The Gospel That Paul Preached -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 128:512 (Oct 1971)
Article: The Gospel That Paul Preached
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


The Gospel That Paul Preached

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

[S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

A host of commentators on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans have said that verses sixteen and seventeen of chapter one are a concise summary of the content of the letter.1 Professor C. K. Barrett has gone further in his comments on the verses. He has written, “Most commentators recognize in them the ‘text’ of the epistle; it is not wrong to see in them a summary of Paul’s theology as a whole.”2 It would be difficult to disagree with Barrett, particularly when one considers the use to which Paul in his writings has put the concept derived from Habakkuk. “The just shall live by faith,”—it is, without question, near the soul of Pauline theology.

On the other hand, one may legitimately wonder if the commentators have gone far enough. Remembering that the Pauline text is derived from the prophet Habakkuk, and that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews also puts the text to use (cf. Heb 10:38), would it be an exaggeration to suggest that in the text from Habakkuk, with Paul’s additional explanatory clauses of verses sixteen and seventeen, there is a pithy expression of the essence of the doctrine of the Word of God? It has been said somewhere that the whole Law, according to the Jews, was given to Moses in 613

precepts, that David reduced them in the fifteenth Psalm to eleven, that Isaiah further diminished them to six, Micah to three, Isaiah in a later passage to two, but Habakkuk condensed all 613 into one,—”the just shall live by faith.” Be that as it may, Habakkuk’s great text, with his son Paul’s comments and additions, became the banner of the Protestant Reformation in the hands of Habakkuk’s grandson, Martin Luther. “The just shall live by faith,”—the clause is a marvelous cameo of scriptural truth. It is safe to say, too, that the truth of the clause has had as profound an effect upon the history of the West as the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence.

If this great truth of justification by faith is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, then the epistle may come as something of a surprise to modern ecclesiastics. One might have expected the apostle to address believers at Rome, a city crammed with social problems, with a social manifesto or, at the least, a recitation of the primary truths of Christianity in their application to the social problems of the imperial city. Rome was a city of slaves, b...

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