Christ's Use of the Old Testament Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Christian religion, the Old and New Testaments form a whole upon which its belief system is based. The transition between the Old and New Testaments resides in the person of Christ, who came to earth as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophesy.

This transition then occurs not only through the ultimate sacrifice of Christ at his death and resurrection, but also in his ministry during his lifetime. Christ uses the Old Testament in various ways in order both to establish the new order of the New Testament, but also to validate the authority of the Old.

As the son of God, Christ shows his relationship to the Father through his respect for the validity and authority of the Old Testament. He does this in various ways, of which one is his acceptance of the history of the Old Testament. Jesus refers to various persons of the Old Testament, confirming that he believes in their existence, and in the literal truth of the history as described by the Old Testament. He for example refers to persons such as Abel, Noah, Abraham and Lot in both his conversations and teachings. Christ's literal acceptance of Old Testament authority however goes deeper than only an acceptance of its historical narrative.

This becomes clear in the numerous controversies involving Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel during his time on earth. Jesus interprets the ethical and legal teachings of the Old Testament literally, like the Pharisees and Sadducees. However, conflict arises when Christ combines these teachings with a general loving humanity. In this way he demonstrates to the leaders of his community the intended meaning of the laws given by God, which is to obey and teach them with a loving spirit. Exposing the inherent love behind the laws of God is one of the functions of Christ's ministry.

In Matthew 9 and 12 for example, Jesus uses Hosea 6:6, where God says "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," to demonstrate this point. When the Pharisees condemn his affiliation with "sinners," Jesus quotes the verse from Hosea to show that he is doing exactly what God desires of him, and that they should indeed do the same if they were to obey the Father's laws as literally as they claim (Matthew 9:13). Jesus applies the words of the prophet to the commandments, showing that they should be obeyed from the viewpoint of mercy rather than sacrifice alone.

The same issue arises when the Pharisees criticize Jesus for letting the disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath, while this was against the law of rest on the Sabbath day. Jesus once again views this law as one of mercy rather than oppression. The day of rest, according to God's intention, was implemented to give the people rest after their week's work. This does not mean that all other needs should be ignored. Christ's disciples have the need for food, which takes precedence over their need for rest. The son of God however does not use his own authority to validate this position, but demonstrates the rule of mercy in times of need by using the example of David, who also breaks the law in his time of need. Jesus here shows that God loves people to the extent that he will not allow his law to lead to hardship, even if this means breaking it at times in favor of mercy. In this way, Jesus shows God to be filled with mercy rather than wrath when it comes to fulfilling ritual law. While ritual law is a way to come closer to God, it is not its intention to at the same time drive people away with a rigid and forbidding attitude towards human needs (Mark 2:23-27).

Indeed, the Sabbath is a frequent point of conflict between Christ and the religious leaders of his time. On occasion it escalates to include rather major religious issues rather than minor problems such as hunger. Jesus then also uses this as an opportunity to drive home his point about the Sabbath. The fundamental Jewish law regarding circumcision is used to further demonstrate that there are cases where it is pardonable to break the law of the Sabbath. In John 7:16-24 Jesus uses this exception to the law to justify his healing practices on the Sabbath, which once again is an extension of the ideal of mercy in favor of the letter of the law. Both the circumcision and the Sabbath were fundamental Jewish laws of the time, which defined Israel and their relationship with God. Jesus however overcomes the rigidity that tends to go with these traditions by introducing an element not so much of change as of extension and transformation. Once again, this runs parallel with his final purpose, which is to provide a transition from the Old to the New.

It is therefore interesting to note that Jesus always reverts to evidence from the Old Testament to advocate New Testament ideals. In this way he becomes the mediator that God intends him to be. In interpreting the law in such a way that mercy is part of it rather than opposed to it, Jesus shows God to be merciful as manifest in the person of his son. As such, Jesus then also validates the Old Testament by using it as an ethical guide.

As an ethical guide, the Old Testament is used as a guide for living both by means of parables and preaching. In Matthew 19:16-22 for example the rich young lawyer is used to demonstrate how no amount of earthly wealth can buy righteousness or a passage into heaven. It furthermore demonstrates that one's love for Christ should take precedence over all else, as God's love does. With this, Jesus uses Old Testament values to pave the way for the New Testament ideal of salvation through faith. The same holds true for the question of the greatest commandment (Matt. 19:16-22). By making love the summary of the entire Old Testament law, Christ once again demonstrates how the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, rather than a replacement for it.

This fulfillment can further be seen in the Old Testament phrases and concepts, especially from the Psalms and prophets, that Jesus used in his teaching. Certain lines from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), for example, stem from the Psalms. Frustrated with the blindness of those who follow the letter of the law without considering the impact of this on human lives, Christ uses an expression from Jeremiah 5:21 in Mark 8:18: "Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears do you not hear?"

Jesus further uses the Old Testament for advocating the beliefs culminating with his death and resurrection through teaching the latter. This was against the teaching of the Sadducees, who are said not to believe in the resurrection. Christ however refutes them by using God's assertions to Moses from the Old Testament (Mark 12:18-27). God's words that he is the "God of Abraham, the God of Jacob and the God of Isaac" are used to conclude that God is "not the God of the dead but the living." God's use of the present tense here is used as proof that the patriarchs are still living and therefore resurrected from the dead.

The entire corpus of Christ's ministry focuses upon his function as redeemer and eventual mediator between God and the faithful worshiping him. Therefore a large part of his preaching and conversation focuses upon this messianic function. The focus here is therefore upon himself and his person. In the first three Gospels then, Jesus emphasizes his nature as the fulfillment of the messianic promise of the Old Testament. Jesus again refers to David and to himself as the "son of David" to demonstrate this. The text to illustrate this, as well as the idea of the right hand of God, is Psalm 110:1. In this Psalm, David refers to the person at the right hand of his Lord in terms of the poet's humbleness before the glory of God. According to the interpretation of Christ then, the Messiah exists prior to David, which then again refers to the existence of God in more than one Person. This is then the first references to what is later to become the New Testament doctrine of the Trinity.

In addition to its function as establishing the identity of Christ, the Old Testament is used in the Gospels as a tool for the prediction of the suffering and resurrection of the Christ. The purpose that this serves in Christ's ministry is to validate not only the Old Testament and its laws, but also the New Testament in its integration with the Old. Some may argue that interpretations of the Old Testament in order to predict the coming of Christ are arbitrary and inconclusive. Nonetheless, the Scripture was written for a time during which such interpretations were common and generally accepted as valid. Jesus thus uses the Old Testament not only…

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