Home > Romans 9 > Roman Theme Party

Roman Theme Party

Put on your most Roman garb, and let’s do as the Romans do. Party like it’s mid-1st century… and Jesus Messiah has risen. However, my parties aren’t all that exciting. There is alcohol, but it’s only a single glass of scotch. The theme is awesome though. It’s new covenant theology baby. Let’s get it started in here.

Believe it or not, Romans 9 is not meant as a standalone chapter. It’s meaning is intended to be understood in light of the rest of the book of Romans. Like the rest of my posts, I’m choosing only to focus on a few snippets of Romans 9 and am not trying to do a complete exegesis of the chapter. I don’t think I have the skill with interpretation to do that. It’s too thick for my thick skull. But I hope what I have to offer does something to make this chapter come a little more alive. I’m going to talk about some of the interrelated running themes of Romans that Romans 9 elaborates on, clarifies, and foundationalizes. Also, if you don’t know Romans well and don’t choose to read the passages I talk about, it’s probably just a waste of time for you to read this. Unless you like my strange writing humor.

Jews and Greeks

The first theme is related to a phrase Paul says three times in the first two chapters of Romans: “the Jew first and also the Greek.” I think his first use is the most telling (maybe not, but I like it the most). He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul is introducing an idea that develops throughout the book of Romans, the Jews received salvation first and now the Greeks (Gentiles) are receiving it. Part of the development of this idea is a multi-chapter comparison between Jews and Gentiles.

In chapter 1 he starts with an overview of all people, making no distinction between Jew and Gentile. He talks about how, because of God’s revelation of himself through His creation, everyone, even those without the Law, is culpable for their sinful behavior. Paul really highlights the perverseness and gross deviations from God’s way. These sort of actions deserve death. Everyone will get the wrath that they have earned. He clarifies in Romans 2:9-10 that he is talking about both Jews and the Greeks. The Jews will get what they deserve first, but the Greek will get his too.

Then Paul gets into a brief discussion of the Law* where he presents ideas that I can’t think of an Old Testament precedent for offhand. Let me know if you can. He says that it is the law that condemns the Jews, but it is also the Law that condemns the Greek! Those without the law show their heart knowledge of the Law by obeying the law, and so, due to their knowledge, are judged by the law. It’s a fascinating (and sneaky) way of uplifting the law while talking about the solidarity Jews have with Gentiles and further introducing the idea that Jews and Greeks are in the same position before God. Paul is smart. In chapter 3 Paul more clearly and specifically talks about how even though the Jews came first, and that’s great, they are in the same position as non-Jew. Both are convicted by the law as a lawbreaker (and in need of the law to be put to death). Both are sinful and wretched and objects of wrath.**

In Romans 9 the first five verses really talk up the Jews and their importance in God’s plan for humanity and all of the firsts that He gave them. They were the first. Awesome. But this inclusion of Gentiles is not God’s lacking faithfulness. Paul has already explained a lot about just how similar Jews and Gentiles are. They are held to the same standards, they are guilty of their own choices, they are equally in need of a saving action. Not only is there a similarity of their state of guilt, but now through the saving action that Jews and Gentiles need is an incorporation of the Gentiles into the covenant people of God as full members. Jews were full members first, but now the Gentiles are too. I think the powerful arguments Paul makes in Romans 9 about this idea of the Gentiles’ inclusion as covenant members are explained in my other posts, so I won’t get to that much here. My point is that in Romans 9 Paul doesn’t suddenly throw upon the Jewish people this idea that Gentiles are fully included as God’s people. Like a good persuader, he has been rhetorically developing the equality and solidarity of Jew and Greek and continuously expounding on the various ways in which they are alike. Romans 9 is simply the same argument expanded.

God’s Consistent Sovereign Relationship With Humanity

Romans 9 is nothing if not a declaration of God’s sovereignty and consistency and a predictive and defensive explanation of his single, complex plan to invite everyone, all people groups, into his kingdom as full partners in a covenant relationship. Throughout Romans, Paul describes a sovereign God who is in an incessant relationship with humanity, most of which is concerned with their mess.

Paul starts talking about the Gentiles in Romans 1, declaring that it is only by the power of the sovereign God he follows that he invites the Gentiles into an obedience of faith. It’s through God that the call to them comes. It’s ultimately His doing.

Also in Romans 1 is the discussion mentioned above about how God is revealed to all mankind and no man (or woman) has an excuse for his sin. While this, like much of Romans, is a part of the process of showing the relational solidarity of Jews and Gentiles, this whole discussion relies on the transcendence and primacy of God. It is God who has made His eternal power and divine nature visible since creation. Even as people are sinning and making their free choices to refuse God His glory, Paul makes it clear that their continuance in this is because of God. He “gave them up in the lusts of their hearts” and He “gave them up to dishonorable passions.” It’s a way of talking about God’s intimate involvement in the situation without talking about God as the reason for their sin. They sin because they choose to, but could not if God did not give them over to these things.

In Romans 2 we have talk of God’s judgment of all who sin, Jews and Gentiles equally. Judgment is something that can only be done by a sovereign relational God. In Romans 3 we see Paul declaring God’s transcendent and consistent faithfulness to the covenant He has made, despite humanity’s unrighteous departure from the terms of the covenant. God is faithful even when all humanity is not and because of God’s sovereignty, His faithfulness is enough to fill the covenant on behalf of humanity.

Even Abraham, the great father of the present people of God, was not a man who was justified by acting  in line with the terms of the covenant. Even Abraham, the exalted forefather of the Jews, did not live an adequately righteous life to take care of his part of the agreement. But it was God who justified him. Without circumcision, without the law. Abraham had faith that God would do what He promised, but even still, it was God who counted that faith to Abraham as righteousness. He’s the reason the relationship even works.

In Romans 5 Paul explains even further this relational problem humans have with God. He shows, as he has been doing, that the problem is not just one of the people of God transgressing the law or people not having outward signs of the covenant. It’s much deeper than that. It’s much bigger. It’s much more universal. He shows that the relational problem came before the Jews were even an idea, long before Abraham was even a twinkle in his father’s eye, and much much longer before the Law was given to Israel. It’s the problem of the first man. It’s the problem from Man, from Adam, that makes this relationship with God so difficult. And this central problem, universal problem, the core problem, is the one that God is Himself fixing even though it’s not His problem. It’s ours, but God is the only solution. The solution is the sovereign Lord through Messiah Jesus, as Messiah Jesus, making right the issue that plagues both Jew and Greek equally: sin in sinful man. This is a big God who is the first actor in relationship. He is the one who has always been working with humanity to make relationship with Him possible. The Lord YHWH is the ultimate reason for all this.

Romans 9 adds to this theme in a couple of ways. I think it was somewhat of a surprising truth to the Jews that the inclusion of the Greek into the covenant people of God is not unlike what God has been doing all along. Even though it may feel to the Jews like a new thing that is out of character for YHWH, he has always been interacting with all of humanity in one way or another. It has never been primarily about humanity’s action toward Him through circumcision or the Law, but about the Supreme Being’s actions with humanity.

Paul shows this in Romans 9, not by redefining the stories for the Jews, but by showing something in the stories that they may not have seen before. He demonstrates this by interpreting the stories as they were finally meant to be interpreted, in light of the rightwising Jesus Messiah. Blood relationship is not the primary factor in deciding who is a child of the promise, it’s God’s choice. It’s not the way man expects it (like through the firstborn) or tries to make it happen (like through a servant woman), but through the sovereign way of YHWH.

Paul has some pretty strong words with those who would argue with him, declaring essentially that to argue with this point is to argue with God. A paraphrased sampling: God will be merciful to whoever He wants to be merciful to. Who are you to say differently? What are you, a lump of clay, thinking as you argue with God? Will you be the clay set apart for God’s wrath or will you trust that what God is doing through Jesus Messiah now is His faithfulness? What will you choose? It’s a matter of acknowledging the full inclusion of the Greek as covenant members or opposing the Sovereign God who is drawing the Gentiles in with covenantal terms that are both new and old.

Covenantal Terms

God set out different relationship terms for different covenants. Paul talks a little bit about some of these signs of the covenant in ways that show that, even though they are important and awesome, they are not what is primarily important. We’ve already discussed them some, but I’ll highlight what they are.***

Paul talks about the law and how it is great that the Jews have “been entrusted with the oracles of God.” However, Paul also talks about how the Law has done nothing to make the people of God righteous and the Law has also functioned to the Greek, although they existed apart from the people of the Law, to make them unrighteous. It has the same function for those that have it and those that don’t. Paul discusses circumcision and its value, but how it is valueless if one doesn’t keep the Law (he later shows that no one keeps the Law). So, even though this sign is valuable, it doesn’t make the difference. Before these covenant terms existed, another one was present that is always of value.

Faith. The Law has made all unjust, but through God’s merciful action in Jesus, all can be justified through faith (Romans 3:22-24). It is faith that makes things right, but faith only has power because of the God the faith is in and His initial graceful work of redemption.

Paul explains that faith has always been what the relationship is all about in his interpretation of Abraham. Paul shows that Abraham, the flesh father of the Jews, didn’t obtain covenant righteousness with God by the same ways that the Jews were pursuing it. Although later Abraham had the circumcision and later through his descendants the Law came, it was before circumcision that Abraham was justified. It was apart from the law that Abraham was made righteous. With the forefather of the Jewish people, covenant justification was obtained through faith in YHWH and what He says. It was given through the belief of Abraham. Faith is the ultimate necessity for covenant righteousness for Abraham, why would it be different for the Jews?****

In Romans 9 Paul says it’s fantastic that the Israelites have “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises, and the patriarchs.” Then he shows that these things, though sweet, are not enough to be a member of God’s chosen people. Nor is not having them enough to exclude anyone from being a member of God’s chosen people. The old covenant signs are no more and now there is only the term of the covenant that has always been.

Faith. As we see at the end of Romans 9 (and developed even more as Paul moves through Romans*****), Paul’s conclusion is that the Gentiles, although they have not been in this covenant pursuit of righteousness, have attained righteousness by their faith in Jesus Messiah. The Jews, although they have pursued righteousness, have not attained it because they did not pursue it through faith, but through the Law. This whole faith to attain righteousness thing feels counterintuitive because the former pursuers of covenant justification are just as likely to be excluded as the new people who did not pursue covenant justification but attained it anyway through faith in God’s fulfillment of his promise.

But it’s a part of what God has been doing all along and what he said he would do. God laid a stumbling stone in Zion, an offensive rock, and it is trusting in this counterintuitive rock that justifies and keeps people from being in shame. Not only trusting in Jesus for salvation and righteousness and redemption, but also, as implied by this passage, trusting that God’s work through Jesus applies equally to Gentiles. As we’ve been discovering, God has had this in mind all along and his inclusion of the unexpected, determining children by the promise not by genes, and making a covenant relationship with the younger are all precursors to this present covenant with the Gentiles. Including people into His people that were once not His people has long been a part of God’s plan with the Messiah.

Rejecting other believers in Jesus’ work on the cross as covenant members because they haven’t had the same theological background, don’t have the same history, haven’t had the Law, believe different things about a right life, live differently, or are younger in the faith is tantamount to a rejection of Jesus.***** To exclude believers in the redemptive and rightwising Messiah Jesus from the covenant community is to have no faith in God and in what He has been doing all along. It is to stumble on the stumbling stone.

*That I would argue seems to really function to make less of the Law’s special significance to Jews.

**Also, I’m only explaining a very limited portion of the story of Romans. It is important to note that after Paul draws out this deep and ubiquitous problem of sin, he says, “you got a problem? Yo I’ll solve it.” Read Romans 5-8. Just awesome.

***Do you feel yet how interconnected some of the major themes of Romans are and just how cohesive this beautiful book is?

****Hint: It’s not.

*****”The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

******Love Wins.

*******I probably should edit this one. Because it’s long and I wrote one part one day and another part a week later. If anyone wants to show me the things I need to fix, that would be great. I just hate reading what I write. It always sounds better in my head.

Categories: Romans 9 Tags: , , , ,
  1. Daniel
    June 22, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    That was very interesting and insightful. I appreciate you writing it all out for others.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: