This study is done for the purpose of revealing statements in the New Testament which are premised or based upon statements or precedents found in the Old Testament. 

A precedent as defined is something done or said prior in time that may serve as an example or rule to authorise or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind.

The nature of a precedent represents a legal basis in God where a need to do or not do something functions as God’s Will in a normative way. This is irrespective of whether Scripture explicitly tells us we must do or not do a certain thing. 

In this regard, there are numerous acts and accounts in the New Testament which may not necessarily command that a certain thing must be done. Or, there are often certain things stated in it that may be narrated or described in a way that may not capture a reader’s attention as God’s Will for today despite it being rooted in the foundation of the Old Testament. Therefore, it is important that the nature of precedents from the Old Testament is well understood as they play a major role in both the understanding of what is God’s Will and critically how they impact one’s Christian Walk and eternal destiny.

It is hoped that by highlighting the area of precedent that Christians would more readily understand it as a critical way that God communicates His Will. Therefore, it is important that believers recognise that understanding the role of precedents is an essential aspect of biblical interpretation which has legal consequences in terms of the status of the relationship that one has with God in overlooking the effect of the precedents themselves.

Below are some examples of statements made in the New Testament which find their meaning from precedents established in the Old Testament. Notice that with some of them there isn’t an explicit command to do something. However, the effect of the precedent itself and the way the subject is treated reveals indirectly that a thing is commanded to be done.

Matthew 4:4 – ‘Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut 8:3).

Matthew 4:7 – ‘Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (Deut 6:16).

Matthew 4:7 — ‘Jesus said to him, “Away from Me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Deut 6:13). 

1 Corinthians 9:13-14 –13 “Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? [Num 18:21-29] 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel”.

1 Corinthians 14:21-22 — In the Law it is written: “With men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people; but even then they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord [Isaiah 28:11-12]. 22 Tongues, then, are for a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believes not for unbelievers’. 

1 Timothy 2:12-14 – ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner’ [Gen 1:7; 3:1-7].

Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 5:32 are examples of teachings in the New Testament that directly follow and affirm an Old Testament teaching. 

(Matthew 19:7-9)

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 

(Matthew 5:31-32)

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery”. 

The use of the words “sexual immorality” in both passages stem from the passage in Deuteronomy 24/1: 

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house”. 

The word “indecent” in this verse means sexual immorality of some sort. This is the reason why Jesus used the words “sexual immorality” in the passages in Matthew above. That is, Jesus, while revealing in context that God did not permit divorce from the beginning, nevertheless had to express words that were consistent with the Old Testament teaching on the subject. 

To elaborate, Jesus could not contradict what Moses had permitted the Israelites to do, albeit due to the hardness of their hearts, but, had to uphold the teaching and thereby uphold the law of God and glorify God. Therefore, His use of “sexual immorality” explains what Moses meant by “indecent” and, critically, it also attests that the New Testament necessarily adheres to numerous biblical and legal precedents from the Old Testament which require following in order to understand why particular words or reasonings are employed for a related subject occurring at a later time. 

Importantly, the use of these examples are not in any way meant to advocate for divorce here and in any event the topic of divorce as well as remarriage is somewhat complex and deserves significant attention. It is merely to show that it unsurprisingly but also tellingly reveals that Jesus Himself could not speak inconsistently with the Old Testament’s rule that the only biblically acceptable ground for divorce in the context of certain acts that constitute adultery (Matt 5:27-28; 9:19) is sexual immorality. 

This reveals the importance and worth of the Old Testament with respect to often providing understanding or answers to topics that people seek information and solutions for today. Importantly, it also illuminates the reality that the New Testament writers were significantly informed by the Old Testament which is evidenced by their numerous quotations from it as well as the fact that they almost exclusively only had the Old Testament to refer to in terms of a written record which perhaps some may overlook or forget. 

Concluding comments

There are of course many more examples in the Bible of Old Testament precedents and their corresponding teachings in the New Testament age. These are just a few for the meantime.

Finally, a precedent concerning a clear command for these current times is more than a teaching that should be followed. It is a command from God that as stated above carries with it eternal consequences depending on whether it is followed and regardless of one’s status as a believer in Christ. 

That is, if a New Testament teaching affirms an Old Testament precedent, then, like any other New Testament command or commandment that is disobeyed and unrepented of, the continued commission of such sin makes a believer liable to disqualification from Salvation according to the Scriptures (Heb 10:26-27; 1 Cor 9:24-27). Therefore, it is critical that believers are aware of what the scriptures teach as commands or commandments of God so that they would be obeyed as a part of doing God’s Will as revealed in Matthew 7:21-23.