What the Gospels Teach Us About the Scriptures
The Scriptures were an important part of Jesus’ work. He used the Old Testament as an authoritative basis for beliefs and behavior. He used the Hebrew Bible to prove his points, to explain his mission and ministry, and to communicate God’s will for his people.
Jesus and the Pharisees agreed that God had inspired the Scriptures. Jesus disagreed with them about interpretations, but they all agreed on the basic belief that these writings were true and authoritative.
Since Jesus agreed with the Pharisees on this point, he did not have an occasion to list all his beliefs about Scripture, nor to explain the reasons he had for his beliefs. However, Jesus used the Scriptures so often that we are able to see what he believed about Scripture. The disciples who wrote the Gospels also used Scripture frequently, and we can tell by the way they used the Scriptures that they held the same beliefs.
1. According to Jesus, who wrote the Torah? Matt. 8:4; 19:8. Did he also say that God was the author of at least two of the commands? Matt. 15:4; 22:31-32. How was a human author able to write the words of God? Verse 43. Did the prophets accurately report words God said about himself? Matt. 9:13; 11:10; 12:18; 15:8-9.
2. Matthew mentions numerous Old Testament verses that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Who was the source of these verses? Matt. 1:22; 2:15. Matthew tells us that various scriptures were spoken “through” the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel (Matt. 2:17; 3:3; 13:35;24:15). Who was the source?
3. Did Jesus expect all the words of the prophets to be fulfilled? Matt. 5:17-18; 26:24,31, 54, 56. Did he chide the Pharisees for not understanding the prophets? Matt. 12:7;21:16, 42. Did he consider the Scriptures, even though they were written hundreds of years earlier, to apply to his own day? Matt. 15:7; 19:8.
4. How did Jesus use Scripture as a decisive answer to doctrinal questions? Matt. 12:3-5;19:4; 22:31-32. How did he quote Deuteronomy in response to Satan’s temptations? Matt. 4:4, 7, 10. Does this suggest a greater-than-human authority in the Scriptures?
Our Lord clearly had a high view of Scripture. He always treated it as true, as conclusive proof, as correct teaching. It was God communicating through human authors. The message was true.
Jesus understood his own mission in terms of the Old Testament Scriptures: “I have come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Everything in them must be fulfilled. I must do this because it has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and what is written must come to pass. Doctrinal errors exist because you do not know what the Scriptures say. They are the standard of truth” (paraphrase of Matt. 5:17-18; 22:29; 26:54).
5. What was Jesus’ attitude toward the Old Testament laws? Matt. 5:18-19. Did Jesus advise people to obey all the laws? Matt. 15:4; 19:17-19; 22:37-40. Did Jesus tell people to obey ritual laws? Matt. 8:4. To obey the Pharisees when they taught the law of Moses? Matt. 23:2-3. Should people obey in even the smallest details? Matt. 5:19; 23:23.
Jesus taught people to obey every law in Scripture, because all the laws had divine authority. The laws told God’s old covenant people what he wanted them to do, and they were supposed to do it all.
The ritual laws are still part of Scripture. They describe what God told a specific people to do at a certain time in history. But those laws were not given to the Christian church, and the covenant that framed those laws has been surpassed. Just as we do not have to obey all the instructions God gave to Abraham, we do not have to obey all the instructions God gave to the Israelites.
Those laws were inspired by God for a temporary purpose: “All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John” (Matt. 11:13).
6. Does the law of Moses give the perfect will of God? Matt. 19:8. Where did Jesus find authoritative guidance? Verses 4-5. Is it enough to keep the letter of the law? Matt. 5:21-22,27-28. Was the law of Moses too strict, or too lenient? Verses 31-32. By what authority did Jesus say this? Verses 22, 28, 32, 34. What is the higher standard that Jesus taught? Matt. 7:12; 22:37-40.
Although Jesus had a high respect for the Old Testament, he taught that it was not a complete guide for godly living. The law of Moses allowed divorce, but divorce is not good. Jesus taught a higher principle, the golden rule, the way of love and mercy. The law of Moses included love, but it did not identify love as the most important principle. Jesus did.
Jesus had high standards about the way humans should treat one another — he was stricter than the Pharisees. But when it came to ritual purity and Sabbath rules, Jesus was more permissive than the Pharisees. Jesus often touched unclean people, and he often healed on the Sabbath even though he could have waited until later.
“When it came to morals (e.g., divorce) Jesus’ interpretation was stricter than most of his contemporaries. When it came to [worship] laws (e.g., the Sabbath) Jesus’ interpretation was comparatively lenient. Jesus’ emphasis seems to have fallen on compassion as over against holiness” (Craig Evans, “Old Testament in the Gospels,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, InterVarsity, 1992, p. 581).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus quoted several laws from the Torah, and then gave his own teaching as the complete word on the subject. In doing this, he put his own words on the level as Scripture, as authoritative instruction from God. His words will never pass away, and it is by his words that people will be judged (Matt. 24:35; 7:24-27; John 12:48). He is the only one who can help us know God (Matt. 11:27).
Jesus spoke with authority; his judgments are certain, and his predictions are guaranteed to come to pass. The Holy Spirit taught his words to the disciples (John 14:26), just as the Spirit inspired the Old Testament writers. These sayings of Jesus suggest that more Scripture was yet to be written, the Scriptures we now call the New Testament. These are the writings that give us the words by which we will be judged — words from and about Jesus Christ.
7. Did Jesus see his own ministry in terms of Old Testament prophecies? Luke 4:16-21. Did he believe that the prophets foretold his suffering, death and resurrection? Luke 18:31-33. Which prophecy of Isaiah applied specifically to him? Luke 22:37. Did he believe that the prophecies were certain to come true? Luke 24:44-47. Did he believe that other prophecies were certain to be fulfilled in the future? Luke 21:22.
Jesus, as a Galilean rabbi who taught in synagogues, would naturally root his ministry in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Bible was the foundation for many of his teachings, for explaining his mission as the Messiah, and for predicting the future judgment. Our Lord was confident that the Scriptures are trustworthy because he believed them to be inspired by God. He based his life and mission on this conviction.
Many of his teachings have Old Testament roots. The parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, reflects the story in 2 Chronicles 28:8-15—the men of Samaria gave food, clothes and medicine to Jews, and used donkeys to help transport them to Jericho. The parable of humility (Luke 14:7-14) develops the thought of Proverbs 25:6-7.
Jesus often referred to Old Testament characters: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot’s wife, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Jonah and others. Although he corrected the Pharisees on other matters of biblical interpretation, their acceptance of the biblical story did not have to be corrected.
8. In the Gospel of John, how does Jesus describe the giver of the law? John 7:19, 22. Did he quote part of the law to support the validity of his own teachings? John 8:17-18. Did he expect biblical prophecies to come true in his own ministry? John 13:18; 15:25; 19:24. Which Old Testament author wrote about Jesus? John 5:46.
9. In addition to the books of Moses, what else was included in “the law”? John 10:34. How likely was this word to be true? Verse 35.
Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6, which describes God criticizing leaders who fail to do their duty to help the oppressed. With some irony, he calls these leaders “gods” — mighty ones, elohim, and he gives judgment on them (Ps. 86:1). He calls them “gods” and children of the Most High, but notes that they die like all other human rulers (verses 6-7). The word of God — his judgment on them — came to these unjust leaders.
Jesus is not commenting on the now-dead leaders, nor on the psalm itself. He is using it as a “from the lesser to the greater” argument: “If he called these people gods, these unjust people to whom the judgment of God came, why do you accuse me of blasphemy when I say that I am the son of God? If he can call unjust people gods, why can’t I call myself the son of God?”
In making this argument, Jesus mentions, almost as a parenthetical thought, that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He was not trying to prove this idea. Rather, it was a point on which he and the Pharisees agreed, and all he needed to do was to mention it. Human words can be broken. They can fail, but Scripture cannot. Its words are trustworthy, because they are inspired by God. The Scriptures are the standard of truth, the accurate record of God’s revelation, and the ultimate authority for all matters of doctrine, faith and practice.