Re-posting on Romans 1:17, from last Fenruary 2-3

From: Edward Hobbs (
Date: Fri May 31 1996 - 14:49:37 EDT

[Since the meaning of Romans 1:17 has come up again, and since Carlton Winbery
has most kindly referenced a posting of mine in the midst of that discussion, I
am re-sending it for the benefit of those who did not see it (them, actually)
four months ago. Those who have already seen it should simply delete.]

Dear Colleagues,

        Checking in from my frozen basement this late Sunday afternoon,
I find a late-Saturday post on Romans 1:17 from Edgar Krentz, and then a second
post each from Carl Conrad and Carlton Winbery. But a posting by me earlier on
Saturday afternoon does not seem to have gone out (not even to me); so I will
re-send it (attached below, to this), for your edification. Let me add a
response each to Edgar and to Carl;
        Edgar's suggestion that EK PISTEWS might be an example of SYNTAXIS
APO KOINOU, relating to both the NP preceding and the VP following, was an
absolute delight to me -- for the simple reason that I had always thought that
this was my personal discovery decades ago, but since I had never published on
it, I lacked the right to claim it in public. Now I see that Edgar was right
in there, too (and perhaps thousands of others). And since I too thought it
made good sense (and so taught my students the possibility), I leap to Edgar's
support. (As though Edgar Krentz ever needed my support!)
        And Carl's further post shows that I had not altogether understood his
earlier posting. He seems to be right where I have found myself for lo! these
40+ years of giving seminars on Romans. So I can cease shuddering because of
my disagreement with him!
        Carl, your former student who worked on Paul's use of the diatribe
must certainly have made use of Rudolf Bultmann's 1910 dissertation on this
exact topic. That is a work that deserves more use than it has received. And
for Paul's use of rhetoric, Hans Dieter Betz's commentary on Galatians in the
Hermeneia series gives overwhelming evidence. (When we had a celebration in
NYC at the time of Dieter's commentary being published, someone remarked that
he always KNEW that when Hermeneia finally got around to publishing a
commentary WRITTEN in English, and not translated from German, it would be
written by a German!)

--Edward Hobbs


From: LUCY::EHOBBS "Edward Hobbs" 3-FEB-1996 16:41:51.53
To: IN%""
Subj: A further (dissenting) reply on Romans 1:17

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 _Romarbrevet_ 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.
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 - 15:37:44 EDT