Discussing Romans 3 and Romans 10: A Snapshot of Some Online Discourse

Thought I would post a couple threads from one of my online groups where I was walking through Romans. Romans 10 in one thread and Romans and in the second Romans 3. In the Romans 10 discussion I am jumping off a statement regarding faith as best rendered faithfulness:

Excerpt 1

So what will really blow your mind is entertaining faith in its proper context as faithfulness or allegiance.

How does chapter 10 begin?
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”

So who is the audience? A majority if not all Gentile community divided over whether one needs to be a Jew in order to follow Christ. And the concern is if not, then what was the point of Isrsel. Some of the Gentiles this is addressed to have been degrading and looking down on Jews, others have used their insistence that they must become Jews to look down on those who are not doing so.

So this is primarily an appeal to the worth and privilege of the Jewish story, the story of Israel. It functions as a kind of apology for rumors caused by Pauls ministry that he has been degrading his own Jewish heritage. He wants to clear the air and demonstrate that he is not doing this. Quite the opposite. Here he is pointing out the zeal they have for their faith, and yet this zeal did not/does not have the knowledge of Christ as God’s righteouness, righteousness meaning the right ,making work of God. But they do have the Law, and Christ is the fulfillment of the Law.

A couple points there. One possible reference is to the unusual problem that Jews in general have been rejecting Paul’s Gospel. If this is the case then this is important because such rejection does not diminish them or their story in Paul’s eyes. Again, Paul is demonstrating the opposite based on his telling of the story of Israel and why it matters. A part of Paul’s larger point is those under the Law are bound by it, and those not under are not bound by it. But both must be true to that which gives conscious to their faith, or their faithfulness, meaning their participation in the saving work of God in Christ. This is the point of the Law bring written on the heart rather than stone, itself an OT reference.

Paul’s point is, if the Gentiles are not bound by the Law, meaning circumcision (so not the reformed idea of works of the Law), then Israel likewise can’t be held accountable for never having heard the Law of Jesus.

This is where Paul then goes on to say “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Christ comes “so that” everyone who believes can have righteousness, meaning participate in the right making work of the kingdom of God (so not the reformed idea of moral righteouness).

Here we come to a contrast-
Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them”

Followed by a “but”: “But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”

So what is the contrast? If the focus is on the Jew-Gentile question of needing to become a Jew (under the Law) to follow Christ, then what this contrast is pointing out is boundary markers. What is the “these things” Moses is speaking about? Ritual Law (such as circumcision and sabbath keeping and sacrificial gift giving) and Torah (in a formative sense). These are the boundary markers. The contrast in righteousness by faith is, don’t say who ascends and who descends, rather the righteousness that is by faith says, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” For the ancient hearer of this letter in Rome they would have been transported back to Sinai here. Only what Paul is doing is breaking down the boundary markers so as to say,

“Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.”

Paul’s concern is for establishing the Gentile in Christ as one who is not under the Law, meaning they have not been circumcised. What is crucial to note here is that Paul, in the letter as a whole, is not diminishing the role of the Law nor the need for Jews to follow and abide by it. The Law is how they are formed by the Kingdom of God.

From this point Paul is connecting the hearing and believing passage, which comes in the form of a question (how) and a admonition (bring the good. news);
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[g]

Remember, this is speaking to Gentiles. What is the good news? That they are saved by faith. Why is this good news to Israel which, as Paul is about to show, resisted God’s hand (the story of Israel)?

Paul begins here with a statement-
“Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself.” And he attaches this in the same way we see in the story of Elijah- a faithful remnant. Why is this good news. Paul goes on:
“What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened.”

This leads to a repeat of the what then question.a second time:
“Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!”

Now here is where it gets really good. “Because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”

Who’s transgression? This is talking about the hardened, not the remnant. So what about the hardened? “If their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

So why is this good news? This goes back to a problem Paul has addressed earlier. There are circumcised who are not faithful and uncircumcised who are faithful. So where does this leave Israel and the Law? Why does the Law then matter at all? It matters because it tells the story of God’s faithfulness. That is the point of the remnant. And in God’s faithfulness hope comes to the whole of the world. Paul goes on to link himself with the hardened, saying he hopes his ministry makes more gentiles envious. This is one of the great reasons why Paul wrote the letter of Romans, is he is trying to sell his mission to Spain and create a great foundation to step off from in that endeavor within these Roman communities. They are the ones he is telling to send the good news. To whom? To the ones disparaging the Jews by saying the Law doesn’t matter and those disparaging the ones not under the Law by saying the Law does matter. Why? Because Paul wants that foundation to be strong and healed..

How much more will their (the Jews) inclusion bring. Paul concludes by saying “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way[e] all Israel will be saved”

This is why this passage is not speaking of a spiritual Israel, but rather Israel itself. And I will add this. This is also why when it says “saved” it is not talking about Indivual salvation in the way we Protestants have been trained to think of it. It is talking about who and how one or a whole is made free to participate in the kingdom of God. This is why Paul’s ongoing appeal to faith as in “faithfulness” earlier is so important. Salvation is not indivual salvation but Gods faithfulness to the promise through the work of Jesus in and for the world, and what flows from this good news is, here in Romans, about the who and the how one can participate in the new reality Christ’s work brings about, which concerns the Jew-Gentile question directly. That is the primary concern of Paul’s unfolding argument in relationship to the Jew-Gentile question and the place/role of the Law (circumcision as a necessary boundary marker). If Israel stumbled and was hardened, then the fact that Gentiles not under the Law are following Jesus, which means faithful Gentiles participating in the Torah, which is fulfilled in Christ, is good news to the stumbling and hardened story of Israel because this means that unfaithful Israel under the Law can be saved by faith, meaning they can participate in the new reality Jesus brings about through faithfulness. They don’t stand condemned under the Law in terms of a broken covenant, they stand liberated in faith because of Jesus fulfilling the covnenant.

Excerpt 2

So, assuming you see the scripture he is referencing as Romans 3:23, if I point simply to the work of Beverly Gaventa, Michael Gorman, Scott McKnight, and Aaron Sherwood, all of whom penned important commentaries on Romans and who sit within different Tradtitions, and all who would strongly contest that verse saying anything about total depravity or a universal sinful nature, would you accept that as proof? I can add a bunch more to that mix.

First of all, the phrase “deserving death” is a theological imposition from the post being lobbied back on to Romans 3. If you follow Paul’s flow of argument in Romans he begins with the particular (speaking to a majority if not all Gentile community of Christ followers divided over whether one needs to become a Jew to follow Christ or not), and then moves to set it within the Genesis-Exodus story, thus bringing in a cosmic point of view. This is done to parallel the liberation of Israel with the liberation of the whole of creation in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.

This leads us to Romans 3 which, again, is speaking to a majority if not all Gentile community of Christ followers. The key emphasis? That division above. Beginning with 3:1

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”

Followed by this in verse 9,
“What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage?”

So what’s between these two questions?

Paul’s use of the interlocutor (a fictional Jewish opponent to Paul’s claims about establishing the importance of the Jewish story in relationship to the Gospel coming to the Gentiles “apart from the Law”) raises objections. Some key points? The Law is not works in the Reformed sense but circumcision, and righteousness is not moral righteousness but rather referring to who and how one is able to participate in the Kingdom of God, meaning do they have to become Jewish or not. The natural objections of the interlocutor flow from the fact of the story of Israel apparently reflecting failure, so what then was the point of it. Why say it mattered.

What would be the advantage of a Gentile who becomes a Jew, meaning under the Law if there are circumcised people who are not faithful and uncircumcised who are faithful?

Here Paul answers his fictional opponents question of whether Israel is then meaningless and a failure with

“Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin”,

He fleshes out the story of Israel later to demonstrate why there is an advantage to being under the Law, but here he is telling the Gentile story in relationship to the Law. To make his point here Paul cites the OT to demonstrate a story of Israel being held accountable to their unfaithfulness, pointing out that “whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law.” Again, what’s in view here when it speaks of the Law? Circumcision and I would add Torah- the identifying markers. Later on he is going to fully flesh out that these markers still matter to Jews because they are expressions of their allegiance to the Kingdom of God and therefore relate to their conscious awareness of this faithfulness/allegiance. For Gentiles not under the Law it is not in the same way. Paul’s larger purpose then is collapsing the division this creates.

This is the point then of verse 20,
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

Righteousness again is not moral righteousness but dealing with who and how one participates in the Kingdom of God. No one being made righteous is not a phrase that denotes salvation by works. It is about who and how one can participate in the Kingdom of God, meaning it is about boundary markers.

Now we come to the central issue leading to the division –

21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify”

To which Paul says, effectively collapsing the categories of the divisions,
22This righteousness is given through faith in h Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,

Key interpretive issue here- does it read faithfulness to or faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Either way faith requires a proper recasting in terms of its force of meaning towards allegiance and obedience. For what it’s worth I think the general consensus is that it is referring to the faithfulness of Christ relating to Gods faithfulness to the promise.

Then we get to the pivotal moment:
23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

The actual phrasing is for all have sinned and “lack” the glory of God. Glory is a word that implies image and presence, meaning the true image. Meaning, just as Israel neglected their true vocation as image bearers so have the Gentiles. This is NOT making some statement about total depravity or suggesting that God needs to punish sin with death to satisfy His wrath. That’s not only a bad defintion of Gods wrath given the same community he is working to celebrate has been said to be a recipient of this wrath because of their participation in Sin, storing up the wrath aimed there for themselves, it makes no sense of Paul’s larger concern and argument. The emphasis here is on uniting Jew and Gentile in the story of Gods faithfulness as a matter of who and how one participates in the new reality Jesus has brought about (the new liberated creation). All have sinned and lack the glory of God is more of an invitation to faithful participation than a condemnation in this context, and the entire emphasis is not on a sin nature but a shared reality emphasized in verse 9 as “all under the power of sin.”

Here Paul adds,
“All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

What is the grace gift? The work of Jesus which is Gods faithfulness to the Covenant promise. And what is Paul emphasi,emphasizing as the good news of this gift?
26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, in line with his argument thus far it is “faithfulness” or allegiance to the Kingdom of God that breaks down boundaries to who and how one can participate in the new reality Christ brings about. As Paul is going to show, it is the story of Israel then that is good news to the gentiles and Vice versa.

“27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.”

Why no boasting? Because anyone can freely participate on the basis of faithfulness. Does this diminish the Law?
“Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

Meaning that we don’t diminish those who are not under the Law and those who are under it should uphold it. Gemtiles do not need to become Jews to follow Christ, amd Jews do need to obey the Law to follow Christ because of the Law writte on the heart of all. What this means is that neither should ridicule or diminish the other on this basis, as all share the same reality of living in a creation enslaved to Sin.

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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