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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-33

IX 1-XI 36 The Present Exclusion of Israel from the Salvation revealed in the Gospel, or the present separation of Israel from the Church of God—The problem which St Paul sets himself in these three chapters is the failure of the Gospel to convince Israel. How can the Gospel be the true fulfilment of the Messianic promises, when its central doctrine declaring Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messias is rejected by the very Israel to whom God had promised the Messias. With reference to St Paul’s answer to this problem it must first be noticed that the Apostle discusses the exclusion of Israel as a whole from the salvation of the Messias and that only here and now, i.e. in the Church on earth. It would lead to grave misunderstandings to think that his subject is Israel’s exclusion from heaven at the Last Judgement, which judgement, needless to say, is not collective but individual; cf. Prat I 250; A. Charue, L’Incrédulité des Juifs dans k NT, 1929, 283 ff. and 343-52 where an extensive bibliography on the whole subject can be found.

The connexion of the subject with the preceding parts of the epistle is not stated in the text. Probably its importance at the time was responsible for its place here, cf. Gal. Of the commentators who look for definite points of connexion some go back as far as 1:16, ’the Gospel is a power of salvation . . . for the Jew first’, cf. 2:9; others point to 3:1 f., the privileges of Israel; and others to 8:30, divine election.

Importance. In the days of St Paul the theological problems raised by the separation of the Church Israel and vice versa were probably the subject of daily conversations among Christians as much as other doctrinal differences in the days of later heresies or as social problems are today; cf. Ac; Gal; Charue VII f. Compared with Israel the Christians were but a small minority, with all the external advantages (power, organization, scholarship, tradition, money) on the other side. In this situation Paul more than anyone else, as far as we know, set himself to defend the Christian cause in a scientific theological way and Rom 9-11 is his most complete effort in this respect that has been preserved. The primary importance of these chapters, therefore, is that they present the first scientific vindication of the Christian cause in combat with the well-equipped theology of the synagogue. They are the first chapters of early Christian apologetics. The terms ’scientific’ and ’theological’ must, of course, be taken here not in their modern western sense, but in accordance with the methods used at the time in the world of St Paul, cf. Philo and rabbinical theology. Apart from this apologetic aspect of the question which was no doubt foremost in Paul’s mind these chapters remain important for theology also because of the principles employed by the Apostle, especially those concerning the problem of evil and divine election or pre-destination to salvation within the Church. Why are the Gentiles in the Church and Israel is not? Why B and not A?

Plan. Chh 9-11 can be divided as follows: (a) 9: 1-5, introduction; (b) 9:6-29, the vindication of God’s justice and faithfulness in the present exclusion of Israel from the salvation revealed in the Gospel; (c) 9:30-10:21, this exclusion is Israel’s own fault; (d) 11:1-36, other points of view from which light can be thrown on the problems raised by Israel’s present unbelief and rejection.

IX 1-5 Introduction of the New Subject, Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias—This paragraph is evidently meant to be the introduction to a new topic. It has even been taken as the preface of an entirely separate letter. Nevertheless it does not state in one clear sentence what this new topic is. As so often in St Paul’s letters the real problem becomes apparent only as the argument proceeds. In this case it is the problem created by the exclusion of Israel, the chosen people of old, from the blessings of the Gospel.

Connexion. There is none according to the rules of literary composition, but cf. § 857a. Instead of connecting the new topic with what precedes the Apostle begins by expressing his deep sorrow over the fact that Israel as a whole has not accepted Christ and his Gospel of salvation. Thus 1-5 becomes a kind of captatio benevolentiae.

The first characteristic feature of this passage is the list of Israel’s privileges, 4 f. This list is without a biblical parallel, though the Bible is full of references to this or that prerogative of Israel in particular. The purpose which the list fulfills in the context is twofold. ’It explains the Apostle’s grief, and, reveals the importance of the problem before us’ (SH). The prerogatives of Israel enumerated in 4 f. are: (1) the name ’ Israel’—a title of honour and divine favour, cf.Genesis 32:28; Psalms 113:2; Ecclus 17:15; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12. (2) ’Adoption, as sons of God’—cf. Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; Deuteronomy 32:6; Jeremiah 31:9; Os 11:1. This adoption is different from that of Romans 8:15 f.) (3) ’The glory’—of God manifested in his special presence at Sinai, Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:16-18; in the tabernacle, Exodus 40:32, Exodus 40:34; in the first temple of Jerusalem, 3 Kg 8:11. (4) ’The divine covenants’—made with the Patriarchs, Genesis 15:18; Exodus 2:24, etc.; at Sinai, Exodus 19:5; Exodus 24:7 f., etc.; with Phinees, Numbers 25:12 f.; by Josue, Joshua 24:25; with David, Psalms 88:4, Psalms 88:29, etc.; by Joiada, 4 Kg 11:17; by Ezechias, 2 Par 29:10; by Josias, 4 Kg 23:3; by Esdras, Esd 10:3. (5) ’The law’—of Moses or the Pentateuch. (6) ’The service of God’—the liturgy according to the law of Moses in the tabernacle and later in the temple of Jerusalem. (7) ’The promises’ concerning the Messias. (8) ’The fathers’—the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Acts 3:13, etc. (9) ’The Messias’—who is of their race.

A second characteristic feature of this paragraph is the statement of the divinity of Christ in 5. This text is discussed at length in every commentary. The different opinions as to its historical meaning are shown in the different punctuations of the text, cf. SH 233-8. The first explanation punctuates: ’Christ according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever, Amen’, DV. In this form the meaning of the passage is clear and the sequence of thought natural. Besides being the most natural this explanation has also the support of Christian antiquity, cf. J. B. Franzelin, De verbo incarnato, 1874, 71-82; A. Durand, RB 12 ( 1903) 550-70. In dogma v 5 holds an established place among the Scripture proofs for the divinity of Christ, cf. Tanquerey II 634. For other doxologies addressed to Christ, cf. 16:27; 2 Timothy 4:18; 1 Timothy 3:16; Ephesians 5:14, Ephesians 5:19; Prat II 130. The second explanation argues that the explicit use of the name ’God’ for Christ is without a parallel in St Paul’s letters and that this makes it necessary to avoid such a usage here if that is at all grammatically possible. Those who accept this argument find a corresponding interpretation by inserting a full stop after ’flesh’ or after ’all things’. The remainder of the sentence (5c) then becomes a praise (doxology) not of Christ but of God: ’God, who is above all, be blessed for ever’; or ’God blessed for ever, Amen’. This is the exegesis among others of Wetstein, Tischendorf ( 1869), Jülicher, Lietzmann, cf. also RV margin. Its main weakness is its artificiality which betrays itself in the far-fetched arguments necessary to make it appear plausible. More specific reasons which can be urged against it are: (a) 5c has not the recognized form of a Biblical doxology which is: ’Blessed (be) God’, and not ’God (be) blessed’, cf.Luke 1:68; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3. (b) It is against I Pauline usage to begin a doxology with a new sentence cf. 1:25; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18, etc.; Lagrange. (c) What is ultimately gained by this exegesis is less than the extent of the controversy suggests. For the first explanation remains at least equally possible and the doctrine of the divinity of Christ remains unimpaired because it is clear from other texts of St Paul, cf.Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:9, etc.; Cornely; Prat II 124-31.

1. For similar assurances of sincerity cf.2 Cor 1:23 2:17; 11:31; 12:19; Galatians 1:20; Matthew 5:37; James 5:12.3. ð??óµð? = (1) I wish, DV; (2) I could wish, WV. Either translation is possible, cf. S. G. Green, Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek NT, 1904, 300; Blass- Debrunner , Grammatik, 1931, § 359, 2. On the moral character of this wish cf. Clem. Rom. I53; Rickaby, ad loc; A. Piscetta and A. Gennaro, Elementa Theol. Moralis II ( 1938) 134; Lietzmann quotes ’the heroic act’ as an analogy.

6-29 The Vindication of the Divine Attributes of Faithfulness and Justice in the Present Exclusion of Israel from the Salvation of the Gospel— The argument in this section is apologetic. The difficulties to be solved are objections against God’s faithfulness, 6-13, and justice, 14-29, in the case of Israel and the Gospel. The practical purpose of these objections—evidently coming from orthodox Israelites—is to prove the Gospel wrong. God has promised Israel the Messianic blessings. If they have now come with no share for Israel then God has broken his solemn promises. This being impossible, the only alternative is that the Messias has not yet come and that the salvation offered in the Christian Gospel is a heresy which Israel rightly rejects.

Characteristic. The passage 6-29 is generally known as difficult. But the difficulties are doctrinal— dogmatical, not textual or exegetical. They centre round the terms: election and predestination; grace and free will. For history of exegesis see SH 269-75.

6-13 The Vindication of God’s Faithfulness In the Present Exclusion of Israel from the Salvation of the Gospel— The objection here to be rejected tries to refute Christianity by arguing that if the Gospel were true, then God would not have kept his Messianic promises to Israel. In his reply Paul tacitly admits that since the Messianic promises were given to Israel their fulfilment also must have come to Israel. Nevertheless there is a fallacy in the objection. The mistake lies in the popular definition of the Israel to whom the divine promises were given. The objecting Synagogue takes it for granted that this Israel is the race of Abraham. Paul rejects this definition. The divine promises were not given to all the lineal descendants of Abraham. From the very beginning the Scriptures insist on the additional principle of God’s free election as the examples of Ismael, 6-9, and of Esau, 10-13, prove. Both were descendants of Abraham and yet both were excluded from the blessings of Abraham their father, and of Isaac and Jacob their younger brothers. And these two cases cannot be set aside as exceptions, for they are typical of the Messianic times like the whole of the OT, cf.Galatians 4:23 ff. As in the case of Abraham’s and Isaac’s children so also in the history of the Chosen People, it is God’s election that constitutes the true Israel of the Scriptures. ’Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated’, 13; Malachi 1:2.

Besides this main argument, 6-9, Paul finds in the case of Esau and Jacob a further illustration of his thesis that God acted freely in electing whom he wished to the membership of Israel. According to Genesis 25:23 Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected before either was born. If the election of the one and the rejection of the other had taken place later in their lives their’ moral conduct might have been made responsible for the distinction. As it is, the lesson which that Bible record wants to drive home can be none other than the freedom of God’s election irrespective of descent from Abraham and also irrespective of works, 10-12.

The final conclusion then to be drawn from St Paul’s reply to the Synagogue is: with regard to Israel to whom the Messianic promises were given we must distinguish between the Israelites who are Abraham’s children only by physical descent and the Israelites who are Abraham’s children by God’s special election, like Isaac and Jacob. Only the latter, irrespective of their number, constitute the true Israel. Hence the self-exclusion of the majority of national Israel from Christianity does not put the Gospel into contradiction to the divine and unchangeable promises of the OT.

A false interpretation. St Paul’s argument in 6-13 has been wrongly quoted as scriptural evidence in favour of absolute predestination in the sense that each individual’s eternal destiny is predetermined by an unalterable divine decree. Against such a false conclusion it must be remembered: (1) the two Scripture texts quoted in 13 f. are concerned not with the eternal salvation of Esau and Jacob but with their earthly life; and again Paul himself is discussing the election to the Messianic promises of Israel, not the election to heaven or hell; (2) the expression ’I have hated’ in 13 is not to be pressed since it is part of a quotation. And further, when contrasted with ’I have loved’ it may be taken as a Hebrew idiom and translated ’I have loved less’ = I have not chosen, cf.Genesis 29:30 f.; Luke 14:26; Deuteronomy 21:15-17; Jg 14:16; Proverbs 14:20; so Cornely.

A slightly different form of the same misinterpretation uses St Paul’s subsidiary argument in 10-12 to rove a false doctrine of predestination to heaven or hell in the specific sense of predestination ’ independently of works’, i.e. independently of merits or demerits, because Esau was rejected before there could be any works against him. Some commentators have tried to meet this difficulty by introducing the idea of God’s foreknowledge of Jacob’s and Esau’s later sins and virtues. The distinction between predestination before and after the prevision of merit (ante vel post praevisa merits) is no doubt right and helpful, but was it in the mind of St Paul when writing 10-12? It seems simpler and more in accordance with what the text actually says, to disown all theological speculations in 6-13 as regards predestination to heaven or hell because they are outside the scope of the argument. Paul is disputing Israel’s claims to the Messianic promises as a nation; and he does not carry the discussion beyond the limits set to it by this immediate object. The exclusion of (Ismael and) Esau from the Messianic promises proves these claims false and that is all the Apostle wants to prove. St Paul did not intend to prove that Esau could not save his soul because he did not belong to the Chosen People. And there is no evidence to that effect anywhere else in the Scriptures.

6. For a similar distinction within Israelcf.1 Corinthians 10:18; Galatians 6:16; 10. ’At once’ = from one.

14-29 The Vindication of God’s Justice In the Present Exclusion of Israel from the Salvation of the Gospel— The objection to be refuted in this paragraph is based on Paul’s reply to the first. It argues: if Christianity appeals to divine grace as the one and all important condition for belonging to the Elect = the Church, then a terrible in justice is done to all those who are left standing outside. Such a doctrine of grace in the fundamental questions of belonging to the Church is a doctrine of divine favouritism which contradicts God’s justice.

Plan. This objection raises a serious theological difficulty and the Apostle argues the point at some length. The following four points may be distinguished in his reply: (1) 14-18, an answer from God’s sovereignty; (2) 19-21, the answer from God’s sovereignty repeated; (3) 22-24, another, possible explanation, (4) 25-29, the answer of the Scriptures.

(1) An answer from God’s sovereignty, 14-18. The objector has appealed to the divine attribute of justice; Paul replies with God’s omnipotence, or sovereignty. The two Scripture texts which he quotes as his evidence are, if possible, even more ’predestinarian’ than those used before in 12 f. The one, Exodus 33:19, is taken from the history of Moses; the other, Exodus 9:16, from the history of Pharaoh. God is the sovereign Lord, and as such can choose for his elect whom he likes. God hath mercy on whom he will and he hardeneth whom he will’, 18.

(2) The answer from God’s sovereignty repeated, 19-21. The dispute with the objector continues. Paul has referred him to the Scriptures and to the Scriptures he goes. If the sovereignty of God’s omnipotent will is to be stressed to such an extent, why then does God still accuse and punish men for their unbelief, disobedience and sinfulness? The Scriptures are full of such accusations and punishments. Surely God cannot be called just and yet, as in the case of Pharaoh, punish men for doing what is nothing but his own omnipotent will. In his reply (20 f.) Paul repeats his previous argument: God is the Sovereign and as such can treat man like the potter his clay. By using this well-known scriptural simile (cf.Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9 f.; Jeremiah 18:2-6; Wis 15:7; Ecclus 33:13) the Apostle goes beyond his first answer, 14-18, in that he specifies the sovereignty of God as that of the creator, and man’s dependence as that of the creature. The evident conclusion is that man as God’s creature has no more right than clay to question his maker’s designs, plan or actions.

(3) Another possible explanation, 22-24. Paul’s answers so far have been more suppressing than solving the difficulty. Now he introduces the idea of God’s mercy mitigating his sovereignty. Unfortunately the sentence remains unfinished. Most commentators complete it in the form of a rhetorical question: ’But [what would you say] if God with such patience endured vessels prepared (= due) for destruction, intending [on the one hand] to express his wrath and display his power, and [intending on the other hand] to make known the wealth of his glory in vessels of mercy which he had made for glory, among whom he called also us both from Jews and Gentiles?’ The answer which the Apostle expects would then seem to be, that God’s long suffering and forbearance, giving time for repentance, can of course set everything right. But then obviously the same divine mercy must be applied also to Israel. And this application indeed follows in ch 11.

(4) The answer of the Scriptures, 25-29. The divine forbearance with vessels of wrath mentioned in 22 is as so often with St Paul no more than a thought thrown in but not followed up. Without even finishing the sentence, 22-23, he seizes on another point in 25-29. However serious the intellectual difficulty from the point of view of justice may be, it is at all events definite scriptural doctrine that the members of the Church in the Messianic time are to come (a) from all the Gentiles, and (b) only from a remnant of Israel. Hence whatever the Synagogue may say, the Church as she is with but few converts from Israel, is in full agreement with the Scriptures. Things have come to pass as they were foretold. The failure of the Gospel to convince the majority of Israel is no argument against’ Christianity. Thus the argument is brought back to the point from which it started in 6. The Scripture texts which St Paul quotes are: (a) for the conversion of the Gentiles, Os 2:23; 1:10 (LXX ed. Swete) = 2:25,1 (LXX ed. Rahlfs) (b) for only a small number of converts from Israel, Isaiah 10:22 f.; 1:9. All these texts are used by St Paul in a typical sense. For details see larger commentaries.

18. ’He hardeneth’: for a full discussion see the dogmatic treatise on grace. There are two opinions. The Thomist school explains it by means of the distinction between sufficient and efficacious grace. God’s grace in such a case is sufficient but not efficacious. Because of bad disposition God does not add what would be necessary to make this grace efficacious (non apponendo gratiam). According to the Molinists the grace God gives is sufficient, but man does not co-operate. According to man’s reception this grace is either efficacious or merely sufficient. In either case the real problem remains, viz. the beginning of evil. Cf.3 Kg 18:37;

22:21 f.; Isaiah 6:10.22. ’If God . . . endured with much patience vessels of wrath’: is the one clause in Paul’s argument which explicitly refutes the false conclusion of an ’arbitrary’ omnipotence. To bring out the importance of the clause it may be helpful to separate it from its adjuncts which are: (1) ’to show his wrath . . .’ (a first subordinate final clause); (2) ’to show the riches of his glory . . .’ (a second subordinate final clause); (3) to give time for repentance (a third clause added by commentators to complete the thought of St Paul). ’Fitted for destruction’ = (a) made for; (b) prepared for by themselves (Chrys. Cornely); (c) due for, ready for (Lagrange). 25. ’Not-my-people’ = Lo-’ammi, which was the symbolical name of a son of Osee, cf.Os 1:9. ’Her-thathad-not-obtained-mercy’ = Lo-ru?amah = no mercy, which was the symbolical name of a daughter of Osee, cf.Os 1:6. 27. ’Remnant’ cf.Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:2022; Isaiah 11:11-16; Isaiah 37:4, Isaiah 37:31 f.; 46:3; Jeremiah 6:9; Jeremiah 23:3; Jeremiah 31:7; Jeremiah 40:11, Jeremiah 40:15; Jeremiah 42:2, Jeremiah 42:15, Jeremiah 42:19; Jeremiah 43:5; Ez 5:10; 6:8; 14:22, etc. See § 859b.

IX 30-X 21 The Present Exclusion from the Salvation of the Messlas Is Israel’s Own Fault— Paul continues his debate upon Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias begun in 9:1 but from another point of view. If the blame for Israel’s present position outside the Church cannot be laid on God, 6-29, it is natural to raise the question, who then is to blame. This is the question now taken up and the blame is put on Israel herself. Thus Israel, hitherto the plaintiff in the discussion, now becomes the accused.

Plan. The argument proceeds by three steps: (1) 9:30-33 contains the summary statement of the accusation of Israel; (2) 10:1-13 gives the main proof; (3) 10:14-21 refutes various objections.

IX 30-33 Summary Statement of Israel’s Fault— Israel’s fault is her mistaken idea of ’justness’ = sanctification. Trying to attain to justness by fulfilling the law, Israel finds herself with no room for Jesus, the Messias, who demands faith. As a result the Messias has become for her a stone of stumbling rather than a rock of salvation, as foretold in the Scriptures.

30. ’Follow . . . attain’: metaphors taken from the race course, cf. 9:16; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11 f. 33. ’A stone to stumble at and a rock to trip over’, WV. The phrase is taken from Isaiah 8:14; the rest of 33 is a free quotation from Isaiah 28:16. The same two texts from Is appear together in 1 Peter 2:6-8. Since Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6-8 agree in textual variants against LXX a common source has been suggested in the form of an early Christian anthology similar to the testimonies of Cyprian, cf. SH 281 f. ’The stone’ refers (1) to YAHWEH in Isaiah 8:14; (2) to Christ in Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8; cf.Psalms 117:22; Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Romans 9". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/romans-9.html. 1951.
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