This study looks at the Old Testament passages that Paul quotes in his writings, and the post places the references in categories.
We cannot quote them due to space, but you can hover your pointer over the verse and see the OT quotation
This post not include summaries or basic principles he gets from the OT, but does not quote (1 Cor. 10:2).
The summary and conclusions at the end of this post will also give some basic data.
The Gospel Message
This is the most important category of them all. It all begins here.
The Message of the Cross and Wisdom
2. The message of wisdom is for the mature. 1 Cor. 2:6-10
3. The wise v. the foolish. 1 Cor. 3:18-23
4. We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord. 2 Cor. 4:3-6
The Message of the Gospel Must Be Proclaimed
1. Call on his name: “Jesus is Lord.” Rom. 10:8-13
2. The message must go forth. Rom. 10:8-15
3. Paul was ambitious to preach in uncharted territory. Rom. 15:20-22
4. We speak because God will raise us from the dead. 2 Cor. 4:13-15
5. Now is the time to receive the gospel. 2 Cor. 6:1-2
Sin and Righteousness
This broad topic or category is very important in Paul’s writings. It shows us our need for the gospel. What does righteousness mean? How does sin take away from it? How do we solve the sin problem and keep righteousness, even though we still have the sin problem? Or do we have a sin problem, after we “get” righteous?
Law and Sin
1. God will be proven faithful and just. Rom. 3:4
2. The law brings out sin in us. Rom. 7:7
3. Jews and their witness about God are summarized. Rom. 2:24
4. The law brings out a curse, but we have been redeemed. Gal. 3:10-14
5. Jews and Gentiles are under the dominion of sin. Rom. 3:9-20
6. God will judge stubbornness and unrepentance. Rom. 2:5-6
Justification and Righteousness
2. Israel’s righteousness by the law is contrasted with Gentile righteousness by faith. Rom. 9:30-33
3. Righteousness by faith is contrasted with righteousness by the law. Rom. 10:5-13
4. David is an example of being counted forgiven. Rom. 4:6-8
5. Sarah and Isaac, not Hagar and her son, are the examples of Christian freedom. Gal. 4:24-31
Jews and Gentiles: One Family
The next major category is the problem of Jewish identity and Gentile exclusion. As Paul scanned the entire sweep on Israel’s history as recorded in the OT and the oral traditions of which he was well aware, he observed that God was reaching out to the Gentiles long before the Messiah came. But how does God still favor his Chosen People, as he reached out to Gentiles? Does this identity of his Chosen People still matter? Does the Messiah break down Gentile ethnic exclusion, and can Jews still enjoy God’s Favorite People status? Can Gentiles enjoy that too?
Israel and God
1. Isaac and Jacob are the promised line. Rom. 9:6-13
2. God is sovereign in his election. Rom. 9:19-21
3. God has not rejected his people, a remnant, by grace. Rom. 11:2-6
4. Israel’s partial, temporary hardening and their eventual salvation are described. Rom. 11:25-27
Israel, Gentiles, and God
1. Israel and the remnant mean the Gentiles’ acceptance. Rom. 9:22-29
2. Christ destroys the barrier between Jew and Gentile. Eph. 2:14-18
3. The gospel is for Israel and Gentiles. Rom. 10:15-21
4. Israel rejecting the gospel opens doors for Gentiles. Rom. 11:7-10
5. Gentiles are welcome into God’s family through Christ. Rom. 15:8-13
Doxology about God and His One Family
1. God’s ways are unfathomable, ultimately. Rom. 11:33-36
Paul wrote many of his letters to explain his theology and gospel, but he also wrote them to solve church problems. How are Christians supposed to live? How does the OT relate to the Christian life? If believers are no longer under the Law of Moses, can they still use it? If so, for what purpose? What about the rest of the OT?
2. Repay evil with good, for vengeance belongs to God. Rom. 12:17-21
3. We should not please ourselves. Rom. 15:1-4
4. Be careful about being yoked with unbelievers. 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1
5. Christ speaking through Paul is not weak, to bring correction. 2 Cor. 13:1-3
6. Paul boasts in Christ. 2 Cor. 10:14-18
How to Judge in Different Contexts
1. Each one will give an account before God. Rom. 14:10-12
2. The spiritual person can judge wisely. 1 Cor. 2:15-16
3. Judging those outside the church. 1 Cor. 5:12-13
4. Speak truthfully, and don’t let anger rule. Eph. 4:25-27
Christians and Sex
1. Christians should not unite with prostitutes. 1 Cor. 6:14-17
2. Christians should listen to Old Testament examples and not commit sexual immorality. 1 Cor. 10:1-10
1. Husbands should love their wives. Eph. 5:28-32
2. Parents shouldn’t exasperate their children, and children should honor their parents. Eph. 6:1-4
Church and Money
1. Give what you can, according to your prosperity. 2 Cor. 8:13-15
2. Give generously. 2 Cor. 9:8-11
3. Leaders have the right to be supported. 1 Tim. 5:17-18
1. Christians should be free but sensitive towards the weak. 1 Cor. 10:23-32
2. Worship service should be orderly. 1 Cor. 14:20-22
Victory Now and Ultimately
Paul’s gospel is eschatological; that is, it moves from one obsolete era to the new one, and it moves towards a culmination or ending, summed up in Christ. The new era brings victory in the Christian life today. But the new era will be transformed at the very Last Day, when death is destroyed and everyone will have to confess that Jesus is Lord.
Victory for the Believer Right Now through Christ
1. Through God who loves believers, they are more than conquerors in hardships. Rom. 8:35-37
2. Christians must put on the full armor of God to have victory. Eph. 6:14-18
Victory over Death
1. There will be a resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:29-32
2. The body will be spiritual. 1 Cor. 15:44-45
3. Death will be destroyed. 1 Cor. 15:54-57
Victory in Christ’s Ascension
1. Christ ascended higher than all the heavens and fills the universe. Eph. 4:7-10
2. Every knee shall bow to Christ. Php. 2:9-10
We can boil down Paul’s use of the OT thus:
1. Paul uses the OT to find the gospel revealed in it all along.
2. He uses it for wisdom about church life, without coming under the Old Covenant.
3. He uses it for the promises and prophecies about the Messiah.
4. He uses it to break down ethnic barriers between Jew and Gentile; no, God has not given up on his Chosen People, and they have been replaced, even obliterated, by the gospel or church, but they do need salvation, just like everyone else.
5. He uses it to figure out and solve the sin problem in all of humanity; we are no longer in bondage to sin or Satan, but have freedom and authority.
6. He uses it to explain the gift of righteousness and being put right with God.
7. He uses it to explain how the law-as-attached to the Old Covenant is no longer relevant, unless Christian believers sin or get confused; then it is used for wisdom and clarity, but not to impose the Old Covenant on them (see no. 1); that use can be divided into such areas as money, relationships, family, and so on.
8. He uses it to explain Christian victory today, now, down here on earth.
9. He uses it to reveal God’s ultimate victory summed up in Christ, at the Last Day.
All of the quotations from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) or Old Testament reveal that Paul was a practical theologian. He was an apostle who planted churches. He was concerned with their spiritual growth.
First, the gospel message was extremely important for Paul; it was his life’s work, his very life even. The gospel expresses the wisdom of God, not the wisdom of the age. Why did Jesus have to be crucified? It had to be proclaimed throughout the known world. Wise Greeks rejected it because the cross seemed like folly. The God-man dying a criminal’s death? The Jews rejected it because it was a stumbling block. The Messiah dying on the criminal’s cross, the Roman way of execution? The cross outshines the wisdom of unbelievers and devout Jews. But to those who believe in the gospel, it is the power of God leading to salvation. People could obtain righteousness by faith, if they believe Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead.
Second, he needed to ensure that his churches understood that the whole world was under sin, and somebody had to pay for the penalty. It could not go unpunished. How would that be just? Either the payment for the sins and crimes would be the sinners – those who actually committed the sin – or someone else. Sinners could not pay for it on their own. They would end up experiencing the just wrath, righteous judgment, and everlasting damnation of God. Paul’s theology teaches that the volunteer, so to speak, was Christ. He became the atoning sacrifice who propitiated or turned away God’s wrath and satisfied the penalty, thus solving the sin problem and its just penalty. The consequences of people’s sins were fully paid for at the cross of Christ.
Third, faith triggers the whole chain of events in people’s lives. Faith activated the benefits that flow from cavalry. Abraham was the primary example of the man of faith who had a promise of God to beget a child. He believed God and this faith was credited to him as righteousness, four hundred-plus years before the law as thundered down from on high on Mt. Sinai. Abraham was counted forgiven. Sarah and Hagar symbolized those who are under grace and promise (Sarah) and those under law (Hagar). Isaac and Jacob are the promised line. Circumcision was the sign of being in the old people of God and eventually it became the sign of the Sinai covenant. This ritual no longer applied to the growing church in the Gentile world.
Fourth, yet Paul was reluctant to give up on his fellow Jews. They had the fathers, prophets, oracles, and law. Was God finished with them? How could he deny his promises? Israel is under a temporary hardening until the full measure of the Gentiles enters into the same promises. Israel’s rejection of the gospel and the Messiah opens the door to blessings for the Gentiles. Eventually God will work a miracle, and Jews and Gentiles would be one family. In the meantime, Messianic Jews and believing Gentile already constituted one family. Christ has torn down the wall separating them.
Fifth, Paul quotes from the Old Testament to clarify church issues and problems. He uses it for wisdom. Apparently Christians were quick to judge each other. He told them not to do this or to do it wisely if they had to set up a court of arbitration, so to speak. Further, Christians should not behave as the world does and engage in illicit sex. In family life, the members were to get along. Husbands were to love their wives, and children were to honor their parents. Leaders had the right to be supported, and the poor fellow-believers also had the right to financial gifts. Finally, the gatherings of all believers were to be orderly.
Sixth, Paul quotes the Old Testament to prove that Christ brings victory. Believers in God can experience victory through hardships and trials. They will overcome the first death by living forever. Christ’s ascension into heaven cleared the way and effected victory over death itself. Christ ascended on high and fills the universe. Every knee will bow to him.
But what does Paul not do with the OT? How does he ignore – even reject or repudiate – parts of it? Paul does not bring forward the old rituals like animal sacrifices and circumcision. Faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice eliminated the need for animal sacrifices. Circumcision is no longer needed as the sign of the New Covenant. Baptism is the sign now. Another area that Paul does not bring forward is the harsh penalties for, e.g. adultery and homosexuality, which the OT treated as capital crimes. Christ paid the penalties for these sins (not crimes), which are no longer punishable by death, but forgivable by love. He does not bring forward the curses that were built into the law and slammed down on people’s heads by their disobedience.
Finally, the main reason Paul quoted from Scripture is the same reason we do today: to cite a divine authority. The Word has authoritative divine energy that produces faith in the hearers. They respond by believing it. They get saved or rescued from the world and themselves, their sins. The words of the gospel bring life, unlike the letter of the law.
See the companion article the The Law in Paul’s Theology. See also the OT in Romans.
How does this post help me to know God better?
We should never throw out the Old Testament because of this or that law which no longer applies to us (e.g. the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath or kosher food laws). It is still relevant to our lives when used judicially. I hope this post goes a long way to clarify how to use the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Learn to love it, read it, and apply the truths there to your life.
Paul quotes from the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) 45 times. The prophets are quoted 53 times, with Isaiah taking the lead at 36 times. Psalms are quoted 23 times. And other books are cited 10 times. It is clear Paul liked Isaiah with its many promises of Jews and Gentiles being forged into one family, and he liked the Psalms for Jesus the Messiah and the doctrine of forgiveness, but he also liked the Torah.
I Kings: 2
2 Samuel: 2
1 Chronicles: 1