How Jesus Viewed The Old Testament

Who wrote the Bible?

I think I know how most of the readers of this blog would answer, but of course the views of the broader culture on this topic are very much opposed to the views of conservative evangelicalism. Many disbelieve that we can know the exact human authors of any given book of Scripture, many more are combative to the idea that God is the author of Scripture, and accordingly many disregard the Bible as an authoritative guide to life in God’s world. Even among those who take on the label “Christian,” who attend churches, who even believe in God, there are many doubters of the divine authorship of the Bible.

For me, one of the most convincing arguments in this debate is to consider the question, “what did Jesus believe about the Bible?” (Specifically, we would be asking, “what did Jesus believe about the Old Testament?” since, of course, that was the complete canon at the time of Jesus’s life on earth.) So, how did Jesus view the authorship of the Old Testament?

Yesterday morning our Life Group studied Matthew 22:15–46 and an interesting sidebar in this passage is the insight it gives us into Jesus’s view of the Old Testament. For the sake of time, we won’t venture into all of the details of Jesus’s various debates with the Pharisees and the Sadducees in this passage, instead we’ll stay focused on his statements that pertain to the authorship and authority of Scripture. There are certainly more elsewhere, but in this passage there are three that I’d like to highlight:

  • The same day Sadducees came to him … saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother….” But Jesus answered them … “Have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (22:23–32)

  • A lawyer asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second it like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets.” (22:35–40)

  • He said to them, “How is then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? (22:43–44)

How did Jesus view the Old Testament?

Jesus Believed in the Dual Authorship of Scripture

First, it is clear that Jesus believed in the dual authorship of Scripture. Jesus affirmed that Scripture had both a divine author and a human author.

Jesus Believed God is the Author of Scripture

Jesus affirmed God as the divine (and ultimate) author of Scripture in Matthew 22:31. Refuting the false notions of the resurrection put forward by the Sadducees (a group who didn’t even believe in the resurrection), Jesus said “Have you not read what was said to you by God” and proceeded to quote directly from Exodus 3:6.

Some might look at this and note that in this instance, Jesus only attributed a direct quote from God to being God’s words, not the entirety of the book of Exodus. To be fair, Jesus does here affirm “what was said by God” as a statement that God made to Moses, and not other words that Moses put on paper (or papyrus, as it was). A quick glance through the book of Matthew alone, however, will reveal that Jesus cited Exodus 20:12 and 21:17 as “the word of God” (Matthew 15:4–6) and Jesus taught that God “said” Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:4–5).

Jesus Believed Man Authored Scripture through the Holy Spirit

Jesus believed that God is the author of Scripture, but Jesus also believed that man was the author of Scripture. In 22:43, Jesus attributes Psalm 110 to David, saying “David … calls him Lord,” and then he quotes Psalm 110:1.

But notice what he says about man’s authorship of Scripture: Jesus taught that man wrote the Scripture “in the Spirit.” “He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying….” (Matthew 22:43). Man’s authorship of Scripture was guided and directed through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Exactly how that took place is a topic for a separate blog post, but for now we must affirm with Jesus the dual authorship of Scripture. It was written by God, and God used men to write it.

Jesus Believed Moses Authored the Pentateuch

Double-clicking on the previous point, we need to note that Jesus believed that specific men authored Scripture. For the last 300 or so years (a long time, to be sure, but still relatively brief in all of history), it has been increasingly popular to say that a collection of unknown individuals penned what we now have as the Bible, various “schools” of thinkers wrote different sections, and different editors along the way compiled it into what we now have as the Bible.

People today may deny the authorship of Moses, David, and others. But not Jesus.

In response to the question posed by the Sadducees that “Moses said” Deuteronomy 25:5 (Matthew 22:24), Jesus never corrected them in their assumption about Moses, because Jesus believed in the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch. Perhaps that is an argument from silence in this instance. Jesus didn’t correct them about Moses, but neither did he specifically affirm Moses’s authorship here, but we can see elsewhere that Jesus specifically attributes the Pentateuch to Moses in Matthew 19:8 and John 5:46–47.

Jesus Believed David Authored Psalm 110

Likewise, Jesus believed David was the author of Psalm 110 (Matthew 22:43). Some today cast doubt on the superscriptions of the Psalms, the notes on some Psalms that provide details of authorship or circumstance. In contrast, Jesus affirms what we read in the superscription of Psalm 110: “A Psalm of David,” directly attributing it’s words to David himself.

That is not to say that all of the Psalms were written by David, but the Psalms themselves identify David as the author of 73 of them, and two more are attributed to David in the New Testament (Psalm 2, in Acts 4:25, and Psalm 95, according to Hebrews 4:7). We have no reason to doubt the Davidic authorship of these psalms, or of the human authors listed for the other psalms as well.

Jesus Believed the Old Testament was Authoritative

Finally, it is worth our time to point out that Jesus believed that the Scriptures possessed the full authority of God’s Word. The Bible, though composed through David and Moses and others, is the Word of God and thus it carries the authority of God.

Jesus affirmed in Matthew 22:37–40 that “the Law” was and is authoritative, and in fact in verse 40 Jesus affirmed not only the teachings of “the Law” but also “the Prophets.” (Thus, in these few paragraphs in Matthew 22, Jesus affirms all three sections of the Old Testament: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, the latter being a designation which covers the Wisdom books.) Jesus believed that the Old Testament came with the weight of God’s authority behind it, and we should believe that as well.

All of these statements are true of the Old Testament, and all of them could be demonstrated of the New Testament as well. That’s also a separate blog post, and perhaps it will come soon, but in the meantime let me commend to you a great little book called Taking God At His Word. In an easy-to-read manner, it covers the doctrine of Scripture and is a great book to have when you’re asked questions about what we believe about the Bible.

If you’ve been asked those questions before, or if you’ve just wondered them yourself, you can rest assured: we have every reason to believe that Scripture is God’s Word, with God’s authority, and contains God’s promise for life in him.

Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash