Monday, August 22, 2011

Text Note: Romans 10:17: "word of God" or "word of Christ"?

Here's a text issue I ran across while preparing to preach yesterday's sermon I have stretched forth my hands (Romans 10:16-21):

The issue:

Romans 10:17 is a well known verse on the centrality of preaching: “So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (AV). The textual question is whether the last phrase should read “by the word of God [dia rhematos theou],” as in the traditional text, or “by the word of Christ [dia rhematos christou],” as in the modern critical text.

External evidence:

The traditional text reading is supported by the first corrector of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, the first corrector of D, K, P, Psi, 33, 614, 1241, 1881, and the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. It is also found in Clement.

The modern critical text reading is supported by the original hand of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, among a few others. According to the critical apparatus it also appears (“vid”) to be supported by p46, but apparently the reading is uncertain.

Internal evidence:

Metzger only gives christou a “B” reading in his Textual Commentary (p. 525). He notes that the phrase rhema christou appears only here in the NT, whereas rhema theou is “a more familiar expression” (cf. Luke 3:2; John 3:34; Eph 6:17; Heb 6:5; 11:3). Modern text critics prefer the christou reading as the more difficult, due to its rarity, and therefore the more preferred. On the other hand, there could clearly be an argument for theou based on its regularity.  One could easily also see how a scribe could have inadvertently substituted “Christ” for “God.” One might also ask if there could have been a theological motivation for the Christou reading, specifically related to Christology.  Perhaps this is a point or nuance now lost on modern interpreters, but it might have been significant during the Christological controversies of the third and fourth centuries (when the earliest clear readings for christou first appear).


For modern readers this change may appear immaterial with regard to doctrine (i.e., whether the text reads “God” or “Christ” makes little difference for interpretation). The reading that came to dominate, however, among the orthodox was clearly “the word of God.” There is no compelling reason to abandon this reading and good reason to preserve it.


diggery said...

Great article. I agree with you that "word of Christ" would be the later reading, reflecting a late christological development, particularly with the witness of Clement. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I would offer a different perspective based upon context and calling:

What is the specific mission of Sha'ul (Paul)?

in v4,v6,v9, v11(him), especially v14&15, v16 (what is the Good News?)

Trust in v9 in the good news that is Yeshua (Jesus). Yeshua means salvation/deliverence in the hebrew text. (also see Matt 1:21 which has a definition and a purpose)

Who the "whom" they can call of if they havent trusted in Him? heard about Him? proclaiming Him? That Theos (God) sends?

Sha'ul the Rabbi who studied at the feet of Gamaliel quotes extensivley in this chapter from the Torah and the Prophets to explain how Torah points to Yeshua.

If you take the context into consideration, v19 is about Isra'el not understanding - understanding what? Theos or Christos?

It can be argued that "chistological" is one way of looking at it.

Messiah (Christos)as it is presented by Sha'ul contextually would be an excellent reason to view it another way which has manuscript support of its own.


jmac said...

I have discovered that in the New Testment writings, in most of the gospels and from Acts forward, when one reads the phrase, "word of God" the first century authors and speakers always meant the gospel or Jesus and NEVER meant scripture with the phrase. There are only two scripture passages in the New Testament, in the gospels where it could be considered that word of God meant the Tanakh. Both were to Jews under the old covenant and both before the cross event.... so then, in my view, Paul's meaning with the rhematos Theou would be equal to the meaning of rhematos Christou. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing cometh by the gospel of God/Christ.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Though I agree that the phrase "word of God" has diverse meanings and can refer to the gospel, to preaching, and also to Jesus himself, I don't agree that it never means Scripture. Compare these passages: Matt 4:4 (//Luke 4:4); Mark 7:13; Luke 8:21; 11:28; John 10:35; Romans 9:6; Colossians 1:25.


jmac said...

Hi Jeff,
Matt 4:4 & Luke 4:4 are not calling scripture the word of God. Since my premise is that Jesus and his first century followers redefined the phrase word of God to mean Gospel or Jesus this in my view does little to thwart it. Moving on to Mark 7:13… in this passage Jesus is definitely telling the Jews under the Old Covenant that they have made the Torah/Tanakh of none effect with their oral tradition.

Luke 8:21… he cannot be speaking of scripture there but has to be speaking of the gospel. His mother, brothers and sisters were Torah Observant Jews and they were following the scripture to be sure. They did not believe the gospel that Jesus was the Messiah. Doing the word of God in this case is definitely believing the gospel. Further, In Luke 8:11, Jesus explains that the seed is the word of God… In the parallel passage in Matt 13 he defines the seed as the message of the kingdom, again the gospel.

Luke 11:28… Is similar to Luke 8:21, he has been ministering to unbelieving Jews and the woman recognizes him as being from God and he tells her that she must believe the gospel and keep it.

John 10:35 is about the Torah/Tanakh possibly, but also likely about the passage given to the Psalmist and he definitely calls the Tanakh the graphe/scripture so that is not a very strong case and I will readily admit that the Jews called the Torah and possibly the Tanakh the word of God.

Romans 9:6… Paul could be referring to the Tanakh in this verse but could as likely be referring to the gospel as it is the sole focus of the scripture (John 5:39-40 & Luke 24:27; 44-45) and Col 1:25 is clearly speaking of the gospel and not the scripture. Paul is fulfilling the good news in his ministry (Col 2:2 & 1Cor 1:17

In the book of Acts, and throughout the rest of the New Testament writings, it is written 45 times. All of those with the exceptions we have discussed hear are gospel or Jesus. Further Paul and James both define the word of truth as the gospel (Eph 1:13 & James 1:18) I am quite confident whether Paul had the amanuensis originally write word of God or word of Christ, in Romans 10:17 he meant gospel and all who teach that faith cometh by the scripture are misusing that verse. My thoughts…

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Again, I don't think anyone disputes the fact that the phrase "word of God" has diverse meanings in the NT including referring to Jesus and the gospel. The examples I cited (and with at least several you seem to agree) also show that it can refer to Scripture. In addition, yes, in Acts and in other places the phrase refers to the gospel or, most especially, the proclaiming of the gospel. But how did the early evangelists proclaim this gospel, but by rooting it in the OT Scriptures. So the phrase "word of God" need not be "either-or" but often is "both-and." It often refers both to Scripture and the gospel.


jmac said...

I think that we agree more than we disagree. My problem is with those who call the scripture the word of God, unthered from the redemptive purpose of Christ, especially in using the Old Covenant scripture in a non redemptive way. And I gues most importantly, I agree with you on Romans 10:17. It is very likely that Paul said word of God as opposed to the word of Christ but in context he clearly meant the gospel of Christ preached.

Unknown said...

If salvation comes only from hearing the words of Christ, how could anyone pre-Christ be saved?. If the gospel is to be taken as meaning that which is revealed by Jesus in the NT, then surely no one who died before Christ's death could have been saved?!. I don't believe that to be the case, but some might interpret 'the word of Christ' that way.

Sanctuary Films said...

There seems to be a cart and horse problem here. Which came first the Scriptures or your Christology? Don't over identify the office of Christ with the pre-resurrection person of Jesus. The Christ was promised to be sent long before there was a Jesus. And it pleased him to turn over that office to the disciples just before his ascension. Hence St. Paul to the Corinthians, You are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Cor 12:27

Unknown said...

What the Lord showed me was that since Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, it must be "christou." Faith comes from a spoken word by the Anointed One, therefore, in this context of Romans 10:17 it must be "christou."