Jesus was hunted and arrested for contradicting the Bible. Jesus may have been executed by Rome for denying that Caesar was king, but Jesus was hunted and arrested for contradicting the Hebrew Scriptures. In the eyes of the Jews, their future coming messiah was supposed to be a warrior king in the line of David that would restore their rulership over the land of Palestine. Instead, their messiah turned out to be meek and showed love towards the Jew’s enemies. This contradiction got Jesus killed.
The entire life and ministry of Jesus was based around inaugurating God’s Kingdom in order to fulfill the Law of Moses and the Prophets. The problem was Moses and the Prophets didn’t always hear from God clearly. That may strike some as a bold and false claim but Jesus himself shows us that it is true. Jesus came to show us when to follow the Bible and when to follow him instead.
Follow Jesus by Following the Bible?
Some will claim that Scripture must interpret Scripture, but is it really that simple? If all of Scripture holds the same level of authority then we can use the entire Bible to help inform us on how to follow Jesus. That type of thinking quickly falls apart. Let’s consider Christ’s most challenging command.
To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
God loves everyone and he tells us to love everyone too (John 3:16, Romans 5:8). So let’s use Scripture to interpret this passage by using stories about how God loves people in the Old Testament:
Jesus taught them (Matthew 5:43-45), saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you:
Love your enemies... by drowning them, along with their families (Genesis 6:7).
Bless those who curse you… by capturing their women and forcing them to become your wives (Deuteronomy 21:10–14).
Do good to those who hate you… by killing them all, man, woman, and child (1 Samuel 15:3).
And pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you… that their little children may be smashed against a rock (Psalm 137:9).
Then you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”
If all of Scripture is of equal authority, then this is how we are forced to read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As you can see, it doesn’t work and it doesn’t make sense. Instead, what does make sense is to question Scripture and look to the life and teachings of Jesus for examples of how we should live. Jesus should be the hermetical key to interpreting all Scripture (2 Corinthians 3:14-15).
Let’s take a look at a handful of times that Jesus contradicted the Hebrew Scriptures.
Kill Those Who Kill
According to the Law, if you did something wrong to someone there were clear instructions for how to handle the situation.
Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
The Law of Moses says to show no pity to someone who has done wrong. It states here that the exact evil should be done back to the offender. If you knocked someone’s tooth out, then your tooth gets knocked out. If you kill someone, someone gets to kill you. Jesus says something different.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
Jesus quotes the Old Testament word for word here and then disputes it. Jesus then goes on to list examples of how we should treat those who mistreat us. Jesus even goes so far as to tell us to love our enemies. Such a command would be considered blasphemous for a people who were ruled by oppressive pagan terrorists. But here Jesus is, telling the Jews that this law is incorrect and should not be followed.
God Only Blesses the Good Guys
Rain in the ancient world was a sign of blessing from the god you worshipped. Rain was essential for survival in an agricultural society; it meant life or death.
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today… the Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today… the Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.
Deuteronomy 28:1, 12, 15, 24
God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
According to Jesus, God sends the blessing of rain on both those who follow his commands and those who don’t. Jesus disputes the Old Testament here right after telling his followers to love their enemies. Why does he do this? Because God loves his enemies. God doesn’t curse his enemies by withholding rain from them or by any other means. God tells us to love our enemies because that is what he does. Jesus is telling us that whoever wrote Deuteronomy 28 got God wrong.
Kill All Cheaters
Cheating on your spouse is a pretty terrible thing to do. According to the Old Testament if you do this then you should be killed and the person you cheated with should be killed.
If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.
The command here is pretty simple, the Law according to Moses says if you cheat then you die. There are no exceptions. If this law was from God then we should expect Jesus to uphold this law… but he doesn’t. Jesus says something different.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” Jesus replied, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 8:3-5, 11
If Jesus believed that it was God’s will for adulterers to be killed then he would have joined with the teachers of the law and killed the woman. The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus (John 8:6), anticipating that he would go against the Law of Moses. Jesus indeed does go against the Law and doesn’t condemn the woman to death. Note that Jesus still views adultery as a sin, he just doesn’t think killing is the correct response to sin. This Kingdom of God ethos is echoed all over Christ’s teachings and so it is no surprise to us that we see Jesus showing us that the writer of Leviticus 20 got God wrong.
Divorce Is Okay
Marriage in the Old Testament was very different than how Christians view it today. Divorce in the ancient world was just as common as it is today, if not more so. Since women were viewed as property the grounds for divorce were very low.
If a man marries a woman but she does not please him, having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house. When she leaves his house, she is free to marry another man.
If a man did not think his wife pleased him he could divorce her and send her on her way. Moses in Deuteronomy details how to handle such situations. Jesus says something different.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Notice that Jesus names Moses as the one who permitted divorce saying, “Moses permitted you…” Jesus could have said, “I (or God) permitted you to divorce…” but he doesn’t. It seems like once again that Jesus doesn’t agree.
Pledge Your Allegiance
Making a pledge or an oath (the two are synonymous) is something people do when they want to make people know they are serious about a promise they are making. It seems harmless enough.
Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.
The command here is clear, when you take your oaths (or make your pledges), do it in God’s name.
But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all… all you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Matthew 5:34, 37
While many are completely fine swearing their allegiance or pledging allegiance to a country and a flag, Jesus here says not to do such a thing. Jesus then claims that doing so “comes from the evil one.” This seems to be a grand reversal of commands. The Law of Moses says to do one thing and Jesus says not to. Not only that, Jesus claims that the command to swear an oath in the Old Testament is “from the evil one.” This is another example of the full revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-3), in Jesus, giving us clarity over the picture of God people had in the past.
Don’t Carry Things on the Sabbath
There is an Old Testament law that states that no work should be done on the seventh day of each week, known as the Sabbath. Jeremiah 17:21-22 gets specific enough to tell us that one way you could break the law of the Sabbath was to carry things.
While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.
Numbers 15:32, 35-36
Carrying things on the Sabbath appears to be a major offense because according to this account the proscribed punishment for disobedience is death. The text here is clear, God said to kill people who pick up and carry things on the Sabbath.
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
Jesus could have just healed the man but instead, he also told him to break the Sabbath law. According to what Moses thought he heard God say, this man should be stoned to death. Not only that, but Jesus put this man in the position where he should be stoned to death according to the alleged words of God. This isn’t the first or the last time Jesus broke the Sabbath or endorsed doing so (Mark 2:23-28). It should be obvious that Jesus wanted to set the record straight on some things that his people misunderstood.
So why did Jesus contradict Scripture? First, because he had the authority to do so (Matthew 28:18). Second, because this was the natural result of God finally revealing himself fully, in person (Hebrews 1:1).
Jesus didn’t just contradict a few verses here and there. Jesus overturned an entire religion and brought a new understanding and interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. Jesus faithfully questioned the Scriptures because Jesus understood that the aim of Scripture was to love. The counter-narrative of questioning and caring for victims is a dissident voice, a voice from the margins. It is the voice of the prophet calling out in the wilderness that we see glimpses of in the Old Testament. It is the voice of the one who was rejected and crucified by the religious and political authorities. God’s people didn’t always get it right but Jesus came to set the record straight.
The multi-vocal quality of the Old Testament means all of Scripture doesn’t exactly harmonize. In response to this reality, we see Jesus embracing certain narratives that speak of restoration and mercy, and rejecting other narratives that involve committing or justifying violence in God’s name. Not only does Jesus reject these narratives, but he also attributes them to the way of the devil, rather than the way of God (Luke 9:54–55).
Rejecting Old Testament violence was a powerful fundamental element of Christ’s ministry.
All over the pages of the Gospel books, we are faced with Jesus confronting and rebuking people who interpreted the Scriptures in ways that justified hurting people. Despite the example Jesus left us, there are still Christians today who rather than faithfully question the immoral portraits of God, will adopt the Pharisee’s approach to biblical interpretation characterized by unquestioning obedience. We shouldn’t be surprised that reading Scripture like Jesus did entails an approach that scandalized the religious authorities of Jesus’ time and is likely to be seen as equally subversive and blasphemous by the religious gatekeepers today.
The Shocking Reversal
The Jews were expecting a violent freedom-fighter messiah. In contrast to the majority narrative of the Old Testament which had shaped the messianic expectations of the people, Jesus does not view violence as a valid means for bringing about God’s justice and salvation but instead calls his followers to renounce violence, demonstrating that way of nonviolent enemy love on the cross (Luke 23:34).
While the Old Testament can be used to prove a violent punitive God, Jesus instead comes and proposes a very different narrative and understanding of who God is: Those who are suffering, sick, and victimized are not being punished by God for their sins; they are under Satan’s bondage and need to be set free. Salvation does not come through a warrior messiah who brings military victory through violent conquest, as some of the prophets incorrectly predicted. Rather, the messiah preaches military renunciation, calling instead for forgiveness and love of enemies. Salvation comes on the cross by the messiah suffering unjust violence, not inflicting it. The enemy is not another nation; the enemy is the devil, and the recipient of God’s salvation is again not a single nation, but the whole world.
Through Christ, the warrior God has become the suffering God. Our understanding of God has been turned upside down because Jesus reveals the true heart of the Father. God does not look like a warrior king clothed in the blood of his enemies (Isaiah 63:2-3); God instead looks like Jesus, clothed in his own blood, shed for his enemies (Revelation 19:13). God has not changed, rather Jesus reveals to us who God has always been. Scripture is only read correctly when it is read in a way that leads us to a Jesus-shaped life and a Jesus-shaped understanding of God’s heart.
2 Timothy 3:16 says that the Old Testament is useful for teaching—but—it must be read through the lens of Jesus and the cross (John 5:39, 2 Corinthians 3:13-16). Reading the Old Testament without Jesus has resulted in the death of hundreds of millions of people throughout history.
Don’t do it.