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Purpose of Romans 9-11

"Romans 9-11," writes Tom Wright, "is as full of problems as a hedgehog is full of prickles. Many have given it up as a bad job, leaving Romans as a book with eight chapters of gospel at the beginning, four of application at the end, and three of puzzle in the middle."


C. E. B. Cranfield has observed that "a superficial reading of the epistle might easily leave one with the impression that chapters 9 to 11 are simply an excursus which Paul has included under the pressure of his own deep personal involvement in the matter of Israel's destiny but which is without any real inner relatedness to the main argument of Romans" (2:445). C. H. Dodd and A. M. Hunter affirm this view. Hunter asserts that "Paul may have written this section earlier as a separate discussion of a vexed question. It forms a continuous whole and may be read without reference to the rest of the letter" (Introducing the NT, 96).


On the contrary, that Rom. 9-11 is intimately and organically related to Rom. 1-8 is evident from a number of factors.


1.             According to Rom. 1:2, the "gospel of God" (v. 1) was "promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures," i.e., the OT Scriptures. Furthermore, this "gospel of God" concerns "His Son (Jesus Christ), who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh" (1:3). These early references to the OT and David indicate that the gospel can be fully understood only in light of the relation it sustains to God's covenant people Israel.



2.             In 1:16-17 Paul says the gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Thus the salvation of the Jews must form an essential part of Paul's message in the letter to the Romans. Romans 9-11 addresses this very point.



3.             In 3:1-6 Paul introduced the problem posed by Jewish rejection of the gospel. He asks: "What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?" Paul does not fully answer the question in chp. 3. A more complete discussion of the faithfulness of God in relation to Israel's unbelief is needed. Romans 9-11 provides that discussion.



4.             In 4:11 Paul referred to Abraham as "the father of all who believe" and in 4:13 to "the promise" given to Abraham and his descendants. The need to define what that promise entails as well as who constitutes his descendants in whom it is to be fulfilled is explicit. Romans 9-11 will answer both questions.



5.             Perhaps most important of all, Romans 9-11 is essential in view of what Paul has just declared at the close of chp. 8. John Piper explains:


"The hope of the Christian, with which Rom. 1-8 came to a climax, is wholly dependent on God's faithfulness to his word, his call (8:28,30). But, as Gutbrod asks, 'Can the new community trust God's Word when it seems to have failed the Jews?' The unbelief of Israel, the chosen people, and their consequent separation from Christ (Rom. 9:3) seem to call God's word into question and thus to jeopardize not only the privileged place of Israel, but also the Christian hope as well. Therefore, in Paul's view, the theme of Rom. 9-11 is not optional; it is essential for the securing of Rom. 1-8" (The Justification of God, p. 4).


Cranfield echoes this view:


"The very reliability of God's purpose as the ground of Christian hope is called in question by the exclusion of the majority of Jews. If the truth is that God's purpose with Israel has been frustrated, then what sort of a basis for Christian hope is God's purpose? And, if God's love for Israel (cf., e.g., Deut. 7:7f; Jer. 31:3) has ceased, what reliance can be placed on Paul's conviction that nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ (v. 38f)?" (2:447).


Clearly, then, Romans 9:6a is the central point that Romans 9-11 was written to prove:


"But it is not as though the Word of God has failed"


Therefore, whereas the destiny of Israel is important in Romans 9-11, it is secondary to the more immediate and ultimate question of the faithfulness of God's word, i.e., His trustworthiness. Simply put, Paul is seeking to answer the question: "Can God's word of promise to us be trusted if the majority of Jews are forever lost?"

[A few scholars have challenged this last point and insist that Paul does not think that Israel was condemned. They point to 9:4-5; 11:1-2; and 11:26 as proof that Paul thought that Israel was still enjoying salvation through her own, separate, covenant with God that was rooted in the OT. Why, then, does Paul criticize Israel so harshly? According to this view, simply because the Jews had refused to acknowledge that God's grace was now being extended to Gentiles. In other words, it was the spirit of exclusivity, such as we see in Jonah, that constituted Israel's primary sin.

This view, however, is highly unlikely. In the first place, it fails to justify the strength and intensity of Paul's anguish and lament over Israel in 9:1-3. This view fails to account for why Paul "could wish himself accursed" for the sake of his fellow Jews. Second, it fails to explain adequately the many texts in which Paul faults Israel for "unbelief". Third, it "fails to reckon with Paul's expressed conviction that faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the way to salvation for both Jew and Gentile (1:16; 10:11-13)" (Moo, 549). Finally, and related to point three, this view would totally undermine the need for Jewish evangelism. It would make utterly superfluous Peter's and Paul's proclamation of salvation to the Jews in the book of Acts and elsewhere.]