A common feature of the New Testament is for writers to refer to passages from the Old Testament. Used for two main reasons, this habit ties the two testaments very closely together. So what are the two reasons?
Firstly, the Old Testament was accepted as the word of God, so it could be used as a rock-solid foundation on which to build an argument. Wisdom accepted for generations forms a more powerful argument than the same ideas expressed by someone new.
Secondly, there is no point in re-inventing the wheel. If ideas have already been expressed clearly and concisely, why not use the same words? The quotation of well-known words or ideas makes the presentation of an argument much faster because the listeners have already accepted the ideas being quoted and can welcome them as old friends. The use of “re-inventing the wheel” at the start of this paragraph is an example of this.
The words of the Old Testament prophets were well known by followers of God when the New Testament was written, and the consistent fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies meant that people were – rightly – looking for more prophecies to be fulfilled.
Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament and his words are quoted a few times in the New Testament. The power of Jesus’ words caused people to believe that he must be one of the old prophets come back to life again, and Jeremiah was one of the prophets suggested (Matthew 16:14).
The coming of Jesus was prophesied by Jeremiah when he spoke of God raising up a righteous branch in the line of David (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15), and it is likely that these words contributed to the significant number of times Jesus was called the “son of David”, but the words are not quoted directly in the New Testament.
Not long after the birth of Jesus, King Herod wanted to kill him, but did not know who or where he was, so he killed all the young boys in Bethlehem and nearby who were under two years of age. God had already sent the family to Egypt to save Jesus, but the killing of the children was a fulfilment of the prophecy:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’ ”
See also the blog post “Events around the birth of Jesus”
A very short quotation of Jeremiah is used by Jesus to explain his overturning of the tables of the money changers in the temple. On first reading, Jesus’ comment in Matthew 21:13 and Mark 11:17 seems to suggest that he is quoting from one passage of the Old Testament, but he is actually quoting from two:
“He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’ ”
The first quote “My house shall be called the house of prayer” comes from Isaiah 56:7, while the small section “a den of robbers” comes from Jeremiah 7:11, where God is criticising his people’s attitude to the temple.
Jeremiah’s comments about boasting are quoted twice by Paul in his letters to Corinth. The words through Jeremiah are:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’ ”
Paul’s quotations from Jeremiah are just a small, slightly summarised section: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17).
The longest quotation from Jeremiah in the New Testament is in Hebrews 8:8-12, and half of the passage is quoted again in Hebrews 10:16-17. Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the source of the quotation, and speaks of a time when God will write his laws within his people so that no more teaching about God’s laws will be required – everyone will know them.
Jeremiah’s words were written a long time ago, and much of what he said spoke of a future which is now past, but some of his words are still to be fulfilled.
Some of the quotations from Jeremiah in the New Testament have not been mentioned yet, so here is a more complete list:
|Jeremiah reference||New Testament reference||Comment|
|7:11||Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46|
|9:24||1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17|
|17:10||Revelation 2:23||Similar words, but not necessarily a quote.|
|31:33-34||Hebrews 8:10-12; 10:16-17|
|30:22, 31:1 or 32:38||2 Corinthians 6:16||None quite the same, but various possibilities.|
PS: There is a reference to the writings of Jeremiah in Matthew 27:9-10, but we do not have any words of Jeremiah that contain the words quoted. Presumably this passage has been lost. Thankfully, we know what it said from the New Testament record.