NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson I)
Verse 1: With Christ’s anointing I am telling you the truth. I am not lying. My conscience and the Holy Spirit, agree with what I’m about to tell you.
Paul knew from previous experience that many of his fellow Jews mistook him for a charlatan who was out to promote his own cause. There were plenty of them around in those days. On one occasion, Paul also told the Corinthians that he was not bashful to call on God as a witness that he was telling the truth.1 And in another incident, he said flatly: “God the Father of the Lord Yeshua – blessed be He forever – knows that I am not lying!”2 The reason for Paul’s emphasis on his sincerity was because he was about to share with his fellow Messianic Jews the story of Israel’s fall from grace.
Not only that, but Paul also says that his own conscience sanctified by Christ is clear and that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with his spirit that he is willing to let what he is saying be challenged for its truthfulness.3 He passed this same sense of integrity on to his young protégé Timothy by telling him: “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”4 So for those Jews among the congregants in Rome who may be suspicious of this one-time persecutor of Christians now turned preacher of the Gospel, Paul bares his soul and conscience so that they will know how sincere, honest, and heartfelt this revelation was.
Early church scholar Pelagius makes the point that Paul would not be saying what he did if it troubled his conscience. It was another way of saying: “I’m telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” This is the way the conscience works to corroborate what is right or wrong in everyone. Jesus made it clear, that if we are lying from within, it will be easy to detect when it comes out5.6 And another early church writer says that the Jews who opposed the preaching of the Apostles came to this conclusion: Either the Gospel is a lie, or God is a liar. Did God not promise Abraham that he would bless his offspring,7 but now He is showing favor to the impure Gentiles instead of to them? So when they heard what Paul was saying about being the Apostle to the Gentiles, they told him that God must have lied to their ancestors. On the other hand, how could they speak of God this way, does not the Scriptures say that God is not like a man that He would tell a lie?8 That’s why Paul endeavored to present the truth in such a way that they would see that neither he nor God was lying.9
Reformer John Calvin sees it this way. Paul was fighting the reputation that he had become an enemy of his own Jewish heritage and people. They also suspected him of trying to get as many fellow Jews as he could to turn their backs on Moses and forsake the Law. So he begins this section of the letter to the Roman believers by getting them ready for what he was about to write. This way, he wanted them to know that he had no other purpose for writing than to tell them nothing but the truth. This way, they could put away their suspicions and the false rumors going around, being spread by his opposers in the Jewish community. Paul was so serious about his effort to be open and honest with them that he was willing to take an oath. Paul meant it when he said that he was so earnest in telling the truth that if it turned out that what he said proved to be untrue that he would not only be shunned by his own people, but by Christ as well. Calvin takes this opportunity to tell his readers that they should learn from this that taking oaths are lawful. That is, especially when they are called on to tell the truth about anything they’ve heard or know something about.10
John Bengel feels that Paul tells the Roman believers that he is speaking deliberately about telling them the truth because his reference is not to everything in general about the children of Abraham, but to something, in particular, they should know. This assertion chiefly relates to Romans 9:3, the same way it is used in Matthew 1:18a. When the Apostle speaks deliberately, it has the same force as an oath. After all, the standard for telling the truth is established in a person’s conscience and heart. This allows what is on the inside to be made clear and confirmed by the Holy Spirit when it is brought to the surface for all to hear. The Holy Spirit will never affirm a lie.11
Adam Clarke has it in his mind that when Paul says that He is speaking the truth according to the message given to him by Christ, that he is making one of the most solemn oaths any person can possibly make. By doing this, Paul appeals to Christ, the searcher of men’s hearts, to prove that he was telling the truth. Paul points to his conscience as a way that Christ could speak to him and the Holy Spirit could agree with his spirit that he was not lying. That’s why we consider a person’s assurance of conscience, and the witness of the Holy Spirit as two distinct things. That means, they can either agree or disagree with each other.12 Clarke feels that Paul was driven to this point because the Jewish members of the church in Rome may have had their suspicions about a fanatic Jewish critic of Christians now saying he was called by Christ to take the Gospel to Gentiles. I guess we shouldn’t blame them. I imagine we could compare this to the Pope suddenly announcing that he was leaving the Roman Catholic church and going out to preach the Pentecostal message of salvation to the Muslim world. And in the process writes a letter back to the Catholic church describing why they are no longer God’s main representative of the Christian faith to the world. I’m sure everyone would blink their eyes in disbelief. Both sides would, no doubt, be very suspicious of his motive.
Robert Haldane makes note that many Jews regarded the Apostle Paul as their most determined enemy. That’s why they were not too happy with him going around declaring his great sorrow on account of the pitiful state of his fellow Jewish countrymen and their relationship with God. No wonder he was not about to get any applause from them. Yet it was true. Paul was able to point this out without being hypocritical or biased. He wanted them to know how sincere he was in this effort. Haldane also points out that Paul was not speaking on his own authority, but as one called by, united to, and belonging to Christ. He was there on Christ’s behalf as His messenger. This was a serious statement and implied that what Paul was going to say was as true as if the Messiah returned and said it Himself. It appears, therefore, that Paul was hoping and praying that those Jews who had turned to Christ and believed Him to be the Messiah would accept his message. He wanted them to feel his conviction and sincerity as a way of proving that what he was about to say, concerning God’s rejection of the Jewish nation did not come out of any supposed prejudice or dislike on his part for his fellow countrymen.13
Albert Barnes also raises another aspect of Paul’s ministry. Paul’s conduct and his doctrines led some Christian Jews to believe that he was a renegade preacher, and had come to despise his countrymen. He had turned his back on their institutions and was now devoting himself to bring the salvation message to the unworthy Gentiles. But Paul assures them that it was not due to any lack of love for them. The doctrines of the Gospel he wanted to bring to them personally was about how many of his fellow Jews had missed the mark by rejecting the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. He wanted them to know that in spite of their claimed privileges as children of Abraham, they would still end up rejected and lost. Paul could not have been more serious as he assured them that this doctrine may be hard to take, but it certainly was not said because he didn’t love them. It was as though Paul hated to deliver this most painful truth. So he did all he could to show respect for them as a people, and thereby convince them of how he felt about being a fellow Jew.14
Canadian/American Bible teacher H. A. Ironside offers this insight as to Paul’s motivation by asking who could listen to the emotion and earnestness in his words and not be touched by the compassion he had for his fellow Jews? He insisted that his heart was broken for them, and constantly carried a heavy burden for their lost condition. It would be hard to believe that anyone loved them more than he did. We can all see why his fellow Jews thought he had become alienated from them because of his commission by Christ to carry the Gospel to the heathen Gentiles. Even though Paul was totally committed to his calling, it should have been evident to everyone that although he did not back down from magnifying that he was an Apostle to the Gentiles, the waywardness and rejection of the Messiah by his fellow Jews tugged greatly at his heartstrings. Several times Paul made it clear, his ministry was always to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles.15
Preacher and scholar Charles Spurgeon was convinced that the Jews were certain that God would certainly save them no matter how bad they had been. This was based on their birth claim. After all, were they not the children of Abraham? Surely that qualified them for guaranteed salvation. By thinking this way they were being inconsistent with the Gospel. The fact of the matter is this: No person has any right to the grace of God without His approval; no one has ever been granted the right to free favor. When we stood before God as sinners we are all condemned to die. Therefore, if any of us were pardoned it was the result of God’s pure mercy and absolute grace. None of us could claim we deserved salvation based on our own merits.16
Scottish Bible scholar F. F. Bruce sees Paul’s opening lines here as evidence that he was taking on a subject that was one of intense personal concern to him. It is clear, says Bruce, that Paul was happy in his ministry as an Apostle to the Gentiles. He was glad they were getting the Gospel message. But for his own fellow Jews, he was crushed that they had, for the most part, refused to accept the message he brought about the Messiah and the new covenant that was made to carry out the salvation that was promised to Abraham. Even though Paul sought out the synagogues and preached to the Jews first in whatever city he entered, instead of being glad, they got mad and tried to shut him up with opposition and threats of death. What should Paul do? Should he simply write them off as a lost cause? Should he consider them as, “unworthy of eternal life.”17
But that is something Paul would never do to his own people. Just as Jesus took His message first to the Jews, Paul never intended to dissociate himself from them. He knew what this type of rebellion was like. After all, like so many other Jews, he too once opposed the Gospel and persecuted those who believed. But the risen Savior met him personally and turned him around to walk in the Christian way to heaven. And just as the scales fell from his eyes when Ananias prayed for him to believe,18 he longed that the disbelieving Jews might have their eyes opened to the truth. Yes indeed, if he knew that their salvation could be purchased by his losing his own, he was ready to do it. No matter how many Gentiles would be saved by the ministry given to him, it could never compensate for those who would be lost. No doubt this caused Paul constant and unceasing mental anguish.19
1 2 Corinthians 1:23
2 Ibid. 11:30
3 Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12
4 1 Timothy 1:5
5 Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45
6 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Genesis 22:17; cf. Psalm 112:2
8 Numbers 23:19
9 Gennadius of Constantinople: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 304-305
12 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 441-442
14 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 H. A. Ironside: Lectures on Romans, loc. cit.
16 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Acts of the Apostles 13:46
18 Ibid. 9:18
19 F. F. Bruce: Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, pp. 182–183). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985