Paul the Apostle used quotes from sacred texts as a rhetorical tool in the Epistle to the Romans

New dissertation shows Paul picked and edited quotes to support his claims.

Katja Kujanpää’s doctoral dissertation studies how Paul the Apostle used quotes from sacred texts to support his argumentation. Being in line with sacred writings provided Paul’s message with gravitas and generated the impression that he was adept and competent at interpreting them.

Paul the Apostle’s Epistle to the Romans, written in the 50s CE, features 51 direct quotes from Jewish sacred texts which would later become the Old Testament of the Christians.

According to Kujanpää, Paul’s main objective was to guide congregations to learn the correct foundations of the Christian faith and the associated lifestyle as he understood them.

“Paul was a controversial figure in the 50s CE, and he felt a need to be as compelling as possible in his message to the congregations of Rome,” says Kujanpää.

The research indicates that Paul sought to actively direct the readers to interpret the quotes in a specific way.

“First of all, he carefully selected which words to quote and which ones to omit. This means that the quotations may seem to support Paul’s argument, even though the original context could be more ambivalent.”

Paul also intentionally edited the syntax of approximately half of the quotes.

“He omitted and added words, changed the order of certain expressions, replaced words with other expressions, changed the grammatical forms and combined several passages into a single quote,” Kujanpää explains.

In addition, Paul frames the quotes with various elements that guide its interpretation: he prefaces the quote with an introductory sentence, draws conclusions and links the quotation to his own remarks by repeating core words from it.

New context inevitably guides interpretation of quotations

Kujanpää’s research calls into question that the quotations from the texts should be viewed in their original context to better understand Paul’s intention. It also criticises the claim that Paul built his argument with the expectation that his readers would be familiar with the original context of the quotations.

“My research illustrates the problems inherent in quoting sacred texts: the change of context always changes the meaning of the quoted words. The person quoting can intentionally guide their interpretation to match the argument,” states Kujanpää.


Master of Theology Katja Kujanpää will defend her doctoral dissertation entitled Argumentation by Quotations - The Rhetorical Functions of Scriptural Quotations in Romans on 13 January at 10.15 in the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology. The public defence will be held in auditorium XII of the University of Helsinki’s Main Building.

The opponent will be Professor J. Ross Wagner of Duke University (North Carolina, USA) and the custos will be Professor Petri Luomanen from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form in the E-thesis service.