NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson V)
In case the Jews didn’t realize how blessed they were, and why God chose them to be the people through whom the Messiah would come, Paul takes a moment to remind them of just how blessed were. What a tragedy that in spite of God’s goodness, they rejected His only Son who came to save them. Had they forgotten that it was through Moses, God’s firstborn son, Israel, was led to freedom and given the first covenant of the Law. Now through Jesus, God’s only Son, they were offered their freedom from the law and given the last covenant of Grace. Under the first covenant they had to work for their salvation and sealed it with circumcision, but it was futile.1 Under the last covenant, the work of salvation was done for them by Christ and sealed by baptism, and it is final. Under the first covenant of the Law the promises to Abraham were insured, but under the last covenant of Grace, the promises are assured. This was affirmed by Mary, after Elizabeth proclaimed her the Mother of our Lord, when she exclaimed: “He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, just as He promised to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”2 This was repeated by Zacharias, the father of John the Baptizer.3
It is important to notice that in Jewish writings there are only three who the Jews referred to as “Father.” In the Talmud we read that the Rabbis taught: The term “patriarchs” (meaning “Father”) is applied only to three, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob4.5 It is also been noted that in other Jewish writings we find that the coming Savior is referred to as “The Messiah of Israel.”6 This then became part of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost,7 and Paul on his first missionary journey.8 Paul also included the Gentiles.9
It is also worth noting that Paul mentions three things that came along with the glory and agreements between God and His people, and there were the Law of Moses, the Temple Worship, and God’s Promises. We find in Jewish writings where Rabbi Moses Maimonides quoted Shimon the Righteous as saying: “The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of God, and deeds of kindness.”10 This same Shimon the Righteous, the son of Gamliel, also taught that the world endures because of these three things: justice, truth, and peace.11 Jesus came to establish these as well. Since Paul was writing to Jews in the congregation in Rome, they were sure to recognize that Paul knew his Jewish theology as well as the Gospel.
Paul goes on to show how privileged his people, the Jews, were by virtue of their glorious predecessors, the great fathers who were the forerunners of the Messiah. Moses also spoke reverently about those who were patriarchs and blessed to be God’s choice: “See, the earth and highest heaven belong to the LORD your God. And yet the LORD took enough pleasure in your ancestors to love them and choose their descendants after them — yourselves — above all peoples, as He does to this day.”12 It would be wise for the Jewish leaders of the church in Rome to recognize that to dismiss Jesus the Christ as essential to their faith they were going against what God promised Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and you are to be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse anyone who curses you, and by you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.”13 So what God initiated with Abraham was not meant solely for the Jewish people, but all the people of the earth. So Paul urges them to embrace your Gentile brethren because they have also been adopted by God as His children.
Early church theologian Origen makes note of Paul’s assertion that Israel can claim sonship with God and the promises that come with it. For Origen, Israel was adopted by God and given sonship. Does not the Scripture say: “When God parceled out the lands of the earth to the nations, He gave each of them a supervising angel! But He appointed none for Israel; For Israel was God’s own personal possession!”14 In this light, we must differentiate between “covenants” and “giving of the law.” At first glance, they may seem very similar. Origen sees a difference, however, the law was given once, to Moses. The covenants were given frequently to those God chose to be His own. Every time the people sinned and were cast aside, they were then disinherited. And every time they repented and were reconciled to God He called them back to be heirs of their possessions.15
Then when it comes to how these descendants of the Patriarchs were chosen to be the family line through which the Messiah would come, Ambrosiaster feels that Paul was motivated to list many hallmarks of nobility and dignity the Jewish people were given, along with the promises they received. This only deepened his grief because by not accepting Jesus, God’s Son, as the Messiah they lost the privilege of their fathers and the merit of the promises made to Abraham. As such, they ended up in a worse state than the Gentiles. Even though the Jews detested the Gentiles when they were still pagans without God, they had made their own condition even worse by losing all the dignity they once had.16 We might compare this to a rich kid who always made derogatory remarks about the poor and homeless. But when he took his inheritance and squandered it on immoral living and wasted investments, he became poor and homeless himself. That’s why, when sleeping on the sidewalk his plight was worse than those around him because they never had such an inheritance to lose.
Then Augustine sees Paul saying that the Jews, who argued with Christ, understood only half of the enlightenment God gave them when He chose them to be His own. As a result, Jesus refuted what they claimed to have by asking them whose son the Messiah was. They answered, “David’s.”17 This may be true according to the flesh. But Christ then asked them about the Messiah’s divinity. For that, they had no answer. So Jesus asked them if the Messiah was David’s son, then why did David call Him his Lord?18 This was to show them that they had only confessed that the Messiah was the son of David, but they failed to understand that David called the Messiah, Lord. It was true, according to the Messiah’s human genealogy, He was, in fact, a descendant of David. But according to His divinity, He was the Son of God – David’s Lord.19 As such, by only accepting the Messiah’s human identity and not affirming His divine identity, the Jews didn’t recognize Him when He came. In fact, they dismissed Jesus both as a descendant of David and were repulsed by His claim of being God’s Son.
Then, one early church interpreter of Scriptures from Alexandria noted that God chose the Israelites for Himself from the beginning, which is why He called them His firstborn.20 But because of their hardheadedness and hardheartedness, they rebelled against God’s leadership and His prophets. Eventually, they became no better than the pagans because they worshiped the same idols. They killed the prophets and ended up rejecting and killing the Messiah. Therefore, it was not so much that God walked away from them, but that they walked away from God. Jesus warned them that they would be placed behind the Gentiles in God’s kingdom. Little did they know that this also cut them off from the inheritance that was theirs through Abraham.21 No doubt Paul was seeing all the being played out in his mind and that motivated him even more in his passionate plea for them to come to their senses and recognize that Messiah had come and His name was Jesus.
John Calvin sees a trend in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers in that the whole effort in Paul’s addressing the apostate condition of the Jewish people was to show that although they had, by their rejection of the Messiah, filed for divorce from God. Yet that separation was not yet final or permanent. That’s what Paul said back in Chapter 3, verse 3. When put that way, then even though they became unbelievers and broke the covenant they had with God, still, their disloyalty to His Word did not mean He would be disloyal to His promises. It was God’s choice to reserved for Himself a remnant from the whole Jewish nation. Not only that but as we can see from the situation in Rome, He even placed a church in their midst.22
Adam Clarke sees another factor. Here the Apostle Paul points out the two distinct natures of our Lord. First, His eternal Godhead, and, second, His humanity. And there is no so-called abnormality, or speck of doubt, or modifications that can explain away this doctrine. Since this verse contains such superior proof of the deity of Christ, it’s no wonder that those who opposed the claims of His divinity did their very best to destroy and eradicate if from the message of the cross, thereby trying to destroy its power to save.23 In other words, Paul wanted the Jews to know that the Messiah must be considered as being of God because He came from God. Therefore, if they were to accept the man, Jesus of Nazareth, as the Messiah, they must also accept Him as the Son of God. As a result, they would then see why His sacrifice on the cross would be sufficient as the atonement for all their sins without having to add the Law and righteous works to make it valid.
1 It is ironic that in the Babylonian Talmud, Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Zebachim, folio 116a, this is called “Revelation.”
2 Luke 1:54-55
3 Ibid. 1:69-75
4 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Baracoth, folio 16b
5 Ibid., See footnote (9)
6 The Chaldee Paraphrase on The Prophet Isaiah, Translated by Rev. C.W.H. Pauli, London: London Society’s House, 1871, Ch. 16:1, 5, pp. 52-53
7 Acts of the Apostles 3:25-26
8 Ibid. 13:32-33
9 Ephesians 2:11-22
10 Moses Maimonides: Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Abot), Ch. 1:2
11 The Kabbalah of Time, Revelation of Hidden Light Through the Jewish Calendar, by Rabbi Daniel Kahane and Ann Helen Wainer, iUniverse LLC, Bloomington, 2013, p.15
12 Deuteronomy 10:14-16
13 Genesis 12:2-3; cf. 49:10
14 Deuteronomy 32:8-9
15 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Matthew 22:42
18 Ibid. 22:43
19 Augustine: On Romans 59
20 Exodus 4:22
21 Cyril of Alexandria: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 176