September 30: Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation 7:9-17

Rev 7:9-10

Verse 9 begins with words similar to the opening of verse 1, indicating that these are two halves of a single visionary scene:

With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I saw, and see! a throng (of) many (people), which no one is able to number, out of every nation—and (all) offshoots [i.e. tribes] and peoples and tongues—having taken (their) stand in the sight of the ruling-seat and in the sight of the Lamb, having been cast about [i.e. clothed] in white dress and (with) palm branches in their hands, and they cried (out) with a great voice, saying: ‘The salvation (is) to our God, the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, and to the Lamb!'” (vv. 9-10)

The image of believers—those who are “able to stand” in the great Judgment (6:17)—begins with those sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 4-8, cf. the previous note), and concludes with a throng of people out of every nation, language, and ethnic group, etc. The relationship between these two will be discussed further below. First it is necessary to examine how this second “group” of believers is described here in vv. 9ff.

    • “cast about [i.e. clothed] in white dress”—this corresponds with the traditional description of heavenly/angelic beings (4:4; 19:14), as well as the heavenly reward/status promised to believers in 3:4-5, 18.
    • “(with) palm-branches in their hands”—the palm branch symbolized victory in Greco-Roman tradition (Virgil Aeneid 5:112; Livy Roman History 10.47.3; Plutarch Moralia 723-4; Pliny Natural History 17.244; Caesar Civil War 3.105, etc; cf. Koester, p. 420), and was recognized by Jews as well (1 Macc 13:37, 51; 2 Macc 10:7; 14:4; Philo On the Unchangableness of God §137). In John’s version of the Triumphal Entry scene, palm branches are used (Jn 12:13), presumably to greet Jesus as the (conquering) Messiah.
    • The song they sing is similar to that of the heavenly beings in chaps. 4-5, and reflects the same dual emphasis of the Lamb (the exalted Jesus) standing alongside God on His throne. It also indicates the same position of homage and adoration, in which the salvation believers have experienced is “given back” to God (and Christ), recognizing Him as its source. Ascribing salvation to God (that is, as coming from Him, or belonging to Him) is part of the Old Testament tradition (cf. Gen 49:18; 1 Sam 2:1; Psalm 3:8; 27:1; 38:22, etc).
Rev 7:11-12

The song by the believers effectively joins that of the heavenly throng (chaps. 4-5), and the heavenly beings around the throne of God answer in return, with a new refrain. On the language used here, cf. 4:9-10f; 5:9-14; in particular, the wording of the song in v. 12 echoes 4:11 and 5:12-13. Significantly, seven words are strung together, symbolizing the praise that is worthy of Deity.

Rev 7:13-14

The identity of the great throng clothed in white (vv. 9-10) is addressed here, by way of a leading question from one of the heavenly “Elders”. Such an exchange reflects similar episodes in Old Testament and Apocalyptic tradition—cf. Ezek 37:3; 40:3-4; Zech 1:8; Dan 7:16; 8:15; 1 Enoch 21:5; 22:3; 2 Baruch 55:3-4ff, etc; Koester, p. 420.

Elder: “These the (one)s cast about [i.e. clothed] with white dress—who are they and (from) where did they come?”
John: “My lord, you have seen [i.e. you know].” (cf. Ezek 37:3)
Elder: “These are the (one)s coming out of the great distress/oppression [qli/yi$], and they washed their dress and made the (garment)s white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Here the emphasis is on their white garments. The word stolh/ is often translated “robe”, but fundamentally it refers to any sort of (special) clothing or dress, used to indicate position, honor, etc. The white garments reflect the dress of heavenly/divine beings (cf. above), which believers receive as a sign of honor and victory (i.e. heavenly reward). Now, however, the color is given a particular significance, which is two-fold:

    • they have come out of “the great distress/oppression”
    • they have washed (i.e. rinsed under flowing water) their garments “in the blood of the Lamb”

Previously, the blood of the Lamb was tied to sacrifice—i.e. Jesus’ death in terms of (a) Passover, (b) the offering at the establishment of the covenant, and (c) a sin/guilt offering. Only the last of these is really in view here, with the distinctive idea of cleansing (i.e. from sin). Obviously, blood is antithetical or paradoxical as a symbol for cleansing, but it may relate to concepts of atonement (wiping out/off) through blood in ancient religious traditions—cf. Gen 9:6, etc. There was a sacred quality associated with blood, it could be used in religious ritual to consecrate people or objects (Exod 24:6, 8; 29:12ff; Levit 8, etc). The connection with washing is perhaps drawn more directly from Gen 49:11, as a Messianic prophecy (cf. Rev 5:5). Since these believers have come out of the time of great distress, which includes persecution and killing of believers (6:9-11), it is possible that here blood specifically refers to believers who are put to death for their faith. While this allusion is likely, the reference here should not be limited to that interpretation. According to basic early Christian teaching, all believers are cleansed through Jesus’ blood (Rom 3:25; 5:9; 10:16; Col 1:20; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:13-14ff; 10:4; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5, etc). Moreover, the obvious parallel with baptism likewise would apply to believers generally.

Some comment is required regarding the expression “the great distress/oppression” (h( qli/yi$ h( mega/lh). Under the now-traditional designation “Great Tribulation”, this expression has very much taken on a life of its own, especially among Dispensationalist commentators. We must, however, be careful not to wrench it too quickly out of its context here, within the vision-cycle of the seven seals. Limiting it this way, at least for the moment, it must refer generally to the visions described for the first six seals, which we may summarize (again) as:

    • Seals 1-4, the four horses and riders—a period of intense warfare among the nations, resulting in disruption of the social order, culminating in hunger, disease and death.
    • Seal 5—persecution of believers, resulting in many being put to death
    • Seal 6—cosmic disruption of the natural order, marking the appearance of God to bring Judgment

As I noted previously, this sequence generally parallels that of Jesus’ sayings in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:7-8, 9-13, 24-25 par). There, too, it is described in terms of great distress and suffering (the word qli/yi$ being used in vv. 19, 24). Jesus also ties this period to the choosing/election of believers (vv. 19-20, 27), as here in Rev 7:4-9ff, though without the specific image of sealing. It is customary for many Christians today to view this period (the “Great Tribulation”) as a time which has not yet come—i.e. many centuries after the author’s time. While this is understandable, it is hard to find support for such an interpretation, and certainly not based on what we have seen thus far through the first six chapters of the book, where the language of imminence is used throughout (Rev 1:1, 3, 7, 19; 2:5, 16; 3:3, 10-11, 20). Indeed, 3:10 refers to “the hour of testing that is about to come upon the whole inhabited (world)”. There is little, if any, indication that this “hour of testing” is anything other that the time of “great distress” mentioned in 7:14. The entire issue of imminent eschatology in the New Testament will be addressed in a special article, as part of the current series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”

Rev 7:15-17

This answer by the Elder suddenly turns into a kind of poem, or hymn, which echoes that of v. 12 (also in chaps. 4-5), and serves as a fitting conclusion to the vision:

“Through this they are in the sight of the ruling-seat of God and do service for Him day and night in His shrine, and the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat will stretch (out His) tent upon them. They will not yet hunger (any more), and will not yet thirst (any more), and (certainly) the sun shall not fall upon them, and not (either) any burning (heat), (in) that [i.e. because] the Lamb (standing) up in the middle of the ruling-seat will herd them and will lead the way for them upon fountains of waters of life, and God will wipe out every tear out of their eyes.”

The language of verse 15 brings out two motifs drawn from Israelite religious tradition:

    • Believers serving as priests (cf. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6), day and night, in the sanctuary—both of the Temple, and, more particularly, of the older Tent-shrine (Tabernacle)
    • The Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) indicating God’s presence, and the protection which that brings

Verses 16-17 also allude to a number of key passages in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 49:10 and 25:8. The motif of the Lamb serving as a shepherd for the people, is primarily Messianic, by way of Ezek 34:23-24, etc. Both the shepherd-image and the idea of God’s sanctuary/dwelling among his people, are combined in Ezek 37:24-28. The exalted Jesus (the Lamb) is recognized as the Messiah, but also, through his divine status/position at the right hand of God, he fulfills the same life-giving and protecting role as God Himself. Jesus identifies himself similarly as a shepherd at various points in the Gospel tradition (Mark 14:27 par; John 10:1-18; cf. also Matt 2:6; 10:6; 15:24; Mark 6:34 par; Luke 15:3ff; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4; Heb 13:20).

Concluding note on the two “groups” in vv. 4-17

The distinction in this passage—believers from the people of Israel and those from all the nations—would seem to reflect two themes in early Christian eschatology taken over from Jewish tradition, and which ultimately stem from the Old Testament Prophets (esp. the book of Isaiah):

    1. The Restoration of Israel. At the end time, the twelve tribes will be regathered from their dispersal among the nations, forming a new Israel, centered back at Judah/Jerusalem. Among the many passages note: Isa 11:12; 43:5-6; 49:5-6; Jer 29:14; 31:8-10; Ezek 11:17; 34:13; 36:24; 47-48; Zech 10:8-10; Sirach 36:11; 48:10; Tobit 13:5; 2 Macc 2:18; Jubilees 1:15-17; Psalms of Solomon 11; 17:28-31. Related to this theme is the idea that the restoration will involve a faithful remnant, or portion of the people—Amos 3:12; Zeph 3:11-13; Mic 2:12; Isa 10:19-22; 11:11ff; Jer 23:3, etc. Early Christians seem to have shared this latter idea with the Qumran Community—i.e., they represented the faithful remnant of Israel (Rom 9:27-29; 11:5ff).
    2. The Inclusion of the Gentiles. Along with the restoration of Israel, at the end time the nations (i.e. Gentiles) also would come to Jerusalem and be included among the people of God. This belief was fundamental to the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, but was reflected already in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—e.g., Mic 4:1-5 (par Isa 2:2-4); Isa 49:5-6; 56:3-8; 60:3-7ff; 66:18-24; Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; Tobit 13:11; 14:6f.

As I noted above, it is possible that here the book of Revelation expresses and eschatological view similar to that of Paul in Rom 9-11, and that the portion sealed from the tribes of Israel, with its symbolic number of completeness (12 x 1000), is more or less equivalent to Paul’s statement regarding “all Israel” (Rom 11:26). As Paul describes this end-time conversion of Israelites (vv. 25-27), it suggests a sudden and miraculous event, which could be comparably expressed through God’s sealing of the 144,000 in Rev 7:4-8. Along with this large number of Jewish believers, there is an even larger number of believers from among the nations; Paul doubtless envisioned this as well (10:18; 11:11ff, 25). Both “groups” together—Jews and Gentiles as believers in Christ—make up the true, complete people of God.

“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)

August 20: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:21]

1 Corinthians 1:23-24

“…but we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) put to the stake—for the Yehudeans {Jews}, something (which) trips (them up), and for the nations [v.l. Greeks] (some)thing stupid; but for the ones called (by God), Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks (both), (it is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God…”

In verse 22, Paul has expanded upon the declaration of v. 21 (cf. the prior note) by introducing the distinction, frequent in his letters, between Jews and Greeks (or the “nations”, i.e. non-Jews, Gentiles):

“the Yehudeans {Jews} ask (for) a sign, and the Greeks seek (after) wisdom…”

We can see how this parallel plays out in verses 23-24:

    • Israelites/Jews
      • ask for a sign [shmei=on]
        • the proclamation of the cross is
          • something which trips (them) up [ska/ndalon]
    • Greeks/Nations
      • seek after wisdom
        • the proclamation of the cross is
          • something stupid/foolish [mwri/a]

Here the “sign” (shmei=on) for Jews probably should be understood in relation to their Messianic expectations. As in much eschatological thinking, the coming of the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and the end-time Judgment by God would be marked by various signs, from the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies to various natural phenomena, as well as the appearance of certain figures in history (coinciding with specific historical events). For the use of shmei=on in this context in the New Testament, cf. Mark 13:4, 22 (par Matt 24:3, 24, 30; Lk 21:7, 11, 25); John 6:14; Rev 12:1, 3. On several occasions in the Gospels, people ask Jesus for a sign to demonstrate that he is one chosen by God (as a Prophet, etc), probably also in a specific Messianic sense—Mark 8:11-12 par; Lk 11:16, 29-30 par; 23:8; John 2:18; 6:30 [cf. verse 14]; 12:18 (for more on this subject, cf. my series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Often by shmei=on is meant specifically a miraculous or supernatural event. In this regard, it is interesting that Paul himself refers to a demonstration of (God’s) power as ‘proof’ of the Spirit working/speaking through him (1 Cor 1:24; 4:19-20; 2 Cor 13:3-4).

The “sign”—that Jesus, a crucified man, is actually the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ)—turns out to be a ska/ndalon for Jews, something that “trips them up” (in a figurative sense). That Jews found the identification of Jesus as the Messiah highly problematic is clear enough from the many references in the book of Acts where the apostles and other early missionaries take pains to proclaim and demonstrate this fact (from the Scriptures)—cf. Acts 2:36; 3:18, 20; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:23, and also earlier in the Lukan Gospel (Lk 24:26-27, 44-47). In Paul’s line of argument, this Jewish dynamic (sign vs. ‘stumbling-block’) is parallel to the (main) contrast between wisdom (sofi/a) and “stupidity” (mwri/a). For non-Jews (Greeks/Gentiles), unfamiliar with the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the veneration of a man put to death by crucifixion was simply absurd. Such a death, nailed to the stake (cross), was an agonizing and humiliating punishment, reserved for slaves and the lower classes, as well as for rebels and traitors against the state, and was often inflicted to make a particularly public example of such criminals. Paul, of course, was fully aware of the shameful stigma attached to crucifixion and makes powerful use of the fact, for example, in Galatians 3:10-14.

In verse 24, Paul neatly ties together both strands of his comparison:

“but for the (one)s called (by God), Jews and Greeks (both)…”

This summarizes one his most cherished theological points: that for believers in Christ, the ethnic/religious distinction of Jew vs. non-Jew has been completely eliminated. The doctrine is at the core of his letters to the Galatians and the Romans, especially; though the formula expressed in Gal 3:28, 1 Cor 12:13, and Col 2:12 (with its baptismal context) may have existed earlier. Perhaps the clearest Pauline statement to this effect is found in Ephesians 2:11-22. The second half of v. 24 also expresses a kind of union:

“…the Anointed {Christ} (is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God”

There are two ways to consider this joining of expressions:

1. “power of God” (du/nami$ tou= qeou=) relates to the Jewish strand, while “wisdom of God” (sofi/a tou= qeou=) relates to the Greek strand. The latter point seems clear enough. And, if we understand the “sign” in v. 23 in terms of a supernatural manifestation of God in the person of the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), according to Jewish expectation, then the identification fits here as well. From a Christian standpoint the “power of God” is manifest primarily in two respects:

    • In the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, which, in turn, relates to his death (crucifixion) in two ways:
      (a) It defeats/overcomes the power of death, preserving the life of Jesus
      (b) It makes right again (justifies/vindicates) the injustice of Jesus’ suffering and death
    • In the power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) to effect salvation for those who trust in him. This relates to Paul’s idea of believers being “in Christ” (and Christ in the believer), with the symbolic/spiritual participation of the believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

2. The “power of God” and “wisdom of God” are two aspects of the Gospel message which are summed up in the person of Christ. In Romans 1:16, the Gospel (“good message”, eu)agge/lion) is called “the power of God unto salvation [du/nami$ qeou= ei)$ swthri/on]”. The essential identification of the Gospel with the wisdom of God has already been made here in 1 Corinthians, and continues as a central theme of 1:18-2:16. The terms power (du/nami$) and wisdom (sofi/a) are both associated with the Gospel in various ways in this passage.

The force of the declaration in verse 24b should not be missed—it is not the Gospel (or account/proclamation) per se which is the power and wisdom for believers, but Christ himself. This helps to explain Paul’s statement in v. 17, that to rely upon human wisdom in the communication of the Gospel (i.e. how the message is delivered) effectively risks “emptying” the content (and power) of the message—it shifts attention away from the central point of the message: the person of Jesus, who he is, and what God has done for humankind through him. And it is Jesus’ death (by crucifixion) which is the most difficult and challenging part of this message. It may be somewhat hard for us to recognize this last point today, so far removed from the historical and cultural context of crucifixion, and so familiar with the idea of Jesus’ death on the cross; but in Paul’s day, so close in time to the events, and influenced by the vital Messianic and eschatological expectations of the period, it has a very special significance. A Messiah who would be put to death (especially a death by crucifixion) was totally foreign to Jewish thought, as is clear enough from the evidence in the Gospels (and the book of Acts) and contemporary Jewish writings (I have discussed this in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”, cf. the supplemental article on the suffering and death of the Messiah). This meant that, for Christians, Jesus was (and had to be) understood as a very different kind of Savior/Redeemer figure: one who delivered people from bondage (to sin and evil) at a spiritual level, through his sacrificial and atoning death on the cross.

“Secret” in Paul’s Letters: Rom 11:25; 16:25

This study continues the survey of occurrences of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament, most of which are found in the Pauline letters. Previously, I discussed the references in 1 Corinthians; here I turn to a pair of verses in Romans.

Romans 11:25; 16:25

I begin with Romans 16:25, the beginning of a doxology (vv. 25-27) which is often thought, by many critical commentators, to be a secondary addition, and not part of the original letter. However, there can be little doubt that verse 25 reflects genuine Pauline thought, such as we find in 1 Corinthians 2 (cf. the previous study):

“And to the (One who is) empowered [i.e. able] to set you firm, according to my good message [i.e. Gospel] and the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of the secret kept silent for times (and) ages (past)…”

The phrasing in v. 25b is similar in thought (and expression) to 1 Cor 2:7. Here, however, two points are emphasized:

1. The secret (musth/rion, myst¢¡rion) is parallel to, and essentially synonymous with, the Gospel (eu)agge/lion, euangélion), which is further defined specifically as “the proclamation [kh/rugma, k¢¡rygma] of Jesus Christ”. This can be seen by an examination of the structure of this part of the sentence:

    • the one empowered/able to set you firm
      • according to [kata/] the good message [eu)agge/lion]…
      • according to [kata/] the uncovering of the secret [musth/rion]…

2. Two additional details are given regarding this secret: (a) it has been kept silent [sesighme/nou] for long ages past, and (b) it is now being uncovered (a)poka/luyi$, from the verb a)pokalu/ptw, “remove the cover from”). This “uncovering” of the secret is specifically parallel with the “proclamation” of the Gospel. Paul does not quite use this language in 1 Corinthians; rather he simply says that he and his fellow ministers are now speaking this secret, i.e. making it known, which generally amounts to the same thing. To the extent that this secret has been “uncovered” it has been done so by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10).

Interestingly, Paul typically uses the noun a)poka/luyi$ and verb a)pokalu/ptw in relation to the appearance (revelation) of Jesus at the end-time (2 Thess 1:7 [and note 2:3, 6, 8]; 1 Cor 1:7 [and 3:13]; also Rom 1:18; 2:5; 8:18-19); though, more properly, it refers to any (personal) manifestation of Christ (cf. Gal 1:12, 16; 2 Cor 12:1), etc. It can also refer generally to anything communicated (a prophecy, etc) to believers through Christ or the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 14:6, 26, 30; Gal 2:2; Phil 3:15; also Eph 3:3). Perhaps most notable are those passages which indicate that faith, righteousness, salvation, etc., have been revealed (“uncovered”) in the person of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:23).

In Romans 11:25, the word musth/rion (“secret”) is used in a special context, but one which, significantly, takes us back to the saying of Jesus in Mark 4:11 par:

“I do not want you to be without knowledge, brothers, (regarding) this secret—that you should not be (going) [along] in your own mind(-set)—that the rock-hard (attitude) from part of Israel has come to be (so) until the (time) in which the filling/fullness of the nations should come in.”

From our vantage point, Paul’s syntax (read literally) could easily obscure the point he is making; the central declaration is as follows (paraphrasing):

“this secret is: that the hardness of part of Israel has occurred (only) until the full number of Gentiles should come in (to faith in Christ)”

This statement (and what follows down through verse 32) represents the climax of a long and complex line of discussion by Paul in chapters 9-11, where he attempts to explain an issue dear to his heart: why it is that many of his fellow Jews have failed (or have been unwilling) to accept Christ and the Gospel message. This is something Paul dealt with all throughout his missionary work. We find fierce opposition to Paul and his co-workers throughout the book of Acts (esp. in chapters 13-21), during which time he began to turn his attention toward preaching to Gentiles (non-Jews)—cf. Acts 13:46-47; 18:6; 28:28. Something of his own fiery reaction to this can be found in 1 Thess 2:14-16 (a passage which must be read and handled with great care). Jewish Christians continued to oppose certain aspects of Paul’s teaching, or offered rival doctrines and sources of authority to Paul’s own—cf. throughout Galatians, and especially in 2 Corinthians 10-13. What is especially notable is that we find, in Paul’s addressing of the issue (at the end of the book of Acts, 28:26-27), the same Scripture (Isaiah 6:9-10) cited by Jesus in Mark 4:12 par (cf. the discussion in my previous note). It is possible to trace a line of interpretation and development:

    • Mark 4:12 par—God has blinded/hardened the people (Israel) so they cannot understand the “secret of the Kingdom” disclosed in Jesus’ parables, etc
    • John 12:40—This blindness/hardness of the people (Israelites/Jews) has resulted in their failure (and/or unwillingness) to accept and trust in Jesus
    • Acts 28:26-27—The blindness/hardness of Jews has forced Paul to turn his missionary efforts to non-Jews (Gentiles), who are coming to faith in Christ
    • Romans 11:25—This blindness/hardness was brought about by God for the specific purpose of bringing (the full number of) Gentiles to salvation

The first three of these passages cite Isa 6:9-10 directly; it is only implied, one can assume, in Romans 9-11. This narrows the focus of at least one aspect of the “secret(s) of God” and the “secret(s) of the Kingdom”, but one which was of fundamental importance to early Christians (especially Paul). It is perhaps hard for believers today—particularly those in the Western nations—to appreciate how intense this issue was in the early Church. The first generation of Christians, including most (if not all) of the apostles, was predominantly Jewish. The problem at first involved how non-Jewish believers should be included within the Church, and, it seems clear, there was much heated debate on the matter, which we can now glimpse vividly (if only partly) by reading Acts 10-11, 15, 21, etc, and Paul’s argument running through Galatians. By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (mid/late 50s), many more Gentiles had come to believe in Christ, with congregations springing up all of the Greco-Roman world. A major theme, and purpose, of Paul in Romans was to make a fundamental statement on the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. This was given theological (and soteriological) formulation, in various ways, throughout chapters 1-8; in chapters 9-11, there is a stronger eschatological emphasis. Commentators continue to struggle on just how one should interpret (and apply) the logic and force of Paul’s argument(s) in Rom 9-11 (cf. my earlier article in the series The Law and the New Testament); it must be studied and treated carefully, lest we too miss out on this aspect of the “secret of the Kingdom”.

August 11 (2): Ephesians 2:15b

Ephesians 2:14-16

The primary theme of Eph 2:11-22 is the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, which is expressed most clearly in the central verse 15, especially in the second half of the verse (15b; on 15a see previous note). Before proceeding, it may be helpful to see again the context in the sentence of vv. 14-16:

“For he [i.e. Christ] is our peace, the (person) making the pair (of them) one and loosing [i.e. dissolving] the middle wall of the fence, th(at is) enmity/hostility, in his flesh, making inactive/ineffective the Law of the ‘injunctions’ in ‘decrees’, (so) that he might form in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace, and might make (things completely) different between the pair (of them), in one body to God, through the stake, killing off the enmity/hostility in him(self).”

The above is an extremely literal (glossed) rendering; here it is in more conventional translation:

“For he is our peace, who made them both one, dissolving the barrier in the middle, the hostility, in his flesh, and nullifying the Law (with its) commands in (written) decrees, so that he might in himself make the two into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile them both to God in one body, through (his death on) the cross, killing off the hostility in his (own body).”

For the structure and syntax of this passage, see the earlier note.

Ephesians 2:15b

“…so that he might produce [i.e. form/create] in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace”
i%na tou\$ du/o kti/sh| e)n au)tw=| ei)$ e%na kaino\n a&nqrwpon poiw=n ei)rh/nhn

In Eph 2:14-16, Christ’s work (his sacrificial death) is understood specifically in terms of its effect on Jews and Gentiles, and the religious-cultural differences that exist between them. The effect is negative (what it removes or negates), as well as positive (what it makes or creates):

    • Negative—it removes or negates:
      —the middle wall (i.e. barrier, fence) that stands between Jews and Gentiles
      —the commands, etc. of the Old Testament Law which separates Jews and Gentiles
      —the enmity/hostility that exists between Jews and Gentiles
    • Positive—it creates or makes:
      —unity: the two become one
      —peace/reconciliation

It is striking that Paul (or the author of the letter) specifically associates the Old Testament Law with the barrier (and the enmity) which exists between Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately, apart from the mention of circumcision in verse 11, there is little in the passage which would indicate just how the Law separated them; this must be inferred from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, or from general considerations:

Clearly, it is not simply one portion of the Law that separates Jew and Gentile, but the divisiveness is fundamental to the Law and the old covenant as a whole. If we adopt here the Pauline teaching that the Law serves to increase awareness of sin and brings people (further) into bondage to it, this may help to explain the reference to “enmity/hostility” (e&xqra) twice in vv. 14-16. Just as human beings are at enmity with God, requiring reconciliation (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20), so we are enemies to each other and need to be reconciled. This reflects the two sides of the so-called Great commandment—love of God and love of neighbor (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18; Mk 12:28-34 par). In Col 1:20-22 we read that Christ’s death actually reconciles “all things” (ta\ pa/nta).

More to the point, Paul, in his writings, frequently emphasizes that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God—both equally enslaved under sin, and both saved/delivered only through Christ (Rom 1:16, and chapters 2-3; cf. also throughout Galatians). This is all the more true for Jews and Gentiles who have come to faith (1 Cor 1:24; Rom 9:24; 15:16ff; Gal 2:14b, 15ff). There are several passages, in particular, which suggest that, in Christ, the distinction between Jew and Gentile has been effaced or eliminated:

Gal 3:28: “in (Christ there is) not Jew and not Greek, (there is) not slave and not free (person), (there is) not male and female—for you all are one in Christ Jesus”

Virtually the same statement is made in Col 3:11:

“…where in (Christ there is) not Greek and Jew, circumcision and foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised], … slave (and) free, but (rather) Christ is all (thing)s and in all (thing)s”

The context of both passages is the ritual symbolism of baptism (putting on Christ), as also in 1 Cor 12:13:

“for in one Spirit we all were dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], into one body—even if Jews (or) if Greeks, if slaves (or) if free (person)s—and (we) all were made to drink one Spirit”

Eph 2:14-15ff, like 1 Cor 12:13 mentions both one body and one Spirit—certainly the same basic thought informs all of these passages. With regard to the reference to circumcision in verse 11, we should also note Rom 2:28-29; Phil 3:3; Col 3:11, along with Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19, where Paul clearly states that the Jewish religious distinctiveness marked by circumcision no longer applies to believers in Christ.

How exactly should we understand the nature of this unity (between Jews and Gentiles) in Christ? Eph 2:15b summarizes the dynamic at work: Christ, by his death on the cross, made the Law to cease working, the purpose (and result) being—

“…so that he might produce/form [kti/sh|] in him(self) the two into one new man

Is this “new man” (kaino/$ a&nqrwpo$) symbolic or is to be taken in a concrete sense? Paul only rarely uses the adjective kaino/$ (“new”), and in two distinct expressions:

    • kainh/ diaqh/kh (“new testament/covenant”)—in 2 Cor 3:6 the “new covenant” replaces the old covenant, which has come to its end (and fulfillment) in Christ (cf. also 1 Cor 11:25).
    • kainh/ kti/si$ (“new production/formation”, often rendered “new creation”)—in 2 Cor 5:17, every person in Christ is a “new creation”, likewise replacing what was previously there (the old/original nature), the old having passed along (i.e. passed away); in Gal 6:15, the “new creation” in Christ is contrasted specifically with the old Jewish/Gentile religious distinction, marked by circumcision.

The expression “new man” is used again in Eph 4:24, also with the verb kti/zw:

“and you sunk in(to) [i.e. put on] the new man th(at) is produced/formed according to [i.e. by] God in justice/righteousness and in holiness/purity of the truth [i.e. in true holiness]”

The baptismal context that is evident here would indicate primarily a symbolic significance to the expression “new man”; but, on the other hand, the unity is unquestionably real—if the old covenant and old created human nature were tangible, so too is the new covenant and new creation. The only difference is that the new covenant/creation is spiritual, realized in and by the Spirit. This is clear from the context of what follows in Eph 2:17-22:

V. 18—”through him [i.e. Christ] we hold—the pair (of us) in one Spirit—the way leading toward the Father” (cf. Rom 5:2)
V. 22—”in whom [i.e. Christ] you also were put together as a house, into a house set down for [lit. of] God, in (the) Spirit

Verses 18-22 draw heavily on religious imagery and terminology related to the Temple:

    • The Temple with its apparatus (sacred space and objects, priesthood, sacrificial offerings) provided the ritual means of access to God (v. 18)
    • The Temple was often referred to as the “house [oi@ko$] of God”, and believers become intimate members of the “household [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)
    • This house is built upon [e)poikodome/w] a sacred (and sure) foundation—upon the Prophets (of the old covenant) and the Apostles (of the new covenant), with Christ himself as the main cornerstone (v. 20)
    • The entire house-building [oi)kodomh/] is fit together precisely (and entirely) in Christ (v. 21a)
    • This building in Christ comes to be (lit. grows into) a (new) Temple-shrine (nao/$) (v. 21b)
    • We (all believers) are built together as a house [sunoikodome/w] and become a house laid down [katoikth/rion] for God—i.e. a new Temple building (v. 22)
    • This new Temple/house is spiritual (e)n pneu/mati, “in/by [the] Spirit”) (v. 22)

August 11 (1): Ephesians 2:15a

Ephesians 2:14-16 [cf. vv. 11-22]

In the previous daily note, I examined the structure of Eph 2:14-16 and the context of verses 11-22; today, I will be looking specifically at two important interpretive questions. The first involves the two elements making up verse 15a, namely:

    1. The expression o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin, and
    2. The force of the verb katarge/w
Ephesians 2:15a

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin—This unusual compound expression needs to be examined in detail:

    • o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—In the Pauline letters, the word no/mo$ nearly always refers to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and so it should be understood generally here. However, Paul does occasionally use the word in a slightly different sense, as in the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=), which I believe (contrary to the view of many commentators) has a somewhat wider meaning, synonymous with the will of God, as indicated by the context of Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21. In Paul’s mind, of course, the “Law of God” is expressed and embodied in the Old Testament Law (cf. below).
    • tw=n e)ntolw=n—The word e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, though it literally means “something (i.e. a duty, charge) laid on (someone) to complete”; the rendering “injunction” is perhaps better, indicating something which a person is enjoined to do. In the New Testament, the term often refers to the commands of the Old Testament Law (esp. the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue), corresponding to the Hebrew hw`x=m!. The plural of e)ntolh/ signifies the commands of the Law collectively; subsequent Jewish tradition came to enumerate 613 specific commands.
    • e)n do/gmasin—The term do/gma is somewhat difficult to render consistently in English; fundamentally, it means “what one thinks or considers” about something, but often in the specific (or technical) sense of an authoritative opinion or decision. For example, the opinion/decision of high-court judges typically comes to have a legally binding status, so also the decisions (or “decrees”) of rulers, and so forth. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament of imperial decrees (Lk 2:1; Acts 17:7), and of the (authoritative) decision of the ‘council’ of Jerusalem (Acts 16:4). The word appears only once elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, in Col 2:14, where it refers to the written form of the Law—”the handwriting [xeiro/grafon] of the decisions/decrees [toi=$ do/gmasin] which was over (and) against us”, i.e. the Law in its condemning aspect (see esp. on the “curse of the Law”, Gal 3:10-14).

Now to put the elements together:

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n (“the Law of the injunctions”)—This is best understood as a subjective and/or qualitative genitive, i.e. “the injunctions which comprise the Law”. Such genitive constructs are frequent (and occasionally elaborate) in Ephesians, contributing greatly to the exalted style (typical of prayer/praise language) that pervades the letter. Some might prefer to see the “injunctions” as only part, or one component, of the Law, but I believer that this is incorrect—the phrase is meant to qualify and define more precisely the entire Law.

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin (“the Law of the injunctions in [written] decrees”)—The added prepositional phrase “in decisions/decrees” (e)n do/gmasin) is also meant to localize the commands/injunctions which make up the Law. As indicated above, the closest parallel is Col 2:14, where written decrees specifically are meant. Elsewhere, Paul clearly understands the Old Testament Law primarily as something written (i.e. in Scripture), cf. Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 10:5; 1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 2 Cor 3:7; Gal 3:10, 22, and note the basic metaphor in Rom 2:15; 2 Cor 3:6. It is noteworthy, that he also seems to identify the written form of the Law as that which imprisons or “kills” (2 Cor 3:6-7ff; Gal 3:10; Rom 7:6; Col 2:14). For Paul’s unique view of the purpose of the Law in this regard, cf. Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-25; 11:32, and the previous articles on Galatians and Romans.

In my view, with this compound (and admittedly awkward) expression, Paul (or the author of the letter) spells out clearly what is otherwise assumed in the simple use of o( no/mo$ (“the Law”). We might establish and parse the equation as follows:

    • The Law—that is, the “Law of God” = the will of God
      • as expressed in the injunctions—the commands, regulations, precepts, etc.—of the Old Testament Law
        • in their authoritative written form, as binding decrees

The force of the verb katarge/w—This verb (katarge/w) is distinctively Pauline (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters). Fundamentally, it means “make (something) cease working”, that is, render it inactive or ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”. Paul uses it in the context of the (Old Testament) Law in Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11. The verses in underlined italics specifically teach that, with the coming of Christ (and his sacrificial death), the Old Testament Law has been “nullified” or rendered inactive, i.e. it has ceased to work, meaning that it no longer has binding authority for believers—we are no longer “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon, Rom 6:14-15; 7:6; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, etc). And this clearly is the context of Eph 2:14-15 as well:

“(Christ is the one) making inactive [katargh/sa$] the Law of injunctions in (written) decrees…”

However, it should be noted that in Rom 3:31, Paul appears to make nearly the opposite claim:

“Then do we make inactive [katargou=men] the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make (the) Law stand!”

A fair number of modern commentators understand Paul here to be saying that he continues to observe the Torah and/or considers it still to be binding for Jewish believers, and then proceed to qualify what is said in Eph 2:14-15, etc. on this basis. I consider this to be a serious misunderstanding of Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law, as well as a mistaken interpretation of Rom 3:31. This will be discussed in more detail in the next (concluding) article on Paul’s view of the Law; see also the earlier note on Rom 3:31. It should be mentioned that in Rom 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14, the nullifying is the result of God’s work in Christ; in Rom 3:31, Paul uses the first person (“we do not nullify…”) and specifies “through th(is) trust”. That is to say, our trust in Christ and proclamation of the Gospel message does not invalidate the Law as such; quite the opposite—Christ himself completes and fulfills the Law (Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14; 4:4-5; Rom 3:21-26; 8:2-4; 9:30-33; 10:3-4), bringing it to an end. We now fulfill the Law (of God) through our trust in Christ.

In the next note, I will explore the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles expressed by the phrase “into one new man” (ei)$ e%na kainon a&nqrwpon) in verse 15b.

August 10: Ephesians 2:14-16

Ephesians 2:11-22 [verses 14-16]

Today’s note is on Ephesians 2:14-16, within the context of Eph 2:11-22; it is supplemental to the article on Paul’s View of the Law (in Ephesians). As I have mentioned previously, many scholars today have serious doubts regarding the authorship of Ephesians, whether it is authentically Pauline. However, even commentators who argue that it is pseudonymous recognize that there is a good deal of ‘Pauline’ material in the letter, and nowhere more so than in this passage. Verses 11-13, in particular, effectively serve as a summary for much of what Paul says in Romans and elsewhere. Note, for example:

    • The emphasis on circumcision in verse 11 (cf. Rom 2:25-29; 3:30; 4:9-12; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 2:7-9; 5:6; 6:15, and esp. Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11). In Galatians, especially, circumcision serves as an element of the old covenant (and the Law) which separates Jews and Gentiles; and, it is for this reason that Paul argues against its importance for believers.
    • The idea that Gentiles were cut off from God’s covenant with Israel (and without the Law) prior to the Gospel is found especially in Rom 2:12-14; 9:30; 11:17ff.
    • The covenant based on the promise to Abraham is a primary theme in Gal 3:15-18ff; Rom 4:13-25.
    • Christ’s sacrificial death is said to bring reconciliation in Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Col 1:22.

However, beginning with verse 14, the orientation shifts somewhat—instead of viewing Gentiles in terms of being separated from Israel (cf. the illustration of the olive tree and branches in Rom 11:17-24), we find a different image: of Jews and Gentiles as united together in a single, new religious identity. Here is how verses 14-16 read:

“For he [i.e. Christ] is our peace, the (person) making the pair (of them) one and loosing [i.e. dissolving] the middle wall of the fence, th(at is) enmity/hostility, in his flesh, making inactive/ineffective the Law of the ‘injunctions’ in ‘decrees’, (so) that he might form in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace, and might make (things completely) different between the pair (of them), in one body to God, through the stake, killing off the enmity/hostility in him(self).”

It is useful to analyze the syntax of this complex and difficult sentence; it is built up of participles describing the work of Christ—he is the person:

    • making (poih/sa$) the pair (Jews & Gentiles) to be one
    • loosing/dissolving (lu/sa$) the middle wall between them
    • causing (it) to cease working (katargh/sa$), i.e., rendering inactive, or nullifying, the Law
    • killing off/away (a)poktei/na$) the hostility or enmity between them

All of these are aorist forms, which indicates past action—i.e., these things took place at Christ’s death. These four participles may also be divided into pairs:

    • making the pair (Jews/Gentiles) to be one
      • dissolving the middle wall (i.e. fence/barrier) between them
    • making the Law to cease working (insofar as it separated Jews/Gentiles)
    • killing of the hostility/enmity between them

Embedded between the last two participial phrases (in vv. 15b-16a) there is another construct involving a pair of phrases using aorist subjunctive forms, and governed by i%na (“so that…”):

    • he might produce [kti/sh| i.e. form/create] in him(self) the two [i.e. Jews/Gentiles] into one
      • making peace
    • he might make (things completely) different [a)pokatalla/ch|] between the pair, in one body
      • to God through the stake [i.e. the cross]

Also running through the sentence is a triad of references to the two becoming one:

    • the pair (to be) one [v. 14]
    • the two… into one [v. 15]
    • the pair… in one body [v. 16]

With regard to verses 14-16, there are two primary interpretive questions which I will address—the first of these is centered in verse 15a, and may be divided into the two elements which comprise this portion of the verse: (1) the expression involving the Law (o( no/mo$), and (2) the force of the verb katarge/w. The second question is: how should we understand the unity between Jews and Gentiles, as expressed in the phrase “that he might form in him the two into one new man” (v. 15b)?  These are to be discussed in the next daily note.

The Salvation of “All Israel” in Romans 11

This article, which is supplemental to the study on Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans 9-11), will attempt to clarify Paul’s complex address in chapter 11, particularly with regard to the declaration in verse 26a: kai\ ou%tw$ pa=$  )Israh/l swqh/setai (“and thus all Israel will be saved”). To begin with, it is important to keep the overall context of Romans 9-11 in mind when studying chapter 11; 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:

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 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, 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.

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, 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.

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 briefly in an explanatory article.

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.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (9:1-11:32)

Romans 9-11

These famous chapters in Romans have been notoriously difficult to interpret, not least in terms of how exactly they fit into the overall structure of the letter. From the standpoint of rhetorical analysis, Rom 1:18-8:39 clearly represents the probatio, the presentation of arguments in support of the main proposition (Rom 1:16-17). I have already discussed in detail each of the four main sections which make up the probatio, according to the thematic division presented as four announcements:

Through the arguments in these sections, Paul effectively expounds his central (two-fold) proposition:

“I do not feel shame upon [i.e. about] the good message [i.e. Gospel],
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every (one) th(at is) trusting—to the Yehudean {Jew} first and (also) to the Greek.
For the justice/righteousness of God is uncovered in it, out of trust (and) into trust, even as it has been written: ‘but the just/righteous (person) will live out of trust’.”

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.

I present my analysis of these chapters in summary, outline form, discussing several key verses in more detail in separate notes.

Romans 9

Rom 9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)

In vv. 1-3, Paul offers a moving confession of the sadness and burden he feels for his fellow Jews, whom he refers to as “my brothers” and “my kin (lit. ones coming to be [born] with me)”, and who, most notably, are Israelites (ei)sin  )Israhli=tai). This leads in vv. 4-5 to an announcement of the benefits and honors accorded to Israel by God, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh (“according to the flesh”, kata\ sa/rka). The setting forth (establishment) of the Law (nomoqesi/a) is, of course, one of these honors.

Rom 9:6-13—Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.

This is defined clearly by Paul in verse 6:

“But (it is) not so that the word/account of God has fallen out [i.e. failed]: for these—all the (one)s out of Israel—are not Israel.”

The specific syntax of this last statement is important. The negative particle ou) governs the statement as a whole: ou) ga\rou!toi  )Israh/l (“for these…are not Israel”); and these (ou!toi) refer to the preceding phrase pa/nte$ oi( e)c  )Israh/l (“all the ones out of Israel”). Secondarily, one may also read the negative particle with pa/nte$, “not all the ones out of Israel.. are Israel”. The preposition e)k here means “out of” in the sense of physical/biological descent from (i.e. “offspring of the flesh”, v. 8). In other words the true Israel is not simply the same as all Israelites taken in the ethnic/cultural sense. Paul builds on this by returning to the example of Abraham from chapter 4 (cf. also Gal 3-4), emphasizing that Isaac was his “seed” according to the promise of God, and not simply out of his flesh. Abraham’s true descendants likewise are the “offspring of the promise” (ta\ te/kna th=$ e)paggeli/a$), v. 8. In a similar manner, Paul emphasizes that Isaac’s son Israel was chosen (“called out”) by God beforehand, in contrast to his other son Esau—i.e., the blessing was not based simply on birth or genealogy (vv. 11-13).

Rom 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]? There is not injustice [a)diki/a] alongside God (is there)? May it not come to be (so)!”
    • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]: For what [i.e. why] then does He yet find fault (with us)? For who has stood against His counsel [i.e. what He has resolved to do]?”
    • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]? That the nations not pursuing justice have taken hold of justice…but Israel, pursuing (the) Law of justice…did not arrive (first)…?

The first two arguments (vv. 14-29) relate to the example of Isaac in vv. 6-13, of how God chose Israel beforehand (over Esau). These verses came to be central to subsequent theological debates regarding “predestination” and the sovereignty of God—i.e., how God may accept one person and reject another, quite apart from anything done to deserve such blessing. Unfortunately, this doctrinal emphasis tends to wrench the passage well out of its original context, as is quite clear from the the concluding argument in vv. 30-33, where Paul returns to the main statement of v. 6. Because of their importance to Paul’s view of the Law, verses 30-33 will be discussed in a separate note.

Romans 10

Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)

Paul offers a personal confession, similar to that in 9:1-3; here he expresses his desire (and prayer) that Israel might be saved—”(my) need (expressed) [i.e. prayer] toward God over them unto (their) salvation” (v. 1b). In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”

Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:

“For (the) Anointed {Christ} is (the) te/lo$ of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

This verse (along with vv. 2-3) will be discussed in a separate note.

Rom 10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.

This argument is essentially a commentary on Leviticus 18:5, which Paul also cites in a similar context in Gal 3:10-14. It is part of his regular contrast between the Law, which one observes by doing (“works of the Law”), and trust/faith (in Christ). The contrast is stark indeed—”justice/righteousness out of the Law” vs. “justice/righteousness out of faith/trust”. His supplemental usage here of Deut 30:11-14 is interesting, illustrating dramatically the righteousness based on doing, taken to extremes: “step up into the (high) heaven…step down into the deep (pit)”, adding the detail that the purpose is to “bring the Anointed down” and “bring the Anointed up”. The idea seems to be that this righteousness through deeds (i.e. observance of the Law) effectively takes the place of the true righteousness of God found in Christ, as expressed in v. 3. Another difference is that true righteousness is realized through the “utterance in the mouth… and in the heart” (v. 8, citing Deut 30:14); this utterance (r(h=ma) is then identified with the “word” or proclamation (kh/rugma) of the Gospel. Paul cites a kerygmatic formula in verse 9, expounding it in vv. 10-11, and applying it to all people—Jews and Gentiles equally—who trust in Christ, and confess this trust, i.e. “all who call upon him” (v. 12f, citing Joel 2:32 [cf. Acts 2:21]).

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)

The statement in v. 16, “not all have obeyed [lit. listened/heard under] the good message”, relates back to the main argument in 9:6—not all Israelites are (the true) Israel. The implication is, that the true Israel is represented by those who accept the Gospel and trust in Jesus Christ. This is the message of chapters 9 and 10, in summary form. It is important to keep this in mind when studying chapter 11 (below).

Romans 11

Rom 11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)

The structure of this chapter is somewhat different from the previous two—here Paul’s personal address in relation to Israel is embedded within a larger discussion of Israel’s role as the people of God. Verses 1-12 actually form an argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10), framed by two similar rhetorical questions:

    • Vv. 1-2: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
      Question: “God has not pushed his people away from (him, has he)?”
      Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!… God has not pushed away from (him) his people whom he knew before(hand).”
    • Vv. 11-12: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
      Question: “They have not started to fall (so) that they should fall (completely, have they)?”
      Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]! But by their falling alongside, the salvation for the Gentiles (has come), to bring them [i.e. Israel] along to a burning (desire) [i.e. to jealously].”

The central argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10) draws upon the narrative from 1 Kings 19:9-18, and the idea of a faithful remnant of Israel—”so then also in this time now there has come to be a (remainder) left over, according to the gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)” (v. 5).

Rom 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

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

Because of the importance of this chapter, especially verses 13-32, in terms of Paul’s view of the Law, as well as the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, it will be discussed in more detail in a supplementary article.

July 27: Romans 2:25-29

Romans 2:25-29

This note will examine Romans 2:25-29 as related to Paul’s view of the Law in Romans (see the article on Rom 1:18-3:20). Throughout chapter 2, Paul has been laying the groundwork for the teaching that all human beings (Jew and Gentile alike) face the judgment of God equally, on the the basis of deeds done according to the Law. This egalitarian doctrine would have faced objections on two fronts:

    1. Jews ought not to be considered on the same grounds as Gentiles (“sinners”)—a religious-ethical objection
    2. Gentiles are, in fact, not under the Law (that is, the Torah)—a question of definition and cultural-religious identity

Both points are dealt with in this chapter—the first, by way of the polemic of vv. 1-5, 17-24; the second, by way of the argument in vv. 6-10, 11-16. Then, Paul brilliantly sums up both under the idea of circumcision, which, of course, is the main marker of Jewish religious and cultural identity. The question of circumcision (whether Gentile Christians ought to be circumcised) was central to Paul’s entire line of argument in Galatians; indeed, circumcision functioned rhetorically as a kind of shorthand for observance of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah)—the wider question being whether believers in Christ are required to observe the Torah commands. Paul returns to this same issue here in Romans; it is framed rather differently, but many of the points made in Galatians still apply. One may outline these verses as follows:

    • Vv. 25-26: The proper meaning of circumcision as a mark of religious identity—its relationship to the Torah
    • V. 27: Deeds matter more than having circumcision in the time of judgment
    • Vv. 28-29: The unimportance of (physical) circumcision—the true meaning of circumcision is spiritual

Verses 25-26

Paul explains the proper meaning of circumcision, as a mark of religious identity, with a pair of statements, the second of which takes the form of a rhetorical question:

V. 25: “For (on the one hand) circumcision profits (you) if you should practice the Law; but (on the other hand) if you should be (one) stepping-over the Law, (then) your circumcision has become (a) foreskin”
V. 26: “Then if the (one having a) foreskin guards the just things [dikaiw/mata] of the Law, will not his foreskin be counted unto circumcision?”

The first statement (v. 25) makes the point that the religious identity (covenant) associated with the ritual of circumcision is invalidated and rendered false or meaningless if the terms of the covenant (observing the Torah commands) are not followed. Elsewhere, Paul refers to Torah observance with the expression “works of (the) Law”; here, he describes it as habitual performance (pra/ssw, “to practice”). In other words, the covenant (indicated by circumcision) requires that the Torah commands and regulations be observed (in their entirety, cf. Gal 5:3). The ritual of circumcision itself is not enough (a point which contrasts somewhat with traditional Jewish belief, as  expressed in Rabbinic writings).

The question in verse 26 makes the opposite point: an uncircumcised non-Jew (Gentile), otherwise unfamiliar with the Torah, who observes all the just/right things in it, is counted as if he were circumcised. This doubtless would have been a controversial, even offensive, idea to many Jews; not because they denied the possible existence of devout and upright Gentiles, but because of the overall religious implications. Consider the two points Paul is making:

    1. Right behavior (i.e. the Torah, esp. in its moral/ethical aspects) is more important than the religious-cultural identity associated with circumcision itself
    2. The specific (physical) rite of circumcision is relatively unimportant

The second of these points would have been especially problematic, and Paul has already stated it more definitely in Galatians 5:6; 6:15; and 1 Cor 7:19. The last of these references is particularly close to the claim he makes here:

“Circumcision is nothing and (having) a foreskin (also) is nothing, but watching the commands of God (is something)”

As I have discussed previously, the expression “commands [e)ntolw=n] of God” probably should be understood in terms of the “Law of God” (Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21) and the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21), rather than precisely synonymous with the Torah. The same would be true, I think, of the expression “just things [dikaiw/mata] of the Law” in Rom 2:26 (cf. Rom 1:32; 5:16, 18; 8:4)—the Law (or justice/righteousness) of God, as expressed in the Torah. Paul explained more clearly in vv. 12-16 in what sense Gentiles are “under Law” and may be said to keep the Law.

Verse 27

The hypothetical reversal of roles—transgressing Jew vs. righteous/observant Gentile—is extended to the time of judgment before God. The basic message is similar to that proclaimed by Jesus in Luke 11:32 par. The transgressing Jew is characterized by the significant expression “through the written (word/letter) [dia\ gra/mmato$]”—i.e., one who has been circumcised according to the letter of the Law, but who violates the true meaning and spirit of the Law. Though it might seem that Paul is giving moral, devout Gentiles the advantage over Jews, this is not the case; rather, by way of paradoxical illustration, he is making a two-fold claim:

    • Ultimately there is no significance to the “natural” (ethnic-cultural) status of Israelites or Jews (as indicated by circumcision)
    • All human beings—Jew and Gentile alike, in their own way—are equally “under the Law” and will be judged accordingly

Verses 28-29

Paul here establishes an even more important juxtaposition between the true and false meaning of circumcision, using dualistic language and imagery:

Vv. 28-29a: “For the (one) in the (outward) appearance is not a Jew, and circumcision (also is) not in the (outward) appearance in (the) flesh; but (rather) the (one) in the hidden (reality) is a Jew, and circumcision (is) of the heart—in (the) Spirit, not in (the) written (word)…”

The comparison true vs. false is indicated by similar formulations—one negative, the other positive:

    • V. 28 (negative): not e)n tw=| fanerw=|—”in the open, in the (outward) appearance (lit. shining-forth)”
    • V. 29 (positive): e)n tw=| kruptw=|—”in the hidden/secret (reality)”

For a similar use of the expression e)n tw=| kruptw=|, see Matthew 6:2, 4, 18. Note the words which further qualify and define this dualistic contrast:

e)n tw=| fanerw=|
“in the (outward) appearance”

e)n sarki/
“in (the) flesh”

–e)n— gra/mmati
“in (the) written (word)”

e)n tw=| kruptw=|
“in the hidden (reality)

kardi/a$
“of (the) heart”

e)n pneu/mati
“in (the) Spirit”

There is some question, perhaps, whether pneu=ma in v. 29 is “spirit” generally or the (Holy) “Spirit” specifically; the context, as well as similar passages elsewhere in Paul’s writings, strongly suggest the latter. For the contrast between the visible (letter, i.e. written word) and the hidden (Spirit), see also Rom 7:6, and especially 2 Cor 3:6.

The idea of true circumcision being “of the heart” was inherited by Paul as an already familiar Old Testament and Jewish theme—Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:24-25; Ezek 44:7-9; cf. also Jubilees 1:23; 1QpHab 11:13; Philo, On the Special Laws I.305, On the Migration of Abraham §92; and note, especially, the important Prophetic passages in Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:27. Paul connects this traditional motif with the Spirit (of God and Christ)—i.e. believers effectively fulfill the Law (of God and Christ) through the Spirit, not by observing the commands and rites of the Torah.

A final, significant emphasis is made in verse 29b, that judgment (and acceptance, “justification”) comes from God, and is not realized by human (religious and ethical) standards. This is very much the same point made by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-18).