Prosopological Exegesis (2): Example

To help us understand how PE works, let’s walk through one of Bates’ examples (The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 255-69), focusing on Romans 10:16.

Rom 10:16 reads: But not all have obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “O Lord, who has believed our audible message?” The quotation in the latter half of this verse is from Isa 53:1a. This verse fits the criteria for PE, as it involves a direct address to the Lord by a speaker, and this speaker is ambiguous (“our” cannot simply refer to Isaiah). Using the insights of PE, Bates argues that the ultimate “speaker” of Isa 53:1a is not the prophet Isaiah himself but Isaiah speaking “as” the apostles of Christ.

Bates first argues from the context: in this portion of Rom 10, Paul is concerned with the proclamation of the gospel message. Specifically, in Rom 10:15, Paul cites Isa 52:7, but makes some rather dramatic changes. Isa 52:7 reads “herald” but Rom 10:15 has “heralds,” the change from singular to plural perhaps indicative of a desire to be inclusive of the apostolic band. Paul also deletes “on the mountains,” likely to generalize the verse to speak of God’s Word being proclaimed to more than just Jerusalem. “In effect, Paul has identified himself and his coworkers as [the heralds] in Isaiah 52:7 and has deliberately universalized the location in which this message is being heard in light of the Gentile mission” (259). Irenaeus (A.H. 3.13.1) interprets this passage in precisely the same manner, lending support to this interpretation. Thus, if Paul does the same thing in the following verse (Rom 10:16), we should not be surprised. (Further, the following context of Rom 10:18 cites Ps 18:5 LXX as a fulfillment of the proclamation of the preached Word.)

Turning to Rom 10:16 itself, an explicitly PE reading of Isa 53:1a is found in Justin Martyr (Dial. 42.2) and Origen (Comm. Rom. 8.6.2). Justin, in fact, sees several shifts in speakers and addressees throughout Isa 53 (Christ is identified as the speaker of the suffering servant verses in that chapter). Justin and Irenaeus both link Isa 53:1 and Ps 18:5 with the apostolic witness; “as highly intertextually proximate post-texts, the prosopological exegesis explicitly on display in Justin and seemingly assumed by Irenaeus points strongly in favor of Paul’s prosopological exegesis of Isaiah 53:1a in Romans 10:16” (262). Thus, Bates concludes that Paul in fact identified himself and the other apostles as the “true speakers” of Isa 53:1a.

Finally, Bates argues that what is a bit odd in the pre-text (the use of the past tense “who has believed” in Isa 53:1a when Isaiah’s message had not yet gone forth) makes perfect sense (the past tense “who has believed” fits Paul’s perspective at the time when Romans was written, as the gospel message has already been thoroughly rejected by the vast majority of Jews, cf. Rom 9). “In summary, Paul believed that Isaiah was speaking in the character of the future apostles (inclusive of Paul himself) and that the dramatic setting from which this this speech was delivered was Paul’s own present, from which vantage point the apostles spoke reflectively in the past tense about how the majority of the Jews had failed to believe their apostolic proclamation” (266).

The upshot of all of this, as Bates points out, is that this interpretation of Rom 10:16 is generally absent from any of the commentaries or other literature on Romans. Paul, in the fullest possible sense, believed the rejection of his message was announced in advance in the Hebrew scriptures.


About krhughes14

Smyrna, Georgia
This entry was posted in Prosopological Exegesis and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Prosopological Exegesis (2): Example

  1. Pingback: Prosopological Exegesis (3): The Spirit Speaks | Early Christian Archives (τὰ ἀρχεῖα)

  2. Pingback: Prosopological Exegesis (1): Overview | Early Christian Archives (τὰ ἀρχεῖα)

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