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Okay, Boomer! (Part 1) Did Jesus Trust the Old Testament? (BONUS CHAPTER!)

JESUS AIN’T A MARCIONITE


Now, you might be thinking, What the #@!$*% is a Marcionite? Marcionites aren’t a race of intra-dimensional beings or man-eating ogres from Middle Earth, but those who share the views of Marcion. That name might sound familiar because he’s everyone’s favorite early church heretic.


Not long after the New Testament was written, Marcion of Sinope (AD 85–160) became quite a controversial figure. You see, this wealthy merchant and shipowner believed there were two Gods—an evil God of the Old Testament and a benevolent God of the New Testament. As if that weren’t enough, he attempted to rid anything Jewish from the scriptures. So, he jettisoned the whole Old Testament and purged the New Testament of anything he perceived as too Jewish, creating his own “Bible” made only of severely edited versions of some of Paul’s letters and Luke’s gospel.


This was all pretty silly of Marcion since Jesus was a Jew, all of the first Christians were Jews, and the New Testament is the continuation of the Jewish scripture. In fact, Jesus said he was the fulfillment of the Jewish scripture! (We’ll get into that below.) So, the New Testament cannot be separated from the Old Testament. Judaism permeates Christianity!


As you can probably guess, the early church thought Marcion was a dangerous lunatic and condemned him as a heretic in AD 144. But Marcion wouldn’t be deterred and moved on to cult-leader status, starting his own “church.” His church lasted for 300 years, earning him a trophy as arguably the most successful heretic of early church history.


Today, I doubt any of us know any Marcionites, but I certainly know many people who like Jesus but do not like the “God of the Old Testament”—and I’m talking about both non-Christians and professed Christians. In fact, I’ve heard that phrase “God of the Old Testament” so many times from Christians, it almost seems some Bible-believing Christians have become polytheists, separating the God of the Bible into two deities. To be transparent, there have been plenty of times when I’ve been wrestling with tough parts of the Old Testament and I’ve wished I could just ignore the Old and stay in the New. But when Jesus walked the earth, all there was of the Bible was “the Old Testament,” the Jewish scripture.


The Protestant Bible is made of 66 “books”—39 works of literature in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Protestant Christians and Jews agree on the same 39 books of the Old Testament as scripture [1], but the Jews organize them differently, having 24 books instead. For example, 1 and 2 Kings are just one book (called Kings) and 1 and 2 Chronicles are just one book (called—you guessed it—Chronicles), and the 12 “Minor Prophets” (Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc.) are considered one book. So, even though Jews and Protestant Christians count and organize them differently, they’re all the same writings.


Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have additional Jewish books in their Bibles, works written in ancient Greek (instead of Hebrew) created during the time between the ending of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New—a period of roughly 400 years called the Intertestamental Period. These additional works are often referred to as the Apocrypha or the deuterocanonical books. These works aren’t recognized as authoritative by either Protestants or Jews [2]. A little research will tell you why, but we won’t get into it here [3].

The last book of the Old Testament was written around 435 BC—that is, about 435 years before Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. Our ancient historian buddy Josephus (AD 37–100) confirms this, writing,


“It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former [writings] by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time.” [4]

Did you follow that? No Jewish history that has been written since the time of Artaxerxes—that is, about 464–423 BC—has been accepted as equal in authority to the Old Testament, “the former” (i.e. earlier) writings, because the line of God’s prophets had ceased. In other words, Josephus, a Jew, is saying there has been no new scripture because there have been no new prophets [5]. This is why John the Baptist was such a big deal when he started calling for the repentance of sins (Matthew 3:5–7; John 1:19–28). It had been over 400 years since Israel had seen a prophet!



THE OLD TESTAMENT AIN’T OLD NEWS


John the Baptist was the prophet who straddled the Old and New Testaments. Both Jesus and John himself drew connections between the Old Testament and John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14; John 1:21–23; Luke 7:27). Likewise, Jesus also connected himself to the Old Testament. To start, he said,


The Law and the Prophets were until John [the Baptist]; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached… But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. (Luke 16:16–17)


The time of the Old Testament (“The Law and the Prophets”) is past, Jesus says, but at the same time not one tiny part of it becomes revoked. That’s quite a paradox. This reflects an idea found in all of the Gospels: Jesus isn’t doing away with the Old Testament, but fulfilling it. This new divine work of spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God naturally leads to new divine revelation, the New Testament, which isn’t “new” in the sense of something different, but a fleshing out of God’s earlier work and revelation.


When you read through the New Testament, you can’t help but notice how much both Jesus and his apostles refer back to the Old Testament. In a quick read-through of the four Gospels, I counted 192 references to the Old Testament. That’s 192 references in 89 chapters. Of those 192 references, Jesus makes 121 of them. Clearly, Jesus and his apostles viewed the Old Testament as important. In turn, this tells us we can’t fully understand the New Testament (and, thus, Jesus of Nazareth) without understanding the Old Testament.


As a first-century Jew, Jesus refers to the Old Testament as “the Law” and “the Prophets” [6]. Notice what he says about his relationship to the Old Testament:


Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)


This brief statement is huge! This is why Christians don’t follow Old Testament rituals or religious practices; Jesus fulfilled them by his death on the cross.


But let’s put that aside for now to focus instead on how Jesus did not discard the Old Testament. In other words, he didn’t want to throw it away, but to obey and fulfill it. In fact, immediately after the above quote, he says,


For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)


Jesus isn’t doing away with even a speck or pen stroke of the Old Testament until his mission is complete. Some of this “all” was accomplished by Jesus’ life, and some was accomplished by his death, and the rest will find completion at his future return, his “second coming.” But this is getting into some deep theological waters. For now, my primary goal is to show you how Jesus used, understood, and related to the Old Testament.


This is important because a lot of Christians today don’t know what to do with the Old Testament. It’s much longer, much more ancient, and much more difficult to grasp than the New Testament. Concerning Old Testament commands, some Christians make the mistake of going to one of two extremes: they either completely disregard them or they insist that Christians must obey most of them [7]. Yes, Christianity’s relationship to the Old Testament is complicated, but nowhere as complicated as a cheesy TV romantic drama with a love triangle (or love hexagon), so let me give you a quick way of understanding the Old Testament commands before moving forward.


O.T. COMMANDS: MORAL VS. RELIGIOUS


We can think of most Old Testament commands in two categories: moral and religious. Today, Christians still follow the moral laws (no stealing, no murder, no adultery...) because the moral law is universal and unchanging. It’s universal and unchanging because it’s grounded in God’s unchanging character and God’s unchanging purposes for creation. If there’s any question about this, the New Testament reaffirms the moral laws in one way or another.


Yet, Christians don’t follow the Old Testament religious laws because Jesus fulfilled them through his life and death. Unlike Christians today, Jesus as a first-century Jew was still under the Old Covenant that God made with Moses, but Christians are under a new, different covenant with God than ancient Israel. (The Old Covenant under Moses: Exodus 6:2–8, 24:7–8. The New Covenant in Christ: Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, 14; Hebrews 7:22, 8:6.) Jesus obeyed God’s commands perfectly, even to the extent of having John the Baptist, his inferior, baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) [8]. Then, Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for those who do not follow God’s commands perfectly (i.e., everyone other than him) and who put their trust in him (John 3:16–17; Matthew 7:13–14; Luke 13:1–5, 23–30).


This is why no Christian practices animal sacrifices like the ancient Jews. This is why no Christian is required to follow the Old Testament ritual purification laws or dietary laws (which are connected to ritual purity) or to keep the religious festivals like Passover (Romans 14:5–6; Colossians 2:16–17). Jesus changed things when he died on that cross. In fact, Jesus’ apostles used up quite a bit of ink correcting those who insisted that Christians were required to keep the Old Testament religious laws. In fact, they made Paul so grumpy he wrote that he wished those insisting that non-Jewish Christians be circumcised according to the Old Testament would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12)!


FULFILLING THE LAW


When you get down to it, there are actually two ways to fulfill a law. One way is to obey it. The other is to break it, then pay the penalty for breaking it. So, I could fulfill the law by obeying the speed limit or I can fulfill the law by putting pedal-to-the-metal and paying the ticket when Johnny Law pulls me over. Either way, the law is fulfilled. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law—the Old Covenant—in both ways. He perfectly obeyed it, but he also paid the punishment for breaking it. Through both his obedience and undeserved punishment, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law for us.


MEGA-REVELATION!


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives what Bible nerds call “the Six Anti-theses,” which are structured like this: “You have heard… But I say to you…”


For example,


You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart… (Matthew 5:27–28)


Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely… But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all… Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’... (Matthew 5:33–37)


You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… (Matthew 5:43–44)


In each, Jesus first refers to a passage in the Old Testament (“You have heard...”) and then draws out its deeper significance (“But I say to you…”) or he cites a misunderstanding, a popular interpretation, or an abuse of an Old Testament passage (“You have heard...”) and then corrects it (“But I say to you…”). Some mistakenly think Jesus is changing the Old Testament here. It’s hard to understand why they would think such a goofy thing since right before this Jesus quite literally said (and I mean “literally” literally), “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Dr. Robert Plummer writes, “While Jesus frequently criticized distorted understandings of the [Old Testament], he never questioned the veracity of the Scriptures themselves” [9].


Not only this, but Jesus draws an unambiguous line connecting his teachings to the Old Testament. For instance, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches,


So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)


Many people are familiar with this personal philosophy of conduct, sometimes called “The Golden Rule”—treat others like you want to be treated. In fact, when my son came to live with us (through adoption), this was the first thing from the Bible I taught him. Yet, where many people are familiar with the first part of this verse, most forget the second part: “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Now that I think about it, I left that part out when I taught it to my son!) Jesus is summing up the Old Testament in this brief command.


Similarly, when some religious scholars ask Jesus “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28), he cites the Old Testament,


The most important [protos] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater [megas] than these. (Mark 12:29–31)


The original Greek of Mark’s gospel uses the word protos (like in the word prototype), meaning first. So, the question could be translated, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” (NAMB 1995). Yet, Jesus also uses the Greek word megas to describe the command. Think of a cartoon where many smaller robots unite, creating one MEGA robot. Yet Jesus isn’t talking about physical size, but greatness: this is the greatest commandment.


So, when asked about the “foremost” or “greatest” command of God, Jesus doesn’t create something new (Deuteronomy 6:4–5; Leviticus 19:18). The whole of the Old Testament commands are about doing these two things: loving God and loving neighbor. He even says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

Many Christians shy away from the Old Testament because they think it doesn’t fit well with Jesus. Yet, these passages show that Jesus didn’t see any disconnect. He affirms again and again that his teachings are a continuation of the Old Testament. After all, “love your neighbor as yourself” didn’t appear first in the New Testament, but in the Old (Leviticus 19:18).


Properly understood, no contradictions exist between the Old and New Testaments. So, when all is said and done, we see the old and new revelations of God have joined together into one MEGA-revelation like transforming, interconnecting robots in a Japanese cartoon. I’m willing to bet you never thought about the Bible like that before.


This should motivate anyone wanting to understand Jesus of Nazareth to work for a better understanding of the Old Testament. Yes, much of it seems strange and unhitched from Jesus, but Jesus didn’t think so.



JESUS AIN’T SHY ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT


In John’s gospel (10:30–38), we find Jesus about to be stoned to death for blasphemy for saying “I and the Father are one.” Of all the reactions possible, Jesus chooses to rebuff his opponents by quoting Psalm 82:6 from the Old Testament, asking, “Is it not written in your Law…?”


Think about this.


Jesus is about to be pelted by a hailstorm of stones. Does he beg? Does he run? Does he start stretching, preparing for some bobbing-and-weaving? No, he looks at his fellow Jews and quotes scripture, emphasizing that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He’s saying, I’m backing up my stance with God’s word… Whadda you got? Here, Jesus is demonstrating his absolute confidence in the authority, reliability, and preservation of the Old Testament.


Other interesting things should be noted here too. First, notice Jesus doesn’t claim that those about to execute him have misunderstood him! If you were about to be lynched by a swarm of hillbillies with pitchforks for saying something like, “I’m a banjo god,” you’d likely pipe up and say, “Hold up, folks! I don’t mean that literally! I just mean I play a mean banjo!” Yet, Jesus does nothing of the sort. He doesn’t correct his fellow Jews because apparently they didn’t misunderstand him!


Secondly, Jesus’ whole defense relies on only one word. His opponents said they were going to execute him because he made himself out to be God (John 10:33). So, Jesus uses Psalm 82:6 to point out that beings other than God can be referred to as (lowercase “g”) “gods.” In ancient Hebrew, unlike English today, elohim (usually translated “gods”) didn’t always denote deity. Though it’s largely used in the Old Testament to refer to the utterly unique, one-of-a-kind God of the Jews, elohim was a term for other spiritual beings as well (or even powerful humans). Psalm 82 reads,


God [elohim] has taken his place in the divine [el] council; in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment... I [God] said, “You are gods [elohim], sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Psalm 82:1, 6–7) [10]


Does this mean the God of the Jews was one among many gods, like Zeus among the Greek pantheon? No, the Old Testament is monotheistic from front to back. (See Isaiah 44:6–8 for example). Elohim is a term for inhabitants of the spiritual realm, and the God of the Bible is, in fact, an inhabitant of the spiritual realm, but he’s also unquestionably and completely unique to the other spiritual inhabitants. In other words, “The Old Testament writers understood that Yahweh [the God of the Jews] was an elohim—but no other elohim was Yahweh” [11]. Angels, demons, and God all inhabit the spiritual realm, so they all share that in common as elohim, but God is an absolutely different, one-of-a-kind sort of elohim. (For one, God has always existed, and the other elohim were created by God!)


Others interpret Psalm 82 more figuratively and understand the elohim of the divine council to be powerful human beings. Regardless, Jesus’ point is that if these beings can be called “gods” and even sons of God (“sons of the Most High”), then why are those about to stone him so offended?


A big idea of Psalm 82 is that these beings may be called “gods,” but they’re nothing like the true God. They’re corrupt and unjust and “like men” they will die. In contrast, John wants his readers to understand that elohim (theos in Greek) is a title fully appropriate for Jesus. John begins his gospel by proclaiming that God became a man, Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1–18).


As you can see, a ton is going on below the surface in Jesus’ use of Psalm 82! But back to my original reason for bringing it up: Jesus’ whole argument relies on that one word—elohim (“gods”). Jesus is so confident that every single word in Jewish scripture is divinely inspired and accurately preserved that he can base his argument on a single word!


We see this pattern throughout the Gospels. Jesus constantly points back to the Old Testament to refute his enemies. So much so, when the powerful spiritual being Satan tries to tempt Jesus away from his mission, what does Jesus do? Does he put Satan in a Darth Vader chokehold? No, he cites the Old Testament. Three times Satan attempts to draw Jesus away from his mission, and three times Jesus simply quotes the Old Testament to rebuke him (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; Deuteronomy: 6:13, 8:3; Psalm 91:11–12).


“YOU DON’T KNOW SCRIPTURE”


During another confrontation, this time with the Sadducees, they challenged Jesus on the resurrection of the dead ( Matthew 22:23–33). Unlike other Jews, the Sadducees didn’t believe in a future resurrection—when the spirits of the dead would be reunited with their bodies during “the end of days”—or even an afterlife. Jesus straight-up tells them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Whoever said Jesus sugarcoated things? Clearly, he goes bare-knuckle when it comes to sparring over theology!)


Again, what’s really interesting here is how Jesus uses the Old Testament. To refute the Sadducees, he cites Exodus 3:6:


…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 God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:31–32)


Where Jesus’ use of Psalm 82 relied wholly on one word (elohim, “gods”), Jesus’ argument here relies wholly on one point of grammar: whether the sentence is present tense or past tense. God said “I am”—present tense. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for centuries when God said this to Moses, but God said “I am” their God— not “I was” their God. Since God used the present tense (“am”), not the past tense (“was”), he’s still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus is using the present tense of one word to prove that these men are still experiencing life with God! From a human standpoint, these three patriarchs of the Jews were long dead, but Jesus says it’s not so. God is still their God now and forever, because their God isn’t the God of death but the God of eternal life. One day, God will resurrect those whose bodies are in the grave but their spirits live.


Jesus bases his whole argument on the tense of a single verb—nothing else!—illustrating his absolute confidence in the Old Testament [12].


THE LIST GOES ON


Above, we saw Jesus refer to when God spoke to Moses through a burning bush (Exodus 3). He also referenced Abraham, the forefather of the Jewish people, and his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. (Also see John 8:56–58; Luke 20:37.) Other events and people from the Old Testament Jesus references include:


  • God creating everything (Mark 13:19; Genesis 1–2);

  • God making humans male and female from the beginning (Matthew 19:4–5; Genesis 1–2);

  • Noah, the flood, and the ark (Matthew 24:37–39; Luke 17:27; Genesis 6–9);

  • Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction by fire and sulfur raining down from the sky (Matthew 10:15; Luke 10:12; Luke 17:28–29; Genesis 18–19);

  • Jonah being swallowed by a giant fish and remaining inside it for three days before reemerging alive (Matthew 12:40; Jonah 1–2);

  • The prophets Daniel, Isaiah, Elijah, and Elisha and their accurate prophecies (Matthew 24:15; Matthew 13:14–15; Luke 4:25–27; 1 Kings 17–18; 2 Kings 7);

  • King David writing the Psalms through the Holy Spirit (Mark 12:35–37);

  • The murder of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, by his brother Cain, as well as the murder of the prophet Zechariah. (Matthew 23:35; Genesis 4:8; 2 Chronicles 24:20–22) [13]


What’s interesting is that Jesus, while ripping into some religious hypocrites, mentions Abel and Zechariah [14]. He says the blood of all the martyred men of God are on these hypocrites’ heads—that is, from the murder of Abel in Genesis to the murder of Zechariah in 2 Chronicles. Though Jews and Protestant Christians agree on the same exact writings in the Old Testament canon, the Jews organize them differently. The Protestant Old Testament starts with Genesis and ends with Malachi, but the Jewish Bible starts with Genesis and ends with Chronicles. This is how Jesus, a first-century Jew, would’ve ordered them as well.


By making reference to the first murder in scripture (Abel in Genesis) and the last murder in scripture (Zechariah in Chronicles), Jesus is covering the entire Jewish scripture, from the first book to the last! [15]


TOO OLD TO TRUST?


Jesus had complete confidence in the Jewish scripture as it existed in his day. But that was 2,000 years ago. What if the Old Testament has been corrupted between the time of Jesus and now?


Arguably one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever gives us good reasons to have confidence in the preservation of the Old Testament: the Dead Sea Scrolls.


The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of both biblical and non-biblical Jewish writings discovered in clay jars in caves near the Dead Sea, about 13 miles east of Jerusalem. The first writings were found in 1947; more continued to be found after this, and archeologists are still looking for more to this day. Most likely, a Jewish monk-like sect called the Essenes, who lived in the desert because they believed mainstream Judaism in Jerusalem had become corrupt, hid the writings in the caves to preserve them during the war against Rome in AD 66–70. At that time, you didn’t mess with the mighty Roman Empire, and the Essenes understood what was coming! This war resulted in the complete devastation of Jerusalem—including the temple—in AD 70. Thanks to the Essenes’ foresight, these documents survived.


The Dead Sea Scrolls were 1,000 years older than the oldest surviving Old Testament manuscripts we had at the time of their discovery. Yup, 1,000 years older! Of the over 900 scrolls discovered, more than 200 were scripture, including 20 scrolls of Genesis, 18 scrolls of Exodus, 30 scrolls of Deuteronomy, and 40 scrolls of the Psalms [16]. These ancient manuscripts, which include sections of all of the books of the Protestant Old Testament except Esther, were created just before the time of Jesus in the first and second centuries BC.


Comparing these newly-discovered manuscripts to the manuscripts that were copied 1,000 years later showed that the Jewish scribes did a scrupulous job of preserving the original words through the centuries. The Dead Sea Scrolls proved that the Old Testament was carefully passed down to us.


For example, 21 copies of sections of Isaiah, the Old Testament book with the most prophecies about the Messiah, were found. Not only that, but a complete 24-foot scroll of Isaiah was discovered, which includes all 66 chapters. The Great Isaiah Scroll, as it’s called, is dated around 100 BC. When compared to the Isaiah manuscripts copied 1,000 years later, we find they’re nearly identical. The few variations are mostly spelling differences or simple penmanship mistakes of no significance.


Another example of the reliability of the Old Testament transmission is a 2,000 year old scroll of Leviticus found in 1970 in the same vicinity of the Dead Sea in an ancient synagogue that had been burned. The scroll had survived the fire, but it was charred; it was impossible to unroll without destroying it. Then, in 2016—almost 50 years later—scholars announced that they had used digital x-ray technology to read the scroll without opening it. Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov of Hebrew University of Jerusalem said the scroll is “100 percent identical” to the copies of Leviticus that survive from 1,000 years later, so “[i]n 2,000 years, this text has not changed” [17]. Dr. Tov then proceeded to high-five the hi-tech x-ray machine (in my imagination).


GILMI THE DWARF MEETS DWIGHT SHRUTE


One could argue that Jesus referring to Old Testament people and events doesn’t necessarily mean he understood every one to be historically factual.


For example, when Jesus says he’ll be in the grave for three days and nights like Jonah in the belly of the great fish, this doesn’t necessarily mean Jesus understood the story of Jonah to be an actual historical event (Matthew 12:40). After all, I could refer to characters and events from The Office or the Lord of the Rings to make a point while I, as well as my listeners, understand that they’re fictional. I could say something like, “Well, the two of you certainly make an odd couple—like Gimli the dwarf meeting Dwight Shrute, the assistant to the regional manager,” without believing that Gimli and Dwight Shrute actually existed. So, did Jesus understand all of the Old Testament to be historical?


Here are some things to consider.


First, historian Josephus, a first-century Jew like Jesus, begins his 20-volume history of the Jewish people, Antiquities of the Jews, by retelling the Old Testament. Published in AD 93 or 94, it covers Jewish history from creation to all the way to the first Jewish–Roman War (AD 66 to 73). In the Gospels, we find debates among Jews concerning Old Testament interpretation, but we never stumble across a debate about its historical truth.


Secondly, the Old Testament (and New Testament) writers present these people and events as part of one long, interconnected history—one which Jesus understands himself to play a role in (and a vital role at that!). Some possible exceptions may exist, such as whether the free-standing books of Job or Jonah might be parable-like tales, but the vast majority of the Old Testament is undoubtedly presented as history.


Remember, the Bible is composed of several literary genres, including the poetic Psalms and the highly-symbolic Book of Revelation. Understanding the genre of what we read helps us understand what we read. When we read the Psalms or Revelation, we know their genre means we don’t read them like news articles. We accept that they contain an abundance of poetic and figurative language. Similar to when Jesus says, “I am the true vine,” no one tries to swing on him like Tarzan (John 15:1).


For example, even traditional, Bible-believing Christians debate about how the creation story in Genesis 1 is to be understood. Are we to understand Genesis 1 as poetic or a literal play-by-play of events? Is each “day” a literal 24-hour period? The language of Genesis 1 differs from Jewish poetry but also differs from standard prose [18]. So, when you get down to it, the debate over Genesis 1 is about literary genre [19].


Still, despite some possible exceptions, the vast majority of the Old Testament presents itself unquestionably as history.


Finally, where it’s not unusual for someone to reference fictional works to illustrate a point, Jesus (as we saw above) applies the Old Testament scripture in weighty ways. He makes the Old Testament do some heavy lifting. Jesus certainly believes the Old Testament to be “God-breathed” and (as one of his apostles puts it) “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).


When we look at the many, many times Jesus uses the Old Testament, this is exactly how he uses it.



NOTES:


[1] Jews today (like in Jesus’ day) don’t call the Jewish scriptures “the Old Testament,” but I’ll use this term. Jews today often call the Jewish Bible the Tanakh.


[2] Eastern Orthodox churches do not hold to the deuterocanonical books having the same authority as scripture either though they are included in their Bibles.


[3] But we will get into it a bit here: For one, Jesus never once references the deuterocanonical books. He also refers to the Old Testament canon as being in only three parts: Moses’ writings, the prophets, and the Psalms, terms used to cover all of the works of the Old Testament canon of both Protestants and Jews today. See Luke 24:27, 44.


[4] Josephus, Against Apion, 1:41, quoted in 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010), 60.


[5] In addition, one of the deuterocanonical books seems to imply that prophecy had stopped during the time period: See 1 Maccabees 4:46, 9:27, 14:41.


[6] Sometimes Jesus also includes “the Psalms” with the Law and the Prophets to speak of the Jewish Bible. Luke 24:27, 44.


[7] I say “most” instead of “all” because I know of no one who argues that Christians still need to carry out the Old Testament sacrifices. Even those who argue that Christians need to keep almost all of the Old Testament Law recognize that Jesus fulfilled this part of the Law.


[8] This is not to say the command to be baptized is found in the Old Testament, but to say Jesus recognized John as a prophet of God and, thus, obeyed the commands God gave through him, even to be baptized for the repentance of sin when Jesus has no sin.


[9] Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010), 40.


[10] Hebrew doesn’t use capitalization to denote proper names. Interestingly, one way the writers of the Old Testament denote God’s uniqueness is to use the plural word “elohim” when referring to him, though he’s one being. Unlike English, verbs in Hebrew can be singular or plural. So, when God is referred to as “elohim” (plural), the verbs used to describe his actions are singular. (El is the singular form of elohim.)


[11] Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm. Bellingham, (WA: Lexingham, 2015), Kindle, Loc 502.


[12] Other Old Testament passages speak more clearly of the future resurrection (Job 19:25–27; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:1–2; Hosea 13:14; Ezekiel 37:1–14), but the Sadducees considered only the first five books of the Old Testament scripture, which would explain why Jesus shrewdly used Exodus to defend his view.


[13] Adapted from Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, (Wheaton Ill: Crossway, 2004), 360.


[14] Not John the Baptist’s father, but the Old Testament prophet.


[15] This is another example of why Protestants reject the deuterocanonical books as scripture.


[16] Holman Quicksource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls by Craig A. Evans.


[17] “Scientists Finally Read the Oldest Biblical Text Ever Found” by Andrew Griffin, Independent.co.uk, September 22, 2016.


[18] It’s interesting to compare Genesis 1 to John 1. One scholar called the language of Genesis 1 “exalted, semi-poetical language.” Edward J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (Philadelphia, PA: P&R, 1964), 82–83, quoted in John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divided the World, 10th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), Kindle, Loc 2164.


[19] Some Christian scholars argue that Genesis Chapters 1–11 are “mytho-history,” an ancient genre combining history with figurative and fictional elements, but even those taking this stance agree that the rest of the Bible starting at Genesis 12 is, in fact, the genre of history.

















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