Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17- 20
The phrase “the Law and the Prophets” was Jewish shorthand for what Jews call the * Tanach, the whole Old Testament. “Law” was a reference to Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, and “the prophets” was a “placeholder” for all the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Christians call all of those writings the Old Testament.
* The Hebrew Bible is often known among Jews as TaNaKh, an acronym derived from the names of its three divisions: Torah (Instruction, or Law, also called the Pentateuch),
Neviʾim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
In reading Matthew 5:17- 20, I’ve tried to grasp why Jesus seemed so passionate about the value of the Old Testament. When I was new to the faith, I heard Christians talk about the reliability and inerrancy of scripture. Some adherents have acted as if the “beloved” King James translation had been dropped down directly from heaven. That view unsettled me and propelled me onward in my search.
An insight emerged as the most convincing reason for Jesus’ passion for the Old Testament: It is the carefully chosen record of God’s revelation of himself brought about by personal interactions and conversations with his followers over the centuries prior to **Jesus’ incarnation as the Messiah. God has always entrusted his revelations to obedient followers who love him.
** John 8:58, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 7:3 and many other passages.
Here is a New Testament statement that advances that idea:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV
This reverence that Jesus had for the Old Testament has been dismissed by more than a few charismatic leaders who believed they were appointed to begin a religious order that supersedes the Bible. Arguably, Muhammed, the founder of Islam, has been most successful in that regard.
A few years ago I encountered a book, Holy Books Have a History, by the scholar Keith E. Small. In that volume, Small shares his investigation of Muslims’ claims about the ultimate authority of the Qur’an. In Chapter 1 he compares those claims about how the Qur’an was delivered versus the way the Bible was written. He observes:
the Qur’an “presents the idea of a dictated book delivered by miraculous means to the prophet Muhammed from a heavenly original…while the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures…claim that they are the the writings of people on earth who were directed in their writing by God.”
In other words, the Qur’an claims its revelation to Muhammed was intact and basically untouched by human hands. while the tone and words of the Bible integrate the actions and thoughts of God with his people. ***
*** There is much more to say about how each Biblical author had his own style, but this is a short devotional.
As you pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15 ESV) today, meditate on the plural nature of this prayer as well as its inclusive family language. Recognize that for nearly two thousand years this prayer has drawn the allegiance and sentiments of those faithful who were also devoted to the Old Testament.
…“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”