What Did Jesus Think of God’s Word?

(Photo: Unsplash)

This post was first published in July, 2016. —ed.

Can you believe in Christ but not in the authority and infallibility of the Bible?

You can try, but it will leave you on the horns of a very real dilemma: If you say you believe in Christ but doubt the Bible’s truthfulness, you are being inconsistent and even irrational. Christ endorsed the Bible as true and authoritative. Therefore it follows that if you give Christ a place of honor and authority in your life, to be consistent you have to give Scripture that same honor and authority.

Jesus and the Old Testament

What did Jesus think of the Scripture of His day, the Old Testament? Did He see it as authoritative? In Matthew 23:35, He apparently defines the Hebrew canon as the books from Genesis (Abel) to post-exilic 2 Chronicles (Zechariah), which encompasses the whole Old Testament in terms of the Hebrew chronology.

It is also important to note that Jesus never quoted or alluded to any apocryphal works. Why was this so? Bible scholar F.F. Bruce explains that the Apocrypha

were not regarded as canonical by the Jews either of Palestine or of Alexandria, and that our Lord and His apostles accepted the Jewish canon and confirmed its authority by the use they made of it, whereas there is no evidence to show that they regarded the apocryphal literature (or as much of it as had appeared in their time) as similarly authoritative. [1]

Although this is admittedly an argument from silence, it is still significant that sixty-four times Jesus quoted or alluded to the Old Testament while He never referred to other sources. Christ put His stamp of approval on the Old Testament in several key ways.

Jesus freely acknowledged that all of Scripture pointed to Him. In John 5:39, for example, Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me.” Later Jesus explained to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, “the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). To His disciples He said, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

Christ also said He came to fulfill all Scripture. In Matthew 5:17 He assured the disciples that He did not intend to abolish the Law or the Prophets but rather to fulfill them. Evidence of this is that Jesus willingly submitted to the Old Testament teachings as well as correcting those who accused Him falsely (Mark 2:23-28). Also, Jesus saw Himself as fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies. In Matthew 26:24, He related that He, the Son of Man, would be betrayed “just as it is written of Him.” A few verses later Jesus acknowledged to Peter that He could instantly call down twelve legions of angels to protect Himself. However, this would not have been according to God’s plan: “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:54). In other words, Jesus came to fulfill Scripture. His view of Scripture was that it was all about Him and every detail had to be fulfilled.

Jesus compared the duration of Scripture to the duration of the universe. He said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail” (Luke 16:17). So “all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31).

Jesus also corroborated the historicity and validity of Old Testament people and events. For example, He confirmed the creation of Adam and Eve by asking, “Have you not read that He who created them from 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’?” (Matthew 19:4-5).

Some have attempted to call the account of the first murder, in which Cain killed Abel, an allegory—fiction that teaches a spiritual truth. But Jesus, when in a confrontation with the Pharisees, said, “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation” (Luke 11:51).

On another occasion Jesus made reference to Lot and his wife: “But on the day Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. . . . Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:2932).

Throughout the years some have denied the historical nature of the flood. But Jesus believed in the Noahic flood. He declared, “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:37-38).

And there are many other facts in the book of Genesis that He substantiated, such as the call of Moses (Mark 12:26). In John 6:31-32 He talked about the manna from heaven. In John 3:14 He referred to the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness by which Israel was healed. Over and over again, Jesus agreed to and confirmed the authority of the Old Testament record.

The Nature of God and His Word

When examining the testimony of Jesus about the Scriptures, we have to accept one of three possibilities. The first is that there are no errors in the Old Testament, just as Jesus taught. Second, there are errors, but Jesus didn’t know about them. Third, there are errors and Jesus knew about them, but He covered them up.

If the second is true—that the Old Testament contains errors of which Jesus was unaware—then it follows that Jesus was a fallible man; He obviously wasn’t God and we can dismiss the whole thing. If the third alternative is true—that Jesus knew about the errors but covered them up—then He wasn’t honest, He wasn’t holy, He certainly wasn’t God, and again, the entire structure of Christianity washes away like a sand castle at high tide.

I accept the first proposition—that Jesus viewed the Old Testament as the Word of God, authoritative and without error.

The obvious conclusion here is that Jesus accepted the Old Testament authority and passed that same authority on to the New Testament record (John 14:2615:26-2716:12-15). He saw it as the equivalent of His own word. The fulfillment record is as authoritative as the predictive record.

Psalm 119:160 tells us that “the sum of Your word is truth” (emphasis added). That can only be true if the parts are truth. Based on the authority of Christ, I believe they are. An authoritative whole demands inerrant parts.

Reason cannot be allowed to override revelation, nor can the authority of Christ be usurped by those He created. Nothing less than the nature of God is at stake.

Used with permission from John MacArthur.

Related Blogs