A further (dissenting) reply on Romans 1:17

From: Edward Hobbs (EHOBBS@wellesley.edu)
Date: Sat Feb 03 1996 - 16:41:50 EST

John Moe's extremely insightful (and apparently now inciteful!) inquiry brought
replies from two excellent scholars on our List. I am impelled to reply as
well, since this is an extremely important text (and issue).

                Habakkuk 2:4---

          But-the-righteous by-his-faith(fulness) shall-live.

          But the righteous by my faith(fulness) shall-live.


               (Omitting Hebrew "HIS" and LXX "MY")

     Paul drops the HIS (Hebrew) or MY (LXX) to universalize the statement
in Hab. 2:4. [The fact that W, the Freer MS. of the Minor Prophets, omits
MOU does not indicate that Paul's LXX lacked the word; it is almost
certainly a Christian scribe's correction, done VERY early--third century.]

     Both Carl and Carlton have suggested ways Paul SHOULD have rewritten
this text if he thought it meant "The righteous through faith shall live."
     But I would argue that he did not feel free to rewrite the text. Paul
does not rewrite his citations from the LXX to conform to his grammar.
E.g., he uses the future ZHSW, not the classical ZHSOMAI, except when
citing LXX, where he retains the future middle form (classical). See
Zerwick, Section 226. He almost certainly could read Hebrew, and I would
be incredulous if I were told that he didn't even bother to look in his
Bible(s) for one of the two most central texts in his thinking. Hence he
saw both "HIS" and "MY" as modifiers of "FAITH(FULNESS)", thus a legitimate
variable he could omit to universalize the text.

        (And Carl, I would incline to think of this is the MOTTO for
Romans, not a "proof text.")

     Now, how did Paul understand this text? (I won't refer you to my
piece on this published just forty years ago, since I can't find it here
myself.) Carlton put it correctly when he said that some commentators base
their interpretation (The one who is righteous through faith shall live) on
the structure of Romans. The modern commentator who fought hardest for
this was Anders Nygren; his _Romerbrevet_ argued the case at great length
and with substantial evidence. What question is Paul offering to answer in
Romans? Is it, "How shall the righteous live? -- Answer: They shall live
by faith." Or is it, "How can anyone find life, the goal of all human
striving? I.e., Who shall live? Answer: The righteous through faith shall
     Ch. 1-4 -- The righteous through faith
     Ch. 5-8 (or 5-15) -- Shall live
And in each case, he argues first negatively (what righteous through faith
is not: it is not UNrighteousness, nor is it righteousness through
law/works) (what life is not: not being under the power of wrath, sin, law,
or death) then what it IS.
     No point in repeating Nygren (my copies of the original Swedish and
the ET are in my office, not here in my cold basement, so I couldn't
anyway, could I?); you can all read him.
     But he convinced me, long ago; and he convinced the RSV translators in
1946. Alas, the NRSV went back to Luther's interpretation, and consigned
Lutheran Bishop Nygren to the margin. But then they usually got Paul
wrong, I suspect.

     A final point on word order: Carl said,
'By terms of "normal" Greek grammar, EK PISTEWS in Rom. 1:17 SHOULD be
construed with ZHSETAI . . . .'
     But as Carl well knows, lots of things in Hellenistic writers,
including Paul, do not follow classical canons; and this example is
probably one of them. Whether Paul would have moved EK PISTEWS before
DIKAIOS if he felt free to re-write his Biblical text, I don't know; but
I'm somewhat doubtful. The issue isn't whether this text COULD mean "The
righteous shall live by faith," but whether it HAS to mean that. In my
opinion, it doesn't--it can quite plausibly be read "The righteous through
faith shall live," probably with the same ambiguity as that English

     Just in case you don't know, I shudder to disagree with Carl on
grammar. But then, I am -- or used to be -- a grammarian myself; so I
decided to "Sin boldly!" (If sin it be.)

Edward Hobbs

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:37 EDT