Commentary on Romans 10:5-13

Notes (NET Translation)

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.”

The focus on righteousness and faith in vv. 6ff. suggests that the word “for” connects back to v. 4b: “there is righteousness for everyone who believes”. The “for” introduces vv. 5-13 as an “elaboration of the connection between righteousness and faith and its significance. Verses 6 and following give a positive argument for this connection; v. 5 a negative one.”1

The previous contrasts between two kinds of righteousness (9:30-32; 10:2-3) lead us to believe that the “righteousness that is by the law” (v. 5) contrasts with the “righteousness that is by faith” (v. 6). Nowhere in this context is the doing of the law rooted in faith. Phil. 3:6-9 also contrasts the “righteousness that is by the law” with the “righteousness that is by faith”. Phil. 3:9 affirms that righteousness is a gift from God on the basis of faith. Since the “righteousness that is by faith” is viewed positively, the “righteousness that is by the law” must be viewed negatively.

Paul quotes Lev. 18:5 in order to summarize the essence of the law: blessing is contingent on obedience to the law (cf. Gal. 3:11-12).

The emphasis lies on the word “doing” and not on the promise of “life.” Paul states this principle here as a warning. The Jew who refuses to submit to the righteousness of God in Christ, ignoring the fact that the law has come to its culmination in Christ and seeking to establish a relationship with God through the law, must be content in seeking that relationship through “doing.” Yet human doing, imperfect as even the most sincere striving must be, is always inadequate to bring a person into relationship with God–as Paul has shown in Rom. 1:18-3:20. Throughout salvation history, faith and doing, “gospel” and “law” have run along side-by-side. Each is important in our relationship with God. But, as it is fatal to ignore one or the other, it is equally fatal to mix them or to use them for the wrong ends. The OT Israelite who sought to base his or her relationship with God on the law rather than on God’s gracious election in and through the Abrahamic promise arrangement made this mistake. Similarly, Paul suggests, many Jews in his day are making the same mistake: concentrating on the law to the exclusion of God’s gracious provision in Christ, the “climax” of the law, for their relationship with the Lord.2

6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

The “righteousness that is by faith” is the “righteousness that comes from God” (v. 3).

The introductory warning, “Do not say in your heart,” is taken from Deut. 9:4. Paul’s quotation of this clause is not haphazard; he wants his readers to associate these words with the context from which they are drawn. For in Deut. 9:4-6 Moses warns the people of Israel that when they have taken possession of the land God is bringing them to, they must not think that they have earned it because of “their own righteousness.” Paul therefore adds implicit biblical support to his criticism of the Israel of his day for its pursuit of their own righteousness (see v. 5).3

The number of verbal similarities between vv. 6-8 and Deut. 30:12-14, plus the three “that is” explanations (cf. 1QS 8.14-15; 1QpHab 12.7; 4QFlor 1.11), indicate that Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy and not merely using biblical language. The words “Who will ascend into heaven?” are taken from Deut. 30:12, where Moses says that God has made his will known to his people so that they cannot plead ignorance for failing to do the will of God. Paul’s rationale for quoting this passage is not clear.

Douglas Moo states:

The best explanation for Paul’s use of the Deut. 30 text is to think that he finds in this passage an expression of the grace of God in establishing a relationship with his people. As God brought his word near to Israel so they might know and obey him, so God now brings his word “near” to both Jews and Gentiles that they might know him through his Son Jesus Christ and respond in faith and obedience. Because Christ, rather than the law, is now the focus of God’s revelatory word (see 10:4), Paul can “replace” the commandment of Deut. 30:11-14 with Christ. Paul’s application of Deut. 30:12-14, then, is of course not a straightforward exegesis of the passage. But it is a valid application of the principle of that passage in the context of the development of salvation history. The grace of God that underlies the Mosaic covenant is operative now in the New Covenant; and, just as Israel could not plead the excuse that she did not know God’s will, so now, Paul says, neither Jew nor Gentile can plead ignorance of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.4

The “that is” phrase does not necessarily mean Paul is providing the original meaning of the text. It could mean he is providing a contemporary application of the passage.

As the Israelite did not need to “ascend into heaven” to find God’s commandment, so, Paul suggests, there is no need to ascend into heaven to “bring down Christ.” For in the incarnation, the Messiah, God’s Son, has been truly “brought down” already. God, from his side, has acted to make himself and his will for his people known; his people now have no excuse for not responding.5

No human can ascend into heaven. Mankind depends on God sending his Son to earth.

Instead of Deuteronomy’s “Who will cross the sea?” (30:13) Paul has “Who will descend into the abyss?” The abyss was associated with the realm of the dead (Ps. 71:20; Wis. 16:13). Christ’s resurrection means there is no need to descend into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead (as if that were humanly possible).

Both Rom. 10:6 and 7 should be interpreted together as an admonition warning people what they should not do. They should not seek to bring Christ down to the earth or raise him from the dead, for these things have already been done. They were accomplished by God for the sake of his people, and thus the response called for is believing, not doing.6

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Paul quotes Deut. 30:14 in order to show that the gospel is as accessible and as understandable as the law.

Scholars are divided as to whether “the word of faith” should be understood to refer to the content of the faith or to the act of trusting. The following verses (vv. 9-13) suggest that we have a both-and here rather than an either-or. Indeed, verses 9-13 function as an explanation of verse 8, for the ὅτι (hoti, that) introducing verse 9 should be understood as explicative rather than causal. Faith involves the doctrinal confession that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead, and the formulation in verse 9 may reflect pre-Pauline confessional tradition. In any case, the confession that Jesus was appointed as Lord at his resurrection (Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:4) was a teaching held in common by the earliest Christian community (cf. 1 Cor. 15:11). Such a confession is inseparable from a heart conviction (πιστεύσῃς ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου, pisteusēs en tē kardia sou, you believe in your heart), which involves personal trust.7

Paul’s use of “mouth” and “heart” in v. 9 parallel the use of the two terms in Deut. 30:14.

Paul’s rhetorical purpose at this point should make us cautious about finding great significance in the reference to confession here, as if Paul were making oral confession a second requirement for salvation. Belief in the heart is clearly the crucial requirement, as Paul makes clear even in this context (9:30; 10:4, 11). Confession is the outward manifestation of this critical inner response.8

Confession of Jesus as Lord meant that one belonged to him and submitted to him.9

The confession of Jesus as Lord is followed immediately by reference to God raising Jesus from the dead. Both are confessed together precisely because Jesus is the risen Lord. Furthermore the resurrection would clearly distinguish confession of Jesus as Lord from other such confessions in the Greco-Roman world. Jesus, unlike other so-called lords, had died and been raised from the dead and fully assumed the role of Lord only at and by means of the resurrection.10

10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.

The two clauses of v. 10 form a chiasm with v. 9. The rhetoric indicates that we should not look for a differnece in meaning between “righteousness” and “salvation” in this verse. Belief/faith, not works, is what results in righteousness/salvation.

11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Paul quotes Isa. 28:16 (adding the word pas, everyone) to provide scriptural support for his connection of faith to salvation and the universality of salvation mentioned in Rom. 10:4b. “The word καταισχυνθήσεται [shame] should not be interpreted psychologically; it refers to vindication in the final judgment. Those who put their faith in Jesus as the resurrected Lord will be vindicated by God on the day of judgment.”11

12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him.

This verse explains that the salvation is available to everyone, not just Jews (cf. 3:22-23, 29-30). Since Jesus was called “Lord” in v. 9 and is the “him” of v. 11 we should understand v. 12 to be calling Christ the “Lord of all”. The phrase “call on him” means asking him for assistance in prayer.

13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Joel 3:5 LXX is quoted.

Joel 3:1-5 (2:28-32 Eng.) conveys the promise that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. As was the case with the early Christian community (cf. Acts 2:16-21), Paul would certainly have identified the prophecy of Joel with the outpouring of the Spirit on those who confessed Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Moreover, the inclusiveness of the Gentiles in God’s saving purposes is evident not only in the πᾶς of Joel 3: 5 but also in the assertion that the Spirit would be poured out “on all flesh” (ἐπὶ πᾶσαν σάρκα, epi pasan sarka), which Paul would have identified with the entrance of Gentiles into the church. Since the same Lord is the Lord of all and since the OT itself anticipated that Gentiles who call on his name would be saved, the inclusion of Gentiles into the church is not a sign of Pauline apostasy but rather an evidence that the last days have dawned in which God is fulfilling his saving plan. The gift of the Spirit reveals that the era of the fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises has begun, and it was always God’s intention that all peoples (cf. Gen. 12:3) participate in these saving blessings.12

In the OT, of course, the one on whom people called for salvation was Yahweh; Paul reflects the high view of Christ common among the early church by identifying this one with Jesus Christ, the Lord.13


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, 647 
  2. Moo 1996, 649-650 
  3. Moo 1996, 650-651 
  4. Moo 1996, 653 
  5. Moo 1996, 655 
  6. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 10929-10931 
  7. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 10934-10943 
  8. Moo 1996, 657 
  9. Kruse 2012, 410 
  10. Witherington III 2004, 263 
  11. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 10967-10968 
  12. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 10989-10997 
  13. Moo 1996, 660 

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