Romans and the Old Testament

Romans and the Old Testament

Arthur Rayburn

This article is intended to be only a guide to a thorough study of the Epistle to the Romans. Without such a study, a satisfactory appreciation of this subject will not be possible.

Two systems of life were in existence at the beginning of New Testament times. These were Judaism and pagan philosophies.

The first was condemned by Jesus when He charged the Pharisees and scribes as having “made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:6). In other words, Judaism had neither the power nor the authority to change men’s lives and to bring them to God.

The pagan philosphies, containing many fine phrases and moral concepts, had also evinced no power to deliver men from lives of debauchery and the grossest of evil acts.

Into such a world of sin and moral ineptitude came Jesus. The opposition of these two evil forces became intense, the first, to Jesus Himself; and the latter, to the Christians after Pentecost.

The moral condition of the world at the time of Christ’s coming was such that something had to be done to save mankind from utter ruin (Mal. 4:6). The answer to this world problem was Christ and Christianity. The Holy Spirit directed Paul to write the letter to the Romans to show that this new answer was the revelation of God through Christ, the Son of God, the Redeemer and Justifier of ungodly sinners.

While God’s answer in Christ was “new,” the Roman letter, in its development of the doctrine of the gospel, is based on the Old Testament Scriptures. Over seventy-three references and allusions to the Old Testament are recorded. The use of the Old Testament ranges through Genesis to Malachi.

In Romans, references are made to many persons, events, and writings of the Old Testament. Mention is made of Adam, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Esau, Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea, and Elijah. Quotations are found from the Pentateuch, the historical books, the poetical writings (Job, Psalms, and Proverbs), and the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Habakkuk, and Malachi.

The law is most prominent in the presentation of the gospel of God, which is based on the revelation of God through the Scriptures, and was promised beforehand by His prophets in these same “Holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). Again, the same gospel is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith “by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God” (Rom. 16:26).

Between these two statements, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the Epistle, numerous Old Testament references present a gospel which is in perfect agreement in meticulous detail with the claims made. Amongst these references, there are fifteen occurrences in the Authorized Version, of the words “as it is written.”

The first occurrence is the key to the entire letter (Rom. 1:17); it is taken from Habakkuk 2:4, “The just shall live by faith.” Here is the announcement of a divine principle based on the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel of His Son. The argument proceeds to prove the guilt of men, and demonstrates the depravity of: (1) the ungodly sinner, (2) the self-righteous sinner (the pagan philosopher), (3) the religious Jew (the Judaizer) (Rom. 1:18-2:23).

A quotation from 2 Sam. 12:14 lays a serious charge against the Jew (Rom. 2:24). The name of God is blasphemed by the nations because of the sin of the Jew. This raises the question of Jewish privilege, yet their unbelief brings condemnation.

Romans 3:4, quoted from Psalm 51:4, is used to justify the true God in His sayings and in the exercise of judgment. This leads to the final indictment in chapter 3:10-18, in which are quoted words from Psalms and Proverbs. Therefore, the conclusion as to man’s guilt and judgment is based on Old Testament proof of his depravity.

To illustrate the faith principle, the case of Abraham is set forth in positive imputation of righteousness, and the case of David, in non-imputation of sin (Rom. 4). The bestowal of grace is shown to be apart from human merit. Genesis 17:5 is quoted in Romans 4:17 to demonstrate that Abraham was made our father on the principle of faith, not for himself alone, but to all who believe.

The development of the argument leads on to clearance and acceptance, no condemnation and no separation (Rom. 5, 6, 7, 8). In the recital of the blessings of the gospel and the security thus obtained, the assurance in the midst of persecution, Psalm 44:22 is quoted in Romans 8:36 to show the overcoming power of the gospel.

Chapters 9, 10, and 11 continue the main purpose of the Roman Epistle. The subject is still the principle of faith. A compelling appeal to the Old Testament Scriptures establishes most clearly that faith, not works, is the only way of acceptance as righteous before God. A careful reading of these chapters will show that in direct quotations and references, the greater part is from the Old Testament.

The conclusion reached in this part of the letter is that the problem of Jewish unbelief is their failure to see that the principle of faith is the sole manner in which God will bless both Jew and Gentile, as all men are in unbelief. These chapters end with a magnificent outburst of praise from Paul, in which he expresses amazement at the unfathomable riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, His unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways, using quotations from Job and Isaiah.

The theme of the principle of faith is sustained in the remainder of the letter. The reference in chapter 12 to a living sacrifice refers back to the Old Testament of sacrifices, the effect of which upon the offerer was the production of holiness in the life, both ceremonially and morally.

The New Testament teaching differs only in that the believer is empowered by a new life, the divine nature, energized by the Holy Spirit. This is active faith. Grace, mercy, and love working by faith are to be the product of what has been given as God’s free gift. Even as Romans12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:25, the same principle of action is enjoined.

In the matter of the judgment of others, the appeal is to Isaiah 45:23, where God is set forth as the Judge to Whom all must bow the knee, and to Whom all are answerable. This is the intention in chapter 14 of Romans.

Chapter 15:1-13 forms the conclusion of the letter, and the Old Testament Scriptures form the final argument, showing Jesus Christ to be One in Whom the truth of God rests and in Whom all the promises find fulfilment, to Jew and Gentile alike. The doxology of Romans 15:13 is a fitting climax to such a magnificent treatise.

The closing benediction in Romans 16:25-27 is a compact summary of the gospel. The emphasis is placed again on the Scriptures of the prophets and the commandment of the everlasting God. The gospel is for the obedience of faith made known to all nations.

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.”