Just how the message about Jesus Christ first reached Rome is not explicitly revealed in the biblical account. On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Jews and proselytes from various parts of the Greco-Roman world heard Peter’s testimony. Among them were persons from Rome. (Acts 2:9-11) It is likely that a number of them believed what they heard, were among the some 3,000 who were then baptized, and, in time, returned to the city. (Acts 2:41)
The book of Acts indicates that it was common for Jews and others to travel extensively throughout the Roman Empire. Apollos, for example, came to Ephesus (the ruins of which city are located on what is now the western coast of Turkey) from Alexandria in Egypt and later headed for Corinth in Greece. (Acts 18:24, 27; 19:1)
Many of the believers in Rome at the time Paul wrote his letter may have become disciples in other cities and later either returned or moved to the capital of the empire. Evidence to this effect is that Paul personally knew quite a number of the believers in Rome even though he had never visited there. (Romans 16:3-15) Among those whom he knew were Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca). When Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, this Jewish couple moved to Corinth, where Paul met them, worked with them in the same trade, and lived with them. (Acts 18:1-3) They appear already to have been believers, for no reference is made to their coming to believe in Jesus Christ through Paul’s ministry. When the apostle wrote his letter to the Romans, Aquila and Priscilla were again residing in Rome, for the decree of Claudius had ceased to be in force and Nero was then ruling.
As the case of Aquila and Priscilla illustrates, believing Jews, proselytes, and God fearers continued to go to the synagogues and used the opportunity to share the message about Christ with others. After Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos at the synagogue in Ephesus speak boldly about Jesus, they assisted him to gain a better understanding about the Son of God. Apollos, though well-versed in the holy writings, only knew about the baptism of John and so needed to learn more. (Acts 18:24-26) Jewish believers continued to live according to the requirements of the law, observing the Sabbath, adhering to the dietary restrictions, and faithfully conducting themselves according to other legal requirements. (Acts 21:20-24) So their life as believers was markedly different from that of non-Jewish Christians.
During the period the decree of Claudius was in effect, the community of believers in Rome would have consisted of non-Jews. After the Jews were allowed to return and Jewish believers did so, non-Jewish believers may have outnumbered their Jewish brothers and sisters. These developments may have contributed toward later problems in living harmoniously as an integrated congregation of Christians. Based on his experience with Jewish and non-Jewish Christians and the information fellow believers who were then living in Rome had earlier shared with him, Paul, under the guidance of God’s spirit, could write a letter well-suited to their needs. One of those needs appears to have been for all of them to increase in their appreciation for one another as part of a united, loving community of believers.
Internal evidence in the letter itself and specifics in the book of Acts make it possible to establish the place and the approximate time Paul dictated his letter to the Romans. Phoebe, who was heading for Rome from Cenchreae, appears to have been the one to whom the apostle entrusted the letter for delivery. (Romans 16:1) Cenchreae served as the nearby port for Corinth when shipments were made to eastern harbors. Furthermore, Paul referred to Gaius (evidently the Gaius who was from Corinth) as his host and Erastus the city steward. (Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14) So it is likely that Paul was then in Corinth and planned to travel to Jerusalem to deliver a contribution from believers in Macedonia and Greece for poverty-stricken Jewish believers in Judea. (Romans 15:25, 26, 30, 31)
During Paul’s first stay in Corinth, Gallio served a term as proconsul of Achaia. An ancient fragmentary inscription from Delphi mentions Gallio and provides enough information to place his term as running either from 51 to 52 CE or from 52 to 53 CE. After Paul left Corinth, he set sail from Cenchreae for Syria, making a stopover in Ephesus and then continuing his journey to Caesarea. From there he went up to “greet the congregation” (apparently the one in Jerusalem) and then went to Syrian Antioch. Thereafter Paul continued his activity in Asia Minor, remaining over two years in Ephesus alone before returning to Greece for a three months’ stay. (Acts 18:18-23; 19:8-10; 20:1-3, 31) It would appear that he then dictated his letter to the Romans, and a date of about 56 CE would fit the specifics in the biblical account.
Another line of evidence involves the time Festus became governor of Judea. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem during the time Felix occupied this position and remained confined in Caesarea for two years. (Acts 24:27) While the exact date when Festus assumed the office is not known, the range of commonly suggested dates is between 58 and 61 CE.
The apostle Paul identified himself as the writer of the letter to the Romans. (1:1) In view of his apostleship to the Gentiles, he may have chosen to go by his Roman name “Paul.” His Hebrew name “Saul” had the proud distinction of having been the name of Israel’s first king, a man of the tribe of Benjamin (as was Paul or Paulos). The Latin word paulus means “small” or “little,” and the Hebrew name signifies “asked for” or “asked of,” the implication being that God was the one to whom the appeal was made for a child or a son.
As a slave of “Christ Jesus” (“Jesus Christ,” in other Greek manuscripts), Paul had the honor of being in the service of the “King of kings and Lord of lords,” the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth had been granted. (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 19:16) His call to be an apostle (one sent forth with a commission) had come directly through Jesus Christ and God the Father. (Acts 9:5, 6, 15, 16; 26:15-18; Galatians 1:1) Paul had been set apart for the “evangel of God,” designated to proclaim the glad tidings about Jesus Christ and how reconciliation to God would be possible through him. It is the “evangel” or “good news of God,” for its ultimate source is the Almighty. (1:1)
Paul could speak of the evangel or glad tidings as having been previously promised through the prophets whose words were recorded in the “holy writings.” (1:2) The prophets referred to a time when a ruler would come from the tribe of Judah, through the line of David (the son of Jesse). This one would administer affairs according to the highest standard of justice, and non-Jewish peoples would rally to him as to a signal on an elevated site. The coming of this ruler, the Messiah or Christ, would be associated with the inauguration of a new covenant through his sacrificial death, providing the basis for true forgiveness of sins and complete reconciliation with God. (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 11:1-5, 10; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 12:10-13:1)
As Paul continued, the good news is about God’s Son, who, according to the flesh or natural descent, was of the “seed of David,” being in the line that had David as the illustrious royal ancestor. (1:3)
Jesus Christ, the Lord of believers, was designated, established, or declared as “Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead.” (1:4) The words “Son of God in power” may mean that, in contrast to his human existence when he was a little lower than the angels, Jesus is now in possession of the fullness of power in his exalted post-resurrection state. (Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:8, 9) A number of translations make this meaning explicit in their renderings. “He was appointed to be God’s Son with great power by rising from the dead.” (NCV) “Jesus is the powerful Son of God, because he was raised from death.” (CEV)
Another possible meaning is that “in power” relates to the resurrection, which would mean that the powerful act involved in raising Jesus from the dead undeniably established his being the Son of God. This significance is conveyed in the renderings of various translations. “He was proclaimed Son of God by an act of power that raised him from the dead.” (REB) J. B. Phillips paraphrased the words to mean that Jesus Christ was “patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead.” In Ephesians 1:17-20, the working of God’s power is specifically mentioned as having effected Christ’s resurrection.
Numerous translators and commentators have considered the “spirit of holiness” to be the “holy spirit.” “And Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit.” (NLT) This rendering and others like it are questionable, because “according to [the] flesh” and “according to [the] spirit of holiness” are contrasting parallels.
It appears preferable to regard “spirit” as a contrast to “flesh” or “human nature,” with “spirit” relating to Jesus’ identity on the level of the spirit. A number of translations convey this meaning. “As to his divine holiness, he was shown with great power to be the Son of God by being raised from death.” (GNT, Second Edition) “As regards the holiness of His Spirit [he] was decisively proved by His Resurrection to be the Son of God.” (Weymouth) Unlike Jesus’ body of flesh, which bore the sins of humankind, the spirit does not function in the role of sin bearer and may, for this reason, be called the “spirit of holiness.” (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24)
While on the road to Damascus, Saul (Paul), intent on acting against believers in that city, had an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. At that time, the Son of God granted the persecutor Saul his grace or favor and gave him an apostleship. According to his own description to Timothy, Paul was then a blasphemer (a man who, through his extreme hostility to believers, demonstrated himself to be a person who considered Jesus Christ to be an impostor), a persecutor (one who pursued believers with violent intent, wanting to force them to recant and, if they refused to do so, to be severely punished) and an arrogant man, displaying haughtiness in waging his campaign against believers. Yet, because he acted in ignorance, he was shown mercy and granted the favor of having Jesus Christ reveal himself to him and commission him to be an apostle to the Gentiles. (1 Timothy 1:12-14)
When presenting his testimony before King Agrippa, Paul specifically referred to Jesus Christ’s words when he commissioned him, “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me [the things that you have seen, footnote] and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles — to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Commenting on his response to his commission, Paul continued, “After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.” (Acts 26:16-20, NRSV)
What he said in his defense before King Agrippa, Paul expressed briefly in Romans 1:5, “Through [Jesus Christ], we have received favor and an apostleship for obedience of faith in all the nations relating to his name [literally, over his name].” Although the Greek verb for “we have received” [elábomen] is first person plural (not first person singular), Paul is referring to himself, as evident from the mention of the apostleship with which he was entrusted. The expression “obedience of faith” could mean either the obedience prompted by faith or the obedient response in faith to the message about God’s Son. In fulfilling his assignment as an apostle, Paul made Jesus Christ known and did so for the sake of Christ’s name (that is, for the Son of God himself). So the final phrase “over his name” could apply to the “obedience of faith” that had Jesus Christ as the focus. Another possibility is that the reference is to the commission Paul carried out for the sake of Christ.
Among the nations, believers in Rome were “called ones of Jesus Christ.” (1:6) This could mean that they were called to belong to Jesus Christ or that he had chosen them.
All the believers “in Rome” whom Paul addressed were “beloved of God.” As God’s “sons” or “children,” they were members of his beloved family. Their calling was one to a life of holiness or purity as imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were “called to be holy ones.” (1:7)
As in other letters, Paul included the prayerful expression, “Favor to you and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:7) “Favor,” unmerited kindness, or grace would include all the help and guidance the Father and his Son would provide. For believers to enjoy the peace that comes from God and Christ would mean their being in possession of inner tranquility, knowing that as beloved children of God and brothers of Christ they would be sustained and strengthened in times of trial and distress.
Foremost for Paul was the giving of thanks to God. Indicative of his personal relationship, the apostle wrote “my God.” In the case of all the believers in Rome, Paul gave thanks to God through Jesus Christ because their faith had been proclaimed “in the whole world.” From the capital of the Roman Empire, news about the faith believers there had in Jesus Christ spread throughout the then-known world. (1:8)
Paul called upon God as his witness that he always remembered the believers at Rome in his prayers. The apostle spoke of his service to God as being “in the evangel of his Son” or in making known the good news respecting him and what it could mean for those who responded in faith. When saying that he served God “in [his] spirit,” Paul indicated that his service was not merely an outward expression but involved his whole being, his inner self. (1:9, 10)
Regarding believers in Rome, Paul’s supplications (his fervent appeals) focused on being able to see them if, by God’s will, somehow the way would be opened up to him to come to them. (1:10) He longed to see them, for he wanted to impart a spiritual gift to them, a gift that would serve to strengthen them in faith. Paul did not regard this as being solely for their benefit, but he anticipated the mutual encouragement or comfort that would result from their interchange on the basis of his faith and theirs. (1:11, 12)
He wanted his “brothers” or fellow believers in Rome to know that he had often planned to come to them but had until then been prevented from doing so. As the apostle to the nations, he desired some “fruit” also among them as he had among the Gentiles in other regions. This “fruit” would be persons who responded or would yet respond in faith to the message about the Son of God. (1:13)
Paul considered himself to be a debtor to all persons, under obligation to make the glad tidings about Christ known to them. Whether “Greeks” or “barbarians,” “wise” or “senseless,” all were entitled to hear the good news. The terms “Greek” and “barbarian” apply to cultures, with “barbarian” (bárbaros) denoting someone from a non-Greek or non-Hellenic culture. In this context, it does not have the derogatory sense commonly associated with the word “barbarian.” The “wise” would be persons from the educated classes, whereas the “senseless” would designate those who did not have the benefit of education. (1:14)
Numerous translations are explicit in conveying the basic significance. “I have an obligation to Greek and non-Greek, to learned and simple.” (REB) “It doesn’t matter if people are civilized and educated, or if they are uncivilized and uneducated. I must tell the good news to everyone.” (CEV) “For I have a great sense of obligation to people in our culture and to people in other cultures, to the educated and uneducated alike.” (NLT)
Viewing himself as being obligated to share the good news, Paul eagerly wanted to do so in Rome. (1:15)
Considerable opposition to the glad tidings existed in the Greco-Roman world. Believers stood out as different. They ceased to engage in activities and religious practices that were deeply rooted in the existing culture but stood in conflict with Jesus’ example and teaching. Their belief regarding the benefits made possible through Jesus’ death by means of the worst form of capital punishment seemed especially foolish to the cultured and educated members of society. (1 Corinthians 1:23; Ephesians 4:17-23; 5:3, 4, 8-12, 18; 1 Peter 4:1-4)
Paul, though, was not ashamed of the good news. For believers, he knew the message about Christ to be God’s power for salvation, “to the Jew first and [also] to the Greek.” (1:16; see the Notes section.) The glad tidings concerning Christ, with a focus on the significance of his death, had a powerful effect on believers. It enabled them to see the seriousness of sin and the greatness of God’s love for them. As God’s means for having their sins forgiven and becoming reconciled to him as his children, Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death had a profound impact on their lives. In attitude, word, and action, they were moved to imitate God’s Son. The love he showed by surrendering his life for them and the love the Father revealed when sending his Son motivated them to respond in faith and to live a life of faith. The appeal of the good news proved to be universal, moving both Jews and non-Jews to embrace it.
“God’s righteousness” is the righteousness of which he is the source. The evangel reveals that sinful humans can come into possession of this righteousness by their faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death for them. Paul wrote that “God’s righteousness is revealed out of faith into faith,” and backed this up with a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4, “But the righteous one will live by [literally, out of] faith.” (1:17)
In relation to God’s righteousness, the expression “out of faith and into faith” may be understood to mean that obtaining this righteousness starts with faith and leads to ever-increasing faith or ends in faith. A number of translations convey this basic significance. “I see in it God’s plan for imparting righteousness to men, a process begun and continued by their faith.” (J. B. Phillips) “The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself — that it begins and ends with faith.” (NCV) “In it the righteousness of God is seen at work, beginning in faith and ending in faith.” (REB) “For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end.” (GNT, Second Edition) “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.” (NLT) “For in the Good News a righteousness which comes from God is being revealed, depending on faith and tending to produce faith.” (Weymouth)
On the basis of their faith, believers enjoy an approved standing with God. They are no longer under condemnation as is the case with those who refuse to put faith in God’s provision for salvation through Jesus Christ. Unbelievers continue to be dead in trespasses and sins, but believers are alive, justified, declared guiltless, or accounted as righteous. (Ephesians 2:1-5)
In the time of Habakkuk, when the Chaldean campaign against the kingdom of Judah began, the godly members of the nation were sustained by their faith or trust in God and their unwavering conviction that the divine promises would be fulfilled. By this faith, they lived as persons enjoying divine help, blessing, and approval despite the distressing circumstances.
God’s wrath is directed against those who, in their wickedness, suppress the truth that can be known about him. This suppression implies a desire to escape all moral accountability to God. His “wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness” in that he allows humans to follow their debased desires and to experience the hurtful consequences from their debauchery. (1:18)
Those who conduct themselves in a corrupt manner do so despite the evidence that is available to them and which evidence God has revealed. Although his eternal power and divine nature are invisible, they can be perceived from the things made or from the creative works. The evidence of God’s eternal power and divine nature has existed since the “creation of the world.” Therefore, those acting as though he did not exist are without excuse. (1:19, 20; see the Notes section for examples of how even before Paul’s time conclusions about “gods” were drawn from creation.)
The visible creative works proved that lifeless, man-made images could not possibly represent an invisible, living God. So, although knowing or perceiving from the things made that a personal higher power existed, people “did not glorify him as God nor render thanks” to him. Instead of acting on what they should have known about God from the creative works, they misused their mental faculties. In their thinking, they became vain, and their “senseless mind” (literally, “heart,” which could also denote their inner self) was “darkened.” While imagining themselves to be wise, they foolishly exchanged “the glory of the imperishable God” for the lifeless images or representations of perishable humans, and of birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles. (1:20-23)
In accord with the “desires of their hearts” or the debased lusts of their inner selves, which were manifest in their deliberate choice of idolatry, God abandoned them to the pursuit of corrupt practices. He exercised no restraint on their choice of a life of uncleanness or impurity, whereby they dishonored their bodies. These debauched idolaters had exchanged “the truth of God” (which the creative works revealed) for “the lie,” the falsehood of idolatry (the veneration of things made or created instead of the Creator). (Compare Psalm 135:15-18; Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:14; 16:19, 20.) Paul, however, was moved to include an expression of praise to God, adding, “the Creator who is blessed forever [literally, into the ages]. Amen [So be it].” (1:24, 25; compare Psalm 89:52.)
Male and female prostitution came to be prominently associated with idolatrous rites, and the apostle mentioned the obscenities to which the rejection of the “truth of God” led. God totally abandoned the idolaters to their degrading passions. Women exchanged natural intercourse for that which was contrary to nature and the internal sense of decency. Men, not satisfied with natural intercourse with women, were consumed with lust for one another. Males engaged in indecent sexual acts with males. Regarding the adverse consequences of their impure practices, Paul indicated that they received in their own person the due recompense for their error. (1:26, 27)
Since, despite the evidence available to them, the idolaters did not see fit to recognize or acknowledge God, he gave them up to their twisted mind, letting them engage in unseemly practices. (1:28) The apostle then went on to describe the kind of persons they were.
They were filled with “all unrighteousness [adikía], wickedness [ponería], covetousness [pleonexía], badness [kakía].” (1:29; see the Notes section for additional information about this verse.)
“All” may be understood to apply to every type of the vices that are enumerated. “Unrighteousness” (adikía) is the opposite of dikaiosyne, which Greek term denotes righteousness, integrity, uprightness, purity of life, or correctness in attitude, thought, and action.
The word ponería signifies wickedness, iniquity, depravity, baseness, maliciousness, or sinfulness.
Covetousness (pleonexía) is descriptive of an inordinate desire to have more. It is an extreme passion or addiction expressed in wanting more without showing any regard for others or how they might be adversely affected.
Kakía may be defined as meaning badness, ill-will, viciousness, depravity, or malignity. It is the opposite of moral excellence or virtue.
Corrupt persons are described as “full of envy [phthónos], murder [phónos], contention [éris], treachery [dólos], malice [kakoétheia],” and being “whisperers [psithyristés.]” (1:29)
Envy (phthónos) is the trait that manifests itself in begrudging or resenting what others are or possess. It gives rise to outright hatred for those who become the object of envy.
In James 4:2, the verb form of phónos is used with apparent reference to the manifestation of a murderous disposition, and this may also be included in the mention of “murder” in this case.
Éris can denote strife, contention, wrangling, or discord. Persons given to quarreling cause division and destroy good relationships.
Dólos designates treachery, cunning, or deceit. Deceivers take advantage of others, exploiting them for selfish gain.
Kakoétheia, meaning “malice,” is characterized by the depravity of the inner self and life. It applies to a malicious disposition.
Psithyristés denotes a whisperer, tale bearer, secret slanderer, or a detractor. Whereas the whisperer engages in defamation in secret, the person designated as a katálalos slanders others openly.
The apostle Paul continued his list with “defamers” (katálalos) or evil speakers and then mentioned haters of God (theostygés), insolent ones (hybristés), arrogant ones (hyperéphanos), braggarts (alazón), contrivers of bad (epheuretés kakón), ones who disobey parents (goneúsin apeitheís), senseless ones (asynetos), those who were disloyal, faithless or broke agreements (asynthetos), lacking in normal affection (ástorgos), and merciless (aneleémon). (1:30, 31)
Theostygés is descriptive of a notoriously corrupt person who hates God. The reason for such hatred doubtless stems from wanting to do what is contrary to God’s will and feeling that God stands in the way of personal enjoyment.
The violent or insolent (hybristés) ones derive pleasure from wronging others. They make themselves guilty of wantonness, outrage, cruelty, or lust.
Persons described as hyperéphanos are arrogant or haughty, making others appear small while lifting themselves up above them. Such individuals manifest an exaggerated estimate of their means, accomplishments, or merits and despise others or treat them with contempt.
Alazón denotes a braggart or boaster. The term applies to a person who makes empty or boastful claims regarding cures and other feats, promising results that cannot be attained.
A contriver of bad (epheuretés kakón) would be someone who devised new ways to sin. In the course of time, humans have developed new vices to which many have been become enslaved.
Children who are disobedient to parents (goneúsin apeitheís) have no respect for them. They ignore their needs and are unappreciative of anything parents have done and may do for them. Such individuals refuse to come to the aid of their parents when it does not suit their own aims. They are stubborn rebels who indulge their own desires and refuse to listen to sound advice. (Compare Deuteronomy 21:20.)
The individual described as senseless or foolish (asynetos) would be one who failed to use his mental faculties aright. The folly is of a moral kind.
Those who are disloyal, faithless or break agreements (asynthetos) cannot be trusted. They pretend to be trustworthy but pursue their own objectives without any regard for the agreements they may have made.
Ástorgos describes a person who lacks the kind of love that family members or close associates normally have for one another. Individuals who fit this description are unfeeling or heartless. They are solely focused on themselves and their interests.
The merciless (aneleémon) person has no pity or compassion for those who are experiencing suffering or distress and is devoid of any fellow feeling. Such an individual is ruthless.
Within themselves, those who were guilty of the vices Paul enumerated knew that they were wrong. Because of possessing a conscience, an internal sense of right and wrong, they could be spoken of as knowing the just decree of God. Despite this, they continued to practice vices deserving of death and looked with approval upon others who engaged in like corrupt practices. (1:32)
In Romans 1:7, a few manuscripts omit “in Rome” and read, “To all those who are in God’s love.” The omission of the words “to those in Rome” (1:15) has even less manuscript support.
Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and a number of other manuscripts do not include the word “first” in Romans 1:16.
That the ancients had no excuse for making idols and regarding these as gods is confirmed by the conclusions they were able to reach. Based on what they saw, ancient philosophers reasoned that higher powers must exist and attributed creative works to them. In his “On the Nature of the Gods,” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) had one of the debaters in his work remark, “In the sky innumerable fiery stars exist, of which the sun is the chief.” Commenting on what would happen if the fiery stars were closer to the earth, the debater is quoted as saying, “We should inevitably be burnt.” Regarding a person who concluded that this came about by chance, he continued, “He who believes this, may as well believe, that if a great quantity of the twenty-one letters, composed either of gold, or any other material, were [repeatedly] thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether chance could make a single verse of them.”
He then quoted from a work (now lost) of the Greek philosopher Aristotle of the fourth century BCE. This philosopher concluded that, if there were people who lived underground in large and spacious homes, adorned with statues and pictures, and comfortably furnished, and then one day would actually come to see the earth and the sky, they would be moved to acknowledge that they were seeing the works of the gods. The following is part of the quotation, If “they should immediately behold the earth, the seas, the heavens; should consider the vast extent of the clouds and force of the winds; should see the sun, and observe its grandeur and beauty; ... and when night has darkened the land, should contemplate the heavens bespangled and adorned with stars; the surprising variety of the moon, in its increase and wane; ...when ...they should see these things, they would undoubtedly conclude that there are gods, and that these are their mighty works.”
The link of moral corruption to idolatry must have been familiar to Jewish believers. In the apocryphal book known as the “Wisdom of Solomon” (thought to date from the first century BCE and preserved in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi), the following is stated: “The idol made with hands is accursed, and so is the one who made it — he for having made it, and the perishable thing because it was named a god. (14:8, NRSV) “For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life; for they did not exist from the beginning, nor will they last forever. For through human vanity they entered the world.” (14:12-14, NRSV)
In Romans 1:29, later manuscripts include the term porneía (fornication or sexual immorality), and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus omits dólos (treachery).
Either before or after the expression meaning “without normal affection” (ástorgos), a number of manuscripts (in Romans 1:31) add aspóndos (irreconcilable or implacable). Perhaps the addition occurred when the copyist recalled the word from the list in 2 Timothy 3:2-5, where aspóndos follows astórgos.
The first word in the opening verse is dió, meaning “therefore.” This conjunction appears to link what follows with the previous statement. Those guilty of the vices Paul enumerated and who looked with approval upon others who engaged in them knew the decree of God indicating that these things merited condemnation. In view of this full awareness respecting wanton behavior, any man or individual (regardless of who he might be) who judged or condemned someone else for deviant acts would be without excuse and would condemn himself when engaging in corrupt actions. Such an individual would demonstrate that he could determine what is and is not right or proper, eliminating any basis for claiming ignorance. Paul’s reference to doing the same things does not necessarily mean engaging in the identical wrongs but denotes carrying out the same kind of lawless deeds. (2:1)
The apostle and those to whom he wrote knew that God’s judgment is expressed in harmony with “truth” or in keeping with the actual state of affairs, and is directed against those who are guilty of debased practices. For this reason, God’s judgment will always be impartial and just. (2:2)
Individuals who condemn others for their lawless behavior may wrongly conclude that they will escape God’s judgment despite engaging in sinful practices. To counter this, Paul raised the rhetorical question, “Do you think you, O man who judges those who practice these [lawless] things and do them yourself, will escape the judgment of God?” (2:3)
By means of his next question, the apostle stressed that engaging in corrupt behavior meant despising the “riches,” abundance, greatness, or priceless nature of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. Lawless conduct reveals a deliberate failure to recognize that the purpose of divine kindness is to lead sinners to repentance. (2:4)
Persons who refuse to repent, maintaining a hard and unrepentant heart (an inner disposition that refuses to regret wrong conduct and to change), are “storing up wrath” for themselves. They are building up a record of wrongdoing that is reserved for divine wrath, which will be expressed when God reveals his just judgment at his coming day of wrath. (2:5) All will then be recompensed according to their deeds. (2:6; compare Psalm 62:12.)
Those who persevere in work that is good and thereby seek the “glory” (splendor or renown), honor (dignity), and the imperishable state that God grants to those whom he approves will receive eternal life from him. (2:7) This is the real life, a life of an enduring relationship with him and all the blessings associated therewith.
God’s adverse judgment will be rendered against those who act “out of contentiousness [eritheía],” fighting against what is proper, and “disobey the truth” or refuse to conduct themselves according to what is right but obey unrighteousness, revealing themselves to be enslaved to evil. They will come to be recipients of God’s wrath and anger. (2:8; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
This will mean “affliction and distress” for those whose deeds have been hurtful to others. Not a “soul” or no single person, whether Jew or Greek (non-Jew), will escape wrath, anger, affliction, and distress for flagrant moral wrongs. Probably because of the greater enlightenment available to the Jews because of having been given God’s law, Paul added “first” after Jew (“the Jew first and [also] the Greek”). Those whose deeds are good would come to be in possession of “glory” (splendor or renown), “honor” (dignity), and “peace” (tranquility and well-being as divinely approved persons). This, too, would be for the “Jew first and [also] the Greek” or non-Jew. No one would be specially favored on the basis of descent, for God does not act with partiality (literally, does not accept faces). He does not treat individuals based on who they are but judges them based on what they have done. (2:9-11)
All who sinned without having the law would perish for their wrongs “without law” or without having their transgressions judged on the basis of the law. In the case of all who did have the law, they would be judged by it. (2:12)
Possession of the law did not make anyone righteous or upright. Therefore, it was not enough for individuals to be mere “hearers of the law.” For them to be justified before God or for him to consider them to be upright persons, they would need to be “doers of law,” living up to it. (2:13)
When non-Jewish peoples who did not have the law met certain requirements it contained, doing so “by nature” or instinctively, they proved to be a law to themselves. Although they did not have the law in written form, they did have an internal sense of right and wrong. For this reason, Paul referred to them as having the “work of the law,” or what the law required, “written on their hearts.” Certain moral demands of the law proved to be part of their inner selves. Therefore, this inner sense of right and wrong, or their conscience, could act as a witness for or against them, either accusing them of wrongdoing or excusing or approving their attitude, words, or deeds. (2:14, 15)
In the day when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge the deeds that had remained hidden from human view, he will do so according to what individuals could and should have known based on what was available to them. The Jews had the law, whereas the non-Jewish people had law in the form of conscience, an internal sense of right and wrong. According to the evangel the apostle Paul proclaimed, there will be a day of judgment or reckoning. Both Jews and non-Jews will be judged, and for all persons a basis for doing so exists. (2:16; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
In view of the idolatry and debauched practices existing in the Greco-Roman world, Jews would have regarded their way of life as superior to that of non-Jews. With apparent awareness of this, the apostle Paul, however, did not direct his words to the Jewish people as a whole nor to Jewish believers specifically. When drawing attention to the wrong kind of pride and the failure to live up what it meant to be one of God’s people, he started his discussion with a man who called himself (or identified himself as) a Jew. Such a Jew, whom the apostle addressed with the singular “you,” is described as “resting on the law,” boasting in God, knowing God’s will, and, because of having been instructed in the law, able to determine what would be best in matters of conduct. (2:17, 18)
The mention of “resting on the law” suggests that the individual trusted in his standing before God because of possessing the law. The person’s boasting in God seems to point to an assumed approved relationship with him. In view of the context, the knowing of God’s will is likewise an assumed knowing, as it is not identified as a knowing that is evident from uprightness in attitude, word, and deed. Based on having been instructed in the law, the man considers himself equipped to make proper evaluations, determining the preferable course of action.
He feels sure that he can serve as a guide to the blind, those lacking the enlightenment the law has given him. In the moral darkness of the world, the man regards himself as a light, making clear to others the direction they should be following. (2:19) He views himself as a corrector of those who lack good judgment and a teacher of “babes” (persons lacking in the knowledge and experience needed to conduct their affairs aright). The basis for this superior view of himself is a presumed possession of “the embodiment of the knowledge and of the truth in the law.” (2:20) This “embodiment of knowledge” appears to designate what the individual conceived to be the absolute knowledge incorporated in the law, knowledge relating to direction for one’s daily life. In being associated with “truth,” the law, to the one who relied on possessing it, contained truth or trustworthy guidance in the absolute sense.
Paul then raised the challenging questions, “You, then, who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself? You, the one proclaiming not to steal, do you steal? You, the one telling [others] not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? [Exodus 20:14, 15; Deuteronomy 7:25, 26; compare Psalm 50:16-18.] You, the one abhorring idols, are you robbing temples? You, the one boasting in the law, do you dishonor God by transgressing the law?” Failure to live up to the law while wanting to impose it on others dishonored God, the giver of the law. It resulted in bringing reproach on him, as the apostle Paul emphasized when quoting from Isaiah 52:5 (LXX), “The name of God, because of you, is blasphemed among the nations.” (2:21-24; see the Notes section for additional comments on verses 22 and 24.)
Just as mere possession of the law did not benefit those who failed to live up to it, circumcision as the sign of the covenant between God and Israel meant nothing without adherence to the covenant obligations. In the case of a Jewish man who transgressed the law, his circumcision proved to be merely the evidence of an operation performed in his infancy. From God’s standpoint, his circumcision would be uncircumcision. (2:25) Centuries earlier, the prophet Jeremiah (9:25, 26, NRSV) expressed a similar thought when conveying the word of YHWH, “I will attend to all those who are circumcised only in the foreskin: Egypt, Judah, Edom, the Ammonites, Moab, and all those with shaven temples who live in the desert. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”
Regarding an uncircumcised man who, guided by his conscience, observed the moral requirements of the law, Paul raised the rhetorical question, “Will not his uncircumcision be reckoned as circumcision?” (2:26) By his conduct, such a man, though uncircumcised, would reveal the true significance of circumcision, its being a bodily mark of one whose actions were divinely approved. God’s dealings with individuals confirms this. Whereas he responded favorably to the sincere petitions of non-Israelites, he refused to answer the prayers of unfaithful Israelites. (1 Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 11:14; Jonah 3:6-10; Acts 10:1-4, 34, 35)
When living up to the moral requirements of the law, the uncircumcised man would condemn the one who was circumcised but transgressed the law which he was obligated to observe. The lawless Jew’s failure would be exposed in the light of the laudable conduct of the man who did not have the benefit of the law as a guide. (2:27)
Drawing on the etymology of the designation “Jew” or “Judah” expressed in Genesis 29:35 (which links the name to “laud” or “praise”), the apostle Paul identified the real Jew as one whose circumcision is of the heart and whose praise comes from God, not men. (2:28, 29) What counted was not the mark of the physical operation but whether the individual’s “heart,” or his inner self, was responsive to God’s requirements. The value that men might attach to circumcision would not be a valid basis for praise or for being recognized as one of God’s people. To be a Jew or one of God’s people in the true sense would mean having his approval or being lauded or praised by him for living a life that harmonizes with his will.
In Romans 2:8, the Greek word eritheía can mean contentiousness or strife. Numerous translators, however, have opted for the meaning “selfish ambition” and refer to the individuals as “those who are self-seeking” (NIV, NRSV), “those who selfishly disobey the truth” (NAB), and “those who are governed by selfish ambition” (REB).
The apostle Paul referred to the glad tidings about Jesus Christ as “my evangel.” (Romans 2:16) This did not mean that the message originated with the apostle, but it was the good news that he made known to others.
No specific passage in the extant Hebrew Scriptures refers to the robbing of temples. (Romans 2:22) But Josephus, in his Antiquities (IV, viii, 10), attributes the following command to Moses, “Let no one blaspheme those gods which other cities esteem as such; nor may anyone steal what belongs to strange temples; nor take away the gifts that are dedicated to any god.”
In the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the part of Isaiah 52:5 that is quoted in Romans 2:24 reads, “And continually, all the day, my name is despised.” The reading of Isaiah 52:5 in the Septuagint, though differing from Romans 2:24 in word order, conveys the same basic meaning, “Because of you, continually my name is blasphemed among the nations.”
In view of what Paul had said, some may have concluded that there was no benefit in having a Jewish identity. For this apparent reason, the apostle raised the question, “What, then, is the advantage of the Jew, or what is the value of circumcision?” (3:1)
In his response, the apostle did not diminish the advantage or value of having a Jewish heritage, but indicated that it was of great benefit (“much in every way”). The foremost reason for this was because the Jews had been entrusted with the “words of God.” (3:2) Of all people, they alone had a written record concerning what he had revealed to them through his prophets, making available to them a clear expression of his will and also what they needed to know to identify the coming Messiah or Christ.
One might reasonably conclude that having the benefit of God’s words should have been evident from their readiness to accept Jesus, but this was not the case. Addressing the unbelief of the Jews, Paul asked, “What then? If some did not believe, will their unbelief nullify God’s trustworthiness?” (3:3) Seemingly, the unbelief of those to whom God’s words had been committed suggested that these words and God himself were not deserving of trust. To counter this wrong conclusion, Paul continued, “Never may that be! Let God be proved true, but every man a liar, as it is written, ‘That you might be justified in your words and vindicated when you are being judged.’” (3:4) Never is God’s trustworthiness in doubt. The fault lies with humans. Their being “liars,” unreliable or untrustworthy, has no bearing on the dependability of God or his word. So their refusal to act on God’s word in faith only exposes their unreliability.
The quotation from Psalm 51:4 (50:6, LXX) confirmed this. According to the Masoretic Text, God is just when pronouncing his sentence and pure or blameless when rendering judgment. This differs from the reading of the Septuagint, which the quotation in Romans 3:4 follows. In the Septuagint and in Romans 3:4, the infinitive form of the word meaning “are being judged” is passive. In relation to “vindicated,” this could suggest that, when his words or actions are judged, God would be proved true. If this is the significance Paul wanted to convey, his point would be that a judgment of God, based on the unbelief of the Jews, would vindicate him as trustworthy. Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint, despite the difference in the wording, contain an acknowledgment that what God expressed when judging the psalmist was right and, therefore, he and his word are deserving of complete trust.
Human unrighteousness, injustice, or lack of uprightness causes God’s righteousness or justice to be revealed in sharp contrast. This prompted Paul to ask, “What shall we say? Is God unjust when he inflicts wrath [wrathful punishment]?” When raising this point, the apostle did so according to human reasoning, or, as he worded it, “I am speaking according to man” (or as flawed humans might wrongly express themselves). Paul rejected the idea inherit in the question, saying, “Never may that be! How, then, is God to judge the world?” (3:5, 6)
The flawed reasoning about benefiting God through human moral failings would dispense with judgment. It would make it appear that condemnatory judgment should not be expressed against those whose wayward ways proved to be of no disadvantage to God. Such twisted reasoning would pervert justice.
Continuing with the faulty reasoning, Paul said, “But if, through my lie [failure, faithlessness, or unreliability], the truth [trustworthiness or dependability] of God abounds to his glory, why am I still being judged as a sinner? And [why] not [say], as we are blasphemed [falsely accused of teaching] and as some claim we [the editorial plural applying to Paul] are saying, ‘Let us do the evil things that the good things may come?’” (3:7, 8)
Certain ones appear to have misrepresented Paul’s teaching that the attainment of a proper standing with God did not result from striving to live up to the law but came about through faith in Christ. Flawless law observance was impossible, and so the apostle stressed that coming into an approved relationship with God was an expression of his favor or unearned kindness. Whereas Paul repeatedly emphasized that the cleansing effected through Christ and the individual’s faith in him and his sacrificial death required living an upright life, some twisted what he said, probably claiming that he promoted lawlessness by his focus on God’s grace or his unmerited favor. (Romans 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:12; Galatians 5:1-4)
After referring to being slandered about doing evil so that good may come, Paul added, “Of whom the judgment is just.” (3:8) The antecedent for the Greek masculine plural pronoun in the genitive case (“of whom”) is not clearly apparent. It could refer either to those who slandered Paul’s teaching or to those who justified living sinful lives.
Translations reflect both meanings. “You might as well say, ‘Let’s do something evil, so that something good will come of it!’ Some people even claim that we are saying this. But God is fair and will judge them as well.” (CEV) “In this case, the slanderous report some people are spreading would be true, that we teach that one should do evil that good may come of it. In fact such people are justly condemned.” (NJB) “It would be the same to say, ‘We should do evil so that good will come.’ Some people find fault with us and say we teach this, but they are wrong and deserve the punishment they will receive.” (NCV) “Why not indeed ‘do evil that good may come’, as some slanderously report me as saying? To condemn such men as these is surely just.” (REB) “If you follow that kind of thinking, however, you might as well say that the more we sin the better it is! Those who say such things deserve to be condemned, yet some slander me by saying this is what I preach!” (NLT) “And why should we not say — for so they wickedly misrepresent us, and so some charge us with arguing — ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? The condemnation of those who would so argue is just.” (Weymouth)
The question, “What then?” relates to the thoughts Paul expressed concerning the sinful state among non-Jews and Jews. (3:9) This question is followed by a first person plural form of the Greek word proécho, which literally means “to hold before,” that is, to hold something before one for protective purposes. It can also denote “to be before,” “to be first, or “to excel.”
In the Vulgate, a form of the Latin term praecello appears and can mean “to excel” or “to surpass,” suggestive of having an advantage or being better off. Numerous modern translations have adopted this meaning, “Are we Jews any better off?” (REB) “Does it mean that we Jews are better off than the Gentiles?” (CEV) “Are we Jews then a march ahead of other men?” (J. B. Phillips) “Well then, are we Jews in any better condition than the Gentiles?” (GNT, Second Edition) The objection that has been raised in connection with these renderings is that, if (as commonly understood) the Greek verb is in the middle voice, no parallels for this significance in the middle voice have been found in other extant Greek writings.
There is a possibility that, in verse 9, the form of the word proécho is passive. In that case the meaning could be, “Are we excelled?” This would provide the basis for such renderings as, “Are we Jews more highly estimated than they?” (Weymouth) “Are we at any disadvantage?” (NRSV, footnote) “Does it mean that we Jews are worse off than the Gentiles? (CEV, footnote)
If the significance of the Greek verb relates to protecting oneself, the thought could be, “Are we protected [that is, from God’s wrath]?” If, instead of applying to the Jews, the first person plural verb is an editorial plural referring to Paul, he could be understood to be saying, “Am I protecting myself ?” The German Gute Nachricht Bibel represents Paul as asking whether he is protectively trying to avoid giving a clear explanation (Drücke ich mich um eine klare Auskunft?).
In view of Paul’s having indicated that there was a benefit in being a member of the Jewish people (3:1), it appears preferable to regard the question to relate to the Jews and specifically to the statement that follows in verse 9 (“Not at all, for above we have charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.”). On this basis, the best explanation appears to be (despite the absence of grammatical support for it in other Greek writings) that, with reference to gaining an approved relationship with God, being a Jew did not constitute an advantage. Jews, like non-Jews, were under sin, unable to gain a proper standing before him through their own efforts.
The apostle then quoted a number of passages from the holy writings to prove this, introducing the quotations with the words, “as it is written.” He then continued, “No one is righteous, not even one. No one has understanding; no one is seeking God. All have deviated. Together they have become worthless. No one is doing kindness, not even one.” (3:10-12; Psalm 14:1-3 [13:1-3, LXX]; 53:1-3 [52:2-4; LXX])
In Psalm 14 (also 53), the corrupt ones are identified as enemies of God’s people (14:4; 53:4). Accordingly, Paul’s words, drawn from the expressions of the psalmist, confirm that non-Jewish peoples were not righteous but engaged in hurtful practices. The psalmist portrayed God as looking down from his heavenly position upon humans to determine whether any among them had understanding or acted wisely and were seeking him. In his quotation, Paul represents the situation according to the result of this penetrating divine examination. No one was upright; no one had understanding (the kind of understanding that recognizes the serious consequences from living a corrupt life). There was no one who wanted to seek God, desiring an approved relationship with him. All had deviated from the path of uprightness. They had become corrupt or worthless, without even as much as one practicing kindness or doing good.
“An opened grave [is] their throat.” (3:13; Psalm 5:9 [5:10, LXX]) In Psalm 5, the psalmist refers to fellow Israelites who had rebelled against God and whose words could not be trusted. Their throat, because of the words that flowed from it, was like an open burial place into which an unsuspecting person could easily fall and suffer serious injury. They used their tongues to flatter and to feign friendship while scheming to do harm.
“With their tongues, they have deceived. Poison of asps [is] under their lips.” (3:13; Psalm 140:3 [139:4, LXX]) The words of Psalm 140 (139, LXX) applied to Israelites who maliciously slandered the psalmist. Their hateful speech was deadly, as if the venom of vipers was under their lips.
“[Their] mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” (3:14; Psalm 10:7 [9:28, LXX]) “Bitterness” could refer to the malicious utterances proceeding from their mouths and which would make life bitter or distressing for those against whom they were directed. In Psalm 10, the focus is on the wicked and their hateful ways, and the context allows for the application to include peoples of non-Israelite nations. (Psalm 10:15, 16)
“Their feet [are] swift [literally, sharp] to pour out blood. Ruin and misery are in their ways, and they have not known the way of peace.” (3:15-17; Isaiah 59:7, 8) The quotation from Isaiah chapter 59 is part of the prophet’s exposure of Israel’s unfaithfulness. To attain their base objectives, lawless Israelites were quick to shed innocent blood. As they pursued their violent course, they caused others to experience ruin and suffering. Their hostile actions revealed that they knew nothing about what it meant to be at peace with God and fellow humans.
“No fear of God exists before their eyes.” (3:18; Psalm 36:1 [35:2, LXX]) Psalm 36 describes the actions of the wicked one, and so could be applied in a general sense to all who act in a corrupt manner. In the extant Septuagint text, the entire verse (from which Paul paraphrased only the concluding part) reads, “To sin, the transgressor declares in himself, there is no fear of God before his eyes.” This rendering suggests that, because of banishing any reverential regard for God, the lawless one is able to persist in sin. (See the Notes section for additional comments regarding the quotations.)
Paul referred to the collection of holy writings from which he quoted as the “law,” for these sacred writings had the force of law and provided dependable guidance. Probably including himself among the Jews to whom the “law” or the holy writings had been committed, he made the point that what the law says is addressed to those who are under it, silencing every mouth and proving that the whole world is answerable to God. Every mouth is silenced because those who are under the law cannot claim that they are without sin. The holy writings do not provide them with an excuse. Both Jews and non-Jews are exposed as sinners deserving of punishment for their wrongs. (3:19)
No one is able to observe the commands of the law flawlessly, and so no “flesh” can be justified before God. Humans simply cannot gain an approved standing before him by doing what the law says, for they cannot avoid falling short or missing the mark of faultless obedience. Accordingly, they are shown up as sinners, for the law clearly identifies what sin is and thus makes it possible for them to know or recognize sin. (3:20)
The “righteousness of God” is the righteousness of which he is the source. Through his unmerited favor, humans are granted this righteousness apart from law or without the flawless obedience to the law that would be impossible for them. The apostle Paul referred to this righteousness as “now” having been manifested, for it was not until Jesus came to the earth that how humans could obtain an approved standing with his Father was fully disclosed. Previously, however, the law and the prophets had provided testimony concerning this. (3:21) They pointed to the coming of the Messiah and that, through him, forgiveness of sins would be made possible. (Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Isaiah 11:1-5; 53:2-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 12:10-13:1; compare Acts 10:43; 28:23.)
It is through their faith in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished when laying down his life that humans are put right with his Father, coming into possession of his righteousness. This is true of all humans. In this regard there is no distinction between Jews and non-Jews, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (3:22, 23) They do not reflect the purity of the magnificent holiness of God, in whose image the first man was created.
As sinners, humans do not merit an approved standing before God. It is a generous divine gift that they can be justified or accounted as upright by God’s unmerited favor expressed through the “redemption in Christ Jesus.” (3:24) When laying down his life, Jesus provided the basis for redeeming sinners and having his righteousness accounted to them on the basis of their faith in him.
God set forth, offered, or made his Son available to humans as an atonement or expiation for their sins. They could avail themselves of this means of having their sins forgiven by faith in his blood, which he shed sacrificially for them. By making a provision for sins to be forgiven, God demonstrated his own righteousness although, in his forbearance, he had previously passed over or left unpunished the wrongs humans had committed. (3:25) The implication is that justice requires that penalties be imposed for wrongdoing. Sins are debts, and debts must be repaid. In keeping with his justice, God arranged for the full payment of the human debt load and in a manner that demonstrated his love. Accordingly, his exercise of forbearance respecting sins in the past did not call into question his righteousness or justice.
Commenting on the manner in which God deals with sinners since his Son’s death and resurrection, Paul referred to it as an arrangement “in the present time.” From then onward, God has continued to demonstrate his righteousness when justifying humans on the basis of their faith in Jesus. (3:26) In expression of God’s love, the debt of sin has been paid in full, and sinners or debtors can avail themselves of this benefit by trustingly accepting that their debt has been canceled.
The good standing before God that humans can enjoy is not one based on personal achievement, completely ruling out any boasting. Especially Jews may have felt that their fleshly distinction gave them a basis for boasting or pride, but Paul had shown that all humans were sinners, with no one having any meritorious standing before God. Through what law or on the basis what principle is boasting excluded? Paul answered, “Of works? No, but through the law of faith.” (3:27) Works depend on human effort, and can give rise to pride on the basis of outstanding achievement. Faith, on the other hand, is an acknowledgment of human helplessness and need. The contrast is between doing what the law required and putting faith or absolute trust in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death as God’s means for having sins forgiven. J. B. Phillips, in his translation, paraphrased the thought, “The whole matter is now on a different plane — believing instead of achieving.”
With apparent reference to believers, Paul continued, “We deem that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” (3:28) Being put right with God is not a matter of trying to attain the impossible, flawlessly living up to everything the law required.
If justification were just partially dependent on law observance, the Most High would be the God of the Jews only, for they alone were given the law. This appears to be the underlying reason for Paul’s words, “The God of the Jews only?” The apostle then continues, “Not also of the Gentiles? Yes, also of the Gentiles.” (3:29)
He is indeed only one God, with no sinful human or people having any special claim on him. The basis on which he justifies Jews (the circumcised) is faith, and he justifies the Gentiles (the uncircumcised) through their faith. The exclusive means for gaining an approved standing before God is faith in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by laying down his life. (3:30)
This, though, does not mean that faith undermines law, making believers lawless persons. As Paul expressed it in answer to the question whether we believers make law ineffective through faith, “Never may that be. Instead, we establish law.” (3:31) Having been forgiven of sins on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, believers are motivated to live upright lives, appreciating the great love that has been shown to them. Moreover, law is just, and the arrangement for having sins forgiven is fair for everyone. No one has an advantage on the basis of race, nation, tribe, social standing, education, or anything else. When believers point to Jesus Christ as the sole means for gaining an approved standing with his Father, they are establishing law and revealing a just and loving provision. They are fulfilling the purpose for which the law was given and that purpose was to produce a holy people, a people whose lives reflect purity in attitude, word, and deed. (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-16)
In Romans 3:10-18, the quotations do not correspond exactly to the extant Hebrew text nor to that of the Septuagint. Paul dictated his letter to the Romans, and so it is likely that he paraphrased the words as he recalled them. His use of the passages, though, harmonized with the original setting.
Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus includes the words of Romans 3:13-18 in verse 3 of Psalm 13(14). This appears to have been a copyist’s addition taken directly from Paul’s letter to the Romans, for the wording is the same.
Paul had stressed that humans had no ground for boasting. The Jews, though, would have thought of Abraham as an exception.
In the latter part of the second century BCE, the grandson of the compiler of Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach) translated his grandfather’s work from the original Hebrew into Greek. Some indication of the high value Jews in earlier times placed on this work is the fact that fragmentary Hebrew manuscripts of the book have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:19, 20 (NRSV) contains a clear reference to Abraham’s being favored on account of law observance. “Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory. He kept the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him; he certified the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he proved faithful.”
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus referred to Abraham as meriting rewards. After relating the account about Abraham’s (Abram’s) rescue of Lot, Josephus continued, “God commended his virtue, and said, You will not, however, lose the rewards you have deserved to receive by your glorious actions. [Abraham] answered, And what advantage will it be to me to have such rewards, when I have none to enjoy them after me?” (Antiquities, I, x, 3) It is noteworthy that, although Genesis 15:1 includes the divine promise that Abraham’s reward would be great, no mention is made of this being on the basis of glorious deeds.
With apparent reference to the Jewish view of Abraham, Paul raised the question, “What, then, shall we say [regarding] Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?” (4:1; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
If, on the basis of works or personal efforts, Abraham had been justified or been divinely approved, he would have been able to boast. With God, however, he did not have a basis for boasting, and Paul backed this up with a quotation from Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (4:2, 3)
In the case of a worker, wages received for labor are not regarded as a favor but as a debt. (4:4) For the person who has not worked but believes in God who justifies the ungodly or considers them as approved, “his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” God looks upon the individual who manifests faith or trust in him as acceptable. (4:5)
Referring to Psalm 31:1, 2 (LXX; 32:1, 2, Masoretic Text), Paul called attention to the “happiness” or the enviable sense of well-being about which David spoke. Persons whom God credits as righteous without their having performed any works (fulfilling the requirements of the law) enjoy this happiness or this fortunate state of having been forgiven of their sins. “Fortunate [are] those whose lawlessness has been forgiven and whose sins have been covered over. Fortunate [is] the man whose sin the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text] will not reckon.” (4:6-8)
These words reflected David’s own experience. He had not earned justification, acquittal, or forgiveness of sins, for he had seriously failed in living up to the requirements of the law. Exclusively owing to God’s unmerited kindness, David experienced the “happiness” or the welcome feeling of relief resulting from his having been forgiven. By no means did his deeds merit the desirable sense of happiness or well-being that he gained upon coming to know that God had not severed his relationship with him.
Was this happy or fortunate state of acquittal only possible for those who, like David, were Jews and identified by circumcision (the sign of their covenant relationship with God)? Or, could uncircumcised Gentiles also be justified or acquitted, becoming sharers in this happiness or fortunate condition? The apostle Paul provided the answer, again pointing to Abraham who was justified or credited as righteous on the basis of his faith. (4:9)
At that time, was Abraham circumcised or uncircumcised? He was uncircumcised and thereafter received the sign of circumcision as an authenticating seal of the faith-based righteousness he had in his former uncircumcised state. In this manner, Abraham could become the father of all uncircumcised believers, with their link to him being faith in God and the one promised to come in Abraham’s line of descent (the Messiah or Christ). As their father was counted as righteous based on his faith and while yet uncircumcised, they would be reckoned as righteous on the same basis. (4:10, 11; see the Notes section regarding verse 11.)
Moreover, as the one who had received the sign of circumcision, Abraham would also be the father of the circumcised. This, though, does not mean that Abraham is the father of all circumcised men in his line of descent, but he is the father of all who conduct themselves according to the faith he had while yet uncircumcised. (4:12; compare John 8:39-44; Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:29.) As Paul’s words have been paraphrased, “He is the father of the circumcised, provided they are not merely circumcised, but also follow that path of faith which our father Abraham trod while he was still uncircumcised.” (REB)
The promise to Abraham and his “seed” or offspring did not have its source in law, not being dependent on living up to certain legal requirements. Instead, God promised Abraham that he would be heir of the world “through [the] righteousness of faith.” (4:13) On account of his faith, he came to have a right standing with God and, therefore, was given the promise.
The fulfillment of this promise would mean that the Messiah or Christ, a descendant of Abraham, would exercise rulership as the one who inherited the world. Through this promised one, peoples of all nations would be blessed. (Genesis 15:5, 6; 22:17, 18; Psalm 2:8; Hebrews 1:2) Those who become children of Abraham by reason of their faith also become Christ’s fellow heirs.
If “out of law,” or on the basis of law observance, individuals were constituted heirs, faith would have no value and the promise would be nullified. (4:14) Law observance would not require faith, and a promise linked to living up to the law would be conditional. One could not rely upon the fulfillment of such a conditional promise.
Instead of providing hope, the law functioned in a manner that led to wrath. Because of failing to adhere to it flawlessly, all persons under the law were condemned by it and deserving of wrathful punishment. Where no specific law exists, there is no transgression. (4:15) No one can be charged with violating a nonexisting law.
“Therefore,” as Paul continued, the promise is “out of faith.” It was given to Abraham on the basis of his faith, and all who would share in its fulfillment do so on account of their faith. With faith alone being linked to the promise, the apostle could speak of it as being “according to grace,” unearned favor, or unmerited kindness. This guaranteed the promise (that is, its fulfillment) to all of Abraham’s seed, not only to the person under the law (literally, “the one out of the law”) but also to the individual who had faith like that of Abraham (literally, “the one out of Abraham’s faith”). (4:16)
Paul established the point that both Jews (who were under the law) and non-Jews (to whom the law had not been given) become sharers in the fulfillment of the promise. He did this by identifying Abraham as the “father of all of us,” supporting this with a quotation from Genesis 17:5, where God is represented as telling Abraham, “A father of many nations I have made you.” (4:16, 17)
The apostle’s next words (“before whom he [Abraham] believed”) could mean that Abraham, who believed, is our father in God’s eyes or that, in the presence of God, Abraham, the father of many nations, believed. God is the one who makes the dead alive and calls or summons into being the things that are not. (4:17) This proved to be true of Abraham and Sarah. Before the birth of Isaac, both of them were dead insofar as having a son was concerned. For the promise to be fulfilled required their being made alive and a calling into being of what did not exist.
From a human standpoint, Abraham had no hope of having a son by Sarah. God’s promise, however, gave him hope, and he believed that he would become the father of many nations, just as he had been told (Genesis 15:5), “So [as innumerable as the stars] your seed will be.” (4:18)
Despite what seemed humanly impossible at the time, Abraham did not weaken in his faith, but continued to believe God’s promise to him. As to what Abraham considered or did not consider, manuscript readings vary. The oldest extant manuscripts and a number of others represent Abraham as not weakening in faith even though he considered his own inability to father a child and Sarah’s being past the age of childbearing. Many other manuscripts may be understood to mean that Abraham’s faith was so strong that he did not consider his own situation and that of Sarah. He was nearly 100 years of age. Insofar as fathering offspring was concerned, his body was [“already,” according to numerous manuscripts] dead, and so was “the womb of Sarah.” (4:19)
Nevertheless, he did not succumb to unbelief or distrust in God’s promise, but came to be empowered by faith, “giving glory to God and being fully convinced that what he has promised he is also able to do.” (4:20, 21) Abraham’s faith or trust in God gave him the strength not to abandon hope. His giving “glory to God” may refer to his crediting God for remaining confident in the sure fulfillment of the promise.
Abraham’s faith in God’s word or promise was credited to him as righteousness. The Most High considered him as being in a right or approved relationship with him. (4:22)
It was not “only” for Abraham or with exclusive application to him that the words, “it [Abraham’s faith or his believing] was reckoned to him” (Genesis 15:6), were recorded in the holy writings. “But also for us,” Paul continued, “to whom it [faith] is to be reckoned [as righteousness], to [us] who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (4:23, 24) The case of Abraham revealed that a righteous standing before God was possible on the basis of faith. For Abraham, it was faith in God and the fulfillment of his promise about the “seed,” and now it is faith in the promised one, the Christ, and in God who resurrected him.
Jesus Christ was handed over to die sacrificially for “our trespasses.” The sinless one died for sinners. He was resurrected for “our justification.” (4:25) He maintained his uprightness in faultless purity, making it possible for all who put their faith in him and who come to be at one with him to have his righteousness attributed to them. Forgiven of their sins, they become sharers in his righteousness.
In Romans 4:1, numerous manuscripts include a form of the Greek word heurísko (find or obtain) before “Abraham” or after “our.” In fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, this word is missing. Depending on which manuscript evidence they have chosen to follow, translators vary in their renderings. “Well then, what can we say about our ancestor Abraham?” (CEV) “What, then, are we to say about Abraham, our ancestor by natural descent?” (REB) “What then can we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?” (HCSB) “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?” (NIV) “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?” (ESV) “What then shall we say about Abraham our ancestor? What did he obtain according to the flesh?” (Que dirons-nous donc d’Abraham notre ancêtre? Qu’a-t-il obtenu selon la chair? [TOB, French])
After “counted” or “reckoned” (logízomai) in Romans 4:11, numerous manuscripts include kaí, meaning “also” in this context. Modern translations commonly do not include “also.” One exception is the New American Bible, where the “also” is printed in brackets. “Thus he was to be the father of all the uncircumcised who believe, so that to them [also] righteousness might be credited.”
As a consequence of having been justified, acquitted, or forgiven of sins, believers can enjoy “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Their justification has its source in faith (it is, literally, “out of faith”). This is the faith that the Son of God died sacrificially and thus made it possible for humans to be declared guiltless. (5:1)
The form of the Greek word for “have” is not the same in all the extant manuscripts. Paul is represented as saying either “we have peace” or “may we have peace” (“let us have peace”). This peace is a state of reconciliation with God. Having been forgiven of their sins, believers are no longer at enmity with him. Through Jesus Christ, peace has come to be their possession. Only by believing in him and the value of his sacrifice is alienation with his Father terminated. (5:1; compare Ephesians 2:11-18.)
Through Christ, believers have access to God’s grace, unearned favor, or unmerited kindness. Admittance into his favor involves having an approved relationship with him as his children and coming to enjoy all the blessings associated with being members of his beloved family. According to many manuscripts, this access to God’s favor is “by faith,” signifying trust in him and his means for being reconciled to him. The words, “this favor in which we stand,” indicate that believers are now living in the realm of God’s favor and benefit from his help, guidance, and blessing. (5:2)
In prospect for believers is the “glory of God,” becoming sharers in God’s glory or splendor upon being able to reflect his image faultlessly in the future sinless state. The hope of sharing in the divine glory occasions a proper pride or boasting. In view of the unparalleled greatness of God’s glory, the hope of attaining it likewise gives rise to a joyous pride or exultant confidence that transcends any feeling of pride a recipient of mundane honors for notable achievements might experience. (5:2; see the Notes section.)
The taking of pride to which Paul referred is not a boasting about self. Therefore, he could say, “let us boast in sufferings.” Affliction is not associated with honor, and, from a human standpoint, would not prompt boasting. The basis for an individual’s taking pride in sufferings would be from recognizing the strength God provides for remaining faithful and the spiritual benefits that can result. So, for believers, “not only” is joyous pride associated with their hope, but even now they can take pride in their sufferings. J. B. Phillips, in his translation, paraphrased the apostle’s words, “This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys — we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles.” (5:3)
Believers know that suffering while remaining faithful to God and his Son produces endurance, steadfastness, or patience. (5:3) Empowered by the strength God supplies through his spirit, they are able patiently and steadfastly to pass through the period of affliction and are in a better position to endure other trials they may have to face.
Endurance produces that which is tested, approved, or genuine. Those who remain steadfast in their faith in God and Christ during the time of their affliction come to possess a tested faith that has been revealed as genuine. The tested or approved condition produces hope, for the experience of being sustained in affliction proves to the one who has endured faithfully that God can be relied upon and that hope based on his word or promise is certain to be fulfilled. (5:4) Those who possess a faith that has been tested by affliction come to be persons filled with hope, confident that God will continue to care for them, bless them richly, and prove to be their rewarder.
Never will this hope become a cause for shame or disappointment because of failing to be fulfilled. The hope itself has been engendered by God’s love. In his very being, our heavenly Father is love and so will always deal with his children in a loving manner. The apostle Paul linked hope to this love, adding, “for the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy spirit that has been given to us.” (5:5)
The Greek verb ekchéo, meaning “pour out,” may point to an abundant bestowal of love, filling the heart or the inner self. “Love of God” can signify God’s love for believers, love like his (godly love), or the love believers have for God. Based on verse 8, which specifically focuses on God’s love for believers, the preferable meaning in verse 5 would also be the love God has for those who respond in faith. Upon putting faith in Jesus Christ and becoming recipients of God’s spirit, the inmost selves of believers are filled with a profound awareness of their heavenly Father’s love for them. Therefore, they are confident that hope based on the word or promise of their loving God could never lead to disappointment.
Ancient manuscripts vary in the way Paul introduces the next thought, either reading “for yet” or “if indeed” (since indeed) in relation to when Christ died. He died for the impious or ungodly at the right or divinely appointed time. (Compare Galatians 4:4, 5.) Humans were then (“still,” according to numerous manuscripts) in a “weak” or helpless condition, unable to liberate themselves from enslavement to sin. Their condition was that of wrongdoers deserving to be punished. (5:6)
In their sinful state, humans are neither faultlessly upright nor good. In a relative sense, though, others may regard a person as an upright or good man or woman. Righteous or upright persons would be those who conduct themselves in a law-abiding manner, not being guilty of living a life that repeatedly harmed others. Good men and women would be those who do more than what is expected of them, compassionately responding to the needs of others and being self-sacrificing. The good person is far more likely to win the affection of others than would individuals who merely do what is required of them. Therefore, as Paul indicated, it would be difficult to die for a righteous person, though possibly one might even dare to die for a good person. (5:7)
Yet, what humans would find extremely difficult or, in fact, impossible to do God has done. He proved his love for us by having Christ die for us while we were still sinners, neither upright nor good in his sight. (5:8)
The precious blood that Jesus shed when dying sacrificially made it possible for those who accept this provision for having their sins forgiven to be justified or counted by his Father as righteous. In view of the fact that believers are justified by Christ’s blood, which made it necessary for him to die for them, now that he is alive he will continue to be their advocate. He will save them from the wrath that is to come against those who defiantly persist in unbelief and rebellion against his Father. (5:9; compare 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.)
For those who were God’s enemies, the death of Jesus Christ resulted in their reconciliation to his Father. Now that believers have been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” they can be even more confident about being saved by “his life.” As the one who now lives, Jesus Christ is in position to save them from the coming wrath and to safeguard their real life, the enduring relationship with him and his Father. (5:10)
The words, “but not only,” are probably to be linked to the previous reference to being “saved by [Christ’s] life.” Not only are believers saved by his life, they also can “take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom [they] have now received reconciliation.” (5:11; see the Notes section for additional comments.) This taking pride or glorying in God would be on account of all that he has done for believers by means of his Son. In God or in their new relationship with him as persons reconciled through his Son, believers have every reason for exultant confidence.
The expression diá toúto, meaning “therefore” or “for this reason,” serves to link the words that follow to the preceding comments about reconciliation with God having been made possible through Jesus Christ. The thought appears to be that the need for reconciliation proved that an alienating element, sin, entered the world of mankind. Through the one man, Adam, sin (the inability to reflect the image of God faultlessly) entered the human sphere of life. The introduction of sin or of this fatal flaw also marked the entrance of death, which then spread to all humans, for all had sinned, missing the mark of flawless conformity to the image of God on which their relationship with him and, therefore, their life depended. (5:12)
It appears that the Greek word gár, meaning “for,” is a marker of reason. Death spread to all mankind because all sinned, “for,” once having gained entrance into the world, sin remained, without interruption, clear down to the time the Israelites received God’s law through Moses. Whereas “sin” or the breaking of a law cannot be charged to anyone if no law exists, humans continued to die, proving that sin had entered through the one man and had remained in the world of mankind. (5:13)
So, as Paul said, “death reigned from Adam to Moses,” although the descendants of Adam had not sinned in the likeness of his transgression (a transgression that was a violation of a specific command or law and brought sin and death into the world). Regarding Adam, the apostle added that he was the image or “type of the one to come.” This coming one would be Jesus Christ. (5:14)
The context deals with the extent of the effect of what Adam and Jesus did. Therefore, Adam, in the far-reaching effect his one sin had, is a type of the all-encompassing effect Jesus brought about through his sacrificial death. Adam became the father of a sinful human race in a state of alienation from God. Through Christ, sinful humans come to be God’s approved children in possession of eternal life, enjoying an enduring relationship with him and his Father.
There is a marked distinction in the effect between Adam’s one trespass and the “gracious gift” (the unmerited divine favor that made forgiveness of sins possible on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death). On account of Adam’s one trespass, many died (for all had come to be sinners through him). This meant that all humans needed to be freed from the death-dealing effect of sin, requiring an act that would produce a counteracting effect on a far greater scale. Accordingly, much more would the grace or favor of God and his free gift “in the favor of the one man, Jesus Christ,” abound to many. (5:15)
The “favor of the one man, Jesus Christ” is the unmerited favor or kindness God made available through him. God’s free gift (in the person of his Son and what God accomplished through him) is an expression of his favor or kindness, bringing liberation for the many from the sin with which they had been infected. The sacrificial death of Christ was sufficient to offset past, present, and future sins, with the favor of being forgiven and reconciled to God extending to all who would avail themselves of it.
When it comes to the free gift (in the person of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation his Father effected through him) the result is very different from the consequences of Adam’s sin. The adverse judgment expressed against Adam for the one transgressions meant that all his descendants came under condemnation. All of them, as offspring of a condemned sinner, shared his flaw, making it impossible for any one of them to reflect the image of God faultlessly. Accordingly, “out of one [transgression]” came condemnation. The gracious gift (in the person of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation with his Father that his sacrificial death made possible), after many trespasses had been committed, brought about justification or acquittal. Thus, through the gift, “out of many trespasses” came pardon and an approved relationship with God. (5:16)
By the trespass of the one man Adam, death began to reign or exercise dominion. Thus, through the one man, death began to rule over all his descendants. That being the case, much more will the recipients of the abundant grace or unmerited favor (pardon on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice) and the free gift of righteousness (a right standing with God as his approved children) reign in life through Jesus Christ. This reigning in life is not a rule over others. As the context indicates, this is a reign free from sin and condemnation. The Greek verb for “reign” is future tense, indicating that believers would be granted the fullness of life in the sinless state. Liberated from sin in the absolute sense, they would be reigning in life, completely freed from the rule of sin. Only through Jesus Christ would such reigning in life be possible. (5:17)
“Therefore,” as Paul continued, “through one trespass” the result has been condemnation for “all men” or all members of the human family. Thus also “through one righteous act” (Jesus’ surrendering his life to make forgiveness of sins possible) “all men” could be justified “for life.” (5:18) All who embrace the arrangement for being put right with God through faith in Christ come to enjoy the real life as forgiven persons whom God approves.
Through Adam’s disobedience, “many” (meaning all but with an emphasis on the great number) came to be sinners alienated from God. So also, through Christ’s obedience, which included laying down his life sacrificially in keeping with his Father’s will, many will be made righteous or persons acquitted of their sins and reconciled to his Father as beloved children, sharing in blessings far grander than Adam enjoyed in his sinless state. (5:19)
Prior to the giving of the law, humans proved to be sinners, for they failed to conduct themselves according to their conscience, their inner sense of right and wrong. Then, upon making its entrance long after sin had done so, the law caused trespassing to multiply. On account of the law, many more attitudes and actions were identified as sins and those who failed to live up to the law stood condemned as sinners. With the law identifying many more sins, it caused sins to be manifest in far greater number than prior to its institution. The divine favor that made forgiveness possible served to negate this result from the law. As a consequence, “where sin increased, [unmerited] favor abounded much more.” (5:20)
The gracious favor or unmerited kindness God expressed in giving his Son led to pardon for sinners, reconciliation with him, and the bestowal of sonship. Forgiveness of many sins and all the blessings associated therewith meant that God’s favor abounded to a greater extent and in a more powerful way than did sin. The yield in beneficent results from this unearned kindness is far more plentiful than the crop of injuriousness that Adam’s transgression produced and which the law exposed.
Sin reigned or exercised its dominion “in death,” for all sinners are subject to death. Unearned favor, on the other hand, rules “through righteousness.” On the basis of God’s favor extended to those who put faith in Christ and the forgiveness of sins made possible through him, believers are counted as righteous or upright. Therefore, under the dominion of righteousness, the result is “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is the real life of an enduring relationship with God and his Son. That permanent approved relationship constitutes the real life and is only available through the Lord Jesus Christ. (5:21)
In verses 2 and 3 of Romans chapter 5, the Greek verb kaucháomai basically means to boast, to take pride in, or to glory. This is a proper taking of pride that gives all credit to God and his Son and is associated with an inner sense of joy.
Some have understood the words of Romans 5:11 about boasting in God to be linked to Romans 5:3, where the reference is to boasting or taking pride in sufferings. The thought would then be that believers not only glory in sufferings but also glory in God. Verse 3, however, is followed by numerous intervening thoughts, making this connection less likely.
“What, then, shall we say?” This relates to Paul’s comments about gaining an approved standing with God by his unmerited favor and serves to introduce the next question that counters a wrong view, “Shall we continue in sin so that [unearned] favor may increase?” (6:1)
Paul’s teaching about divine favor, as he mentioned previously (3:8), had been misrepresented as promoting lawlessness. Once again, the apostle emphatically rejected the idea that forgiveness on the basis of faith in Christ promotes moral corruption, saying, “Never may it be!” Believers died to sin; how then could they still continue living in it? For them to be dead to sin would mean that it no longer had any power or dominion over them. (6:2)
Paul then explained how believers died to sin. By means of a question, he reminded them that, at the time of their baptism, they were baptized into Christ and, therefore, into his death. Jesus Christ is the head of the body of believers. At the time of their baptism, the individual believers are united to him, becoming members of one community or corporate whole of which he is the head. Thus they are baptized “into” Christ Jesus, entering into a relationship of oneness with him. The body shares in the experiences of the head. Accordingly, being baptized into Christ would also mean being baptized into his death. (6:3)
For believers to be baptized into Christ’s death would involve being buried with him. Then, just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead “through the glory of the Father,” all who are baptized into Christ’s death are raised to a newness of life. This is a life as persons forgiven of their sins or as approved children of God who, from then onward, should be walking or conducting themselves in keeping with their new identity. In the case of Jesus Christ, Paul attributed the resurrection to the “glory of the Father,” probably meaning the glorious or unparalleled great power the Father displayed when raising his Son from the dead. (6:4; compare Colossians 2:12.)
Being participants in the likeness of Jesus’ death, believers would also come to be sharers in his resurrection. In the context of baptism, they are raised to a newness of life, ceasing to be dead in trespasses and sins. (6:5; compare John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1-7.)
For believers, the “old man” of their former life is dead, having been crucified with Christ. From the standpoint of sharing in the likeness of Jesus’ death (which came about through crucifixion), believers would look upon their “body of sin” as having been killed, obligating them no longer to be slaves to sin. (6:6)
Confirming that death ends the reign or dominion of sin, Paul added, “For [the one] having died has been justified from sin.” No longer does sin have any claim on the individual. Those who are “justified from sin” do not have to answer to it as if they were still its slaves. (6:7)
While believers enjoy a newness of life, they look forward to the time when they will be united with Christ as sinless persons, enjoying the ultimate glory. With apparent reference to the future, Paul confidently spoke of the resurrection, “If, then, we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (6:8) This sure hope of being with Christ should be evident from the purity of life that is lived in imitation of him.
To show how what happened to Christ should effect the lives of believers, Paul called attention to what they already knew. Now that Christ has been resurrected from the dead, he does not die again, and death has no dominion or power over him. (6:9) When he died, “he died to sin once for all,” but now that “he lives, he lives to God.” (6:10) Although Jesus was sinless, he died to sin in the sense that his death ended his relation to it as one who bore the sins of humanity. Never again will he die for sinners, and so he lives fully to his Father without having to deal with sin as a sin bearer.
In harmony with what Paul set forth concerning the Son of God, believers should consider themselves to be “dead to sin but living to God in Christ Jesus.” (6:11) They should not allow sin to have any power over them. Their living to God would mean conducting themselves as his obedient children. Believers are “in Christ” or at one with him as members of his body. Therefore, their living to God “in Christ” is dependent upon their remaining at one with Jesus Christ and continuing to rely on his aid and guidance.
“Therefore (because of “living to God in Christ Jesus”), believers cannot permit sin to reign or exercise dominion over their mortal bodies, obeying or yielding to the wrong desires originating from their sinful human nature. Although pardoned of their sins and enjoying an approved standing before God, believers are not sinless but are subject to wrong desires that must be resisted with divine help. (6:12)
The apostle urged believers not to make their body “members” or “parts” available for wrongdoing. Besides designating literal body members that would be involved in the sinful acts, “members” could also include abilities and capacities that would be misused. The Greek term hóplon can mean “weapon.” In this context, the word appears to have the more general sense of “tool” or “instrument.” Accordingly, the body members are not to function as “tools for wickedness” in the service of sin. Instead, believers should be placing themselves at God’s disposal as persons raised to life from the dead (the dead state of condemned sinners) and their body members as “tools of righteousness” for him. (6:13)
The thought of the next verse is linked with the conjunction gár (“for”) and includes the future tense of the verb kyrieúo, meaning “lord over,” “rule over,” “dominate,” or “exercise authority over.” A literal rendering of the verse would be, “For sin will not dominate you, for you are not under law but under [unmerited] favor.” (6:14)
The apostle’s thought appears to be that, if believers place themselves at God’s disposal and employ their body members as instruments in doing what is righteous or right, sin will not be exercising lordship over them. This is because believers are not under law. In view of their being unable to observe the law faultlessly, humans would not be liberated from sin’s dominion or control. The law condemns sinners, exposing them as being the subjects of sin and deserving of punishment. Through God’s unmerited favor or kindness, on the other hand, believers are reckoned as righteous on the basis of their faith in Jesus and his atoning sacrifice. No longer are they counted as condemned sinners or the subjects of sin.
“What then” is the consequence of not being under law? “Should we sin because we are not under law but under [unmerited] favor?” Paul emphatically answered this question, saying, “Never may it be!” (6:15) Having one’s sins forgiven in expression of God’s unearned kindness provides no excuse for living in sin. This would be contrary to the very purpose for which Jesus died, namely, to liberate humans from sin and its death-dealing effect.
Individuals who put themselves at the disposal of another to obey that one are slaves. It is their obedience that makes them such. By means of his question, Paul reminded believers that, by obeying sin, they would be slaves of sin, with resultant death. (6:16)
The apostle contrasted “obedience” with being a slave to sin but did not include an object for “obedience.” (6:16) Elsewhere in this letter, he referred to “obedience of faith” (1:5; 16:26), obeying the evangel (10:16), and obedience to “type of teaching” (6:17). Obedient response to the message about Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by his death could be included. Verse 13, however, indicates that God is the one to whom obedience is owing, and so the reference may be understood as applying to obedience to him. A number of translations make this significance explicit. “You can be slaves to sin and die, or you can be obedient slaves of God and be acceptable to him.” (CEV) “You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him.” (NCV) “You belong to the power which you choose to obey, whether you choose sin, whose reward is death, or God, obedience to whom means the reward of righteousness.” (J. B. Phillips)
The righteousness resulting from obedience may mean the approved standing those enjoy who are forgiven of sins on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and what his death accomplished. The other possibility is that it applies to the righteousness believers will come to possess upon being completely freed from sin or becoming sinless persons. When death is regarded as the ultimate consequence for sin, the righteousness to which obedience leads (if intended as a contrasting parallel) would denote the future righteous or sinless state.
In the case of believers, Paul thanked God that, though they had been slaves to sin, they became obedient from the heart (their inmost selves) to the “type of teaching” to which they were “handed over.” The “type of teaching” could refer to teaching relating to Christ rather than Jewish teaching (with its focus on the law). Another possible meaning is teaching that provided a pattern for believers to follow and so teaching to which they became subject. If God is regarded as the one who handed believers over to this “type of teaching,” the purpose for his doing so could be so that they would learn it and live by it. (6:17)
Freed from sin, believers became slaves to righteousness, subjecting themselves to the doing of what is just and right. (6:18)
When speaking of this change in masters from “sin” to “righteousness,” Paul was merely drawing an illustration from the then-existing institution of slavery, wanting those whom he addressed to understand their new relationship and its associated responsibilities. The apostle chose to speak in human terms because of the “weakness of [their] flesh.” (6:19) This suggests that he recognized their limitations in being able to comprehend the totality of their obligations, their full accountability, and the complete extent to which they were owned on account of having been purchased with Christ’s blood. Because they were well-acquainted with everything that slavery entailed, believers had a frame of reference for the aspects of the slave status that would fit their new relationship to God and Christ.
It was incumbent upon believers to put their whole being, all the members of their body, at the disposal of the service of righteousness, subjecting themselves as would slaves to the doing of what is right. In the past, before becoming believers, they did not conduct themselves commendably. They presented their body members as slaves to uncleanness, impurity, or indecency and to lawlessness or conduct that violated the natural sense of uprightness, fairness, and propriety. In relation to the enslavement of their body members, Paul wrote, “to lawlessness into lawlessness.” (6:19) This may mean that, in their former state, believers had used their body members as slaves to lawlessness for the purpose of committing ever-greater lawlessness or moral corruption. Translators have variously rendered the words, “to greater and greater lawlessness” (HCSB), “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” (ESV), “wickedness, for the purpose of becoming wicked” (J. B. Phillips), and “lawlessness, making for moral anarchy” (REB).
When, on the other hand, believers used their body members in the service of righteousness, the result would be “holiness.” Their life as believers would be pure or blameless. Formerly, while they had been “slaves of sin,” they were “free” in relation to righteousness, for they did not subject themselves to the doing of what was right, just, or fair. (6:19, 20)
No good came from their former enslavement to sin. The point Paul made regarding this may be punctuated in two different ways. (1) “So what were you having then [as] fruit of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” (2) “So what were you having then [as] fruit? Things of which you are now ashamed, for the end of those things is death.” They could only look upon their former corrupt way of life and actions (comparable to rotten fruit) as something of which they were ashamed. Their sinful practices had death as the ultimate end. (6:21)
As persons liberated from sin, believers are slaves of God. No longer would they be producing rotten fruit. Their new way of life would be productive of “holiness” or purity in attitude, word, and deed, with the end being eternal life. In its culmination, eternal life is an enduring relationship with God and his Son as sinless persons. (6:22)
This is the very opposite of the results from a sinful life, for death is the wages of sin. Death terminates all relationships, and the dead cannot do anything to attain an approved relationship with God and Christ. (6:23)
Eternal life is not dependent on having lived flawlessly according to the law. It is God’s gracious gift “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This can be understood to mean that eternal life is only possible through Christ Jesus because of what he accomplished by laying down his life sacrificially or that a person can only be in possession of eternal life by being “in” or at one with him as a member of his body. All who are members of his body or the community of believers recognize Jesus Christ as their Lord, which is evident from their faithfully following his example and teaching. (6:23)
The discussion that follows indicates that Paul referred to the law given to the Israelites. He directed his question about the binding nature of the law to those who knew it, meaning to his fellow Jewish “brothers” who believed in Christ. They certainly were not ignorant of the fact that a man is under the dominion of or subject to the law as long as he lives. (7:1)
Developing the point about being under the law for a lifetime, Paul called attention to the relationship of a wife to her husband. As long as her husband is alive, she is bound by his law. When he dies, his law ceases to be binding. If she were to enter a relationship with another man while her husband is still alive, she would be called an adulteress. But upon her husband’s death, she would be free from his law and would not be an adulteress upon becoming another man’s wife. (7:2, 3)
Paul then made an application in the case of his “brothers,” fellow believers who had been under the law. Through the body of Christ, they had been made dead to the law. When they put faith in him and his sacrifice for them and submitted to baptism, they were incorporated into his body and thus died with him, sharing in his experience as the head of his body. This meant that the law no longer had dominion over them, condemning them as transgressors. Freed from the law, believers could enter a new relationship that was unaffected by the former demands of the law. That new relationship was with Christ, the one who had been raised from the dead. As a result of this new relationship, the life of believers would be productive of “fruit for God.” This fruit would be in the form of words and actions that honored God to whom they had been reconciled as beloved children through their faith in his Son. (7:4)
Paul’s words, “when we were in the flesh,” relate to the time when believers were under the dominion of sin in their state of alienation from God and condemned as sinners by the law. At that time, the “sinful passions” (literally, “passions of sins”) had been aroused through the law and were at work in the body members of the individuals. The “fruit” in the form of sinful conduct had death in view. (7:5)
When referring to “passions of sins,” Paul represented “sins” as a force at work in the flesh or human nature. Through the law, all who were subject to it were made aware of wrongs that would otherwise not have been considered serious transgressions. The existence of the law exposed the working of sin in the body members. When individuals come to recognize their sinful state (to which recognition the law leads), they realize that the law is condemning them as sinners deserving of death.
For believers who had been under the law, a significant change had taken place. Now that they had been released from the law, having died to it as something that had bound them formerly, they could slave or serve in the “newness of spirit and not [in] the old way of [the] letter.” (7:6)
The later emphasis on God’s spirit (8:1-17) would suggest that the “spirit” refers to the “holy spirit.” Accordingly, for one to slave in the “newness of spirit” would appear to mean to conduct oneself in the new way that is under the guidance of God’s spirit. Another possible meaning is to slave in a new spiritual manner. A number of translations are explicit in the significance they convey. “Now we can serve God in a new way by obeying his Spirit.” (CEV) “But seeing that we have died to that which once held us in bondage, the Law has now no hold over us, so that we render a service which, instead of being old and formal, is new and spiritual.” (Weymouth) Slaving according to the “old way [or obsolescence] of the letter” denotes trying to live up to the requirements of the law. The result of such slaving is failure, as it is impossible faultlessly to obey the law. (7:6)
Paul then raised the questions, “What, then, shall we say? [Is] the law sin?” In view of the law’s role in exposing sin and thereby revealing many more sins than would otherwise have been recognized, one might conclude that the law itself is sin or a failure, not producing the desired good results. The apostle Paul rejects this as a wrong conclusion, saying, “Never may it be! Rather, I would not have known sin if it had not been for the law.” (7:7)
“For,” referring to himself to illustrate the point, Paul went on to explain, “I would not have known [what] covetousness [is] if the law [Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21, LXX] had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” When the law identified covetousness as sin, those who were under the law came to know or recognize it as such. (7:7)
“Through the commandment” prohibiting covetousness, sin “received” or found occasion for producing “all kinds of covetousness in me, for apart from law sin [is] dead.” (7:8) On account of the identification of covetousness in the law, sin, as an active agent, could claim all types of wrong desires as its works. Without the law, these desires could not have been labeled as evil, and so “sin” would have been dead (not an active agent) insofar as covetousness was concerned.
The apostle spoke of himself as once living apart from law, but that, when the commandment arrived, sin came to life, and he died. (7:9) He found the commandment that was for life to be one that proved to be for death. (7:10)
Viewed from the standpoint of Paul’s life, he died upon coming to a full recognition of his sinful state. He could then see that he was unable to live up to the requirements of the law and, therefore, found himself under the condemnation of death. His failure to walk faultlessly according to the law’s requirements meant that sin had come to life as an active agent. He could speak of the commandment as being for life because when the law was given the Israelites were told, “Keep, then, my statutes and decrees, for the man who carries them out will find life through them.” (Leviticus 18:4, NAB) The inability to observe these statutes and decrees faultlessly, however, brought condemnation, leading to death.
Paul added, “For sin, having received occasion through the commandment, seduced me and through it [the commandment] killed me.” (7:11) As an active agent, sin is represented as employing the commandment for its purpose, seducing Paul to become its victim by failing to observe the commandment and killing him by having the law identify him as a sinner deserving of death.
The law, though, is not at fault, for it is holy or pure, “and the commandment [is] holy and righteous and good.” (7:12) The requirements set forth in the law prohibited impure, unjust, and evil actions. So the commandment could rightly be identified as being pure and designed to promote justice and goodness.
The fact that the law was good gave rise to the question, “Did, then, the good become death for me?” Paul answered, “Never may it be!” There was nothing injurious in the good law. The killer was sin. As an active agent, sin was shown or exposed as producing death for Paul, and it did so through the good law (the law which made it possible for the works of sin to be clearly identified). Accordingly, through the commandment that revealed sin to the fullest extent, sin became more sinful than ever. (7:13)
When referring to the law as being “spiritual,” Paul may have meant that it had a spiritual source and so was spiritual in nature, for it was a God-given law and revealed his will. The apostle, though, could speak of himself (representatively of all humans) as fleshly (or as having inclinations opposed to what is spiritual or godly). He was “sold under slavery to sin.” The reference to being “sold under slavery to sin” is indicative of the mastery sinful inclinations exercised, comparable to the absolute control masters in the Greco-Roman world had over their purchased slaves. (7:14)
To convey the teaching that law cannot effect an approved standing before God, Paul referred to himself and represented “sin” or the inclination to sin as an alien entity that acted as a master against him in his desire to live up to God’s law. (Compare Romans 8:3.) That he had been “sold under slavery to sin” was evident from the reality that he did not “know” or understand his own works or actions, for he did not practice what he wanted but ended up doing what he hated. (7:15)
When doing things he did not wish, Paul agreed that “the law is good.” This is so because he wanted to live up to what the law said and recognized that its requirements were right. His real self or real “I” wanted to do what the law said, and so he was not the one doing what he hated. An alien master dwelling within him, sin or the powerful inclination to sin, was exercising control. (7:16, 17)
“For,” Paul continued, “I know that good is not dwelling in me, that is, in my flesh.” He was aware of this flaw because he had the capacity for desiring to do what was right but did not have the ability to carry it out faultlessly. Apparently for emphasis, Paul then repeated what he had already said. He did not do the good he wanted, but did the bad he did not wish to do. If, then, he did what he did not want to do, he was not the one carrying it out, but the active agent exercising the mastery was sin or the sinful inclination residing within him. (7:18-20)
In his case, Paul found a “law” or principle at work. When he wanted to do the good, the bad was right there to assert control. (7:21)
According to the man within, his real self, Paul found delight in God’s law, wanting to live up to it, but he saw or recognized another “law” or principle at work in the members of his body. That “law” or principle was in a state of war or conflict with the “law” of his mind or the mental inclination of his real “I” that wanted to do good. In this struggle, the “law” of sin or the sinful inclination as a controlling principle in his body members gained the upper hand, leading him captive. (7:22, 23)
On account of this raging conflict between the desire for good and the ever-present sinful inclinations, Paul referred to himself as a wretched or pitiable man. He wanted to be rescued from the “body of death,” that is, from the body with its sinful inclinations that lead to death. After raising the question as to who would do so, he answered it with grateful conviction, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Through the forgiveness and reconciliation God effected by means of his Son, the rescue mission has been accomplished. (7:24, 25)
The inability to live up flawlessly to God’s law ceases to be the basis for condemnation. By faith in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by laying down his life sacrificially, believers are accounted as upright. They are, however, not sinless in the absolute sense. As Paul said regarding himself, “So, then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but [my] flesh [is a slave] to the law of sin.” (7:25)
In desire and mental inclination, believers are subject to God’s law and seek to conduct themselves uprightly in attitude, word, and deed. The sinful inclinations, however, have not been evicted from their flesh, for they still share the sinful human condition and so are subject to the “law of sin” that is responsible for their falling short in flawlessly reflecting the purity of their heavenly Father.
In view of what God has done through his Son, those who are “in Christ Jesus,” being at one with him as members of his body, are “now” not under condemnation. In the past, while under the law, condemnation resulted from failing to live up faultlessly to the law’s requirements. “Now,” however, through their faith in Christ Jesus and the atoning benefits of his death for them, believers are accounted as approved. Being members of the body of which the Son of God is the head, they share in his righteousness as the one who has always been without sin. Later manuscripts add that those in Christ Jesus “do not walk according to the flesh, but according to [the] spirit.” (8:1; see 8:4, where this basic phrase is found.)
The apostle added an explanatory comment about why those in Christ are not under condemnation. “For the law of the spirit of the life in Christ Jesus has freed you [singular you; other manuscripts read ‘me’ or ‘us’] from the law of sin and of death.” In this case, law designates a governing principle or power. Accordingly, “the law of the spirit” could refer to the controlling principle or power either of the holy spirit or of the individual’s spirit that has been made new through the operation of God’s spirit. The link of the spirit to life may be understood to mean that the spirit is a life-giving principle or power for the individual who is “in” or at one with Christ Jesus or that the spirit is the controlling principle in the new life of the person who is united to Christ as a member of his body. With a new power controlling and guiding believers, they are liberated from the “law” or controlling power of sin and of death (the inevitable consequence of sin and to which sinners are subject as they would be to law). (8:2)
The “law,” meaning (as the context indicates) God’s law given through Moses, could not effect liberation from sin and death. Its powerlessness in this respect stemmed from its being “weak through the flesh.” The “flesh” or the human condition in its sinful state robbed the law of the capacity to reveal individuals as faultlessly upright and deserving of life. God himself stepped in, doing what the law could never succeed in bringing about. He sent his own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin” to condemn sin in the flesh. (8:3)
Jesus Christ was fully human and as such did not differ from other humans. He came, however, only in the “likeness of sinful flesh,” for he was wholly without sin as a human. (8:3)
God sent his Son “concerning sin,” having him lay down his life sacrificially to make forgiveness of sins possible. Through his Son, the Father “condemned sin in the flesh.” This may mean that God exposed sin as an alien element in the flesh and deprived it of its controlling power in the case of those who believe in his Son. (8:3)
As to the purpose this condemnation of sin in the flesh served, Paul continued, “that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who are walking, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.” (8:4)
The obligations the law imposed were right or just. In the case of believers, their conduct harmonizes with these “just requirements,” for they are not living corrupt lives. So what the law commands is fulfilled in them. Their ceasing to walk “according to the flesh” or their sinful nature or inclinations is not attributable to an externally imposed demand to adhere to the law. Their walk or conduct is “according to the spirit.” So, because they are allowing themselves to be guided by God’s spirit, they are living the purpose of the law (which finds its full expression in love for God and fellow humans) and thus conducting themselves in agreement with its just requirements.
Those who remain fleshly persons, continuing in an unconverted state and without the help of God’s spirit, persist in living “according to the flesh” or their sinful inclinations. Their minds are on the things of the flesh or on its prompting and craving. Believers who live “according to the spirit,” living spiritual lives under the guidance of God’s spirit, have their minds on the things of the spirit. Their mental focus is on the things that are in harmony with the holy spirit’s direction and guidance. (8:5)
The outcomes for centering the thoughts on the flesh or on the spirit are very different. When the flesh is the focus or concern of the mind, allowing its sinful desires to control one’s life, the ultimate end is death. In the case of those whose mind is centered on the spirit, letting it govern, the result is “life and peace.” This life is the real life of an approved relationship with the heavenly Father and his Son. No longer are those whom God’s spirit guides at enmity with the Father. They are reconciled to him as his beloved children and enjoy peace with him and are assured of his loving help and care. (8:6)
The reason that a focus on the flesh, the inclination to satisfy its sinful cravings, can only lead to death is that the sinful nature is at enmity with God. This sinful inclination or flesh is not subject to God’s law and cannot be, for it is in a state of rebellion against the spirit of the law that finds its fulfillment in love for God and fellow humans. Therefore, those who are “in the flesh,” persons dominated by their sinful human nature, cannot please God. (8:7, 8)
To believers in Rome, Paul could say, “But you are not in the flesh but in the spirit, provided the spirit of God is residing in you.” As the sinful human nature was no longer in control, believers could be spoken of as not being “in the flesh.” They are “in the spirit,” and this is introduced by a marker of strong contrast (but, allá). A craving to satisfy sinful desires no longer dominates their lives. Their spirit, under the impelling power of God’s spirit, motivates them to conduct themselves uprightly. Therefore, the sphere of their life is, not “in the flesh,” but “in the spirit.” This is “provided” (literally, “if”) the “spirit of God resides” in them. The Greek term for “resides” or “dwells” is in the present tense and so would be indicative of a continuing presence of God’s spirit as the governing power in the lives of believers. (8:9)
Paul added, “But if anyone does not have Christ’s spirit, this one is not his.” (8:9) The apostle may here have been using “Christ’s spirit” as synonymous with God’s spirit, for it is through Christ that the holy spirit is imparted to believers. (Compare Acts 2:33.) The spirit of Christ could also denote the same spirit that he manifests, for his every act is in full harmony with his Father’s will and spirit. Persons who are not guided by the spirit of Christ demonstrate that they do not belong to him. They are not members of his body.
For Christ to be in believers would mean that he would be at one with them and they with him. When this is the case, the “body” (from the standpoint of its sinful nature) is “dead because of sin, but the spirit [is] alive because of righteousness.” (8:10) On account of sin, the body is still subject to death. Believers, though, share in Christ’s righteousness, for they are accounted as divinely approved on the basis of their faith in him and his surrender of his life for them. This has made it possible for them to be recipients of God’s spirit and to enjoy a newness of life. Guided and directed by the holy spirit, they are not dead in trespasses and sins but live as God’s approved children, with the eternal sinless state in prospect.
The spirit powerfully at work in believers is the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. When the holy spirit has a permanent home in believers, the Father, through the spirit residing in them, will “also” (not in all manuscripts) impart life to their mortal bodies. There are two different Greek manuscript readings (diá toú enoikoúntos [genitive case] autoú pneúmatos en hymín [“through the indwelling of his spirit in you”] and diá tó enoikoún [accusative case] autoú pneúma en hymín [“because of the indwelling of his spirit in you”]). The genitive construction points to the spirit as the agency through which the new life is imparted, whereas the accusative construction expresses the reason for a future granting of life to be the indwelling of the spirit. (8:11)
Being persons enjoying a newness of life through the operation of God’s spirit within them, Paul and his brothers or fellow believers were not in debt to the flesh. They were not obligated to satisfy the cravings of their human nature, living “according to the flesh” or conducting themselves in a manner that their sinful human condition craved. (8:12)
For them to live “according to the flesh” or according to the prompting of their sinful human nature would lead to death, for they would be conducting themselves contrary to the liberation from sin and death that Jesus had effected by dying sacrificially for them. If, though, they followed the spirit’s direction, they would be killing the practices of the body, that is, the corrupt ways in which the sinful inclinations of the body were ever-ready to assert themselves. This would mean life for them, as they would continue to live a newness of life as God’s beloved children. (8:13)
All who let themselves be led by God’s spirit are his sons or members of his beloved family. (8:14) They are free “sons of God,” for they have not received a spirit of slavery resulting in their again having fear (as would one in a state of slavery who obeys his master out of fear). Under the law arrangement, those who were subject to it were reminded of their failings and so did have fear of the consequences. The execution of the penalties the law prescribed were to induce fear as a preventive measure, serving as a warning to all as to what could happen to them if they became guilty of the same offenses. (8:15; Deuteronomy 6:13-15, 24; 13:6-11; 17:12, 13; 19:16-20; 21:20, 21)
Using a strong marker of contrast (allá, meaning “but”), Paul continued, “But you received a spirit of sonship.” This “spirit of sonship” makes it possible for them to have a strong inner conviction that their heavenly Father deeply loves them and will continue to care for them. (8:15)
In keeping with this spirit of sonship, the divinely granted conviction of being approved sons on the basis of faith in Christ, “We cry out, Abba, Father.” The transliterated designation “Abba” (abbá) imitates one of the initial simple sounds a baby makes and so can convey the intimacy, submission, trust, and affection of a young child when saying “papa” or “daddy.” In the Greek text, abbá is followed by ho patér (“the Father”). The context does not suggest that ho patér serves to define abbá. Therefore, evidently to be regarded as a vocative, ho patér could be translated “O Father.” The term “Father” fittingly expresses the believer’s relationship to God as a son and the privileges and responsibilities associated therewith. (8:15)
God’s spirit operating within them testifies with their own spirit (their conviction, inclination, and disposition) that they are his children. Their own spirit is fully receptive to the holy spirit, confirming that they are members of their heavenly Father’s family. (8:16)
As children of God, they are also his heirs, with a marvelous inheritance in prospect. They are joint heirs with Christ. The Father granted his Son, upon the completion of his earthly course in faithfulness, all authority in heaven and on earth as his inheritance. With Christ, believers will share in the blessings that this inheritance makes possible. As was true in his case, they undergo distress. (Compare Mark 8:34, 35; Hebrews 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:16; 5:9, 10.) Being members of Christ’s body, they are participants in his suffering. As fellow sufferers while remaining faithful to God, they are assured of becoming fellow sharers in glory, enjoying the blessings associated with the sinless state of God’s family of children and being able to reflect his image flawlessly for all eternity. (8:17)
Upon being united to Christ, believers will share his glory or splendor, coming to be like him and seeing him as the magnificent and flawless reflection of his Father’s very being. (Compare Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 3:1-3.) Therefore, Paul regarded the “sufferings of the present time,” or the distress and affliction believers endure on account of their being Christ’s disciples, as not even worth comparing with the transcendent glory to be revealed in them. So surpassingly great will be the magnificence of what they will be granted that the pains and trials of the past will not amount to anything. (8:18)
Human sinfulness has had a damaging effect on the whole environment, with resultant harm to plant and animal life. Seemingly, for this reason, Paul referred to the creation as waiting with eager longing for “the revelation of the sons of God.” This would be when believers are revealed in their glorified state as persons free from sin, ushering in a new era that would bring an end to the baneful effects human sinfulness has had on the whole creation. (8:19)
The outworking of God’s condemnation of human sinfulness also meant that the creation came to be subjected to futility, sharing in the pain and suffering that would otherwise not have existed. (Compare Jeremiah 4:23-26; 14:1-7; 23:10.) It was not of its own will or choice that the creation was subjected to such a vain, futile, or empty existence, but God subjected it, not shielding it from the ruinous impact of human sinfulness. Nevertheless, though God thus willed matters, he did so on the basis of the “hope that also the creation itself will be liberated from the slavery of ruin [to share] in the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (8:20, 21) The futile condition of the creation was not to continue, but the God-given hope assured that it would end. When the “children of God” are revealed in the magnificence of their sinless state, the whole creation would be freed from the bondage in which it shared on account of God’s adverse judgment of human sinfulness. The creation would then cease to undergo senseless devastation and ruin.
As to the present condition of the creation, Paul said, “For we know that all the creation is groaning together and is pained [as in childbirth] together until now.” (8:22) It appears that, based on what he and fellow believers could observe all around them, they knew or were aware of a world in a state of ruin and decay. Especially would this have been a stark reality in times of war and famine. Even in the case of what today would be perceived as “natural disasters,” human sinfulness often contributes to an intensification of the harmful effects on the whole environment. The ruin and devastation present a mournful spectacle, making it appropriate to speak of the whole creation as groaning and being in pain on account of the unfavorable circumstances that can be attributed to human sinfulness.
“But not only” is the whole creation in this state, “but also the very ones having the firstfruits of the spirit — also we ourselves groan within our very selves, awaiting sonship [adoption as sons], the redemption of our body.” It appears that the spirit is being identified as the firstfruits, providing a foretaste of the fulness of sonship that believers will come to enjoy. (8:23; see the Notes section for additional comments and another possible meaning of “firstfruits of the spirit.”)
A number of translations paraphrase the words about the spirit to convey an explicit significance. “And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension.” (J. B. Phillips) “What is more, we also, to whom the Spirit is given as the firstfruits of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly.” (REB) “We have the Spirit as the first part of God’s promise.” (NCV) In Ephesians 1:14, the spirit is designated as the arrabón or the “first installment” of the inheritance, serving as a pledge to assure believers of the inheritance that is still in prospect for them as God’s approved sons.
Despite being so highly favored by having the spirit operating powerfully within them, believers still groan inwardly. This is because they are not fully liberated from the human weaknesses and inclinations that prevent them from reflecting the image of their heavenly Father faultlessly. The adoption for which they are earnestly waiting is their being constituted sinless sons or children of God. This requires redemption or liberation from the body in which the sinful inclinations are still at work.
Linking “hope” to salvation, Paul continued, “For in hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope; for does one hope for what one sees?” The redemption of the body is yet future, and so the fulness of salvation is not yet the believer’s possession but is in prospect. Accordingly, the believer lives in hope of obtaining the salvation Christ’s sacrificial death made possible. Upon putting faith in Christ and what he did for them, believers received the spirit as the first installment that provided a solid basis for the hope of salvation. So, not in full possession, but, in hope, they were saved. Hope is no longer necessary when the object of one’s hope is seen as one’s personal possession. (8:24; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
“If, however,” as the apostle added, “we do not see for what we hope, we wait with endurance.” (8:25) For believers, the hope has as yet not been transformed into full possession. This requires that they steadfastly wait for the fulfillment of their hope (full sonship in the sinless state).
When enduring trials or distress and patiently waiting for the fulfillment of their hope, believers find themselves in a quandary about just what they need to do or what to request in prayer. At such time, God’s spirit comes to their aid, supporting them in their weakness. Although they themselves may not know how to pray as would be necessary under the circumstances, the spirit intercedes with “unuttered groans” or with sighs that are not expressed in words or audibly. On account of the working of God’s spirit within them, believers sigh or react inwardly to what they are facing. (8:26)
Our heavenly Father, who searches the hearts or the deep inner selves, understands the spirit-induced groaning or sighing (the minding or longing of the spirit). This sighing, to which the spirit gives rise, is “according to God for holy ones.” In being “according to God,” the sighing harmonizes with his will and constitutes a plea for aid to holy ones or believers who are “holy” or pure because of their faith in Christ and their life of faith. (8:27)
The assurance of help even when unable to formulate an appropriate petition in prayer is not the only reason believers have for confidence in times of distress. In their case, as persons who love God, all things work together for their good. According to another manuscript reading, “God makes all things work together for their good” or, “in all things, God works for good.” The “all things” would include suffering or distress, which, when faithfully endured, produces a stronger faith, one of tested quality. Paul also referred to those who love God as being “called ones according to his purpose.” God had purposed to direct a call or invitation to humans to be his beloved children. As those who responded to the call, accepting his arrangement for having their sins forgiven and being reconciled to him on the basis of their faith in his Son and his laying down his life for them, they proved to be “called ones.” (8:28)
God foreknew that there would be persons who would love him, and he predestined, foreordained, or predetermined that they would be conformed to the “image of his Son” or would come to be like him as fellow sons. This would make it possible for a large family of “sons” to come into being, with the unique Son being the “firstborn” or preeminent one among “many brothers” or many of God’s children. (8:29)
When the time came for humans to become part of this family, the family he had predestined or predetermined to come into being, God extended his call to them, inviting them to abandon a life focused on indulging their sinful desires and to do his will as obedient children. Individuals who responded in faith to his Son and the forgiveness of sins made possible through him were justified or accounted as “righteous” or approved. Those whom God thus justified he also “glorified,” granting them the dignity of being his beloved sons under his care and protection. Yet ahead is the bestowal of the full glory or splendor — the status of sinless sons who flawlessly reflect the image of his unique Son. (8:30)
In view of all that God has done, Paul raised the questions, “What, then, can we say regarding these things? If God is for us, who [can be] against us?” The implied answer to the second question points to the only thing that can be added. With God on the side of believers, no one can have success in opposing them or in inflicting lasting harm. (8:31)
Our heavenly Father has already made the supreme sacrifice, the sacrifice which believers have, in faith, appreciatively accepted. “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for all of us,” making it possible for believers to be forgiven of their sins, to be reconciled to him, and to become recipients of his tender care and deep love. In view of the supreme sacrifice our heavenly Father has made for us in expression of his love, how could we possibly doubt that he, with his Son, would also graciously grant us everything we might need as his beloved children? This assures us that he will come to our aid in times of distress. (8:32)
Can anyone bring a legitimate accusation against God’s chosen ones that would disqualify them from being recipients of his gracious gifts? No, for God himself has justified them, accounting them as approved on the basis of their faith in his Son and what he accomplished by his sacrificial death. (8:33)
Can anyone rightly condemn believers, rendering an adverse judgment that would deprive them of God’s love and protective care? No, for Christ Jesus died for them. More than that, the Son of God is alive. He was raised from the dead and is now at his Father’s right hand. In the favored position as his Father’s intimate and dearly beloved, Christ Jesus can and does plead our cause. (8:34)
Nothing will stop the Son of God from interceding for believers, for nothing will separate them from his love. The apostle Paul highlighted this in question form. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? [Can] affliction or distress or persecution or hunger or nakedness or danger or sword?” (8:35) When people come to see that the unfavorable circumstances of friends could endanger their personal welfare or safety, they may fearfully withdraw and cease to be supportive and caring. Never will this be the case with the one who laid down his life for us. Regardless of the hardships, threats, or dangers believers may face, Jesus Christ will continue to be there for them as their loyal friend.
The circumstances of believers may prove to be severe, fitting the description of Psalm 44:22 (43:23, LXX), “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were accounted as sheep for slaughter.” (8:36) “All day” or continually, believers may experience suffering because of being God’s people. Hateful opposers may treat them like defenseless sheep fit for slaughter (not humanely as fellow humans).
Despite the trials and hardships believers were then enduring, Paul could say, “But in all these things, we are triumphing through him who has loved us.” This is because nothing separated them from the love of Christ. With his help, they were victorious or able to endure affliction and distress in faithfulness. (8:37)
Paul expressed the conviction that neither death, life, angels, governments, things then existing, things to come, powers, height, depth, nor any other creation would be able to separate believers from “the love of God which [is] in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:38, 39)
Neither the violent death with which persecutors might threaten believers nor their assurance that they could live if they denied their faith would succeed in effecting a rift with Christ. Though angels possess greater power than do humans, it would not be strong enough to separate believers from divine love, and no earthly governmental authority could do so. Nothing that then existed or might yet come into being could cut them off from divine love. No power whatsoever could force a separation. It did not matter whether that power existed in the height (the superhuman element of darkness in the spirit realm) or the depth (Hades or the realm of the dead). Nothing whatsoever in all creation could effect a separation from “the love of God that [is] in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As the express image of his Father, Jesus perfectly reflects his Father’s love. This love is “in” him, fully occupying his inmost being. As is true of his Father, Jesus is love in his very nature. With God on the side of believers and Jesus intercession for them, believers are assured of victory regardless of what they may have to face.
Certain manuscripts contain a shorter reading for Romans 8:23. The reference to “sonship” or “adoption” is omitted, and the concluding part of the text reads, “awaiting the redemption of our body.”
Early believers may perhaps be represented as having the “firstfruits of the spirit” (Romans 8:23) from the standpoint of their having experienced the first or initial outpouring of God’s spirit, indicating that, in the future, a much larger number of believers would receive the spirit.
The Greek term for “save” (sózo) can also mean “preserve.” This allows for the words, “in hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24), to mean that believers were preserved by their hope, for their hope sustained them and enabled them to remain faithful to God and Christ while undergoing trials and distress.
Depending on the Greek manuscript reading, the concluding phrase in Romans 8:24 can express two different meanings. (1) “Who hopes for what one sees?” (2) “Why wait for what one sees?”
When commenting on the unbelief of fellow Jews, Paul used very strong language. He referred to those who adamantly rejected Christ as having killed him and acting against the interests of all humans through their efforts to prevent the glad tidings about him from being proclaimed to the Gentiles. (1 Thessalonians 2:14, 15) The apostle’s words likely prompted his detractors to accuse him of having turned against his own people. Paul, however, left no doubt about the depth of concern and love he had for fellow Jews. He solemnly declared, “I am speaking the truth in Christ; I am not lying. My conscience testifies to me in holy spirit, that I have much grief and unceasing pain in my heart.” (9:1, 2)
The Son of God is the embodiment of the truth, being the one who fully revealed his Father. As a believer “in” or at one with Christ who always expressed the truth, Paul could not possibly be lying. Moreover, his conscience, enlightened and guided by the holy spirit, attested how he felt about his fellow countrymen. He was grieved that they were missing out on the privileges and blessings that would result from their responding in faith to Jesus Christ. In his heart or his inmost self, Paul was continually pained because of this.
He would have been willing to do anything possible to help fellow Jews, his “brothers” or “relatives according to the flesh,” become reconciled to God through his Son. Paul would have been willing to sacrifice for them to the point of being declared “anathema,” a cursed one, or an outcast from Christ for their sake. (9:3)
The apostle sincerely felt this way because of who his Jewish “brothers” were and on account of the privileges they did and could have. They were “Israelites,” God’s people. (Deuteronomy 7:6) Sonship, glory, the covenants, the law, sacred service at the sanctuary, and the promises were all theirs. (9:4)
As a people, their forefathers had been divinely declared to be God’s firstborn son. (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9) Because of having been adopted as a firstborn son, they came to share in other privileges and blessings.
Of all the nations, they alone experienced an awesome manifestation of divine glory at Mount Sinai. This glory appeared to them like a consuming fire on the summit of the mountain. (Exodus 24:16, 17) The glory could also include God’s dwelling representatively among his people at the sanctuary. (Exodus 25:8; 40:34-38; Deuteronomy 4:7; 2 Chronicles 5:13, 14; compare 1 Samuel 4:21, 22.)
Paul did not identify the specific covenants. One of them would have been the covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai after their departure from Egypt. (Exodus 24:3-8; 1 Kings 8:9) Another covenant would have been the one he concluded many decades earlier with their ancestor Abraham, assuring him that in his “seed” all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 15:9-21; 22:16-18; Acts 3:25) The covenant with David revealed that the Messiah would come through his line of descent, and so it may also have been one of the covenants Paul had in mind. (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:3, 4; compare Luke 1:32.)
Only the Israelites were given the law, which stood out prominently among the laws existing among other nations. (Exodus 24:12) In Deuteronomy 4:8 (REB), Moses is quoted as telling the people, “What great nation is there whose statutes and laws are so just, as is all this code of laws which I am setting before you today?”
The Israelites were unique in having an arrangement for worship that God had authorized. It included a divinely appointed priesthood, sacrifices, and annual festivals, and a sanctuary and associated items made according to divinely given specifications. (Hebrews 8:5; 9:1-7)
The promises focused on the coming of the “seed,” the Messiah, through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and, finally, through the royal line of David the son of Jesse and all the blessings that would result. (Genesis 12:2, 3; 17:19; 25:23; 28:12-16; 49:9, 10; Isaiah 11:1-10)
The “fathers” or ancestors of the Israelites were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “According to the flesh” or natural descent, they were also the ones through whom Christ came. (Matthew 1:2; Luke 3:34) This was indeed the greatest honor. Because God was the source of everything that made the Israelites stand out as different among the nations, Paul appears to have been moved to make an expression of thanks, “[May] God, the one over all, [be] blessed forever [literally, into the ages]. Amen.” (9:5; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
In view of Paul’s focus on those who had been called or invited to be reconciled to God through Christ, the question logically arose about why so few of the Jews, who had been highly privileged and were the first to receive the invitation, responded in faith. Did this mean that the word of God had failed, not succeeding in accomplishing the purpose for which it was directed to the Jews? Paul’s answer was, No. He explained, “For not all [who are] out of Israel [are truly] Israel.” (9:6)
Natural descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel [Genesis 32:28]) did not make one an Israelite in the real sense of the word. The name “Israel” may be defined as “contender with God” or “God contends,” implying a relationship with God, and that relationship did not come into being on the basis of natural descent. Using historical examples, Paul established this point.
Abraham fathered Ishmael and, after the death of Sarah, had six sons by Keturah (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah). (Genesis 16:15, 16; 25:1, 2) Although Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn, Isaac is the one whom God designated as Abraham’s “seed.” (9:7) Thus not all the “seed” or offspring of Abraham were his children or like him in their relationship to God, but, as Abraham was told, “In Isaac will seed for you be called.” (Genesis 21:12, LXX) Accordingly, as Paul added, “The children of the flesh” (mere offspring of the procreative function) are not the “children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” (9:8)
God is the one who made the promise to Abraham, conveying his “word of promise” through his representative angel, “At this time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” (9:9; compare Genesis 18:10, 14) As a son of God’s promise, Isaac had a relationship with God (as did his father) and, therefore, was a true son of Abraham.
Paul next called attention to another case. Rebekah conceived twins by her husband Isaac. Before the fraternal twin boys were born and neither one of them had done anything good or bad, Rebekah received a divine revelation, “The elder will serve the younger.” This indicated that the one to be born first would not be the preeminent one in God’s purpose. Commenting on this development, Paul added parenthetically, that, with reference to election or choosing, God’s purpose might continue, not “out of” or on the basis of works, but “out of” or by his calling. (9:10-12)
Neither one of the twins had done any works that provided a basis for the divine choice. Isaac, too, had no works that would have merited God’s choosing, for he was not even conceived at the time the divine promise was given to Abraham. Therefore, as Paul noted in connection with Jacob and Esau, God’s choosing continued to be independent of works. In his foreknowledge, God chose the twin that would best serve his purpose. The later history confirmed that Esau and his descendants would not have been suitable. They chose not to have a relationship with God, and merited the divine judgment expressed centuries later in Malachi 1:2, 3, “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.” (9:13)
Paul anticipated that the manner in which God deals would give rise to questions about his justice. “What, then, shall we say?” the apostle continued. “Is there not injustice on God’s part?” Paul then categorically rejected such a charge, “Never may it be!” (9:14)
As the Creator, God has every right to act according to his purpose. Paul backed this up with words Moses is quoted as saying and which words represent an expression of God’s choosing (Exodus 33:19, LXX), “I will be merciful to whomever I may be merciful, and I will be compassionate to whomever I may be compassionate.” (9:15)
Ultimately, the divine prerogative or purpose is the deciding factor in God’s election or choosing. Therefore, as Paul summed up, it is not dependent on the one wishing (or desiring a certain outcome) or the one running (or pursuing with a view to obtaining on the basis of merit) but on God who has mercy. (9:16)
To prove this, Paul called attention to God’s words directed to Pharaoh, “For this [purpose] I have raised you up [you have been kept (Exodus 9:16, LXX)], that I may show my power in you and that my name may be declared in all the earth.” (9:17)
Pharaoh had been “raised up” or allowed to be elevated to his position of power. According to the reading of the Septuagint, he had been kept or spared from having divine judgment immediately executed against him. This served God’s purpose to have his own power revealed in Pharaoh, with Pharaoh being the means for achieving this purpose. God did so by using Pharoah’s repeated defiance as the occasion for bringing devastating plagues upon the land of Egypt, which plagues demonstrated the matchless power that no human might could resist. Additionally, this served God’s purpose to make his name known far beyond the borders of the land of Egypt. What befell Pharaoh and the Egyptians became widely known, and the name of the God of the Hebrews (YHWH) continued to be associated with it even in later years. (Joshua 2:10, 11; 9:9; 1 Samuel 4:8)
Applying the significance of the developments involving Pharaoh, Paul continued, “So, then, he [God] is merciful to whom he wishes, but hardens whomever he wishes.” (9:18) In the case of the Israelites in Egypt, God chose to show mercy to them and brought about their liberation. This was not because they merited his favorable attention, for they had defiled themselves with idolatrous practices in Egypt. The choosing served his purpose and fulfilled the promise he had made to their ancestors. God acted for the sake of his name, revealing himself to be deserving of unqualified trust. (Deuteronomy 4:20, 37, 38; 7:7-11; Ezekiel 20:4-10; 23:3, 8)
As for hardening, this occurred in connection with Pharaoh. The miraculous signs and the devastating plagues did not move him to yield and voluntarily allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. Instead, YHWH’s action produced a hardening response in Pharaoh, for he obstinately persisted in his defiant stance and refused to obey YHWH’s command respecting his people. (Exodus 5:2-9; 7:3, 9-13, 20-22; 8:5-32; 9:1-35; 10:1-27)
Again Paul anticipated an objection. “You will say to me, Why, then [not in all manuscripts], does he [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (9:19) If all is dependent on God and human merit is excluded when it comes to having his favor, why would he still find fault with the way in which individuals conduct themselves? No one is in any position successfully to oppose what he has purposed. When raising this objection, Paul did not here include the point about the choice that humans can make of either yielding to God’s will or setting themselves defiantly against it. The apostle’s development of the subject, however, does so by implication.
With personal merit not being the determining factor, someone might question God’s justice or fairness. All humans are flawed and so should not all be granted the same favorable treatment? Paul addressed this implied objection. “O man, who really are you to be talking back to God? Will the thing fashioned say to the one fashioning [it], Why have you made me this way? Or does not the potter have the right” to do what he wants with the clay, making both a vessel for noble purposes and one for ignoble or ordinary purposes from the same lump? (9:20, 21; compare Isaiah 29:16; 45:9.)
These questions suggest that, if God’s dealings with humans result in two very different kinds of vessels, this is not to be attributed to any injustice on his part. No human has any merit that would of necessity limit the kind of vessel or person the divine molding should produce. As the Maker or Potter, God deals according to his purpose, which is not dictated by humans, the “clay.”
The question Paul next raised is not grammatically complete. It does, though, set forth the nature of the divine molding process. God has every right to express his wrath and to reveal his great power, acting swiftly against those who deserve punishment. Instead, he has patiently put up with humans who have proved to be “vessels” deserving of wrath and fit for destruction. This patient endurance on his part has served his purpose to “make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, which he has previously prepared for glory — us, whom he called not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.” (9:22-24) In every generation that has passed since the first century CE, God’s patience with “vessels of wrath” or persons deserving to have his wrath expressed against them has provided the opportunity for individuals to respond, either hardening themselves in defiant unbelief or responding in faith to the provision he has made through his Son to be reconciled to him as his beloved children.
That divine patience serves as the molding process, providing an opportunity for individuals to submit in faith to God’s will or to resist it, is confirmed in the prophecy of Jeremiah. The prophet observed a potter reworking a spoiled vessel into another vessel that met his approval. The word of YHWH then came to Jeremiah, revealing the significance of what he had seen. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.” (Jeremiah 18:2-10, NRSV)
The same reason for divine patience is found in 2 Peter 3:9. God is not slow about fulfilling his promise, but he is patient, not wanting anyone to be destroyed but desiring “all to come to repentance.”
It is to those who come to repentance that God extends mercy. They are the “vessels of mercy” or persons who come to be the recipients of divine compassion. To them, God has made known “the riches of his glory.” He is the possessor of matchless glory, dignity, or majesty and is in position lavishly to bestow blessings of incomparable grandeur. Nothing can equal sonship and the fatherly care and love that being part of his family includes. (9:23)
Paul could refer to “vessels of mercy” as having been “previously prepared for glory,” for God had determined beforehand that all who would come to be his approved children would share the glory of his unique Son who flawlessly reflects his image. (9:23)
The divine calling to be reconciled to him as his children had not been limited to a particular people or nation. The invitation had been extended not only to Jews but also to non-Jewish peoples (the “nations”). (9:24)
Paul backed up his statement regarding the divine calling from the Scriptures. He first quoted from Hosea, “I will call those [who are] not my people, ‘my people’; and her [who was] not beloved, ‘beloved.’” (Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:25) “And it will be in the place, where it was said to them, ‘You [are] not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” (Hosea 1:10 [2:1], LXX; Romans 9:26)
Although the words of the quotation from Hosea 2:23(25) are not the same in Romans 9:25, they are in harmony with the message conveyed through the prophet. In the original setting, these words applied to the Israelites of the ten-tribe kingdom. As a result of their pursuit of idolatry and their disregard for God’s law, they were no longer God’s people and, in this respect, resembled the non-Jewish peoples. YHWH’s rejection of the unfaithful Israelites did not permanently cut them off from the possibility of being reconciled to him. By implication, this did not forever debar others who were not God’s people from coming to be such and so also objects of his love.
The part of Hosea (1:10 [2:1]), which is quoted in Romans 9:26, corresponds to the language of the Septuagint. In Hosea 1:10 (2:1), the Hebrew word maqóm and the corresponding Greek word tópos basically mean “place.” There is a strong possibility that the phrase “in the place” is being used idiomatically to mean “in the place of” or “instead of.” (See the Notes section for additional comments on Romans 9:26.)
The apparent application Paul made of Hosea 1:10 (2:1) relates to the Gentiles who formerly were not a part of God’s people (just as the idolatrous Israelites in the ten-tribe kingdom had ceased to be his people). Nevertheless, to the non-Jewish people, the opportunity would be extended to become “sons of the living God.”
Focusing on Israel, Paul quoted from Isaiah, “Though the number of the sons of Israel may be as the sand of the sea, [only] the remnant will be saved. For a word [the] Lord will carry out on earth, finishing and shortening [it].” In quoting from Isaiah 10:22, 23, Paul made it clear that one should not expect all who are Israelites by natural descent to become sharers in the blessings God has promised to his people. After the foretold exile, only a remnant of the far larger number of Israelites (likened to the sand of the sea) repentantly returned to YHWH. In keeping with past history, only a remnant would be saved and share in the inheritance of all whom God recognizes as his approved children. (9:27, 28; see the Notes section for additional comments on 9:28.)
To highlight the comparatively small number who would make up this remnant, Paul quoted from Isaiah 1:9, “If the Lord Sabaoth [Lord (YHWH, Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah) of hosts] had not left us a seed [survivors], we would have become like Sodom and made to resemble Gomorrah.” In the time of Isaiah, the enemy invaders decimated the population of Judah to such an extent that, had it not been for divine intervention, the destruction would have been as complete as that of Sodom and Gomorrah centuries earlier. (9:29)
Based on what he had presented, Paul raised the question, “What, then, shall we say?” The apparent thought is, What conclusion should be drawn from the record in the holy writings? People of the non-Jewish nations did not pursue the way of righteousness by striving to observe the law, for it had not been given to them. Yet, among them were those who attained righteousness or an approved standing with God “out of faith,” putting their trust in God and the provision he had made through his Son for their sins to be forgiven. (9:30)
Israelites, however, did pursue the “law of righteousness,” endeavoring to conform to it. Being the “law of righteousness,” its commands were right or just. As flawed humans, the Israelites did not “attain to the law,” for they were unable to live up to its requirements and to act in harmony with the purpose for which it had been given. (9:31)
Setting forth the reason for their failure, Paul explained that it was because of pursuing the law, “not out of faith, but “as out of works.” The source of the problem was that their efforts did not rely on faith in God. Their striving to observe the law did not have its origin in faith, but they relied on their own efforts, seeking to be divinely approved through conformity to the letter of the law.
This emphasis on the role of human effort proved to be an obstacle in recognizing their hopeless sinful state and looking to the provision God had made through his Son for forgiveness of their sins and the attainment of an acceptable standing before him. They, as Paul continued, “stumbled over the stone of stumbling,” the one Isaiah represented YHWH as laying in Zion, “Look! I am laying in Zion a stone [occasioning] stumbling and a rock [causing] falling, and the one believing on him will not be put shame.” (9:32, 33)
The quotation in Romans 9:33 is drawn in part from Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16. YHWH would be a sanctuary or a place of true protection for those who would treat him as holy and who would have a wholesome fear of or reverential regard for him. At the same time, he would prove to be a stone causing stumbling to the Israelites who failed to put their trust in him. (Isaiah 8:13, 14) Likewise, Jesus Christ, the direct representative of his Father, became a stone occasioning stumbling to those who persisted in unbelief. He is the stone his Father laid in Zion (with Zion seemingly being representative of all Israel to which the Father sent his Son), the sure foundation on which all who become part of the family of approved children are built like stones that align with it. Their faith in him is expressed through loyal adherence to his example and teaching. No one putting faith, confidence, or trust in Jesus Christ as the stone laid in Zion will be put to shame. No one will experience the panic and humiliation that comes to those who see the object of their confidence shown up as unreliable.
According to the literal Greek reading of Romans 9:5, the phrase, “Christ according to the flesh,” is followed by the words, “the [one] being over all, God, blessed into the ages. Amen.” Therefore, a number of translators have taken this to be a reference to Christ as being God over all. “Christ who is above all, God, blessed for ever. Amen.” (NJB) “Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” (NIV) “They are the earthly family into which Christ was born, who is God over all. Praise him forever! Amen.” (NCV)
Nowhere in Paul’s letters, though, is Christ designated as God over all, and other translations are explicit in not linking the words to Christ. “May God, supreme above all, be blessed for ever! Amen.” (REB) “God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.” (NAB) “I pray that God, who rules over all, will be praised forever! Amen.” (CEV)
After his resurrection, Jesus Christ was granted all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) So he could rightly be referred to as “being over all.” There is a possibility, therefore, that Romans 9:5 means that Christ is over all, with the expression of blessing applying to the Father (“Christ ... who is over all. [May] God be blessed forever. Amen.”) At other times, Paul directed similar expressions to God. (Romans 1:25; 7:25; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 9:15; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:17)
In Romans 9:26, the apostle Paul made use of Hosea 1:10 (2:1) to establish that persons who were once not God’s people would become “sons of the living God.” Therefore, whether “in the place” has reference to a literal place or the phrase signifies “instead of” is immaterial, for it has no direct bearing on the apostle’s development of the subject.
A number of translations have adopted the meaning “instead of” or omitted the reference to “place.” “Instead of being told, ‘You are ‘Not-My-People,’ they shall be called Children-of-the-Living-God.” (Hosea 2:1, Tanakh) “They were called, ‘You are not my people,’ but later they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” (Hosea 1:10; Romans 9:26, NCV) Und es soll geschehen, anstatt dass man zu ihnen sagt: »Ihr seid nicht mein Volk«, wird man zu ihnen sagen: »O ihr Kinder des lebendigen Gottes!« (And it must occur, instead of one’s saying to them, “You are not my people,” one will be saying to them, “O you children of the living God!”) (Hosea 2:1, Luther, 1984 revision [German]) Und es soll geschehen: Anstatt dass zu ihnen gesagt wurde: »Ihr seid nicht mein Volk«, sollen sie Kinder des lebendigen Gottes genannt werden. (And it must occur: Instead of its having been said to them: “You are not my people,” they shall be called sons of the living God.) (Romans 9:26, Luther, 1984 revision [German])
If the term “place” is to be understood as designating a literal location, the meaning could be that, while the Israelites were in their land and engaged in idolatry, they ceased to be God’s people. Upon being restored to the land, a repentant remnant of Israelites would in that very “place” be called “sons of the living God.”
In Romans 9:28, numerous manuscripts contain an expanded reading that includes words found in the Septuagint text of Isaiah 10:22, 23. “For he is finishing and shortening a word [a sentence, an accounting, or a deed] in righteousness, because a shortened word [sentence, accounting, or deed] the Lord will carry out on the earth.” This may be understood to mean that, in executing justice, the Lord would completely and in a short time or quickly carry out his word respecting the inhabitants of the land. No protracted period would be involved in performing the deed that his word of warning had expressed. The Greek term for “word” (lógos) has often been rendered “sentence” (NAB, NJB, NRSV, REB) and can also refer to a thing or an act.
Addressing believers as “brothers,” Paul continued to express his loving concern for his fellow countrymen. In his “heart” or deep inner self he wished that they would attain salvation, being reconciled to God through Christ as his beloved children, and this was expressed in his prayer for them. (10:1; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Based on his own experience, he could testify to the reality of the zeal for God his fellow Jews had, but it was not a zeal “according to knowledge.” (10:2) Their zeal was based on seeking to gain merit through law observance. They did not “know” or recognize that an approved relationship with God could only result through faith in his Son and the provision for forgiveness of sins made possible through him.
The unbelieving Jews remained in ignorance concerning the “righteousness of God,” failing to recognize how the righteousness of which he is the source could be attained. Therefore, they endeavored to establish their own righteousness or right standing with God on the basis of law observance and did not submit to his “righteousness” or his arrangement for humans to gain an approved relationship with him. (10:3)
Regarding the divinely appointed way to gain God’s approval, Paul added, “For the end of the law [is] Christ for [resultant] righteousness to all who believe.” The reference to Christ’s being the “end of the law” may be variously understood, and this is reflected in the renderings of translations. (10:4)
One meaning could be that the law ends with Christ, making it obsolete. “Christ makes the Law no longer necessary for those who become acceptable to God by faith.” (CEV) “Christ ended the law so that everyone who believes in him may be right with God.” (NCV)
Another significance would be that the law finds its fulfillment or full meaning in Christ. “The Law has found its fulfillment in Christ so that all who have faith will be justified.” (NJB) “Christ gives the full meaning to the Law.” (CEV, footnote)
A third possibility is that, in Christ, the goal or purpose of the law is attained. “For Christ has accomplished the whole purpose of the law. All who believe in him are made right with God.” (NLT) Denn mit Christus ist das Ziel erreicht, um das es im Gesetz geht: Jeder, der an ihn glaubt, wird für gerecht erklärt. (For with Christ the goal, which the law is about, is attained: Everyone who believes on him will be declared righteous.) (German, Neue Genfer Übersetzung) Denn mit Christus ist die Absicht des Gesetzes vollkommen erfüllt. Wer an ihn glaubt, wird vor Gott gerecht gesprochen. (For, with Christ, the purpose of the law is completely fulfilled. Whoever believes on him will be declared righteous before God.) (German, Neues Leben)
Regardless of the precise significance of “end,” the main thought is that faith in Christ, not law observance, is the basis for being granted a right standing before God. Flawed humans simply cannot faultlessly live up to the law and obtain divine approval on the basis of personal merit.
Concerning the righteousness attainable on the basis of the law (literally, “righteousness out of the law”), Paul quoted from Leviticus 18:5 and referred to the word as having been written by Moses, “The man who does them [the commandments] will live by them.” Accordingly, faultless law observance would mean life for the individual. (10:5; see the Notes section.)
The “righteousness” or right standing with God that stems from faith is not dependent on human effort. To back up this thought, Paul personified the “righteousness from faith” and quoted it as speaking words that paraphrased Deuteronomy 30:12-14. “Do not say in your heart [your inner self], Who will ascend into heaven?” The purpose of such an ascension would have been to bring Christ down. (10:6) It was also unnecessary to ask, “Who will descend into the abyss?” The reason for this descent would have been to raise Christ from the dead. (10:7)
In the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, there is no mention of descending into the abyss, but the reference is to crossing to the other side of the sea. Paul may have made the connection to ascending because Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the law. The apostle possibly drew on the event involving Jonah when referring to the descending into the abyss. Upon being tossed into the sea and thereafter swallowed by the large sea creature, Jonah came to be in the “abyss.” (Jonah 2:4-6) Jesus mentioned the sign of Jonah in connection with his future resurrection, and so it seems reasonable that Paul would have thought of this sign. (Matthew 12:39, 40)
Thus the apostle made it clear that there was no need for anyone to ascend heavenward to bring Christ down in order to reveal how his Father’s approval could be attained nor was it necessary to descend into the abyss, for Christ had already been raised from the dead. No extraordinary human effort was needed to obtain the right standing with God that resulted from faith.
To establish this point, Paul had the “righteousness from faith” speak with the words found in Deuteronomy 30:14, “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.’” The apostle then identified this “word” as being “the word of faith which we [he and fellow believers] proclaim.” (10:8)
It appears that the apostle’s application is based on Deuteronomy 30:6. “YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed [offspring] so that you will love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” These words parallel the prophecy about the new covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The law of the new covenant was foretold to be written on hearts, resulting in a true knowing of YHWH and an approved relationship with him because sins would be forgiven.
It was on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death that the new covenant came into being. Accordingly, the thought about a righteousness stemming from faith or trust was expressed in Deuteronomy, for the words revealed a relationship that YHWH would bring about and which would lead to genuine love for him, a love from the “heart” or inner self. He made this relationship possible through his Son, and this is the “word” or message that Paul and other believers proclaimed. They themselves had embraced it, and it was part of their inmost selves (in their hearts). This “word” was also in their mouths, for they, as God’s beloved children whose inner selves had been transformed, proclaimed the message to others.
With specific reference to the “word of faith,” Paul continued, “If you confess Jesus Christ as Lord with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart one believes for righteousness, but with the mouth one confesses for salvation.” (10:9, 10)
The confession or acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord involves more than a mere expression of the lips. For believers, it means accepting him as their owner who bought them with his precious blood and living a life that harmonizes with his teaching and his example of self-sacrificing love. (Luke 6:46; John 13:13-17, 34, 35; 1 Peter 1:17-19; 2 Peter 2:1)
The resurrection of Jesus is the confirmation that he is indeed the Son of God. Therefore, faith in him of necessity also means that the believer’s heart or inner self is fully convinced that his Father resurrected him. The unconditional acceptance of Jesus as Lord and the faith rooted in the inner self that God raised him from the dead result in salvation. Believers cease to be dead in trespasses and sins and enjoy a newness of life as God’s approved children.
The faith or trust that originates from the heart or the inner self, the real person, results in righteousness or a right standing before God. With the mouth, the faith stemming from the heart is expressed and so is “for salvation” or confirms the salvation that has come into the believer’s possession. The confession or acknowledgment of the mouth reflects the faith of the inner self.
In the world of unbelievers, the believer may become an object of hostility or disdain. Faith in Jesus, however, will never lead to shattered hopes or disappointments, “for the scripture [Isaiah 28:16, LXX] says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (10:11; see the Notes section.)
No believer is excluded from this comforting assurance, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (Greek being representative of all non-Jewish peoples). Jesus is “Lord of all” and is “rich to all who call upon him.” (10:12) All who call upon him, putting their faith in him and looking to him for help and guidance, are assured of his generous response. According to John 1:14 and 16, from the fullness of his kindness, he imparted kindness upon kindness to his disciples. Jesus manifested a disposition of matchless love, and believers continue to be the objects of his loving care and compassionate concern. Their salvation is assured and to be enjoyed in the fullest sense upon coming into possession of the sinless state of God’s beloved children.
The assurance is expressed in the quotation from Joel 2:32 (3:5, LXX), “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (10:13; see the Notes section for additional comments.) This calling is an expression of faith and constitutes a recognition of Jesus as the Lord who has been granted all authority in heaven and on earth. The forgiveness he effected through his death for the human family made salvation possible, delivering believers from the condemnatory judgment to which sin leads. In view of what he has done for them, making the ultimate sacrifice so that they might live as his Father’s approved children, believers rightly look to Jesus for his continued aid and guidance.
To be able to call on Jesus, one would first have to believe in him. By means of questions, Paul drew attention to the aspects that needed to precede one’s coming to be in a position to be able to call upon the name of Jesus. “How, then, will they call on one whom they have not believed? But how will they believe on one of whom they have not heard? But how will they hear without [someone’s] preaching? But how will they preach if they are not sent?” (10:14, 15) Proclaimers of the message must be sent out. Their proclamation needs to be heard and believed to be acted upon with a calling upon the Son of God.
That there would be individuals sent forth to announce the message or glad tidings about Christ is implied in the quotation from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful [are] the feet of those proclaiming glad tidings of good things!” The approaching feet of those sent to announce good news would be a welcome sight to those who would be receptive to the message. (10:15)
“But not all” would heed or respond favorably to the glad tidings, “for [as Paul continued] Isaiah [53:1, LXX] says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (10:16; see the Notes section for additional comments.) The question implied that, despite the proclamation of the message, many paid no attention to it, dismissing it as not deserving to be believed.
Accordingly, belief, faith, or trust results from responsiveness to the “report.” Paul added, “but the report through the word of Christ [God, according to other manuscripts].” (10:17; see the Notes section for additional comments.) The phrase, “through the word of Christ,” could be understood to mean that the report or message needing to be heard relates to Christ or that he is the one “through” whom it came originally.
For it to be heard, a report or message must be proclaimed. So, with reference to the Jews, Paul raised the question, “Have they not heard?” (10:18) In the Greek text, there are two words meaning “not” and could signify “really not” or “absolutely not.”
Paul answered the question with a quotation from Psalm 19:4 (18:5, LXX), “To all the earth their sound went out, and to the boundaries of the habitable land their utterances.” (10:18)
In its original setting, the words of the psalmist applied to the impressive testimony about the glory or splendor of God that the heavenly bodies conveyed without audible speech or words, and which testimony reached all regions of the earth. The apostle could fittingly appropriate the language of the psalmist, for the glad tidings about Christ had been proclaimed throughout the Greco-Roman world. (Compare Colossians 1:5, 6, 23.) Therefore, the failure of the Jews to respond to the message could not be attributed to their not having had the opportunity to hear it.
The apostle Paul raised yet another question, “Did Israel not know?” Based on the answer he provided when quoting words he attributed to Moses, the apostle was asking about Israel’s not knowing that the good news would be proclaimed to the non-Jewish peoples. The answer is (Deuteronomy 32:21, LXX), “I [YHWH] will make you jealous [with what is] not a nation; I will provoke you with a senseless nation.” (10:19) The jealousy and provocation would come about when the Israelites saw non-Israelite people (without the standing of a nation God had constituted and without the wisdom contained in the law) in a more favorable situation than they were.
Paul referred to the words of Isaiah (65:1, LXX) as being even bolder in establishing that God would be dealing favorably with non-Israelites. “I was found among [literally, ‘in,’ but not in all manuscripts] those who did not seek me. I became manifest to those who were not inquiring for me.” (10:20; see the Notes section.) The fact that they were not seeking nor inquiring reveals that they had no relationship with YHWH. They were not his people.
As for Israel, Isaiah (65:2, LXX) continued, “[The] whole day [long] I [YHWH] have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (10:21) Accordingly, from their own Scriptures, the Israelites knew that non-Israelites would receive God’s favorable attention while they themselves were acting contrary to his appeal to them.
In Romans 10:1, the oldest extant manuscripts read, “Brothers, indeed the wish [more literally, ‘good pleasure’] of my heart and the supplication to God for them [is] for salvation.” Numerous later manuscripts include the “is” that is missing in the early manuscripts. Still other manuscripts read “Israel” instead of “them.”
For Romans 10:5, the oldest extant manuscript (P46) supports the reading, “The man who has done them will live by [literally, ‘in’] them.” Other manuscripts say, “The man who has done it [them or no pronoun, according to still other manuscripts] will live by [literally, ‘in’] it.”
According to the oldest extant manuscripts, Paul did not use the Greek word pás (everyone) in his earlier quotation (Romans 9:33), but here, in Romans 10:11, he did. His apparent reason being that the one who believes can be anyone who believes and, therefore, “all” who believe are included in the assurance of not being put to shame.
In the Masoretic Text, Joel 2:32 (3:5) refers to calling on the name of YHWH (the one represented by the name). The apostle Paul appropriated the words (Romans 10:13), and the context indicates that his focus was on Christ. This is in harmony with what the Father decreed respecting his Son. “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NAB)
The quoted question in Romans 10:16 appears in a context relating to the coming Messiah. (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) Appropriately, therefore, Paul used it when commenting on the unresponsiveness of many Jews to the message about Christ.
In Paul’s quotation in Romans 10:16, the word for “report” is akoé. This term can relate to the faculty of hearing, the hearing itself, or the content of what is heard, the message, news, report, or rumor. The word akoé appears twice in Romans 10:17. This raises the question as to whether akoé, in verse 17, should be understood to relate to the content of the message (or to what is heard) as it is in verse 16. Maintaining consistency in the translation of the Greek would favor rendering the term as “report,” “message,” or “proclamation” in verses 16 and 17.
The Septuagint text of Isaiah 65:1 basically has the same words as Romans 10:20, but they are in reverse order. “I became manifest to those who did not seek me; I was found by those who were not inquiring for me.”
After raising the question about whether God had rejected “his people” (“his inheritance,” according to third-century P46), Paul answered it with a strong denial, “Never may it be! For I, too, am an Israelite, from the seed [or offspring] of Abraham, [and] of the tribe of Benjamin.” (11:1; see the Notes section for additional comments.) He had been shown extraordinary divine favor while a persecutor of believers, with the resurrected Son of God personally revealing himself to him. (Acts 9:1-6; 1 Timothy 1:12-16) If God had rejected Israel as a whole, Paul may have been implying that he also would not have been shown mercy. Another possibility is that the apostle was horrified about the very suggestion that God had rejected his people, for he himself was a descendant of Abraham and an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin.
God had foreknown Israel before it ever came into existence as a people, and so it was inconceivable that he would reject the very people whom he had foreknown when Abraham and Sarah were still childless. (11:2; Genesis 15:2-5)
Widespread unbelief among the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob might have suggested that God had rejected his people. The situation in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel during the time of Elijah, however, reveals that this was not the case.
With a question, Paul called attention to Elijah’s pleading with God against Israel, “Lord, your prophets they have killed, your altars they have demolished, and I only am left, and they are seeking for my soul [life].” (11:2, 3; see the Notes section regarding 11:3.) According to his estimate of the situation, Elijah considered himself to be the only one remaining of God’s people among the ten northern tribes of Israel, and his death would mean that there would be no one left.
But what was the divine response? “I have left for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (11:4) According to the account in 1 Kings 19 (3 Kings 19, LXX), the words about the seven thousand men followed a pronouncement of divine judgment that would be carried out through Hazael (the future king of Syria), Jehu (the future king of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel), and Elisha (the successor of Elijah as prophet). The implication is that those who had refused to engage in Baal worship would be spared. They continued to be persons whom YHWH considered as his own people, whereas he had rejected the others as meriting his wrath. (1 Kings 19:15-18 [3 Kings 19:15-18, LXX])
“Therefore,” on the basis of past history, Paul continued, “thus also now in the present time, there has come to be a remnant according to the gracious [divine] choice [literally, according to the choice of grace (or unmerited kindness or favor)].” Those who responded in faith to the message about Christ came to be the beneficiaries of divine favor. Among the many who persisted in unbelief, believers proved to be the remnant that God, in expression of his unmerited kindness, elected or chose to be his approved children. (11:5)
With the election or choosing being on the basis of God’s gracious favor, it was not dependent on works (literally, “out of works”); otherwise favor would cease to be favor. (11:6; see the Notes section.) For the divine choosing to have been based on “works” or law observance would have meant that this choosing could have been earned or merited. It would then not have been an expression of divine favor.
Paul raised the question, “What then?” He probably meant, What should we conclude from the evidence presented? “What Israel is seeking, this it did not attain, but the chosen ones did attain [it], and the rest were hardened.” (11:7)
Earlier, Paul mentioned that Israel sought to attain righteousness or a right standing before God based on law observance or personal merit. (9:30-33) As flawed humans, they could not succeed in faultlessly living up to the requirements of the law and so did not attain the right standing before God that they were seeking. Having responded in faith to the divine provision for having their sins forgiven on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice for them, the “chosen ones,” though, did obtain righteousness or a divinely approved standing. God graciously chose them as his beloved children because they responded to his way to be in an acceptable state before him. Those who persisted in unbelief, rejecting the divine arrangement for attaining a divinely approved standing, were hardened. They continued to be unresponsive to the appeal to become reconciled to God through Christ.
To describe the hardened state, Paul used expressions from Deuteronomy 29:4, Isaiah 29:10, and Psalm 69:22, 23 (68:23, 24, LXX, which words of the psalmist he attributed to David). “God has given them a spirit of drowsiness, eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear, until this very day.” (11:8) In their unresponsive state, the unbelievers proved to be in a condition comparable to deep sleep. Though they had eyes, they could not see or perceive God’s will for them, and their ears proved to be deaf insofar as responsive listening was concerned.
“And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap and a stumbling block and a retribution for them. Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and always bend down their back.’” (11:9, 10) This quotation from Psalm 69:22, 23 (68:23, 24, LXX), although differing in word order, reflects the reading of the extant Septuagint text. The “table” would be representative of whatever they regarded as desirable for food and drink or what would be essential for their well-being. The psalmist’s appeal was that everything to which his enemies looked to benefit them would actually harm them. Similarly, in the case of those who persisted in unbelief, their pursuit of righteousness according to their own choosing actually led to their spiritual injury. They remained blind to God’s way. Instead of enjoying the freedom of God’s beloved children, they remained enslaved to sin (comparable to having their backs bowed down in servitude).
In the first century CE, the majority of the Jews did not respond in faith to the message about Christ. So Paul raised the question, “Did they stumble so that they might fall?” Was their stumbling in unbelief of such a nature that recovery would be impossible (as would be the case with persons who stumble, fall, and injure themselves so seriously that they are unable to get up)? The apostle answered the question emphatically, “May it never be!” He saw the “misstep” of his fellow Jews as leading to a spiritual benefit for the non-Jews. The result for believing Gentiles proved to be salvation and served to incite unbelieving Jews to jealousy. (11:11)
The “misstep” of the majority of the Jews meant that the first Jewish believers began to focus more attention on making known the message about Christ to Gentiles, with positive results in major cities of the Greco-Roman world. Non-Jews who responded in faith ceased to be dead in trespasses and sins and thus were saved or delivered from a state of condemnation. By God’s gracious favor, they came to be his free children, leading upright lives as persons no longer enslaved to sinful ways. Their manner of life gave evidence of an inner joy and a sense of well-being from being confident of God’s loving care and concern for them. (Compare Acts 8:1-8; 11:19-26; 13:44-49; 14:27; 15:3; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-7, 11-22.)
The tremendous change that faith in Christ had brought about in the lives of Gentile believers would not escape the attention of unbelieving Jews and, in time, would move godly ones among them to recognize the enviable spiritual state Gentile believers enjoyed. This would serve to incite them to jealousy or to look upon the faith that had so greatly benefited non-Jewish believers as also being highly desirable for them.
The misstep of the majority of the Jews in failing to put faith in Christ resulted in “riches for the world” and their decrease “riches for the Gentiles.” The priceless treasure of coming to be God’s approved children and all the blessings associated therewith made all other riches pale in value. Since a misstep on the part of the majority of the Jews had brought such a great treasure to the world and made it possible for non-Jewish believers to be spiritually enriched beyond measure, “how much more will their fullness” mean! The inclusion of the full number of the godly Jewish remnant in the community of Jewish and non-Jewish believers would result in a great enrichment of this corporate body. (11:12)
With these expressions about his fellow Jews, Paul did not intend to minimize his mission to the Gentiles. As the apostle to the Gentiles, he addressed non-Jewish believers, telling them that he “glorified” his ministry. (11:13) Paul highly valued having been personally entrusted by Jesus Christ to serve in this capacity. (Compare Acts 22:17-21; 26:12-18; 1 Timothy 1:12-14.)
At the same time, the apostle deeply cared about fellow Jews and his desire was that, through his ministry, he might be able to incite some of them to the kind of jealousy that would move them to put faith in Jesus Christ, resulting in their salvation or their deliverance from sin and condemnation. (11:14)
On account of unbelief, Paul’s fellow Jews did not possess the approved standing before God that faith in Christ had made possible. Accordingly, their unbelief had led to divine rejection. Their rejection, though, had resulted in an extensive proclamation of Christ in the Gentile world, with many responding in faith and coming to be reconciled to God as beloved children. Thus the rejection of the Jews meant reconciliation for the Gentile world. (11:15)
Regarding future acceptance of the Jews, the apostle added that it would signify “life from the dead.” (11:15) The context does not clarify in what sense the acceptance of the Jews would mean life from the dead. Paul may have thought of their responding in faith to Jesus Christ as a resurrection from the state of being dead in sin. This would parallel Jesus’ own words, “Whoever hears my word and believes the one who sent me has eternal life, and is not condemned but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) That the changed course resulting from repentance is comparable to a resurrection is reflected in the words Jesus had the father of the prodigal son say, “This son of mine was dead but has come to life again.” (Luke 15:24)
Commenting on the reason for a future believing response among the Jews, Paul continued, “If, however, the firstfruits [are] holy, [so] also [is] the lump [from which the firstfruits were taken]; and if the root [is] holy, [so] also [are] the branches.” (11:16) The initial number of Jews who became believers proved to be the firstfruits. They were Israelites in the true sense of the word who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and so were part of the people whom God had chosen as his own.
As Paul had emphasized earlier, not all who are natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are truly “Israel.” (9:6) This suggests that the holy “lump” designates the godly members of the Jewish nation who, like Paul prior to his encounter with the risen Christ, had not accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and the unique Son of God.
The forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob proved to be the “holy root.” The branches springing from that “holy root” would likewise be holy. These branches would be the descendants of Abraham whom he would be able to recognize as his children on the basis of their faith in God and his promises. (11:16)
Gentile believers, though, did not have any valid basis for being proud about their standing before God. On account of their unbelief, Jews who had a direct link to the holy root proved to be like branches of an olive tree that were broken off. Gentiles, on the other hand, did not spring from the same root, with their situation being comparable to that of branches from a wild olive tree which had been grafted in among the branches of the cultivated variety. (11:17)
Thus the Gentile believers came to share the “fatness” or richness of the “root” of the olive tree. (11:17; see the Notes section for additional comments.) They participated fully with Jewish believers in all the privileges and blessings associated with the root. These privileges and blessings were primarily linked to Jesus Christ and what he accomplished when laying down his life in sacrifice, for he, according to the flesh, had come from the line of Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, and Judah.
Therefore, Gentile believers should not be boasting about their standing in relation to what had happened to the Jewish “branches” because of unbelief. The Gentile “branches” were not the bearers of the root, and it was not from them that all the branches received nourishment. Instead, they were dependent on the root from which all that was essential became available through Christ. (11:18) This harmonizes with Jesus’ own words to a Samaritan woman, “We [Jews] worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22)
Paul’s next words appear to highlight why certain ones among the Gentile believers felt justified in boasting. “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” (11:19)
While that was indeed the case, Paul pointed to the reason for this. On account of their unbelief or the failure to express faith, many Jews were like branches broken off from the olive tree. In the case of the Gentiles, they were standing by faith. The position of the Gentiles in the olive tree was solely attributable to their faith in Christ and the forgiveness of sins made possible through his sacrificial death. Accordingly, Gentile believers had no valid grounds for an exalted view of their situation. Instead, they were to have a wholesome fear of losing their place in the olive tree by succumbing to a loss of faith. (11:20)
Paul warned the non-Jewish believers about how serious this would be. “For since God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” Unbelieving Jews were not shielded from divine judgment, and neither would Gentile believers if they succumbed to a loss of faith. (11:21)
The development involving Jewish unbelievers and non-Jewish believers revealed the “kindness and severity of God.” He dealt with severity toward Jews who fell in unbelief but expressed kindness toward Gentile believers. To continue being recipients of God’s kindness, they needed to maintain their faith. Through faith, they entered the realm of God’s kindness and, by faith, they remained in it. Loss of faith would signify ceasing to be favored with God’s kindness and being lopped off from the olive tree. (11:22) If, on the other hand, unbelieving Jews became believers, they would be grafted in, for God is the one having the power “to graft them in again.” (11:23)
Addressing non-Jewish believers, Paul continued, “If you were cut from an olive tree that is wild by nature and, contrary to nature, were grafted into the cultivated olive tree, how much more so will these who are [natural branches] be grafted back into their own olive tree!” (11:24) Former unbelief would not prevent believing Jews from again coming to be branches in the olive tree to which they originally belonged.
Paul wanted his non-Jewish brothers or fellow believers not to remain ignorant of a “mystery” so as to avoid considering themselves wiser than they were in relation to the Jews because of their unbelief. Explaining this mystery, Paul added, “A hardening in part has occurred to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in and thus all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘Out of Zion will come a deliverer, and he will turn away impiety from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” (11:25-27)
It appears that, as earlier in Paul’s letter (9:6), “Israel” designates all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who have faith in God and his promises. In this Israel, a partial hardening has taken place, for not all were unresponsive to the message about Jesus Christ. Throughout the centuries, Jews have become his loyal disciples. The apostle, though, appears to have looked forward to the time when the partial hardening would end. This would be after the “fullness of the Gentiles” had come in or after they had become part of the “olive tree.” Seemingly, the proclamation of the glad tidings about Christ would then no longer result in more non-Jews coming to be believers. At that time, though, all those whom God regarded as Israel would come to believe in his Son. With these new Jewish believers coming to be part of the “olive tree” having both Jewish and non-Jewish branches, all that is truly Israel would be saved. (11:25, 26)
Paul did not explain just how this would take place, but he based his comments regarding the mystery on words from Isaiah 59:20, 21, and 27:9. The promised deliverer from Zion refers to the Messiah. This suggests that Christ’s return in glory may provide the opportunity for Jewish believers in God and his promises to accept him, and he, in his capacity as deliverer, would then remove impiety from Jacob. (11:26; see the Notes section.) This impiety may be their former unbelief. (Compare 1 Timothy 1:12, 13, where Paul describes his own situation before he became a believer.)
Isaiah 59:21 refers to God’s covenant with Israel, and Isaiah 27:9 (LXX) includes the words, “when I take away his sin.” It may be that Paul (11:27) also had in mind the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) when he chose to express the thought of the Scriptures with words from Isaiah 59:21 and 27:9.
With reference to the then-existing situation among the majority of the Jews, the apostle noted that, respecting the glad tidings, they were enemies for the sake of the non-Jews. This is because their unresponsiveness opened the door to faith in Jesus for the Gentiles to an extent that otherwise would not have been possible. On the basis of divine election or choosing, the Jews were beloved on account of their forefathers. (11:28) This did not change because so many of them persisted in unbelief, for God has no regrets in connection with his gracious gifts and calling. (11:29)
Paul reminded his non-Jewish brothers that they, too, had formerly been disobedient to God but had been shown mercy because of the disobedience of the Jews. (11:30) The unresponsiveness of the Jews had worked out as a blessing for the Gentiles. They became recipients of divine mercy upon embracing in faith the good news about Christ that was proclaimed to them.
Regarding his unbelieving Jewish brothers, Paul said, “Thus also they now have disobeyed with [resultant] mercy to you, that also they now [omitted in numerous manuscripts] may be shown mercy.” (11:31; see the Notes section.) Initial unbelief would not prevent Jews from becoming believers and being shown mercy as forgiven children of God.
Both Jews and non-Jews can have divine mercy extended to them. “For God has confined all in disobedience, that he might be merciful to all.” (11:32) He allowed both Jews and non-Jews to choose their own paths and to disregard his ways. Thus as disobedient persons, possessing no merit on their own, he can show them his mercy when they repent of their ways and put faith in his Son and the deliverance from sin he effected through his sacrificial death.
God’s gracious dealings with Jews and non-Jews prompted Paul to express praise, “O the depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable [are] his judgments and unfathomable his ways!” (11:33)
The riches in the form of mercy and gracious favor extended to sinful humans are incomprehensible. The wisdom and knowledge reflected in the outworking of his loving purpose for the human family are of incomparable greatness. His judgments give evidence of the kind of impartial justice that defies analysis. The ways in which he handles matters are humanly incomprehensible.
Paul backed up his expressions with words from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11 (or 41:2). “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become his counselor? Or who has first given to him and will have it recompensed to him [the giver]?” (11:34, 35; see the Notes section.)
No human has the capacity to grasp God’s mind. No one is in a position to give him any counsel or advice. As the Creator and Owner of everything, there is no gift that any human could present to him and, on that basis, be entitled to a repayment.
Everything exists “from him,” for he is the ultimate source. “Through him,” all things are sustained. They exist “for him,” serving his purpose. (11:36)
Rightly he deserves having “glory” or the greatest praise ascribed to him. That is how Paul felt, saying, “To him [be] the glory forever [literally, into the ages]. Amen [So be it].” (11:36)
Paul’s question (11:1) and his comment that God did not reject his people (11:2) reflect the language of Psalm 94:14 (93:14, LXX). The Septuagint reads, “Because the Lord will not reject his people, and he will not leave his inheritance.” This inclusion of “inheritance” may explain why the word replaces “people” in third-century P46 in Romans 11:1. The reading “people,” however, has the stronger manuscript support and is more likely to be original.
Romans 11:3 is not an exact quotation of 1 Kings 19:10, 14 (3 Kings 19:10, 14, LXX), but accurately conveys the thoughts Elijah expressed.
In Romans 11:6, many later manuscripts add, “But if it is from [literally, out of] works, it is no longer favor; otherwise work is no longer work.”
The oldest extant manuscript (P46) does not include the word “root” in Romans 11:17. It reads, “sharers of the fatness of the olive tree.”
In Romans 11:26, the quoted words are nearly identical to the reading of Isaiah 59:20 in the extant Septuagint text.
According to the literal Greek, Romans 11:31 reads, “Thus also these now have disobeyed to your mercy, that also they now might be shown mercy.” The preceding verse attributes the opportunity for mercy extended to the Gentiles to the disobedience of the Jews. So it would appear preferable to regard “to your mercy” as meaning to the resultant mercy shown to the Gentiles. Accordingly, just as mercy was extended to the disobedient Gentiles, mercy would be shown to the disobedient Jews. “So now they also have been disobedient at a time when you are receiving mercy; so that to them too there may now be mercy.” (Weymouth)
Some have interpreted this to mean that, through the mercy of believing Gentiles expressed by their sharing the glad tidings about Christ, Jews would be assisted to become believers. This appears to be less likely, as such a development would not particularly be associated with the time the “fullness” of the Gentiles would be brought in.
The wording of Romans 11:34 is closer to that of the Septuagint in Isaiah 40:13 than to the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. The Septuagint reads, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, and who has become his counselor? Who will instruct him?” The Masoretic Text says, “Who has assessed the spirit of YHWH, and who as his counselor has instructed him?” Numerous translators have understood the expression for “assessed” to mean “directed,” but the basic meaning of the word is “measure,” “calculate,” “estimate,” or “take the proportion of.” The pronoun “him,” with which the question ends, refers to YHWH. In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, however, the pronoun is feminine and applies to the “spirit.”
Translators have often departed from the reading of the Masoretic Text for Job 41:2, 3, or 11 (depending on how the verses are numbered). The literal reading of the Masoretic Text is closer to the wording of Romans 11:35 than is the extant text of the Septuagint. A literal reading of the Masoretic Text is, “Who has anticipated me that I should repay him?” The term here rendered “anticipated” has, on the basis of Romans 11:35, been regarded as meaning to be first with the giving of a gift, but the word can also denote “confronted.” The meaning “confronted” may explain why the Septuagint contains the Greek word for “resist” and thereafter differs from the reading of the Masoretic Text, “Who will resist me and endure ...?”
On the basis of the “compassion [plural in Greek] of God,” Paul exhorted his “brothers” or fellow believers about how they should be using their bodies. In response to the mercy they had been shown in being forgiven of their sins and adopted as God’s approved children, they should be motivated to present their bodies as living, holy, and well-pleasing sacrifices to him. (12:1)
Unlike animal sacrifices that required the death of the sacrificial victims, the bodies of believers are living sacrifices, with their whole life being devoted to the service of their heavenly Father. In all matters, whether in disposition, word, or deed, they should seek to bring praise to him. In presenting their bodies as “holy” sacrifices, Christ’s disciples would seek to avoid anything that could defile the purity of their outer or inner life. With their bodies employed fully in reflecting the identity of God’s children, believers would be presenting their bodies in a way that was pleasing or acceptable to him. Indicating that the proper use of the body involves mental assent, Paul added the words, “your reasonable service.” (12:1)
The rightly motivated response to divine compassion would call for a drastic change from a believer’s former life. Paul urged fellow believers not to be conformed to the then-existing age, not taking on the outward appearance of persons who had no relationship to God. Instead, they should seek a complete transformation that involved their whole being. This would be a “renewal” of the mind, a total change in outlook from that of persons whose lives centered on the mundane. With a mind made new, believers would be able to discern the will of God, rightly evaluating what was good, pleasing, and without defect in his sight. (12:2)
Although not specifically mentioned in the immediate context, the mind is renewed through the operation of God’s spirit on the believer. (Compare Romans 8:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:7, 8; Titus 3:5.) The renewed spirit-directed mind has a different view of self than does the unrenewed mind. Paul, on the basis of the gracious divine favor he had been granted, admonished fellow believers not to think more of themselves than was appropriate but to think with a sound, sensible or reasonable mind. Right thinking involved recognizing or valuing the measure of faith that God had apportioned to each believer. (12:3)
The apostle could speak of the favor he had been granted. Though formerly a persecutor, a blasphemer, and an arrogant man while blind in unbelief, he had been forgiven and entrusted with an apostleship to the Gentiles. So he could admonish on the basis of who he had become (an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ) through gracious divine favor. (1 Corinthians 15:9, 10; Timothy 1:13)
“The measure of faith” (as verse 6 indicates) relates to the faith expressed in the use of the divinely granted spiritual gifts within the community of believers. These gifts differ. With their varied use being intimately associated with it, faith can be understood as having been divinely apportioned to the individual believer according to measure. (12:3)
The human body is a united whole made up of many members or parts. Each part has its own function. “So,” Paul continued, “we, [though] many, [are] one body in Christ” and, individually, fellow members of this body (literally, “each one members of one another”). Just as the human body parts do not all have the same function but are essential for the body as a whole, so also, in the body of the Christ, the individual members have different gifts to be used for the benefit of the entire community of believers. (12:4, 5)
These “gifts” were in possession of Christ’s disciples on account of gracious divine favor. Commenting on the use of these gifts, Paul continued, “Whether prophecy, in proportion to faith; whether service, in service; whether the teacher, in teaching; whether the admonisher, in admonishing; whether [not included in all manuscripts] the distributor, in sincerity; the presider, in eagerness, the merciful one, in cheerfulness.” (12:6-8)
In the first-century community of believers, prophets did at times foretell future events pertinent to fellow believers. Primarily, though, they made known God’s will and edified, encouraged, consoled, and strengthened fellow disciples of Christ. (Acts 11:27-29; 15:32; 21:10, 11; 1 Corinthians 14:3) Prophets were men of remarkable faith (Acts 11:22-24; 13:1), and so their ministering to fellow believers should have been reflective of their strong personal faith, trust, or confidence in God, his Son, and the revealed divine will. (12:6)
Service principally relates to looking after the material needs of fellow disciples of Christ. (12:7) Those serving would see to it that poor widows in their midst were provided with food and other essentials, and they would make arrangements to aid fellow believers who were impoverished on account of natural disasters or persecution. (Acts 6:1-6; 11:28-30; 24:17; Romans 15:25-28; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:1-5; Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 10:32-34) In performing their service, those ministering were to do so as humble servants, faithfully discharging their trust in an exemplary manner. (Acts 6:3-6, 8; 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12, 13)
Teachers among believers were to convey the message found in the holy writings and to impart knowledge in harmony with Jesus’ example and teaching. (12:7; 1 Timothy 4:6; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:1, 2, 14-16; 3:14-17; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 6, 7) Regarding the manner in which Paul had discharged his teaching responsibility, he reminded the elders of the congregation in Ephesus, “I am clean from the blood of all, for I did not shrink back from declaring the whole will [purpose or counsel] of God to you.” (Acts 20:26, 27) He and other teachers also exposed erroneous teaching that would have been destructive to the faith of fellow believers.
The Greek word for “admonish” (parakaléo) literally means to “call beside” or to “call to one’s side.” As a gift for the benefit of fellow disciples of Christ, parakaléo can refer to encouraging, comforting, exhorting, urging, imploring, or entreating. (12:8) Whereas teaching is the primary way for imparting knowledge, exhortation is more focused on motivating, encouraging, comforting, or inciting to action.
The context does not identify the nature of the distributing, giving, imparting, or sharing. (12:8) In other passages, the Greek word metadídomi relates to imparting a spiritual gift or the good news or sharing essentials with the needy. (Job 31:17, LXX; Proverbs 11:26, LXX; Luke 3:11; Romans 1:11; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 2:8) Regardless of what may be distributed, imparted, or given, this should be done with the right motive. It should be an expression of sincere love. The Greek term for “sincerity” (haplótes) applies to that which is “single,” simple, uncomplicated, or pure. The term has been rendered “liberality” or “generosity,” but this is not a significance inherent in the Greek word.
Presiding or functioning as a leader (literally, “standing before”) pertains mainly to caring for, showing concern for, or rendering aid to others. In the use of this gift, those who preside should be quick to respond to the needs of fellow believers. The Greek term for “eagerness” (spoudé) basically denotes “haste” or “speediness” and, in this context, can describe one who would be eager, earnest, diligent, or willing conscientiously to look after the welfare of fellow disciples of Christ. (12:8)
Help or service that is an expression of mercy or compassion should be rendered cheerfully. When those who give of themselves do so, not out of a sense of duty, but gladly and wholeheartedly, this has an upbuilding effect on the recipients. They are made to feel like valued members of the community of believers. (12:8)
The apostle’s emphasis on the importance of all gifts and their right use parallels the admonition of 1 Peter 4:10 (REB): “As good stewards of the varied gifts given you by God, let each use the gift he has received in service to others.”
In addition to using their gifts for the benefit of others, believers also need to conduct themselves as God’s beloved and obedient children in their daily life. This is the focus of Paul’s exhortation in the verses that follow.
Believers are to manifest unhypocritical love. In ancient Greek writings, the term hypokrités (hypocrite) is commonly used to designate a stage actor. Accordingly, hypocrites would be persons who play a part, make an outward show, pretend, or dissemble, hiding their real motives as with a mask (like ancient actors wore during their performances). Love that is unhypocritical would be genuine, an expression of deep concern and care that is actively responsive to the needs of others. (12:9) This love is not a mere utterance of the lips. Those rendering kindly deeds would do so with a pure motive, not boasting nor seeking to gain praise from observers. (1 Corinthians 13:3; 1 John 3:18)
Believers should abhor what is wicked, loathing everything that is out of harmony with or in opposition to God’s ways. Instead, they should cling to what is good, being attached as with glue to everything that is divinely approved. Their devotion to what is good would be evident from their noble and pure conduct. (12:9)
Christ’s disciples are members of a family of “brothers,” with all enjoying an equal standing as approved “sons of God.” It is obligatory, therefore, that they display the brotherly affection for one another that would be characteristic of the love existing in an exemplary family. (12:10)
As members of the family of God’s children, believers are encouraged to take the initiative in showing honor to others, taking the lead in actions that would demonstrate that they highly valued them. (12:10) This would include being willing to perform lowly service for fellow believers in response to needs. (Luke 22:26; John 13:12-17) Honor would also be shown when not insisting on personal rights but refraining from doing things that could be hurtful to disciples of Christ with conscientious scruples. (1 Corinthians 10:23-33)
With reference to being quick to act for the good of others or diligent in performing essential work, believers should not be idle, lazy, or indolent. (12:11; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Disciples of Christ are urged to be “on fire,” “boiling,” or “glowing” in relation to the spirit. This could mean that their own spirit or inner inclination should be eager or strongly impelled to please the heavenly Father. Another possible significance is that believers should be aglow with God’s spirit, earnestly striving to be guided thereby. (12:11)
Their Master or Owner is Christ, who bought them with his precious blood. So, in all that they do, believers are to serve him. (12:11; see the Notes section.)
Their hope of being united with Christ and coming to enjoy the sinless state as his Father’s beloved children provides them good reason for rejoicing. Before that hope is fulfilled, believers experience tribulation, suffering, or distress in a world at enmity with God. That is why Paul included the exhortation for them to be “patient in distress,” faithfully enduring their trials without giving up or resorting to means for relief that would be divinely disapproved. They should continue to look to the heavenly Father for help and guidance, persevering in prayer. (12:12)
Many believers became impoverished on account of persecution or other adversities. This provided fellow disciples of Christ with opportunities to heed Paul’s counsel to contribute to the needs of these afflicted holy ones. Their “holy” or pure standing before God was based on their faith in him and his Son. Especially when persecution resulted in scattering believers, there was a need for fellow believers who did not know them to extend hospitality, providing food and shelter for them. The Greek term for “hospitality” (philoxenía) literally means “love of strangers.” (12:13)
In their disposition toward their persecutors, Christ’s disciples were encouraged to “bless” them, not seeking to injure them but continuing to treat them with consideration and kindness. The blessing would be particularly linked to the hope that their persecutors would change and become recipients of God’s blessing. Instead of cursing their persecutors, wishing them harm, believers would continue to bless them in the sense of desiring the change that would result in the greatest good coming to them. (12:14)
Devoted disciples of God’s Son were to reflect fellow feeling for others, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. (12:15) To rejoice with others would mean fully to enter their joy as if it were one’s own. The successes or good things others may experience would not give rise to envy but would result in shared happiness. Weeping with persons who weep would signify becoming a sympathetic sharer in their sorrow, doing whatever one can to provide comfort and to contribute to the mitigation of their sadness.
Regarding their relationship to one another, Paul admonished believers to think “the same to one another,” and not to think loftily (literally, “not to be thinking the high things”) but to associate with the lowly. The thought appears to be that believers should treat everyone in a considerate and loving manner and thus preserve peace and harmony among themselves. For one to look down on those from humble circumstances would be contrary to the example Jesus set, for he responded with love and compassion to the lowly and downtrodden. As part of the family of God’s beloved children, the lowly deserve to be treated impartially and given loving attention. (12:16)
Translators have variously paraphrased Paul’s words. “Live in harmony with one another. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people.” (J. B. Phillips) “Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant.” (NCV) “Give the same consideration to all others alike. Pay no regard to social standing, but meet humble people on their own terms.” (NJB)
There is a possibility that “lowly ones” refers to “lowly things,” for the Greek word here (tapeinoís) is both a masculine and a neuter form of the plural pronominal adjective. When the reference is understood to be to “lowly things,” the admonition would be for one not to have an exalted view of oneself, looking at serving others in some menial way as beneath one’s dignity. “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but give yourselves to humble tasks.” (NRSV, footnote) “Have full sympathy with one another. Do not give your mind to high things, but let humble ways content you.” (Weymouth)
The apostle added, “Do not become wise to yourselves.” Believers were not to regard themselves as wise in their own estimation, attaching undue weight to their opinions and looking down on those who did not measure up to their standards. (12:16)
When others do them harm, Christ’s disciples are not to be vengeful, seeking to retaliate. They are not to repay the one who injured them with evil. (12:17)
Believers should take into consideration what others think, making sure that “in the sight of all men” or all persons their actions are good, commendable, or noble. (12:17) A literal reading of the Greek text is elliptical (“thinking beforehand good [things] before all men”), and this has given rise to a variety of renderings. “Try to do what everyone thinks is right.” (NCV) “Take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” (NRSV) “Let your aims be such as all count honourable.” (REB) “Try to earn the respect of others.” (CEV) “Bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect.” (NJB) “Don’t say, ‘It doesn’t matter what people think,’ but see that your public behavior is above criticism.” (J. B. Phillips) “Take thought for what is right and seemly in every one’s esteem.” (Weymouth)
The Greek text is an echo of the Septuagint reading of Proverbs 3:4, “Think beforehand [on] good [things] before the Lord and men.” In this case (as also in Romans 12:17), the Greek word for “think beforehand” (pronoéo) could mean “provide.” So Paul’s admonition could mean that, instead of repaying evil, the believer should be providing or doing things that are good in the estimation of all. Bemüht euch darum, allen Menschen Gutes zu tun. (Strive to do good to all people.) (Neue Genfer Übersetzung [German], footnote; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
As far as depends on Christ’s disciples, they should aim to be at peace with all persons. In word and action, they should not be responsible for discord, conflict, wrangling, or heated arguments. (12:18)
Addressing fellow believers as “beloved,” Paul exhorted them not to avenge themselves, retaliating when reviled or subjected to unjust treatment. Instead of taking matters into their own hands, they were to look to the heavenly Father, giving “place to [his] wrath.” This would be in keeping with his assurance (Deuteronomy 32:35), “Vengeance [is] mine; I will repay.” (12:19)
Focusing on the right action toward those who act hatefully, Paul quoted from Proverbs 25:21, 22, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For by doing this, you will heap fiery coals on his head.” A kindly response to an enemy’s need may have an impact on him comparable to the adding of fiery coals on top of ore that is being refined. He may come to be ashamed about his hateful treatment. Instead of continuing to be hostile, his good qualities may come to the fore, leading to repentance and a changed disposition. (12:20)
When doing good to those who may have treated them hatefully or unfairly, believers gain a moral victory, one that can result in spiritual blessings to observers and former opposers. Wisely, they heed the apostle’s admonition, “Do not be defeated by the bad, but defeat the bad with the good.” (12:21) For one to retaliate would signify that bad has made its conquest. But when the individual does good in response to bad, his good action triumphs over evil.
In Romans 12:11, the opening phrase literally reads, “To haste [spoudé, diligence, zeal, earnestness, eagerness, or speediness], not indolent.” Depending on which meaning for spoudé has been adopted translators have variously rendered the introductory phrase of verse 11. “Do not lag in zeal.” (NRSV) “Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work.” (J. B. Phillips) “Do not be lazy but work hard.” (NCV) Seid nicht träge in dem, was ihr tun sollt. (Do not be indolent in that which you should do.) (Luther, 1984 revision [German]) “Do not be indolent when zeal is required.” (Weymouth)
Instead of the dative form of “Lord” (kyrío) in Romans 12:11, a number of manuscripts have the dative form of “time” (kairó). For one to “serve” the appropriate “time,” however, is not a thought that finds any parallel in the rest of the Scriptures and appears to be an error.
For Romans 12:17, certain manuscripts have an expanded reading that may have been drawn from Proverbs 3:4 and 2 Corinthians 8:21. The expanded wording for the phrase “before all men” is either “before God and all men” or “not only before God but also before all men.”
Every “soul” or person should respectfully submit to the higher or governing authorities. This is because there is “no authority except by God,” the existing authorities having been placed by him. (13:1; see the Notes section.) Although the various ruling positions are human creations, they exist by God’s permission, providing essential services that benefit communities as a whole and maintaining law and order. God has “placed” these ruling authorities in the sense that he has granted humans the freedom to devise means of governing sizable populations to prevent destructive anarchy, which would be contrary to his purpose for the continuance of a measure of stability in human society. (13:1; compare 1 Peter 2:13, 14.)
Under the present circumstances, governments, despite their varied flaws, are needed for societies to function properly, and God has not instituted any other arrangement. Therefore, for believers to rise up in revolt against existing authorities would mean taking a stand against an arrangement God has seen fit to exist. Persons who would oppose the ruling powers would bring adverse judgment or punishment upon themselves. (13:2)
Governmental authorities have the power to enforce laws and regulations. So, as Paul noted, rulers are an object of fear, as they are in a position to inflict punishment. The authority to punish is not employed against those who conduct themselves according to what rulers consider to be good. For persons who engage in practices that have been decreed as bad, however, individuals in positions of authority are an object of fear. Lawless ones know that, if they are caught, they will be punished. (13:3)
Paul raised the rhetorical question, “Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?” The implied answer is that this would not be the desirable course. Far better it would be for one to respect the power of those who exercise authority and to do good, resulting in “praise” or commendation for exemplary conduct from rulers or officials. (13:3)
Believers benefit from the existing governmental arrangements that operate by divine permission. Accordingly, the ruling authority, as Paul expressed it, is a “servant of God” for the “good” of disciples of Christ. If believers were to practice what is bad, they would have reason to be in fear of punishment. The ruling authority “bears the sword,” representative of the power to impose penalties, including capital punishment. Many of the existing laws that serve to maintain stable societies are in harmony with God’s ways. Therefore, when bringing lawbreakers to justice, the ruling authority, through its officials, functions as God’s servant in directing wrathful punishment against them. (13:4)
For believers, the necessity of being submissive to governmental authority is not just a matter of “fear,” wanting to avoid punishment. In view of their relationship to God and his purpose to let governing authorities function to preserve law and order, they should also be submissive on account of “conscience,” their internal sense that this is the right thing to do as his obedient children. (13:5)
In order to carry out their essential functions, governmental authorities need funds. For this reason, believers are to be conscientious in paying tax or tribute (phóros), doing so with a noble spiritual reason in mind. They recognize that the ruling authorities are rendering a service that harmonizes with God’s will and, in that sense, they are his servants. (13:6)
In their relationship to rulers and governmental officials, Christ’s disciples should pay them their due. “Tribute” (phóros), “tax” (télos) or any other kind of required fee or toll should be paid. Proper fear or respect should be shown to rulers and officials, and they should be honored in keeping with the dignity of their respective positions. (13:7; see the Notes section.)
When it comes to rendering rightful dues to others, disciples of God’s Son should not be owing anyone anything besides loving one another, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (13:8) Love is the foundation of the law God gave to the Israelites, for the commands relating to relationships with fellow humans promote just, caring, and compassionate treatment. Persons who are motivated to act out of love seek the welfare of fellow humans. The commands not to commit adultery, murder or theft, and not to covet, and any other commandment of like nature is summed up in the one command (quoted from Leviticus 19:18, LXX), “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (13:9; see the Notes section.)
Heeding the command to love one’s fellows means seeking their welfare and not doing them injury. Love anticipates avoiding the kind of harm to others that laws are designed to prevent through enforceable punishment. As the apostle Paul added, “Love does not work evil to [one’s] neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” By not harming fellow humans but being genuinely concerned about their welfare, persons who are governed by love fulfill the very purpose for which laws governing communities or societies are enacted. (13:10)
In the case of believers, love should be motivating them in all their conduct. Paul next stressed the reason for this. The coming of Christ and the laying down of his life in sacrifice proved to be the development that was to usher in a new day. So believers did “know the time.” It was an “hour” for them to be awake from sleep and not to be in a state of spiritual slumber associated with a life lacking in love. Their salvation or complete deliverance from sin and the attainment of the eternal life in the sinless state was nearer than when they first became believers. (13:11; see the Notes section.)
The night where loveless deeds are committed under the cover of darkness and where hatred and ignorance prevail was coming to an end, and the day the Son of God had made possible through his sacrificial death was drawing near. That day would be one where the hateful words, attitudes, and actions associated with darkness would cease, with love being the motivating power. Therefore, Paul urged fellow believers to rid themselves of the “works of darkness” and to equip themselves with the “weapons of light.” (13:12) Armed with weaponry that protects and defends what is right and pure, believers would be in a position to resist involvement in the “works of darkness,” the hateful attitudes, words, and actions that existed in the world of mankind alienated from God.
Disciples of God's Son should be conducting themselves as is appropriate for the day, having nothing to hide under the cover of darkness. The orgies, excessive drinking, sexual immorality, unrestrained debauchery, strife or rivalry, and jealousy that were common in the Greco-Roman world needed to be completely banished from the life of believers. (13:13)
Instead, they were to clothe themselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. So fully was their way of life to be reflective of the Son of God who set the example in the display of matchless love that it would be as if he was their identifying attire. This would put believers in a position to act on Paul’s further exhortation, “Do not make prior provision for the desires of the flesh.” As imitators of God’s Son, his disciples would not yield to the improper cravings of their sinful flesh and plan for ways to satisfy those base desires. (13:14)
The Book of Wisdom (thought to have been written in the first century BCE; preserved in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus) contains a passage that somewhat parallels Romans 13:1. Addressing kings and judges, Wisdom 6:3 (NRSV) says, “For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High.”
In Romans 13:6, 7, the terms that designate types of “tax” were common in the Greco-Roman world, but their precise meaning is not known today. It appears that phóros applied to the tribute tax that the people of various nations under the dominion of Rome were required to pay as subjects of the Roman Empire. It may have been levied on houses, land, and persons. The term télos may have been applied to customs duties, tolls, and other direct or indirect taxes.
Numerous manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, add the command about not bearing false witness. (Romans 13:9) The quoted words in verse 9 are the same as in the extant Septuagint text of Deuteronomy 5:17-21. The order of the commands is different in the Septuagint reading of Exodus 20:13-17.
In Romans 13:11, manuscripts vary in reading either “you” or “we” in relation to being awake from sleep.
Paul urged fellow believers to be accepting of or welcoming to those in their midst who were not sufficiently grounded in the faith to have a sure conscience in relation to aspects associated with former beliefs and practices. In this context, faith does not pertain to belief in God and Christ, but the individual’s life of faith that is no longer subject to specific requirements regarding food and the observance of specific days as holy. On account of their past beliefs and practices, believers with a weak conscience had scruples and felt inwardly impelled to abstain from certain food (for example, meat that may have been offered to an idol prior to its having been sold) or to observe specific days. When being accepting, disciples of God’s Son were to avoid passing judgments regarding the reasoning or opinion of others about such matters. (14:1)
In the community of believers, one person might have the faith or confidence that everything was acceptable for food. Someone else, though, might be “weak,” unable to believe that everything could be eaten. Having scruples about eating meat, the individual would only eat vegetables. (14:2)
To be accepting of one another, believers needed to guard against being judgmental in matters that were unrelated to faith in God and Christ. Those who chose to eat a certain food were not to be contemptuous of those who did not. They were not to look down upon others as unduly scrupulous. Disciples of Jesus Christ who refrained from eating needed to avoid judging those who did eat as having made themselves guilty of sin. God has accepted both the one eating and the one who refrains from eating, and so believers should have the same welcoming spirit toward one another. (14:3)
All believers are servants of God and Christ. Therefore, regarding their relationship to one another, Paul raised the question, “Who are you to judge someone else’s domestic servant?” Such judging is the exclusive prerogative of the master. The apostle continued, “Before his own master [or lord] he stands [as approved] or falls [as disapproved].” With apparent reference to the believer, the apostle spoke with assurance, “But he will stand [or be upheld so as to remain in an approved condition], for the Lord [God, in other manuscripts] can make him stand.” Both the Father and the Son can provide the help that is needed for believers to remain in an acceptable condition. (14:4)
When it came to the observance of days, some believers regarded certain days as special. Others viewed all days in the same way. Instead of making an issue about this difference, believers should allow all to be persuaded in their own mind. (14:5)
As disciples of Christ, those who observe a specific day do so to him as their Lord. Later manuscripts include the parallel thought that the one who does not observe the day is refraining from such observance for him. Those who eat, eat to the Lord, for they give thanks to God. Their prayer of thanksgiving directed to the Father for the provision of food is made in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so the subsequent eating is done in recognition of Jesus as Lord. Likewise, the one who does not eat a particular food is abstaining for the Lord and gives thanks to God. (14:6)
As far as believers are concerned, they do not live for themselves or die for themselves. This is because they recognize Jesus as their Lord who bought them with his precious blood. (14:7)
Therefore, as Paul continued, “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. If, then, we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (14:8) There is never a time when the believer does not belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. By his own sacrificial death, he purchased all, both living and dead. Now that he lives, Jesus Christ is the Lord of all whom he has purchased. So, as Paul expressed it, “For this purpose Christ died and lived [again (‘rose up,’ according to later manuscripts)], that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (14:9)
Believers are accountable to Jesus Christ as their Lord, and his judgment perfectly reflects that of his Father. By means of his question regarding judging, Paul made it clear that a disciple of Jesus Christ is not the one who has the right to judge his brother in the matters under consideration nor is he entitled to despise or look down upon his brother. Ultimately, all must stand before God’s judgment seat (Christ’s judgment seat, according to later manuscripts). (14:10)
Paul used words in Isaiah (49:18 and 45:23, LXX) to provide evidence from the holy writings regarding accountability to the heavenly Father. “[As] I live, says the Lord, to me every knee will bow, and every tongue will make acknowledgment to God.” The expression, “I live,” is a solemn declaration indicating the certainty of all bowing before the Most High in submission and making acknowledgment of him, which would include his role as judge. (14:11) Applying the quoted words, Paul continued, “So, then, each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” (14:12; the Greek words for “then” and “God” are omitted in numerous manuscripts.) The recognition that all will have to render an account to God should serve to restrain one from judging or condemning others regarding foods and the observance of special days.
Instead of judging his “brother,” a believer should be very concerned about not putting a stumbling block or an obstacle before him. Great care needs to be exercised not to do anything that could wound the conscience of a brother, causing him to stray from the right course. (14:13)
As a believer who was “in” or at one with Christ, Paul knew and was convinced that “nothing” (with apparent reference to food) is “unclean in itself.” The item would only be unclean to the person who considered it to be such. (14:14) According to Jesus’ teaching, defilement does not result from what enters the mouth but from what proceeds from the inmost self of the individual. (Mark 7:15, 18-23) Based on what Jesus taught, Paul knew for a certainty that uncleanness did not result from eating a particular food but from yielding to wrong desires. The manner in which individuals came to view certain food, however, would determine whether it could be eaten or should be rejected as unclean.
In the community of believers, not all thought alike regarding matters of this nature, for the former background of the individual disciples and their personal growth varied and had a marked effect on their consciences. This required showing consideration for others and not insisting on doing what one might have the right to do when the specific action could be very troubling to a fellow believer. For a disciple of Christ to grieve or trouble a brother on account of the food he ate would mean that he was not “walking” or conducting himself in a manner consistent with love. Therefore, Paul added, “Do not by what you eat ruin the one for whom Christ died.” (14:15) The brother is precious to the Son of God. The fellow believer belongs to Christ as one for whom he surrendered his life. So this fellow believer should rightly be shown loving consideration.
In certain cases, what is good or bad is a matter of personal perception. In itself, there may be nothing wrong in partaking of a certain food, but others may regard doing so as sinful. Whenever the potential exists that something that is good or in itself acceptable could be condemned, Paul gave the exhortation, “Do not [therefore (not in all manuscripts)] let your good be blasphemed.” (14:16) Believers should refrain from engaging in any unnecessary activity that would give occasion for others to speak abusively of them.
The “kingdom of God” (the realm where God is recognized as Sovereign) does not have its focus on matters related to eating and drinking. Coming under God’s rulership involves “righteousness” or upright living, “peace” or the promotion and preservation of good relationships, and “joy in holy spirit.” The phrase “in holy spirit” may be understood to mean that the joy, or the inward sense of happiness as a beloved child of God, comes from having his holy spirit. Another possibility is that the holy spirit is the source of the righteousness, peace, and joy existing among those who are submissive to God’s rule in their lives. (14:17)
Believers who pursue the righteousness, peace, and joy that are the focus of the “kingdom of God” or his rule are slaving for Christ. As a result, they are pleasing to God and have the approval or respect of men or people generally. (14:18)
Depending on which manuscript reading is being followed, the reference is either to what disciples of God’s Son are doing (“we are pursuing the things of peace and the things [that are] upbuilding to one another”) or should be doing (“let us pursue the things of peace and the things [that are] upbuilding to one another”). To be pleasing to God and to enjoy the respect of fellow humans, believers should be found acting in a manner that contributes to and preserves peace and does not give rise to conflict, quarreling, or heated arguments. Their showing consideration for others out of love for them would have an upbuilding or encouraging effect. Believers would not be tearing others down, not giving rise to grievances by insisting on rights without giving any thought to how others might be affected. (14:19)
The “work of God” is what he is doing by means of his spirit, promoting the spiritual growth of believers. Therefore, any disregard for the conscientious feelings of fellow believers and becoming responsible for causing grief would be contrary to the divine working. To thus harm a brother would mean to tear down the very work that God is carrying out by means of his spirit. Accordingly, Paul urged, “Do not tear down the work of God on account of what is eaten.” While everything may be “clean” or acceptable for food, it would be wrong for a believer to eat something and thereby to cause a fellow believer to experience a spiritual fall. This falling could be through the individual’s being emboldened to act in a manner contrary to his own conscience or to being so grieved as to cease yielding to the guidance of God’s spirit. (14:20)
Disciples of Jesus Christ should make every effort to avoid stumbling anyone and thus prevent spiritual harm. “It is good not to eat meat nor to drink wine nor [to do] anything over which your brother trips.” (14:21) After the Greek word rendered “trips,” numerous later manuscripts add, “is made to stumble, or is weak.” Whenever allowances can be made for the conscientious feelings of others in any matter, believers would do so in expression of their love.
In their life of faith, disciples of God’s Son are in various stages of spiritual progress. Of necessity, therefore, the faith or conviction they may have respecting certain matters (like those Paul mentioned) would differ. These matters should not be made an issue among believers. The apostle gave the admonition, “The faith you have, have it according to yourself before God. Fortunate is the one who does not judge himself by what he approves.” (14:22)
This could mean that, in matters such as food, drink, and the observance of certain days, the faith believers have is their own, not someone else’s, and it is between them and God. A number of translations make this explicit in their renderings of Romans 14:22. “What you believe about these things should be kept between you and God.” (CEV) “Your personal convictions are a matter of faith between yourself and God.” (J. B. Phillips) “Keep the faith [that] you have to yourself in the presence of God.” (NAB) “If you have some firm conviction, keep it between yourself and God.” (REB) “You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God.” (NLT)
In Romans 14:22, the first phrase about faith may also (on the basis of the oldest extant manuscripts) be understood as a question. “You have faith? According to yourself, have it before God.” The meaning could be that the individual should keep hold of faith as a personal possession in God’s sight. “Within yourself, before God, hold on to what you already believe.” (NJB) Possibly this signifies that faith is a possession to be retained as one that God highly values. Even more important (as the context suggests) is letting love be the governing principle. This significance would harmonize with Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 13:2) that he would be nothing if he had the faith to move mountains but did not have love.
Believers who do not judge or condemn themselves after doing things they initially approved are fortunate. Self-doubts do not trouble them afterward, causing them to feel that they actually sinned when pursuing a certain course of action. (14:22)
The situation with those who have qualms about whether it would be right for them to do something and who then go ahead despite their doubts do not enjoy this desirable state of well-being. If, as Paul noted, the person with qualms about eating did eat, he would not be acting “out of faith.” The faith, trust, or conviction that he was doing the right thing would be lacking. Paul concluded with the principle, “Everything that is not out of faith is sin.” When individuals handle matters in a manner that does not leave them with a clear conscience, they end up with a sense of uneasiness about having done what is wrong. Any action that is not based on the conviction of faith proves to be sin, a failure to live up to the individual’s own internal sense of what is right and wrong. (14:23)
In relation to “weak” fellow believers, those who are “strong” would be those who recognize to a fuller extent the kind of freedom that faith in Christ and his sacrificial death has brought about. They would not have scruples about eating, drinking, observing certain days, or engaging in any other activities that in themselves are not morally defiling. Their “weaker” brothers, through the conditioning resulting from past beliefs and practices, would have scruples about acts that are not wrong in themselves. Their consciences would be sensitive regarding aspects of life that posed no problem for those who were strong. Therefore, the strong ones were obligated to show consideration for their weaker brothers. Including himself among the strong, Paul said, “We, the strong, are obligated to bear the weaknesses of the ones who are not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves.” (15:1)
For one to bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong would mean being considerate of their limitations, refraining from any activity that, though not wrong in itself, could seriously trouble them and injure them spiritually. Believers who are strong would act, not to please themselves in doing what they had the right to do, but would, out of love, show regard for the sensitive consciences of their weaker brothers and conduct themselves accordingly. (15:1)
Within the community of believers, all should be concerned about doing what would be pleasing to the “neighbor” or the fellow believer, wanting to do the things that are for his good and thereby to build him up. This would contribute to his being strengthened to continue conducting himself as a disciple of God’s Son. (15:2)
Paul called attention to the fact that Christ had set the example in not pleasing himself and backed this up with a quotation from Psalm 69:9 (68:10, LXX), “The reproaches of those reproaching you have fallen on me.” (15:3; see the Notes section.) God’s unique Son did not act in his own interests but willingly gave up his glory as his Father’s intimate and lived as a man subjected to misrepresentation, insult, and abuse, finally to die a shameful death like that of a vile criminal. (Philippians 2:5-8) While on earth, Jesus Christ conveyed his Father’s teaching and faithfully carried out the work his Father had commissioned him to do. Therefore, when Jesus was insulted (as when accused of expelling demons by the ruler of the demons), this meant that his Father, who had sent him, was also being reproached. The force of that reproach, however, fell fully on Jesus.
Paul’s quotation came from the writings that fellow believers regarded as holy. Commenting on their value, he continued, “For whatever was written formerly was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the comfort of the [holy] writings we might have hope.” (15:4) In keeping with this principle, the apostle had quoted the psalmist’s words. These words served as instruction for the strong ones to put the interests of others ahead of their own, imitating Christ by choosing to act in a manner that might not have suited personal preference but that contributed to the good of fellow believers. In thus being willing to endure for the sake of others and taking comfort in the assurances found in the sacred writings that this was the right course, believers would have hope, specifically the hope of entering the fullness of their reward upon being found approved in the sight of God and Christ.
The apostle’s reference to the God of endurance and of comfort (paráklesis) denotes that God is the source of the believers’ endurance and comfort. He is the one who enables them to endure in faithfulness and, by means of his spirit and the holy writings, provides them with needed comfort when having to deal with difficult circumstances. (15:5)
Paul’s prayer for fellow believers was that God would grant them the capacity to think the same toward one another “according to Christ Jesus, that they might unitedly with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (15:5, 6) This sameness of thought may relate to their having consideration for one another, not allowing conscientious scruples or the lack thereof to cause divisions among them as a family of God’s children. “According to Christ” may signify in harmony with Christ’s example of not pleasing himself. It could also include the thought of heeding Christ’s teaching in every aspect of life. With all believers striving to preserve unity as beloved members of the same spiritual family, they would be in position to glorify the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ unitedly as with one mouth.
Believers should be accepting of one another, manifesting the welcoming spirit that Christ has manifested for all of them. He died for them and, on the basis of their faith in him and what he accomplished through his death, acknowledges them as his brothers. When believers imitate the Son of God in their treatment of one another as beloved members of the same family, they glorify or bring praise to their heavenly Father. They demonstrate that they are truly his children, manifesting the same kind of love that his unique Son has shown and continues to show. (15:7; see the Notes section.)
Whereas Jesus accepted or welcomed both Jews and non-Jews who responded to him in faith, he focused on the Jews during his time on earth. Commenting on the reason for this, Paul continued, “For I say, Christ became a servant to the circumcised for the truth of God in order to confirm the promises [expressed] to the forefathers.” (15:8) When ministering among the Jews, Jesus Christ revealed his Father to be absolutely trustworthy. He, as the seed of promise, fulfilled God’s word to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the Messianic seed would come through their line of descent and that, through him, peoples of all nations would be blessed. (Genesis 17:15-21; 22:17; 28:13, 14; compare Luke 1:68-75) Thus Jesus served for the “truth of God,” undeniably establishing that his Father’s promises to the Jewish forefathers had proved to be deserving of complete confidence.
When sending his Son to be born as a human and to live and serve among the Jews, he demonstrated his compassion for them. Through his Son and faith in him and the benefits of his sacrificial death, they would be forgiven of their sins and come to be his approved children. Gentiles who came to recognize this expression of divine mercy would be moved to glorify or praise God for the mercy he had shown. Paul referred to the holy writings to indicate that this purpose was served when Christ ministered to the Jews. He quoted from Psalm 18:49 (17:50, LXX) “Therefore, I will acknowledge you among the nations, and I will sing praises to your name.” (15:9)
In the case of the psalmist, he acknowledged YHWH as the one who had delivered him from his enemies and gratefully raised his voice with joyful praise. That deliverance was an expression of God’s mercy. Likewise, in the case of Jesus, what he taught and did in obedience to his Father’s will, revealed his Father’s compassion. Jesus did not personally go to the non-Jewish peoples to testify about his Father and to praise him, but he did so through his disciples. They made known his acknowledgment and praise of his Father.
Paul also quoted from Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX), “Rejoice, O nations, with his people.” Because of what God would do for his people and the blessings that would result, the non-Jewish peoples would have reason to be glad. In the context of Deuteronomy, the execution of divine justice and manifestation of divine mercy through the atonement for the “land of his people” (or God’s “land and his people”) would occasion the rejoicing. Likewise, God’s arrangement for being forgiven of sins and for coming to be reconciled to him through his Son involves both mercy and justice. (15:10; see the Notes section.)
The apostle quoted a similar passage from Psalm 117:1 (116:1, LXX), “Praise the Lord [YHWH, Masoretic Text], all [you] nations, and let all the peoples praise him.” According to this psalm, the reason for all the peoples to praise YHWH is what he has done for his people. Though Israel often failed to live in harmony with his ways, he continued to be dependable and true to his word and promises. Fittingly, therefore, the apostle used the words of the psalmist to show that people of all the nations should praise God for his mercy to his people. (15:11)
Paul concluded with a quotation from Isaiah 11:10 (LXX), “[There] will be the root of Jesse, and [meaning ‘even’ (based on context)] the one rising up to rule nations; on him, nations will hope.” (15:12; see the Notes section.) By natural descent, Jesus was born in the royal line of David. The royal line existed then in obscurity, resembling a mere “stump.” (Isaiah 11:1) That stump had its root in David’s father Jesse. From this root, Jesus, the foretold Messianic ruler of nations, did come. People of the nations who responded in faith rested their hope on him. They looked forward to the time when they would be united with him and enjoy the magnificent freedom of God’s approved children in the sinless state.
The apostle continued with a prayerful expression directed to the ultimate source of the believers’ hope, the fulfillment of which is bound up with Jesus Christ and what he accomplished through his sacrificial death. “[May] the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, in order that you may abound in the hope by the power of holy spirit.” (15:13; see the Notes section.)
Paul based his prayerful expression on his knowing that those to whom he addressed his letter were believers. His desire for them was that God, the source of their hope, would fill them with joy and peace. This included the joy stemming from their full awareness that they were their heavenly Father’s approved children and recipients of his love and care. Peace would be the inner sense of well-being from the assurance that he would continue to aid, guide, and sustain them in their walk of faith. Their hope in seeing the fulfillment of all that God had promised to them as his children would abound, flourishing and growing, because of the powerful working of his spirit within them.
In this letter, Paul had directed strong admonition to believers in Rome, many of whom he did not know personally. It appears that he did not want them to conclude that they were seriously lacking and without believers in their midst who were in position to provide spiritual aid to others.
Addressing them as his “brothers,” he expressed confidence that they were “full of goodness” and in possession of ample knowledge to be able to instruct or admonish one another. Unlike the people among whom they lived and who engaged in the vices the apostle had mentioned in the beginning of his letter, the believers in Rome were full of goodness, living upright lives and showing genuine love and concern for others. Among them were those who had been Christ’s disciples even before Paul came to be a believer. (16:7) So the community of believers in Rome did have the essential fullness of knowledge to provide whatever instruction or admonition may have been needed. (15:14)
On the basis of the gracious favor God had given him, however, Paul expressed some points with a measure of boldness, doing so by way of reminder to the believers in Rome. (15:15) It was because of divine favor that he had been constituted a “servant [leitourgós] of Christ Jesus to the nations.” (15:16) The Greek designation leitourgós described a person who did public service that was commonly associated with things of a sacred nature. In a more general sense, the term could apply to someone who rendered personal service. (Philippians 2:25)
As a servant of Christ Jesus, the apostle engaged in the sacred or priestly service of the “evangel of God” for the purpose of making the “offering of the nations acceptable, sanctified by holy spirit.” The evangel or good news has Christ as its focal point, but his Father is the one who sent him and whose will he carried out when laying down his life in sacrifice. Fittingly, therefore, Paul spoke of the “evangel of God.” The apostle’s sacred service refers to his service in carrying out his apostolic commission to proclaim the glad tidings to people of the nations. His concern for those who became believers was that he might be able to present them as an acceptable offering to God, “sanctified” or made holy through the operation of holy spirit within them. (15:16)
“In Christ,” or as a believer at one with Christ and who had been commissioned as an apostle, Paul had reason for boasting, exulting, or taking pride in things “pertaining to [literally, toward] God.” These things would include everything that Paul, through the gracious divine favor that had been granted him, was able to accomplish in his service to God as a servant of Christ. (15:17)
For his accomplishments he gave all the credit to the Son of God, saying, “For I will not dare say a thing about [anything] that Christ did not do through me.” Through the working of Christ within him, Paul had brought people of the nations to obedience. They submitted to God’s will as disciples of his Son. (15:18)
Non-Jews became obedient on account of the “word” or message about Christ that Paul proclaimed and the “work” that he did, which included the performance of miracles. (15:18) The apostle specifically mentioned the “power of signs and portents,” which he was enabled to do by the “power of holy spirit [God’s spirit, according to other manuscripts].” (15:19) According to the book of Acts, Paul’s miraculous works included liberating others from demon possession, healing all manner of diseases and afflictions, and raising a young man from the dead. (Acts 19:11, 12; 20:8-10)
In proclaiming the “evangel of Christ” or the good news about the Son of God, Paul traveled extensively. The area which he traversed extended from the city of Jerusalem as far as Illyricum, a Roman province on the east side of the Adriatic Sea. (15:19)
The apostle “aspired” (philotiméomai) to proclaim the good news about Christ where he had not been “named” or where the glad tidings regarding him had not already been preached. Paul did not want to build on someone else’s foundation, benefiting from the service that others had rendered earlier. (15:20; see the Notes section.)
In speaking of his labors, he appropriated the words of Isaiah 52:15 (LXX), which relate to God’s Messianic servant and found their fulfillment in Christ, “Those who have not been told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” Through Paul’s activity, persons who had not previously been told about Christ came to “see” him as God’s unique Son, putting their faith in him, and came to understand everything they needed to know concerning him. (15:21)
Paul had often wanted to go to Rome but had been hindered from doing so. (15:22) At the time he dictated this letter to believers there, he had proclaimed the evangel in principal cities of Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia. No longer having any new area to be reached in the regions where he had spread the message about Christ, Paul felt that he was in a position to visit believers in Rome, fulfilling a desire that he had entertained for a number of years. His primary objective, though, was to go to Spain and to make a stop in Rome on his way there. After seeing the believers in the city and having the pleasure of being with them for a time, he hoped to have them send him (apparently with their blessing) off to Spain. (15:23, 24; see the Notes section regarding 15:24.)
Before undertaking this westward journey, Paul was heading eastward, back to Jerusalem. The purpose of this trip was to serve the “holy ones,” the believing Jews who were impoverished on account of persecution and adversities. Fellow believers, primarily non-Jews, in Macedonia and Achaia had learned about the plight of their Jewish brothers and were pleased to make a contribution for poor believers in Jerusalem. (15:25, 26)
The apostle considered it most fitting that they were pleased to make this contribution, for they were indebted to their Jewish brothers. This was because the non-Jews had come to share in spiritual blessings through them, and so it was only right for the non-Jews to share material things with their needy Jewish brothers. It was through the initial efforts of Jewish believers that the glad tidings about Christ began to be proclaimed to the non-Jews. Accordingly, non-Jewish believers were indebted to their Jewish brothers for having come to enjoy the standing of approved children of God and all the privileges and blessings associated therewith. (15:27)
After completing his ministry for the needy believers in Jerusalem, making sure that this contribution (literally, “fruit”) was safely handed over to them, Paul planned to head for Spain and, on his way, to stop in Rome. (15:28) He was confident that his visit would prove to be a blessing to the believers there, for he would be coming “in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” This could mean that the apostle would be coming with the bountiful spiritual gifts Christ grants. Another possibility is that the apostle knew that Christ would fully bless his visit. It does not appear that the “fullness of the blessing of Christ” would be limited to the good news about him, for the believers in Rome had already responded to it in faith. (15:29)
Paul was aware of the personal danger from unbelievers he might face while in Jerusalem. During the course of his ministry in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, he had encountered intense hostility from unbelieving fellow Jews, some of whom were determined to kill him. In the course of an earlier stay at Jerusalem, he fell into a trance while at the temple and heard Jesus tell him to hurry out of the city, for his testimony about him would not be accepted. (Acts 22:17, 18) For this reason, he entreated fellow believers in Rome to pray earnestly to God for him. The Greek term conveying the thought of “earnestly” is the verb synagonízomai, which basically means to join someone in a common effort as when fighting or contending. When making his entreaty, Paul did so “through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the spirit.” He based his appeal on the relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ he shared with believers in Rome and the love that the spirit of God had engendered within them. (15:30)
Paul wanted them to pray that he would be rescued from unbelievers (literally, those who disobey) in Judea and that his service for the holy ones in Jerusalem would prove to be acceptable. (15:31) He was deeply concerned that the needy believers in Jerusalem would receive the monetary assistance their non-Jewish brothers had provided. Hoping for a successful outcome, the apostle referred to his desire that, by God’s will, he would get to the believers in Rome “with joy” and be refreshed by their company. (15:32)
After asking them to pray for him, Paul added his own prayerful expression for them, “[May] the God of peace [be] with all of you. Amen [So be it].” The heavenly Father is the “God of peace,” for he is the source of the inner sense of well-being and tranquility that believers enjoy on account of his love and tender care for them. (15:33)
The quotation in Romans 15:3 is identical to the wording of the extant Septuagint text of Psalm 69:9 (68:10, LXX), which passage relates to the experience of the psalmist. Paul applied the quotation to Jesus, as what befell the Son of God did fit the words that had been preserved in the holy writings.
In Romans 15:7, numerous manuscripts read, “Christ accepted you,” whereas others say, “Christ accepted us.”
The phrase (in Romans 15:7), “for the glory of God,” could be directly linked to the Son of God, indicating that his acceptance or welcoming of believers resulted in glory to God. A footnote in the German Neue Genfer Übersetzung, sets forth this alternate meaning, Darum nehmt einander an, wie Christus euch zur Ehre Gottes angenommen hat. (Therefore accept one another as Christ, for the honor of God, accepted you.)
The words quoted in Romans 15:10 from Deuteronomy 32:43, though found in the Septuagint, are missing in the Masoretic Text and in a preserved Dead Sea Scroll (4QDeutq). In the Septuagint, the entire verse reads, “Rejoice, O heavens, together with him, and worship [prostrate yourselves before] him all you sons of God. Rejoice, O nations, with his people, and prevail for him all [you] angels of God, for the blood of his sons he will avenge, and he will revenge and repay the penalty to [his] enemies, and to those who hate him he will repay, and the Lord will cleanse the land of his people.”
The preserved Dead Sea Scroll text, though agreeing with the Septuagint more than it does with the Masoretic Text, differs in other ways. “Rejoice, O heavens, together with him; and bow down to him all you gods, for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and will render vengeance to his enemies, and will recompense those who hate him, and will atone for the land of his people.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible)
The Masoretic Text reads, “Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for the blood of his servants he will avenge, and will take vengeance on his enemies, and will expiate [make atonement for or purify] his land, his people [the land of his people, or his land and his people].”
In Romans 15:12, the quotation from Isaiah 11:10 follows the reading of the Septuagint. While the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah likewise refer to the “root of Jesse” and a turning of people of the nations to him, the wording is different. The Hebrew text refers to the “root of Jesse” as standing up as a “signal for the peoples,” and that the nations would inquire of him or seek him out.
Although the extant Hebrew text is not the same as the Septuagint reading of Isaiah 11:10, this does not affect the application Paul made of the passage, for the primary point is that people of the nations would be turning to the “root of Jesse.” As prophetically portrayed in the Hebrew text, Jesus Christ proved to be like a raised signal or banner that identifies the location for people to assemble. This began to be fulfilled when non-Jewish peoples, starting with Cornelius, his relatives and acquaintances, accepted Jesus Christ in response to the glad tidings proclaimed by his disciples. Through their public proclamation of Christ, his disciples called attention to him as to a raised banner.
In Romans 15:13, a number of manuscripts omit the Greek preposition for “in” (en) and the Greek word eis, meaning “into” but (in this context) denoting “in order that,” “so that,” or “for the purpose of.”
The Greek word philotiméomai literally means “to have a love for honor.” As used by Paul in Romans 15:20, the term denotes “to make a matter of honor,” or “to have the ambition, aim, or aspiration.”
In Romans 15:24, later manuscripts contain an expanded reading for the opening phrase, “Whenever I may be going to Spain, I will come to you.” The oldest extant manuscripts do not include the words, “I will come to you.”
Based on Paul’s commending Phoebe to the community of believers in Rome, one may reasonably conclude that she delivered his letter. (16:1) Later manuscripts even contain a subscription that specifically refers to the letter as being sent through Phoebe from Corinth. The context does not clarify in what sense this “sister” was a “servant [feminine form of diákonos] of the congregation in Cenchreae” (the port city serving Corinth for shipments to eastern harbors). It is unlikely that Phoebe served in an appointed capacity as a deaconess. She probably ministered to others in a general sense, rendering valuable service to fellow believers. (16:1; see the Notes section.)
Paul requested that the believers in Rome would receive her “in the Lord [in a manner] worthy of the holy ones.” As persons “in” or at one with the Lord Jesus Christ as members of his body, the Roman believers rightly were to welcome her as a fellow “holy one,” or one of God’s people. The apostle also asked them to assist her in whatever she might need from them. Indicating that she deserved such aid, he added, “For she also has become a protectress [prostátis] of many, even of me.” The Greek term prostátis may identify Phoebe as a “patroness.” Possibly she was a woman with considerable means and of high social standing in the community, making it possible for her to come to the defense of fellow believers when they were falsely accused or to assist them in other ways. (16:2)
Paul mentioned numerous believers to whom he wanted greetings extended. These included a significant number of women (Prisca, Mary, Junia [unless the masculine name Junias is original], Tryphaena, Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, Julia, and the sister of Nereus). The apostle’s inclusion of women reveals the high regard he had for them and for the service they rendered to fellow disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. (16:3-15)
He identified Prisca (Priscilla, according to other manuscripts) and Aquila as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” Like the apostle, this married couple was at one with Christ, individually being members of his body and actively furthering his interests. (16:3) The apostle’s mentioning Prisca first may indicate that she excelled her husband in being able to convey the message about Christ to others and in taking the initiative to aid fellow believers. In view of the diminished value the apostle placed on position or status (compare Galatians 2:6), it appears unlikely that he would have chosen to mention Prisca first on account of her having a higher social standing in the Greco-Roman world.
Paul expressed a debt of gratitude to Prisca and Aquila, for they had risked their own lives (literally, “neck”) for him (literally, his “soul”). This suggests that they courageously intervened when the apostle’s life was threatened. Not only was he grateful to them but so were all the “congregations of the nations,” probably meaning all the congregations primarily made up of non-Jewish believers and among whom he had labored. By exposing themselves to danger for Paul, Prisca and Aquila made it possible for him to continue proclaiming the message about Christ and to minister to believers, with resultant spiritual benefits to all who responded favorably. (16:4)
The apostle had met Aquila and Prisca when they came to Corinth at the time Claudius expelled Jews from Rome. He lived and worked with them in the tentmaker trade, and they later accompanied him to Ephesus. There they continued to live after he left by ship for Caesarea, returning to Syrian Antioch upon first traveling from Caesarea to Jerusalem. While in Ephesus, Prisca and Aquila assisted Apollos to gain a better understanding of “the Way,” that is, the way of life marked by attachment to Christ through loyal imitation of his example and faithful adherence to his teaching. (Acts 18:1-3, 18-26)
Sometime after Claudius’ decree ceased to be in effect, Aquila and Prisca returned to Rome. Their home served as a meeting place for a congregation of believers. This likely was a comparatively small home, and so the group may have numbered between 10 and 20 persons. Paul asked that greetings be extended to all of them. (16:5)
Others whom the apostle wanted to be greeted were Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junias or Junia (Julia, according to other manuscripts), Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, those of the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, those of the household of Narcissus, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus, the mother of Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, “and the brothers with them,” Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and “all the holy ones with them.”
Paul affectionately referred to Epaenetus as “my beloved.” He spoke of him as the “firstfruits of Asia in Christ.” This may mean that Epaenetus was the first person in the Roman province of Asia (a region in the western part of modern-day Turkey) to have become a believer through Paul’s ministry. (16:5)
The many labors Mary performed for believers in Rome doubtless included giving aid to needy ones. (16:6) She must have been exemplary in her love and concern for fellow believers, hospitably opening up her home to them, washing their feet, and giving food and clothing to those in need. (Compare Acts 9:36, 39; 1 Timothy 5:10.)
Andronicus and Junias were Paul’s relatives (syngenés). The Greek word syngenés) could simply mean a “fellow Jew.” Since, however, Paul did not identify all his fellow Jews as such, it appears likely that the believers to whom he did refer in this way were more closely related to him. At one time, Andronicus and Junias shared imprisonment with Paul, for he calls them “my fellow prisoners.” Based on their being mentioned together, the two of them may have been brothers. They were among the early disciples of Christ, having been “in” or at one with him before Paul became a believer. As early disciples, they had a fine reputation (literally, “are notable”) among the “apostles,” probably meaning those numbered among the “twelve.” There is a measure of uncertainty about whether “Junias” is to be regarded as a woman’s name (“Junia”), suggesting the possibility that Andronicus and Junia were either a married couple or brother and sister. The oldest extant manuscript (P46) does contain a woman’s name (Julia), but this has commonly been regarded as a scribal error. (16:7; see the Notes section.)
Ampliatus, depending on the manuscript reading, is called either “the beloved in the Lord” or “my beloved in the Lord.” As a believer at one with the Lord Jesus Christ, he doubtless endeared himself to fellow believers by his caring disposition and loving deeds. Whether Paul affectionately referred to him as “my beloved” or, in a broader sense, as “the beloved” is immaterial to his identity as a beloved believer. (16:8)
Paul acknowledged Urbanus as “our fellow worker in Christ.” Urbanus was at one with the Son of God and, like the apostle, actively advanced his cause. (16:9)
As other members of the family of God’s children for whom he had affection, Paul called Stachys “my beloved.” (16:9)
The apostle referred to Apelles as “the approved one in Christ.” This could signify that Apelles had faithfully endured trials and so was a tested member of Christ’s body. (16:10)
No specifics are provided about those “from Aristobulus.” Nothing is known about this Aristobulus or the relationship these particular members of his household had to him. (16:10)
Herodion, like Andronicus and Junias (or Junia), was one of Paul’s relatives. (16:11)
As in the case of Aristobulus, nothing is known about Narcissus. At least some “from Narcissus” or members of his household were “in the Lord” (united to the Lord Jesus Christ as members of his body), but their relationship to Narcissus is not known. (16:11)
Tryphaena and Tryphosa may have been sisters. Their laboring in the Lord doubtless included coming to the aid of needy fellow believers. (16:12)
Like others who are referred to as “beloved,” Persis must have endeared himself to fellow believers, for he performed much labor in the Lord. As a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, Persis would have been working hard for fellow believers, doing what he could to assist them to the full extent of his ability. (16:12)
Rufus is identified as “the chosen one in the Lord.” As such, he was one of God’s chosen people who was at one with the Lord Jesus Christ. Rufus may have been the son of Simon of Cyrene who was impressed into service to carry the beam when Jesus could no longer do so. (Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) The mother of Rufus must have been advanced in years, which may be why Paul affectionately called her “his mother and mine.” (16:13)
Possibly Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the “brothers with them” constituted a group of believers who regularly met together in a home for spiritual fellowship. (16:14)
Perhaps another group of believers with arrangements to meet regularly included Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and “all the holy ones with them.” (16:15)
All believers were part of the family of God’s children. Appropriately, therefore, Paul encouraged them to greet one another with a “holy kiss,” a kiss that reflected their pure standing as fellow believers. Additionally, he extended the greetings of “all the congregations of Christ,” which may be understood to mean all the communities of believers with whom Paul had personal contact. (16:16)
Deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of the disciples in Rome, he admonished them to watch out for those would cause divisions and offenses among them, deviating from the teaching they had learned. They were to avoid such persons. (16:17)
These proponents of falsehood posed a threat to the spiritual welfare of believers, for they proved to be slaves of “their own belly” or their own appetites or sensual desires. They were no servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. With smooth talk and flattery (literally, “blessing”), “they deceive the hearts of the innocent,” the guileless, or the unsuspecting ones. In this case, “hearts” is probably to be understood to mean the minds, as the corrupt ones, with plausible reasoning and seeming display of kindly interest, tried to seduce others to believe falsehoods. (16:18)
News about the “obedience” of Roman believers came to be widely known. (16:19) It is understandable that many throughout the Greco-Roman world would have learned about their obedient response to the good news about the Son of God. A considerable amount of travel occurred between the city and other parts of the Roman Empire. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 regarding how widely the faith of the Thessalonian believers came to be known.)
Nevertheless, the apostle, though he rejoiced over them on account of their obedience, expressed loving concern for them, desiring that they maintain their divinely approved standing. He exhorted them “to be wise in [what is] good, but innocent in [what is] bad.” When it came to living an upright life and doing what is good for others, they were to manifest the kind of wisdom reflective of exemplary adults. With reference to bad, however, they were to be like innocent small children who are unacquainted with the debased and hateful practices of a world alienated from God. (16:19)
The apostle assured his fellow believers that the “God of peace” would shortly crush Satan under their feet. (16:20) In the context of Paul’s letter, this appears to relate to the failure of Satan’s efforts to cause divisions through teachers of falsehood. (16:17) Paul was confident that Satan’s influence would not succeed in disrupting the peace that God gives. With the help of their heavenly Father, they would triumph and the peace and unity of the community of believers would be preserved. Thus, thanks to the aid God provided, Satan would be crushed under their feet.
According to the oldest extant manuscripts, Paul added, “The favor of our Lord Jesus [be] with you.” (16:20; see the Notes section.) For believers in Rome to have Jesus’ gracious favor rest upon them would mean that they would continue to benefit from his aid and guidance.
The apostle’s fellow worker, Timothy, and his own “relatives” Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater extended greetings. (16:21; see the Notes section.) If Jason is the same person as the one with whom Paul and Silas stayed in Thessalonica, this could suggest that he, Lucius, and Sosipater were closer relatives of the apostle than were other fellow Jews. It would have been natural for a believing relative to have accommodated Paul in his home. (Acts 17:5-9)
Tertius identified himself as the one who actually wrote the letter, which the apostle dictated to him. He personally included his greeting. The words “in the Lord” may either mean that Tertius extended his greetings in the Lord (or as a fellow believer) or that he wrote the letter in the service of the Lord. (16:22) Translators, either in the main text or in footnotes, have rendered this verse accordingly. “I, Tertius, also send my greetings. I am a follower of the Lord, and I wrote this letter.” (CEV) “I, Tertius, the one who is writing this letter for Paul, send my greetings, too, as a Christian brother.” (NLT) “I Tertius, who took this letter down, add my Christian greetings.” (REB) “I Tertius, writing this letter in the Lord, greet you.” (NRSV, footnote) “I Tertius, who penned this epistle in the Lord, greet you.” (HCSB) Auch ich, Tertius, der ich diesen Brief im Dienst für den Herrn niedergeschrieben habe, grüße euch. (Also I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter in service for the Lord, greet you.) (German Neue Genfer Übersetzung)
Gaius, whose greetings are included, was one of the few believers in Corinth whom Paul had personally baptized. (1 Corinthians 1:14) At the time, the apostle was staying in his home. Gaius is referred to as both Paul’s host and that of the whole congregation. This indicates that the home of Gaius served as a meeting place for a group of believers, and all of them also sent their greetings. The list of those sending greetings ends with Erastus and Quartus. (16:23)
It is uncertain whether Erastus is the same person referred to in Acts 19:22 and 2 Timothy 4:20 or on a Latin inscription discovered at Corinth in 1929. In the letter to the Romans, the Greek expression oikonómos tés póleos identifies him as an official or former official of Corinth. The Greek designation has been understood to mean either the “treasurer of the city” or the “steward of the city.” (See http://bibleplaces.com/corinth.htm for a picture of the fragmentary Latin inscription.)
Quartus is called “the brother” (often rendered “our brother” in modern translations). This may indicate that believers in Rome personally knew him as their brother in Christ. The name itself is a Roman name, and formerly he may have lived in the city. (16:23; see the Notes section regarding 16:24 in connection with 16:20.)
God was the one with the power to strengthen the Roman believers in faith. When referring to “my evangel,” Paul meant the glad tidings about Jesus Christ that he proclaimed. The apostle’s prayerful desire was that the believers in Rome would be strengthened “according to [the] evangel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that has been hidden for past ages [literally, ‘eternal times’].” The means by which God would make believers firm in faith is the evangel or good news that Paul made known. This evangel is clearly identified as relating to Jesus Christ, for it is a “proclamation of Jesus Christ,” with a specific focus on what he accomplished through his sacrificial death. Just how Jews and non-Jews would come to be reconciled to God as his approved children remained a concealed mystery in past ages, but the good news about Jesus Christ revealed how this would take place. (16:25)
For this reason, Paul could say that the mystery has “now” been disclosed. According to the “command of the eternal God,” or his will, the mystery was revealed, and this disclosure was made known “through the prophetic scriptures.” When Paul and other believers proclaimed the message about Christ, they used the prophetic scriptures to explain the significance of his death and resurrection and what he had made possible for all those who would respond in faith. (Acts 13:23-41; 17:2, 3, 11; 26:22, 23) Paul gave the reason the mystery was made known to people of “all the nations” as being “obedience of faith.” As in Romans 1:5, “obedience of faith” could mean either the obedience resulting from faith or the obedient response in faith to the message about Jesus Christ. (16:26)
The apostle concluded by ascribing eternal glory or praise to God, the one who is uniquely wise. Paul did so “through Jesus Christ,” for it is through his Son that the Father effected the reconciliation to him that believers could enjoy. Fittingly, the ascription of glory to God ends with “amen” (so be it). (16:27)
In Romans 16:1, manuscripts vary, referring to Phoebe either as “our sister” or “your sister.”
In Romans 16:7, the phrase “are notable among the apostles” could mean that they were themselves prominent apostles in the community of believers, though not of the twelve. This meaning would rule out the possibility that one of the names could have been that of a woman.
In Romans 16:20, numerous later manuscripts add “Christ” after “Jesus.” Another manuscript reading omits the words in verse 20 but places them after verse 23, and there are manuscripts that include the words in verse 20 and also after verse 23. For this reason, translations based on the more recent extant manuscripts have the words as part of verse 20 and as a separate verse 24 (which is commonly omitted in modern translations). Most manuscripts that include the words that appear in translations containing verse 24 read, “The favor of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with all of you. Amen.” Still another variant reading follows with the prayerful expression after verse 27 (not after verse 23).
After “my relatives” (in Romans 16:21), a number of manuscripts add, “and all the congregations of Christ.”
Manuscripts vary considerably in the placement of the words of Romans 16:25-27. These words appear at the end of chapter 14, of chapter 15, or of both chapters 14 and 16. In some manuscripts, they are omitted entirely.