For Jesus, the Tanakh was the story he and his people lived in.
by Rich Robinson | May 16 2017
From start to finish, the New Testament contains quotations, references, allusions, and paraphrases of the Old Testament. Sometimes, the New Testament follows the Hebrew text, in other cases, it more closely follows the translation into Greek of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. In my traditional Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, our family comfortably referred to “the Old Testament”, although many other Jewish people prefer to call it the “Hebrew Bible” or the “Tanakh”. Yeshua (Jesus) demonstrated intimate familiarity with the Tanakh when he spoke, taught, and served—often drawing surprising insights from the Scriptures.
Below, we list many references to the Hebrew Bible that Yeshua spoke in the gospels. They have been organized by the three divisions of the Old Testament: Torah (Five Books of Moses), Prophets (or Nevi’im), and Writings (or Ketuvim).
The Torah is foundational to Judaism, and Yeshua quoted it often. After Yeshua’s baptism, he was taken into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. He responded to each temptation by quoting from the Torah, showing the supreme value he placed on it for life, thought, and behavior. When Satan tempted him with food, he responded: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,’” quoting directly from Deuteronomy 8:3 (Matthew 4:4). When Satan told him to jump from the top of the Temple, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:16: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7). Finally, when Satan told Yeshua to worship him, Yeshua quoted Deuteronomy 6:13, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
The Sermon on the Mount contains a set of ethical instructions taken straight from the Hebrew Scriptures. Each time, Yeshua began by saying “You have heard that it was said…” and then contrasted it with “…but I say.” He was not contradicting the Torah, about which he said, “It is written.” The phrase “You have heard that it was said” referred to popular understandings of the Torah—the way it was understood and applied, the way people learned it from their parents and teachers, and the way it was repeated in daily conversations. Sometimes that was identical to the Torah, yet the basis of those understandings was always the text of the Torah.
Yeshua upheld the command of Exodus 20:13 when he said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment’” (Matthew 5:21). This pattern is repeated when Yeshua quoted commandments concerning adultery (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18, Matthew 5:27), divorce (Matthew 5:31, Deuteronomy 24:1), and swearing falsely (Matthew 5:33, Numbers 30:2, Deuteronomy 23:21).
Yet, Yeshua exhorted those who listened to his teachings about deeper obedience. For example, he called to mind Exodus 21:23–25 “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” To that, Yeshua said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (Matthew 5:38–42).
Yeshua quoted from the Torah to make his point that many often neglected to keep the commandment to honor one’s parents out of self-interest. Instead of contradicting the Torah, Yeshua boldly pointed out the ways that those who are condemning him have fallen short:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matthew 15:1–6)
This echoed the command of the Exodus to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, Exodus 21:17)
In Matthew 19:16–20, Yeshua conversed with a young man who asked him the way to eternal life. Jesus replied that he must keep the commandments: “‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Yeshua told him to sell all he has, give to the poor, and follow him.”
Yeshua clearly echoes back to Exodus 20:12–16: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Yeshua challenged the Sadducees’ lack of belief that the dead will rise again with a quote from the Torah:
“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31–32, Mark 12:26–27, Luke 20:37–38)
This was taken directly from Exodus 3:6 when God told Moses who He is:
And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
This kind of argument was known to rabbinic Judaism, too. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 90b), as scholar Joseph Klausner notes:
“It is written, ‘And I also kept my covenant with them (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) to give them the land of Canaan;’” it says not “to you” but “to them;” therefore we must deduce the resurrection of the dead from the Law—i.e., Abraham, Isaac and Jacob shall come to life again and to them shall be given the land of Canaan in the world to come. (Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth [New York, Macmillan, 1926] p. 319.)
Shortly after Yeshua’s encounter with the Sadducees regarding the resurrection, a lawyer put him to the test by asking what the greatest commandment of the Law is. Yeshua replied:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40)
Yeshua echoed Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. While the Torah has “all your might,” in Matthew, Yeshua said “all your mind.” Variations like that were common, and more so in verbal conversation. The heart of the matter is that Yeshua upheld the commands of the Torah and challenged those who listened to a deeper kind of love—the kind that he would soon show through his sacrifice.
In John chapter eight, Yeshua’s discussion with some Pharisees is cast in terms of a legal case, for which two or three witnesses are needed. Yeshua appears to use the rabbinic qal va-homer (“how much more”) argument: if the testimony of two people is true, how much more so is the testimony of Yeshua and his heavenly Father. The chapter is really about the identity of Yeshua (he claimed to be the light of the world), and he used Deuteronomy to highlight that his claim is true.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” . . .
“In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” (John 8:12–13, 17–18)
On the evidence of two or three witnesses, the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Deuteronomy 19:15)
While the Torah instructed the people what to do, their obedience to the Law continually fell short. So, the prophets reminded Israel of the Torah and called them to repentance. They provided visions of what would happen to the nation in the future—judgment for sin but hope for the future if the people returned to God.
As Yeshua was preaching in his hometown synagogue, he applied the prophet Isaiah’s message of hope to himself:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” . . . Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke 4:17–19, 21)
Taken directly from Isaiah’s message:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. (Isaiah 61:1–2)
Isaiah’s message of hope was not declared into a void—Yeshua himself came and boldly claimed that he was the fulfilment of that message. And he did not just say this, he acted in a way that reflected his character.
When Yeshua was confronted by some who wondered why he eats with the lowly and despised of society, his response in Matthew 9:13 was taken from the prophet Hosea, and he applied it to himself. “Go and learn” was common rabbinic parlance for studying the Scripture, and Jesus used it here to send his listeners to the prophet Hosea. Later, in Matthew 12:7, he cited the same passage in connection with criticism that his disciples were plucking grain on the Sabbath.
“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In Matthew 10, some may falsely see Yeshua as encouraging family turmoil—unless one recognizes that he is quoting from the prophet Micah 7:6. Micah’s words form the backdrop to the rabbinic understanding that the messianic age would be a time of great social disruption:
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household (Matthew 10:35–36).
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. Yeshua quoted from the prophet Malachi to indicate that John was a messenger who prepared the way for the Lord. There is an undertone that Yeshua is more than meets the eye, for if Malachi’s messenger prepared the way for God, and John was fulfilling that promise by preparing the way for Jesus, what does that say about Jesus? But here it is no more than an undertone; the focus is on exactly who John is, given the fact that crowds came out to hear him preach:
This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” (Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:27)
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)
The point of parables, while often unstated, is understood by the disciples of a rabbi. Yeshua quoted Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9–10), who was told by God that the people would hear Isaiah’s words but fail to understand their spiritual import. Yeshua applied that same message to the people of his day. Many of them heard the words of Jesus but did not grasp their import, which was designed to lead them to repentance:
“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:14–15, Mark 4:11–13, Luke 8:10)
Yeshua was not against traditions. When he observed Passover, he did so by following many traditions that had developed since the days of Moses. Yeshua loved his people and traditions, but took issue with certain traditions that may originally have been well-intentioned, but ended up violating the very Torah they were meant to uphold:
“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:7–9, Mark 7:6–7)
Quoting from Isaiah:
And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, . . .” (Isaiah 29:13)
When Yeshua entered the Temple, he took great displeasure with the way the moneychangers were operating. When many came to Jerusalem to buy animals for sacrifice, they would need to convert their foreign currency into local coinage. Jesus’ problem was not with the system itself, but with its location. There is also the possibility that price gouging took place or that they were limiting access to the Temple.
Yeshua quoted from both Isaiah and Jeremiah to sum up his assessment of the situation. The “den of robbers” in Jeremiah is metaphorical for a variety of sins listed there. Perhaps the thought is that people were robbing God of the worship and obedience due him by their behavior:
He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46)
Reflecting the words of the prophets:
I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 7:11)
Yeshua predicted that during his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, his disciples will scatter as though they had never been his followers. Subsequent events show that when he was crucified, many of them returned to their old jobs, so to speak, disillusioned that he had failed to show himself to be the Redeemer—until the Resurrection forever changed their minds. Jesus quoted from Zechariah 13:7 describing a messianic figure who is taken for a false prophet:
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:27)
Here, Yeshua quoted from Isaiah 52:13–53:12, the famous Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah. A significant stream of Jewish tradition sees Israel in this passage, while other Jewish writers and the New Testament point to the Messiah as the fulfillment. Yeshua quoted from a verse that speaks of how he will be perceived by others: as a criminal, a transgressor, and a sinner in Israel:
For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment. (Luke 22:37)
Yeshua being numbered with the transgressors was prophesied centuries before:
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
The Writings, or Ketuvim, include the Psalms (which form an integral part of Jewish liturgy), the Proverbs (giving practical, God-centered advice for life), and several other books such as Qohelet (Ecclesiastes), Job, Song of Solomon, and others.
In Matthew 21:15–16, Yeshua was being acclaimed by the crowds as “the Son of David.” Even the children were crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The acclamation was seen as a threat to the status quo of the Temple and its relationship to Rome. Yeshua proceeded to quote from Psalm 8:2, in which babies may be metaphoric for the weak and powerless who “speak truth to power”—as the children were doing in Matthew. (Praise in place of Psalm 8’s strength is from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is in wide use among Greek-speaking Jews.)
Further, Yeshua engaged in a discussion about the widely-accepted idea that the Messiah would be the son, or descendant, of King David. Yeshua quoted from Psalm 110:1 to demonstrate that the Messiah is more than simply an ordinary descendant of David. Jesus’ words are a challenge to figure out how various parts of Scripture line up with one another. The Messiah is both David’s descendant and yet someone greater than that:
He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?” (Matthew 22:43–44)
Yeshua’s words, “How is it then,” are not meant to argue against the common idea, but is a typical challenge to figure out how various parts of Scripture lined up with one another. The Messiah is both David’s descendant and yet also someone greater than that.
Yeshua told a parable that indicted the leadership of the day and warned that they will be replaced by leaders who are true to their calling. In the process, Yeshua quoted from Psalm 118:22–23, this time from one of the Hallel Psalms, recited at Passover and other occasions. The verse Yeshua cites speaks of a “rejected” stone becoming a “cornerstone,” which is a stone of great significance for the entire structure. Perhaps in the original Psalm, it referred to the reversal of positions: the nation that once was enslaved became a key to the world’s redemption. Yeshua applied it to himself: although rejected by the Jewish leadership of his day, he will nevertheless occupy the key position in the redemption of the world:
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42)
Yeshua cried out a lament over Jerusalem in the tradition of the prophets and books such as Lamentation. The nation did not accept God’s invitation to return, so Yeshua spoke of the soon-to-come destruction of the Temple—which occurred about forty years later. He quoted from Psalm 118 again, declaring that redemption will not come to Israel until he is accepted as the Messiah:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37–39)
On several occasions, the book of Daniel mentions an “abomination that makes desolate.” The chronological context in Daniel varies from the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (2nd century B.C.E.) to the first century C.E. and beyond. This “abomination” is not a one-time occurrence but a pattern that happens at various points in Jewish history:
And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. (Daniel 9:27)
Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. (Daniel 11:31; cf. 12:11)
The abomination has been thought to refer to Roman standards in the Temple or Josephus’ mention of desecration of the Temple by the Zealots.
The citation from the book of Daniel is to warn Yeshua’s hearers and the later readers of the book of Matthew to flee the devastation:
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15–16)
Yeshua quoted from Psalm 82, a psalm speaking of “gods,” making reference to the kings of the world who thought of themselves as deities or to those in Israel such as judges. Either way, the psalm says that those who fail to do justice will die like all human beings.
In the gospel of John, Yeshua used the rabbinic qal va-homer argument, from the lesser to the greater. If the term “gods” could be applied to those who failed to administer justice, then Jesus can certainly be the “Son of God,” as a perfectly just and righteous person:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:34–36)
Psalm 41 speaks of a righteous person suffering from illness and persecution from his enemies. Even the psalmist’s close friend who ate meals with him has turned against him, or as the psalm says, “lifted his heel” (v 9).
Yeshua chose Judas to be part of his intimate circle of friends, but he ended up betraying Yeshua—much like the psalmist’s friend:
“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’” (John 13:18)
Yeshua continued to quote from the psalms that speak of the groundless hatred shown to a righteous person, applying the verses to himself to demonstrate the way that those who challenged him reacted to him:
“But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’” (John 15:25)
Let not those rejoice over me who are wrongfully my foes, and let not those wink the eye who hate me without cause. (Psalms 35:19, Psalm 69:4)
With his final breaths, Yeshua uttered the first verse of Psalm 22. He did not abandon hope at this moment but embraced the full context of the psalm: rescue and vindication following suffering. Yeshua felt the full pain of separation from God, so he cried out:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
Yeshua’s life and death were infused with the Hebrew Scriptures. He was intimately familiar with these texts and, rather than abandoning them, he showed those who listened that he was the fulfilment of so many years of hope.
Gregory K. Beale and D. A. Carson, ed. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. A thorough and up-to-date reference work.
Commentaries on the gospels. Two recommended series are: