The New Testament contains about 300 quotations from the Old Testament (depending on how you allocate direct quotations and collated/condensed quotations), which raises a crucial question: Why do the New Testament authors so often quote the Old Testament?
To Establish Divine Credibility
Before answering this question, we must address the fundamental truth of the reality of progressive revelation. God did not provide a completed Bible in the single stroke of a pen. He inspired various men over many centuries to write progressively the entire Bible with prophetic continuity through the Old and New Testaments (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
Connecting the New Testament to the Old through relevant and meaningful quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures establishes its credentials as God’s ongoing revelation.
Biblical content is cumulative in nature, building on what was previously revealed until the last contribution was made. Even the Old Testament authors refer to previous revelation, especially the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, so it isn’t surprising that the New Testament would draw on the Old.
As much as the two Testaments of the Bible are distinct, they are not disconnected. They compose a unified, continuous communication of God’s past, present, and future engagement with humanity. Yet, as is the case whenever presenting something new, the New Testament’s authenticity and credibility are critical for common acceptance. Connecting the New Testament to the Old through relevant and meaningful quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures establishes its credentials as God’s ongoing revelation.
To Benefit Jewish Audiences
This approach especially helped the Jewish audience, who already believed in the Old Testament Scriptures and would have expected new revelation to be consistent with the existing revelation.
One way Scripture taught the Israelites to test if a prophet was sent by God was to determine if his message agreed with the divine revelation they already received (Deuteronomy 13:1–5). Therefore, it’s not surprising that Matthew includes many Old Testament quotations in his record of Jesus’ life and ministry because his target audience is Jewish.
Likewise, the opening chapters of Acts feature Old Testament quotations when the apostles preached to Jewish audiences. The men who communicated this new revelation sought to persuade their hearers and readers by demonstrating the continuity of God’s redemptive work from the Old Testament to the New.
To Build on the Old Testament
Not only did quoting the Old Testament establish the New Testament’s authenticity and credibility, but it also provided its foundation. The Old Testament reveals the origins of the universe, the earth, and humanity; the entrance of sin and need for redemption through sacrifice; the institution of marriage; the beginning of nations; the establishment of God’s Chosen People, Israel; and the promise of a Redeemer and His identity. Without sufficient understanding of these fundamental truths, comprehending the New Testament is illusive at best and incorrect at worst.
The book of Hebrews clearly demonstrates why believers need to grasp the Old Testament to understand its New Testament message. This remarkable epistle presents Jesus’ superiority to all else, including angels, Moses, and the Levitical priesthood with all its ceremonial activity, all of which require readers to understand the Old Testament.
The loss of argument and context prevents the full impact of God’s provision in the person of Jesus, the promised Messiah.
A lack of knowledge of Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18–24) leaves the argument for Jesus’ superior priesthood without substance. A lack of knowledge of the Old Testament Levitical system removes the context for presenting Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. The loss of argument and context prevents the full impact of God’s provision in the person of Jesus, the promised Messiah.
To Reveal How God Engages With Us
Believers need to learn the full scope of God’s engagement with humanity. The Old Testament, comprising approximately 75 percent of the entire Bible, contributes significantly to our knowledge of His interactions.
Neglecting such a large amount of divine revelation can only result in biblical illiteracy, theological inadequacy, and spiritual immaturity. When believers do, they forfeit the opportunity to learn of God’s infinite power in creation, commanding sovereignty over nations, absolute purity in character, righteous judgment of humanity, steadfast love, and great faithfulness. They also miss the cosmic scale of God’s plan of salvation in the restoration of creation and humanity. This is a tragic, tremendous, and avoidable loss for any believer.
No doubt, reading and studying the Old Testament presents some challenges, but this is also true of the New Testament. Both Testaments require effort to understand and apply, but the resulting spiritual benefits far outweigh that necessary work. The Christian life thrives on personal discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24–27), which includes reading and studying the entire Bible (2 Timothy 2:15). Doing so helps believers understand the whole counsel of God, which develops spiritual depth and strength and protects against error (Acts 20:26–32).
Since the New Testament authors used the Old Testament in their writings as necessary inclusions, present-day believers have no grounds to neglect the Hebrew Scriptures and do so at their spiritual peril. You will enjoy many spiritual blessings when you read and study the Old Testament that will develop a greater love for God and His Word in your heart.