How often does the New Testament refer to the Old Testament?

The writers of New Testament Scriptures frequently cite the Old Testament Scriptures which preceded them.  Even as later Old Testament prophets often cited earlier Scriptures, especially Moses, this continued reference to the earlier emphasizes that these newer works did not replace those prior, it built on them.  The apostles and those writing under their authority used Old Testament Scriptures to show continuity of their message to the prophets of old, to establish fulfillment of earlier prophecies, and to provide divine clarification and expansion of concepts only understood in part or as a shadow of what was coming.

The question that often arises is "how many times do New Testament writers cite Old Testament passages?"  A search for an answer to this, through commentaries, translator notes, and even a plethora of published and web articles will provide a multitude of competing answers.  Why?  Can't these people all recognize a citation when they see one?  It's not quite that simple.

The New Testament writers sometimes quoted exactly, or almost exactly, from the Hebrew Scriptures.  At times it was close except for utilizing a synonym for a key word, or adding a clarifying word.  These restatements were sometimes prefaced with wording, or contextual language, showing that they were still to be counted as citations from the Old Testament.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and a little Aramaic, yet a couple hundred years before the time of Jesus it was translated into Greek, a language that enabled it to be read by more individuals living outside of Israel.  Jews in the first century commonly used this Greek translation, especially when living in the Greek speaking world.   God's word has always been about its meaning and intent not the specific wording.  This is why a paraphrased message which encompasses what was intended by the original is just as much God's word as is a direct word for word citation.  A multitude of Old Testament citations in the New Testament quote from the Greek Septuagint translation, affirming that this translation encompassed the meaning and intent of the original in those passages and was to be utilized as God's word on par with the Hebrew and Aramaic originals.

Beyond full or relatively close citations from the Hebrew or Septuagint, a host of additional passages are alluded to, whether using paraphrasing or partial citations or direct or indirect reference to circumstances, events, and people from accounts in the Old Testament. 

Over the years many have attempted to number or account for all of these citations and allusions.  Of course, complete citations in Hebrew and sometimes from the Septuagint are relatively recognizable.  Many allusions are too.  And yet, when the passage makes clear that it was said was intended to be a citation and yet, today, we would consider it a paraphrase, do you count it as a citation or a paraphrase.  The debate goes on.  Add to this that some allusions are weaker than others, or in dispute as to whether or not the author intended to make such an allusion (with the possibility that it is inadvertent).   For these reasons most break such lists and numbering into multiple categories.  Typical headings and some representative values include:

1) Direct citations, intended citations, or unquestionable citations (224, 263, 295, 299, 845)

2) Clear allusions (613, 695, 1640) 

I've even seen an alternate and incredibly broad category for #2: 

3) Passages reminiscent of OT Scriptures (4105)

Obviously the counts overlap, with the one claiming 845 citations including some allusions as well. In cases where a passage is repeated multiple times in the Old Testament, it is counted as one citation by some and multiple by others.  Unfortunately the criterial for all these counts and divisions is quite subjective and, for that matter, not always stated in any form. 

Prior to giving my counts and headings, I want to make the following very clear.  The undeniable example of Scriptures is that the New Testament authors were concerned about the message with all of its meaning and intent.  This meant that they utilized allusion, paraphrasing, partial citations, translations and complete citations where necessary.   Regardless of which, they honored and utilized the Old Testament Scriptures as just that: Scriptures, God's Word.  They wanted people to read and understand the entire message that God gave before the New Testament.  To understand their words in the New Testament, indeed God's word, requires an understanding of the Old Testament.

I chose to break my list into three headings and my criteria for each division are likewise subjective...

#1. Citations (Direct citations of the Hebrew or Septuagint and intended citations by the wording of the author): 360

#2. Allusions (Relatively clear allusions to Old Testament passages): 510

#3. Possible Allusions (Less clear allusions to Old Testament passages): 139

This makes a total of 1009 New Testament passages that absolutely, or with relatively good certainty, can be said to quote or refer to the Old Testament.  For the record, my list is as follows.  If you question any on this list, or know of some that should be added, make sure to send me a message with specifics.

My chart showing specifics on what passages are counted
as quotation or allusions


Article by Brent MacDonald  (c) 2015
Discipleship Training Institue / Lion Tracks Ministries
As posted on
Non-profit duplication permitted - a courtesy email is appreciated