The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)
"Chapter 8. Letter to the Romans"
It seems that Paul had written Second Corinthians from Macedonia, in the fall of 57 A.D. He went to Corinth, perhaps directly, perhaps by way of Illyricum (cf. Romans 15:19). He arrived in Corinth, his third visit, in the winter of 57, probably in December. He stayed three months in Achaia (cf. Acts 20:2-3). During this stay, probably at Corinth, and probably in the winter of 57-58, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans.
It seems Paul felt his chief work in the east was over, and so planned, after going to Jerusalem again, to go to Rome, and from there, to go to the farther west, especially Spain.
We do not know who first brought the faith to Rome. Acts 2:10 speaks of Jews from Rome in Jerusalem at the first Christian Pentecost. Some think they may not have come just for the feast and then returned to Rome -- some Jews wanted to spend their last years before death in Jerusalem. But it is likely that at least some of those mentioned did go back to Rome. We do not know when Peter first came there. Probably sometime after the Council of Jerusalem, which was probably in 49 A.D. Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish converts, had to leave Rome because of the edict of Claudius, and reached Corinth about 49. The expulsion may have come after a conflict of Jews and Jewish Christians at Rome. Suetonius in his life of Emperor Claudius (25) says: "He expelled Jews making constant disturbance, led by Chrestos. [A garbled version of Christ -- really, Christians]." That seems to imply converts to Christianity were in Rome before 49. There is a funeral inscription of a woman, Pomponia Graecina, seemingly a Christian, buried in Rome about 43 A.D.
It is disputed whether the community at Rome was mostly Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians. The latter seems more likely.
Practically all admit today that this Epistle is by Paul, though a question can be raised over the final doxology in 16:25-27. Chapter 16:1-23 is a different problem. Most admit it is by Paul, but is it part of the original letter? Marcion, Tertullian, Cyprian and Irenaeus seem to know the Epistle without these verses, in fact, without chapters 15-16. Chapter 16:1-16 reads like a letter of introduction for one Phoebe. In spite of these questions, the Church has declared all these parts part of Scripture, and so inspired.
Romans has affected our theology more than any other New Testament book. The chief Patristic commentaries were made by: Origen, St. John Chrysostom, Theodoret, St. John Damascene, Oecumenius, Theophylact, Ambrosiaster and Pelagius. There are famous commentaries also by Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon.
Some Books to Compare
Since there is so much difference of opinion about many things in Romans, it will be interesting to know some of the chief commentaries. At a number of points we will tell which authors hold which opinions. The opinions proposed here at times differ from all these commentators. Then it could be interesting to compare. The Church has not spoken explicitly on many lines in Romans, but indirectly has established many things. This commentary never differs from the Church, even indirectly or by implication. Yet it does offer some new answers to old questions, which the other commentaries at times seem unable to provide. Here are the chief commentaries on Romans. (Many of these are in foreign languages, but we will report at the right times what they say):
P. Althaus, Der Brief an die Römer, Göttingen, 1959; C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans Edinburgh, l971; C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 1975, 1979; J. Fitzmyer, in Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990; J. Huby, Epître aux Romains, (Revised edition by S. Lyonnet), Paris, 1957; O. Kuss, Der Römerbrief, Regensburg, 1963-78; M.-J. Lagrange, Epître aux Romains, Paris, l950; F. Leenhardt, The Epistle to the Romans, London, 1961; H. Lietzman, An die Römer, Tübingen, 1929; O. Michel, Der Brief an die Römer, Göttingen, 1966; J. Fitzmyer, Romans (Anchor Bible 1993 -- has abundant data, but does not address most of the great seeming contradictions in Romans).
Summary of Romans 1:1-12
Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, who was called to be an Apostle, and set aside for the Gospel of God, which God foretold in advance through his prophets in the Old Testament about His Son, who according to the flesh came from the line of David, who was appointed as Son-of-God-in-Power according to a spirit of holiness after his resurrection from the dead. Through Him Paul has received the grace of apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all gentiles, for His name. Among them the Romans were called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul wishes grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to all at Rome who are beloved by God and called holy.
He gives thanks to God through Jesus Christ for the Roman Christians. For their faith is known in the whole world. Paul calls God to witness, the God whom he serves in his spirit, that he constantly remembers all of them in his prayers, praying that somehow finally he may be able to come to them, in accord with the will of God. For he longs to see them, so he may give them some spiritual grace to strengthen them -- that is, to be consoled together with them, each by the faith of the other.
Comments on 1:1-12
The above passage is mostly a long introduction. Paul says what any Jew would say, that the Messiah was foretold by the prophets. (Of course, not all Jews saw Jesus was the Messiah). To say, as some do today, that one can get something out of the Old Testament prophecies only by hindsight, only by seeing them fulfilled in Christ, is to forget that the Jews actually did understand very much, as we can see from their Aramaic Targums (Aramaic versions of the Old Testament, usually free and with fill-ins) which saw as Messianic chiefly : Genesis 3:15; Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17-24; Isaiah 9:5-6 and 11:1-16; and 53; Micah 5:1-3. As to Isaiah 7:14, the Babylonian Talmud,Sanhedrin, 99a reports that Hillel, one of the two great teachers at the time of Christ, thought it was Messianic, that Hezekiah, son of Achaz (to whom Isaiah spoke) had been the Messiah. Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context, Fortress, Philadelphia, 1984, p.190) tells us that later, when the Jews saw Christians using that verse, they stopped saying it was Messianic. But they gave themselves away -- for all today admit that the child of 9:5-6 is the same as the child of 7:14 (both verses belong to the stretch we call the book of Immanuel). And the Targums do mark 9:5-6 as Messianic. The same study by Neusner gives an exhaustive survey of all Jewish literature from after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian Talmud. He finds no interest in the Messiah up to that Talmud. In the period 500-600, the time of the Babylonian Talmud, he found interest did return but they spoke of only one of the great prophecies of the Old Testament, that he would be of the line of David. It is obvious that the targumic work on prophecies, which sees the Messiah in so many places, could not have been written in these periods when there was little or no interest in a Messiah. So the targumic work on the prophecies is very early. Some scholars think it goes back in oral form to the time of Ezra.1
Paul says Jesus was appointed Son-of-God-in-power by the spirit of holiness after His resurrection. We put the hyphens in to indicate that all the words are part of one title. The sense is this: He always was the Son of God, and in His divinity always had all power. But as Philippians 2:7 tells us: "He emptied Himself," that is, He made the policy of not using His divine power for His own comfort -- He would use it only for the sick. But then after the resurrection, He said (Mt 28:18): "All power is given to me in heaven and on earth." Then He would exercise that almighty power even as man.
Paul's work is to bring about the "obedience of faith" in the gentiles. The of in that phrase is the same as the of in "The city of Washington," etc. It does not mean that Washington has a city -- it means the city that is Washington. We recall here the definition of faith Paul has in mind: if God speaks a truth, faith requires us to believe it; if He makes a promise, we must have confidence in it; if God tells us to do something, we obey, with the obedience of faith. All these are to be done in love. (Please recall the entry on faith in our glossary with the quote from the Protestant Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible).
There is a delightful polite touch in the fact that at first he says he will give them some spiritual grace, and then as it were he pulls back and says "that is, so each may be consoled by the faith of the other."
Summary of Romans 1:13-18
He says strongly that he has often wanted to come to see them, so he could have some fruit in Rome as he already has among other gentiles. He is obliged to preach to both Greeks and non-Greeks, to the wise and the foolish. So naturally he has desired to preach at Rome too.
He is not ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God to bring salvation to everyone who has faith -- first to the Jews, then to the Greeks.
The moral rightness of God is revealed in the Gospel in ever increasing degrees of faith. Scripture says: "The just man will live by faith."
For the anger of God is revealed from heaven over all impiety and violations of righteousness on the part of men who in their unrighteousness hinder what is true and right.
Comments on 1:13-18
When Paul says the Gospel is the power to bring salvation to all who have faith, he is just repeating his favorite theme of justification by faith. That will be the great thrust of the first part of this Epistle. His plan will be this: He will first show that the gentiles, if they try to gain salvation by keeping the law, fail completely. Then he will show that the Jews fail too. Jews plus gentiles equal everyone. Hence all must turn to faith for justification. (Please recall our Supplement on Luther after Galatians 2:15).
It is tremendously important to note this thrust. For soon some difficult lines will come, and commentators are inclined to infringe on Paul's thrust and ruin his argument by saying that Paul speaks only of tendencies on the part of humans. That would imply not all are failures, and then his argument intended to show that all must turn to faith for justification would fail, if some could get justification by keeping the law instead of by faith.
We will soon notice that Paul often, not always, in Romans is using the focused view (which can also be called a system as system view). Thus he will make statements that in the factual picture are too strong: they are not in accord with the historical picture. But in the focused view his statements are quite all right. For he is going (last part of chapter 1) to accuse Greeks of much more than what they really did. Similarly for the Jews (2:17ff.). He can do this only by focusing, i.e., by saying that the law in general, and even each major precept of the law is a heavy demand. But that precept gives no strength. To be under a heavy demand with no strength means one must fall and fail. In fact, all will fail under each major command! Of course he knows that is too strong in the factual picture, in which God's grace, even before Christ, is offered to us. With it, the picture changes: some still reject the grace and fail; others use it and do not fall. It is clear that Paul knows that the focused view is not factual, does not correspond to reality, for in 1 Corinthians 6:11, after giving a smaller list of the greater sins, he says to the Corinthians: "Some of you were such sinners." He says this even though Corinth was an especially licentious city. But in 1 Corinthians 6:11 he was talking in the factual picture -- here in Romans chapters 1-3 he will be often (at times he shifts) using the focused picture. Of course as we go along we will clearly point out which kind of view he is using at the moment.
When he says the Gospel is the power for Jews first and then for the Greeks, he seems to have in mind that God first revealed Himself clearly to the Jews, and also that he, Paul, in preaching, went to the synagogues first. There he usually got few converts, and often persecution instead. Then he would turn to the gentiles, and find a fine reception.
When he says that the moral rightness of God is revealed from heaven, the words "righteousness of God" have caused much dispute. The most favored view is that the phrase means His activity to save His people.2 But there is reason to fear that this interpretation has been founded more on Protestant prejudice than on careful Scriptural work. Thus Martin Luther himself3 wrote that he was eager to understand the Epistle to the Romans, but for long he was disturbed by the words, 'the righteousness of God' which he took to mean that righteousness whereby God acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous. He says he pondered long and hard until he "grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith."
Today scholars have begun to see Luther's situation honestly. Thus in Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, the statement agreed on by both Lutherans and Catholics said in §24: "In their situation [that of the reformers] the major function of justification by faith was rather, to console anxious consciences terrified by the inability to do enough to earn or merit salvation." And in §29: "The starting point for Luther was his inability to find peace with God." He was scrupulous, and got out of it only by coming to think that even if he was sinning mortally all the time, everything was still all right.
The right way to approach the question -- not much noticed -- is to realize that St. Paul often has in mind a Hebrew word behind his Greek. The Hebrew behind Greek dikaiosyne (righteousness) was sedaqah. We see first that it means God's concern for what is right in general: Psalm 11:7; 33:5; Genesis 18:19. Then we see that it also stands for God's concern for the right in conferring benefits: e.g., Judges 5:11; Isaiah 61:8 and 52:1; Psalm 24:5; Job 37:23. The word also expresses His concern for what is right, in punishing: Isaiah 59:15-18 (in this passage even yeshua which usually means salvation, also means punishing. The use of naqam is the same. In 1 Samuel 15:33 ysha is also used to mean punish); Isaiah 63:5 (same usages as in 59:15-18); Isaiah 10:22; Lamentations 1:10. We see from Isaiah 5:15-16 and Ezekiel 28:22 that it is His Holiness that calls for His observance of sedaqah.
We find next that underlying both kinds of uses of sedaqah -- favorable and unfavorable -- lies the covenant, e.g., Psalm 103:17 uses sedaqah in parallel with hesed, the word for the covenant bond -- showing that they mean the same. It shows also in many other places, e.g., especially in Deuteronomy 11:26. God's concern for what is right in itself shows dramatically in the widespread theme of sheggagah, the case of inadvertent violations, which still called for a makeup, e.g., in chapter 4 of Leviticus, in Genesis 12:17 and in many other places in Old Testament and New Testament and Patristic literature. The widespread concept of sin as a debt that must be paid shows also His concern for moral rightness. This concept is common in the Old Testament, in Intertestamental Literature, in the New Testament, in Rabbinic texts, and in Patristic works.
We conclude: the favored view that righteousness of God means saving activity is not entirely wrong, but it is shallow and onesided. Rather the real basis is the covenant, in which He promises benefits for obedience, penalty for disobedience.
When used to refer to humans, sedaqah has the same meaning as we have seen it has referring to God.4
If we move on to verse 18 which speaks of the anger of God revealed from the heavens, we note that it opens with the word for. Commentators have not noticed that fact. For continues the thought in the same direction, unlike but which changes the direction. So 17 and 18 are unified in this way: both are a carrying out of the covenant commitment God has made.
In passing, we notice the expression in verse 17, "from faith to faith." We take it to mean moving from one degree of faith to another. This is parallel to "from death to death" in 2 Corinthians 2:16. It means going from one step in faith to another.
Paul also, in verse 17 cites Habacuc 2:4: "The just man will live by faith." The original sense was that the upright man would live when the Chaldeans invaded, by his fidelity to God. Paul extends the sense here. Rabbis commonly were loose in their handling of Old Testament texts. Paul was trained as a Rabbi.
At the end of verse 18 Paul speaks of those who by their unrighteousness -- violation of the moral order -- hinder or hold back the truth. At times Paul uses truth to mean moral good, and lie to mean sin. If we think of the English expression "true to form" we can follow this usage. God has as it were a pattern or form in His mind to which humans should conform. If they do that, they are "true to form," and practice the truth. The opposite is a lie.
Summary of Romans 1:19-28
God makes known to people His own existence. He is invisible, but can be known by the visible things of His creation, so that His invisible power and divinity can be known. So those who do not come to know Him are without excuse.
But many who did come to know His existence did not honor Him as God or give thanks. They became foolish in their thoughts, and their ununderstanding heart became dark. They said they were wise, but really became fools. For instead of Him they worshipped images of corruptible man, and flying things, and creeping things.
Since they did this, God let them go into the uncleanness they wanted, so as to dishonor their bodies with each other. They followed the lie instead of the truth of God. They worshipped and served creatures instead of the Creator -- who is blessed forever. Amen.
Because of this, God turned them over to the dishonorable passions they wanted. Their women exchanged their natural use for the unnatural. The men similarly left the natural use of the woman and burned instead with desire for other men, so that males did what was improper on males. They received in their own persons the pay proper for their wandering. They for their part did not see fit to keep God in their knowledge -- God for His part handed them over to a depraved mind with which they did what was not right.
Comments on 1:19-28
Paul says that God has made Himself known by His creation. Anyone who does not come to know His existence is without excuse. Anthropology shows this is true, for primitives do know God or gods. Many of those who worship many gods also know one great God -- who in some cases they say they do not worship since they have nothing worthy of Him. In fact, modern anthropology shows that the primitives on the least advanced level of material culture at least very often know only one God, and worship Him. Polytheism and other distortions come with advancing civilization.
St. Justin the Martyr, in his First Apology 46 (around 145 A.D.) has a remarkable comment, which does not contradict St. Paul. He says that many in the past who were thought to be atheists -- he mentions Socrates and Heraclitus -- were really Christians, since they followed the Logos (the Divine Word). In Second Apology 10.8 he adds that "the Logos . . . is in everyone." What does the Logos do in each one? He makes known to people what they must do, what morality requires. We will see later remarkable implications of this. We can see now that such people are not atheists in Paul's sense, for they do know and follow the Spirit of Christ, without knowing what it is that they are following.
To return to St. Paul's picture: Even though they did know God, many by their sins of idolatry went down and down farther in the moral scale, for they lost the light. They even worshipped animals or animal headed human figures -- the Egyptians did this. Their chief God Amon-Ra had a ram's head with a human body. Their descent could be compared to a spiral, which gets larger as it goes farther out. We notice that at the bottom is homosexuality. And in the last verse of this chapter, Paul will say that there are some who once knew these things deserve death, but now they not only do them, but approve of doing them. That of course is the ultimate degradation, to say sin is good.
Summary of Romans 1:29-32
Now Paul gives a horrible litany of the vices of the gentiles: they are full of all kinds of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, ill-will, gossiping, slander, hating God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventing evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness. They once knew the just decree of God that those who do such things deserve death. But now they not only do these things, they even approve of those who do them.
Comments on 1:19-32
In our comments at the start of 1:13-18 we observed that Paul is using his familiar pattern of a focused picture in chapter 1, especially in the last verses. This is clear since everyone admits that historically the gentiles were not as wicked as this, and especially that not all were that wicked. As we said above, Paul himself knows that not all were thus, for, as we pointed out above, in 1 Corinthians 6:11, after a smaller litany of great sins, he said that only "certain ones of them" were that way. In 1 Corinthians he was using the factual picture, in which one sees that the grace of God is available even before Christ. Those who use it do not have to fall. But in the focused picture, people cannot get that grace, and of course do fall.
What do the commentators do here? Here are some samples: Many admit that the picture Paul gives is not realistic. Yet they do not compare this passage with 1 Corinthians 6:11 where, as we said, Paul recognizes that not all were guilty of all the great sins. Nor do they relate this passage to 2:1-3 in spite of Paul's connecting word in 2:1, "for this reason." (More on this when we reach 2:1-3). Fitzmyer says: "In this entire section, Paul is not saying that every individual pagan before Christ's coming was a moral failure. . . . He does not mean that paganism was de iure incapable of moral uprightness." But this ruins Paul's argument that all are hopeless and so must turn to faith. Leenhardt says: "He wishes to describe an orientation of the human being, its inner tendencies." Our comment here is the same as on Fitzmyer. Michel says: "Paul will not characterize each pagan as such, rather he points out the direction in which the inner disintegration of paganism drives them." -- Same comment again.
But we can explain: Paul needs to use the focused picture in the first part of Romans, as we said, to make the claim that all -- Jew and gentile -- are hopeless if they try for salvation by keeping the law. Gentiles all fail. His charges against the Jews begin in 2:17. But they to, in a focused picture, fail. It is only in a focused picture that all fail. Why we say that all fail will be clearer when we get into the first lines of chapter 2. (We recall that Paul himself did not make chapter and verse divisions. That is the work of later editors. In fact, in his day, the manuscripts did not even separate words).
In 1:32 we rendered in such a way as to distinguish two periods of time: they once did know these things deserve death; now they approve of doing these things. Not all versions bring this out. But it is necessary. For one cannot at one and the same time know a thing deserves death and say it is good. The key is in the Greek aorist participle epignontes. It can be translated as expressing mere aspect of action, or as standing for past time. We have taken it this second way. Quite a few commentators, as Cranfield says, wonder how it can be worse to approve of a sin than to commit the sin. They miss the fact that it is one thing to sin and admit sin is sin, another thing -- and much worse -- to say that sin is good! In addition, they seem not to have noted the time difference we just explained, nor the fact that the people in question do both -- they both sin and say sin is not sin but good.
In the course of his litany of vices, Paul made homosexuality the centerpiece as it were. We add: In the Old Testament, Leviticus 20:13 prescribes: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death." In the New Testament, the Epistle of Jude 7: "Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." The Intertestamental literature of the Jews shows how they interpreted God's punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah.5
Summary of Romans 2:1-5
For this reason every one who judges another is without excuse. He really condemns himself too, for he does the very same sins!
Paul asks if such a one who judges others and does the same himself hopes to escape the judgment of God? Or does he disregard the rich kindness and patience and long-suffering of God? That patience of God is aimed at leading him to repentance. But instead, in his hard and unrepentant heart he is accumulating for himself anger on the day of God's anger, when the just judgment of God will be revealed.
Comments on 2:1-5
There are two key expressions here: "For this reason," which explicitly ties what he now says to the terrible litany of the vices of the gentiles -- and the fact that Paul says that one who judges another is guilty of "the very same sins" himself.
The commentators do not do well here. First, most of them try to wipe out the force of that connector, "for this reason," since they cannot see how to make sense of it. Instead they say it is a weak particle which we can ignore. Now Greek does have such weak particles, often ignored in translation. But this word is not one. It is dio which always means "for which reason." Cranfield thinks he has solved the problem if, contrary to most commentators, he makes the charges of chapter 1 refer to Jews as well as gentiles. But even if that would be so, he does not solve the problem of "the very same sins." He merely thinks they sin in general.
The trouble is increased since some commentators think that 2:1 begins Paul's charges against the Jews. Then of course there is added reason for trying to make dio almost meaningless, for if 2:1 speaks of Jews, there could be no such connection to chapter 1 since in it, clearly, Paul did not speak of the Jews.
When the commentators come to the words "the very same sins," they soften the saying to mean that in general people are sinners. Fitzmyer simply ignores the problem. Althaus says that even if the man does not do the same sins, he basically contradicts God. Cranfield similarly says that the words the very same sins "need not imply that [the one who judges] sins in precisely the same ways." Kuss does better in saying that Paul is describing "the sad state of humanity before Christ and without Christ." If he means that historically all were lost before the time of Christ, that would be a sad error. If he means something like our focused picture, it would be much better.
We do, of course, solve both problems by the use of our distinction of focused view vs. factual view. If we take the focused view of chapter 1 -- which is needed since otherwise Paul's picture is greatly exaggerated, as he himself shows he knows in 1 Corinthians 6:11 -- we can say here in chapter 2: Not only the law as a whole, but each major command in the law is a heavy demand. To be under a heavy demand without any help, is to fall. Hence all fall into all sins. This of course is true only in a focused view, not in the factual picture. This is a drastic solution, we admit. But the commentators in general just give up, as our samples show. As to the opening word "for this reason" we do tie it to the litany of chapter 1, in which, in the focused view, all are guilty of all sins.
Summary of Romans 2:6-13
God will repay each one according to his works. So there is glory and honor and freedom from corruption for those who try to reach eternal life by patience in good works, but anger and God's fury to those who disobey the truth and obey unrighteousness. Every soul that does evil will find affliction and anguish: first the Jew, then the Greek. But there is glory, honor, peace to those who do good: first to the Jews, then the Greeks. God plays no favorites. For all who have sinned without knowing the law will perish without the law. Those who have sinned with the law will be condemned through the law. It is not those who merely hear the law who are just in God's eyes: those who do the law are just.
Comments on 2:6-13
This passage has caused much difficulty to many, especially to Protestants. The problem is this: Paul so insistently, over and over, stresses that justification comes by faith, not by good works. Yet here in this passage he does nothing but say several times over that God does reward good works! In the volume which we cited above, Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, Joseph Burgess, one of the three editors, has a chapter on this question, "Rewards, But in a Very Different Sense." He reviews ten Protestant attempts to solve the problem, but rejects them all. He himself does not manage to solve it either. Some Catholics have done little more than rejoice to see Paul preaching the need of good works. But they have not solved the problem.
And yet, the solution is not at all difficult. We start by noticing that St. Paul, when he says God will repay each one according to his works, is merely quoting from Psalm 62:13. We need to read the line in the Hebrew -- Paul would of course have that in mind. For the usual English translations hardly make sense at all. They are apt to say: "You, Lord, have mercy (or: love) for you repay each one according to his works." But it is not mercy to repay according to works. It is justice. But the Hebrew, instead of mercy or love, has hesed, the word for the covenant relationship. So the line means then: "You, Lord, do observe the covenant, for you repay. . . ." We need then to ask a question on two levels, on the fundamental level, and on the secondary level. On the fundamental level, no creature can by its own power establish a claim on God. So there is no repayment at all, there is only unmerited, unmeritable generosity on the part of God. This corresponds to justification by faith, not works. But on the secondary level, namely, when God has once freely entered into a covenant, then, if the humans do what He calls for, then He owes it to Himself to carry out His commitment: If they do good, He promised to reward, to repay. He will do that.
Paul continues, in verses 7-11 saying the same as he said in verse 6, and the explanation is the same for all.
Twice Paul says: "First to the Jew, then to the Greek." And he even adds once: "God does not play favorites." This at first sight seems strange. We need a distinction: God does not play favorites in repayment -- all are repaid according to what they do. But on the time scale, God first began to deal with the Jews by explicit revelation; then with the Greeks. And Paul himself regularly went first to the synagogues in each new town, then to the gentiles.
Summary of Romans 2:14-16
The pagans do not have the revealed law, yet when with nature as their guide, they do what the law requires, they are a law for themselves. They show the work of the law written on their hearts. According to how they respond, their conscience will either accuse or defend them on the day when God will judge hearts through Paul's Gospel, through Jesus Christ.
Comments on 2:14-16
There are two problems in these lines: 1) Paul has been accusing all of all sins, but now he says that some gentiles keep the law. 2) Further, he seems to say those who keep it are saved by so doing, a contradiction of justification by faith.
Barrett says "to suggest that the Gentiles kept the moral law would make nonsense of Paul's thought as a whole." He says this since, as we have brought out, Paul's chief argument in the first chapters of Romans is that all are hopeless if they try for salvation through law -- so they must turn to justification by faith. Leenhardt says we must "avoid supposing that the Apostle wished to show 'how the Gentiles can be saved in spite of their not having received the law.'" His thought is much like that of Barrett. Dodd wants to rearrange the verses, and say this is a "possible exception." Kuss thinks it clashes with Romans 5:13 but says Paul is "concerned with arguing on the problem at hand, not with Systematics." Some, like Cranfield, not knowing that this is a factual picture in contrast to the focused picture Paul has just been using, repeat the same ancient mistake of St. Augustine, in thinking Paul must be speaking of converted gentiles, not of unconverted gentiles: Paul, Augustine thought, could not say such things of gentiles who were still unconverted. St. Augustine worried that verse 14 says they keep the law by nature -- he thought that had to mean: without grace. But it means the law is the guide, not their strength. Cranfield prefers the view of Augustine, without making clear if it is for the same reason.
We fear these attempts do not solve the problems. But, about the first problem, namely that Paul has been trying to show all gentiles guilty of all sins, yet now seems to say some gentiles are saved, we can use our helpful approach by way of two ways of looking at things -- the focused and the factual pictures. Thus far in Romans Paul has used strongly the focused view, as we have seen. But now he shifts to the factual picture -- we recall he did that in 1 Corinthians 6:11 -- within which grace is available through Christ, even to gentiles. If they use it, they will be saved.
This is like the thought of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 16: "For they who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation." This grace is, of course, offered abundantly to all, since (1 Tim 2:4): "God wills all to be saved." John Paul II, in his Encylical Mission of the Redeemer says the same in §10: "The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. . . . For such people, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation." We note especially that the Pope says they are not formally members of the Church. We will return to that point: they can be substantially members, even if not members by formal adherence.
We began above to show how this works out. The Spirit of Christ writes the law on their hearts (cf. Jeremiah 31:33: "I will write my law on their hearts"), that is, He makes known to them interiorly what is required of them. Those who follow it, are, without realizing it, following the Spirit of Christ. But, according to Romans 8:9, those who have and follow the Spirit of Christ, belong to Christ. In Paul's terms, to belong to Christ is the same as being members of Christ, the same as being members of the Church. 8:14 adds: "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, are sons of God." As sons, they have a claim to inherit along with Christ, for they are members of Christ and sons of God. To repeat: in Paul's language, to belong to Christ is the same as to be a member of Christ. And that in turn is the same as to be a member of the Church! Their membership will be less full, in that they do not explicitly adhere to the Church. Yet it is substantial, and sufficient for salvation, as Lumen Gentium 16 indicates. And we are offering a fill-in on what John Paul II said about not being formally members, yet being saved. Thus the old problem of the defined doctrine "no salvation outside the Church" is readily solved. In fact, Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium 49 says: "All who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church."6
The second part of the problem of these lines is that Paul seems to say they are saved by keeping the law -- in contrast to being free from the law and having justification by faith. To solve this we notice Paul makes two kinds of statements. On the one hand, he says we are free from the law; on the other hand he says (e.g., in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) that those who commit the great sins "will not inherit the kingdom." To reconcile these we notice that Paul was fighting against Judaizers who thought they earned salvation by keeping the law. So that is what Paul is denying, that salvation is earned by keeping the law. But he also makes clear in 1 Cor 6:9-10 that we can earn eternal loss by not keeping the law. A student in a discussion class summed it up neatly: "As to salvation, you can't earn it, but you can blow it." This is really the same as what Paul says in Romans 6:23: "The wages [what we earn] of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life." Again, when St. Paul says those who commit the great sins will not "inherit the kingdom," we recall that when we inherit from our parents, we do not say we earned it. But we could have earned to lose our inheritance, by being bad enough long enough. So they are saved not by earning it by keeping the law, but by avoiding earning punishment by breaking the law.
Paul's verb kleronomein at times means merely to get, not to inherit. But we must remember how often Paul speaks of us as sons of God, especially in Romans 8:17: "If we are children, we are heirs, heirs indeed of God, fellow-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." The proviso that we must suffer with Him reflects Paul's vision of the whole Christian regime: We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him. We can be said to merit or to get a claim, not by our own power, nor individually, but in as much as we are members of Christ and like Him, we come to share in the claim He established.
Let us apply this to Socrates, whom St. Justin mentioned. The Spirit of Christ wrote the law on the heart of Socrates. Socrates believed what he read there, he had confidence in it, and he obeyed it. So, since Socrates followed the Spirit of Christ, even without knowing what he was following, yet he did follow that Spirit, therefore Justin was right in saying Socrates was Christian (for he followed the divine Word, the Spirit of Christ). Further, in Romans 8:9 as we know, Paul says if one does not have and follow that Spirit, he does not belong to Christ. But then, if one does follow that Spirit he does belong to Christ. To belong to Christ is the same as being a member of Christ, as we said. And that, in turn, is the same as being a member of the Church, not by formal adherence, but substantially. (We note in passing this would serve to fill in what Pope John Paul II said about a mysterious grace that does not make them formally members of the Church -- but it does make them substantially members.)
Please notice in passing the three things in Socrates that add up to Paul's definition of faith, and note too that in Romans 3:29 Paul will say that God showed He was the God of the gentiles as well as of the Jews, since He made provision for them to be saved by faith.
Anthropology shows it is true that even primitives show a remarkably good knowledge of the moral law. So Paul is right in saying the gentiles do by nature the things of the law -- law is not their strength, but their guide. (Of course, it is one thing to know the law, another thing to follow it. Some primitives do follow, some do not).7
In saying that "they show the work of the law written on their hearts," Paul is clearly echoing Jeremiah 31:33 (the prophecy of the new covenant), in which God says: "I will write my law on their hearts." So God, the Logos, or the Spirit of Christ -- really, all are the same, since everything the Three Persons do outside the divine nature is common to all Three -- the Spirit of Christ writes the law on their hearts, that is, He makes known to them interiorly what they ought to do, what morality requires.
Summary of Romans 2:17-29
Paul charges a Jew, who has the name of being a Jew, and who has such confidence in the law, who boasts of his relationship to God, and claims to know the will of God, to know how to choose the better things by following the law, and who claims to be the leader of the blind, the light of those in darkness, the instructor of those who do not understand, the teacher of little ones, having the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the law -- Paul charges: You teach others. But you do not teach yourself. You preach we should not steal, but you steal. You say we should not commit adultery, but you do commit adultery. You abominate idols, but you steal from the temple. You boast over having the law, yet by violations of the law you dishonor God. For the name of God is blasphemed because of you among the gentiles, as Scripture says.
The Jew says: "Circumcision is beneficial." But if he violates the law, he might as well be uncircumcised. So if the uncircumcised gentiles keep the things the law demands for justification, will not they be as good as circumcised? And the uncircumcised gentile who by nature keeps the law condemns Jews who do have the law and circumcision, but violate the law. For the real Jew is not the one who is such in outward appearance. Nor is the real circumcision what appears outwardly. But the one who is interiorly a Jew is the real Jew. And circumcision of the heart, in the spirit, not in the flesh, is the real circumcision. Praise for it is not just from men but from God.
Comments on 2:17-29
In chapter 1 Paul showed -- in a heavily focused form -- that all gentiles are hopeless if they try to get salvation by keeping the law. Now in 2.17 he turns on the Jews, for he wants to be able to say that all -- both Jews and gentiles -- are hopeless, so that all must turn to justification by faith. Naturally he will use a focused picture of the Jews too. And that is obvious, for Jews in general were not nearly so bad as Paul paints them here.
Modern editors, not knowing how to use our focused vs. factual picture approach, try to soften the charges against the Jews by adding several question marks (for there was no punctuation in Paul's day), e.g., "You teach others. Do you teach yourself? You say we should not steal. Do you steal?" But in our approach there is no need to add question marks. In fact, Paul really wants to make it very strong, so as to show both Jew and gentile are hopeless if they try for justification by law, as we have said before. So we do not need to try to soften by adding question marks. Taking the text as statements is actually stronger, and that is what Paul wants.
Paul spoke of the pride and love of the Jews for the law. This was very true. Psalm 118 (119) is a long litany of praise of the law. It was thought to contain divine wisdom. In fact, in the Babylonian Talmud, Aboda Zarah 3b and in the Palestinian Targum on Deuteronomy 32:4 we read that God Himself divides the day into four parts, and spends three hours daily in studying the law!
When Paul says that because of the Jews the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles, he seems to be adapting Isaiah 52:5 (following the Septuagint): "Because of you, my name is continually blasphemed among the gentiles." In the original setting it referred to the contempt felt by conquering Babylonia for the weakness of the God of Israel, who had to let His people suffer defeat. For in the thought of the ancient Near East, the strength of a god was measured by the defeats or victories of his city. Actually God sent the defeat as a punishment, but the Babylonian would not understand that, and instead thought the god of Israel was weak.
When Paul says "circumcision is beneficial" we best understand it as a quote he is giving from the Jews trying to defend themselves. Paul follows up on their claim: even if you would be right in that, since you violate the law, you might as well be uncircumcised. While the gentile who -- as in 2:14-16 does keep the law -- does as well as if he were circumcised.
In 2:17 Paul remarkably slides from the factual picture in the first half (factual picture of the gentiles who do keep the law, as in 2:14-16) to the focused picture (the Jews who violate it as in 2:17ff.).
Summary of Romans 3:1-20
(An objection): "What advantage is there for a Jew? What good is there in circumcision?" (Paul replies): "There are many advantages in every way. First, God's revelation was entrusted to them."
(Problem): "What if some refused to believe or were unfaithful? Will that mean God will not be faithful?" (Reply): "Heavens no! God is faithful. (As the Psalmist says): 'Every man is lying' and as a result, 'God is declared just in His words, and He is victorious when called to answer for His actions.'"
(Objection): "If the fact that we are unrighteous gives God a chance to show He is righteous (by punishing us), what shall we say? Shall we say God is wrong in punishing us (to speak in a human way)?" (Reply): "Heavens no! If that were the case, how could He judge the world?"
(Objection reappears): "If the truth of God abounded in my lie, resulting in His glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" (Reply): "Then it would be the same as what they charge me, Paul, with: that I said we may do evil so that good may come. No! Their condemnation is just!"
(Objection by a Jew): "What then? Do we excel (others)?" (Reply): "Not at all. For we have already shown that all, both Jews and Greeks are under sin. Scripture says: No one is just, not one. No one understands or seeks God. All have gone down together and have become useless. There is no one who does good, not even one. Their throat is like an open grave. With their tongues they acted with deceit. Vipers' poison is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. They are quick to shed blood. Calamity and misery are in their ways. They do not know the path of peace, or keep the fear of God before their eyes."
We know that what Scripture says, it says to those who are bound by the law. The result is that no one can have anything to say in reply. The whole world is found guilty in the eyes of God. For on the basis of works of the law, no one will be just before Him. For through the law there is [only] knowledge of sin.
Comments on 3:1-20
This chapter opens with a series of imaginary objections and replies. First, the objector asks what advantage is there in being a Jew -- after what Paul has said against them in chapter 2. Paul says there is much advantage in every way. He starts out to give a list, saying "first." But he never gives a second or third. He was dictating these letters, must have forgotten where he was.
But we notice he says one great advantage the Jews had was divine revelation -- which included having the law. This is quite a contrast with his usual dim words about the law. But we recall again, Paul has two ways of looking at the law: focused and factual. In the focused way, the law gives nothing but knowledge of what is right or wrong, but no strength. So people must fall. But in the factual picture, divine help is offered independently of the law. Those who use it are given blessings, and rescued from falling into the automatic penalties that lie in the nature of things. (See St. Augustine, Confessions 1.12: "Every disordered soul is its own penalty.")
Paul asks: If people are unfaithful, will God also be unfaithful? He replies: Heavens no! (Thus we chose to translate his "Let it not be.") It means: God will keep the covenant, no matter what people do. But that covenant is two-sided (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19). If people do well, He will reward; if they sin, He will punish.
Then Paul adds something imaginative. He cites Psalm 116:11 and 51:6 with this picture: God is called to court as it were to see if He is acting justly. It is determined that people are sinners (they lie: cf. our comments on "lie" in Romans 1:25 above). God punishes. He is simply carrying out moral righteousness in doing that. So God is vindicated, declared righteous. (We recall again our comments on the "righteousness of God" in Romans 1:17).
Now comes a strange objection -- which Paul states twice in slightly different words. He does not fill in the sentences -- the folly of the objection would show clearly then. He imagines a sinner saying: I sinned, and God punished me. But then God should not object to me, for I gave Him a chance to show He is just by punishing me! After the second try of the objection Paul says that if the objector were right, we could make the end justify the means -- as some charge Paul is doing!
Finally a Jew asks whether Jews excel or not? (Could also translate as passive: Are we excelled?) Paul says they do not excel. He says he has already shown that all are hopeless. He did that in all of Romans up to this point, in which he showed first that gentiles are hopeless morally, and then that Jews are the same. So he sums up: "All are under sin." The implication is: they must then turn to faith for justification -- they cannot make it by keeping the law, for no one keeps it. (We recall again that Paul did this only by a heavy use of focusing).
Paul next gives a string of Scriptural texts: Psalm 14:1-3, 5:10, 140:4, 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:2. This is a literary form called "Testimonia," a series of texts, probably a standard collection, to help preachers and catechists. Of course, Semitic exaggeration is strong here. (And this is poetry too). For Paul knows not all are such terrible sinners. In fact, in Philippians 3:6 he claims he, before his conversion, kept the law perfectly. And Luke 1:6 says the same of Zechariah and Elizabeth. And the Old Testament praises David so highly. We add too that 1 Corinthians 6:11 says not all the Corinthians committed all the great sins Paul had just enumerated.
Next, Paul again sums up and says the whole world is found guilty. No flesh is justified on the basis of works of the law. We think too of Psalm 143:2: "Before you no man alive is just." Paul then adds, almost in the same words we use in speaking of focusing: "From the law comes [only] knowledge of sin." He means: it gives knowledge only, not strength. So people must fall.
Summary of Romans 3:21-31
But now, in the new regime of Christ, the concern of God for moral rightness has been made clear, a righteousness which the law and the prophets testify that He has. This is the [work of His] righteousness manifested to save all who have faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek. [Sense: God's concern for moral rightness is shown by His sending His Son to rebalance the objective order and save those who have faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek]. All have sinned, and need God's power.
Justification is given without charge [without being earned], by grace, through the redemption worked by Christ Jesus. God publicly set Him up as the new propitiatory of atonement. [The fruit of His atonement is communicated to us] through faith in His blood. By this atonement wrought by Jesus, God shows His concern for righteousness. For in the time of His patience, the Old Testament, He passed over sins [in that He did not provide a complete rebalance for them]. But now His righteousness is apparent, [for He has provided for the full rebalance of the objective order]. So He is seen as righteous, and makes righteous those who depend on faith in Jesus.
In view of this, who is there who can boast that he has earned his salvation? No one. Boasting is made impossible since we are not in the regime of works [where people tried to earn]. No, we are in the regime of faith [in which we get justification without earning it, by faith]. For it is through faith that one becomes justified, without the works of the law.
So we can see that God acts like the God not only of the Jews, but also of the gentiles. For it is one and the same God who makes the Jews righteous on the basis of faith, and gentiles also through faith.
Does what we have said mean that moral righteousness is not fulfilled? Heavens no! Rather, it is well established.
Comments on 3:21-31
Commentators often dilute the meaning of this section, especially verses 24-26. To see this, let us recall some background.
In commenting on Romans 1:17 we said that God's righteousness means His concern for what is morally right. The gods of Greece and Rome, and Mesopotamia too, were practically amoral, rather than immoral. If we said immoral, we would mean they violated morality, but knew they were doing so, yet could get away with it. But when we say they were amoral, it means they act as if there is no such thing as morality. In contrast, the God of Scripture is "morally righteous" (Hebrew sadiq, as Psalm 11:7 says) and loves what is morally right (sedaqoth).
Pope Paul VI, in the doctrinal introduction to his document on indulgences of January 1967, said this: "Every sin brings with it a disturbance of the universal order, which God arranged in His inexpressible wisdom and infinite love. . . . So it is necessary for the full remission and reparation of sins . . . not only that friendship with God be restored by a sincere conversion of heart, and that the offence against His wisdom and goodness be expiated, but that all the goods, both individual and social, and those that belong to the universal order, lessened or destroyed by sin, be fully reestablished, either through voluntary reparation . . . or through suffering penalties." An ancient Rabbi, Simeon Ben Eleazar8 gives a helpful comparison: "He [any sinner] has committed a transgression. Woe on him! He has tipped the scales to the side of debt for himself and for the world." It means this: A sinner takes from one pan of the scales something he has no right to take: the scale is out of balance. It is basically the Holiness of God, loving all that is right, that wants it rebalanced. How do it? If the sinner stole property, he could begin to rebalance by giving it back. If he stole a pleasure, he can begin to rebalance by giving up some other pleasure. But these are only beginnings, for even one mortal sin has an infinity about it: the Person offended, God, is infinite. So if the Father willed complete rebalance, that could be done only by sending a divine Person to become man.
The Father actually did that, He sent His Son. In the old law there was a propitiatory, the golden plate with the cherubim on it, on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Once a year, on the day of atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal on it, to make atonement for the sins of Israel of the past year.9 Christ is the new propitiatory in His blood, to make atonement.
The shallow view of these verses would make Christ's death seem like just a liturgical ceremony, using His blood instead of the blood of an animal. But then we should ask: Why something so painful for a ritual thing? The truth is: He gave up so much and suffered so much to rebalance what the sinner had done in taking what he had no right to. This rebalanced the objective order, as the Holiness of God willed. (We stress Holiness, since that is the center, rather than His justice, which is, of course involved too. But it is primarily His Holiness that loves all that is right). This was the price of redemption (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23). It was not paid to Satan, the captor of our race in the imagery of the price of redemption. And of course it was not paid to the Father, who was not the captor. But it was paid to rebalance the objective order, as the Holiness of the Father willed.
During the Old Testament times we could say that God did not show this concern or His desire to fully rebalance. Yes, He did at times punish sin dramatically and openly. But those penalties did not fully rebalance. In that sense Paul could say that God "passed over" sins during the Old Testament times. Only the redemption by Jesus fully rebalanced the objective order.
The fruit of that redemption of His is given us through faith in Him. Then we have not earned it -- but He earned it, at a terrible cost. In this sense Paul can say in the last line of this section that this picture we are seeing did not wipe out concern for moral rightness (the question could be raised since sinners get the justification without earning it). But God did show His concern since He did provide for the full rebalance by the infinite value of the death of His Son.
Paul says that the fact that we get justification without earning it leaves us no room to boast. If we had earned it ourselves, there could have been an opening for boasting. But actually, we are justified by faith, without works.
When Paul asks if God is the God of both Jew and gentile he has the following in mind: If He had made salvation depend on the Mosaic law, the gentiles would be left out of salvation, and God would seem not to care for them, not to be their God. But actually, He did take care of them, providing justification by faith. How that worked is what we saw in our comments on 2:14-16 above.
Summary of Romans, Chapter 4
What do we say about Abraham the ancestor of the racial Jews? If he was justified by works, he would have something to boast about, though not in the sight of God. But Scripture says: "He (Abraham) believed the Lord, and that belief was considered as righteousness for him" (Genesis 15:6). If someone works, he is paid not as a favor, but because the payment is due. But if someone does not work, but instead just believes Him who makes the impious just -- then faith justifies him.
King David speaks of the blessedness of one who has been justified without works: "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is one whom the Lord does not charge with sin." Paul asks whether this blessedness comes to one who is circumcised, or to one who is not circumcised. We see the answer in that Abraham believed God, and that faith was considered justification, at a time when Abraham was not circumcised. For we read only later, in Genesis 17:10 that he received the sign of circumcision, and became the father of all who have faith without being circumcised. For them too faith is counted as justification.
Thus Abraham became the father of circumcision for those who are not only circumcised but who also follow in the footprints of the faith of Abraham our Father, when he was still uncircumcised.
The promises to Abraham did not come to Abraham and to his descendants through the law, namely, the promises that he would inherit the world. No, they came through the righteousness that is faith. If someone inherits on the basis of law, then there is no place for faith, and the promise has no effect. For the law leaves one exposed to anger. But if there is no law, neither is there a violation of a revealed law. So all depends on faith, and so also on grace, and the promise stands for all the descendants of Abraham. This means not those who are under the law, but those who follow the faith of Abraham, the Father of all of us. Hence Scripture says: "I have made you the Father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom Abraham had faith, the God who makes the dead live, and who calls things that are not as though they are.
Abraham believed God at a time when humanly there was no hope, and so he became the father of many nations. Hence Genesis 15:5 said: "Thus will your descendants be."
When God promised, Abraham did not weaken in faith, though he thought of his own body almost dead, since he was nearly 100 years old, and of the dead womb of his wife Sara. He did not hesitate to believe on hearing God's promise. Rather his faith grew strong and he gave glory to God. He was convinced that God is able to do what He promises. So for this reason his action was counted as justification.
This was not written because of Abraham alone that it was counted for him, but also on account of us, for whom faith will also be counted as righteousness, faith in the One who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Jesus Who was handed over to death because of our transgressions, but Who lives for our justification.
Comments on Chapter 4
Paul spoke more briefly on the case of the faith of Abraham in Galatians 3. Here he develops it more. Abraham at age 99 still had had no son by Sara, his free wife, though he did by his slave wife, Hagar. But in Genesis 15:6 God promised him a son, and added that through that son, he would have countless descendants. Even though Abraham was 99 -- not too old for a man to be a father in some cases -- and his wife Sara was 90 and had been sterile all her life, Abraham believed God. This faith was credited as justification for him. Paul stresses that this happened before God ordered circumcision, which He did two chapters later, in chapter 17.
The Jews of Paul's day were proud of descent from Abraham and thought that guaranteed salvation except for a few very wicked types of Jews. Paul insists that being racially a descendant is not enough -- one must imitate the faith of Abraham. In that way Abraham has most numerous progeny, even as God had promised.
In verses 7-8 Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2. Lutheranism likes to point at the words covered and not imputed. This, they think, teaches their error about a justification that is purely extrinsic, so that the person justified remains totally corrupt, covered by the white cloak of the merits of Christ. God will not look under the rug if they have taken Christ as their personal Savior. They forget Paul says the Holy Spirit dwells in the soul of the just -- He will not dwell in total corruption!10 We are also a new creation -- quite different from the same old corruption: 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15.
The basic mistake is ignoring the genre. Psalm 32 is poetry. Poetry in any language uses colorful images, and no one would think of pressing them. The fundamental underlying mistake of course is the fact that Luther did not know the meaning of faith in Paul. He thought it meant confidence that the merits of Christ were credited to him. Really, as we have seen in our comments on 1 Thessalonians 1, faith has a very different meaning in Paul.11
Summary of Romans 5:1-11
Now that we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have gained access into this grace in which we stand, and we boast of the hope of reaching the glory of God. Furthermore, we can even boast about our troubles. For from trouble well accepted, we get patience, and patience brings tested virtue, and tested virtue brings hope. Hope will not let us down, for the love of God has been given into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.
When we were still unable to help ourselves, at the suitable time, Christ died for us who were ungodly. It is barely possible that someone would die for a righteous man. Perhaps someone might do that. But God has proved His love for us because when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So now all the more, now that we have been justified in His blood, will we be saved from God's anger through Him. For if when we were still enemies, the death of His Son reconciled us to God, now being reconciled, we will be saved by His life. In fact, we can even boast over God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now been reconciled.
Comments on 5:1-11
Christ gives us access to God. If one has ever tried to reach an important man, even just the president of a large corporation, he will find it difficult to get beyond the rows of secretaries. But we can reach the Father. So we have hope of reaching final salvation. Even our troubles can be a source of benefit. In 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul says in this respect: "That which is light and momentary in our troubles, is producing for us, beyond all measure, an eternal weight of glory." If this is true of things that are light and short, what of things that are heavy and long-running? And Romans 8:18 says: "I judge that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:28: "God makes all things work together for good for those who love Him." It means that everything but sin can be turned into a means of likeness to Christ. Even anxiety, if we handle it properly,can be valuable. For Jesus Himself suffered from anxiety from knowing through the vision of God in His soul, what was to happen to Him: Lk 12:50 and Jn 12:27.12 If we were to sum up St. Paul's picture of the whole of Christian life it would be this: A person is saved and made holy, if, and to the extent that, one is a member of Christ, and like Him. Now in His life there were two phases: first, a hard life, suffering and death, second, eternal glory. The more we are like Him in this first phase, the more will we be like Him in the second, in eternal glory. So even anxiety, well handled, can be a means of likeness to Christ.
We notice too that when Paul says trouble gives patience, patience tested virtue, and virtue gives hope -- the thought does not fit well with the Lutheran notion of infallible salvation by just once "taking Christ as your personal Savior." In that framework, what need is there of patience, virtue, and of building hope?
When Paul says the love of God is given us, he means the Holy Spirit is given, for He is the love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father. He is given to us in that He comes to the soul and transforms it by grace, making it basically capable of the direct vision of God in the next life. He also gives guidance and many other things.
The next thought is tremendous. Yes, it would be rare indeed for someone to be willing to die for another even if the other were a very good person. What if the other is a sinner! Yet Christ did die for us when we could not help ourselves, when we were still sinners. Paul says that thus God proved His love. Love is a will or wish for the well-being or happiness of another for the other's sake. Now if someone starts out to bring this about, but a small obstacle stops him, that is a small love. If it takes a great obstacle to stop him, that is a great love. If even an immense obstacle will not stop him, the love is immense. What then was the love of Christ who went to so horrible a death to make possible eternal happiness for us! This really is proving His love.
Paul next says that now that He has done this, has earned all graces for us, could we imagine Him holding back on what He has Himself earned? Of course not.
Sadly, some old theologians, as we have seen already, did think He might withhold the grace of final perseverance even from someone who had lived a good life up to that point, for no reason. That is a sad error, which contradicts the teaching of St. Paul on final perseverance in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, Philippians 1:6 and 1 Corinthians 1:8-9. In fact, the founder of that school of thought, Domingo Bañez thought God did not really will the salvation of all. He denied what is revealed in 1 Timothy 2:4: "God wills all to be saved."13 Logically, this was a denial of the love of God for us, since to love is to will good to another for the other's sake. So when God says He wills our salvation, He is saying He loves us. Some of that school also said that if God wills good to another, without adding "for the other's sake" that is love. They meant this: all humans are destined to hell by original sin. God wants to show mercy and justice. To show mercy, He will rescue a small percent of our race. But He would do that not for the sake of those whom He would rescue -- He would pick them blindly. So He would not really love anyone -- He would just use these people, not love them. Of course that is a monstrous error, which amounts to a denial of God's love. But, as St. Paul says here, God has proved His love. And since Christ earned all graces for us, He will not deny us the graces which He earned at such cost, and which we need, without a fault on our part.
Summary of Romans 5:12
There is a parallel: just as through one man, Adam, sin came into the world, and through it came death, and so death came on all, inasmuch as all have sinned [so through one man, the new Adam, all will be made just].
Comments on 5:12
We are taking this one verse separately, because the comments needed are long.
First we added to our summary some words in square brackets, since Paul did not finish his sentence here. Yet it is obvious what he meant.
The Council of Trent (DS 1514) defined that the words of St. Paul: "Must not be understood in a sense different from the way the whole Church diffused throughout the world, has always understood them." Now this clearly means that these words contain the doctrine of original sin. But the Council did not pinpoint precisely which words contain that doctrine. It is evident the Council did not refer to the last clause "inasmuch as all have sinned." For the Greek Fathers understood these words very differently from what the Western Fathers did. So there is no question of what the whole Church has always held on those words. The Latins translate: in quo omnes peccaverunt. In quo would seem to refer to Adam. In what sense could one say that all are in Adam? Not at all clear unless one speaks of solidarity, and that would hardly cover here. The Greek Fathers on the other hand take them as meaning "the condition being fulfilled, all have sinned" as if to mean that we have all ratified the sin of Adam. So the Council did not at all decide between the two ways of understanding the clause. But we can say that the Greek Fathers, who still spoke the same language, have made the better version.
So we will take the first part of the statement as referring to original sin even though the Council did not pinpoint the words that are critical. For in itself, sin could mean just the personal sin of Adam, or could mean also the effects in us, i.e., original sin. Similarly, death could mean physical death, or spiritual death or both.
Pope John Paul II in a General Audience of October 1, 1986 explained: "In context, it is evident that original sin in Adam's descendants has not the character of personal guilt. It is the privation [lack of what should be there] of sanctifying grace in a nature which, through the fault of the first parents, has been diverted from its supernatural end. It is a 'sin of nature', only analogically comparable to 'personal sin.'"
Here is the thought: God gave to our first parents, among other things, the gift of sanctifying grace by which they shared in the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). God intended they should pass that gift on to us. But they lost it, or rather, discarded it by sin. So they did not have it to pass along. Hence the children of Adam arrive in this world without that gift, which they should have (cf. the "privation" mentioned by John Paul II above). If we compare two persons: first, an adult who has just committed a mortal sin on his own, and second, the new baby, there is something the same, something different. Both lack what should be there, namely, sanctifying grace. But the adult lacks it by his own personal fault. In the baby there is no fault. To use the same word twice, in senses part the same, part different is an "analogical use." Hence the Pope said it was "analogically comparable" to personal sin.
Besides sanctifying grace, God had given to our first parents not only basic human nature, but also preternatural gifts. These were freedom from death and a coordinating gift. (Some prefer to call it the Gift of Integrity). We mean this: Basic humanity without anything added would have many drives, in both body and spirit. These drives would not be evil, but they would tend to disorder, each one going mechanically after its own object, with no regard for the other drives or for the needs of the whole person. To keep the drives easily under control, a coordinating gift would be needed. God clearly gave that. Genesis makes it evident. For after the fall, God called: "Adam, where are you?" Adam replied: "I hid myself because I was naked." God said: "How did you find that out if you did not eat the forbidden fruit." It is evident. Before the fall Adam was also naked, but it did not bother him -- after the fall it did. The difference is that before the fall he had a coordinating gift which made it easy to keep the sex drive, the most rebellious of all, in its proper place. After the fall he had lost it, and that drive began to act unreasonably. Hence he felt ashamed and felt the need for cover. (We can see that without such a coordinating gift there would be -- and there is -- a need of mortification, to try to tame the drives).
How far down did our humanity go because of the fall? It surely lost that coordinating gift. But was there any additional loss? Luther said we became totally corrupt, hence his book, On the Bondage of the Will. Luther was wrong. John Paul II, in a General Audience of October 8, 1986 explained: ". . . according to the Church's teaching it is a case of a relative and not an absolute deterioration, not intrinsic to the human faculties . . . not of a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God." Really, this is what we would expect, given the wonderful goodness and love of God. He would hardly take our nature down still further than the loss of the coordinating gift. So when we say that the "mind was darkened and the will weakened" we mean it only in this relative sense of which the Pope speaks, not in an absolute sense. That means: mind and will are weaker than they would have been with the coordinating gift. But they are not weaker than they would have been if God had started our race with only the essentials of human nature.
It is sometimes noted that there is no clear mention of original sin in the Old Testament, and hardly anything in the intertestamental literature. However even if the Jews did not see it, the fact is there to see if one reflects. God had intended that our first parents should pass on these added things to us. They did not have them to pass on. And they lost God's favor [which amounts to grace]. So their children arrive in the world not being in God's favor. That is basically what original sin means.
The Immaculate Conception, then, means that Our Lady started life with, not without, sanctifying grace. This was given her in anticipation of the merits of Christ.14 In that same document, Pius IX wrote: "The Fathers and ecclesiastical writers . . . in commenting on the words, 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed' have taught that by this utterance there was clearly and openly foretold [praemonstratum] the merciful Redeemer of the human race . . . and that His Most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was designated [designatam], and at the same time, that the enmity of both against the devil was remarkably expressed. Wherefore, just as Christ the Mediator of God and man, having assumed human nature, destroying the handwriting of the decree that was against us, in triumph affixed it to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, joined with him in a most close and indissoluble bond, together with Him and through Him exercising eternal enmity against the poisonous serpent, and most fully triumphing over him, crushed his head with her immaculate foot." He also said that even at the start, her holiness was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."15
What about evolution of the human body? Pope Pius XII, in Humani generis, 1950 (DS 3896) said that the Church does not prohibit studying this belief, with care, provided that one does not say evolution is certain, and provided that one holds that human souls are immediately created by God. From this we gather that evolution is not clearly contrary to Scripture and the Magisterium. Considering the literary genre of Genesis, all we would need to hold is that God in some special way -- without saying which way -- produced the first human pair. He could have established natural laws to bring about the evolution of the body until it was suitable to have a human soul. This suitability need not be extremely strict. Before birth when the fetus is imperfectly formed, there is already a human soul. And after birth, it is several years before bodily development permits the use of reason, for which the human soul had the capability all along.
We note this: St. Augustine centuries ago, in his De Genesi ad Litteram 6.12.20 rejected a simplistic view of the formation of Adam: "That God made man with bodily hands from the clay is an excessively childish thought." For God does not have hands, he said. St. John Chrysostom in his Homily on Genesis 2.21 called the rib episode a case of synkatabasis, divine adaptation to our needs: "See the condescendence of divine Scripture, what words it uses because of our weakness. . . . do not take what is said in a human way." Pope John Paul II suggested a way to take it: "The man (Adam) falls into the 'sleep' in order to wake up 'male' and 'female'. . . . Perhaps . . . the analogy of sleep indicates here not so much a passing from consciousness to subconsciousness as a specific return to non-being . . . that is, to the moment preceding the creation, in order that, through God's creative initiative, solitary 'man' may emerge from it again in his double unity as male and female."16
The evidence from natural science for evolution is usually much overstated. A conference was held over ten years ago at the Field Museum, Chicago, of 160 of the world's top paleontologists, anatomists, evolutionary geneticists, and developmental biologists. They decided Darwin was wrong in that he supposed many intermediate forms between species, e.g., between fish and birds. They admitted that the fossil record does not give even one certain case of such intermediates. They did not, however, discard evolution even though they admitted the evidence was not there. Instead they opted for "punctuated equilibria," the belief that a species might stay the same for millions of years, then by a fluke, leap up to a much higher form of the same sort. If they had evidence this actually happened, it was not mentioned in the report in the Research News section of Science.17 Some mention the high vertical columns exposed in the Grand Canyon, in which lower forms, such as Trilobites, are found lower, and higher and higher forms as one goes up. But all admit that canyon was once a sea bottom, and the simpler things would naturally settle lower. Further, the presence of these forms in a column does not offer any evidence at all that one thing came from another. Some also mention that all bodies grow in spurts. This is true, but they do not become a new species, as evolution would require.
Further, Science News,18 in an article "Why is Sex?" reports: "'Sex is the queen of problems in evolutionary biology' wrote Graham Bell, an evolutionary biologist at McGill University in Montreal in 1982. Why such a thing exists at all, he says, is 'the largest and least ignorable and most obdurate' of life's fundamental questions." It does not really fit with the notion of natural selection.
A related question is that of polygenism, the idea that all humans came from several pairs, not from one pair. On this Pius XII wrote in Human generis: "Christians cannot embrace that opinion . . . since it is by no means apparent how this view could be reconciled with things which the sources of revelation and the acta of the Magisterium of the Church teach about original sin, which comes from a sin really committed by one Adam, and which, being transmitted by generation, is in each one as his own."19 On reading this, those who do intend to follow the Church are divided. Some say this is final, no room is left to consider polygenism. Others say that we must notice that the Pope says it cannot be considered since it is not evident how this could fit with Scripture and Magisterium. They say he meant to leave the door open, if a way could be found to reconcile the theory with these sources.
Modern science is veering much away from polygenism today. Science News of August 13, 1983 reported that Allan C. Wilson of the University of California at Berkeley had studied mitochondrial DNA from all over the world. He concluded that all existing humans came from just one mother, living 350,000 years ago. His view met little acceptance at first. But now, Newsweek of Jan 11, 1988 reports20 that Wilson's idea is widely accepted by scientists, except that they think she lived only 200,000 years ago. According to the same article, some scientists are now going to try to trace the father of all present humans, a much more difficult task. The mitochondrial DNA is transmitted only on the female line. Hence the conclusion covers only the mother. But we must add this: Even this theory does not rule out the possibility that even though all present humans came from one mother, there may have been other lines which died out.
Summary of Romans 5:13-21
Paul imagines an objection saying that up to the time when the Mosaic law was given, there was sin in the world, but it was not charged against anyone, since there was still no law. But Paul replies: in spite of that, it is true to say that death ruled in that period even over those who had not violated a revealed command as did Adam, who was a forecast of the man to come, Christ.
For the redemption, the grace, is not like the transgression. There was one transgression which led all to death, original sin. But now the grace of God and His gift in grace through Jesus Christ is abundant for all. Similarly, the gift of grace is different from what came through the one who sinned. On the one hand, judgment came after one sin, leading to condemnation. On the other hand grace came after many transgressions, leading to justification. For if sin reigned by the transgression of the one man, much more now those who receive the abundance of grace and justification will reign in life through the one Jesus Christ. Then, just as one man's transgression led all men to condemnation, now through the one act of justice by Jesus, all are led to justification and life. Just as by the disobedience of the one man, the first Adam, all were made sinners, so by the obedience of the one man, the New Adam, Jesus, all are constituted just. Law came in and transgression was abundant. But just as sin reigned through death, so also grace reigns through justification leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Comments on 5:13-21
Paul opens with an imaginary objection which tries to claim that sins were not charged against anyone in the period when there was no revealed law, i.e., from Adam to Moses. Behind this is a distinction. Paul commonly observes a distinction between two Greek words, hamartia, which means a sin committed when there is no revealed law as yet, only the law on people's hearts of which he spoke in Romans 2:14, and parabasis, a sin committed when there is a revealed law. Now it is obvious, before the revealed law came, there could not be parabasis. But there could be hamartia. Paul replies by insisting that death did reign -- physical or spiritual or both -- during the period when there was no revealed law, i.e., from Adam to Moses. Paul says Adam was a type of the one to come. He means Christ was the New Adam. But there is this difference: the Old Adam got us into the harm of original sin. The New Adam reversed that damage, through the redemption.
It is interesting to notice that in 5:13-14 Paul sees that even though there could not be parabasis without a revealed law, there could be hamartia. But in Romans 7:9 he focuses out the fact that there could be hamartia in the same period, for he says that during that period "I was alive" spiritually, did not sin, since there was no revealed command.
Next Paul goes into several repetitions. All mean this: The redemption is more abundant than the fall. He is very insistent, saying it so many times, with small variations in language. The last time, in verse 19, he adds that the death of Christ was an act of obedience to the Father. Really, if it had been done without that, as a merely physical thing, it would have not redeemed anyone at all. It was His obedience that gave His death its value. That obedience was the covenant condition, the condition of the new covenant. It was needed for the interior attitude in sacrifice, and for rebalance of the objective order.
Today there is a sad error, that of Leonard Feeney, who took the old teaching that there is no salvation outside the Church, and twisted it by interpreting it his own way. In condemning his teaching21 the Holy Office pointed out at the start that just as we must avoid private interpretation of Scripture, so also we must avoid private interpretation of the official texts of the Church. If one interprets privately, as Feeney did, he can then make one text contradict the other. And he can then reject the ones he does not like. Feeney's error amounted to saying that if one does not get his name on the register of some parish, even if there was no fault at all, even if he never had a chance to hear of the Church, he goes to hell. This is a monstrous error! The Feenyites are apt to say they admit that before Christ people could be saved without joining the old people of God, the Jews. But that after Christ, things got so much worse. Then they can just go to hell, without any chance at all. Paul of course here insists, on the contrary, that the redemption did not make things worse, it made things better. The Redemption was superabundant. And Paul, as we saw, says it many times over.22
In verse 20, Paul says law came in with the result that sin abounded. Sadly, many versions make it read: the law came in order that sin might abound. Can we imagine God giving a law with the purpose of making things worse? But we can say that that was the result, for sin got worse, because it was then a violation of a revealed command. And the very fact of hearing a no-no tempts perverse people to disobey. Behind the difference in the translations is this fact: The Greek conjunction here is hina. In fifth century B.C. Athens that could mean only purpose. It still could in Paul's day, but the language had changed -- all living languages change. So in Paul's day it could also mean result. We decide by the sense which translation is called for. (The same double possibility was available in Hebrew and Aramaic).
Summary of Romans, Chapter 6
Paul imagines someone raising an objection that is really foolish. The objector, on hearing in chapter 5 that the redemption is so abundant after sin asks: then would it be good to stay in sin, and get even more abundance? Paul answers: Heavens no! We have died to sin, and so could not still live in sin.
We were baptized into Christ, so as to be part of Christ, His members. We were baptized into His death. We were buried together with Him through baptism into death, and so just as Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, we also, as though just raised from the dead, ought to walk in a new way of life.
If we have been joined with Him in a death like His, then we will also be joined with Him in a resurrection like His. Our old man, that is, our old way of life, has been crucified along with Christ to destroy the way of sin, and so we are no longer enslaved to sin. For a person who has died is freed from sin.
If we have died with Christ, we believe we will also live with Him. We know that He has been raised from the dead, and dies no more. Death no longer has power over Him. He died once, to sin, but the life He leads, He leads to God. So we too should consider ourselves dead to sin, but living to God, in Christ. We should not let sin rule over our mortal bodies or obey its desires. We should not let our bodies be instruments of iniquity, of sin. Rather we should come to God as persons raised from the dead, and bring our bodies as weapons of righteousness, for God. Sin will not be Lord over us, for we are not under the regime of law, but under grace.
The objection returns: Should we sin since we are not under law but under grace? Heavens no! Whoever it is to whom we give ourselves as slaves, to obey, we are slaves of that one -- either slaves of sin leading to death, or slaves of the obedience of faith, which leads to justification. Thanks be to God. We were slaves, of sin, but now we have obeyed from the heart the teaching to which we were given over. We are free from sin, and have become slaves to righteousness.
To speak in a human way, because of your weakness: Just as you were slaves to uncleanness and to more and more iniquity, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you took no orders from righteousness. What gain did you then get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The point to which they lead is death. But now, being freed from sin, being slaves to God, you bear fruit leading to sanctification, and the end of it all is eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Comments on Chapter 6
To answer an imagined objection, Paul sketches much of his syn Christo theme, that is, that we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him. In His life there are two phases: first, a difficult life, suffering and death; second, eternal glory. The more we are like Him in the first, the more in the second. Hence in Romans 8:28 he will say that for those who love God all things work together for good -- everything but sin can be made into eternal gold by using it as a means of likeness to Christ.
In the syn Christo theme he teaches: 1) we are members of Christ: e.g., in 1 Corinthians 12:12-17; Romans 12:4-5; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:12-15. 2) We do everything with Him: In Romans 6:38, the present text, we are baptized into Him, i.e., so as to be a member of His, we are buried in the waters of baptism with Him, we rise with Him, we should live a new life with Him -- with the outlook we will have on the last day when we rise from the grave. How different the present life will look then -- some things we considered great will be seen as trifles -- and the reverse. Paul restresses this idea of living with such an outlook in Colossians 3:1-4, saying that since we were raised with Christ, we should set our hearts on heavenly things. The thought is similar in Ephesians 2:5-6. 3) We must be like Him in all things: In Romans 8:9 if we do not have and follow the Spirit of Christ, we do not belong to Him. Similar ideas appear in Romans 8:13 & 17.
So we see a basic mistake of Lutheranism which says Christ did all, so we are not obliged to do anything. It is even all right no matter how much we sin if only we continue to believe Christ has paid for it all. Consider again Luther's Epistle 501: "Sin bravely, but believe still more bravely." And in his Epistle of August 1, 1521 to Melanchthon: "Be a sinner and sin boldly. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day."23 We saw that faith includes obedience. Luther, not seeing that, thought faith could authorize any amount of disobedience to God's law. But we must be like Christ in all things, including His work of rebalancing the objective order. Paul himself in Colossians 1:24 says he is working to fill up in his own body what is lacking to the sufferings of the whole Christ, for His body, which is the Church.
Paul keeps working on the theme of slavery in this chapter. We once were slaves of sin. Someone who sins a lot does get addicted, and is no longer free. Paul wants us to be as dedicated to what is right as sinners are to their sin. Then we are "slaves of righteousness."
We emphasized twice in this passage that Paul said we were slaves of sin. Yet in 7:14 Paul will say "I am fleshy." The only way to avoid saying he is contradicting himself is to notice that 7:14 is really a focused picture. He does not really mean that he is still dominated by the flesh. No, rather, he is giving an image of what that is like in itself. There are two regimes, that of sin and the flesh, that of the spirit and of faith. The flesh in a focused view produces nothing but sin; the spiritual regime in a focused view produces nothing but good. In chapter 7 Paul will develop the focused view of the regime of sin; in chapter 8 the focused view of the Christian regime. Failure to see this has led to tragic errors. We will see more on it in these chapters.
So we need to be on the watch for the time or tense of verbs in this connection in 7:5-6 & 14; 8:9.
In the last verse of this chapter, Paul sums up our situation: we can earn punishment (wages of sin), but eternal life is not earned, it is a free gift, a grace. We recall the summation we made in connection with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: as to salvation, you can't earn it, but you can blow it. We are free from the law in the sense that keeping it does not earn salvation. We are not free in the sense that we cannot violate it and still "inherit the kingdom."
Summary of Romans 7:1-6
Paul reminds them that they know law (Romans had a flair for that). So they know that the law has power over a person only while he is in this life. Then Paul takes up a special example of this: a wife is bound to her husband while he lives. But when the husband dies, she is free from that law. If she is with another man while her husband is alive, she will be an adulteress. But when he dies, she is free. She is no longer an adulteress if she is with another man.
Similarly, Paul says that they died to the law through the death of Christ. So they can be away from the power of the law, their former husband, and now are with Christ. When they were in the regime of the flesh, the passions of sins aroused by the law worked in their bodies, bearing fruit leading to death. But now in the new regime, they have been freed from the law, they have died to the law that once held them. They are in slavery to the Spirit in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
Comments on 7:1-6
Paul says they died and so are freed from the law, since they are members of Christ who died. Formerly they were in the regime of the flesh -- a focused picture, i.e., flesh as such cannot produce good, but only sin. In reality, in the factual picture, one who is physically in the flesh, if he uses the grace of Christ that is offered, he does not always sin, but may do much good. But now they are in the regime of the spirit -- again, a focused picture, i.e., being in the spirit can produce nothing but good. Again, in the factual view, one who has become a member of Christ may reject the grace offered, and so may sin.
He could speak of passions of sins aroused by the law in that the very fact that the law forbids something tempts many people to do it.
Summary of Romans 7:7-13
He does not mean that the law is sin. Of course not. But he would not know sin except through the law. For he would not desire something wrong if the law did not say: "Do not do it." However sin took up the opening provided by the law, and caused him to desire what was wrong. For without the law, sin was dead. But he was once alive, when he did not have the law. But then the command of the law came, and sin came to life again: he died spiritually. So the command of the law that was intended to bring life, turned out to bring death. Sin, making use of the opening, deceived him, and killed him through the violation of the command.
So the law in itself is holy and the command is holy and good. He asks: So, did what was good turn into death for me? Heavens no! But sin showed itself supremely sinful, and produced death through what was good for me. Thus sin became the sinner par excellence by using the command.
Comments on 7:1-13
In the actual text Paul keeps saying 'I', here we used 'he' for clarity. Many proposals have been made as to who the 'I' is: Here are the chief ones: 1) Paul refers to his own personal life, his complete life. 2) Paul refers to his own life since his conversion. 3) Paul speaks in the person of Adam when confronted with the command. 4) Paul uses a stylistic figure, he is dramatizing the experience of all who had the Mosaic law but relied on their own resources to meet what it called for.
The first and second views cannot be right. Here Paul pictures himself as weak, and falling readily into sin (that will be even clearer in verses 13-25). But in Philippians 3:6 he said he kept the law perfectly even before He met Christ. The third view hardly fits, only the personification of sin in verse 11 reminds us of the case of Adam. The fourth view is close to right, but incomplete.
We can gather, with the help of 7:9 that Paul has in mind two different time periods: 1) the period from Adam to Moses, when there was no revealed law; and 2) the period from Moses to Christ, when there was a revealed law. We get this distinction of periods by noting that in 7:9 he says: "I was alive (spiritually) at one time" (the first period). But then in 7:9-10 (the second period) he says that "when the command came, sin came to life again, and so I died." So he has in mind two time periods.
About the first period, from Adam to Moses, when there was no revealed law, Paul says then he (meaning everyone), was spiritually alive. For there was no law. He focused out of the picture the fact that even though one could not violate a revealed law then (parabasis), he still could violate the law written on hearts24 (Interestingly, in 5:13-14 Paul insists there was hamartia, sin committed without a revealed command, between Adam and Moses).
As to the second period, from Moses to Christ, the time of the law, then the law came and sin revived, meaning violation of a revealed law was again possible and really happened. This did happen factually. But especially if we take this as a focused picture we say: The law made heavy demands -- it gave no strength -- so a fall was inevitable. Paul adds two minor touches: the mere fact the law said no-no made people desire the forbidden fruit. And when he personifies sin by saying "sin, taking an opening through the command" he brings to mind the temptation of Adam by the serpent in Eden.
Summary of Romans 7:14-25
Paul [so no one will misunderstand his remarks about the law] says he knows that the law is spiritual. But he is fleshy. He has been sold under sin. He does not understand the way he acts. For he does what he does not wish, and hates what he does. In that case, since he does what he does not want to do, he agrees that the law is good. But it is no longer he who does such things, but the sin dwelling in him.
He knows that good is not in him, in his flesh. For he can wish to do good, but cannot do good. For he does not do the good he wants to do, but he does the evil he does not want to do. In that case, not doing what he wants, it is no longer he who does it, but the power of sin dwelling in him.
So he notices a pattern [law] in himself: when he wants to do good, evil is at hand. He is pleased with the law of God in his heart. But he sees a different pattern [law] in his body, making war against the pattern [law] of his mind, taking him captive in the law of sin, the law that is in his body.
He exclaims: Oh! I am a wretched man! Who will rescue me from this death? [It will be grace, in chapter 8]. Praise to God through Jesus Christ! In his mind he wants to fully follow the law of God, but his flesh follows the law of sin.
Comments on 7:14-25
In the lines above, verses 7-13, Paul gave a historical -- theological picture of a person who is faced with the law, but does not have grace. This is, briefly, a focused picture. Of course, to be under a heavy demand, with no strength, means a fall.
In these lines, verses 14-25, he repeats the same picture, but now in a psychological instead of an historical-theological perspective. So he says, more than once: I see the law is good. I want to obey it. But I cannot. So it is the power of sin in me that makes me fail. I am wretched! What will rescue me? It will be the regime of the grace of Jesus Christ, explained in a focused way in chapter 8.
If one did not know about the focused perspective, he would probably take these lines as a factual picture of Paul, or any Christian. That cannot be true. Paul said in Philippians 3:6 that he even before his conversion had kept the law perfectly. And we notice the shift in verb times or tenses. In 6:17 & 20-22 he said they formerly were slaves of sin: but no more. Yet here he says I am fleshy, as if still under sin. This makes sense only if the picture in chapter 6 was a focused picture of the regime of grace, but here we see a focused picture of the regime of the flesh.
No wonder Luther wrote a book, The Bondage of the Will. He simply did not understand.
Summary of Romans 8:1-18
Now, for those who are in the regime of Christ, who are His members, there is no condemnation. For the pattern [law] of the Spirit of life in Christ has rescued us from the pattern [law] of sin and death [of which he spoke eloquently in chapter 7]. For God has accomplished what the law could not do, for it was weak through the flesh. God sent His own son in a flesh like that of the flesh of sin. He condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law could be fulfilled in us, provided we live our lives not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh; but those who follow the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit. For to pursue what the flesh wants is to head towards death. But to pursue what the spirit wants is to head to life and peace. The aim of the flesh is hostile to God. The flesh as such is not subject to the law of God. It cannot be subject. So those who are in the flesh [who follow the flesh] cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit -- provided the Spirit of God dwells in you. If anyone does not have and follow the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body has died to sin, but your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus lives in you, then He who raised Jesus will also make your mortal bodies alive at the end, through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brothers, we have no obligation to live according to the flesh. If we do that, we will die. But if we put to death the deeds of the body we will live. All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
You did not receive again a spirit of slavery tending to fear, you have received the Spirit of divine adoption, by which we can say: Abba (Father). The Spirit who is within us gives testimony that we are sons of God. If we are sons, then we also can inherit the kingdom, we are heirs along with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him. These sufferings of the present time -- I judge they are not worthy to be compared with the glory that we shall see.
Comments on 8:1-18
In chapter 7 we saw a strongly focused picture of a person under the law without the help of grace. He was in the regime of the flesh, he was fleshy. Now in chapter 8, after Paul's impassioned scream at the end of chapter 7, he answers the question he had asked about who would rescue him. So here is a different kind of focused picture, or, we could call it a system as system picture. The system of being in Christ, in the spirit, can produce nothing but good. In itself it is fail-safe. However Paul had had some unpleasant experiences from preaching that we are free from the law, as we saw in 1 Corinthians 6. So here a number of times in chapter 8 he will break the focus and speak in a factual picture.
He begins with saying the system itself, of being in Christ, is fail-safe, so there can be no condemnation for those who are in Him. They have left the regime of death and sin, and gone into the regime of the spirit and life. The Spirit is an interior power -- not a constraint from without -- that tries to lead us to do what Christ did, as He did it. If we follow the Spirit, we will not violate the law, and we need not even think of the law, following the Spirit keeps us away from violating it. (If we did not recognize this as focused, we would probably say with Luther: If you once take Christ as your personal Savior, you may sin, and there is still no condemnation for you).
The law made demands we could not carry out, because of the weakness of our flesh -- this is said in a focused way, leaving out the fact that even though the law did not give the needed strength, yet that strength was to be had even before Christ. God sent His Son to gain that strength for us, so we could fulfill what the law calls for -- for if we violate it, we are lost, and will not inherit the kingdom. He does not mean that keeping the law merits salvation, he merely means that violation of the law earns punishment. But he feels he needs to warn us: even though the system itself is fail-safe, yet we could fail if we follow the flesh instead of the Spirit. What the flesh wants is aimed at death; what the Spirit leads to is life and peace.
This leads Paul to give a repeat of the focused material from chapter 7: flesh as such cannot produce what pleases God, for flesh moves in the opposite direction. So those who follow the flesh (who are in the flesh) cannot please God. This is one of the things that led Luther to think we cannot help sinning mortally all the time. He did not see that there are the two kinds of pictures, focused and factual. (Incidentally, we have a very similar focused picture in 1 John 3:9: "Everyone who is born of God does not commit sin, for His seed remains in him. And he is not able to sin, since he was born of God." The same Epistle uses a factual picture in 1:10: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.")
If we have the Spirit and follow the Spirit, we belong to Christ. Now, to belong to Christ means to be a member of Christ, which in turn means to be a member of the Church, for the Church is His Mystical Body. Therefore, those who follow the Spirit, who do what the Spirit writes on their hearts (of which we spoke in comment on 2:14-16) are members of Christ, are members of the Church, without formal adherence, but this is enough to satisfy the requirement: no salvation outside the Church. Vatican II in Lumen Gentium 49 said what seems to mean the same: "All who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church."
The Spirit we have received allows us to call God our Father. We are sons of God. If we are sons, then we have a claim to inherit the kingdom, even though we have not earned it. We are heirs along with Christ. But Paul again breaks His ideal focused picture to warn: to be heirs with Christ we must be like Him, we must suffer with Him, in order to be able to be glorified with Him. "The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us." Here we also think again of 2 Corinthians 4:17 which says that what is now light and momentary in our suffering, is producing for us beyond measure an eternal weight of glory. These two passages are a wonderful help when we must face something extremely hard to take.
Summary of Romans 8:19-30
All of visible creation is waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. Creation was subjected to foolishness, contrary to its own will. That happened because of the one who made it subject [Adam]. Yet, creation waits in hope. For it will be freed and made no longer subject to corruption. It will join in the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.
But at present, all visible creation groans together with us, and is in birthpains. In fact we ourselves though we have the Spirit as the first fruits, groan in ourselves as we wait for our adoption as sons, for the redemption of our body. For now we are saved in hope, not in final reality. A hope that is already realized is not hope but possession. For no one hopes for what he already has. But if we are in hope, and do not yet have it, we wait in patience.
Similarly, the Spirit helps our weakness. We do not know what prayer to make or how to pray as is needed. But the Spirit Himself prays for us with silent groans. But He who searches hearts [God] knows what the Spirit wants, knows that according to the will of God, He prays for the holy ones. God Himself brings it about that everything works together to produce good for those who love Him, for those who are called into the Church according to His design.
Those whom He chose in advance, He also predestined to be like the form of His Son, as His members. Those whom He predestined, He also called into the Church. And those whom He called into the Church, He also justified. And those whom He justified, He also gave them glory.
Comments on 8:19-30
Paul now turns his eyes from Christians alone to all creation and Christians in it. Creation was put into disorder, and groans, waiting to get out of it when the sons of God are also freed from the disorder. For before the fall, the higher part of Adam and Eve, the soul, was subject to God. Their lower part, the body, was subject to their soul, and could not rebel against it in the way he pictures in Romans 7:14-24, for Adam and Eve had the coordinating gift we explained above in comments on 5:12.
But when Adam and Eve's higher part, the soul and will, rebelled against God, then the punishment of disobedience was disobedience, as St. Augustine said.25 For their lower nature rebelled against their soul. And all creation felt the disorder and rebelled against our race.
But all lower creation waits for this to be changed. We now have the beginning of our sonship, but not the fullness of it. When we get it, then all creation will be delivered from slavery to corruption: we now are filled with the process of tearing cells down and rebuilding: metabolism. That will come to an end. And all lower creation will be renewed at the same time, and made free from such corruption. So it seems there will be immortal birds! St. Francis of Assisi would surely vote for that!
When Scripture speaks of fire at the end, it is a fire that renews, does not destroy, as is clear from Paul's words. The vision of God will be in the souls of those saved. But their bodies shared in doing good, and so should be rewarded too. Their condition will be patterned after the risen body of Christ. Two things: On the one hand, He had real flesh. He himself let the Apostles touch Him, and even ate -- though He did not need food -- to show the reality of His flesh. On the other hand, He could come through the locked door where the Apostles were hiding, without bothering about the door. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:44 speaks of it as a spiritual body. But it cannot be mere spirit -- it is patterned after the body of Christ, and Paul was arguing with Greeks who did not want a physical body. Had he meant a body of spirit, not of flesh, there would have been no need of argument.
A note: If the usual theory about unbaptized babies, that by Thomas Aquinas is correct, namely, that they have no punishment, but do not have the vision of God -- then will their parents be able to be with them? Definitely yes, their bodies can be together. The babies, if they lack the beatific vision, will not know what the parents have in their souls. (St. Thomas, De malo q.5, a.3 ad 4). However, it may be that God has a better way. Since the Church has not spoken, we may speculate. First, St. Thomas says that God's hands are not bound by the Sacraments.26 This is obvious. Also, the redemption is more abundant than the fall (Romans 5:15, 21). But before the fall, many theologians think God did provide for infants. And St. Paul reasons that if God had not provided a means of salvation outside the People of God before the time of Christ, He would seem to be not their God. So He did provide (Romans 3:28-30). In 1 Corinthians 7:14 Paul says that in a marriage where one remains pagan, the other is converted, the pagan is "made holy" by the marriage, i.e., is brought under the covenant. He says the same of the children, and does not say "provided they are baptized." Further, God shows in Scripture a great concern for rebalancing the moral order if it is upset by sin.27 It seems likely He is also concerned to rectify the physical order. So in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, after death Abraham does not charge the rich one with violation of charity -- of course he was guilty. Abraham mentions only that in the previous life, the rich man was in comfort, Lazarus in misery. Now it is time to balance things. So we wonder: Would God decide that babies deprived of any chance at life -- especially if cut to pieces in abortion -- should have things rebalanced too? It seems not impossible. The new catechism in §1261 says that given the great mercy of God Who wills all to be saved, and the tenderness of Jesus to children (Mk 10:14) "Let us hope that there is a road to salvation for babies who have died without Baptism."
The Holy Spirit Who dwells in our souls helps our weakness at present. We do not know well enough how to pray or what to pray for. But the Spirit within us prays for us, and of course His prayer is heard.
How can it be that God the Holy Spirit prays to God the Father? As we saw in consideration of Romans 1:17, God's Holiness loves everything that is right and in good order. In that framework, Jesus when He asked to be baptized by John said it is fitting for us to fulfill all that rightness calls for (Matthew 4:15 -- He had emptied Himself, as Philippians 2:7 says, and so would not claim any special concessions because of His divinity. So He willed to come with sinners, as if He were a sinner, to John's baptism). Also, even though Jesus was and is God, yet in His humanity He willed to be led by the Holy Spirit. This was foretold in Isaiah 11:1-3. Isaiah 61:1-3 says "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." Jesus refers this to Himself in Luke 4:18. Several other times in the Gospels we see this influence. The Spirit came upon Him at His baptism. He was led into the desert by the Spirit. He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit (Lk 10:21).
St. Thomas expresses the principle behind all of this.28 We paraphrase since a literal version would be obscure -- Thomas uses the word hoc 4 times, shifting the sense each time. We paraphrase: "God wills one thing to be in place to serve as a title for the second thing, even though the first thing does not move Him." This is in His love of good order. Other effects of this policy: The merits of Christ are infinite, so He would not have needed to add those of Our Lady in earning redemption. Yet He did. (We spoke of earning Redemption, for there is a further phase, giving out the merits. In that phase, He wants us to be like Christ, for a different reason: so we may be open to receive -- and again, in His love of good order, wanting titles to be present. Of course, her whole ability to do anything comes entirely from Him, and so in that sense, her role does not add to His). Further, with Jesus and Mary, there would be no need for intercession of the Saints. Yet He does add that. And He bound Himself by promise, "Ask and you will receive" and by covenant, in the same attitude. Thus He arranged for titles for what He would do anyway.
In verse 28 we find a beautiful and consoling thought. "Everything [but sin of course] works together for good for those who love God." This is merely Paul's general framework. If we make a synthesis of this thought it would be this: A person is saved and is made holy if and to the extent that he is not only a member of Christ, but like Him. In the life of Christ, two phases: first, a hard life, suffering and death; second, glory. The more we are like Him in phase one, the more in phase two.
Some have said that if one is anxious he lacks confidence in God and so he is wasting his effort. We should have confidence in God. But to what extent? We distinguish two areas 1) Those that come under the promise of "Ask and you shall receive." But this, as St. Augustine explains, applies only to salvation for ourselves and what is needed for it. (As to others -- they may be placing an obstacle). 2) All other things: Even without a strict promise, we can ask for and get many things. But we cannot pin down precisely what will be given. If we ask for something that would be harmful, He will not give it. (The exhortation to have faith like a mustard seed and one can move mountains refers to charismatic faith, a different thing. In it we do not whip ourselves into a feeling of trust, but God takes the initiative, and gives first the confidence, then the result. Please recall the comments made on 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14).
But if one does what he can about anxiety, then it can be used as a means of likeness to Christ. For He too had anxiety. His human soul had the vision of God from the first instant of conception. Thus He saw in hideous detail all He would suffer. When we see a possible evil coming, we can say: Perhaps it will not come, perhaps it will not be so bad. He had no such refuge: the vision was mercilessly clear. At two times in His life He let us see inside Him as it were. In Luke 12:50: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how an I straitened until it be accomplished." It means He felt in a tight spot until He could get it over with. In John 12:27 He was speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem shortly before His death. He allowed Himself (for He could have held in) to break into the discourse: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father save me from this hour!" Then in the garden, the nightmare caught up with Him. We can scream and wake up from a nightmare -- He found it had Him.29
Verses 29-30 have occasioned long, bitter debates, and much worry for many souls, even blackness of near despair for those who did not understand. Paul says that God "predestines" those whom He chose in advance. Predestines to what? In context, Paul has been speaking in an idealized, mostly focused picture, of full membership in the Church. For in verse 27 things work for good in "those who are called." Called in Paul regularly means called to full membership in the Church. (We say full, since there is a lesser but substantial membership, of which we spoke at 2:14-16). Chapter 9 will help further to see that Paul is talking abut membership in the People of God. That is a great help towards final salvation, but does not predetermine it.
So God does call people to full membership. We might make a comparison. Imagine God looking over the scene before history begins. He sees a great checkerboard with a square for each human of all ages. He sees three kinds of squares. Class 1 includes all the external means of grace, Mass and all Sacraments. Class 2 has some Sacraments. Class 3 has no external means. In it, of course, God does offer graces interiorly.
But He notices too that humans differ greatly in their resistance to grace (resulting in sin). Some are so resistant that no matter where He would put them, they would be lost. He will not waste class 1 squares on them, for that number is not infinite. The others are all such they could be saved if they got the proper assignment. Some within this group need the very best, class 1. Others can get by with class 2 or even 3. So there is at least this way -- perhaps He has a better way -- to make assignments so no one will be lost because of the kind of assignment to a square. (There needs to be the three classes since the Gospel could not reach everywhere at once, and since even though the founder of a heresy may be guilty of grave sin, yet those in later generations, born into the heresy, are unlikely to be guilty. So unless God would multiply miracles all over, so as to make them virtually ordinary, there must be the three classes of squares).
Within this framework, God does call some to class 1 squares. We saw at the end of chapter 1 of First Corinthians that God seems to give the class 1 and 2 squares to those who are more resistant, who need more. In chapter 9 of Romans Paul will say merits are not the reason for His assignments.
So now in verses 29-30 Paul is saying that God chooses some for class 1, and gives them along with that, justification, and then he mentions glory. Glory could mean either divine help here30, or final glory. If it means the latter, Paul is using his focused way of speaking: the Church is a fail-safe institution. Yet several times in this chapter, as we have seen, Paul injects a condition: provided we suffer with Him, provided we follow His spirit.
For information on predestination to heaven, see this author's New Answers to Old Questions,31 or Our Father's Plan, Chapter 12. Briefly, the conclusion reached there is this: God's decisions have three logical steps. First, He greatly wills all to be saved. (He has proved that will as we saw in Romans 5:8). Second He looks to see who resists His grace gravely and persistently, to such an extent that they cannot be saved, for they persistently throw away the very means that could save them. These are let go, rejected. Thirdly, all who have not resisted in that way, are predestined to heaven. (I.e., He arranges so that their death comes when they are in the state of grace). This is not because of merits (which have not yet been seen on the screen as it were), but because He wanted to do that, in stage 1, and they are not stopping Him. Thus there is reprobation (negative, letting them go) because of demerits, but predestination without merits. (We think again of: "You can't earn it, but you can blow it." And of Romans 6:23).
We gather the same thing from the Gospel analogy of the Father. In an ordinarily good human family, 1) the Father (and Mother too) want all the children to turn out well. 2) No child needs to say :I had better dry dishes, cut the grass, etc., and then I will get them to love and care for me. No, he gets that because they, the parents are good, not because he, the child is good. 3) Yet the children know that by being bad they can earn a slap -- in an extreme case could even earn to lose their inheritance from their parents.
Summary of Romans 8:31-39
[In view of what has been said, of the way God has arranged everything for us]: What shall we say? No one can hurt us if God is for us. After He went so far as not to spare His Son -- could He hold back anything? Who is there who could bring charges against those whom God has chosen? Not God Himself -- He justifies us. Nor Jesus -- He died for us, and intercedes for us. No one and no thing can separate us from His love -- not trouble, tight spots, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger, or the sword. We more than conquer through Him. So nothing can separate us -- not death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor present things, nor future things, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else!
Comments on 8:31-39
St. Paul is exultant. He has just painted a beautiful picture of the fail-safe system that God has set up to save us. This means that the system as system (focused) cannot fail. We ourselves, of course could fail it. But otherwise, just nothing -- he enumerates many things -- can ruin us, except of course our own sins. We cannot help thinking of the terribly dark picture painted by some older theologians who thought Paul was speaking of predestination to heaven, and saying God chose people blindly to save, or not to save. That would not be love, for to love is to will good to another for the other's sake. He would be willing good to the saved, but not for their sake (it would be blind), but to make a point that He was "merciful." In that unfortunate theory, after earning all graces for us, He might, without any serious fault on our part, just not feel like giving the grace of final perseverance, which He had so dearly earned for us. Paul could hardly be exultant with that thought. And we saw three times that Paul teaches God does offer the grace of final perseverance to all -- though anyone could still reject it.
Of course, as we said, this is a focused picture. And, since Paul seems to have had bad experiences with preaching freedom from the law, he has broken his focus a few times in this chapter 8. There is of course a relation to getting to heaven. Having full membership in the Church is a great help. But it does not predetermine anything. Some with their names on a parish register will be saved, some lost even so.
Paul mentions principalities and powers. In Colossians and Ephesians he has a great deal more to say about these and other groups. At first in Colossians we could not tell if he means good or evil spirits. After a while it is clear he means evil spirits. He uses these terms, it seems, because the opponents he is working against use them.
Summary of Romans 9:1-18
Paul exclaims in anguish that he is telling the truth, that his conscience bears witness in the Holy Spirit: He has a great grief and pain that does not let up. He could wish to be cursed and to lose Christ for the sake of his racial kinsmen!
They are the Israelites, to whom belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the cult, the promises, and the patriarchs. From them Christ came, as far as the flesh is concerned. May God who is over all be blessed forever!
But the word of God calling them to be His people has not fallen out. For not all who are descended from Israel are the real Israel. Nor are all who descend from Abraham His children, for Scripture says: "Your seed descends through Isaac, not through Ishmael." For it is not just the children of the flesh who are children of God, but it is the children of the promise [Isaac came by God's promise] who will be counted as Abraham's descendants.
God promised that at the right time He would return, and by then Sara would have a son, Isaac. Further, when Rebecca by our father Isaac had conceived twins, and before they were born or had done anything, good or evil, God told her: "The elder shall serve the younger." So the choice depends not on works, but on God's will. Hence also God said: "I love Jacob more than Esau."
This does not mean there is any injustice with God. Heavens no! For God told Moses He would have mercy where He willed, and pity where He willed. It does not depend on the will of the human, but on the decision of God to show mercy. Scripture said to Pharaoh: "For this very purpose I put you on the throne, to show my power in you, and so that my name might be known in all the earth." So God has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills, He hardens.
Comments on 9:1-18
Paul opens with an emotional scream that he would even be willing to be cursed, and away from Christ, to get his racial kinsmen into the Messianic kingdom. Of course this is emotion. Paul has just said in chapter 8 that nothing at all could separate him from Christ. But it does show real feeling. It shows how wrong are the charges that Paul was anti-Semitic!
He speaks with pride of the privileges of the Jews. Among them, the giving of the law. This is a factual picture -- the same sort we saw early in chapter 3. He usually speaks darkly of the law, in a focused picture.
The translation we gave of verse 5 is more likely what Paul intended. However it is grammatically possible also to render it: ". . . from whom is Christ (as far as the flesh is concerned) the one who is over all, God, blessed for ever." Then Paul would be using the word God for Christ. Normally he uses Lord, in the same sense.
Paul cannot bring himself to giving right away the real reason why they are not in the people of God -- that they rejected and killed Jesus. So instead he goes off onto a related question, namely: On what principles does God choose peoples to be part of His people? To determine this, he goes back to the start of the chosen people, to Abraham. Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, by a free wife, and by a slave woman. Paul says there is a fork in the road now: through which side will the line of descent of the people of God go? It goes, he says, through Isaac. Then another fork: Isaac has twin sons, Esau and Jacob. It will go through Jacob. Before the twins were born or had done good or evil God made His decision. He said the elder would serve the younger. This merely refers to the fact that Jacob, rather meanly, obtained the birthright from Esau. But then God says, in Malachi 1:3: "I have loved Jacob and hated Esau." The explanation lies in the fact that Hebrew and Aramaic both lacked the degrees of comparison, such as good, better, best, or clear, clearer, clearest. Without these, they found other ways to talk. We see one here, love and hate. It really means what we saw in our summary: He loves one more, the other less. God does not hate anyone. Similarly, in Luke 14:26 Jesus says we must hate our parents. Of course He did not really mean hate -- it was the same Semitic problem: He meant love them less, and Him more.
Paul also quotes God saying in Exodus 33:19, that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. But we need to note that word mercy. Often it means that when someone has done wrong, he gets off with little or nothing. But here mercy means the special favor of being a member of the people of God. Similarly, Paul uses the word mercy in 1 Corinthians 7:25 to mean the grace of being celibate.
Here Paul says that whether or not one obtains the mercy of membership in the people of God depends not on whether the human wants it, but on God's decision to grant it. We need to keep in mind that full membership in the Church is not needed for salvation, even though it is a very great help. (Let us recall what we said above, on 8:29-30, about the checkerboard).
Next Paul speaks of the Pharaoh of the Exodus -- he does not name him, nor are we certain. Paul quotes Exodus 9:16 according to one MS of the Septuagint. God is saying that since Pharaoh by his own free will was wicked, God could use Him as a foil to show His power in the Exodus. Paul adds that God shows mercy on whom He wills, and hardens whom He wills. The language is taken from the picture of Pharaoh given several times in the account of the plagues in the Exodus, when Pharaoh was on the point of releasing the Jews, but then changed. Exodus sometimes says God hardened him, at other times says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Behind it is the fact that as we explained before in connection with Philippians 2:13, the Hebrews often spoke of God as positively doing something when really He only permits it.
Obviously, the message of the whole above passage is this: God gives full membership in the people of God without regard to merits. At the end of chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians we had gathered that He considers need in assigning the special advantages.
Summary of Romans 9:19-33
[After contemplating these truths of God's power and His decisions] St. Paul, in awe, asks: How can people be blamed, when God is so powerful? [The answer]: Just as a potter has the right to make one vessel of honor, another of dishonor, so also God can decide freely. But if God, even though He wanted to show His anger and His power, endured for a long time people who deserve wrath and who have made themselves ready for destruction, and also, to show the riches of His glory for those who receive mercy, prepared for glory, us whom He also called into the Church, not only from among the Jews, but also from among the gentiles. . . . [who can object?]. As He says in Hosea: "I will call those who were not my people, my people, and those who were not beloved, I will call beloved. And this will happen: In the place where they heard, 'You are not my people', there they shall be called sons of the living God."
Isaiah cries out about Israel: "Even if the sons of Israel be as numerous as the sands of the sea, only a remnant will be saved." The Lord will carry out His word decisively and quickly on the earth. And as Isaiah predicted: "If the Lord of hosts had not left us some offspring, we would be like Sodom and like Gomorrah."
What then shall we say? We say that the gentiles who did not knowingly try for justification, reached it, the justification that is on the basis of faith. But Israel, trying for justification through the law, did not reach justification.
Why? They stumbled on the stone of stumbling, and the rock of scandal, as Scripture says: "Behold, I am placing in Sion a stone on which people will stumble, and the one who believes in Him will not be ashamed."
Comments on 9:19-33
After speaking of the power and the decisions of God, to give or not to give the special mercy of full membership in the people of God without considering merits, Paul asks: Can people be blamed? We would explain: This special mercy of full membership is not owed to anyone, and people can be saved without it, as we saw in 2:14-16. Yet it is a great advantage to have it. God does give it rationally, as we saw in explaining the checkerboard image in our comments on 8:29-30.
But Paul prefers a different approach. He speaks of the sovereign majesty and rights of God. To illustrate this he uses a comparison of a potter, familiar from the Old Testament. The potter sits in front of his potter's wheel. Aside him is a table with a large gob of clay. He takes one handful, makes out of it a vessel of honor, perhaps a graceful vase for olive oil or wine. He takes another handful, makes a vessel of dishonor, perhaps an under-the-bed pot where there is no indoor plumbing. Clearly the potter can make what he wants. The bedpot cannot complain. Similarly, God can give or not give this special favor of full membership in the people of God as He wills.
Within this framework of giving or not giving that favor, Paul thinks again of people like Pharaoh and others like him and so adds: God showed long patience with those who deserved His anger, who prepared themselves for wrath. Pharaoh not only did not get into the people of God, but was very wicked in addition. God did not strike them soon but in His long patience let them "fill up the measure of their sins," on which we commented in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2. He also prepared glory for those who are in the path to salvation and follow it. Here Paul is thinking of the fail-safe system of chapter 8. It would be fail-safe only in a focused picture, which Paul did present in chapter 8 but even there Paul brought in the need of their cooperation by breaking his focused picture a few times, as we saw, when he said they will have this benefit only if they have and follow the Spirit of Christ, and if they suffer with Him, so they may be glorified with Him. So now Paul asks: If God acts this way, can anyone object? Of course not. He has given each what each deserved. (Paul leaves his sentence unfinished as we have seen him doing elsewhere).
To illustrate, Paul quotes Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 loosely. Rabbis often conflated two texts, and so does Paul here. In the original setting, Hosea referred to Israel, which ceased being God's people by their sins before the exile. (We recall Jeremiah 31:31 where God said: "I will make a new covenant . . . they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master [instead of acting like a Father].") God would restore a remnant of them. The remnant would be "saved." (The word save can mean rescue from temporal evils, entry into the people of God, or reaching heaven. It is the second meaning that the context calls for here, which means becoming part of the people of God again after the exile. If saved here meant entering into heaven finally, Paul knows, as we saw in Romans 2:14-16, that people can reach that without formally entering into the people of God). Really, only a remnant returned from the exile. Ten tribes did not come back at all. Paul says God will act decisively and quickly. Paul is citing in abridged form Isaiah 10:22-23. Paul is using a sort of multiple fulfillment pattern.32 He reapplies the remnant theme to refer to the minority of the Jews who accepted Christ. Without this remnant, Paul says the Jews would be wiped out like Sodom and Gomorrah (citing Isaiah 1:9, which spoke of the punishment of faithless Israel).
He adds that the gentiles who had never heard of justification, yet reached it. He means those who followed what the Spirit writes on hearts, as in Romans 2:14-16. In contrast, Israel tried for justification by law. They stumbled on the stone of stumbling, Christ, of which Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14 (conflated) spoke.
St. Augustine made a sad mistake in reading 8:29 and especially chapter 9. First, he thought the whole passage referred to predestination to heaven and reprobation to hell. The context shows, as we have seen, that it refers to predestination to full membership in the Church, not to heaven or hell. Further, he thought God really hated Esau. God does not hate anyone. Augustine did not know about the Hebrew way of speech we described in which hate means love less. He also used allegory (a purely arbitrary way of working in which one makes one thing stand for another) on the image of the potter, and said the mass of clay was the whole human race which became a "damned and damnable mass" as a result of original sin. He thought God could throw the whole mass into hell without waiting for anyone to sin personally. But to show mercy He would pick blindly a small percent and rescue them; the others, He would desert the great majority (to show everyone should have been damned). In such a picture God would not love even those He would rescue, since He would not be willing them good for their sake but for His -- to let Him make a point of "mercy." This idea of Augustine of course has no support at all in the text or context. It is pure and sad imagination. The Church never endorsed it. Even St. Prosper of Aquitaine, commonly considered Augustine's chief defender -- for there was much opposition in Augustine's own time -- contradicted it. For in Augustine's view, God first deserts a man, then the man, left without strength, deserts God. But St. Prosper wrote (Responsa ad capitula obiectionum Gallorum 3): "They were not deserted by God so that they deserted God; but they deserted and were deserted, and they were changed from good to evil by their own will, and as a result . . . they were not predestined . . . by Him who foresaw them as going to be such."33
Every reputable Scripture scholar today understands the context, which Augustine and many others ignored, in a period of time when most scholars ignored Scriptural contexts regularly. Yet his view underlies the errors of Bañez and his school which we saw in commenting on Romans 5:8.
Summary of Romans, Chapter 10
Paul says his heart desires and he prays earnestly for the salvation of his racial kinsmen, the Jews. He testifies to them that they have zeal indeed, but it is misguided. For they do not know the way in which God gives justification [which is by faith]. Instead, they try to establish it their own way [by law], and so do not use God's way of getting justification. The goal of the law was Christ, for justification for all those who believe. Moses writes about the righteousness that comes from the law, saying: "The one who carries it out will live by it." But the righteousness based on faith says instead: Do not say in your heart: "Who will go up to the sky, that is, to bring Christ down to us." And do not say: "Who will do down into the abyss?" That is, to bring Christ up from the dead. What does it really say? It says that the word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith that we preach.
If they confess with their mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and believe in their heart that the Father raised Him from the dead, they will be saved [enter the Church]. For faith in the heart brings justification, and profession of faith leads to salvation [entering the Church]. Isaiah says: "No one who believes in Him will be ashamed. For Jew and Greek are alike, they all have one Lord, who is generous to all who call on Him." For: "Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." [enter the Church].
How will they [the Jews] call upon One in Whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him if they have not heard of Him? How will they hear unless someone preaches to them? How will they preach without being sent, as Isaiah says: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel." But not all accept the Gospel. As Isaiah says: "Lord, who believes what they hear from us?" So, faith comes from hearing the Gospel, through the word of Christ. So Paul says: They [the Jews] did not fail to hear did they? He replies in the words of Psalm 19: "Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and to the ends of the world their words." So Israel has not failed to have a chance to know. Moses says: "I will make you envious by those who are not the people of God. I will make you angry by a nation that lacks understanding."
Isaiah boldly says: "I was found by those who did not seek me, and became evident to those who had not asked for me." But Isaiah says to Israel: "All day I stretched out my hands to a people who disobeyed and contradicted me."
Comments on Chapter 10
Paul opens this chapter again with an emotional expression of his love for his own racial kinsmen. He says they mean well -- but have a misguided zeal. They did not turn to faith for justification, as Abraham did. He wants them to reach salvation -- in the same sense as his words opening chapter 9, where he wanted them to enter the Church, the messianic kingdom. This will become clearer a bit farther down in this chapter.
The end of the law is Christ. The Greek telos could mean either the terminal point, where the law ceases, or the goal. Paul has said in Galatians 3:24 that the law prepared for Christ. He also could say the law comes to an end with Christ, who freed us from the law -- except that as we have seen, Paul so many times insists that if we break the law we are lost eternally, e.g., in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
The quote from Moses is from Leviticus 18:5 which says a person will live, be well off, if he keeps the law. Next Paul does a remarkable thing: He takes the text of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 in which Moses tells them that they do not have to go up to the sky or into the depth to find the law, which brings such blessings. They already have it, and it will bring blessing. Paul substitutes Christ for the law! He says we do not have to go to the sky or the depths to get Christ and his regime of justification by faith. It is here right now!
Verses 9-12 have caused much misunderstanding on the part of simplistic fundamentalists. What Paul is really saying is this: If you make a profession of faith, the faith that is in your heart, you can be saved. But the word save in Scripture as we have seen, has three meanings: 1) rescuing from temporal evils, 2) entering the Church, 3) reaching heaven. Clearly it is the second here, for the whole context speaks of entering the Church, the people of God.
What of the meaning fundamentalists use in which they mean one takes Christ as his personal Savior and then is infallibly saved? This interpretation has no foundation in Scripture. Thus G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in the article on save, Savior does not list such a meaning as even a possibility. What shows conclusively they are wrong is what we saw long ago, in commenting on chapter 1 of First Thessalonians, and in comments on Galatians 2:15. To really find what Paul means by faith we read every line where he speaks of faith and of believing. Keep notes, and add them up. It is something very different from the imagination of Luther and his followers. A standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement, gives the same meaning of faith in Paul as we have given.34
Paul quotes Isaiah 28:1 to say those who believe in Him will not be ashamed, whether they be Jew or Greek. Paul then cites Joel 3:5 (RSV and NRSV numbers are 2:32): "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." In context, it meant that on the day of the Lord, a remnant that call on Him will be rescued. For the reasons just given, it does not have the simplistic meaning that if anyone with his lips calls on the Lord he is infallibly saved no matter how much he has sinned, is sinning, will sin.35
Then in verses 14-21 Paul returns to his concern for his beloved kinsmen the Jews. He works through in detail what is needed for them to have the faith. He says that Christ must be preached, and that has been done, for the preaching has gone forth everywhere (He uses Psalm 19:5 which speaks of nature proclaiming the glory of God. Paul adapts it to preaching the Gospel). So Paul concludes that the unfaithful Jews have heard the preaching of the Gospel. Of course they have! To bring this out he cites the song of Moses from Deuteronomy 32:21 in which God says that they have provoked Him with idols who are no-gods. So He in turn will provoke them with a no-people: they will be humiliated by pagans. So now the unfaithful Jews will be shown up by the gentiles who have accepted Christ.
When he says in verse 17 that faith comes by hearing, he does not mean faith depends on the ears in contrast to the eyes. No, he means faith comes by responding to the preaching of the Gospel, by hearing it, and listening to it, or obeying it.36 (In those days, there would be no question of their learning the faith by reading: copies were expensive, and not nearly all could read. To suppose Christ told the Apostles: Write some books, get copies made, pass them out, tell the people to figure them out for themselves -- that is ridiculous. Actually, the Church depended on its own oral transmission of doctrine, not on private interpretation of Scripture!)
We should add: Paul's words have nothing to do with the desire of some to forbid people to have missals or missalettes, saying: they must hear the lector, not read!
Then, he quotes Isaiah 65:1-2 which says He was found by those who did not seek Him, but verse 2 adds: "I have stretched out my hands [in invitation] all day to a people that disobeyed, and contradicted!" A sad picture indeed for Paul to face.
Summary of Romans 11:1-12
Has God rejected those who were His people? Heavens no! Paul says he too is an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the elite tribe of Benjamin. God once chose His people, and He has not rejected them. (He means that God still invites them to be part of His people. It is most of them who have rejected Him).
We recall the case of Elijah. He prayed to God against Israel saying: "They have killed your prophets and destroyed your altars, and I am the only one of your prophets left, and they want to kill me." But God answered him saying that God had left a remnant, seven thousand men, who had not worshipped Baal.
Similarly now, there is a remnant, chosen by grace. If it depends on grace, it does not depend on works. If it depended on works, then grace would not be grace. (In grace we get things without earning them by works). What then? Israel did not attain what it sought, but the remnant did. Those outside the remnant were hardened, as Scripture says: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, up to this time." Similarly David says: "Let their table be a snare and net and scandal and retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened so as not to see, and always bend their back."
Have then they stumbled in such a way as to stay down? Heavens no! But because of their sin, the gentiles were saved [got into the Church] so the Jews may be envious [and turn to seek salvation in Christ].
But if the sin of the fallen Jews led to riches for the world, and the failure of the Jews is the riches of the gentiles -- how much richer will it be when all Jews accept Christ?
Comments on 11:1-12
Most Jews rejected Christ. What was the consequence? They fell out of the people of God.37 It reminds us of the words of Christ in the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:43):"The kingdom of God will be taken from you, and will be given to a people who will bear fruit" But God has not withdrawn His call to them. He still wants them to be members of His people, whom He chose in advance. But there is only a remnant now who have accepted Christ.
Paul himself is still a descendant of Abraham, of the elite tribe of Benjamin.38 He is part of the remnant.
The case was similar to the days of Elijah when it seemed all had fallen away and gone after Baal. Elijah prayed in anguish, and said they wanted to kill him too, the last prophet of God (1 Kings 19:9-18). God replied that He had made a choice and preserved a remnant. Was the choice made on the basis of merits? No, this is part of the same picture as we saw in chapter 9. God picks members of His people not because of merits. So similarly in Paul's day a remnant was faithful.
What of those outside the remnant? They thought they were seeking justification, but did not reach it. Scripture (a conflated quote from Deuteronomy 29:3 and Isaiah 29:10) said God made them dull, unable to see or hear. This of course is the common Hebrew pattern in which it is said that God directly does a thing when actually He only permits it. We saw this in discussing Philippians 2:13. A strong example of it is in 1 Samuel 4:3 where the Jews, defeated by the Philistines, exclaimed: "Why did God strike us today before the face of the Philistines" (This is a literal version of the Hebrew. Most modern translations soften it). In a similar way the Psalmist (69:22-25) asks retribution on those who afflict him. (This Psalm seems to foretell the sufferings of Christ, especially since the line just before our quote says they put gall in my food and in my thirst gave me vinegar to drink). It is not a cry for vengeance, but for rebalancing of the objective order.39
Paul now takes comfort in the thought that the fall of the Jews is not permanent. For he will foretell in verses 25-27 the conversion of the Jews before the end of the world. He notices: the fact that the Jews rejected his preaching was the occasion of his turning to the gentiles, who entered in great numbers. Then if the fall of the Jews occasioned this benefit, what will it be when they all come to Christ at the end! He expresses a hope -- rather fancifully -- that the fallen Jews would become jealous of the gentiles and so convert to Christ.
Summary of Romans 11:13-27
Paul says he is the Apostle of the gentiles. He pursues his assignment, hoping to provoke the fallen Jews to jealousy of the gentiles so they may seek Christ too and be saved [enter the Church. Paul knows, as in Romans 2:14-16, that they could reach final salvation without formally entering the Church]. If the fact that many Jews rejected Christ was the occasion of the gentiles accepting Him -- what will it be when the fallen Jews accept Christ? It will be like a resurrection of the dead. If the first fruits are holy, the rest of the crop is holy too. If the root is holy, so also are the branches.
Some of the branches broke off from the tame olive tree, and you gentiles, from a wild olive tree, were engrafted in the place of the broken off branches. Then you shared in the rich root of the olive. But you must not boast against the original natural branches. It is still true that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. If you gentiles should boast and say: "Branches were broken off so I could be grafted in," remember that they broke off because of their lack of faith. You stand by faith. Do not be proud, be fearful, for if God did not spare the original natural branches, neither will He spare you if you become unfaithful.
Look then at the kindness and the severity of God -- severity to those who fell; but kindness to you, provided you stay in His kindness. If not, you too will be cut off. But if they do not continue in unbelief they will be grafted back into their own olive true. God can engraft them again.
If you were cut from the wild olive that was your natural place, and then beyond nature were grafted into the tame olive tree -- all the more will those who naturally belonged to the tame olive tree be engrafted in again [if they become faithful and accept Christ].
Brothers, please take note of this mystery and do not be conceited. A blindness has come upon part of Israel until the fullness of the gentiles enter the Church. Then all Israel will be saved [enter the Church] as the prophet says: "The one who delivers shall come from Sion. And he will turn away impiety from the sons of Jacob. This will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins."
Comments on 11:13-27
Paul continues to follow the call Christ had given him on the road to Damascus. In working for the gentiles he keeps on hoping he may make the fallen Jews jealous so they will turn to Christ. If the fall of these Jews was the occasion of so many conversions of gentiles -- what will it be when they too are converted!
In Numbers 15:18-21 the Jews were ordered to set aside the first portion of the dough in a cake for the Lord. The remainder then acquired a legal purity. If the root is holy, so too are the branches that the root feeds. It is hard to work out the details of these two figures of Paul. The first fruits seem to be the converted remnant. He then begins to look forward to the conversion of the others. (Some would rather say the root stands for the ancient patriarchs). He paints a comparison of two olive trees. The tame olive tree is the original people of God; the wild olive tree stands for the gentiles. Many branches broke off from the tame tree, leaving spaces for the branches from the wild tree, the gentiles (The branches that left the tame olive tree, the people of God, are, of course no longer members of the kingdom: see again 9:25-27). His invitation to them to be members till stands (as in verse 2 above and verse 29 below). He warns the gentiles not to be conceited, thinking themselves brighter or better than the fallen Jews. (It reminds us of the conceit of the Corinthians in their factions). Paul tells them that if the branches that naturally belonged to the original people of God could lose out from lack of faith, then the same thing could happen to the gentile converts.
God in a sense showed severity to those who fell -- except that the word for severity in Greek is apotomia -- if we may coin a word, it would be "cutting-off-ness" It does express the thought here. Then Paul again consoles himself with the thought that the broken off branches can be grafted back in. Finally in 25-27 he definitely predicts it. The blindness has struck only part of Israel -- actually, by far the greater part -- but before the end they will be converted. They will be saved. Again, Paul knows well, from his words in 2:14-16, that the fallen Jews if in good faith could reach final salvation without explicitly entering the Church. So here "saved" means entering the Church. Really, entry into the Church is what Paul has been talking about in all three chapters 9-11.
Paul does not say when this conversion will happen, except that the blindness will last, "until the fullness of the gentiles enter." In commenting on 2 Thessalonians 2 we compared this line with Luke 21:24: "Jerusalem will be trodden by the gentiles until the fullness of the gentiles enter." And we had to wonder if we may be near that point, since Jerusalem has again become a Jewish city, after so many centuries since 135 A.D. We noted also in our study of 2 Thessalonians that Elijah is to return. Now we wonder: Is he on his return to be the deliverer from Sion? We do not know.
Paul follows up with a composite quote from Isaiah 59:20-21 and Isaiah 27:9.
Summary of Romans 11:28-36
In regard to the Gospel, the fallen Jews are enemies, resulting in good to you gentiles; in regard to God's call, they are beloved because of the Jewish patriarchs. For the graces and call of God are without repentance. Just as you gentiles were once disobedient to God, but now have received the mercy of His call to the Church, so now they, the fallen Jews have disobeyed, leading to mercy coming to you. And so they will receive the mercy of conversion finally. God has shut up all in disobedience, and so mercy will come to all.
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways! Who has given advice to Him? Who has first given to Him, and He will be repaid? For from Him, and through Him, and for Him all things exist. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
Comments on 11:18-36
The fallen Jews are hostile to the Gospel, but this has resulted in good for the gentiles. Yet God's call to them to be His people is not taken back -- God does not repent of His call. Just as the gentiles once disobeyed God, but now have been called to the Church, so the fallen Jews have disobeyed, leading to mercy coming to the gentiles. Will the gentiles then be in apostasy, and be brought out by the sight of the conversion of the Jews? We do not know. Paul has been indulging in wishful thinking in this passage, hoping that Jews in his own day would become jealous of the gentiles and so come in -- of course on the whole it did not happen.
And so the Jews will finally receive the mercy of conversion. God has shut up -- declared that all are disobedient -- and so mercy will come to all. The thought is parallel to that of Galatians 3:22 where Paul said that Scripture has locked up all in sin -- that is, has declared all are under sin. Of course, Scripture does not force people to sin. But finally, the fallen Jews will see the light.
Greatly differing views from this have been proposed by Jews in our time. In a public lecture before the Roman Forum in New York,40 Achad ha Sh'erit asserted that the vocation of the Jews is to be a blessing to the world. He appealed to Genesis 12:3 (18:18) where God said "all the families of the earth will be blessed in you." But as we saw, Paul explains that it means people are to get blessing by imitating the faith of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9;Romans 4:13). God's covenant was to give them blessings, not to make them a blessing. Tosefta,Kiddushin 1:14 said: "He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world." So the sins of the Jews, not only of those who demanded the crucifixion of Christ, but also of the other Jews who ratified it by persecuting followers of Christ and trying repeatedly to kill St. Paul, show that they were a liability for the world, not a blessing. Their continued rejection of Christ today is objectively gravely wrong. In Leviticus 4, God demands reparation for sins committed in ignorance. Hence reparation is needed for the continuing rejection of Christ. God would not cause for centuries what is objectively wrong.
Elias Friedman, O.C.D., in Jewish Identity41 thinks God Himself intends them to remain blind for centuries, to prepare for the day when their conversion will bring the gentiles out of apostasy. They had a veil on their hearts in Paul's time (1 Cor 3:14-17) by rejecting Christ -- most of them still do. God who requires sacrifice to make up for even sins of ignorance (Lev 4) surely does not intend them to remain blind. 1 Timothy 2:4: "God wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." In Romans 9:1-3 Paul even, emotionally, says he would be willing to be cursed, away from Christ, to bring them to Christ.
At the end, Paul stands back in awe and admiration at the wisdom and knowledge of God, and at His ways, which we cannot fully understand. He quotes Isaiah 40:13 and joins another passage to it -- perhaps Job 41:3. Some think Paul alludes to Job 35:7 and 41:11. But we cannot be sure.
He closes with a doxology, a praise of God, for whom all things exist and from whom all things come. Glory to Him forever!
Summary of Romans, Chapter 12
Paul urges them in view of God's mercy shown to them that they make their bodies a living sacrifice which is holy and pleasing to God in spiritual worship. They should not try to be like this world, but instead deeply change themselves in spiritual renewal, so as to come to know God's will, to know what is good, well-pleasing and perfect.
He says to them in virtue of the grace given him, that is, in view of his authority as an Apostle that each should not rate himself higher than what he really is. They should learn sound judgment in their self-estimate. God has given each one an assignment and the graces (charisms) that are needed for it,in the measure of (charismatic) faith. For just as there are many parts in a human body, each with its own function, and all are necessary to form a living body, so also in the Church God has given various functions to different ones, as members of one another.
So they have differing gifts, according to the charism given each one. For example, the charism of prophecy should be used according to the analogy of faith (in line with the right faith). He who has the charism of ministering, should use it for ministering. He who has the charism of teaching, should use it for that purpose. He who has the charism of giving exhortations should use it as intended. The one who is moved to give, should give without counting the cost; the one who is given the gift of presiding should use it in concern for those over whom he presides. He who shows mercy should do so cheerfully.
Love should be true, without pretense, so as to hate evil and adhere to good. They should love one another with the love of brotherhood, in giving honor, trying to outdo one another. They should not be sluggish in taking care, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in our hope, being patient in tribulation, persevering in prayer, sharing with the holy ones in their need, pursing hospitality.
They should bless those who persecute them: bless, and not curse. They should rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, being in agreement, not thinking lofty things, but associating with the lowly. They should not be wise in their own estimation.
Let them not return evil for evil, but provide good in the sight of all men. And if it is possible, be at peace with all, not seeking revenge, but leaving room for anger. For Scripture says: Righting wrong is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this you will heap coals of fire upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.
Comments on Chapter 12
Paul has just finished a very difficult exposition, as we have seen. Now he settles down, in an almost conversational way, to a moral exhortation which flows from what he has already said.
So, in view of the mercies, the special favors God has given them in calling them to full membership in the Church, they should deeply transform their lives, to make the use of their bodies a spiritual sacrifice. This is the language of 1 Peter 2:5. It means that by doing God's will in all things we have the interior disposition that is required in joining ourselves with the sacrifice of Jesus in the Mass. His interior disposition on the cross and on the altar was and is obedience to the Father (cf. Romans 5:19). Ours should be in line with His. Then we live according to the ways of Christ, and not according to the ways of the world. In their use of creatures, all should be directed to God. This is what detachment means, using creatures only in such a way as to direct their use to God. Then their spirit will be renewed and so made capable of knowing what is good, which is God's will. For detachment from creatures increases one's spiritual perception. In Romans 1 he described the progressive decay in what we called a spiral, into blindness and following the way of the world. Now he urges quite the opposite.
Of course he also would say that a politician should not try to keep his faith from influencing him. That would be conforming to this world.
Using his apostolic authority he tells them not to think more of themselves than what they really are. He is speaking in the context of charismatic graces -- those given for the benefit of the community, not directly for personal holiness. Paul spoke more fully of these charisms in 1 Corinthians 12, and used the comparison of the body, which he gives more briefly here. When he speaks of the "measure of faith" he does not mean the kind of faith that justifies, but rather charismatic faith: the faith which itself is as it were injected into a soul by God, so that the soul becomes confident that if it asks for some special things, even a miracle of healing, it will be given. Certainly he does not mean that God sparingly doles out the graces needed for salvation and holiness. The Father has accepted the infinite price of redemption, and so has bound Himself to offer graces without limit on His part -- the limit is really our own rejection or lack of rejection. It is not good to say that God gives "sufficient grace" to be saved. This implies doling it out. The infinite price of redemption forbids saying that. Please recall the comments on Galatians 2:20. No, Paul is in a very different category here, the charismatic category. In his day even miraculous charisms were normal for all Christians. Today, non-miraculous charisms are still to be had: the grace of being a good parent, a good teacher, a good speaker, etc. Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium §12 warns against rashly seeking the extraordinary charisms.
Prophecy, as we saw in 1 Corinthians 12 means the gift of giving a moving discourse to the community. But he wants it used according to the analogy of faith, i.e., expressing thoughts in line with what faith teaches -- they must not claim a special line to the Holy Spirit and then use that to contradict the teaching of the Church.
The remaining lines of this chapter are very general exhortations to doing good. Only a few things need explanation.
He wants them to rejoice in hope, that is, to take strength from looking forward to the glorious life with Christ that awaits them in the world to come.
He wants them to be at peace with all -- but adds, if it is possible. Some persons have such diverse mentalities that the most that can be done is to agree to disagree. However, before giving up to that extent, we are encouraged to make a sincere try to get to know the other. Not always, but sometimes, a pleasant surprise is waiting.
The quotation from Deuteronomy 32:35 (which follows the Palestinian Targum reading more closely than it does the Hebrew) is often misunderstood because of the frequent use of the translation "vengeance." Linguistically this is unfortunate. The Hebrew here has nqm, the Aramaic of the Targum nqmta. It has a special meaning of the executive intervention in action by the supreme authority to make things right -- whether that requires favorable or unfavorable action.42 There are two very different things. One is to seek revenge, which is morally wrong, and God of course does not do it. It is to will evil to another so it may be evil to him -- the opposite of love, which wills good to another for the other's sake. A very different thing is to will that the moral order, disturbed by sin, be righted. God Himself does that. But He wants us to leave it to Him, for it is so easy to slide over the line between a desire for the rebalancing of the objective order, and immoral vengeance. A sinner as it were, takes from one pan of the scales of the objective order what he has no right to. The scale is out of balance. The holiness of God wants it rebalanced. The sinner can begin to rebalance by giving up some other pleasure in place of the one he has stolen. But even one mortal sin is an infinite imbalance (the Person offended is infinite). So no creature could fully right it. If the Father wanted a full righting only an Incarnation could do it. That is what He did.43 A line from Rabbi Simeon Ben Eleazar44 helps: "He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scales to the side of debt for himself and for the world."
The probable meaning of heaping coals of fire on an enemy by doing good to him is that this will make him ashamed. This is the view of Sts. Augustine and Jerome.
Summary of Chapter 13
Paul says everyone should be subject to the higher authorities of the civil state. All authority comes from God. So the authorities that exist are put in place by God. Therefore anyone who resists the authority, resists the ordinance of God, and those who do resist will be condemned.
Rulers do not exist to cause fear to those who do good, but to those who do evil. If people wish not to fear the authority, they should do good, and then the authority will praise them.
The authority is an agent of God for their benefit. But if one does evil, he should be afraid. The authority carries the sword with reason, for he is the agent of God to carry out God's wrath on evil doers.
So we should be subject, not just out of fear, but as a matter of conscience. For the same reason they should pay taxes. The authorities are public agents of God, who collect these things to serve the public good. So they should pay what is due to all, and give honor to the one to whom honor is due.
They should owe nothing to anyone except to love each other. The one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. So the commandments against adultery, against murder, against theft, against coveting, and all the other commandments are summed up in one thing: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Since love does no harm to neighbor, love fulfills the law.
They should also realize that the fitting time is now for them to get up from sleep, for their final salvation is closer than when they first came to the faith. The night is far spent, so that the day is coming close. So they should put on the armor of light, and live their lives as in the day -- not in the excesses people indulge in in the night: carousing, drunkenness, sexual excesses and lusts, strife and envy. They should put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
Comments on Chapter 13
A civil state is necessary to provide things we need, but which individuals alone cannot provide. God Himself wills that there be such a state, and at least in that sense, the authority of the ruler comes from Him. What form of government accomplishes this common good is not critical. God can accept any form. But people tend to think only their form is legitimate, e.g., ancient Athens, and the U.S., tend to think only democracy is permitted; ancient Rome thought only a republic dominated by the senate would be legitimate. But Aristotle, in his Politics explains there are three good, and three bad types of constitutions, depending on who has power. If one man has it, and rules for the common good, that is monarchy; if he rules for selfish ends, it is tyranny. If a relatively small group have the power and rule for the common good, it is aristocracy ("rule of the best"). If they rule for selfish ends, it is oligarchy ("rule of a few"). If all have power, and use it for the common good, Aristotle calls it "politeia," a rather generic word, meaning constitutional government. If they use it for selfish purposes, it degenerates into democracy, which Aristotle thinks is a bad form of government, the least bad of the bad forms. The problem is that it is hard to make a government work in which all have a vote. Among other things, three conditions are needed: 1) Those who have the vote should use it -- but only if 2) they know the issues. To vote without knowing is sinful, a shot in the dark, which may support evil. So to merely indiscriminately "get out the vote" is not good. 3) Those who vote are obliged in conscience to vote for the common good, not for the good of their own group. Again, this is hard to achieve. If these conditions are not met, we may easily see "the tyranny of the majority."
Once the choice has been made of who will have power, then he/she/they are put in place by God, and in that sense at least we may say the power comes from Him. So to resist it is to resist the authority of God. (We add: There some merely penal laws, in which there is no intention to obligate conscience. These can be seen when a penalty is grossly out of proportion to the offence. We call them merely penal, since the only obligation is to accept the penalty if a court gives it out).
In passing, we notice that the top civil authority at the time Paul wrote was none other than Nero. Paul wrote in 57 or 58, probably. Nero at this time was still in what is called the "Quinquennium Neronis" the five year period in which he let himself be dominated by the philosopher Seneca, and the Praetorian Prefect Burrus. Nero's personal life was bad during this period, yet the rule was good. But later, in 65 A.D. when Titus 3:1 was written, Nero was an impossible tyrant. Yet the Epistle gives the same injunctions. It did not of course call for obedience to wicked orders, but did want obedience to legitimate commands.
Paul next says that if you do good, you will get praise from the authority. Of course this does not always happen, by any means. But here if we recall the focused way Paul often looks at things we can see. When we spoke of the Law, in a focused view, we would see: The Law makes heavy demands -- it gives no strength -- so one must fall. So we could say the situation of being under the Law as such brings only harm. Similarly, the state as such should give only good to the good. In the factual view, in which we add actual conditions -- the presence of wicked rulers -- this does not always turn out that way.
The next thought is very important: the civil authority carries the sword. In Roman law, this is the ius gladii, the right of the sword, which meant the right to inflict capital punishment. Therefore, if anyone says: "capital punishment is un-Christian," he/she is saying the equivalent of heresy, by contradicting Sacred Scripture. It is permitted to debate whether it is desirable on other grounds. But we may not question its legitimacy in general. It certainly does help provide rebalance for the objective order, and the Holiness of God does want that order restored if it is put out of balance. (We explained this matter in commenting on Romans 12:19, above).
In verse 4 some versions say the authority is "the avenger of God's wrath." Here we need to recall our comments made above on "vengeance" in 12:19.
St. Paul adds we should be obedient not just out of fear, but as a matter of conscience: the civil authority does have God's authority as he explained at the start of this chapter.
At verse 8, Paul goes into some more general exhortations to love as the fulfillment of the law. He says that the command of Leviticus 19:18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," really implies all else. That is true. Jesus Himself said that all is summed up in the twofold command of love of God and of neighbor: Matthew 22:40. (Unfortunately, the Jews did not see the breadth of the word neighbor, but tended to make it mean only their fellow countrymen).
The last verse of this chapter is the one Augustine was providentially led to see in his spiritual/psychological crisis in the garden. His conversion came at once on reading it.
Summary of Romans, Chapter 14
He asks them to treat as brothers or sisters those who are weak in faith. He advises not to try to reason them into a sensible position. For some have faith such that they think everything is all right to eat -- there are no unclean foods. But the weak one thinks only vegetables are permitted. Again, the one who understands that everything is all right to eat must not scorn the other. God accepts the other. Really, who are we to condemn someone else's servant [God's]? It is the judgment of the Lord that counts for that weak one. The Lord will make him stand.
Some judge that there are certain days when they must make certain observances -- but others, we, judge every day is proper.
It is essential that each one not act against his conscience. For the one who does unnecessarily observe certain days, does it thinking the Lord so wills. Again, we who eat all things do so for the Lord, and give thanks to God. But the one who limits his diet does so thinking the Lord wills it, and gives thanks to God. No one of us lives for self or dies for self. Whether living or dying, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and came back to life so He can be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
So who are we to condemn another brother, or scorn him? All of us must stand before the divine tribunal. As God said through Isaiah: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bend to me, every tongue will report to God." So then each of us will have to give that account. Hence we should not keep on judging/condemning others, but instead, decide not to cause scandal to them. We know we are certain in the Lord Jesus that no food is unclean in itself. But if someone considers it unclean, it would be wrong for him to eat it. So if we scandalize a brother by food, we are no longer living according to love. We must not for the sake of food destroy a soul for whom Christ died. We must not let our Christian freedom be ill-spoken of because it results in scandal. The kingdom of God does not depend on freedom in regard to food and drink -- what does count is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God, and people approve him.
So we should cultivate the things that pertain to peace, and to spiritual help to one another. We must not destroy God's handiwork for the sake of food. Yes, all things are clean, but can be evil to one who eats them in scandal. It is right not to eat meat or drink wine, or do anything at all which scandalizes a brother.
So this knowledge that we have about foods and similar things we must use for ourselves and before God. But we must not flaunt it before others in such a way as to scandalize them.
Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself for a thing he has decided to do. But if someone acts in doubt about the morality of what he is doing, if he eats in that state of doubt, then he is condemned, even though there was nothing wrong about the eating in itself. But because he acted in bad faith, he is condemned. Anything that is done in bad faith is a sin.
Comments On Chapter 14
We are not able to determine precisely what sort of problem persons Paul has in view here, though we can know some things about them. And we can know the principles involved clearly. They are "weak in faith." Really, one who has strong faith, who believes in the protection of Christ on His Church, will have no trouble accepting the decisions of the Church that no food is wrong to eat in itself, and that there are no days on which by their nature we must carry out certain rituals. If people were really logical, and then accepted most teachings of the Church, but rejected a few, we could and would say: It must be something other than faith that leads them to accept the things they accept. But as it really is, people are not always consistent and logical. And so in one sense we can say these people lack faith (on the assumption that they are being logical), and in another sense (viewing them more realistically) we would not say that. Paul here is talking in the same pattern as that we see in the Epistle of James 2:10: "Whoever keeps the whole law, but offends on one point, is guilty of [violating] the whole law."
So, speaking abstractly, Paul can say these persons are weak in faith, but he also knows that concretely they are not logical, are in the grip of past habituations, and so he says that God is willing to accept them. He does not mean that God is objectively pleased with their errors, but it does mean that as long as they do not act in bad faith, He will accept them.
The psychology involved is the same as that which we saw in First Corinthians, in Paul's long discussion of foods sacrificed to idols. There he said that an idol is nothing; nothing changes nothing; so in itself it is all right to eat such food. But he sees a danger of scandal: suppose you are invited out to dinner, and at table someone says that the meat has come from a temple sacrifice. At once Paul says: Do not eat it. We might think he would give instruction: "Tell them Paul says it is all right to eat." But no, he knows that at least in general, they will not be able to internalize that idea. They have grown up with the belief that food is changed by being offered in the temples of idols. If by social pressure we would force them to eat it in bad faith, that is, in the belief it is sinful, then there would be a sin, not because the food was wrong, but because it is wrong to do what one believes is contrary to morality.
At the end of this chapter Paul goes even farther. He says that if someone acts in doubt as to whether a food is licit, for example, then he will sin by eating it, because he is willing to violate the law by doing something that at least is likely to be a violation.
May we turn this around and say: "As long as I think it is all right, it is all right, even if the Church says otherwise?" Not at all. We are obliged to form our conscience according to the teaching of the Church. So objectively we would be wrong in going against the Church. We say objectively, because in a time of immense confusion, with false teachers so often found, even priests, telling people that contraception, for example, is permitted -- in such a confusion someone, while objectively wrong, may yet be subjectively in good faith.
To give scandal is to do something that either is sinful, or looks sinful in such a situation that it will likely lead another into doing what is sinful, or what he is convinced is sinful. In First Corinthians, Paul pleaded eloquently and at length. He does so more briefly here, but still uses the most telling argument: Are you going to eat meat in a situation where that will lead another soul into spiritual ruin? Christ died for that soul! Can you not give up meat on some particular occasion?
The persons Paul has in mind here are not the same as Judaizers, for although they thought some foods were unclean, they did not go so far as to reject all kinds of meat.
We note further: Paul here is dealing with a concrete situation in which some cannot form their consciences rightly in regard to foods and days of observance. He would not have any objection to giving up food, or praying on the Lord's day when one does it not as a result of an unfortunate mentality, but as a result of the commands of the Church, and the command of Christ for penance. Paul himself fasted often, as we see in 2 Corinthians 11:27. And we know historically, e.g., from the Didache, that the early Christians did fast much.
Summary of Romans 15:1-13
Paul tells them that the strong should bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong, instead of pleasing themselves. Each should please his neighbor for their spiritual good. We have the example of Christ, who did not please Himself. Rather, as Psalm 69:10 says: "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell upon me." Whatever is written in the Scriptures is written to instruct us, so that by patience and the consolation which the Scriptures provide we may have hope.
Paul asks that the God of patience and consolation may make them of one mind [agreeing] among themselves, just as Christ was, so that with agreement, with one mouth, they may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So they should accept one another, as Christ accepted them, for the glory of God. Christ was a Jew and ministered to the Jews in their own framework, to fulfill the promises given to their Fathers. But the gentiles glorify God not because of the fulfillment of promises, but because of His mercy, as Psalm 18:50 says: "For this reason I will praise you among the gentiles, and will sing to your name." Similarly Deuteronomy 32:43 says: "Rejoice, O gentiles, with His people." Or in Psalm 117:1: "All nations praise the Lord, and let all peoples praise Him." Isaiah 11:10 says: "There will be a root of Jesse, and one who rises up to rule the gentiles. In Him the gentiles will hope."
So he asks that the God of hope may fill them with all joy and peace in believing, that they may have abundant hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Comments on 15:1-13
Paul is still thinking of the weak ones of whom he spoke in chapter 14. There he stressed avoiding scandal to them. Here he adds more positively that they should help them spiritually, and "accept them," that is, accommodate themselves to the weaknesses of the others. Christ took on the reproaches He did not deserve, reproaches really directed at God.
There is a difference. Christ was a minister of circumcision, i.e., He fulfilled all the promises God had made to the patriarchs. But He also did as much for the gentiles, even though they did not have the promises.45 In their case it was mere mercy, not fulfillment of promise. Yet the Old Testament did foretell what He did, in several places, which Paul quotes. In the case of Deuteronomy 32:43 and Isaiah 11:10 he quotes the text according to the Septuagint version, which happens to be somewhat different from the Hebrew. The Dead Sea scrolls have convinced most scholars that the text of the Old Testament was not firmly fixed in one form very early. Rather, there were several forms of it, before it became stabilized. The Septuagint seems to reflect a form somewhat different from our present Hebrew text in spots.
Summary of Romans 15:14-33
Paul is convinced that the Romans are filled with goodness, and with all knowledge, and so can advise one another. The fact that he knows that has not prevented him from writing almost boldly in part, to remind them of what they already know. He thinks that is part of his mission as an Apostle.
He is a minister of Christ to the gentiles, serving the Gospel as a priest, so that the spiritual offering of the gentiles may be very acceptable, and made holy in the Holy Spirit.
So he can boast in Christ Jesus over the things God has done. He means the miracles Christ has worked through Him, to bring the gentiles by these wonders to the obedience of faith [the obedience that faith is] in the power of the Spirit of God.
He makes it a point of honor not to preach in places where others have already preached. He does not want to build upon the foundation put down by someone else. This is in line with Isaiah 52:15: "They shall see, to whom no message about Him was given. They shall understand, who have never heard of Him."
His travels thus far have hindered him many times from coming to Rome. But now he no longer has a place to preach in these regions, he has long desired to come to them at Rome, and also to go beyond into Spain. For he hopes to see them on the way, and hopes that they will send him on his way, after he has first been able to enjoy their company a bit.
For the present, he is going to Jerusalem to serve the holy ones. For Macedonia and Achaia have sent some contribution for the poor among the holy ones in Jerusalem. It pleased them, and it was right that they should do it. For they, the Romans, are indebted to the holy ones of Jerusalem [salvation originated in Jerusalem]. If the gentiles have shared in the spiritual things they provided, then the gentiles should minister to those in Jerusalem in bodily things.
When he has completed this mission, and has safely handed over the collection, he hopes to go by way of Rome to Spain. He knows that in coming to them he will come with the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
So he urges them through Christ and through the love of the Holy Spirit to pray hard along with him, so he may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and so that his ministry may be quite acceptable to the holy ones in Jerusalem. Then he may come to Rome with joy, and through the will of God be refreshed by the Roman Christians.
May the God of peace be with them all. Amen.
Comments on 15:14-33
Now that he has finished his difficult doctrinal explanation, Paul returns to what he said at the beginning of the Epistle (1:8ff.) where he said he gave thanks to God for them, for their faith was known in all the world, and that he had been wanting to come to them. In that first chapter (1:11-12) he had first said he wanted to give them some spiritual grace, but then revised his language to say he wanted to be consoled together with them in the faith.
When he speaks of the miracles, he probably means those of charismatic type. He appeals elsewhere to them, saying he does not want his preaching to rest on his own word alone, but on the showing of the power of the Holy Spirit.46 We know from 1 Corinthians 12 that these gifts were routinely given in Paul's day.
It is interesting that he speaks of himself as ministering as a priest. He uses Greek hierougounta, the verb with the root of hiereus, priest. Normally he uses presbyteros or episkopos. The word hiereus was used for pagan and Jewish priests, and perhaps for this reason Paul did not otherwise use it.
The quote from Isaiah 52:15 originally meant that kings and nations would hear things unheard of from the Servant of the Lord. Here Paul adapts it as he so often does. He follows the Septuagint text rather than the Hebrew, since his readers would probably be using that.
He says twice he wants to go to Spain. Did he ever get there? Clement I in his Epistle 5.7 speaks of Paul as traveling to the boundary of the west. To a Roman that should mean Spain, which jutted out into the ocean farther west than anything else. Again, the Muratorian Fragment 38-39 mentions Paul setting out for Spain. The Fragment is late second century, but the Epistle of Clement is about 95 A.D., and in it Clement says (5.1) that Peter and Paul were of his own generation. He became Pope in either 88 or 92, and Peter and Paul died around 66, so it is highly likely he had seen and heard them. Also, St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.3 says Clement knew Peter and Paul.
Paul says he fears trouble from unbelievers in Judea, and with reason. When he actually was there on the journey described in Acts 21:15ff., he really did encounter much trouble, and wound up in prison for two years before appealing to Caesar and being sent to Rome, probably in 61.
Summary of Romans, Chapter 16
Paul commends to another church his sister Phoebe, who is a deaconess of the church at Cenchrae, asking that they may receive her in the Lord as befits the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need. She has helped many, including Paul himself.
He asks to greet Prisca and Aquila who worked with him for Christ, who risked their lives for his life. All the churches of the gentiles thank them, and the church that meets in their house.
He next greets very many others. Some of them in verse 7 he calls "Apostles."
Next he urges that they watch those who cause dissension and scandal, contrary to what he has taught them, and to keep away from them. Such persons are not slaves to Christ, but to their own belly, and by sweet talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of innocent people.
All have come to know about the obedience of faith the recipients of this letter have. So Paul rejoices in them, and wants them to be wise in regard to the good, innocent as to evil.
He says the God of peace will crush Satan under their feet. He prays that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with them.
Timothy also greets them, and Lucius and Jason and Sosipater his kinsmen.
Tertius to whom Paul dictated this letter greets them, as do Gaius and the whole church, and Erastus the treasurer of the city and Quartus, a brother.
May there be glory to Him who can strengthen them according to the Gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the mystery that was once hidden but is now brought to light through the Scriptures of the prophets who foretold it, by command of the eternal God, for the obedience of faith, the mystery made known to all the gentiles. To Him, the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, may there be glory forever. Amen.
Comments on Chapter 16
This is a puzzling chapter in that it does not seem to belong to the Epistle to the Romans. By decision of the Council of Trent we know that it is part of Scripture. Further, it seems to be by Paul. It is a letter of recommendation for Phoebe who has been very helpful to the faith at Cenchrae, a port of Corinth. Some commentators think it really was part of a letter sent to Ephesus, not to Rome.
As to her being called a deaconess, we need to recall Canon 19 of the Council of Nicea, which says that deaconesses "have not been in any way ordained," and are to be counted among the laity. They helped with the poor, and probably also with the baptism of women when it was done by immersion.
Technical and precise terms are slow to develop in any field of knowledge. For example, in Acts 20, verse 17 a group are called presbyteroi, but in verse 28 the same group are called episkopoi. In Romans 16:7 Paul calls some of his helpers Apostles. Again, that term was at times used broadly, even as it still is today.
In view of this we are not sure we should call Phoebe a deaconess. The word could have the generic meaning of servant.
Prisca and Aquila were a Jewish couple with whom Paul stayed for a time at Corinth. We do not know in what way they risked their lives for him. Some suspect it was during the riot of the silversmiths at Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19:23 or during an imprisonment of Paul at Ephesus.
In verse 17 Paul turns to warning about enemies, who seem to be the Judaizers. He can say they serve the belly in that they are meticulous about dietary laws.
In verse 26 Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith," that is, the obedience that faith is, for obedience is a major component of faith. We saw it in Romans 1:5. The word obedience alone occurs in 16:19, probably meaning the same obedience of faith.
After these there is a sort of postscript of greetings, especially that by Tertius to whom Paul dictated the letter.
Finally, verses 25-27 are a doxology, a praise of God. Some think it was a later addition. Other thinks it is to sum up the thought of the Epistle. At any rate, it is clear that it is part of Scripture.