These famous words from Romans 10:15 bring to a close a series of rhetorical questions that Paul uses in his discussion about missionary endeavour. But what is meant by the “beautiful” feet that Paul speaks of here? Nearly every translation uses the word “beautiful” but does the usage here convey the meaning of lovely or pleasant, as the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament suggests? Or alternatively, perhaps it carries a sense of wonderful welcome as the HCSB puts it: “How welcome are the feet of those who announce the Gospel.” Both of these are possible but there is a third option that relatively few translations use (a rare exception being the New English translation, NET).
The word horaioi in ancient Greek generally means “timely” as when someone or something arrives at an opportune time. It does also carry the meaning “beautiful” of course and that’s clearly the meaning in Matthew 23:27 and Acts 3:10 but I suggest that “timely” would be a better fit here both lexically and also contextually. I encourage you to read the passage again and think about this for I would certainly welcome any comments from students.
(Incidentally, the fact that it’s quoted from Isaiah 52:7 doesn’t help us very much because the Hebrew term is na’vu which can also mean either beautiful or timely.)
Andy Cheung is a PhD student researching Bible Translation and a tutor in New Testament at the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School, England, UK