26 January 2022

Non-literal matches in the Romans

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation;
even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom
given unto him hath written unto you;
as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things;
in which are some things hard to be understood,
which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest,
as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

— Peter the Apostle (II Peter 3:15-16)

This entry is the 5th one in a series of studies in my blog. In the first entry I introduced the bibref system, in the second one I showed some basic concepts, in the third one some examples were shown on how mechanization can be helpful (or not), and in the fourth one Paul's literal quotations were presented from the Romans. In this 5th entry we focus on the non-literal matches in the Romans.

A non-literal match does not necessarily mean that the content of the quotation was changed in the New Testament. Many minor changes were just grammatical changes that make the Old Testament passage fit into the New Testament context better. Some differences can occur due to grammatical variants or even misspellings (yes, a manuscript may contain copying errors, this is quite usual). Finally, there were some intentional changes done – mostly to extend the meaning of the original text. We will see some examples of such appearances later, but now we focus on the characters as raw data and not on their meaning.

We will use similar diagrams like in the previous blog entry, but we add some more information on the fuzzy matches. For example, this is the first appearance of a fuzzy match in the Romans:


The only extension here is that a percentual difference is shown in red. When clicking on the diagram, the getrefs command will be issued in the output window of bibref below, but the one fuzzy match will be split into two literal matches.


In fact, there is a longer match of Habakkuk 2:4 in Hebrews 10:38 – sometimes a passage from the Old Testament is cited multiple times in the New Testament, so that's fine.

The next two fuzzy matches can be found in Romans 3:



For the first fuzzy match we can find two literal submatches:
  1. LXX Psalms 51:4+82 51:4 = SBLGNT Romans 3:4+103 3:4 (length=16, pos1=56596, pos2=5331)
  2. LXX Psalms 51:4+43 51:4-17 = SBLGNT Romans 3:4+63 3:4-18 (length=38, pos1=56557, pos2=5291)
The diagram of the second fuzzy match is even more interesting, because it explains a mixed quotation. Paul introduced his long quotation from Psalm 14 with a short passage from Ecclesiastes 7:20, and then he continued with citing Psalm 14. There is discussion on the question if Paul used here a single passage of a psalm, or multiple psalms were selected to support his thoughts – a remarkable study on this issue can be found in Joseph Gleason's blog. Here I simply assume that the digital text of the Septuagint is accurate and rely on this assumption.

On the other hand, by clicking on the second diagram we will get no answer, and the browser will be blocked for several seconds. It is safe to wait for an answer, please don't give up waiting, but here we need to modify the query a bit to get a partial literal match. So please change the command to the following: getrefs SBLGNT LXX Psalms 14:3. This will block your browser for even more seconds, but finally you will get a clear answer that the partial literal match is successfully detected:
The next fuzzy matches in the Romans are as follows:






The last entry introduces a new construct. Paul here not just mixes two quotations but the quoted passages in the Old Testaments have an overlapping part on 25 characters. In fact, a part of Hosea 1:10 is cited not only in Romans 9:27 but also in 9:26 – in verse 26 literally. Both quotations can be found with the getrefs command. On the other hand, the second part of the quotation in verse 27 is taken from Isaiah 10:22. Not all four quoted parts of Isaiah 10:22 can be found with the getrefs command (click on getrefs SBLGNT LXX Isaiah 10:22 to copy-paste the query in the input bar above, and to immediately process it), only two ones:
  1. LXX Isaiah 10:22+18 10:22-64 = SBLGNT Romans 9:27+46 9:27-18 (length=27, pos1=22157, pos2=20033)
  2. LXX Isaiah 10:22+60 10:22-12 = SBLGNT Romans 9:27+82 9:28-22 (length=37, pos1=22199, pos2=20069)
The overlapping part shows the number of common letters in yellow.

To make the above diagram clearer here is a textual presentation of the first two rows of the diagram:

Ησαΐας δε κραζει υπερ του Ισραηλ Εανη ο αριθμος των υιωνΙσραηλ ως η αμμος της θαλασσηςτο υπολειμμα σωθησεται λογον γαρ συντελων και συντεμνωνποιησει κυριος…

εαν γενηται ο λαος ισραηλ ως η αμμος της θαλασσηςτο καταλειμμα αυτων σωθησεται λογον γαρ συντελων και συντεμνων εν δικαιοσυνη οτι λογον συντετμημενον ποιησει ο θεος…

The overlapping passage reads “Ισραηλ ως η αμμος της θαλασσης”, this is also present in Hosea 1:10 together with the preceding words “ην ο αριθμος των υιων” – note the inserted red character: it is missing from the Romans.

Also, another important detail is that the passages in the Romans and Isaiah continue with synonyms (κυριος/θεος). This is a very common difference between the LXX and the SBLGNT and might be handled with mechanical methods too. We will, hovewer, postpone studying these synonyms to a later date.

Just one thing to highlight: Paul seems to be a master of combining multiple passages from the Old Testament. This makes reading his letters quite challenging, but anyway: his writings reflect the complexity of God's thoughts. This is surely acceptable for most readers.

Before continuing the list of the remaining non-literal matches in the Romans (there are still a few), we will discuss how the percentual difference is counted in this study. Please stay tuned – I leave this, mostly mathematical explanation for the next blog entry.


Continue reading…

See also a filtered list of the entries on topics GeoGebra, technical developments or internal references in the Bible.


Zoltán Kovács
Linzer Zentrum für Mathematik Didaktik
Johannes Kepler Universität
Altenberger Strasse 54
A-4040 Linz