What Bible Did Jesus Read?
The question of which Bible Jesus used is an intriguing one. I am sure it is not a surprise to you that Jesus did not read the Bible as we know it. Yes, he read the Scriptures; it was just not in the form that we have it in today.
For starters, at the time Jesus lived, the New Testament had not been written yet. In his earthly life, Jesus lived in a Jewish context, and his teachings and references were drawn from the Hebrew Bible. We would call this the Old Testament today.
What we know is Jesus read from the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. What we don’t know is which specific Hebrew Bible Jesus used. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Old Testament Scriptures were available in more than one language (more on that below). This means Jesus could have used one of these or all of them.
Jesus Knew the Scriptures
When you read the Gospels, you see that Jesus quoted from the Old Testament Scriptures. This means he knew them, and in his life he had to learn them. The dichotomy that existed within Jesus is that he was fully God and fully human. It was in his humanity that he needed to study the Scriptures so he could grow in wisdom and stature.
There is no record in the New Testament that tells us when and where Jesus learned the Scriptures, but we see some glimpses. One of them occurs in Luke 2 when Jesus was twelve years old.
“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47).
Not only do we see Jesus with a desire to learn, but he is also sharing his wisdom and knowledge. This wisdom and knowledge would continue to develop until he began his ministry.
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
Another place where Jesus displays his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures is when he was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. In one temptation, Satan said “it is written” and quotes from the Psalms. Jesus was obviously familiar with the Psalm and immediately replied “it is also written.” He then quotes a verse from Deuteronomy. This shows Jesus did not have a causal relationship with the Old Testament. On a side note, it also shows Satan knows Scripture, which is a challenge to you as a Christian to make sure you know it too.
How Did Jesus Acquire His Knowledge of the Scriptures?
One thing we know is that Jesus was not formally taught or trained by the Scribes and Pharisees. We know this because they said it themselves.
“Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having been taught?’” (John 7:14-15).
This suggests that Jesus did not have “formal” training in relationship to the Scriptures. While there is no official record, it is likely he learned the Scriptures through personal study and devotion.
How Did Jesus Read the Scriptures?
Luke 4, gives us some valuable insight into the manner they read the Scriptures in Jesus’ day.
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21).
While we are not sure of Jesus’ formal training – and it appears he had none – what we know is Jesus was a regular attendee in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Clearly, some of his learning came from this context.
We also see from this story that in that day they read the Scriptures in the temple from scrolls.
What Bible Did Jesus Read?
All the books in the Old Testament were already written by the time Jesus was born. The last one to be completed was Malachi. This book was completed over 400 years before the birth of Jesus. To preserve the Hebrew Scriptures, ancient scribes meticulously copied them. They did this numerous times, which means there were many copies of the Hebrew Scriptures that existed.
According to textandcanon.org, by the time of Jesus’ day there were also translations of the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek and Aramaic.
“We know for certain that the Scriptures were in at least three languages in the Judaea of Jesus’ day. The Dead Sea Scrolls reflect this reality with their Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscript remains.”
Jesus did not carry around an Old Testament that looks like what we have today (he did not walk around with a KJV under his arm). However, he had access to the Scriptures in three different languages. The Bible Jesus read would have most likely included the Law, the Prophets, Job, Psalms, and Proverbs. The reason this is a good assumption is these are the books that are cited most often by the writers of the New Testament.
We also know from the Gospels that Jesus quoted from the books of the Law, the books of the prophets, and from Psalms. He quoted from Psalms more than any other book in the Old Testament. While the Bible Jesus read was not in the form we have today, the Scriptures he read share the same content as the ones we read today.
One Practical Application
Let’s assume Jesus did not have formal training in learning the Scriptures. What does that mean for you and me? The answer is simple. Formal training is not a requirement or an excuse for not knowing the Scriptures.
Our responsibility is to study to show ourselves approved (2 Tim. 2:15). This can come from formal training but should result more from personal study. The reason is we don’t just study from a formal context; we study from a relational context. We don’t study just to know facts but to help us draw closer to God.
If Jesus knows the Scriptures and Satan knows the Scriptures, then we have an obligation to know them, too. Let’s follow Jesus’ lead so we will be well equipped, and more importantly know more about the God we serve. While we can only make best-guess assumptions about the exact Bible Jesus read, the one thing we don’t have to assume is that he took the time to read it. We must do the same.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
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