Rebuttal of the nomist critique, 6:1-11:36

5. The vindication of grace, 9:1-11:36

Introduction: The tragic riddle of Israel's unbelief


In this, Paul's fifth rebuttal argument against the nomist critique, Paul argues that Israel's failure to appropriate God's promised blessings does not invalidate his word of grace, namely, the gospel mediated by Paul. "Don't even think for a moment that God's word of grace has malfunctioned!", 9:6a. Many Jews have failed to accept "God's word", the gospel of grace, but this doesn't mean that this gospel is somehow flawed.


i] Context: See 6:1-14. In this, Paul's fifth rebuttal argument against the nomist critique, Paul introduces the subject of the seeming failure of the gospel of grace, with respect to God's historic people Israel, in 9:1-5: "the plight, v1-3, and the privileges of Israel, v4-5", Dumbrell. He then in v6a sets out his proposition upon which his argument is based; Don't even think for a moment that God's word of grace has malfunctioned. Paul then advances his argument in three steps covering 9:6b-11:32, with a conclusion in 11:33-36. The three elements of Paul's argument are as follows:

Not all Jews are part of God's true Israel; it is the remnant according to grace that realizes Israel's hope, 9:6b-29;

National Israel is blinded to the gospel by the heresy of nomism; Israel's present condition of unbelief is due to its own pursuit of law-righteousness, 9:30-10:21;

Inevitably grace will be vindicated in that Israel's present state of unbelief does not annul God's promises - a representative Israel will be saved, 11:1-32.


ii] Background: See 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: This passage, serving to introduce Paul's fourth rebuttal argument against the nomist critique, presents as follows:

Introduction, v1-5:

The plight of Israel, v1-3;

The privileges of Israel, v4-5.

The Proposition, v6a:

Don't even think for a moment that God's word of grace has malfunctioned.


iv] Thesis: See 3:21-31.


v] Interpretation:

Paul's argument in chapters 9 to 11: The function of these chapters within Paul's letter to the Romans, has prompted ongoing debate. Some commentators treat these chapters as an "excursus", "a kind of postscript", an appendix dealing with the "Jewish question", (Augustine, Sanday and Headlam, Dodd, Lloyd-Jones, Beker, ...). On the other hand, most modern commentators argue that these chapters are either "the climax of Romans", Stendahl (Ellison, Sanders, Beker, Moo, Johnson, ...), or an integral element of Paul's advancing argument (Dunn, Barrett, Morris, Fitzmyer [3rd and last element in the doctrinal section of the letter, 1 to 11, "justification and salvation through faith do not contradict God's promises to Israel of old"], Schreiner, Cranfield, Jewett [the 3rd proof, of four proofs, of the gospel as the embodiment of the righteousness of God, namely, "the triumph of divine righteousness in the gospel's mission to Israel and the Gentiles"]), or even the key to understanding the letter as a whole; "if we can understand Romans 9-11 correctly, we shall be better able to understand the rest of the letter", O'Neill (Baur, who argued that these chapters were the hermeneutical center of the whole epistle). Cranfield argues that "many features of chapters 1 to 8 ... are not understood in full depth until they are seen in the light of chapters 9 to 11". In fact Morris argues that "Paul's whole argument demands an examination of the Jewish question".

So then, what prompts this clarification, or step in Paul's advancing argument? A number of possibilities have been suggested:

a) Theological.

It is possible that Paul wants to underscore the faithfulness of God to his promises, answering the question "has God's word failed?" which promises seem not to have worked out with regard to Israel, cf. Dunn;

Paul may wish to provide a "more precise identification" of God's new covenant community, the "remnant chosen by grace", which community will indeed include many Jews like Paul, cf. Dumbrell.

b) Pastoral. Paul may well be prompted more by pastoral concerns than theological ones; the "equality of Jew and Gentile in God's plan", Dumbrell, occasioning a proper regard for Israel and an acceptance of the "weak" (Jewish believers / law-bound believers) by the "strong" (faith-bound believers - mainly Gentiles), cf., ch.14-15.

c) Personal. Paul may well be emoting, such that his "reflections of the place of Israel in God's purposes", Davies, are driven by his desire that Israel be saved; a problem that was for Paul "of intense personal concern", Bruce. "He came to his own home and his own people received him not. This is the problem Paul wrestles with in chapters 9-11", Hunter.

d) Apologetic. Jeremias argued that in these chapters Paul is responding to the criticism that he is anti-Jewish. To convince Jews (Jewish believers?) "that his ministry was pro-Jewish as well as pro-Gentile", Osborne, Paul sets out to establish two positive truths, first, "the Gentiles owe their salvation to the rejection of Israel" and second, "in the long term, God's purposes embrace His own people", Black.

It is not hard to imagine that Paul was motivated by all of the above. He is clearly not wanting to increase the divide between "the weak" (nomist believers, most of Jewish stock with some Gentile disciples) and "the strong" (most being Gentiles). He is clearly distressed that his fellow Jews have, for the most part, rejected the gospel. He is also sensitive to the criticism that he is now anti-Jewish. Yet, it is likely that chapters 9-11 serve to advance his argument and that therefore is theological in nature.

The most commonly accepted approach is that having detailed the consequential blessings of justification, Paul now addresses an obvious question: How can we be sure of these promises when the divine Abrahamic promises seem unfulfilled? Has not God abandoned national Israel? If God's covenant promises to Israel are unfulfilled, how can we be sure they will be fulfilled for us, the children of faith? Has not the Abrahamic covenant failed, 9:6a?

Although a valid question, it seems likely that it is not a question addressed by these three chapters. What seems more likely is that have here a continuation of Paul's refutation of the nomist critique. Paul is engaged in a contest between two gospels and he now determines to vindicate the gospel of grace. Paul's word of grace has made little impact on Judaism, whereas the members of the circumcision party, the nomists, with their commitment to Israel's institutions, particularly the Torah / the law of Moses, were gaining traction, not only in the Jewish community, but amongst the Gentiles. They had even added Pharisee converts to the church in Jerusalem, cf. Acts 15:5. For the nomists, Paul's gospel of righteousness through faith apart from law, not only undermined the pursuit of holiness, and thus blessing, it was divisive and alienated the faithful children of Israel. To this critique Paul declares "don't even think for a moment that God's word of grace ("my gospel"!!!) has malfunctioned!", 9:6a. Israel's failure to accept "God's word", the gospel of grace, has nothing to do with the content of the message itself. In the following chapters Paul explains why so very few Jews have accepted the gospel: not all Jews are part of God's true Israel, 9:6b-29; and national Israel's unbelief is driven by the heresy of nomism, 9:30-10:21. Paul concludes by making the point that Israel's present state of unbelief does not annul God's promises - Israel is not doomed to final rejection because a representative whole will inevitably be saved, 11:1-32.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 9:1

Introduction, v1-5: i] "Paul's sorrow at the apparent rejection of his people (by God)", Hunter. The opening verse is designed to emphasize verse 2. It is an emphatic statement where Paul declares that he is speaking truthfully, a fact confirmed both by his conscience and the Holy Spirit.

alhqeian legw "what I say is true" - I speak truth. "What I say is true."

en Cristw/ "in Christ" - in Christ [I do not lie]. The preposition en may carry a local sense expressing space/sphere, "in union with Christ", often extending to "under the authority of Christ" (Christ is "the absolute generator of truth", Cranfield), or accompaniment / association, "in connection with." "As a man who has his being in Christ", Cassirer.

thV suneidhsewV (iV ewV) "[my] conscience" - the conscience [of me]. Genitive as part of a genitive absolute construction. The prefix sun probably gives the sense, "together with my conscience."

summarturoushV (summarturew) gen. pres. part. "confirms it" - bearing witness. The genitive participial phrase "my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit", with "I am not lying", serves as a parenthetical statement, as NIV. As a genitive absolute construction, the phrase would usually be treated as temporal, "as my conscience testifies", NJB, but here possibly causal, "I am not lying, because ....."

moi dat. pro. "-" - with me. Dative of association; "testifies in support of / witnesses along with", Cranfield.

en pneumati aJgiw/ "in the Holy Spirit" - The preposition en here is usually taken as instrumental; "under the direction of the Holy Spirit", Barclay, but possibly again accompaniment / association, "in connection with." If "in connection with" the sense is that two witness confirm that Paul is speaking the truth, namely, his conscience and the Holy Spirit.


Paul is filled with anguish for the present state of Israel; his fellow Jews had a full and complete place before the living God, but they are now outside of his grace. For Paul, a Jew, it is a great loss.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul speaks in Christ; "when I say that ...."

moi dat. pro. "I have [great sorrow]" - [there is great grief] to me. Dative of interest, disadvantage, or possession.

adialeiptoV adj. "unceasing [anguish]" - [and] incessant, continual, increasing [pain, grief]. There is no distinction between the two phrases "great sorrow" and "unceasing anguish", rather Paul is just using "rhetorically effective doubled expressions", Moo. Paul's anguish for his people is constant, ongoing, and increasing. Obviously the anguish concerns the rejection of Christ as Messiah by the majority of Paul's fellow countryman and thus of God's rejection of national Israel (although not of remnant Israel). "Profound grief", BDAG, with the adjective treated attributively, but of course, it can be taken as a predicate, "my grief is profound."

th/ kardia/ (a) dat. "in [my] heart" - in the heart [of me]. The dative is local, expressing space/sphere. "My heart is broken ("a pain that never leaves me", Phillips) and I am in great sorrow", CEV.


Paul states that if it were possible, he would be willing to trade places with his fellow countrymen. He is willing to forfeit his salvation for them. "If I could".... ie. if it were right and according to the will of God. "I would pray" (NIV "wish")..... I would ask this of God. And why this depth of feeling? They are his "brothers", his "own race"; they are members of God's family, but are in rebellion against Him.

gar "for" - Not really causal, rather establishing a connection with v2, or possibly an "explanation of", Cranfield. So, best left untranslated. Paul's anguish obviously concerns the damnation ("anathema") facing his fellow Israelites, a damnation which, if it were possible, he would willing turn upon himself - a Moses-like response.

hucomhn (eucomai) imperf. "I could wish" - I was praying, wishing. The sense is debatable since it is unlikely that Paul would actually wish for / pray for his cursing, eg., "I once prayed." The imperfect is best taken as an impossible wish; "I could wish to be cursed from Christ if that were possible, but of course such a wish is impossible", Schreiner, also Cranfield.

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "that [I myself] were" - [I myself] to be [a curse]. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul wished / prayed.

autoV egw nom. "I myself" - As the subject of the infinitive, an accusative case would be expected, but sometimes in a personal context the subject takes the nominative case.

anaqema (a) "cursed" - something devoted to destruction, accursed. Devoted to God in the negative sense of being set apart for destruction, and particularly here, of separated from Christ. Paul's desire, if it were possible, namely, to be cursed in place of his fellow Israelites, indicates that his concern is for their salvation, not the future restoration of a historical Israel. See Moo for this issue.

apo + gen. "cut off from [Christ]" - from, away from. Expressing the sense of separated from a source / alienated. What Paul is theoretically willing to have happen to himself is obviously the situation facing Israel. Yet, why is israel cut off? The separation of Israel from the divine is usually expressed in terms of Israel's failure to accept Christ as messiah, which failure is true enough. Yet, Paul defines Israel's problem in the same terms as the problem facing law-bound believers, the nomists. Israel's failure is their failure, a failure to recognize that salvation "depends not on human exertion, but on God who shows mercy", 9:16, cf. 9:30-10:21. It is this heresy which blinds Israel to the presence of God's messiah, Jesus, a heresy which even now blinds law-bound believers to the work of the Spirit in their midst.

uJper + gen. "for the sake of" - Expressing representation / advantage; "on behalf of / for the benefit of"

twn adelfwn (oV) "[my] brothers" - the brothers [of me, kinsmen of me according to flesh who are Israelites]. This word is most often used of believers, and if that is intended here, then Paul has in mind believing Jews. Yet, it is more likely, given the context, that "brother Jews" refers to "ethnic Israel." In fact, Paul actually qualifies ("clarifies", Dunn) his unusual use of "brothers" with "my kindred according to the flesh." Paul's anguish is for his "ethnic brothers" ie. "unbelieving Jews" and the judgment they face having rejected Christ as their messiah.

kata + acc. "those of my own race" - according to [flesh]. Expressing a standard, "in conformity with", or reference / respect, "with respect to their human descent."

oiJtineV pro. "the people of Israel" - who [are Israelites]. Paul is probably still qualifying "my brothers."


ii] Paul lists the privileges of his fellow Israelites, v4-5:

First, they are Israelites. This is a religious term denoting the Jews as God's chosen people.

Second, they are a blessed race:

a) Theirs is the adoption as sons - people in a special relationship with God. God is their Father.

b) Theirs the Divine glory. God has manifested himself to his people; He has been personally present with his people.

c) The covenants, the promised blessings of God. The word "covenants" means the agreements that God has made with his people.

d) The gift of the Mosaic Law.

e) Service to God. Many translations have "worship" here, but the Greek word means "service" - the privilege of serving God.

f) The promises. All the promises revealed in the scriptures.

Third, "theirs are the patriarchs." They are part of the family God chose to deal with throughout history."

Finally, from the Jewish people came the Messiah, Christ. Paul concludes by making two points about Jesus:

a) "Who is over all". He is Lord, and therefore, our Lord and master. Phil.2:10.

b) "God-blessed forever, Amen." He is blessed of God. The NIV translation is probably not correct. It is unlikely that Paul would confuse his readers by calling Jesus "God over all". Such would imply that Jesus has authority over the Father.

With this list of privileges before Paul, what else can he do but be filled with anguish at the thought that so many of his countrymen had lost everything.

oiJtineV pro. "-" - who [are Israelites]. Qualitative; "who by their very nature", Harvey.

w|n gen. pro. "theirs is" - of whom. The pronoun is adjectival, possessive; "to whom belong."

hJ uiJoqesia (a) "the adoption as sons" - adoption, sonship. Probably of national Israel's special relationship with the Creator, although as with "brothers" it is a term usually reserved in the NT for believers. This again supports those who argue that Paul is thinking of Jewish believers. God treats them as his sons; "he made them his sons", TEV.

hJ doxa "the divine glory" - the visible presence of an invisible God. God's presence with his people. "God showed them his glory", CEV.

aiJ diaqhkai (h) "the covenants" - agreement, treaty, covenant. This could be the law, but is most probably the agreements made with Israel through Moses, Abraham, etc. "They have the glory of God and the agreements", NCV.

hJ nomoqesia (a) "the receiving of the law" - legislation = making or giving law, the body of law. Paul probably means the gift of and possession of, the Mosaic law.

hJ latreia "the temple worship" - service. "Temple" is not in the Gk. Although the English word "worship" is often used to translate this Greek word, it does not mean worship, ie. worship in the sense of adoration. It is better translated "service", here in the sense of service to God's ordinances. It is true that the Levitical cult is included in these ordinances, but it is service to the ordinance that is implied, and not cultic observances, temple worship, adoration.... The confusion of this "service" word with proskunew (worship, adoration, obeisance) has done a great disservice to the meaning of Christian worship - ie. what we are to do when we gather together with Christ in a Christian service. We have tended to replace adoration with celebration which somewhat misses the point. "They have lived to serve God under the umbrella of his promises", Junkins.

aiJ epaggeliai "the promises" - not just the promises made to Abraham etc., but the full range of prophetic promises made to the people of Israel.


w|n gen. pro. "theirs are" - of whom. As in v4.

oiJ patereV (hr roV) "the patriarchs" - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, although probably including all those with whom God made a covenant agreement.

ex (ek) + gen. "from [them] is traced" - [and] out of [them]. Expressing source / origin.

to "-" - The accusative article, along with the adverbial use of the preposition kata, serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase kata sarka, "according to the flesh", into a substantive; "theirs is the human stock from which Christ came", Cassirer. "The addition of the article strongly emphasizes the limitation", BDF, of Christ's association with Israel - only a fleshly link, not spiritual.

sarka (sarx oV) - "the human ancestry" - [the Christ according to] the flesh, physical. Speaking of Christ's physical ancestry through the Patriarchs. "The patriarchs are theirs (Israel's), and so too, as far as human descent goes, is Christ himself", Phillips. "Insofar as the material side is concerned", Jewett.

oJ wn (eimi) "who" - the one being. The participle of the verb to-be serves as a substantive, standing in apposition to oJ CristoV, "the Christ." See Sandy and Headlam for an over-the-top dissertation on this tricky clause. Who is "the one being", is it Christ or God? Have we a statement of Christ's deity, as NIV, or at least his divine rule "he who rules as God over all things", Cassirer, or even something like "Christ is God-blessed forever, Amen", or have we here a doxology to God, "may God, supreme over all, be blessed forever", REB? Cranfield takes the view that it refers to Christ, to his lordship. The grammar certainly supports the NIV, although many modern commentators lean more toward a doxology. See Turner p15 for some thoughts on the Greek. He concludes that Paul is saying that "the Messiah is God." Still, as Dodd notes, "even though Paul ascribes to Christ functions and dignities which are consistent with nothing less than deity, yet he pointedly avoids calling him 'God'". The messiah "who is greater than us all, praised by God forever, may it be so!", Junkins.

epi + gen. "over [all]" - Spacial, as NIV; "over".

eiV touV aiwnaV (wn wnoV) "forever" - [God blessed] into the ages [Amen]. Idiomatic phrase; "for ever and ever!", Barclay. The substantive phrase "God blessed into the ages" stands in apposition to the participle "the one being."


The proposition to which Paul will argue in chapters 9-11. "Don't even think for a moment that God's word of grace has malfunctioned!." It seems likely that Paul's nomist critics claim that Israel's failure to appropriate God's promised blessings is down to Paul's flawed gospel of grace. In response, Paul claims that the problem does not lie with his gospel, but rather lies with Israel itself.

Many commentators do identify v6a as Paul's central proposition for chapters 9-11, but not in the terms above. The argument is often made that Israel's failure to appropriate the promised covenant blessings does not throw into question the blessings of justification outlined in 5:1-8:39. Davies, on the other hand, argues that 6b serves to introduce Paul's explanation of "the place of Israel in God's purposes." He thinks Paul want's to establish that the children of promise, believers, are the rightful inheritors of the Abrahamic promises and that therefore the legalist believers in Rome are doing themselves a disservice when they align themselves with historic Israel and its attention to the law. For other interpretations see "Interpretation" above.

ouc oiJon de "it is not as though" - not however. A combination of idioms; "it is not as if", Bauer.

oJti "-" - that. Probably epexegetic, explaining what is "not however"; "what I have just said is not to be understood as meaning that ....", Cranfield.

tou qeou (oV) "God's [word]" - [the word] of God. The genitive may be treated as adjectival, possessive, or ablative, source / origin. Paul often uses this phrase with reference to the gospel, but here surely with the more particular sense of "God's gracious purpose of election which has been declared in the bestowal on Israel of the privileges listed in verses 4 and 5", Cranfield, or better, "God's Old Testament word with particular reference to his promises to Israel", Moo. "The declared purpose of God", Sandy and Headlam.

ekpeptwken (piptw) perf. "had failed" - had fallen away from = has failed, come to naught, weakened. Extensive perfect. In the sense that God has failed to keep his promises. "It cannot be said that God broke his promise", CEV.


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