The apostle Paul often used verses and statements from the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that did not always fit their original context. That “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” is enough for me to accept that these quotations are used correctly.
An example of this is in Romans 10, where Paul, speaking of salvation by grace through faith is also available to the Jew even in the time of their national blindness, makes the statement “for whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Most of us when quoting this verse use it in much the same way that Paul uses it here, except we use to say how salvation by grace through faith is available to all. In Joel 2:32, however, it is about the salvation that the people of Israel will receive during the future day of the LORD.
In fact, when Peter quotes this verse, speaking to the men of Israel on the day of Pentecost, it is in the exact context of Joel’s prophecy. This quotation, in fact, is often used to “prove” that Peter was preaching that day the same salvation message that we preach today; but Peter was preaching to a national audience about a national crime, for which the people of the nation, individually and collectively, needed to repent.
So was Paul using this “out of context” in Romans 10, and making it to mean something different?
The answer to this is that Paul was not using it out of context, but was stating a precedent from the Word of God. This is very consistent with his epistle to the Romans in its entirety which has a very “legal”, or courtroom character. Words like “justification, “condemnation”, “reckon”, etc., are all words that are at home in legal proceedings. Paul is using Joel’s prophecy as a statement from God Himself that sets a precedent for the legality of that which he is preaching in Romans 10. He is supporting his statement in the previous verse:
Romans 10:12–13 — “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Reading the above verses, the “whosoever” is very emphatic.
That “whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” is a true statement, whether in our “day of salvation”, or in the future Day of the LORD, when He will deliver His People from all their enemies and establish His reign of righteousness. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw the day of the LORD on the horizon (“This is that”, Acts 2:16), and in his usage, he was preaching as John the Baptist did, to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7, compare with Acts 2:40).
The people of Israel did not repent, and all that saved them from the coming Day of the Lord was the longsuffering of the Lord (2 Peter 3:9), and the intervening dispensation of the grace of God. The scriptures speak of a blindness on the nation (Acts 28:27, Romans 11:25), but during this time “whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved”, in perfect consistency with what God had previously revealed by His prophet.
This will be helpful when we discuss Paul’s quote from Habakkuk in Romans 1:17 that “the just shall live by faith”.