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Romans 9

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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CHAPTERS 9 11. With the eighth chapter Paul concludes the positive exposition of his gospel. Starting with the theme of Romans 1:16 f., he showed in Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20 the universal sinfulness of men Gentile and Jew; in Romans 3:21 to Romans 5:21 he explained, illustrated and glorified the gospel of justification by faith in Christ, set forth by God as a propitiation for sin; in Romans 6:1 to Romans 8:39 he has vindicated this gospel from the charge of moral inefficiency, by showing that justification by faith is inseparably connected with a new life in the Spirit, a life over which sin has no dominion and in which the just demands of God’s law are fulfilled. He has even carried this spiritual life on, in hope, to its consummation in glory: and no more remains to be said. With chap. 9 a new subject is introduced. There is no formal link of connection with what precedes. Structurally, the new division of the epistle stands quite apart from the earlier; it might have been written, and probably was written, after a break. But though no logical relation between the parts is expressed, a psychological connection between them is not hard to discover. The new section deals with a problem which presented great difficulty to the early Church, and especially to men of Jewish birth, a problem which haunted the Apostle’s own mind and was no doubt thrust on his attention by his unbelieving countrymen, a problem all the more painful to him as he realised more completely the greatness and glory of the Christian salvation. This was the problem constituted by the fact that the Jews as a whole did not receive the Gospel. They were God’s chosen people, but if the Christian Gospel brought salvation they had no share in it. The Messiah was to spring from them, but if Jesus was the Messiah this privilege meant not redemption but condemnation, for they rejected Him almost with one consent. In short, if the birth of the Christian Church and the gathering of Gentiles into it represented the carrying out of God’s purpose to bless and save men, God must have turned His back upon Himself; He must have broken His promise to Israel, and cast off His chosen people. But as this must seem impossible, the Jewish inference would be that the Gospel preached by Paul could not be of God, nor the Gentile Churches, as Paul asserted, God’s true Israel. This is the situation to which the Apostle addresses himself in the ninth and the two following chapters. It is a historical problem, in the first instance, he has to deal with, not a dogmatic one; and it is necessary to keep the historical situation in view, if we are to avoid illegitimate inferences from the arguments or illustrations of the Apostle. After the introductory statement (Romans 9:1-5 ), which shows how deeply his heart is pledged to his brethren after the flesh, he works out a solution of the problem or an interpretation of the position along three lines. In each of these there are many incidental points of view, but they can be broadly discriminated. (1) In the first, chap. Romans 9:6-29 , Paul asserts the absolute freedom and sovereignty of God as against any claim, made as of right, on the part of man. The Jewish objection to the Gospel, to which reference is made above, really means that the Jewish nation had a claim of right upon God, giving them a title to salvation, which God must acknowledge; Paul argues that all God’s action, as exhibited in Scripture, and especially in the history of Israel itself to say nothing of the essential relations of Creator and creature refutes such a claim. (2) In the second, chap. Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21 , Paul turns from this more speculative aspect of the situation to its moral character, and points out that the explanation of the present rejection of the Jews is to be found in the fact that they have wilfully and stubbornly rejected the Gospel. Their minds have been set on a righteousness of their own, and they have refused to submit themselves to the righteousness of God. (3) In the third, chap. 11, he rises again to an absolute or speculative point of view. The present unbelief of the Jews and incoming of the Gentiles are no doubt, to a Jew, disconcerting events; yet in spite of them, or rather which is more wonderful still by means of them, God’s promises to the fathers will be fulfilled, and all Israel saved. Gentile Christianity will provoke the unbelieving Jews to jealousy, and they too will enter the Messianic Kingdom. In the very events which seem to throw the pious Jewish mind out of its reckoning, there is a gracious providence, a depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge which no words can express. The present situation, which at the first glance is heart-breaking (Romans 9:2 ), is only one incident in the working out of a purpose which when completed reveals the whole glory of God’s mercy, and evokes the loftiest and most heartfelt praise. “He shut up all unto disobedience that He might have mercy on all.… Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. Unto Him be glory for ever.” Since Baur’s time several scholars have held that the mass of the Roman Church was Jewish-Christian, and that these three chapters, with their apologetic aim, are specially addressed to that community, as one which naturally felt the pressure of the difficulty with which they deal. But the Roman Church, as these very chapters show ( cf. Romans 9:3 , my kinsmen, not our ; Romans 11:13 , ὑμῖν δὲ λέγω τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ), was certainly Gentile, whatever influence Jewish modes of thought and practice may have had in it; and it was quite natural for the Apostle, in writing what he evidently meant from the first should be both a systematic and a circular letter, to include in it a statement of his thoughts on one of the most difficult and importunate questions of the time. The extraordinary daring of chap. 11 ad fin. is not unrelated to the extraordinary passion of chap. 9 ad init. The whole discussion is a magnificent illustration of the aphorism, that great thoughts come from the heart.

Verse 1

Romans 9:1 . ἀλήθειαν λέγω ἐν Χριστῷ , οὐ ψεύδομαι . The solemn asseveration is meant to clear him of the suspicion that in preaching to the Gentiles he is animated by hostility or even indifference to the Jews. Yet cf. 2 Corinthians 11:31 , Galatians 1:20 . ἐν Χριστῷ means that he speaks in fellowship with Christ, so that false-hood is impossible. For συμμαρτ . cf. Romans 2:15 , Romans 8:16 . The μοι is governed by συν : conscience attests what he says, and that ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ the spirit of God, in which all the functions of the Christian life are carried on: so that assurance is made doubly and trebly sure.

Verses 1-5

Romans 9:1-5 . The intense pain with which Paul contemplates the unbelief of his countrymen.

Verse 2

Romans 9:2 . The fact of Paul’s sorrow is stated here; the cause of it is revealed in Romans 9:3 . Weiss remarks on the triple climax: λύπη being intensified in ὀδύνη , μεγάλη in ἀδιάλειπτος , and μοι in τῇ καρδίᾳ μου . Paul cannot find words strong enough to convey his feeling.

Verse 3

Romans 9:3 . ηὐχόμην γὰρ ἀνάθεμα εἶναι κ . τ . λ . For I could wish that I myself were anathema, etc. For the omission of ἂν see Acts 25:22 , Galatians 4:20 . Paul could wish this if it were a wish that could be realised for the good of Israel. The form of expression implies that the wish had actually been conceived, but in such sentences “the context alone implies what the present state of mind is” (Burton, Moods and Tenses , § 33). ἀνάθεμα is to be construed with ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ : the idea of separation from Christ, final and fatal separation, is conveyed. For the construction cf. Galatians 5:4 ( κατηργήθητε ἀπὸ Χριστοῦ ). ἀνάθεμα Galatians 1:8 f., 1 Corinthians 12:3 ; 1 Corinthians 16:22 is the equivalent of the Hebrew חֶרֶם , Deuteronomy 7:26 , Joshua 7:12 that which is put under the ban, and irrevocably devoted to destruction. It is beside the mark to speak of such an utterance as this as unethical. Rather might we call it with Dorner “a spark from the fire of Christ’s substitutionary love”. There is a passion in it more profound even than that of Moses’ prayer in Exodus 32:32 . Moses identifies himself with his people, and if they cannot be saved would perish with them; Paul could find it in his heart, were it possible, to perish for them. τῶν συγγενῶν μου κατὰ σάρκα distinguishes these from his Christian brethren.

Verse 4

Romans 9:4 f. The intensity of Paul’s distress, and of his longing for the salvation of his countrymen, is partly explained in this verse. It is the greatness of his people, their unique place of privilege in God’s providence, the splendour of the inheritance and of the hopes which they forfeit by unbelief, that make their unbelief at once so painful, and so perplexing. οἵτινές εἰσιν Ἰσραηλεῖται : being, as they are, Israelites. Israelites is not the national but the theocratic name; it expresses the spiritual prerogative of the nation, cf. 2 Corinthians 11:22 , Galatians 6:16 . ὧν ἡ υἱοθεσία : this is not the Christian sonship, but that which is referred to in such passages as Exodus 4:22 , Hosea 11:1 . Yet it may be wrong to speak of it as if it were merely national; it seems to be distributed and applied to the individual members of the nation in Deuteronomy 14:1 , Hosea 2:1 (Romans 2:1 Heb.). ἡ δόξα : the glory must refer to something definite, like the pillar of cloud and fire, the כְּבוֹד יהוה of the O.T., the שׁכִינָה of later Jewish theology; there is probably reference to it in Acts 7:2 , Hebrews 9:5 . αἱ διαθῆκαι : in other places Paul speaks of the O.T. religion as one covenant, one (legal) administration of the relations between God and man ( e.g. in 2 Corinthians 3:0 ): here, where αἱ διαθῆκαι is expressly distinguished from ἡ νομοθεσία (the great Sinaitic legislation: 2Ma 6:23 ), the various covenants God made with the patriarchs must be meant. Cf. Wis 18:22 , Sir 44:11 , 2Ma 8:15 . ἡ λατρεία is the cultus of the tabernacle and the temple, the only legitimate cultus in the world. αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι are the Messianic promises: in the Israelitish religion “the best was yet to be,” as all the highest minds knew. Romans 9:5 . ὧν οἱ πατέρες : Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The greatness of its ancestry ennobled Israel, and made its position in Paul’s time harder to understand and to endure. Who could think without the keenest pain of the sons of such fathers forfeiting everything for which the fathers had been called? But the supreme distinction of Israel has yet to be mentioned. ἐξ ὧν ὁ Χριστὸς τὸ κατὰ σάρκα , ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸς εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας . Ἀμήν . The only point in the interpretation of this verse, in which it can be said that interpreters are wholly at one, is the statement that of Israel the Messiah came, according to the flesh. The words τὸ κατὰ σάρκα define the extent to which the Messiah can be explained by His descent from Israel; for anything going beyond σάρξ , or ordinary humanity, the explanation must be sought elsewhere. The limitation suggests an antithesis, and one in which the spiritual or Divine side of the Messiah’s nature should find expression, this being the natural counterpart of σάρξ : and such an antithesis has been sought and found in the words which follow. He who, according to the flesh, is of Israel, is at the same time over all, God blessed for ever. This interpretation, which refers the whole of the words after ἐξ ὧν to ὁ Χριστὸς , is adopted by many of the best scholars: Gifford, Sanday, Westcott (see N.T. , vol. ii., app., p. 110), Weiss, etc., and has much in its favour. (1) It does supply the complementary antithesis which τὸ κατὰ σάρκα suggests. (2) Grammatically it is simple, for ὁ ὢν naturally applies to what precedes: the person who is over all is naturally the person just mentioned, unless there is decisive reason to the contrary. (3) If we adopt another punctuation, and make the words ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸς εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας a doxology “God Who is over all be blessed for ever” there are grammatical objections. These are ( a ) the use of ὤν , which is at least abnormal. “God Who is over all” would naturally be expressed by ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸς without ὤν : the ὢν suggests the reference to Christ. ( b ) The position of εὐλογητὸς is unparalleled in a doxology; it ought, as in Ephesians 1:3 and the LXX., to stand first in the sentence. But these reasons are not decisive. As for (1), though a complementary antithesis to τὸ κατὰ σάρκα is suggested, it is not imperatively demanded here, as in Romans 1:3 f. The greatness reflected upon Israel by the origin of the person in question is sufficiently conveyed by ὁ Χριστός , without any expansion. As for (2), it is true to say that ὁ ὢν naturally refers to what precedes: the only question is, whether the natural reference may not in any given case be precluded. Many scholars think it is precluded here. Meyer, for instance, argues that “Paul has never used the express θεὸς of Christ, since he has not adopted, like John, the Alexandrian form of conceiving and setting forth the Divine essence of Christ, but has adhered to the popular concrete, strictly monotheistic terminology, not modified by philosophical speculation even for the designation of Christ; and he always accurately distinguishes God and Christ”. To this he adds the more dubious reasons that in the genuine apostolic writings (he excludes 2Ti 4:18 , 2 Peter 3:18 , Hebrews 13:21 , and Rev.) there is no doxology to Christ in the form usual in doxologies referring to God, and that by ἐπὶ πάντων the Son’s subordination is denied. To these last arguments it may be answered that if the words in question do apply to Christ they are not a doxology at all (Gifford), but a declaration of deity, like 2 Corinthians 11:31 , and that Christ’s subordination is not affected by His being described as ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων any more than by His own claim to have all authority in heaven and on earth. But the first of Meyer’s arguments has a weight which it is impossible not to feel, and it becomes the more decisive the more we realise Paul’s whole habit of thought and speech. To say with Dr. Gifford, “When we review the history of the interpretation it cannot but be regarded as a remarkable fact that every objection urged against the ancient interpretation rests ultimately on dogmatic presuppositions,” hardly covers such a position as Meyer represents. For the “dogmatic presuppositions” are not arbitrary, but merely sum up the whole impression made. on the mind by the study of Paul’s writings, an impression by which we cannot but be influenced, especially in deciding delicate and dubious questions like this. If we ask ourselves point blank, whether Paul, as we know his mind from his epistles, would express his sense of Christ’s greatness by calling Him God blessed for ever, it seems to me almost impossible to answer in the affirmative. Such an assertion is not on the same plane with the conception of Christ which meets us everywhere in the Apostle’s writings; and though there is some irregularity in the grammar, and perhaps some difficulty in seeing the point of a doxology, I agree with those who would put a colon or a period at σάρκα , and make the words that follow refer not to Christ but to the Father. This is the punctuation given in the margin by W. and H., and “alone seems adequate to account for the whole of the language employed, more especially when considered in relation to the context” (Hort, N.T ., vol. ii., app., p. 110). The doxology is, indeed, somewhat hard to comprehend; it seems at the first glance without a motive, and no psychological explanation of it yet offered is very satisfying. It is as if Paul, having carried the privileges of Israel to a climax by mentioning the origin of the Messiah as far as regards His humanity, suddenly felt himself face to face with the problem of the time, how to reconcile these extraordinary privileges with the rejection of the Jews; and before addressing himself to any study or solution of it expressed in this way his devout and adoring faith, even under the pressure of such a perplexity, in the sovereign providence of God. The use of ὢν , which is in itself unnecessary, emphasises ἐπὶ πάντων ; and this emphasis is “fully justified if St. Paul’s purpose is to suggest that the tragic apostasy of the Jews (Romans 9:2-3 ) is itself part of the dispensations of Him Who is God over all, over Jew and Gentile alike, over past, present and future alike; so that the ascription of blessing to Him is a homage to His Divine purpose and power of bringing good out of evil in the course of the ages (Romans 11:13-16 ; Romans 11:25-36 )”: W. and H., ii., app., p. 110. Full discussions of the passage are given in Meyer, S. and H., and Gifford; also by Dr. Ezra Abbot in the Journal of the Society of Biblical Exegesis , 1883. With this preface Paul proceeds to justify the ways of God to men: see the introductory remarks above. The first section of his argument (Romans 9:6-29 ) is in the narrower sense a theodicy a vindication of God’s right in dealing as He has dealt with Israel. In the first part of this (Romans 9:6-13 ) he shows that the rejection of the mass of Israel from the Messianic Kingdom involves no breach or failure of the Divine promise. The promise is not given to all the natural descendants of Abraham, but only to a chosen seed, the Israel of God.

Verse 6

Romans 9:6 . οὐχ οἷον δὲ ὅτι : this unique expression is explained by Buttmann ( Grammar , p. 372, Thayer’s Transl.) as a blending of two formulas οὐχ οἷον followed by a finite verb, and οὐχ ὅτι , which is common in the N.T. The meaning is, But, in spite of my grief, I do not mean to say any such thing as that the Word of God has come to nothing. For not all they that are of Israel, i.e. , born of the patriarch, are Israel, i.e. , the people of God. This is merely an application of our Lord’s words, That which is born of the flesh is flesh. It is not what we get from our fathers and mothers that ensures our place in the family of God. For the use of οὗτοι in this verse to resume and define the subject see Galatians 3:7 .

Verse 7

Romans 9:7 . Nor because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all τέκνα , i.e. , children in the sense which entitles them to the inheritance, Romans 4:11 , Romans 8:17 . God from the very first made a distinction here, and definitely announced that the seed of Abraham to which the promise belonged should come in the line of Isaac not of Ishmael, though he also could call Abraham father. Ἐν Ἰσαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα = Genesis 21:12 , LXX. The words literally mean that in the line of Isaac Abraham should have the posterity which would properly bear his name, and inherit the promises made to him by God. Isaac’s descendants are the true Abrahamidae.

Verse 8

Romans 9:8 f. τοῦτʼ ἔστιν : the meaning of this action of God is now made clear. It signifies that not mere bodily descent from Abraham makes one a child of God that was never the case, not even in Abraham’s time; it is the children of the promise who are reckoned a seed to Abraham, for the word in virtue of which Isaac, the true son and heir, was born, was a word of promise. He was born, to use the language of the Gospel, from above; and something analogous to this is necessary, whenever a man (even a descendant of Abraham) claims to be a child of God and an heir of His kingdom. From Galatians 4:28 (Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise) we see that the relation to God in question here is one open to Gentiles as well as Jews: if we are Christ’s, then we too are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise. The argumentative suggestion in Romans 9:6-9 is that just as God discriminated at the first between the children of Abraham, so He is discriminating still; the fact that many do not receive the Gospel no more proves that the promise has failed than the fact that God chose Isaac only and set aside Ishmael.

Verse 10

Romans 9:10 ff. But the argument can be made more decisive. A Jewish opponent might say, “Ishmael was an illegitimate child, who naturally had no rights as against Isaac; we are the legitimate descendants of the patriarch, and our right to the inheritance is indefeasible”. To this the Apostle replies in Romans 9:10-13 . Not only did God make the distinction already referred to, but in the case of Isaac’s children, where there seemed no ground for making any distinction whatever, He distinguished again, and said, The elder shall serve the younger. Jacob and Esau had one father, one mother, and were twin sons; the only ground on which either could have been preferred was that of priority of birth, and this was disregarded by God; Esau, the elder, was rejected, and Jacob, the younger, was made heir of the promises. Further, this was done by God of His sovereign freedom: the decisive word was spoken to their mother while they were as yet unborn and had achieved neither good nor evil. Claims as of right, therefore, made against God, are futile, whether they are based on descent or on works. There is no way in which they can be established; and, as we have just seen, God acts in entire disregard of them. God’s purpose to save men, and make them heirs of His kingdom a purpose which is characterised as κατʼ ἐκλογήν , or involving a choice is not determined at all by consideration of such claims as the Jews put forward. In forming it, and carrying it out, God acts with perfect freedom. In the case in question His action in regard to Jacob and Esau agrees with His word in the prophet Malachi: Jacob I loved but Esau I hated; and further than this we cannot go. To avoid misapprehending this, however, it is necessary to keep the Apostle’s purpose in view. He wishes to show that God’s promise has not broken down, though many of the children of Abraham have no part in its fulfilment in Christ. He does so by showing that there has always been a distinction, among the descendants of the patriarchs, between those who have merely the natural connection to boast of, and those who are the Israel of God; and, as against Jewish pretensions, he shows at the same time that this distinction can be traced to nothing but God’s sovereignty. It is not of works, but of Him Who effectually calls men. We may say, if we please, that sovereignty in this sense is “just a name for what is unrevealed of God” (T. Erskine, The Brazen Serpent , p. 259), but though it is unrevealed we must not conceive of it as arbitrary i.e. , as non-rational or non-moral. It is the sovereignty of God , and God is not exlex ; He is a law to Himself a law all love and holiness and truth in all His purposes towards men. So Calvin: “ubi mentionem gloriæ Dei audis, illic justitiam cogita”. Paul has mentioned in an earlier chapter, among the notes of true religion, the exclusion of boasting (Romans 3:27 ); and in substance that is the argument he is using here. No Jewish birth, no legal works, can give a man a claim which God is bound to honour; and no man urging such claims can say that God’s word has become of no effect though his claims are disallowed, and he gets no part in the inheritance of God’s people.

οὐ μόνον δέ : cf. Romans 5:11 , Romans 8:23 = Not only is this so, but a more striking and convincing illustration can be given. ἀλλὰ καὶ Ῥεβέκκα : the sentence thus begun is never finished, but the sense is continued in Romans 9:12 . Ἰσαὰκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν : Paul speaks here out of his own consciousness as a Jew, addressing himself to a problem which greatly exercised other Jews; and calls Isaac “father” as the person from whom the inheritance was to come.

Verse 11

Romans 9:11 . μήπω γὰρ γεννηθέντων μηδὲ πραξάντων : “the conditional negatives ( μήπω , μηδὲ ) represent the circumstances not as mere facts of history, but as conditions entering into God’s counsel and plan. The time of the prediction was thus chosen, in order to make it clear that He Who calls men to be heirs of His salvation makes free choice of whom He will, unfettered by any claims of birth or merit” (Gifford). πρόθεσις in this theological sense is a specially Pauline word. The purpose it describes is universal in its bearings, for it is the purpose of One who works all things according to the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11 ; it is eternal, a πρόθεσις τῶν αἰώνων , Ephesians 3:11 ; it is God’s ἰδία πρόθεσις , 2 Timothy 1:9 , a purpose, the meaning, contents, and end of which find their explanation in God alone; it is a purpose κατʼ ἐκλογήν , i.e. , the carrying of it out involves choice and discrimination between man and man, and between race and race; and in spite of the side of mystery which, belongs to such a conception, it is a perfectly intelligible purpose, for it is described as πρόθεσις ἣν ἐποίησεν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ , and what God means by Christ Jesus no one can doubt. God’s eternal purpose, the purpose carried out κατʼ ἐκλογὴν , yet embracing the universe, is clearly revealed in His Son. The permanent determining element, wherever this purpose is concerned, is not the works of men, but the will and call of God; and to make this plain was the intention of God in speaking as He did, and when He did, to Rebecca about her children. If we look to Genesis 25:23 , it is indisputably the nations of Israel and Edom that are referred to: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger”. The same is true also of Malachi 1:2 : “I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated, and made his mountains a desolation,” etc. Yet it would not be right to say that Paul is here considering merely the parts assigned by God to nations in the drama of providence; He is obviously thinking of Jacob and Esau as individuals, whose own relation to God’s promise and inheritance (involving no doubt that of their posterity) was determined by God before they were born or had done either good or ill. On the other hand, it would not be right to say that Paul here refers the eternal salvation or perdition of individuals to an absolute decree of God which has no relation to what they are or do, but rests simply on His inscrutable will. He is engaged in precluding the idea that man can have claims of right against God, and with it the idea that the exclusion of the mass of Israel from the Messiah’s kingdom convicts God of breach of faith toward the children of Abraham; and this He can do quite effectually, on the lines indicated, without consciously facing this tremendous hypothesis.

Verse 14

Romans 9:14 . τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν ; cf. Romans 6:1 , Romans 7:7 , Romans 8:31 . It is Paul who speaks, anticipating, as he cannot help doing, the objection which is sure to rise, not only in Jewish minds, though it is with them he is directly concerned, but in the mind of every human being who reads his words. Yet he states the objection as one in itself incredible, μὴ ἀδικία παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ; surely we cannot say that there is unrighteousness with God? This is the force of the μὴ , and Paul can answer at once μὴ γένοιτο : away with the thought! God says Himself that He shows mercy with that sovereign freedom which Paul has ascribed to Him; and the principle of action which God announces as His own cannot be unjust.

Verses 14-21

Romans 9:14-21 . In the second part of his theodicy Paul meets the objection that this sovereign freedom of God is essentially unjust.

Verse 15

Romans 9:15 . τῷ Μωυσεῖ γὰρ λέγει . τῷ Μωυσεῖ is emphatic by position: the person to whom this declaration was made, as well as the voice which made it, render it peculiarly significant to a Jew. The words (exactly as LXX, Exodus 33:19 ) occur in the answer to a prayer of Moses, and may have been regarded by Paul as having special reference to him; as if the point of the quotation were, Even one who had deserved so well as Moses experienced God’s mercy solely because God willed that He should. But that is not necessary, and is not what the original means. The emphasis is on ὃν ἂν , and the point is that in showing mercy God is determined by nothing outside of His mercy itself. οἰκτείρειν is stronger than ἐλεεῖν ; it suggests more strongly the emotion attendant on pity, and even its expression in voice or gesture.

Verse 16

Romans 9:16 . Conclusion from this word of God. It (namely, the experience of God’s mercy) does not depend on man’s resolve or effort (for τρέχειν cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24 ff.), but on God’s merciful act. This, of course, merely repeats Romans 9:12-13 , buttressing the principle of God’s sovereign freedom in the exercise of mercy by reference to His own word in Exodus 33:19 .

Verse 17

Romans 9:17 f. But Paul goes further, and explains the contrary phenomenon that of a man who does not and cannot receive mercy in the same way. λέγει γὰρ ἡ γραφή : it is on Scripture the burden of proof is laid here and at Romans 9:15 . A Jew might answer the arguments Paul uses here if they were the Apostle’s own; to Scripture he can make no reply; it must silence, even where it does not convince. τῷ φαραὼ : All men, and not those only who are the objects of His mercy, come within the scope of God’s sovereignty. Pharaoh as well as Moses can be quoted to illustrate it. He was the open adversary of God, an avowed, implacable adversary; yet a Divine purpose was fulfilled in his life, and that purpose and nothing else is the explanation of his very being. εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ἐξήγειρά σε . The LXX in Exodus 9:16 read: καὶ ἕνεκεν τούτου διετηρήθης , the last word, answering to the Hebrew הֶֽעֱמַדְתִּיךָ , being used in the sense of “thou wast kept alive” the sense adopted by Dillmann for the Hebrew; probably Paul changed it intentionally to give the meaning, “for this reason I brought thee on the stage of history”: cf. Habakkuk 1:6 , Zechariah 11:16 , Jer. 27:41 (S. and H.). The purpose Pharaoh was designed to serve, and actually did serve, on this stage, was certainly not his own; as certainly it was God’s. God’s power was shown in the penal miracles by which Pharaoh and Egypt were visited, and his name is proclaimed to this day wherever the story of the Exodus is told.

Verse 18

Romans 9:18 . From the two instances just quoted Paul draws the comprehensive conclusion: So then on whom He will He has mercy, and whom He will He hardens. The whole emphasis is on θέλει . The two modes in which God acts upon man are showing mercy and hardening, and it depends upon God’s will in which of these two modes He actually does act. The word σκληρύνει is borrowed from the history of Pharaoh, Exodus 7:3 ; Exodus 7:22 ; Exodus 8:19 ; Exodus 9:12 ; Exodus 14:17 . What precisely the hardening means, and in what relation God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart stood to Pharaoh’s own hardening of it against God, are not unimportant questions, but they are questions which Paul does not here raise. He has one aim always in view here to show that man has no claim as of right against God; and he finds a decisive proof of this (at least for a Jew) in the opposite examples of Moses and Pharaoh, interpreted as these are by unmistakable words of God Himself. It was through God, in the last resort, that Moses and Pharaoh were what they were, signal instances of the Divine mercy and the Divine wrath.

Verse 19

Romans 9:19 ff. But human nature is not so easily silenced. This interpretation of all human life, with all its diversities of character and experience, through the will of God alone, as if that will by itself explained everything, is not adequate to the facts. If Moses and Pharaoh alike are to be explained by reference to that will that is, are to be explained in precisely the same way then the difference between Moses and Pharaoh disappears. The moral interpretation of the world is annulled by the religious one. If God is equally behind the most opposite moral phenomena, then it is open to any one to say, what Paul here anticipates will be said, τί ἔτι μέμφεται ; why does he still find fault? For who withstands his resolve? To this objection there is really no answer, and it ought to be frankly admitted that the Apostle does not answer it. The attempt to understand the relation between the human will and the Divine seems to lead of necessity to an antinomy which thought has not as yet succeeded in transcending. To assert the absoluteness of God in the unexplained unqualified sense of Romans 9:18 makes the moral life unintelligible; but to explain the moral life by ascribing to man a freedom which makes him stand in independence over against God reduces the universe to anarchy. Up to this point Paul has been insisting on the former point of view, and he insists on it still as against the human presumption which would plead its rights against God; but in the very act of doing so he passes over (in Romans 9:22 ) to an intermediate standpoint, showing that God has not in point of fact acted arbitrarily, in a freedom uncontrolled by moral law; and from that again he advances in the following chapter to do full justice to the other side of the antinomy the liberty and responsibility of man. The act of Israel, as well as the will of God, lies behind the painful situation he is trying to understand.

Verse 20

Romans 9:20 . ὦ ἄνθρωπε is not used contemptuously, but it is set intentionally over against τῷ θεῷ : the objector is reminded emphatically of what he is, and of the person to whom he is speaking. It is not for a man to adopt this tone toward God . For μενοῦνγε cf. Romans 10:18 , Philippians 3:8 : the idea is, So far from your having the right to raise such objections, it is rather for me to ask, Who art thou? etc. Paul, as has been observed above, does not refute, but repels the objection. It is inconsistent, he urges, with the relation of the creature to the Creator. μὴ ἐρεῖ κ . τ . λ . Surely the thing formed shall not say, etc. The first words of the quotation are from Isaiah 29:16 : μὴ ἐρεῖ τὸ πλάσμα τῷ πλάσαντι αὐτό Οὐ σύ με ἔπλασας ; ἢ τὸ ποίημα τῷ ποιήσαντι Οὐ συνετῶς με ἐποίησας ; The fact that the words originally refer to Israel as a nation, and to God’s shaping of its destiny, does not prove in the least that Paul is dealing with nations, and not with individuals, here. He never pays any attention to the original application of the O.T. words he uses; and neither Moses nor Pharaoh nor the person addressed as ὦ ἄνθρωπε is a nation. The person addressed is one who feels that the principle enunciated in Romans 9:18 must be qualified somehow, and so he makes the protest against it which Paul attempts in this summary fashion to repress. A man is not a thing, and if the whole explanation of his destiny is to be sought in the bare will of God, he will say, Why didst Thou make me thus? and not even the authority of Paul will silence him.

Verse 21

Romans 9:21 . ἢ οὐκ ἔχει ἐξουσίαν ὁ κεραμεὺς τοῦ πηλοῦ κ . τ . λ . The ἢ puts this as the alternative. Either you must recognise this absoluteness of God in silence, or you must make the pre-posterous assertion that the potter has not power over the clay, etc. The power of the potter over the clay is of course undoubted: he takes the same lump, and makes one vessel for noble and another for ignoble uses; it is not the quality of the clay, but the will of the potter, that decides to what use each part of the lump is to be put. True, the objector might say, but irrelevant. For man is not clay, and the relation of God to man is not that of the potter to dead matter. To say that it is, is just to concede the objector’s point the moral significance is taken out of life, and God has no room any longer to pronounce moral judgments, or to speak of man in terms of praise or blame.

Verses 22-29

Romans 9:22-29 . Paul’s argument, to speak plainly, has got into an impasse . He is not able to carry it through, and to maintain the sovereign freedom of God as the whole and sole explanation of human destiny, whether in men or nations. He does, indeed, assert that freedom to the last, against the presumptuousness of man; but in this third section of his theodicy, he begins to withdraw from the ground of speculation to that of fact, and to exhibit God’s action, not as a bare unintelligible exercise of will, which inevitably provokes rebellion, but as an exercise of will of such a character that man can have nothing to urge against it. εἰ δὲ : the δὲ marks the transition to the new point of view. It is as if Paul said: You may find this abstract presentation of God’s relations to man a hard doctrine, but if His actual treatment of men, even of those who are σκεύη ὀργῆς κατ . εἰς ἀπώλειαν , is distinguished by longsuffering and patience, what can you say against that? θέλων has been rendered (1) because it is His will; (2) although it is His will. In the former case, God bears long with the vessels of wrath in order that the display of His wrath and power may be more tremendous at last. But ( a ) such an idea is inconsistent with the contrast implied in δέ : it is an aggravation of the very difficulty from which the Apostle is making his escape; ( b ) it is inconsistent with the words ἐν πολλῇ μακροθυμίᾳ ; it is not longsuffering if the end in view is a more awful display of wrath; there is no real longsuffering unless the end in view is to give the sinner place for repentance. Hence the other view (2) is substantially right. Although it is God’s will to display His wrath and to show what He can do, still He does not proceed precipitately, but gives ample opportunity to the sinner to repent and escape. We are entitled to say “the sinner,” though Paul does not say so explicitly, for ἡ ὀργή , the wrath of God, is relative to sin, and to nothing else: except as against sin, there is no such thing as wrath in God. In σκεύη ὀργῆς the word σκεύη is perhaps prompted by the previous verse, but the whole associations of the potter and the clay are not to be carried over: they are expressly precluded by ἤνεγκεν ἐν πολλῇ μακροθυμία . Paul does not say how the σκεύη ὀργῆς came to be what they are, the objects upon which the wrath and power of God are to be revealed; he only says that such as they are, God has shown great patience with them. It seems a mistake in W. and H. to print σκεύη ὀργῆς as a quotation from Jeremiah 50:0 (LXX 27):25; for there the words mean “the instruments by which God executes His wrath,” les armes de sa colère (Reuss). κατηρτισμένα εἰς ἀπώλειαν : ἀπώλεια (Philippians 1:28 ; Philippians 3:19 ) means perdition, final ruin; by what agency the persons referred to have been fitted for it Paul does not say; what he does say is, that fitted for such a doom as they are, God has nevertheless endured them in much longsuffering, so that they at least cannot say, Why dost thou find fault? For κατηρτισμένος = perfected, made quite fit or ripe, see Luke 6:40 , 1 Corinthians 1:10 : cf. also 2 Timothy 3:17 .

Verse 23

Romans 9:23 f. The sentence beginning with εἰ δὲ θέλων is not grammatically completed, but Romans 9:23 is an irregular parallel to Romans 9:22 . God’s purpose is regarded as twofold. It is on the one hand to show His wrath and make known His power; it is on the other hand to make known the riches of His glory ( cf. Ephesians 3:16 ). The first part of it is carried out on those who are σκεύη ὀργῆς , the latter on those who are σκεύη ἐλέους ; but, in carrying out both parts alike, God acts in a way which is so far from giving man room to complain that it commands his wonder and adoration; for the σκεύη ὀργῆς there is much long-suffering, for the σκεύη ἐλέους a preparation and a calling in which God’s free unmerited mercy is conspicuous. καὶ ἵνα γνωρίσῃ : This is mentioned as a principal purpose of God. ἐπὶ σκεύη ἐλέους : the glory is conceived as something shed upon the persons concerned; they are irradiated with the Divine brightness. Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:10 . δόξα in such connections has usually a super-sensible eschatological meaning; its content was fixed for Paul by his vision of Christ as Lord of Glory. The end of God’s ways with the vessels of mercy is to conform them to the image of His exalted Son. ἃ προητοίμασεν εἰς δίξαν : Paul does not shrink from introducing God as subject here. The vessels of mercy, in whom the Divine glory is to be revealed, are such as God prepared before for that destiny. That Paul is not speaking here abstractly, as in his discussion of the relations of creature and Creator in Romans 9:21 f., but on the basis of experience, is shown by the words which immediately follow: οὒς καὶ ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς = whom he also called in us . The σκεύη ἐλέους , in other words, are not a mere theological conception = “God’s elect”: they are the actual members of the Christian Church, Jew and Gentile; and it is not a deduction from the necessities of the Divine nature, but an account of real experiences of God’s goodness, which is given both in προητοίμασεν and in ἐκάλεσεν . How much is covered by προητοίμασεν is not clear, but the text presents no ground whatever for importing into it the idea of an unconditional eternal decree. Those who are called know that the antecedents of their calling, the processes which lead up to and prepare for it, are of God. They know that in all these processes, even in the remote initial stages of them, to the significance of which they were blind at the time, glory was in view. The fact that both Jews and Gentiles are called shows that this preparation is not limited to any one nation; the fact that the called are from among both Jews and Gentiles shows that no one can claim God’s mercy as a right in virtue of his birth in some particular race.

Verse 25

Romans 9:25 f. This result of God’s ways with man His calling not only from the Jews but from the Gentiles agrees with His own declarations in Scripture. Romans 9:25 answers roughly to Hosea 2:23 , LXX: I will love her who was not beloved, and will say to that which was not My people, Thou art My people. Not My people (= Lo-ammi) and Not beloved (= Lo-ruhamah) were the names of a son and a daughter of Hosea, who symbolised the kingdom of Israel, rejected of God but destined to share again in His favour. Paul here applies to the calling of the Gentiles words which spoke originally of the restoration of Israel an instance which shows how misleading it may be to press the context of the other passages quoted in this chapter. Romans 9:26 is also a quotation from Hosea 2:1 (LXX): the ἐκεῖ is supplied by Paul. The application of it is similar to that of Romans 9:25 . In Hosea the promise is that the Israelites who had lost their standing as God’s people should have it given back to them, in all its dignity. This also Paul reads of the calling of the Gentiles. They were once no people of God’s, but now have their part in the adoption. But what is the meaning of “in the place where … there shall they be called”? It is not certain that in Hosea there is any reference to a place at all (see margin of R.V.), and it is not easy to see what Paul can mean by the emphatic ἐκεῖ . The ordinary explanation the Gentile lands is as good as any, but seems hardly equal to the stress laid on ἐκεῖ .

Verse 27

Romans 9:27 f. From the calling of the Gentiles, as foretold in prophecy, Paul passes now to the partial, but only partial, calling of Israel, as announced by the same authority. The Jews cannot quarrel with the situation in which they find themselves when it answers so exactly to the Word of God. ὑπὲρ is here indistinguishable from περί : it is not a loud intercession on Israel’s behalf, but a solemn declaration concerning Israel, that the prophet makes; see Grimm, s.v ., i., 5. The quotation in Romans 9:27 is from Isaiah 10:22 f., but the opening words are modified by recollection of Hosea 2:1 just quoted. The LXX reads καὶ ἐὰν γένηται ὁ λαὸς Ἰσραὴλ ὡς ἡ ἄμμος τῆς θαλάσσης , τὸ κατάλειμμα αὐτῶν σωθήσεται . λόγον συντελῶν καὶ συντέμνων [ ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ , ὅτι λόγον συντετμημένον ] κύριος ποιήσει ἐν τῇ οἰκουμένῃ ὅλῃ . The words bracketed are omitted by most editors, but the sense is not affected. τὸ ὑπόλειμμα has the emphasis: only the remnant shall be saved. This doctrine Paul apparently finds confirmed by the words λόγον γὰρ συντελῶν καὶ συντέμνων ποιήσει κύριος ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς . It is doubtful whether any one could assign meaning to these words unless he had an idea beforehand of what they ought to or must mean. Cheyne renders the Hebrew to which they answer, “For a final work and a decisive doth the Lord execute within all the land”; and there is the same general idea in Sanday and Headlam’s version of Paul: “For a word, accomplishing and abridging it, that is, a sentence conclusive and concise, will the Lord do upon the earth”. Weiss, who retains the words bracketed, makes λόγον = God’s promise: God fulfils it indeed ( συντελῶν ), but He at the same time limits or contracts it ( συντέμνων ), i.e. , fulfils it to some of Israel, not to all. This, no doubt, is the sense required, but can any one say that the words convey it? We should rather say that Paul put his own thought into the words of the LXX, in which a difficult passage of Isaiah was translated almost at haphazard, and in doing so lent them a meaning which they could not be said to have of themselves.

Verse 29

Romans 9:29 . But his last quotation is in verbal agreement with the LXX Isaiah 1:9 , and transparently clear. The σπέρμα or seed which God leaves is the same as the ὑπόλειμμα . The figure is not to be pressed. The remnant is not the germ of a new people; Paul expects Israel as a whole to be restored.

With this the theodicy proper closes. The unbelief of the Jews was a great problem to the Apostolic age, and one which easily led to scepticism concerning the Gospel. The chosen people without a part in the kingdom of God impossible. This chapter is Paul’s attempt to explain this situation as one not involving any unrighteousness or breach of faith on the part of God. It is not necessary to resume the various stages of the argument as they have been elucidated in the notes. The point of greatest difficulty is no doubt that presented by Romans 9:22-23 . Many good scholars, Meyer and Lipsius for example, hold that Paul in these verses is not withdrawing from, but carrying through, the argument from God’s absoluteness stated so emphatically in Romans 9:21 . They hold that the σκεύη ὀργῆς κατηρτισμένα εἰς ἀπώλειαν would not be σκεύη ὀργῆς at all, if their repentance and amendment were conceivable; and although God bears long with them that is, defers their destruction it is only in order that He may have time and opportunity to manifest the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy. But the answer to this is plain. It assumes that human life, in its relation to God, can be interpreted by the analogy of clay in its relation to the potter; in other words, that moral and spiritual experiences can be construed and made intelligible through what are merely physical categories. But this is not the case. And if it be said that justice is not done, by the interpretation given in this commentary, to the expression σκεύη ὀργῆς , it may also be said that justice is not done, by the interpretation of Meyer and Lipsius, to the expression ἐν πολλῇ μακροθυμίᾳ . Each of these allegations may be said to neutralise the other that is, neither is Iecisive for the interpretation of the passage; and the Apostle’s meaning remains to be determined by the general movement of his thought. In spite of the great difficulties of the section as a whole, I cannot hesitate to read it as above.

Verse 30

Romans 9:30 f. τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν ; usually, as in Romans 9:14 , this question is followed by another, but here by an assertion. The conclusion of the foregoing discussion is not that God has been faithless or unjust, but this paradoxical position: Gentiles ( ἔθνη , not τὰ ἔθνη ) that did not follow after righteousness attained righteousness, the righteousness which comes of faith; while Israel, which followed after a law of righteousness, did not attain that law. διώκειν and καταλαμβάνειν are correlative terms: see Wetstein. The repetition of δικαιοσύνη is striking: it is the one fundamental conception on which Paul’s gospel rests; the questions at issue between him and the Jews were questions as to what it was, and how it was to be attained. τὰ μὴ διώκοντα δικαιοσύνην is not an unfair description of the pagan races as contrasted with the Jews; how to be right with God was not their main interest. δικαιοσύνην δὲ τὴν ἐκ πίστεως for the form of the explanatory clause with δὲ cf. Romans 3:22 , 1 Corinthians 2:6 . It is not surprising that a righteousness of this sort should be found even by those who are not in quest of it; its nature is that it is brought and offered to men, and faith is simply the act of appropriating it. Ἰσραὴλ δὲ κ . τ . λ .: this is the astonishing thing which does need explanation. διώκων νόμον δικαιοσύνης . The idea is not that Israel was in quest of a law of righteousness, in the sense of a rule by the observance of which righteousness would be attained: every Israelite believed himself to be, and already was, in possession of such a law. It must rather be that Israel aimed incessantly at bringing its conduct up to the standard of a law in which righteousness was certainly held out, but was never able to achieve its purpose. The νόμος δικαιοσύνης , the unattained goal of Israel’s efforts, is of course the Mosaic law; but it is referred to, not definitely, but in its characteristic qualities, as law, and as exhibiting and enjoining (not bestowing) righteousness. εἰς νόμον οὐκ ἔφθασεν : did not attain to, arrive at, that law it remained out of their reach. Legal religion proved a failure.

Verse 32

Romans 9:32 . διὰ τί ; Why? A result so confounding needs explanation. ὅτι οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως ἀλλʼ ὡς ἐξ ἔργων : it seems too precise to supply with Weiss ἐδίωξεν νόμον δικαιοσύνης . The reason of Israel’s religious failure was that its whole religious effort and attitude was not of faith, but (so they conceived the case) of works. By inserting ὡς Paul dissociates himself from this conception, and leaves it to Israel; he does not believe (having learned the contrary by bitter experience) that there is any outlet along this road. Everything in religion depends on the nature of the start. You may start ἐκ πίστεως , from an utter abandonment to God, and an entire dependence on Him, and in this case a righteousness is possible which you will recognise as δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ , God’s own gift and work in you; or you may start ἐξ ἔργων , which really means in independence of God, and try to work out, without coming under obligation to God, a righteousness of your own, for which you may subsequently claim His approval, and in this case, like the Jews, all your efforts will be baffled. Your starting-point is unreal, impossible; it is not truly ἐξ ἔργων , but only ὡ ς ἐξ ἔργων ; it is an idea of your own, not a truth on which life can be carried out, that you are in any sense independent of God. Such an idea, however, rooted in the mind, may effectually pervert and wreck the soul, by making the Divine way of attaining righteousness and life offensive to it; and this is what happened to the Jews. Because of that profoundly false relation to God προσέκοψαν τῷ λίθῳ τοῦ προσκόμματος . The stone on which they stumbled was Christ, and especially His Cross. The σκάνδαλον of the Cross, at which they stumbled, is not simply the fact that it is a cross, whereas they expected a Messianic throne; the Cross offended them because, as interpreted by Paul, it summoned them to begin their religious life, from the very beginning, at the foot of the Crucified, and with the sense upon their hearts of an infinite debt to Him, which no “works” could ever repay.

Verse 33

Romans 9:33 . Yet paradoxical as this may seem, it agrees with the words of Scripture. The quotation is a mixture of Isaiah 28:16 ; Isaiah 8:14 : and it is interesting to remark that the same passages are quoted in conjunction, though they are not mixed as here, in 1 Peter 2:6-8 . The original reference of them is not exactly Messianic. The stone laid in Zion (Isaiah 28:16 ) is indeed interpreted by Delitzsch of the kingdom of promise as identified with its Sovereign Head, but the stone of stumbling (Isaiah 8:14 ) is unequivocally God Himself: all who do not give Him honour are broken against His government as on a stone, or caught in it as in a snare. Paul inserts ἐπʼ αὐτῷ after ὁ πιστεύων (as Peter also does), and applies the figure of the stone in both cases to Christ, and to the contrary relations which men may assume to Him. Some stumble over Him (as the Jews, for the reasons just given); others build on Him and find Him a sure foundation, or (without a figure) put their trust in Him and are not put to shame. Cf. Psalms 118:22 , Matthew 21:42 , 1 Corinthians 3:11 , Acts 4:12 , Ephesians 2:20 .

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 9". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/romans-9.html. 1897-1910.
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