Christology and Natural Theology in Rom 10:17-18

In Romans 10:17, Paul insists, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ,” and then adds, “Have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world'” (Rom 10:18). Stop for a moment, and guess who the “they” in the quotation above is? My initial thought was to read it as a reference to the gospel preachers mentioned just above in Paul’s quotation from Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom 10:15)

But things seem a little strange once you track down the source of the quotation, in Psalm 19. Here it is, in context: ”

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

The voice Paul is extolling is the voice of creation, of the heavens and the sky, the day and the night, all ceaselessly proclaiming God’s glory. Why did Paul choose this passage? We ought to treat the banal explanation that he was quoting from memory, and simply forgot the context as a counsel of despair — what is the Holy Spirit up to in bringing the Psalm into this part of Romans?

Well, we learn at least two things from Rom 10:17-18: 1) “hearing comes from the word of Christ,” and 2) everyone has “heard” because “their voice goes out through all the earth.” Doesn’t it follow that the heavens’ praise of God’s glory just is (in some sense) the word of Christ? This passage is similar in some respects to Rom 1:19-20: “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” In both passages, Paul insists that the whole world is accountable before the LORD, precisely because they have been instructed regarding him; and just as in Rom 1:20, the instruction comes through the voice of the creatures, so too in Rom 10:18, it comes through the “voice” of the heavens described in Ps 19:4.

Attending to Rom 10 might help clarify one aspect of Rom 1:20 as well. Just as Paul pretty clearly seems to be interpreting the voice of creation Christologically in Rom 10, so too he might be in Rom 1. At least, so it seemed to Athanasius:

Silencing the Greeks, he [Paul] has said, ‘The visible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal Power and Godhead ;’ and what the Power of God is, he teaches us elsewhere himself, ‘Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God'” (Orations Against the Arians 1.11-12). 

This entry was posted in Athanasius, Christology, Natural Theology, Paul, Psalms, Romans, St. Paul and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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