Better Bible Study Tip #54: Let the New Testament Teach You How To Read the Old Testament

The New Testament quotes or alludes to the Old Testament hundreds of times. If we pay attention to how New Testament authors used the Old Testament we can learn quite a bit. There’s a lot we can learn from the historical books beyond simply doing character studies. There’s a lot we can learn from the book of Psalms beyond simply using them for devotional material. There’s a lot we can learn from the prophets beyond simply mining the books for random prophetic statements about Christ.

Here’s three examples of how the New Testament can teach us about how to read the Old Testament. For one, notice what Jesus does with the Old Testament laws during the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5). Not only does he uphold the laws, but he fulfills them (Mt. 5:17). He does this by pointing his disciples to follow the true principles underlying each of the laws.

Another example is how Matthew uses Hosea 11:1. Matthew saw Jesus’s emergency trip to Egypt as the fulfillment of the words “Out of Egypt I called my son” (see Mt. 2:15). The thing is, Hosea 11:1 isn’t even a prophesy of a future event. It looks backwards into Israel’s history to how God called Israel (his Son) out of Egypt. Matthew wasn’t mistaken about the context Hosea 11:1. He was intentionally making an analogy between Israel and Israel’s representative Messiah, Jesus. This analogy is an abstract one, but it’s a powerful theological observation drawn by Matthew.

Finally, notice how the New Testament authors frequently quote Old Testament verses about God, and yet they apply them to Jesus. For example, when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), he alludes to Jeremiah 17:13, where God is identified as the source of living water. Yet Jesus does so to identify himself as the source of living water!

When New Testament writers use the Old Testament, they make important theological points. Pay attention, and you will become a better reader of the Old Testament.