Acts 13:40 - 41 (NKJV) "Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: "Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, Though one were to declare it to you.' "

In the above scripture, Paul quotes Habakkuk as a reference to the unbelief of the Jews. He quotes it as though God's redemptive work through Christ was what Habakkuk prophesied about. But on reading Habakkuk 1:5 - 6, see what we find

Habakkuk 1:5 - 6 (NKJV) " Look among the nations and watch -- Be utterly astounded! For [I will] work a work in your days [Which] you would not believe, though it were told [you.] For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, A bitter and hasty nation Which marches through the breadth of the earth, To possess dwelling places [that are] not theirs.

In Habakkuk, we find that the prophecy was about the rise of the Chaldeans which was soon to happen. So based on these findings, was Paul taking a prophecy out of context or is there something he saw which I may be missing?

  • The NT authors are fond of recontextualizing the OT. They had quite a different hermeneutic from ours. Doesn't mean it was wrong :) Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 13:26
  • Paul is allowed by God to quote out of context under Holy Spirit inspiration.
    – user35953
    Commented Jul 17, 2020 at 23:01
  • @LukeSawczak how exactly would one differentiate Paul’s hermeneutical approach from misquoting? Commented Apr 19 at 0:16
  • @AviAvraham Misquoting I take to mean either getting the words or the attribution wrong; this would be misuse. But the use to be made of scripture is not always cut-and-dry. Whether this constitutes misuse depends on what you consider to be the correct use. Commented Apr 20 at 1:40

4 Answers 4


Yes you appear correct, that in Ac 13:40-41 Paul applied Hab 1:5 to Christ's redemption and resurrection rather than to the coming of the Chaldeans, which was Habakkuk's context. Some hearer or reader of Acts might assume that Habakkuk's context was Christ's redemption and resurrection, but that isn't necessary to receive the force of the quote, especially for those hearers in Pisidian Antioch. Since the force of the quote can apply, as Paul applied it (omitting "look among the nations"), to an incredible amazing work of God in the hearers' time, being communicated audibly, personally, in detail. It doesn't require the Chaldeans, to make it true or honest or direct or meaningful. In Habakkuk, Jehovah spoke it to Habakkuk regarding a future event. In Acts, Paul spoke it to the Jews and proselytes regarding Christ's recent crucifixion and resurrection. There's zero error or unfaithfulness by Paul here


Did Paul quote Habakuk out of context?

Yes, if you judge it according to modern-day scientific scholarship.

Here is another example in Hosea 11

1 God’s Love for Israel
1“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.

Hosea was talking about the rebellious nature of the Israelites.

Matthew cites Hosea out of context in Matthew 2:15 and applies it to Jesus:

[Egypt] where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

One can find quite a few such instances where the NT writers didn't scientifically cite the OT scriptures. What were they thinking?

Mathew and the Rabbis of his days employed a method of interpretation called midrash.


Vanessa Lovelace defines midrash as "a Jewish mode of interpretation that not only engages the words of the text, behind the text, and beyond the text, but also focuses on each letter, and the words left unsaid by each line."

That would cover almost anything. To stay focus moreover, Jesus encouraged his disciples to read the Messiah into the OT.

Luke 24:25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As Jesus rebukes the two disciples on Emmaus Road, Paul warns people in Acts 13

40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41“ ‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’ ”

Paul was only following the instruction of Jesus. What he said was inspired by the Holy Spirit and was recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. We would do well to take heed.


Gods raising up the Chaldeans to judge his people then was akin to raising up the Romans to bring judgement upon the Jews again - this time those who failed to see the Son of God in front them and have Him killed.

In the same way Habakkuk could not believe Gods plan even when told, many 1st century Jews could not believe Jesus was the messiah, even when “told” with signs and wonders. (Many longed to look into these things…)

The irony, of course, is that in a way the Nation of Israel - as an exclusive community in solo covenant with God (their self perspective not Gods plan - recall promise to Abraham was to make him father of “many” nations all along) would die when Jesus did. Because after he arose, the new covenant, which would include all peoples, was born. The curtain was torn. The sacrificial system (Leviticus cultus) ended. The Kingdom that was replicated in the tabernacle and temple had now come to earth in baptism, the Lords Supper and inclusive communion with all peoples.

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    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 4:47

No. Habakkuk prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Babylon). Paul used it again for the double fulfillment of the 2nd destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans during the siege of AD 70. Game over.

"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." (John 4:21, KJV)

What the Judeans (Jews) wanted was relief from Roman occupation, and they expected the end of the desolations of Jerusalem (Dan. ch. 9) to be release from political and national rule under the Romans. They wanted a restoration of Israel elevated back to a world power rule as they had under Solomon.

They didn't understand what Christ had told them about the kingdom, that it came without observation and was within those who believed (Luke 17:20-21). He repeatedly told the scribes and Pharisees that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to another people (Matt. 21:43; 22:1-14; Luke 19:26). He hadn't come to set up a political nation rule on earth.

Matt. 24 outlined the time frame for that full implementation of His kingdom with the destruction of the temple, and He told His disciples to watch for certain things, and then the kingdom would come. When that temple was destroyed in AD 70 it was the fulfillment again of Habakkuk 1:5-6.

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