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Romans 9

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 9:1 6 . The problem of Jewish unbelief: Paul’s distress in view of it

1 . I say the truth in Christ , &c.] The discussion of the case of Israel occupies tins chapter and the next two. On the general subject thus introduced, we offer a few remarks. (See also Introduction , I. § 26.)

(1) The dedication of this large section to this special case is not out of proportion. Israel not only was immensely important as the Depositary of Revelation for ages past and the possessor as such of inestimable privileges, (vv. 4, 5,) but at the time of St Paul it formed the vast majority of all professed believers in the God of Revelation. The unbelief of the great majority of Israel was therefore not only a distress to the Christian’s heart, but a perplexity to his mind, and so needed very special treatment and explanation.

(2) He distinctly foretells a future of grace and mercy for Israel, on a grand scale of conversion. A time is to come when “blindness in part” is no longer to characterize Israel as a people; that is to say, a time when unbelief, if existing still at all, shall be the exception, not the rule.

(3) He does not touch on any other than the spiritual aspects of that future. As to the question of a political, or local, restoration of Israel, or both, he is entirely silent whether to affirm or deny; and so in all his Epistles. So it is also in all the N. T. Epistles. St Paul’s great object here is (1) to explain the spiritual alienation of the mass of Israelites, and (2) to open the prospect of its blessed reversal.

in Christ ] As a “member of Christ,” and so bound to inviolable truthfulness; and as speaking to other “members.” (Ephesians 4:25 .)

I lie not ] On this and similar appeals see on 1:9. The special reason for such words here is, perhaps, the thought that both Gentile Christians and unbelieving Jews (for different reasons) might think him now regardless of his earthly kindred, because so resolute in teaching the entire spiritual equality of all believers, Jew or Gentile. The Epistle might possibly be heard or read by unconverted Jews; and such words as these might reach their hearts.

my conscience also bearing me witness ] Paul, as a man speaking to men, was corroborated (in his own consciousness) by Paul speaking to himself. Word and conscience coincided in statement.

in the Holy Ghost ] Who, as the Sanctifier, pervades the conscience with new and intense light and sensibility. The reference is not to inspiration but to spirituality , of which he has said so much in ch. 8.

2 . that I have , &c.] More lit. that I have great grief, and my heart has incessant pain . Very wonderful, and profoundly true, is this expression of intense grief just after the “joy unspeakable” of ch. 8. The heart is capable of a vast complexity of emotions, and none the less so when it is “spiritual.” Cp. 1 Peter 1:6 . No doubt the expressions here are the more intense because of the contrasted recent view of the coming glory of believers, and their security in the love and covenant of God.

3 . I could wish ] Lit., I was wishing ; the imperfect. A similar imperfect occurs Galatians 4:20 ; where lit., “I was desiring.” Without discussing the grammatical theory of the construction we may paraphrase , I was on the way to wish , or, I was in course of wishing . Two things are implied; the tendency to the wish; and the obstruction of it. The Gr. for “to wish” here means specially to express a wish; almost, “to pray.” Paul’s love for Israel is such that, but for certain preventing reasons, he would form a wish to be cut off from Christ for their sakes.

myself ] Strongly emphatic in the Gr. His intense love for his brethren constrains him to contemplate himself as their victim, if such a victim there could be.

accursed ] Lit. an anathema ; a thing devoted to ruin by a solemn curse. Such is the meaning of the word wherever else used by St Paul; 1 Corinthians 12:3 , 1 Corinthians 12:16 :22; Galatians 1:8 , Galatians 1:9 . (See Bp Lightfoot’s note on Galatians 1:8 .) No milder meaning will suit the intensity of this passage. St Paul could even have asked for the extremest imaginable suffering possible for man but for certain reasons in the nature of things which forbade him. These reasons may be given thus: To desire the curse of God would be to desire not only suffering, but moral alienation from Him, the withdrawal of the soul’s capacity to love Him. Thus the wish would be in effect an act of “greater love for our neighbour than for God 1 1 Rev. H. Moule’s Suggestive Commentary on this Epistle. .” Again, the redeemed soul is “not its own:” to wish the self to be accursed from Christ would thus be to wish the loss of that which He has “bought and made His own .” But, the logical reason of the matter apart, we have only to read the close of ch. 8 to see how entire a moral impossibility it was for St Paul to complete such a wish. The words here were perhaps written with a tacit reference to the memorable passage, Exodus 32:32 , Exodus 32:33 . The answer there given to the request of Moses would alone suffice to forbid the completion of any similar request thereafter.

4 . Israelites ] “The absolute name, that which expressed the whole dignity and glory of a member of the theocratic nation, of the people in peculiar covenant with God, was Israelite .” (Abp Trench, New Testament Synonyms .) It was thus distinguished from both Hebrew and Jew (Judœus,) of which (1) relates rather to language, and (2) to the national (rather than theocratic) difference between the People and the Gentiles.

the adoption ] See Exodus 4:22 ; Hosea 11:1 ; also Deuteronomy 14:1 ; Isaiah 63:16 . Israel, as a nation, was taken into a relationship with God altogether peculiar, as to nearness and affection. See Hosea 11:8 for some wonderful utterances of the Divine Paternity. This son-ship was indeed (unlike that in ch. 8) of the mass rather than of individuals . But it was a grant of high privilege and mercy.

the glory ] In the special sense of the Shechinah , the mysteriously visible manifestation of the Divine Presence “between the Cherubim” on the mercy-seat. See Exodus 25:22 ; Leviticus 16:2 ; Psalms 80:1 , 99:1; Isaiah 37:16 . It does not appear that this Light was perpetual; but anywise it was a pledge of sacred privilege and a means of communication entirely unique on earth. This Shechinah is, in the Targums, often used as a paraphrase for the Holy Name, and in Isaiah 6:1 the LXX have the phrase “glory of God” where the Hebrew has the Holy Name. This special reference of the word “glory” is more in keeping with the enumeration here than any wider reference.

the covenants ] With Abraham, Moses, Levi, David. See Genesis 17:4 , Genesis 17:11 , Genesis 17:19 ; Exodus 31:16 , 34:28; Malachi 2:4 , Malachi 2:5 ; Psalms 89:28 , Psalms 89:34 . The reference here is of course not (as in Galatians 4:24 ) to the Old and New Covenants of Works and Grace respectively.

the giving of the law ] the Legislation . The privilege of the possession of a Divine Code is dwelt on, Deuteronomy 4:8 ; Nehemiah 9:13 , Nehemiah 9:14 .

the service ] The Gr. specially signifies the Temple-worship. Cp. Hebrews 9:1 . The solemn round of ordinances, all “mysteriously meant,” under the Old Covenant is specially remarkable in contrast to the comparative absence of detailed directions for worship under the New. The words “ of God ” are an explanatory addition in E. V.

the promises ] Of the Land, and of the Messiah. The latter promise was a possession of Israel in the sense that it was to be fulfilled exclusively through , though not exclusively for , Israel. See John 4:22 . In Him who is “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham,” (Matthew 1:1 ,) the great Fulfilment remains for ever a special glory of the ancient People. Here, as everywhere, St Paul looks to the Prophecies as a preeminent reality in the dealings of God with Man. To him they were no “national aspirations,” but voices from eternity.

5 . the fathers ] Cp. 11:28. The reference is probably specially to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But David is also “the patriarch David;” Acts 2:29 . These sacred Persons are now mentioned, after the previous sacred Things, so as to usher in the mention of the Christ Himself.

of whom ] out of whom; not merely “ whose ,” as in previous clauses; perhaps to keep the thought in view that He was not exclusively for Israel, though wholly of Israel.

as concerning the flesh ] In respect of His human Parent’s descent He also was Jewish. His blessed Humanity was indeed, on the Paternal side, “of God;” (Meyer;) but this distinction is not in view here, where the plain meaning is that, by human parentage, He was Jewish.

who is over all, God blessed for ever ] The Gr. may (with more or less facility) be translated, (1) as in E. V.; or (2) who is God over all , &c.;” or (3) blessed for ever [be] the God who is over all . Between (1) and (2) the practical difference is slight, but (1) is the easier and safer grammatically: between (3) and the others the difference is, of course, complete. If we adopt (3) we take the Apostle to be led, by the mention of the Incarnation, to utter a sudden doxology to the God who gave that crowning mercy. In favour of this view it is urged, (not only by Socinian commentators and the like, but by some of the orthodox, as Meyer,) that St Paul nowhere else styles the Lord simply “God;” but always rather “the Son of God,” &c. By this they do not mean to deny or detract from the Lord’s Deity, but they maintain that St Paul always so states that Deity, under Divine guidance, as to mark the “Subordination of the Son” that Subordination which is not a difference of Nature, Power, or Eternity, but of Order; just such as is marked by the simple but profound words Father and Son. But on the other hand there is Titus 2:13 , where the Gr. is (at least) perfectly capable of the rendering “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” And if, as St John is witness, it is divinely true that “the Word is God,” it is surely far from wonderful if here and there, in peculiar connexions, an equally inspired Teacher should so speak of Christ, even though guided to keep another side of the truth habitually in view. Now, beyond all fair question, the Greek here (in view of the usual order of words in ascriptions of praise) is certainly best rendered as in E. V.: had it not been for controversy, probably, no other rendering would have been suggested. And lastly, the context far rather suggests a lament (over the fall of Israel) than an ascription of praise; while it also pointedly suggests some allusion to the super -human Nature of Christ, by the words “ according to the flesh .” But if there is such an allusion, then it must lie in the words “ over all, God .” We thus advocate the rendering of the E. V., as clearly the best grammatically, and the best suited to the context. Observe lastly that while St John (1:1; 20:28; and perhaps 1:18, where E. V. “Son;”) uses the word God of Christ, and in 12:41 distinctly implies that He is Jehovah, (Isaiah 6:5 ,) yet his Gospel is quite as full of the Filial Subordination as of the Filial Deity and Co-equality. So that the words of St Paul here are scarcely more exceptional in him than they would be in St John.

for ever ] Lit. unto the ages ; the familiar phrase for endless duration, under all possible developements, where God and the other world are in question.

Amen ] The word is properly a Hebrew adverb (“ surely ”), repeatedly used as here in O. T. See e.g. Deuteronomy 27:15 ; Psalms 72:19 ; Jeremiah 11:5 (marg. E. V.).

6 13 . Limitations of the problem from facts of Divine election

6 . Not as though , &c.] Here begins a paragraph, and with it the main subject of the rest of this chapter. St Paul has expressed his intense grief over the failure of the mass of his brethren to “inherit the promises.” He now, in the true manner of the Scripture writers, vindicates dicates the veracity and majesty of the Faithful Promiser. This he does by considerations on Divine Sovereignty and Election.

the word of God ] The Promise to Abraham, that his seed should be blessed and a blessing.

hath taken none effect ] Lit. hath fallen out, hath failed .

Israel Israel ] Probably (1) is the descendants, (2) the forefather, Jacob. The emphasis of the Gr. is not precisely as in E. V., but rather (with a slight paraphrase) “Israel” (as intended in the Promise) “is not the total of the descendants of Israel.”

7 . neither because , &c.] An illustration from manifest fact, to shew that an apparently inclusive promise may be limited. We may paraphrase: “Abraham’s descendants, again, are not all his ‘children’ in the sense contemplated , just because they are his descendants; on the contrary, there is a distinct limitation: ‘in Isaac and his line are they who shall bear the title of thy seed.’ ” The cases of Israel’s and Abraham’s “children” are not here precisely parallel; because all Israel’s bodily descendants inherited a Promise, in some sense. But the second case illustrates the possibility of a limitation in the first.

In Isaac , &c.] The quotation is verbatim from LXX., Genesis 21:12 , and literally according to the Hebrew. It is introduced without “It is written,” as being perfectly well known with its context. See on 4:18.

8 . That is , &c.] We may paraphrase this verse, after the Gr.; “That is,” (in view of both the vv. 6, 7,) “the children of God” (it being implied in the Promise that Abraham’s children should be also His,) “are not the mere bodily offspring of Abraham, no more and no fewer; rather, the children defined by special promise are taken to be the whole posterity in question.”

children of the promise ] Perhaps in this phrase the Promise is quasi-personified; so St Chrysostom in Meyer. But see Luke 20:36 for a somewhat similar case. There the phrase “children of the resurrection” must mean “persons who partake resurrection glory;” but the special form of words is modified by the phrase “children of God” just preceding. So probably here the phrase “children of the promise,” for “persons defined by the promise,” is suggested by “children of the flesh” just preceding.

9 . of promise ] Lit. of the promise ; the promise just referred to in the illustrative case. The “children of God” among Abraham’s bodily descendants were to be limited within the descendants by Sarah; i.e. within Isaac’s line.

At this time ] i.e. of the next year. (Genesis 18:10 .) The quotation is nearly literally after the Hebrew, but varies (merely verbally) from the LXX.

Sara ] The name of limitation. Hagar’s son was also “Abraham’s seed;” but not in the intention of the Promise.

10 . And not only this ] Here a still stronger example of sovereign choice occurs. Isaac and Ishmael had only one parent in common; Jacob and Esau had both. In the former case, the choice of Isaac was declared only after Ishmael’s birth and childhood; in the latter, the choice of Jacob was declared while both brothers were in the womb. The Greek construction in vv. 10 12 is irregular, but perfectly clear.

by one ] In contrast to the divided parentage of Abraham’s sons.

our father Isaac ] Here named with emphasis, as shewing that even within the inner circle of promise (“In Isaac shall thy seed, &c.,”) there was still an election.

11 . being not yet born , &c.] Nothing could go beyond this verse in stating that the reasons of the Divine Choice lie wholly within the Divine Mind, and not in the works and characters of the chosen.

the purpose of God according to election ] So according to the best order of the Gr. words. Another order, not so well supported, gives “ the purpose according to God’s election .” The meaning is the same in either case. On “ the purpose ,” see last note on 8:28. “ According to election ”: i.e. as determined, or characterized, by the sovereign Choice of the Divine Mind. In the case of Esau and Jacob, the “purpose according to election” does not, at least explicitly, mean a purpose of eternal salvation. But St Paul is evidently here treating the Divine Choice in the widest and most absolute respects; and the sovereign gift to Jacob of sacred privileges, determining his whole course and that of his posterity, is thus taken as illustrating the fact of an equally sovereign gift, to “whomsoever God will,” of the capacity to repent, believe, and love. Throughout the argument we must remember who the “elect” are in the grand special case in hand, viz. the “remnant” who actually (not only potentially) are true believers, under both the Old and New Dispensations. See especially 11:2 8.


On the general subject of the Divine Election we may remark,

(1) That “the arguments of the Apostle are founded on two assumptions. The first is, that the Scriptures are the word of God; and the second, that whatever God actually does cannot be unrighteous. Consequently, any objection which can be shewn to militate against either an express declaration of Scripture, or an obvious fact in providence, is fairly answered.” (Dr Hodge, in loc .) It is almost needless to add that such a submission to the Divine Righteousness, while in one sense a surrender of reason, is in another its truest exercise. It is the surrender instinctively yielded by the soul which, conscious of its own sin , lies open to the full impression of the overwhelming purity and majesty of its Creator. It is absolute trust, under complete mystery, in Him who in one respect is truly known, but in another cannot (by the created being) be “found out unto perfection.” See 11:33 36.

(2) It must be remembered that Divine Election affects a world not of righteous beings, nor even of neutral beings, but of “sinners,” “enemies” (ch. 5:8, 9.) 1 1 The abstruse questions which have been raised in controversy on this point may be fairly said to “intrude into” what lies wholly outside the Scripture Revelation . We come to face its mystery only when we have first faced, and owned, the unfathomable mystery of sin. We see it, not making the good evil, nor the evil arbitrarily worse, but judicially leaving the sinner to himself; (as we are bound to believe every sinner might righteously have been left; for otherwise Salvation would be our Right, not our Mercy;) save in cases determined by the Divine Mind by reasons within Itself in which, of mere mercy, a positive and prevailing influence intervenes, producing spiritual life, the life of repentance, faith and love.

(3) This view of the case, which is indeed full of distressing mystery, yet owes what is most distressing in it to the riddle which lies beneath all others connected with it that of the Existence of Sin at all. But meantime it also assures us that while the will (influenced by sin) is the cause of ruin, it is also the will (influenced by grace) which, acting strictly as the will , lays hold on salvation. In neither case is the will forced , unless indeed we call every influence on the will compulsion, so far as it is successful. The lost “ will not come;” the saved come as “whosoever will .” (John 5:40 ; Revelation 22:17 .)

(4) The doctrine of Election is, in Scripture, never made the foreground of doctrine; and it is always so presented as also to assure us, however little we can reconcile the vast range of spiritual truths, that we are in the hands of Righteousness as well as Power, and that our will, affections, and aspirations, are perfectly real. Lastly, the doctrine, if studied in Scripture, is viewed always from the only safe view-point the foot of the Cross. See further, Appendix F.

might stand ] i.e., continue to act on its necessary principle “not of works, but of Him that calleth.”

of works ] Based on, or resulting from, “works;” in the largest sense of “works;” actions whose aggregate is character.

calleth ] See on 1:6.

12 . The elder , &c.] Verbatim as LXX. of Genesis 25:23 Of both Hebrew and Greek the literal rendering is The greater shall he bondsman to the less .

shall serve ] In the personal history of Esau and Jacob this was not literally fulfilled; but it was so in spirit, in the subjection of Esau’s interests and privileges to those of Jacob. In the history of their descendants it was repeatedly fulfilled to the letter; and prophecy (as in other cases, e.g. that of Abraham,) regarded the ancestor and his descendants as solidaire .

13 . As it is written ] In Malachi 1:2 , Malachi 1:3 . Nearly verbatim from LXX. The prophet is there appealing, in God’s name, to the people to remember His distinguishing and unmerited choice of Jacob over Esau to inherit the land. Not the quotation merely, but the context, is to the purpose here.

have I loved ] Lit., and better, did I love ; when I gave him the preference. So below, did I hate .

hated ] Cp. Genesis 29:33 and 30, for proof that this word, in contrast with love, need not imply positive hatred, but the absence of love , or even less love . One verse there tells us that Jacob “hated” Leah, the other that he “loved Rachel more.” See too Matthew 10:37 ; Luke 14:26 ; John 12:25 .

14 33 . Electing Sovereignty: Vindication, Restatement and application

(A) Is God unrighteous?

14 . What shall we say then? ] Same words as 3:5, 4:1, 6:1, 7:7, 8:31, 9:30. St Paul often introduces thus an objection which is to be solved. The objection here is twofold; (1) “Is God righteous so to act?” (ver. 14,) and (2) “Is man responsible if He so acts?” (ver. 19.)

Is there unrighteousness with God? ] On the Gr. rendered “ with ” see note on 1:11. The words here, as the words there, may refer to a court of justice: “Is there injustice at His bar?

God forbid ] See on 3:4. On the principle of the reply here, see long Note on ver. 11.

15 . For ] The connexion is; “The thought of injustice in these acts of the Eternal Judge is all the more to be rejected because they follow a principle expressed in His own words; for He says to Moses, &c.” That the principle, so expressed, is absolutely right, is taken for granted. To the Apostle, God’s word is final and absolute. With Him nothing indeed can be capricious, but none the less His “judgments” must , to a vast degree, be “past finding out,” just because He is the Eternal.

I will have mercy , &c.] Exodus 33:19 . Verbatim from LXX. The English exactly represents the Hebrew, if it is noted that “ will ” throughout this verse might equally well be “ shall .” In both Hebrew and Greek there is no explicit reference to “willing,” in the sense of “choosing.” However, the general sense plainly is, “In any case, through human history, wherein I shall be seen to have mercy, the one account I give of the radical cause is this I have mercy .” It is to be thankfully remembered, by the way, that close to this awful utterance occurs that other equally sovereign proclamation, (Exodus 34:6 , &c.) “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, &c.”

16 . of him that willeth ] Not that human willing and running are illusions; but they are not the cause of mercy. They follow it; they may even be the channel of its present action; but they are not the cause. Its origin is not “ of ” them. Cp. Philippians 2:13 .

runneth ] The idea is of one actively moving in the path of right His energy may tempt him to think that he originated the motion; but he did not. The word “ runneth ” belongs to St Paul’s favourite metaphor of the foot-race. See 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 ; Galatians 2:2 , Galatians 2:5 :7; Philippians 2:16 .

17 . For ] See on ver. 15. In this verse St Paul recurs to the question “Is there unrighteousness, &c.?” and replies to it, by citing not now a general Divine utterance (as in ver. 15) but a special utterance, to an individual.

the Scripture saith ] For a similar personification of the inspired word see Galatians 3:8 , Galatians 3:22 . Such phrases are a pregnant indication of the apostolic view of Scripture. (See below, on 10:6.)

unto Pharaoh ] Here quoted as an example of Divine Sovereignty. He appears as one who might (in human judgment) have been dealt with and subdued by a process of grace and mercy, but who was left to his own evil will. No evil was infused into him; but good influences were not infused, and his evil took its course. It is instructive, and a relief in a certain sense, to read this passage in the light of the history of Exodus, where it is remarkable that the “hardening” (expressed in the Hebrew by three different verbs) seems to be attributed in ten places to the Lord and certainly in ten to Pharaoh himself; and where the narrative, in its living simplicity, at least shews how perfectly real was the action of the human consciousness and will. But we must not think that this solves the mystery , nor must we lose sight of St Paul’s object in quoting Pharaoh’s case here viz. to establish the fact of the sovereignty with which God shews, or does not shew, mercy.

Even for this , &c.] The quotation (Exodus 9:16 ) is mainly with LXX., but the first clause in LXX. runs, “and for this purpose thou wast preserved,” or “maintained.”

have I raised , &c.] Or, did I raise thee up . Lit. made thee stand . And this is better, for the special meaning seems to be that Pharaoh was not so much exalted to be king , as raised up and sustained under the plagues . Here the Eternal gives “ His glory ” as a sufficient account of His action toward this individual soul and will.

18 . whom he will ] The emphasis is of course on these words, in each clause: to us, the only account of the differences of His action is His Will. The following verses prove beyond fair question that St Paul means fully to enforce this truth, intensely trying as it is to the human heart. He lays it down without mitigation or counterpoise: not that there is no mitigation; but mitigation is far from his purpose here. The deepest relief to thought in the matter is just this, that this sovereign and unaccountable will is His Will; the Will of the living God, the Father of our Lord. But it is none the less sovereign; and that is the point here. Observe that the Gr. pronoun rendered “ whom ” throughout this verse is singular . The application is to individuals.

hardeneth ] Judicially; by “ giving up to the heart’s lusts.”

(B) Is Man responsible?

19 . Thou wilt say then ] St Paul is still, as so often before, writing as if an opponent were at his side. How vividly this suggests that he had himself experienced the conflicts of thought which indeed every earnest mind more or less encounters! But conflicts do not always end in further doubts. Difficulties, often most distressing ones, must meet us in any theory of religion that is not merely evolved from our own likings; and difficulties are not necessarily impossibilities. At one point or another we must be prepared to submit to fact and mystery.

yet ] Q. d., “why, after such statements of His sovereignty, does He go on to treat us as free agents?” Here is the second head of objection. God’s justice was the first; now it is man’s accountability.

who hath resisted ] This is not the place to discuss the profound problem here suggested. It must be enough to point out (1) that St Paul makes no attempt to solve it. He rests upon the facts ( a ) that God declares Himself sovereign in His mercy; ( b ) that He treats man’s will as a reality: and he bids us accept those facts, and trust , and act . (2) The contradiction to the hint that “ no man hath resisted ” lies, not in abstruse theory, but in our innermost consciousness. We know the fact of our will; we know the reality of moral differences; we know that we can “resist the Holy Ghost.” On the other hand, the truth of God’s foreknowledge is alone sufficient, on reflection, to assure us that every movement of will, as being foreseen, could not be otherwise than in fact it is. And this is exactly as true of the simplest acts and tenderest affections of common life, as of things eternal: in each emotion of pity or joy we move along the line of prescience , a line which thus may be regarded as, for us, irrevocably fixed beforehand. But meanwhile in these things we feel and act without a moment’s misgiving (except artificial misgiving) about our freedom. Just so in matters of religion; but the special relations of sinful man to God compel these plain and even stern statements of the truth of God’s action in the matter, even in the midst of arguments and pleadings which all assume the reality of our will.

(C) The Reply: Creative Sovereignty

20 . Nay but ] Same word as 10:18, and Luke 11:28 ; (E. V., “Yea, rather.”) Q. d., “ Rather than the position of a questioner, take that of a creature.”

man ] The word is, of course, emphatic.

the thing formed ] Lit. the thing moulded ; the Potter and the Clay being in the writer’s thought. Here lies the force of the “ who art thou?” The case is not that of yielding to vastly greater power or subtler intellect, but of yielding to the Origin of your existence; to the Uncaused Cause of your conscience, will, affections, and all. The Sovereign is the Creator; are you, the Creature, really in a position to judge Him? This clause is nearly verbatim from Isaiah 29:16 , Isaiah 45:9 (LXX.) “ Why hast thou made me thus? ” is not a quotation. In Isaiah 45:9 , the words occur in a context of mercy . The mercy of God, as well as His severity, is sovereign and mysterious.

21 . the potter the clay ] This is the simile likewise in Isaiah just quoted, and in Isaiah 64:8 . (Cp. Jeremiah 18:1-10 .) It gets its force from the perfect pliability of the material. Certainly the illustration does not relieve the stern utterances it illustrates; nor is it meant to do so. It must be remembered that the “clay” moulded by the Eternal here is not Humanity merely, but Humanity as sinful, and, as such, void of the least claim to furnish “vessels unto honour.” (See ante , long note on ver. 11.) This, however, is not the main thought here, but rather the immeasurable difference of position between the Creator and the Creature.

lump ] Lit. kneaded mass . Same word as 11:16; 1 Corinthians 5:6 , 1 Corinthians 5:7 ; Galatians 5:9 .

one vessel unto honour , &c.] Cp., for similar language, 2 Timothy 2:20 , 2 Timothy 2:21 . The connexion there is akin to this, but such as brings out (what is not in view here) the moral results of sovereign grace. The special imagery of the potter and clay is absent there.

22 . What if God , &c.] The Gr. construction in vv. 22, 23 is broken and peculiar. Rendered nearly lit., the verses run: But if God, choosing to demonstrate His wrath, and make known what He can do, bore with much longsuffering vessels of wrath, fitted unto ruin; and that He might make known the wealth of His glory on vessels of mercy, which He fore-prepared unto glory? The general drift of the passage, though thus grammatically peculiar, is yet clear. The “ but ” suggests a certain difference between the potter’s work and that of the Creator and Judge; q. d., “If the potter’s right is so absolute, while the clay is mere matter and so has no demerit , the right of God over guilty humanity is at least as absolute; and meantime, even so, it is exercised with longsuffering.”

willing ] having the will to . The Gr. verb is frequent of the sovereign Divine will and pleasure. See e.g. Matthew 8:3 ; 1 Corinthians 12:18 .

to shew ] to demonstrate . Same word as ver. 17 (“ shew my power”), and 3:25 (“to declare ,” &c.). The justice and energy of His wrath against sin are both demonstrated in the doom of the impenitent.

endured , &c.] The special case of Pharaoh is in St Paul’s view, and is to be taken as an example. There we see on the one hand the sovereign will permitting sin to run its course, but on the other hand, in equal reality, warnings and appeals are addressed by God to a human conscience and will, time after time. From our point of view the two things are incompatible; but the Apostle assures us that both are real , and therefore compatible.

the vessels ] Lit. vessels . But the article is rightly supplied. The two classes of “vessels” are exhaustive of mankind. The word “vessel” is doubtless suggested here by the language of ver. 21. See next note.

of wrath ] i.e. “ connected with, devoted to, wrath .” So below, “ connected with, marked out for, mercy .” The genitive need not imply a metaphor, as if the “vessels” were “ filled with ” wrath or mercy; such an explanation would be needlessly remote. The same word in same construction occurs Acts 9:15 , where lit. “a vessel of choice;” and probably the metaphor does there appear in the next words “to bear my Name.” Cp. also 2 Corinthians 4:7 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:4 , (where “vessel” = “body”;) 1 Peter 3:7 . In those passages the metaphor is traceable to the idea of the body as the receptacle and casket, as it were, of the spirit. Here, as above said, the whole reference appears to be to the imagery of the potter’s work .

fitted ] Made ready, suitable . Such indeed every “vessel of wrath” will prove to have been. It is remarkable that St Paul does not say “which He fitted.” A seemingly rigid logic may say that the lost must be as truly predestined to death as the saved to life; but such logic is faulty in its premisses: we do not know enough of the Eternal Mind and the nature of things to reason so 1 1 See further, Appendix H. . It is at least to be noted that here, while the “preparation” of the saved for glory is expressly ascribed to God, that of the lost for ruin is so stated as to avoid such ascription. Meanwhile the deepest consciousness of human hearts, awakened to eternal realities, acquits God and accuses self. St Paul, however, does not dwell on this. To relieve mystery is only a passing aim with him here.

destruction ] Ruin , perdition, the loss of the soul. See note on 2:12 (on the word “perish;” where the Gr. is the verb cognate to the noun here).

23 . and that he might ] Some such clause as “so acted,” or better, “so had patience,” must be mentally supplied. The idea of the patience of God seems to attach here to both parts of the statement: so far from acting in haste, He bore both with the persistent rebellion of the lost, and with the once equal rebellion, and then frequent failures, of the saved.

the riches of his glory ] Same word as Ephesians 1:18 , Ephesians 1:3 :16; Colossians 1:27 ; (in the last two places, however, the reference is different from that here). For comment, see 8:18. The “glory” of God here is the bliss and exaltation in eternity which He will give to His saints. In that better life His endless “riches” of blessing will be evermore “made known” among the glorified, by being evermore conferred on them. For similar phrases, see 2:4, 11:33; Ephesians 1:7 , Ephesians 1:2 :7, Ephesians 1:3 :8; Philippians 4:19 .

on ] See on 8:18, last note.

afore prepared ] By the Divine process traced 8:29, 30. See also note above, ver. 22, on “fitted.”

24 . even us ] Lit., and better, whom also he called, us , &c. The “also” or “even” goes with the verb, and seems to indicate that the “afore-preparation” is rather that of the electing purpose of God than that of personal sanctification (which is, however, the sure sequel of the other). Q. d., “He fore-ordained to glory the vessels of mercy, and then proceeded actually to call them to grace.”

hath called ] Better, called . See on 8:28.

not of the Jews only ] Here St Paul reminds us of the special subject of this discussion; the apparent rejection of Israel . By the true heirs of Abraham was all along meant the church of the elect; those who should be “called” and should “love God.” In the Mosaic age these were but some of the bodily Israel; in the Christian age they were largely found outside that Israel. But in both cases the Promise, in its true intention, was fulfilling. He now quotes in proof of that true intention.

(D) Quotations in Application

25 . Osee ] In the Gr., Oseë or Hoseë ; the equivalent of the Heb. Hoshea . Here, lit., in the Oseë ; i.e., probably, “in the writings of Hosea.”

I will call , &c.] Hosea 2:23 (25 in the Heb.). The quotation does not agree with the LXX. The Heb. is, lit., “And I will have pity on the not-pitied-one (fem.), and I will say to the not-my-people, My people art thou.” St Paul here gives an equivalent for “pity;” the Divine equivalent, love; and otherwise quotes nearly with the Heb. The first reference of the prophetic word was to the bringing back of the Ten Tribes to holy allegiance. The Apostle is guided to expound this as a type of the bringing in of the Gentiles to the chosen Israel of God. The same text is quoted by allusion, 1 Peter 1:10 ; an important parallel passage.

her ] The familiar personification of a church or nation.

26 . And it shall come to pass , &c.] A new quotation, linked in one line with the last. Nearly verbatim with LXX. of Hosea 1:10 (2:1 in the Heb.). For a first and second reference see last note but one. “ In the place where: ” this, in the first reference, may mean the Sanctuary from which the restored Israelite should no more be excluded; in the second, the Church and Family of the Promise, regarded as a locality in the figure. For the doctrine, cp. Ephesians 2:19-22 .

the children ] For comment, see 8:14, &c.; John 1:12 ; 1 John 3:1 .

27 . Esaias also ] Better, But Esaias . There is a contrast: Hosea speaks of the bringing in of Gentile believers; Isaiah of the rejection of all Jews except Jewish believers.

crieth ] Perhaps the word refers to the power and intensity of Isaiah’s prophetic manner. So Meyer.

concerning ] The Greek preposition is lit. over; and possibly it may be rendered so here; as if the Prophet stood lamenting over the fallen. But this meaning is very rare in N. T., and especially in St Paul.

Though the number , &c.] Lit. If , &c. The quotation is from Isaiah 10:22 , Isaiah 10:23 . The lit. Heb. is “For though thy people Israel (or, O Israel,) be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall return thereof; the consumption decreed is overflowing in righteousness; for a final work and a decisive work doth the Lord execute in the midst of all the earth (or, land).” The LXX. reads; “Even if the people Israel become as the sand of the sea; their (or, the) remnant shall be saved. (He is) completing and cutting short in righteousness; because a work cut short will the Lord (or, Lord God of Hosts) do in the whole world.” St Paul adopts nearly the words of LXX.; again (as in ver. 25, and very often,) developing a second and deeper fulfilment where the first fulfilment lay in past events of Israelite history; e.g. here, in the comparatively small returns of the exiles, under Zerubbabel and Ezra. The “return,” in the Second Fulfilment, is a return to Christ, and thus equivalent to “ salvation .”

the number of ] These words are perhaps borrowed and inserted from Hosea 1:10 ; a verse close to the last quotation. (Meyer.)

a remnant ] Lit. and better, the remnant .

shall be saved ] In Heb., “ shall return .” See last note but two.

28 . for he will finish , &c.] These words agree closely with the letter of the LXX., but not with that of the Heb. They convey the point of the Heb., however, quite enough for the purpose of the quotation; and St Paul thus adopts them. In some important documents the quotation ends with “cut it short;” but the evidence is not conclusive. The main purport of this verse is clear: the Prophet foretells summary and severe judgments on Israel, such as to leave ere long only a “remnant” able and willing to “return.” “ In righteousness: ” i.e. “in righteous severity

29 . And ] Q. d., “And again, the small number of Jewish believers fulfils another prediction.”

said before ] Lit., and better, hath said before; i.e. “as we have it in his book.” “ Before ” refers not to the quotation of an earlier chapter , but to the words as a prediction . The quotation is from Isaiah 1:9 , and exactly with LXX., which gives “a seed” where the Heb. gives the equivalent, “a small remnant.” St Paul instructs us that this passage not only describes a state of distress contemporary with the Prophets, but also predicts, through this as a type, the spiritual future. “ Sabaoth : the Gr. transliteration of Ts’vâôth , the Heb. word meaning Hosts, Armies.

30 . What shall we say then? ] Same word as ver. 14; where see note.

followed not after ] To them no Revelation had pointed out “righteousness” as a goal of efforts.

righteousness ] i.e., practically, Justification, which is the admission to Salvation.

have attained ] Lit. and better, did attain; at their conversion; on hearing and receiving the Gospel, previously unsought and unimagined.

even ] Lit. but; and so perhaps better: q. d., “but this righteousness was that which results from faith;” in contrast to the Jewish unbeliever’s ideal, given in 10:3. The E. V., however, is equally true to the Greek idiom.

31 . which followed ] Lit. following; and so better.

the law of righteousness ] Not simply “ righteousness ,” as in ver. 30; because Israel had, what the Gentiles had not, the detailed revealed precepts . These precepts they “followed after,” i.e. strove to keep as a covenant of salvation. For this very reason they “did not attain to” them, i.e. they failed to reach the true use of the Law its revelation of God’s will to be followed by His reconciled children, His people justified by faith. “ Of righteousness: ” this phrase may, as often, be explained to mean “connected with righteousness.” So the Law is connected, whether it condemns, acquits, or guides. Israel “followed after it” as an acquitting Law, in vain; and so failed to “attain to it” as a Law guiding in the path of peace. They strove by it to make themselves just, and so failed to walk by it as the justified.

hath not attained ] Better (as in ver. 30) did not attain . Their whole history of effort and failure is summed up in one idea, and viewed as all past, (though numberless Jews were, and are, still making the same attempts,) because St Paul’s thought is fixed on the crisis of the calling of the Gentiles, after which the case of Israel took a new aspect in practice.

32 . Wherefore? ] See ch. 4 for the fullest commentary on this verse.

as it were ] Lit. and better, as; i.e. “ under the belief that it could be so reached.”

works of the law ] “ Of the law ” should be omitted, on evidence of documents.

that stumblingstone ] Lit. and better, the stumblingstone; i.e. the Stone predicted, in the words now to be quoted. “ Stumblingstone: ” lit. stone of stumbling , as in E. V. of 1 Peter 2:8 , where the same prophecy is quoted by allusion.

33 . Behold , &c.] The quotation is a combination of Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16, and is closely after the Heb., but widely differs from the LXX. of 8:14. Both passages (q. v.) refer to the great Promise, which was proposed to Israel of old as a better ground of trust than earthly policy or religious formalism, but was rejected by the worldly majority. Here, as so often, St Paul is led to see in a promise which had a present meaning for Isaiah’s time, a revelation of truth for the whole history of Israel in relation to Him who is the innermost theme of all Scripture prophecy. In such cases the question “what did the Prophet intend?” is only subordinate to “what did his Inspirer intend?” In the Speaker’s Commentary , on Isaiah 28:0 , the paraphrase of the eminent Rabbi Rashi is quoted: “Behold I have established a King, the Messiah , who shall be in Zion a stone of proof.”

a stumblingstone and rock of offence ] i.e. Christ, as the Object of humble and absolute confidence and hope. Cp. Psalms 118:22 ; Matthew 21:42 ; 1 Corinthians 1:23 ; Galatians 5:11 ; 1 Peter 2:6 , 1 Peter 2:7 , 1 Peter 2:8 . “ Offence: ” in its antique sense of an obstacle at which the foot trips.

shall not be ashamed ] So too LXX. of Isaiah 28:16 . The Heb. has “shall not make haste.” The idea is the same in both; to “make haste” was to be in the hurry of fear, as when a refuge breaks down before a foe; and so to be “ashamed of,” or bitterly disappointed in, the refuge.

In this prophetic passage St Paul is led to find (1) a prediction of Israel’s stumbling at the truth of Christ our Justification, and thus to re-assure minds disquieted by the sight of Israel’s unbelief; (2) a proclamation of Faith (reposed on Christ) as the means of salvation. See below, 10:11.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Romans 9". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/romans-9.html. 1896.
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