NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson VI)
Charles Hodge explains his understanding of Israel’s adoption as sons of God. He writes that Paul is speaking here of Abraham’s physical descendants. Therefore, the adoption or sonship pertaining to them must also be seen as physical. This is very different from the spiritual relationship Paul talked about in the previous chapter. As sons of God, they were the objects of His special favor. They had been selected from the nations of the earth through Abraham to be the recipients of specific blessings. This put them in a one-of-a-kind relationship with God. Everything in the First Covenant is considered a type or shadow of the blessings of the Last Covenant. So the sonship of the Israelites was a representation of the sonship of believers. This sonship of Israel was extended and became common to all the Jews. It came by way of their relationship with God as recipients of His blessings as their only God and King. The sonship of believers is not common to all who call themselves Christians. It is only extended to those who are true children of God through the new birth. This relationship allows them to stand justified before God by virtue of regeneration, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and adoption into the family of God.1
The great preacher Octavius Winslow sees here a distinct declaration of the complex person of our Lord. When we speak of His humanity, we can call Him a human being. When it comes to touching His Deity, we can call Him a divine being. When we think of His ethnicity, we refer to Him as a Jew. When we think of His divinity, we call Him God. It is doubtful that any language can make it more explicit than that. Paul stated clearly to Timothy: “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit; seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”2 Now here Christ is declared to be the visible Yahweh, God embodied in Christ. That made it tangible for us to better understand who He really was. Therefore, this one passage should be enough to remove any doubt His being One of the Trinity.3
Frédéric Godet also gives us something to think about as to why Jesus was born a Jew. Paul was well aware that this mode of reference as to His race was only referring to the human side of our Lord’s nature and personality. In the same manner Paul refers to His relationship to the Jews as a kinsman in the flesh, not in the spirit.4 The term “flesh,” therefore, encompasses human nature in its totality. Since Paul bore no resemblance with them on the spiritual level, there is no need to believe he was making a contrast between the flesh and the spirit.5
In other words, the only thing Jesus owed to the Jews was His natural heritage through His mother Mary. His spiritual heritage came from His Father in heaven. Likewise, all believers owe their heritage to some racial or ethnic origin here on earth. But only those who are redeemed have a spiritual relationship with each other regardless of their earthly race or ethnicity. That’s why Paul made the point that since God is the creator of the entire human race, why then should any of them be left out of His message of salvation and invitation to become part of His spiritual kingdom? That’s why Paul wished he could do something, anything, to get them all through the door of God’s kingdom.
In one of his sermons, Charles Spurgeon spoke on what troubled the Apostle so much concerning the Jews. Why was it that they still enjoyed such an extraordinary privilege of being called the children of God, and yet, end up being thrown away as outcasts? Not only that but in spite of all they did to the prophets in the past, they were still selected to be the race through whom Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of men, should come. Not only that, but His being bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh, still did not keep them from rejecting Him, even though He came to save them first. How hard can the human heart become? And whatever they hoped to gain, be it riches or power, notoriety or fame, how could such temporary things be compared to the eternal riches God’s grace?6
Let’s imagine Americans hostages, being held in some isolated prison camp, being suddenly confronted by soldiers dressed like that countries’ military, yet spoke English with a southern accent and related to them as fellow Americans, who had secretly crawled into the compound to free them. What would we say if the hostages refused to be rescued because the soldiers were not dressed like they thought they should be as American GI’s? So it was with the Jews who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah because He did not fit the image they concocted in their imagination.
F. F. Bruce points out that it was essential to Paul’s argument that the Gospel which he and the other Apostles preached was not of their own innovation. Bruce says there were several things that would help them in any debate: First, that it was attested to in the Hebrew Scriptures; then, that it was the fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriarchs; and further, that it proclaimed that God’s way of righteousness through faith, by which Abraham had been blessed, was still open to all who believed in God as Abraham did. So why was it then that Abraham’s descendants became the first to reject the Gospel, and Jesus as the Messiah?
Surely, the Jews had everything going for them, and no doubt the Jews agreed with Paul on their elite status with God. But certainly, there were objections voiced when Paul told them it didn’t count when it came to being the recipients of God’s redemption plan. Such was the paradox, even perhaps a scandal, that the very nation especially prepared by God to produce and receive the Messiah and His message; the nation which could brag about so many unique privileges of God’s favor and miracle-working power; the nation into which the Messiah had been born, should fail to recognize Him when He came. And, meanwhile, men and women of other nations, who had no such relationship with God as Israel did, and never enjoyed the privileges of the Jews, embraced the Gospel eagerly the first time they heard it. How could this be harmonized with God’s choice of Israel and His declared purpose of blessing the world through Israel, yet now rejecting them as they rejected Him?7
Jewish commentator David Stern takes this whole phrase in verse five that describes the Messiah as coming from a Jewish family and to be the One over all things, as a way to thank and honor God forever and ever. When we understand this right, it constitutes one of the few statements in the Last Covenant that the Messiah is God.8 No doubt it was the desire of every Apostle and is the desire of every Christian today to find Scriptural support for affirming Yeshua’s divinity. But although it was only right for Paul to make such a strong and surprising theological statement, something that would be especially shocking to Jews, while it would enhance Paul’s argument, required a simpler expression that did not need any complex explanation. That’s because for any Jew hearing this letter read they would immediately have so many questions they would be unable to get past it and concentrate on what else Paul had to say.9
Verse 6: The present condition of Israel does not mean that the Word of God has failed. For not everyone from Israel is truly part of Israel.10
But Paul wanted the church in Rome to know that just as there is a difference between the called and the chosen among Christians, there was also a difference between the children of Israel and those who would have the authority to be called sons of God.11 We can see this distinction when Jesus greeted Nathaniel: “Here comes an honest man – a true son of Israel.”12 And Paul echoed the same concept in his letter to the Galatians, calling them new creations in Christ Jesus: “As many as by this rule do walk – peace upon them, and kindness, and on the Israel of God!”13 The Jewish Bible translation of Galatians renders it the same way.
The early church Bishop of Paul’s hometown of Tarsus sees the point Paul is making this way: Since God originally made the promise of the Messiah and the new covenant with the Jews, it is now being transferred to the Gentiles. But that does not mean that God lied about His promises. Instead, God remains faithful to what He said. It’s the Jews who have been unfaithful. So don’t blame this on God. Paul also wants to make it clear that Scriptures indicates that just because someone claims to be an heir to the promise given to Abraham, it does not make it so. Israelites who by their faith in God and who have walked worthy of their calling are the only ones deserving to be called true children of Abraham.14
Another way to put this might be: Although a Jew may lay claim to being part of the genealogy of Abraham, this would only be accepted in terms of the flesh. But any Jew who tried to claimed they could be a child of God based on the same evidence would be wrong. Such a spiritual association with God is only possible by way of the Holy Spirit. Today we might illustrate it this way: Anyone born in the United States can certainly claim to be an American. But if they refuse to accept the Constitution, or salute the flag, or say the Pledge of Allegiance, or serve in the military if called during time of war, they are not a true American.
Another early church scholar adds that the Apostle Paul grieves over the fact that although the Jews failed to accept the promises of God by grace, the Word of God was not sent in vain. The things which were promised are due only to those who keep the faith of the patriarchs and are, therefore, reckoned to be their true descendants. This does not apply to someone just because they were born of the stock of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel according to the flesh.15 Paul is making a case here that just as those who claim sonship with God in the family of Abraham through birth, so in the future, those who claim sonship with God through Christ will do so through a new birth.
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 463
2 1 Timothy 3:16
3 Octavius Winslow. The Works of Octavius Winslow, Monergism Books.
4 See Leviticus 25:47-55; Cf. Hebrews 2:11
5 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 183–184
8 Also see John 1:1; cf 1:14; 10:30; 20:28
9 David H. Stern: Jewish Last Covenant Commentary (Kindle Locations 11059-11065). Jewish Last Covenant Publications, Inc. Kindle Edition.
10 This refers to the Messianic Community in Galatia, which is included in, but not identical with, the Israel of God. By adding God’s Israel, Paul extends his prayer to other believers outside Galatia. See David H. Stern. Jewish Last Covenant Commentary. Jewish Last Covenant Publications, Inc. 1992, loc. cit., p.
11 John 1:12
12 Ibid. 1:47
13 Galatians 6:16 – Young’s Literal Translation
14 Diodore: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.