Deuteronomy in the New Testament 1

According to McConville, Deuteronomy is cited in the New Testament more frequently than any other Old Testament book, though some think more in terms of the Psalms. It is certain that the influence of Deuteronomy goes far beyond the number of actual direct quotations, although McConville acknowledges that there is no common formula for tracing Deuteronomy through the New Testament.


Wenham says that the towering figure of Moses is the key to the history and literature of the Pentateuch in general, and Deuteronomy in particular. Moses is mentioned ninety-nine times in the New Testament, and this is, in itself, formidable evidence of Deuteronomy in the New Testament.

Moses appears alongside Jesus at the Transfiguration, and Broyles says that this indicates that Jesus was being portrayed as a new Moses with a revelation of God as significant as the Mosaic law. He further declares that the Gospels present Moses as both the Lawgiver and the mediator of that Law, and that this is confirmed in John 1:17 by the apostle himself, and by Jesus in John 7:19.

Jesus spoke in a remarkable way about Moses (John 5:45-47) saying that Moses wrote about him; this is indeed identification with and authentication of the towering figure of Moses. Guthrie says that the strong Jewish belief that the Lord would raise up a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), led Philip to find Nathanael and say to him about Jesus, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Stephen’s closing words in Acts 7:35-41 pick up the theme of Jesus being a prophet like Moses, while Stephen is clearly telling the people that they have rejected Moses. As Moses the prophet was rejected by his own people, so would Jesus be. It is, according to Broyles, a distinctive emphasis of Deuteronomy that Moses suffered Yahweh’s anger (vicariously?) solely on account of the people (Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26; 4:21; 34:4).


The ethics of Deuteronomy are visible in the New Testament, although McConville says that the manner in which this happens is complex. Jesus used the tool of contrast as he cited the divorce law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in Matthew 19:7-9 by appearing to set a higher standard than the Old Testament law did. Compare further Matthew 5:21-48 and the ‘But I tell you’ sayings of Jesus. Similarly, Deuteronomy 19:21 and Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. The prohibition on oath-breaking in Deuteronomy 23:21 becomes a prohibition on oath-making (Matthew 5:33-37). Wright says that, as Jesus himself pointed out, the Deuteronomic law is not a command to divorce wives but a provision that regulates those instances when a divorce takes place.

Jesus said that he came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, not to abolish them (Matthew 5:17). McCconville considers it likely that Jesus saw his preaching of the Law in general as bringing out its full force rather than diminishing it, and cites his words on murder and adultery (Matthew 5:21-30) as a case in point.

To Deuteronomy 6:4,5 Jesus added the phrase ‘with all your mind’ and described the verses as ‘the first and great commandment’ (Matthew 22:37,38; Mark 12:29,30; Luke 10:27). During his temptation by Satan, Jesus countered the devil’s attack with words quoted in Matthew 4:4 from Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:7 from Deuteronomy 6:16; and Matthew 4:10 from Deuteronomy 6:13. All of this indicates the depth of Jesus’ meditation on the written word in Deuteronomy, says Wright.

Jesus taught about the Law in Matthew 5:17ff and quoted the commandment ‘Do not murder’ from Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. In John 5:31-36, Jesus cited three witnesses to his own claims, and thus appealed back to Deuteronomy 19:15. In Matthew 5:38, Jesus cited Deuteronomy 19:21 and highlighted the law of equal retaliation. The matter of hating your enemy from Deuteronomy 23:6 was developed further by Jesus in Matthew 5:43 as he engaged in the debate of law.

Deuteronomy 4:1 is an important verse with regard to two linked themes that are found in the words of Jesus and in the New Testament in general: ‘So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.’ The teaching given is for obedience not knowledge (teaching you to observe) and those words lead to life (so that you may live).

Jesus said in John 6:63 that his words were spirit and life, and, in Matthew 19:17 he told the rich young man, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” In his conversation with the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-19), Jesus quotes the law from Deuteronomy 5:16-20. McConville says that the Deuteronomic connection between hearing the word and receiving life (Deuteronomy 30:20), recurs in the New Testament as hearing Jesus’ word and receiving eternal life (John 5:24,25).

As Jesus commissioned his disciples (Matthew 28:19,20) the Lord made it plain that they were to teach all nations to obey everything that he had commanded them. The theme of obedience is also found in Luke 11:28; John 14:15,21,23 and 15:10. Jesus also spoke of his disciples hearing his voice, and finding abundant life in him (John 10).

Deuteronomy 16:16-17 deals with the reciprocal nature of giving and blessing, and speaks of joy being complete; this theme is picked up and, as Wright says, polished by Jesus in John 16:24.

In Matthew 15:3 Jesus speaks of ‘the command of God’, which the religious people would associate with the command of God in Deuteronomy 5:16. In Deuteronomy 3:20 the Lord’s rest is spoken of, and Jesus gives the term its highest expression when he offers rest to the weary (Matthew 11:28,29).

In dealing with sexual immorality, Deuteronomy includes the guilty man in the sentence and thereby shows that the law did not support a double standard in dealing with sexual issues. Those who brought to Jesus only the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11) did not follow the law in Deuteronomy 22:22 and thereby allowed Jesus to deal with them as lawbreakers, and take the focus off the woman alone, as explained by Wright.