Prolegomena to Paul’s Use of Scripture in Romans -- By: Richard N. Longenecker

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 07:1 (NA 1997)
Article: Prolegomena to Paul’s Use of Scripture in Romans
Author: Richard N. Longenecker

Prolegomena to Paul’s Use of
Scripture in Romans

Richard N. Longenecker

McMaster Divinity College

McMaster University

Paul’s use of Scripture in his epistle to the Roman Christians raises many questions: Why does he appeal to Scripture so frequently in this letter? How is the distribution of quotations to be understood? Why did Paul appeal to Scripture at all, since most of his readers were Gentiles? How are we to understand Paul’s diverse exegetical methods? There are other questions that suggest themselves. This paper attempts to answer all of these questions by carefully considering the recipients’ background and experience, the nature of Paul’s argument in Romans and in his other extant writings, and Paul’s understanding of the gospel, especially as it impinges on Israel.

Key words: Romans, use of Scripture, Jews, Gentiles

Paul’s letter to the Romans has always been highly regarded by Christians. It has been, in large measure, the heartland of Christian theology and piety. And throughout the two millennia of its existence, its status in the church has been more highly acclaimed than that of any other NT writing.

Yet despite its importance and status, Romans is probably the most difficult NT letter to analyze and interpret. It can hardly be called a simple writing. Augustine, for example, began in 394-95 to write a commentary on Romans. But after producing material on 1:1-71 he felt unable to proceed, saying that the project was just too large for him and that he would return to easier tasks.2 Erasmus in 1517 said of Romans: “The difficulty of this letter equals and almost surpasses its utility!”—citing Origen and Jerome who also found the

letter difficult.3 As Erasmus saw it, its difficulty stems from three causes: (1) its literary style, for “nowhere else is the order of speech more confused; nowhere is the speech more split by the transposition of words; nowhere is the speech more incomplete through absence of an apodosis,” (2) its content or the “obscurity of things which are hard to put into words,” for “no other letter is handicapped by more frequent rough spots or is broken by deeper chasms,” and (3) its “frequent and sudden changes of masks” or shifting stances on the part of the author, for “he considers now the Jews, now the Gentiles, now both; sometimes he addresses believers, sometimes doubters; at one point he assumes the role of a weak man, at another of a strong; sometimes that of a godly man, sometimes of an ...

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