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How New Testament Disciples Built on Old Testament Foundations


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How New Testament Disciples Built on Old Testament Foundations

Understanding links between the Old and New Testaments can help you learn more about Jesus Christ.

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Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha

Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha, by Walter Rane

As Jesus Christ began His mortal ministry, His message did not emerge in a vacuum. Instead, early Jewish listeners would have already been aware of the beautiful imagery and powerful principles that were taught in the writings that would later become the Old Testament. Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and the authors of the Gospels used language and themes that were already familiar to and beloved by their Jewish audiences. Even many of the earliest Gentile converts to Christianity came from the group known as “proselytes” or “God-fearers,” those who were already persuaded by the strength of the biblical word.

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ, restored through Joseph Smith, took root in the hearts of many early Church members who had been nurtured and blessed by biblical messages throughout their lives. Today, we are likewise prepared to discover many direct connections between the Testaments, including in the form of fulfillments of prophecy, foundational teachings, and types of Christ. These connections show that God is eternal and unchanging and that His gospel message persists today as it did anciently.

Fulfillment of Prophecy

New Testament authors often quoted from the Old Testament to demonstrate the direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. For example, in Matthew 2:5, Matthew preceded his famous witness that Christ’s birthplace in Bethlehem fulfilled Old Testament prophecy by stating, “For thus it is written by the prophet” before quoting from Micah 5:2. Similarly, his account of the triumphal entry found ancient support in Zechariah 9:9—“All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus introduced His Messianic ministry by quoting from Isaiah (see Luke 4:17‒19; Isaiah 61:1‒2).

Latter-day Saint readers can strengthen their own understanding of the ties between the Old and New Testaments by taking time to trace New Testament quotations back to their powerful Old Testament teachings and prophecies. Doing so can help affirm that God’s prophecies and promises are fulfilled and will continue to be fulfilled in our own lives and time. For instance, consider these examples:

Foundational Teachings

The New Testament contains as many as three hundred direction quotations from the Old Testament—over four percent of the entire New Testament—with quotations found in more than one out of every twenty New Testament verses. If we include echoes—or allusions to Old Testament sayings or teachings—there are likely more than four thousand references found in over half of the New Testament.

It is no surprise that the New Testament authors regularly used the foundational teachings provided by ancient prophets to support and introduce the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. When Jesus was asked, for example, what were the greatest of God’s commandments, He did not simply introduce new ideas. Instead, He referred to specific Old Testament teachings.

For example, the Savior said:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

“This is the first and great commandment.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).

In this instruction, Christ was teaching that these two commandments provide the overarching message of all of “the Law” (the first five books of the Old Testament that contain the Mosaic covenant) and “the Prophets” (the teachings of Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and others). Going back to read the Old Testament verses (see Leviticus 19:17‒18; Deuteronomy 6:5–7) can be a powerful reminder of God’s eternal focus, counteracting a modern tendency among some to believe that the Old Testament law was focused only on strict obedience in order to receive blessings and avoid punishments.

The way that leaders of the Church around Christ’s time built on Old Testament teachings is also seen in the beauty of New Testament promises of God’s love and mercy. Because we are often more familiar with the New Testament, members of the Church and other Christians sometimes believe that Paul’s tender language first provided the comforting truth that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Paul, however, preceded this statement with “As it is written,” indicating that he relied on earlier prophetic teachings that would already have been dear to his audience. Indeed, Isaiah first stated, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (Isaiah 64:4). Isaiah’s teachings provided echoes in the minds of early scripture readers so that when Paul gave a similar message but with a slightly different focus, the two messages intertwined and strengthened each other. You can find additional examples in verses like these:

Types of Christ

Exciting avenues of exploration are opened when we recognize how often Old Testament “types”—lives, historical events, and patterns—point our minds to Jesus Christ.

As one example, we can consider how the Gospel of Matthew is written in a way that builds on Moses as a type of Christ. Notice the parallels in their stories in the chart below.

Jesus Christ

Moses

Rescued from Herod (Matthew 2:13‒14)

Rescued from Pharaoh (Exodus 2:15)

Came out of Egypt to the Holy Land (Matthew 2:19‒21)

Came out of Egypt to the Holy Land (Exodus 14; Deuteronomy 34)

Taught the Law of God from a mount (Matthew 5‒7)

Received the Law of God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 31:18; 32:15‒16)

Walked on water (Matthew 14:25‒26)

Divided the sea so the Israelites could walk on dry ground (Exodus 14:21–22, 29)

More parallels exist, and our appreciation of the Gospel of Matthew can be enriched when we discover that it is structured to illustrate that Jesus Christ was “a new Moses,” a fulfillment of Moses’s ministry and teaching.

As another example of an Old Testament “type,” Jesus Christ stated that the sign of Jonas (the Greek version of the Hebrew name Jonah) would be given the people (see Luke 11:29) to point to Him.

Jesus Christ

Jonah (meaning “dove”)

Descended to the spirit world; swallowed by death (John 19:30; 1 Peter 3:18‒20)

Descended into the ocean; swallowed by a whale (Jonah 1:15‒17)

Resurrected after three days (Luke 11:29–30; Mark 8:31)

Returned to dry land after three days (Jonah 1:17; Jonah 2:10)

Symbol of the dove (in Hebrew, “jonah”) was present as Jesus was baptized, descending into and emerging from water in a symbol of death and new life (Matthew 3:16)

A dove (in Hebrew, “jonah”) was present as the earth emerged from the flood in the days of Noah, having died and being reborn (Genesis 8:8‒12)

The list of Old Testament types that are used to illustrate and teach in the New Testament goes on and on. What can we learn about the Savior when we consider how Moses and Jonah were types of Christ and taught us about His gospel in the Old Testament? Consider these connections from other Old Testament types of Christ and His gospel:

Recognizing how the New Testament builds on the foundation of the Old Testament will enrich our studies and help tie the scriptural record together. We can come to understand more fully how all prophets—then and now—testify of Jesus Christ, the God of Israel. And it is a good reminder that this same God continues to love and work with His covenant people today.