People didn’t follow Jesus only because of his miracles—they also followed him because he knew how to handle the Old Testament:
- He could match wits with the temple teachers at age 12 (Lk 2:42, 46–47).
- He resisted the devil’s temptations using passages from Deuteronomy (Mt 4:1–11).
- He stumped the Pharisees when it came to who the son of David is (Mt 22:41–46).
Jesus is the greatest Old Testament scholar of all time, and it makes me wonder: which books of the Old Testament does Jesus quote most often in the Gospels?
Let’s count them down game-show style:
The 4 Old Testament books Jesus quotes most
Exodus is famous for the stories of Moses, the burning bush, the 10 plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea. It’s the story of God calling Israel from Egypt and making them his own people in the wilderness.
Jesus quotes Exodus seven times, usually referencing the laws God gives Israel in the wilderness—especially the Ten Commandments:
- Jesus references the burning bush incident when explaining the resurrection (Ex 3:6; Mt 22:32; Mk 12:26; Lk 20:37).
- He recalls the Ten Commandments when telling a rich man how to enter the kingdom of God (Ex 20:12–16; Mt 19:18–19; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20).
- He mentions the fifth commandment (honoring parents) when exposing the Pharisees’ and scribes’ hypocrisy (Ex 20:12, 21:17; Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10).
- And of course, the commandments against murder and adultery show up in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Ex 20:12–13; Mt 5:21, 27).
- Jesus quotes the famous “eye for an eye” line right before telling his disciples to turn the other cheek (Ex 21:24; Mt 5:38).
Jesus quotes the book of Isaiah eight times during his ministry. Isaiah was a prophet who wrote about the coming judgment of both Israel’s kingdoms—and the comfort that God would bring to his people afterward.
Jesus quotes Isaiah to describe the disconnect between the people and their God. For example:
- Jesus speaks in parables, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy concerning “eyes that do not see” and “ears that do not hear” (Is 6:9–10; Mt 13:14–15; Mk 4:12; Lk 8:10).
- When Jesus turns over the tables in the temple, he references Isaiah’s words on how the house of God was intended to operate (Is 56:7; Mt 21:13; Mk 11:17; Lk 19:46).
- He calls out the Pharisees and scribes for their lip service to God—they honor God with their words, but their hearts are far, far from him (Is 29:13; Mt 15:8–9; Mk 7:6–7).
- He alludes to Isaiah in his parable of the vineyard (Is 5:1; Mt 21:33; Mk 12:1; Lk 20:9).
These messages aren’t always well-received, but that shouldn’t be a surprise—they weren’t very popular back when Isaiah wrote them, either.
But Jesus doesn’t always dwell on the negatives. He also quotes Isaiah when describing how his ministry reconciles the people back to God:
- He quotes Isaiah’s prophecy that Jesus would die a sinner’s death (Is 53:12; Lk 22:37).
- His salvation ministry allows the people to be taught of God (Is 54:13; Jn 6:45).
- He heals the blind and brings good news to the afflicted (Is 61:1–2; Mt 11:5; Lk 4:18–19, 7:22).
Jesus quotes Isaiah to highlight the disconnect between God and the people, but he also quotes Isaiah to remind people of the comfort God will bring through him.
Another book of Moses—the last of the five. Deuteronomy wraps up the story of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. Moses calls the people together and lays out God’s expectations for them in the future, once they take the land of Canaan.
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy on 10 occasions in the gospels, and it’s the only OT book Jesus quotes when he speaks to the devil.
- Jesus sums up the law and the prophets with a line from Deuteronomy (and another from Leviticus): love God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Dt 6:5; Mt 22:37; Mk 12:29–33; Lk 10:27).
- The Ten Commandments are in both Exodus and Deuteronomy: Jesus references both books when he cites the commandments.
- Jesus references Deuteronomy when he discusses divorce (Dt 24:1–3; Mt 5:31, 19:7; Mk 10:4).
- He mentions Moses’ rule of witnesses when he outlines church discipline (Dt 19:15; Mt 18:16).
- When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus responds with passages from Deuteronomy (Dt 6:13, 16, 8:3; Mt 4:4, 7, 10; Lk 4:4, 8, 12).
Psalms is the most-read book of the Bible, and it’s the one Jesus quotes most often.
The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and poems written to God. David penned half of them, and the rest were written by temple worship leaders (like the sons of Asaph), wise men (like Solomon), and some unknown poets (like . . . well, I don’t know).
Jesus quotes the Psalms on 11 occasions:
- Jesus outwits the Pharisees with the Psalms on several occasions (Ps 8:2, 110:1; Mt 21:16, 22:44; Mk 12:36, 14:62; Lk 20:42–43).
- He quotes the twenty-second Psalm while dying on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1; Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). He then fulfills the thirty-first Psalm by committing his spirit to the Father (31:5; Lk 23:46).
- Jesus is hated without cause, which he says the Psalms foretold (Ps 35:19, 69:4; Jn 15:25).
- He quotes the Psalms when talking about his betrayal (Ps 41:9; Jn 13:18).
- Jesus recalls the manna in the wilderness after feeding a multitude (Ps 78:24; Jn 6:31).
- When the Jews want to stone Jesus for claiming to be God, he responds with a line Psalms (Ps 82:6; Jn 10:34).
- Jesus quotes Psalm 110 when Pilate asks if he is the son of God (Ps 110:1; Mt 26:64).
- He quotes Psalms to the chief priests and elders, calling himself the chief cornerstone (Ps 118:22–23; Matt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Luke 20:17).
- Jesus references Psalms when foretelling Jerusalem’s destruction (Ps 118:26; Matt 23:39; Lk 13:35).
A few more cool things
So Jesus quotes Psalms, Deuteronomy, Exodus, and Isaiah a great deal—it would probably be a good idea for us to know them better, too.
Of course, Jesus quotes more of the Old Testament, too. He references every book of the Pentateuch, plus several of the prophets.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how I got this list: it’s based on an appendix in Steve Moyise’s book, Jesus and Scripture.
Jeffrey Kranz blogs at the Overview Bible Project, where he explores how interesting and applicable the whole Bible is.