NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXIV)
Jewish commentator David Stern interprets what Paul says in these verses from a Jew’s perspective. Paul follows a tactic used by Rabbis throughout the writing of the Talmud. They introduce an imaginary opponent who states their objections. By answering this mystical opponent, they are able to explain their case. In Paul’s example, this imagined opponent can be accepted as an unconverted Jew defending Israel and looking for flaws in Paul’s argument.1 The opponent appears five times: First in verse 13, by implication here in verses 14–15, and explicitly in verses 18-19; and later in 11:1–2 and 11:11. Stern also sees that Paul quotes some twelve times from the First Covenant in this chapter to prove his point. So it is clear that he is directing his message to the Jewish contingent of the Church in Rome.2
This mystical opponent’s objection was that calling on the name of ADONAI should not be applied to Jews in the way Paul has done. Their point is, it isn’t our fault if we don’t call on the name of ADONAI through Yeshua; no one was ever sent to proclaim Him to us. The opponent then goes on to defend their point by using four arguments: How can they call if they haven’t believed; how can they believe if they have not heard; how can they hear if no one has told them; and how can anyone tell them if they are not sent. Even the opponent agrees that the sender must be God.
What this all adds up to is that the opponent ends up blaming God. Why didn’t God send someone to tell the Good News to the Jews? Certainly, they would have welcomed this messenger from the Almighty. In fact, they would have been thrilled to hear the sound of his feet. After all, isn’t that what Isaiah said? Stern says that a similar objection is heard today when it is claimed that the Jewish Bible (the First Covenant) does not contain Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Yeshua. In fact, the Jews have found all the prophecies accepted by Christians as relevant to the coming of Jesus of Nazareth are actually related to other historical figures in Judaism. So how can anyone blame modern Jews for not becoming believers that Jesus was the Messiah? Again, some blame God because He didn’t send anyone at the appropriate time. Such doubters need to read the Gospels in the Last Covenant.3
Verses 16-17: But not all the people accepted that good news. Isaiah said, “Lord, who believed what we told them?”4 So faith comes from hearing the Good News. And people hear the Good News when someone tells them about Christ.
What Paul says here in verse 17 can be somewhat unclear. Did he mean, “Hearing of the Word results in faith?” Or could it possibly be defined as “The Word brings the power to hear and through hearing, faith is born?” It would seem that the first pertains to physical hearing; the sensing of audible sound. The latter would apply to spiritual hearing; sensing of inaudible thoughts. Is it possible to hear the voice of God with the soul’s ear while the physical organ hears nothing? Yes, when it is communicated properly. But it is possible to hear the Word with the perishable ear while the imperishable one remains deaf. Unbelief and disbelief deafen the spiritual ear. No wonder Christ admonished, “He who has ears, let him hear.”5 Not physical reception of sound, but spiritual assimilation of life-giving words. Read it again! Oh, that people would stop listening just with their ears and start hearing with their hearts!
What Paul says here in verse 17 can be somewhat unclear. Did he mean, “Hearing of the Word results in faith?” Or could it possibly be defined as “The Word brings the power to hear and through hearing, faith is born?” It would seem that the first pertains to physical hearing; the sensing of audible sound. The latter would apply to spiritual hearing; sensing of inaudible thoughts. Is it possible to hear the voice of God with the soul’s ear while the physical organ hears nothing? Yes, when it is communicated properly. But it is possible to hear the Word with the perishable ear while the imperishable one remains deaf. Unbelief and disbelief deafen the spiritual ear. No wonder Christ admonished, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Jesus encountered such individuals when He visited the Temple during the Feast of the Dedication in the winter. As He walked along the Portico of Solomon, He was confronted by many Jews who wanted to know, are you the real Messiah or not? Jesus pointed at them and said: You’ve heard what I’ve told you and you’ve seen the works that I’ve done in my Father’s name to prove that I am. But here’s your problem: “You don’t believe Me because you are not part of My flock. My sheep recognize My voice, and I know who they are, and so they follow Me.”6 In other words, unless the Spirit of God awakens the heart and mind to hear communication on a spiritual level, it is impossible for anyone to understand the Gospel enough to see the truth and become a follower of Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews also points out that Moses had the same difficulty. He writes: “For this wonderful news – the message that God wants to save us – has been given to us just as it was to those who lived in the time of Moses. But it didn’t do them any good because they didn’t believe it. They didn’t combine what they heard with faith.”7 That’s why, while a minister or teacher of the Gospel may feel let down because there is no response from some in the audience to their message, they should not conclude that they have failed. But at the same time, don’t give up. In God’s time, they will hear what the Lord is trying to tell them.
Paul experienced a similar situation long after he wrote this letter when he was transferred to Rome by the military where he was put under house arrest. That’s when he called together the local Jewish leaders to explain why he had been arrested for the Gospel that he preached. They told him that in Rome the Christians had a bad reputation. So Paul opened the Torah and writings of the Prophets and began to teach them about Jesus. His lecture lasted from morning until late into the evening. When it was over, Luke tells us: “Some believed and some didn’t.”8 An argument broke out between those Jews who did believe and those who didn’t. As they left, Paul called out to them: “The Holy Spirit was right when he said through Isaiah the prophet, ‘Say to the Jews, “You will hear and see but not understand, for your hearts are too fat and your ears don’t listen and you have closed your eyes against understanding, for you don’t want to see and hear and understand and turn to me to heal you.”’9”10
So it wasn’t so much that they didn’t hear, but that they didn’t listen. Anyone who has raised children can testify to the fact that often when they told their child to do something, or stop doing something, or go somewhere, they got no response. So they would call out loudly, “Didn’t you hear me?” Of course, they heard, but they didn’t listen. Listening gives the hearer the opportunity to obey. The writer of Hebrews said that after Jesus did everything needed to prove Himself by learning obedience through His suffering, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.11 Not just those who hear the Word, but those who obey by listening. Abraham heard God speaking to him, but he did more than listen, he obeyed, even though it took him places he had never been before.12
The prophet Isaiah knew the frustration of trying to get people to listen to what God gave him to say. Even after saying this: “See, my Servant will be successful; He shall be highly praised. Yet many will be amazed when they see Him—yes, even far-off foreign nations and their kings; they shall stand dumbfounded, speechless in His presence. For they shall see and understand what they had not been told before. They shall see my Servant beaten and bloodied, so disfigured one would scarcely know it was a person standing there. That’s how He will cleanse many nations,” He ended up by lamenting, “But who will believe my message? To whom will God reveal His saving power?”13 Isaiah knew they heard him, but they weren’t listening. This is also how John saw it after the Jews had seen all the miracles Jesus performed, they still didn’t believe He was the Messiah. That’s why John said: “This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet predicted.”14
So Paul concludes that faith can only come by listening. But listening to what? This is where every Christian preacher and teacher must take note, because Paul clearly says that faith blossomed because they were listening to the “Word of God.” Does that mean only the reading of the Bible? No! But it does mean that what is being said must be in complete harmony with what God said in His Word. However, listening is still not enough, it must be followed by a response.
In Jesus’ story about the rich man who found himself in Hades and saw Abraham with Lazarus in his arms on the other side of the huge gap that divided them, he pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back to tell his five brothers not to make the same mistake he did. But Abraham responded: “The Scriptures have warned them again and again. Your brothers can read them any time they want to. The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham, they won’t bother to read them. But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins.’ But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.’”15 Of course, Jesus told this parable as an omen of what many unbelieving Jews would do, even after He was raised from the dead by His heavenly Father.
So when people began to question why Paul was only sent to evangelize and not to baptize and pastor those who believed, Paul said: “Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel; and even my preaching sounds poor, for I do not fill my sermons with profound words and high-sounding ideas, for fear of diluting the mighty power there is in the simple message of the cross of Christ. I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God.”16
Not everyone needs to emulate Paul and say they have no interest in pastoring. That was particular to his calling, every calling is unique. Nor should anyone take this to mean that their sermons should sound so simple that even 4-year-old’s can understand. Paul was making reference here to the how Greek orators used to try and astound their listeners with complicated arguments. But it is important that we keep the message at such a level that we do not purposely add to the Word that God gives us something that makes it sound more complicated than it needs to be. This only brings honor to the speaking, not the One who sent them.
1 See Romans 9:30–10:13
2 Verse 5 – Leviticus 18:5; verse 6 – Deuteronomy 30:12; verse 7 – Deuteronomy 30:13; verse 8 – Deuteronomy 30:14; verse 11 – Isaiah 28:16 (see Septuagint); verse 13 – Joel 2:32; verse 15 – Isaiah 52:7; verse 16 – Isaiah 53:1; verse 18 – Psalm 19:4; verse 19 – Deuteronomy 32:21; verse 20 -Isaiah 65:1; verse 21 – Isaiah 65:2
3 David Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Isaiah 53:1
5 Matthew 11:15; See Revelation 2:29
6 John 10:26-27
7 Hebrews 4:2
8 Acts 28:24
9 Isaiah 6:9-10
10 Acts 28:25b-27
11 Hebrews 5:8-9
12 Ibid. 11:8
13 Isaiah 52:13-14-53:1
14 John 12:38
15 Luke 16:29-31
16 1 Corinthians 1:17-18