Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Opens up the covenant with Israel to non-Judeans

Landscape with Elijah and the Angel by Gaspard Dughet.
"Landscape With Elijah and the Angel," by Gaspard Dughet; licensed under CC0.

August 13, 2023

Second Reading
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Commentary on Romans 10:5-15

This text occurs in the midst of a longer argument Paul develops that addresses the place of Judeans in his soteriological schema, an argument that begins in 9:1 and runs to the end chapter 11. Paul is attempting to reconcile the promises made to Judeans through Abraham with his own understanding of the Christ event that sees salvation extended to non-Judeans outside of obedience to the Mosaic law. Having argued that God has opened things up to non-Judeans (Romans 9:1-29) Paul now argues that it is up to each person to choose God, whether or not they are Judean, yet his concern focuses on trying to show why it is that Judeans can claim the salvation that comes via faith rather than salvation that comes through following Mosaic law. Thus, in this section Paul expands and explains his claim in 10:4 that “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” 

The key Greek term throughout, dikaiosynē, is usually translated as “righteousness” with the theological sense of indicating a right relationship with God, although the word has a sense of “justice” to it as well. In Romans 10:5-15 we can see the passage flowing around four key elements of righteousness: that which comes through Mosaic law (verse 5), righteousness that comes by faith (verses 6-9), righteousness for everyone (verses 10-11), and the means by which righteousness is communicated (verses 14-15, although technically these latter two verses open up the next section of the argument). For Paul, “righteousness” is the proper expression of belief/faith in the God that has called humanity to God’s self. In making his argument, he relies heavily on the Hebrew Bible, quoting four passages in his explanation (verses 5-13) before citing a fifth in his shift to the mechanics of how righteousness is conveyed (verses 14-15).

      • verse 5 from Leviticus 18:5: “the person who does these things will live by them.” 
      • verses  6-8, a reworking of Deuteronomy 9:4 and 30:11-14: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”; “Who will descend into the abyss?”; “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”
      • verse 11 from Isaah 28:16 (LXX): “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
      • verse 13 from Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
      • verse 15 from Isaiah 52:17: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

As he opens this section, Paul invokes Moses as the lawgiver who pronounces the core of the covenant between Israel and God that involves obedience to Mosaic law (verse 5). But in the second, new iteration, that for Paul comes through the Christ event, there is no person that provides the guidance. Rather, “righteousness” itself is personified to speak on its own behalf. Indeed, central to Paul’s argument is the “righteousness that comes from faith” (verse 6), which opens up the covenant with Israel to non-Judeans who respond positively to God not only throughout human history but particularly through Paul’s work among them. This is an affirmation of the concluding statement of the previous section, in which Paul declares that “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (10:4).  

The references to Deuteronomy (verses 6-8) stand out in this passage because Paul seems to reappropriate the original wording for a new context, even changing the original reference from crossing the “sea” to descending into the “abyss.” Thus, the word of faith that is proclaimed “by righteousness” is not found locatively—neither above or below—but in one’s heart and one’s confession. That is, there is no external, mystical place for which the believer must reach, no ascent into heaven or vision of hell; it is rather an internal connection with one’s faith that drives one’s actions. But such faith must be articulated and at the core of that articulation is the creedal-like formula that acknowledges Christ’s character (“Lord”) and God’s action (“raised him from the dead”; verse 9). It is the truly held belief that justifies and the articulation of it that leads to salvation. 

This core belief and proclamation wipes out any former distinctions between “Judean” and “Greek,” the latter here being a synonym for Paul’s more usual use of “Gentile.” For Paul, believing non-Judeans are now, in Christ, no different from the Judeans who are part of the promise made by God to the people of Israel. Thus, in verses 9-13 Paul compares what Moses writes (verse 5) and what is at the core of Christian proclamation (verses 6-8). While the Mosaic law is not abrogated there is an alternative for those born outside of the covenant people. Salvation is for “all” people (10:4). 

As Paul winds down the argument for individual choice for God alongside membership in the historical covenant with Israel, he opens up a new thought thread, only part of which is present in this lectionary reading. Despite their deafness to the word of Christ (Romans 10:14-21) God has not rejected the Judeans (Romans 11:1-10). In the two verses included in today’s lectionary reading, Paul concedes that the deafness to the message is not always willful, since logically one cannot put faith in something about which one has no knowledge. 

Paul uses four rhetorical questions that ask “how” with respect to key elements of coming to faith in Christ: sending, preaching, hearing, and believing. Paul reverses the order, however, so that the last question is emphasized, since it directs the auditor to the first step in the process of a person coming to faith—the need for someone else to be sent out to proclaim the message. To punctuate the final point, Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:7—“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”—demonstrating that God has already been actively sending out messengers throughout history. In the original context the referent is the celebration of the end of captivity in Babylon and the return of Israel to Jerusalem, with its attendant hope for the restoration of the Temple and the settling back into life in the promised land.