Commentary on Romans 9:30-10:4

Notes (NET Translation)

9:30 What shall we say then? — that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, 9:31 but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it.

The question “What then shall we say?” need not suggest that Paul is responding to the objection of an opponent. Rather, Paul uses it as a rhetorical device to introduce an implication of his teaching in 9:6b-29 (and esp. vv. 24-29): “Therefore, in light of God’s calling of Gentiles and of only some Jews, what do we find now to be the case?”1

The Greek literally says “Gentiles” where the NET says “the Gentiles”. Some, but not all, Gentiles obtained righteousness by faith. Before the time of Christ, some Gentiles surely pursued moral rectitude but they did not seek the righteousness that involves being in right standing with the one true God.

Israel was pursuing the law for righteousness, that is, a right relationship with God. The Greek states that Israel did not attain the law. Because “Israel did not succeed in carrying out what the law prescribed, she did not obtain what she pursued — a righteousness based on observance of the law.”2

9:32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 9:33 just as it is written, “Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The fault of Israel is that she attempted to gain righteousness by works instead of by faith in Christ.

To say that the Jews (and Paul himself prior to his conversion to Christ; cf. Phil 3:8-9) made the mistake of pursuing the law for righteousness is not to say that first-century Judaism in its entirety was in principle a religion in which acceptance before God depended upon amassing merit by keeping the law. Rather, even if it is acknowledged that first-century Judaism was essentially covenantal and nomistic as many do, it has to be acknowledged also that there was a tendency for the nomistic obligations of the covenant to be emphasized at the expense of God’s saving grace. A nomistic religion often degenerated, in practice, into a legalistic one. Paul believed that many of his Jewish kinsfolk, being proud of their exclusive possession of the law, fell into the trap of believing that it was their observance of the law, rather than God’s saving grace, that guaranteed their acceptance by him.3

The allusion to the stumbling stone is a conflation of Isa. 28:16 and 8:14.

By replacing the middle of Isa. 28:16 with a phrase from Isa. 8:14, he brings out the negative point about Israel’s fall that is his main point in this context. At the same time, by including the reference to Isa. 28:16, he lays the foundation for the positive exposition of Christ as a “stone” that he will develop in chap. 10 (see esp. v. 11). The quotation concluding chap. 10, therefore, provides a significant christological basis for Paul’s continuing discussion of Israel’s failure and the Gentiles’ inclusion in chap. 10. At the same time, it contributes significantly to Paul’s concern to demonstrate that Israel’s exclusion from God’s people as a result of the gospel does not constitute a departure from the OT. Quite the contrary, Paul here implies: Israel’s stumbling over Christ was predicted in the OT.4

In both Isaian passages the stone is Yahweh but here the stumbling stone is Christ crucified (cf. Matt. 21:42 // Mark 12:10-11 // Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:6-8; Barn. 6:2-4). The failure of Israel to believe in Christ is her downfall for he is the foundation for the people of God.

Has Israel’s inappropriate focus on the law led her to stumble over Christ, the stone God has placed in Zion? Or has Israel’s failure to place her faith in Christ led her to focus too exclusively on the law? At the risk of being accused of “having one’s cake and eating it too,” I answer: both. On the one hand, Paul argues that Israel has missed Christ, the culmination of the plan of God, because she has focused too narrowly on the law. Israel is like a person walking a path, whose eyes are so narrowly focused downward on the path itself that she trips over a stone in the middle of that path. On the other hand, Israel’s failure to perceive in Christ the end and goal of the path she has been walking leads her to continue on that path after it had served its purpose.5

10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation.

Paul reminds his readers that his criticism of unbelieving Jews is not because he does not care for their well-being (cf. Rom. 9:1-4).

As Murray points out, the juxtaposition of this heartfelt prayer for Israel’s salvation almost immediately after Paul’s teaching about the ultimate determinancy of the will of God in salvation (9:6b-29) carries an important reminder: “We violate the order of human thought and trespass the boundary between God’s prerogative and man’s when the truth of God’s sovereign counsel constrains despair or abandonment of concern for the eternal interests of men.”6

10:2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth.

Too often people mistake earnestness for truth. One can be zealous for the wrong cause, and it may well be that Paul puts it this way precisely because he was exhibit A of such zeal when he was wrongly persecuting the followers of Jesus as a Pharisee. He believes that non-Christian Jews lack understanding, and in some cases they have been rebellious and rejected God’s Word to them.7

10:3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

Phil. 3:8-9 helps us interpret Rom. 10:3. The “righteousness that comes from God” is the righteousness that comes by faith. Their “own righteousness” is the righteousness that comes from observing the Law. Unbelieving Jews did not submit to God’s righteousness because they refused to accept the way God provided for human’s to be made right in his sight, that is, by submission and obedience to the gospel’s call to repent and believe in his Son.8

10:4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.

The correct interpretation of telos (end) is debated. It could mean either (1) goal or aim or (2) end, completion, or termination. It may also share both meanings.

Since Paul denies that the Law of Moses was ever intended to provide a way to obtain righteousness, he is probably not saying that the law is no longer a means to obtain righteousness (Rom. 4:1-8; Gal. 3:6-9). What he seems to be saying is that the era of the law’s jurisdiction has come to an end (cf. Rom. 3:21; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 2 Cor. 3:7-14; Gal. 3:23-4:7).

Paul is suggesting either that the Jews were wrong not to submit to God’s righteousness since Christ is the end of the law, or that those who have believed in Christ have submitted to his righteousness since Christ is the end of the law. In either case, the relationship between verses 3 and 4 is sustained by interpreting verse 4 in an experiential sense. Paul does not make a global statement on the relationship between gospel and law here. Instead, his point is an experiential one. “Christ is the end of using the law for righteousness for everyone who believes.” He responds to the specific error of the Jews articulated in verse 3: they used the law to establish their own righteousness. He observes that those who trust in Christ cease using the law to establish their own righteousness.9

At the same time, we may say that Christ is the goal of the Law. He is the one through which it is possible for the righteous requirement of the law to be fulfilled in believers.

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Moo 1996, 621 
  2. Kruse 2012, 394 
  3. Kruse 2012, 396 
  4. Moo 1996, 630 
  5. Moo 1996, 628 
  6. Moo 1996, 632 
  7. Witherington III 2004, 260 
  8. Kruse 2012, 402 
  9. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 10713-10719 
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