NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXII)
Jewish theologian David Stern says that Jews have substituted service for sacrifice. He writes that Non-Messianic Jews are hard pressed to give an answer to the question: ‘Now that the Temple has been destroyed so that sacrifices can no longer be offered in the manner God requires in the Torah, what is their kapparah1 for sins? Their customary answer that sacrifices have been replaced by repentance, prayer, and works of charity, finds no basis in the Jewish Bible, even though all three are worthy activities and the first two are surely essential elements of the atonement process. The correct answer to the question is given in this verse: Yeshua is the kapparah for sin.2
Verses 29-30: God is not only the God of the Jews. He is also the God of those who are not Jews. There is only one God. He will make Jews right with Him by their faith, and He will also make non-Jews right with Him through their faith.
Paul made it clear to the Judaizers who came to Galatia that you do not need to faith in the Law of Moses along with faith in the Law of Grace. So here in this letter to the Romans, he felt it necessary to disconnect the idea that salvation offered to the Jews under the Law of Grace was, therefore, superior to the salvation offered to the non-Jews without the Law of Moses. In doing so, he quotes part of the Shema from the Torah: “Hear, Israel! Adonai our God, Adonai is one.”3 Jewish Rabbis tell us that the Shema is an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith in one God. This is why the non-Jews have the same saving God as the Jews.
Paul uses the fact that there is but one God to support his teaching that, therefore, one God offers one plan of salvation. After all, the Psalmist did say: “God, show mercy to us and bless us. Please accept us! Selah Let everyone on earth learn about You. Let every nation see how You save people. May people praise You, God! May all people praise You.”4 And Isaiah was given this message to spread among the Israelites: “Your real husband is the one who made you. His name is the LORD All-Powerful.
The Holy One of Israel is your Protector, and He is the God of all the earth!”5 And God informed the Prophet Jeremiah that He refused to allow any other god to take His place. So Jeremiah gave the LORD this affirmation: “You are my strength and my protection. You are a safe place to run to in time of trouble. The nations all around the world will acknowledge You.”6 And to the prophet Zechariah the LORD said: “At that time people from many nations will come to me. They will become my people, and I will live in your city.”7 So it should have been no secret to these Messianic Jews in Rome that God wanted the whole world to worship and serve Him.
Clement, himself an early church convert from paganism, had this to say: “One righteous person is no different from another righteous person, whether Jew or Greek. For God is not only the Lord of the Jews but of all humanity. He is the Father of all who know Him. To live well and according to the law is to live. To live rationally according to reason is to live. Those who lived rightly before the Law were classed under faith and judged to be righteous. Those who were outside the Law, having lived rightly, on hearing the voice of the Lord … may turn and believe with all speed.”8
Then in the commentary by Ambrosiaster we read: “Undoubtedly there is only one God for everybody. For even the Jews cannot claim that their God is not the God of the Gentiles as well because they believe that the origin of all people is from the one Adam and that no one who comes willingly to the law may be prevented from accepting it. Some Gentiles actually went with the Israelites into the desert of Egypt, and the Israelites were ordered to accept them as long as they agreed to be circumcised and eat unleavened bread, and [celebrate] the Passover, together with them.9 Then again, Cornelius, a Gentile who was not Judaized, received the gift of God, and it is clear from Holy Scripture that he was justified.10”11
This no doubt inspired Chrysostom to preach: “There is only one God, who is Lord of all, both Jew and Gentile. Even in ancient times, the blessings of Providence were shared by both, although in different ways. The Jews had the written law, and the Gentiles had a natural law, but in this, they lacked nothing, because if they tried hard enough, they could always surpass the Jews in their observance… If there was no difference then, there is much less even now, and this Paul establishes even more firmly by demonstrating that both alike stand in equal need of faith.”12
Reformist John Calvin carries on this same theme: “He [Paul] does not then ask simply or expressly, whether God was the Creator of the Gentiles, which was admitted without any dispute; but whether He designed to also manifest Himself as a Savior to them. As He had put all mankind on an equal level, and brought them to the same condition, if there be any difference between them, it is from God, not from themselves, who have all things alike. But if it be true that God designs to make all the nations of the earth partakers of His mercy, then salvation, and righteousness, which is necessary for salvation, must be extended to all.”13 This should force us to ask a question today: If God makes no distinction between people as to their eligibility to receive grace before they are saved, should we then make any distinction between them after they are saved?
John Bengel says that Paul is making an inference here: “If justification comes by way of the law, then the Gentiles, who are without the law, cannot be justified; and yet they also rejoice in God, as their justifier.” Bengel points to what Paul said earlier: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.”14 By referring to the promise of Abraham, Paul speaks as if he were looking forward out from the Old Testament toward the New. It is to this that the expressions of foreseeing, Galatians 3:8; the promise, Galatians 3:14; and the hope, Romans 5:5 refer. For instance, it was said of John the Baptizer: “This is that Elijah who was to come.”15 Here we have the discourse of a forerunner. The Jews had been long ago in the faith; the Gentiles had lately obtained faith from them. Also, the word through is used in a number of passages.16 It is right by all means to compare the difference in the particles used in Romans 2:27; and the difference in the thing signified [i.e., the different footing of the Jew and Gentile] Romans 11:17, etc. He does not say, on account of faith, but through faith.17
This question is on the mind of Adam Clarke when he asks: “Is not God the Maker, Preserver, and Redeemer, also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles as much as of the Jews. For all have equally sinned and there is no reason if God is disposed to show mercy at all, that He should prefer the one over the other; since they are all equally guilty, sinful, and destitute.” Clarke then goes on the answer: “It is one and the same God who made both Jews and Gentiles, who shall justify – pardon, the circumcised – the believing Jews, by faith; and the uncircumcised – believing Gentiles, by the same faith; as there are but one Savior and one Atonement provided for them all.”18
Robert Haldane makes this point: “Seeing there is one God, this assigns the reason why God must be the God of Gentiles as well as of Jews. If He justifies both, in the same way, He must be equally the God of both. In the previous part of the discussion, Paul had shown that by works of the Law no flesh shall be justified, proving it first respecting Gentiles, and afterward respecting Jews. Now he affirms that God’s method of justifying man applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. This confirms his doctrine respecting the ruin of all men by sin, and of there being only one way of recovery by the righteousness of God received through faith. To urge this was likewise of great importance, with a view to establishing the kingdom of Christ in all the earth.19 Having thus reduced the whole human race to the same level, it follows that all distinction among them must be from God, and not from themselves, — all standing on the same footing with respect to their works. There is but one God, and so but one way of becoming His people, which is by faith.”20
Charles Hodge draws a similar conclusion: “We have here the second result of the gospel method of justification; it presents God as equally the God of the Gentiles and of the Jews. He is such, because ‘it is one God who justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.’ He deals with both classes on precisely the same principles; He pursues, with regard to both, the same plan, and offers salvation to both on exactly the same terms. There is, therefore, in this doctrine, the foundation laid for a universal religion, which may be preached to every creature under heaven; which need not, as was the case with the Jewish system, be confined to any one sect or nation. This is the only doctrine which suits the character of God, and His relation to all His intelligent creatures upon earth God is a universal, and not a national God; and this is a method of salvation universally applicable.”21
Then Frederic Godet remarks: “To the question: Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Paul could answer with assurance: Yes, of the Gentiles also; for the entire Old Testament had already drawn from Monotheism this glorious inference. The Psalms celebrated Jehovah as the God of all the earth, before whom the nations walk with trembling (Psalms 96-98, 100). Jeremiah called Him King of nations;22 and the Apostle himself demonstrated in Chapter One the existence of a universal divine revelation.”23
1 Kapparah is a reference to the “mercy seat” which formed the cover for the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. In the present verse, it means ‘propitiation, expiation, atonement’ and corresponds to Hebrew kapar, which as the same meaning in the Tanakh and has the root sense of either “cover” or “wipe clean.” These two root meanings both express what God does when He accepts expiation for sin: He removes the sin from sight by wiping or washing it away.
2 David Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Deuteronomy 6:4. Shema is the first word in the prayer, “Hear.”
4 Psalm 67:1-3
5 Isaiah 54:5
6 Jeremiah 16:19
7 Zechariah 2:11
8 Clement of Alexandria: Stromata 6.6
9 See Exodus 12:48
10 See Acts of the Apostles 10:31
11 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
12 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 7
13 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.
14 See Romans 4:16
15 Matthew 11:14; 17:11
16 Romans 3:22; Ephesians 2:8
17 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 246-247
18 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 See Romans 10:11, 13
20 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 156
21 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 Jeremiah 10:7
23 Frederic Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.