The Bible – one book, two covenants

“Salvation by grace through faith is not merely the province of New Testament theology but has always been the way in which God has called his people.” (WJ Dumbrell, Romans, p 99).

Bill Dumbrell’s comment comes in the context of his commentary upon Romans 9. It caught my attention because I sometimes find that fellow believers teach the bible in a manner which suggests otherwise. Put starkly, it sometimes come across as though the Old Testament was ‘salvation by works’ and the New Testament is the place of grace.

Of course, significant change has come with the first coming of Christ. And there is the dynamic of moving from ‘law of Moses’ to ‘grace and truth through Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17). In Romans 6-8 the apostle is dealing with this issue: the ‘problem of the law’ and the move to the Spirit. And here in Romans 9 he goes on to deal with the great issue of his day: the problem of Israel. But what is clear is that ‘salvation is always by grace through faith’.

I find myself wrestling away with this whole notion as I read Scripture. One of the difficulties is that the issue of legalism and ‘justifying oneself’ is clearly an issue both in the gospels (Luke 18:9-14) and in our own day. It was the great insight of the Reformation which Martin Luther had (see next post). It is certainly something that we need to constantly be addressing. But, Bill Dumbrell’s note is a reminder to us of the essential unity of the bible and God’s salvific purposes in the Old Testament:

“Salvation was never ethnic, by race, but always by grace throughout Israel’s history. Since not all from Israel are Israel, justification by faith is consistent with God’s promises.” (Dumbrell, Romans, 99).

PS I am referencing the first edition (2005) of his commentary. I see now that a revised second edition has been published (in 2012).


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