NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXXVII)
John Locke points out that God’s actions as stated here by Paul in verse 32, was not due to His putting the Jews out of His kingdom, but it was in response to their putting themselves out of His kingdom. In other words, they were acting like the prodigal son.1 So God lumped them together will all those who still didn’t believe in His Son as the Savior of the world. This way, He could deal with them as disobedient sinners through His love, grace, and mercy. So now, when they come to Him, it will be through Christ, the Gospel, and the cross, not by way of Abraham and their claim as being part of the original covenant.
Once they are willing to accept God’s unquestionable sovereignty over humanity, then their worship of Him will take on a new meaning. It frustrated Paul to see their continued rebellion against accepting their promised Deliverer and King. Even His miracles were not enough to convince them. So God decided to remove the roadblock in their thinking by appealing to them as sinners and not His sons. Since they had never been born again, this was not a case of backsliding so that they would think they were starting over again. Therefore, the Gospel message that had been designed for the Gentiles was now going to be used for the Jews as well.2
Adam Clarke makes a similar point by saying that this refers to the guilty state of both Jews and Gentiles. They had all broken God‘s law. The Jews were disobedient to the written law; the Gentiles were disobedient to the law written in their hearts. They are all represented here as having been accused of many transgressions. As they stood before God in His courtroom, they were found guilty on all charges; given the death sentence that they rightly deserved and then ordered to be incarcerated in the sinner’s prison of unbelief to await their execution. Once there, they were hoping that God would change His mind and commute their sentence. Then the Good News came! God, in His own compassion, moved by no merit found in either party, caused a general pardon by the Gospel to be proclaimed to all as a result of the sacrifice of His Son on their account. All they had to do was to repent and receive their forgiveness by faith.3
But, says Clarke, the Jews refused to receive this pardon on the terms which God proposed, and, therefore, continue locked up in their unbelief. But as the offers of mercy continues to be made to all indiscriminately, the time will come when the Jews, seeing the vast increase of the Gentiles going into the kingdom of the Messiah, and the glorious privileges which they enjoy will also lay hold of the hope set before them, and thus become united with the Gentiles as one flock under one shepherd and one bishop of all their souls. Clarke feels that this is a fine and well-chosen metaphor under these circumstances to expresses the guilty, helpless, wretched state of both Jews and Gentiles in need of salvation.4
Frédéric Godet also touches on the subjects of common salvation and universal salvation. In his mind, the domain of disobedience, within which God has successively detained all sinners, leaves both Jews and Gentiles with only one choice. They can humbly accept salvation from the hand of mercy or refuse it as being unnecessary. There is, therefore, no inference to be drawn from this passage in favor of a final universal salvation for all without exception. Paul teaches only one thing here: that at the close of the history of mankind on this earth there will be a dispensation of grace in which salvation will be extended to the totality of the nations living here below, and that the magnificent result will be that the humiliating periods through which the two halves of mankind, Jews and Gentiles, will have successively come to an end. The Apostle had begun this vast exposition of salvation with the fact of universal condemnation; he closes it with that of universal mercy. What could remain for him to do now but start singing the hymn of adoration and praise to a merciful and loving God?5 What we need to notice here is that Godet does not go on to say that God’s universal mercy will lead to universal salvation. That is an individual, not a group, decision.
Charles Ellicott sees Paul’s writing here as a persuasive matter embracing the whole course of human history and summing up the divine philosophy of the whole matter. The goal of God’s plan was that absolutely everything He created was to work in absolute harmony so that it resulted in fulfilling His divine will. We are able to see only a part of God’s ways, and the direction things are going now makes it difficult for anyone to believe that in the end “all things will work together for good,” because the full process by which this will happen is still not clearly seen.6 What Ellicott is talking about here is exactly how and when will the Jews as a nation turn to Christ as their Savior. All they can do is speculate based on their understanding of dispensational prophecy.
John Stott also has some interesting things to say along the same lines as Godet. For him, disobedience is likened to a dungeon in which God has incarcerated all human beings so that they have no possibility of escape except as God’s mercy releases them.7 This has been the argument of this letter to the Romans. Starting in the first three chapters, Paul demonstrated that all human beings are sinful, guilty and without excuse, and then from chapter 3:21 onward unfolded the way of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. He writes something similar in Galatians. “The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin… We were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge (the Revised Standard Version renders it, “was our custodian”) to lead us to Christ.”8 Thus human disobedience is the prison from which divine mercy liberates us.
Stott has a question about the term “all mankind” that Paul uses here. What exactly is he pointing out by saying that all mankind is on-hold because of their disobedience to God, but that all will receive mercy in the end? Some people have taken this verse upon which to build their theory of universal salvation for everyone without any fear of retribution. But this letter to the Romans will not allow this interpretation since in it Paul declares that there is to be a day of God’s wrath.9 on which some will experience God’s fierce anger.10 What, then, is the alternative? It is to note that in both halves of verse 32, regarding those whom God has imprisoned in disobedience and those on whom He will have mercy, Paul does not actually write of “all mankind” as an indication that it will include every single one. Rather, that mankind as a whole has been under the curse of sin and that the offer of salvation will be made to all. However, not everyone will accept God’s offer of salvation to be among the called and chosen, so they who refuse will then suffer the consequences.11
Verses 33-36: O the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!12 How inscrutable are His judgments! How unsearchable are His ways!13 For, ‘Who has comprehended what is in the Lord’s mind? Who has been His counselor?’14 Or, ‘Who has given Him anything and made Him pay it back?’15 For from Him and through Him16 and to Him are all things.17
The writings of Paul are rich with what appears to be ancient creeds, declarations of faith, and portions of early hymns. This text could possibly be one of those. If we look at these words as a prose or anthem of faith, drawn from different scriptures, they ring with such certainty that it causes our faith to rise and our hearts to beat so strongly that we want to stand up and cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!”
What Paul says here is something most modern liberal theologians, agnostics, and individuals with little spiritual knowledge who try to serve as interpreters of Scriptures never really fathom. The only place in the Bible where I find that God came to man for assistance was when He asked Adam to name the animals,18 and that was before sin took over. If we mortals, with finite minds, can fully conceive and predetermine events as our immortal, infinite God did, then He isn’t God after all! At most, we can only scratch the surface of one infinitesimal speck of knowledge He has graciously given for brilliant minds to conquer. When a person rises in their conceit in an effort to explain just why or how or what God did, the Lord only chuckles at man’s ignorance. But beware lest your vanity and pride go off the rails at the expense of not meeting God’s Son. “Except you be converted and become as a little child you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
When my children were small, they took for granted what I told them about the sun, moon, stars, galaxies, nature and animals, ethics and virtues, etc., as being true. As they grew older and learned more on their own, it was a joy when I would hear one of them say, “You know dad, you were right!” Jesus said that this is the kind of faith we need to have in what He has told us. For sure, when we get to heaven all of us will exclaim to Him, “You know, Father, You were right!”
1 Luke 15:11-32
2 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. pp. 358-359
3 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 230
4 Clarke: ibid
5 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 See A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans by C. E. B. Cranfield, T & T Clark International, New York, 1979, Vol. II, p. 587
8 Galatians 3:22ff
9 Romans 2:5
10 Ibid. 2:8
11 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Isaiah 33:6; cf. Ephesians 3:18; 1:7; 2:7; 3:8, 10, 16; Col 1:27; 2:2-3
13 Psalm 36:6; cf. Job 5:9; 9:10; Job 11:7-9; 26:14; 33:13; 37:19,23; Psalms 40:5; 77:19; 92:5; 97:2; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Daniel 4:35
14 Isaiah 40:13; cf. Job 15:8; 36:22; Jeremiah 23:18; 1 Corinthians 2:16
15 Job 41:3; cf. Job 35:7; 41:11; Matthew 20:15; 1 Corinthians 4:7
16 1 Chronicles 29:11,12; Psalms 33:6; Proverbs 16:4; Daniel 2:20-23; 4:3,34; Matthew 6:13; Acts 17:25,26,28; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6-10; Colossians 1:15-17; Revelation 21:6
17 Psalms 29:1,2; 96:7,8; 115:1; Isaiah 42:12; Luke 2:14; 19:38; Galatians 1:5; Ephesians 3:21; Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 5:11; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 1:25; Revelation 1:5,6; 4:10,11; 5:12-14; 7:10; 19:1,6,7
18 Genesis 2:20