In our survey of the references to prayer in the Pauline letters, there are three remaining references in Romans to be considered briefly:
- Romans 8:26-27
- Romans 10:1
- Romans 12:12
“And even so, the Spirit also takes hold opposite together with (us), in our lack of strength; for th(at for) wh(ich) we should speak out toward (God), according to (what) is necessary, we have not seen [i.e. we do not know], but the Spirit it(self) hits on it over (us), with speechless groanings; and the (One) searching the hearts has seen [i.e. knows] what the mind(-set) of the Spirit (is), (in) that [i.e. because] he hits upon it over (the) holy (one)s according to God.”
Paul’s syntax is a bit tricky to translate literally, but I have attempted to do so above, as cumbersome as it might seem in modern English. I have provided exegetical notes, along with an examination of the passage within the overall context of Romans, in an earlier study, which you should consult. This is one of the key Pauline passages on prayer, and the aforementioned study discusses it in detail.
“Brothers, the good consideration of my heart, and (my) need [de/hsi$] (expressed) toward God over them, (is) for (their) salvation”
This verse marks the beginning of chapter 10, which is at the midpoint of chapters 9-11. These famous chapters, which I discuss in the earlier series “Paul’s View of the Law” and “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, need to be understood within the overall framework of the letter. In some ways there is a parallel between chapters 9-11 and 2-4; certainly there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:
In between (Rom 5-8) Paul presents a kind of “salvation history”, an exposition of the Gospel message for all human beings—Jews and Gentiles alike. Chapters 9-11 actually have the character of a personal appeal or confession—indeed, this characterizes each of the sections (matching the numbered chapters):
- Chapter 9—Paul’s confession (Rom 9:1-5)
- Chapter 10—Paul’s confession (Rom 10:1-4)
- Chapter 11—Paul’s appeal (Rom 11:1-6ff)
The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity. As a missionary and representative (apostle) of Christ, Paul saw how many of his fellow Israelites and Jews had been unwilling to accept the Gospel, some even being openly hostile to his missionary work (as narrated repeatedly in the book of Acts, cf. also 1 Thess 2:14-16, etc). Even Jewish believers could be opposed to his presentation of the Gospel, especially his unique view of the Law and his missionary approach to the Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15:1ff and throughout Galatians. At some level, this must have been traumatic for Paul, and difficult to understand—how could so many of God’s elect people, Israel, fail to trust in Christ? While he never really addresses this directly in his other surviving letters, it is clear that he had thought about it a good deal. The result is the wonderful, if somewhat enigmatic, exposition in Romans 9-11.
Chapter 10 is the second of the three main sections; it may be outlined as follows:
- Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
- Rom 10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
- Rom 10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:
- The proclamation of the Gospel (vv. 14-15)
- Israel’s response to the Gospel—not all have faith (vv. 16-17)
- Evidence of this in the Scriptures (vv. 18-21, citing Psalm 19:4; Deut 32:21; Isa 65:1-2)
As noted above, each of the chapters begins with a personal address by Paul. In chapter 10, the theme of the personal address (vv. 1-4) is: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4). The reference to prayer in verse 1 thus must be understood within this context. Paul expresses his heartfelt desire that his fellow Israelites and Jews would trust in Christ and be saved:
“(my) need (expressed) [de/hsi$] toward God over them (is) for (their) salvation” (v. 1b).
The noun de/hsi$ is something of a Pauline term; of the 18 New Testament occurrences, 12 are in the Pauline letters, including including 7 in the undisputed letters—in addition to its use here, it also occurs in 2 Cor 1:11; 9:14; Phil 1:4 [twice], 19; 4:6. The related verb de/omai is also used in Rom 1:10; 2 Cor 5:20; 8:4; 10:2; Gal 4:12; 1 Thess 3:10. The fundamental meaning of the verb is to be in need; in the context of prayer to God, it denotes making one’s need known (to God). The noun has a similar meaning, as it is used here, for example. It is a need for Paul because it is a burden on his heart, and so he expresses it to God.
In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:
“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”
Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:
“For (the) Anointed (One) is (the) completion [te/lo$] of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”
For more on this verse, cf. my earlier note. Salvation is to be found, not through observing the Torah regulations, but through trust in Christ. His desire is for Israel to be saved, and he believes that this will yet take place, however unlikely it may seem from his current vantage point. Chapters 9-11 represent a complex and powerful treatise on Israel’s ultimate conversion within the framework of early Christian eschatology (cf. the article in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament). Paul’s thoughts on this subject also relate to his current missionary efforts, which include his journey to Jerusalem with the “collection for the saints”, which, in his mind, symbolized the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. Chapters 9-11, including his prayer-wish in 10:1, also reflect this same hope for unity.
“…rejoicing in hope, remaining under in distress, being strong toward speaking out toward (God)”
Chapters 12-15 comprise a new section in Romans, in which Paul offers a range of ethical and practical instruction. If the theme of justification (i.e., being made right before God) by faith is a central theme of the letter in the earlier chapters, then chaps. 12-15 could be described as “a paraenetic development of the consequences of justification” (Fitzmyer, p. 637), illustrating how the justified believer should live. The basis of this instruction is found in the opening verses—the declaration in verse 1 that believers are to present their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God, followed by the directive in verse 2:
“and do not be conformed to the (pattern of) this Age, but be changed in form [i.e. transformed] by the renewing of the mind, unto the considering (acceptable) by you what the wish of God (is)—the good and well-pleasing and complete (thing).”
Justification leads to the transformation of the believer—a change in his/her entire way of thinking and acting; only this requires a certain willingness of the believer to be guided by the Spirit, as well as by the teaching and example of Jesus (embodied in the love principle). In verses 3-8, Paul goes on to emphasize the extent to which this new way of life takes place with the community of believers. In Romans, no less than in the Corinthian letters, Paul strongly emphasizes the ideal of the unity of believers.
This brings us to the instruction in verses 9-21, which, indeed, begins with the love principle (v. 9, cf. 13:8-10). This entire paraenesis follows a distinctive syntactical pattern, with an object noun (or phrase) in the dative followed by a participle that possesses the force of an imperative. This chain of habitual actions and attributes begins with the injunction in verse 9:
“…hating (thoroughly) the evil, (and) being joined [lit. glued] to the good”
The dualistic command has its roots in Old Testament tradition (Amos 5:15; Psalm 97:10), and was developed as an ethical principle within Judaism (e.g., 1QS 1:4-5); Paul’s wording resembles that in Testament of Benjamin 8:1 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 653). The chain of injunctions that follows, utilizing the same grammatical pattern, illustrates what it means to “hate the evil and be joined to the good”. Prayer is just one of these attributes for believers, albeit an important one:
“…being strong/firm toward speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/]” (v. 12)
The verb proskartere/w, which I translate literally above as “be strong/firm toward (something),” occurs primarily in the book of Acts where it functions as a key term expressing the unity of the early believers in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13). Paul uses it again in Rom 13:6, and in Col 4:2 it is used in virtually the same context as here (emphasizing the importance of being devoted to prayer). This verb signifies the active nature of believers’ prayers—the strength/firmness reflecting both their faith and devotion to God, but also their commitment to Christian unity (cf. above), since prayer is made over the needs of others as much as (or more than) it is made for one’s own needs. Certainly also implied is the idea of continual prayer, that believers are constantly engaged in prayer to God, which elsewhere Paul expresses by the adverb a)dialei/ptw$ (“without [any] gap [i.e. interruption],” cf. 1:9; 1 Thess 1:2; 5:17).
References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 33 (Doubleday / Yale: 1993).