NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson VI)
Charles Spurgeon does not place the burden of being ignorant of God’s righteousness on the Jews alone. In fact, he says it could also be found among many Gentiles. Such people certainly had a form of righteousness that they understood. In fact, very few, if any, civilized and uncivilized people could be found that did not have a sense of right and wrong. But as far as the Jews were concerned, Paul says that while they have great enthusiasm for being God’s people, it was misdirected zeal since they are not sure how God makes people right with Himself. But instead of learning God’s way, they held on fast to their old way of getting right with God.
They did this by trying to keep every law in the books. How sad it is that they didn’t see that even with such blind zeal they are in fact dishonoring God, and virtually dethroning Him by attempting to set themselves up on the seat of power in their hearts and, thereby, taking God’s rightful place. There was no reason to do that because He had already provided a certain and sure way to get to Him, but they would not accept it.1 This fits well with what Paul told the Ephesians: “That I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”2
As Spurgeon see it, it is sad and distressing that people should be so dedicated to rites, rituals, and ceremonies without realizing that nothing will come of all their efforts that will impress God enough that He will overlook what His Son did on the cross to save them. There’s nothing wrong with zeal and enthusiasm, it’s only that it’s often aimed it in the wrong direction. It’s pointed at those around them and those that lead them instead of being directed to God. They certainly want to be righteous, but they want to do it in a way that they may stand before God dressed in the robe of their own righteousness.
God has His own attire of righteousness.3 These robes are not earned, they are a free gift to everyone who believes in the One who made them righteous, Jesus Christ. What they didn’t realize is that by trying to produce their own righteousness garments, they have started a rivalry with God. This not only dishonors God’s name, but it is an insult to His Son. Spurgeon cried out from the pulpit: “May God grant that any of you here who are very zealous in a wrong direction may receive light and knowledge, and henceforth turn your thoughts in the right way.”4
Charles Ellicott approaches this subject of the Jews’ zeal from a historic perspective. Paul was right in calling it a zeal for God but without the proper spiritual knowledge that comes through His Word. They had this enthusiasm for God that they would do anything to impress Him. Based on Ellicott’s own research, he said that Jewish Historian Josephus observed that the Jews knew the Law better than their own names, duly observing all sacred rules. They also frequently attended all the great feasts, by the thousands, going over and above the requirements of the Law. This allowed the strict religious exercises advocated by the teachers of the Law to be the new trend. In fact, the Greek Jews and Egyptian Jews living under the rule of emperor Caligula were crucified and burned at the stake for following their faith so precisely. And Palestinian Jewish prisoners of war died by the claws of African lions in the Roman amphitheater rather than sin against the Law. “So what Gentile,” exclaims Josephus, “would do the same [for their religion?]’”5
John Stott sees a duplication of this ignorance of true grace on the part of the Jews in Paul’s day and our current situation. It comes mostly from the tragic adoption of a false way. In fact, such errors are widespread among religious people of all faiths. It’s because all human beings, who know that God is righteous and they are not, start looking around for a righteousness which might make them more fit to stand in God’s presence than the form of righteousness they were taught. To put it another way, they tried to “be more holy” than others. This then presents only two possible options from which to choose. The first is to attempt to fashion a type of righteousness made by man. That includes good works and religious observances. But this is doomed to failure since in God’s sight all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.6 One other option is to see the righteousness of God that comes only by receiving Christ as one’s personal Savior, who brings God’s righteousness into the heart by the Holy Spirit7.8
Verse 4: Christ ended the requirements under the law so that everyone who believes in Him is made right with God.
All of this talk about salvation by works and the law that gave rise to such uncorrectable conduct as that displayed of self-righteousness for personal gain leads Paul to inform the Jewish believers that this was one of the reasons Christ came to end the Jews’ bondage to the Law. In other words, He came to take the place of the Law so that through Him righteousness could be attained without all their religiosity, ritualism, and legalism. This should not have been all that new to the Jewish believers, after all, it was foretold by Isaiah: “It was the Lord’s good plan to bruise Him and fill Him with grief. However, when His soul has been made an offering for sin, then He shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in His hands. And when He sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of His soul, He shall be satisfied; and because of what He has experienced, my righteous Servant will make many to be counted righteous before God, for He shall bear all their sins.”9
Paul was not talking about some doctrine or theory that he imagined or constructed, he was echoing the words of John the Baptizer who told his critics: “This is the man I was talking about when I said, ‘The one coming after me has come to rank ahead of me, because he existed before me.’” We have all received from his fullness, yes, grace upon grace. For the Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah.”10 Then, the Messiah Himself said: “Don’t misunderstand why I have come—it isn’t to cancel the laws of Moses and the warnings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them and to make them all come true. With all earnestness, I’m telling you: Every law in the Book will continue until its purpose is achieved.”11
So it is no wonder that when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch, in the province of Pisidia, that he preached to the Jews they found there and said: “Brothers! Listen! Through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for sin! Everyone who trusts in Him is cleared of any guilt and declared righteous—something the Jewish law could never do.”12 And when Paul learned of certain elements in the church at Corinth that thought they knew better than others what was the true way for Jews to become better Christians, he told them: “For it is from God alone that you have your life through Christ Jesus. He showed us God’s plan of salvation; He was the one who made us acceptable to God; He made us pure and holy and gave Himself to purchase our salvation.”13 In other words, there is no place in God’s plan of salvation for the self-righteous.
The churches throughout Galatia had become especially vulnerable to this kind of thinking, so Paul had to write them and remind them of this: “The Jewish laws were our teacher and guide until Christ came to give us right standing with God through our faith. But now that Christ has come, we don’t need those laws any longer to guard us and lead us to Him. For now we are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”14 And to the Colossians, Paul explained it this way: “Don’t let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink [that’s not kosher], or for not celebrating Jewish holidays and feasts or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these were only temporary rules that ended when Christ came. They were only shadows of the real thing—of Christ Himself.”15 Believe it or not, there are some churches today that are so enamored with Jewish customs and practices that it is now required that they participate in them to make their salvation surer.
One early church scholar, Clement, who wrote his own Epistles to the church in Rome, feels that what Paul was talking about here was the cancellation of the authority that the Jews had placed in the law. This was because the Jews did not understand the intention of the law and, by misunderstanding it, they failed to put to good use. So they made up their own version because they thought they were saying what the law meant to say. They also had no faith in the prophetic power of the law. So they simply did what it said without thinking of the results. In other words, they followed it to the letter but did not grasp the inner meaning which can only be realized by faith.16
Then we read the view of early church theologian Novatian, who believed the Jews missed the main points of the law by reading into it what wasn’t there while failing to see what was there. They paid so much attention to the literal interpretation that they couldn’t perceive how the metaphors and figures of speech illustrated deeper meanings. Jesus complained about the same thing concerning His parables. They got so caught up in the story that they totally missed its spiritual implication.17 So when Paul talked about Christ putting an end to the law, they thought He meant that Jesus did what Moses did, broke the tablets of stone and threw them away.18 What Christ really did was fulfill the Law in every respect so that it wasn’t needed anymore. All that was needed now could be found in Him.19 In other words, it wasn’t so much that Jesus ended the law, but that He proved to be the end result of the Law.
Let me illustrate in the form of a parable. There was a growing village on low side of a wide river that was constantly being flooded and in danger of being inundated. So the inhabitants made canoes out of trees in order to row to the other side where there was much higher ground and safety. But each time they tried to paddle across the river they failed, some were even swept away by the current. Then one day a wealthy man on the other side of the river sent his son, trained in carpentry as a boy, to build a bridge for them. He too wanted them to join him to live in peace and safety. But because of their pride, they refused to use it. They wanted the notoriety and of being able to reach the other side their own way. Now here some 2,000 years later, they are still trying to row across and having no success. So it is with those who are trying to get to heaven to be saved on their own. They still ignore the bridge built in the form of a cross by the Son of God and keep paddling their own canoes.
1 Spurgeon On Romans Exposition: Part 5, loc. cit.
2 Ephesians 3:9
3 Isaiah 61:10
4 Spurgeon Commentary on Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Isaiah 64:6
7 Philippians 3:9
8 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Isaiah 53:9b-11
10 John 1:15-17 – Complete Jewish Bible
11 Matthew 5:17-18
12 Acts of the Apostles 13:38-39
13 1 Corinthians 1:30
14 Galatians 3:24-26
15 Colossians 2:16-17
16 Clement of Alexandria: Stromata 220.127.116.11
17 See Matthew 13:10-13
18 Exodus 34:1
19 Novatian: Jewish Foods 5:1-2