I received the following question:

In Romans 1:17 the Apostle Paul quotes Habakkuk. 2:4 and states that “the righteous will live by faith.” However, going back to Habakkuk the quote was “but the righteous will live by HIS faith.” Why is the quote from Paul different than the one used by Habakkuk?

A good question that I would be happy to answer. Romans 1:17 in Greek reads:

17. δικαιοσυνη γαρ θεου εν αυτω αποκαλυπτεται εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν καθως γεγραπται ο δε δικαιος εκ πιστεως ζησεται

Habakkuk 2:4 in the Septuagint (Greek) version reads:

4. εαν υποστειληται ουκ ευδοκει η ψυχη μου εν αυτω ο δε δικαιοσ εκ πιστεωσ μου ζησεται

You can see that that last six or seven words are basically the same (the slight difference seems to be caused by the Septuagint text I found online not dealing with the final “s” correctly,) but there is one difference: the little word mou that appears as the second-to-last word in the Septuagint version. That word means “of him,” and the phrase would be properly translation as “but the righteous out of the faith of him shall live.” In Romans, however, it reads, “but the righteous out of faith shall live.” So there is definitely a difference between the Septuagint and the New Testament.

I am unable to read the Hebrew text, but the interlinear I was able to find gave “his” in the English translation of the Hebrew. I regret that I am unable to check this myself, but I don’t know Hebrew. Everything I was able to look up, however, seemed to indicate that this word is in the Hebrew original.

When it comes to Scripture quoting Scripture, we have to keep certain facts in mind. First of all, if we think of this as Paul quoting Habakkuk, we can do little but conclude that Paul misquoted the prophet. This is what a higher critic would say. However, when we realize that the Word of God was not written merely by its human authors, but was ultimately inspired by God Himself, we realize that far from just being Paul quoting Habakkuk, this is actually God quoting Himself.

Now when you quote yourself, you have a certain liberty that you do not have when you are quoting someone else. When quoting another person, all you can say for certain is that you know what that person said. Whether or not you know what he meant by what he said is in question. Thus, we view it as less than honest to try to interpret what he said by how you understood it. If your interpretation is wrong, you are misquoting him. Even if it is right, adding to what he said when you should have been quoting is not honest. When you quote yourself, however, you have knowledge both of what you said and of what you meant by what you said. Thus, if you repeat yourself, you have the right to alter your previous statement. Your thoughts are constantly evolving and changing, and you might constantly be considering how to make your statement clearer. Thus, when repeating something you had earlier stated, without even thinking about it, you might alter it in an attempt to improve it and to more accurately state what you meant to say. This would not be dishonest. This would be using a right everyone has with their own words.

Is it, then, impossible to misquote yourself? Certainly not! It is very possible to misquote yourself. For example, if I am called into account for something I said, and I change what I said to make things easier for myself, then my misquoting myself is dishonest. For example, if I said something insulting and mean-spirited about someone in a position of leadership over me, and that person found out about it, I might be called into account for what I said. In this case, I might be very tempted, if asked to repeat myself, to soft-pedal my former statement, making it sound less severe, and thus hoping to escape the full consequences of my former statement. In this case, I would not be changing my words to try to make what I said more clear. Instead, I would be lying about what I said to save myself from punishment. In this situation, I have no right to change what I said.

Thus, we see that misquoting yourself can be for the honest reason of making yourself clear, or for the dishonest reason of seeking to escape the consequences of a former statement. There is a third kind of misquoting yourself, however. This kind is neither the result of an honest attempt to make what you said more clear, or the dishonest attempt to hide what you said to escape the consequences. Rather, this kind of misquotation is not optional, but is necessary to actually repeat what you said. This kind of misquotation arises out of a change of context regarding the statement that you made.

For example, suppose I was helping a friend install a 5.1 surround sound speaker system. In the course of the installation, it came time to attach the rear speakers to the wall. My friend had two boxes of screws sitting in front of him, a box of half-inch screws on his right, and a box of three-quarter-inch screws on his left. He was considering what size to use, and asked me my opinion. I pointed to the box on his left, and said, “Use those. The ones on your right are too short.”

Now, suppose later, once the surround sound system was completely installed, I was again at this friend’s house, this time with a third friend visiting. This third friend was examining the job we had done, and knew that I had been helping my friend figure out the best way to install the speakers. He asked me, “What size screws did you tell him to use?”

Now, suppose I quoted myself exactly.  “I said, ‘Use those. The ones on your right are too short.’” This would be an exact quotation of what I had said previously. However, in this new context, these words would no longer make sense. Those two boxes of screws that we had been choosing between would no longer be where they were before. It is very likely my friend whose home we were installing the speaker system in would have put the screws away once our installation project was completed. Even if they still were in the room and visible, it is highly unlikely that this third friend would be standing in the exact same orientation to the screws that my former friend was, so that the proper screws were on his left and the wrong ones on his right. Thus, if I repeated myself exactly in this context, my words would likely make no sense. My friend would probably look at me in utter confusion, and ask what in the world I was talking about.

 Now, suppose I misquoted myself instead.  “I said, ‘Use the three-quarter-inch screws. The half-inch ones are too short.’” Now, the third friend would understand what I meant. He would either agree with me, or argue that three-quarter-inch screws were overkill, and half-inch would have been more appropriate. But the point is that he would have understood my statement, since I had altered it to fit the present context. In this case, I was FORCED to misquote myself in order to make myself understood. An exact quotation in this new context would have failed to convey the same information as my original statement had. My original statement was dependent upon the specific context that my friend and I were in. This new friend was not in the same context, and so, in order to say the same thing, I had to change my quotation to fit. It is not that I am being dishonest with my quotation. Nor is it that I am trying to make my former statement more clear. This change in the words used is made NECESSARY by the new context my words are in. In other words, if I quoted the same words, I would not be giving the same thought. By “misquoting” myself, I am actually keeping the thought the same, which would be impossible if I insisted on quoting myself exactly.

Now, to determine why this particular quotation is not exact, let us consider the contexts of the two statements. First, consider Habakkuk 2:4.

4. “Behold the proud, 
His soul is not upright in him; 
But the just shall live by his faith.”

Here, the context is a contrast. The proud man’s soul is not upright in him. The just, however, shall live by his faith. It is not that the just lives by his own uprightness, whereas the proud dies because he is not upright. Rather, the just lives because of faith, not uprightness. His faith IS his uprightness. The just lives by his faith, whereas the proud perishes in his pride. So, the contrast is between the proud man and the just man.

Now, consider the context of Romans 1:16-17.

16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” 18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Here, there is no contrast. The gospel is set forth as the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. This includes primarily or “first” the Jew, and also the Greek. The righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith.” Faith becomes the means of achieving God’s righteousness. This naturally calls the Habakkuk quotation to mind, and the Holy Spirit quotes it here as relating to this topic. Notice, however, that now, there is no contrast. Verse 18 gives the reason that the righteousness of God is needed…because God’s wrath is against the ungodly. Yet the contrast that existed in the Habakkuk passage is not here. We are not considering the proud man versus the just man. Rather, we are considering the possibility of righteousness for all men who believe. Thus, we can see how “his” is no longer necessary, required, or helpful in this passage.  “His” existed in Habakkuk, not to help the statement about faith, but to emphasize the contrast between the proud and the just man. The statement, “the just shall live by faith,” remains true in or out of this same context. Yet, in the context of the Romans statement, with no contrast between the just and anyone else, the word “his” is no longer necessary. The just man is not the one being considered, but all men who believe. Thus, the Lord could have changed this to “the just shall live by their faith.” Yet, better still, the possessive pronoun is no longer necessary, since the pride of the proud is no longer being contrasted with the faith of the just. Thus, “the just shall live by faith” is sufficient, accurately expressing what the original passage communicated about faith in the new context in which the statement is made. The meaning of the statement is not altered. Nothing new is added. Rather, the statement is simply modified to fit the new context in which it is made.