NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson IX)
Early church preacher Chrysostom speaks on Paul’s confirmation of the promises to the Patriarchs and their application to Christians. When Paul begins by saying that Christ became a servant to the Jewish people, His coming was meant to carry through with what the Law required of Him. He did this by being born of the seed of Abraham and circumcised on the eighth day after His birth. By becoming both God and man, Christ was able to take the curse of condemnation that was on all humankind so that God’s wrath would be neutralized and allow those who were meant to obtain the promises, fit to receive them.1 That way, those forefathers who believed in Him before He came, were now included with those who were eligible then and in the future for all the promises God made to Abraham. Jesus’ coming also met the requirement that they be confirmed by the Messiah. There was no other way for this to happen. If Christ had not come and completed the Law, then neither those of the past, present, or future would have any chance of escaping eternal separation from God.2
Then Augustine comments on why the Gospel was spoken first to Israel. Today we would call this a case of reverse psychology. Paul wanted to remind the Gentiles that the Lord Christ Jesus had been sent to the Jews first, so now that they were also included, there was no reason for them to be proud as though they had accomplished something. Since the Jews rejected God’s message of salvation that was sent to them first, it opened the door for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles. We find this clearly explained by Luke when the Apostles told the Jews in Antioch in Pisidia – which is today in southern Turkey: “It was necessary that the Word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you … judge yourselves unworthy … behold, we turned to the Gentiles.”3 It also agrees with the Lord’s own testimony, when he said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,”4 and, “It is not right for the children’s bread to be thrown to the dogs.”5 If the Gentiles think carefully, they will realize by their own faith, by which they now believe that to the pure all things are pure, that they should not offend those Jewish converts who, perhaps from weakness, dared not to touch certain kinds of meat, fearing that it has been in contact with idols.6
Martin Luther believes that Paul is trying to emphasize to the Gentile believers that they should be grateful to God that Jesus came to the Jews in order to carry out the promise made to the patriarchs so that those who were non-Jews would be included. This would have never taken place if Christ had come into the world as a Roman or Greek or Persian. It had to come through the Jews. Luther points out that the Gentile Christians were not the same as the Jews to whom Christ had been promised, and yet, because they received Him as their Messiah it was guaranteed by a divine promise to Abraham. That’s why Paul told them: “As Christ also received us,” stressing the mercy of God which is given gratuitously. In doing so, he immediately shows in what respect it is mercy that is given so freely.7 In other words, the Gentiles ended up receiving the same offer of divine mercy that was originally promised only to the descendants of Abraham. For this, they should rejoice and be glad to be equal children of God along with the Jews whom they now accept as brothers in Christ.
John Calvin shares a word-picture that he sees in what Paul is describing. He believes that Paul now shows that Christ has embraced us all, so that He leaves no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, except, that He was promised to the Jewish nation first and was in a manner particularly designed for them before He was revealed to the Gentiles. Calvin also believes that Paul’s intention was to put to rest any contention between the Jews and Gentiles by pointing out that Christ had gathered both of them from their miserable conditions to Himself on the cross. He did so that after His resurrection He might bring them into His Father’s kingdom as a shepherd gathers all the sheep as one flock. This was done to unite them into one force to propagate the Gospel to the whole world.8 This high expectation on the part of Paul for unity is certainly praiseworthy, but even he admitted, in several letters, that there was discord even among Gentile Christians in some of the churches. And we can all testify to the fact that even to this day there are still incidents of contention among congregations over such minor things as to which hymnbook they should buy, the location of the organ and piano on the platform, or the color of the carpet in the sanctuary aisles.
John Locke believes that the phrase, “Jesus became a servant to the Jews,” should be placed in parenthesis to give it more emphasis in order to restrain the converted Gentiles in Rome to dismiss those Jews who had joined them by not thinking highly of them. And just as Christ came to be a minister to the Jews, so it is that this same Jesus called him to be a minister to the Gentiles. So this was Christ’s way of reaching to them through the Gospel as preached by Paul.9 We see the same thing today when one person of a particular denomination decides to join another congregation that has somewhat different views. Those who receive them as new members are still not fully convinced that they are real until they denounce their obedience to their old way of interpreting the Bible and pledge their full allegiance to this new way of believing. And in order to do that, they must get saved the right way, baptized the right way, read the right version of the Bible, sing the right hymns, pray the right way, etc., etc.
However, John Taylor does not see how the structure, or sense, of the Greek in Verse 8 would allow for those words that, “Jesus became a servant to the Jews,” to be placed in parenthesis. Also, John Locke suggests that we take the “glory of God,” in verse 7 and connected it with the “truth of God,” in verse 8, followed by verse 9 for a clearer understanding. Doing so would make it read like this: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring glory to God on behalf of God’s truth so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.”10 So there was no need to eliminate the Gentiles as part of God plan and think of themselves as having received God’s grace by accident. They were already included as recorded in God’s Word.11
John Bengel has an interesting commentary on this verse. He writes that by this verse the preceding clause concerning the term “Christ”12 is explained – Christ Jesus. Some versions say, Jesus Christ. Those, who have omitted the name Jesus in this passage, seem to have done so in harmony with verses 3 and 7. The terminology, Jesus Christ, and Christ Jesus ought not to be used indiscriminately. Jesus is the name, Christ is the title. As Jesus, He was first made known to the Jews because of His humanity. As Christ, He was introduced to the Gentiles because of His divinity. Therefore, he is called Jesus Christ according to the natural and common order of the words. But when He is called Christ Jesus, by inverting the order of the words, peculiar reference is made to the office of Christ, with somewhat of a more solemn design. And this is especially suitable for the present passage. Sometimes in one place, both arrangements of the words prevail13.14
On the significance of Christ’s coming as a pauper instead of a Prince, Charles Hodge feels this was done to prove the truthfulness or accuracy of what God foretold through the Prophets. Christ clearly showed His humility by not being born as a Prince or Potentate, but as an itinerant prophet to the Jews in order to carry out the gracious promises of God to Abraham. But they were looking for a Prince or Potentate, so they rejected this unknown teacher from Galilee. That’s why the wall between Jews and Gentiles was broken so that now Christ could be preached to them. They received Him as the Divine Savior of the world and the one who opened the door for them to the Kingdom of God. Now, they were united with the Jews on equal terms. When looked at this way, the believers in Rome were furnished the strongest motive for the cultivation of mutual affection and unanimity.15 One way to drive this point home is to consider this: Had the message of Christ not been shared with the Gentiles, neither you nor I would be Christians today. Christianity would have remained a small Jewish sect and joined all the others that exist today in Judaism.
1 Galatians 3:13
2 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 28
3 Acts 13:46
4 Matthew 15:24
5 Ibid. 15:26
6 Augustine: On Romans 82
7 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 213
8 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 377
10 Romans 15:7-9 – Using the NIV
11 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 359-360
12 The English term “Christ” is the anglicized translation the Hebrew term “Messiah.” It comes to us from the Greek “Christos” and Latin “Christus.” All three forms of the original word Messiah mean, “anointed.”
13 Romans 15:5-6; Galatians 2:16, note; 1 Timothy 1:15-16; 6:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9-10. See also 1 Corinthians 3:11 with which compare 1 Timothy 2:5
14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 358
15 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 673