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Reflections on Romans 9

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39 (NASB)

That’s how Paul wrapped up the eighth chapter of his Holy Epistle to the Romans (as we count the chapters and verses) and as I recorded in my previous reflection on this letter. Paul is offering a note of comfort and conciliation to his Jesus-believing Gentile readers in Rome that in spite of all the adversity they face, they will never be separated from God’s love through Messiah.

But while Paul wasn’t writing letters in chapters, what we call chapter 9 does seem to start off with a major shift in topic.

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who 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, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5

I’ve always wondered why Paul began this part of his letter by saying he wasn’t lying. Who would have thought, over halfway through reading the epistle, that Paul started being duplicitous or disingenuous?

Of course, there’s this:

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many (tens of) thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

Acts 21:20-21

Paul had enemies in some Jewish communities in the diaspora and they had apparently been spreading rumors that he had been teaching the Jews in the galut that they did not have to follow the Torah of Moses or the traditions of their Fathers. Perhaps some Jews and Gentiles hearing these rumors (and remember, at the point Paul is writing this letter, he’d never been to Rome before so none of the people reading this would likely have met him before) thought they were true. If indeed Paul was following the instructions for teaching the Gentiles formally adopted by the Apostolic Council’s halachic ruling as chronicled in Acts 15, he was teaching the Gentiles that they were not obligated to the yoke of Torah as were the Jewish disciples. I can see where this could have been confusing.

The Jewish PaulBut either through malice or miscommunication, the rumors existed and the Gentile (and Jewish) disciples in Rome may have believed they had good cause to doubt Paul’s affection for his fellow countrymen. So given that Paul’s about to launch into an impassioned plea for unbelieving Jews, a strong preface of “I’m not lying” may have seemed necessary. Of course, all this is guess-work on my part, but as I’ve said before, these “reflections” on Romans are just my impressions at reading the letter “cover-to-cover,” so to speak.

Paul says he’d rather be accursed and separated from Christ. The ESV translation uses “cut off” in place of “separated” which immediately brings to mind the following:

For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people.

Leviticus 18:29

If (and it’s probably a big “if”) the Apostle to the Gentiles meant “cut off” in the sense of the Hebrew word “Karet” as described by Derek Leman, then Paul was indeed saying he was willing to undergo great suffering, complete isolation from Israel, and perhaps even death for the sake of the salvation of some of his brethren in the flesh, that is, for other Jews.

On the heels of that declaration, Paul then says that his unbelieving Jewish brothers (and indeed all Jews) are those to whom belong “adoption as sons,” “the glory and the covenants,” “the giving of the Law (Torah),” “the Temple service,” and “the promises, whose are the fathers.”

In other words, the promises God made to Israel, that is, all Jewish people, as recorded in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (what Jews commonly call the Tanakh and what Christians refer to as the Old Testament), all of them, still belonged to all of Israel, to all Jews from Paul’s point of view as he was writing his letter.

Remember, Paul was writing after the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Messiah, the Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father and who is our High Priest in the Heavenly Tabernacle. Apparently, none of that deleted, watered down, erased, or “fulfilled” any of those aforementioned promises in order to make them go away or to transfer them from Jews to Gentiles.

So if the Jews had all those advantages, why was it so important to Paul that they accept the validity of the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah?

…whose are the fathers, and from whom is he Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:5

What an odd way to end that sentence. What does Christ (Messiah) have to do with everything Paul said in the previous verses?

But now He [Messiah] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

Hebrews 9:6

D.T. LancasterYou’ll have to read my sermon reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s lengthy sermon series on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, particularly Better Promises and Glory to Glory to get the full meaning of what I’m saying here, but a big, big part of those “promises” of “the fathers” (also translated as “the patriarchs”) are the promises of the New Covenant, which Paul has been referencing heavily so far in his letter, a Covenant for which Yeshua is the mediator.

In order to access those promises fully, the next step in Jewish religious life and faith was to acknowledge the revelation of the Messiah and it was so important to Paul that Jewish people do so, that they claim their own heritage, he was willing to voluntarily surrender his part in those promises, including the final and total forgiveness of sins and the resurrection into the Messianic Kingdom.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;  for 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, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Romans 9:6-13

This set of verses has been misused time and again by Christians including those belonging to some portion of the Hebrew Roots movement, to say that Christians are “spiritual Israel” or that Jesus-believing Gentiles actually are Israel in fact.

But hold up there, Tiger. Not so fast.

Verse 6 may say “for they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (and we typically think of “Israel” = “Jacob”), but look at the verses that immediately follow. I suggest that what Paul is actually saying is that not all offspring of Abraham are Israel, but only the descendants of Isaac, the child of the promise (remember, Paul was talking about promises God made to the patriarchs). God loved Jacob but hated Esau. In other words, God loved the child of promise Isaac and Isaac’s child Jacob, but He hated Isaac’s child Esau. Only one of the twins could inherit the promises and that child’s offspring became the Twelve Tribes of Israel who are now the Jewish people.

It has nothing to do with Gentile Christians and only has to do with Gentiles in the sense of the non-inheriting offspring of Abraham and Isaac since their descendants are not Israel, not Jewish.

I think this is Paul’s way of saying that all of the direct descendants of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob are loved because of the promises God made to each of them (see Genesis 12:1-3; 17:21; 22:15-19; 26:2-5; 28:10-17). Those promises and all the other promises God made with Israel were never rescinded, thus they all remained (and still remain to this day) in force, but only for the Israelites.

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

Romans 9:14-18

calvinism vs arminianismI once heard these verses used to support Calvinism or the idea that God selected only specific individuals for salvation from before the creation of the Earth and not others. Since God is sovereign over the universe, He has the right to do this, but was Paul inventing Calvinism in these scriptures?

Look at the context and especially what he wrote above. He’s been talking about how “God loved Jacob” (Israel) and “hated Esau” (the non-children of promise from Abraham and Isaac, and perhaps all pagan peoples descended from them). Is this unfair of God? According to Paul, no. God had/has the right to choose Israel from among all the nations of the Earth for special blessings, promises, and duties (and make no mistake, being the sole objects of the covenants and obligated to their conditions by performing the Torah mitzvot is indeed a challenging set of duties).

Now recall that Paul isn’t writing to the Jews in Rome but to the Gentile believers, very likely because he had heard of some strife between the Gentiles and Jews sharing community space in the Roman synagogues and that the Gentiles might have been getting a bit arrogant in their special status of equal co-participants in Jewish worship life without the obligation to undergo the proselyte rite. I’ve said in previous “reflections” that the non-believing Jews may have been pushing back by emphasizing their special chosen status as Israelites and no doubt that had the intended effect of “stinging” Gentile pride.

I think what Paul is saying here is that God had every right to choose the Israelites for whatever reason or not reason at all, and that God is not being unfair. God can have mercy on who He chooses and there’s nothing we can do to change God’s mind. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh whose heart God hardened during Moses’ numerous appeals to secure freedom for the Israelite slaves, and God did this for His own glory, even though you might think it was unfair, since this hardening ultimately lead to the deaths of many, many Egyptians.

But God is sovereign and Paul is saying because of such, God can choose Israel for special blessings and quite frankly, we Gentiles have nothing to say about it.

I didn’t fail to notice that such a position has applications in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements of today. Many non-Jews involved in each of these two disciplines can sometimes get that “I’m on the outside looking in” feeling when it comes to Talmud study, davening in a minyan, or even reciting the blessings of donning a tallit, that is, those mitzvot that are distinctively Jewish.

Some non-Jews attached to these movements have said it’s unfair for Messianic Jews to withhold the observance of these mitzvot to themselves and have even gone so far as to say that Messianic Jews are exclusivist and racist.

And yet we have Paul strongly stating that God has every right to give the Torah to the Jewish people and not assign the same chosen status to those of us who are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My impression of Paul is that he would have little patience with the demands of such folks.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

Romans 9:19-24

claySo being clay, all of us, in the hands of our molder, that is God, who are any of us to complain if He made some clay Jewish and some clay Gentile? Those He made for “honorable use” (I know this is going to sound unkind) can be compared to the Jewish people, while those made for “common use” are the Gentiles. After all, relative to the entire world population, the Jewish people have always been only a tiny number, apparently reserved for a special use while the rest of us, because we are so many, are more “common.”

I think this was Paul’s message to the Roman Gentile Jesus-believers. He sounds like he was definitely playing “hard ball” in this letter, but since he wasn’t with them in person to emphasize his points, he had to make sure there would be no way his readers could misunderstand him. Going back to that part of the chapter where Paul said he wasn’t lying, maybe he had a good reason to say things in as definite a manner as possible.

Thus the “vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory” to whom God would “make His power known” are the Jewish people, but some of that glory also extends to us, “not from among the Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles.”

This is the hook Paul uses to keep the Gentiles engaged so they wouldn’t be completely put off by everything he just said. Further:

As He says also in Hosea,

“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
“And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold,

“Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity,
We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

Romans 9:25-29

Now Paul flips the Prophets, so to speak, emphasizing where the Gentiles are included in the promises, showing them where they/we are involved. Paul has made his point that the Gentiles can’t assume the role and place of the Jews and now he’s showing the Gentiles where their role and place lies using the relevant scriptures.

Finally (for today’s meditation):

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

There are not two paths to justification and salvation, faith for the Gentiles and the Torah for the Jews. That the Gentiles are not obligated to “pursue righteousness” through the Law in the manner of the Jews but are saved by faith alone, does not make them better or worse than the Jews, but the Jews, having the Torah (pursuing righteousness through the mitzvot), must still walk by faith. If a Jew (as perhaps some of the Roman Jews had been thinking) believed that mitzvot observance alone justified them before God, then the Torah became a “stone of stumbling” and “a rock of offense” for them. Torah doesn’t replace faith, it is by faith that the Jewish people walk the path of Torah.

TorahIf Paul expected both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master to pursue righteousness by observing the same Torah statues and commandments, then he would have said the “stone of stumbling” and the “rock of offense” was for both Jews and Gentiles who lacked faith, but he didn’t. He deliberately juxtaposed the faith of the Gentiles and the Law of the Jews, for it was the Gentiles who were bragging that by faith they were saved and that they had no obligation to the mitzvot, rubbing Jewish noses in Gentile “freedom,” so to speak.

In spite of the differences in role and responsibility between the Jewish and Gentiles disciples, the common denominator, the place where God was totally impartial as far as Israel and the nations were concerned, where He broke down the dividing wall between the two groups (Ephesians 2:14), was that only the faith of Abraham justifies anyone before God. We are all justified by faith in God through the mediator of His promises, Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).

What an illuminating “reflection” Romans 9 turned out to be.

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Reflections on Romans 7

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:20-23 (NASB)

That’s the last set of verses from my previous reflection on Romans. Paul is addressing his Gentile readership in the synagogues in Rome that when they were still pagans, they were slaves to sin but “free” from righteousness, however, as they were deriving benefit from shameful things, the outcome they were facing was death. Coming to righteousness through faith in Jesus (Yeshua), they became freed from sin but enslaved to God resulting in sanctification with the ultimate outcome of eternal life.

Paul states the wages of sin is death. Then he continues:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.

Romans 7:1-3 (NASB)

He’s speaking to those who know the law. Does he mean he’s shifted the focus from Gentiles to Jews? What law? The Torah or the Law of Sin? Let’s look at Paul’s metaphor of the married woman. Let’s say the woman is “married” to a pagan life of sin. She is bound to her “husband” while he lives, but when he dies she’s free to “marry” another. Turn the statement around and you have a person dying to sin and living to righteousness. Turn it around again and if you are married to righteousness and continue to consort with your former “spouse,” to sin, then the “wife” is an adulteress.

The word of the Lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

Hosea 1:1-5 (NASB)

An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.

Matthew 16:4 (NASB)

When the ancient Israelites were disobedient to the commands of God and particularly when they sought after other “gods,” the Almighty referred to them as “adulterous.” In a very real way, the covenant ceremony at Sinai was a “marriage” between God and Israel in which Israel swore an oath of fealty much like a wedding oath. Any time Israel pursued pagan “gods”, they were likened to a harlot or an adulterous wife.

Paul seems to be saying something similar about Gentile believers (assuming he hasn’t shifted audiences in his letter as I suggested above) who have come to faith in Messiah but who continue to go after their former pagan lifestyle…or at least Paul is warning them against such a return. In any event, they should have no reason to return to idolatry.

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Romans 7:4-6 (NASB)

newPaul says his readers have died “to the Law through the body of Christ,” but given the current context, he can’t be talking about the Torah for two reasons. The first is that he’s (most likely) writing to Gentiles so they were never obligated to the mitzvot before coming to faith in Messiah. Pagans don’t observe the Torah of Moses. The second reason is that he is still talking about the “Law of Sin,” not the Torah, so it makes more sense that he is saying these former pagans have “died to the Law (of sin) through the body of Christ,” since as believers, they have shared in Messiah’s death to their former lives even as they share in the promise of eternal life. Now he urges them to “bear fruit for God,” which could be interpreted as performing good works in His Name. Paul keeps toggling back and forth between their former lives under the Law of Sin and Death and their current lives in the “newness of the Spirit.”

“…we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter.”

This suggests to most Christians that the Spirit (and grace) are new and the letter (of the Law/Torah) is old, meaning the Spirit has replaced the Torah. But again, given the context and the main object of Paul’s commentary, it is the oldness of their former lives, the letter of the Law of Sin that is done away with and replaced by the newness of their lives in Christ through the Spirit.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!

Romans 7:7 (NASB)

Paul seems to have made a quick shift in which Law he’s discussing.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Romans 7:7-12 (NASB)

I don’t think we know enough about Paul’s relationship with his audience to understand how they would have followed the shifts of topic in his letter, moving from the Law of Sin to the Law of Moses, but this section seems to clearly be talking about the Torah since it quotes the Torah (“You shall not covet”). Paul actually seems to be talking (still) about both “laws” since one law took the “opportunity through the commandment” to produce coveting “of every kind.” While the commandments of the Torah are designed to produce life, the law of sin produced death. Paul says “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” but when we choose to sin and disobey the commandment, the Law of Sin produces death.

It would seem that once we have a definition of right and wrong, which the Torah provides, we have a clearer choice and as we are brought closer to righteousness by obedience, we must be ever more mindful of the temptation to disobey, to sin, which leads to death. By accepting God’s righteous standards upon our lives, we are more accountable for our behavior (not that pagans won’t be judged in the end) and the higher we climb in our life of faith, the farther we have to fall should be let ourselves be tempted and sin.

Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

Romans 7:13 (NASB)

the-divine-torahBut make no mistake, that accountability has been increased does not mean the Torah is bad. “May it never be!” Sin is bad and the Law of Moses shows us clearly the terrible consequences for sin, which we did not know when we are still slaves to sin. Through the commandment, we see sin for what it really is. Then we have no excuse if we return to sin. We know what we’re doing. Our eyes have been opened.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Romans 7:14-20 (NASB)

Paul is describing the struggles of every person of faith, the struggle between a Heavenly ideal and human fallibility and frailty.

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (NASB)

God obviously expected the Israelites to keep his statutes and judgments and didn’t consider them to be too difficult to observe. More than that, He wanted Israel and their obedience to Him to be an example to the nations around them, to be a light to attract other people groups to Hashem, God of Israel, that they too might believe and obey, for the statutes and judgments are righteous.

But if Paul is writing to a bunch of Gentiles in Roman synagogues who are mixing with Jesus-believing and unbelieving Jews (and maybe getting a little arrogant that they can have equal co-participation in Jewish communal life without undergoing the proselyte rite and converting to Judaism), why is Paul leaning so much on the Torah as the counterpoint to the former pagans’ lives of idol worship and sin?

Of course, as I mention above, the one thing all people of faith have in common is the struggle between our human natures which draw us into sin and our values and ideals which come from God. Even Paul experienced this struggle and it obviously pained him greatly.

But as a man of faith, he could differentiate between the sin in him, that is, his human nature being the cause of his misbehavior, and his will and desire, which was for God.

But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Romans 7:20 (NASB)

We all do what we don’t want to do because sin dwells within us. It always will until the resurrection when we will be perfected in Messiah’s Name by the Holy Spirit.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

WrestlingHere Paul makes it even clearer that he is talking about two different laws, the Law of Moses, which is holy, spiritual, good, and a delight, and the law of sin and death which is waging war within Paul, making him a prisoner of the law of sin. He saw himself as a “wretched man” who could only be set free through “Jesus Christ our Lord,” yet like all of us, he was still standing between serving the law of God with his mind and the law of sin with his flesh.

Remember, Paul didn’t write this epistle with chapters and verses in mind, so even though the chapter ends, Paul’s probably still in the middle of a thought, and if you peek ahead to chapter 8, you’ll see this is correct…

…but that will have to wait until next week. I’m still looking for a way to understand Paul comparing the Torah to the Law of Sin in a letter to a non-Jewish audience. What could he be telling them about their lives in relationship to the Torah?

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Reflections on Romans 6

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:1-4 (NASB)

I realized the other day that I haven’t written one of these “reflections” in a while and thought I should get back to it. Chapter 6 is fairly short so hopefully this will be a short blog post as well (but don’t count on it).

Remember, these “reflections” are just that…a set of impressions I received and took notes on as I was reading Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in a single sitting. I’m not taking a look at the Greek or doing anything in-depth. Take this for what it’s worth.

Since Paul wasn’t creating chapters and verses in this letter, it’s not really fair for me to “review” the Epistle this way, but if I didn’t, I’d have to write one really long blog post, which also wouldn’t be fair (to my poor aching fingers or to you, my readers). So here we are. Paul is continuing the thought he was pursuing at the end (for us) of the previous chapter:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)

This is the comparison and contrast between Adam, the first man, and Jesus (Yeshua) the “antidote” for Adam’s bringing sin into the world. As sin increased, God’s grace increased in proportion to the sin. So then Paul asks (Romans 6:1-2), “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” Even though grace increases as sin increases, this is hardly a reason to continue sinning.

Then Paul gives his reasoning. We were baptized into the death of Messiah and so as he died for our sins, we died to sin.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:5-11 (NASB)

When we became baptized into the name of the Messiah, we entered a unity with him via an oath of fealty, but it seems something even closer. We became united with him in dying, in this case to our old, pagan natures, and resurrected, both as the promise of the physical resurrection of the faithful to come, but also in terms of a change of our natures.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

new heartThis is classic New Covenant language describing how God will circumcise the Jewish heart, write His Torah upon it, and give Israel a new Spirit, all of which will enable the Jewish people to perfectly obey God’s commands and to observe His mitzvot flawlessly.

This, of course, does not happen until the resurrection of the faithful from the dead, so just as Jesus was resurrected in a perfected body, so too will we be resurrected into perfection, not only of our bodies, but our spirits so that we too will be without sin, not only having our past sins completely atoned for, but not sinning in the Messianic Age.

Paul directly ties Messiah’s resurrection into our own resurrected states so our bodies will never die again and in the realization that we are dead, but only to sin.

However, the Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 passages are specifically addressed to Jewish Israel and not to the peoples of the rest of the nations, but Paul is writing to a Gentile audience in his epistle. How do we reconcile this apparent inconsistency? How can Paul apply the writing of Torah on the hearts of Gentiles?

On yesterday’s morning meditation, ProclaimLiberty commented giving part of the answer:

Now that I have addressed the notion of “Torah on the heart” as a covenantal anticipation and partial fulfillment as promised to Jews, how may we envision it having an impact also on non-Jews who attach themselves to the Jewish Messiah? They do not become members of Israel or participants in the covenant per se, and they are not legally obligated by the Torah covenant. Therefore, something must become available to them because of their increasingly close proximity to the knowledge of Torah and its impact on those who actually are members of the covenant. In one other recent post, I invoked the analogy of gentiles entering the Temple’s “court of the gentiles” in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah stipulations for gentiles doing so. I compared the symbolic sacrifice of Rav Yeshua to such sacrifices, but offered in the heavenly sanctuary by Rav Yeshua as a mediating Melchitzedekian priest. Such symbolism reflects the ratification of continual repentance, after which the forgiven offerer learns to walk in newness of life in accordance with HaShem’s guidance (e.g., the aspects of Torah that apply to him or her). In another recent post I addressed the notion of a gentile ‘Hasid and the appropriate reflections of Torah that may be applicable — in which a gentile might become thoroughly immersed in order to experience the same sort of spiritual intimacy with HaShem, and enter into the perceptive environment of the kingdom of heaven in its metaphorical sense in anticipation of its future physical realization. Thus non-Jews would experience spirituality from outside and alongside the covenant in the same manner as intended for Jews inside the covenant.

Sorry for the large block of text but that’s a direct quote.

bedtime-shemaYou can click on the link to see his entire comment, which includes an interesting perspective on Gentiles reciting the Shema. What I get out of it is a way to look at how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant blessings, also being given a new heart and new spirit with the Torah written with us even though the nations aren’t directly addressed in the New Covenant and accounting for variability in application of the Torah to Jewish and Gentiles co-participants.

But that hasn’t happened yet…or has it?

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:11 (NASB)

Paul is saying to his Gentile readers that they are to be “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” right now (as he was writing his letter). That’s not in the future Messianic Era but rather in the present for his audience. But how could Paul expect them to be dead to sin if their hearts were not yet changed and they hadn’t been given a new spirit yet?

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

Acts 10:44-45 (NASB)

OK, so did the Jews and Gentiles have the spirit or not? Clearly they had the spirit but as D.T. Lancaster has said in different sermons in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, the spirit we see given to the Gentiles in Acts 10 and to the Jews in Acts 2 is a pledge or down payment, a mere foretaste of the full filling of the Holy Spirit we will be given when the New Covenant times completely enter our world with Messiah (also see 2 Corinthians 3:3 and Ephesians 1:13-14).

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5:5 (NASB)

The Greek word translated above as “pledge” can also be rendered “down payment,” “deposit,” or “guarantee.” The idea is that we have the spirit, but it’s not nearly as much as we are going to have. It’s like putting a down payment down on a car. You get the use of the car without paying the full price, but with the idea that your down payment is your pledge that you will pay the full amount when it comes due.

So we have a portion of the spirit and perhaps the finger of God is beginning to write the Law on our hearts, but it’s not to the degree that all of the promises are within our grasp yet…we just know by what we have now, we can be assured that the rest will be coming.

Rising IncenseBut even though “the goods” haven’t arrived yet, we are expected to live, to the best of our abilities, as if we have already received everything we were promised. I guess this is the part where the person who gives the down payment on the full amount gets to drive the car right away. God can expect us to behave as if the Law were already within us (as it applies to different populations) even though it isn’t yet. That’s the point of verses 12 through 14 in the current chapter.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Romans 6:15-18 (NASB)

So if we are no longer to consider ourselves slaves to sin, we are to consider ourselves slaves to righteousness. After all, we are always slaves to something, it’s just a matter of choosing our Master.

But it looks like Paul might build some “wiggle room” into this system:

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

Romans 6:19 (NASB)

Paul speaks of “human terms” and “weakness of your flesh” seemingly indicating that we aren’t really “there” yet in terms of the ability to be sinless. He’s also presenting us with a choice given our weaknesses, to chose to present our “members as slaves to lawlessness or slaves to righteousness”. I guess the implication is that prior to becoming disciples of the Master, we really didn’t have a choice. We were slaves to lawlessness being without the Law (or rather slaves to a different law as we’ll see below), that is the Law that leads to sanctification.

But there’s another law to consider:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:20-23 (NASB)

Under the law of sin and death we were free from righteousness, but now under the Law of Righteousness, we are free from sin.

“The wages of sin is death” is the Law of Sin which Paul periodically contrasts with the Law of Righteousness (Torah). If you didn’t know that, then every time Paul writes “law” it would be easy to assume that he’s always talking about the Torah. That, I think, is why many Christians take a dim view of “the Law” since they’ve been taught that the Law brings increased transgression (see Romans 5:20). That’s also why reading the Bible and getting “impressions” or “reflections” as I’m doing is a little dangerous, especially given the various English translations, because Paul’s meaning isn’t always plainly written on the surface of the Bible’s pages. Sometimes you have to dig for what he’s really saying.

brand-new-daySo at the end of this chapter, we’re left in an interesting place. We are baptized into the name of our Master and therefore in unity with him on a very intimate level. Just as he was resurrected into a perfected body, we are to consider ourselves also resurrected as a new person free from sin and a slave to righteousness. The trick is that we have only been given a down payment on the full amount of God’s promises and it’s only that full amount of His Word and Spirit that will truly perfect us.

Nevertheless, we are expected to behave as if we have already received the full gift, even though we must constantly struggle to present ourselves for righteousness and to disdain acts of sin and lawlessness.

One question, in verse 10 when it says “He (Jesus) died to sin once for all,” how could he die to sin if he lived a completely sinless life?

Acting Jewishly But Not Jewish, Part 1

Paul’s “Jewish Assemblies” rather than “Paul’s Gentile Churches”? “Paul’s Jewish non-Jews” instead of “Paul’s Christian Gentiles?”? Paul bringing Non-Jews into “Judaism” rather than into “Christianity”? Am I really going to argue that these are more accurate labels for discussing the non-Jews who Paul brought to faith in Jesus Christ and the gatherings of them with Jews sharing that conviction, as well as the communal ways of life into which Paul sought to enculturate them? “Yes” — and “No.”

Dr. Mark D. Nanos
‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus,’ p.1
forthcoming in The Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (2014)
and presented as a paper at the SBL Annual Meeting in 2013, Baltimore, MD.

Since this cites a portion of Romans 2, it would be prudent to review that part of scripture before proceeding:

For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Romans 2:25-29 (NASB)

How did the Apostle Paul see the distinction between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles in Jewish worship and community space? I’ve written on this topic numerous times, often utilizing the research and publications of both Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm in such “meditations” as Nanos, Paul, and the Consequences of Jewish Identity in Messiah, Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter, and Zetterholm, Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and Some Implications. In this more recent paper by Nanos, one that should be published later this year, we see an interesting development in how Nanos presents Paul relative to Romans. Did Paul see the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah as practicing Judaism or behaving “jewishly” without converting to Judaism or taking on identical obligations and roles with the Jews?

Being identified as a Jew and behaving like a Jew are readily recognized to represent two related yet not identical matters (p.2).

This behavior can be referred to by the adverb “jewishly,” and as the expression “jewishness.” In colloquial terms, one who practices a Jewish way of life according to the ancestral customs of the Jews, which is also referred to as practicing “Judaism”… (p.3).

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

Nanos distinguishes between being born ethnically Jewish and (as a male) being circumcised on the eighth day and acting “jewishly” (the lower-case “j” is used deliberately by Nanos), as having significant overlap, but not precisely being same. Even a Jewish person born of two Jewish parents and circumcised may choose not to observe any of the mitzvot and nevertheless will be considered Jewish, albeit apostate.

A Gentile who chooses to observe some or even all of the Jewish behaviors associated with the mitzvot can be said to be acting “jewishly” or practicing “Judaism,” but that does not mean the person is actually considered Jewish.

But where is the dividing line? How far could a Gentile Jesus-believer go in Paul’s time, and how far can a Gentile Jesus-believer go in our time in “acting Jewishly” without actually being Jewish? Can we use Paul to establish any rules or guidelines for Gentile Christians today who are attracted to Jewish practices or learning and yet do not desire to convert to Judaism because of their Christian faith?

Because ethnic identity (Jew/s) and ethnic thinking and behavior (Jewish / jewishly / jewishness / Judaism) are clearly related, but not synonymous, interchangeable terms, an interesting phenomenon arises when seeking to describe groups as Jewish. Although “Jewish” can be and is most often used to refer to Jews specifically, and thus gatherings of Jews: they are Jewish, the Jewish people, a Jewish service, and so on, as we will see, “Jewish” can also refer to groups or activities that include non-Jews: that group is Jewish, although it includes non-Jews who appear to think and behave like Jews (p. 6).

Nanos could easily be describing almost any synagogue I’ve ever been in. I’m a Christian married to a Jew. It’s very common to find a mixed Jewish/Gentile group in our local Reform/Conservative synagogue and of course at the Chabad, a number of intermarried couples attend, and yet both venues are undeniably Jewish. The same may be said for some Messianic Jewish synagogues that have at least a core population and leadership of Jews but that also houses a large number of Gentiles who are involved in Jewish practices, such as listening to the Torah readings, davening from a siddur, praying in Hebrew, and so forth.

In all of the contexts listed in the above paragraph, the participating Gentiles can be considered as acting “jewishly” within a Jewish community while remaining fully Gentile. But as I said before, how far can we take the concept of “Gentile jewishness” and consider it a valid method of “practicing Judaism?”

orthodox-talmud-studyAlmost two years ago, I stopped searching for an identity and declared myself a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism. While my practice isn’t all too “Jewish” (or “jewish”), my thought processes, study materials, and some of my study methods borrow heavily from traditional Judaism.

Of course, I can be a Gentile studying Judaism in the same sense as a 21st century American studying 16th century Greek cuisine. I don’t have to be the thing that I’m studying. Learning the typical dishes of Greece of the 1700s doesn’t require that I be Greek.

But it’s a little different in the world of religion and religious lifestyle. I could study Torah as an abstract collection of knowledge the way some people study the Bible as literature or as history, but the Bible is unique and the Torah is designed to change lives. To be a Gentile student of Messianic Judaism involves not only specific study methods and materials but the required context in which to live it all out.

To continue from Nanos:

What if a group mostly made up of non-Jews with some Jews in leadership behaves jewishly? What if it is made up exclusively of non-Jews yet founded or advised by Jews? What if it consists of only non-Jews and functions independent of any Jews and yet bases its thinking and behavior on Jewish Scriptures, traditions and ways of life? (pp. 6-7)

As I read these passages from the Nanos paper, I can’t help but see a progression from Messianic Judaism (MJ) into Hebrew Roots (HR). The closer the Gentile is to the MJ side of the scale, in a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles to a group of Gentiles with a core leadership of Jews or even arguably, a group of only Gentiles that is advised and guided by Jewish mentors, that group is or could be considered “Jewish” or at least perceived correctly as acting “jewishly”.

However, once to you approach the opposite side of the scale, which would be defined by a group made up exclusively of Gentiles with only Gentiles in leadership, even if they are using Jewish educational materials and religious artifacts (siddurs, kippahs, Tallits, the Chumash, and so on), that group may still appear to be acting “jewishly,” but they are not a Jewish group. They can study Judaism, but they aren’t a Judaism, thus a group made up exclusively of Gentiles with no ties to Jewish oversight cannot, in this paradigm, call itself “Messianic Judaism” and is better defined as “Hebrew Roots” or by some other label.

This directly reflects back to the communities Paul established or in which he was involved such as the “synagogue of the Way” in Syrian Antioch (see Zetterholm’s The Formation of Christianity in Antioch as well as Nanos’ The Mystery of Romans).

The level of “jewishness” practiced by Gentile disciples of the Master may have been in direct proportion to the involvement and influence of Jesus-believing Jews operating in the same religious and social community. The less influence exerted by Jewish mentors on the Gentiles, the less “jewish” were the behaviors and lifestyles of the Gentiles.

The Jewish PaulWe see something of this in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Historically, we know that for a time, Jews were banned from Rome. Prior to that event, there were both Gentiles and Jews who co-mingled as disciples of Jesus. Once the Jews were banned and (presumably) Rome was without a Jewish population, the Gentiles became solely in charge of their own social and religious dynamic, including how “jewishly” they chose to behave. When the Jews were allowed to return and attempted to resume their prior relationship with the Gentiles in Messiah, they discovered the Gentiles were riding on their “high horses,” so to speak, pushing back against Jewish synagogue authority and even criticizing the Jews for lack of strict adherence to Jewish Torah practice.

The chapter (Romans 2) within which this text appears begins with a challenge to anyone judging others, based on the argument that the very act of knowing there is a standard to which the other is held logically involves knowing that one has also failed to achieve it. Realizing that God is the judge who is fully aware of both one’s own intentions and actions as well as that of one’s neighbors, the message Paul drives home is to focus on one’s own responsibilities to do what is required of one, to judge oneself and leave the judging of others to the Judge… (p.19)

And again, Nanos states:

Paul’s argument is constructed to encourage non-Jews to avoid making the same mistake they are quick to recognize in this diatribal caricature. Paul calls them to concentrate on being faithful to what they are responsible to do in service instead of judgment toward the other, including the one who may be judging them… (p. 31)

Nanos is specifically referencing Romans 2:25-29 which I quoted at the top of this blog post, and is saying that those Gentiles who were choosing to judge their Jewish counterparts for any errors or lapses in Torah observance would be better advised to pay attention to their own responsibilities and let the Righteous Judge of Israel judge Israel.

Which, given the current conversation, begs the question of what behaviors of theirs should the Gentiles in Rome have been attending to? Put another way, should the Roman Gentile disciples have been paying attention to the proper execution of their “jewish” behaviors? What does it mean to “concentrate on being faithful to what they are responsible to do?”

Paul argued that these uncircumcised non-Jews were full and equal members of the family of God alongside of the Jewish members, indeed, equally children of Abraham and co-heirs of the promises made to him and his seed, not simply welcome guests (p. 7).

That sounds good but it doesn’t complete the picture.

In the next argument, vv. 12-16, Paul makes it plain that God judges according to the faithful behavior, which is not expected to represent precisely the same standards for Jews and non-Jews; indeed, each is held to the standard of what they know to be proper behavior (p. 19). (emph. mine)

studying_tanakh_messiahSeveral chapters in Romans seem to toggle back and forth between the responsibilities of Jews and Gentiles relative to God and the potential for hypocrisy among the Jews who claim the advantages of being Jewish but who, while teaching the Gentiles what is proper for God (for Gentiles), fail themselves to perform what is proper before God (for Jews). It should have been fairly clear to the Jewish people involved what their roles and responsibilities were, but were the Gentiles just supposed to “wing it,” hoping to know what is right and wrong?

We know that Paul had certain expectations of the Gentiles. Although he opposed Gentiles in Christ from undergoing the proselyte rite, he also discouraged them from continuing any idolatrous practices (Rom 3:29–4:25; 6; 1 Cor 7:17-22; Gal 4:8-10; 1 Thess 1:9-10).

Of the Gentiles taught by Paul, Nanos says:

Paul was exhorting non-Jews turning to God in Christ to seek to discover within themselves the noble values of jewishness, what being a Jew ideally signifies. They should learn to internalize jewishness as the highest value for themselves, albeit remaining non-Jews… (p. 32). (emph. mine)

But here’s a strong caveat:

His letters consist precisely of instruction in the Jewish way of life for non-Jews who turn to Israel’s God as the One God of all the nations; he enculturates them into God’s Guidance (Torah) without bringing them under Torah technically, since they do not become Jews/Israel. They are non-Jews who are learning, by way of Paul’s instructions, to practice Judaism! (p. 33) (emph. mine)

I can see where you might think all this is as clear as mud.

How can Gentiles learn to draw their values from Judaism and even practice Judaism to the degree that outside observers would say the Gentiles are acting “jewishly” and yet still operate under an overlapping but distinct set of standards from the Jews, not be considered under the Torah, and not be considered either Jews or Israel?

From the Didache (6:2), it is said:

For, on the one hand, if you are able to bear
the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect;
but if, on the other hand, you are not able,
that which you are able, do this.

quoted from The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary, pg 19
by Aaron Milavec

The Didache is considered a set of formalized instructions for Gentile initiates who were seeking to become disciples of Jesus. The document is traced to the second century C.E. and probably represents an earlier form of oral instructions and traditions, possibly originating with the Apostles or their immediate disciples. These standards would have been the basis Jewish mentors used to train the Gentile initiates in preparing them to become baptized and enter into their role as disciples.

beth immanuelFrom here we see that it is likely the Gentiles were encouraged to bear “the whole yoke of the Lord” Torah, in order to be “perfect,” but if they were not able, it was allowable that they should perform whatever was within their capacity. Again, please keep in mind, that a Gentile acting “jewishly” was both voluntary and was designed to occur within a Jewish communal context.

Given space limitations and the patience of those of you reading this, I’m going to stop here and pick it up in a subsequent blog post. There’s still much to explore about a Gentile acting “jewishly” in ancient times and what happens when he or she is outside a Jewish space. Also, what are the implications for those of us today who are Gentiles who study Messianic Judaism, both inside a Jewish context and outside?

Addendum: I’ve published the second part of this two-part series including a correction to some mistakes I’ve made in part one. I want to thank Dr. Mark Nanos for bringing what I’ve misunderstood about his paper to my attention and allowing me the opportunity to fix my mistakes.

Reflections on Romans 5

Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 4:19-5:2 (NASB)

Remember, Paul wrote this letter without chapters and verses in mind. He was trying to express a unified set of thoughts to his audience who were, most likely, the believing Gentiles associating with believing and unbelieving Jews in the Roman synagogues.

In my previous reflection, I focused a great deal on how, for a Jewish Jesus-believer, there was/is no inconsistency between Torah and faith. For that matter, there’s no inconsistency for a non-Jewish Jesus-believer between faith and obedience, either.

But there was a lot of misunderstanding going on (apparently) in the Roman Jesus-believing community on both sides of the aisle. The Gentiles somehow felt they were superior to the non-believing Jews in that they were granted access to Jewish worship and social space as equal co-participants without having to undergo the proselyte rite and take up the full yoke of Torah in the manner of the Jews. The non-believing Jews pushed back by declaring themselves superior as possessors of the “oracles of God” and how by just being ethnic Jews they were justified before God.

There is also some indication that at least some Jews may have mistakenly thought that because their faith in Yeshua (Jesus) justified them, they were more like the Gentiles and did not have to follow a strict observance of the mitzvot.

Paul was trying to straighten out his audience orient them to the importance of both obedience due to covenant obligation and being justified only by faith.

Now we see Paul continuing to make this point, emphasizing how Gentiles could also be included in the covenant blessings by faith but not have to take up all of the Jewish covenant obligations. The one commonality between the Jewish and Gentile believers was/is that they were/are all justified by faith and granted “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification by faith is what made Gentile participation in the covenant blessings possible without conversion to Judaism and remember, they were justified by faith alone, so even if they voluntarily chose to take on additional mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, it would not increase their justification or otherwise grant them greater merit before God.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB)

Receiving the SpiritNotice that justification by faith includes the hope we have in the New Covenant as evidenced by one of the “down payments” of the New Covenant promises, the Holy Spirit “who was given to us.” That takes us back to Acts 2 when the Jewish Apostles received the Spirit in the upper room (in an act reminiscent of the giving of Torah at Sinai), and Acts 10 with the occasion of the Spirit being given to faithful Gentiles, the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his entire household.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

Romans 5:6-9 (NASB)

But we are justified by faith, not just in God, but in who Jesus is and what he represented as the final sacrifice we’d ever need for the forgiveness of our sins. God loves us all even in our sins, and desires that we repent, take up our faith and cross, and follow our King.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:13 (NASB)

Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to point out that sacrifice (observance) alone does not justify, and also that he came for the sinners, the disobedient and faithless of Israel, to bring them back to God, to redeem Israel. It is believed, contrary to Christian thought, that the general Jewish population in Israel during the late second Temple period maintained a high level of Torah study and observance, higher than previous points in the nation’s history, but it was the sin of baseless hatred that resulted in the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people. It was this hatred among the Jews the Messiah was addressing (Remember what I’ve said in the past…these are just my “reflections” as I’ve read through Romans as associated with previously acquired information…it’s not a researched and annotated doctoral dissertation).

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

Luke 1:5-6 (NASB)

As you can see, there were likely many righteous people in Israel, including Zacharias the Priest and his wife Elisheva (Elizabeth). We may never know how many among Israel were at their level of spiritual enlightenment since as the Master said, he came for the “lost sheep of Israel,” and not for the righteous who did not need to repent of baseless hatred.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11 (NASB)

The Death of the MasterOur hope isn’t just in the atonement provided for mankind by the death of the tzaddik, but in the resurrection and the life, for even as we die with him, we rise with him from the tomb as new creations and have the hope of life eternal in the Kingdom of Messiah, a Kingdom of utter peace and tranquility. We are no longer enemies of God but sons and daughters by adoption, Gentiles who are now included in the blessings alongside God’s people Israel.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:12-14 (NASB)

This admittedly is difficult for me to grasp. Paul is introducing something new which seems to be the origin of sin. It came into the world because of the disobedience of Adam, the willful disregard to the one and only negative commandment that existed in the world at that time.

It wasn’t just disobedience that was the sin but the lack of faith that rested behind it. Although the commandment to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not directly imparted to Havah (Eve), Adam allowed her to consume the fruit and then willfully ate it as well.

But then Paul says that there is no sin “when there is no law,” which I assume is Torah and it defines obedience and disobedience, and yet between Adam and Moses there was still sin and death.

Different translations of Romans 5:13 state “but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law” (NIV), “but sin is not counted where there is no law” (ESV), and “but no record of sin is kept when there is no Law” (ISV), basically saying the same thing.

I have a hard time depending on Christian commentary to guide me here since most or all of them draw a hard line between Torah and grace, believing the latter has replaced the former for Jewish believers (and everyone else). However the commentary from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on this verse states in part:

…but sin is not imputed when there is no law. This looks like an objection, that if there was no law before Moses’s time, then there was no sin, nor could any action of man be known or accounted by them as sinful, or be imputed to them to condemnation; or rather it is a concession, allowing that where there is no law, sin is not imputed; but there was a law before that law of Moses, which law was transgressed, and the sin or transgression of it was imputed to men to condemnation and death, as appears from what follows.

NoahFrom this I gather that there were actually standards for sin and righteous for mankind prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai but that the Torah defined heightened responsibilities specifically for the Children of Israel. This suggests that the rest of humanity still operated under the older standards and, given a more Jewish perspective, that said-standards for the nations were the Noahide Laws we see God issuing in Genesis 9.

Of course there were no Noahide Laws prior to Genesis 9, so there must have been some sort of standards in place between Adam and Noah. These standards are hinted at (how did Abel know about animal sacrifice and how did Noah know what a clean animal was?) but never listed in the Bible.

But what about the next verse?

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:14 (NASB)

Death continued between Adam and the time of the giving of Torah at Sinai because of the continuation of sin, and presumably it continued after that and continues to this day, if we’re talking about bodily death (and since Paul has been talking about the bodily resurrection up to this point, I think it likely). Mankind would have remained accountable to God under Genesis 9 covenant and its conditions, then with Moses and the Torah, Israel was elevated to a much higher place in terms of blessings, responsibilities, and curses.

In a way, this put the Israelites in a rather unenviable position, because the conditions of obeying God, the Torah mitzvot, were so many, so complicated, and so much more involved than the Noahide commandments, that they had to do a lot more work to maintain their covenant relationship with God.

Of course, there are also terrific blessings attached to Israel’s covenant with God including having God dwell among His people in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. But the Temple and the sacrificial system was never designed to permanently remove sin from the Israelites, or for that matter, the rest of humanity (even though the prayers and sacrifices of Gentiles were acceptable in the Temple).

And who is this “who is a type of Him who was to come?” Apparently, according to various translations and commentaries, it’s Messiah. Adam was the first man and the first to sin, the prototype of sinful mankind, but also the prototype human being as the first created man. Yeshua, as Messiah, sent to be the hope of humanity, is sort of an “anti-Adam,” one who entered the world perfect, just like Adam, but unlike Adam, one who never sinned even though sorely tempted.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:15-17 (NASB)

Paul continues his theme of the duality of Adam and Jesus, the transgression of Adam and the free gift of grace through Christ. Adam’s faithlessness and disobedience condemned humanity to sin and death and Messiah’s faithfulness and obedience, even to the point of death, reverses that curse…or rather, it will.

exileLet me explain.

Sin and death are still in the world, even for Christians. Believers still sin. We’re not perfect (or perfected). And believers still die. But if we are faithful and obedient, we will not be dead forever, and when we are resurrected, we will be resurrected as perfected people. God will heal our physical imperfections but more importantly, He will heal our hearts and write His Word upon them, so it will be natural for us to obey and not sin, even as it is now human nature to disobey.

That is why Jesus is our hope because he is the hope of our future perfection and the redemption of the world, all through God’s covenant with Abraham, then with Isaac, then with Jacob, and then the Sinai covenant with the tribes that issued from Jacob, the Israelites, and with their descendants, the Jewish people. Salvation for the rest of the world comes from the Jews (John 4:22) and from their King Messiah.

Jesus reverses the curse that Adam initiated.

Paul calls all this a “free gift,” and I admit to having a bit of a problem with the wording.

It’s true that we don’t have to do anything to produce this solution to the problem Adam introduced into the world, and it’s true that we didn’t even ask for it, and it’s true that we don’t and in fact we can’t pay a price to purchase this gift. On the other hand, we still have to do something. We have to choose. We have to hear the “good news,” and we have to listen, and we have to allow the Holy Spirit to influence us, and then we have to repent and accept the Lordship and rule of Messiah over our lives.

And then we enter into discipleship, start studying, and finally realize what all that actually means. Then we realize what it is to accept Jesus as Lord and oh boy, it’s not as easy as we were led to believe by whoever evangelized us.

Then and only then comes the hard part. Living the life of a disciple and a slave with Jesus as Lord and Master…yeah, Master like Master over a slave. Living the life of a slave with Jesus as our Master, surrendering any priority over our life to him and making all of his priorities our priorities.

Do you do that all the time, 24/7/365? Really? Are you sure?

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)

It sounds like Paul is getting a little repetitive, but then he says the “Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” God introduced the Torah to Israel to increase their sin? That seems odd. The Torah lists the conditions of the Sinai covenant between Israel and God, a covenant which says God will be Israel’s God and they will be His people and that they agree to obey a certain set of conditions listed in the Torah. If they don’t, and disobedience (sin) is also defined in Torah, then the curses laid out in the Torah will be applied to Israel. If they continue to obey, the blessings, which are also spelled out in the Torah, will be applied.

So how does all that “increase sin” and especially for the whole world since the Sinai covenant and its conditions (Torah) only apply to Israel?

Is there some other “Law” that Paul could be talking about in this context?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (NASB)

There is what’s called “the Law of Sin” which the above-quoted verse defines, but that doesn’t seem to fit the context. However, it also makes no sense at all for God to give the Torah to Jews at Sinai just to increase their culpability for sin so that in their sins, God could demonstrate how much they needed His grace, send Jesus to die for their sins, and replace the Law with grace.

sefer torahThe only way I can see how the Torah could “increase sin” is that it raised the bar quite a bit for the Children of Israel relative to the rest of mankind. It certainly increased the chances of any given Jewish person to come into transgression. After all, it’s no sin for me to not wear tzitzit but it is for a Jewish person (man). It’s no sin for me to eat a pork chop (although I don’t) but it is for a Jewish person. Even as a Christian and the receiver of many blessings through Israel’s covenants with God, I’m still not held accountable to as high a standard of behavior as my wife (who is Jewish), at least not this side of the Messianic Kingdom.

But if Gentile believers are the primary audience of this letter, what does Paul mean? I suspect the answers may be yielded in the next chapter and in next week’s edition of my “reflections.”

Reflections on Romans 4

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?

Romans 4:1 (ESV)

Remember that in my reflection on Romans 3, Paul was toggling back and forth between Jewish obligation to the Law (Torah) and justification by faith, making sure that his audience, probably Jewish and Gentile believers in the synagogues in Rome (but talking about Gentile relationships with non-Jesus-believing Jews), understood the proper association, that Jews had many advantages including those Jews who had not yet come to faith in Messiah Yeshua, (Christ Jesus) but that only faith ultimately justifies one before the Almighty.

It must have been a struggle, especially for the Gentile Jesus-believers, to comprehend the relationship between faith and Torah observance. My reading of Romans tells me that these Gentiles might have been getting pretty arrogant, especially in relationship with the non-Jesus-believing Jews they encountered, because they had the Torah but not faith in Messiah. The Gentiles may have concluded that they were justified before God as were their Jewish Jesus-believing counterparts, but not the non-believing (in Jesus) Jews. After all, keeping the Law doesn’t justify.

Paul was trying to correct the error of the Gentiles’ thinking. Christians today tend to mess this up as well, but if we apply Paul to today’s Jewish communities, we see they too must have many advantages, and that God has not abandoned them or replaced them with the Church or even with the community of Jesus-believing Messianic Jews.

Chapter four sees Paul continuing to make his point and expand upon it.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…

Romans 4:1-5 (NASB)

Paul continues to state that Abraham wasn’t justified by what he did, by any works, including circumcision, he was justified by faith and his faith was credited to him as righteousness, even as faith is credited to his readers and to us as disciples of the Master.

But that didn’t mean Abraham wasn’t subject to behavioral expectations by God. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have to obey:

So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.

Genesis 12:4-5 (NASB)

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

Genesis 22:1-8 (NASB)

Abraham was faithful to God and obeyed him, even at great personal cost. Picture what it must be like to, at the word of God, pack up your family and all your possessions and head out in a direction with no stated destination in sight.

The AkedahBut that pales in comparison to the commandment to take your son and serve him up on the altar like a lamb to slaughter. As a father and grandfather, I can only imagine how Abraham’s heart must have been in anguish at knowing not only that his son would die, but that he would have to bind him and kill him with a knife.

Midrash says that Abraham believed that God would allow the sacrifice of Isaac but that God would resurrect him. However, the Torah is silent about this area of Abraham’s thoughts, so we’ll never be sure this side of Messiah what Abraham did and didn’t believe.

We only know that out of faith in God, he obeyed. Thus we can’t say that faith replaces obedience, only that it precedes it. From this I extrapolate that Paul is saying once justified by faith, Jews are expected to continue to observe the mitzvot and that in fact, their observance will have more depth of meaning because of faith.

But there’s something else:

David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

Romans 4:6-12 (NASB)

In short, the forgiveness of sins is by faith, not by performance of the mitzvot, thus both Jews and Gentiles receive forgiveness by their faith and the Gentiles don’t have to be concerned that their sins will be counted against them if they don’t also observe the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews.

Remember I said that I thought the Gentiles were probably getting arrogant in their status of saved by faith apart from the Torah? It’s possible that the non-believing (in Jesus) Jews were “pushing back” with their advantage as Jews, having the Torah, the oracles of God, and maybe getting back at the Gentiles among them by pointing out what the Jews had that the Gentiles would never have.

If indeed there was a “war of egos” going on between the Jesus-believing Gentiles and the non-Jesus-believing Jews (with the Jesus believing Jews caught in the middle), then each party would be pressing their own perceived advantage against the other. Paul’s writing this letter to even things out. He’s saying that yes, non-Messianic Jews continue to have the advantages under the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants, but that under one of the blessings of Abraham, it is faith that removes sin for all, not Torah observance, so everyone who has faith will be saved.

DaveningAlso remember that the non-believing (in Jesus) Jews weren’t faithless. They had faith, probably great faith, not in Jesus being Messiah but rather in Hashem, God of Creation, Master of Legions. Yes, faith in Messiah as the first fruits of the dead is the next logical, historical, and Biblical step in Jewish faith in God and the advancement of God’s plan to bring the New Covenant into the world, but non-believing (in Jesus) Jews were not totally abandoned by God, nor were they bereft of His compassion.

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Romans 4:13-15 (NASB)

This sounds like one of those either/or statements about faith being good and the Law bringing wrath, but what about the Law brings wrath?

If someone depended on their behavior alone with no faith in God and with the absence of intent to serve God, the response would be wrath, for without faith, no one can be saved from the consequences of their sin and from God’s righteous judgment. Yes, the Jews had the promises and they were (and are) heirs to the Land of Israel, but if observance is what you believe justifies you before God, then “faith is null,” as Paul wrote. Of course, the other side of that wrath is a Jew who claims to have faith in God but who is not observant. The Torah is clear about the consequences of disobedience or abandoning God’s Law for a Jew. But what about Gentiles in Messiah?

We see that there are two standards of judging obedience. They may overlap, but they’re hardly identical. If the Gentile disciples of the Master were not expected to observe the Torah in the manner of the Jews as per the legal ruling of the Council of Apostles and Elders (see Acts 15), then those without the Law (Torah), that is, the Gentile disciples, are not under the wrath of the Law. They are not expected to obey thus if they fail to observe the mitzvot, there is no transgression.

But as I said above, the other wrinkle is that even if a Jew has great faith and is justified before God, if he or she does not observe the Torah commandments (the conditions of fulfilling the Sinai Covenant), imagining somehow that they are like the Gentiles (and I can imagine that a few Jews may have taken this as Paul’s meaning), then that Jewish person would be under condemnation. Abandoning the Torah is written all over the history of the Israelites.

But to the wicked God says,
“What right have you to tell of My statutes
And to take My covenant in your mouth?
“For you hate discipline,
And you cast My words behind you.”

Psalm 50:16-17 (NASB)

Just to show you that I’m not making up the idea that a Jew could misunderstand Paul’s intent in teaching Jewish Torah obligation and Gentile non-obligation…

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

Acts 21:20-21 (NASB)

Apparently some Jewish people got the idea that because Paul was teaching the Gentiles that they did not have to observe the Torah commandments (Moses) and they didn’t have to circumcise their sons, that Paul was also teaching the Jews the diaspora the same thing. Maybe some Jews reading Paul’s letters or hearing him teach actually thought he was applying the same “freedom” he was preaching to the Gentiles to Jewish believers in Yeshua.

Here was James’ solution to the problem and his attempt to clarify what Paul was really doing:

Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

Acts 21:23-25 (NASB)

The Jewish PaulPaul was to pay the expenses of four Jewish men under a vow (probably a Nazarite vow) in order to graphically illustrate that he continued to observe the mitzvot and that there was nothing to the erroneous rumors about him teaching “lawlessness” to diaspora Jews. Verse 25 presents the distinction for the Gentile believers, citing the Acts 15 letter, which limits the observance of the Messianic Goyim to a subset of the commandments.

Thus Paul was not teaching Jews that their level of observance was reduced to that of the Gentile disciples but rather, Paul remained a Torah-observant Jew teaching other Jews to keep to the commandments while at the same time, teaching the Gentile disciples a different or overlapping set of observances that were not nearly as strict or involved.

No wonder the Romans letter seems so difficult to follow. Paul was trying to explain circumstances that were (and are) very difficult to understand.

The common denominator for Jews and Gentiles in Messiah is faith. Faith justifies, makes one righteousness, and erases all guilt of sin (after repentance, of course), and only afterward are we to live a life of obedience by faith. Only then will God judge our hearts and hold us accountable to the level of our observance as specifically assigned to Jew or Gentile.

I know I’m going to get some “push back” for all that, but it’s the only way to explain what Paul is saying that makes any sort of sense to me.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”

Romans 4:16-18 (NASB)

Like I said, faith is the common denominator in accordance with grace. Abraham has two lines of descendants, those who are of the Law, that is, the Jewish people, and those who are of the faith of Abraham, that is, the Gentile believers. This isn’t to say that the Jews have only the Law and Gentiles are the ones with all the faith. Like I said, faith is the common link between Jews and Gentiles. But we Gentiles are joined to the covenant blessings by faith and we do not have the Law.

The Law, that is, the Torah, the conditions of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel, is particularly identifying of Jews. That’s why (in my opinion), Paul structured his sentence as he did. The Jews are the ones whose obligations to God are specifically defined in the Torah. The Gentiles, by contrast, are specifically identified, not by the Law obviously, but as children of Abraham by faith alone. The Gentile behavioral conditions are summarized in the Acts 15 letter. Remember, the Jews were also physically children of Abraham, so they had their link back to the Patriarch both by faith and by bloodline. Gentiles are Abraham’s children by faith alone. This is how Abraham would be the father of the Jews but also the “father of many nations.”

sarah and isaacThe final verses of this chapter pull Paul’s points together, citing Abraham’s faith in the promise of an offspring, even in the face of both his and Sarah’s great age, and repeating that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Paul then points all this back to Jesus, the keeper of the New Covenant promises, the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16; 3:29), the one God raised from the dead, the one who was delivered over to sinful men for the transgressions of the world, for the sake of the Jews but also the Gentiles, that through faith in him and the resurrection, we have the hope of living in the New Covenant age, in an age of peace and tranquility, in an age without strife or sin, with Messiah the King.