Notes on Romans 9:1-5

Romans 9:1-5
The apostle now enters on a new section of the epistle in chapters 9-11, the main object of which is to reconcile the indiscriminate call of Gentiles and Jews with the special promises made to Israel. In this task he overthrows the fleshly pretensions of those who rested on nothing but a line of natural descent from Abraham: he proves that special promise has from the first been the principle of God; he points to sovereign mercy as the only hope for a people such as even Israel had shown themselves to be; he annihilates the poor and selfish and proud reasoning which arraigns the rights and righteousness of God, when the fact is that man is utterly unrighteous before Him; he demonstrates that according to the Jewish prophets Israel would be rejected, Gentiles called, and only a remnant of the ancient people saved; he shows that their rejection was owing to their failure in meeting the law of righteousness which they had deliberately chosen instead of the righteousness which grace gives by faith, while the Gentiles received it gladly, Christ being the grand test for both; he insists that this did not hinder his love and prayer for Israel that they might be saved, but salvation could only be by accepting Christ the end of the law for righteousness to the believer according to the secret of grace intimated in Deut. 30, supported and carried out by Isa. 28:1616Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. (Isaiah 28:16) and Joel 2:3232And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. (Joel 2:32), which opens the door of faith to more than Israel, even to those who, if they had not the law, might hear the glad tidings of good things (Isaiah which God sends out. He points out that the very unbelief of this on the part of the Jews fulfills Isa. 53; that the Psalms (15.) attest the wide-spread universal message of God, and that, while the law warned them of God's provoking them to jealousy by a no-people, the prophet (Isa. 65) is bolder still and explicitly announces God found by those who sought Him not (Gentiles), while Israel are condemned as a disobedient and gainsaying people. But the apostle would not close the subject without the most distinct statement, as well as proof from the prophets themselves, that God had not finally cast off His people Israel: first, there is always a remnant according to the election of grace, of which the apostle himself was witness; secondly, their fall was expressly to provoke Israel to jealousy, and therefore not to reject them even for a time; and, thirdly, on the ruin of the Gentile by unbelief and slight of God's goodness as of Israel before, all Israel shall be saved according to the written word of God (Isa. 59), all His ways of mercy and wisdom causing the apostle to burst forth into thanksgiving and adoration. Such is the general outline and argument, which maintains responsibility on the one side and the promises of God on the other, and reconciles the indiscriminate ways of God in the gospel now with the accomplishment of a special glory for Israel as well as the general blessing of Gentiles of the earth in the age to come on earth. Heavenly grace is not in question here. Hence it is the olive tree, not the one new man, of which we read.
The apostle then begins this most instructive episode, in which he explains the ways of God, with the solemn assurance of his fervent affection, and hence his distress for Israel in their present low estate and exposure to judgment.
“Truth I say in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in [the] Holy Spirit, that I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart, for I was wishing1—I myself—to be a curse from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to flesh.” (Ver. 1-3.) It is plain that he alludes there to the love Moses had proved so well, as God records it in the law; and he intimates that he loved them not a whit less. It was a wish that had passed through his soul. He does not refer to the days of his Pharisaism; for great as his zeal was, his love as a Christian and an apostle was far deeper as well as wholly unselfish. In his old unenlightened condition there was no question of such a feeling for them; as he had no right sense of their peril any more than of his own. On the other hand he does not lay it down as the deliberate wish of his present mind; but as a passionate self-sacrificing desire which had been in his heart, impossible no doubt, but evincing the strength of his burning love for Israel, as well as his sense of their extreme peril and utter ruin.2 Hence he dwells on his ties of relationship with them.
This leads him to speak of their privileges. Those who hate others lose no opportunity of detracting from them and denying at any rate favors that seem peculiarly theirs from God. Love makes the most of what is possessed by its object. Judged by such a test, there could. be no doubt of the love of the apostle who sets out the marks of God's goodness to Israel as none else had ever done before, not even Gamaliel, least of all his Sadducean enemies, Who could produce from tradition, yea, from the living oracles themselves such a bright roll as Paul here unfolds before those who ignorantly taxed him with making light of the blessings God had vouchsafed to his kinsmen according to flesh? “who are Israelites, whose [is] the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the lawgiving and the service and the promises; whose [are] the fathers, and of whom [is] Christ as to flesh, that is over all God blessed unto the ages. Amen.” (Ver. 4, 5.)
Thus he gives them the divinely conferred name of victory with God and man, which they derived from their father Jacob; then he alludes to the name Jehovah deigned to call them by in his summons to Pharaoh— “my son, my first-born.” Next he directs attention to the shechinah or glory-cloud which led out the people from Egypt, through the wilderness into Canaan. After this he speaks of those solemn covenants which God made first with the fathers, and particularly looking onward to that which He will make in the latter day with the sons. Then he names the lawgiving, before which all the boasts of ancient or modern times are but the merest smoke compared with the blaze of Sinai or the marvelous condescension which deigned from the tabernacle to treat of their least as well as greatest matters. The religious services or ordinances of worship next follow which justly claim to be the only ritual with its priesthood which God ever instituted for a people on earth. This however would have been short indeed without “the promises;” as these naturally are followed by “the fathers,” and all is crowned by the Messiah. And here assuredly the apostle does not hide His glory. Let the Jews say all they might of Him whom they expected, they can never rise above what Paul delights to tell of Messiah. Alas! they would fain lower Him to the measure of their own desires; and worse still modern unbelief in Christendom answers to the old darkness of Judaism. The apostle however does not more surely lay down His descent from the fathers as to flesh, than His proper Godhead in His other and divine nature, “He that is” (says he) “above all God blessed forever. Amen.” A more illustrious testimony there cannot be. But Satan for a while had blinded the eyes of Israel, so that they forsake their own mercies and deny a truth which, did they but see, they would recognize as both their brightest jewel and the solid ground of all their hoped for blessing.
Very needless difficulty has been raised about the terms ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸς. The Noetian heretics of old drew from this and other scriptures that God the Father suffered. Others in opposing so flagrant an error were too anxious to restrict ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων to the Father, especially as He is unquestionably so qualified in Eph. 4:66One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:6). But there is no real difficulty; and it is only ignorance or heterodoxy which finds any; for scripture is plain in attributing not merely θεὁτητα but θεὁτητα to Christ. He is God, as is the Father, and also the Holy Ghost. They are each and all styled Jehovah, the name incommunicable to the creature, let it be ever so exalted. The Son did not deem it a matter of plunder to be on equality with God. He emptied Himself in taking a servant's shape; whereas even the archangel is at best but a servant and never can be other: it is Michael's blessedness and part to be serving God. Not so the Son: He humbled Himself to take the place of a servant, being in His own proper nature and dignity infinitely above it. He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; He had only known what it was to command; but, taking that position in communion with the love and counsels of the Father, He was therein the perfect pattern of all lowly obedience. How base to take advantage of His grace to despise His glory!—to be so occupied with the humiliation to which He stooped to glorify God the Father, and show us both God and man in His own person and ways, and above all, to accomplish redemption—to be so filled, I may say, with the circumstances of shame into which He went down in love as to forget who He is in Himself that for us descend so low! No; He that was the perfect man was the very God, equally with the Father and the Holy Ghost. All things were made not only by Him but for Him.
But is not this true of the Father? Assuredly: yet this in no way impeaches the title of the Son. Scripture is plain as to both. God as such in the true and full sense is and must be supreme. This attaches to the persons in the Godhead. Differences there may be and are; but not in this. To deny supremacy of the Son or of the Spirit is to fall into the Arian heresy or the Macedonian. No doubt, as in Eph. 4:55One Lord, one faith, one baptism, (Ephesians 4:5), Christ is contradistinguished as one Lord from the Father; and so similarly in 1 Cor. 8:66But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:6). This however, far from derogating from His intrinsic divine glory, only shows us another glory which He receives as the exalted man who is made Lord and Christ. He, and He distinctively, has the official place of lordship, though of course as a term of dignity it belongs alike to Father, Son, and Spirit; and so any one can see who will take the trouble of comparing the scriptures.
There is no discrepancy in the authorities there that affects the sense, as in 1 Tim. 3:1616And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16). Manuscripts and versions proclaim the truth with an unwavering voice: Christ is over all, God blessed forever. The notion that θεός is wanting in the citation of the early ecclesiastical writers is a mistake. They all read as we do, unless we conceive that Chrysostom omitted ὁ before ὤν, as the Augian and Boernerian MSS. did τὁ before κατὰ σάρκα, which was probably mere inadvertence. What the Pseudo-Ignatius (ep. Tars.) or the Constit. Apostol.3 may say is of no moment. As to Athanasius, not only is it not true that he ever wrote περὶ δὲ τοῦ εῖναι ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸν σταυρώθεντα φοβῦμαι (“I fear to say that the crucified One is God over all”), but it was not even the Pseudo-Athanasius who is so represented, but the Pseudo-Arius in answering the citation of this passage. Wetstein therefore was wrong here and betrayed his Arian animus. (See Athanasii Opp. i. 125 B, ed. Col. 1686). Erasmus is equally wrong in thinking that Cyprian and Hilary left out “Deus;” for it is only omitted by careless editors, and is found in all good editions. As to Origen, his wildness was such as to weaken the weight of his assertions; but what he does say, in answer to Celsus' charge that the Christians made Christ God the Father or greater still, is that, while some might be hasty enough to aver τὸν Σωτῆρα τὸν μέγιστον ἐπὶ πάσι θεόν ἀλλ οὔτι γε ἡμεῖς τοιοῦτον οἱ πειΟόμενοι αὐτῶ λέγοντι. Now I do not admit that Origen (contra Cels. vii. 14) was justified in quoting the last clause of John 14:2828Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (John 14:28) (which he misquotes) where it was a question of the Son's Deity, while the text speaks of His place of earthly subjection. But even he does not go so far as to deny supreme Godhead to the Son; he does deny, as all taught of God must, the monstrous folly that the Son has power over God the Father. The doubtful opinion of Eusebius may indeed be cited, who did restrict, it would seem, τὸν ἑπὶ πάντων θεόν to the Father;4. but it is well known that he was feeble as to the great truth of Christ's Godhead if not an Arian. But these seem really all who have been exaggerated into “multi patres qui Christum τὸν ἐπὶ πάντων θεός appellari posse negant” (Griesbach in loco), save indeed that by very strange logic it is assumed that to call the Father so is to deny it of the Son. But this is only the mistake handed down through Wetstein to the critic of Jena. The fact is that the fathers as a whole applied our text to the Lord Jesus without a suspicion of its incompatibility with Eph. 4:66One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:6). They are both equally true, as the Father and the Son are equally God. I grant that they speculated dangerously sometimes; and of their crude assertions controversy and heresy have availed themselves: the latter to cover its aberration from revealed truth; the former to make councils or the Pope the only securer of the truth, as against the earlier fathers and (what is worse) holy scripture. But from Tremens to Theophylact among Greeks, and from Tertullian to the middle ages among the Latins, it could be easily shown that the passage was accepted as we have it now in the Authorized Version and in the ordinary orthodox sense. Cyril of Alexandria is most express in contradicting from this text the Emperor Julian who was rash enough to say that Paul did not speak of Jesus as God. Nor is there a single name of sound reputation opposed to this.
The ingenuity of criticism however, having neither various readings nor ancient versions to invoke, is not content with misrepresenting the testimony of the early Christian writers and has strained itself in the most violent efforts to effect a diversion by the help of points; as it is well known that they are wanting in the most ancient copies. The Complutensian editors punctuate fairly. Erasmus, not in his earlier editions but later, suggested a period after σἁρκα, as had been done before by the writers of two MSS. of the eleventh and twelfth centuries usually numbered 5 and 47 in the conventional list of Pauline copies. Lachmann and Tischendorf acted on this; and Vater clenched the rent quite as effectually by putting the cut-off clause or clauses within marks of parenthesis ended by a note of admiration. Now not only is this severance, however managed, in opposition to the mass of punctuated manuscripts, all ancient versions and citations, but, what is of more weight still, it is contrary to the invariable idiom employed to express such a blessing (or on the contrary a curse). The regular formula is to open the sentence with εὐλομητός or some kindred word.5 Here therefore to bear regularly the desired punctuation the words should have run:—Εὐλογητὸς ὁ ἐπί π. θ., the ὢν in this case being worse than useless. The only apparent exception produced is from the Septuagint of Psa. 67, (68.) 19, κύριος ὁ θεὸς εὐλογηός. But judging by the old Latin quoted in Holmes and Parsons' note, “Dominus Deus benedictus est,” it is no exception, because it is an assertion about God, not an ejaculatory blessing. The latter follows immediately; and then the usual order appears. The former clause may indeed be an interpolation; as there is no Hebrew text to found it on.
Further, the incongruity of such a doxology here, remembering the apostle's grief just expressed and the relation of the Jews to the Messiah, is also a decisive disproof; and, lastly, it would utterly mar the beautiful antithesis so characteristic of the apostle, even in the opening of this very epistle, in which he contrasts the human line of the Messiah with His divine dignity.
Another mode of punctuating, also suggested by Erasmus (who perhaps did not know that a Viennese MS. 71 of the twelfth century, represents it), and adopted by Locke, places the stop after πάντων with a shorter clause taken as the blessing, and is even more objectionable, as it is pressed by the additional difficulty that we ought in that case to have the article with beds. It should stand Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς εἰς τ. αἱ ἀμήν. But after all it would not effect what is desired, for it would connect ὁ ὢν ἑπὶ πἀντων with the Christ; and it is impossible to have a stricter predication of supremacy. It is not merely, as Hippolytus and others thought, that the Father delivered all things to the Son, an important but different truth. Here we have what He is; and He is over all, being essentially divine.
Conjectural emendation of the text is another device of unbelievers to defraud the Lord of His glory; but this may be dismissed into its native obscurity. Even the Grotian expedient of dropping θεὸς, is contrary to all authority of MSS. but would be useless if conceded; for ὁ ὢν ἑπὶ πἀντων is the strongest affirmation in itself of divine supremacy. Quite as futile was the effort to lower the sense of θεός by reference to 2 Thess. 2:44Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4), and to translate the clause here, “who is as God,” &c. For, first, the supposed analogy is cast out of that verse on the best authority; and secondly, it would tell, if genuine, in the opposite way; for certainly the man of sin will not claim to be God in an inferior sense. The absence of the article is a sign that character is meant to be conveyed, and has nothing to do with inferiority. Compare Rom. 1:2121Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21).
On the whole then the reader may rest assured of both the text and the sense of this most impressive testimony to Christ, the importance of which may be in some measure inferred from the evident desire of so many since the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants, without reckoning Arians or Unitarians, who have done what they could to neutralize its force. Thanks be to God who vouchsafes the truth to be in us and to abide with us forever.