Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36 citing Psalm 44:22 NASB
As it is written – What can separate us from the love of God? If you read Paul’s argument in Romans 8, the answer appears to be “Nothing at all!” But Paul cites a very unusual proof text for his argument for the psalm that he uses is David’s cry that God Himself is the cause of separation. David’s psalm is a complaint that in spite of the fact that the people have been obedient, God appears to have abandoned them. This is a very odd proof text for an argument that we are never removed from God’s care. Even if we can somehow connect David’s desperation with the assumption that God still oversees Israel, how are we going to show that what was true in the time of David’s trouble is equally true in the time of Paul’s proclamation?
The first answer to this difficulty comes from understanding how the Jewish sages thought about Scripture. The sages treated Scripture as if it were yesterday’s newspaper. They thought of Scripture as one massive tome for the contemporary world. Its actual historical setting didn’t matter. What mattered was the eternal character of God’s words. Therefore, what David said, and even what Adam said, could be treated as though it were yesterday’s news. And it was all immediately applicable today. “As it is written” is not an expression of a reference to some past insight or authority. “As it is written” is an introduction to a current statement. This is why the authors of the New Testament consistently ignore historical context, linguistic accuracy and cultural circumstances when they cite the Tanakh. Those things don’t matter. This is God’s word. It is God’s word now just as it was God’s word then. Paul simply lifts this verse out of its context because it fits what he wants to say today. This use of the Tanakh is standard protocol for New Testament authors.
So, when we read the New Testament, we must keep in mind that the Tanakh (from a rabbinic point of view) isn’t an historical revelation from God. It is a contemporaneous revelation from God.
Why can Paul take a verse from a psalm that suggests God Himself is the cause of separation and use it to prove nothing can separate? Because Paul doesn’t think of David’s complaint as a stand-alone piece of poetry. David’s complaint must be read in the context of all that David (and Isaiah and Ezekiel and Amos and etc.) say about God’s faithfulness. And since David expresses confidence in God’s care even in spite of this psalm of despair, Paul can lift this one verse from David to justify his claim that nothing, not even being put to death, can remove us from the love of God. But unless you realize what Paul is doing, it will look like a very, very strange argument indeed.
Reading Scripture is much like reading Tolstoy or Shakespeare. Reading is culturally contextual. We must read with the same frame of mind as the authors who wrote. That requires a paradigm shift. Try it and see what you find.
Topical Index: as it is written, reading, Tanakh, Romans 8:36, Psalm 44:22