As I read this passage, I thought of something a famous pastor was telling his congregation not too long ago.
He was ranting, “Here’s a question we gotta quit asking…What does the Bible say, what does the Bible say, what does the Bible about that…this is a really bad question we have to quit asking…Let me tell you a better question: What does the New Covenant teach? Or let’s be more specific, What does the New Testament teach? Or even better, What does Jesus teach?”
Now let me be clear: there is a germ of truth to what he says.
The Old Testament is always to be interpreted in light of the New, never the reverse.
The New Covenant does supercede the Old.
And of course, Jesus is absolutely authoritative when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture and how we are to live.
With those qualifications, it’s going too far to say that we should quit asking “What does the Bible say”. From the above statement, what you see he really means is that we shouldn’t ask what the Old Testament says about the questions we face concerning our faith and lives.
I respectfully disagree. This passage is an example of why. Paul was dealing with a core spiritual issue: how are we justified, by our faith or by keeping the law? What did Paul say in answering the question?
“What did Jesus say?”
“What does the New Covenant say?”
No, he points to the Old Testament and the life of Abraham and asks, “What does Scripture say?”
And when he talks about the blessing of the person whose righteousness comes apart from works, does he say “What does Jesus say?” or “What does the New Covenant say?”
No, he again points to the Old Testament, essentially saying once more, “What does the Scripture say?”
This is no accident. His whole argument up until that point had been steeped in “What does Scripture say?” This includes his key thesis statement in chapter one. What does the Scripture say? “The righteous shall live by faith.” (1:17)
The practice of the apostles when they taught and made key decisions (see James’ statement in Acts 15 for example) was not only to ask what Jesus taught, but to ask, “What does the Bible say,” which, by the way, meant to them, “What does the Old Testament say?” They saw no inherent conflict between the two. Why should we?
So let us not try to separate the Old Testament from the New to the point where we say “Let’s get rid of the question, ‘What does the Bible say?'”
Instead let us continue asking, “What does the Bible say,” using and interpreting it as the apostles did.
When you have questions about God’s grace and mercy, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Exodus 34:6-7)
When you have questions about God’s wrath and judgment, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Romans 1:18-32)
When you have questions about how the New Covenant differs from the Old, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
When you have questions about who salvation is for, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Joel 2:28-32, Isaiah 42:1-7)
When you have questions about the meaning of the cross, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Isaiah 53)
When you have questions about moral standards, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Exodus 20, Matthew 22:37-38, 1 Cor. 5-6, Lev. 18-19)
And again, remember: The New Testament interprets the Old, because the New Covenant supercedes the Old. But even what is superceded should not simply be discarded. See why the old things were there and why they were discarded. They were there for a purpose. Learn what those purposes were. They were all meant for your instruction and benefit. (I Cor. 10:6-11, 2 Tim. 3:15-17)
So as you face each day with all the questions and trials you may encounter, always ask yourself, “What does the Bible say?”
As the psalmist wrote,
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105 — NIV)