I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Paul begins this chapter with words of true heartfelt sincerity and honesty towards the recipients. He truly wants them to feel and experience his anguish! Paul brings this out with words to emphasize the incredible sorrow he has been burdened with in considering those who are his kinsmen according to the flesh. He begins with “I am telling you the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit”. His use of the terms “in Christ” and “in the Holy Spirit” demonstrates that his following words should be carefully considered. The recipients would have taken his language seriously simply due to these expressions. The argumentation he is about to present must absolutely not be minimized! Paul is writing of his grief for Israel with a purpose! He wants the readers to really consider his love for his people. Greek Scholar Kenneth Wuest writes:
“Heaviness’ is lupe, “sorrow, pain grief”, used of persons mourning. “Sorrow” is odune, “consuming grief”. Its verbal form odunao means “to cause intense pain, to be in anguish, to be tormented”[i]
There is suffering in his mind when penning these phrases to the Romans. His words seem similar to many lamentations for Israel found in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 14:17; Ezra 8:16; 10:24,29) He is continuously grieved for his countrymen and his love for them is so great that he would even be willing to sacrifice himself on their behalf.[ii] V.3 begins with For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. The term “for” which denotes the reason why Paul was experiencing “great sorrow and unceasing grief”. They were “accursed” and separated from Christ. The term “accursed” is the Greek word “anathema”[iii] or someone who has been excommunicated from something. Notice the usage of this word in the negative[iv] in the New Testament[v]:
1 Corinthians 12:3
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed“; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 16:22
If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed Maranatha
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
The intensity of the anathema shows the love that Paul had for his countrymen in that he wanted to suffer in their place (huper). The question is: Why did Paul want to exchange places with them? The answer is: because it was their fate! He was willing to sacrifice himself for them! (10:1; 11:14) There is really no other alternative to demonstrate his desire to substitute for them unless it was their condition at that moment! The Israelites were cut-off from their Messiah! This is similar to what we see in the Old Testament with Moses: On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32“But now, if You will, forgive their sin–and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” (Exodus 32:30-32) Paul’s sorrow was for those who shared in his ethnic background mainly they were his brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh. They were his countrymen and Israelites (v.4).[vi] Paul extends his identification of those for whom he grieved by defining exactly who they were and what they had received. The list of privileges these Israelites had received would, in essence, dictate why they shouldn’t be lost! The main reason they shouldn’t have been accursed is that they were Israelites. They were the chosen people and the children of Abraham who were identified over and over again as Jehovah’s people. Paul lists several defining features that separated them from every nation as the blessed ones of God. They were sons and had the glory, the covenants, the law, worship services instituted by God Himself, the promises and most importantly from whom is the Christ.
This creates a tremendous problem in that those who were promised these blessings (even though they believed it was through ancestral descent) are now cut-off or accursed from their Messiah. Paul will take up the argument in the next section that the promises are not due or owed to anyone because of his birthright but the promise is given because one is a child of promise. His argument will stem from the idea of a remnant which God has chosen to be His people and not because of the natural birth into a nation. It is of the spiritual birth (John 3:3-6; 1 John 5:1) that one becomes a child of God and this is caused by God. (1 Peter 1:2) These were the ones to receive the promises because it is God’s choice who His people will be. This idea of God’s choosing His people was certainly nothing new especially to the Jews in Rome since it is found in the Old Testament hence God’s word is not tarnished but fully preserved.
I plead with my readers not to forget what we just saw in vs.1-5 since the whole point of the rest of this chapter to chapter 11 is to deal with the problem these verses have presented us. To stray away or forget these verses will bring about some peculiar exegesis of these texts.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;
These passages have gone through lengthy examinations by many different theologians & scholars. It is certainly a task to wrestle with the following text and I believe it shows the importance of the issues it addresses. I remember the impact they had upon me the first time I read them. I was quite confused how God could choose one man over another without any reference to anything they had done. Needless to say it caused confusion and discomfort as it has too many in past times! When confronted with these texts I would simply move on and ignore them in order to perhaps deal with them at a future time. Today, instead of ignoring them, I will focus upon my exegesis of this text and then offer my reply as to why I don’t feel the argumentation given by the corporate election view is credible.
Paul begins this section with a statement that leads back to his original point of reference mainly of the accursedness of his countrymen. He makes the statement that “but it is not as though the word of God has failed”. Please take a moment to ponder upon what exactly Paul is trying to argue from this small phrase. The question this is answering is whether or not the word of God had failed in all the promises he had made in the Old Testament if the Israelites were accursed. Has God gone back on His word to Israel? The whole point of the epistle thus far was to show that one was not guaranteed salvation because of the covenant, the law or by birthright. The Jews of Paul’s day would have believed that the promises were for all physical descendants of Israel not matter what. The only reason one could lose that right was because of an extreme form of apostasy. (John 8:33-58)Paul is arguing against this notion in that being born of Israel doesn’t guarantee the individual Israelite’s salvation (Romans 2:1-29; 4:1-16) This is why Paul answers the assertion of the authenticity of the word of God by stating that not all Israel is descended of Israel. It is those who have faith and that are justified that are the children of Abraham. These who are a remnant are a smaller group within the larger national identity of Israel. It is important to remember that Paul’s whole point was to deal with people within Israel and not argue the privileges of different nations. Paul will argue from a principle to show that all things flow from the choice of God even His choice to whom He gives the blessings.
Isaac & Ishmael
7nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”
In v.7 Paul begins his defence from the OT as to why the word of God has not failed. He begins with defining that the term “Israel” was not for all who were born into a natural family. He uses the example of Abraham‘s descendants who are the basis for understanding who Israel is since they came from Abraham. Paul wants to draw out the point that even within the term Israel that not all are Abraham’s seed. Paul quotes here from Genesis 21:12: But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. This is the passage where Jehovah had responded to Abraham’s reluctance to banish Ishmael and Haggar. The calling of Isaac was more than simply giving the promise of physical offspring since God also gave them to Ishmael as well (Genesis 17:20; 21:23). What advantage did Isaac have over Ishmael? It was with Isaac that the promise was given for the covenant (Genesis 17:21). Ishmael was a child of the flesh but Isaac was a child of the flesh and a child of promise. The basis of Isaac’s advantage was based on God’s good pleasure since God chose to bestow the blessing on him rather than Ishmael! Ishmael could demand nothing from God and also Isaac couldn’t boast of anything. This is why the children of flesh are not children of God because they were not the children of promise. The promise is God’s to give to whom He pleases! To be fair, it is argued that this should be taken as Isaac’s privileges in historical salvation but I don’t feel this is convincing. There certainly seems to be more insinuated by Paul than merely a back reference because of the way he uses “children of God”. Notice it’s usage in the following verses:
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him., that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
Children of God is used to express that which is belonging to God and all who belong to God as sons partake in salvation. With that said, let us look at yet another expression in v.8 that gives substantiation that this is not only speaking of historical roles but of salvation. The expression is regarded as or “reckoned as”. Paul had just defined this expression throughout Romans as being interlinked with justification especially in light of explaining the result of Abraham’s faith. (Romans 4:3,5,22; Galatians 3:6). Those who are reckoned as descendants are justified and are by very definition the children of God![vii]
Children of promise:
Another expression which I feel links this passage with the idea of individualism and that we will spend more time on is “Children of promise” which is also used in Genesis 21:12 but more importantly how it is defined by Paul in Romans 4:13,14,16 & 20.
The term “Children of promise” is what Paul concentrates on in v.9. Paul begins with the term “for” which once again gives reason to vs. 7-8. Notice Paul quotes Genesis 18:10: He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.”. It is important to remember that this text is also associated with Genesis 17:15-16: “Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16″I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Paul’s whole point of quoting Genesis 18 was to show that God was the one who interfered to instigate the birth of Isaac to fulfil His purposes and to bring to Himself a people. God’s powerful intrusion was to secure his ultimate plan for the destiny of the lineage of promise. You see, once again, God has always been the one who has chosen who would be His people!!! The promises were given to Isaac based upon God’s choosing and working out His purposes. This had nothing to do with a birthright!
One final point that is worth mentioning is found in Genesis 17:7-8 where we read: I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” In this text Jehovah states that He will be the God of Isaac which is something He could not say regarding Ishmael. Why? Because Ishmael was a child of the flesh! The Israelites were “cut-off” for this very reason in that they were not the children of promise but were declared much like Ishmael as children of flesh. The promises are to Isaac and the remnant or the called (Genesis 21:12/ Romans 9:7) Those who are called are the ones justified and finally glorified (Romans 8:28-29) God is demonstrating that even in the final state of affairs in the future glory that people will be there as children of promise due to God’s choice in calling them for His purpose of justifying them by faith.
Jacob & Esau
10And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”
Paul now turns to Rebecca with the intent to once again demonstrate that the promise was never received due to the birthright but because of God’s choice. Both Jacob & Esau had the same mother and father hence there could be no argument from a special privilege due to differing parents. In light of Jewish thought, a firstborn son always held the preeminent position among his family and was entitled to double the portion of his father’s inheritance. The firstborn was also the main ruler of his father’s affairs. In other words, the older was to be the heir! Once again, God, through His sovereignty, chose the younger to show that His choice would be the ultimate factor of being a child of promise. There was absolutely no natural difference between the two so as to argue that one had a special natural privilege over the other. As v.11 indicates there was nothing in either of them to discriminate between the two boys because the choice was made even prior to their birth and independent from it! [viii]There was absolutely no bias in God’s choice of one over the other. Notice that God didn’t merely predict what would happen but it was according to His selection (election) or so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand. Could it have been otherwise? No! God had a plan and a purpose in both these men’s lives prior to their birth and their destinies were planned beforehand! (c.f. Romans 8:28-30) We must focus on the fact that Isaac & Jacob were chosen while Ishmael & Esau were not and we ask on what basis? God’s purpose in election! God doesn’t depend on fallen finite men to fulfil His purposes and His plans.[ix] This is exactly what is happening within Israel: some are chosen and some are not!
Paul ends this little section on Jacob & Esau with a quotation from Malachi 1: Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”. Jacob was the one given the name “Israel’ (Genesis 32:28) through whom the 12 tribes would come to exist. This quotation is central in the debate on whether the following texts are referring to individuals or nations. It should be noted that both Jacob & Esau was used of nations and individuals in scripture.[x] There are those who hold to Corporate Election who would argue that this is clearly arguing for Jacob & Esau being referred to as nations because of the fact that the quotation from Malachi 1 is representing them as that very thing. It is asserted that when Paul says “Jacob I loved” it is referring to God’s election for privileges and “Esau I hated” is referring to God’s rejection of that nation[xi]. Even though I can see why a person would come to this conclusion I feel that it fails because of the following reasons:
- We just read in vs. 10-11 that Paul is focused on individuals rather than nations. How do we know this? It is far more difficult to link “conception, birth and works” to a “nation’ rather than an individual.[xii]
- Relating Jacob & Esau to nations just doesn’t deal with the whole purpose of Paul’s argument as to why the word of God has not failed when the covenant people are accursed. How does telling the Romans that Israel was chosen for privileges and Edom isn’t deal with Paul’s anguish in vs. 1-3? Why would Paul have wanted to be separated from Christ for them simply because of Israel having privileges over Edom? Paul is clearly contrasting between physical Israel and the Remnant.[xiii]
- Once again, the terminology isn’t focusing on “roles” per say but terms such as “election” (11:5-7), call (8:28), not of works (4:2-8) are defined elsewhere as relating to justification!!!![xiv]
- Lastly and most importantly, Paul is linking individuals in their relationship to the promises and God’s purposes. The nations (Israel & Edom) would have come from the individuals and the point isn’t which nation or even individual God uses for roles or privileges but how does one become a child of promise!!! Some Jews were chosen and some were not. (vs.24-29)
To this point one might argue that they still see these as promises of blessing to men and their seed. I would not argue that this is not so however, with that said, could Paul not merely be arguing from a principle from the Old Testament to rectify the problem of vs.1-5? Can we not allow Paul to interpret his own words in using references in the OT to show principles applied in the NT? I feel that if Paul is arguing to merely show how one nation has privileges and one doesn’t based on God’s choice just simply deviates away from everything that come prior to these texts. God’s choice to call according to His purpose seems to be pointing to far more than our Corporate promoters are willing to admit.
One final point should be made before moving on. The argumentation from Paul in 6-13 is continued in vs. 24-29. Notice what Paul states in v.24 where we read: even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (emphasis mine) The calling of God, as we have seen, is linked with salvation (also see v.27). Please take notice that it is “from among” not “each and every” Jew or Gentile. Once again, this is speaking of individuals within these ethnic categories and not entire nations in roles. This is similar to that which we find in Revelation 5:9 “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” These scriptures are not demonstrating corporate entities as being called or purchased but among different ethnic backgrounds.
[i] Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Kenneth Wuest, Eerdman, Page 152
[ii] Quoting brother John Parkinson: “he (Paul) begins by stating his sincere and selfless love for his “kinsmen according to the flesh” and his highest appreciation of the national blessing…Paul has certainly not become anti-Jewish, but there are important spiritual lessons to be learned from the ways God has sovereignly moved in the history of the nation, and it is these lessons which Paul will now unfold” (The Faith of God’s Elect, John Parkinson, Gospel Tract Publications, Page 22) I am unfortunately wondering if Mr. Parkinson took the time to really delve into the deep emotional lamentations that Paul expresses to us in these texts. Paul is wishing to substitute himself for them because they are accursed. There just seems to be a lack of understanding the severity of the words of the apostle. The problem that is derived from taking the words of Paul in vs. 1-5 too lightly is that we tend to view the rest of the chapter in such a way that we lack the thrust of the presentation.
[iii] The term anaqhma is defined as “a man accursed, devoted to the direst woes…doomed and so separated from Christ” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexcon of the New Testament, J. Thayer, Hendrickson, Page 37).
[iv] The term can be used in a positive fashion as in Leviticus 27:28 or Luke 21:5
[v] It is also used with a negative meaning in the Old Testament in Deut. 13:16,18; Joshua 6:17-18; Zechariah 14:11
[vi] Some have argued that this section must be speaking of a national corporate election due to Paul’s use of the name “Israelites” rather than “Jews”. There is a substantial problem with this argumentation in that the blessings he is associating them with are not political or focused necessarily on nationality but they are especially referring to the special religious position these people held.
[vii] D. Moo writes: “The phrase “reckoned as” likewise translates a Greek phrase that Paul elsewhere uses only when referring to Gen. 15:6, a text that Paul quotes to prove that Abraham’s faith brought him into righteous relationship with God (Rom. 4:3,5,22; Gal. 3:6)- The Epistle to the Romans: NICNT, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans, Page 577
[viii] I stop here for a moment to touch upon Mr. Parkinson’s statement that he is using “allegory” but then states “We do not subscribe to the method of interpretation known as “allegorising” which is characterised by the search for a deeper meaning then what is apparent in the literal statement of a text” (P. 23) The problem with this statement is that this is exactly what Mr. Parkinson is doing throughout with his “symbols” of regenerate vs. Unregenerate men (Isaac vs. Ishmael) and his peculiar understanding that “the elder will serve the younger is an illustration of law being set aside in favour of grace.
[ix] Some will argue that in v.11 Paul is not speaking of salvation per say but how the promise would be passed on. This is not a persuasive argument seeing the terminology used such as “good and evil” and “not of works” (Romans 4:2-8
[x] Jacob as nation: Numbers 23:7; Psalm 14:7; Isaiah 59:20/ Esau as nation: Genesis 36:8; Jeremiah 49:8-10
[xi] I am not necessarily stating that the term “loved…hated” can’t be taken as acceptance or rejected. I do feel the usage in the New Testament of hated (miseo) seems to show something more than mere rejection. (Matt. 6:24-where miseo and agapao are seen as opposites; Luke 14:26; John 12:25) but most lexicons agree it is not intended to present a sort of malice towards another. My main point here is that this text is not merely speaking of the acceptance and rejection of nations based upon theocratic privileges but it is arguing for a principle that God’s sovereign purpose and choice are the key to receiving all blessings including salvation.
[xii] I am not denying that this is possible since we are told that nations were in the womb however the point here is not to place emphasis on the choosing of a nation but rather the choosing of an individual.
[xiii] John Piper writes: “many individual Israelites within the chosen people are not saved (cf Rom 11:14). Paul is not moved to constant grief (9:2) because corporate Israel has forfeited her non-salvific “theocratic privileges” while another people (the church or the remnant) has taken over this “historical role” He is grieved because all the privileges of Israel listed in Romans 9:4,5 imply the eschatological, eternal salvation of this people but many individual Israelites- his kinsmen according to the flesh- are damned in their unbelief. Therefore the solution which Rom 9:6-13 develops in response to this problem, must address the issue of individual, eternal salvation. (The Justification of God, 2nd ed., John Piper, Baker books, P.65)
[xiv] Notice the consistent usage of certain terms within these passages and how Paul defines them throughout his epistle. These terms are consistently used to bring out the means by which an “individual” is declared as “righteous” or “justified” which are all associated with or synonymous with Children of promise, Children of God, Descendants, Counted, Called and Not of works