August 4: Romans 10:4

Romans 10:1-4

In today’s note, I will be looking at Romans 10:4, one of the key verses relating to Paul’s View of the Law. I have already discussed chapters 9-11 of Romans in a prior article, and here it is also necessary to set verse 4 in the immediate context of chapter 10. In verses 1-2, Paul delivers a personal address regarding his fellow Israelites and Jews, much as in 9:1-3ff (cf. also 11:1ff), expressing his heart’s desire and longing to God that “they might be saved”. Verse 2 is significant in this regard:

“For I witness concerning them that they hold a burning (desire) for God, but not according to (true) knowledge about (Him)…”

This lack of correct understanding Paul clarifies in the next verse:

“…for, lacking knowledge regarding the justice/righteousness of God, and (even) seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own justice/righteousness, they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God”

There are three components to Israel’s failure, as Paul describes it:

    • they lacked knowledge regarding the justice/righteousness of God
    • they sought to establish their own justice/righteousness
    • they did not put themselves correctly under [i.e. did to submit to] His justice/righteousness

As the remainder of chapter 10 makes clear (vv. 8ff), Paul frames this entirely from the standpoint of the failure of many Israelites and Jews to accept the Gospel message and to trust in Jesus Christ. How does this relate to the three components outlined above? Based on the context of Romans, this can be explained as follows:

    • they are unaware of the justice/righteousness of God which has been manifest (in Christ) apart from the Old Testament Law (Rom 3:21ff); Paul refers to this lack of knowledge in terms of their mind being hardened (Rom 3:14-18; 11:7-10; 2 Cor 3:14, or of being covered/blinded (2 Cor 3:12-18)—even when they read the Scripture and observe the Torah, there is a veil over their hearts and they cannot see the truth (2 Cor 3:15-16)
    • they understood justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh)—i.e. being and doing right before God—in terms of their own actions (deeds) in observing and fulfilling the Law (Torah), not realizing that this is entirely contrary to the true way that people are made right in God’s eyes, namely by trusting in Christ and what God has done through him on behalf of humankind (cf. Rom 3:21-26; 5:6-11; 8:3-4; 9:30-33; Gal 2:16; 3:10-14, 21-22; Phil 3:9).
    • they did not submit in obedience to the justice/righteousness of God in that they did not accept the Gospel and trust in Christ (esp. Rom 10:8-21).

One might be inclined to view the phrase “seeking to establish their own justice/righteousness” in the sense of trying to earn acceptance before God through a person’s own efforts. However, this does not seem to be exactly what Paul means. Compare Philippians 3:9:

“…(that I might gain Christ) and be found in him, not holding my (own) justice/righteousness th(at is) out of the Law, but (rather) th(at which) (is) through trust of Christ—the justice/righteousness th(at is) out of God, upon th(is) trust.”

Paul clearly identifies “his (own) righteousness” with observance of the Law (Torah), using the expression “out of [i.e. from] the Law” (e)k no/mou); strikingly, “out of the Law” is contrasted precisely with “out of God”:

    • my (own) righteousness
      —out of the Law (e)k no/mou)
    • righteousness through Christ
      —out of God (e)k qeou=)

It is not so much that an observant Jew is trying to “earn” salvation, but simply that he/she is observing the Law without recognizing (or being unwilling to recognize) that fulfillment of the Law ultimately is found in Christ. With the manifestation of God’s justice/righteousness in Christ, the old covenant has passed, and a new covenant has come—one that is not based upon the Law, but upon the trust (e)pi\ th=| pi/stei) in Christ. This is the very point that Paul makes in Romans 10:4, which I will analyze in detail in the next daily note.

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