By Wayne S. Walker
In four previous articles, we have been discussing a rather new theory, at least new to me, that the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually belong in the Old Testament, and that most, if not all, that Jesus said which is recorded in those books was really just an explanation of the law of Moses by Jesus to the Jews so that it has no application to us under the New Testament. “Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’” (Mark 1:27). When the people of Jesus’ day listened to him teach and saw his miracles, did they get the impression that he was merely calling them back to the Old Testament law? Evidently not, because they talked about the “new doctrine” which they perceived to be the outcome of what Jesus was saying and doing — not something old, but something new!
This raises the question as to whether Jesus ever made any contrast between his teaching and the teaching of the Old Testament. If he did, then obviously, his mission during his earthly ministry was not only to call the Jews back to the Old Testament law. In fact, one of the first responses on my part when I heard of this theory was, “What about all the places where Jesus quoted the Old Testament then said, ‘But I say to you . . .’”? In answer to this, the proponents of this theory claim that Jesus never compared the Old Testament law of Moses to New Testament doctrine. Rather, they say, he simply was correcting the misunderstandings about God’s original intentions of the law that had developed over the years among the Jews because of their traditions. Thus, we must ask if this is true, or in the teaching of Jesus while he was on earth can we see a contrast between the old and the new?
First, we must come back to what Jesus’ purpose was as noticed in a previous article. Yes, there were times when Jesus did remind the Jews about the original intentions of the law of Moses, in contrast to their traditions (cf. Matt. 15:3-6). However, we must remember that the focus of Jesus’ preaching was on the gospel of salvation (Matt. 4:17, 23). So the primary purpose of Jesus’ teaching was to point forward to the coming kingdom, not back to the law of Moses.
Second, we find that Jesus contrasted the very basis of citizenship in his kingdom with the Old Testament law. Speaking to his disciples (Matt. 5:1), he said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The individual righteousness of Jesus’ followers must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. The word “exceed” means “to be over and above.” The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees rested on the Old Testament law of Moses (Matt. 23:1-3; Acts 22:3; 26:5; Phil. 3:4-9). Hence, Jesus was here doing more than just encouraging the righteousness which is according to the Old Testament law. He is talking about something which is above and beyond what the Old Testament law taught.
Third, we note that the Sermon on the Mount contains contrasts between Old Testament teaching and Jesus’ teaching. His phrase, “You have heard that it was said” frequently introduces exact Old Testament quotations against which Jesus contrasts his own teaching. Consider two examples. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery’” (Matt. 5:27). This is a direct quote from Exodus 20:14. However, Jesus taught something else. “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). The Old Testament law says nothing specific about lusting after a woman in one’s heart being equal to committing adultery.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” (Matt. 5:38). This matches exactly with Exodus 21:24. Yet Jesus taught something different. “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” The law of Moses never teaches this. It is true that sometimes Jesus did correct misunderstandings that had developed under the law. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Matt. 5:43). The law nowhere taught people to hate their enemy. But even in this, Jesus’ response was not to say, “But the real meaning of the law is . . .” Instead, he still responded to it by saying, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Try to find that in the Old Testament law! In all these passages of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching something besides just what the Old Testament law taught.
Fourth, we see that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce is also plainly contrasted with what Moses allowed. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question about divorce. “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’” (v. 3). Jesus reminded them of God’s original intent stated at the beginning. “And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (vs. 4-6). The Lord here refers to Genesis 2:24, and even though this statement is found recorded in the Old Testament law, thus applicable to the Jews of that time, Jesus makes it clear that God intended it to be for all mankind for all time and implies that it would be so under his covenant.
Then the Pharisees asked why Moses allowed divorce. “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’” (v. 7). This apparently refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There has been a lot of debate over what the passage in Deuteronomy means, but that is really not germane here. The important point to note is that Jesus did not answer their question by saying, “What the law really means in this . . .” No, he again answers, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (v. 9). In fact, the phrase in the original can just as well be translated, “But I say to you . . .” showing that Jesus was saying, “Yes, I know what Moses said in the old law because of the hardness of your hearts, but this is what I, who have come to bring God’s new law, am saying about it.”
The conclusion that we can reach from examining this subject, and the subjects of the previous four articles, is that New Testament teaching is found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, especially in the pronouncements of our Lord, whom God the Father sent to reveal his new covenant to mankind, and through whom he speaks to us today. As testator, Jesus could and did reveal portions of his New Testament before his death in preparation for the coming of his kingdom. The writers of Acts and the epistles consistently appeal to Jesus’ words and actions while on earth as authoritative New Testament doctrine and thus binding on Christians.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all written by New Testament apostles and prophets of Christ after the cross for the benefit of New Testament Christians. John the Baptist’s ministry in preparation for the Messiah as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was not intended as a reiteration of Moses’ law but as the preface to the New Testament. And it is plain that even in his personal ministry Jesus contrasted his new covenant teaching with Moses’ law because it was different. Yes, Jesus nailed the Old Testament to the cross when he died there. But no man should be allowed to nail Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to the cross too, because no man has the right to take books that were not even written at that time and tack them to the cross as well. They are part of Christ’s new covenant.
(Author’s note: I want to express my sincere thanks to brothers Wendell Wiser and Steve Klein, both of Athens, Alabama, for many of the concepts and several of the illustrations used in these articles. Their study and teaching on this topic have been of great help to me in preparing these articles.)
310 Haynes St., Dayton, Ohio 45410