Abstract:In Rom 10:13, to “call on the name of the Lord” (ἐπικαλεῖν τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου) involves more than simply invoking the Lord, but expresses a prayer for deliverance with cultic connotations, that is “to worship Jesus as Lord.” Paul’s use of ἐπικαλέω in Rom 10:13 resonates with strong liturgical overtones, draws on a long OT tradition of employing such language in cultic settings, parallels closely other NT texts that are cultic in orientation, and coheres with our earliest evidence about the worship practices of the early church. These observations, in turn, suggest a tighter thematic relationship between Rom 10 and Paul’s description of humanity’s fundamental predicament as false worship in ch. 1, his exhortation for renewed spiritual worship in ch. 12, and his vision for unified Jew/Gentile worship in ch. 15.
Romans 10:13 is one of the most familiar verses in all the Bible: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Featured in countless sermons, and the capstone of many a gospel tract, this verse has, however, rarely been the subject of sustained scholarly inquiry and in the commentaries often receives surprisingly short shrift. One notable exception is an insightful essay by C. Kavin Rowe, which explores the meaning of the “name of the Lord” in the second half of 10:13 and demonstrates convincingly that Paul’s application of OT language for God to the person of Jesus serves to identify the one with the other.1 However, even this article spends little time plumbing the significance of the first half of 10:13 and the question that it begs: What does it mean to call on (ἐπικαλέω) the name of the Lord?2
The immediate context of Romans 10:13 reveals that this question is not inconsequential. In Romans 10:12–14, Paul uses the verb ἐπικαλέω three times to articulate the proper human response to God/Jesus. In 10:12, Paul argues that the same Lord who is over both Jews and Greeks richly blesses all who call upon him (ἐπικαλέω). To support this claim he quotes Joel 3:5 LXX (2:32 ET): “All who call upon (ἐπικαλέω) the name of the Lord will be saved.” The same verb then serves as a linguistic springboard in v. 14a to introduce the chain–like sequence (sorites)3 in vv. 14–15 that leads to one calling upon the Lord. The three–fold repetition of ἐπικαλέω in vv. 12–14, and its location at the head (or the end result) of the chain in vv. 14–15 (preceding even πιστεύω) indicates its prime importance for Paul. It is vital, therefore, to consider carefully what this term conveys.
That is precisely the goal of this paper, and here is its central claim: In Rom 10:13, to “call on the name of the Lord” (ἐπικαλεῖν τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου) means more than to invoke the Lord, but expresses a prayer for deliverance with cultic connotations, that is, “to worship Jesus as Lord.”4 In particular, Paul’s usage of ἐπικαλέω in this passage resonates with strong liturgical overtones, it draws on a long OT tradition of employing such language in cultic settings, it parallels closely other NT texts that are cultic in orientation, and it coheres with our earliest evidence about the worship practices of the early church. Finally, the observation that ἐπικαλέω carries the nuance of worship is significant, since it suggests a tighter thematic relationship between this chapter and Paul’s description of humanity’s fundamental predicament as false worship in chapter 1, his exhortation for renewed spiritual worship in chapter 12, and his vision for unified Jew/Gentile worship in chapter 15.
These interrelated claims forecast the four stages of my argument. In section one I examine Rom 10:13 within its immediate context. In section two I consider the linguistic background of ἐπικαλέω in Greek literature and trace its usage in the LXX. In section three I explore the relationship between the cultic language of Rom 10 and other NT passages. Finally, in section four I show how listening for the liturgical overtones in Rom 10:13 can tune our ears to hear more clearly the theme of worship that reverberates throughout the letter and that constitutes one of its central (yet oft–neglected) theological motifs.
I. Immediate Context
Within the larger structure of chapters 9–11, Rom 9:30–10:21 forms a discrete rhetorical unit whose center and climax is 10:13. The letter of Romans has been compared to a symphony, with thematic motifs that swell and fade, appearing for a moment then receding only to reemerge again.5 This analogy is especially apt in chapters 9–11, which address the complex relationship between God, God’s people Israel, and the Gentiles in light of God’s salvific action in Jesus Christ. As elsewhere in the letter, Paul signals key movements through his characteristic use of leading questions, the force of which are perhaps best summarized in the two–fold query of 9:14: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust?” The emphatic μὴ γένοιτο that abruptly follows proffers the response that the rest of these chapters unpack.
Along the way, however, more specific questions prod the argument toward its theological and doxological conclusion (11:26, 32, 33–36). One of these occurs at 9:30, where Paul likens the present situation of the Gentiles vis–à–vis Israel to a footrace and wonders how it could be that the Gentiles have attained a righteousness they did not pursue, while Israel, for all its effort, has stumbled and fallen short. This launches Paul into a reflection on Israel’s disobedience that extends from 9:30 until the next question in 11:1—“Has God abandoned his people?”—which receives again Paul’s rapid retort: μὴ γένοιτο. The questions in 9:30 and 11:1, then, frame 9:30–10:21 and warrant treating it as a discernible section. Moreover, as Rowe observes, “the central section of 9:30–10:21 is itself knitted tightly together with threads linguistic (e.g., πίστις, δικαιοσύνη, Χριστός, κύριος, πᾶς), logical (e.g., how can they call upon one of whom they have not heard?), and theological (e.g., use of OT for christological theology and defense of Gentile inclusion in connection with Israel’s disobedience).”6
Smaller subdivisions in 9:30–10:21 further reveal the flow of Paul’s argument and clarify the relationship of 10:13 to Paul’s central claims. 9:30–33 serves as a kind of preface to ch. 10, introducing the citation from Isa 28:16, a text to which Paul returns in 10:11 with a decidedly christological twist. In 10:1, the direct address ἀδελφοί, Paul’s introduction of the key term σωτηρία (appearing for the first time since 1:16),7 and his shift to a more personal tone marks a minor transition, even while language of Israel seeking (ζητέω) but failing to submit to God’s righteousness (δικαιοσύνη, twice in v. 3 and again in v. 4) binds it to the preceding paragraph (9:30–33). Verse 4 marks a pause in the argument, but not a full stop.8 Instead, Paul’s logic pushes forward,9 springing off πιστεύω to describe in vv. 5–6 the difference between the righteousness that is by the law and the righteousness that is by faith. Indeed, the latter receives a voice and speaks scripture alongside Moses (quoting Lev 18:5; Deut 9:4; 30:12; Ps 117:26; and Deut 30:14). Paul’s contemporizing exegesis surfaces clearly in v. 8, where he equates the “word” that “is in your mouth and in your heart” from Deut 30:14 with “the word of faith that we (i.e., Paul and his co–workers) are proclaiming.” He then explicates the content of that “word” in v. 9, by riffing on the terms “mouth” and “heart” from Deut 30 and returning to the main theme introduced in v. 1: “salvation” (σωτηρία).
From this point forward a series of sentences starting with γάρ drives the passage to its climax in 10:13. This rhetorical crescendo may be illustrated as follows:10
|for (γάρ) in the heart it is believed…||(10:10)|
|for (γάρ) the Scripture says…||(10:11)|
|for (γάρ) there is no distinction…||(10:12a)|
|for (γάρ) the same Lord is Lord of all…||(10:12b)|
|for (γάρ) all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.||(10:13)|
As Rowe observes, “The use of γάρ five times within 10:10–13 not only connects the phrases to each other, but also gives the reader a sense of being pulled or drawn to some expected end.”11 Furthermore, “this progression (i) recalls Paul’s initial entreaty in 10:1, (ii) picks up the four uses of γάρ (10:2, 3, 4, 5) preceding Paul’s [christological] rereading of Deuteronomy, and (iii) deepens the ‘you will be saved’ (σωθήσῃ) of 10:9 (cf. σωτηρίαν in 10:10) even as it (iv) presses forward with rhetorical force toward the climactic quotation of Joel 3:5 in 10:13.”12
Another minor transition occurs in 10:14, signaled by οὖν and the shift from declarative statements to a catena of questions. Directly following this chain of interrogatives, Paul’s citation of Isa 53:7 in v. 15 provides a verbal pivot (εὐαγγελίζω) from which to reintroduce the word “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον, v. 16), a term that is prevalent in ch. 1 (Rom 1:1, 9, 16) but that has been curiously absent from the letter since 2:16. A second citation from Isaiah in 10:16b steers the discussion toward the subject of one’s response to the gospel, circling back to the terms “faith” (πίστις, cf. 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8) and “word” (ῥῆμα, cf. 10:8).13 The remainder of the chapter, closing with a characteristic cluster of scriptural quotations,14 describes further the disobedience and culpability of Israel, who, having heard the message of the gospel, has nevertheless rejected it.
All of these structural observations substantiate seeing 10:13 as the theological heart and rhetorical hinge of 9:30–10:21. In what way, however, does 10:13 ring with liturgical overtones? Answering this question depends, in the first place, on our reading of its relationship with 10:9–12 and 14–15a.
At least one commentator claims that “calling on the name of the Lord is another way of saying ‘believe.’”15 If this is the case, it makes little sense for Paul to separate the two concepts by asking how people who do not believe in the Lord can call on him (v. 14). Rather than entirely equating these ideas, it is better to interpret “call upon” and “believe” in this chapter as both distinguishable and inseparable. Already in 10:9–10 (despite the absence of ἐπικαλέω), Paul has borrowed language from Deut 30:14 to lay out the dual salvific significance of confessing with one’s mouth and believing in one’s heart, thus anticipating the argument that follows. As I have shown, the grammatical structure of vv. 10–12 invites the reader to link 10:9 with 10:13, with its five–fold repetition of γάρ that propels the argument toward its climactic conclusion. Indeed, the connection between the phrase “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (ὁμολογήσῃς ἐν τῷ στόματί σου κύριον Ἰησοῦν, v. 9) and “call upon [the name of the Lord]” (ἐπικαλέω [τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου], vv. 12–14) suggests that the two expressions mutually inform one another.16
|Rom 10:9||Rom 10:13|
|ἐὰν ὁμολογήσῃς ἐν τῷ στόματί σου
|πᾶς γὰρ ὃς ἂν ἐπικαλέσηται
τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου
|καὶ πιστεύσῃς ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου ὅτι
ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ἤγειρεν ἐκ νεκρῶν,
Taken together, these two phrases carry strong liturgical overtones. To “confess with your mouth” finds scriptural parallels in 1 Cor 12:3, in a context clearly concerned with liturgical matters, and also in Phil 2:11 as part of a passage that is commonly considered an early Christian hymn.17 Moreover, the invocation of Jesus as Lord (κύριος) frequently occurs in liturgical settings, such as baptism (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16) and church discipline (1 Cor 5:1–5).18
Such evidence suggests that “the confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ (κύριον Ἰησοῦν) … was rather well-fixed within early Christianity” and that “it arose not in light of persecution but most likely to meet the liturgical needs in the church.”19 For the church at Rome, these needs included Paul’s ardent desire for Jews and Gentiles together to worship Jesus as Lord (cf. 15:5–6).20 That a liturgical need for unity lies behind this passage is underscored by Paul’s deliberate addition21 of πᾶς to his citation of Isa 28:16 in 10:11, a word that Paul features again in vv. 12 and 13 and that highlights the universal horizon of his mission (v. 8, 13). J. Ross Wagner puts it well: “Employing the wording of Rom 3:22 verbatim, ‘there is no distinction’ (οὐ γάρ ἐστιν διαστολὴ), Paul substitutes for his earlier indictment that all humans are under sin the good news that all humans have the same Lord (cf. 3:29–30), who deals generously with all who call on him (10:12).”22
Significantly, Paul appropriates an OT text whose original referent was YHWH and applies it to Jesus, thereby identifying Jesus closely with the God of Israel.23 Rowe asserts, “It would be hard to overestimate the theological potency of this use of Joel 3:5a,” and he argues that “we are to hear the echoes of this sentence in its original context, but now with a christological transformation that has the profoundest implications for Paul’s ‘doctrine’ of God and, as such, for the salvation of Israel.”24 As Rowe demonstrates, the statement in Joel 3:5a originally appears at the climax of an apocalyptic vision concerning the restoration of all Israel, which is grounded in the theological singularity of YHWH (Joel 2:27 LXX).25 Paul modulates this vision in two crucial ways. First, whereas the πᾶς of Joel refers to all Israel (excluding the Gentiles; cf. Joel 2:27b LXX), Paul expands the meaning of πᾶς in Rom 10:13 to embrace both Jews and Gentiles (10:12). Second, while the κύριος in Joel is YHWH, in 10:13, the κύριος is clearly Jesus, as indicated by (a) the confession κύριος Ἰησοῦς (10:9), (b) the identification of ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ (10:11), ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος (10:12), and αὐτόν (10:12) with Jesus, and (c) the evidence of 10:14, where the κύριος must refer to Jesus and not YHWH, since Paul’s concern is that his fellow Israelites call on one in whom they have not yet believed.26 Thus, Paul now reimagines the restoration envisioned by Joel for God’s people to include not only Israel but all humanity, and to be enacted by the Lord Jesus Christ.
On the level of intertextual echo, this restoration not only entails eschatological deliverance but also worship.27 The bond Paul has forged between Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 3:5 through the addition of πᾶς in 10:11 invites the reader to recall how the “shame” language in Isa 28:16 (οὐ μὴ καταισχυνθῇ) echoes the two-fold repetition of identical wording in Joel 2:26–27, in which God’s deliverance prompts his people to “praise the name of the Lord [their] God” (αἰνέσετε τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Joel 2:26 LXX).28 The link between 2:26 and 3:5 consists also in the fact that these are the only two passages in LXX Joel that employ the phrase “name of the Lord” (τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου). These linguistic connections, then, summon us to read these texts together and to allow them to interpret one another.
|Joel 2:26||αἰνέσετε||τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου||τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν|
|Joel 3:5||πᾶς ὃς ἂν||ἐπικαλέσηται||τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου||σωθήσεται|
The recurrence of the “name of the Lord” in these verses suggests a possible link between the verbs αἰνέω and ἐπικαλέω, so that, for Joel, “to call on the name of the Lord” is associated with the notion, “to praise the name of the Lord.” The multivalence of the expression in Joel 3:5 also extends to Romans, so that Paul’s citation in Rom 10:13 not only articulates a prayer for deliverance but at the same time expresses an act of worship.
In summary, Romans 10:13 not only stands as the climax of Romans 9:30–10:21, but its immediate context also evinces strong liturgical overtones. Confessional language permeates the passage, including the specific invocation of Jesus as Lord, which serves to identify Jesus with the God of Israel. That this radically christocentric rereading of Joel 3:5 takes place within the thoroughly theocentric framework of Romans 9–11, forces us “to reckon with a very early inclusion of Jesus in the identity of the Lord YHWH that integrated Jesus also into the worship of YHWH.”29 This identification, in turn, serves the liturgical purpose in Romans of uniting Jews and Gentiles in worship of the same Lord (Rom 10:12; 15:6–7), whose salvation extends to all who call on him.
2. Linguistic Background
Not only does the immediate context of Rom 10:13 ring with liturgical overtones, but the expression “to call upon the name of the Lord” draws from a deep OT tradition of employing such language in cultic settings.
The verb ἐπικαλέω has a long history. It occurs in Greek literature as early as the time of Homer, and appears frequently in Greek authors, inscriptions, the papyri, and the LXX.30 Moreover, it is well attested in Jewish and Christian literature roughly contemporaneous with the NT, including Josephus and 1 Clement.31 According to BDAG, the term’s usage across this wide range of sources reveals four basic nuances: (1) to call upon a deity for any purpose, i.e., to invoke; (2) to address or characterize someone by a special term, i.e., to name; (3) to request a higher judicial authority to review a decision in the lower court, i.e., to appeal; and (4) to invoke in an oath, i.e., to call someone as a witness.
Within the LXX, ἐπικαλέω occurs 184 times, where it most often translates the Hebrew קָרָה.32 It conveys all four of the meanings outlined in BDAG, but most notable for our purposes are the frequent and distinctive occurrences of the phrase ἐπικαλέω τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου, including (of course) the OT text Paul cites in Romans 10:13 (Joel 2:32 [3:5 LXX]). The texts in the LXX that most closely follow the formulation “call on the name of the Lord” (Hb: קרא בשם יהוה) appear in Figure 1.33
|Gen 4:26||οὗτος ἤλπισεν ἐπικαλεῖσθαι τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ||He hoped (MT: began) to call on the name of the Lord God|
|Gen 12:8||καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν ἐκεῖ θυσιαστήριον τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ ἐπεκαλέσατο ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι κυρίου||And he built there an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord|
|Gen 13:4||εἰς τὸν τόπον τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, οὗ ἐποίησεν ἐκεῖ τὴν ἀρχήν· καὶ ἐπεκαλέσατο ἐκεῖ Αβραμ τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου||(He journeyed) to the place of the altar, that he made there at first, and there Abram called on the name of the Lord|
|Gen 21:33||καὶ ἐφύτευσεν Αβρααμ ἄρουραν ἐπὶ τῷ φρέατι τοῦ ὅρκου καὶ ἐπεκαλέσατο ἐκεῖ τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου Θεὸς αἰώνιος||And Abram planted an aroura (NETS: ploughed field; MT: tamarisk tree) by the well of the oath (i.e., Beer–sheba) and there he called on the name of the Lord, God eternal|
|Gen 26:25||καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν ἐκεῖ θυσιαστήριον καὶ ἐπεκαλέσατο τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου||And he built there an altar and called on the name of the Lord|
|1 Kgs 18:24
(3 Kgdms 18:24 LXX)
|καὶ βοᾶτε ἐν ὀνόματι θεῶν ὑμῶν, καὶ ἐγὼ ἐπικαλέσομαι ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ μου||And shout in the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord my God|
|1 Chr 16:8||Ἐξομολογεῖσθε τῷ κυρίῳ, ἐπικαλεῖσθε αὐτὸν ἐν ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ||Give thanks34 to the Lord, call on him by his name|
|Αλληλουια. Ἐξομολογεῖσθε τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ ἐπικαλεῖσθε τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ||Hallelujah! Acknowledge the Lord and call on his name|
|καὶ τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου ἐπεκαλεσάμην
Ὦ κύριε, ῥῦσαι τὴν ψυχήν μου.
|And on the name of the Lord I called, O Lord, rescue my soul|
|ποτήριον σωτηρίου λήμψομαι
καὶ τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου ἐπικαλέσομαι
|A cup of salvation I will receive
And I will call on the name of the Lord
|Lam 3:55||Ἐπεκαλεσάμην τὸ ὄνομά σου, κύριε, ἐκ λάκκου κατωτάτου||I called on your name, O Lord, from the deepest pit|
|καὶ ἔσται πᾶς, ὃς ἂν ἐπικαλέσηται τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου, σωθήσεται||And it will be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved|
|Zeph 3:9||ὅτι τότε μεταστρέψω ἐπὶ λαοὺς γλῶσσαν εἰς γενεὰν αὐτῆς τοῦ ἐπικαλεῖσθαι πάντας τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου τοῦ δουλεύειν αὐτῷ ὑπὸ ζυγὸν ἕνα||Because then I will change the tongue for peoples in its generation that all might call on the name of the Lord and serve him under one yoke|
Strikingly, in almost all of these passages the expression “call upon the name of the Lord” occurs in a cultic setting. Abraham, for example, “calls on the name of the Lord” in the context of building an altar (Gen 12:8; 13:4) and planting a tamarisk tree (Gen 21:33; probably associated with a cultic shrine at Beersheba). In Genesis 26:25 Isaac follows suit; after a theophanic reassertion of the divine promise to Abraham he builds an altar at Beersheba and then “calls on the name of the Lord.” The phrase appears again in the story of Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal. Challenging them to “call on the name of [their] god” Elijah proceeds to “call on the name of the Lord [his] God,” and the Lord responds in dramatic fashion by engulfing Elijah’s altar with flames that consume not only the drenched sacrifice but also the wood, stones, dust and water that fills the surrounding trench (1 Kgs 18:20–40).
The Psalter is replete with references to ἐπικαλέω,35 but the full expression “call on the name of the Lord” appears only three times. Psalm 105 (104 LXX) is especially interesting, since (in addition to the language that parallels Rom 10:13) its opening verses include many of the same key terms as Rom 10, such as καρδία (v. 3), στόμα (v. 5), and ἐξομολογέω (v. 1; cf. ὁμολογέω, Rom 10:9–10).36 In verse 1, ἐπικαλέω parallels ἐξομολογέω, a verb which intimates allegiance, devotion, or praise offered to someone (cf. Rom 15:9),37 and the rest of the opening stanza characterizes this confession as a verbal act of worship: “Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works, glory in his holy name,” vv. 2–3a). Moreover, the plural verbs reveal that the psalmist envisions “calling on the name of the Lord” not only as a verbal proclamation of devotion, but as a communal act of worship. Support for this interpretation comes from the fact that large portions of Psalm 105 (104 LXX) are quoted, almost verbatim, in 1 Chronicles 16, within the context of a communal worship celebration. After bringing to Jerusalem the ark of Lord (“which is called by [his] name,” 1 Chr 13:6), David offers sacrifices, blesses the people “in the name of the Lord” (ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου), and appoints Levites to worship the Lord before the ark, singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on him by his name” (Ἐξομολογεῖσθε τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ ἐπικαλεῖσθε τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, 16:8). The hymn that follows both exhorts the people to worship the true God instead of false idols (e.g., 16:25–26) and models for them what this looks like. The expression “call on the name of the Lord” appears two other times in the Psalter, both in Psalm 116 (114, 115 LXX). In v. 4 the term designates a cry for deliverance (v. 4 = 114:4 LXX) whereas in v. 13 (v. 13 = 115:4 LXX) it describes a proclamation of God’s salvation, which is then accompanied by libation and sacrifices.38 Thus, again the term draws together two nuances: prayer for deliverance and cultic worship.
However, only the first of these meanings is apparent in Lamentations 3:55, which recalls in first person the desperate plight of the speaker: “I called on your name, Lord, from the deepest pit (Ἐπεκαλεσάμην τὸ ὄνομά σου, κύριε, ἐκ λάκκου κατωτάτου)—a plea to which the Lord graciously responds (vv. 56–58). Similarly, in Joel 2:32 (3:5 LXX) connotations of deliverance come to fore, where “calling on the name of the Lord” describes the salvation of a divinely-called remnant that survives the great and terrible day of the Lord (vv. 30–32). However, as we have seen, liturgical language is not far afield, for those whom God blesses “will praise the name of the Lord [their] God” (2:26 LXX: αἰνέσετε τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν). Finally, Zephaniah 3:9 envisions a day when God will gather the nations in judgment and then, in a surprising turn, “will change the tongue (γλῶσσα) for peoples in its generation that all might call on the name of the Lord and serve him (δουλεύω) with one accord (lit. under one yoke).” The text continues to describe how God’s scattered ones “shall bring my offering” (θυσία, 3:10). To “call upon the name of the Lord” then, in this passage, is associated with reformed speech, renewed service, and right sacrifice—all images that ring with cultic overtones.39
The LXX usage of ἐπικαλέω τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου (or slight variations) demonstrates that well before the period of the early church this phrase had become a fixed expression for prayer and worship offered to YHWH. Carl Davis rightly observes, “The Old Testament and intertestamental background of Joel 2.32 [3.5] is one which suggests ‘calling on the name of the LORD’ was a cultic activity directed toward Israel’s God.”40 It was laden with liturgical connotations, which the NT writers clearly recognized and harnessed in their appropriation of the expression within the context of the fledgling Christian community.41
3. Wider NT Context and Early Christian Practice
The usage of ἐπικαλέω τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου in the NT confirms its function as a technical expression for worship. At no point is the phrase used among pre-Christian Jewish writers to refer to any figures (angels, divine mediators, etc.) other than YHWH, the God of Israel.42 However, in the NT this situation is reversed. In a startling reappropriation, “calling on the name of the Lord” is never applied to God, but only to Jesus. This phenomenon stands as a singular innovation in early Christian worship.43
With slight variation, the expression ἐπικαλεῖν τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου occurs six times in the NT: Acts 2:21; 9:14, 21; 22:16; Romans 10:13; and 1 Corinthians 1:2. Of these, only Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13 are direct citations of Joel 3:5 LXX. Figure 2 below lays out these passages, with brief contextual notes.44
|Figure 2||NT||Notes and Translation|
|Acts 2:21||καὶ ἔσται πᾶς ὃς ἂν ἐπικαλέσηται τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου σωθήσεται.||(Citation of Joel 2:32[3:5 LXX] in Peter’s speech at Pentecost)
And it will be (that) everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
|Acts 9:14||καὶ ὧδε ἔχει ἐξουσίαν παρὰ τῶν ἀρχιερέων δῆσαι πάντας τοὺς ἐπικαλουμένους τὸ ὄνομά σου.||(Ananias, in conversation with the “Lord Jesus” [v. 17] about Saul)
…and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind up all who call on your name.
|Acts 9:21||οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πορθήσας εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ τοὺς ἐπικαλουμένους τὸ ὄνομα τοῦτο;||(Response of the crowds to Saul proclaiming “Jesus” [v. 20] in Damascus)
Is not this the man who in Jerusalem was destroying those who call on this name?
|Acts 22:16||ἀναστὰς βάπτισαι καὶ ἀπόλουσαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας σου ἐπικαλεσάμενος τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ.||(Paul, recounting Ananias’ exhortation to him after his conversion)
Arise, be baptized and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.
|Rom 10:13||πᾶς γὰρ ὃς ἂν ἐπικαλέσηται τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου σωθήσεται.||(Citation of Joel 2:32[3:5 LXX])
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
|1 Cor 1:2||τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Κορίνθῳ, ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, σὺν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐπικαλουμένοις τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ, αὐτῶν καὶ ἡμῶν·||(Paul’s greeting to the church at Corinth)
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all the ones who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both their (Lord) and ours.
1 Corinthians is the earliest of these writings. In 1:2, Paul opens his letter with a greeting to the church in Corinth, who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, along with “all those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in every place.”45 Three points stand out.
First, it is remarkable that Paul, probably writing in the mid-50s, can say that all Christians everywhere, presumably including both Jews and Gentiles, “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That Paul commences his letter in such a way, without further elaboration, assumes an early and widespread convention of describing believers as “those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Similarly, 2 Timothy 2:22 characterizes Christians as those “who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” A second, and related, point is that “calling on the name of the Lord” must have been both a distinctive enough and common enough practice for it to have so quickly become serviceable as shorthand for the Christian community. Some clue as to what this practice entailed comes from 1 Corinthians 12:1–3, where Paul contrasts the Corinthians’ former idolatry with the spoken confession now enabled only by the Holy Spirit, “Jesus is Lord” (Κύριος Ἰησοῦς). Here, just after his instructions about the Lord’s supper (11:17–34) and before his discussion of spiritual gifts (chs. 12–14), Paul clearly situates the confession Κύριος Ἰησοῦς within the communal context of worship. This leads to a third point about the expression “call on the name of the Lord” as it appears in 1:2: Paul unambiguously designates the κύριος as “Jesus Christ” and seems completely comfortable identifying the “church of God” (ἐκκλησᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ) in distinctly christological terms. Indeed, as elsewhere in Paul’s letters, the greeting ends in v. 3 with a dyadic benediction from “God our father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. Rom 1:7; 2 Cor 1:2, etc.). The binitarian46 shape of worship is perhaps most apparent back in ch. 12, where, in the course of his description of corporate worship, Paul modulates freely between references to “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” and “the same God” (τὸ αὐτός πνεῦμα/ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος/ὁ αὐτὸς θεός, vv. 4–6). To “call on the name of the Lord,” then, effectively means, “to worship Jesus as Lord,” alongside and in close identification with God.
A similar pattern emerges in Acts, where the expression appears four times: 2:21; 9:14, 21; 22:16. By placing a citation of Joel 3:5 LXX on the lips of Peter during his sermon at Pentecost, Luke locates the phrase in the earliest stratum of Christian preaching. After a lengthy quotation from the prophet, Peter proceeds to endow it with a christological interpretation, associating the “wonders and signs” (τέρασι καὶ σημείοις) that God did through Jesus (v. 22) with the “wonders” (τέρατα) and “signs” (σημεῖα) depicted in (Peter’s version of) Joel 3:3 LXX.47 Although the κύριος of Joel 3:5 is not directly linked with Jesus in Acts 2:21, the rest of the chapter implies as much, when converts are baptized “into the name of Jesus Christ” (ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).48 A few chapters later, Luke strengthens the connection between Jesus and the κύριος of Joel 3:5 when Ananias, in conversation with “the Lord” (ὁ κύριος, whom he explicitly calls Ἰησοῦς in v. 17), claims that Saul has authority from the chief priests to bind up “all who call on your name” (πάντας τοὺς ἐπικαλουμένους τὸ ὄνομά σου), clearly echoing Joel 3:5 LXX. After Saul encounters Jesus and begins proclaiming him in Damascus, the crowds respond in disbelief, “Is not this the man who in Jerusalem was destroying those who call on this name (τοὺς ἐπικαλουμένους τὸ ὄνομα τοῦτο)?” (9:21). The usage here confirms the connection between τὸ ὄνομα τοῦτο and Jesus and provides additional evidence for the usage of the expression as a whole to designate Christians. Furthermore, in his defense before an angry mob in 22:16, Paul recounts Ananias’s exhortation to him after his conversion, “Arise, be baptized and have your sins washed away, calling on his (i.e., Jesus’s) name” (ἐπικαλεσάμενος τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ), thereby further linking the expression with the liturgical act of baptism. Moreover, the fact that Stephen, at his stoning, prays to the “Lord Jesus” (κύριε Ἰησοῦ, Acts 7:59) may indicate that “calling on the name of the Lord” was not confined to a one–time occurrence at conversion or baptism, but also formed a regular part of Christian devotion.
This brief survey shows that the NT consistently uses the expression “call on the name of the Lord” to denote the worship of Jesus. As Hurtado points out, “This ritual use of Jesus’ name reflects an explicit identification of Jesus as an appropriate recipient of such cultic devotion…it represents the inclusion of Jesus with God as recipient of public, corporate cultic reverence.”49 Furthermore, this practice was so early and widespread that by the mid-50’s Paul could describe Christians as “those who call on the name of the Lord” without further elaboration. In other words, calling on the name of Jesus in worship was the defining characteristic of early Christian communities (cf. 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:11).50 Hurtado explains, “The appeal to Jesus that we see in the NT is an open, corporate, and apparently quite regular component in Christian worship.”51 More specifically, several passages (e.g., 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:11) indicate that “NT worship involved a ritual (collective) ‘confession’ of Jesus as Lord” within a liturgical setting.52 For early believers, to be a Christian is to “call on the name of the Lord,” and in Rom 10:13 (as elsewhere) to “call on the name of the Lord” is “to worship Jesus as Lord.”
4. Relationship to the Rest of Romans
In Rom 10:13, the expression ἐπικαλεῖν τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου resonates with liturgical overtones, which, when appreciated fully, allows us to hear more clearly the theme of worship that pervades the letter and that constitutes one of its central theological motifs. More specifically, appreciating the cultic nuance of ἐπικαλέω is significant because it strengthens the conceptual web of links between this passage and Paul’s description of humanity’s fundamental predicament as false worship in chapter 1, his exhortation for renewed spiritual worship in chapter 12, and his vision of unified Jew/Gentile worship in chapter 15.
In Romans 10 “calling on the name of the Lord” in worship represents the pinnacle of Paul’s vision for eschatological salvation (vv. 13–14). Framing God’s deliverance in liturgical language harmonizes well with what he has already described in chapter 1 as humanity’s underlying predicament: idolatry. According to Paul, “Although humans knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave God thanks” (1:21). Instead, “they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four–footed animals or reptiles” (1:23). As a result of their idolatry, God gave them over to the catalogue of sins enumerated in vv. 24–32. Paul locates the root cause of humanity’s sinful predicament, then, not in the vices themselves but in humanity’s more fundamental failure to worship God. 1:25 makes this relationship crystal clear; God “gave them over” (παρέδωκεν) because “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” To put it simply: the solution in 10:13 matches the problem in chapter 1, and both concern the issue of worship.
In the very same verse (1:25) Paul emulates the positive response of worship that he later enjoins, by adding almost parenthetically the doxology: “[God], who is blessed forever! Amen (ἀμήν).” (1:25b). Indeed, earlier in ch. 1 Paul employs liturgical language autobiographically, when he speaks of God “whom I serve (λατρεύω) in my spirit” (1:9; cf. λατρεύω in 1:25) and mentions his pattern of continual prayer (προσευχή, 1:10) and thanksgiving (εὐχαριστέω, 1:8). Moreover, the repetition of “Amen” (ἀμήν), within several doxologies that punctuate this letter, functions as an appeal to worship and confirms that Paul expects his hearers to follow his example.53 Indeed, the presence of ἀμήν in ch. 1, twice in chs. 9–11, and again in ch. 15 subtly binds together sections of the book that are often treated in isolation and casts the entire letter as a call to worship.
The thematic connection between chapters 1 and 10 around the issue of worship invites us to look more closely for linguistic parallels that might further illuminate the relationship between these chapters. Doing so reveals numerous semantic ties. Key terms play a role in both chapters, including “heart” (καρδία; 1:21, 24 and 10:1, 6, 8–10),54 “all” (πᾶς; 1:5, 7–8, 16, 18, 29 and 10:4, 11–13, 16, 18),55 “gospel (εὐαγγέλιον; 1:1, 9, 16 and 10:16), and “preach the gospel” (εὐαγγέλιζω; 1:15; 10:15).56 Moreover, both chapters include related “honor” and “shame” terminology (ἐπαισχύνομαι, 1:16; ἀτιμάζω, 1:4; ἀσχημοσύνη, 1:27 and καταισχύνω, 10:11). Admittedly, most of these terms occur frequently throughout Romans, so we should not make too much of their repetition in chapters 1 and 10. However, it is worth noting that chapter 10 marks the first reappearance of εὐαγγέλιον since 2:16 and the first time εὐαγγέλιζω has occurred since 1:15. Additionally, aside from 3:20, chapters 1 and 10 are the only two places where the word ἐπίγνωσις appears in Romans (1:28; 10:2) and the γνο- root features prominently in both (1:13, 19, 21, 28, 32 and 10:2–3, 19).57 Also, only these two chapters share the term ἀσύνετος (“ignorant” 1:21, 31; 10:19). These linguistic threads, thus, provide some warrant for listening to chs. 1 and 10 in stereo, and doing so only amplifies their mutual cultic resonances.
If worship is a dominant theme in the letter it makes sense that Paul would mark his major transition from exposition to exhortation by closing chapter 11 with a doxology (11:33–36) and opening chapter 12 with a call to worship (12:1–3). In what follows, Paul provides a fuller picture of what it means to “call on the name of the Lord” by describing specific ways that the Christian community can “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship” (12:1). The overtly liturgical language at this critical juncture echoes the theme Paul has sounded throughout the letter. Just as chapters 1 and 10 relate worship to knowledge, so also 12:2 connects worship with “the renewal of the mind.” Also, just as chapter 10 addresses a liturgical need for unity, so also chapter 12 describes the ministry of the church as a community with different gifts and many members, but only one body (12:4–8).
This emphasis on unified worship reaches its zenith in chapter 15. In vv. 5–6 Paul exhorts the community to live in harmony “so that together with one voice [they] may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 6). The word στόμα, translated here as “voice,” is typically rendered “mouth” elsewhere in Romans and marks an important progression in Paul’s argument: mouths that used to spew out distorted doxology, “full of cursing and bitterness” (3:14), are now called to confess Jesus as Lord (10:8–10), and to issue forth unified praise (15:6).58 Verses 7–13 are replete with liturgical language and the citation of Ps 17:50 LXX (cf. 2 Sam 22:50) in v. 9 recalls Rom 10: “I will confess you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name (ἐξομολογήσομαί σοι ἐν ἔθνεσιν καὶ τῷ ὀνόματί σου ψαλῶ).59
Earlier we noticed that throughout the LXX the expression ἐπικαλέω τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου often draws together two nuances: prayer for deliverance and cultic worship. In Romans 10:13, as in many of the psalms, the cry for deliverance is an act of worship. Paul stresses that, apart from Jesus, humans stand completely helpless beneath the tyranny of sin and death,60 which is why humanity’s only hope is “to call on the name of the Lord.” Idolatry unleashed the destructive powers of sin and death; only God can deliver humanity from their grasp.
But, deliverance entails its positive counterpart: praise. In Romans 10:13 these twin themes are struck together like notes in a chord. The cultic dimension of this text rings out like a harmonic over the cry for deliverance, reminding us that humans are not just delivered from something but also rescued for something: a communal life of ongoing worship (chs. 12, 15). The score of Romans sweeps from false worship to true worship, and the deliverance of God, enacted through Jesus Christ, is the hinge upon which everything swings. That pivot is nowhere better expressed than Romans 10:13, in which the cry for salvation is caught up in its corollary of worshipping Jesus as Lord.
In current scholarship on Romans, there is no shortage of proposals about the central theme(s) of the letter.61 Some see the gospel as the letter’s dominant melody, others the relationship of Jews and Gentiles, still others the righteousness of God.62 Of course, these proposals are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Nor do I think that any single theme unlocks this letter like a master hermeneutical key. Instead, multiple themes—some more prominent and others more subtle—play off each other like musical motifs. Debates about how these themes interweave, intersect, and interplay will likely continue unabated for the foreseeable future. The theme of worship, however, deserves greater attention.63
When examined within its context, against the linguistic background of the LXX, and in relationship to the wider context of the NT, the expression “call on the name of the Lord” (ἐπικαλεῖν τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου) in Rom 10:13 speaks directly to this theme. It means more than to invoke the Lord, but expresses a prayer for deliverance with cultic connotations, that is, “to worship Jesus as Lord.” The importance of this phrase for Paul’s theology is verified by its centrality within the structure in Rom 10 and its location at the climax of the chain–like sequence he traces in 10:14–15. For Paul, the corporate worship of Jesus as Lord entails a resolution to human idolatry (ch. 1) and is the substance of salvation (ch. 12), comprising both its beginning (10:13) and its proper end (10:14; 15:6). Attending to the liturgical overtones of Romans 10:13 alerts us to the ways the motif of worship pulses throughout the letter, and shapes us to hear its message afresh.