Commentary on Romans 10:5-15
This week’s passage is the third in a series of three arguments Paul makes, beginning in 9:30, in an effort to distinguish between the “works of the law” that Israel pursued (and thereby failed to receive the gift of righteousness in Christ) and the “faith” by which the Gentiles are embraced as part of the family of God.
One of the most important developments in Paul scholarship over the past thirty-five years comes into play here. It is the recognition that at the heart of Paul’s faith versus works distinction is not two different ways in which humans might respond to God.
Instead, “works” specifically has to do with doing the works of Torah — actions that demarcate Israel as God’s faithful people. “Faith” has to do first and foremost with the faithfulness of Jesus in his death, and then the response of trusting in Jesus as God’s anointed Lord.
For Paul, faith is known by obedience (Romans 1:5; 16:26) and even work (1 Thessalonians 1:3)! When he contrasts faith and works, his goal is not to get people to stop doing things, but to recognize that God has acted in and through Christ and to act accordingly.
Romans 10:5 begins with the word “for.” Paul is giving the reason for what he said immediately prior. Negatively, he had said that Israelites sought to establish their own righteousness rather than being subject to God’s (10:3). Positively, he had said that the law’s goal was Christ, who is the source of this divine righteousness for all who believe (10:4).
The startling claim that Paul makes repeatedly through this section of the letter is that the purpose of the law is not to tell people what to do. Instead, its purpose to refer people to the Christ who was to come and has now arrived. This is precisely how Paul interprets scripture in Romans 10:5-10.
Parallel to 9:31-32 and 10:3, in 10:5 Paul depicts righteousness that comes from doing what the law says. This is one of two possibilities in play in the Old Testament itself. Moses articulates law-based righteousness — something Paul claims that he himself had while a zealous Pharisee (Philippians 3:6).
Paul’s shocking claim is that this law righteousness, which he had, is not, in fact, the means by which God is marking out people as God’s own either now or at the final judgment.
Instead, God’s people are marked out by their allegiance to the Christ story as God’s great act of salvation.
Paul then moves to “the righteousness of faith,” a voice that speaks from the Law (Deuteronomy 30:12-13), but that is now reread in light of Paul’s own gospel proclamation.
What had originally betokened the arrival of the Torah (no one has to ascend into heaven to bring it down, or go to the far side of the sea to fetch it for us, Deuteronomy 30:12-13) now proclaims the gospel of the risen Christ.
The righteousness of faith says that God has been righteous in sending the Messiah, and God has been faithful to this Messiah in raising him from the dead. If God saves through the resurrection of Jesus, then the scriptures bespeaking God’s faithful provision for God’s people must be read as pointing beyond the Torah itself to the Christ who has now come.
And so “righteousness of faith” is first and foremost about God’s faithfulness in sending the promised Messiah. Inseparable from this, “righteousness of faith” is about Christ’s faithfulness in dying for our justification. Only then is it about our appropriate response in trusting the message we have heard.
Deuteronomy 30:14 provides the framework for people’s response to the gospel, as it says that the word is near — in the people’s hearts, on their mouths.
The heart has to trust that God has raised Jesus from the dead and the lips have to confess the result of this resurrection (verse 9), namely, that Jesus has been enthroned at Lord over all things (see Romans 1:3-4).
Belief and confession are then mapped onto other OT promises (9:11-13).
Belief, which Paul has connected specifically to resurrection, is tied to a promise in Isa 28:16: one who believes will not be put to shame (Romans 9:11). Resurrection itself is an overcoming of shame — the shame of crucifixion in particular, but also overcoming the more general shame that God did not act to save God’s faithful servant from death. It is God’s powerful vindication of Jesus and those who are in Christ.
Paul’s train of thought reaches its climax with a return to the question of Jews, Gentiles, and the Law. Since anyone who believes will not be put to shame, this means that access to eternal honor and salvation is open to all who align themselves with the Jesus story: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 9:12-13).
This time the quote is from Joel 2:32, and Paul interprets it as referring to the Lord Jesus. As Paul wrestles with the fate of Israel, he cannot let go of his conviction that the Christ event changes everything:
- what God’s fidelity to humanity looks like (the sending of a crucified messiah whom God raises from the dead)
- the definition of the “righteousness” needed to be justified before God (coming not from Torah observance but through the resurrected Christ)
- the identity of the “Lord” who must be called upon for final salvation (the Christ enthroned at God’s right hand)
- and thus the identity of the people of God (not those circumscribed by Torah, but by trust in Jesus the resurrected Messiah)
The “beautiful feet” of those who proclaim the gospel thus bring with them a wide-open invitation to find in Christ everything that God has sworn to be and to do for God’s covenant people.