Proverbs Lesson 7

Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World

Lesson 7 | July 24, 2016

Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD

How the New Testament uses the Book of Proverbs

There are allusions to five[1] Proverbs in the NT. In this lesson we will look at the fourth of them.

Fourth Allusion

“If the righteous will be recompensed on the earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner” (11:31).

“If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear”? (LXX).

“Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (I Peter 4:18).

At first glance, we see that Peter’s allusion is directly from the LXX. We also readily note the reference to “the righteous” in the English translation, the LXX, and Peter’s mention. But we also observe what may seem to be a significant difference. The English translation refers to the righteous being “recompensed,” whereas the LXX and Peter speak of the righteous being “saved.” Are these two different ideas?

When the NT refers to the OT, there is always the possibility that additional ranges of meaning may be introduced by the new context. But before we conclude there is no real connection between an OT reference and its NT counterpart, we must examine both contexts and take into account the ranges of meaning in the key Hebrew and Greek words.

In Proverbs 11:31 we note the meaning of the word translated “recompensed” [יְשֻׁלָּ֑ם]. The word has two possible ideas: to be at peace or to be repaid. In its context, the meaning is “to be repaid.” It could be translated in various ways, so long as the idea of receiving something in response to some kind of behavior or character quality is retained. For instance, the word could be translated “rewarded.”[2]

Nearly each verse in Proverbs 11 advances the idea of consequences of righteous behavior or character in contrast to ungodly behavior or character. The righteous reap what they sow in the here and now; so do the unrighteous.

Is this what the LXX says and what Peter means? Are the words “scarcely saved” in the same range of meaning as “recompensed”? Let’s take a look at the context of I Peter.

The central theme of I Peter is the appropriate Christian response to suffering. This suffering is the result of “various trials” (1:6), including the abuse of servants by masters (2:19-21) and defamation by unbelievers (3:13-19). Peter sees suffering as normal for believers (4:12). Christians share Christ’s sufferings because of their identification with Him (4:13-16). This suffering is the will of God (4:19). To suffer patiently is commendable before God (2:20). Christians are called to submit to unjust suffering; our Lord set the example for this (2:21). The result of suffering, faithfully endured, will be “praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:7). Those who keep their faith in Christ will survive perfected, established, strengthened, and settled (5:10).[3]

This general context helps us understand Peter’s use of Proverbs 11:31. The immediate context of I Peter 4:18 sharpens our focus, because I Peter 4:17 also reflects OT texts.

Even when NT writers do not quote directly from OT passages, it is often apparent that there is a parallel in their minds. Such is the case with I Peter 4:17. The background of this verse is the LXX translation of Ezekiel 9 and Malachi 3.[4]

Ezekiel 9 records the vision of the slaying of all those in Jerusalem who do not “sigh and cry over the abominations that are done within it” (Eze 9:4). There are precise verbal parallels in the Greek text of I Peter 4:17 and the LXX Greek of Ezekiel 9:6. As compared with Ezekiel’s account of the cleansing of Jerusalem starting from the Temple, the point of I Peter is that the judgment of God begins in the church. It spreads from there to the unbelieving society outside the church.

The word translated “judgment” (κρίμα) does not always refer to condemnation. It can “refer to a judgment which results in good and bad evaluations, a judgment which may issue in approval or discipline as well as condemnation.”[5] Thus, I Peter 4:12 identifies the “fiery trial” as the judgment of God intended to purify believers. If God judges believers, it is certain He will judge unbelievers who “do not obey the gospel of God.”

The word translated “scarcely” (μόλις)  includes the ideas of “with difficulty” and “not readily, only rarely.”[6] The first meaning is appropriate here. I Peter does not mean that “only rarely” are the righteous saved nor that the righteous are “not readily” saved. From the context, it is clear that the righteous are saved “with difficulty.” Verse 18 does not mean it is difficult for God to save them or that they must work hard to be saved; it means the fiery trials sent to test them are difficult to endure. The point is that if those who are righteous are saved only as they endure the difficulty of “fiery trials,” the destiny of those who are unrighteous will be much more difficult for them.

Righteous persons are saved with difficulty, but they are saved because they are “steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:9, 12). But ungodly sinners are not persons of faith. This is essentially the same message as in Proverbs 11:31. The difference is that the Proverbs context does not focus on the suffering of the righteous.

Next Lesson

In our next lesson we will continue to consider the allusions to Proverbs in the New Testament.

[1] I previously said there are allusions to six proverbs in the NT. The correct number is five. These are alluded to seven times in the NT.

[2] This translation is suggested in the margin of The New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996).

[3] Daniel L. Segraves, First Peter: Standing Fast in the Grace of God (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1999), 9-10.

[4] We will not be able in this lesson to discuss Malachi 3, but this is done in my commentary on I Peter.

[5] Wayne Grudem, I Peter; Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 181.

[6] Walter Bauer et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 526.