Book Review: John D. Harvey, A Commentary on Romans

Harvey, John D. A Commentary on Romans. Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2020. 400 pp. Hb; $36.99. Link to Kregel Academic

Harvey consciously geared this commentary to non-academics. His goal is to assist readers of Romans who are active pastors, teachers, and Bible students. There is no detailed history of interpretation, no deep dive into extra biblical literature, no closely argued discussions of finer points of Greek verb tenses, and no extensive comments on textual criticism. Readers interested in these issues should consult his Romans: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H Academic, 2017). Although his bibliography includes commentaries since 1965, his main lights are commentaries by Cranfield (ICC, 1980), Dunn (WBC, 1988), Jewett (Hermenia, 2007), Longenecker, (NIGTC 2016), Moo (NICNT, 1996), and Schreiner (BECNT, 1998). Moo and Schreiner have both published second editions since the completion of Harvey’s commentary.

Harvey, Commentary on RomansHe explains his exegetical methodology as answering three questions about each verse (p. 10). First, what did Paul say? Second, why did he say it? And third, what should I do with it? For more detailed methodological issues, readers should consult his Interpreting the Pauline Letters (Kregel Academic, 2012).

In the 40-page introduction, he argues Paul wrote the entire letter from Corinth in A.D. 56-57. He provides several pages of background for a letter, including a brief historical, social, cultural, and religious setting for Christianity in the city of Rome in the middle of the first century. He believes the audience as both Jews and Gentiles and that the letter addressed as a “cluster of issues.” The introduction also includes several pages and charts on genre and structure of Romans, including a brief look at the rhetoric of the letter.

Each section of the commentary begins with a fresh translation of the text with notes with brief textual critical issues and syntactical observations. These observations include grammatical categories but only rarely make reference to advanced grammars (those details are often found in his Exegetical Guide). Following this translation, Harvey sets the context and structure of the pericope in the overall outline of Romans. This is followed by a brief statement of the basic message of the section and detailed exegetical outline. Following this outline, he offers an explanation of the text, usually covering several verses at a time. In the body of the commentary Greek appears in parentheses without transliteration. Almost all interactions with commentaries appears in the footnotes. This makes for a concise commentary that does indeed focus on what Paul said and why did he say it?” Following the explanation of the text, Harvey makes a few comments under the heading Theology and Appropriation.” In this section he comments on biblical-theological issues in order to answer his third question, “what should I do with it?” In most cases, Harvey concludes with the words “Paul’s primary purpose for including his paragraph…”

Harvey translates the phrase διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Romans 3:22 “by faith in Jesus Christ” and τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ. in verse 26 as “the one who is of faith in Jesus.” He states both genitives are objective (p. 127). He does not enter into the scholarly discussion of pistis christou other than a footnote pointing to Schreiner’s discussion and conclusion in favor of the objective genitive.

The same is true for the meaning of “all sinned” in Romans 5:12. He observes there are five common interpretations and cites additional scholarship in the footnotes (p. 168). Harvey does not wade into the deep waters of the various ways the verse is used in systematic theology. Because his purpose in the commentary is the basic meaning of the text, he concludes “Paul’s primary purpose was to inform his readers that righteousness, acquittal, and life now apply to them because of what Christ has done as certain as sin, condemnation, and death previously applied to them because of what Adam did” (p. 169).

Comparing six major views on the identity of the “I” in Romans 7:2-25, he observes that although the options are bewildering, it is “best not to expend time and energy trying to decide, for example, whether ‘I’ describes Paul before or after his conversion” (p. 199).

The purpose of Romans 9-11 is the fulfillment of God’s plan. He argues God will fulfill his plan and keep his word to Israel, using Israel’s unresponsiveness to show mercy to all. On the controversial issue of what “all Israel” means in Romans 11, Harvey compares six recent commentaries in a chart (with Calvin and Schreiner combined). He agrees with Longenecker that “all Israel” refers to “a large number of elect an ethnic Jews near the end of history” (p. 291).

On the usually controversial issue of Paul’s female coworkers, Phoebe is a woman of high social standing in some wealth who was a leader in the church (p. 376). Like Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia are a husband and wife ministry team who were well known to the apostles (p.382, citing this Exegetical Guide for the details).

The book ends abruptly on page 400. There is no conclusion, no indices and only a select bibliography (pp 15-20).

Conclusion. There have been several second editions of major commentaries in Romans published in the last few years. Harvey’s commentary is less than half the length of the six major commentaries he works with in this book and it is far less engaged with contemporary Pauline scholarship than Longenecker, Moo, et al. But this should not be considered as a criticism, Harvey’s commentary achieves when it’s set out to accomplish, a simple explanation of what Paul said and why he said it for the busy pastor struggling to prepare Bible classes and sermons or Bible student who wants to go deeper than the average Bible study. This commentary is similar in approach to Grant Osborne’s Romans commentary and should not be compared to recent encyclopedic commentaries on Romans.

Other Reviewed Commentaries in this Series:

Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150)

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Jared Compton and Andrew Naselli, Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11.

Compton, Jared and Andrew David Naselli. Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2019. 266 pp. Pb; $21.99  Link to Kregel Academic

This is the second volume in Kregel Academic’s Viewpoint series, joining Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (ed. Herb Bateman, 2007). The relationship of the church and Israel was part of the progressive dispensationalism debate in the 1980s and several edited volumes appeared with sections on the issue. Chad Brand edited a four views book on this topic, Perspectives on Israel and the Church (B&H, 2015). This is the first multi-view book on specifically on the relationship of Israel and the church based solely on Romans 9-11. Each chapter begins by tracing the argument of Romans 9-11, although chapter 11 contains most of the controversial issues.

Michael Vlach represents a traditional dispensationalist view (although he does not use the term) to argue for a future mass conversion of ethnic Israel. Fred G. Zaspel and James M. Hamilton Jr. also argue for a future mass conversion, but one that does not include a role for ethnic Israel. Theirs is a historical premillennialist approach which is informed by biblical theology. In contrast to these similar views, Benjamin Merkle argues Romans 9-11 does not imply a future mass-conversion of ethnic Israel, although a remnant of ethnic Israel will be saved in the future. All of the contributors to this volume work very hard to avoid supersessionism or any hint of the anti-Semitic attitudes of the church for centuries.

Vlach argues Paul understands Israel in in the same way Old Testament prophets did (p. 21). The prophets looked forward to a time when God would act in history to restore his people and he does not see anything in the New Testament that indicates these expectations were canceled or typologically fulfilled in the church. He argues that Paul’s use the Old Testament in these chapters is “largely contextual inconsistent with the intent of the OT prophets” and he does not use typological exegesis to transform Jewish expectations into Christian theology about the church (p. 63). Many readers will recognize this view as dispensationalism, although this is a word Vlach does not use. He also avoids using any language that might sound as if there are two peoples of God, Israel and the Church. In fact, he states “Jesus’s church encompasses both believing Israelites and Gentiles,” but also that “believing Israelites are still identified with Israel as they participate in Jesus’s church” (p. 71).

Zaspel and Hamilton take what they call a biblical-theological approach to Romans 9-11. They argue Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The first coming of Christ fulfilled a new exodus pattern yet they do understand that another iteration of this pattern will occur at Christ second coming. Gentiles in this “inter-advent period” are provoking the Jews to jealousy so that when Jesus returns there will be a mass conversion of Jews who will enter into the millennium (p. 123). The millennium is a step towards the new heaven and a new earth. Therefore, there is both continuity and discontinuity between what God has done for Israel in the past and what he is doing through the church in the present. A portion of this chapter is devoted to describing biblical theology as a kind of “drama of Scripture” which is focused on Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament story. There is certainly weren’t for this in the Paul’s letters since he describes Christ is the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) or the manna in the wilderness as typologically fulfilled in communion (1 Cor 10:1-4). However, they stop short of saying everything in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. Referring to the new exodus patter, they look forward to “yet one more iteration of the pattern at Christ second coming (p. 133).

Merkle does not think Romans 9-11 teaches a future mass-conversion of an ethnic Israel, but rather that there will always be a remnant of Israel until the end of time. The trouble for Merkle is the word “mass.” He does not represent the classic reform position that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people, nor does he want to represent any form of replacement theology. He is adamant the church does not replace Israel (p. 205). He agrees with the view that God has not rejected or abandon ethnic Israel, but he qualifies this with the word “completely” (p. 204). Merkle is the only author contributor to this book who attempts to define typology. Citing David Baker, he defines a type as “a biblical event, person or institution which serves as an example for pattern for other events, persons or institutions” (p. 163). A type is therefore a kind of foreshadowing in historical events (the type) of later, intensified events (the antitype). For Merkle, Israel is the type, and Jesus is the anti-type because he is the fulfillment of Israel; he is the “true Israel” because he fulfills “all did the nation of Israel was to have accomplished” (p. 164).

There are a series of exegetical decisions on nuances of the text on which each position must make a decision. First, what does pleroma mean in Romans 11:12 (Israel’s full inclusion) and 11:25 (the fullness of the Gentiles). Is the word quantitative (a full number) or qualitative (“the fullness”)?

Second, the nature of mystery in 11:25 is a key point. For Merkle, the “mystery” need not be mysterious, since it is a hidden thing now revealed, that there is an interdependence of salvation of Gentiles and Israel (p. 193). For Vlach, this mystery is that Israel has experienced a personal hardening which is allowed the Gentiles to come in to salvation, and this is the manner in which Israel will be (49).

Third, the exact nuance of meaning of “until” (achris hou) in 11:25 is important. Does this phrase imply a change of circumstances, so that after the full number of Gentiles is saved then Israel will be saved? Or does this phrase imply a termination: the partial hardening of Israel continues until the fullness of the Gentiles without any change of circumstances afterward? Vlach argues the normal sense of the phrase is a reversal (p. 50); Merkle takes the phrase as a termination (p. 185).

Fourth, the nuance of meaning of “and so” (kai houtos) in 11:26. Should this be read as temporal (and then all Israel will be saved) or modal (in this manner all Israel will be saved.” It may be the case that this is less of an issue since Vlach admits that either a temporal or a modal view would imply a future conversion of Israel (p. 54).

Fifth, what does Paul mean by “all Israel”? If he has ethnic Israel in mind throughout Romans 9-11, would he shift from ethnic Israel in 11:25 to spiritual Israel in 11:26? For Vlach, Zaspel and Hamilton, Paul means ethnic Israel in both cases, or Merkle, Paul refers to ethnic Israel and “remnant Israel”

Sixth, to what does Paul’s citation of Isaiah 59:20-21 refer? Does “the deliverer with come from Zion” a reference to the second coming or does it refer to Christ as deliverer at the cross? The citation certainly has a future sense, however for Merkle, it does not have a future from the perspective of Paul because for Paul it refers to Jesus, who has already delivered us from the wrath to come at the cross (p. 198).

I will now turn to some evaluation of the volume. One issue which the authors only allude to is the promise to ethnic Israel that they will dwell in the land promised to Abraham in peace and prosperity. If ethnic Israel does experience a future mass conversion, will they (literally) be restored to Israel? This is the traditional dispensational view, although Vlach only alludes to this in his chapter. Although Zaspel and Hamilton think Romans 9-11 looks forward to a future mass conversion, they are not interested in the land promises (p. 136 and Vlach’s response, p. 148-49).

I found it somewhat frustrating that the first two positions were so close. As Compton explains in his conclusion, this was certainly not the intention. There were a number of times  I thought the view of Zaspel and Hamilton was more or less dispensational, albeit in a progressive dispensationalist sense. Vlach certainly does not represent a classic dispensationalist in the Scofield tradition, nor does Merkle represent the classic Reformed position. As such, the viewpoints expressed in the book seem as though there an in-house discussion rather than between opposing positions.

A related second observation: the book would have been improved by including one or two more perspectives on Romans 9-11. For example, the book needs to have a representative of the traditional Reformed position, although finding someone to write a chapter espousing replacement theology might be difficult. Chapters written by representatives of newer views of Paul such as the New Perspective on Paul, the apocalyptic view of Paul, or the “Paul was in Judaism” viewpoint would have broadened the discussion of Romans 9-11 considerably.

Nevertheless, this volume is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion of these important chapters in the book of Romans.

 

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

The Problem of Sacred Days and Clean Foods – Romans 14:5-9

In Romans 14 Paul is trying to guide congregations to preserve the unity of the body of Christ despite having a wide variety of views on some practices. He mentions two in particular, considering some days sacred and eating some types of foods.

Esteeming one day over another may refer to when the Roman congregations chose to gather. The natural assumption is Jewish Christian congregations continued to worship on the Sabbath. Primarily Gentile congregations met whenever they could, apparently settling on Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead.

Image result for bacon wrapped cheeseburgerEating and abstaining may refer to Jewish food taboos. Again, when a primarily Jewish congregation shared a meal, the food would have been purchased and prepared with attention to cleanliness (i.e., not meat sacrificed to idols, nothing forbidden in Leviticus), etc. Primarily Gentile congregations may not have adopted Jewish food laws, accepting all foods as clean after one gives things for the Lord for the food. However, it is likely some Gentiles did choose to avoid food sacrificed to idols.

What matters for Paul is living one’s life “for the Lord” and not for ourselves. This means the one who is in Christ (a living sacrifice, one who is living in a way that promotes unity in the body of Christ), ought to voluntarily set aside preferences in deference to others.

Voluntarily setting something aside is the key to understanding the principle Paul wants to establish here. Like Jesus, who set aside certain rights he had as a member of the Godhead in order to become human (Phil 2:5-6), so to the member of the body of Christ in the present age must set aside their privileges the may legitimately be owed in order to preserve the unity of the Body of Christ.

Paul is not discussion sinful practices, but what are often called preferences. He is not talking about Gentiles visiting a prostitute (as he is in 1 Corinthians 6), since that is a practice incompatible with being a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is the nature of the strong/weak in this passage: the person with weak faith considers eating food to be a mark of spirituality and therefore breaking those convictions would be a sin.

Does this only work one direction? A person who does not eat unclean food cannot “give up” their preferences and eat unclean food to make a Gentile feel comfortable? For example, if a person today is a vegetarian, can they “give up their conviction” and share meat with someone who eats meat? If I were to share a meal with a Seventh-Day Adventist, for example, I would have no problem eating any food they served. But they may have a serious problem eating something I serve. If I have a meal in an Israeli hotel, it is far easier for me to eat kosher than to insist on my rights and have the kitchen make me a bacon-wrapped cheeseburger.

It is far easier for the meat-eater to give up their conviction and eat only vegetables. This is certainly true on a physical level. But more importantly, with respect to convictions, the meat-eater is not violating a principle of their faith, but the vegetarian would be “sinning” with respect to their own world view.

There is a clear application of this principle for the modern church. I think there are some easy examples: If a member of congregation prefers one style of music for worship, they ought to be able to set that preference aside in order to reach people for Jesus Christ.

But I can imagine other situations which would make some Christians more uncomfortable. Could a pastor drink a beer with someone in order to not make a beer drinking member of their congregation comfortable? What about a pastor trying to reach a person in the south who is offered a wad of chewing tobacco. Could they accept the offer without violating their conscience? It is critically important to observe Paul is talking about practices which are not important for salvation in the present age nor is he talking about sinful practices (even if the weaker brother thinks they might be).

Both the weak and the strong are believers, and both are welcome in Christian worship and fellowship. For Paul, these are not matters to divide churches or break fellowship over. What are some problems you have encountered trying to find the right balance between preferences in local congregations?

Who are the Weak and Strong in Romans 14?

strong-and-weakAlthough it is possible Paul includes this section as a general commentary on how Jews and Gentiles ought to get along in mixed congregations, it is likely he has heard something about a specific conflict in the house churches in Rome. He describes some of the believers as weak and others as strong and admonishes the strong to not pass judgment on the weak.

Who are the “strong and weak” in this passage?

Most commonly, the “weak” are legalists and the “strong” are those that are not trying to “earn” status by their good works. This view has been eroded by the New Perspective on Paul, since it may not be the case that Jews in the first century say themselves as earning their salvation.

After surveying several options, Cranfield concludes the weak are those who desire to continue to observe the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. If this is the case, it is a similar situation to the Gentiles in Galatia who are being encouraged to fully convert to Judaism in order to follow Jesus.

It is possible this weak/strong discussion is an extension of the “meat sacrificed to idols” problem in 1 Corinthians, as suggested by Mark Reasoner. If so, then the weak might be the Jew, and the strong the Gentile. This suggestion has some merit since Paul wrote Romans from Corinth after the period of conflict had come to a close (after 2 Corinthians). It is possible his experience with the Corinthian believers colors his comments to the Romans who may be struggling with similar issues.

Paul Jewett draws attention to a brief exchanged in Horace in which one character does not wish to speak on the Sabbath because he is “a small man of weakness, one of many” (Jewett, Romans, 834; Horace Sat. 1.9.67–72). Reasoner used this line to argue “the person excessively observant in a foreign religion who matched the ‘weak’ caricature was known to Horace’s audience.” (Reasoner, 54).

What has always impressed me about this passage is that Paul never really says the weak are Jewish and the Gentiles are the strong. That may be what Paul is saying, but our post-Reformation reading of the text tends to obscure Paul’s subtle rhetoric. It is possible a Jewish Christian might hear “we who are strong ought to bear the failings of the weak” (Rom 15:1) as meaning, “we Jews who are strong and keep the law properly ought not to look down on the weak Gentiles who have not fully understood the Gospel yet.” But it is also possible a Gentile would hear Paul saying “We strong Gentiles who fully understand the grace of God should not look down on these weak Jews who insist on Old Covenant practices.”

Regardless of the practices of the weak, their faith is sufficient for Paul to consider them to be Christians. He does not tell the Roman congregations to expel them from the church like the young man in 1 Corinthians 5, nor does he admonish them like he the wealthy in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22. Both the weak and the strong are Christians and equally a part of the Christian community. Both are equally welcome at a communal meal where the Lord’s Table is being celebrated.

This issue has important ramifications for Christian fellowship in the present church. Churches often draw lines where they should not, or fail to draw lines when they should. Are there people who are often excluded from fellowship because of some practice (or non-practice)?

Bibliography: Mark Reasoner, The Strong and the Weak: Romans 14:1-15:13 in Context (SNTSMS 103; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Stumbling in the Pursuit of Righteousness – Romans 9:30-33

After concluding Romans 8 with the great promise that nothing can separate those who have been declared righteous and adopted into the family of God from the love of God, a reader might object that God has in fact rejected his people Israel. God made promises to Israel which seem to remain unfulfilled because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Chapter 9 argued God this is not a problem of God’s faithfulness. Like Ishmael, Esau or Pharaoh, Israel’s failure to respond to God is an opportunity for God to show mercy (or not) on whomever he wills. But this does not mean Israel was not responsible for their failure to obtain righteousness through the Law.

But God’s sovereign choice does not mean Israel bears no responsibility for their failure to obtain righteousness through the Law. This is true even though the Law was not able to produce righteousness in the first place.

For Paul, Israel did not pursue righteousness through faith, but rather by works. Does this implies righteousness could be obtained by the following law, but Israel pursued righteousness in the wrong way? Schreiner does not think this was Paul’s point at all (Schreiner, “Israel’s Failure,” 213). Earlier in Romans Paul has argued the Law could not make someone righteous since that was not the purpose of the law in the first place (Rom 7:4-6).

Israel failed to obtain righteousness assuming a right relationship with God depended on total obedience to the Law rather than God’s grace. For example, in is likely that the worship offered by the northern kingdom of Israel was properly performed, all sacrifices were made according to the Law, yet God says that this worship is a stench to him because the people are not acting justly (Amos 5:21-24).

sprinters

The verb translated “reaching” in verse 31 (φθάνω) can refer to attaining a particular status or state. Schreiner detects a racing metaphor, citing the verb “pursue” in this verse and “to run” in 9:16. I would also add the idea of a “stumbling block” in 9:32 could be part of the metaphor of running a race.

The Jewish people pursued the law of righteousness yet did not attain the goal of the Law. Looking ahead to 10:4, Paul will conclude this paragraph by stating clearly that Christ is the goal of the Law.

The Law was the standard to which Israel held themselves, but they could never obtain that standard. They therefore failed because they were seeking the wrong goal from the beginning. It really did not matter how close they came, they were never able to reach the goal since it was the wrong goal for them in the first place.

To extend Paul’s metaphor of a foot race, imagine competing in 100 meter sprint. You wear the right shoes and get into the proper starting crouch, and make an excellent start when the gun sounds. You bear down and sprint the 100 meters, finishing well ahead of all the other runners, absolutely certain you have won the contest. But as it turns out, you were competing in a 26.2 mile marathon. Your excellent start, perfect performance and stellar finish do not count for anything, since the goal set before you is still 26 miles away.

By way of analogy, Israel pursued righteousness by pursuing the Law. Many kept the Law as well as they possibly could, yet found themselves falling short of the glory of God since they were pursuing as if the works of the matter rather than faith in the grace of God who has called them into a unique relationship with God.

Although this is aimed that Paul’s Jewish dialogue partners, I suspect this warning is important also for Christians. It is easy for us to think we are pursuing Christ well by doing the right things, or by having a vibrant (emotional) worship time, by reading the right blogs, by voting for the right candidates or supporting all the right causes. These are not the standards by which we were declared righteous in the first place, nor is it the standard by which we maintain our relationship with God.

Is God Faithful to His Promise to the Jews? – Romans 9-11

Romans 9-11 deal with the “problem” of the Jewish people in the present age. If God has begun a new program to deal with all peoples equally without giving a special advantage to Israel, one might ask if Israel is completely cut off from God’s blessing. What about the promises that God made to Abraham and David? Would he fulfill those promises at some point in the future? Or has God completely cut off Israel’s special place in his plan due to their unfaithfulness.

AbrahamPaul’s intention in Romans 9-11 is not to give a complete exposition of predestination and election, he restricts his comments to God’s choice of Israel as a favored nation, and within Israel those who believe, the true Israel (Dunn, Romans, 546). A few general comments about God’s choice of Israel as his people are possible.

The election of Israel was not based upon works. Paul makes this point by using the election of Jacob as an illustration in verse 12. Before the children were born and could do deeds of merit or sinful deeds, the choice was made. Even the choice of Isaac is made before he is born. Paul cites Genesis 18:10-14 to show Isaac was the son of promise, not Ishmael. It was not Sarah’s faith that was the basis of the choice since she laughed at the idea of having a child. One cannot even say it was through Abraham’s faith his son was chosen since the promise of a child was made in the initial promise in Genesis 12, before Abraham had believed.

In the first paragraph of Romans 9 Paul lists the advantages of Israel’s election, including their adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promises, and patriarchs. Even the Messiah is a blessing given to Israel Yet the fact they have all of these things and do the Works of the Law and Temple worship does not guarantee them salvation.

If the election of Israel is not based on works, on what is it based? The key phrase in this section is in verse 11: God’s electing purpose.The “purpose” of God is rooted in the Old Testament idea of an eternal God whose will transcends human will. Israel is God’s people because of God’s free decision. This decision not based upon any conditions. For Paul, there is not a need to explain the reasons for God’s choice, they are summed up by the phrase “electing purpose of God.”

Paul argues that because Israel was chosen by God to be his people, the nation still has advantages even in unbelief. In in 9:4-5 these advantages are outlined in very brief straightforward statements. These advantages are not in the past, but in language suggesting the benefits are Israel’s at the present time. Paul vividly describes his sadness of Israel’s rejection of Christ. But it also serves to show that the election of Israel has some meaning in the present time.

Paul is therefore arguing God is faithful to his promises despite the current state of Israel’s unbelief. Will God be faithful to the promise to Abraham and restore Israel in the future? Does their present state of unbelief mean they will not receive a promised restoration in the future?

What Advantage Has The Jew? Romans 9:4-5

Golden Star of DavidBefore dealing with the problem of God’s faithfulness, Paul lists many advantages the Jews have as God’s people. In Romans 3:1-2 Paul initially raised the question of the advantages the Jewish people have with respect to God. Historically, some Jews were wholly unfaithful to the covenant they were given and even those who were not unfaithful failed to keep the covenant fully. By Romans 7, Paul explained the reason for this failure was the purpose of the Law. But the failure of Israel still stands as a potential objection to God’s faithfulness to his promises. Paul proves his point that God’s present rejection of Israel is not inconsistent with His Promise by looking at the history of Israel

Sons of God by adoption. ἡ υἱοθεσία (“the sonship”) is never used in any Jewish literature including the Septuagint to describe Israel’s relationship to God. For Barrett (Romans, 166), Paul refers to a status of sonship “conferred upon Israel at the Exodus” (Exod 4:22; Isa 1:2; Hosea 11:1). In the previous chapter, Paul his describe the Christian as having the status of “Sonship” using the same word. It is possible that he begins his list of advantages with the status of adoption in order to create continuity between God’s people in the Old Testament and God’s people in the new age.

The sons of Israel were shown his glory, an allusion to the Exodus. Paul has in mind the pillars of cloud and fire at the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod 15:6, 11) and/or the theophany at Mount Sinai (Exod  24:16).

God made the covenants with Israel. There is a textual variant with a singular covenant, the mosaic covenant. But if this is plural, then possibly a reference to “the three covenants within the great covenant of the Exodus—a covenant at Horeb, a second in the plains of Moab, and a third at Mounts Gerizim and Ebal” (Barrett, 166). Perhaps it is not a problem, since the plural “covenants” appears in several documents in the Second Temple period.

Wisdom of Solomon 18:22 He conquered the wrath not by strength of body, not by force of arms, but by his word he subdued the avenger, appealing to the oaths and covenants given to our ancestors.

God gave the law and the temple worship and the promises. The noun “law” in this line is ἡ νομοθεσία, only found here in the New Testament. Jewett refers to a similar usage in 2 Macc 6:23, a reference to “the holy and God-given legislation” honored by Eleazar. The noun translates “temple worship” would evoke sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem, but to a Roman, the word λατρεία “would be understood by the Roman audience as referring to worship” (Jewett, Romans 564).

To Israel belongs “the fathers of the race.” Abraham is normally considered the father of the Israelites, but Isaac and Jacob are also “the fathers”. This anticipates the next section in which Isaac’s children Jacob and Esau will be featured.

Most importantly, from Israel springs the Christ himself. The phrase “according to the flesh” recalls help Paul begin the book of Romans, by declaring that Jesus Christ was in the line of David according to the flesh. It may also anticipate Paul’s argument in the next section. Those who are descended from Esau are “according to the flesh” as opposed to from the spirit.

It is therefore ironic that God’s people rejected Jesus as the messiah, but also that the rejected the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 as well as Paul’s preaching (for example, the synagogue sermon in Acts 13). To what extent would Roman believers (Jewish or Gentile) have understood the failure of Israel to respond to Jesus as Messiah? Were these advantages squandered?

Adoption Children of God – Romans 8:23-27

Even the believers look forward to their redemption, knowing that they have not been fully glorified at this point in their lives. Paul refers to himself and his Christian readers as the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (v. 22-23). This could refer to the first people who have received the Holy Spirit since the New Age has begun. For those of us living “between the ages” we are the early part of the harvest which will be fully seen only when the kingdom finally arrives.

Adopted by GodIt is clear from the book of Romans that Christ’s death on the cross has full we purchased salvation, and that those who are in Christ are justified, and experience peace with God at the present time. However we have yet to be glorified. So by describing the Christians as “first fruit” he calls to mind the fact that the first fruit of the harvest is only a foreshadowing, or a sample of the harvest to come

Paul uses adoption as a metaphor for salvation. Adoption is one of the key metaphors for salvation in Paul’s letters. Although it does not get the attention that justification gets, in Romans 8 it is clearly the dominant image. Adoption was well known in the Roman world. A person may choose to adopt an heir to replace their own child in order to maintain inheritance. The best example of course is the Roman emperor. Julius Caesar adopted Octavian as heir. A child who is chosen for adoption cannot be disowned, and often the child was adopted as an adult. They are given all of the rights and responsibilities of a natural child.

One can be adopted legally as a child of God, but until we are glorified in the future resurrection, we are not fully adopted into the family. Although we are the legal heirs, we have not yet come into our inheritance. By way of analogy, a child may inherit millions of dollars in a trust fund, but because of the terms of the will they do not have full access to their inheritance until they turn twenty-one. But the child may have access to some of the inheritance, an allowance for living expenses managed, etc.

There is therefore a certainty in our hope of a full inheritance in in the future when we experience resurrection and glorification. Legally we are the heirs, but we are not actually in possession of the full inheritance at this point in time. But are there elements of that future inheritance we have now, as adopted children of God? What are these benefits?

Why Does “All Creation Groan” in Romans 8:19-22?

Paul’s thesis in Romans 8:18-22 is that our present suffering is not even worth comparing to the glory to be revealed in the children of God. He uses “consider” (λογίζομαι) once again, the same word for Abraham being declared righteous in 4:8. The believer will certainly suffer, but they should not consider than suffering to be on a par with the glory which is to be revealed. Those who are in Christ have a certain hope in their future redemption.

“Present suffering” in 8:18 may also refer to the effect of Adam’s sin on all creation. Not only do humans suffer, but so too does all of creation. Creation itself was damaged by Adam’s sin, so creation is also looking forward to the redemption of the children of God (v. 19-22).

All creation groansFirst, creation is eagerly longing for the revelation of God’s children. The noun translated “eagerly longing of creation” (ἀποκαραδοκία) is a very rare word which has the sense of “stretching the head forward” (TDNT 1:393). This noun is combined with the verb (ἀπεκδέχομαι, await eagerly), used for the eager expectation of the future resurrection (later in this passage, 8:23, 25; Phil 3:20; 1 Cor 1:7) .There is an apocalyptic overtone in this verse. Paul is looking forward to the unveiling of the children of God in the coming resurrection.

Second, because of Adam’s rebellion, creation was subjected to futility. Looking back to the effect of sin on creation in Genesis 3, all creation is subjected against its will to worthlessness (ματαιότης). The word refers to frustration, or even frustrating purposelessness. “The basis of creation’s continuing enslavement to transitoriness and mortality is the fall of mankind” (EDNT 3:313–314).

This is the word the LXX uses in Ecclesiastes 1:2, vanity of vanities, the meaninglessness of life. Recent commentaries on Ecclesiastes use the word “absurd” rather that vanity. Because of sin, creation itself is pointless and absurd. In Ecclesiastes, this is demonstrated by the constant cycles of nature. There is a certain pointlessness to animal life, for example, which seems to exist to eat, sleep and mate.

Third, creation was put into bondage to decay. More than being pointless, creation suffers death as a result of the fall. The noun φθορά refers to decay of living things. The implication is that prior to the fall, creation was not in a state of decay; it functioned differently than it does today. More than this, creation is enslaved to decay, unable to free itself from the cycle of decay and death. We know that there is nothing in all of creation which does not die, rot or erode away to nothing given time.

Fourth, creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth (v. 22). This vivid image may be drawn from apocalyptic literature (EDNT 3:311). The suffering of the world and the persecution of God’s people are sometimes described as “the birth pangs” of the new age (Isa 26:17; Micah 4:9; 4 Ezra 4:38-43)

Isaiah 26:17–18 (ESV) Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; 18 we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.

 

4 Ezra 4:38-43 Then I answered and said, “O sovereign Lord, but all of us also are full of ungodliness. 39 And it is perhaps on account of us that the time of threshing is delayed for the righteous—on account of the sins of those who dwell on earth.” 40 He answered me and said, “Go and ask a woman who is with child if, when her nine months have been completed, her womb can keep the child within her any longer.” 41 “No, my lord,” I said, “it cannot.” He said to me, “In Hades the chambers of the souls are like the womb. 42 For just as a woman who is in travail makes haste to escape the pangs of birth, so also do these places hasten to give back those things that were committed to them from the beginning. 43 Then the things that you desire to see will be disclosed to you.”

Jesus refers to the suffering facing his disciples prior to his return as a series of “birth pains” (Matt 24:8). These pains are not the end itself, but the suffering and pain expected before the new age is fully revealed. In the Olivet Discourse, this will include natural suffering (disasters, etc.) but also direct persecution on account of Jesus Christ.

Paul is in step with Second Temple Judaism by describing creation as utterly corrupted by sin. Many in the first century were also looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 1 Enoch 45:4-4; Jubilees 4:26).

Throughout Romans there has been a present and future aspect of redemption. We are save, but not wholly glorified yet we have yet to come into our inheritance.” Does the present aspect of our redemption have any impact on creation? Evangelicals are quick to talk about redeeming people, but to the redeemed people have any responsibility toward creation?

 

What is the Law? – Romans 8:3

By sending his Son, God accomplished what the law could not. But to what does the law refer in this Romans 8:3? Law may refer to the Mosaic Law, keeping to the context of Romans 7:1-12 or as a “principle” as in 7:21 (the “sin principle”).

Torah-fingerJames Dunn and N. T. Wright argue Paul is consistently contrasting the Mosaic Law (or at least the boundary markers of the Law) in Romans 7 and it makes sense he should continue to contrast the written code (7:6) and the law of the Spirit. Although the Law promised life to those who kept it perfectly, it was powerless to deal with the real problem facing humanity, the problem of sin.

Colin Kruse argues the second view is preferable since it makes Romans 8:1 a continuation of 7:21-25. There is a principle at work in the people who desire to do what is good, but find themselves doing what they know to be wrong. The person who is in Christ is freed from the sin principle (7:25) and is not able to be punished for that sin principle because it has been fulfilled by Christ.

A problem is Paul’s description of the Law as weak (ἀσθενέω, v. 3). The verb refers to something that is weakened, perhaps by illness. This is often the word-group used in the Gospels for those who are healed by Jesus. But Paul uses the word for any kind of weakness or inability, including the “weak brother” in Romans 14 who is unable to eat meat due to their conscience. In chapter 7 the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to define sin so that humanity could be justly punished and know they are in need of a savior. That is not a weakness or inability, but rather the purpose for which the Law was originally designed.

In either case, this law is powerless to set people free from the power of sin which results in a downward spiral into more sin and finally in death.