Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Romans (Part 3)

Romans 11

The main body of Romans—the probatio—in which Paul develops and expounds his arguments, concludes (in chaps. 9-11) with an extended discussion on the relationship between Israel and believers in Christ (Jews and Gentiles together) as the people of God (cf. the earlier articles on “Paul’s View of the Law [in Romans]”). This has been central to the letter throughout, but in chapters 9-11 he further expounds one portion specifically: “unto salvation to every one that trusts—to the Jew first and (also) to the Greek“. This section has been referred to as a refutatio—a refutation by Paul of (possible) arguments made especially by Gentiles in Rome with regard to the role and position of Jewish believers (cf. B. Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans Eerdmans [2004], pp. 237-9). However, I do not see Paul’s approach here as being appreciably different from the one he takes in earlier in chapters 2-4; there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

    • Rom 2-4—addressed primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Gentiles are on an equal footing before God with regard to both judgment and salvation
    • Rom 9-11—addressed primarily to Gentiles, emphasizing the (future) salvation of Israelites/Jews and their inclusion into the body of Christ

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):

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 here in Romans 9-11.

Here is an outline of chapters 9 and 10:

    • Romans 9
      • Rom 9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)
      • Rom 9:6-13—Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.
      • Rom 9:14-33—Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question.
    • Romans 10
      • 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 we consider chapter 11, specifically, in this context, the following observations are especially significant:

    • The first argument (in Rom 9:6-13) of the section as whole, begins with the statement: “for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel” (v. 6b), i.e. not all Israelites are (the true) Israel.
    • Paul expounds this with the examples of Abraham and Isaac, to emphasize that true sonship and inheritance (of the blessing, etc) comes not from natural birth and ethnicity, but from the promise and favor of God (and God chooses and calls out whomsoever he wishes).
    • This is further applied in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel (the main theme of chapter 10)—Gentiles have responded to the Gospel, trusting in Christ, while many Israelites, God’s elect people, have failed (or refused) to accept Christ.

There is thus a fundamental connection between 9:6b and 10:15a:

“for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel”
or, “for not all the (one)s out of Israel are Israel” (9:6b)
“but not all (of them) listened under [i.e. obeyed] the good message” (10:15a)

Both use the expression “not all” (ou) pa/nte$), though the syntax of 9:6b makes this more difficult to see in translation. In any case, the implication is clear—only those (Israelites) who accept the Gospel are the true Israel. Now, to continue on with an analysis of chapter 11:

Romans 11:1-12

Paul’s initial address in Rom 11:1-12 contains a central argument (from Scripture), bracketed by two rhetorical questions (introduced with the formula le/gw ou@n, “I relate therefore…”). The central argument (in verses 3-10) draws upon the narrative in 1 Kings 19:9-18, of God’s revelation to Elijah as he sought refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. Paul refers specifically to verses 10, 14, where Elijah laments to YHWH that he is the only prophet (of YHWH) left who has not been killed, and that the rest of Israel has forsaken the covenant (Rom 11:2b-3); God responds in verse 18 to the effect that there are still seven thousand in Israel who have not “bowed the knee to Baal”. Note how Paul phrases this in Rom 11:4: “I have left down [i.e. left behind] for myself seven thousand…”—the addition of e)mautw=| (“for/to myself”), shifts the meaning slightly from the original context of being spared from death (by the sword) to being chosen by God. We should observe carefully the points that Paul expounds from this passage:

    • Verse 5—he applies the situation in 1 Kings 19:9-18 to his own (current) time: “so then, even now in (this) time, there has come to be a (remainder) left behind [lei=mma] according to (the) gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)”. In verse 4, the verb used is kataleip/w (“leave down, leave behind”); the noun lei=mma is related to lei/pw, indicating something which is left (behind), either in a positive or negative sense. The word lei=mma is typically translated as “remainder” or “remnant”; but here, as indicated above, this remnant is understood as a people gathered out (the noun e)klogh/, from e)kle/gomai, “gather out”), i.e. elected by God, just as Israel herself was chosen as his people.
    • Verse 6—this gathering out is the result of the favor (xa/ri$) of God, and not because of anything the people have done. Here Paul moves away from the Old Testament passage again, which seems to tie the people’s being spared with their particular religious behavior; instead, he emphasizes that the gathering out is no longer (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, not any more”) based on works (“out of works”, e)c e&rgwn). He has already applied this very idea to the example of Abraham in Galatians 3 and Romans 4.
    • Verse 7—only the remnant obtains what Israel seeks after (cf. Rom 9:30-33), the rest were hardened (lit. turned to stone). The metaphor of “hardening the heart” is common in the Old Testament, most famously in the example of Pharaoh in the Exodus narrative, which Paul references in Rom 9:14-18.
    • Verse 12—this verse is transitional, following Paul’s answer to the (second) rhetorical question (in verse 11), and leading into the address of vv. 13-24. He introduces the first of several qal wahomer exclamations, arguing from the lesser to the greater—i.e., if in this lesser/inferior case it is so, then how much more so when…! The contrast is between Israel’s h%tthma (“loss, defeat”), parallel with para/ptwma (“falling alongside [i.e. over the line]”), and their plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”). The exact meaning of plh/rwma here is important for the overall flow and force of Paul’s argument; I think it is best to understand it in the sense of a restoration (filling up) of what was lost.

Romans 11:13-24

Romans 11:13-24 is the first of two addresses Paul makes to Gentile believers specifically, with regard to Israel and its salvation (vv. 13-14).

    • Verse 14—”if… I will [i.e. that I might] save some of them”—note Paul’s use of ti/$ (“some of them”)
    • Verses 15-16—Paul applies three more qal wahomer-style arguments, similar to the one in verse 12:
      • Israel’s a)pobolh/ (“casting away from”) and their pro/slhmyi$ (“taking/receiving toward”); it is not entirely clearly whether these should be understood as subjective genitives (their rejection/acceptance of the Gospel) or objective genitives (their rejection/acceptance by God), since either is possible, and they actually represent two aspects of the same situation.
      • The (currently) small number of Israelite believers as the a)pa/rxh (“beginning of [lit. from]”, i.e. the first grain of the harvest) and the (future) full number as the fu/rama (“[mass of] mixed/kneaded [dough]”).
      • This may also refer to the current “remnant” of Israel as the r(i/za (“root”), and those who will follow as the kla/doi (“branches”); though the “root” perhaps should be understood more generally as the true people of God (faithful Israel) extending back to Abraham. The context of vv. 17-24 strongly suggests this latter, wider interpretation.
    • Verses 17ff—in the illustration of the olive tree and its branches, some branches are “broken out” (e)cekla/sqhsan) and others are (currently) being “poked in” (e)nekentri/sqh$); the sense generally is that the new branches from the “wild olive” tree (i.e. Gentiles) take the place of those that were broken off.
    • Verse 20—the branches were broken off specifically for “lack of trust” (a)pisti/a), i.e. a failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Christ. This has to be understood in terms of Rom 9:6; 10:15 (cf. above).
    • Verse 23—similarly the grafting back in of branches broken off depends entirely on “not remaining in [i.e. upon] a lack of trust”—that is, they must come to trust in Christ.

Romans 11:25-32

Romans 11:25-32, the second of the two addresses directed at Gentile believers deals more directly with the question of Israel’s ultimate salvation. Paul now adopts a more decidedly eschatological focus.

    • Verse 25—Israel’s hardness (i.e. their inability/unwillingness to accept the Gospel) lasts until “the fulness of the nations should come in”. The use here of plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”) for the nations (Gentiles) is parallel to that in verse 12 for Israel; Paul probably understands it in the sense of the full (or complete) number, measure, etc. It is only then, once the Gentiles have fully come to Christ, that “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26a).
    • Verse 26-27—the Scriptures Paul cites here are important for an understanding of v. 26a; the primary citation is from Isaiah 59:20-21a, along with Isa 27:9—the combination of elements is significant:
      • “the one rescuing” (o( r(uo/meno$)—Christ himself (1 Thess 1:10, etc), or God working through Christ.
      • “he will turn away from Jacob [i.e. Israel] a lack of (proper) fear [a)sebei/a] (of God)”—cf. Rom 1:18; here a)sebei/a (lack of fear/reverence) is synonymous with sin and wickedness in general, but also, specifically, with a lack of trust (a)pisti/a) in Christ. On the idea of Christ turning people from evil (using the verb a)postre/fw), see Acts 3:26.
      • “and this is the (agreement) set through [diaqh/kh] to them alongside [i.e. with] me”—diaqh/kh here in the sense of an agreement (covenant) between two parties (according to the Hebrew tyr!B=), referring to the “new covenant” in Christ and not the old covenant of Sinai and the Torah (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18). For the principal Old Testament passage relating to the “new covenant”, see Jer 31:31-34.
      • “when I should take away from (them) their sins”—probably an allusion to Isa 27:9, here set in parallel with the citation from Isa 59:21a, i.e. “turning them away from” and “taking away from them”. For the specific association between removal of sin (and its power), through the death of Christ, and the “new covenant”, see Jesus’ words in Mark 14:24 (par Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20).
    • Verses 28-29—the juxtaposition (me\nde/ “on the one hand… on the other hand…”) Paul establishes in verse 28 must be analyzed and treated with great care:
      • me/n (on the one hand)—
        • kata\ to\ eu)agge/lion (“according to the good message”)
          • e)xqroi/ (“[they are] enemies“)
            • di’ u(ma=$ (“through you”, i.e. for your sake)
      • de/ (on the other hand)—
        • kata\ th\n e)klogh/n (“according to the gathering out”)
          • a)gaphtoi/ (“[they are] loved“)
            • dia\ tou\$ pate/ra$ (“through [i.e. because of ] the fathers”)
      • Paul uses this construction to highlight the sense in which they are (currently) hostile to the Gospel—it is for the sake of Gentiles, that they should come to Christ, as Paul describes earlier in vv. 11-24, 25 (cf. also 10:19-21). For more on this difficult teaching, see below.
    • Verse 31—the mercy which will be shown to Israel is the same that has been shown to Gentiles—that is, the sacrificial work of God in Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel, which has the power to make human beings right before God and to free them from the enslaving power of sin.

Romans 11:26 and Pauline Eschatology

Finally, it is left to address specifically the statement in v. 26a: “and thus all Israel will be saved”. There are a number of ways this has been interpreted, which I represent by the following five options:

    1. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved by the mercy and favor of God, but apart from their coming to faith in Christ.
    2. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved collectively through the work of Christ, but in a mysterious way understood only by God, and not necessarily in the sense of “becoming Christians”.
    3. All Israelites alive at the return of Christ will come to faith in him, and will thus be saved.
    4. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christ.
    5. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Based on the statement in Rom 9:6 and the olive tree illustration in 11:17-24, Paul certainly would have affirmed the fourth and fifth views above, in the sense that the true Israel is to be identified with believers in Christ (cf. also Rom 2:28-29). However, in Romans 11, and especially in verses 25-32, it would seem that he actually has something like view #3 in mind—namely that, at the end of the age, upon the return of Christ (or shortly before), there would be a widespread conversion of all Israelites and Jews currently living, that together (and/or all at once) they would come to faith in Christ. It is important to remember that, when Paul penned Romans, many, if not most, of the Israelites and Jews of his own generation, who had failed or refused to accept the Gospel, were still living, and he could envision the possibility that they could all still come to faith. As is abundantly clear from his letters (and as pointed out all through this series), Paul, like most early Christians, expected Christ’s return and the end of the current age to occur very soon, presumably within the lifetime of most believers. In this context, Paul’s eschatological hope for Israel here makes good sense. Admittedly, it is rather more difficult to apply to the situation today, where nearly two thousand years have gone by, and many generations of Israelites and Jews have passed away—a situation, I am quite certain, that never would have occurred to Paul. Even so, it is still possible to affirm the belief (or at least the hope) that there will be a widespread conversion of Israel before the return of Christ; and, indeed, may Christians today hold just such a view.

In the previous articles in this series, we saw how the mission to the Gentiles was a fundamental part of the early Christian eschatology, going back to the Gospel tradition (the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse, Mark 13:9-11 par, etc). This is not at all incompatible with the imminent eschatology of early Christians, as we have seen, since it was quite possible to envision a (relatively short) period of missionary work in the surrounding nations (i.e. the Roman Empire, or the geographical extent, more or less, of the world as then known) here at the close of the present Age. Paul was well aware of his role in this, and of its eschatological implications. At the time he wrote his letter to the Romans, he may have sensed that this mission work (to the Gentile world) was reaching its climax, nearing its end (15:23-24, 29ff; 16:20, [25-26]), and that a widespread conversion of Israelites and Jews would soon follow. Some of the visions in the book of Revelation may evince a similar idea, of a conversion of Jews to faith in Christ at the end-time (see especially Rev 7:1-8ff, my notes on that passage).

Interestingly, in recent decades, there have been an increasing number of commentators and theologians who would adopt an interpretation along the lines of #1 and 2 above, at least in the sense that Israelites and Jews will be saved by God without having to “convert” or “become Christian”. This may be related to what is called the “Two Covenants” or “Dual Covenant” theory, which I will discuss as part of an upcoming series on the Covenant and People of God concepts.

Most distinctive is Paul’s teaching that Israel’s ‘hardening’ against the Gospel is directly related to the missionary outreach to Gentiles. This reflects historical reality, in that there were Jews who fiercely opposed the early Christian mission, according to Paul’s own testimony and the narrative in the book of Acts. Persecution often fuels the success of a religious movement, galvanizing support and helping to forge a strong and distinctive identity. This may also reflect, at some level, a degree of “cognitive dissonance”—Paul and other Christians were forced to explain the success of the mission among Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Italy (Rome), while many Jews, who (as the elect people of God) should have been more receptive, did not accept the Gospel. This leads Paul to two different explanations which he brings together in these chapters:

    • Not all Israelites are the true Israel (9:6), and
    • They fell away (i.e. refused to believe) in order to make room for the Gentiles to come to faith
      —this last proposition is most vividly illustrated by the image of the olive tree and the branches (11:17-24)
      • Paul viewed Christianity as the outgrowth of (faithful) Israel stretching back to Abraham (i.e., the “remnant” is the root of the tree)
      • The branches which are faithful and remain in the tree (cf. John 15:1-11) are the early Jewish believers
      • The branches of the wild olive tree are the Gentiles—believers are grafted into the tree of ‘true Israel’
      • The branches which were broken off (i.e., unbelieving Israelites and Jews) may yet come to faith and be grafted back in

Once the full number (or measure) of Gentiles have come to faith, then the unbelieving Israelites and Jews will have the covering removed from their mind (2 Cor 3:14-15) and will come to trust in Christ as well. This, at least, is how Paul appears to have viewed the matter. Fitting it into a particular eschatological framework today is, of course, especially difficult, as indicated by the wide range of interpretive approaches that have been adopted over the years.

January 11: Baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12)

Baptism: Union with Christ and Participation in His Death

The unique contribution made by Paul to the early Christian understanding of baptism was his emphasis on the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Elsewhere, he makes use of the simple symbolism of washing (vb lou/w), i.e., the earlier/original idea of a cleansing of sin, referring to the waters that (symbolically) wash away a person’s sins—1 Cor 6:11; also Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5. However, when it comes to the distinctly Christian development of the dunking/washing ritual (baptism)—(1) being performed “in the name of Jesus”, and (2) the association with the Holy Spirit (cf. the previous two notes)—Paul gave to these elements of the ritual a greater theological depth and significance. He did this primarily through his emphasis on the participatory aspect; that is to say, baptism symbolized the believer’s union with Jesus Christ, and, with it, a participation in Jesus’ own death.

Romans 6:3-4

This was very much a theological emphasis of Paul’s, even when there was no particular reference to baptism—see, most notably, Galatians 2:19-21 (also 5:24; 6:14). The central idea is that, through trust and union with Jesus, we die to sin (and its power). This goes a step beyond the traditional religious requirement of repenting from one’s sins; it means that the believer in Christ is actually dead to the power of sin. For Paul, it is the sacrificial death of Jesus that accomplishes this, freeing humankind from bondage to sin. This is the central tenet of Pauline soteriology, best and most fully expounded in chapters 5-8 of Romans; and it is in Romans 6:1-11 that Paul draws upon the baptism ritual to illustrate how believers have died to sin (and so must think and act accordingly). The ethical, paraenetic thrust of the passage is clear from the rhetorical question posed in verse 1 (“Shall we remain upon sin…?”), and which Paul answers himself in verse 2: “May it not come to be so! We, the (one)s who died away to sin, how shall we yet live in it?”. This leads to the argument based on the significance of Christian baptism:

“Or, are you without knowledge that, we, as (many) as were dunked [e)bapti/sqhmen] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? So we were buried together with him through the dunking [ba/ptisma] into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.” (vv. 3-4)

The concluding exhortation in v. 4 is part of the ethical instruction Paul is giving in these verses, but it, in turn, is based on a key theological and Christological point: we should “walk in newness of life” because we are united with both Jesus’ death and his resurrection:

“For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (it cannot be) other (that that) we will also be (in the likeness) of his standing up (out of the dead)…. And, if we died away with (the) Anointed, we trust that we also will live together with him, having seen [i.e. known] that (the) Anointed (One), (hav)ing been raised out of the dead, does not die away any longer, (and) Death no longer acts as Lord (over) him.” (vv. 5, 8-9)

This idea of baptism symbolizing our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection does not appear to be part of the earliest Christian understanding of the dunking ritual (based on the evidence in the book of Acts, as discussed in the previous notes). How, then, did Paul come to emphasize and develop this particular aspect? Several factors seem to be involved. First, it is a natural development of the ritual action—i.e., stepping down into the water represents death, while emerging again indicates the beginning of new life. And, even though this symbolic dimension was, it seems, not part of either the Johannine dunkings or the earliest Christian baptisms, it is known from contemporary initiation rituals (in the mystery cults, etc). Tertullian specifically notes the similarities (On Baptism 5.1), and, indeed, it is to be expected that early Christians (and perhaps as early as Paul) would come to interpret baptism in a corresponding way.

Second, the ritual meal (the Lord’s Supper) specifically signified a participation of believers in Jesus’ death, and it would be natural for the baptism ritual to take on a similar significance. Unfortunately, we have precious little detail in the New Testament on how the earliest Christians viewed the Lord’s Supper, but the Gospel tradition, attested in multiple sources (Mark 14:22-25 par; 1 Cor 12:23-26ff; cf. also John 6:51-58), suggests that the ritual would have carried this meaning from the earliest times.

Third, it is a natural development of the fundamental belief that believers are united with Jesus. This union means that we are also joined with him in his death, and all that was accomplished in it. Note how Paul has developed the traditional idea of being baptized “into [ei)$] the name of Jesus” (cf. the earlier note), and the expression which would have signified that a person belonged to Jesus, as his trusting follower. Now, however, in Rom 6:3, Paul speaks simply of being baptized “into [ei)$] the Anointed Yeshua” —that is, into the person of Jesus himself. This is essentially equivalent with idea of being “in [e)n] Christ”, an expression (and theological statement) used repeatedly by Paul (8:1-2; 12:5; 1 Cor 1:30, et al), including here at the close of the passage (v. 11).

Finally, though sometimes overlooked, we have the Gospel tradition of the saying of Jesus whereby he refers to his suffering and death as a “dunking” (i.e. baptism, ba/ptisma); there are two ‘versions’ of this saying:

“Are you able to drink (of) the (same) drinking cup that I drink (from)? or to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with) the (same) dunking [ba/ptisma] that I am dunked [bapti/zomai]?…” (Mark 10:38f)
“And I hold a dunking [ba/ptisma] (that I am) to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with), and I am held (tight) together until the (time when) it should be completed!” (Luke 12:50)

The Markan version, with its pairing of the cup and the “dunking”, effectively establishes both Christian rituals—Lord’s Supper and Baptism—as being fundamentally tied to the disciple’s participation in Jesus death.

Colossians 2:12

The participatory aspect of baptism is stated again in Colossians 2:12, and in similar ethical, exhortational context—cf. verse 6: “So, as you received the Anointed Yeshua, the Lord, alongside, you must walk about in him [e)n au)tw=|]…”. This is the familiar Pauline idea of being “in Christ”, and is repeated in verses 10-11:

“…and you are in him [e)n au)tw=|] having been made full, (in the one) who is the head of all chief (rule) and authority, in whom [e)n w!|] also you were cut around [i.e. circumcised]—a cutting round [i.e. circumcision] done without hands, in the sinking out (away) from the body of the flesh, in the cutting round of (the) Anointed—”

The statement regarding baptism follows:

“(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [ba/ptisma], in whom [e)n w!|] also you were raised together, through the trust (you have) of the (power) of God working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead” (v. 12)

This is precisely the same dying and rising with Christ theme expressed in Rom 6:3-4, stated more concisely in context of the framing concept of being “in Christ”. What is notable here is the way that Paul (accepting the genuine authorship of Colossians) blends baptism together with the motif of circumcision, suggesting that the ritual dunking holds a similar place for believers (in the New Covenant) as circumcision did for Israel (in the Old Covenant). This is the only place in the New Testament where such a parallel is drawn; however, the comparison here is perhaps better understood in terms of the nature and significance of the ritual action—that is, of cutting away the flesh. It very much fits the Pauline idea of the believer as a new creation, having set aside the old nature of things that had been in bondage under sin; indeed, this is the aspect Paul emphasizes here, when he refers to the ‘putting off’ (lit. sinking out away from, a)pe/kdusi$) the “body of the flesh”, as a snake would shed its skin. The same point is made in verse 13, uniting even more closely the motifs of baptism and circumcision:

“and you, being dead [in] the (moment)s of falling alongside, and in the (outer) edge of enclosure of the flesh, he (has) made you alive together with him, (hav)ing shown favor to you…”

I have translated the noun a)krobusti/a quite literally as “(outer) edge of enclosure”, rendered more commonly (and correctly) as “foreskin” (i.e. of the male genital organ). The paraptw/mata are the failings or sins (lit. “[moment]s of falling alongside”) of the believer, especially those committed while still under bondage to the power of sin. The “foreskin” signifies the outermost part of this old condition, and thus that which is most dead. Through trust in Jesus, and symbolized by the baptism ritual, this ‘old nature’ is cut off and put away—the believer dies to the old and comes alive again to the new.

This symbolic dimension of baptism is more frequently expressed with clothing imagery—i.e., of removing an old garment and “putting on” one that is new. This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we explore Paul’s understanding of the role of the Spirit in the baptism ritual.

January 5: Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 3:26

Believers as the “Sons of God”

Having examined the development of the early Christian belief regarding Jesus as the Son of God (and his “birth” as the Son), it is now time, in these Christmas season notes, to consider the second part of the paradigm—the identity of believers as the sons (or children) of God. If the first part was studied in terms of the Gospel message, the second part will be explored in terms of Christian experience. That is to say, how do we, as believers, come to experience our identity as children of God? Even as the Christology of the New Testament developed, progressively, through revelation and contemplation, so the experience of the believer in Christ is also a process. This process may be defined in four ‘stages’, which mirror those of the Christological development:

    • Jesus as the Son of God through his resurrection and exaltation
      • Recognized as Son from the point of his Baptism
        • Called the Son of God from the very time of his Birth
          • His pre-existent deity as the eternal Son
          • Our predestination/election as Sons of God
        • Our spiritual birth as God’s Children, through trust in Jesus
      • The symbolic recognition of this Sonship in the Baptism ritual
    • The final realization as Sons of God in our resurrection (and exaltation)

It is in the Johannine Writings (the Gospel and 1 John) that the central themes (the innermost pair above) of Jesus’ pre-existent deity and the pre-existent election of believers is most prominent. This was already discussed in the previous note, in considering John 1:12-14, where both themes are combined, using the same image of birth/sonship. However, in the Johannine writings, only Jesus is ever called “Son” (ui(o/$); for believers, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used instead—1:12; 11:52; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2. The plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) is used in Jn 12:36, in the specific expression “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$, also Lk 16:8, and by Paul in 1 Thess 5:5). That particular expression draws on the earlier ethical-religious idea of the righteous—i.e., the faithful ones of Israel—as God’s sons. This language is part of Israelite and Jewish wisdom traditions (e.g., Wisdom 2:13, 18; 5:5; Sirach 4:10), and is used by Jesus in his teaching (Matt 5:9, 45 [par Lk 6:35]; 13:38; Luke 16:8, etc).

Outside of the Johannine writings, it is Paul who makes most use of the birth/sonship theme, applying it to believers on numerous occasions. He also is influenced by Old Testament tradition, for example, in the way he cites Hosea 1:10 in Rom 9:26, i.e., of faithful Israelites as “sons of the living God” —he applies this specifically to the “remnant” of Israel that has trusted in Jesus (v. 27). Thus, the divine sonship of believers is tied directly to faith in Jesus (the Son). This is very much the emphasis in the Gospel and letters of John as well—believers are called the “children” (te/kna) of God, and are identified as ones “having come to be born” (perfect participle of genna/w) out of God, because they/we trust in Jesus as God’s Son. This will be discussed further below.

If we keep in mind the four ‘stages’ indicated above, the first two will be dealt with in this note, focusing on two representative verses:

    1. Pre-existent sonship (predestination/election as sons)
    2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus
    3. Sonship recognized/symbolized in the ritual of Baptism
    4. Sonship realized through resurrection/exaltation
1. Pre-existent Sonship (Ephesians 1:5)

The idea of believers’ pre-existent sonship—that is, of our election/predestination as the sons/children of God—is most clearly stated in Ephesians 1:4-5:

“…even as He gathered us out in him [i.e. in Christ] before the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, (for) us to be holy and without flaw (there) in His sight, in love, (hav)ing marked us out before(hand) unto (our) placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], through Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto Him, according to the good consideration of His will.”

Many critical commentators would question or dispute the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, but this passage very much reflects Paul’s genuine thought. In particular, he utilizes the key word ui(oqesi/a, meaning the placing (from the verb ti/qhmi) of someone as a son (ui(o/$); indeed, he is the only New Testament author to use this noun (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal 4:5). In English, it is typically translated “adoption”, but this obscures the important etymological tie with the word son (ui(o/$). A comparison with Romans 8:14-16 is instructive:

“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God [ui(oi\ qeou=]. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, into fear, but (rather) you received the Spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], in which we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ For the Spirit it(self) gives witness together with our spirit that we are children of God [te/kna qeou=].”

Paul’s syntax here indicates that he has in mind the sonship of believers primarily in terms of our receiving the Spirit, and that this occurred at the point when we came to trust in Jesus (cf. below). However, as he makes clear in vv. 29-30, this is part of a process which begins with the election/predestination of believers:

“(For it is) that the (ones) whom He knew before(hand), He also marked out before(hand) (in the) shape together of the image of His Son, unto his [i.e. Jesus’] being the first-formed among many brothers…”

Thus, clearly, believers are predestined by God to be His sons, though this is defined entirely in terms of Jesus’ own Sonship. On the application of the verbs proginw/skw (“know before[hand]”) and proori/zw (“mark out before[hand]”) to believers, cf. also 1 Cor 2:7; Rom 11:2; Eph 1:5, 11.

The language and imagery Paul uses in Gal 4:4-6 is similar to that of Rom 8:14-16:

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent out from (Him) His Son…(so) that he would purchase out the (one)s under the Law, (so) that we would receive from (Him) the placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]. And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

It is by the Spirit that we receive sonship, and yet, even before this, believers already have the identity as sons (“because we are sons…”). This confirms again that, for Paul, the sonship of believers is comprehensive, and part of a process that is prior even to our coming to faith.

2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus (Gal 3:26)

It hardly needs to be pointed out the centrality of trust in Jesus for the identity of believers (as sons/children of God). This is clear enough from the passages we have already considered (above), but it is worth noting several verses where this association is made explicit. I begin with Galatians 3:26:

“For you all are sons of God through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

It is hard to imagine a more concise and direct statement. One might, however, clarify something of the context for this statement—it has to do, again, with the traditional idea of Israel (esp. the faithful Israelites) as the sons/children of God. Fundamentally, this is based on the ancient covenant concept, as applied within the Israelite religious setting. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul radically re-interprets the covenant idea; actually this reflects a process of interpretation that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, but Paul develops it in a unique way, making the religious identity of God’s people depend entirely on trust in Jesus. This necessitated a complete break from the earlier covenant, introduced in the time of Abraham, and for which the Law (Torah) represented the binding terms. Through Jesus there is a new agreement, and the Torah is no longer binding for believers; instead, it is trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit, which binds people to God (as His sons/children).

This explains the parallel between Gal 3:26 and the earlier statement in verse 7: “Therefore you must know that the (one)s (who are born) out of trust [i.e. in Jesus], these are the sons of Abraham”. I have filled in the expression oi( e)k pi/stew$ (“the [one]s out of trust”) with the idea of being born, as this relates to being a “son”. The proper point of reference is verse 2, where the focus is on receiving the Spirit—Paul asks the Galatians whether they received it “out of works of the Law” (i.e., by observing the Torah) or “out of the hearing of trust” (i.e., trusting in the Gospel message they heard). These two themes—receiving the Spirit and being born (as sons)—are combined most effectively in the Gospel of John, especially in the famous discourse with Nicodemus, 3:3-8. That coming to be born “out of the Spirit” is also defined in terms of trust in Jesus is clear enough from what follows in vv. 11-15ff. It is also expressed definitively in the prologue (1:12-13), as we saw in the previous note. It is worth comparing Jn 1:12 with Rom 8:14 (cf. above):

“But as (many) as received him, to them, to the (one)s trusting in his name, he gave the ability to become the children of God” (Jn 1:12)
“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14)

December 29: Galatians 4:4

Jesus as the Son of God: His Human Birth

In the previous notes, we saw how the earliest Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God was related directly to his resurrection (and exaltation to heaven), as the moment when he was “born” as God’s Son (cf. Acts 13:33, citing Psalm 2:7; cp. Heb 5:5). With the development of the early Gospel tradition, Christians were able to give expression to the growing awareness that Jesus must have been God’s Son even before the resurrection—that is, all during the period of his earthly ministry, beginning with his baptism (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22 par, again drawing upon Psalm 2:7). It followed naturally that this belief would be extended to the entire period of Jesus’ earthly life, beginning with his physical/biological birth as a human being. The tradition of the supernatural (virginal) conception, recorded clearly enough in the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives (Matt 1-2, Luke 1-2), effectively testifies to Jesus’ character as the Son of God. The Infancy narratives, while drawing on earlier historical traditions, etc, were almost certainly the last portion of the Gospel narrative to be developed. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the birth of Jesus is scarcely mentioned at all anywhere else in the New Testament. There are two allusions in Paul’s letters, both of which are earlier in time than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (and their Infancy narratives).

Galatians 4:4

The clearest Pauline reference is in Galatians 4:4:

“…but when the fullness of time came, God set (forth) out from (Himself) [i.e. sent out] His Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under (the) Law”

The key phrase in italics is geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$, “coming to be out of a woman”; it is similar to the phrase in Rom 1:3 (cf. the prior note on v. 4):

“…the (one) coming to be out of (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh”

The participial phrase “coming to be out of the seed of David” is generally equivalent with “coming to be out of a woman”. In some manuscripts (and ancient versions) of both passages, it is the participle gennw/menon (from genna/w) instead of geno/menon (from gi/nomai). The verbs gi/nomai and genna/w are related, and both essentially mean “come to be, become”; each can also mean specifically “come to be born“, but this is more commonly denoted by genna/w rather than gi/nomai. The participle gennw/menon thus may be intended to make more clear that it is the birth of Jesus (a real human birth) that is being referenced.

Both in Rom 1:3 and here in Gal 4:4, Paul’s wording suggests that Jesus was God’s Son prior to his birth. Even if Rom 1:3-4 represents an older Christological formula adopted by Paul (as many commentators think), the opening words of v. 3, leading into the formula, likely are Paul’s own: “about His Son…”. In Galatians 4:4, the theological orientation is more clearly expressed: “God sent out His Son…”; a more literal rendering of the verb e)cape/steilen would be “set (forth) out from”, i.e. out from Himself, or out from where He is. At the very least, this suggests a heavenly origin for Jesus as God’s Son, much as we see in the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. The same sort of wording occurs in Romans 8:3:

“For the (thing that it was) without power for the Law (to do), in which it was without strength through the flesh, God (did by) sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and, about [i.e. regarding] sin, He brought down judgment on sin in the flesh.”

A different verb is used—the more common pe/mpw (“send”)—but the idea is essentially the same: God sent His Son to be born as a human being. If we combine the key phrasing of Rom 1:3, Gal 4:4, and Rom 8:3 together, it results in a snapshot of Pauline theology (and Christology):

    • “coming to be out of the seed of David” (Rom 1:3)—Jesus as the Messiah
    • “coming to be out of a woman” (Gal 4:4)—the human birth of Jesus
    • “coming to be under the Law” (Gal 4:4)—joining with humankind under bondage to the Law
    • “…in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3)—sharing in humankind’s bondage under the power of sin

The last point is potentially problematic for orthodox Christology; Paul was no doubt aware of this (in his own way), and he states he matter carefully (compare with 2 Cor 5:21). His emphasis is not on Jesus’ relation to sin as a human being, but on the fact that, as a result of his life and work on earth (as a human being), the ruling power of sin in the flesh is condemned. The verb katakri/nw literally means “bring down judgment” or “judge against”, a legal term indicating the passing of a sentence against crime, etc, including the idea of punishment and of rendering a person unable to pursue evil. The influence of sin in the “flesh” is not entirely removed for human beings (believers), but its ruling power is ended.

Galatians 4:4ff and Romans 8:3ff also share the important theme that Jesus’ Sonship, and his saving work as a human being, is the basis for the sonship of believers—our own identity as sons/children of God. In particular, Rom 8:12-17 is very close in thought to Gal 4:4-7; this will be touched on further in an upcoming note in this Christmas series.

The many similarities in subject matter and thought, between Galatians and Romans, suggests that they were written at roughly the same time, perhaps no more than a few years apart—according to the best estimates, during a period c. 54-58 A.D. Indeed, these allusions to Jesus’ birth would seem to derive from an earlier time than that of the Infancy narratives (c. 70-80?). To judge from the surviving material, there was little interest in the details of Jesus’ birth in the earliest period (c. 30-60 A.D.); indeed, his human birth and childhood does not appear to have been part of the early Gospel preaching at all (compared with his baptism, ministry, death and resurrection). This is also confirmed by the way the Gospel narratives themselves developed, with no Infancy narrative in either the core Synoptic Tradition (as represented by Mark) or the Johannine.

Eventually, however, historical and literary traditions regarding Jesus’ birth were included as part of the Gospel. By at least 80 A.D. (if not earlier) the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives had been composed. The major differences between these narratives, along with the fact that they share certain core (historical) traditions, suggests that a period of development in the tradition was involved, spanning a number of years (c. 50-70 A.D.?). It is also worth noting that nearly all of the themes from the earlier Gospel tradition are present, in some form, in the Infancy narratives, including the fundamental belief in Jesus as the Son of God. It is important to consider how this is expressed in the Matthean and Lukan narratives; this we will do in the next daily note.

December 27: Romans 1:4

In the previous note, we saw how, in the earliest Christian preaching, the deity of Jesus—and, in particular, his identity as the Son of God—was understood primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. The birth/sonship motif was introduced by way of Psalm 2:7, applied to Jesus (as the Messiah). This featured in the kerygma of Paul’s Antioch speech in Acts 13 (vv. 32-33), but it is also representative of the wider preaching done by the first missionaries, reflecting a seminal Christology. Long before the Infancy narratives had been written—and even years before any Gospel was written at all—there was a core story of Jesus’ birth, of how he can to be “born” as the Son of God.

If the book of Acts preserves Gospel preaching (in substance, at least) from the early years c. 30-45 A.D., then the Pauline letters represent the next stage of development, documents recording early Christian theology in written form, during the years c. 45-60. And, in those letters, the title “Son of God”, and references to Jesus as God’s Son, occur more frequently than they do in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. The few passages which mention God sending his Son (Rom 8:3, 32; Gal 4:4ff) may allude to a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity (cp. with Phil 2:6-11)—at any rate, they certainly point in that direction. However, most of Paul’s references do not evince a Christology that goes much beyond what we see in the book of Acts. Two of the earliest such references to Jesus as God’s Son, like those by Paul in the Acts speeches, etc, are still very much defined in relation to the resurrection.

1 and 2 Thessalonians are likely are the earliest of Paul’s surviving letters, dating perhaps from 49-50 A.D. They contain just one reference to Jesus as God’s Son—the eschatological notice in 1 Thess 1:10:

“…how you turned back toward God, away from the images, to be a slave for the living and true God, and to remain up (waiting for) His Son (from) out of the heavens, whom He raised out of the dead—Yeshua, the (one hav)ing rescued us out of the coming anger (of God)”.

Here, again, Jesus’ status as God’s Son appears to be tied to his resurrection. This is more or less assumed by Paul in the subsequent letters, but never again stated so clearly in terms of the traditional belief. Within just a few years, apparently, Paul’s Christological understanding had deepened; certainly, by the time he wrote 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, in the mid-late 50s, he refers to Jesus as God’s Son somewhat differently, with new points of emphasis. Romans, in many ways, represents the pinnacle of his theology; however, it begins with a doctrinal formulation (1:3-4) that many commentators regard as much earlier, a creedal statement that Paul inherited and adapted. This critical hypothesis is probably correct, given the atypical language, phrasing and theological emphases that occur in these two verses. If it does indeed represent an older, established creedal formula, then it may have been in existence any number of years prior to being incorporated by Paul in the opening of Romans. It may well reflect the Christological understanding of believers c. 45-50 A.D.

Romans 1:4

Here is the statement in Rom 1:3-4, given in literal translation:

“…about His Son, the (one hav)ing come to be out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God, in power, according to the spirit of holiness, out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead—Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord”

Two participial phrases are set in parallel:

    • “coming to be out of the seed of David
      • according to the flesh”
    • “being marked out (as) Son of God…
      • according to the spirit of holiness”

The modifying prepositional phrases (with kata/, “according to”) are also parallel. The first clearly refers to Jesus’ human birth, while the second, properly, to his “birth” as the Son of God. Both aspects of Jesus’ person and identity are fundamentally Messianic. The first phrase indicates that he was the Davidic (royal) Messiah from the time of his birth, and apparently, assumes the tradition of a Davidic geneaology (cp. Matt 1:1-17). The second phrase, most likely builds on the early Christological statements in Acts 13:32-33, etc (cf. the previous note), which applies Psalm 2:7 to Jesus, in the context of the resurrection, and so defines his identity as the “Son of God”. This basic qualification of the title would seem to be confirmed by the wording in verse 4, especially the modifying expression “in power” and the specific phrase “out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead”.

The expression “in power” (e)n duna/mei) refers to God’s power (duna/mi$) that raised Jesus from the dead, as seems clear from Paul’s wording in 1 Cor 6:14:

“And God raised the Lord [i.e. Jesus] and will (also) raise us through His power [dia\ th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=]”

The power that raised Jesus also established him as God’s Son, in a position at God the Father’s right hand in heaven. The modifying phrase “according to the spirit of holiness” is a bit more ambiguous. Despite the similarity in wording, and the familiar Pauline contrast between flesh (sa/rc) and Spirit (pneu=ma), the expression “spirit of holiness” probably should not be taken as equivalent to “the Holy Spirit”; it is better understood here in the sense of the transformation of Jesus’ person and human body (“flesh”) which occurred in the resurrection. In 1 Cor 15:45, Paul states that Jesus (the “last Adam”) came to be (transformed) “into a life-giving spirit”. Elsewhere, Paul essentially identifies the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of Jesus that is at work in and among believers, so there is clearly some conceptual overlap and blending of these ideas. The exalted person of Jesus comes to be closely identified with the Holy Spirit, especially when understood in relation to believers.

We must keep in mind that the parallel with Jesus’ physical/biological human birth in verse 3 confirms that v. 4 refers to Jesus’ “birth” as the Son of God. This is understood, in line with the earliest Christian belief, in terms of the resurrection, however problematic this might be for subsequent Christology. That some were indeed troubled by the wording here is suggested by the common Latin rendering that developed (praedestinatus), which would presuppose the reading proorisqe/nto$ (“marking out before[hand]”) instead of o(risqe/nto$ (“marking out”). The verb o(ri/zw literally means “mark out”, as of a boundary, setting the limits to something, etc. It can be used figuratively (of people) in the sense of appointing or designating someone, in a position or role, etc. The use of the verb here of Jesus (cp. Acts 17:31; 10:42) suggests that he was appointed to the position/status of God’s Son only at the resurrection; while the prefixed proori/zw is more amenable to a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

Paul’s initial words in verse 3 allow for the possibility of the pre-existent Sonship of Jesus—i.e. that he was God’s Son even prior to his birth. This would seem to be confirmed by the language used in 8:3, 29, 32 (cp. Gal 4:4ff). In all likelihood, Paul would have affirmed (in Romans and Galatians) the Christological understanding evinced in the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11, expressed in terms of God sending His Son to humankind. While this is not so forceful a view of pre-existent Sonship as we find in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), it seems clear enough. The apparent contrast with the Christology of Rom 1:3-4 can be explained by the critical theory, that those verses preserve an older/earlier mode of expression, a creedal formula which Paul has adopted.

Before proceeding to consider Jesus’ identity as the Son of God in Rom 8:3ff and Gal 4:4-7, and how this relates to the birth/sonship motif, it is necessary to turn first to the early Gospel tradition, and how this motif was applied to Jesus’ Baptism and the period of his earthly ministry. This we will do in the next note.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Romans (Part 2)

Romans 8:18-25

Verses 18-25 are part of the wider section spanning chapter 8, the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows (for more on this outline, cf. the article in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”):

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

As indicated above, the primary theme of chapter 8 is the new life in the Spirit that believers experience, representing the culmination of the “salvation history” or “order of salvation” that Paul lays out in the probatio of Romans.

In verses 12-17, believers are identified as the children (“sons”) of God, an identity that is realized through the Spirit (cp. Gal 4:6). In verse 18, this discussion shifts to the future aspect of our Christian identity, comparing the situation for believers currently (whether understood as Paul’s time or our own) in the world, with what awaits the faithful in the Age to Come. Thus, Rom 8:18-25 is fundamentally eschatological, marking the climax of this last division of the salvation history, at the point in time where believers are positioned—i.e., living at the end of the current Age.

Verse 18

“For I count [i.e. consider] that the sufferings of th(is) moment now (are) not brought up (as equal) toward the honor [do/ca] (be)ing about to be uncovered unto us.”

The noun pa/qhma has the basic meaning “suffering, misfortune”, something negative which happens to a person. Paul uses it (always in the plural, 9 times) in two primary contexts: (1) the sufferings in the flesh, i.e. the impulse toward sin which resides in the flesh (even for believers), along with the suffering this causes (Rom 7:25; Gal 5:24), and (2) the sufferings which believers endure (from non-believers, especially) for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (2 Cor 1:5-7, etc). Both aspects are rightly considered as part of the suffering faced by believers in the present Age, which Paul (and his readers) saw as swiftly coming to a close. Here, the contrast is between the present suffering of believers, and the future honor/glory that waits for them. The present suffering, no matter how severe, does not measure up to the greatness of this future glory. The adjective a&cio$ draws upon the idiom of weighing—i.e. the weight of something which brings up the beam of the scales into balance. The implication is that the future glory far outweighs the present suffering (cp. 2 Cor 4:17).

The use of the auxiliary verb me/llw, indicating that something is about to occur, is another sign that for Paul this eschatological expectation was imminent. He fully expected that those believers to whom he was writing would soon be experiencing this do/ca— “about to be uncovered unto us”.

Verse 19

“For the (stretch)ing of the head of the (thing) formed (by God) looks out to receive th(is) uncovering of the sons of God.”

The statement is almost impossible to translate literally in English, with its wordplay involving the compound noun a)pokaradoki/a and verb a)pekde/xomai. Both compounds are based on the verbal root de/xomai, which denotes a person receiving something. The noun connotes an eager expectation, literally signifying the stretching of the head out (or up), i.e. in anticipation of something coming. The word kti/si$ means something (or someone) that has been formed, i.e. by God; it is used by Paul 5 times in chapter 8, emphasizing the nature of human beings as part of the current order of creation. In other words, believers are living in this (current) created order—that is, in the present Age—all the while waiting for, and expecting, the uncovering of the future glory. Note again the identification of believers as “sons (i.e. children) of God”. Moreover, Paul speaks as though creation itself, taken as a whole, shares in this expectation (cf. below on vv. 20ff); thus there is an inherent ambiguity in the word kti/si$—does it refer comprehensively to all that God has created, or simply to the created nature of human beings?

Verses 20-21

“For the (thing) formed was set under an (arranged) order, in futility, (and) not willingly (so), but through the (one) setting (it) under the (arranged) order—upon hope—(in) that even the (thing) formed it(self) will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay into the freedom of the honor of the offspring of God.”

Paul’s syntax here is notoriously difficult to interpret with precision, though the basic idea is clear enough. Several strands of theological language and religious tradition are brought together:

    • A continuation of the slavery/freedom motif that has been developed throughout Romans. Human beings have been enslaved under the power of sin since the time of the first human (Adam), when sin (and the idea of sin) was introduced into the world (see chapters 5 and 7). Through trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, believers are freed from this bondage.
    • Metaphysical dualism—Related to the slavery/bondage theme is the idea that the current created order has ‘fallen’ into a condition dominated by death and decay (fqora/); as a result, human beings are trapped within this fallen order, needing rescue/deliverance by God (through Christ). In this regard, Paul shares much in common with many “Gnostics”, but differs from them fundamentally by his emphasis that the goal is not simply escape from the material condition, but that the material world itself would be transformed.
    • The Adam/Christ parallel—This was the main organizing principle for Paul’s line of argument in chapter 5, and it is likely that he is alluding to it again here. It is the mythic-narrative corollary to the slavery vs. bondage contrast, defining it according to the narratives surrounding two contrasting persons—one introducing sin into the world, the other delivering the world from sin.

The difficult syntax of vv. 20-21, can, I think, be clarified by considering the thematic structure of the phrases as a chiasm:

    • Creation set under an arranged order of things—in futility
      • It is set under this arranged order through Adam’s sin (implied)
        • Yet this arrangement is based upon an underlying hope
      • It will be set free from this order, through Christ’s saving work (implied)
    • Creation will be freed into a new order of things—out of slavery/decay

According to this line of interpretation, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta is Adam (representing all of humankind). By refusing to put himself under God’s order (cp. use of the vb u(pota/ssw in 8:7; 10:3), he effectively placed the world under a ‘fallen’ order (with the introduction of the enslaving power of sin). Many commentators would see God as the implied subject of u(pota/canta, influenced perhaps by the language in 1 Cor 15:27-28 and the tradition of God (YHWH) cursing the ground, etc, in Genesis 3. While theologically correct, this is unlikely in the rhetorical context here, given the emphasis on the nature of the bondage that Paul describes throughout Romans, and the specific Adam/Christ parallel in chapter 5. Closer to the thought in Romans (and Galatians) would be the idea that the Law subjected creation to the bondage under sin (Rom 7:7-13; Gal 3:22ff). Chapters 5 and 7 present two ways of viewing and explaining the same dynamic—of how humankind came to be enslaved to the power of sin.

The honor (do/ca) that awaits for believers is to be understood primarily in terms of the coming resurrection, as Paul makes clear in the following verses. It is established here by the formal parallel between do/ca and fqora/ (“decay”), the latter indicating the mortality of the created order, in bondage under the power of death.

Verses 22-23

“For we have seen that all th(at has been) formed groans together and is in pain together, until th(is moment) now; and not only (this), but also (our)selves, holding the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our) [placement as sons], (and) the loosing of our body from (bondage).”

Two different images are employed here, both of which were traditionally used in an eschatological context: (1) the pain of giving birth, and (2) harvest imagery. Both images refer to the climax of a period (of growth and labor, etc), thus serving as suitable figure-types for the end of the current Age. The birth-pain imagery was used especially in reference to the end-time period of distress (cf. Mark 13:9, 17 par; Luke 23:28-29ff, etc), while the harvest tended to prefigure the end-time Judgment (Matt 3:12 par; 13:39-43; Mark 4:29; Rev 14:15ff; cf. also Luke 10:2; Jn 4:35). This judgment-motif involved the separation of the righteous from the wicked (i.e. the grain from the chaff), which was understood in terms of the gathering of believers to Jesus at the moment of his end-time return (Mk 13:26-27 par; Rev 14:15-16). Paul, at least, specifically included the resurrection of dead believers in this gathering (1 Thess 4:14-17), and clearly made use of harvest-imagery in his discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 20-23, 36ff). Jesus himself was the “beginning (fruit) from (the harvest)” (a)parxh/), and believers share this same status, through the Spirit, possessing the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is what Paul means when he says that as believers we hold “the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit“; elsewhere the Spirit is described as a kind of deposit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), guaranteeing for us the promise of resurrection.

Because believers continue to live in the world, in the current created order, as human beings, we groan suffering along with all of creation, since our bodies (our “flesh”) remain under the old bondage to sin and death. We must still confront the impulse to sin in our flesh, and we all face the reality of physical death. Our deliverance from this bondage will not be complete until the transformation of our bodies, as stated here by Paul— “the loosing of our body from (bondage)”, using the noun a)polu/trwsi$. His temporal expression a&xri tou= nu=n is a shorthand for the tou= nu=n kairou= (“of the moment now”) in verse 18, another indication of the imminence of Paul’s eschatology—that is, it was about to happen now.

There is some textual uncertainty regarding the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as son[s]”) in verse 23, as it is omitted in a number of key manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). If secondary, then the text originally would have read: “…looking out to receive the loosing of our body from (bondage)” —i.e., the reference would be entirely to the resurrection, without any mention of the ‘adoption’ motif. However, as the sonship-theme was central to vv. 12-17, as also the expression “sons of God” in v. 19, the use of ui(oqesi/a would be entirely fitting here in v. 23. The resurrection serves to complete the realization of believers as the sons (children) of God.

Verses 24-25

“For in hope we are saved; but hope being looked at is not hope, for who hopes (after) that which he (can) look at? But if we hope (for) that which we do not look at, (then) we look to receive (it) through (our) remaining under.”

This “hope” (e)lpi/$, and related verb e)lpi/zw) is the same as that mentioned by Paul at the center of vv. 20-21, where the fallen created order, currently in bondage to sin and death, is said to be based upon an underlying hope (“upon hope”, e)f’ e)lpi/di). Now this hope is defined as the salvation of humankind—believers—with their/our identity as sons/children of God. This ultimate deliverance is not something that can be looked at or seen clearly in the material world, for two reasons: (1) salvation is primarily eschatological, realized only at the end of the current Age, and (2) it is currently experienced only through the presence of the Spirit, which is not objectively visible to people at large. With trust and patience, believers endure suffering in the present Age—the temptation of the flesh and persecution by the world—captured by the word u(pomonh/, which literally means “remaining under”, i.e. under obedience to God and Christ. This is the attitude we are to have while waiting for the final salvation—the resurrection and transformation of our bodies.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Romans (Part 1)

As a veritable compendium of Pauline thought, it is to be expected that his letter to the Christians in Rome would also contain important passages related to his eschatology, and that it would reflect a similar level of theological development. This indeed is the case, even if there are no eschatological sections in Romans comparable to 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 or 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed in the prior articles). The first part of this article on the eschatology in Romans will survey many of the key references, looking at each passage or verse either briefly or in moderate detail, leaving more extensive discussions on chapters 8-11 for Parts 2 and 3.

Survey of Eschatological References in Romans

Romans 1:18ff

“For (the) anger of God is being uncovered from heaven upon all lack of reverence and lack of justice (among) men, the (one)s holding down the truth in a lack of justice [i.e. injustice/lawlessness]…”

This bold statement opens the main body (probatio) of the letter, following directly after the central proposition (propositio) in verses 16-17. Just as the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God is uncovered (a)pokalu/ptetai) in the proclamation of the Gospel, and those who respond by trusting in it, so the anger (o)rgh/) of God is uncovered (a)pokalu/ptetai) for those who reject it and act/behave in an unjust manner. The expression “anger of God” is a technical phrase that refers to the end-time Judgment, in which God will finally act to punish decisively the wickedness of humankind. In Old Testament Prophetic tradition, this expression of divine anger is associated with the “Day of YHWH” motif (cf. 2:5), a time when God judges a nation or people. The phrase gradually took on eschatological significance, and, indeed, it is the end-time Judgment which Paul has in mind here. The present tense of the verb suggests that this is something already happening or about to happen, the latter being more accurate and fully in accord with the imminent eschatology of early Christians.

Paul vividly, and perceptively, analyzes the wickedness of the nations, with their polytheistic beliefs and idolatrous tendencies, tracing how this may have developed—a kind of early Christian psychology of religion. Paul turns and does much the same for Jews in chapter 2, but in 1:18-32 the focus is on Gentiles. A central tenet of Romans being the equality of Jews and Gentiles, both in terms of their bondage to sin and subsequent unity as believers, it is necessary for Paul to treat them together—separately and in common. The theme of the coming Judgment continues in 2:1-11, with the traditional motif of the separation of the righteous and wicked at the time of Judgment. This is expressed clearly in verses 6-10:

“…in the day of anger and the uncovering of the right Judgment of God, who will give back to each (person) according to his works: (on the one hand) to the (one)s seeking the esteem and honor (of God) and (that which is) without decay, according to (their) remaining under (with) good work, (the) life of the Ages; but (on the other hand), to the (one)s (who), out of (self-centered) labor, and being unpersuaded by the truth, (are instead) being persuaded by injustice, (the) anger (of God) and impulse (to punish). (There will be) distress and a tight space for every soul of man th(at) is working at (what is) bad, of (the) Yehudean {Jew} first and (also the) Greek; but esteem and honor and peace for every (one) working (what is) good, (the) Yehudean first and (also the) Greek”

The end-time Judgment, expressed in terms of the anger of God, in the traditional sense of His desire to punish wickedness, is also mentioned at several other points in the letter (e.g., 3:6; 12:19).

Romans 2:16

“…in the day when God judges the hidden (thing)s of men, according to my good message, through (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

This expresses a distinctly Christian aspect of the traditional Judgment—that it will take place through Jesus, i.e. that he will oversee the Judgment, acting in the role of Judge, as God the Father’s appointed representative. This relates to the Heavenly-deliverer or “Son of Man” Messianic figure-type, drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14ff, and developed subsequently in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Jesus, as God’s Anointed, fulfills this Messianic role at the end-time, upon his return to earth. This idea of Jesus’ role in the Judgment is also found (using similar language) in the Areopagus speech of Paul in the book of Acts:

“…He [i.e. God] has set a day in which He is about to judge the inhabited world, in justice, in [i.e. through] a man whom He marked out, holding along a trust for all (people by) making him stand up out of the dead” (17:31)

For the expression “day of Jesus” or “day of the Lord” (from “day of YHWH”) with a similar meaning, see Parts 1 and 3 of the article on 1-2 Corinthians.

Romans 5:2

“So, having been made right out of trust, we hold peace toward God through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, through whom also we have held [by trust] the (way) leading toward (Him), into this favor in which we (now) have stood, and we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/splendor of God.” (vv. 1-2)

These verses introduce a new section within the main body of the letter; the focus is primarily soteriological, as Paul discusses the bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and how believers are freed from it through trust in the redeeming work of Jesus. Indeed, Paul gave special emphasis to this aspect of salvation, while continuing to affirm the traditional idea of salvation in terms of being saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. The two go hand in hand—sin and judgment, and Pauline soteriology is effective summarized here in verses 1-11. The eschatological aspect may not be immediately apparent for readers today, but it is embedded in much of the wording, especially here in the opening verses. Let us consider briefly each phrase:

    • “having been made right out of trust” (dikaiwqe/nte$ e)k pi/stew$)—this is the foundational Pauline doctrine of “justification by faith”; things have been “made right” (vb dikaio/w) for believers in relationship to God as a result of trust (faith) in the saving work of Jesus Christ.
    • “we hold…toward God” —there are two connected phrases which express this restored relationship between human beings (believers) and God; each phrase uses the verb e&xw (“hold”) and the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), and is qualified by the expression “through [dia/] (Yeshua…)”:
      • “we hold peace toward God” (ei)rh/nhn e&xomen pro\$ to\ qe/on)—the word “peace” (ei)rh/nh) refers primarily to the idea of reconciliation, of an end to hostility and the things that separate two parties; however, it also reflects the presence of God Himself in and among believers (who are His people), through the Spirit, which serves as the uniting bond of peace (8:6; 14:17; cf. also Gal 5:22; Eph 4:3)
      • “we have held the way leading toward (Him)” (th\n prosagwgh\n e)sxh/kamen)—the verb prosa/gw literally means “lead toward”, and so the derived noun prosagwgh/ a “way leading toward”, sometimes in the context of being led into the chamber, etc, of ruling authorities (Acts 16:20). In this sense, believers are led into the presence of God (1 Pet 3:18). Both verb and noun are rare in the New Testament; Paul never uses the verb, but all three occurrences of the noun are in the Pauline letters (Eph 2:18; 3:12). The idea expressed in Eph 2:18, and its wording, is very similar to the phrase here:
        “through him [i.e. Jesus] we both [i.e. Jews and Gentiles], in one Spirit, hold (the way) toward the Father”
    • “into this favor in which we have stood” (ei)$ th\n xa/rin tau/thn e)n h!| e(sth/kamen)—the way leads into (ei)$) the favor (xa/ri$) of God; believers currently experience this favor (and favored status), and so “stand” in it. The perfect tense typically signifies an action or condition which took place (or began) in the past and continues in the present. This same favor allows believers to stand before God in His chamber, being saved from the Judgment.
    • “we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/splendor of God” (kauxw/meqa e)p’ e)lpi/di th=$ do/ch$ tou= qeou=)—this hope (e)lpi/$) is fundamentally eschatological: the favor experienced by believers (in the present) will result in an exalted status in the future (parallel to Jesus’ own exaltation). Primarily this is understood in terms of the end-time resurrection, the power of which resides in the Spirit of God (and Christ) now abiding in and among believers (cf. below). The word do/ca has a wide semantic range that makes consistent rendering in English difficult. When applied to God, it can refer to the honor and esteem with which He is to be regarded, but also to that which makes Him worthy of honor, i.e. His own nature, character, and attributes. Often this latter is visualized with light-imagery, in which case “splendor” is a more proper translation, similar to the more conventional rendering “glory”. In any case, the future hope for believers involves a share in God’s own do/ca, the ultimate goal of the path leading toward Him.
Romans 5:9

“…but God makes his own love unto us stand together with (us), (in) that, (while) our yet being sinful (one)s, the Anointed (One) died away over us. Much more, then, now (hav)ing been made right in his blood, will we be saved through him from the (coming) anger (of God).” (vv. 8-9)

The love (a)ga/ph) and anger (o)rgh/) of God are contrasted here. The distinction between the verbs dikaio/w (“make right”) and sw/zw (“save”) is important for an understanding of the early Christian “order of salvation”, as expressed by Paul in his letters. This may be seen as representing two stages in a process: (1) things are “made right” between God and believers, (2) believers are “saved” from the coming Judgment. While it may also be said that we are saved from the power of sin, for early Christians the eschatological aspect of salvation was primary. Paul’s argument here is: if God showed his love for us by making things right for us, through the sacrificial death (“blood”) of Jesus (i.e. the first stage of the process), he certainly will follow through and show the same love by saving us from the end-time Judgment (his anger) in the second stage. On the term “anger” as a traditional designation for the Judgment, cf. on 1:18ff above.

A broader sense of salvation (using the verb r(u/omai, “rescue”) is indicated in 7:24:

“I (am) a man (forc)ed to endure suffering! Who will rescue me out of this body of death?”

In chapter 7, Paul is essentially describing the condition of a human being (who would be a believer) prior to the sacrificial work of Jesus—or, we may say, of a believer prior to coming to faith. Such a person genuinely is inclined to live according to the expressed will of God, and wishes to do so, but is hindered by the fact that our “flesh” (or “body”, sw=ma) is in bondage under the power of sin. This bondage to sin leads to death, thus the expression “body of death”.

Romans 6:5; 8:11

“For if we have come to be planted in the likeness of his death, (what) other (than that) we will also be (in the likeness) of his standing up (out of the dead) [i.e. resurrection]?” (6:5)
“And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of the dead will also make your dying bodies alive through His Spirit housing in you.” (8:11)

These two declarations reflect Paul’s most original (theological) contribution to early Christian eschatology—his teaching and emphasis on believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (i.e. “dying and rising with Jesus”). By uniting with his death, through faith, and symbolized in the rite of baptism, we will also be united with his resurrection, sharing in its power. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so we also will be raised; it is the indwelling Spirit of God which brings this about, which is also the life-giving Spirit of Jesus. For more detail on this aspect of the (end-time) resurrection, cf. the earlier article on 1 Corinthians 15. Clearly, “dying bodies” relates to the expression “body of death” in 7:24 (cf. above).

Romans 13:11-12

“And this: having seen the moment, (know) that (it is) already (the) hour for you to rise out of sleep—for our salvation is nearer than when we (first) trusted. The night cut (its way) forward and the day has come near. So we should put away from (us) the works of darkness, [and] sink in(to) [i.e. put on] the weapons of light!”

This is clearly an expression of Paul’s imminent eschatological expectation, shared by nearly all believers of the time. If the end was near when they first came to faith in Jesus, it is all the closer now as Paul writes to them. He uses very similar language in 1 Thess 5:4-10, a passage that is unquestionably eschatological (cf. the earlier article in this series).

Romans 14:9-12

“For (it is) unto this [i.e. for this reason] (that) the Anointed (One) died away and lived (again): (so) that he should be Lord (both) of (the) dead and (the) living. But you—(for) what [i.e. why] do you judge your brother? or (for) what even do you make your brother out (to be) nothing? For we all shall stand alongside (before) the stepped (platform) of God, for it has been written: ‘(As) I live, says (the) Lord, (it is) that every knee shall bend and every tongue shall give out an account as one to God’. [So] then, each of us will give an account about himself [to God].”

These verses conclude the practical instruction for believers in vv. 1-8, emphasizing the Judgment which all human beings must face. Even though believers are saved from the anger (punishment) that comes upon the wicked in the Judgment, it is still necessary to stand before God to give an account. The judicial context is indicated by reference to a bh=ma, or platformed area which one reaches by ascending steps (Matt 27:19; Acts 12:21; 18:12ff; 25:6ff). Here it is a heavenly tribunal, a Christian reflection of the traditional afterlife (or end-time) Judgment scene. Also uniquely Christian is the role the exalted Jesus, as “Lord of the dead and living”, plays in overseeing the Judgment (cf. on 2:16 above).

Romans 16:20

“And the God of peace will crush the Satan (all) together under your feet, in (all) speed [e)n ta/xei].”

This is another statement clearly evincing an imminent eschatology, especially with its use of the expression e)n ta/xei (“in all speed”); cf. the earlier article on this subject. The crushing of the Satan is an allusion to Gen 3:15, following the traditional interpretation of identifying the “Serpent” of the Creation narrative with Satan (Rev 12:9). It has been set in an eschatological context, indicating the final defeat of the forces of evil (cf. 1 Cor 15:24-28, etc). For Christians facing some measure of suffering and distress (even persecution), this was a welcome message, one which the book of Revelation spins out through its powerful cycles of visions.

Romans 16:25-26

The concluding words of v. 20 are followed by final greetings and the doxology of the letter. Verses 25-26 place the entire Christian message (the Gospel of Jesus) within an eschatological context:

“And to the (One) powered to set you firm, according to my good message and proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to (the) uncovering of (the) secret having been kept hidden for (the) times of the Ages, but now (hav)ing been made to shine forth, through the writings of the Foretellers, according to the arrangement of the God of the Ages (set) upon (all things), (and hav)ing been made known, unto (the) hearing under [i.e. obedience] of trust, unto all the nations…”

There is some textual uncertainty regarding verses 25-27, and even some doubt as to whether they are genuinely from Paul; if not, they still reflect Pauline thought, especially the idea that the Gospel message (of what God has done through Jesus) is something that has been hidden throughout the Ages, only to be revealed now, at the end-time. I have discussed this point as part of an earlier series of notes, studies on the word musth/rion (“secret”). The main Pauline references are 1 Cor 2:6-7ff; Col 1:26-27; Eph 1:9; 3:3-4ff. The truth about Jesus was made known in the Prophetic Scriptures, but still in a hidden manner, only to be revealed fully (and expounded) by early Christian missionaries and preachers (such as Paul). This language itself suggests that the end of the Age(s) has come with the revelation of Jesus, though the current Age will finally close only with the return of the exalted Jesus to earth, something Paul expected would happen quite soon.

Justification by Faith: Romans 1:17

This Saturday (October 31) is the date commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, marking Luther’s posting of the so-called “Ninety-five Theses” on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Intended for an academic debate, these propositions, many of a highly technical nature, had an influence which went far beyond their original purpose, and Martin Luther himself came to be the leading figure of the early years of the Reformation. In celebration of this time, I am launching a series of brief studies, posted periodically on Fridays (“Reformation Fridays”) over the coming months, dealing with some of the key tenets of Protestantism.

These Reformation-themed studies will each focus on a particular principle or belief central to the Reformation and the Protestant Tradition, examining the Scriptural basis for it. One or two key, representative Scripture passages or verses will be chosen, and given a critical treatment. This will demonstrate how Biblical criticism applies to theology and doctrine. On the one hand, we can see the way that established doctrines developed from particular interpretations of Scripture. At the same time, it is important always to take a fresh look as such beliefs, examining them anew in the light of Scripture.

Justification by Faith

The first Reformation tenet we will explore is justification by faith, as summarized in the famous slogan sola fide (“faith alone”)—that is, salvation comes only through faith in Christ, and not as a result of human work and effort. The fourth article of the Augsburg Confession gives the following statement (brackets represent explanatory text in German):

“…men can not be justified [obtain forgiveness of sins and righteousness] before God by their own powers, merits, or works; but are justified freely [of grace] for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and their sin’s forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by his death hath satisfied our sins.” (translation from P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3)

There is a long history behind this theological formulation, but, to a large extent, the primary idea comes from the New Testament, perhaps best seen by the declaration in Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For by (the) favor (of God) you are (one)s having been [i.e. who have been] saved, through trust—(and) this (does) not (come) out of you, (but is) the gift of God, (so) that no one should boast (of it).”

The word translated “favor” above is xa/ri$ (cháris), usually rendered “grace”; that translated “trust” (pi/sti$, pístis) is more commonly rendered “faith”. We are saved through trust in Christ, but this does not come from our own ability or effort; rather, it is a result of the gift and favor shown to us by God.

The very expression “justification by faith” clearly shows the dependence on Paul’s letters (especially Galatians and Romans), with his repeated (and distinctive) use of the verb dikaio/w (dikaióœ) and the related noun dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosýn¢) and adjective di/kaio$ (díkaios). As a transitive verb, dikaio/w fundamentally means “make (things) right”, or “make (something) just”, sometimes in the formal (legal) sense of “declare (something to be) just”, “provide justice”, etc. Paul draws heavily upon this legal usage, applying it in a religious sense. We will be looking at two key examples which are essential to the doctrine of “justification by faith”. The first comes from the opening section of Romans, the concluding declaration in Rom 1:17. A seminal moment for the Reformation occurred during Luther’s study of Romans in his years spent as an Augustinian monk; he began to meditate more deeply on this verse, leading to a kind of revelatory moment (and conversion experience) for him, as he describes in the 1545 Preface to his writings in Latin. He expounded this verse, and the theological and religious principle drawn from it, a number of times in his published works; and other Reformers also inspired by it, followed him as well. Thus, Romans 1:17 may serve as a kind of keystone verse for the Protestant Reformation, and is deserving of careful study. In fact, Paul’s statement is considerably more complex than it seems at first glance, especially when reading it in translation, and through the lens of Protestant theology.

Romans 1:17

The particular words in Rom 1:17 which so struck Luther, are actually a quotation from the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4). This is just one of several elements in the verse which need to be examined; let us consider them in order. To begin with, verse 17 marks the conclusion of the opening section (introduction) of the letter, and further explains the statement by Paul in v. 16 that the “good message” (Gospel) is “the power of God unto salvation for every(one) trusting (in Jesus)”. There are three parts to this explanation in v. 17:

    • “For the justice of God is uncovered in it”
    • “out of trust (and) into trust”
    • “even as it has been written…”—the citation from Hab 2:4

1. “For the justice of God is uncovered in it”—The word translated “justice” is dikaiosu/nh, part of the dikai- word-group mentioned above, and related to the verb dikaio/w. It is notoriously tricky to translate in English. Perhaps the best rendering would be something like “right-ness” or “just-ness”, but, as there is nothing truly equivalent in English, most translators opt for “justice” or “righteousness”. However, both of these can be misleading in modern English—”justice” has a predominantly socio-legal meaning, while “righteousness” a religious meaning, and one that is seldom used in English today, also having the negative connotation of self-righteousness.

Another difficulty involves the genitive construction (“…of God”): is it a subjective or objective genitive? That is to say, does it represent an attribute of God (i.e. something he possesses) or something which comes from him (i.e. as an object to us)? In Phil 3:9, Paul refers to the justice/righteousness that comes “from God” (e)k qeou=, ek theou), and given to believers; while in 2 Cor 5:21, believers become the “justice/righteousness of God” in Christ. There the expression may be taken as an objective genitive, and so many commentators understand it in Rom 1:17 as well—the Gospel communicates justice/righteousness to us. Certainly, that is how Luther and the Reformers came to understand it—righteousness as a gift from God, especially in the legal/declarative sense implied by Paul in much of his writing. Luther translates the expression in Rom 1:17 as “die gerechtigkeit die vor Gott gilt” (the justice/righteousness that counts before God). However, the overall context of Romans here strongly suggests that Paul is primarily using a subjective genitive—i.e. justice/just-ness as a divine characteristic. It is parallel to the “anger of God” (org¢ theou) in v. 18, which is also said to be “uncovered” and specifically directed against injustice (a)diki/a, adikía). Similarly, we may note the expressions “the trust(worthiness) of God” (h¢ pistis tou theou) and “the truth(fulness) of God” (h¢ al¢theia tou theou) in 3:3, 7. It is an attribute expressing the character of God, but especially in terms of his action toward humankind.

What does it mean to say that the justice of God is “uncovered” in the Gospel? The verb a)pokalu/ptw (apokalýptœ) literally means “take the cover (away) from”, indicating something previously hidden or unknown. It relates to the character of God as one who makes things right, and specifically involves the salvation brought about through the person and work of Jesus. In v. 16, the Gospel—the message/announcement of this saving work—is called “the power of God”, an expression parallel to “the justice of God”. The Gospel reveals the plan of salvation for humankind, and, in so doing, makes known the very nature and character of God himself.

2. “out of trust (and) into trust”—This phrase can also be somewhat difficult to interpret. It is meant to qualify and explain the earlier phrase. The justice of God is revealed in the Gospel. How, or in what manner does this occur?—”out of [e)k] trust and into [ei)$] trust”. Trust is both the source (“out of”) and goal (“into”). Of course, when Paul uses the word pi/sti$ (“trust”), he is referring to trust, or faith, in Jesus. Trust leads to the communication of God’s justice/righteousness to us, in the person of Christ, which, in turn, also leads to (greater) trust as we are united and grow in him. Paul uses similar syntax in 2 Cor 3:18: “from glory into/unto glory”. Likewise in the Greek of Psalm 84:8, the prepositions ek and eis in sequence would seem to indicate the passage from one point, or degree, to another.

3. The citation of Hab 2:4—Paul quotes this as follows:

“But the just (one) will live out of trust”
o( de\ di/kaio$ e)k pi/stew$ zh/setai
ho dé díkaios ek písteœs z¢¡setai

Part of New Testament (textual) criticism involves a careful study and comparison of the text of the Old Testament as it is quoted/cited by the author (or speaker). There are three forms of this verse in the Greek version (Septuagint/LXX) of the Old Testament, two of which differ from Paul’s quotation in the use of the 1st person possessive pronoun (occurring at different points):

“But the just (one) will live out of my trust”
“But my just (one) will live out of trust”

The Hebrew of Hab 2:4, by contrast, reads:

“but the righteous (one) will live by his firm (loyal)ty”
hy#j=y] otn`Wma$B# qyD!x^w+
w®ƒaddîq be°§mûn¹¾ô yihyeh

The LXX is a reasonably accurate translation of the Hebrew, except for the use of the 1st person pronoun, which could indicate a slightly different reading of the underlying Hebrew (1st person suffix instead of 3rd person). The 1st person pronoun means that the righteous person lives as a result of God’s faithfulness. The Hebrew, by contrast, means that the person lives because of his/her own loyalty to God. The original context of the prophetic oracle clarifies this meaning. Judgment is coming upon Judah by means of foreign military invasion (by the Babylonians or “Chaldeans”, 1:6ff); only those who are faithful to YHWH will survive the attack (“will live”). Here, faithfulness refers to the binding agreement (covenant) established between God and the people Israel, with the Torah representing the terms of the agreement. The righteous/loyal Israelite remains firmly committed to the covenant, and obedient to the Torah, even as the rest of the society has fallen into disobedience and sin. This is similar to the faithful remnant motif found in many of the prophetic oracles—only the faithful ones will be saved from the coming judgment.

Considered in this light, it is interesting to see how Paul interprets the verse here in Romans. First, he preserves the original formulation from the Hebrew, i.e. that the trust/loyalty is that of the righteous person, and not God. Even though his Greek has no personal pronoun (“his”), that basic meaning is still implied, as in the reading of LXX manuscript 763* which matches Paul’s version. Second, Paul also retains something of the judgment-setting from Habakkuk, not in verse 17 itself, but in vv. 18ff which follow, referring to “the anger of God” (parallel to “the justice of God”) which is being uncovered. Only believers in Christ will escape the coming Judgment. However, it must be admitted that Paul has a deeper sense of the verb “will live” in mind; in addition to the negative context of the Judgment, there is the positive sense of what it means for the believer, even now in the present, to live in Christ. As expressed in 6:4ff, and other passages, the believer experiences new life in Christ, quite apart from the eternal life which one inherits after death and the Judgment. Though he does not state it here at this point in Romans, this sense of life in Christ is understood primarily through the presence of the Spirit.

More significantly, what Paul does not explain immediately in verse 17 is how the just/right (díkaios) character of the believer relates to the justice/righteousness (dikaiosýn¢) of God. In quoting Hab 2:4, the adjective díkaios is used without indicating exactly what makes the person “just”. In the Old Testament religious context of the oracle, a person’s just/righteous character is demonstrated by loyalty to the covenant and faithful obedience to the Torah. Paul, of course, turns this completely around, through a complex logic and series of arguments, expressed primarily in Galatians, and here in Romans. A person’s righteousness is the result of trust in Christ, rather than faithfulness to the Torah. Paul’s teaching in this regard is extremely complicated, and must be studied with considerable care, to avoid misunderstanding or over-simplification. For a detailed examination and discussion, I recommend you explore the articles on Paul’s view of the Law in my earlier series “The Law and the New Testament”.

There is an interesting comparison to be made between Paul’s interpretation of Hab 2:4 and that found in the Community of the Qumran text (Dead Sea Scrolls). In the surviving commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab), 2:4 is interpreted as follows:

“…(it) concerns all observing the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will free from the house of judgment on account of their toil and of their loyalty to the Teacher of Righteousness”

Two criteria are combined: (1) proper observance of the Law, etc (“their toil”), and (2) loyalty to the person called “Teacher of Righteousness”, the leading/founding figure of the Community, viewed as an inspired prophet and teacher. Paul would reject the first criterion, but the second is a bit closer to his own approach. Both the Qumran Community and early Christians defined salvation in terms of faith in a person.

One final point of interpretation involves the syntactical position of the expression ek písteœs (“out of trust”)—from Paul’s standpoint, does it modify the subject (ho díkaios, “the just [one]”) or the verb (z¢¡setai, “will live”)? In other words, is the emphasis on the person being considered just because of his/her trust, or does the person live as a result of that trust? Compare: (1) “the (person who is) just out of (his/her) trust will live”, or (2) “the just (person) will live out of trust”. The latter is to be preferred, especially if Paul understood the original meaning of the Hebrew text. If so, then Rom 1:17 is not so much as statement of “Justification by Faith” as it is of “New Life by Faith”. Paul, however, would certainly affirm both sides of the equation, as, indeed, he does through the central phrase “out of trust (and) into trust”, indicating both source (“from the just-ness of God”) and goal (“eternal life in Christ”).

As you meditate and study this verse, begin looking ahead through Paul’s letter to the Romans, reading from 1:18 on into the beginning of chapter 4. In the next study, we will explore a second key verse related to the doctrine of “Justification by Faith”—the quotation of Genesis 15:6 in Rom 4:3 (also Gal 3:6).

“…Spirit and Life (continued): Spirit in the Pauline Letters and other Writings

“Spirit” (pneu=ma) in the Pauline Letters

Here I will survey the occurrences of the word pneu=ma in the Pauline letters, beginning with the undisputed letters (including Colossians and 2 Thessalonians), then addressing the letters where Pauline authorship is most often disputed (Ephesians and the Pastorals), as well as the related adjective pneumatiko/$ and adverb pneumatikw/$. The subject is enormous, as Paul refers to the Spirit more than a hundred times in the undisputed letters, and gives to the term a rich development which reflects his unique theological approach. On the other hand, he is very much in keeping with the early Christian view of the Spirit, of which we have seen signs in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

To begin with, occasionally Paul uses pneu=ma to refer to an individual human person—i.e. his/her soul, mind or “presence” (e.g., 1 Thess 5:23; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 5:3-5; Rom 1:9, etc). There are also instances where the word is used in an abstract sense, in expressions such as “spirit of gentleness” (1 Cor 4:21), “spirit of trust” (2 Cor 4:3), etc. However, in the vast majority of occurrences, Paul is referring specifically to the Spirit—that is, the Spirit of God (and/or Christ). From a trinitarian point of view, it must be admitted that there is little evidence to indicate that Paul thinks of the Spirit as a distinct person, separate from either God the Father or Jesus. As in the Gospel of John, Paul can refer to the Spirit as being of God or of Jesus, without any obvious distinction, though specific references to the latter are far less common.

Here I summarize the Pauline evidence according to the most prominent expressions and concepts:

Other significant ideas and expressions:

    • The witness of the Spirit in/with our human spirit—Rom 8:16
    • The Gospel as manifestation of the Spirit—1 Thess 1:5-6
    • The teaching of the Spirit—1 Cor 2:13-14
    • The aid and help given to believers by the Spirit—Rom 8:26-27; 9:1
    • The “firstfruits” of the Spirit—Rom 8:23
    • The “fruit of the Spirit”—Gal 5:22ff (cf. also 6:8)
    • The “things of the Spirit” (cf. on the adjective pneumatiko/$ below)—1 Cor 2:14
    • Believers as the temple/shrine/house of the Spirit—1 Cor 6:19
    • The Spirit as a “deposit”, i.e. of the resurrection and the future/divine Life—2 Cor 1:22; 5:5
    • “Written” by the Spirit—2 Cor 3:3
    • Association of the Spirit with the (new) Covenant—2 Cor 3:6ff
    • Idea of “quenching” the Spirit—1 Thess 5:19

Especially worth noting are passages which identify God (and/or Jesus) as Spirit:

    • 2 Cor 3:17-18 (“the Lord is Spirit / Spirit of the Lord”)
    • 1 Cor 15:45: “the last Adam [i.e. Jesus] came to be (transformed) into a life-giving Spirit

It is interesting that Paul rarely, if ever, uses pneu=ma to refer to an unclean/evil “spirit” (i.e. a daimon or “demon”)—implied in 1 Cor 12:10, and cf. also 2 Cor 11:4; 2 Thess 2:2, and the expression “spirit of the world” in 1 Cor 2:12. Only in 1 Timothy 4:1 do we read specifically of “spirits” more or less identified with daimons/demons.

The “Disputed” Pauline Letters (Ephesians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus)

There are 21 occurrences of the word pneu=ma in these letters (14 in Ephesians, and 7 in the Pastorals). For the most part, the usage and semantic range corresponds with what we see in the “undisputed” letters (cf. above). The human “spirit” (mind/soul/person) is intended in Eph 4:23 and 2 Tim 4:22; while a “spirit” of sin/wickedness is referenced in 2:2, perhaps (but not necessarily) the same point of reference as the personal “spirits” in 1 Tim 4:1. Elsewhere, the word is used of the Spirit of God (and/or Jesus), in a manner similar to the Pauline references cited above:

    • Believers are “in the Spirit”—Eph 2:22; 3:5; 4:3, 30; 6:18
    • The Spirit dwells in believers—2 Tim 1:14
    • New life comes through the Spirit (resurrection/rebirth motifs)—Titus 3:5, cf. also Eph 3:16
    • The Spirit as a promise of future Life—Eph 1:13
    • Unity/community through the Spirit (“one Spirit”)—Eph 2:18ff; 4:3-4
      with a special emphasis in Ephesians 1-2 on the unity of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Christ
    • An association between the Spirit and Baptism (washing/cleansing motif)—Titus 3:5
    • The Spirit reveals truth to believers—Eph 3:5; 1 Tim 4:1
    • Believers are led by the Spirit—Eph 2:18
    • Believers as the Temple/shrine (“house of God”) of the Spirit—Eph 2:22

Certain ideas and expression are unique to these letters:

The more abstract usage of pneu=ma in expressions such as “spirit of wisdom” (Eph 1:17), “spirit of power”, etc (2 Tim 1:7), almost certainly still has the Spirit of God in view.

One ambiguous occurrence of the word is in 1 Tim 3:16, which appears to be part of an early Christian credal formula or hymn. There are two ways of reading the words e)dikaiw/qh e)n pneu/mati:

    • “he was made/declared just in the spirit/Spirit”
    • “he was given justice [i.e. vindicated] by the Spirit”

The second option is to be preferred, and would certainly refer to the work done (on Jesus’ behalf) by the Spirit. However, if one opts for the first reading, it is not entirely clear whether pneu=ma refers to the human “spirit” (parallel to the earlier “flesh”) or God’s Spirit. The poetic character of the verse allows for a dual-meaning, both of the word pneu=ma as well as the preposition e)n (“in”).

Pneumatiko/$

The adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual, of the Spirit”) is a popular term for Paul—of the 26 occurrences in the New Testament, all but 2 (in 1 Pet 2:5) are found in the Pauline letters. Quite often it is used in the plural, as a substantive—i.e. “spiritual (thing)s” or, perhaps, “(thing)s of the Spirit”: Romans 1:11; 15:27; 1 Cor 2:13; 9:11; 12:1; 14:1. The word is especially prominent in the first Letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul gives instruction to congregations which are clearly quite “charismatic” in character—experiencing (and expecting to experience) the regular manifestation of the Spirit in the corporate meetings and life of the congregation, through various means and ‘gifts’ (1 Cor 12:1ff). The word xa/risma (“favor [granted], gift”) appears in vv. 4, 9, 28, 30-31 of chapter 12, though the specific expression “spiritual gift” is found only in Rom 1:11. These are things “of the Spirit”, meaning they come from the Spirit of God (and Christ), but they can also be communicated to others by gifted believers.

Believers themselves can be called “spiritual (one)s” or “(ones/those) of the Spirit”, using the same plural substantive (1 Cor 2:15; 3:1; 14:37; Gal 6:1). In these passages, the adjective “spiritual” is meant to reflect a level of spiritual maturity for believers in Christ. In Eph 6:12, pneumatiko/$ refers to things (and/or beings) of spiritual wickedness (i.e. the opposite of things of the Spirit).

Occasionally the adjective is used with a specific object or in a particular expression, such as:

    • “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink”—Paul’s Christological interpretation of Exod 16:15ff and Deut 8:3 in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4; the baptismal and eucharistic associations are quite clear from the context.
    • “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44 and 46)—referring to the believer after the resurrection; in verse 45, the resurrected Jesus is said to have become a “life-giving Spirit”.
    • “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9)—Paul’s prayer is that believers will be so filled by God (through His Spirit).
    • “spiritual chants/songs” (Col 3:16, also Eph 5:19)—to be sung or recited by believers to God (through the Spirit)
    • “spiritual blessings” (Eph 1:3)—that is, “(word)s of good account” given/spoken over believers by God (through/by the Spirit)

In Romans 7:14, Paul states that “the Law is spiritual” (or “…is of the Spirit”), using the same adjective. As I have discussed elsewhere, I believe that here (and in other passages) Paul understands the Law [o( no/mo$] in a broader sense, using the specific expression “the Law of God”. It is not strictly equivalent to the written Law of the Old Testament (i.e. Torah), though certainly the latter is included under the former. Since God is Spirit, his Word (or “Law”) is also Spiritual.

The related adverb pneumatikw/$ (“spiritually, [done] by/in the Spirit”) occurs twice in the New Testament, including by Paul in 1 Cor 2:14—where he states that spiritual things can only be understood (and judged) spiritually, i.e. by the Spirit.

“Spirit” in the Remainder of the New Testament

Here I will briefly summarize the occurrences of the word pneu=ma in the rest of the New Testament (not including the Johannine Letters and the book of Revelation). There are 25 such occurrences:

Hebrews (12)
    • 1:7, 14—Heavenly Messengers (“Angels”) as ministering spirits (v. 7 cites Psalm 104:4), i.e. ministering specifically to Jesus and the spread of the Gospel (to believers); cf. also 12:9, where God is referred to as the “Father of the spirits”
    • 2:4—God manifests himself to believers through the various work of the Holy Spirit
    • 3:7—The special inspiration of Scripture (by the Holy Spirit) is indicated (citing Psalm 95:7-11); cf. also in 9:8; 10:15, where the idea of the Spirit witnessing to believers is emphasized
    • 4:12—The sharpness of the living Word of God is indicated by its ability even to divide between soul and spirit (i.e. inside a person). On the actual identification of the Word of God with the Spirit, cf. Eph 6:17
    • 6:4—Believers are said to have become (together) ones who hold the Holy Spirit
    • 9:14—Jesus is said to have offered himself (as a sacrifice) to God “through the (eternal) Spirit”
    • 10:29—The one who dishonors Christ’s sacrifice (through sin and disbelief) is said to have “cast insult upon the Spirit of (God’s) favor”
    • 12:23—Here the idea is that the righteous (i.e. believers), their “spirits”, come to be among the other spirits (i.e. Angels) in Heaven, as the “firstborn” (i.e. through Jesus)

It should be noted that the usage in Hebrews, especially in the way in which the title “Holy Spirit” is referenced, evinces a level of theological development, beyond what we find in Paul’s letters (cf. above), in the direction of a trinitarian distinction—i.e. the Holy Spirit as a distinct person.

James (2)

In James 2:26, the human/animal “spirit”—i.e., the life-animating power or “breath” is meant. By contrast, in 4:5, it would seem that the “Scripture” cited (identification remains uncertain) has been interpreted in reference to the Spirit dwelling in the believer. However, as there is no other specific reference to the Spirit of God (or Holy Spirit) in the letter, it is difficult to be certain of the author’s view of the matter.

1 Peter (8)
    • 1:2—As a central tenet, believers are “made holy” (i.e. sanctified) through the power and presence of the Spirit (“sanctification of the Spirit”)
    • 1:11-12—Three distinct points may discerned here:
      • The Spirit (of God) revealed future events to the Prophets whose oracles and visions are recorded in Scripture
      • This source of inspiration is actually called “the Spirit of Christ” (v. 11)
      • The “Holy Spirit” similarly inspired the apostles and other early Christian witnesses who declared the Gospel (v. 12b)
    • 3:18—Jesus is said to have been “made alive in/by (the) Spirit”. Compare with 1 Tim 3:16, where there is a similar ambiguity between the (human) “spirit” of Jesus (compared with “flesh”) and the Spirit of God. Perhaps something akin to Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15:45 is intended here.
    • 3:19—apparently a reference to the tradition of “fallen Angels” (Gen 6:1-4), i.e. Angels as “spirits”, though it is at least conceivable that the spirits of the dead are also meant. For a more symbolic application, cf. 4:6
    • 4:6—A parallel statement to 3:18-19, though applied to believers, who are made alive by/through the Spirit
    • 4:14—The Spirit of God is said to rest upon believers

The author (indicated as Peter) also uses the adjective pneumatiko/$, twice in 2:5, referring to believers as a “spiritual house” (i.e. Temple or house of God), and as holy priests who offer “spiritual offerings” to God.

2 Peter (1)
Jude (2)
    • V. 19—The author refers to pseudo-believers, referring them as “souls” (yuxikoi/) who do not hold the Spirit; on a similar distinction between “soul” and “spirit” (or “Spirit”), cf. above
    • V. 20—The reference is to believers “praying in the Holy Spirit” (cf. Eph 6:18)

“Gnosis” in the NT: Romans 11:33

This note will briefly examine Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in Romans 11:33.

Romans 11:33

This verse begins the doxology (vv. 33-36) that concludes the famous section of Romans spanning chapters 9-11. I have discussed the theme and structure of this section in an earlier article, along with a special note on Rom 11:26 in context. This analysis may be summarized in the following outline:

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.

Romans 9

9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)
9:6-13—Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.
9:14-33—Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question:

    • Vv. 14-18—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”
    • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]…?”
    • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”

Romans 10

10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
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)

Romans 11

11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)
11:13-32—Exposition: A Two-fold address to Gentile believers:

    • Vv. 13-24—Illustration of the olive tree and its branches
    • Vv. 25-32—Discourse on the (eschatological) salvation of Israel

11:33-36—Doxology on the wisdom and knowledge of God

An important theme running through these chapters is the election of the people of God, which takes place according to God’s own sovereign but mysterious will. This is one aspect of knowledge (i.e. God’s knowledge of his People, etc) here in this section, and it is emphasized in chapters 9 and 11. The second aspect—the people’s knowledge of God and his truth, the promises made, etc.—is addressed primarily in chapter 10, and expounded again in the second half of chap. 11. Note the structure in this regard:

    • Chap. 9: God’s knowledge of his people (Israel)—their election
      • Chap. 10: The people’s knowledge of God, in two respects:
        (a) The failure of many Israelites to accept the revelation in Jesus and the Gospel message (cf. vv. 2-4)
        (b) The acceptance of the Gospel, on the other hand, by many non-Israelites (Gentiles) (vv. 18-21)
    • Chap. 11: God’s knowledge of his people (the true Israel, all Israel)—the election of Jews and Gentiles both

For many of the non-Jewish Christians in Paul’s audience—as for many today—the main difficulty lay in the idea that Israelites and Jews would eventually accept Christ, though they may refuse (or be unable) to do so at the present. Though some had ‘fallen away’, a large percentage, presumably, in Paul’s mind, would (soon) respond to the Gospel, as the end drew near. This point is made reasonably clear in verses 11-16, followed by his famous illustration of the olive tree, in which Jews and Gentiles both come to be “grafted in” to the holy tree of the People of God—the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ, being a principal theme of the entire letter, is given dramatic and climactic expression here. In verses 25-32 Paul powerfully states again two great points:

    • Israelites and Jews, collectively, will come to faith, and the current “hardening” of their hearts and minds will be removed
    • They will be united (in Christ) with the Gentile believers who have come to faith before them

This two-fold dynamic is expressed in the declaration: “and so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). Paul refers to this as a secret (musth/rion), which he is making known to believers in his letter; and there can be no doubt that he also has this in mind when he opens the concluding doxology in v. 33:

“O the deep(ness) of the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God!—how unsearchable (are) his judgments, and (how) untrackable (are) his ways!”

A citation of Isaiah 40:13 follows in vv. 34-35; it is a passage which Paul also quotes in 1 Cor 2:16 (cf. my note on this verse), specifically as part of his argument contrasting human wisdom with the wisdom of God. As Paul uses the Scripture, it is meant to show how far the “mind of God” surpasses and transcends our limited human understanding. In 1 Corinthians, the quotation is followed by the positive statement which applies to believers, somewhat paradoxically: “and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of Christ“. This last point is not emphasized in Romans, except perhaps implicitly, based on Paul’s line of discussion in the prior chapters, as well as in the basic idea that the “secret(s)” of God, hidden away from the world, are now made known to believers through: (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit.

For the purpose of this series of articles, Romans 11:33 is especially instructive, within the context of Rom 9-11, in that it ties together several significant themes which will be discussed in some detail as we proceed:

    • The connection between the knowledge of God and salvation
    • That the (secret) will and knowledge of God is revealed, at least in part, to believers, and
    • That the knowledge of God is closely connected with the idea of the predestined/predetermined election of believers (i.e the people of God)