NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XXXIV)
Reformer Martin Luther makes it clear that being right with God is granted to whoever believes in Christ who paid their sins with His life’s blood. And for those who believed, the power of sin in their lives could not overwhelm the drawing power of Christ. Therefore, sin should dominate or control those who believe. Luther goes on to point out that at the end of Isaiah’s quote, the Hebrew reads, “He who believes, does not flee,” can be understood in different ways.1 In the Complete Jewish Bible they are rendered: “He who trusts will not rush here and there.” Luther believes this means that whoever comes to believe in Christ should never become frightened. Rather, the believer stands quiet and secure on Christ the Rock knowing they can overcome any resistance from within or without. Luther goes on to say that if someone does become afraid and flees, they cannot find peace in their hearts. Missing the assurance they had in Christ will be missed the most when they are hard pressed by hardships. But above all, when they contemplate God’s judgment.2
John Calvin paraphrases Paul’s words as follows: “Just because Christ is called a stumbling-stone, there is no reason that we should dread [meeting] Him, or entertain fear instead of confidence; He is appointed for [bringing] ruin to the unbelieving, but [bringing] life and resurrection to the godly.” Then Calvin comments that as the prophecy concerning the stumbling and offence is fulfilled in the actions of the rebellious and unbelieving, there is an equal threat posed to the godly. It is as follows: Christ is a firm Rock, a Living Stone, a Cornerstone, and immovable, it will never fail those who build on this Rock. By putting “shall not be ashamed”3 instead of “shall not hasten or fall,”4 he has followed the Greek translation. Calvin is convinced that the Lord in this passage intended to strengthen the hope of His people. That’s why when the Lord asks us to consider the hope that He gives, it only follows that those who do, will never be ashamed of their choice.5
Robert Haldane is quite concise in what he says here about the Stone. He notes that the Apostle Paul confirms what he had been saying concerning the stumbling-stone. He does so by quoting from two sources of Scripture.6 For the Jews, Christ is a stumbling-block, the rock of offence, as was predicted by the Prophets. No one then should find it strange that those who lived while Christ was on this earth saw Jesus in this manner. The reason why the metaphor of a stone, and a rock, are used to describe Christ Jesus, is because it projects the truth that the great work of redemption rests solely on Him. For Haldane, Christ is the source, “the foundation on which redemption rests; the center in which all lines converge; their origin from which they all proceed.”
Haldane then examines the parable of the man who built his house upon the rock.7 This represents Christ as the foundation, the rock on which the house is built, sustaining it, and imparting to it form and stability. But when Christ is not seen or accepted in this manner, then the same stone that became a foundation and solid rock of security will become an obstacle to them. Not only that, but it also represents a blocking-stone that keeps them from communion with God by their rejection of His Son.8
Albert Barnes sums up Paul’s teaching from his point of view. First, remember God is sovereign and answers to no one. He has the right to dispose of people any way it pleases Him. Secondly, the doctrine of election was already in force when God chose Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, it was already an established principle of divine rule and validated as real. Thirdly, to question or to lack having any confidence in this doctrine is the same as having no confidence in God. This would then suggest that God is not qualified to direct the affairs of His own universe. Fourthly, the doctrine of election is not arbitrary. It has been well planned from the beginning.
We need not look for any assessments or adjustment to be made to God’s plan simply based on circumstance. Everything directed by election, even that which is yet to come, will be wise, fair, and good. It is the source of all the blessings that any mortal can enjoy. And when applied to the case before us, it is both benevolent and just. It is better that God was particular in selecting a small number from the nation of the Jews and extending those blessings to the Gentiles than to have restricted it only to Jews who were willing to believe.
Barnes continues: Fifthly, the fact that the Gospel has gone out around the world is proof that this is the work of heaven. Sixth, the confidence Christians have in God is safe. They will not be ashamed or disappointed. God will keep them, and bring them safely to reign with Him and His Son in His kingdom. Seventh, there are plenty of people who are still offended by the story of the cross of Christ. They think that all that pain and suffering was unnecessary. And when, with His blessing, He is proclaimed as the only way, truth, and life, then end up despising Him.
Barnes then concludes that this is not just one cause why sinners perish, it is the only cause. So it is no wonder that the Jews of Jesus’s day brought ruin on themselves and their country. Likewise, sinners do the same today. By not heeding the words of the Gospel, they guarantee condemnation and calamity on their souls. And just as those ancient critics and crucifiers of the Lord Jesus perished, so will all those who choose sin over Savior. They are not to be pitied but prayed for.9
Charles Hodge makes the point that the story of a crucified Christ has been considered either foolishness or an offence to unregenerated sinner’s intellect. That’s why understanding and accepting the story of a caring, loving Savior, and receiving the gracious gift of salvation through Him, are characteristic only of those “who are the called.” For sinners to make God out to be a dictator and a reason for excusing themselves from His offer of grace and mercy, is to show signs of total ignorance and confusion.
Then Hodge says that Christ declared those blessed who were not offended by Him. Once our hearts are right with God, Jesus at once becomes the object of supreme affection and the sole basis for confidence in one’s salvation. When the Gospel was first preached by Peter and Paul, it had the same effect it has now. Those converted back then had the same obstacles that sinners must surmount today in order to believe. What they learned back then in order to overcome, we can use as lessons to help us in our appeal to the lost today.10
Henry Alford addresses how Paul transferred meaning of these quotes from Isaiah to Jesus. He says that it was a justified comparison when we view Christ as a stumbling-stone. Paul chose two locations in the writings of Isaiah to combine in this metaphor: The “stone of stumbling and rock of offence,” mentioned in Isaiah 8:14, is substituted for the “tried stone, precious stone, and sure foundation” in Isaiah 28:16. The reason for this is quite simple. In Isaiah 8:14, the Jews evidently interpreted what was said it to be applied to one of their own, and only for their own. When the priest Simeon spoke openly about the child Jesus as the Messiah, he expressly proves that this prophecy is about to be fulfilled in Jesus.11 This is similarly interpreted by the Chaldee Targum,12 and the Babylonian Talmud.13
In Alford’s thinking was the question of why did the Apostle Paul not give this Stone the same designation as that plainly foretold to be laid in Zion? Certainly, that designation is justified by prophecy, and which affects how we understand the matter here at hand concerning it being a stumbling-block. Alford is not saying that Paul was wrong to do so, he just wanted Paul to explain why. But reasoning will help us see Paul’s point. The stumbling-stone of the First Covenant that the Jews could not get past was eventually taken and made into the corner-stone of the Last Covenant.14
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon also alludes to the questioning of some scholars as to the real purpose of this Stone. He sees them attempting, with human logical dynamite, to blow up this great Rock of Offence, and to clear away every difficulty from the path of the person who wants to be saved by their own method. This would help them make their way to heaven more pleasant for everyone. But those whose faith is in the Word of God cannot remain silent. Such thinking goes against the mind of God and the teaching of His Word: As it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence.” Now, if they choose not to believe on Him they will surely one day be ashamed. What such skeptics think does not alter the eternal purpose for which God sent Him will stand. So whether some accept Him or not, He will still be glorious no matter what people do or don’t do.15
F. F. Bruce comments on the portion of Paul’s quote of Isaiah that refers to believers never being ashamed of their faith in Christ the Rock. He writes that in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 28:16 can be taken as the inscription etched in the stone. The words “in him,” that Paul includes here, as well as in Romans 10:11, are not in the Hebrew text but were in the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah 28:16. For instance, in one Jewish version of this text, it reads: “He who trusts need not fear.”16 And in a Jewish Version translated by a Messianic Jew, we read: “He who trusts will not rush here and there.”17 And in another, it is rendered: “The believer shall not panic.”18 It is clear that Paul saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy by adding, “in Him.” In other words, once one is confronted with God’s love through Christ Jesus, they need not fear or run away. Simply bow, repent, be forgiven, and accept Him as Lord and Savior and your soul will never feel insecure again, for you are securely planted on the Rock.
1 Isaiah 28:16
2 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 144
3 Verse 33 – King James Version
4 Isaiah 28:16
5 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Isaiah 8:14; 28:16
7 Matthew 7:24-25
8 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 494-495
9 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 515-516
11 Luke 2:34
12 “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I appoint a King in Zion; a King mighty, powerful, and terrible: I will make Him powerful, and I will strengthen Him, saith the prophet. But the righteous, who believe these things shall not be moved, when distress shall come.”
13 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 38a reads: The son of David [the Messiah] cannot appear if the two ruling houses in Israel shall have come to an end, viz., the Exilarchate, in Babylon and the Patriarchate in Palestine, for it is written, And he shall be for a Sanctuary, for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both houses of Israel (See Isaiah 8:14).
14 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 88-89
15 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Isaiah 28:16, Jewish Publication Society’s, Tanakh, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the Traditional Hebrew Text, 1985
17 Ibid. 28:16, Complete Jewish Bible, 1998
18 Ibid. 28:16, Orthodox Jewish Bible, 2002