Jesus’ Use of the Jewish Bible

Jesus’ Reliance on the Old Testament

By Grantley Morris


Jesus & the Old Testament

Jesus’ Use of the Jewish Bible

Is the Bible truly God’s Word?

Is the Bible uniquely inspired?

We are about to explore Jesus’ own words to see whether the Jewish Bible was foundational to everything Jesus said and did. This subject is of vital importance to two issues:

    1. Is the Bible just a religious book or the uniquely divinely inspired, thoroughly dependable, Word of God?

    2. Was Jesus in any way influenced by Indian religion or were his teachings and beliefs founded exclusively on the religion of what Christians call the Old Testament (but what I shall call the Jewish Bible or Jewish Scriptures)?

Depending upon which of the above most interests you, to get the most out of this webpage you should have read either:

Before plunging in, there’s a matter we need to face. For people like me who are not in any sense Jews, it initially seems weird or even offensive to put any emphasis upon Jews or the revelation they claim God gave them. Doesn’t God care about the rest of humanity? What’s so special about Jews?

It turns out that the Jewish Bible records God specifically telling the Jews there is nothing special about them:

    Deuteronomy 7:7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.

    Deuteronomy 9:5-6 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

    Ezekiel 20:13-14 Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws – although the man who obeys them will live by them – and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the desert. But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.

    Ezekiel 36:32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel!

    Other Scriptures

In fact, it would be quite a task to count all the times the Jewish Bible says that the Jews disappointed and angered God by their stubborn rebelliousness, worshipping other gods, and so on (Examples).

Nevertheless, the Jewish Scriptures reveal that despite their many serious failings, God singled out the Jews specifically because he loves all peoples and that he chose the Jews as the means whereby God would bless all humanity.

The Bible reveals that before earth even existed, God planned to send the eternal Son of God into the world so that all humanity could be saved. In all human history, this special event would happen just once. In order to fulfill his task, he would need to become human and, of necessity, every human has a specific ancestry. In theory, it could have been any race of people that he was born into, but one race had to be selected and for centuries God prepared that race for this great event and he used his revelation to them and the history of his dealings with them to teach the rest of the world about God (Scriptures).

The promise was first given to Abraham:

    Genesis 22:18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed . . .

As Abraham’s descendants multiplied, the Lord kept narrowing down which descendants the promise applied to until finally revealing that this uniquely significant person would be a descendant of King David (Proof).

Other prophesies confirm that the promised Messiah (Christ) would be a descendant of David (Proof) and, of course, Jesus was a descendant of David (Proof).

The above outline raises another matter that is too complex and would be digressing too far from the purpose of this webpage to address here: What about those who, for such reasons as where or when they lived, die before hearing Jesus’ message?

I believe the Bible strongly hints that they do not all face the same eternal fate as those who deliberately reject Jesus. The Bible isn’t big on satisfying idle curiosity, however. It keeps its focus on the practical reality of what you and I who have the privilege of reading the Bible must do now that we know of Jesus. I am willing to take you to the very edge of my understanding of what happens to those who miss out on hearing Jesus’ message, but I need another series of webpages in which to do it. At the end of this current webpage is a link to that series.

Now, with introductions out of the way, let’s enter the heart of this webpage.

Casual readers will miss many of Jesus’ references to the Jewish Bible. To locate them, one must know that in Jesus’ day these sacred writings were sometimes referred to as Scripture, but a major part was often called the Law or [the writings of] Moses, another major part was called [the writings of] the Prophets, and yet another part was the Psalms. Sometimes Jesus introduced a reference to the Jewish Bible by saying, “It is written . . .” (Eighteen Examples). At times, however, one simply has to be highly familiar with the Jewish Scriptures to recognize a Bible quote or an allusion to one. Some Bible publishers make it easier by inserting into the text (sometimes via a footnote) the location in the Jewish Bible of the text that Jesus is referring to.

Here are some of the people from the Jewish Scriptures that Jesus specifically referred to by name, treating them all as historical figures who have much to teach us about God: Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Noah, David, Solomon, Queen of Sheba, Elijah, the widow in Zarephath, Elisha, Naaman, Isaiah, Jonah and Zechariah (Proof). He referred to no Indian, (nor anyone from my own ancestry).

The Jewish Bible did not merely influence Jesus’ teaching, however, nor did he just keep referring to it, he frequently quoted it (Twenty-Five Examples), thus indicating that he was so devoted to it that he had memorized much of it – perhaps all of it.

Jesus saw the Jewish Bible as so central to his earthly mission that he kept affirming over and over that minute details about him, and key events affecting his stay on earth, were prophesied in the Jewish Bible (Twenty Examples). Moreover, despite Jesus citing so many Jewish Scriptures as prophesying significant events in his life, the Gospel writers, in their comments, provide many additional ones (Seventeen Examples). It seems likely that one reason for the Gospel writers doing this is that they were sharing what Jesus revealed to his disciples during these two events after his resurrection from the dead:

    1. Jesus speaking to two of his followers as they walked to Emmaus

      Luke 24:25-27 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

    2. Jesus, addressing the apostles and others who had gathered in Jerusalem:

      Luke 24:44-45 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

Like many other people, I have found still more examples of Jewish Scriptures pointing to Jesus (a link at the end of this webpage cites some of them). Finding these is simply a manifestation of Jesus’ promise that when he left earth he would send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers:

    John 16:13-14 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. . . . He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

Here’s an indication of how much Jesus saw the Jewish Bible as being hand in glove with his own life and ministry:

    John 5:39-40, 45-46 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . . But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed [the sacred writings of] Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

Besides Jesus seeing himself and events impacting his life as fulfilling the prophecies of the Jewish Bible, he saw himself as belonging to a long line of Jewish prophets. For example, he implied that true prophets die in Jerusalem like he did:

    Luke 13:33-34  . . . for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Such statements seem to exclude the possibility of Jesus seeing anyone from other races who preceded him as being true messengers from God. Jesus saw himself as the culmination of that line of Jewish prophets. For instance, in Mark 12 he told a parable in which he likened Jewish prophets to servants, each of whom was martyred. Finally, the owner of the vineyard (representing God) “had one left to send” – not a mere servant, but his very “son, whom he loved” (representing Jesus).

The New Testament book of Hebrews crystallizes this with these words:

    Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

Most people underrate the full extent to which all of Jesus’ teaching were founded on and saturated with the Jewish Scriptures. Even aspects of Jesus’ message that are commonly thought to be departures from the Jewish Bible were actually taught there.

For instance, Jesus referred to God as being a father. Many people suppose that such an intimate view of God was a departure from Old Testament teaching. In reality, the Jewish Scriptures are filled with even more references to a tender, childlike attitude towards Almighty God than the New Testament, and their many descriptions of God’s tenderness are even more moving. See for yourself: Abba, Father & The Old Testament.

Yet another example of people thinking Jesus’ was teaching something new, when he was actually expounding Old Testament revelation, is what he said about loving one’s enemies:

    Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

    More such Scriptures.

When, for instance, Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, he was specifically explaining what the Jewish Bible means by loving your neighbor (Scripture).

When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you . . .” (Matthew 5:43-44), he was not correcting the Jewish Scriptures (there is no such Scripture). He was citing a non-biblical saying that was contrary to a correct understanding of the Jewish Bible. As he said in the same sermon:

    Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets [i.e. the entire Old Testament]. (Emphasis mine.)

Yet another example of Jesus seeming to be acting contrary to the Jewish Bible is regarding the Sabbath. A closer look, however, reveals that Jesus kept emphasizing that his treatment of the Sabbath was in accordance with Jewish Scripture (Proof).

A very different type of example is when Jesus said:

    Matthew 5:38-41 You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

This does indeed initially read like a contradiction, but Jesus saw much of the Jewish Scriptures as detailing not how we should treat others (which, as emphasized in other parts of the Jewish Bible, is by love and mercy) but establishing laws for a nation of hard-hearted people. This is seen most clearly in Jesus’ teaching about divorce where he quoted the Jewish Scriptures to prove his argument against divorce and then added:

    Matthew 19:8  . . . Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning [which he proved by quoting the biblical account of creation]. (Emphasis mine.)

What nation on earth could keep from descending into chaos if thieves, thugs, wife-beaters and the like could do whatever they wanted without fear of being brought to justice? Our heart attitude towards those who personally hurt us, however, is an entirely different matter. It was not that Jesus and Moses were contradicting each other; it was that they were addressing quite different issues. Whereas Moses’ mission was more political – to reveal laws for a nation – Christ’s mission was to highlight God’s holy standards for individuals. (For a little more on this, see Jesus & Moses.)

Jesus opposed the religious leaders of the day, only because they were straying from the religion of the Jewish Bible:

    Matthew 15:6  . . . you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

    Matthew 23:2-3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat [i.e. they teach Scripture]. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

    Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

    Mark 7:5-8 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
    (Emphasis mine.)

Jesus regarded the Scriptures as so powerful that if people refused to respond to them they would not even respond to God if the truth were confirmed by the ultimate miracle: someone rising from the dead. He cited this conversation between a man suffering in hell, who saw Lazarus and Abraham in heaven:

    Luke 16:27-31  . . . I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have [the writings of] Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

It is hard for us in the modern era to grasp how prohibitively expensive books were in Jesus’ day (Details). The exorbitant cost meant that, of financial necessity, documents had to be kept as brief as possible. To Jesus’ followers, the preservation of every unique word falling from Jesus’ lips and every detail of his life is priceless and yet so much had to be pruned out (Proof). This renders astonishing the amount of space devoted to quoting already existing, widely known documents (the Jewish Bible). It highlights just how central the Scriptures were to Jesus’ life and message. Even when producing bare summaries, writers could not quote him for long without being forced to include quotes from Scripture. They were so much at the heart of Jesus’ preaching and discussions that it was impossible to edit them out and the summary still make sense.

Jesus regarded the Jewish Scriptures in a way that staggers even many Christians. For a glimpse, consider how Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 (part of the Jewish Scriptures):

    Matthew 19:4-5 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

“The Creator . . . said . . .” affirmed Jesus, but the Jewish Scripture does not introduce the verse Jesus quoted with anything remotely like, “God said.” There are, of course, a vast number of instances when the Bible claims to be quoting God directly. Just a little earlier in the account, for instance, we read, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ ” (Genesis 2:18). This is not such an instance, however. This statement reads like a comment by the human author (The Original Scripture). And yet in quoting this passage, Jesus said these were the very words of the Creator.

We see something similar in Matthew 22:43 where Jesus quotes a Bible Psalm, saying “David, speaking by the Spirit . . .”

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’?  . . .”

Jesus treated the words of Scripture as having at the same time both a human author and a divine author, so that it was equally true to quote Scripture and say “Moses (or David and so on) said . . .” and to say “God said . . .” So, since Jesus said, “I and [God] the Father are one,” ( John 10:30), he was claiming that he and the author of the Jewish Scriptures are one.

Jesus’ teaching is so saturated with the Jewish Scriptures that some non-Christian Jews criticize him for being unoriginal. In reality, if Jesus’ teaching stood out as being different from Old Testament revelation, something would be terribly wrong, since a key aspect of his teaching is that he is the prophesied Jewish Messiah and that he is the culmination of a long line of Jewish messengers from God and the fulfillment of the Jewish Bible.

Nevertheless, Jesus did not just cling to the Jewish Bible as the authoritative source of spiritual truth from which to instruct his followers and expose the errors of those who thought him mistaken; he relied on it privately as his personal weapon for fighting temptation and spiritual deception. We see this vividly when he was alone, being subjected to the Tempter’s concerted efforts to deceive and seduce him. Jesus’ response to each of the three temptations he faced, was to quote Scripture:

    Matthew 4:4-10 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
    Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” . . .
    Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”

The second temptation was especially insightful. The evil genius was so aware of Jesus’ dependence upon Scripture that the devil tried to turn the Bible against Jesus by hoping to use it to dupe him:

    Matthew 4:6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus had no Plan B. Rather than lessen his total reliance on the Bible for his spiritual protection, his response was to cite it yet again to expose the devil’s deceitful misuse of it.

Towards a Conclusion

Wherever we look in Jesus’ life and message we keep finding his profound reverence for the Jewish Bible. In a prayer to God, his Father, Jesus said, “. . .  your word is truth (John 17:17). Another time, he said “. . .  Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). When under pressure to compromise, he said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4). One of his greatest criticisms of people was, “ . . . you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition (Matthew 15:6). Not surprisingly, he said such things as “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:21. See also Luke 11:28). He proclaimed:

    Luke 16:17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

On yet another occasion he said:

    Matthew 5:17-18 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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

The more you delve into Jesus’ teaching and into the Jewish Bible the more you will discover how thoroughly Jesus’ teaching was based on the Jewish Bible. No wonder some Jewish critics accuse Jesus of being unoriginal!

He taught that after death everyone is judged by God, as a result of which some will spend the rest of eternity in the torment of hell, whereas others will live forever in glorified bodies. Some Jews who disagreed with this teaching approached Jesus. He told them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Jesus was addressing people highly familiar with the Jewish Scriptures and yet he still insisted they did not know these Scriptures well enough to avoid falling into error. This yet again demonstrates how foundational to all spiritual revelation Jesus regarded the Jewish Scriptures (compare 2 Timothy 3:15-17).

We, too, will fall into error if we do not thoroughly know the Jewish Scriptures. This is not only true spiritually; there are obvious practical reasons why anyone failing to grasp how central these Scriptures are to Jesus’ teachings will repeatedly misunderstand him. We cannot be sure of understanding anyone without thoroughly knowing that person’s language and culture and the things that are critically important to him. For just one of a multitude of examples from Jesus’ sayings, consider how he often spoke of godly people as being sheep. He would not have done so if he were in a western Twenty-First Century megacity whose inhabitants usually think it an insult to be called sheep. Likewise, he would have been misunderstood in ancient Egypt, where shepherds were despised (Genesis 46:34). To understand Jesus’ meaning we must understand that Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries saw sheep as individuals and lovable and so precious that a shepherd would risk his life for one (Touching Examples from the Jewish Scriptures and Jesus’ teaching).

What makes a deep understanding of the Jewish Bible so critical is not only the unique role Jesus assigns to it as the prime source of spiritual truth, but there is a real sense in which the Jewish Bible is the theological dictionary containing all the definitions of the words Jesus used. This conclusion is inescapable, given how highly Jesus not only favored the Jewish Scriptures but revered them as the very word of God, and the overwhelming proportion of times Jesus quoted or otherwise alluded to the Jewish Scriptures in his teaching.

Like a laser, Jesus cut through the spiritual views of his contemporaries. He kept correcting religious authorities; rebuking them for straying from the truth of the Bible, but not once did he attempt to “correct” Scripture. For him, the Jewish Bible was rock solid truth; the spiritual standard by which everything else must be measured. Moreover, he kept insisting that these Scriptures speak of him. So if we are to understand Jesus and his message we must view him not through the lens of our own religious background but through the lens of the Jewish Scriptures; the spiritual authority he kept measuring everything by; the sacred writings that he revered as prophetically setting out his earthly mission.

Even more astonishing is that Jesus used these Scriptures to set the course for his own life. Being both sinless perfection and the eternal Son of God, Jesus was completely different from the rest of humanity. We can expect to need spiritual props that he could do without. Nevertheless, just as Jesus not only urged others to pray but relied heavily upon it to maintain his own spiritual well-being, so it was with his reliance upon Scripture.

The way Jesus reverenced the Bible boggles the mind, but to reject this attitude to Scripture is to claim to know God better than the world’s greatest Teacher and to pronounce Jesus Christ a deluded fool. Hopefully, I am not so vain as to consider myself a greater spiritual authority than Jesus. My goal is to have Jesus’ attitude to the accuracy and supreme authority of the Bible and to use it to better understand his heart and his meaning.

Related Webpages

Next Page in the Series about whether Jesus visited India:
Was Jesus a Vegetarian?

What about those who Die without Hearing of Jesus?

A Fresh Look at Messianic Prophecies

The Inspiration and Reliability of the Bible

Decades ago I read a book that I gratefully acknowledge has influenced this webpage. It is: John Wenham, Christ and the Bible

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2013. For much more by the same author, see   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.