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Saturday Series: Exodus 32-34 (continued)

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Exodus 32-34

(A Sunday edition of the Saturday Series…)

Last week we looked at chapters 32-34 of Exodus from the standpoint of textual, source, and historical criticism, introducing some of the issues and questions which commentators face when dealing with this section of the book. These are important, and should not be ignored; however, ultimately, we must grapple with the text as it has come down to us, whenever and however it was composed, and in whatever manner the various traditions came to be incorporated. This wider view relates to the area of Biblical Criticism called literary criticism—analysis of the passage as part of a written text and literary document, examining its structure, points of emphasis, its themes, and the images and concepts which reflect the story and message with the author wishes to communicate.

In approaching Exodus 32-34 within the context of the second half of the book (chaps. 19-40), the first point to note is the way that narrative alternates with a record of legal material. The latter is more properly presented within the narrative framework as instruction (laws, regulations, precepts) which God (YHWH) gives to the people, through Moses. This is reflected in the Hebrew word (tôrâ, hr*ot) which traditionally is used to refer to this material, and which gives its name to the Pentateuch as a whole (Torah). We can see how this torah dominates the second half of the book, being recorded in four main sections, as indicated in the following outline (torah marked by asterisks):

  • Introduction: The people at Mt. Sinai—Preparation for the appearance of YHWH (chap. 19)
    —The role of Moses as intermediary between YHWH and the people (vv. 14-25)
  • Part 1: The covenant is established at Sinai (20:1-24:11)
    —The Decalogue*: YHWH speaks to the people (20:1-14)
    —Moses functions as intermediary/representative for the people (20:15-23)
    —The Book of the Covenant*: YHWH speaks to Moses (21:1-23:33)
    —Ratification of the covenant (24:1-11)
  • Part 2: The ceremonial/ritual dimension of the covenant (24:12-31:18)
    —Moses ascends Sinai (24:12-18)
    —Religious instruction*, regarding the Tabernacle, etc (25:1-31:17)
    —The two tablets of the covenant (31:18)
  • Intermediary: The covenant is abolished (chaps. 32-33)
    —Moses descends Sinai
  • Part 3: The covenant is re-established at Sinai (34:1-28)
    —Moses ascends Sinai again (34:1-9)
    —Second ‘Book of the Covenant’* (34:10-27)
    —The two tablets of the covenant (34:28)
  • Intermediary: The restored covenant (34:29-35)
    —Moses descends Sinai
  • Part 4: The ceremonial/ritual dimension of the covenant (chaps 35-39)
    Religious instruction*, regarding the Tabernacle, etc
  • Conclusion: The people at Sinai—Preparation for the presence of YHWH (chap. 40)
    —Moses’ role of leadership in preparing the Tabernacles, etc (vv. 1-33)

There is a thematic symmetry to this structure, and to the character of the Torah, as it relates to the establishment of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and his people:

  • Establishment of the covenant—Moses ascends Mt. Sinai
    • Theophany—Appearance of YHWH (chap. 20)
    • The “Book of the Covenant” (21:1-33)
    • Religious instruction—the Tabernacle (25:1-31:17)
    • The two tablets of the covenant (31:18)
  • Re-establishment of the covenant—Moses ascends Mt. Sinai
    • Theophany—Appearance of YHWH (34:1-9)
    • Second ‘Book of the Covenant’ (34:10-27)
    • Religious instruction—the Tabernacle (35:1ff)
    • The two tablets of the covenant (34:28)

The Torah itself may be summarized two ways, according to two fundamental aspects:

  1. The regulations and precepts which are to govern Israelite society, and their identity as God’s chosen people; and,
  2. As the terms of the binding agreement (covenant) between God and his people; in written form (the two tablets, etc) it provides the legal basis for the agreement. Transgression of the torah represents more than violation of a law or regulation; it means the violation of the agreement itself, which entailed very specific punishment, tied to the ritual image of cutting (dismembered animals, circumcision, sacrificial offering [with blood])—the one who violates the covenant will similarly be “cut off”.

Any attempt to understand and interpret the legal material in the book of Exodus, without keeping this connection with the covenant clearly in view, will be doomed to failure. It is absolutely essential to the thematic structure and message of the book. You may wish to review our study of the covenant episodes in Genesis 15, 17, and Exodus 24, from recent weeks. Indeed, it is the idea of the covenant, or binding agreement (Heb. b§rî¾, tyr!B=), which governs the intermediate scenes in chapters 32-33—the episode of the Golden Calf, and its aftermath, marking abrogation of the covenant. Let us examine briefly these chapters, along with the following chap. 34, in light of this overriding theme. Several aspects come to fore:

  • The tension involved in Moses as the leader/representative of the people
  • The identity of Israel as God’s people, which is central to the covenant
  • The violation and abrogation of the covenant, and what this entails
1. Moses as the people’s representative

Problematic from the beginning is the people’s dependence on Moses as their representative, serving as an intermediary before God. It is they who request that God speak to Moses, and no longer directly to them (20:16-18), and it is thus only Moses who ascends all the way up the mountain to the place where God’s presence is (24:12-18). This sets the stage for the Golden Calf episode (32:1). The people feared to hear God’s voice, and now they begin to fear what may have happened to their leader and representative. During the 40 days and nights when Moses is on the mountain, the people are without contact with God; implicit in this condition is that it becomes a time of testing. Indeed, this provides the psychological basis for their violation of the covenant (vv. 2ff)—they seek a tangible sign of God’s presence, which, inadvertently, it would seem, leads to idolatry and the worship of “other” gods. The Calf itself, in its historical context and background, almost certainly is to be understood as representing the seat (or throne) of God’s presence, much like the winged figures of the golden Ark. It is, however, a fine line between the creation of such images, and a perversion of true worship. This is a theme which runs through virtually the entire Old Testament, and helps to explain the centrality of the first command(s) in the Decalogue (20:3-5a, see also 34:17). It is the command in 20:4-5 which is violated initially; but the declaration in 32:3 (“These are your gods…”, also v. 8) effectively results in a violation of the first command in 20:3 as well. The words of YHWH in v. 8 reflect his anger over how quickly the agreement was violated, and with the very first words of the Torah.

2. The identity of Israel as God’s people

Verse 10 introduces the idea that God will destroy the people—death/destruction being the punishment for violating the covenant. He intends to start over with Moses, replacing Abraham and his descendants (see the covenant episodes in Gen 15 and 17, etc). Violation of the covenant essentially invalidates this identity of a people belonging to God, who submit to his authority and have established a reciprocal relationship with him. Indeed, in verse 7, God refers to them as Moses‘ people (“your people”, see above on Moses as the people’s representative), no longer referring to them as his own people (v. 9). Moses, however, intercedes for them with God (i.e. the other side of his role as intermediary), requesting that YHWH continue to regard them as His people (vv. 11ff), and this identity seems to be restored, at least in part, in verse 14. There it is stated that YHWH ‘relaxed’ himself over the “evil” (i.e. punishment, destruction) which he was going to do to “His people”. This theme, and the tension involved with it, continues into chapter 33.

3. The violation and abolishment of the Covenant

Even though God may have decided to soften the punishment against the people, the agreement established with them has been invalidated and is over. The breaking of the tablets (v. 19) makes this absolutely clear, according to ancient Near Eastern tradition and practice; e.g., see the Akkadian expression “break the tablet” (tuppam —epû). Still, it is a lesser punishment which is to be administered, in several stages:

  • The people drink water containing powder from the Golden Calf after it was burned down (v. 20). This is presumably for a ritual ordeal to identify the guilty (see the parallel in Num 5:12-31).
  • Once the guilty are identified, they are “consecrated” for destruction and are put to death (vv. 27-29)
  • Apparently, there is also a punishment inflicted on the people through disease (v. 35), though this is stated very briefly, and the exact relation to the events described in the prior verses is uncertain.

Thus, it is not the people as a whole who receive the punishment of death/destruction, but only the specific individuals who are guilty. This important religious principle, which would come up again at various points in the Old Testament, is emphasized in Moses’ second encounter with God (vv. 33-34).

The invalidation of God’s agreement (covenant) with Israel suddenly leaves the narrative at an impasse. The dramatic tension of the scene becomes even more evident in chapter 33, where all the themes from the Golden Calf episode are developed in a unique way, drawing perhaps from a separate line of tradition. I would ask that you read chapter 33 (and on into chap. 34) most carefully. We will be continuing this thematic and exegetical examination of the powerful narrative of Exod 32-34 in next week’s study. Pay attention to each detail and nuance in the text. If you are unable to read Hebrew, make use of whatever tools are at your disposal to study the actual Hebrew words and phrases used. Try to follow carefully the dialogue between Moses and YHWH. How does this relate to the preceding chapters, and to the covenant theme of the narrative? Study and meditate on these points, and I will see you again, God willing…next Saturday.

January 3: Luke 2:29-32

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Luke 2:29-32

Today’s note is on Luke 2:29-32, the Song of Simeon. I dealt with this passage extensively in a series of Advent notes. Here I will be looking it from the standpoint of the Messianic expectation, common among Jews and Christians of the period, and how it has been modified in the Lukan Infancy narrative, being reflective of early Christian belief and expression. The last two lines of the Song of Simeon (vv. 31-32), in particular, manifest this new understanding, much as we see also in the last lines of the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus, 1:78-79). The early Christian (and Lukan) interpretation is rooted in the use of certain key passages from the book of Isaiah, especially the so-called “Servant songs” of Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-55, etc).

In yesterday’s note, I mentioned again the parallels between Zechariah and Simeon, and the two oracle-hymns (Benedictus, Nunc Dimittis) attributed to each. It will be helpful to examine the relevant (concluding) lines of each hymn, to gain a better sense of how this Messianic expectation was applied to Jesus. There were a number of Messiah figure-types known from the Qumran texts and other writings of the period, but two were especially prominent in the Gospel tradition (cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed“):

  1. The Prophet like Elijah who would appear prior to the great Judgment, bringing God’s people to repentance—drawn primarily from Malachi 3:1ff and the interpretation in 4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24].
  2. A coming Ruler (King) from the line of David who will judge/subdue the nations, deliver God’s people, and bring about the restoration of Israel. For the Scriptural background of this figure, cf. Part 6 of the aforementioned series.

By the time the Gospels came to be written, early Christian tradition had identified these two figure-types as being fulfilled by John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively. Here in the Lukan Infancy narrative, the hymn of Zechariah focuses on John the Baptist, while the Song of Simeon is centered on the child Jesus.

In Luke 1:76 John the Baptist is clearly identified as the Messenger (Elijah, cf. verse 17) who prepares the way before the Lord, as we see well-established in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2-3ff par; Lk 7:27; Jn 1:19-23ff). Through his preaching and ministry of baptism, John turns the hearts and minds of people back to God, preparing them for the coming of the Lord, the Anointed One (Christ). This emphasis on repentance introduces the motif of salvation from sin—”to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins” (v. 77). The religious (and eschatological) background of this idea of salvation is very much related to the coming Judgment—only those who repent and return to God will escape (i.e. be saved from) the anger and judgment of God upon humankind. In verse 78, however, the emphasis shifts to salvation as an expression of God’s mercy; for similar wording, cf. the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Zebulun 8; Levi 4). The judgment imagery and vocabulary is transformed, centered here on the verb e)piske/ptomai (“look [carefully] upon”), which came to be a technical term for the end-time appearance (visitation) of God, both to help/save his people and to bring the Judgment. Only now, a different sort of visitation is described—of a revelatory light from heaven, shining upon human beings (God’s people) trapped in darkness. As previously discussed (cf. the note on vv. 69, 78-79) the “rising up” (a)natolh/) is best understood by the image of a sun or star which gives the light (of God) from out of heaven (Num 24:17; Isa 60:1ff; Mal 4:2, etc). The image of people—God’s people—sitting in darkness and shadow comes primarily from Isaiah 9:2; 42:6-7 (cf. also Psalm 107:9-10).

Similarly, in the Simeon episode, the child Jesus is identified as the Anointed One (2:26)—that is, the Messianic figure-type of the end-time ruler from the line of David (cf. 1:32-33, 69; 2:11). An interesting shift has taken place, however; instead of the idea of salvation from the wicked nations (the enemies of Israel, cf. 1:70-71) etc, this figure is now identified with salvation itself. Note the similarity of language between 2:26 and 30:

“…until he should see the Anointed of the Lord
“…my eyes have seen your Salvation

Two parallel expressions are involved:

  • the Anointed (One) [xristo/$] of the Lord
  • the Salvation [swthri/a] of the Lord

In other words, the salvation which the Lord (Yahweh) brings for his people is embodied in the person of the Anointed One (Jesus). The “Lord” in vv. 29ff is referenced, not by the regular Greek term ku/rio$ (ky¡rios), but by the less common despo/th$ (despót¢s). This word more properly means “master, owner”, and better fits the master-slave motif in verse 29. However, it is generally synonymous with the Hebrew °¹dôn (cf. the earlier article on this title), and, occasionally, like ku/rio$, was used to render the divine name YHWH (cf. the prior note on v. 29 and the article on Yahweh). Earlier in the hymn of Zechariah (v. 69), the Messiah (Jesus) was described as a “horn of salvation” raised up by the Lord—not just the means of deliverance, or the one who accomplishes it, but salvation itself, from the power of sin enslaving all of humankind. This reflects the essential meaning and character of the name Yeshua/Jesus (Matt 1:21 [note], and cf. Luke 2:11).

There are two aspects of this salvation-theme in verses 31-32 (cp. 1:77-79):

  • Light/Darkness imagery, and
  • The people (of God) / peoples on earth

Light—specifically light to/for the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10), an extension of the basic image in 1:78-79 (Isa 9:2ff, cf. Matt 4:15-16). This clearly relates to the early Christian motif of revelation through the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:1-6). I have discussed the subject in considerable detail in a recent article, and you will find there an extensive listing of relevant Scripture references. In particular, note the strong identification of Jesus himself as light in the Gospel (and letters) of John—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-10.

People(s)—In the Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the original idea of the “people of God” was based on the ethnic-religious premise that God chose Israel out of all the peoples (nations) on earth, and established a special covenant with them. That the Messiah (i.e. the Davidic ruler) would come out of Israel—that is, out of Judah (the line of David), to rule over all Israel—was axiomatic, and would scarcely have been questioned by anyone at the time. This meant that salvation and deliverance comes out of Israel (Isa 46:13; Rom 4:5; Jn 4:22, etc), and, in the traditional religious sense, was intended primarily, if not exclusively, for the faithful among God’s people (Israel). In the (later) Prophets, however—and, especially, in the second half of the book of Isaiah (‘Deutero-Isaiah’)—the idea becomes more prevalent that this covenant relationship will reach outward to the surrounding nations, and that other peoples will come to join Israel as part of God’s people (cf. Isa 49:6, 22; 56:3-8; 60:3-7; 66:18ff, etc).

This shift in focus was an important element of early Christian thought, associated with the mission to the Gentiles—cf. throughout the book of Acts, and, especially, in two key passages: (1) Paul’s statement regarding the inauguration of his mission to the Gentiles (13:46ff, citing Isa 49:6), and (2) the declaration by James in 15:14-17 (citing Amos 9:11-12). The reference to “all the peoples” in Lk 2:31 is parallel to the expression “all flesh” in 3:6: “all flesh will see the salvation of God” (cf. Isa 40:5). Thus it is declared that the nations will join with Israel—and this is to Israel’s honor/glory (v. 32)—to become the people of God. This new religious identity is no longer ethnic, but multi-national and trans-ethnic—it belongs to Jews and Gentiles equally, and is based on trust/belief in Jesus Christ. This, of course, will be developed considerably throughout the Gospel and Acts (not to mention the letters of Paul), but is foreshadowed and foretold by Simeon here. From the standpoint of the (historical) narrative, the process of people coming to trust in Christ begins with the people of Israel (Israelites and Jews). This is the basis of the second part of Simeon’s oracle in vv. 34-35:

“This (child) is laid out unto the falling and rising-up of many in Israel, and unto a sign being counted [i.e. spoken] against…so that the counting through [i.e. thoughts, reasoning] out of many hearts will be uncovered.”

We have come a long way here from the traditional Messianic figure-types (cf. above); the concept of salvation has even shifted from the idea of repentance and salvation from sin to something subtler and more universal—the very thought-process, the mind and thinking, of human beings. The light of Christ reveals the innermost thoughts and feelings of the person. The faithful ones, the believers, will respond to that light (Jn 3:19-21), and so become the true people of God in Christ.

Note of the Day – October 15 (Rom 11:33)

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Today’s note will briefly examine Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in Romans 11:33.

Romans 11:33

This verse begins the doxology (vv. 33-36) that concludes the famous section of Romans spanning chapters 9-11. I have discussed the theme and structure of this section in an earlier article, along with a special note on Rom 11:26 in context. This analysis may be summarized in the following outline:

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity.

Romans 9

9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)
9:6-13—Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.
9:14-33—Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question:

  • Vv. 14-18—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”
  • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]…?”
  • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”

Romans 10

10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

  • The proclamation of the Gospel (vv. 14-15)
  • Israel’s response to the Gospel—not all have faith (vv. 16-17)
  • Evidence of this in the Scriptures (vv. 18-21)

Romans 11

11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)
11:13-32—Exposition: A Two-fold address to Gentile believers:

  • Vv. 13-24—Illustration of the olive tree and its branches
  • Vv. 25-32—Discourse on the (eschatological) salvation of Israel

11:33-36—Doxology on the wisdom and knowledge of God

An important theme running through these chapters is the election of the people of God, which takes place according to God’s own sovereign but mysterious will. This is one aspect of knowledge (i.e. God’s knowledge of his People, etc) here in this section, and it is emphasized in chapters 9 and 11. The second aspect—the people’s knowledge of God and his truth, the promises made, etc.—is addressed primarily in chapter 10, and expounded again in the second half of chap. 11. Note the structure in this regard:

  • Chap. 9: God’s knowledge of his people (Israel)—their election
    • Chap. 10: The people’s knowledge of God, in two respects:
      (a) The failure of many Israelites to accept the revelation in Jesus and the Gospel message (cf. vv. 2-4)
      (b) The acceptance of the Gospel, on the other hand, by many non-Israelites (Gentiles) (vv. 18-21)
  • Chap. 11: God’s knowledge of his people (the true Israel, all Israel)—the election of Jews and Gentiles both

For many of the non-Jewish Christians in Paul’s audience—as for many today—the main difficulty lay in the idea that Israelites and Jews would eventually accept Christ, though they may refuse (or be unable) to do so at the present. Though some had ‘fallen away’, a large percentage, presumably, in Paul’s mind, would (soon) respond to the Gospel, as the end drew near. This point is made reasonably clear in verses 11-16, followed by his famous illustration of the olive tree, in which Jews and Gentiles both come to be “grafted in” to the holy tree of the People of God—the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ, being a principal theme of the entire letter, is given dramatic and climactic expression here. In verses 25-32 Paul powerfully states again two great points:

  • Israelites and Jews, collectively, will come to faith, and the current “hardening” of their hearts and minds will be removed
  • They will be united (in Christ) with the Gentile believers who have come to faith before them

This two-fold dynamic is expressed in the declaration: “and so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). Paul refers to this as a secret (musth/rion), which he is making known to believers in his letter; and there can be no doubt that he also has this in mind when he opens the concluding doxology in v. 33:

“O the deep(ness) of the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God!—how unsearchable (are) his judgments, and (how) untrackable (are) his ways!”

A citation of Isaiah 40:13 follows in vv. 34-35; it is a passage which Paul also quotes in 1 Cor 2:16 (cf. my earlier note), specifically as part of his argument contrasting human wisdom with the wisdom of God. As Paul uses the Scripture, it is meant to show how far the “mind of God” surpasses and transcends our limited human understanding. In 1 Corinthians, the quotation is followed by the positive statement which applies to believers, somewhat paradoxically: “and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of Christ“. This last point is not emphasized in Romans, except perhaps implicitly, based on Paul’s line of discussion in the prior chapters, as well as in the basic idea that the “secret(s)” of God, hidden away from the world, are now made known to believers through: (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit.

For the purpose of this series of articles, Romans 11:33 is especially instructive, within the context of Rom 9-11, in that it ties together several significant themes which will be discussed in some detail as we proceed:

  • The connection between the knowledge of God and salvation
  • That the (secret) will and knowledge of God is revealed, at least in part, to believers, and
  • That the knowledge of God is closely connected with the idea of the predestined/predetermined election of believers (i.e the people of God)

Note of the Day – January 1

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In the ecclesiastical calendar of the Western Church, January 1 traditionally commemorates the circumcision of Jesus, as narrated in Luke 2:21. This brief notice, which matches that of John the Baptist in Lk 1:59ff (part of a parallelism between John and Jesus that runs through the Infancy narrative), serves two purposes within the text: (a) to narrate the official naming of Jesus (cf. Lk 1:31), and (b) to demonstrate the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary in observing the Old Testament/Jewish Law. Within the narrative, it is connected with the Temple scene of Lk 2:22-38—one of three episodes set in the Temple (the others being Lk 1:5-25 and 2:41-50). There is a clear emphasis on the faithfulness and religious devotion of the main characters—Zechariah and Elizabeth (1:5), Joseph and Mary (2:22-24, 39, 41-42, cf. Matt 1:19), Simeon and Anna (2:25, 37-38), and the child Jesus (2:43-50, 51-52). The Old Testament and Jewish background of these episodes as been noted by many commentators, according to a number recurring motifs: (i) allusions to the Old Testament within the canticles, (ii) the annunciation scenes, (iii) parallels with the birth of Samuel (1 Sam 1:1-2:26), (iv) the Temple setting, (v) the idea of observing/fulfilling the Law, and (vi) an atmosphere of ‘Messianic’ expectation—on this last, cf. especially Lk 2:25, 38, but also 1:16-17, 32-33, 43, 54-55, 69ff, 76ff; 2:11, 30-32. Particularly noteworthy for Lk 2:21-38 are the allusions to various passages from (Deutero-)Isaiah, such as 40:1, 5; 46:13; 49:6, 9; 52:10; 61:2.

Romans 15:8-9 (also Luke 2:21, 29-32)

In the context of Jesus’ circumcision, it is worth exploring the interesting reference of Romans 15:8ff, where it is stated (by Paul) that Jesus “came to be [gegnh=sqai] a servant [dia/konon] of (the) circumcision [peritomh=$, lit. “cutting around”] under the truth of God”. This is another key use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), related to the birth and/or incarnation of Christ, such as we have been studying in recent notes. There is here a close parallel with Gal 4:4, specifically with regard to the birth of Jesus—”God sent forth his Son…”

  • “coming to be [geno/menon] out of a woman (i.e. spec. of his human birth)”
  • “coming to be [geno/menon] under the Law (i.e. his human life, esp. as a Jew)”

The expression “servant of (the) circumcision” is generally synonymous with “under the Law [u(po\ no/mon]”, though Paul also uses the latter phrase in a deeper theological sense. In coming under the religious and ethical authority of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (the Torah), it was necessary that he should be circumcised. Though circumcision (and comparable practices) are not unique to Israel, being attested as an ancient/traditional rite in cultures around the world, nevertheless it hold a special place for Israelites and Jews as a mark of the covenant with God—i.e. marking them as God’s chosen people—and as an essential sign of religious and cultural identity (cf. Gen 17:10ff; 21:4; 34:15ff; Exod 4:24-26; 12:44, 48; Lev 12:3; Josh 5:2-8, and many subsequent passages [in the NT, see Jn 7:22-23; Acts 7:8, etc]). Circumcision in Old Testament and Jewish tradition could also be symbolic of faithfulness and obedience in the wider ethical or spiritual sense (cf. Deut 10:16; 30:16; Jer 4:4; 9:25, etc).

In the New Testament, “circumcision” and “circumcised” are often used as shorthand terms to refer to (observant) Jews—Acts 10:45; 11:2; Rom 3:30; 4:9, 12; Gal 2:7, 12; 6:13; 1 Cor 7:18; Col 3:11; 4:11; Eph 2:11; Tit 1:10. The early conflicts regarding the relationship between believers (especially Gentile believers) and the Law naturally involved circumcision—Acts 15:1ff (cf. 16:3; 21:21); Gal 2:3ff. It was out of these disputes and debates that Paul developed his particular (and controversial) teaching regarding circumcision and the Law for believers in Christ (Jews and Gentiles alike)—Rom 2:25-29ff; 4:10-12; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:2ff; 6:12-15; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11; and also Eph 2:11. Fundamental to this teaching is the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, and the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ is a key theme of Romans, especially in this concluding section (Rom 15:7-13) to the body of the letter. Consider the message of unity inherent in the central citation of Deut 32:43 in verse 10:

“Be of good mind [i.e. be glad, rejoice], (you) nations [e&qnh, i.e. Gentiles], with his people [tou= laou= au)tou=, i.e. Israel]”

For this important theme elsewhere in Paul’s writings, see Romans 1:16-17; chapter 3; 9:24; 10:12; chapter 11; Gal 3:26-29; 1 Cor 9:20-21; 12:13; Col 3:11, and also Eph 2:11-22.

Note also the two infinitive clauses of verses 8-9, both governed by the preposition ei)$ (“into/unto”):

  • to confirm [bebaiw=sai, lit. make firm/fixed] the promises of [i.e. for/to] the Fathers
  • the nations to esteem [doxa/sai, i.e. honor/glorify] God

The expression “promises [i.e. messages/announcements] for/to the Fathers” refers to Israelites and Jews, while “the nations” clearly refers to Gentiles.

In this regard, one is reminded of a similar two-fold reference embedded in the ‘Song of Simeon’ (the Nunc Dimittis), Luke 2:29-32, and connected specifically with the birth of Jesus:

  • “…(in) that my eyes saw your salvation” (v. 30)
    • “which you prepared according to the face of [i.e. before] all the peoples” (v. 31)

Verse 32 builds upon this and makes it more specific: “salvation” under the image of a light (fw=$). As in Rom 15:8-9, here we also find phrases governed by the preposition ei)$ (“into/unto”), indicating both purpose and result:

  • “(the) uncovering [a)poka/luyin] of the nations“—either from the standpoint of the nations (light shining on them in darkness) or that the light itself constitutes revelation
  • “(the) the esteem/glory [do/can] of your people Israel
    On the language and imagery of these phrases, cf. Isa 49:6, 9 and 46:13

Both Rom 15:8-9 and Luke 2:32 emphasize “esteem/honor/glory” (do/ca), which also indicates the overriding purpose: “unto [ei)$] the glory of God”. From God, this ‘glory’ extends (through Christ) to all the people. The citation from Psalm 117:1 in Rom 15:11 demonstrates a subtle shift toward the idea of unity—of including Gentiles among the People of God—

The parallel moves from
nations | people [sg. lao/$] to
nations | peoples [pl. laoi/]

just as we see the plural laoi/ (“peoples”) used in Luke 2:31; sometimes “peoples” is synonymous with “nations [i.e. Gentiles]”, but here it certainly refers to Jews and Gentiles together. In the use of “peoples [laoi/]” there is implied the merging of the nations with the “people” (Israel), such as we see expressed so well in Rom 11:13-24ff and Eph 2:11-22.

Finally, the messianic context of Isaiah 11:10, cited in Rom 15:12, brings us back to the atmosphere of eschatological expectation in the Lukan Infancy narrative—Simeon, it is said, is one who was

“looking toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel” (Lk 2:25)

The Greek word para/klhsi$ (parákl¢sis) literally means “calling (or being called) alongside”, usually in the context of offering help, aid, comfort, instruction, etc. Almost certainly, Isaiah 40:1-2ff is in mind, with the idea of God providing aid and comfort for his suffering People. That such an idea is connected with the concept of the restoration of Israel (by God) at the end-time (cf. Acts 1:6) is indicated both by the future/eschatological usage of the term in Jewish writings (2/4 Esdras, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and subsequently in Rabbinic literature), as well as by the parallel expression in Lk 2:38, where it is stated that Anna was

“looking toward receiving the ransom/redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem”

The term para/klhto$ (i.e. “Paraclete”, lit. “one called alongside”, related to para/klhsi$) occurs 4 times in the Gospel of John—Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7 (also 1 Jn 2:1), where it is identified specifically with the (Holy) Spirit (see esp. 14:26). It is noteworthy, in this regard, that, right after the mention of para/klhsi$ in Lk 2:25, we read:

“…and the Holy Spirit was upon him [i.e. Simeon]”

Paul, too, concludes Rom 15:7-13 with a climactic reference to the Holy Spirit (the final words of the verse). He ends with another purpose-clause governed by the preposition ei)$ (cf. above); his concluding prayer is for believers

“…to abound/overflow in the hope [i.e. of Christ/salvation], in (the) power of the Holy Spirit

This is a prayer we can, and should, offer during the current Christmas season as well.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (9:1-11:32)

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Romans 9-11

These famous chapters in Romans have been notoriously difficult to interpret, not least in terms of how exactly they fit into the overall structure of the letter. From the standpoint of rhetorical analysis, Rom 1:18-8:39 clearly represents the probatio, the presentation of arguments in support of the main proposition (Rom 1:16-17). I have already discussed in detail each of the four main sections which make up the probatio, according to the thematic division presented as four announcements:

  • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God) (article)
  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)
  • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin (article)
  • Rom 8:1-39: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (article)

Through the arguments in these sections, Paul effectively expounds his central (two-fold) proposition:

“I do not feel shame upon [i.e. about] the good message [i.e. Gospel],
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every (one) th(at is) trusting—to the Yehudean {Jew} first and (also) to the Greek.
For the justice/righteousness of God is uncovered in it, out of trust (and) into trust, even as it has been written: ‘but the just/righteous (person) will live out of trust’.”

In chapters 9-11 he further expounds one portion specifically: “unto salvation to every one that trusts—to the Jew first and (also) to the Greek“. This section has been referred to as a refutatio—a refutation by Paul of (possible) arguments made especially by Gentiles in Rome with regard to the role and position of Jewish believers (cf. B. Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans Eerdmans [2004], pp. 237-9). However, I do not see Paul’s approach here as being appreciably different from the one he takes in earlier in chapters 2-4; there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

  • Rom 2-4—addressed primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Gentiles are on an equal footing before God with regard to both judgment and salvation
  • Rom 9-11—addressed primarily to Gentiles, emphasizing the (future) salvation of Israelites/Jews and their inclusion into the body of Christ

In between (Rom 5-8) Paul presents a kind of “salvation history”, an exposition of the Gospel message for all human beings—Jews and Gentiles alike. Chapters 9-11 actually have the character of a personal appeal or confession—indeed, this characterizes each of the sections (matching the numbered chapters):

  • Chapter 9—Paul’s confession (Rom 9:1-5)
  • Chapter 10—Paul’s confession (Rom 10:1-4)
  • Chapter 11—Paul’s appeal (Rom 11:1-6ff)

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity. As a missionary and representative (apostle) of Christ, Paul saw how many of his fellow Israelites and Jews had been unwilling to accept the Gospel, some even being openly hostile to his missionary work (as narrated repeatedly in the book of Acts, cf. also 1 Thess 2:14-16, etc). Even Jewish believers could be opposed to his presentation of the Gospel, especially his unique view of the Law and his missionary approach to the Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15:1ff and throughout Galatians. At some level, this must have been traumatic for Paul, and difficult to understand—how could so many of God’s elect people, Israel, fail to trust in Christ? While he never really addresses this directly in his other surviving letters, it is clear that he had thought about it a good deal. The result is the wonderful, if somewhat enigmatic, exposition here in Romans 9-11.

I present my analysis of these chapters in summary, outline form, discussing several key verses in more detail in separate notes.

Romans 9

Rom 9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)

In vv. 1-3, Paul offers a moving confession of the sadness and burden he feels for his fellow Jews, whom he refers to as “my brothers” and “my kin (lit. ones coming to be [born] with me)”, and who, most notably, are Israelites (ei)sin  )Israhli=tai). This leads in vv. 4-5 to an announcement of the benefits and honors accorded to Israel by God, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh (“according to the flesh”, kata\ sa/rka). The setting forth (establishment) of the Law (nomoqesi/a) is, of course, one of these honors.

Rom 9:6-13Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.

This is defined clearly by Paul in verse 6:

“But (it is) not so that the word/account of God has fallen out [i.e. failed]: for these—all the (one)s out of Israel—are not Israel.”

The specific syntax of this last statement is important. The negative particle ou) governs the statement as a whole: ou) ga\rou!toi  )Israh/l (“for these…are not Israel”); and these (ou!toi) refer to the preceding phrase pa/nte$ oi( e)c  )Israh/l (“all the ones out of Israel”). Secondarily, one may also read the negative particle with pa/nte$, “not all the ones out of Israel.. are Israel”. The preposition e)k here means “out of” in the sense of physical/biological descent from (i.e. “offspring of the flesh”, v. 8). In other words the true Israel is not simply the same as all Israelites taken in the ethnic/cultural sense. Paul builds on this by returning to the example of Abraham from chapter 4 (cf. also Gal 3-4), emphasizing that Isaac was his “seed” according to the promise of God, and not simply out of his flesh. Abraham’s true descendants likewise are the “offspring of the promise” (ta\ te/kna th=$ e)paggeli/a$), v. 8. In a similar manner, Paul emphasizes that Isaac’s son Israel was chosen (“called out”) by God beforehand, in contrast to his other son Esau—i.e., the blessing was not based simply on birth or genealogy (vv. 11-13).

Rom 9:14-33Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question:

  • Vv. 14-18—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]? There is not injustice [a)diki/a] alongside God (is there)? May it not come to be (so)!”
  • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]: For what [i.e. why] then does He yet find fault (with us)? For who has stood against His counsel [i.e. what He has resolved to do]?”
  • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]? That the nations not pursuing justice have taken hold of justice…but Israel, pursuing (the) Law of justice…did not arrive (first)…?

The first two arguments (vv. 14-29) relate to the example of Isaac in vv. 6-13, of how God chose Israel beforehand (over Esau). These verses came to be central to subsequent theological debates regarding “predestination” and the sovereignty of God—i.e., how God may accept one person and reject another, quite apart from anything done to deserve such blessing. Unfortunately, this doctrinal emphasis tends to wrench the passage well out of its original context, as is quite clear from the the concluding argument in vv. 30-33, where Paul returns to the main statement of v. 6. Because of their importance to Paul’s view of the Law, verses 30-33 will be discussed in a separate note.

Romans 10

Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)

Paul offers a personal confession, similar to that in 9:1-3; here he expresses his desire (and prayer) that Israel might be saved—”(my) need (expressed) [i.e. prayer] toward God over them unto (their) salvation” (v. 1b). In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”

Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:

“For (the) Anointed {Christ} is (the) te/lo$ of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

This verse (along with vv. 2-3) will be discussed in a separate note.

Rom 10:5-13Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.

This argument is essentially a commentary on Leviticus 18:5, which Paul also cites in a similar context in Gal 3:10-14. It is part of his regular contrast between the Law, which one observes by doing (“works of the Law”), and trust/faith (in Christ). The contrast is stark indeed—”justice/righteousness out of the Law” vs. “justice/righteousness out of faith/trust”. His supplemental usage here of Deut 30:11-14 is interesting, illustrating dramatically the righteousness based on doing, taken to extremes: “step up into the (high) heaven…step down into the deep (pit)”, adding the detail that the purpose is to “bring the Anointed down” and “bring the Anointed up”. The idea seems to be that this righteousness through deeds (i.e. observance of the Law) effectively takes the place of the true righteousness of God found in Christ, as expressed in v. 3. Another difference is that true righteousness is realized through the “utterance in the mouth… and in the heart” (v. 8, citing Deut 30:14); this utterance (r(h=ma) is then identified with the “word” or proclamation (kh/rugma) of the Gospel. Paul cites a kerygmatic formula in verse 9, expounding it in vv. 10-11, and applying it to all people—Jews and Gentiles equally—who trust in Christ, and confess this trust, i.e. “all who call upon him” (v. 12f, citing Joel 2:32 [cf. Acts 2:21]).

Rom 10:14-21Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

  • The proclamation of the Gospel (vv. 14-15)
  • Israel’s response to the Gospel—not all have faith (vv. 16-17)
  • Evidence of this in the Scriptures (vv. 18-21, citing Psalm 19:4; Deut 32:21; Isa 65:1-2)

The statement in v. 16, “not all have obeyed [lit. listened/heard under] the good message”, relates back to the main argument in 9:6—not all Israelites are (the true) Israel. The implication is, that the true Israel is represented by those who accept the Gospel and trust in Jesus Christ. This is the message of chapters 9 and 10, in summary form. It is important to keep this in mind when studying chapter 11 (below).

Romans 11

Rom 11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)

The structure of this chapter is somewhat different from the previous two—here Paul’s personal address in relation to Israel is embedded within a larger discussion of Israel’s role as the people of God. Verses 1-12 actually form an argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10), framed by two similar rhetorical questions:

  • Vv. 1-2: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
    Question: “God has not pushed his people away from (him, has he)?”
    Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!… God has not pushed away from (him) his people whom he knew before(hand).”
  • Vv. 11-12: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
    Question: “They have not started to fall (so) that they should fall (completely, have they)?”
    Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]! But by their falling alongside, the salvation for the Gentiles (has come), to bring them [i.e. Israel] along to a burning (desire) [i.e. to jealously].”

The central argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10) draws upon the narrative from 1 Kings 19:9-18, and the idea of a faithful remnant of Israel—”so then also in this time now there has come to be a (remainder) left over, according to the gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)” (v. 5).

Rom 11:13-32Exposition: A Two-fold address to Gentile believers:

  • Vv. 13-24—Illustration of the olive tree and its branches
  • Vv. 25-32—Discourse on the (eschatological) salvation of Israel

Rom 11:33-36—Doxology on the wisdom and knowledge of God

Because of the importance of this chapter, especially verses 13-32, in terms of Paul’s view of the Law, as well as the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, it will be discussed in more detail in a supplementary article.