Romans Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
Chapters 9-11 of the Book of Romans contain the New Testament's most important and complete discussion of the Jewish people. In them God promises that "all Israel will be saved" (11:26) and commands that Gentile Christians show the Jews God's mercy (11:31). In the face of what these chapters teach, every form of Christian antisemitism stands condemned; and every claim, whether by Jews or Christians, that the Gospel is not for Jews must collapse.
This discussion of the Jews arises from what might seem an unrelated topic, Sha'ul's assurance to believers in Yeshua the Messiah that God's love for them will see them through every distress and can never be overpowered or withdrawn (8:14-39). In fact, some theologians fail to find this connection, notably those Dispensationalists who hold that Romans 9-11 is merely a "parenthesis" in an argument that moves from Chapter 8 directly to Chapter 12.
But this is a serious mistake. Chapters 9-11 do proclaim the eventual salvation of the Jewish nation as an integral part of God's "Good News promised in the Tahakh" (1:2) "to the Jew especially" (1:16&N). Yet in context these chapters serve another function, which is to answer the burning question any of the original readers would have asked at this point in Sha'ul's letter: "Sha'ul, if God is as powerful and faithful as you portray him (in Chapter 8), then why, as more and more Gentiles accept the Gospel, are more and more Jews rejecting and opposing it? Didn't God say repeatedly in the Tanakh how much he loves Israel — 'with an everlasting love' (Jeremiah 31:2(3))? If God's love for the Jews is everlasting, how can it be that, despite centuries of experience with God himself and despite having God's Word with its Messianic promises (3:1-2), so many of the Jews individually and the Jewish nation as an entity are refusing this love as expressed through his Messiah? Apparently they, with all their advantages, are being lost, and God's 'everlasting love' won't do them any good. That worries us: how can we be sure of your promise that 'no created thing will separate us from the love of God' (8:39)?"
Therefore, it is because a believer (either Gentile or Jewish), seeing the response of most Jewish people to the Gospel, might doubt God's faithfulness to his own promises or his capacity to fulfill them and thus call into question God himself, that Sha'ul is compelled at precisely this point in his letter to deal at length with how the salvation of the Jewish people will indeed be accomplished and thereby vindicate God.
Chapters 9-11 are organized as follows:
9:1-6 Introduction: The problem: by rejecting the Gospel, Israel, with her many advantages, makes it appear that God's promises have failed.
9:6-11:32 The solution.
9:6-29 I Is God to blame? No.
9:30-10:21 II Is Israel to blame? Yes. What was Israel's mistake? Misconstruing the Torah, regarding it as requiring not trust but legalistic works. This is why Israel has not received what God has promised her.
11:1-32 III Nevertheless, Israel's failure is not permanent. God has not rejected his people the Jews, and he will fulfill his promises to them. Furthermore, the fulfillment will be even more glorious because Israel's temporary stumbling has been God's means of bringing salvation to the rest of mankind. Because all Israel will be saved, Gentile Christians should not boast but should show Jews God's mercy. Indeed, it is through Gentile Christian mercy that salvation will come to the Jewish people.
11:33-36 Conclusion: Hymn of praise to God marvelling at the grandeur of his plan for world history.
Since Sha'ul's ministry was to Gentiles (l:5b-6&N, 11:13), perhaps some people thought he would no longer be interested in the Jews. Therefore in this verse he affirms in three different ways the sincerity of his great grief over Israel's failure, as a people, to honor their Messiah. Actually, even as an emissary to the Gentiles, whenever he came to a new place he brought the Gospel "to the Jew first" (1:16&N, Ac 13:5&N).
1. I am speaking the truth — as one who belongs to the Messiah, I do not lie; and also bearing witness is my conscience, governed by the Ruach HaKodesh:
2. my grief is so great, the pain in my heart so constant,
3. that I could wish myself actually under God’s curse and separated from the Messiah, if it would help my brothers, my own flesh and blood,
My brothers, my own flesh and blood, the people of Israel. Sha'ul is not speaking of all Jews but only of those who have not come to trust in Yeshua. "If five of your sons are faithful and two are not, you may cry, 'Woe is me, for my sons are unfaithful!'"
4. the people of Isra’el! They were made God’s children, the Sh’khinah has been with them, the covenants are theirs, likewise the giving of the Torah, the Temple service and the promises;
The anguish Sha'ul experiences as he considers Jewish rejection of Yeshua shows-him following in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbenu. When Israel apostatized and built the golden calf, Moses prayed, "This people has sinned a great sin and have made themselves gods of gold. Yet now, if you will forgive their sin — and if not, blot me, I pray, out of your book which you have written" (Exodus 32:32).
God's answer to Moshe was, "Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore, now, go; lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel will go before you" (Exodus 32:33-34). This angel has been identified with Yeshua the Messiah himself (see Yn I:14N, Ac 7:30N), and the book is none other than the Book of Life (Rv 2O:12b&N). Every Rosh-HaShanah and Yom-Kippur the synagogue liturgy calls for Jews to pray that their sins will be forgiven and their names written in the Book of Life; Revelation 20:15 says that those whose names are not written in it will burn eternally in the lake of fire and sulfur.
Thus Moshe, like Sha'ul after him, was willing to be under God's curse if it would help his fellow Jews.
5. the Patriarchs are theirs; and from them, as far as his physical descent is concerned, came the Messiah, who is over all. Praised be Adonai for ever! Amen.
The tragedy of Israel's present apostasy is compounded because Israel has so many advantages over Gentiles. This subject was broached at 2:17-20 and again at 3:1-2, 9. Now Sha'ul lists eight advantages Jews have.
(1) They were made God's children, stated explicitly at Exodus 4:22 and understood throughout the Tanakh. The Greek word used here for "children" is the same as the one used to describe believers in Yeshua at 8:15.
(2) The Sh'khinah was with them. The usual rendering, 'theirs was the glory," does not capture the Jewish flavor of Sha'ul's remark. "Sh 'khinah" is a word used in the Mishna to mean "the glorious presence of God" which was visible in the pillar of fire and smoke in the wilderness (Exodus 13:31. 33:9; Numbers 12:5, 14:14; Deuteronomy 31:15), and which was present in the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:36-38) and in the Temple (Ezekiel 1:28; 3:23; 9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:22-23; 43:2-5; 44:4). Having God visibly present was an obvious advantage to the Jewish people in helping them be aware of his work and ways. See MJ 1:2-3N.
(3) The covenants are theirs, not only those with Avraham (Genesis 17) and Moshe (Exodus 19-24), but also the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:30-36(31-37)) inaugurated by Yeshua (Mt 26:28&N). God made the New Covenant with Israel, although its terms extend to include Gentiles.
(4) The fourth advantage consists of two parts. First, the Torah itself, containing God's very words for the guidance and edification of the Jewish nation, had been its constitution for more than 1,300 years when Sha'ul wrote (by comparison, America's has been in force for just over 200 years). But second, and more important, is the actual giving of the Torah. This was (Informative event which, together with the Exodus from Egypt, has shaped the destiny of the Jewish people through history. In that moment when God gave the Torah to Moshe on Mount Sinai, the divine and eternal met the human and temporal in a way equalled only by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah himself (see Yn 1:17&N). Note that the New Covenant too has been "given as Torah" (MJ 8:6b&N).
(5) The Temple service was not merely a daily reminder to the Jewish people of God's concern for them, but was also God's provision for their spiritual survival and continued existence, cleansing them from sin through the sacrificial system (see notes at 3:20b, 3:25a, Mt 26:28, Lk 1:6, Ac 13:38-39, MJ 9:22) and maintaining them until the Messiah came.
(6) The promises of redemption, reconciliation and ultimate victory through the Messiah were made to Israel — for the Tanakh is nothing if not a record of God's promises to the Jewish people.
(7) The patriarchs are theirs. Avraham, Yilzchak and Ya'akov founded the nation and received the aforementioned promises: and God's faithfulness to them guarantees the fulfillment of those promises (see 2C l:20N, Mt 5:5N and references in its last paragraph). Non-Messianic Judaism traditionally banks on their upright behavior ("the merits of the Fathers") as being advantageous to them, though this is not the point here (but see 11:28-29N).
(8) Finally, from them, as far as his physical descent is concerned, came the Messiah.This is no cause for chauvinistic pride, since the Messiah is for all mankind and not Jews only; yet it is a great honor and advantage which one would not have expected the Jewish people to ignore. Also, since he is over ail (Isaiah 9:5-6(6-7), 1С 15:27-28, Co 1:15-19) — which means that he is in charge of everything, and therefore greater than all seven previously named advantages — all the more should Israel have heeded and accepted him.
Praised be Adonai forever (compare 1:25). This is the language of a Jewish b'rakhah (blessing); in Hebrew it would be "Barukh Adonai I'olam va'ed." In Jewish liturgies a recital of God's attributes or deeds, such as here, elicits a blessing; for example, the Aramaic "B'rikh hu" ("Blessed be he") in the Kaddish.
Amen. As at 1:25, this word instructs the congregation hearing Sha'ul's letter being read aloud to affirm the b'rakhah with their own "Amen," just as "V'imru, Amen" ("And say ye, Amen") serves the same function in the Kaddish. (For more on "Am«?n" see Mt 5:18N.)
There is a debate over the meaning of the last half of v. 5. A literal rendering of the text, without punctuation (because first-century Greek had none), is: "...and from whom [came] the Messiah the according to flesh the [one] being over all God blessed unto the ages Amen."
There are three possible interpretations:
(1) The whole phrase describes the Messiah himself, stating that he came from the Jews and "is over all, God, blessed for ever. Amen." If this understanding is right, we have here one of the relatively few statements in the New Testament that the Messiah is God (verses widely agreed to have this import are Yn 1:1 taken together with Yn 1:14, 10:30 and 20:28; other verses state or imply it less directly). One can understand the desire of Christians to find Scriptural support for affirming Yeshua's divinity. But although such a strong and surprising theological statement — especially shocking to Jews — would enhance Sha'ul's argument, it craves more than simple expression without any explanation whatsoever; for any Jewish hearer of the letter would immediately have so many questions that he would be unable to concentrate on Sha'ul's following discussion. Furthermore, it makes the "Amen" irrelevant, since it no longer is a congregational response to a b'rakhah.
(2) At the other extreme, in which no part of the phrase describes the Messiah, is the rendering, "and from them, physically, came the Messiah. Forever praised be God, who is over all. Amen." Although much of Chapter 9 deals with God's sovereignty, that is not the subject of what Sha'ul has just been speaking about, so that there is no obvious reason to bless God at this point specifically for his being "over all," even though it is true.
(3) My own position, expressed in the translation, is that the phrase first speaks of the Messiah as being over all. After this, God is to be blessed forever for having chosen a people for himself and given them these many advantages, crowned with the advantage of having the Messiah, who is in charge of everything, be one of their number.
6. But the present condition of Isra’el does not mean that the Word of God has failed. For not everyone from Isra’el is truly part of Isra’el;
But none of this means that the Word of God has failed. This completes the explicit statement of the problem Sha'ul is dealing with in Chapters 9-11 — "In the case of the Jews, has the Word of God failed?" (see 9:1-11:36N). But the question is raised in a way that anticipates the happy conclusion, "No, it has not failed."
The Word of God has not failed; rather, the failure has been on the part of those from Israel who are not truly part of Israel. In his earlier discussion of this same issue at 2:28-29&N, Sha'ul was speaking of individual Jews. Here, where his focus is on the Jewish nation as a whole, in its capacity as God's people, Israel (on this important term, see ll:26aN), he introduces the concept of the faithful "remnant," an idea which pervades the Tanakh (see vv. 27-28&N, 11:1-6&NN). In fact, the Tanakh warns that in certain cases of disobedience a person may be "cut off from among his people" (see Ac 13:38-39N). That the notion was accepted in non-Messianic Judaism can be inferred from the fact that in the Mishna the well-known statement, "All Israel has a place in the world to come," (Sanhedrin 10:1, quoted more fully at 11:26aN) is immediately followed by a list of Israelites who have no place in the world to come. It should not be thought that God is quick to cast away his sons, meaning the Jewish people (Exodus 4:22). Keeping in mind 8:14-15, 9:24-25 and 11:1-6, consider this passage from the Talmud:
"Abaye and Raba interpret the verse, 'You are sons of Adoriai your God...' (Deuteronomy 14:1) in this way: 'When you behave like sons you are called sons, if you do not behave like sons you are not called sons.' This is Rabbi Y'hudah's opinion. Rabbi Me'ir said: 'In both cases you are called sons, for it is said, "They are stupid sons" (Jeremiah 4:22). Also it is said, "They are sons in whom there is no faith" (Deuteronomy 32:20); also, "...a seed of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly" (Isaiah 1:4); and also, "It shall come to pass that in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' it will be said to them. You are sons of the living God.'"(Hosea 2:1 (1:10))' Why quote so many verses to make the point? So that if you say, 'They may indeed be called sons when they are stupid but not when they lack faith,' you arc faced with the verse, 'They are sons in whom is no faith.' And if you say, 'They may be sons and lack faith, but if they serve idols they are not called sons,' there is the verse,'.. .a seed of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly.' And if you say, "They may be called sons when they deal corruptly, but not good sons,' then listen: 'It shall come to pass that in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it will be said to them, "You are sons of the living God.'""(Kiddushin 36a)
7. indeed, not all the descendants are seed of Avraham (2 Chronicles 20:7, Psalm 105:6) rather, "What is to be called your ‘seed’ will be in Yitz’chak (Genesis 21:12).
8. In other words, it is not the physical children who are children of God, but the children the promise refers to who are considered seed.
9. For this is what the promise said: "At the time set, I will come; and Sarah will have a son" (Genesis 18:14)
God decides what his promises mean and how they are to be carried out. Although the phrase, "seed of Avraham," seems self-explanatory, God decided that what is to be called your "seed," for purposes of the promise, will be in Yit/chak, not in Yishma'el, of whom the same word, "seed," is used in the following verse of the Tanakh, Genesis 21:13, but not in connection with the promise. (Some Muslims claim that the Land of Israel belongs to the Arabs on the ground that they are "Abraham's seed" through Ishmael. These verses of Romans, in passing, refute that claim.)
10. And even more to the point is the case of Rivkah; for both her children were conceived in a single act with Yitz’chak, our father;
11. and before they were born, before they had done anything at all, either good or bad (so that God’s plan might remain a matter of his sovereign choice, not dependent on what they did, but on God, who does the calling),
12. it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger' (Genesis 25:23).
13. This accords with where it is written, "Ya‘akov I loved, but Esav I hated" (Malachi 1:2–3).
The case of Rivkah is even more to the point in demonstrating God's absolute sovereignty in determining such matters independently of anything human beings do. For both Ya'akov and Esav were her children, whereas the fact that Yishma'el's mother was Hagar and Yitzchak's was Sarah might lead one to conclude that Sarah's greater worthiness had earned Yitzchak the promises. Nor can one look for a difference in deservedness on the father's side, for both were conceived in a single act by Yitzchak; the Greek word "koite" does not mean merely that both had the same father, which is, of course, true, but that both were conceived in the same act of sexual intercourse.
Also, in the case of Yishma'el and Yitzchak, you might say that Yishma'el, who was fourteen years old when Yitzchak was born, had already proved himself unfit. But in the present instance the decision was made by God before they had been born, before they had done anything at all, either good or bad. Sinful makes as explicit as possible God's motivation: so that God's plan might remain a matter of his sovereign choice, not dependent on what they did but on God, who does the calling.
God's decision, contradicting the normal rules of that society, was that the older will serve the younger, which is consistent with the pronouncement made centuries later, Ya'akov I loved but Esav I hated (in which "hated" is a relative term meaning "loved less"; see Lk 14:26&N). This is quoted from Malachi 1:2-3, and as the context there shows, it not only looks back to those two brothers, but forward to their posterity as well; for God punished the Edomites, who were descended in part from Esav (Deuteronomy 2:4; Obadiah 1, 6), and blessed Israel, Ya'akov's seed.
14. So are we to say, “It is unjust for God to do this”? Heaven forbid!
Thai a loving God can hate (v. 13; Psalm 139:21-22) and that his hatred can seem arbitrary might tempt one to say, "It is unjust for God to do this." Sha'ul, concentrating on both God's sovereignty and his justice, replies, "Heaven forbid!" (on this phrase see 3:4N). "He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he." (Deuteronomy 32:4)
15. For to Moshe he says, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will pity whom I pity" (Exodus 33:19).
16. Thus it doesn’t depend on human desires or efforts, but on God, who has mercy.
In quoting Exodus 33:19 Sha'ul brings into focus God's mercy along with his sovereignty and justice. Though God is within his rights to hate whom he will, so that standing with God doesn't depend on human desires or efforts, God nevertheless does have mercy and does show pity.
Non-Messianic Judaism understands God's attribute of mercy as even greater than his attribute of justice. Although this seems a very beautiful idea, it can lead to the false hope that God in his mercy will somehow overlook the just punishment for sins. It is easy to see why such a hope is sought — people who do not have Yeshua to satisfy God' s demand for justice by being the kapparah (atonement) for their sins, know that they need God's mercy desperately. The wish, then, is father to the thought that God is more merciful than judgmental.
Messianic Judaism does not have to elevate mercy over justice, because Yeshua the Messiah combines in himself God's perfect justice with his perfect mercy and demonstrates how they dovetail and coincide (see 3:25-26&NN). This is why Sha'ul can quote Exodus 33:19 in answer to a question about God's justice, thereby placing God's mercy alongside his justice and not above it.
17. For the Tanakh says to Pharaoh, "It is for this very reason that I raised you up, so that in connection with you I might demonstrate my power, so that my name might be known throughout the world" (Exodus 9:16).
18. So then, he has mercy on whom he wants, and he hardens whom he wants.
Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, and especially 14:4 speak of God's hardening Pharaoh's heart. Sha'ul sees history repeating itself. Israel's rejection of Yeshua, like Pharaoh's rejection of Moshe, provides the circumstances for God to demonstrate his power through an act of deliverance from the "Egypt" and "bondage" of sin and death. Further, knowledge of this deliverance continues to be publicized: just as the Exodus became known through the Tanakh and the annual reading of the Haggadah at Pesach, so the Messiah's atoning death and resurrection are being made known through evangelism (and now, after Sha'ul's day, through the New Testament). All this is a direct result of Israel's apostasy (a point reiterated at 11:11-12, 15, 19, 25, 30-32) — for Israel's self-will, like Pharaoh's, serves God's merciful ends.
19. But you will say to me, “Then why does he still find fault with us? After all, who resists his will?”
20. Who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? "Will what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me this way? (Isaiah 29:16, 45:9)"
21. Or has the potter no right to make from a given lump of clay this pot for honorable use and that one for dishonorable?
"Hardens" (v. 18) is a hard word which easily provokes one to question the moral justice of the universe. "If God makes me hard, why does he blame me for being hard?" Sha'ul offers little comfort as, in his Jewish manner, he answers this question with a question. Who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? Lest one think Sha'ul is being arrogant, he lets God himself be the one to whom objection must be made by quoting Isaiah in v. 20 and using the image of the potter and the clay from Jeremiah 18:6 in v. 21. Traditional Judaism takes the same viewpoint, as can be seen in this quotation from the weekday morning prayers in the 5(Л/иг(РгауегЬоок): "Who is there among all the works of your hands, among those above or among those below, who could say to you, [God,] 'What are you doing?'"
However, against Sha'ul's refusal to budge on the matter of God's sovereign right to make from a given lump of clay this pot for honorable use and that one for dishonorable must be placed his insistence that "Everyone who calls on the name of Adonai will be saved" (10:13). Similarly, Rabbi Akiva taught, "All is foreseen and free will is given" (Avot 3:15). Sha'ul does not let go of either side of the apparent paradox of predestination versus freedom of choice (see also Pp 2:12-13&N). Rather, he is action-oriented, steering us away from idle and destructive questioning of God's governance, toward the practical solution, which is coming humbly to God through Yeshua the Messiah — this path is closed to no one. Rashi (1040-1105) notes that Pharaoh was given five chances to repent (in connection with the first five plagues) but hardened his own heart, and only after that did God confirm Pharaoh's decision by hardening Pharaoh's heart (commentary on Exodus 7:3). God does not harden the heart of anyone but a confirmed rebel (Yn I2:39&N); he wants all to turn from sin to him (2:4, 2 Kefa 3:9).
22. Now what if God, even though he was quite willing to demonstrate his anger and make known his power, patiently put up with people who deserved punishment and were ripe for destruction?
23. What if he did this in order to make known the riches of his glory to those who are the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory —
24. that is, to us, whom he called not only from among the Jews but also from among the Gentiles?
These verses thus show that God's mercy is more evident and more wonderful, more glorious, more "mercy-full," when the background of judgment is clearly perceived. See vv. 15-16N.
Salvation of Gentiles as well as Jews, a major theme in Chapters \-4, is reintroduced in the context of showing how God will fulfill his promises to the nation of Israel in spite of her present apostasy in rejecting Yeshua the Messiah. Just as God in his mercy called people from among the Gentiles, who deserved punishment and were ripe for destruction, so that he might make known the riches of his glory, so, as we will see in Chapter 11, he will once again turn to Israel in mercy.
25. As indeed he says in Hoshea, "Those who were not my people I will call my people; her who was not loved I will call loved;
26. and in the very place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God! (Hosea 2:25 (23), 2:1(1:10))"
Sha'ul uses these texts from Hoshea midrashically. Hosea was not referring to Gentiles but to Israel itself; he meant that one day Israel, in rebellion when he wrote, would be called God's people. Sha'ul's meaning, which does not conflict with what Hosea wrote but is not a necessary inference from it, is that "God's people" now includes some Gentiles. How this has come about and for what purpose are examined at 9:30-10:4 and 11:17-32, as well as in the book of Ephesians.
27. But Yesha‘yahu, referring to Isra’el, cries out, "Even if the number of people in Isra’el is as large as the number of grains of sand by the sea, only a remnant will be saved"
28. For Adonai will fulfill his word on the earth with certainty and without delay" (Isaiah 10:22–23).
The first part of Hosea 2:1(1:10), quoted in vv. 25-26, includes God's promise — originally made to Avraham (Genesis 22:17) and Ya'akov (Genesis 32:17) — that "the number of the sons of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered." Turning on this part of Hosea's prophecy, Sha'ul cites Yesha'yahu to show that its fulfillment does not, as one might think, imply the salvation of every single Jew, for only a remnant will be saved. This idea has already been expressed in v. 6b&N, and it will be expanded on at 11:1-6&N.
29. Also, as Yesha‘yahu said earlier, "If Adonai-Tzva’ot had not left us a seed, we would have become like S’dom, we would have resembled ‘Amora" (Isaiah 1:9).
As Yesha'yahu said nine chapters earlier in his book, "If Adonai-Tzva'ot [Adonai "of hosts, of armies"; Greek Sabaoth transliterates the Hebrew; see Rv 1:8N on this title of God] had not left us a seed (v. 7&N), we would have" been destroyed altogether, like S'dom and ' Amora (Genesis 19). The seed is the "remnant" of v. 28. By referring back to concepts presented in vv. 6-7, vv. 27-29 give closure to Part I of Chapters 9-11, on God's role in Israel's apostasy (see 9:1-11:36N). God cannot be blamed for the nation of Israel's failure to accept Yeshua as her Messiah; on the contrary, God must be thanked for showing enough mercy to preserve a "seed" or "remnant" of individual Jews who did accept him, namely, the Messianic Jews.
The first of the three major parts of Chapters 9-11 (see 9:1-11:36N) asks whether God is in any degree at fault for Israel's currently rejecting the Messiah. This is the logical place to start, for it was the questioning of God's ability to fulfill his promises that raised the issue. The passage establishes — on the unshakable ground of God's sovereignty (vv. 19-23), justice and mercy (vv. 14—18) — not only that the promises apply to but a limited "seed" (vv. 6-13) or "remnant" (vv. 27-29) of Israel, but also that at least some of them apply to certain Gentiles who never were part of Israel (vv. 22-26).
30. So, what are we to say? This: that Gentiles, even though they were not striving for righteousness, have obtained righteousness; but it is a righteousness grounded in trusting!
9:30-10:21 In Part II of Chapters 9-11 (see 9:1-11:36N), Sha'ul turns from God's role in Israel's apostasy to the human aspect. The majority in Israel missed the Messiah because they did not grasp that the first requirement of the Torah is faith (trusting God), not "works" (actions undertaken on one's own, apart from God; see 3:20bN). Israel has had the right goal (w. 30-31) but has pursued it in the wrong way (w. 32-33). Chapter 10 (which must not be separated from 9:30-33) analyzes what Israel's misunderstanding was (10:1-13) and proves that there was no excuse for it (10:14-21), so that the blame rests entirely with Israel.
Essential to correctly understanding Part II is realizing that the Torah, the Mosaic Law, is a covenant based not on "works" but on trusting God. All major English translations and most commentators present 9:30-10:21 as if Sha'ul were contrasting two paths to righteousness authorized by God, the Mosaic Law and the New Covenant, and showing the advantages of the latter over the former. But there is only one path, for the Torah of Moshe requires faith and offers righteousness by faith, just like the New Covenant; so that any interpretation which denigrates the Law of Moses is not only antisemitic but insulting to God, the Giver of the "Torah of righteousness" (v. 31). The notes below provide support for this strong assertion.
31. However, Isra’el, even though they kept pursuing a Torah that offers righteousness, did not reach what the Torah offers.
32. Why? Because they did not pursue righteousness as being grounded in trusting but as if it were grounded in doing legalistic works. They stumbled over the stone that makes people stumble (Isaiah 8:14).
So, in the light of vv. 24-29, what are we to say, what are we to conclude? That there is a monumental paradox (vv. 30-31) crying for explanation (v. 32a)! Verses 31-32a say, literally,
31. "But Israel, pursuing nomos (a law) of righteousness, did not arrive at nomos.
32. Why? Because not from trust but as from works..."
Here are three possible interpretations, mine being the third:
(1) Christians who believe that the New Covenant offers righteousness in a new way not provided by the Mosaic Law generally take v. 31 to mean: "But Israel, pursuing the Mosaic Law, which stems from God's righteousness, defines God's righteousness, and (most importantly) demands God's righteousness, but does not offer God's righteousness, did not arrive at the righteousness demanded by the Mosaic Law." This understanding, however, renders v. 32a superfluous; for if Israel pursued the wrong goal, a Law that does not offer God's righteousness, no further explanation is needed as to why they did not arrive at it. One also is led to ask what advantage God would gain from putting the people of Israel through the useless busy-work of such a pointless charade.
(2) A second way of construing vv. 31-32a: "But Israel, pursuing not the Mosaic Law but a (perfectly proper) principle, namely, righteousness, did not arrive at expressing that principle. Why? Because their pursuing it did not stem from trust but from works." But there is no compelling reason why nomos should mean "principle" here when it means "Torah" in 10:4-5 (and throughout most of Romans). More importantly, the "as" of v. 32 ("as from works"), which suggests something contrary to fact, is ignored; for this interpretation says that Israel's pursuit did in fact stem from works.
(3) My interpretation is expressed in my expanded rendering that excludes other interpretations (see the JNT Introduction, Section V, for a defense of this translation procedure). Nomos is the Torah, the Mosaic Law. The Torah is "of righteousness" in at least four senses — it stems from, defines, demands and offers God's righteousness; in context, what should be stressed is that it offers the same righteousness grounded in trusting that Gentiles... have obtained. В ut Israel, even though they kept pursuing the right goal, the Torah and the righteousness it offers, did not reach what they were pursuing, namely, the Torah (literally, "teaching") that righteousness must be grounded in trusting God and is never an earned payment for legalistic works. That is, they did not reach the real meaning of the Torah, and therefore they also did not reach the righteousness that the Torah offers through trusting. Why? Sha'ul's answer is elliptical, and any interpretation must supply missing words. I take "from trust" and "as from works" to be modifiers of "righteousness"; because the same phrase, "from trust," modifies "righteousness" in v. 30 (my translation in both places: grounded in trusting). Contrary to the other two interpretations, mine implies that Israel was correct in believing that the Torah offers righteousness. But they were wrong in thinking that righteousness could be obtained on the ground of works apart from trusting, for God honors only "trust-grounded obedience" (1:5&N, 16:26). Further support for this interpretation is that Sha'ul spends 10:1-13 explaining how the Torah of Moshe is grounded in trusting.
I have met Orthodox Jews who make this same mistake by asserting that performing mitzvot (Torah commandments), even if done mechanically and without faith, earns a Jew acceptance with God, sometimes justifying their position by maintaining that God is interested in actions, not feelings. Insofar as they value deeds over mere emotions they are right; but normative Orthodox Jewish teaching on the subject is at odds with them and instead is virtually equivalent to what Sha'ul says here, that deeds performed without kavvanah (literally, "direction," that is, conscious devotion to God) gain the doer no merit with God, even though other people may benefit from the deed.
Many Jews and some Gentiles claim to "trust in God" but don't define "God" as the one who sent his Son Yeshua to atone for their sins by his death. Thus they trust in a god of their own imaginings instead of the God who exists. The trust of which Sha'ul speaks is always in the God who was and is and will be, the God of the Bible, the God who created all; trust is never in a god that one shapes for oneself.
33. As the Tanakh puts it, "Look, I am laying in Tziyon a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will trip them up. But he who rests his trust on it will not be humiliated" (Isaiah 28:16).
The stone that will make people stumble was proclaimed by Isaiah 7:14; 8:8,10 to be a person named Immanu'el ("God-With-Us"), who was identified at Mt 1:23&N as Yeshua the Messiah. Luke, after quoting Psalm 118:22, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone," added, "Whoever falls on this stone will be broken in pieces, but if the stone falls on someone he will be crushed to powder!" (Lk 20:18&N). Elsewhere Sha'ul speaks of the Messiah as a stumbling-stone to the Jews (1С 1:23&N; see also Genesis 49:24, Exodus 17:6,1С 10:4, 1 Ke 2:6-8).
Therefore the Greek words rendered "on it," interpolated by Sha'ul into the Tanakh text, may refer to the Stone; or they may be translated, "on him," as at 10:11, where the passage is cited again and refers explicitly to the Messiah.
Will not be humiliated (or "disappointed" or "put to shame") on the Day of Judgment.
- chapter 1
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