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What is 'the Law and the Prophets' mentioned in the New Testament?

By 300 BC Judaism recognized certain writings as sacred scripture. These were all written and contained on scrolls because the technology of binding pages into a book (called a codex) did not yet exist. This collection of scrolls was categorized into three groups: the Torah (also called the Law of Moses), the Prophets, and the Writings (sometimes called simply "the Psalms" although it contained ten other scrolls besides the book of Psalms). These sacred scriptures are what constitute the Old Testament today. Another name for the Old Testament is the Hebrew Scriptures because most of these scriptures were originally written in Hebrew, although there are a few in Aramaic as well.

By the time of Jesus, these Hebrew Scriptures were often referred to by the shortened phrase "the Law and the Prophets." The third category of the Writings was lumped under the heading "the Prophets" because, by that time, anyone who wrote scripture was considered to have been a prophet, literally one who speaks forth the word of God.

So when Jesus referred to the Law and the Prophets in Matthew 7:12 and Matthew 22:40, He was referencing the entire collection of Hebrew Scriptures and highlighting an overarching principle throughout the entire biblical text of His time. Similarly, Paul, in Romans 3:21, was also referencing the entire Old Testament and showing how those scriptures point to Jesus. Paul wrote, "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Romans 3:21–22).

In Acts 13:15, Luke documented the practice of synagogues during his time. They would read a portion from the Torah and then a portion called the haftarah from either the Prophets or the Writings and then have a drash, or teaching, expounding upon those texts. The rules of hospitality dictated that if a guest who was qualified to teach was present, the opportunity would be extended to him after the reading. So in Acts 13:15 Luke recorded, "After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, 'Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.'"

When Philip invited his friend Nathanael to follow Jesus, he asserted that Jesus was the Messiah that the Hebrew texts predicted. He said, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1:45). Indeed, the whole Old Testament points to and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus, Himself, explained to His disciples after His resurrection, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44). Jesus knew and affirmed all three groups of Hebrew Scriptures—the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings—by mentioning "the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms." He said they all find the goal at which they had been aiming in Him.

When we read the Old Testament, we should be looking for the ways in which it points to Jesus. Similarly, the New Testament points back to Jesus and how His work on the cross and His resurrection affect our lives today. The entire Bible is one coherent story of how God provides salvation for fallen humans through His Son, Jesus the Messiah. The Law and the Prophets are an integral portion of that story and are preserved as the books of the Old Testament in our Bibles today.

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