ASK Commentary
February 18, 2003 

Partial Quote Questioned

Commentary for February 18, 2002 — What to quote and when?

Question: “It bothers me to read a partial quote of Romans 8:28, e.g. on page 16 of ‘Where is God?’ [toward the bottom of the article in the Internet Edition]. Doesn’t the rest of the verse have everything to do with the meaning?”

Thank you for your comment and your concern. You are correct, the full citation of verse 8:28 might have been useful in page 16 of the February 2002 article, “Where is God.”

Of course I cannot read Dr. Martin’s mind, but I believe that the partial quotation of Romans 8:28 was used by him because a full quote would have required too much explanation. Romans chapter 8 is packed with specific and useful information regarding God’s love and provision for us. Sometimes too much context clutters and obscures the point to be made. Dr. Martin’s point by quoting only, “All things work together for good for them that love God,” was that God will arrange situations and events on our behalf behind the scenes, though we do not realize or see that arranging with our eyes — yet. The fact that this “working together for good” occurs only “to them who are the called according to his purpose” (the rest of verse 28) was not the specific bit of information Dr. Martin’s intended to convey.

The decision of how much of a Bible passage to quote is difficult at times. If too much is quoted then one can be blamed for being too “wordy.” If one quotes too little, one can be accused of taking passages out of context. When editing Dr. Martin’s material I have on occasion enlarged the context that he originally quoted. At times I have shortened the quote. It is a judgment call.

Sometimes a writer cites a smaller portion of a passage so that people will look up the passage themselves and read the larger context fully. Certainly, citations that Jesus and the apostles use in quoting were often references to a larger portion of the Old Testament Law, Prophets or Writings for the audience. Almost all of the Old Testament references (some vague, some obvious) in the book of Revelation are of this type. They direct you back to the original book (whether Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Psalms, the Minor Prophets, or whatever) so you will understand all the implications of the Old Testament passage. It was supposed that the audience would either know the larger context of the full passages, or go to those passages on their own initiative.

Remember that chapter and verse numbers were a very late addition (from the 1500s). How much context should be provided for a passage? The entire verse? Verses before and after? This too is a judgment call. Sometimes the entire chapter or more is necessary for the proper context. Dr. Martin cited the entire first three chapters of Ephesians to adequately explain what he called “God’s Manifesto of Human Rights” in chapter 26 of his book Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (ASK, 2001). Some may consider that to be redundant, thinking that people could look up those chapters and read them for themselves in their own Bibles. In that instance, by using the Rotherham translation and explaining each verse, Dr. Martin clarified the entire concept of the “Manifesto.”

It is always a writer’s dilemma and an editor’s choice as to what and how much to quote in each instance.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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