NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson X)
Early church scholar Origen notes that according to his understanding, the term Satan here refers to any spirit opposed to God. For in the Hebrew language Satan means “a powerful adversary.”1 But just as the Apostle Paul teaches, if they behave and demonstrate that they are the kind of people he says they are then he promises that Satan’s aggressiveness will soon be crushed under their feet by the God of Peace. However, the same God of Peace will stir up Satan in the hearts of those who do not keep His peace with a pure heart and a clean conscience.
But there’s a reason for this. Those who neglect the blessing of peace will suffer the bitter pangs of the adversary’s assault until they remember the sweetness of the peace they once enjoyed. So, says Origen, it makes sense to respect both of these things. After all, didn’t God allow Satan to go into the Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve, and didn’t He allow Satan to provoke Job to prove whether or not he served God out of love or obligation? In doing so, the adversary is defeated every time His people resist the devil’s temptation. 2
Then Ambrosiaster believes that God will use Paul to bring peace to the situation in Rome so that, more or less, the devil’s head will be crushed, and they will then be able to exercise more power over him. It was by using his head that Satan misled and fooled Eve in the Garden of Eden, so by crushing Satan’s head it means stomping out his ability to speak lies so such misinformation is stopped in its tracks. No doubt Satan gets angry at that idea because he wants people to remain in sin and under his influence.
So Paul’s hope is to encourage the Romans while they wait for his arrival, knowing that what he will bring with him help to calm the disagreements there between the Jewish and Gentiles members as Jesus calmed the winds and the waves. Paul believes that they wanted such peace and he couldn’t wait until God gave him the opportunity to be with them and teach them a better way of handling their difficulties.3 And Pelagius turns it into positive thinking by noting that the Lord gave His people power to tread upon all scorpions, snakes, and allies of the enemy so that they may not prevail over them so that they can walk over him free and unchained4.5
At this juncture, John Bengel adds that in the course of this whole epistle Paul names the enemy using various terms, but here he calls him Satan for the first time. In fact, throughout all of his epistles Paul calls him Satan nine times, and the devil six times (including Hebrews]. Bengel also noted that the Scriptures treat God and Christ directly, but Satan and the Antichrist are treated indirectly. Every victory achieved by faith is designed to elevate a new sense the ultimate eternal destruction for Satan, his demons, and his fallen angels.6
As far as the God of Peace keeping Satan from making progress and the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ helping believers to make progress, Charles Hodge reflects on Paul’s message to the church in Rome that just as a spirit of divisiveness produces false teachers that cause divisions and disgrace in the Church, the Apostle Paul is giving them the assurance that God has a remedy for that by calling Him the God of Peace. In other words, God is the author of peace in the comprehensive scriptural sense of that term.
Then Bengel states that by Paul saying that the God of Peace will crush Satan’s head, is not something way out in the future but that He will give His people the power to put Satan under their feet now. Since Satan is seen as constantly “working in the children of disobedience”7 the evil done by them is sometimes ascribed to him as the instigator, and sometimes to the immediate agents who are his willing instruments. It is Paul’s prayer for God to use him as an instrument to bring more peace and cooperation among the blessed believers in Rome.8
Jewish writer David Stern writes from his perspective on the God of Peace crushing the head of the god of war – Satan. For him, the imagery used here by Paul draws on Genesis 3:15.9 Also, in a Jewish work written around 108 B.C., we read: “And Beliar10 will be bound by Him. And He will give power to His children to tread upon the evil spirits.”11 According to Genesis, it is the seed of the woman, understood to be the Messiah,12 who will “bruise” or “crush” the serpent’s “head.” But here it is God who crushes the Adversary under our feet. Therefore, by implication, Yeshua is identified both with God and with those who trust in Him.13
Another Jewish writer not only ties this to Eve but also to the Garden of Eden. He notes that Paul mentions a group within the congregation in Rome who were teaching against a lot of what is taught so far in this Epistle. Specifically, he addresses the problem of “gentilizing”14 with regard to the issue of doing away with kosher foods. In verse eighteen above Paul states, “For they that are such serve not our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, but their own belly,” And those who keep telling the Gentile believers in Rome to keep on eating anything they want no matter who does or doesn’t like it, is compared to Satan here in verse twenty.
Paul’s reference to the phrase “will bruise Satan’s head,” from the Garden of Eden story is interesting. That’s because the problem that started the whole thing in the garden was also food related. Paul tells them that what they already learned should be enough to help them deal with the problem between them and the Gentiles from a Jewish point of view. This is also another way of seeing that Paul was not teaching a “Torah-less” gospel by using this phrase to remind the Gentiles of their obligation to all that God said. But it was also an attempt by Paul to win the trust of the Jewish contingent in the congregation there.15
16:20b May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all.
This was a standard benediction for the Apostle Paul. In fact, he uses it involving the Trinity when he closes his second letter to the Corinthians: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”16 For the Bishop of Cyr, this was Paul’s way of transitioning from focusing on Satan to focusing on the Savior. The only thing standing between a believer’s victory or defeat is the grace of God. A person can choose which path to follow. To put this another way, if we do go out the door of God’s throne room of Grace and Mercy with things still unsettled, He doesn’t lock the door so we can’t get back in.17
Apparently, there were some even in the late 1700s in Europe who doubted the divinity of Jesus. For them, says Robert Haldane, Paul’s blessing at the end of this chapter shatters their deception. This form of expression involving grace coming from the Lord Jesus was always understood to import the deity of Christ, and it is still so understood to be right. It is essentially and necessarily a prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ; if He is not God what grace did He bestow on His people? “My grace,” He answered Paul who prayed to Him for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, “is sufficient for you; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”18
Haldane believes that this implies there is a constant supply of grace flowing from Christ to His people. If Christ so communicates His holy influences to His people in all ages, in all countries, to every individual, at every instant of time, what can He be but the Almighty God? This implies that those bought by the blood of Christ are to be supplied with grace by Him continually, in order to secure their standing in the truth. All their perseverance is dependent on this. Of His Church it is said, “I, the Lord, do keep it; I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.19”20
In this day and age of “free superabounding grace,” it becomes necessary to understand that such grace is not to be used in the sense of the medieval practice of “indulgences.” That means, no one can earn God’s grace and forgiveness in advance so that when sin is committed it is already forgiven. Just because you are a child of God, that does not mean you can sin with impunity, thereby never fearing any punishment or discipline because of your actions, especially when they go against the Word and Will of God. The Apostle John made it crystal clear that if we do sin, God is willing and able to forgive us of the sin as long as we repent and ask forgiveness,21 with the solemn pledge never to do it again.22
1 1 Samuel 29:4; 2 Samuel 19:22; 1 Kings 11:14, 23, 25
2 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 See Luke 10:19
5 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 368
7 Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 3:6
8 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 698
9 Cf. Luke 10:19; Hebrews 2:7-9
10 Beliar is another term used for Satan. It is spelled bĕliya`al, see Deuteronomy 13:13; Judges 19:22; 20:13; 1 Samuel 1:16; 2:12; 10:27; 25:17, 25; 30:22; 2 Samuel 16:7; 20:1;23:6; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chronicles 13:7; 2 Corinthians 6:15 (NIV)
11 The Testament of Levi 18:12
12 Galatians 4:4
13 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Gentilizing means asking the Jews to adopt the Gentile’s rules for selecting the food and drink to consume.
15 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 2 Corinthians 13:14; See 1 Corinthians 16:23; Galatians 6:18; Philippians 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; Philemon 1:25; Revelation 22:21
17 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 2 Corinthians 12:9
19 Isaiah 27:3
20 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 646
21 1 John 1:9
22 John 5:14; 8:11