An Apparently Innocent Question: The Nature of the Scriptures (Stott)

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John Stott, in his wonderful commentary on Romans, deals masterfully with Romans 4 by showing how Abraham and David maintain a justification by faith alone — showing that at Paul’s contention of justification by faith is not a mere novelty. For us preachers of the Word, I think Stott’s paragraph about an “apparently innocent question” Paul asks in Romans 4:3: “For what does Scripture say?” (ESV).

Consider the implications of this apparently innocent question. First, the singular form (‘the Scripture’), like our ‘the Bible,’ indicates that Paul recognizes the existence of this entity, not just a library of books but a unified body of inspired writings. Secondly, his quasi-personification of Scripture as being able to speak indicates that he draws no distinction between what Scripture says and what God says through it. Indeed, throughout the New Testament we seldom know whether to translate legei, when it has no subject, as ‘he says’ or ‘it says.’ Thirdly, instead of the present tense, ‘What does the Scripture say?’ Paul could have used the perfect tense and asked, ‘What was written?’ or ‘What stands written?’ (gegraptai). For ‘The Scripture’ means ‘what is written,’ and in asking what it ‘says,’ the apostle indicates that through the written text the living voice of God may be heard. Fourthly, to ask the question is to turn to Scripture for authoritative guidance. It implies that, as with Jesus and its critics, so with Paul and his, in every controversy Scripture was acknowledged as the final court of appeal! (Stott, Romans, 125)

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