NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XIV)
Bible scholar Albert Barnes goes on to say that it is easy to see that if the Jewish people should be converted to the Christian faith, they would have facilities for spreading the truth, which the Church has struggled to maintain. First of all, they are scattered throughout the world and have access to all people. Second, their conversion, after such a long period of unbelief would have all the power and influence of a miracle performed for all nations to see. It would be seen why they had been preserved, and their conversion would be a most striking fulfillment of the prophecies. Thirdly, their familiarity with the languages of the world, and their conversion would at once establish many Christian missionaries in the heart of all the kingdoms of the world. It would kindle thousands of additional lights in all the dark parts of the earth. Fourthly, the Jews have shown that they are eminently suited to spread the true religion.
It was by Jews converted to Christianity that the Gospel was first spread throughout the Roman and Greek empires. Each of the Apostles was a Jew, and they have lost none of the eagerness, enterprise, and zeal that always characterized their nation. Their conversion would be, therefore, to give to the church a host of missionaries prepared for their work, familiar with all customs, languages, and climates, and already in the heart of all nations, and with facilities for their work already available, which others must gain only by the slow toil of many years. It sure sounds like something we could join Dr. Barnes in praying for.1
Henry Alford makes the point that it must be noticed, that the fact of Israel being the chosen people of God, lies at the root of this whole argument. Israel is the nation, the covenant people – the vessel of God’s gracious purposes to mankind. As a nation, Israel is not positioned to receive God’s favor. However, that imposition has been accompanied by an outpouring of God’s riches of mercy on the Gentiles; not as rivals to Israel, but still considered as further from God, formally and nationally, than Israel. If then the disgrace of Israel has had such a blessed accompaniment, how much more blessed it would be if Israel were stationed as a lighted torch of praise in the midst of the earth, and the glory of the nations!2
Karl Barth also addresses this tandem between the Jews’ loss and the Gentiles’ gain. He says that God has used their present alienation to make known His riches of grace toward the Gentiles, and this, in turn, will eventually be used to provoke Israel to jealousy and to turn them back to the God of their forefathers and to the Christ whom they have rejected. This recovery will be a means of untold blessing to that part of the world which has not yet come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel. With holy enthusiasm, Paul exclaims: “If their trespass means riches for the world and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness mean?” It is interesting to note how Paul uses the term “fullness,”3 further on in this chapter.
Thayer in his Greek Lexicon says that this word not only means when something is filled but here, in this case, it means, “that by which a loss is repaired.” In other words, when a part that has been missing is finally found and put back into place, just like the lost piece of a jigsaw puzzle. This then refers to the fullness of Israel will be the conversion of Israel – the fulfillment of God’s purpose for their very existence. This should help better understand the use of this word “fullness” in reference to God’s appointed time for the arrival of His Son upon the earth.4
On the subject of the fate of the Jews, one Messianic writer says that the Jews, who do not yet accept Yeshua, have not permanently fallen; according to the Apostle Paul they are still “stumbling.” Although they are considering Paul’s message about Yeshua, they are wavering. Their faith is weak in that they are missing the goal of Torah,5 by not accepting Yeshua. This idea of “weak” versus “strong” faith will be important in understanding chapters 12-15. The fate of the Gentiles is intertwined with Israel’s. Paul explains how the Jew’s current unbelief has evolved as part of God’s merciful plan to use the hardening of some of Israel, in order to bring salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn should lead more of Israel into accepting Yeshua. Paul states that even though blessings come to the world from this acceptance of Yeshua on the part of but a portion of Israel, there will be even greater blessings when more of Israel comes to faith. Therefore, the Gentiles’ goal ought to be a consideration for and the help of those Jews who do not yet believe.6
Verses 13-14: However, to you who are not Jews, let me tell you this: The fact that I am an Apostle to non-Jewish people is something I consider to be of the highest honor. So while I have that work, I will do the best I can in hopes that I can somehow make my own people jealous. In doing so, perhaps I can help some of them to be saved.
Paul now shares with the non-Jews the two burdens that he carries because of the Jew’s failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. One is for them and the other for his own people. The one he has for the Gentiles he received by the word of the Lord,7 and the one for the Jews he bore as having been one of them and even persecuted the believers in Christ, especially the Messianic Jews.8 In fact, Paul had a special commission from Jesus when they met on the road to Damascus, the one he shared in his testimony before King Agrippa: “I will keep you safe from the Jews and from the people who are not Jews. I am sending you to these people. You are to open their eyes. You are to turn them from darkness to light. You are to turn them from the power of Satan to the power of God. In this way, they may have their sins forgiven. They may have what is given to them, along with all those who are set apart for God by having faith in Me.”9
Yet he would not be sidetracked from his mission to the non-Jews, for he felt that it had a special purpose in God’s plan for the world. Paul told the Galatians: “God chose me before I was born. By His loving-favor He called me to work for Him. His Son was to be seen in me. He did this so I could preach about Christ to the people who are not Jews.”10 Paul was so impressed with this mission that he made a special trip to Jerusalem to speak to the leading council of the church.11 Paul had no doubt but that he had been chosen to be a vital part of God’s mission to save the world. He told young Timothy: “He wants all people to be saved from the punishment of sin. He wants them to come to know the truth… This is why I was chosen to be a teacher and a missionary. I am to teach faith and truth to the people who do not know God.”12
But Paul saw more beyond God’s effort to reach out to the Gentiles in a gracious and compassionate manner, and that was to use that news as a way to wake up the Jews who thought they had gotten rid of Jesus and kept their religion under their own control. God wanted them to say: This can’t be happening to us, how could we have missed such a golden opportunity; how could we have been so blind? In other words, the good Lord wanted to provoke them into action so that they would not be passed over. In fact, Paul wanted husbands and wives to demonstrate this same attitude that God was showing for the disobedient Jews.13 Paul goes so far as to say that whatever moral and useful tactic it takes to win over an unbeliever, consider the possibilities before you reject it.14 On a personal note, that’s why I have read the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Jehovah’s Witnesses Magazines, and “Jesus Only” material, etc., so that I can speak intelligently with them.
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster shares his impression of what Paul says here. Paul is showing the Gentiles how much he loves his fellow Jews. For he does not try to hide the fact that his ministry is that of an Apostle to the Gentiles. He is only praying that by loving his own people he wins them to the faith as well. For he is more honored still if he wins to eternal life those to whom he has not been sent. For he who finds his lost brothers will have the greatest honor with his parents.15
What Ambrosiaster points out here is one thing that is lacking in many Personal Evangelism courses today, and that is how one learns to win the lost by starting with their own family. But too often, those who try to win their parents and siblings start out with a perceived position of superiority and witness as though speaking down to them. Think of it this way: If you have discovered a new way to lose weight or found a fabulous new wrinkle-remover, or they just can’t believe how much younger you look with the new anti-aging supplement you are taking, your enthusiasm and joy are often enough to get them to try these things for themselves. It’s the same way with testifying about your newfound life in Jesus Christ, and all the love, joy, and peace it brought into your life. Instead of blaming them for being wrong, show them how fortunate they can be in being right.
Apparently, that’s how Paul felt about his brothers and sisters in the Jewish faith. As Origen puts it, by Paul’s attentive care and close attention to the teaching of the Gentiles and by making their behavior worthy of eternal life, Paul is inviting and urging the Jews, his kinsmen according to the flesh, to imitate those who are progressing in the faith of God. It is the glory of his ministry that he can use the teaching of the Gentiles to reach some of his own people as well.16
And Bishop Theodoret gives his own point of view on how he understands Paul efforts here to reach his own people. For him, Paul evangelized the Gentiles out of necessity, addressing himself to them and showing that the prophets had predicted this many centuries before.17 His aim was to make the Jews jealous and thus encourage some of them to come to salvation also.18 However, Martin Luther sees a possible personal bias in Paul’s highlighting the rejection by the Jews of the Gospel and the opening of the door to the Gentiles so that the sacrifice of Christ may not be in vain. The Apostle Paul preached to the Jews and was rejected.19 Therefore, he amplifies the importance of his office among the Gentiles in order that the Jews might be provoked into wanting the same. For what we despise when offered to us, we commonly esteem when others take it because we respect them, and we respect their choices.
1 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 100
3 See verse 12 in the King James Version or Lexham English Bible
4 Galatians 4:4
5 Romans 10:4
6 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Acts of the Apostles 9:15
8 Ibid. 22:19
9 Ibid. 26:17-18
10 Galatians 1:15-16
11 Ibid. 2:2, 7-9
12 1 Timothy 2:4, 7
13 See 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
14 Ibid. 9:20-21
15 Ambrosiaster On Romans, op cit., loc cit.
16 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 See Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 66:19; Malachi 1:11
18 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Acts of the Apostles 13:46