Proverbs Lesson 2


Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World

Lesson 2 | June 12, 2016

By Daniel L. Segraves

How the New Testament uses the Book of Proverbs

One of the most helpful ways to study any book of the OT[1] is to see how it is used in the NT. Proverbs is quoted, paraphrased, or alluded to about a dozen times in the NT. In this lesson, we will look at these references, considering the context of these texts in both testaments. We will first look at quotations, then paraphrases, and then allusions.

First Quotation

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (3:11-12).

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:5-6).

Most references to the OT found in the NT follow the reading of the Septuagint, a Greek translation from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Septuagint, often referred to as LXX, dates from the third century B.C. When there are variations between the way an OT text reads and the way it appears in the NT, it is usually due to this. That is the case with this first quotation from Proverbs in the NT.

The context of these verses in Proverbs includes a warning not to forget God’s law (3:1). The Hebrew word translated “law” is Torah. We may think of “law” in terms of rules, and Torah can have that meaning. In that case, we may think the word “law” here in Proverbs refers to the Law of Moses given at Mount Sinai with its Ten Commandments and a total of 613 rules. As with all words, however, the meaning of Torah is determined by the context in which it is used. Torah commonly is used to mean “instruction,” and that is the case here.

The significance of these words in the Book of Hebrews is found in the first audience of this New Testament book and the purpose for which it was written. Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were considering turning away from their New Covenant relationship with God in order to return to the Old Covenant, also known as the Law of Moses. The quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12 is introduced with these words: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons” (Heb 12:5). The immediate context of this quotation in Hebrews is to warn the book’s readers that even though they had been on the verge of making a terrible mistake, God still considered them His sons and that He would chasten them in an attempt to prevent them from turning away from Christ and back to Moses. (See Heb 12:5-11.)

Second Quotation

“Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (3:34).

“But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (I Peter 5:5).

Once again, the New Testament follows the reading of the LXX. The immediate context of this verse in Proverbs includes four verses contrasting negative and positive consequences for specific character qualities. These refer to the perverse vs. the upright, the wicked vs. the just, the scornful vs. the humble, and the wise vs. fools. (See 3:32-35.)

James uses these words in the context of “wars and fights” among his readers (James 4:1). His emphasis is on the importance of humility, contextually defined as submission to God. God extends grace to those who submit to Him. (See James 4:1-10.)

Peter uses Pro 3:34 in much the same way as James, but with the added idea of mutual submission. Both James and Peter see humility as important to resisting the devil. (See I Peter 5:1-10.)

Third Quotation

“And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (24:12).

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27).

In a reference to the judgment that will follow the Second Coming, Jesus used a portion of Pro 24:12 to link that judgment with a person’s deeds (i.e., works). Jesus followed the reading of the LXX.

We must not miss the significance of Jesus’ use of these words from Proverbs to refer to His Second Coming. After His resurrection and just before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). These are the three sections of the OT as the books are arranged in the Hebrew Scriptures.[2] The Law of Moses includes the first five books of the OT, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Prophets include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (Hosea-Malachi). The Psalms, also referred to as the Writings, include Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.[3]

Since Jesus used Pro 24:12 as He did, this indicates that these words are at least part of the Book of Proverbs that concern Him. They testify not only to His Second Coming but also to His deity, for their context in Proverbs  describes actions only God can perform: (1) He weighs the hearts; (2) He keeps the soul; (3) He renders to each man according to his deeds. (See Pro 24:11-12.)

Next Lesson

There are three additional verses in Proverbs that are quoted in the NT. We will look at them in the next lesson.

[1] OT refers to the Old Testament; NT refers to the New Testament.

[2] The order of the OT books in English translations follows the LXX, not the Hebrew arrangement.

[3] The third section is referred to as Psalms because it is the first book in this section.