Romans 9:1-5


Speaking for all Christians in chapter 8:31-39, Paul had risen to unbelievable heights of conviction and assurance. And now without warning the same Paul speaks words of great grief. The original manuscripts had no chapters or verses. There was no division or break between 8:39 and 9:1. We find no connecting particle or conjunction at 9:1. The Christian may, at one and the same time experience great joy and deep grief.

Paul spoke as he did in 8:31-39 because of his faith in Christ. He spoke as he did in 9:1-5 of his great love for his fellow Israelites. Look at Galatians 5:6.

Evidently his fellow Jews had accused Paul of hatred toward them. He uses very strong language in 9:1-3. Paul's situation is very similar to that of Christ and the Jews. See Matthew 23:37-39 and Luke 19:41-42 where we read of Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem. When He made the claim that He was the Son of God they accused Him of blasphemy, i.e., lying. When Paul preached to the Jews they persecuted him. All the commentators point out the comparison between Paul and Moses (Exodus 32:32). When the children of Israel had made a golden calf and the Lord threatened to destroy them, Moses pleaded:  "But now, please forgive their sin--but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." 

Romans 9:1 I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit--

Note the two adverbial phrases in this verse. The first indicates that the Christ Who lives in Paul causes him to be truthful. The second, which modifies the participle, indicates that the Holy Spirit causes Paul's conscience to testify truthfully.

Note the strong contrast between  "I speak the truth--I do not lie."   "Lie" means deceive. The middle voice means  "I deceive myself."  A liar is only deceiving himself.

The conscience of a Christian is instructed by the Word of God. If a conscience is not instructed by the Word it can easily give wrong decisions.  "In the Spirit" is practically "because of the Word."  TEV translates:  "My conscience, ruled by the Holy Spirit, also assures me that I am not lying."  When Luther was asked to recant at the Diet of Worms, he appealed to his conscience which was bound by the Word of God.

Romans 9:2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

Christ and the Holy Spirit testify that Paul is filled with great pain. It is remarkable that, in these five verses, Paul does not mention the apostasy of Israel. But it is implicit in these verses.

"In my heart," denotes spiritual or mental pain, not physical.

Arndt: In the first verse Paul emphasizes that he is saying the truth. Why? He was attacked as being an enemy of the Jews because he was preaching to the Gentiles.
Franzmann: Paul can speak of Israel as Christ spoke, in sorrow and in anguish of heart, but without rancor, although he bears on his body the marks of Israel's malice (2 Corinthians 11:24 ) and would soon be exposed once more to the fanatical hatred of 'the unbelievers in Judea' (15:31; cf. Acts 21:27-36; 22:22; 23:12-15).
Bengel: In spiritual matters the extremes of grief and joy may exist together.
Lenski: Paul's own statements are one witness, Paul's conscience another. The idea is that two witnesses are sufficient to settle any point.
Lenski: In this respect Paul was like Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem and whose tears were not the product of the moment but of a constant grief.
Kretzmann: Paul could hardly find words strong enough to convey his feeling.

Romans 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race,

This is truly an amazing verse. All our versions use the word "could."  NKJV, KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV, and TEV read . "I could wish that etc."   "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren."  RSV, NASB, and NIV.

Rienecker: Paul says 'I was on the point of wishing etc.'
Stoeckhardt: In case it were possible, he would be ready to buy the deliverance of his brethren with his own salvation.
Franzmann: He knows that his wish cannot be fulfilled; he knows that only one man's life, the life of 'the man Christ Jesus' could be a ransom for the lost lives of men (1 Timothy 2:6).
Lenski: Moses actually offered such a prayer, Paul did not actually offer it, knowing that it involved a divine impossibility. But Paul has more in mind than Moses had. The latter's love for his people great that he did not want to be saved without them; Paul's love wanted to save them even at the cost of losing his own soul.

"Accursed" is very emphatic. It means (cf. Galatians 1:8.9) "curse."  But the curse which Christ bore for us, Galatians 3:13, is much greater than the curse (anathema) of the loss of the soul.

The  "my"  phrase is adjectival, modifying the nouns and indicating what kind of brothers or relatives. The phrase practically means "physical."  There was no physical kinship at all between Paul and the Jews. The whole point of this verse is that Paul loves his own people intensely.

Bengel: Human words cannot express fully the emotions of holy souls; nor are those emotions always the same. . . . It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in a Moses and a Paul.

Perhaps we could compare Paul's situation with that of a Christian parent whose child has become wayward and will accept admonition from no one. At such times the parent may sigh: "Oh Lord Jesus, if need be, destroy me but save my child!" 

Romans 9:4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

Arndt: Israel is a name of honor, cf. Genesis 32:28; Philippians 3:5; John 1:47; Exodus 4:22.
Franzmann: Not Israel's former greatness but the greatness of God's gifts to Israel, squandered now by Israel's disobedience, makes Paul mourn for Israel. Paul calls the roll of all that made this nation, God's peculiar people, the prototype of the church. They are 'Israelites', they bear the sacred name that marks them as the favored and elect recipients of the revelation, the grace, and the promise of God (cf. Ephesians 2:12).
Lenski: The name 'Israelites' goes back to Jacob whose name God changed to 'Israel' (contender with God) in honor of his prevailing faith, which would not let God go until God had blessed him.

Note that the six prerogatives of Israel mentioned in this verse and the two great ones in the next verse are all articular (have articles). All of these gifts and prerogatives are in a class by themselves. "Adoption" means that God chose them because of His mercy, not because of their merit. Cf. Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1; Exodus 19:5.

Stoeckhardt: This adoption concerned the people as a whole and their relation to God as His people.
Lenski: The 'glory' of Yahweh in the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night; plus 'the glory of the Lord' that rested in a cloud on the Tabernacle and upon the Mercy seat, called the 'schekinai' by the Jews, Exodus 40:34; Leviticus 16:2; and other passages.

Next, the covenants.

Stoeckhardt: He had made a formal covenant with the patriarchs and promised them and their descendants that He would be their God.

Next, the giving of the Law. This was the perfect Law which was given to Israel on Mt. Sinai.

Franzmann: In the Law the Lord demanded of each member of His people a whole love for Himself and a whole love for his neighbor.

Next, the worship. This was the Levitical worship which took place in the tabernacle and the temple. One great difference between Israel and the heathen nations was the detailed instructions which God gave to them concerning worship.

Franzmann: That worship, with its assurance of the presence of a gracious God, was in itself a promise, a shadowing-forth of good things yet to come. (Colossians 2:16).

And, finally, the promises.

Franzmann: The worshiping Israelite breathed an air charged with future blessings. . . . The promises of God again and again opened up the future when Israel's unfaithfulness had slammed and bolted shut the door to future blessings.
Bengel: Covenants is plural because the testament, or covenant, was often and variously repeated. Leviticus 26:42-45; Ephesians 2:12; Hebrews 1:1; and because there were two administrations of it, Galatians 4:24, the one promising, the other fulfilling.

Romans 9:5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Note that in verse 4 Paul is speaking of prerogatives which are, not were, those of Israel. God had not broken His promises to Israel. Israel had rejected God.

In verse 5 we have two final prerogatives, the last of which is the greatest. The term "the fathers" evidently refers to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promises began with them. (cf. Genesis 12). Because of His promises to the patriarchs, God led Israel out of Egypt. Because of His promises to the patriarchs, God finally called Jesus, the Son of David, out of Egypt. The "promises" of verse 4 and the "fathers" of verse 5 should not be considered apart from each other.

And, finally, "from whom the Christ, insofar as the physical is concerned."  Paul makes sure that Christ's only connection with Israel is that He was descended physically from them. But that is a great honor. Simeon said that Christ would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel." 

And now we come to a matter which has disturbed the translation of this verse for hundreds of years. The 25th edition of the Nestle Greek text has a semicolon that gives us the meaning found in the RSV: "to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is Christ. God who is over all the blessed for ever. Amen."  One must remember that the early manuscripts had no punctuation. When scribes added punctuation very often there was erroneous punctuation. It can be decided only on the basis of context. When the RSV New Testament was first published a volley of protest arose from some quarters because of the RSV translation of Romans 9:5. That the problem is a real one is indicated by the comments of the committee which produced A TEXTUAL COMMENTARY by Bruce Metzger. A majority of the committee preferred the punctuation as it stands in the RSV. They plainly stated that the true Pauline epistles (which implies that some are not Pauline) no where call Christ "God."  That, of course, is truly ridiculous. A minority of the committee preferred the punctuation behind the translation of the KJV, NKJV, NASB, AAT, and NIV. We give the translation of the NIV: "Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen."  This is the meaning of the verse if a comma is placed after  "Christ." 

Fortunately, the 26th edition of Nestle punctuates with a comma.

Arndt: Paul wants to do away with the impression that Jesus was a mere man. Hence he continues, saying that Jesus is God above all. It is clear that the doxology refers to Christ. The apostle wishes to show the greatness of Israel. Its chief glory is that from it there descended the Messiah who is the great God himself. Those critics who put a period before 'who is God, etc.' proceed here in the most arbitrary fashion.

Stoeckhardt comments at length at this point concerning the fact that Christ is the true God. Likewise Franzmann. The critical apparatus in the 25th edition of Nestle reveals that the difference in punctuation goes back to the early centuries of the Christian era.

What was the highest and greatest prerogative of Israel? That the Messiah was born from their midst. But they, for the most part, denied that Christ was true God. They accused Him of blasphemy and for that reason saw to it that He was crucified. This pains Paul very much. To this day the majority of the Jews deny that Jesus was the Messiah, the God-man Who came to seek and to save that which was lost.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 48-50. Used with permission.

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