'16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith." (from Hab 2:4) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth' (Romans 1:16-18).
Andrew Perriman's reading of these verses is fascinating (this post is not a summary of his views, more of a thought experiment with some of his ideas in the back of my head). He is particularly careful to allow the wider context of Habakkuk to inform his understanding of the flow of reasoning in these verses. The first couple of chapters in Habakkuk run as follows:
- the Prophet asks God: Why are you letting all of Judah's sins go unpunished (1:2-4)
- God answers: I will judge them through Babylon (1:5-11)
- the Prophet asks God: But God, how can you use wicked Babylon to punish a nation more righteous than themselves? (1:12-2:1)
- God answers: I'll punish Babylon too! (2:2-20)
Just as God's wrath was first to Judah, then to Babylon, so too for Paul's gospel is offering salvation first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Just as God's wrath will overtake Israel first through Rome's armies, so too will God's wrath also fall upon Rome. So Paul emphasises that God's wrath will be revealed against all ungodliness. This would likely mean that the wrath Paul mentions is coloured by the many OT 'wrath' passages, which speak of that wrath as a concrete historical event, usually involving a military. Think too of 1 Corinthians 7:26 'I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Did Paul think of an impending crisis across the Mediterranean world because of the sort of prophetic narrative encapsulated in Habakkuk? Is the 'wrath' Paul mentions a military event?
On the other hand, Francis Watson's masterful analysis of Rom 1:17 in Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, argues that Paul's introductory formula ('as it is written') does not really allow for too exact an allusion to the wider context of specifically Habakkuk (such sentences as these happen when I write too late at night!).
Is Perriman overplaying the metalepsis card? Or is Watson missing vital clues from the Habakkuk context? Part of the fun of exegesis in Paul is learning to get a feel for when potential intertextual metalepsis is really present, by judging how it illuminates the Pauline text at hand.
I think Pauline studies can be so utterly engrossing and exciting!