Proverbs Lesson 8

Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World

Lesson 8 | July 31, 2016

Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD

How the New Testament uses the Book of Proverbs

There are allusions to five Proverbs in the NT. In this lesson we will look at the last proverb to which the NT alludes.[1]

Fifth Allusion

“If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (24:12).

“[W]ho will render to each one according to his deeds” (Romans 2:6).

“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works” (II Timothy 4:14).

We looked at 24:12 in Lesson 2 and noted the way Jesus quoted from this verse in Matthew 16:27. But in this lesson we will examine the way Paul alluded to 24:12 in a different context.

First, Paul referred to 24:12 in Romans 2:6 in the process of developing the idea that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In Romans 1:18-32, Paul described the sinfulness of Gentiles. He referred to no OT text in these verses, apparently because the OT was given to Jews, not to Gentiles. (See Romans 3:1-2.)

In Romans 2:1, Paul turned his attention to the sinfulness of Jews. (See Romans 2:17.) Between Romans 2:6 and 3:18, twelve verses refer to a total of at least twenty-one OT verses.

The immediate context of Romans 2:6 tells us that each person is responsible for his or her actions and that the day is coming when God will judge those actions even if they have been kept secret up until that time. (See Romans 2:1-16.) This judgment will be carried out by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16; see also Matthew 16:27).

The larger context of Romans 2:6 reveals that every person, Jew and Gentile, is a sinner (Romans 3:23). The problem is not just that all have sinned in the past; it is that all continually fall short in the present. As Douglas Moo points out, this means “all people fail to exhibit that ‘being-like-God’ for which they were created; and the present tense of the verb … shows that even Christians ‘fall short’ of that goal until they are transformed in the last day by God.”[2]

Since all of us have sinned and continually fail to measure up to what we should be, and since God “will render to each one according to his deeds,” is our situation hopeless? No, because Romans 3:23 is surrounded by the good news of the righteousness of God “apart from the law” which is “through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). This good news includes the free justification by the grace of God that is available “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” and which satisfies God’s righteous judgment (propitiation). This is made possible by the blood of Christ Jesus and it comes to us through faith. (See Romans 3:24-26). This good news is available both to Jews and Gentiles. (See Romans 3:27-31.)

Further, the good news connected with the larger context of Romans 2:6 is not limited to the New Testament. The same message found in Proverbs 24:12 (“[W]ill He not render to each man according to his deeds?) is found also in Psalm 62:12b: “For You render to each one according to his work.” This is not the entire message, however. The first part of the verse reads, “Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy” (Psalm 62:12a). If God will reward each of us according to our deeds, we desperately need the mercy of God, and we have it when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. (See Romans 3:22, 25-26, 28, 30.)

Another Note

“There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12).

This portion of the verses to which Paul referred in Romans 3:10-18 could have been quoted from Psalm 14:3 or Psalm 53:3. Which was it? Does it matter?

Paul’s source was the LXX of Psalm 14:3, and his choice of this psalm over Psalm 53, which is so similar to Psalm 14, provides insight into the care the writers of the NT exercised in their use of the OT. In the Book of Psalms, the fourteenth psalm is located in a Jewish context. In other words, the psalms before and after Psalm 14 address circumstances within the Jewish community. In Psalm 14, God is referred to as Yahweh, the covenant name for God in His relationship with Israel.

Psalm 53, however, is located within the immediate Gentile context of Psalm 52 (Doeg the Edomite) and Psalm 54 (Ziphites). God is referred to as Elohim, a name often used when God is spoken of in connection with the entire human race.

As noted earlier in this lesson, in Romans 1:18-32, Paul addressed the sinfulness of Gentiles and did not quote from, paraphrase, or allude to any OT text. But in Romans 2:1 through 3:18, he described the sinfulness of Jews and referred to a wide variety of OT texts. One of those texts reads, “There is none who does good, no, not one.” When referring to the Jewish community in the NT, Paul used OT references that refer to the same community. This indicates Paul was conscious of his audience and his sources.[3]

Next Lesson

There is one more allusion to Proverbs 24:12 in the New Testament. We will examine it next week.

[1] For textual connections between the OT and NT, we have looked at Robert G. Bratcher, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1984). Further study reveals additional connections. For instance, Bratcher does not note the allusion to Proverbs 10:12 in James 5:20. Since 1984, the use of the OT in the NT has been a topic of increasing interest to biblical scholars. When I say this is the last Proverb to which the NT alludes, I don’t mean we are exhausting this subject. This is the last proverb which Bratcher lists as alluded to in the NT.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 226-27.

[3] We cannot work out all of the details of Paul’s use of Psalm 14:3 in this lesson, but they are included in a thesis I wrote for the Th.M. degree. See Daniel Lee Segraves. “An Application of Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics to Psalms 14 and 53.” Th.M. thesis, Western Seminary, 2003. A more accessible treatment is included in Daniel L. Segraves, The Messiah in the Psalms: Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2007), 52-54, 188-190.