This Chapter Consists Of Two Parts, Verses 1-10, And 11-36. In The Former The Apostle Teaches That The Rejection Of The Jews Was Not Total. There Was A Remnant, And Perhaps A Much Larger Remnant Than Many Might Suppose, Excepted, Although The Mass Of The Nation, Agreeably To The Predictions Of The Prophets, Was Cast Off, Verses 1-10. In The Latter, He Shows That This Rejection Is Not Final. In The First Place, The Restoration Of The Jews Is A Desirable And Probable Event, Verses 11-24. In The Second, It Is One Which God Has Determined To Bring To Pass, Verses 25-32. The Chapter Closes With A Sublime Declaration Of The Unsearchable Wisdom Of God, Manifested In All His Dealings With Men, Verses 33-36. In The Consideration Of The Great Doctrinal Truths Taught In This Chapter, Paul Intersperses Many Practical Remarks, Designed To Give These Truths Their Proper Influence Both On The Jews And Gentiles, Especially The Latter.
The rejection of the Jews is not total, as is sufficiently manifest from the example of the apostle himself, to say nothing of others, ver. 1. God had reserved a remnant faithful to himself as was the case in the times of Elias, vers. 2-4. That this remnant is saved, is a matter entirely of grace, vers. 5, 6. The real truth of the case is, that Israel, as a nation, is excluded from the kingdom of Christ, but the chosen ones are admitted to its blessings, ver. 7. This rejection of the greater part of the Jews, their own Scriptures had predicted, vers. 8-10.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 1. I say, then, λέγω οὖν, I ask, then, i.e. Is it to be inferred from what I have said, that God hath rejected his people? When we consider how many promises are made to the Jewish nation, as God's peculiar people; and how often it is said, as in Psalm 94:14, "The Lord will not cast off his people," it is not surprising that the doctrine of the rejection of the Jews, as taught in the preceding chapters, was regarded as inconsistent with the word of God. Paul removes this difficulty, first by showing that the rejection of the Jews was neither total nor final; and secondly, by proving that the promises in question had reference, not to the Jewish nation as such, but to the elect, or, the spiritual Israel. The word ἀπώσατο stands at the beginning of the sentence, to show that it is emphatic. Has God utterly, (i.e., totally and finally) rejected his people? This Paul denies. He had not asserted any thing of the kind. The rejection of the Jews as a nation, was consistent with all that God had promised to their fathers. Those promises did not secure the salvation of all Jews, or of the Jews as a nation. And the doctrine which he had inculcated did not involve the rejection of all Jews. In proof, he adds,
For I also am an Israelite. Paul had not taught his own rejection. The fact that he claimed for himself, and for all who with him believed on Christ, a part in the Messiah's kingdom, made it clear that he did not teach the rejection of all Israel. De Wette, and Meyer, in opposition to almost common consent, give a different view of the apostle's language. They understand him as repudiating the idea of the universal rejection of the Jews, as inconsistent with his patriotic feeling. For I also am an Israelite. How can a Jew believe that God has cast off his people? But the context is clearly in favor of the common interpretation. The apostle goes on to show that a general apostasy did not involve an entire rejection. The nation, as a nation, had before turned to idols, and yet a remnant had remained faithful. And so it was now.
Of the seed of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin, see Philippians 3:5. Paul was a Jew by descent from Abraham, and not merely a proselyte; and he was of one of the most favored tribes. Judah and Benjamin, especially after the exile, were the chief representatives of the theoeratieal people.
VERSE 2. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. This verse admits of two interpretations. The words his people may be understood, as in the preceding verse, as meaning the Jewish nation and the clause which he foreknew, as, by implication, assigning the reason for the declaration that God had not cast them off. The clause, according to this view, is little more than a repetition of the sentiment of the preceding verse. 'It is not to be inferred from what I have said of the rejection of the Jews, that God has cast away all his chosen people. Multitudes are excepted now, as in the days of Elias.' The second interpretation requires more stress to be laid upon the words which he foreknew, as qualifying and distinguishing the preceding phrase, his people. 'God has indeed rejected his external people, the Jewish nation as such, but he has not cast away his people whom he foreknew.' According to this view, his people means the elect, his spiritual people, or the true Israel. This interpretation seems decidedly preferable,
1. Because it is precisely the distinction which Paul had made, and made for the same purpose, in Romans 9:6-8, 'The rejection of the external Israel does not invalidate the promises of God, because those promises did not contemplate the natural seed as such, but the spiritual Israel. So, now, when I say that the external Israel is rejected, it does not imply that the true chosen Israel, to whom the promises pertained, is cast away.'
2. Because this is apparently Paul's own explanation in the sequel. The mass of the nation were cast away, but "a remnant, according to the election of grace," were reserved, ver. 5. Israel, as such, Paul says in ver. 7, failed of admission to the Messiah's kingdom, "but the election hath obtained it." It is, therefore, evident that the people which God foreknew, and which were not cast off, is "the remnant" spoken of in ver. 5, and "the election" mentioned in ver. 7.
3. Because the illustration borrowed from the Old Testament best suits this interpretation. In the days of Elias, God rejected the great body of the people; but reserved to himself a remnant, chosen in sovereign grace. The distinction, therefore, in both cases, is between the external and the chosen people.
Which he foreknew. On the different senses of the word rendered he foreknew, see Romans 8:29. Compare Romans 7:15; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:9; Proverbs 12:10; Psalm 101:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Matthew 7:23. In foreknowledge, as thus used, is involved something more than simple prescience, of which all persons and all events are the objects. The people whom God foreknew, were a people distinguished by that foreknowledge from all other people. All are not Israel who are of Israel. God knows those who are his, and in the midst of general apostasy, preserves and saves those whom he thus foreknows as his own. Even Luther gives this view of the passage.
"Es ist nicht alles Gottes.Volk, was Gottes Volk heisset; darum wird nicht alles verstossen, ob der mehere Theil auch verstossen wird."
And Olshausen says,
"Vom sichtbaren geht er aber weiter, auf den unsichtbaren Kern des Volkes Gottes über... Offenbar kann Paulus hier nicht von bloss die zur Kirche übergetretenen Juden meinen, die waren kenntlich, sondern die jedem menschlichen Auge unbekannten, die den verborgenen Schatz der Treue und Aufrichtigkeit ihnen selbst unbewusst im Herzen trugen. Diese verhalten sich zur Masse des Volks, wie im Individuum die Reste des göttlichen. Ebenbildes zum alten Menschen; oder wie im wiedergebornen der unentwickelte, oft von der Sünde zurückgedrängte neue Mensch zu dem ihm umgebenden s¸ndlichen Menschen. Wie dieser sterben muss, damit jener herrsche, so muss auch das λεῖμμα frei gemacht werden von der fremden Schale, in der er wohnt, um sich ausbreiten zu können. Immer ist es das eigentliche Volk (9, 6 ff.) auf das alle Verheissungen gehen, wie der unscheinbare neue Mensch in dem ungeschlachtigen alten Menschen allein der wahre Mensch ist."
Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elias? ἐν Ηλίᾳ, in Elias, i.e. in the section which treats of Elias, or which is designated by his name. Another example of this method of referring to Scripture is found in Mark 12:26, "In the bush God spake unto him;" i.e. in the section which treats of the burning bush. This method of quotation is common with the Rabbins, Surenh. p. 493, and occurs in the classic writers.
How he maketh intercession to God against Israel; ἐντυγχάνειν means to approach or draw near to any one, either ὑπέρ, in behalf of, or κατά, against. The latter form occurs here and in 1 Macc. 10:60.
VERSE 3. Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars, and I am left alone, etc. 1 Kings 19:10. Paul gives the sense, and nearly the words of the original. The event referred to was the great defection from the true religion, and the murder of the prophets of God, under the reign of Ahab. The point of the analogy to which the apostle refers, is that although then, as now, the defection was apparently entire, yet many unknown of men remained faithful, and escaped the doom visited on the nation as such. As the law allowed only one altar, and that at Jerusalem, it has been asked, How the prophet could speak of digging down the altars of God, as though there were many? To this it is commonly answered, that the probability is, that after the defection of the ten tribes, many altars to the true God were erected in secret places, by those who adhered to the religion of their fathers, and which, as access to Jerusalem was impossible, were then tolerated by the prophets, and the destruction of which, out of hatred to the true religion, was evidence of apostasy from God.
VERSE 4. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, etc. 1 Kings 19:18. Here again the apostle gives the sense of the original, with slight variations both from the Hebrew and Greek. In the LXX., the future καταλείψω is used where Paul has the aorist κατέλιπον. Paul also inserts the pronoun (ἐμαυτῷ) which is neither in the Greek nor Hebrew. "I have reserved for myself;" i.e. as my own peculiar people. In Kings, God threatens the general destruction of the people, but promises to reserve seven thousand, who had not gone after false gods. No special stress is to be laid on the number seven, as the whole design of the apostle is to show that national destruction does not involve the destruction of the true people of God. He always has an invisible church within the visible; and the destruction or dispersion of the latter does not affect the former.
Answer of God, χρηματισμός, divine response, or oracle. The verb χρηματίζω occurs in Hebrews 12:25, 11:7; Matthew 2:12; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22. Those who remained faithful in the time of Elias, were those who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Baal signifies Lord, ruler, and is used as the designation of a Phoenician deity. Among the Chaldeans he was called Bel, or Belus. He was regarded as the generative, controlling principle, of which the sun or the planet of Jupiter was the symbol, and to the people the direct object of worship. With him was associated a female deity, Ashtaroth, the Greek Astarte, called queen of heaven, the moon. But as Baal was also associated with the planet Jupiter, so was Ashtaroth with Venus. In this passage the feminine article is used before Baal, τῇ Βάαλ. This is explained by our interpreters, by supposing that εἰκόνι, image, is omitted. But this is unsatisfactory, not only because if such ellipsis occurred, the expression would properly be, τῇ τοῦ Βάαλ; but also because in the LXX. and the Apocrypha, Baal has repeatedly the feminine article. Zephaniah 1:4; Hosea 2:8; 1 Samuel 7:4. Some say this is done in the way of contempt, as with the Rabbins the feminine form is sometimes thus used. There is, however, no special indication of any such purpose in those cases where the feminine article occurs. It is more satisfactory to assume that, at least with the later Hebrews, both the active generative principle in nature, and the passive, or birth-giving principle, was expressed by the same word; so that Baal was really androgen, both male and female.
VERSE 5. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. As in the days of Elias, there was a number which, although small in comparison with the whole nation, was still much greater than appeared to human eyes, who remained faithful, so at the present time, amidst the general defection of the Jews, and their consequent rejection as a people, there is a remnant, (λεῖμμα, what is left, answering to κατέλιπον in ver. 4,) according to the election of grace; that is, graciously chosen. The election was gracious, not merely in the sense of kind, but gratuitous, sovereign, not founded on the merits of the persons chosen, but the good pleasure of God. This explanation of the term is given by the apostle himself in the next verse.
Remnant according to the gracious election is equivalent to remnant gratuitously chosen, see Romans 9:11, and vers. 21, 24 of this chapter. Paul, therefore, designs to teach that the rejection of the Jews was not total, because there was a number whom God had chosen, who remained faithful, and constituted the true Israel or elected people, to whom the promises were made. As in the days of Elias, the number of those who had not bowed the knee to Baal was far greater than the prophet believed it to be, so the number of those who acknowledged Christ as the Messiah, in the times of the apostle, was much larger probably than is generally supposed. The apostle James speaks of many myriads (πόσαι μυριάδες), Acts 21:20, of believing Jews.
VERSE 6. And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. This verse is an exegetical comment on the last clause of the preceding one. If the election spoken of be of grace, it is not founded on works, for the two things are incompatible. It evidently was, in the apostle's view, a matter of importance that the entire freeness of the election of men to the enjoyment of the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom, should be steadily kept in view. He would not otherwise have stopped in the midst of his discourse to insist so much on this idea. This verse serves to illustrate several declarations of the apostle in the preceding chapter. For example, ver. 11, in which, as here, men are said to be chosen in a sovereign manner, and not according to their works. It is obvious that foreseen works are as much excluded as any other. For a choice founded upon the foresight of good works, is as really made on account of works as any choice can be, and, consequently, is not of grace, in the sense asserted by the apostle. In the second place, the choice which is here declared to be so entirely gratuitous, is a choice to the kingdom of Christ. This is evident from the whole context, and especially from ver. 7. It was from this kingdom and all its spiritual and eternal blessings that the Jews, as a body, were rejected, and to which "the remnant according to the election of grace" was admitted. The election, therefore, spoken of in the ninth chapter, is not to external privileges merely.
The latter part of this verse is simply the converse of the former. But if of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work. If founded on any thing in us, it is not founded on the mere good pleasure of God. If the one be affirmed, the other is denied. This clause is omitted in the uncial MSS. A. C. D. E F. G., and in several of the ancient versions, and by all the Latin fathers. On these grounds it is rejected as a gloss by Erasmus, Grotius, Wetstein, Griesbach, and the later editors. It is found, however, in the MS. B., and in the Syriac version, both of which are important authorities, and is retained by Beza and Bengel, and defended by Fritzsche, Tholuck, and others. The internal evidence, and a comparison with similar passages, as Romans 4:4; Ephesians 2:8, 9, are in its favor.
VERSE 7. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for: but the election hath obtained it, etc. Seeketh, ἐπιζητεῖ expresses earnest seeking, and the use of the present tense indicates the persistency of the search. The Jews zealously and perseveringly sought after righteousness. They failed, however, as the apostle says, because they sought it by works. This verse is by many pointed differently, and read thus, "What then? Hath not Israel obtained that which he seeketh for? nay, but the election have," etc. The sense is not materially different. The apostle evidently designs to state the result of all he had just been saying. Israel, as a body, have not attained the blessing which they sought, but the chosen portion of them have. The rejection, therefore, is not total, and the promises of God made of old to Israel, which contemplated his spiritual people, have not been broken. It is clear, from the whole discourse, that the blessing sought by the Jews was justification, acceptance with God, and admission into his kingdom; see Romans 10:3, 9:30, 31. This it is which they failed to attain, and to which the election were admitted. It was not, therefore, external advantages merely which the apostle had in view. The election means those elected; as the circumcision means those who are circumcised.
The election, i.e. reliquiae ejus populi, quas per gratiam suam Deus eligit.
And the rest were blinded. The verb (ἐπωρώθησαν) rendered were blinded, properly means, in its ground form, to harden, to render insensible, and is so translated in our version, Mark 6:52, 8:17; John 12:40. In 2 Corinthians 3:14, the only other place in which it occurs in the New Testament, it is rendered as it is here. It is used in reference to the eyes in the Septuagint, Job 17:7, "My eyes are dim by reason of sorrow." Either rendering, therefore, is admissible, though the former is preferable, as more in accordance with the usual meaning of the word, and with Paul's language in the previous chapters.
And the rest were hardened, that is, were insensible to the truth and excellence of the gospel, and, therefore, disregarded its offers and its claims. This πώρωσις affected the understanding as well as the heart. It was both blindness and obduracy. The passive form here used, may express simply the idea that they became hard, or the reference may be to the judicial act of God, see Romans 9:18. They were hardened by God, i.e. abandoned by him to the hardness of their own hearts.
VERSE 8. According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, ears that they should not hear. This passage, as is the case with Romans 9:33, is composed of several passages found in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 6:9, it is said, "Hear ye indeed, but understand not; see ye indeed, but perceive not;" ver. 10, "Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears." Deuteronomy 29:4, "Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day." Isaiah 29:10, "For the Lord hath poured upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes." The spirit, and to some extent, the language of these passages, Paul cites in support of his argument. They are in part descriptive of what had occurred in the times of the prophets, and in part prophetic of what should hereafter occur, and are therefore applicable to the character and conduct of the Jews during the apostolic age. See Matthew 13:14. The design of such citations frequently is to show that what was fulfilled partially in former times, was more perfectly accomplished at a subsequent period. The Jews had often before been hardened, but at no former period were the people so blinded, hardened, and reprobate, as when they rejected the Son of God, and put him to an open shame. It had often been predicted that such should be their state when the Messiah came. The punitive character of the evils here threatened, cannot escape the reader's notice. This blindness and hardness were not mere calamities, nor were they simply the natural effects of the sins of the people. They were punitive inflictions. They are so denounced. God says, I will give you eyes that see not. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The strokes of his justice blind, bewilder, and harden the soul. The words even unto this day, may, as by our translators, be connected with the last words of the preceding verse, 'The rest were blinded even unto this day.' Or they may be considered as a part of the quotation, as they occur in Deuteronomy 29:4.
VERSES 9, 10. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, etc. This Psalm (69) is referred to David in the heading prefixed to it, and the propriety of the reference to him as its author is confirmed both by external and internal evidence. See Hengstenberg's Commentary on the Psalms. No portion of the Old Testament Scriptures is more frequently referred to, as descriptive of our Lord's sufferings, than the Psalms 69 and 22. There is nothing in this Psalm which forbids its being considered as a prophetic lamentation of the Messiah over his afflictions, and a denunciation of God's judgments upon his enemies. Verse 9, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up," and ver. 21, "They gave me vinegar to drink," are elsewhere quoted and applied to Christ. Viewed in this light, the Psalm is directly applicable to the apostle's object, as it contains a prediction of the judgments which should befall the enemies of Christ.
Let their table be, is only another and a more forcible way of saying, their table shall be. Isaiah 47:5, "Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans," for 'Thou shalt sit, etc.' And so in a multitude of cases in the prophetic writings. In the Psalm, indeed, the future term in the Hebrew is used, though it is correctly rendered by the Septuagint and in our version as the imperative, in these passages. The judgments here denounced are expressed in figurative language. The sense is, their blessings shall become a curse; blindness and weakness, hardness of heart and misery shall come upon them. This last idea is forcibly expressed by a reference to the dimness of vision, and decrepitude of old age; as the vigor and activity of youth are the common figure for expressing the results of God's favor.
Even if the Psalm here quoted be considered as referring to the sorrows and the enemies of the sacred writer himself; and not to those of Christ, it would still be pertinent to the apostle's object. The enemies of the Psalmist were the enemies of God; the evils imprecated upon them were implicated on them as such, and not as enemies of the writer. These denunciations are not the expression of the desire of private revenge, but to the just and certain judgments of God. And as the Psamlist declared how the enemies of God should be treated, how dim their eyes should become, and how their strength should be broken, so, Paul says, it actually occurs. David said, let them be so treated, and we find them, says the apostle, suffering these very judgments. Paul, therefore, in teaching that the great body of the Jews, the rejecters and crucifiers of the Son of God, were blinded and cast away, taught nothing more than had already been experienced in various portions of their history, and predicted in their prophets.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance. The people whom God had chosen for himself, he preserved amidst the general defection of their countrymen, vers. 1, 2.
2. The apparent apostasy of a church or community from God, is not a certain test of the character of all the individuals of which it may be composed. In the midst of idolatrous Israel, there were many who had not bowed the knee unto Baal. Denunciations, therefore, should not be made too general, vers. 2-4.
3. The fidelity of men in times of general declension is not to be ascribed to themselves, but to the grace of God. Every remnant of faithful men, is a remnant according to the election of grace. That is, they are faithful, because graciously elected, ver. 5.
4. Election is not founded on works, nor on any thing in its objects, but on the sovereign pleasure of God; and it is not to church privileges merely, but to all the blessings of Christ's kingdom, vers. 6, 7.
5. It is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth. Israel, with all their zeal for the attainment of salvation, were not successful, while those whom God had chosen attained the blessing, ver. 7.
6. Those who forsake God, are forsaken by God. In leaving him, they leave the source of light, feeling, and happiness, ver. 7.
7. When men are forsaken of God all their powers are useless, and all their blessings become curses. Having eyes, they see not, and their table is a snare, vers. 8-10.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. As in the times of the greatest defection, there are some who remain faithful, and as in the midst of apparently apostate communities, there are some who retain their integrity, we should never despair of the church, nor be too ready to make intercession against Israel. The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his, vers. 1-4.
2. Those only are safe whom the Lord keeps. Those who do not bow the knee to Baal, are a remnant according to the election of grace, and not according to the firmness of their own purposes, vers. 5, 6.
3. All seeking after salvation is worse than useless, unless properly directed. Those who are endeavoring to work out a righteousness of their own, or to secure the favor of God in any way by their own doings, are beating the air. Success is to be attained only by submission to the righteousness of God, ver. 7.
4. As the fact that any attain the blessing of God is to be attributed to their election, there is no room for self-complacency or pride; and where these feelings exist and are cherished in reference to this subject, they are evidence that we are not of the number of God's chosen, ver. 7.
5. Men should feel and acknowledge that they are in the hands of God; that, as sinners, they have forfeited all claim to his favor, and lost the power to obtain it. To act perseveringly as though either of these truths were not so, is to set ourselves in opposition to God and his plan of mercy, and is the very course to provoke him to send on us the spirit of slumber. This is precisely what the Jews did, vers. 7, 8.
6. Men are commonly ruined by things in which they put their trust or take most delight. The whole Mosaic system, with its rites and ceremonies, was the ground of confidence and boasting to the Jews, and it was the cause of their destruction. So, in our day, those who take refuge in some ecclesiastical organization instead of Christ, will find what they expected would prove their salvation, to be their ruin. So, too, all misimproved or perverted blessings are made the severest curses, vers. 9, 10.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
AS the rejection of the Jews was not total, so neither is it final. They have not so fallen as to be hopelessly prostrated. First, God did not design to cast away his people entirely, but, by their rejection, in the first place, to facilitate the progress of the gospel among the Gentiles, and ultimately to make the conversion of the Gentiles the means of converting the Jews, ver. 11. The latter event is in itself desirable and probable.
1. Because if the rejection of the Jews has been a source of blessing, much more will their restoration be the means of good, vers. 12, 15. (The verses 13, 14, are a passing remark on the motive which influenced the apostle in preaching to the Gentiles.)
2. Because it was included and contemplated in the original election of the Jewish nation. If the root be holy, so are the branches, ver. 16.
The breaking off and rejection of some of the original branches, and the introduction of others of a different origin, is not inconsistent with this doctrine; and should lead the Gentiles to exercise humility and fear, and not boasting or exultation, vers. 17-22. As the rejection of the Jews was a punishment of their unbelief, and not the expression of God's ultimate purpose respecting them, it is, as intimated in ver. 16, more probable that God should restore the Jews, than that he should have called the Gentiles, vers. 23, 24.
This event, thus desirable and probable, God has determined to accomplish, vers. 25, 26. The restoration of the Jews to the privileges of God's people is included in the ancient predictions and promises made respecting them, vers. 26, 27. Though now, therefore, they are treated as enemies, they shall hereafter be treated as friends, ver. 28. For the purposes of God do not alter; as his covenant contemplated the restoration of his ancient people, that event cannot fail to come to pass, ver. 29. The plan of God, therefore, contemplated the calling of the Gentiles, the temporary rejection and final restoration of the Jews, vers. 30-32.
How adorable the wisdom of God manifested in the plan and conduct of the work of redemption! Of him, through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen. Vers. 33-36.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 11. I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid, etc. This verse begins with the same formula as the first verse of the chapter, and for the same reason. As there the apostle wished to have it understood that the rejection of God's ancient people was not entire, so here he teaches that this rejection is not final. That this is the meaning of the verse seems evident,
1. From the comparative force of the words stumble and fall. As the latter is a much stronger term than the former, it seems plain that Paul designed it should here he taken emphatically, as expressing irrevocable ruin, in opposition to that which is temporary. The Jews have stumbled, but they are not prostrated.
2. From the context; all that follows being designed to prove that the fall of the Jews was not final. This is indeed intimated in this very verse, in which it is implied that the conversion of the Gentiles would lead to the ultimate conversion of the Jews. The word (πέσωσιν) rendered should fall, is used here as elsewhere to mean, should perish, become miserable, Hebrews 4:11.
The particle ἵνα, that, here as usually, expresses design. Have the Jews stumbled, in order that they should fall? There are two views, however, as to the meaning of the passage. The first is that just mentioned, Was it the design of God, in permitting the stumbling of the Jews, that they should finally perish? In other words, Was their rejection designed to be a permanent casting them out of the kingdom of Christ? This view is sustained by the whole subsequent discussion, in which the apostle proves that the Jews, as a nation, are to be converted. The other interpretation assumes that the apostle means to say, that the design of God in the rejection of the Jews, was not so much their punishment, as to facilitate the calling of the Gentiles. 'Has God caused or allowed them to stumble, for the sake of punishing them, or simply that they should fall? By no means, but,' etc. This interpretation, although it is suited to the verse, considered separately, is not so agreeable to the context, and the design of the apostle. It is not his object in what follows, to prove that God had not cast off his people for the simple purpose of causing them to suffer, but to show that their rejection was not final.
But through their fall salvation has come unto the Gentiles. The stumbling of the Jews was not attended with the result of their utter and final ruin, but was the occasion of facilitating the progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles. It was, therefore, not designed to lead to the former but to the latter result. From this very design it is probable that they shall be finally restored, because the natural effect of the conversion of the Gentiles is to provoke the emulation of the Jews. That the rejection of the gospel on the part of the Jews was the means of its wider and more rapid spread among the Gentiles, seems to be clearly intimated in several passages of the New Testament. "It was necessary," Paul says to the Jews, "that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." Acts 13:46. And in Acts 28:28, after saying that the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in their unbelief; he adds, "Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles." Compare Isaiah 49:4-6. The Jews, even those who were professors of Christianity, were, in the first place, very slow to allow the gospel to be preached to the Gentiles; and in the second, they appear almost uniformly to have desired to clog the gospel with the ceremonial observances of the law. This was one of the greatest hindrances to the progress of the cause of Christ during the apostolic age, and would, in all human probability, have been a thousand-fold greater, had the Jews, as a nation, embraced the Christian faith. On both these accounts, the rejection of the Jews was incidentally a means of facilitating the progress of the gospel. Besides this, the punishment which befell them on account of their unbelief, involving the destruction of their nation and power, of course prevented their being able to forbid the general preaching of the gospel, which they earnestly desired to do. 1 Thessalonians 2:15, 16, "They please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved."
For to provoke them to jealously. As the result and design of the rejection of the Jews was the salvation of the Gentiles, so the conversion of the latter was designed to bring about the restoration of the former. The Gentiles are saved in order to provoke the Jews to jealousy. That is, this is one of the many benevolent purposes which God designed to accomplish by that event. This last clause serves to explain the meaning of the apostle in the former part of the verse. He shows that the rejection of the Jews was not intended to result in their being finally cast away, but to secure the more rapid progress of the gospel among the heathen, in order that their conversion might react upon the Jews, and be the means of bringing all, at last, within the fold of the Redeemer. To provoke to jealousy, παραζηλῶσαι, to excite emulation; i.e. to stimulate to follow. The word is not to be taken in a bad sense, notwithstanding the παρά. All the apostle intended to say was, that he hoped the conversion of the Gentiles would be the means of exciting the Jews to seek salvation in the gospel.
VERSE 12. Now, if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness? Although there is considerable difficulty in fixing the precise sense of the several clauses of this verse, its general meaning seems sufficiently obvious. 'If the rejection of the Jews has been the occasion of so much good to the world, how much more may be expected from their restoration?' In this view it bears directly upon the apostle's object, which, in the first place, is to show that the restoration of the Jews is a probable and desirable event. There is in the verse a twofold annunciation of the same idea. In the first, the sentence is incomplete. 'If the fall of them be the riches of the world, how much more their recovery? if their diminishing, how much more their fullness?' The principal difficulty in this passage results from the ambiguity of the words (ἥττημα and πλήρωμα) rendered diminishing and fullness. The former may mean fewness or inferiority, a condition worse than that of others, or worse than a former one. Those who adopt the former of these senses, understand the verse thus: 'If the few Jews, who have been converted, have been such an advantage to the Gentiles, how much more will the great multitude of them, when brought to Christ, be a source of blessing.' But to this interpretation it may be objected,
1. The word has rarely, if ever, the meaning here assigned to it. Passow gives it no such signification in his Lexicon. The cognate verb signifies, I am inferior in strength or condition to any one. 2 Peter 2:19; 2 Corinthians 12:13. The adjective means inferior, worse: 1 Corinthians 11:17, "Ye come together not for the better, but for the worse." The only place in which the word here used occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, is 1 Corinthians 6:7, "There is utterly a fault among you," or as it might be rendered, 'It is an injury to you.' Such too is the meaning of the word in the Old Testament: Isaiah 31:8, "His young men shall be discomfited," which expresses the sense of the original; and so does the Septuagint, which employs the word used by the apostle, 'His young men shall be brought into an inferior condition,' i.e. shall be conquered.
2. This interpretation does not suit the context. Paul does not say that the conversion of the few Jews who had become Christians, had been the occasion of good to the Gentiles, but the rejection of the great body of the nation.
3. It does not at all suit the first clause of the verse.
The fall of them, answers to and explains the diminishing of them. As the former clause cannot receive the interpretation objected to, neither can the latter. Tholuck and others take ἥττημα in a moral sense; their fault, so as to correspond with παράπτωμα. But this would make the two clauses of the verse tautological, and destroy the antithesis between ἥττημα and πλήρωμα, as the latter cannot mean, their goodness. The sense is clear and good if we give ἥττημα its natural meaning; their worse estate, or loss. The Jews lost their peculiar privileges and blessings, and their loss was the riches of the Gentiles. It enriched them by being the means of transferring to them the treasures of the gospel.
The word πλήρωμα has various senses in the New Testament. It properly means that with which anything is filled, as in the frequent phrase, the fullness of the earth, or of the sea, etc. So fullness of the Godhead, all that is in God, the plenitude of Deity. John 1:16, "Of his fullness have all we received;" Ephesians 3:19, "That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." It also means the complement or supplement of anything, the remaining part; see Matthew 9:16. So in Ephesians 1:23, the church may be called the fullness of Christ, because he is the head, the church, the residues or complement, by which the mystical body is completed. Of these several meanings, Storr selects the last, and explains the verse thus: 'If the ruin of the unbelieving Jews has been a source of blessing to the Gentiles, how much more shall the remaining portion of the nation, i.e. those converted to Christianity, be the means of good.' But,
1. This interpretation destroys the obvious antithesis of the sentence; "the remaining part" does not answer to the word rendered ruin, as it obviously should do.
2. It is not in accordance with the context, which is not designed so much to set forth the usefulness of the Jews then converted, as to declare the blessings likely to be consequent on the final conversion of the whole nation.
3. A comparison of this, with the 15th verse, is unfavorable to this interpretation. These verses evidently express the same idea, and therefore illustrate each other. 'If the casting away of them be the occasion of reconciling the world, what will the receiving of them be?' etc. Ver. 15. Retaining the sense, complement, the passage admits of a different interpretation from that given by Storr.
The Jewish nation are the πλήρωμα the complement, that which completes the whole number of the people of God. A rent, or loss had occurred by their rejection; they were, however, the complement by which that loss was to be made good. This is evidently forced.
The common interpretation, therefore, is to be preferred: 'If the injury or ruin of the Jews has been the occasion of good to the Gentiles, how much more shall their full restoration or blessedness be?'
1. This agrees with the antithesis, 'If the fall, then the recovery; if the ruin, then the blessedness,' etc.
2. It suits the context and the design of the apostle.
3. It is in strict accordance with the obviously parallel passage in the 15th verse, just quoted. The remark of Thomas Aquinas is of great weight:
"Bonum est potentius ad utilitatem inferendam, quam malum, sed malum Judaeorum gentilibus magnam utilitatem contulit, ergo multo majorem confert mundo eorum bonum."
The πλήρωμα of the Gentiles is, therefore, that which fills them, and renders their blessedness full. The word is thus retained in its ordinary sense.
VERSE 13. For I speak to you Gentiles, in as much as I am the apostle to the Gentiles. This and the following verse contain a transient remark relating to the apostle's own feelings and mode of acting in reference to the subject in hand. His readers were not to suppose, that because he was the apostle to the Gentiles, his labors had no reference to the Jews, or that he was unconcerned about their salvation. This passage is therefore connected with the last clause of the preceding verse, in which Paul had said that the conversion of the Gentiles was adapted and designed to bring about the restoration of the Jews. These two events, instead of being at all inconsistent, were intimately related, so that both ought to be kept constantly in view, and all efforts to promote the former had a bearing on the accomplishment of the latter. This being the case, the Gentiles ought to consider the restoration of the Jews as in no respect inimical to their interests, but as on every account most desirable. Paul therefore says, that what he had just stated in reference to the effect on the Jews, of the conversion of the Gentiles, he designed specially for the latter. He wished them to consider that fact, as it would prevent any unkind feelings towards the Jews. He had the better right thus to speak, as to him, especially, "the gospel of the uncircumcision had been committed." He himself, in all he did to secure the salvation of the Gentiles, or to render his office successful, had an eye to the conversion of the Jews. The word (δοξάζω) rendered I magnify, means, first, to praise, to estimate, and speak highly of a thing; secondly, to render glorious, as Romans 8:30, "Whom he justifies, them he also glorifies;" and so in a multitude of cases. Either sense of the word suits this passage. The latter, however, is much better adapted to the following verse, and therefore is to be preferred: 'I endeavor to render my office glorious by bringing as many Gentiles as possible into the Redeemer's kingdom; if so be it may provoke and arouse my countrymen.' His magnifying his office consisted in the faithful discharge of its duties; and in thus laboring assiduously for the salvation of the Gentiles, he aimed also at the salvation of the Jews.
"Sic gentes alloquitur: Quum sim vobis peculiariter destinatus apostolus ideoque salutem vestram mihi commissam singulari quodam studio debeam procurare, et quasi rebus omnibus omissis unum illud agere: officio tamen meo fideliter fungar, si quos e mea gente Christo lucrifecero: idque erit in gloriam ministerii mei, atque adeo in vestrum bonum."—Calvin.
The object of the apostle, therefore, in these verses, is to declare that he always acted under the influence of the truth announced at the close of the 12th verse. He endeavored to make the conversion of the Gentiles a means of good to the Jews.
VERSE 14. If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. This is the reason (of course one among many) why Paul desired the conversion of the Gentiles. If the two events, the salvation of both classes, were intimately related, there was no ground of ill feeling on either part. The Gentiles need not fear that the restoration of the Jews would be injurious to them, as though the happiness of one class were incompatible with that of the other.
VERSE 15.For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead? Although Paul here returns to the sentiment of the 12th verse, this passage is logically connected with the preceding. The apostle had said, that even in laboring for the Gentiles, he had in view the salvation of the Jews; for if their rejection had occasioned so much good, how desirable must be their restoration.
If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world. The reconciliation here spoken of is that which Paul so fully, describes in Ephesians 2:11-22. A reconciliation by which those who were aliens and strangers have been brought nigh; reconciled at once to the church, the commonwealth of Israel, and to God himself, "by the blood of Christ." This event has been facilitated, as remarked above, by the rejection of the Jews; what will the restoration of the Jews then be, but life from the dead? That is, it will be a most glorious event; as though a new world had risen, not only glorious in itself, but in the highest degree beneficial to the Gentiles. De Brais and many others suppose that the apostle refers to the future declension of the Gentile church, from which the restoration of the Jews shall be the means of arousing them. Of such an allusion, however, there is no intimation in the text. The most common and natural interpretation is that which considers the latter clause as merely a figurative expression of a joyful and desirable event. The conversion of the Jews will be attended with the most glorious consequences for the whole world.
Not only in the Scriptures, but also in profane literature, the transition from a state of depression and misery to one of prosperity, is expressed by the natural figure of passing from death to life. The Old Testament prophets represented the glorious condition of the theocracy, consequent on the coming of Christ, in contrast with its previous condition, as a rising from the dead. This interpretation of the passage before us, is adopted by many of the best commentators, ancient and modern. There are, however, two other views presented. According to some, the life here spoken of is strictly spiritual life, and the dead from which it springs are the spiritually dead. The meaning would then be, that the conversion of the Jews would be the occasion, or the means, of awakening many of the Gentiles to spiritual life. This idea, however, is included in the former interpretation, because the summa felicitas, the state of great prosperity which the church is to enjoy when the Jews are restored, is a religious prosperity. It supposes the conversion of great multitudes of men, and the general spread and power of the gospel. But this does not justify us in confining the words to this spiritual sense. The latter clause, according to this view, expresses no more than the former clause.
The reconciliation of the world, implies, of course, the conversion of multitudes of men, and the prevalence of true religion.
The life from the dead is more than this. It is not only a greater measure of the former blessing, but a glorious and happy condition therewith connected, and consequent thereon. The other view of the passage is that given by Chrysostom, and adopted by many of the best modern commentators, as Tholuck (in his second edition), De Wette, Meyer, and others. It assumes that ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν (life from the dead), refers to the resurrection of the dead. The idea is, that the conversion of the Jews is the condition precedent of that great event. When the Jews are converted, then comes the resurrection and the consummation of Christ's kingdom. But nowhere else in Scripture is the literal resurrection expressed by the words ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν. Had Paul intended a reference to the resurrection, no reason can be assigned why he did not employ the established and familiar words ἀνάστασις ἐκ νεκρῶν. If he meant the resurrection, why did he not say so? Why use a general phrase, which is elsewhere used to express another idea? Besides this, it is not according to the analogy of Scripture that the resurrection of the dead, and the change in those who shall be then alive (1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18), are to be immediate, consequent on the conversion of the Jews.
The resurrection is not to occur until "the end." A new state of things, a new mode of existence, is to be then introduced. Flesh and blood, i.e. our bodies as now organized (the σῶμα ψυχικόν,) cannot inherit the kingdom of God. They are not suited for the state of being which is to follow the resurrection. If, therefore, the world is to continue after the conversion of the Jews, that event will not inaugurate the resurrection.
VERSE 16. For if the First-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so also are the branches. Under two striking and appropriate figures, the apostle expresses the general idea, 'If one portion of the Jewish people is holy, so also is the other.' With regard to this interesting passage, the first point to be settled is the allusion in the figurative expression in the first clause. The Jews were commanded to offer a certain portion of all the productions of the earth to God, as an expression of gratitude and acknowledgment of dependence. This offering, called the first-fruits, was to be made first, from the productions in their natural state (Exodus 23:19); and, secondly, from the meal, wine, oil, and dough, as prepared for use. Numbers 15:21, "Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the Lord a heave-offering in all your generations;" Nehemiah 10:37; Deuteronomy 18:4. If the allusion of the apostle is to the former of these offerings, then the first-fruits must refer to a portion of the harvest or vintage presented to God, and the lump to the residue of the grain or grapes. If the allusion be to the second, then the first-fruits mean the portion of dough offered to God, and the lump the residue of the mass. The latter is undoubtedly most consistent with the meaning of the word (φύραμα) used by the apostle, which can hardly be understood as referring to heaps of grain, or other productions of the earth. In either case, however, the purport of the illustration is the same.
A second question is, Who are intended by the first-fruits and the root, and by the lump and the branches, in these two figures? With respect to this question, the following are the most common and plausible answers:
1. The first-fruits are understood to mean the Jews first converted to the Christian faith, who became, as it were, the root of the Christian church. According to this view of the passage, the apostle designs to say, 'Since the first converts to the gospel were Jews, it is evident that the nation, as such, is not cast off by God; as a portion of them is holy (or have been accepted of God), so may the residue be.'
2. By the first-fruits and the root, may be understood the patriarchs, the forefathers of the Jews; and by the lump and the branches, the residue of the nation, or the Jews as a people. That this latter is the true meaning of the passage seems very evident:
1. Because this interpretation alone preserves the propriety of the figure. How can the unconverted Jews or the Jewish nation be called the branches of the portion that became followers of Christ? The Gentile Christians might be so called, but not the Jewish people, as such. On the other hand, nothing is more natural than to call the ancestors the root, and their descendants the branches.
2. This interpretation best suits the design of the apostle. He wishes to show that the conversion of the Jews, which he had declared to be so desirable for the Gentiles, was a probable event. He proves this by referring to the relation of their ancestors to God. If they were the peculiar people of God, their descendants may be regarded as his also, since the covenant was not with Abraham only, but also with his seed.
3. This is the apostle's own explanation in ver. 28, where the unconverted Jews, or Hebrew nation, as such, are said to be "beloved for the fathers' sake."
4. This interpretation alone can be consistently carried through the following verses. The Gentile Christians are not said (ver. 17) to be grafted into the stock of the converted Jews, but as branches with them they are united to a common stock. And the stock into which the branches, now broken off, are to be again grafted, is not the Jewish part of the Christian church, but the original family or household of God.
The word (ἅγιος) rendered holy, which properly means clean, is used in two general senses in the Scriptures:
In the former of these, it is applied, times without number, in the Old Testament, to persons, places, and things considered as peculiarly devoted to the service of God. So the whole people, without reference to their moral character, are called a holy people. So, too, the temple, tabernacle, and all their contents, were called holy, etc. The use of the word in this sense, in reference to places and things, is not unfrequent in the New Testament. Matthew 4:5, where Jerusalem is called the "holy city," see Matthew 7:6; 24:15; 27:53, and often. It is, however, rarely so used in relation to persons. In the vast majority, of instances, when thus applied, it means morally pure; yet in some cases, it signifies devoted to God. Luke 2:23, "Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy unto the Lord." Perhaps, too, in the expressions, "the holy prophets," Luke 1:70, and "holy apostles," Ephesians 3:5, the reference is rather to their relation to God, as persons devoted to his service, than to their moral character. In 1 Corinthians 7:14, the children of professing Christians are called "holy," not in reference to their moral condition, but their relation to the church. In like manner, in this passage, the Jews, as a people, are called holy, because peculiarly consecrated to God, separated from the rest of the world for his service.
The connection of this verse with the preceding, its import and bearing on the apostle's object are therefore clear. The restoration of the Jews, which will be attended with such beneficial results for the whole world, is to be expected, because of their peculiar relation to God as his chosen people. God, in selecting the Hebrew patriarchs, and setting them apart for his service, had reference to their descendants, as well as to themselves; and designed that the Jews, as a people, should, to the latest generations, be specially devoted to himself. They stand now, therefore, and ever have stood, in a relation to God which no other nation over has sustained; and, in consequence of this relation, their restoration to the divine favor is an event in itself probable, and one, which Paul afterwards teaches (ver. 25), God has determined to accomplish.
VERSES 17-24. The object of these verses is to make such an application of the truths which Paul had just taught as should prevent any feeling of exultation or triumph of the Gentile Christians over the Jews. It is true that the Jews have been partially rejected from the church of God; that the Gentiles have been introduced into it; and that the Jews are ultimately to be restored. These things, however, afford no ground of boasting to the Gentiles, but rather cause of thankfulness and caution. Paul illustrates these truths by a very appropriate figure.
VERSE 17. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree wert gratified among them, etc. The words ἐν αὐτοῖς may refer to the branches in general, and be rendered as in our version, among them; or they may refer to the rejected branches, and be rendered, in their place. 'Some of the branches have been broken off, and you have been inserted in their place.' The purport of the passage is plain. Some of the Jews were broken off and rejected; the Gentiles, though apparently little susceptible of such a blessing, were introduced into the church, and made to partake of all its peculiar and precious privileges. The Jewish church is compared to the olive tree, one of the most durable, productive, and valuable of the productions of the earth, because it was highly favored, and therefore valued in the sight of God. The Gentiles are compared to the wild olive, one of the most worthless of trees, to express the degradation of their state, considered as estranged from God. As it is customary to engraft good scions on interior stocks, the nature of the product being determined by the graft, and not the root, it has been thought that the illustration of the apostle is not very apposite. But the difficulty may result from pressing the comparison too far. The idea may be simply this, 'As the scion of one tree is engrafted into another, and has no independent life, but derives all its vigor from the root, so the Gentiles are introduced among the people of God, not to confer but to receive good.' It is however said, on the authority of ancient writers and modern travelers, to have been not unusual to graft the wild on the cultivated olive.
Even if this were so, it would not be pertinent to the apostle's object. He does not mean to say, that the graft imparts life and vigor to the root, but the very reverse. There is no necessity for departing from the common view. The Gentiles are saved by their introduction into that church of which the patriarchs were the root.
It is plain from this verse, that the root in this passage cannot be the early converts from among the Jews, but the ancient covenant people of God. The ancient theocracy was merged in the kingdom of Christ. The latter is but an enlargement and elevation of the former. There has, therefore, never been other than one family of God on earth, existing under different institutions, and enjoying different degrees of light and favor. This family was composed, of old, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants. At the advent, its name and circumstances were changed; many of its old members were cast out, and others introduced, but it is the same family still. Or, to return to the apostle's illustration, it is the same tree, some of the branches only being changed.
VERSE 18. Boast not thyself against the branches; κατακαυχάομαι means, to boast against, in the sense of glorying over any one.
But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. A concise expression, for, If thou boast (i.e., art disposed to do it), consider that thou bearest not the root, etc. The Gentiles had been brought into fellowship with the patriarchs, not the patriarchs with them. Salvation was from the Jews. The truth that the Jews were the channel of blessings to the Gentiles, and not the reverse, was adapted to prevent all ungenerous and self-confident exultation of the latter over the former.
VERSE 19. You will say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. The apostle guards against a further ground of self-complacency on the part of the Gentile. Although forced to admit that the root bore him, and not he the root, yet he might pride himself on the fact that the branches were broken off, and he put in their place. To this it is answered, that the Gentiles are not authorized to infer, from the fact that the Jews were rejected, and they chosen, that this occurred on the ground of their being in themselves better than the Jews. The true reason of this dispensation is assigned in the next verse.
VERSE 20. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, etc. The fact that they were broken off is admitted, but the inference drawn by the Gentiles is denied. It was not for any personal considerations that the one was rejected and the other chosen. The Jews were rejected because they rejected the Savior, and the only tenure by which the advantages of a covenant relation to God can be retained is faith. The Gentiles will not be secure, because Gentiles, any more than the Jews were safe, because Jews. Instead, therefore, of being high-minded, they should fear.
VERSE 21. If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. The clause μήπως οὐδὲ σοῦ φείσηται, must depend on something understood. Our translators supply βλέπετε take heed; others φοβοῦμαι, I fear. The Gentile has even more reason to fear than the Jew had. It was in itself far more probable that God would spare a people so long connected with him in the most peculiar manner, than that he should spare those who had no such claims on his mercy. The idea intended to be expressed by this verse probably is, that the Jews, from their relation to God, were more likely to be spared than the Gentiles, inasmuch as God is accustomed to bear long with the recipients of his mercy, before he casts them off; even as a father bears long with a son, before he discards him and adopts another.
VERSE 22. Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but on thee, goodness. Instead of the accusatives ἀποτομίαν and χρηστότητα, Lachmann and Tischendorf read ἀποτομία and χρηστότης. If this reading be adopted, ἐστίν must be supplied. 'Towards the one class there is severity, towards the other kindness.' The effect which the consideration of these dispensations of God should produce, is gratitude and fear. Gratitude, in view of the favor which we Gentiles have received, and fear lest we should be cut off; for our security does not depend upon our now enjoying the blessings of the church of God, but is dependent on our continuing in the divine goodness or favor, (Romans 2:4; Titus 3:4,) that is, on our doing nothing to forfeit that favor; its continuance being suspended on the condition of our fidelity.
If thou continue in (his) goodness ἐὰν ἐπιμείνῃς τῇ χρηστότητι, is sometimes explained to mean, if thou continue in goodness, i.e. in being good, according to the analogy of the following clause, μὴ ἐπιμείνωσι τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ, if they continue not in unbelief. But this is inconsistent with the context. The χρηστότης spoken of, is the goodness or love of God. Compare Acts 13:43, προσμένειν τ͂ͅη χάριτι τοῦ Θεοῦ, to remain in the grace of God. "Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off," ἐπεὶ καὶ σὺ ἐκκοπήσῃ, since, in that case, (i.e., if thou continuest not in his goodness,) thou also shalt be cut off; ἐκκοπήσῃ, second future indicative passive. There is nothing in this language inconsistent with the doctrine of the final perseverance of believers, even supposing the passage to refer to individuals; for it is very common to speak thus hypothetically, and say that an event cannot or will not come to pass, unless the requisite means are employed, when the occurrence of the event had been rendered certain by the previous purpose and promise of God; see Acts. 27:31. The foundation of all such statements is the simple truth, that He who purposes the end, purposes also the means; and he brings about the end by securing the use of the means. And when rational agents are concerned, he secures the use of the means by rational considerations presented to their minds, and rendered effectual by his grace, when the end contemplated is good. This passage, however, has no legitimate bearing on this subject. Paul is not speaking of the connection of individual believers with Christ, which he had abundantly taught in chap. 8 and elsewhere, to be indissoluble, but of the relation of communities to the church and its various privileges. There is no promise or covenant on the part of God, securing to the gentiles the enjoyment of these blessings through all generations, any more than there was any such promise to protect the Jews from the consequences of their unbelief. The continuance of these favors depends on the conduct of each successive generation. Paul therefore says to the Gentile, that he must continue in the divine favor, "otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."
VERSE 23. And they also, if they abide not in unbelief shall be gratified in, etc. The principle which the apostle had just stated as applicable to the Gentiles, is applicable also to the Jews. Neither one nor the other, simply because Jew or Gentile, is either retained in the church or excluded from it. As the one continues in this relation to God, only on condition of faith, so the other is excluded by his unbelief alone. Nothing but unbelief prevents the Jews being brought back, "for God is able to graff them in again." That is, not merely has God the power to accomplish this result, but the difficulty or impediment is not in him, but solely in themselves. There is no inexorable purpose in the divine mind, nor any insuperable obstacle in the circumstances of the case, which forbids their restoration; on the contrary, the event is, in itself considered, far more probable than the calling of the Gentiles.
VERSE 24. For if thou were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert gratified contrary to nature into a good olive-tree; how much more, etc. The connection indicated by γάρ (for,) is not with the preceding clause, God is able to graff them in again, because what follows does not prove the power of God to restore the Jews to their ancient privileges, but that their restoration is a probable event. The connection, therefore, is with the main idea in the context, as expressed in ver. 23, "They shall be graffed in." This may be expected, he says, for, etc. The Gentiles were of the wild olive, having no natural connection with the tree into which they were graffed. The Jews were its natural branches. In itself considered, therefore, their reunion with their native stalk was more probable than the graffing in of the Gentiles. The opposition, however, between κατὰ φύσιν and παρὰ φύσιν, does not refer to any natural fitness of the Jews, as a race, for the true religion, in opposition to the unsuitableness of the Gentiles. According to the Scriptures, there is no difference, so far as their relation to God is concerned, between the different races of men, since all have sinned. They are all alike unfit for the service and enjoyment of God, and alike unable to save themselves. And, on the other hand, they are alike susceptible of the salvation of the gospel, which is adapted to all classes of men. The words in question are used only to preserve the figure of a tree and its branches. The simple meaning, therefore, of this verse is, that the future restoration of the Jews is, in itself, a more probable event than the introduction of the Gentiles into the church of God. This, of course, supposes that God regarded the Jews, on account of their relation to him, with peculiar favor, and that there is still something in their relation to the ancient servants of God, and his covenant with them, which causes them to be regarded with special interest. As men look upon the children of their early friends with kinder feelings than on the children of strangers, God refers to this fact to make us sensible that he still retains purposes of peculiar mercy towards his ancient people. The restoration of this people, therefore, to the blessings of the church of God, is far from being an improbable event.
VERSE 25. For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part has happened unto Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. Although the interpretations given of this and the following verses are very numerous, they are all modifications of one or the other of the two following general views of the passage.
1. Many understand the apostle as not predicting any remarkable future conversion of the Jewish nation, but merely declaring that the hardening or blinding of the nation, was not such as to prevent many Jews entering the Christian church, as long as the Gentiles continued to come in. Thus all the true Israel, embracing Jews as well as Gentiles, should ultimately be saved.
2. The second general view supposes the apostle, on the contrary, to predict a great and general conversion of the Jewish people, which should take place when the fullness of the Gentiles had been brought in, and that then, and not till then, those prophecies should be fully accomplished which speak of the salvation of Israel.
The former of these views was presented, in different forms, by the great body of the authors who lived about the time of the Reformation; who were led by the extravagancies of the Millennarians, who built much on this passage, to explain away its prophetic character almost entirely. Olshausen, in order to show the hostile feeling entertained by the Reformers towards the Jews, quotes a passage from Luther, which does not admit of translation:
"Ein jüdiseh Herz ist so stoch-stein-eisen-teufelhart, das mit keiner Weise zu bewegen ist;—es sind junge Teufel zur Holle verdammt, diese Tellfelskinder zu bekehren ist unmoglich, wie etliche solchen Wahn schöpfen aus der Epistel an die Romer."
The second view has been the one generally received in every age of the church, with the exception of the period just referred to. That it is the correct interpretation, appears evident for the following reasons:
1. The whole context and drift of the apostle's discourse is in its favor. In the preceding part of the chapter, Paul, in the plainest terms, had taught that the conversion of the Jews was a probable event, and that it would be in the highest degree beneficial and glorious for the whole world. This idea is presented in various forms; and practical lessons are deduced from it in such a way as to show that he contemplated something more than merely the silent addition of a few Israelites to the church during successive ages.
2. It is evident that Paul meant to say, that the Jews were to be restored in the sense in which they were then rejected. They were then rejected not merely as individuals, but as a community, and therefore are to be restored as a community; see vers. 11, 15. How can the latter passage (ver. 15,) especially, be understood of the conversion of the small number of Jews which, from age to age, have joined the Christian Church? This surely has not been as "life from the dead," for the whole world.
3. It is plain from this and other parts of the discourse, that Paul refers to a great event; something which should attract universal attention.
4. In accordance with this idea, is the manner of introducing this verse, I would not have you ignorant, brethren; see 1 Corinthians 10:1; 12:1, and elsewhere. Paul uses this form of address when he wishes to rouse the attention of his readers to something specially important.
5. The gradual conversion of a few Jews is no mystery, in the scriptural sense of the word. The word μυστήριον, secret, is not generally used, in the New Testament, in the sense of the word mystery. It means simply, what is hidden, or unknown; whether because it is an unrevealed purpose of God; or because it is future; or because it is covered up in parables or symbols, (as the mystery of the seven candlesticks, Revelation 1:20;) or because it lies beyond the reach of the human mind, Ephesians 5:32. It is only in the last mentioned ease that μυστήριον answers to our word mystery. Whatever needs an ἀποκάλυψις to become an object of knowledge, is a μυστήριον. It is therefore used in reference to all the doctrines of the gospel which are not the truths of reason, but matters of divine revelation; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 4:1; Ephesians 6:19, etc. Hence ministers are called stewards of the mysteries (i.e., of the revelations) of God. It is also used of some one doctrine, considered as previously unknown and undiscoverable by human reason, however simple and intelligible in its own nature. Thus, the fact that the Gentiles should be admitted into the church of God, Paul calls a mystery, Ephesians 1:9; 3:4. Any future event, therefore, which could be known only by divine revelation, is a mystery. The fact that all should not die, though all should be changed, was a mystery, 1 Corinthians 15:51. In like manner, here, when Paul says, "I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery," he means to say, that the event to which he referred, was one which, depending on no secondary cause, but on the divine purpose, could be known only by divine revelation. This description is certainly far more suitable to the annunciation of a prophecy, than to the statement of a fact which might have been confidently inferred from what God had already revealed.
6. The words, all Israel, in the next verse, cannot, as the first interpretation mentioned above would require, be understood of the spiritual Israel; because the word is just before used in a different sense, "blindness in part has happened unto Israel." This blindness is to continue until a certain time, when it is to be removed, and then all Israel is to be saved. It is plain, that Israel in these cases must be understood as referring to the same class of persons. This is also clear from the opposition between the terms Israel and Gentile.
7. The words (ἄχρις οὗ,) correctly rendered in our version, until, cannot, so consistently with usage, be translated, as long as, or so that, followed as they are here by the aorist subjunctive; see Revelation 15:8; 17:17; compare Hebrews 3:13.
8. The following verses seem to require this interpretation. The result contemplated is one which shall be a full accomplishment of those prophecies which predicted the salvation of the Jews. The reason given in vers. 28, 29, for the event to which Paul refers, is the unchangeableness of God's purposes and covenant. Having once taken the Jews into special connection with himself, he never intended to cast them off for ever. The apostle sums up his discourse by saying, 'As the Gentiles were formerly unbelieving, and yet obtained mercy, so the Jews who now disbelieve, shall hereafter be brought in; and thus God will have mercy on all, both Jews and Gentiles.'
From all these considerations, it seems obvious that Paul intended here to predict that the time would come when the Jews, as a body, should be converted unto the Lord; compare 2 Corinthians 3:16. The prediction contained in this verse is to be explained by the context. The rejection of the Jews at the time of Christ, did not involve the perdition of every individual of that nation. Thousands, and even myriads, believed and were saved. So the restoration here foretold is not to be understood as including every individual of the Jewish people, but simply that there is to be a national restoration.
Lest ye should be wise in your own conceits. This is given as the reason why the apostle wished the Gentiles to know and consider the event which he was about to announce. This clause may mean either, 'Lest ye proudly imagine that your own ideas of the destiny of the Jews are correct;' or, 'Lest ye be proud and elated, as though you were better and more highly favored than the Jews.' The former is perhaps most in accordance with the literal meaning of the words (ἐν ἑαυτοῖς φρόνιμοι;) see Proverbs 3:7.
Blindness in part, i.e. partial blindness; partial as to its extent and continuance. Because not all the Jews were thus blinded, nor was the nation to remain blind for ever. The words ἀπὸ μέρους are not to be connected with πώρωσις nor with τῷ ᾿Ισραήλ; but with γέγονεν. 'Blindness has partially happened to Israel. The reference, however, is not to the degree, but to the continuance of this blindness. It is not final and hopeless; it is only for a time. The word (πώρωσις) rendered blindness, is more correctly rendered, in Mark 3:5, hardness; compare Ephesians 4:18; see ver. 7, and Romans 9:18.
Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. Until ἄχρις ου, marks the terminus ad quem. This blindness of Israel is to continue until something else happened. There were to be, and have been numerous conversions to Christianity from among the Jews, in every age since the advent; but their national conversion is not to occur until the heathen are converted. What, however, is definitely meant by the πλήρωμα τῶν ἐθνῶν, it is not easy to determine. The question is not to be decided by the mere signification of the words. In whatever way they may be explained, the general idea is the same. The πλήρωμα of the Gentiles may mean, that which makes the Gentiles, as to number, full. Or, according to others, the Gentiles themselves are the πλήρωμα, i.e. the complement; they make full the vacancy left by the rejection of the Jews. Or, as is commonly assumed, πλήρωμα is to be taken in a secondary sense, for multitude. Compare Genesis 48:19: "Multitude (literally fullness) of nations;" and Isaiah 31:4, "Multitude (fullness) of shepherds." This does not mean the totality of the Gentiles. It is not Paul's doctrine, that all Gentiles who ever lived are to be introduced into the kingdom of Christ. Nor does it mean, that all the Gentiles who may be alive when the Jews are converted, shall be true Christians. All that can be safely inferred from this language is, that the Gentiles, as a body, the mass of the Gentile world, will be converted before the restoration of the Jews, as a nation. Much will remain to be accomplished after that event; and in the accomplishment of what shall then remain to be done, the Jews are to have a prominent agency. Their conversion will be as life from the dead to the church. We must remember that Paul is here speaking as a prophet, ἐν ἀποκαλύψει, 1 Corinthians 14:6, and therefore his language must be interpreted by the rules of prophetic interpretation. Prophecy is not proleptic history. It is not designed to give us the knowledge of the future which history gives us of the past. Great events are foretold; but the mode of their occurrence, their details, and their consequences, can only be learned by the event. It is in the retrospect that the foreshadowing of the future is seen to be miraculous and divine.
VERSE 26. And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written. Israel, here, from the context, must mean the Jewish people, and all Israel, the whole nation. The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored. As their rejection, although national, did not include the rejection of every individual; so their restoration, although in like manner national, need not be assumed to include the salvation of every individual Jew. Πᾶς ᾿Ισραήλ is not therefore to be here understood to mean, all the true people of God, as Augustin, Calvin, and many others explain it; nor all the elect Jews, i.e. all that part of the nation which constitute "the remnant according to the election of grace;" but the whole nation, as a nation.
In support of what he had said, the apostle appeals to the Old Testament prophecies. It is probable that here, as elsewhere, he does not intend to refer exclusively to any one prediction, but to give the general sense of many specific declarations of the ancient prophets. Isaiah 59:20, 21; 27:9; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 14:7, are the passages which seem to have been immediately before the apostle's mind, and to have given color to his language. In Isaiah 49:20, it is said, "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob." Instead of ἐκ Σιών, out of Zion. the LXX. have ἓνεκεν Σιών, for the sake of Zion, the English version, to Zion. In Psalm 14:7, it is out of Zion. The latter part of the verse, as given by Paul, does not agree with the Hebrew, which is correctly rendered in our version, "To such as turn from transgression (literally, to the converts of transgression) in Jacob." Paul follows the LXX., καὶ ἀποστρέψει ἀσεβείας ἀπὸ Ιακώβ, and shall turn iniquity from Jacob.
In Isaiah 27:9, the phrase is, "the iniquity of Jacob shall be purged." The general idea expressed in these passages is, "The God, the deliverer, shall come for the salvation of Jacob," i.e. of the Jews. And this is all that Paul desired to establish by these ancient prophecies. The apostle teaches, that the deliverance promised of old, and to which the prophet Isaiah referred in the passage above cited, included much more than the conversion of the comparatively few Jews who believed in Christ at the advent. The full accomplishment of the promise, that he should turn away ungodliness from Jacob, contemplated the conversion of the whole nation, as such, to the Lord. We are, of course, bound to receive the apostle's interpretation as correct; and there is the less difficulty in this, as there is nothing in the original passage at all incompatible with it, and as it accords with the nature of God's covenant with his ancient people.
VERSE 27. For this is my covenant unto them; αὓτη αὐτοῖς ἡ παω ἐμοῦ διαθήκη, this for them is the covenant which proceeds from me. In the Hebrew it is simply, my covenant; so that παω ἐμοῦ is for the genitive. See, however, Winer, 3. § 30. The pronoun αὓτη, this, is to be referred to what follows; this is my covenant (ὅταν, when), that I will take away their sins. The demonstrative pronoun may be followed, and its reference determined, by ἵνα, John 17:3; ἐάν, 1 John 2:3; and as in this case, and in 1 John 5:2, by ὅταν. The quotation in this verse, as that in ver. 26, is not from any one place. The words, This is my covenant with them, occur in Isaiah 59:21; the clause, When I shall take away their sins, is from Isaiah 27:9, as rendered by the LXX., who give the sense of the Hebrew, "Their iniquity shall be purged;" or, literally, to take away his sin. All the apostle intended to prove, is proved by the language of the prophets. The covenant of God with his ancient people secured, after their apostasy and consequent banishment in Babylon, and their dispersion over the earth, and their rejection of Christ, the ultimate purging away of their sin, and their restoration, as a nation, to the Messiah's kingdom. This national conversion is also predicted in Zechariah 12:10, and in many other passages of the Old Testament.
VERSE 28. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. In this and the few following verses, the apostle sums up what he had previously taught. The Jews, he says, were now, as far as the gospel was concerned, regarded and treated as enemies, for the benefit of the Gentiles; but, in reference to the election, they were still regarded as the peculiar people of God, on account of their connection with the patriarchs.
They are enemies, whether of the gospel, of the apostle, or of God, is not expressed, and therefore depends on the context. Each view of the clause has its advocates. The last is the correct one, because they are enemies to him, by whom, on one account, they are beloved. The word ἐχθροί; may be taken actively or passively; see Romans 5:10. They are inimical to God, or they are regarded and treated as enemies by him. The latter best suits the context. They are now aliens from their own covenant of promise.
As concerning the gospel, κατὰ τὸ ἐυαγγέλιον that is, the gospel is the occasion of their being regarded as enemies. This is explained by a reference to vers. 11, 15. By their punishment the progress of the gospel has been facilitated among the Gentiles; and therefore the apostle says, it is for your sakes they are thus treated. On the other hand, κατὰ δὲ τὴν ἐκλογήν, as it regards the election, or the covenant of God, they are still regarded with peculiar favor, because descended from those patriarchs to whom and to whose seed the promises were made. This is but expressing in a different form the idea which the apostle had previously presented, viz., that the covenant made with Abraham was inconsistent with the final rejection of the Jews, as a people. God foresaw and predicted their temporary defection and rejection from his kingdom, but never contemplated their being for ever excluded; see vers. 16, 25-27.
"Paulus autum docet, ita (Judaeos) fuisse ad tempus Dei providentia excaecatos, ut via evangelio ad gentes sterneretur: caeterum non esse in perpetuum a Dei gratia exclusos. Fatetur ergo—Deum non esse immemorem foederis, quod cum patribus eorum pepigit, et quo testatus est, se aeterno consilio gentem illam dilectione complexam esse." Calvin.
VERSE 29.For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance; τὰ χαρίσματα καὶ ἡ κλῆσις, the gifts of God in general, and specially the calling of God. Compare Mark 16:7. God is not a man, that he should change. Having chosen the Jews as his people, the purpose which he had in view in that choice can never be altered; and as it was his purpose that they should ever remain his people, their future restoration to his favor and kingdom is certain. Having previously explained the nature of God's covenant with his ancient people, Paul infers from the divine character, that it will be fully accomplished.
Calling is equivalent to election, as appears from the context, the one word being substituted for the other, and also from the use of the cognate terms, (see Romans 8:28, 1:7, etc., etc.) The general proposition of the apostle, therefore, is, that the purposes of God are unchangeable; and, consequently, those whom God has chosen for any special benefit cannot fail to attain it. The persons whom he hath chosen to eternal life shall certainly be saved; and the people whom he chooses to be his peculiar people, as the Jews were chosen in Abraham, must for ever remain his people. The purpose once formed, and the promise once given, never can be changed. As in the whole context Paul is speaking, not of individuals, but of the rejection and restoration of the Jews as a body, it is evident that the calling and election which he here has in view, are such as pertain to the Jews as a nation, and not such as contemplate the salvation of individuals.
VERSES 30, 31. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief; even so, etc. These verses contain a repetition and confirmation of the previous sentiment. The cases of the Gentiles and Jews are very nearly parallel. Formerly the Gentiles were disbelieving, yet the unbelief of the Jews became the occasion of their obtaining mercy; so now, though the Jews are disobedient, the mercy shown to the Gentiles is to be the means of their obtaining mercy. As the gospel came from the Jews to the Gentiles, so it is to return from the Gentiles to the Jews. Paul had before stated how the unbelief of the Israelites was instrumental in promoting the salvation of other nations, and how the conversion of the Gentiles was to react upon the Jews.
It is in confirmation of what had just been said, that the apostle introduces what follows by γάρ, for.
For as ye in time past have not believed. Ye, of course referring to the Gentiles.
In times past, i.e. before the coming of Christ.
Have not believed God, ἠπειθήσατε τῷ Θεῷ, disobeyed God. According to the Scriptures, however, faith is an act of obedience, and unbelief is disobedience. Hence the to obey often means to believe or confide in. That is, the same act may be expressed by either word. Thus in Hebrews 5:9, Christ is said to be the author of salvation to all those who obey Him. In the New Testament ἀπειθεῖν and ἀπείθεια are always used to express disobedience to the truth; that is, the act of rejecting the truth. It is not, therefore, moral disobedience in general that is here referred to, but unbelief.
Have obtained mercy through their unbelief, τῇ τούτων ἀπειθείᾳ. The dative has here a causal force. The unbelief of the Jews was, as an historical fact, the occasion of the gospel's being extended to the Gentiles.
So have these also not believed, that through your mercy they may also obtain mercy οὓτω καὶ οὗτοι, νῦν ἡπείθησαν τῷ ὑμετέρῳ ἐλέει ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθῶσι. The translation given of this clause in the English version, supposes that ἵνα is out of its proper place, and should stand before τῷ ὑμετέρῳ ἐλέει, that through your mercy they may obtain mercy. In the Greek these words are connected with ἠπείθησαν; and accordingly in the Vulgate they are rendered, "ita et isti nunc non crediderunt in vestram misericordiam." And Luther translates, "And these now have not chosen to believe the mercy which you have accepted or experienced." Calvin: "Si nunc increduli facti sunt, eo quod adepti estis misericordiam," (because ye have obtained mercy.) Lachmann, in his edition of the Greek Testament, adopts the same construction, putting a comma after ἐλέει. The parallelism of the verse, and the obvious antithesis between ἐλέει and ἀπειθείᾳ, (your mercy and their unbelief,) demand the other mode of explanation. This trajection of the particle ἵνα is not unusual. For the sake of emphasis, some clause or word is placed before, when its logical position would be after the particle. See 2 Corinthians 2:4, τὴν ἀγάπην ἵνα γνῶτε.
VERSE 32. For God hath concluded all in unbelief; συγκλείω εἰς, in a literal or local sense, means, to shut up together in a place; and metaphorically, to deliver over to the power of. Here the idea is, that God, in the dispensation of his providence and grace, has so ordered things, that all Gentiles and Jews, first the one, and then the other, should reveal their true character as sinners, and stand out in history confessed as unbelievers. For examples of a similar form of expression, see Psalm 31:8, "Thou hast shut me up (ουνέκλεισας) into the hands of the enemy;" Psalm 78:50, "He gave their life over (ουνέκλεισεν) to the pestilence." Compare Galatians 3:22. In none of these cases is the word used simply decoratively, "God declared them to be unbelievers." Nor is mere permission all that is expressed. God's efficiency or control is directly asserted. God gave the Psalmist into the hands of his enemy, and he gave up first the Gentiles and then the Jews, unto unbelief. The agency of God in giving men up to sin is punitive; it is consistent with their liberty and responsibility, and with his own holiness. He does not cause their sin, but he so orders his dispensations, that their sinfulness is revealed, and the mode of its manifestations determined. It seems also to enter into the design of the apostle to show that God had dealt alike with Gentile and Jew. They stood on the same ground. Both were dependent on sovereign mercy. Both had sunk into a state from which the grace of God alone could save them. As all were equally miserable and helpless, God determined to have mercy upon all, and to bring all, Jews as well as Gentiles, into the fold of Christ.
VERSES 33-36. The apostle having finished his exhibition of the plan of redemption, having presented clearly the doctrine of justification, sanctification, the certainty salvation to all believers, election, the calling of the Gentiles, the present rejection and final restoration of the Jews, in view of all the wonders and all the glories of the divine dealings with men, pours forth this sublime and affecting tribute to the wisdom, goodness, and sovereignty of God. Few passages, even in the Scriptures, are to be compared with this, in the force with which it presents the idea that God is all, and man is nothing. It is supposed by many that these verses have reference to the doctrines taught in the immediate context; and that it is the wisdom of God, as displayed in the calling of men, Gentiles and Jews, which Paul here contemplates. Others restrict them still farther to the display of the mercy of God, of which the apostle had just been speaking. But the passage should be applied to that to which it is most naturally applicable. The question is, what called forth these admiring views of the dispensations of God? The truth that he would ultimately restore his ancient people? or the whole exhibition of the economy of redemption? As the passage occurs at the close of this exhibition, as it expresses precisely the feelings which it might be expected to produce, and as there is nothing to restrict it to the immediate context, it is most natural to consider it as referring to all that the apostle had hitherto taught.
The principal ideas presented in this passage are —
1. The incomprehensible character and infinite excellence of the divine nature and dispensations, ver. 33.
2. God's entire independence of man, vers. 34, 35.
3. His comprehending all things within himself; being the source, the means, and the end of all, ver. 35.
VERSE 33. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out. There are two methods of interpreting these words. First, the three genitives, πλούτου, σοφίας, γνώσεως, may stand in the same relation to βάθος. O the depth of the riches, and of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God. Or πλούτου may qualify βάθος, O the depth of the riches (the inexhaustible, or inconceivable, depth) both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. So far as commentators are concerned, they are about equally divided as to these explanations. If the former method be adopted, riches may be understood to refer specially to the mercy or goodness of God, Romans 2:4; 10:12; or, to his resources in general. 'How inconceivable are the resources of God,' i.e. his plenitude of perfections and of means. If the latter, then it refers simply to the inconceivableness of God's wisdom and knowledge. As, however, the grace of God is not only prominently presented throughout the epistle, but is specially referred to as an object of admiration in these verses, the former explanation is on the whole to be preferred. Although it is not probable that, in such a passage, every word was designed to be taken in a very precise and definite sense, yet it is likely that Paul meant to express different ideas by the terms wisdom and knowledge, because both are so wonderfully displayed in the work of redemption, of which he had been speaking. All-comprehending knowledge, which surveyed all the subjects of this work, all the necessities and circumstances of their being, all the means requisite for the accomplishment of the divine purpose, and all the results of those means from the beginning to the end. Infinite wisdom, in selecting and adapting the means to the object in view, in the ordering of the whole scheme of creation, providence, and redemption, so that the glory of God, and the happiness of his creatures are, and are to be, so wonderfully promoted.
His judgments, τὰ κρίματα αὐτοῦ, may be understood in the wide sense, his decisions, i.e., his purposes, or decrees; or in the more restricted and proper sense, his judicial decisions, his judgments concerning men; or it may refer to his providential judgments or dispensations, and be perfectly parallel with αἱ ὁδοὶ αὐτοῦ, his ways. As of old, the ruler was also the judge—to judge often means to rule—and the same word is used for the decisions of the judge and the decrees or ordinances of the ruler. In this case, however, as Paul distinguishes between wisdom and knowledge, so it is better to retain the shade of distinction between judgments and ways. The former are ἀνεξερεύνητα, incapable of being investigated as to their grounds or reasons; the latter are ἀνεξιχνίαστοι, impossible to trace (from ἴχνος, footprint.) We can only wonder and adore. We can never understand. And it is well that it is so. What can be understood must be limited. What is fully comprehended no longer exercises, excites, or enlarges. It is because God is infinite in his being, and incomprehensible in his judgments and in his ways, that he is an inexhaustible source of knowledge and blessedness.
VERSE 34. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or, who hath been his counselor? This verse is designed to confirm what is said in ver. 33. These clauses may be taken as synonymous, or the first may refer to God's judgments, and the second, to his ways. Who hath known what God designed to do, and the reasons of his decrees? and, Who hath counseled him as to the mode of their execution? In his purposes and his dispensations he is equally and perfectly independent, infinitely exalted above the supervision or direction of his creatures.
VERSE 35. Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again? This is not to be confined to giving counsel or knowledge to God, but expresses the general idea that the creature can do nothing to place God under obligation. It will be at once perceived how appropriate is this thought, in reference to the doctrines which Paul had been teaching. Men are justified, not on the ground of their own merit, but of the merit of Christ; they are sanctified, not by the power of their own good purposes, and the strength of their own will, but by the Spirit of God; they are chosen and called to eternal life, not on the ground of anything in them, but according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. God, therefore, is the Alpha and the Omega of salvation. The creature has neither merit nor power. His hopes must rest on sovereign mercy alone. There is a correspondence between the several clauses in these verses. 'Who hath given to God,' refers to the plenitude and sovereignty of his grace (βάθος πλούτου); 'Who hath known the mind of the Lord?' to his unsearchable knowledge; and 'who hath been his counselor?' to his infinite wisdom. This was relearned long ago. Thus Theodoret says: τὰ τρία ταῦτα πρὸς τὰ τρία τέθεικε, τὸν πλοῦτον καὶ τὴν σοφίαν καὶ τὴν γνῶσιν· τὸ μὲν τίς ἔγνω νοῦν κυρίου πρὸς τὴν γνῶσιν, τὸ δὲ τις σύμβουλος αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο πρὸς τὴν σοφίαν, τὸ δὲ τίς προέδωκεν αὐτῷ καὶ ἀνταποδοθήσεται πρὸς τὸν πλοῦτον.
VERSE 36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. The reason why man can lay God under no obligation is, that God is himself all and in all; the source, the means, and the end. By him all things are; through his power, wisdom, and goodness, all things are directed and governed; and to him, as their last end, all things tend. The prepositions ἐκ, διά, εἰς, here used, indicate that God is the source, the constantly working cause, and end of all things. Among the fathers, it was a common opinion that the apostle had reference to the Trinity, and intended in these words to indicate the relation of all things to the several persons of the Godhead. All things are of the Father, through the Son, and to the Spirit. So Tholuck and Olshausen. To this, however, it is objected, that such reference is not demanded by the context, and that the Spirit's relation to what is out of himself is expressed by ἐν, not by εἰς. Compare Ephesians 4:6. It is God as God, the Godhead, and not the persons of the Trinity in their distinct relations, that is here brought into view. When Paul asks, Who hath first given to God? the answer is, No one, for of him, through him, and to him, are all things. It is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects. Creatures are as nothing, less than vanity and nothing in comparison with God. Human knowledge, power, and virtue, are mere glimmering reflections from the brightness of the divine glory. That system of religion, therefore, is best in accordance with the character of God, the nature of man, and the end of the universe, in which all things are of, through, and to God; and which most effectually leads men to say, Not Unto Us, But Unto Thy Name Be All Glory!
Such is the appropriate conclusion of the doctrinal portion of this wonderful epistle; in which more fully and clearly than in any other portion of the word of God, the plan of salvation is presented and defended. Here are the doctrines of grace; doctrines on which the pious in all ages and nations have rested their hopes of heaven, though they may have had comparatively obscure intimations of their nature. The leading principle of all is, that God is the source of all good; that in fallen man there is neither merit nor ability; that salvation, consequently, is all of grace, as well sanctification as pardon, as well election as eternal glory. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. There is to be a general conversion of the Jews, concerning which the apostle teaches us —
1. That it is to be in some way consequent on the conversion of the Gentiles, vers. 11-31.
2. That it will be attended with the most important and desirable results for the rest of the world, vers. 12, 15.
3. That it is to take place after the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in; that is, after the conversion of multitudes of the Gentiles, (how many, who can tell?) ver. 25.
Nothing is said of this restoration being sudden, or effected by a miracle, or consequent on the second advent, or as attended by a restoration of the Jews to their own land. These particulars have all been added by some commentators, either from their own imagination, or from their views of other portions of the Scriptures. They are not taught by the apostle. On the contrary, it is through the mercy shown to the Gentiles, according to Paul, that the Jews are to be brought in, which implies that the former are to be instrumental in the restoration of the latter. And he everywhere teaches, that within the church the distinction between Jew and Gentile ceases. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, Colossians 3:11; all classes are merged in one, as was the case under the direction of the apostles in the first ages of the church.
2. The church of God is the same in all ages and under all dispensations. It is the society of the true people of God, together with their children. To this society the ancient patriarchs and their posterity belonged; into this society, at the time of Christ, other nations were admitted, and the great body of the Jews were cast out, and into this same community the ancient people of God are to be again received. In every stage of its progress, the church is the same. The olive tree is one, though the branches are numerous, and sometimes changed, vers. 17-24.
3. The web of Providence is wonderfully woven. Good and evil are made with equal certainty, under the government of infinite wisdom and benevolence, to result in the promotion of God's gracious and glorious designs. The wicked unbelief and consequent rejection of the Jews, are made the means of facilitating the conversion of the Gentiles; the holy faith and obedience of the Gentiles, are to be the means of the restoration of the Jews, vers. 11, 31.
4. All organized communities, civil and ecclesiastical, have a common responsibility, a moral personality in the sight of God, and are dealt with accordingly, rewarded or punished according to their conduct, as such. As their organized existence is confined to this world, so must the retributive dispensations of God respecting them be. Witness the rejection, dispersion, and sufferings of the Jews, as a national punishment for their national rejection of the Messiah. Witness the state of all the Eastern churches broken off from the olive tree for the unbelief of former generations. Their fathers sinned, and their children's children, to the third and fourth generation, suffer the penalty, as they share in the guilt, vers. 11-24.
5. The security of every individual Christian is suspended on his continuing in faith and holy obedience; which is indeed rendered certain by the purpose and promise of God. In like manner, the security of every civil and ecclesiastical society, in the enjoyment of its peculiar advantages, is suspended on its fidelity as such, for which fidelity there is no special promise with regard to any country or any church, vers. 20-24.
6. God does sometimes enter into covenant with communities, as such. Thus he has covenanted with the whole human race that the world shall not be again destroyed by a deluge, and that the seasons shall continue to succeed each other, in regular order, until the end of time. Thus he covenanted with the Jews to be a God to them and to their seed for ever, and that they should be to him a people. This, it seems, is a perpetual covenant, which continues in force until the present day, and which renders certain the restoration of the Jews to the privileges of the church of God, vers. 16, 28, 29.
7. It is the radical principle of the Bible, and consequently of all true religion, that God is all and in all; that of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. It is the tendency of all truth to exalt God, and to humble the creature; and it is characteristic of true piety to feel that all good comes from God, and to desire that all glory should be given to God, vers. 33-36.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The mutual relation between the Christian church and the Jews should produce in the minds of all the followers of Christ, —
1. A deep sense of our obligations to the Jews as the people through whom the true religion has been preserved, and the blessings of divine truth extended to all nations, vers. 17, 18.
2. Sincere compassion for them, because their rejection and misery have been the means of reconciling the world to God, i.e. of extending the gospel of reconciliation among men, vers. 11, 12, 15.
3. The banishment of all feelings of contempt towards them, or exultation over them, vers. 18, 20.
4. An earnest desire, prompting to prayer and effort, for their restoration, as an event fraught with blessings to them and to all the world, and one which God has determined to bring to pass, vers 12, 15, 25, etc.
2. The dealings of God with his ancient people should, moreover, teach us —
1. That we have no security for the continuance of our privileges but constant fidelity, ver. 20.
2. That, consequently, instead of being proud and self-confident, we should be humble and cautious, vers. 20, 21.
3. That God will probably not bear with us as long as he bore with the Jews, ver. 21.
4. That if for our unbelief we. are cast out of the church, our punishment will probably be more severe. There is no special covenant securing the restoration of any apostate branch of the Christian church, vers. 21, 24, with 16, 27-29.
3. It is a great blessing to be connected with those who are in covenant with God. The promise is "to thee and thy seed after thee." "The Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations," Deuteronomy 7:9. The blessing of Abraham reaches, in some of its precious consequences, to the Jews of this and every coming age, vers. 16, 27-29.
4. The destiny of our children and our children's children is suspended, in a great measure, on our fidelity. "God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him." What words of woe for unborn thousands, were those, "His blood be on us and on our children!" As the Jews of the present age are suffering the consequences of the unbelief of their fathers, and the nominal Christians of the eastern churches suffer for the apostasy of previous generations, so will our children perish, if we, for our unbelief as a church and nation, are cast off from God, vers. 19-24.
5. As the restoration of the Jews is not only a most desirable event, but one which God has determined to accomplish, Christians should keep it constantly in view even in their labors for the conversion of the Gentiles. This Paul did, vers. 13, 14. Every effort to hasten the accession of the fullness of the Gentiles is so much done towards the restoration of Israel, ver. 25.
6. Christians should not feel as though they were isolated beings, as if each one need be concerned for himself alone, having no joint responsibility with the community to which he belongs. God will deal with our church and country as a whole, and visit our sins upon those who are to come after us. We should feel, therefore, that we are one body, members one of another, having common interests and responsibilities. We ought to weep over the sins of the community to which we belong, as being in one sense, and in many of their consequences, our sins, vers. 11-24.
7. As the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, those to whom he has given the Holy Spirit, and has called unto holiness, may rejoice in the certainty of the continuance of these blessings, ver. 29.
8. Does the contemplation of the work of redemption, and the remembrance of our own experience, lead us to sympathize with the apostle in his adoring admiration of the wisdom and goodness of God, and feel that, as it regards our salvation, everything is of him, and through him, and to him? vers. 33-36.
9. As it is the tendency and result of all correct views of Christian doctrine to produce the feelings expressed by the apostle at the close of this chapter, those views cannot be scriptural which have a contrary tendency; or which lead us to ascribe, in any form, our salvation to our own merit or power, vers. 33-36.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans