NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXVI)
Reformer John Calvin makes one more point that I think is important. Real faith is not speculation or grand wishing, it is grounded on nothing else than the truth found in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul teaches that faith does not spring from mere doctrine. If this was not true, then we could say that faith can arise from what anyone says. So Calvin more disregards all the devices invented by mankind when we speak of the certainty of faith. No doubt this is why Calvin was so against what he felt the Roman Catholic Church taught about “implicit faith.” This charge was levied against a teaching by the Vatican that there are some people who were so incapable of understanding the Gospel so as to have faith for salvation on their own. This could only come by partaking of the sacraments the church offered through which faith is imputed to them.1
On the subject of how faith comes not just by hearing but by listening to the Word of God, Robert Haldane agrees with the Prophet Isaiah that faith comes only by listening. Listening means more than just detecting noise or hearing something. The Greek word akoē which Paul uses here includes understanding the thing heard. Thayer in his Greek lexicon places it under the definition of “instruction.” and ties it to Isaiah 53:1 where the Hebrew word shĕmuw`ah means instruction, teaching, doctrine.
When I was in seminary, we used to say of some students, they only came to get a degree, not an education. They were hearing their professors, but they were not listening and comprehending what they were saying. The same with our spiritual learning. It comes when that which is heard is listened to, assimilated, and made a part of one’s understanding. This, in turn, produces faith. That’s why it was so necessary that the Gospel be preached, especially to the Gentiles. They were not raised to learn under the teaching of their Rabbis. They never memorized the Ten Commandments. Their manners and customs were not based on Laws given by God to their forefathers. There was no such thing as saving faith among heathens who had never heard of Christ. So they were hearing the Gospel for the first time. And yet, upon hearing the Word of God they listened and believed and thereby gained faith.2
Charles Hodge comments on Paul’s use of Isaiah to make a point. The Apostle’s purpose for using the prophet’s message was for the Jews to believe. Since Isaiah was one of their Prophets, they were required to accept it and lean upon it as true. That’s because without it there could be no solid ground; nothing on which to build their faith. Therefore, they are to understand that faith comes from hearing the message, and upon hearing, listening to what they’ve heard and believing that it is genuine.
And why shouldn’t they? This message was given to Isaiah by the word or command of God. That makes it a sure foundation for faith to build on. And since everyone is required to believe, and believing only comes from hearing and listening, then the message must be sent to all so they can call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. This was to be a universal Gospel, not meant only for the Jews. So with these two ideas presented in the context, namely, the necessity of knowledge to faith, and the purpose of God to extend that knowledge to the Gentiles, both are confirmed in this verse.3
Albert Barnes also sees Paul drawing a comparison between the Word of God preached during Isaiah’s time and his own. The fact that it existed during Isaiah’s day confirmed that it was not a new thing that only came into existence with the Gospel. Paul wanted the Jews of his day to know that this message of salvation had already been sent out. Originally, it was the doctrine of a coming Messiah who would be Savior of all who believed, not just the Jews. And now that the Messiah had come it would apply from this day on. All who want to be saved must call upon the name of Yeshua – Jesus of Nazareth. That’s why in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah he proceeds to give the reasons why the report would not be taken seriously and why the Messiah would be rejected, suffer, and die.
One reason was that the Jews were awaiting a Champion, a Warrior who would free them from Rome’s clutches. But Isaiah said He would be a root out of dry ground; a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. So because Yeshua did not come with splendor, pomp, and circumstances as a prince, He was rejected, and put to death. This no doubt is what led to His being rejected by thousands. But it was not all bad news for the Messiah. The ending parenthesis says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news the good news of peace and salvation.”4 So, could it be that it was the passion and death of Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah is what turned off most of the Jews to the message of His resurrection? They wanted an unbeatable warrior to champion their cause and reestablish the throne of David so they could be admired in the world again. No doubt Paul was trying to point out that this Sacrificial Lamb on the cross had defeated their enemies, hell, death, and the grave, and would one day return as the Lion of Judah,5 the bright and morning star6.7
Charles Spurgeon is also struck by what Isaiah said in that so many who heard the message from God did not obey it. When we understand that the message of the Good News Isaiah is talking about is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we can understand why the Gospel has such an authority about it. Why else would the Apostle make obeying it so indispensable? People must believe that anything God says is true. To disbelieve is to disobey. Spurgeon then has a message for those who are wise enough to seek salvation by becoming a listener to God’s Word. But they must make sure that it is God’s Word they are hearing because the words of mankind cannot save them. In fact, it may deceive them. It might give them a false sense of security. The hearing that saves, is listening to what comes by the Word of God.
That’s why, says Spurgeon, it is not necessary to run here and there seeking to hear a particular speaker. Instead, you should run to wherever you can to hear the Gospel preached in all of its power, authority, and truth. For faith comes by hearing and listening to the Word of God. Yet, all who have heard it have not obeyed it! There are many who have heard it from their childhood, and yet they have not obeyed it. Notice the word “obeyed,” for the Gospel comes with the force of a command. If you reject it, you sin against it, for it is your duty to accept it in order to be saved.8
Verse 18: But I ask, “Didn’t those people hear the Good News?” Yes, they heard—as the Scriptures say, ‘Their voices went out all around the world. Their words went everywhere in the world’.”9
Paul isn’t finished with the subject of the difference between hearing and listening. It wasn’t a question whether or not the people were hearing what God was saying through His prophet, but were they listening and accepting what He said? Again, Paul uses Isaiah to point out that the message went around the known world at the time, in every synagogue where the Jews had migrated to for whatever reason. So there was no excuse for not hearing. The Jews that Paul was writing to understood what Isaiah said and why it was relevant in their day.
After all, does not their own Talmud talk about voices that go around the world? We read where there was a controversy among the Rabbis concerning the writings of the early Rabbinic sages. There was a legend about Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who was a priest of Midian.10 The story was that he heard some breaking news. So the question is asked: “What news did he hear that he came and became a convert [of Yahweh]?” A Rabbi named Joshua believes that Jethro was told about the battle with the Amalekites since this story of Jethro is told right after Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.11
But another Rabbi named Eleazar of Modim said that Jethro heard about the giving of the Torah and was converted. For when the Torah was given to Israel the news traveled from one end of the earth to the other. This caused all the heathen kings to tremble in their palaces. That prompted then to reverence God so that: “While in His temple, all cry, ‘Glory,’”12 was fulfilled.13 So it was Rabbi Eleazar who believed that it was upon hearing the Word of God that Jethro was converted. Therefore, this idea of faith coming by hearing was not new to the Jews.
But there is another aspect to consider what Paul is referring to here by using Isaiah’s words. On the Day of Pentecost when the disciples and followers of Christ were gathered in the Upper Room for prayer and meditation, they were unnoticed by those passing by down on the street below until Luke tells us: “Suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting… Many devout Jews were in Jerusalem that day for the religious celebrations, having arrived from many nations. And when they heard the roaring in the sky above the house, crowds came running to see what it was all about, and were stunned to hear their own languages being spoken by the disciples… Parthians, Medes, Elamites, men from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia Minor, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the Cyrene language areas of Libya, visitors from Rome—both Jews and Jewish converts— Cretans, and Arabians. And we all hear these men telling in our own languages about the mighty miracles of God!”14
The Holy Spirit used Peter that day to preach a sermon on a subject many of these visitors had never heard before, about a man named Jesus of Nazareth, His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. He used the words of David to convince them that what he was saying was not about him, but about the Messiah. And now this same Jesus is sitting on a throne in heaven next to God the Father. Peter’s sermon moved those who listen very deeply, so they asked what should they do to be saved. Peter told them: “Each one of you must turn from sin, return to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; then you will also receive this gift, the Holy Spirit.”15 Then Luke tells us: “Those who believed Peter were baptized – about three thousand in all! They joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the Apostles’ teaching sessions and at the Communion services and prayer meetings.”16 So we can see, that the Word of God and only the Word of God has the power to save.
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 514
3 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 540-541
4 Isaiah 52:7
5 Revelation 5:5
6 Ibid. 22:16
7 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Psalm 19:4, (In the Hebrew Bible 19:5)
10 Exodus 18:1
11 Ibid. 17:13
12 Psalm 29:9
13 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Zebachim, folio 116a
14 Acts of the Apostles 2:2, 5-6, 9-11
15 Ibid. 2:38
16 Ibid. 2:41-42