NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXXIX)
Albert Barnes feels that the English Bible reader is somewhat disadvantaged in understanding Paul’s quote here of Isaiah: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God.” He feels that it should be translated “O the depth of the riches, and of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God.” In fact, the English translation from the Aramaic text by James Murdock (1852) reads that way, as does the Complete Jewish Bible. For Barnes, the Apostle has three subjects of admiration, not two. The Apostle wishes to express his admiration for the riches, wisdom, and knowledge exhibited by God.
Barnes then goes on to explain what Paul meant by “riches.” The expression “the depth of the riches” is a Hebraism, meaning riches that are too great to count. The word denotes the abundant blessings and mercies which had been conferred on sinful people by the Gospel. These were vast and wonderful. The pardon of sin; the atonement; the hope of heaven; the peace of God; all bestowed on the sinful, the poor, the wretched, and the dying; all signal the great mercy and rich grace of God. So every pardoned sinner may still exclaim that the grace of God which pardoned them is indeed wonderful and past their comprehension. It is beyond the power of language to express, and all that the Christian can do, is to follow the example of the Apostle and bow down in profound admiration for the rich grace of God.1
Henry Alford agrees with Barnes. There is some doubt whether the words wisdom and knowledge are nouns that modify riches. In the Greek Testament it can be concluded the three nouns are all coördinate: denoting the riches of the Divine goodness.2 Alford then adds an interesting exegesis of what Paul quotes in verse 36. As he sees it, Paul uses these last words to establish what he has alluded to in all that he has said above, the mystery of the Trinity. Alford says that this agrees with what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:6, and that all things are revealed by the Spirit of God; so when he says, “O the depth of the riches!” he signifies the Father, of whom are all things; and “the depth of the wisdom,” he signifies Christ, who is the wisdom of God; and “the depth of the knowledge,” he signifies the Holy Spirit, who knows even the deepest things of God. For Alford, while this is not a formal allusion to the three Persons in the Holy Trinity, they are an implicit reference to the three attributes of Elohim respectively manifested to us by the three Co-equal and Co-eternal Persons.3
H. A. Ironside taught that the last four verses in this chapter are in the nature of a Doxology. The Apostle’s heart is filled with worship, and praise, and admiration as the full blaze of the divine plan fills the horizon of his soul. Apart from revelation, none could have known God’s mind, just as no created being could ever have been His counselor. No one ever earned grace by first giving to Him, in order that blessings might be received in return; but everything is of Him, and through Him, and to Him, to whom be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.4
Charles Hodge agrees with the above scholars in that riches, wisdom, and knowledge are genitives that stand in the same relation to the word “depth.” He then goes on to give a long exposition of this doxology. From a doctrinal point of view, it is a radical principle of the Bible, and consequently of all our true faith. Namely, that God is all and in all; that of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things eternal. It is the tendency of all truth to exalt God and to humble creation; it is characteristic of true righteousness to feel that all good comes from God, and to desire that all glory should be given to Him.5 It is the tendency of many and the result of all correct views of Christian doctrine to duplicate the same feelings expressed by the Apostle at the close of this chapter. However, any views that might have the tendency to lead us to ascribe, in any form, our salvation to our own merit or power cannot be scriptural.6
Charles Ellicott also comments on any reference to the Trinity in verse 36. He notes that even though all things proceed from God, that all things are made or wrought by Him, and that all things exist for His glory, and to carry out His purpose and will, it is a mistake to see in this, (as some of the older commentators have done), any allusion to the Trinity. The subject of the whole verse appears to be God the Father, and the prominent idea is the unity of creation corresponding to the unity of the Godhead. The whole system of all created things issues from Him and returns to Him. They are meant to accomplish in their course of existence to operate according to His charitable designs. Ellicott does admit, however, that the use of the prepositions that bind these nouns together could be understood as expressing the threefold relation (origin, causation, and returning) which the doctrine of the Trinity embodies.7
F. F. Bruce disagrees with Hodge and others that riches, wisdom, and knowledge are three genitive nouns. For Bruce, instead of treating these three as separate divine properties, we may take “wisdom and knowledge” as dependent on “riches.”8 Then with regard to verse 36, Bruce hints that the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) may have had access either to the writings of Paul or the same source quoted by Paul. For instance, in his “Meditations,” we read where Aurelius writes: “From thee are all things, in thee are all things, to thee all things return.9”10
Douglas Moo gives us something to consider. The three questions in verses 34–35 are taken from the First Covenant. The first two from Isaiah 40:13 and the third may come from Job 41:3. The questions may correspond, in reverse order, to the three attributes in verse 33: “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” – knowledge. “Who has been His counselor?” – wisdom. “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” – riches. These questions are obviously rhetorical and expected the answer is, “no one.”
But the wisdom tradition Paul reflects taught that wisdom was able to do what no person was able to do: understand and interpret the mind of God. As the embodiment of wisdom, then, Christ, through His work of salvation, reveals God’s plan to us. If the first two questions remind us how far we are from fully understanding God, the final question reminds us of God’s grace, a great theme of these chapters. What God does in His plan of salvation He does not do because anyone has earned His favor or deserves His kindness, but solely out of His own great love for us.11
Jewish scholar David Stern makes the point that the three chief areas in which God manifests His nature and His power are alluded to here: creation (from Him), revelation (through Him), and redemption (to Him). Orthodox Judaism has observed that these same themes pervade the whole Bible and find expression in the traditional ways of celebrating the Sabbath and the other Jewish holidays.12 Also, the word, “Amen,” instructs the congregation hearing the letter read aloud to say, “Amen” in response to, and in agreement with, Paul’s praise of God.13
Preacher Charles Simeon believes that from all that Paul says here in this chapter we can learn three important things that will affect our attitude toward God: First, learn to be submissive. These were the words of the High Priest Eli to young Samuel, “It is ADONAI; let Him do what seems good to Him.”14 Second, learn to be thankful. As the Psalmist said, “God, how I prize your thoughts! How many of them there are! If I count them, there are more than grains of sand.”15 And the third, learn to be confident. Again the Psalmist tells us, “Though clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”16
How many times have we already seen that, in numberless instances, God brought good out of evil. This should give us even more reason to bless Him as much for things which have been contrary to our desires, as for things which have been gratifying and brought us comfort. Learn, then, to trust Him for the future; and, in your darkest hour learn to exclaim with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him17.18
THE END OF CHAPTER ELEVEN
1 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 108
3 Alford: ibid., p. 109
4 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 592
6 Hodge: ibid., p. 594
7 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 220
9 The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Translated by George Long, F. M. Lupton Publishing Co., New York, 1862, 4:23, p. 72
10 Bruce: ibid., Vol. 6, p. 221
11 Douglas J. Moo, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Acts of the Apostles 2:1
13 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 See 1 Samuel 3:18
15 Psalm 139:17-18a
16 Ibid. 97:2
17 Job 13:15
18 Charles Simeon, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. XV, p. 466