How do Jesus and Paul validate the Old Testament?

The claims of Jesus and Paul

Just before ascending back to heaven, Jesus announces, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:19). We would do well, therefore, to listen to what Jesus has to say about the Old Testament. Paul, whom Jesus Christ called to be His apostle, writes, “If anyone considers himself to be a prophet, let him acknowledge that what I write to you is the command of the Lord.” The One with “all authority” inspires Paul to write what he does. Therefore, we should listen closely to what Paul says about the Old Testament as well.

Jesus’ use of the Old Testament

When Jesus disputed with the religious leaders of His day (specifically the Sadducees), He told them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Again and again He declared, “It is written,” a phrase that does not mean the same as “Someone once wrote,” but “It stands written,” or more literally, “It continues in the state of having been written.” An accurate paraphrase of “It is written” would be “It remains valid.” (See Matthew 4:4,7,10; 11:10; 21:13; 26:31; etc.)

Jesus also talks about the meaning of Moses and all the prophets (see Luke 16:29, 31; 24:27), a reference to the entire Hebrew Bible, composed as it is of the Law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the Prophets (the rest of the Old Testament). In another passage, Luke 24:44, He refers to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which corresponds to another way of dividing the Hebrew Bible into the Torah (Law of Moses), the Neviim (former and latter prophets), and the Kethuvim (the Writings, of which Psalms is the leading book).

In yet another passage, Matthew 23:35), Jesus also refers to the blood of all the righteous men that has been shed, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, and this A-to-Z range begins with Genesis (the murder of Abel is in Genesis 4:1-16), the first book in the Hebrew order of the Old Testament books. It ends with Chronicles (the murder of Zechariah is recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22), the last book in that order. This passage, therefore, brackets the entire Hebrew Bible, all 22 books, which correspond to the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament.

Finally, on another occasion, recorded in John 10:35, Jesus says, “Scripture cannot be broken.” In this saying Jesus is confirming the ongoing truth and power of Scripture. The other verses have defined for us what Jesus means by the term “Scripture,” and this verse applies to it all.

Paul’s use of the Old Testament

Paul makes similar affirmations of the authority and inspiration of the Old Testament. He says, for example, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, reproving, and training in righteousness that God’s person may be complete, not lacking in anything” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He also writes, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). No clearer validations of the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament could be composed.

Furthermore, Paul again and again says, “It is written,” with the same construction as those found in the sayings of Jesus (see, for example, Acts 13:33; 23:5; Romans 1:17; 2:24; 3:4, 10; 4:17; 8:36; etc.). Paul also uses another introductory formula to a verse he quotes from the Old Testament with a similar meaning: “The Holy Spirit spoke… through Isaiah the prophet” (Acts 28:25).

These examples are sufficient to indicate that both Jesus and Paul regarded the Old Testament as a revelation from God and inspired by His Spirit. You cannot accept the claims of Jesus and Paul without also accepting the inspiration and validity of the Old Testament.

Want to go deeper?

Here are recommended resources for exploring what Jesus and Paul teach about the Old Covenant:

Recommended for purchase:

Craig A. Evans. From Prophecy to Testament: The Function of the Old Testament in the New.. (2004).

James D. G. Dunn, ed. Paul and the Mosaic Law. (2000).

Frank Thielman. Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach. (1994).

John Wenham. Christ and the Bible (1984).

John Bright. Christ and the Bible (Reprint: 1976).

Online resources:

William Caven. The Testimony of Christ to the Old Testament

Roger Nicole. New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Roger Nicole. New Testament Use of the Old Testament