Romans 9:1–5 (ESV) — 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
The most obvious thing about this text is its abrupt change in tone from Romans 8.
- Speculations abound about how to account for this.
Many suggest that Romans 12 seems to make more sense as a follow up to Romans 8.
- This is because it deals with how the awesomeness of Romans 8 impacts the Christian life.
- Romans 12:1 (ESV) — 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
In contrast to Romans 12, Romans 9-11 gives us:
- “Paul’s anguished wrestling with the problem of Israel’s unbelief” – Doug Moo.
But this is not a topic that is out of place for Romans.
- Paul brought it up already.
In Romans 4, Paul went out of his way to include Abraham with those in Christ…
- And to redefine what it meant to be the people of God.
During those lessons we dealt with the badges of inclusion – circumcision, Sabbath observance, etc.
- Underneath all this was an explanation of, if Jesus was the Messiah, why did so many Jews reject him.
So it seems in Romans 9-11…
- Paul has decided to come back to this…big whoop.
It also might help us make sense of Paul’s transition to Romans 9-11 with a question.
- We can simply ask, why did Paul write it?
There are at least three reasons (certainly more).
- (1) Defense of the Gospel – word of God has not failed (vs. 6).
- (2) Definitively account for the “status of the people Israel” – Doug Moo.
- (3) “Paul…wants to make clear that his focus on the Gentile mission has by no means meant the abandonment of his concern for, and, indeed, plans for, the salvation of their fellow Jews. But he also wants to dispel any notion that he might have joined with the Gentile Christians in Rome in their sinful disdain for the Jewish people” – Doug Moo.
Let’s dive in and see what Paul has to say.
Paul’s Lament – Verses 1-2:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
It makes sense to me that after sharing all the blessings that accrue to those in Christ in Romans 8…
- Paul’s heart was tugged towards those who were missing out on these blessings.
In light of this…
- Paul declares that what he is about to say is the “truth in Christ”…
- That he is “not lying”…
And more than that, Paul says his conscience is pricked, not by some feeling of worldly guilt…
- But by a conscience saturated “in the Holy Spirit”.
Then in verse 2 he shares what the true thing is that the Spirit confirms.
- He says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for his fellow Jews (vs. 2).
- The BDAG says this phrase refers to a great “pain of mind or spirit”.
Most think it is best to understand this pain as expressing an intense, heartfelt lament.
- A lament similar, many say, to the laments of the OT prophets over Israel.
- Jeremiah 4:19 (ESV) — 19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
Why would Paul have such profound concern for the salvation of his fellow Jews?
- Do Christ and the Holy Spirit aid in his heart felt lament?
How might we find such a concern for our fellow Gentiles?
- We have Christ and the Spirit – what’s my/our excuse?
Accursed – Verse 3:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Here Paul confirms our suspicions that he is definitely talking about his fellow Jews.
- His “brothers” and “kinsmen”.
- Who are such by virtue of being “according to the flesh”.
Paul’s commission by Christ was to the Gentiles.
- Acts 22:21 (ESV) — 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
- But never doubt that his heart is deeply inclined toward his fellow Jews.
And he also confirms for us his lament is over their status in Christ.
- This is implied by his sacrificial plea.
- It is actually they who are “accursed and cut off from Christ”.
We need to unpack Paul’s selfless gesture to sacrifice himself.
- Paul says, he wishes he could be “accursed and cut off from Christ”…
- If it meant his fellow Jews were not so.
Interestingly the word “accursed and cut off” here is the Greek “anathema”.
- The idea relates to one’s standing before God.
One can either be “consecrated” to God.
- Or, one can be separated from God.
- “Anathema” is obviously the latter.
Paul’s apparent willingness to go through this is startling.
- But it clearly conveys just how deep his lament was for his fellow Jews.
- Again, one wonders what would bring us to such lament for our fellow Gentiles.
BTW – a short history lesson is in order here.
- “Anathema” is a word that has been used throughout Church history.
- It came to mean to be denounced and excommunicated – BDAG.
During the Church councils of the first millennia…
- It was used as an epithet hurled at those who rejected…
- Beliefs that were being established as “orthodox”.
Some examples can be found in Chalcedon in 553.
- “If anyone does not confess that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one nature or essence, one power or authority, worshipped as a trinity of the same essence, one deity in three hypostases or persons, let him be anathema”.
- “If anyone does not confess that God the Word was twice begotten, the first before all time from the Father, non- temporal and bodiless, the other in the last days when he came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the holy, glorious, God-bearer, ever-virgin Mary, and born of her, let him be anathema.”
Benefits of Inheritance – Verses 4-5:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
So after expressing the depth of his lament for his fellow Jews…
- He lists out the privileges they have been afforded as Israelites.
All of which, as we saw last week…
- Flow from God’s election of them as His inheritance.
He says to them belong:
- Adoption – “Paul’s way of summing up the OT teaching about Israel as ‘God’s son’” – Moo.
- Glory – “God’s presence with the people of Israel” – Moo.
- Covenants – Made with Abraham, Noah, David, etc.
- “Giving of the law” – It is they, not Gentiles, to whom God gave the law.
- Worship – This refers to worship and honor of god through the sacrificial system.
- Promises – These are bound up in the covenants – like the promise of people, nation, land.
- Patriarchs – This is one of the badges of membership into the Promises.
They even have, “according to the flesh…the Christ, who is God over all”.
- This is the ultimate crowning achievement.
- The Jesus the Messiah is Himself a Jew, descended from the Patriarchs.
- The Jews birthed the Messiah!
But, as N.T. Wright reminds us, such a relationship to the Messiah is not enough.
“The Jews really are the people of the Messiah, but they are that ‘according to the flesh’. The Messiah really does belong to them, but only in the ‘fleshly’ sense…” – N.T. Wright.
By implication, the point is they don’t stand in relation to him through faith!
- And here lies the problem.
Israel is the source of the Messiah…
- But they know him not.
- Thus…the reason for Paul’s lament.
Jesus as God?
We need to pay special attention to the end of verse 5.
- “According to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
Is Paul saying that Christ is God (ho on theos)?
Depends on your particular translation.
- ESV – “according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
- NRSV – “according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
- HCSB – “by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.”
- NASB – “from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
These translations disagree with each other.
- The ESV and HCSB have Paul saying Christ is God.
- The NRSV and the NASB do not.
Why such vastly different takes?
“Exegetes and theologians since the inception of the church have been sharply divided over this question. The issue is one of punctuation and therefore of interpretation, for Greek manuscripts of the NT rarely contain punctuation marks and the marks that are found tend to be sporadic and irregular” – Doug Moo.
The differing translations can be understood broadly in two ways:
- (1) Christology – Paul’s thought was that “God” was predicated to “Christ”, so that “Christ” is “God”.
- (2) Doxology – Paul’s thought was that only “over all” was predicated to Christ – as in “Lord over all”.
- Meaning that “God blessed forever, Amen” starts a new thought.
- Specifically it would be a doxology offered to God for all the privileges had by Israel.
Which one is right?
Doug Moo, after going into great detail on both options, says this:
- “Connecting ‘God’ to ‘Christ’ is therefore exegetically preferable, theologically unobjectionable, and contextually appropriate. Paul here calls the Messiah, Jesus, ‘God,’ attributing to him full divine status” – Doug Moo.
But Gordon Fee, after going into great detail on both options, says this:
“It seems incongruous both to the letter as a whole and to the present context in particular—not to mention Paul’s usage throughout the corpus—that Paul should suddenly call the Messiah theos when his coming in the flesh is the ultimate expression of what God is doing in the world”.
- In other words, the importance for the context is the distinction between Jesus and God.
So…take your pick.
- Just be flexible about it.