NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXXVI)
Charles Hodge comes to the same understanding, as mentioned above, concerning what was good for the Gentiles is now good for the Jews. The cases of the Gentiles and Jews are very nearly parallel. The Gentiles were a disbelieving people and required mercy from God. Likewise, the unbelief of the Jews will also require that same mercy. As the Gospel came from the Jews to the Gentiles, so it is to return from the Gentiles to the Jews. Paul had before stated how the unbelief of the Israelites was instrumental in promoting the salvation of other nations, and how the conversion of the Gentiles was to be reciprocated to the Jews.1
Frédéric Godet gives a sweeping view of what has happened over time to bring the world to the place where Paul saw his vision for Jews and Gentiles in the future. The entire course of the religious history of the world has been deeply affected by the calling of Abraham. His descendants were a people especially destined by God to receive His divine revelations, and the other nations were left to discover Him based on what they saw in creation. From that moment on, there begin the hostility between those whom God chose to be His own and those who were left out. But at one point in time the paths of these two groups crossed each other when Jesus came into the world. Those two immense curves which traverse the ages of antiquity in opposite directions, and which, crossing one another at the advent of Christianity, now continue on but in reverse directions. This will all be terminated when they meet again and this time merge with one another to become just one people as God’s chosen children.2
F. F. Bruce gives his synopsis of God’s ultimate purpose for the human race as now revealed by Paul. It is mercy for both Jew and Gentile. The faithful remnant of both the Jews and Gentiles “chosen by grace” has not yet been completed. So at this point in time we are unable to declare who will or will not be saved because election by divine mercy is to be extended to all without distinction.3 There is an unmistakable universalism in Paul’s language here, even if it be a prophetic universalism and not one for the present age. But it must be taken as being representative or many rather than an individual.
Paul has already announced that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”4 All have been convicted before the tribunal of God; none, whether Jew or Gentile, can lay any claim to His mercy based on who they are or what they’ve done. If there is to be hope for any, it must depend solely on God’s mercy. But there is still hope because of God’s boundless grace. God’s purpose in allowing both the Jews and Gentiles to learn that their disobedience to His will must be confessed and openly admitted, was so that He might lavish His unmerited kindness on Jews and Gentiles together for the same reason – His tender mercy.5
Jewish scholar David Stern focuses on the need for God’s grace and mercy. A key fact about God’s mercy is that it contains within itself a moral imperative that it not be held back from anyone. God Himself does not withhold His mercy; and anyone who has truly received God’s mercy cannot but let themselves be a channel for communicating that same mercy to others. Therefore, the importance of what Paul is telling the Gentiles is this: Everything you have from God – your salvation, your righteousness, your hope – comes from God having shown you His mercy by grafting you into Israel, through your trusting Israel’s Messiah. You have that mercy in your possession, and it is wrong for you to hold it back. Therefore, both because you owe it to the people of Israel to display God’s mercy toward them, and because God’s mercy is in its essence not something that can be hoarded, you are always to be showing Israel the same mercy that God has shown you.6
Stern concludes his passionate plea by saying that Paul specifically exhorts Gentiles along these lines in Romans 15:27. Indeed, most of the rest of this letter is devoted to instructions about how to express God’s mercy to others. And the operative word is “now;” which is used twice in this verse. It gives urgency to the exhortation: Gentiles should show mercy now so that unbelieving and disobedient Jews who are headed toward a tragic destiny, may now, through them receive God’s mercy and be headed toward a glorious destiny. Israel’s salvation does not depend on some future event for which Christians must passively wait. All that is needed is for Gentile Christians (and Messianic Jews) to show God’s mercy to the unsaved of Israel. They can and should do it now. Then, “all Israel will be saved.”7
Another Jewish writer states that the Gentiles in Rome were benefiting from the “unbelief” of these Jews, yet, as we will see, condemning them because they, the Gentiles, did not see God’s incomprehensible ways.8 Both the Jewish disobedience and God’s mercy are in the present tense. Mercy is shown to the Jews through Gentile inclusion in the faith of Israel. The current stumbling of these Jews is, in God’s deep wisdom, a blessing not a curse since it brings salvation to Gentiles and provokes unbelieving Israel to reconcile with the Messiah they rejected.9
Verse 32: All people have at one time refused to obey God, so He treats all mankind as being disobedient so that He can show all mankind mercy.
Now Paul pushes his point one step further by making a universal statement: It is through unbelief that all mankind became candidates for God’s love, grace, and mercy. This is something no one will be able to obtain just by claiming to be good. Look at it this way, the only way a man can be saved from drowning is because of the fact he cannot swim or stay afloat. The only way a woman in a house on fire can be saved is because the fire is threatening her life because she cannot escape. The only way a child can be saved from starvation is because they are dying without food because it is unavailable. In other words, you need a threat in order for salvation to be a relevant factor.
This is what Paul tried to point out to the Galatians when he wrote: “The Holy Scriptures say that all individuals are guilty of sin.10 Then that which was promised might be given to those who put their trust in Christ. It will be because their faith is in Him.”11” That’s why Paul told Timothy: “God wants all people to be saved from the punishment of sin. He wants them to come to know the truth. There is one God. There is one Man standing between God and mankind. That Man is Christ Jesus. He gave His life for all people so they could go free and not be held by the power of sin.”12 And the reason this is so critical, is what Paul told the Romans earlier: “You get what is coming to you when you sin, and that is death! But God’s free gift is life that lasts forever. It is given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.”13
When it comes to recognizing God’s grace and mercy, Ambrosiaster notes that from earliest times of civilization all nations lived in ungodliness and ignorance because they were without God.14 This is confirmed by Rabbi Avraham Saba in his writings about what the Jews said concerning the people of that era. He states that normally, even wicked people entertain some worthwhile thoughts on occasions and plan to carry them out, even if they may get sidetracked. But the Torah testifies that the generation living before the flood of Noah did not even entertain worthwhile thoughts at all. The people of that time did not even contemplate the idea of doing what was considered right. He sees that these people do not correspond in any way to the individuals described by David where he said, “Those who live a blameless life by behaving uprightly; those who speak truth from their hearts.15”16
As Ambrosiaster sees it, for this very reason the law was revealed by which the worst ones could be picked out and restrained. But by the activity of Satan’s influence sins began to multiply, so that when the commandments were given, mankind was considered even more guilty. Then God, who in the mercy of His goodness always takes care of His human creation, seeing that even without the law sin still existed and that by the law it could not be wiped out, decreed that He would only require faith by which the sins of all mankind might be abolished. Thus although a person had no ground for hope through the law, they were nevertheless saved by the mercy of God. To declare everyone as being disobedient, means that this decree comes as a gift from God at a time when everyone was lost in the fog of unbelief, so that grace might appear to be the freest of all rewards. Therefore, nobody should boast, for the one who is proud of their ignorance is to be pitied.17
John Calvin makes two points on what Paul says here. First, that no one should rejoice in their salvation at the expense of others. All mankind comes to the cross on the same level of sinfulness and a need for God’s mercy. Paul leaves no doubt that the Jews are equally as guilty as the Gentiles. Both should understand that the avenue to salvation is as open to one as it is to the other. Calvin implies that Paul intends to teach two things here: First, there is nothing in any individual that should cause God to prefer one over the other. Second, apart from the simple favor of God, He is under no obligation when it comes to granting His mercy to whomsoever He pleases.
The main emphasis in understanding the word “mercy” is that God is bound to no one individual or group. Therefore, He saves all freely for they are all equally lost. It is indeed true that this mercy is offered without any discrimination to all, but it must be received as a gift by everyone through faith.18 But Calvin also warns that no one should interpret what Paul says here as a guarantee that everyone will be saved. John Bengel agrees and says in particular to the Jews, that the restoration Paul speaks of is not universal, but given to the elect who acknowledge their need for salvation and accept God’s offer of pardon and forgiveness.19
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 584
2 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Romans 8:19-21
4 Romans 3:3
5 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 219–220
6 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Stern: ibid.
8 See verse 33 in this chapter
9 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 See Romans 3:23
11 Galatians 3:22
12 1 Timothy 2:4-6a
13 Romans 6:23
14 See e.g., Genesis 6:5
15 Psalm 4:2 – Complete Jewish Bible
16 Rabbi Avraham Saba: Tzror Hamor, Genesis, Vol I, pp.131-132
17 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 336