The Epistle to the Romans, Part IV
by Darrell Sutton
Literacy in the ancient Greco-Roman Republic was more widespread than in some other civilizations. Oxyrhynchus papyri-texts are extant and confirm that assertion. Depending on the writings one studied, the culture of Rome seemed refined. It was deemed by themselves to be superior to the values in other nations. Rome’s readers were aware of the sciences and philosophies in surrounding territories. A well-read people, they learned old myths, memorized legends and travelogues written by wanderers to faraway lands. Agricultural details also frequently appear in Latin through various forms of literature. And comments about Roman gods and goddesses in antiquity show up regularly in Latin poems and in prose texts. Cicero and other educated Romans could express themselves proficiently in both Latin and Greek.
Paul was an urbane and sagacious scholar. Mastery of his letter to the Christians in Rome is vital for apprehending the intricate systems of his thought and for grasping those principal doctrines pioneered by him and declared throughout the Aegean and Mediterranean provinces. In Late Antiquity, differences of opinion regarding ‘grace’ often incited disagreement. The East-West Schism of 1054 is well known. Afterwards, and during the [Counter] “Reformation” centuries, sometimes violent confrontations occurred in the battle to control how basic beliefs about this letter were to be understood within Protestant and Catholic factions.
In the two translated chapters below – from Latin Vulgate texts, Paul characterizes God’s sovereignty over human beings, and he draws on prophecies from Hebrew sources in order to bolster his claims regarding Israel’s behavior in former times. As well, he reinterprets the state of their spiritual life in the light of a new attitude of God’s righteousness in Christ.
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, a proper letter, was dictated to an amanuensis named Tertius [Rom. 16:22]. It will be apparent to all readers that Paul came to hold Christian views that differed significantly from his former ones when he was a devotee of rabbinic Judaism.
Clearly, the Jews of ancient Rome were a monotheistic subclass dwelling amid a pantheistic society. Years beforehand, a small number of them accepted the belief that Jesus was their Messiah; but non-Jewish adherents to the novel Christian faith were numerous and well known. For a more formal ‘Introduction’ to these perspectives, see the Epistle to the Romans Part 1 (QR Oct 10 2017). Select sentences below contain bracketed words that are inserted for clarity.
9:1-5 Paul’s Innate Affection for his Jewish Kin
9:6-13 Disclosing the True Offspring of Abraham
9:14-24 Almighty God’s Dealings with Human Beings
9:25-29 Predictions regarding Israel’s Status and Future Salvation
9:30-33 Israel’s Failure to realize God’s Standard of Righteousness
10:1-4 Israel’s Ignorance of God’s Standard of Righteousness
10:5-11 Declaring the Right Ways of God in Christ
10:12-15 Heralds and the Glad Tidings They Bring
10:16-21 Israel’s Disobedience defined
1 I declare the truth in Christ; I am not lying. My conscience testifies to me through the Holy Ghost, 2 that I have great grief and a constant pain in my heart. 3 I mean I wish that I myself were cut off from Christ for my brothers and sisters, those whom I know so well according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, whose is the adoption, sonship, glory and testaments and the law, its cultivation, and promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom Christ originated according to the flesh: God, who is above all, blessed forever amen.
6 But [it is] not that the word of God fails, for not all of them who are of Israel are Israelites. 7 and not because they are Abraham’s seed are all the children [of Abraham]; but in Isaiah will your seed be declared. 8 That is to say, they are not the children of God who are children of the flesh. But the children who are of promise are deemed to be the seed. 9 In fact, the word of promise is this: ‘according to this time I will come, and a son will be of Sarah’. 10 On the contrary, not only [her] but Rebecca, having conceived by one, Isaac, our father. 11 And [the babies] while yet unborn and had not committed and good or bad [deed], that the intent of God, according to his choosing, remained [in effect], 12 not by works, but by calling, it is said of him ‘the older will serve the younger’. 13 As it is written ‘Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated’.
14 So what do we say? Is there injustice [iniquity] on God’s part? Absolutely not. 15 Indeed, he says to Moses: ‘I will have pity on whomsoever I will have pity, and I am merciful toward whomsoever I will stand mercifully.’ 16 It seems then, it is, neither him that wills [wishes] nor him that runs, but a merciful God. 17In fact scripture says to Pharoah, ‘in this [regard] I exalted you that I might reveal in you my power and that my name should be announced in the whole earth.
18 Thus, whomsoever he wills, is pitied. Anyone he wills, he hardens. 19 Furthermore, you say to me, who then is complaining? Yes, who opposes his will? 20 O man, who are you that you may question God? Will the one created say to the one who created him ‘why did you make me so?’ 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, in the same way, to mold the clay into something else? A vessel for honor; another, for truth, for dishonor. 22 What if God, willing to display his wrath and to make known his power, bore very patiently, the vessels of wrath bound for ruin?, 23 that he might reveal the wealth of his glory on vessels of mercy which he prepared for glory? 24 Indeed, we, whom he called, not only out of the Jews, but also out of the gentiles.
25 Just as Hosea says ‘I will call a people, [who are] not mine, my people; and [a people] unloved, beloved.’ 26 And it will be, in the place where it was said about them ‘you are not my people, there you will be called sons of the living God’. 27 Isaiah cried aloud in the presence of Israel also: ‘if the number of the children of Israel were as much as the sand of the sea, a remnant would be saved’. 28 Surely the Lord is performing the word and will do it quickly around the earth. 29 And as Isaiah predicted: ‘unless the Lord had left us a seed, we would have been as Sodom, and would have been comparable to Gomorrah.’
30 So what will we say? [will we claim] that gentiles who do not pursue righteousness have taken hold of righteousness, which also is by faith? 31 Surely, Israel is running after the law of righteousness, not arriving at the law. 32 Why? Because [their pursuit is] not by faith but as though by works; they stumbled on the stone that tripped them. 33 As it is written, ‘behold I place in Zion a stumbling stone and an offending rock; but whoever trusts in Him will not be confused.’
1 Brethren certainly the desire of my heart and prayer to God for them is for salvation. 2 That is, I testify of them that they have God’s fervor but not according to knowledge. 3 Yet, they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, also by seeking to set up their own righteousness, were not subject to the righteousness of God. 4 Christ indeed is the fulfilment of the law’s righteousness for every believing person.
5 Moses writes of righteousness which is of the law: the person who would create ordinances [legal systems] will live by them. 6 But righteousness, which is of faith says this: do not say in your heart, ‘who will ascend to heaven?’, that is, cause Christ to descend.’ 7 Or, who will descend into the abyss? Namely, to call back Christ from the dead. 8 But what does it say? The word is near you: In your mouth and in your heart. This word of faith is what we preach. 9 Because if you confess by your mouth ‘The Lord Jesus’ and believe in your heart that God raised him up out of death, you will be saved. 10 Truly the heart believes unto righteousness, but by the mouth confession is made to salvation. 11 For scripture says, ‘all who trust him will not be confused’.
12 Actually there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord of all, rich toward all who call to him. 13 And whoever will cry out the name of the Lord, will be saved. 14 How then will they call on whom they had not believed? Or, how will they believe him whom they have not heard? But frankly, how will they hear without the preacher? 15 How will they preach if they are not sent? As it is written, ‘how lovely are the feet of those who are proclaiming peace, proclaiming the good [tidings]!’
16 However, all of them are not obedient to the gospel. As Isaiah says, Lord who has trusted our account? 17So faith derives from hearing; but hearing, through the word of Christ. 18 And I say, have they not heard? Indeed their sound has gone into all the earth, their word to the end of the earth. 19 Nonetheless, I say, Israel did not know? First of all Moses says ‘I will bring you to the point of envy, using people who are not [my] people; and provoke you to anger by a foolish people. 20 But Isaiah is daring and says ‘I was found by those not seeking me; I appeared in the midst of them who sought me not. 21 To Israel on the other hand, he says ‘all day I stretched forth my hands to an unbelieving and contradicting people.’
Darrell Sutton publishes papers on ancient texts and reviews biblical and classical literature