and his mission, and the new Testament unpacks the fulfillment of the glorious promises of Christ.”[5] If you want to learn more about the Messiah, Jesus, our Lord and Savior, the Old Testament gives us many foundations by which we can know more about our Redeemer.

 


[1] Hamilton, What Is Biblical Theology?, 16.

[2]  Ibid., 19.

[3] See Jason S. DeRouchie, “Jesus’ Bible: An Overview,” in What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2013), 28.

[4] The characteristics of the Old Testament along with their proof-texts are from ibid., 28.

[5] Roark and Cline, Biblical Theology.