Prosopopoiea, or the Greek rhetorical device of quoting another person, is the necessary ingredient in the dialectic mode of logic so loved by Paul. In fact, Romans 1 thru 11 may be the greatest example of comparing thesis to it’s antithesis, and thus leading to a synthesis, that we may ever see in the Bible. In modern terms, we would say, now one point of view says this (the thesis), but the opposing point of view says something else (the antithesis) so different that we need to see exactly if and where they might make sense together, if at all (the synthesis).
But first, let us analyze Romans chapter ten, where this style of logic is most easily seen.
One of the best known verses used by fundamental evangelicals is actually Paul quoting people who are claiming that belief and confession are integral to salvation (Romans 10:9), and debunking that concept.
We often see two people’s conversation reported thus:-
He said; “A”
She said; “No! – B”
He said; “NO! – A”.
and so forth.
I will lay out the conversation that Paul is having with other unnamed parties in just that fashion, before commenting further.
(Paul generalizing) (1) Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. (2) For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. (3) For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. (4) Because Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (5) For Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them (Leviticus 18:5). (6) But the righteousness which is of faith speaks this way, Don’t say in your heart, Who shall ascend into heaven(Deuteronomy 30:12) ? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) (7) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) (8) But what DOES it say? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart (Deuteronomy 30:14) : that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
YOU SAY (9) That if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. (10) For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the scripture says, Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed (Isaiah 49:23). (12) For there is no difference between the Jew and the non Jew: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. (13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Joel 2:32).
PAUL – BUT I ASK (14) How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (15) And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Isaiah 53:1) ! (16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our report (Isaiah 53:1)?
PAUL – CHALLENGING WITH A QUESTION NOT A STATEMENT AS TRANSLATED (17) So then, faith cometh by hearing? and hearing by the word of God?
It must be remembered that New Testament Koine Greek was written in all caps (Uncial). There were NO spaces and NO punctuation. Chapters and verses were added 1500 years later. This passage was punctuated as a statement of fact, whereas Paul intended it as a question. It was only natural that the translators interpreted it the way they did, as they were translating this via their pre-existing, predigested theology. No translation ever escapes this handicap.
PAUL – BUT I SAY (18) But I say, Have they not heard? Yes absolutely! Their sound (the message of the prophets) went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (19) But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses says, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you ( Isaiah 65:1). (20) But Isaiah is very bold, and says, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me (Isaiah 65:1) . (21) But to Israel he said, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people (Isaiah 65:2-5 – Jeremiah 25:4 – Proverbs 1:24 – 1 Samuel 8:7,8).
Paul is saying that some Jewish “Christians” are saying, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”, But then he turns those claims on their head by saying, so how can someone who has never heard the name of the Lord call upon Him? What’s more, Israel heard plenty and called on the name of the Lord plenty, and what good did THAT do THEM, seeing as Isaiah said that no-one believed (isa 53:1).
Why do I think that Paul was addressing Jewish “Christians”? Because he uses uniquely Jewish scriptures to debunk their claims.
To achieve this, he resorts to the “you say – but I say” style of dialectic logic. Now I know that you may have never looked at this chapter in this way, but there seems to be no denying the thrust of Paul’s argument here. In fact, if we fast forward to verse 32 of the next chapter, we see Paul’s grand conclusion of the main teaching section of this book. He says in Rom 11:32 (KJV) “For God has concluded them all (Jews and non Jews alike) in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.”. This is Paul’s confirmed belief. I wonder if our minds, shaped by religion for 2 millennia, and largely the product of the Roman Catholic Church, can adequately absorb Paul’s message?
To whom was Paul speaking? We know that the only other Jewish “Christians” in the New Testament record, were the church at Jerusalem, headed up by James. Could this be his audience?
and Paul, quoting the prophets (Psalms 14:1-3 & Psalms 53:1-3) says that there was not even one individual who might be called “righteous”. (Romans 3:10-18
And then in verse 20 he synthesizes thesis and antithesis into the Isaiah passage that juxtaposes the Jewish believers claim that we all need to call upon the name of the Lord with confession and faith against (Rom 10:20 [nlt]) And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God: “I was found by people who were not looking for me. I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.” So simple so clean – I LOVE it!
THEN in chapter 1, in speaking to those same leaders of the Jewish sect, The Way, he calls their attention to the fact that they deride homosexuality as “unnatural”. So here’s the thesis he is about to demolish with the antithesis in chapter 2 where he points out that circumcision – the very thing Jews wore proudly, was EQUALLY unnatural and synthesizes these into the famous passage in the next chapter. (Rom 3:9 [KJVA])
What then? are we better [than they]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; (Rom 3:10 -12, As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that do good, no, not one.
Paul then crowns chapters 1 thru 11 with a verbal equivalent of July 4th, when he says, (Rom 11:32-36) For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.