NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson V)
Reformer John Calvin sees this as an important passage by which we can understand that there is nothing vain and unprofitable contained in the Word of God; and we are, at the same time, taught that it is by the reading of the Scripture that we make progress in faith and holiness of life. This means that instead of just reading the Scriptures we should research the Scriptures to see what more we can learn. It would be an insult to the Holy Spirit to think that He would waste His time teaching us something that does not concern us or something we don’t really need to think about. He was sent to teach us everything God wants us to know and to remind us of everything Jesus taught us to do and be.1 What Paul says here includes all that is contained in the First and Final Covenants because the same Spirit of God that inspired the First also inspired the Final Covenant. Calvin is especially critical of those who dismiss the First Covenant as not being of any value to Christians today. That’s where the story of sin and salvation begins and the prophecies that were made of how and when the Final Covenant would be offered by the Messiah which would become the basis of our faith.2
German scholar John Bengel points out that this verse assigns the reason for it being here to what Paul said in the previous verse. All that was written in the First Covenant concerning the Messiah was meant for us believers in the Final Covenant. It is designed to show that Christ was an example of patience through all His suffering to give us hope. But in between patience and hope lies blessed assurance. Bengel notes that by the Scriptures testifying of Christ it teaches us by His example what we should take hold of or what we should leave alone.3 Bengel goes on to say that this comfort or assurance found in the Prophets and written records of the past are echoed here by Paul: If we are distressed because of the way things are going, it is the Scriptures that comfort us concerning our salvation. Therefore, if we are comforted, it is to strengthen our blessed assurance which produces in us patient endurance of hardships now because of what is yet to come.4
Englishman Adam Clarke endorses the belief that all things written long ago about Jesus the Messiah are for us today. This not only involves Paul’s quotation from the 69th Psalm but to all the First Covenant Scriptures, especially the Prophets. And, from what Paul says here about them, we learn that God had not intended them merely for those generations in which they were first delivered, but for the instruction of all the succeeding generations of believers.5 Clarke is convinced that through those remarkable stories of patience exhibited by the past saints of God are valid for the present saints of God. Their history was given to highlight the assurance they received from God in their patient endurance of sufferings brought on by their faithful attachment to truth and righteousness. In fact, these records were kept so that we might have hope that we will be as supported and blessed as they were. That our sufferings will become the means for our advance in faith and holiness. Not only that, but, consequently, our hope of eternal glory is even more confirmed.6
For those who dismiss the First Covenant as out-of-date and no longer relevant to our day, Scottish Bible scholar Robert Haldane said that in light of what the Apostle Paul says here, such thinking is blasphemous. Christ quoted the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms some 40 times, as did the Apostles. So who are we to throw it away as being of no use to us? Haldane then concludes that the passage quoted in the preceding verse and applying it to Christ, is not only useful for us but it is, as the Apostle shows, vital as an example. That’s because those who hated and cursed God were now hating and cursing those who stood up for God. So what did God do? He stood by them and assured them that it would all work out for their good. So how can we do any less now than what they did back then? That’s what prompted the writer of Hebrews to declare: “So let us go out to Him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace He bore.”7 This is a clear reference to Mt. Calvary outside the walls of Jerusalem were our Lord died. It is also a metaphorical way of saying, Let’s stand next to the cross of Christ and never be ashamed. He did it all to make us strong and resilient, so we must do the same for others.8
The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon points back to what Paul said in the previous verse when he quoted the Psalmist David saying to God that all the disgraceful things people were saying about God were also directed at him. Then Spurgeon supposes some critic in the crowd saying to Paul: Hey, Paul, wasn’t it David who said what you just quoted. “Yes,” Paul replies, “I know that I quoted David and that he spoke of his personal relationship with the Lord. But I’m telling you that what was written a long time ago was also written for our learning.9 Sounds like Paul may have provided Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck the inspiration for his famous quote: “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”10
Jewish scholar David Stern makes this observation about some Christians who dismiss the First Covenant as irrelevant for Final Covenant believers. He even reveals that some Christian seminarians sometimes make jokes about “sermons based on Leviticus,” implying that they consider much of the Tanakh11 as unneeded and boring for today’s believers. A number of Christians, including pastors, go even further and don’t even bother to read the First Covenant. They do acknowledge that the First Covenant was inspired by God, but in practice, they ignore most of it. No wonder Jews often regard the First Covenant as the Jewish Bible and the Final Covenant as the Christian Bible. But Christians who value the Final Covenant above the First Covenant not only belittle Paul’s teaching but do the same to other Final Covenant writers and Yeshua Himself. By so doing, they deprive themselves of the encouragement, assurance, and good counsel that the Tanakh offers in helping believers patiently to hold on to their hope of complete salvation. Unfortunately, they are often the ones who not only speak despairingly of the Jews who had Yeshua killed but of Jews today. Don’t they know that by ignoring the First Covenant they remove themselves from three-quarters of God’s inspired Word, which gives the fundamental and unshakable ground for their identifying with believing Jews as God’s people?12
Another Jewish writer notes that the things written a long time ago for our learning are part of the Tanakh (Genesis to Malachi), which was the only Bible available when the Letter to the Romans was written. Paul’s comment resembles that which he made in his letter to Timothy, where he instructed him that the Scriptures were all Timothy needed for his faith.13 Thus, the entirety of faith in Yeshua as the Messiah is based in the Tanakh. The Tanakh was all the disciples used in preaching about Yeshua and His Gospel. When Paul praised the Bereans for checking the Scriptures to see if what he taught about Yeshua was true, it was the Tanakh they were researching14.15
15:5-6 (14:28-29): All patience and comforting come from God. And I pray to God that all of you will agree with one another, as Christ Jesus wants you to. Then you will all be joined together. And all together you will give glory to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although we have no record of there being any children’s church program in Ephesus or throughout the Galatian province, I’m sure that the Apostle Paul would not have objected to a song we used to sing, lined up in front of the altar after Sunday school, before morning worship: “The more we pull together, together, together; the more we pull together the happier we’ll be.” This was the attitude King Hezekiah he had by sending out couriers throughout Israel and Judah with this message: “Obey the Lord with a willing heart… The Lord your God is kind and merciful, He will not turn you away.”16 Although some people just laughed, many of them heeded the King’s letter. As a result, we read: “in Judah God’s power united the people so that they would obey the king and his officials concerning the word of the Lord.”17
During the days of Jeremiah the prophet, there was another effort to get the people to work together, even in the face of opposition. So God gave the prophet this message: “I will give them the desire to be one, united people. They will have one goal – to worship Me all their lives. They and their children will want to do this.”18 And when the people were scattered abroad after heathen forces invaded because they had fallen into idolatry, God gave Ezekiel this message: “I will bring them together and make them like one person. I will put a new spirit in them. I will take away that heart of stone, and I will put a real heart in its place.”19 There are few things that please God more than when His people love each other and work together to spread the Good News of salvation to a lost and dying world.
So we should not be surprised that as Peter and John preached the Gospel in the Temple and many came to believe on Jesus as the Messiah, that in a prayer meeting going on for their safety and release, the place where they were meeting quaked, and they were all empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out and share God’s message of deliverance and salvation without fear.20 That was the same kind of attitude and atmosphere that Paul wanted to exist among the Corinthians: “Brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg all of you to agree with each other. You should not be divided into competing groups. Be completely joined together again with the same kind of thinking and the same purpose.”21 But, Paul had to write them again and say: “Brothers and sisters, be filled with joy. Try to make everything right, and do what I have asked you to do. Agree with each other, and live in peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”22 It appears that it had to do with the methods used for personal and joint evangelistic efforts by the church in Corinth.
1 John 14:26
2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 356-357
4 2 Corinthians 1:6
5 Deuteronomy 4:9
6 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 279
7 Hebrews 13:13
8 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 610
9 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Otto von Bismarck: “Gedanken und Errinerungen” (Thoughts and Memories)
11 Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym derived from the initial letters of the Hebrew names for the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings which include Genesis to Malachi.
12 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 2 Timothy 3:16
14 Acts of the Apostles 17:11
15 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 2 Chronicles 30:8-9
17 Ibid. 30:12
18 Jeremiah 32:39
19 Ezekiel 11:19
20 Acts of the Apostles 4:31-32a
21 1 Corinthians 1:10
22 2 Corinthians 13:11