By: A.D. Roberson
One method that Matthew employs to communicate his Gospel message is multiple quotations to the Pentateuch throughout the book bearing his name. Matthew references each of the five book of the Pentateuch in his Gospel, and he does so with purpose. Matthew quotes the Pentateuch to portray Jesus as one having superior authority over the Jewish religious leaders to interpret the Law and Scriptures. Furthermore, this authority extended to Jesus’s ability to actually fulfill the Law. And Jesus had ultimate authority, even to the point of being able to fulfill the Law, because He was—and is—the prophesied Messiah and divine Son of God, come to save His people and dwell with them forever. Matthew uses the Pentateuch to help communicate each of these truths.
Matthew does not quote heavily from Genesis, but there are a couple of key passages in Matthew that draw directly from the first book of the Bible. In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees “tested” Jesus, a common occurrence throughout Matthew’s Gospel, by asking: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” Jesus responded by appealing to the Scriptures explicitly: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” This response either directly quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to several passages in Genesis, specifically: Genesis 1:27 (“male and female He created them”); 2:24 (“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”); and 5:2 (“He created them male and female”). It is also worth noting that the Pharisees sought to discredit Jesus by quoting Deuteronomy in a follow-up question asking why, then, Moses authorized a certificate of divorce, but Jesus’s further response exposed their hardness of heart. During a similar exchange in Matthew 22:24, the Sadducees tested Jesus by referring to the Law as stated in Genesis 38:8 and Deuteronomy 25:5 with their question: “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.’” Jesus answered by informing them that they were “mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God,” and went further by telling them, “regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living,” again quoting the Torah, this time Exodus 3:6 and 15. These uses of the Pentateuch by Jesus in response to challenges by the Jewish religious leaders demonstrate that Jesus is the superior authority when it comes to interpreting the Law.
Matthew contains not only quotes from Genesis, but also quotes from Exodus and the rest of the Torah. Matthew’s recording of the Sermon on the Mount shows that Jesus quoted the Torah heavily in his teachings. For example, in that sermon, Jesus stated: “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’”; “‘You shall not commit adultery’”; and “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” quoting the Law from Exodus. In each instance, Jesus used the Pentateuch Law to teach the people that it is the heart that matters. Similarly, in Matthew 15:4, Jesus quoted the Ten Commandments from Exodus (and Deuteronomy) when Jesus stated: “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’” In this instance, Jesus used the Torah to rebuke the Pharisees and scribes for adhering to manmade traditions over God’s Law. And again, in the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus quoted several of the Ten Commandments from Exodus, saying, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” before again revealing that outward compliance with specific laws is not enough when men refuse in their hearts to subject all things to the Lord. Not only do these passages do more to establish Jesus’s authority over the religious leaders, these passages go further by showing that Jesus’s interpretation and application of the Law was truly revelatory; Jesus’s audience, and the readers of Matthew, begin to see that Jesus is more than a great human teacher. He did not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets . . . but to fulfill.”
As noted above, the quotes from the story of the rich young ruler and regarding the retributive “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” law also came from Leviticus, but Matthew uses other quotes from Leviticus as well. For example, in Matthew 5:33 and 43, Jesus referenced more Levitical laws in His Sermon on the Mount: “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord’”; and “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Yet again, Jesus followed these references with the refrain, “But I say to you . . . ,” and provided further instruction on the Law. And in another one of Jesus’s many confrontations with the Pharisees, when they tested Him by asking, “which is the great commandment in the Law?”, Jesus again quoted Leviticus 19:18 to provide part of His answer: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” In these passages, Jesus’s authority, wisdom, and fulfillment of the law continued to be elucidated, as He revealed that “the whole Law and the Prophets” depend on loving the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and loving one’s neighbor.
Matthew also quoted the book of Numbers in his Gospel, though less than some of the other books of the Torah. As noted above, one instance occurred in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus provided instruction on oaths. Also, the Magi’s question to Herod, as recorded by Matthew: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him,” alludes to Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17: “A star shall come forth from Jacob.” And in Matthew 9:36, when discussing Jesus’s ministry to the people throughout Galilee, Matthew writes, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd,” a close paraphrase to Moses’s prayer for a new Israelite leader in Numbers 27:17: “who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.” These passages point to the reason for Jesus’s authority and wisdom; He is the prophesied Messiah, come to be with His people.
The most-quoted Pentateuchal book in Matthew is Deuteronomy. Many of these quotes—Jesus’s references to the Law of Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, in the story of the rich young ruler, and in his confrontations with Jewish religious leaders—have already been discussed above because they are repetitive of other quotes from the Pentateuch. But a few remain. Most notable of these, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy in response to each of the devil’s three temptations in the wilderness. First, when the devil said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread,” Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,’” quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. Next, when the devil took Jesus atop the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down,” Jesus said, “it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,’” quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. And last, when the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these things I will give you, if You fall down and worship me,” Jesus declared, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only,’” quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. Furthermore, one of Jesus’s many quotes to Deuteronomy in the Sermon on the Mount, as He expounded on the Law, included the Scriptures about divorce. And in His general teaching ministry, another example of Jesus’s reliance on the Law occurs in Matthew 18:16, when Jesus, while instructing how to correct a brother, said “if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” Matthew’s discussion of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, in particular, reveal the reason why Jesus’s authority and wisdom, as illuminated by the other passages, is absolute and perfect; not only is He the long-awaited Messiah, He is the divine Son of God—“‘Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’”
Overall, one of the main truths expressed through Matthew’s many quotations to the Pentateuch is the authority of Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and save His people. Indeed, Matthew’s Gospel concludes with the risen Christ’s declaration: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. . . I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen to that.
Green, Joel B., Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013.
The New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (NASB). La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, 1995.
Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), 577.
Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (NASB) (La Habra: Foundation Publications, 1995). Mt 19:4-5.
Mt 19:7 (quoting Dt 24:1-2).
Ex 20:13-14; 21:24 (also quoting Lv 24:20; Dt 5:17-18; 19:21).
See, eg., Mt 5:22, 28, 39 (“But I say to you . . .”).
Quoting Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16.
Mt 19:18-19 (quoting Ex 20:12-16; Lv 19:18; Dt 5:16-20).
See Mt 19:16-26.
See Lv 19:12 (“You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.”); see also Nm 30:2 (“If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”).
See Lv 19:18 (“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”).
Mt 22:37-39 (quoting Lv 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”), and Dt 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”)).
See Mt 22:40.
Compare Mt 5:33, with Nm 30:2 and Lv 19:12.
See Mt 4:1-11.
Compare Mt 5:31 with Dt 24:1-2.
See Dt 19:15.
Mt 1:23 (quoting Is 7:14; see also Is 9:1-7).
Mt 28:18, 20.