Deliberate Ambiguity image

Deliberate Ambiguity

Paul says a number of ambiguous things, and some of us may wish he hadn't. But frequently his ambiguities are quite deliberate, designed to help us see how two apparently different things are both true. A classic example is his citation of Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:16: "the righteous shall live by faith." Richard Hays explains:

In the Hebrew text of Habakkuk, God’s answer to the prophet is an exhortation to keep the faith: “The righteous one shall live by his faithfulness,” that is, the person who remains faithful will be rewarded in the end by God. The LXX, however, has reinterpreted the dictum as a promise about the character of God: “The righteous one shall live by my faithfulness,” that is, God’s own integrity in preserving the covenant with Israel will ultimately be confirmed. As Paul allows the quotation to reverberate into the text of Romans he elides the crucial personal pronoun, so that we hear only “the righteous one shall live by faithfulness.” Whose faithfulness? We are not told. The ambiguity thus created allows the echoed oracle to serve simultaneously as a warrant for two different claims that Paul has made in his keynote formulation of the gospel: in the gospel God’s own righteousness is revealed; and the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.


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