NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXIII)
Scottish Bible scholar Robert Haldane believes that in the sequence of how the Gospel is to reach the ears of mankind so they can hear God’s offer of salvation, God had no intention of simply speaking directly from heaven or sending His angels to do the job. First He sent His Son Jesus to deliver the message to a few, and then through His great commission, Jesus made it clear that His followers were going to carry out that mission. Haldane notes that Paul isn’t saying that God cannot speak to us from the pages of the Scriptures, but that whatever the words in the Bible may be saying to us we still need to hear a living voice communicate that to our minds, and with the help of the Holy Spirit it is made clear for understanding. In Haldane’s opinion, people are not only saved through Christ, but they are saved through the knowledge of Christ communicated by way of the Gospel.1
Bible scholar Albert Barnes sees what Paul is saying here as being a response to any possible objection on the part of those who heard him say that in order for someone to believe in Jesus as Savior they must call on His name. Also, their confession must include their faith in His death on the cross and resurrection in order to be justified. So what happens to those who haven’t heard the Gospel? Shouldn’t someone be responsible for sending a messenger of the Gospel to them?
It appears that this objection was coming from the premise upon which Paul said: If the world is to be saved, it cannot happen without certain factors being involved. First, how could they call on someone for salvation of who they had heard nothing? How could they be aware of His existence, ability, and willingness to help if they weren’t informed? Most Bible scholars believe that Paul was anticipating such a question involving these particulars and decided to answer ahead of time.2 Paul uses Isaiah to answer the objection by saying: You have every right to ask, and I’m happy to tell you how beautiful are the feet of those who go and preach the Good News.3
Charles Spurgeon took what Paul says here to make it applicable to his generation of believers. The first thing he wants them to think about is this: “If the Word of the Lord does not get to someone either by a living voice or by the written word, how are they to believe in Christ as their Savior? So all that is being asked is: If the plan of salvation has some built-in factor that will make this happen, what are they? So their next conclusion must be that someone ought to be found to go and spread the Good News. They must share the Gospel in such a powerful way that people will want to listen to more. Then, those who are listening will be convinced by the Holy Spirit that it is true and will accept it and believe in it. Once this happens they will then be emboldened by the Spirit to call on the name of the Lord and ask Him for salvation.
So Spurgeon concludes that his audience will see what he calls the mechanism of salvation and the great engine that drives it, which is the Gospel. And when they see this force in action they will note that it is God who sends the preacher; it is God who blesses the Word; it is God who sends faith into the heart of those who hear; it is God who accepts their prayer for forgiveness and salvation. When seen this way, then the humblest of preachers of the gospel can stand as a symbol that God is present, They are speaking to those who come to hear them, and God will see to it that what the preachers say will happen. So happy are the messengers. May the messengers’ hearts rejoice, even when sometimes their soul may be heavy because they know they are doing the work of their Master, for their Master’s sake, and by their Master’s authority.
Still, in spite of the God’s efforts and the messengers’ efforts, for Spurgeon, the heart of it all must be real faith if the call for salvation has any meaning. There can never be such a thing as believing in what one has never heard. It must also be the kind of hearing that changes a person’s perspective. The words Jesus spoke were often doubted until His miracles convinced even the hardest skeptic that this Son of man was for real. No wonder Paul spoke of the power of the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit uses it like a spark that can set fire to a person’s heart. Then when they sincerely call on the name of the Lord, the heat of redemption arrives covered by the blood of the Lamb. So what is the difference between any two preachers carrying the same message? Paul says it is very simple, the one who is sent by the One who is calling will make the Word active. So when it enters the heart and mind it will wake up the spirit of mankind that has been in a coma since the Garden of Eden. Then it will come to life and a new creature will be born in Christ by the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit.4
Frédéric Godet sees something here that suggests Paul is making a defense of his ministry. Why was he going into all these territories and preaching first to the Jews in their synagogues, and then to the Gentiles in open spaces? Why not let the Christian faith spread like the faith of Abraham among the Israelites in which each set of parents taught their children, who then taught their children, and so on? Paul is making the case that there is not enough time for that because the Lord may be coming back soon. Also, since this message was to also be spread by the Gentiles, there was no way for them to spread a religion they know nothing about. So someone has to go, someone has to preach, someone has to inspire faith in the message of salvation so that those who hear can call on the Lord and be saved.
Furthermore, even though the Jews were first to hear, they had no such evangelistic efforts to reach the heathen masses. Yes, there were even some Jews, who took offence at the universal character of Paul’s Apostleship that included the Gentiles. So we can see Paul’s ministry doing exactly what he said those messengers would do who were sent out to announce the Good News. And he was not just any messenger, but one who was sent by the Lord Himself. This gave Paul strength, courage, and resolve to do the work for which he had been anointed. And this should translate into the same reason why any minister of the Gospel goes out today to spread the Good News of salvation.5
F. F. Bruce sees another facet of Paul’s ministry. He is called an Apostle. The word itself means to be sent. As such, he is a herald, an ambassador conveying a message from someone royal leader who has commissioned him to deliver it. In doing so, Paul magnifies the office of the Gospel preacher. They are more than just conveyors of a kingly message, they also have been given the authority to proclaim His amnesty to those who believe the message. Anyone who accepts the invitation to call on the Lord to be saved can be welcomed by the preacher into the Kingdom of God.
For those persons who bring such a joyful message Paul uses the words of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke centuries before: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation.”6 Even though what Isaiah said referred to the messenger who announced to the desolate city of Zion, “Your God reigns!” it can now be applied to carriers of the Gospel around the world to go and tell those living in darkness and chaos, “Our God reigns!”7
So the question now is, how does this apply to the problem of Jewish unbelief? After all, the Gentiles were hearing the same message that the Jews first heard from Yeshua Himself. But, for the most part, the Jewish establishment paid little attention to it. Was this a surprise, or was it something that had been foreseen? The prophet Isaiah may give us a clue where he asks: “Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed His powerful arm?”8
These words become relevant to the Gospel when they are examined in the context of what has been called “The Song of the Suffering Servant.”9 In the Last Covenant, the presentation of the passion and triumph of Jesus seems anchored in this passage. But when the disappointed messenger asks, “Who has believed our message?” there should be little doubt that it was meant as a question for the Jews who first heard Jesus. Not only that but in Paul’s case, just as it was for Jesus, the message he brought rested on the direct command and commission of Christ, which is the powerful arm of the Lord reaching out to save.10
Bruce agrees with Barnes on the possible source for the question on how can they believe something they’ve never heard. The proposition is that someone expressed doubt about Paul’s claim that the Gospel had reached all of Israel so some must have been left out. As far as Paul was concerned, considering the world community as it was constituted then, he had taken this message to every place where there was a Jewish synagogue. Not only that, he was not welcomed by many of them so he was forced to turn to the Gentiles.
So the next question proposes that even if this message had reached into all the Jewish communities in the known world at that time, could Paul be sure that everyone had understood. That was easy for Paul to answer. They understood well enough that they found it hard to accept and so they refused to obey. What made things so odd, was that while the Jews were turning Paul away from their synagogues they showed great hostility that he then went to the Gentiles with the message they had just rejected. Everyone knows that when a person discovers the truth about something that proves them wrong, they are not too happy when that is spread around. But this too had already been predicted. The song that Moses wrote contains a sustained indictment of Israel’s ingratitude and disobedience throughout her history.11 So what was the next question? There was none. Especially since their own Bible testified against them.12
John Stott sees a grammatical factor in helping the reader to understand Paul’s narrative here. He says that it begins by putting the six verbs Paul uses in reverse order: Christ sends heralds; heralds preach; people hear; hearers believe; believers call; and those who call are saved. Not only that but when these stages are stated negatively and each is seen as necessary for the other to succeed, that makes it even more powerful. In other words, if Christ did not send, if heralds did not preach, if people did not hear, if hearers did not believe, if believers did not call, then no one would be saved. We must also keep in mind that Paul began this chapter by sharing his yearning that his fellow Israelites will be saved. So we must believe he had them in mind when developing this evangelistic strategy.13
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 512-513
2 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Isaiah 52:7
4 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Isaiah 52:7
7 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, Vol. 6, p. 203
8 Isaiah 53:1
9 Ibid. 52:13-53:12
10 Bruce: ibid., Vol. 6, p. 204
11 Deuteronomy 31:30-32:1-43
12 Ibid., Bruce
13 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.