Paul’s Phraseology And Roman Law -- By: George F. Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 052:207 (Jul 1895)
Article: Paul’s Phraseology And Roman Law
Author: George F. Magoun


Paul’s Phraseology And Roman Law

George F. Magoun

Loyalty to the inspiration of the New Testament, and to the divine origin of Old Testament truths reproduced and exalted in it, does not forbid studious inquiry into the mould of its language. The dress of religious thought may be human, historic, ethnic, individual, while the body is from God. The New Testament differs from the Old in that it was not produced in purely Oriental surroundings. When revelation struck the Greek language and the institutions of the Roman Empire, it struck modes of expression and forms of diction entirely novel to an Asiatic Jew.

There is more evidence of the Apostle Paul’s familiarity with Roman law than there is of his acquaintance with Greek literature; at least with such literature at large, other than the writings of Aratus and Cleanthes, natives of Southern Asia Minor like himself. That his education and mental habits should lead him, in conveying ideas and truths more profound and spiritual than his hearers and readers had yet grasped, to clothe them with a “costume”—to use Professor Stuart’s favorite term—drawn from sources well known to them as to him, was altogether natural. How, indeed, could he help it? Why should the Holy Spirit prevent his doing so? He evidently did not. It is a growing impression among scholars that Paul’s great difficulties and obscurities would largely disappear if we knew better the sources of that figurative diction of his, which, it has been observed with dis-

crimination, is never poetical or ornamental, but always logical and legal. How could it have been otherwise, indeed, with his cast of mind and training?

But a judicious appreciation of what has just been mentioned will not ascribe every comparison the Apostle makes of spiritual to secular things to the ready influence of Roman law. Some things in a lax way attributed to this influence the present writer has shown elsewhere1 are independent of it. The more common error, however, has not been on that side, but the opposite. We may, perhaps, find in the former the best starting point for an investigation of the latter.

I. Assuming that Paul wrote Heb. 9, it is clear that he might have alluded to a divine “will” or “testament” had he been addressing Roman Christians. If neither of these is true, we should then need to see—in order to be satisfied of any such allusion—that the subject-matter required such a reference to the peculiar, the exclusively Roman, legal instrument; that διαθήκη is the Greek equivalent for testamentu...

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