NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XXXI)
Spurgeon believes that by this, God’s electing love is clearly seen in Gentile converts. Meanwhile, the Jews who seemed very sincere and devout as to outward ritual, have completely missed the way, the truth, and the life, and never found read righteousness? So the sovereignty of God can be seen in the choosing of those who are willing to follow the way of faith and then rejecting those who went through the motions of following the way while displaying outward righteousness. But the question still remains, why did Israel miss the way? Paul is quick to answer: By their rejection of the light brought by the Messiah and His Gospel.1
Charles Ellicott looks for a way to meld predestination with freewill. He begins by saying that the Apostle Paul has concluded with his justification for the rejection of Israel, and finished with His line of argument which bears a strong resemblance to the doctrine of predestination. Perhaps a better term would be “predeterminism.” Now he begins to explain the direct opposite of this. While talking about the causes which led to Israel’s rejection, those he puts forward all depend for their validity on the freedom of a person’s freewill. This is not the only place Paul presents such a case. This does not invalidate the previous argument of predeterminism, in fact, it qualifies it.
For Ellicott, the freedom of our flawed freewill and the absolute sovereignty of God’s will are two propositions which, though apparently contradictory, can both exist and operate at the same. If examined by themselves, each appears to be one-sided. But that is only on the surface. Underneath, in ways mystifying to us, both rest on evidence that is itself indisputable. The main reason for Israel’s rejection and for the Gentile’s admission to the new covenant with God is both what the Gentiles did and what they did not do. First, what they did do was to base their justification on faith. What they did not do was try to earn it on their own. Let’s put it this way: The Gentiles, without seeking, were found; the Jews, while seeking, were lost.2
Professor F. F. Bruce also addresses these factors. For him, Paul was considering Israel’s rejection and the Gentiles acceptance from the standpoint of divine election. While that is God’s responsibility to initiate, he now considers it as every called-person’s responsibility. The Gospel, in proclaiming God’s righteousness being bestowed on believers went to the Jews first. However, they rejected it. Then it was sent to the Gentiles. Miraculously, they were the first to accept it. Upon hearing the Gospel message Gentiles responded gratefully to God’s calling which assured them that they would be accepted by God based on their faith. Remember, this was someone they could not see, unlike their idols, and someone they had never heard of. But the Jews continued pursuing self-righteousness by way of the Law. They did this without any assurance from the Law that they would be accepted by God on that basis. So as Bruce sees it, the reasons are simple. The Jews followed the wrong path, one of their own making. The Gentiles followed the right path, the one Jesus opened for them. After all, didn’t He make it clear that He was the only Way, the Truth, and the Life?3
Acceptance by God is only assured by having faith, not by substituting works in its place. It was a hard lesson for everyone to learn that. Despite all the privileges and the light given to the Jews, the divine gift of righteousness could only be attained by going through the same door that was opened to those who lived utter darkness. Gentiles, who had been for ages shut out from really knowing God and His ways, were much more open then those who grew up knowing the Law, the Prophets, and Words of Wisdom bible. No wonder the Gospel turned out to be a stumbling-block to them. But, believe it or not, the very fact it would become a stumbling-block had been forecast. To establish this, Paul quotes from Isaiah again. By blending two oracles which have the common theme of a “stone” divinely laid in times of disaster and judgment, provides refuge for those who entrust themselves to it but proves the downfall of those who stumble against it4.5
Theologian Karl Barth has much to say about this subject, but one of the things he points out is that people cannot comprehend the issues they must contend with in their lives without understanding something about God and how He works in this world. It is by this understanding that people get to know the standards God has set by which they get to know themselves and how they will be judged. This is what people must wrestle with each day. It could be said that the misery people go through is brought on by the knowledge God gives them that reveals who and what they really are. This often causes them to be embarrassed, troubled, and in Krisis.6 What makes matters even worse is when they discover that they cannot escape their sense of guilt and responsibility for what caused the whole mess in the first place. The real riddle is that while everything in this world is under God’s control, yet it all takes place within the sphere of human freedom and responsibility.7
John Stott has a very enlightening interpretation of what Paul is saying here. First, he says that even by Paul describing the Gentiles as not interested in practicing morality, it was giving them more credit than they deserved. Most of them were idol worshipers, and pursued self-centered, immoral lives. They were lovers of themselves, of money, and pleasure, rather than lovers of God and goodness.8 They had their pagan code of conduct and abided by what their consciences told them was right and wrong. But as far as having a holy standard of living in order to please God and avoid punishment, of this they knew nothing. Paul found that out when he went to Athens and saw streets lined with statues to all kinds of gods. But even they had enough sense to erect one to the Unknown God.
Verses 30-31: So what does all this mean? It means that people who are not Jews were made right with God because they grabbed hold of faith, they were not trying to make themselves right. And the people of Israel, who tried to make themselves right with God by following the Law, did not really seek it with the anticipation of finding anything.
So how was it that the Gentiles end up obtaining what they made no effort to seek for? It all came about when they heard the Gospel message of justification by faith. In fact, the Holy Spirit convinced them so thoroughly that they grabbed hold of it with intensity. Paul uses the Greek word katalambanō to describe this act of faith. It means: “to seize upon, take possession of, to make one’s own.” Israel, meanwhile, sought after the same thing with equal vigor but came away empty-handed. Why? Paul tells us. They were on the wrong path using the wrong method. Stott asks: “Israel’s pursuit of righteousness was almost proverbial. They were imbued with a religious and moral zeal which some would call fanaticism. Why, then, did they not ‘attain’ it? Paul gives us a clue in the text. uses a different Greek verb to describe their action. Their effort is defined as phthanō, which means: “to go after at with anticipation.” So the reason they did not arrive where they expected to be was that they were on the wrong road, pursuing an impossible goal.
Paul anticipates what he will say in the next verse by comparing the route the Gentiles took to obtain Justification and that of the Jews. One was led by faith in the Spirit, the other driven by works of the Law. Both the Gentiles and the Jews had their laws. The Gentiles followed the laws of nature and their conscience, while the Jews followed the laws of the Torah and the Talmud.9 In a way, Paul was describing a somewhat upside-down religious situation of his day. The Jews who thought they had righteousness in their hand, to begin with, ended up with nothing, while the Gentiles who started out empty-handed ended up with their hands full of righteousness.10
Douglas Moo also combines the first and second causes in defining the case of Gentiles replacing Jews in God’s plan for the church. In this instance, Paul explained how in his day God brought different ethnic groups together to develop the composition of chosen people as a result of divine election. On the one hand, God selected those He wanted from the house of Israel to follow the Messiah by coming out from among their brethren and declare themselves followers of Jesus the Messiah. God also selected those from nations existing in that day to also be part of the kingdom of heaven and family of God. They believed and follow Jesus the Savior. His true people would no longer be known as Israelites but as Christians.
But here Paul explains the other side of the story by explaining that even though it was God who elected those He wanted, He left it up to those who were called to accept by faith His predestination and believe in His Son as their Lord. Gentiles were seen as the most fortunate ones. They had spent little time, if any, in pursuit of righteous living according to God’s will. They were ignorant of God’s promises, had no part in the First Covenant with the children of Israel. They also had no concept of what it meant to be right with God. But when God offered it to them by His grace and through the preaching of the Gospel, they responded in faith and so received it. The Jews, on the other hand, by and in large, refused to respond to the Gospel, even when it was delivered by God’s Son. However, many did, a point Paul will make in the next stage of his argument. But the contrast between the wonderful promises made to Israel and the few who openly accepted His gift of salvation was an insult to the Father in Heaven. It was such a rejection of the message of salvation, that Paul considered it fair to say that Israel as a nation had rejected their Messiah.11
Jewish theologian David Stern says there are three possible interpretations of what Paul is saying here about the juxtaposition between the Gentile, Jews, and God. First, when some Christians read verse 31 and understand that the Last Covenant offers a righteousness not found in the First Covenant, it becomes clear that Israel pursued God’s righteousness through the Law of Moses, a Law that defines God’s righteousness, demands God’s righteousness, but does not offer the righteousness of the Last Covenant. However, Stern says that this understanding would make what Paul says next in verse 32 pointless. If God gave Israel a law that did not offer His righteousness, it’s obvious why they didn’t arrive at it. This would have been putting Israel through a useless and pointless charade.
1 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 John 14:6
4 Isaiah 8:14
5 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 196–197
6 Krisis is a Greek word that means, separation or divide. Barth writes that ‘the Gospel of Christ is a shattering disturbance, an assault which brings everything into question.’ It is not something to be comprehended, explained, or tainted by any ‘human by-product.’ In fact, it is something to be ‘apprehended’ by faith alone. It is a Krisis causing revolution in lives, families, and communities.
7 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 See 2 Timothy 3:1ff
9 The Mishnah is an authoritative collection of exegetical material embodying the oral tradition of Jewish law and forming the first part of the Talmud.
10 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.