Who is the author of Hebrews quoting in Hebrews 10:38?

Now the just shall live by faith: but if [any man] draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

The "just shall live by faith" part seems to be a quote of Habakkuk 2:4. However, the next part ("my soul shall have no pleasure in him") is not found in that place in Habakkuk.

  • 3
    The questions have been asked for centery and never answer with satisfaction. I wonder how it will turn out. Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 17:25
  • I always thought of that last part simply as Paul's own words and feelings, not as a quote.
    – McGafter
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 8:30

3 Answers 3


The Hebrew Is Sufficient

Citing Scripture was a lot less formal in ancient times than it is in scholarly circles in modern times. People knew most of the Scriptures by heart, and in teaching and letters often incorporated themes and phrases from Scripture into a kind of tapestry at once their own argument, and at the same time interwoven and undergirded with Scriptural authority, force, and witness. I think the author is paraphrasing from a portion of 'The Prophets,' and not one particular book.

Here's a nifty little chart showing the proximity of the two verses:

           Habakkuk                             Zephaniah

    1         2           3             1            2           3

[||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||^|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||] [||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||^|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||]

Or in the 'grand scheme' of the Old Testament:

[|||| ||| || ||| || || || ||||| ||||| ||||| | | | || |||||||| || | | |||| |||| | |||| || | | | || | || | |^|^| || |]

Namely, I think he's quoting from:

Habakkuk 2:4

הנה עפלה לא־ישרה נפשו בו וצדיק באמונתו יחיה׃

Behold the puffed up man: his soul is not right within him; but the just man lives by his faith.

And 42 verses later (ignoring the divisions of the books as was often done, treating them as one book):

Zephaniah 1:4,6

ונטיתי ידי על־יהודה ועל כל־יושבי ירושלם והכרתי מן־המקום הזה את־שאר הבעל את־שם הכמרים עם־הכהנים׃ ... ואת־הנסוגים מאחרי יהוה ואשר לא־בקשו את־יהוה ולא דרשהו׃ הס מפני אדני יהוה כי קרוב יום יהוה כי־הכין יהוה זבח הקדיש קראיו׃

And I will stretch forth my hand upon Judah, and upon all that dwell in Jerusalem, and I will cut off the remnant of Baal therefrom: the idol-serving priest together with the Kohen [legitimate priests], ... and those who turn aside from the way of the Lord, and who seek him not, nor entreat him.

"those who shrink back" is a perfect translation of הנסוגים (those who turn away [i.e. from the Lord to other things], apostates). It has the sense, one who recoils also. Hence the corresponding Greek υποστελλω (to recoil; to shrink back/from).

Then, 'my soul shall have no pleasure in him' (cf. Jer 48:38 :"my soul" being a Semtism meaning "I") might be a paraphrase of the overall discontentment and mind to punish the people of God in Zephaniah, which possibly made it into the Septuagint by way of Christian interpolation which misunderstood this as a contiguous quote from Habakkuk. And the first person aspect comes from the fact that God is speaking in the first place, "I will cut off..." (v. ).

Yielding the following punctuation, if this is the correct evaluation, for Hebrews:

Hebrews 10:38 And, my 'Righteous one will live by faith,' but if he 'Shrinks back' my soul shall have no pleasure in him.


The author of Hebrews is quoting Habakkuk 2:4 from the Septuagint (as opposed to the Hebrew.)

In the Hebrew, this part of the verse would literally translate something like this:

"Behold the scornful; his mind shall not be happy" (Stuart)

(Part of the difficulty in translating Heb. 10:38 is that this is an English translation of a Greek interpretation of a Greek translation of a Hebrew writing. Meanwhile, Hab. 2:4 is an English translation of a "modern" Hebrew interpretation of an ancient Hebrew writing. This makes direct word-for-word comparison of the English very difficult.)

Side Note

It is important to remember that the New Testament writers were not dogmatic adherents to our present Hermeneutical models! Their heremenutic went something like this:

1) Understand the Scriptures well enough to explain the meaning

2) Teach from a convenient translation (e.g. Septuagint)

3) Relate the meaning of the passage being "cited" (as opposed to a literal word-for-word translation)

4) Paste together whatever Old Testament passages seem necessary for supporting the argument

In other words, they "quoted" Scripture a lot like we do today in everyday conversation: close enough to serve the intent of the teacher. In contrast, modern Bible scholars are very concerned with exact literal word-for-word translations and careful consideration of history, grammar, immediate local application, etc. Since we think differently about interpretation today than they did in the Apostles' times, we are often confused by their methods of quotation.

At the end of the day we can rest assured that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, etc. Therefore, we can assume that between Hab. 2:4 and Heb. 10:38, we can look at the Hebrew and Greek that we have and get a sense of what the true meaning is.

And in this case, as usual, you could read it either way it would still be true (we know this based on other passages.)

  • We must also remember that when they wrote the scriptures they were doing so under the control and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were not acting haphazardly or carelessly, they were moved to write exactly what they wrote. Part of the way and reason the Holy Spirit moved them, was for this very purpose that we see and experience today! "Surely you are a God who Hides Himself Oh God of Israel Savior" Isaiah 45:15. The truth can only be seen, by the operation of the Holy Spirit in grace and faith..! Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 5:56
  • 1
    You wrote: "...this is an English translation of a Greek interpretation of a Greek translation of a Hebrew writing.." - Wow!!
    – user10231
    Commented Oct 3, 2015 at 1:36

This is verbatim!!! Just states backwards.

Behold the proud=if anyone draws back

Drawing back is a proud person

His soul is not upright in him=My soul has no pleasure in him.

So if God is not pleased by someone, then His soul is not upright in them.

They are the same thing hence this is where scripture in Hebrews is referring too in Hab.2:3,4

If you can’t see this look again.

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