Interpretive Challenges Relating to Habakkuk 2:4b -- By: George J. Zemek, Jr.
GTJ 1:1 (Spr 1980) p. 43
Relating to Habakkuk 2:4b
*The author would like to thank Mr. William D. Barrick for his labors in reference to the revision of the format of this paper for publication.
The worthy reputation of Hab 2:4b in both Jewish and Christian circles is well attested. For example, “the Talmud records the famous remark of R. Simlai (Makkot 23b), ‘Moses gave Israel 613 commandments. David reduced them to 10, Isaiah to 2, but Habakkuk to one: the righteous shall live by his faith.’“1 New Testament theology is also built upon that text’s firm foundation. Concerning Paul’s utilization, Johnson appropriately asserts: “‘The just shall live by faith,’—it is, without question, near the soul of Pauline theology.”2 Historically, the testimony of the text as a theological benchmark continued to grow. The preeminent illustration of this phenomenon was the text’s catalytic effect in leading to the Reformation: “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.”3 Consequently, Feinberg’s appraisal of Hab 2:4b should not be regarded as an overstatement: “The key to the whole Book of Habakkuk…the central theme of all the Scriptures.”4
In spite of this reputation, the text has occasioned many critical investigations. These studies range from those immediately associated with the text to those which are tangential; in terms of result, they range from those which are destructive to those which are constructive. This endeavor is intended to be a general survey of the most significant challenges relating to Hab 2:4b.
Since the text is particularly strategic, every conservative student of the Word of God has the theological responsibility of sharpening his focus on the tensions manifested by these studies. Also, this
GTJ 1:1 (Spr 1980) p. 44
responsibility cannot be avoided merely because an ultimate resolution of all the tensions is improbable.5
The occasion of these tensions is related primarily to the “textual, hermeneutical, exegetical, and theological problems raised by the use of Hab 2:4 in the New Testament.”6 ...
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