NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XIII)
Jewish theologian David Stern shares an interesting perspective on the rejection of the Jews from his point of view. He tells us that it has been a traditional Jewish belief that the righteous of all nations have always had a place in the world-to-come, and, therefore, Christianity was an unnecessary invention of some misguided Jews of that day. However, they do give it credit for helping to lead many Gentiles out of idolatry toward serving one God. Nevertheless, it does not lead them to spiritually worshiping the One True God because it teaches that God became a man. Moreover, because of this view, Jews consider Christianity not only as unnecessary for Jews, but a potential problem since it tends to lead them away from their more perfect faith in the Lord their God, the One Living God.1
Stern then shares from his personal experience by saying that he has dealt with these arguments at various places in his writings before. For example, in commenting on John 14:6 he pointed out that Yeshua is the only route to righteousness for Jews as well as for Gentiles so that monotheism which excludes Yeshua as the Messiah is a mistaken concept. It is a fact that first century Gentiles, as a rule, did not know, fear, or obey God.2 As such, they did not meet the Jewish criterion for having a place in the world-to-come, so that if the Gospel had not been proclaimed to them, very few of them would have received deliverance. It is pointless to speculate how God might have brought them that deliverance, had the leaders and the majority of Israel obeyed the Gospel when it was first offered. What we do know is that God did, in fact, use Israel’s disobedience as a means, causing Messianic Jews (notably Paul, see verse 13) to evangelize Gentiles as well as Jews, and we know that many Gentiles responded positively.3
British theologian Dr. Gerald Bray gives us a good summary of what Paul was dealing with here. For him, the Jews have stumbled, but they have not fallen away completely. Moreover, God has used their tragedy for good because the gateway of salvation was opened to the Gentiles. The Gentiles were shown mercy because of the stumbling of the Jews, but they must be careful not to boast. The Jews were branches on the divine olive tree by nature, but because of their unbelief, they have been broken off. The Gentiles have been grafted in from a wild olive tree, but it follows that if they turn away from Christ, they too will be removed because they did not belong there in the first place. Early church scholars recognized that Paul was humbling both Jews and Gentiles in different ways, and was being warned against presumption on the goodness of God.”4
Verse 12: Yes, their mistake brought rich blessings to the world – that is, what they temporarily lost resulted in rich blessings coming to the non-Jewish people. So surely the world will get greater blessings when the Jews as a nation are finally repaired and become the kind of people God always wanted them to be.
No matter how sad and irresponsible it may be that the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, it created a second Passover whereby salvation by grace passed over them to the Gentiles. For Paul, he considered this a rich blessing for the world-at-large. Even as he sat in prison, he wrote the Ephesians: “Of all those who belong to Christ, I am the least important. But this loving-favor was given to me to preach to the people who are not Jews. I was to tell them of the great riches in Christ which will never come to an end.”5 Too bad that the Jews did not recognize the Messiah and say with Isaiah: “I thank you, Adonai, because, although you were angry at me, your anger is now turned away; and you are comforting me. See! God is my salvation. I am confident and unafraid; for Yah Adonai6 is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation!”7 They had also ignored Isaiah’s pronouncement: “Arise, shine [Yerushalayim], for your light has come, the glory of Adonai has risen over you.”8
When it comes to how the Gentiles benefited from the Jews lack of faith, early church scholar Origen tells us to consider the wisdom of God in all of this. For with Him not even the sins and backslidings of the Jews was enough to stop His effort to save all who are lost. But whenever someone rejects freedom of their own accord, God has the license of divine wisdom to take the riches of the faith they discard and give it to those who are poor in spirit. Now indeed, until all the Gentiles come to salvation the riches of God are concentrated in the multitude of believers, but as long as Israel remains in its unbelief it will not be possible to say that the fullness of the Lord’s portion is still theirs. The people of Israel are still missing from the complete picture. But when the fullness of the Gentiles has come and Israel is brought to salvation in Christ at the end of time, then it will be those called the children of God long ago who will, at last, be given the complete fullness of their portion of the Lord’s inheritance.9
Chrysostom gives us some insight by saying that even if the Jews had fallen a thousand times, the Gentiles would not have been saved had they failed to put their faith in Christ. Likewise, the Jews would not have been abandoned had they not been so unbelieving and contentious. Here Paul is consoling the Jews in their distress, giving them a reason to be confident of their salvation if they would only be willing to change.10 Pelagius adds another thought to this understanding, and that is, if the transgression of the Jews benefits all of us to the extent that without the works of the law we were made coheirs with them, and, if the few Jews who did believe caused all of us to be offered salvation, then how much more could they benefit us with instruction if they all come to believe, to begin with?11
So, just as Jesus rose again from physical death, likewise Paul declares that the Jews, as a people, will rise again from spiritual death. Martin Luther puts it in his perspective by saying that Jesus the stumbling-block did not cause the Jews to fall just for the sake of showing the error they had made. Rather, they fell so that God could raise them up again in the same manner as the Gentiles, who were already fallen, were raised. This is illustrated in the death and resurrection of Christ and baptism. Even though they refused the love He showed by sending His Son with the message of salvation, still, He decided to win them back by inciting them to jealousy as a loving parent often does with a child.
For Luther, God’s salvation was extended to the Gentiles because of the Jew’s fall, in order that their fall might not be fruitless and their sin keep good from being done. Since all things must work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to His purpose, it shows that God can use both good and bad, right and wrong, to make that happen.12 This would not be the first time God turned something bad into something beautiful, such as man’s fall in the Garden of Eden, Abraham’s illegitimate son with Hagar, Jacob’s deceit of Esau, Joseph’s sale into Egypt, etc.
Fellow Reformer John Calvin echoes much of what Luther said. In Calvin’s mind, Paul seemed to focus on the fact that although the Jew’s repudiation of Christ allowed the Gentiles to be introduced to the Gospel, he didn’t want to make the salvation lost by the Jews to become a negative factor for the Gentiles. In other words, he didn’t want to lead them into thinking that their salvation depended on the Jews losing theirs. Paul anticipates this false notion and lays down a clear opinion of an opposite kind. He wanted them to know that nothing contributed more to the salvation of the Gentiles than the grace of God. To prove this, he derives an argument from the lesser to the greater. In other words, if the Jew’s rejection of the Messiah and their fall raised the Gentiles out of idolatry into fellowship with God, how much more would the Jews’ acceptance of the Messiah have enriched and enhanced both them and the Gentiles?
And there should be no objection to this reasoning that the word of God flowed to the Gentiles after the Jews rejected it, and, as it were, cast it from them. For if they had received it, their faith would have brought forth much more fruit than what their unbelief resulted in. That way, the truth of God’s promise would have been, thereby, confirmed that they were to be the source that would bless the whole world. Just remember, all of the first Apostles were converted Jews, such as Peter, James, John, and Paul. So what would have happened if the whole nation of Israel had become Apostles? How many more Gentiles would have been led to the Lord by their preaching and teaching? Unfortunately, because of the contrariness and stubbornness, this had all been thrown away.13
Haldane explains how the fall of the Jews brought rich blessings to the rest of the world. Their rejection of the Messiah did not keep the great sacrifice of Christ dying on the cross for sin from being preached to all nations. As a consequence of their rejecting the testimony of the Apostles, the remnant who believed fled from the persecution of their countrymen, and, being scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the Word. Besides, the Jewish nation which had been designated as God’s witnesses to the world,14 and to whom the oracles of God had been committed, were still able to preserve the sacred trust given them even in the middle of much unbelief and consequent sufferings. In this, we discern an illustrious proof of the Divine origin of the First Covenant Scriptures which testify of the Messiah; while the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people stands forth as a lasting miracle. This cannot be explained using natural principles of human logic but furnishes undeniable evidence of the truth of the Gospel.15
Albert Barnes strikes a different tone in his commentary. As far as this passage is concerned, it involves the rejection and punishment of the Jews; their being cut off from God’s favor, an event that apparently would hinder the spread of their religion. However, if their being withdrawn from all active influence in spreading the true knowledge of God turned into an occasion for so many blessings to flow out to the rest of the world, how much more should we expect once they are restored to fellowship with God; when the energy and zeal of the Jewish nation will be united with the efforts of believing Gentiles in spreading the knowledge of the true Messiah. In what way or when this shall be, we still do not know, but it will be revealed at the time of God’s choosing.
1 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 See Ephesians 2:11-12
3 Stern: ibid.
4 Gerald Bray: (Ed.) Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT. Vol. 7, Romans (Revised) (pp. 279–280). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
5 Ephesians 3:8
6 When used individually, both terms are translated as “Lord,” but to avoid the awkward appellation “Lord Lord,” the KJV and NRSV render the expression as “Lord God.” (Here too, small capital letters are used to indicate that the base word is Yahweh.) “Lord Yahweh” is also used. The combination Adonai Yahweh appears 310 times in the Bible, mostly in the prophetic literature, where the prophets often begin their speeches by saying, “Thus says Adonai Yahweh.”
7 Isaiah 12:1-2 – Complete Jewish Version
8 Isaiah 60:1 – Complete Jewish Bible
9 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 19
11 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 159
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Isaiah 43:10
15 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 532-533