Learning From Jesus: Why Christians Should Care About the Testament He Read

Over the years when I have taught on a topic from the Jewish Scriptures, many Christians have said to me, “Oh, so this is the Old Testament.” This basically means “So why are we reading this. After all, we are New Testament Christians.” I have already discussed Are Christians Naively Marcionite in Their Theology and Practice? So when I teach, I now say we are going to be looking at the First Testament, and then we may get to the Second Testament. This helps Christians see the Bible as one, continuous story. And for that matter, how about what Chris Wright says here:

“The most important reason, however, why we need to really get to know the Old Testament is because it was the Bible of Jesus. Of course, we read about Jesus in the New Testament. But Jesus himself never read the New Testament! As noted earlier, for him, the Scriptures were the books that now form our Old Testament. And Jesus knew them very thoroughly indeed. He would have learned them first from Mary and Joseph, like any Jewish boy of his times. By the age of twelve he knew them so well he could sit in the Jerusalem temple for days discussing them with the adults who were theologians and scholars. Jewish boys at the time of Jesus used to memorize whole books of the Old Testament. If they were good at it (as Jesus clearly was), they would know whole sections (the Torah, books of the prophets) and qualify as a “rabbi” — teacher. And that’s what they called Jesus. He knew the Scriptures as well as he knew his carpenter’s tools. When the time came for Jesus to begin his public ministry, after his baptism in the Jordan by John, he went into the wilderness alone for forty days and wrestled with the immense task that lay ahead of him. What was he doing all that time? Well, when Satan tempted him to take a different course from the one he knew he must take in obedience to his Father, he answered three times with quotations from the Scriptures. All three of the texts that Jesus quoted came from Deuteronomy 6 and 8.

That suggests that he was thinking deeply about the implications of that whole section of Deuteronomy (1 – 11) for himself and his mission. And all through his ministry, right up to the cross and after his resurrection, Jesus insisted that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. His whole understanding of himself — his life, his mission, his future — was rooted in his reading of the Scriptures, the Old Testament. Have you ever gone to the Holy Land or wanted to go there? Some people go there on pilgrimage because, they say (or the advertising brochures say), it will bring them closer to Jesus by walking in the land where he walked, seeing the hills he knew, sitting by the sea of Galilee, and so on. Well, it certainly does bring the Bible to life when you visit the land where so much of the action took place. Take the opportunity if you get it. But if you really want to get to know Jesus, to understand what filled his mind and directed his intentions, here’s a better way than going on pilgrimage to Israel (and it will cost you a lot less!): read the Bible Jesus read. For these were the stories Jesus heard as a child. These were the songs Jesus sang. These were the scrolls that were read every week in his synagogue. These were the prophetic visions that had given hope to his people for generations. This is where Jesus discerned the great plan and purpose of God for his people Israel and through them for the world. This is where Jesus found the source texts that shaped who he was and what he had come to do.”–How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth by Christopher J. H. Wright