< August 10, 2008 >

Commentary on Romans 10:5-15

 

Following the introduction to these three chapters in Romans (9:1-5), Paul draws upon several Old Testament quotations to show that the rejection by the Israelites has not prevented God's election of Israel.

The foundation of God's electing promise was spoken to Moses in the wilderness tent: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (Ex 33:19 cited in Rom 9:15). God's mercy and compassion are also inclusive of Gentiles: "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved'" (Hos 2:23 cited in Rom 9:25).

Paul's anguish comes forth once again as he reflects on Israel's ignorance of "the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own" (10:3). Only that which can bring an end to righteousness attempted under the law is God's righteousness. This God has revealed in Jesus Christ for Jew and Gentile alike: "For Christ is the end (Greek: telos, signifying completion or fulfillment) of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (10:4). Christ both fulfills and annuls the law. Only on the basis of faith in Christ has God's righteousness and salvation been made known for all.

The text for this Sunday includes several Old Testament citations as Paul moves from the thesis that "Christ is the end of the law" (10:4). A citation from Lev 18: 5 confirms that
"the person who does these things (in the law) will live by them" (10:5). Living in obedience to the law is a way of life; however, this does not lead to righteousness before God. The righteousness of God comes only through faith in Christ.

A citation from Deut 30:11-14 focuses on God's covenantal promise. What is humanly impossible God has made possible in Christ--"in the righteousness that comes from faith" (10:6a): "Do not say in you heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)" (10:6b-8).

All that God has provided is in the word of God's proclamation of promise, centered in the response of confessing and believing. To emphasize this Paul cites from early Christian tradition. This is evidenced in the poetic nature of the following saying in parallel lines (A to A. B to B, C to C) which provide a confession easily memorized and repeated. The underlined words identify the parallel structure in these six lines:

     A  "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord
B  and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
     C   you will be saved.
B  For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
     A  and one confesses with the mouth
     C and so is saved" (10:9-10).

The confession, "Jesus is Lord . . . God raised him from the dead," is the word that saves and justifies. Attending this is the promise of scripture: "No one who believes in him will be put to shame" (10:11). Paul cites the second half of Isa 28:16, to proclaim that God's promise of salvation is for all. There is only one promise, one people, one Lord: "There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him" (10:12).

"Jesus is Lord," is the earliest Christian confession. The promise that attends this confession is now expressed: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (10:13). To believe in Jesus Christ as Lord (10:11) and to call on the name of the Lord (10:13) continues the confessional focus of these verses.

Paul now includes four questions that express and emphasize the dependency of the word upon the proclaimer and messenger of this promise: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?" (10:14-15a).

Each question builds on the previous question bringing this section of the letter to a resounding conclusion: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (10:15). The text identifies the messengers of God portrayed in the prophecy of Isaiah. As the Israelites return from captivity in Babylon, the heralds in Jerusalem are called to go to the temple mount and shout aloud God's promise of restoration to those who return from captivity. As the text continues in Isaiah, the messenger of God is one who "announces salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'" (Isa 52:7).

The subsequent servant song in Isa 52:13-53:12 identifies the call of Israel to be a servant to the nations and is embodied in Jesus Christ: "The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities . . . he poured himself out to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa 53:11b-12).

The center of God's salvation message to Jews and Gentiles is the confession, "Jesus is Lord." This is the word of salvation that is to be heralded now just as Isaiah envisioned the proclamation to the returning exiles from Babylon. The confession, "Jesus is Lord" is the word that calls those of faith to proclaim today. This is the word for our time.
God's righteousness is present in the crucified servant of the Lord. This is the word of salvation that God has ordained from before time. Jesus Christ is the word in whom all are called to rejoice, Jew and Gentile. This is the word that calls for heralds of God's promise today. This is the word God entrusts to those of faith. This is God's good news in the word, Jesus Christ: "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (10:8).