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How beautiful are the feet! in Romans and Isaiah: An Exegetical Note

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An Exegetical Note: “How beautiful are the feet!”

Rom 10: 15: As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

In Martin Luther’s words:  Even though one can interpret “feet” literally in the sense that the coming of the preachers of good things is eagerly awaited by those who are in anguish of sin and an evil conscience, they signify more correctly their very words or the sound and the syllables or the pronunciation of their words and preachings.” From his Lectures on Romans.[1]

Luther moves from literal feet to “feet” as the “very words or the sound and the syllables or the pronunciation of their words.” It is but a small step to understand “feet” as actual feet or meters of poetry. Perhaps because the regular beat of the syllables of language can be derived from regular steps, or the regular strokes of an oar, or the galloping hooves of a horse, for example, the feet that poetic lines are divided into may also be derived from feet taking steps in time. So it would be possible to interpret Romans “How beautiful is the cadence of the language, how beautiful is the poetry of those who preach the good news.” I thought that Luther’s interpretation went into that direction. But then I thought – what about the Greek and the Hebrew? Could they also refer to the cadence in language rather than the physical feet of the herald? For that matter, I don’t know what the word in German for a foot in a poetic line would be.[2] But in Greek, Rom 10:15 has horaioi hoi podes ωραιοι οι πόδες  (an aspirant should be above the omega and omicron, so that it begins with “h.”) Now there may be a word for the “feet” of poetry in Aristotle’s Poetics.

In the Hebrew, St. Paul is quoting Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” There the Hebrew words reads ragele mevash-sher “beautiful feet.” (In the Hebrew the noun comes first and the adjective thereafter.) Again I would not be able to know what the words for “poetic feet” in Hebrew might be. But in both cases the feet are those that could step in time to the rhythm and cadence of beautiful poetic language. So when we preach, the Holy Spirit lifts the cadence of our words into beautiful language, indeed, into poetry.


[1] Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, edited by William Pauck, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1961), p. 300.

[2] Online I saw how pentameter can be called Fűnffűssler. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/ger341/poetics.htm That means the word for “foot” can also be used in German Poetik.

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Written by peterkrey

August 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm

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