- The Reformers believed that the teachings of Jesus related to the Old Testament with a perfect continuity (or, continuousness). That Jesus’ teaching did no more than explain the Old Testament Law. In keeping with this view, when the Reformers came across what would appear to be certain corrections in the Old Testament Law where Jesus uses the phrases found in Matthew 5: 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43: “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” they argued that Jesus was merely correcting the interpretations of the Scribes and the Pharisees.
- The Anabaptists represented a second view out of the Reformation period. They said that Jesus’ teaching was a radical discontinuity (or, break) with the Old Testament — that what Jesus said is radically new and that He even repealed or rescinded some parts of the Old Testament. Some of the Anabaptists even argued that Jesus was at odds with some of the specific laws of the Old Testament.
“You have heard it said…but I say to you…”
So, of the above two views, one was a radical (or perfect) continuity while the other is a discontinuity with the Old Testament.
- The third view, which seems to deal most honestly with the text, proposes that Jesus’ teaching is radically new and supersedes (or replaces or succeeds) the Old Testament, but is also in full, or complete, continuity with the Old Testament.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” –Matthew 5:17
The best way to think about this third view is to see that Jesus completed, or fulfilled, the Old Testament Law. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). “Fulfill” means to complete. An example of Jesus fulfilling and superseding the Law is that when Jesus came He brought an end to the dietary and ceremonial laws around sacrifice – because He became the Ultimate Sacrifice. It isn’t so much that Jesus contradicted the Law, but that He fulfilled the law, superseded, and validated the Law. That is why the contemporary cultural critics of Christianity (and sadly, many Christians) don’t realize that we are not bound to the Old Testament Law any longer.
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” –Galatians 3:24
The Old Testament Law was given to point people forward to the promised Messiah (Jesus). Once Jesus came, the Law’s purpose was fulfilled, and it became obsolete. The Law was not abolished and is of great benefit to the Church, but it is now superseded by a higher law, the law of the gospel of God’s radical and revolutionary kingdom.
So, Jesus’ subversive and radical new teaching about a New (Kingdom) Covenant supersedes the Old Testament but it doesn’t contradict the Old Testament. Jesus’s teaching is new and radical and it did not exist before Jesus came.