Quoting the Old Testament: An Unmistakable Pattern in Jesus and Paul

Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

“Both Jesus and Paul quote the Old Testament, therefore they affirm all of it,” or so says a whole host of Christians.

But is this true?

Not likely.

Sure, both men had a high view of Scripture, were adept students of it, and, on numerous occasions, taught directly from it. Indeed, much of what they had to say came from the Jewish Scriptures. But, that doesn’t mean that every theological claim made in the Old Testament is something either affirmed. Not by a long shot. And so, what we have to do is discern just how they viewed it, how they quoted from it, and how they applied its teachings.

That’s where this piece comes in; it’s but a small sampling of how Jesus and Paul—as well as the writer of Hebrews—quote the Old Testament. We’ll be highlighting what is being emphasized, and, just as importantly, what is being left out in hopes that we can easily pick up on what is being put down.

Jesus

Instance 1: Luke 4:18–19, 21, quoting Isaiah 61:1–2

Luke 4:18–19, 21

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor . . .
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Isaiah 61:1–2

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
To bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And release to the prisoners;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
And the day of vengeance of our God.

 

Instance 2: Luke 7:22, quoting various passages from Isaiah (as well as 1 and 2 Kings)

Luke 7:22

Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 61:1–2), the lame walk (Isaiah 35:6), the lepers are cleansed (2 Kings 5), the deaf hear (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5), the dead are raised (1 Kings 17:17–24), the poor have good news brought to them (Isaiah 29:19).

Isaiah 29:18–20

On that day the deaf shall hear
The words of a scroll
And out of their gloom and darkness
The eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
And the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant shall me no more,
And the scoffer shall cease to be;
All those alert to do evil shall be cut off.

Isaiah 35:4–6

“Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
With terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf unstopped;
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

Isaiah 61:1–2

He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
To bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And release to the prisoners;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
And the day of vengeance of our God.

 

Instance 3: Mathew 4:10, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13

Matthew 4:10

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Deuteronomy 6:13

The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name along you shall swear.

 

Instance 4: Matthew 5:38, referencing Exodus 21:23–25

Matthew 5:38

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist and evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.

Exodus 21:23–25

If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

 

Instance 5: Matthew 5:45, referencing Deuteronomy 28:24

Matthew 5:45

So that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Deuteronomy 28:24

The Lord will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.

 

Paul

Instance 1: Galatians 3:13, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23

Galatians 3:13

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—

Deuteronomy 21:23

His corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

 

Instance 2: Romans 15:9–12, referencing Psalm 18; Deuteronomy 32:43

Romans 15:9–12

And in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
And sing praises to your name”;
And again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
And let all the peoples praise him”;

Psalm 18:41–42, 47, 49

They cried for help, but there was no one to save them;
They cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
I beat them fine, like dust before the wind;
I cast them out like the mire of the streets . . .
. . . The God who gave me vengeance
And subdued peoples under me;
For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.

Deuteronomy 32:43

Praise, O heavens, his people,
Worship him, all you gods!
For he will avenge the blood of his children,
And take vengeance on his adversaries;
He will repay those who hate him,
And cleanse the land for his people.

 

Instance 3: Ephesians 6:13–17, referencing Isaiah 59:17–18

Ephesians 6:13–17

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Isaiah 59:17–18

He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on his head;
He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle.
According to their deeds, so he will repay;
Wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies;
To the coastlands he will render requital.

 

Conclusion

Obviously, what I am trying to show is that there is a lens with which Jesus and Paul viewed God and the Scriptures. Indeed, that lens is mercy. In fact, one of Jesus’ favorite passages to quote was from Hosea 6:6, which reads: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” When Jesus quotes it, however, he does so in this manner: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). So, in essence, Jesus is saying that “steadfast love” and “mercy” are the same thing (cf. Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36), and that they are juxtaposed against the practice of blood sacrifice.

The writer of Hebrews emphasizes the same exact thing. In chapter 10—indeed, just a few short verses after saying that “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,” he envisions the last words of the pre-incarnate Christ to be: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” (This, of course, is a direct quote from Psalm 40:6–8.) Again, what is emphasized is that the God of Jesus is not merely a god—that is, some human-invented, sacrifice-demanding, retributive, wrathful, bloodthirsty deity—but the One True God of the cosmos, the God of everlasting love and mercy, the God who IS love (1 John 4:8), indeed the God who “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). May we taste and see.

Shalom.

 

*If you are interested in reading more about this, I will cover it at-length in my forthcoming book Heretic! An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine-Violence Denying, Christian Universalist’s Replies to Evangelical Christianity’s Most Pressing Concerns. If you would like to hear from folks who have helped me see what I’ve laid out before you, please pick up Derek Flood’s Disarming Scripture, Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So, and especially Michael Hardin’s The Jesus Driven Life.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • jimoppenheimer

    One could attribute this to progressive revelation, but certainly the point is well put — very well put indeed!

  • Ellen Hammond

    I really like the way you laid this article out. It clearly drives the point home, I think and is easy to read and compare. Well done, Matthew!

  • Excellent.

  • Tim

    Nicely done.