§1 Romans and the Story Line of the Bible


More than any other Pauline letter, Romans alludes to key events in the biblical narrative of God’s dealings with the world and its inhabitants and records prophetic perspectives on those events. Paul is concerned with the pattern of God’s historic interventions and how they relate to one another. Most importantly, he reflects on what they reveal about the character and purpose of God and how they prepare for and illuminate the work of Christ. Paul has a way of understanding OT Scripture that is critical for understanding the gospel and its implications. He wants to situate his readers within the unfolding story of God’s engagement with humanity, which has past, present, and future significance for them., ed. David M. Hay and E. Elizabeth Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 68–86.

§1.1 Creation, Sin, and Judgment

God is introduced as Creator of all that exists, as Paul draws attention to what can be known about him from the natural world (1:18–23). People across time have clearly seen God’s eternal power and divine nature, “being understood through what he has made ” (1:20). But this knowledge has left them without excuse because they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. “Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (1:21–23).

This portrait of humanity in rebellion against God is not yet specifically linked to Adam’s sin or to death as its penalty (though see 1:32). Rather, Paul gives an account of what has characterized human life since Adam’s fall, reflecting some of the perspectives of Genesis 3–11. Paul mentions people being handed over by God “in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves” (1:24). Such is the outcome for those who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator” (1:25). Paul further describes people being handed over to “disgraceful passions,” resulting in unnatural sexual relationships (1:26–27), and being handed over to attitudes and practices that hinder authentic human relationships (1:28–32).

Paul identifies these consequences of humanity’s rebellion against God as a present manifestation of God’s wrath (1:18). Echoing the predictions of the eschatological prophets, Paul asserts that the wrath of God is soon to be fully and finally expressed in a day of universal judgment (2:5; cf. Isa 2:12–22; Amos 5:18–20; Zeph 1:14–18). The effect of sin in human life continues to be exposed in Rom 2:1–3:20, where the focus is specifically on Israel’s failure to be God’s holy people.

When Paul concludes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23), he echoes the Jewish tradition that when Adam sinned he lost the glory that was his when he was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27; Ps 8:5). The gospel hope is that believers will encounter the glory of God at the end of the age through physical resurrection and be fully transformed into the likeness of God’s Son (5:2; 8:18–21, 29–30). Those who suffer with Christ will be glorified with him (8:17), making him “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (8:29). However, Paul’s claim that believers “will . . . reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (5:17) has a present application. Even now, those who have died with Christ begin to reign over sin and death and reflect something of the likeness of Christ in anticipation of that final encounter with him through resurrection (6:1–14)., ed. Matthew S. Harmon and Jay E. Smith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 27–43.

Paul’s specific explanation of how sin and death came into the world through Adam’s transgression (5:12–21) brings the teaching of Genesis 3 more precisely to the fore. Here the focus is on Adam’s disobedience to a specific command of God, which the apostle links with Israel’s subsequent disobedience to the law given through Moses (5:13–14). This prepares for the argument in 7:7–13 about the fatal effect of the law in revealing, provoking, and condemning sin in Israel (see §1.4)., 44–56.

Paul’s typological comparison of Adam and Christ presents them as epochal figures. Adam’s sin determines the character of the present age, and Christ’s obedience determines the character of the coming age (5:15–21; cf. 1 Cor 15:22). Adam’s sin is “the bridgehead that paves the way for ‘sinning’ as a condition of humanity.”, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 1996), 319. Cf. James D. G. Dunn, “Adam and Christ,” in Reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans, ed. Jerry L. Sumney, SBL Resources for Biblical Study 73 (Atlanta: SBL, 2012), 125–38. Human beings became sinners not merely by imitating Adam’s transgression, but “they were constituted sinners by him and his act of disobedience.”, AB 33 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 421 (commenting on 5:19). Cf. Charles E. B. Cranfield, Introduction and Commentary on Romans I–VIII, vol. 1 of A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975), 277–79. As already noted, the analysis of the human situation in 1:18–32 describes the historic outworking of Adam’s sin and its consequences, showing how “death spread to all people, because all sinned” (5:12).

An allusion to Gen 3:17–19 is implicit in Paul’s consideration of “the sufferings of this present time” (8:18–25). A futility about the created order makes it a suitable environment for those who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23; cf. Eccl 1–12). The creation was “subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (8:20). It is now in “the bondage to decay,” which makes it captive to corruption and death (8:21). Indeed, “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (8:22). This personification of a suffering creation picks up the notion of God’s subjecting it to futility “in hope” (8:20; cf. Gen 3:15; Rom 16:20). Echoing the prophetic expectation of a new creation (e.g., Isa 11:6–9; 65:17, 25; 66:22; Ezek 34:25–31), Paul claims that the creation itself will be set free “from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:21). This explains his previous claim that “the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed” (8:19). Creation shares in the consequences of human sin, but it will be transformed when believers are resurrected from the dead (8:23; see §1.6).

A climactic expression of Paul’s creation theology occurs in a summary statement at the end of the hymn of praise in 11:33–36. God is the source of all that exists, the sustainer of all things, and the goal of everything. His redemptive plan embraces people from every nation (11:25–32), and he will bring every aspect of our disordered world into conformity with his own will and purpose. The gospel promises will be fulfilled because God as Creator has a plan for humanity that cannot ultimately be frustrated by human sin (8:28–39; 16:25–27).

§1.2 God’s Promises to Abraham and His Offspring

God’s creative power is specifically linked to redemption in Paul’s treatment of Abraham: he believed in “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist” (4:17). The apostle explains how each of the foundational promises made by God to Abraham in Gen 12:1–3, and confirmed in subsequent revelations, is fulfilled in Christ.Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, NSBT 23 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007], 77–91) examines the relationship between the programmatic agenda of Gen 12:1–3 and the covenants of Gen 15 and 17. Williamson (186–92) discusses the covenant theology in Romans briefly. In the process he focuses on Abraham’s faith, which was “credited to him for righteousness” (4:1–3, 18–22; cf. Gen 15:6), and which functions as a model for faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus (4:23–25).

The relationship between Abraham’s faith and Christian faith is first indicated by insisting that Abraham was not justified by works but by believing “on him who declares the ungodly to be righteous” (4:5). This language links Abraham with the portrait of humanity in Rom 1:18–3:20 in need of God’s forgiveness and release from the consequences of sin (see also 3:22–24, 28–30). A citation from Ps 32:1–2 suggests that the essential blessing God gave to Abraham was to “cover” his sins and credit him with “righteousness apart from works” (4:6–8; cf. Gen 12:2; 15:6).

Paul stresses the wider implications of this blessing when he observes that Abraham was declared righteous by faith before he received the covenant sign of circumcision. This made him the father of Gentiles who believe but are not circumcised as well as the father of Jews, who “follow in the footsteps of the faith our father Abraham had while he was still uncircumcised” (4:9–12). Paul alludes to the blessing of Gen 12:3 (“and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you”) when he talks about Gentiles and Jews being similarly justified by faith. This is articulated in Rom 4:16–18 with reference to Abraham’s God-given role as “father of many nations” (Gen 17:5). As Creator, God is concerned to bless the whole human race, but he chooses to do this by first blessing Abraham and his physical offspring. Ultimately, salvation through faith in Christ is available for Abraham’s spiritual offspring—those in Israel and those among the nations—bringing deliverance from God’s judgment and new life (4:22–25; cf. 10:9–13; Gal 3:6–14).

Paul takes the promise to Abraham about the land that God would show him (Gen 12:1) to mean that his offspring would inherit “the world” (4:13). This is in line with Jewish thinking, which came to identify the inheritance of God’s people with “the world to come.” 1.155; Pss\. Sol\. 12:6; Josephus, Ant. 32:3; Sib. Or. 3:768–69; 4 Ezra 6:59; 7:9; 2 Bar. 14:13; 44:13; 51:3. Paul argues that believing Jews and Gentiles may glorify God together for the Messianic salvation that unites them and gives them the hope of sharing together in God’s new creation (3:29–30; 4:9–17; 11:25–32; 15:8–13).

Paul’s final focus is on the promise that the patriarch would have numerous offspring (Gen 12:2; 13:16; 15:4–5). made a covenant with Abram.” Paul uses the word “covenant” to describe God’s commitment to Abraham in Gal 3:16–18 but not in Romans. When Abraham and Sarah were too old to conceive a child, God began to fulfill his promise by enabling the birth of Isaac (4:17b–21; cf. Gen 21:1–7). This exercise of God’s power anticipated the raising of Jesus from death, making it possible for believers from every nation to be justified and receive new life through him (4:22–25; cf. 6:4–11; 7:4–6; 8:10–11; 10:9–13). As already noted, Abraham’s spiritual offspring are Jews and Gentiles who manifest the same faith in God for acceptance and eschatological blessing in Christ.

The climactic expression of this teaching is in Rom 15:8–13. There Paul insists that “Christ became a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, and so that Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy” (15:8–9). This claim is supported by citations from each section of the biblical canon: one from the Law (Deut 32:43 in 15:10), two from the Psalms (Ps 18:49 in 15:9; Ps 117:1 in 15:11), and one from the Prophets (Isa 11:10 in 15:12). For Paul this is a consistent biblical theme, which must be articulated and lived out by believers in ways that demonstrate its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ.

§1.3 Israel and God’s Electing Grace

“The covenants” and “the ancestors” (the patriarchs) are mentioned in 9:4–5 among the foundational gifts of God to Israel., 94–181. But Paul questions whether God’s word has failed (9:6) because so many Israelites have stumbled in unbelief over “the stumbling stone” of the Messiah (9:32; cf. Isa 8:14; 28:16). He responds by outlining the biblical evidence for a process of divine election taking place among the offspring of Abraham. Ultimately, he intends to show that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9:6; cf. 9:27–29, 31–33). Biblical history indicates that God has narrowed “the apparent boundaries of election by choosing only some Jews to be saved.”, 569.

The first example of divine choice is Isaac, rather than Ishmael, as the inheritor of the blessings promised to Abraham (9:7–9; cf. Gen 21:1–13). Israel’s election is then portrayed with reference to the extraordinary choice of Jacob over Esau (9:10–13; cf. Gen 25:19–34). God’s sovereign grace is revealed in the promise about the older serving the younger, which was given before they were born and before they had a chance to do good or evil (cf. Gen 25:27–34; 27:1–40). The pattern of unconditional election illustrated in the call of Abraham continues with his offspring. God’s choice of Israel as a nation is confirmed with the retrospective declaration “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau” (Mal 1:2–3).

A series of citations covering the period of the exodus highlight God’s intention to display his power and make his “name” or character known in all the earth (9:14–18; cf. Exod 9:16). Israel’s rescue from Egypt was designed to disclose God’s character to the nations and so bless them in line with his promise to Abraham (Gen 12:3). God showed mercy and compassion to his people by powerfully delivering them from Pharaoh’s control (cf. Exod 33:19). Until the moment of release, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart against him so that he might multiply his wonders in the land of Egypt (cf. Exod 11:9–10). As with Jacob and Esau (Rom 9:11–12), God’s choice of Israel over Pharaoh did not depend on “human will or effort but on God who shows mercy” (9:16). Yet in both cases God’s choice was reflected or demonstrated in subsequent human behavior. Moses as God’s agent encouraged Israel to “stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation” (Exod 14:13) so that “when Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and believed in him and in his servant Moses” (14:31). God’s promise and its fulfillment enabled the obedience of faith.

In response to his teaching about God’s hardening whom he wills, Paul has an imaginary opponent ask, “Why then does [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (9:19) Drawing on familiar biblical imagery, Paul warns against any arrogant challenge to God’s justice and asserts that a potter has the right over his clay “to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor” (9:20–21; cf. Isa 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jer 18:1–11). “God’s right to choose is grounded in his role as Creator. What is molded has no right to challenge him who does the molding.”, ed. Sven K. Soderlund and N. T. Wright (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 124. Theocentrism lies at the heart of Paul’s “prophetic criticism” of Israel. Paul then moves from the exodus situation to the gospel era, using linked citations from the prophetic literature to explain the relationship between Israel and God in the intervening period (9:22–29).

Picking up some of the language of the preceding verses, Paul begins to apply his argument to the situation of Jews and Gentiles faced with the gospel of Christ. His first question is, “And what if God, wanting to display his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath prepared for destruction?” (9:22). His second question is, “And what if he did this to make known the riches of his glory on objects of mercy that he prepared beforehand for glory—on us, the ones he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (9:23–24).

Paul uses Scripture to highlight both Israel’s historic failure to serve God and God’s response. Hosea predicted the Assyrian invasion and exile of the northern tribes but also anticipated a comprehensive restoration of God’s covenant people (Hos 2:23; 1:10 in 9:25–26). This combination of texts illustrates that God’s call “can completely transform what had appeared to be a clear-cut case of divine rejection.”, WBC 38B (Dallas: Word, 1988), 575. Paul sees in these words of Hosea a promise of Israel’s restoration. But Dunn also concludes that, “the privilege of sonship with which Israel had been favored (vv. 4, 8) has been extended to all who respond to God’s call now through the gospel.” See my comments on 9:25. Nevertheless, Isaiah predicted that only a remnant would be saved from enemy attack and invasion (9:27–29; cf. Isa 10:22–23; 28:22; 1:9). Many in Israel were “objects of wrath prepared for destruction,” while some were “objects of mercy that he prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:22–23).

Paul turns to the eschatological application of this teaching by relating it to the failure of many Israelites to pursue the righteousness that is by faith (9:30–10:4). In effect he accuses unbelieving Israelites of failing to “follow in the footsteps of the faith our father Abraham had” (4:12). A combination of Isa 28:16 and 8:14 is used to highlight Israel’s stumbling over the Messiah rather than believing in him and not being put to shame at the approaching judgment (9:32–33). Paradoxically, however, “Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith” (9:30; see §2.5). By implication this happened because of their believing response to Israel’s Messiah (cf. 3:27–31; 4:9–12).

Although Paul concedes that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel” (11:25), he insists that this is part of God’s saving plan to bring riches to the Gentiles and reconciliation to the world (11:7–15). Paul’s optimism about “all Israel” being saved and “the fullness of the Gentiles” coming to faith is based on his understanding of the kindness and mercy of God (11:22–32). These expressions refer to the full number of the elect in Israel and the nations. The covenantal basis of this assurance is indicated by the image of “the root” being holy and sanctifying the original branches of “the olive tree,” which signifies the people of God (11:16–21). The divine covenants are also the basis of Paul’s optimism when he claims that Israelites are loved “because of the patriarchs” and concludes that “God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable” (11:28–29). 441–46.

§1.4 Israel and the Law

The word νόμος(“law”) occurs seventy-two times in Romans, mostly with reference to the law of God. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 33–40. Paul lists “the giving of the law” (9:4, ἡ νομοθεσία) as one of the privileges of Israel, referring to what happened when God brought his people to Sinai/Horeb in fulfillment of his covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 2:23–25; 3:6–10, 14–18; 6:2–9). Israel was challenged to listen to God and carefully keep the covenant he was making with them. God’s promise was: “You will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation” (Exod 19:5–6; cf. Deut 5–6). The covenant with Israel was a development of the covenants made with the forefathers, spelling out the kind of nation God intended them to be., 94).

A complex set of moral, social, and cultic obligations established how this people could respond to God’s gracious initiative in choosing and saving them. Israel was singularly blessed by the giving of the law, and the ultimate aim was that all the people on earth would be blessed through Israel’s obedience to this law (cf. Gen 18:18–19; 19:5–6; Isa 2:2–3). The covenantal relationship between God and Israel was confirmed by a sacrificial ceremony in Exod 24:3–8 when Moses read out the commandments and ordinances of the Lord and the people expressed their intention to obey.

Paul has many positive things to say about the law in Romans. It reveals the will of God and enables right decisions about what really matters in life (2:18). It was given for Israel to be “a guide for the blind, a light to those in darkness” (2:19; cf. Isa 42:6–7). Jews could teach and model God’s values to people of other nations, “having the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the law” (2:20). But Paul points to the hypocrisy of Jews who preached the law to Gentiles but who dishonored God by breaking it themselves (2:21–23). This behavior caused the blaspheming of God’s name among the nations (2:24; cf. Isa 52:5).

Paul echoes the teaching of passages such as Lev 18:5; Deut 5:32–33; 30:11–20 when he says the commandment was meant “for life” (7:10). Indeed, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (7:12). But the problem is that sin “was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment, sin might become sinful beyond measure” (7:13). This problem is illustrated in many of the biblical narratives, beginning with Exod 32:1–6, and it is picked up in numerous prophetic oracles about Israel’s failure to obey God (e.g., Isa 1:1–23; Jer 7:1–34; Hos 12–13).

An important function of the law was to reveal human sin and make the whole world subject to God’s judgment (3:19–20; cf. 7:7c–d)., 91) argues that “for Paul, God’s transcendent purpose in giving the law was to increase sin, for the multiplication of transgressions would demonstrate that no one could be righteous through obeying the law.” The claim that “both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin” (3:9) is supported by a catena of biblical texts from Ecclesiastes, Psalms, and Isaiah (3:10–18). Paul concludes this sequence (3:19) using ὁ νόμος with reference to the three sections of the Hebrew canon (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings). with reference to Scripture other than the Pentateuch in John 10:34; 15:25; 1 Cor 14:21. This reflects wider Jewish usage of the term (cf. Str-B 3:159, 463). But he mostly employs this noun narrowly. So “where there is no law, there is no transgression” (4:15b) means that “sin is not charged to a person’s account” when there is no possibility of breaking an explicit command of God (5:13b). Paul goes a step further in 7:9–11, arguing that, “when the commandment came, sin sprang to life again and I died. The commandment that was meant for life resulted in death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.” This unpacks his previous claim that “the law came along to multiply the trespass” (5:20a).

Various features of the fall narrative in Gen 3:1–7 are echoed in Rom 7:7–11. But Paul also seems to allude to Israel’s rebellion in Exod 32:1–6, when the people turned to idolatry and immorality immediately after receiving the covenant law at Sinai. The law turned sin into transgression, increased the trespass, and produced wrath (cf. Exod 32:7–29)., 428–31. N. T. Wright (“The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, 13 vols. [Nashville: Abingdon, 1994–2004], 10:563) similarly contends that “what happened on Sinai recapitulated what had happened in Eden.” He notes the link between covetousness and the sin of Adam in Jewish literature (b\. Sanh\. 38b; 102a; Exod. Rab. 21:1; 30:7; 32:1, 7, 11). Cf. James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, WBC 38A (Dallas: Word, 1988), 379. The serpent used God’s good law in Eden to bring death into the world, and sin used the law given at Sinai to bring condemnation and death to the covenant people. This composite biblical picture is expressed in the first-person singular not just for rhetorical vividness but because of Paul’s “deep sense of personal involvement, his consciousness that in drawing out the general truth he is disclosing the truth about himself.”, 1.344. Cranfield (1.342) thinks Paul is speaking “in a generalizing way without intending a specific reference to any particular individual or clearly defined group,” but his comment about the significance of the first person singular is applicable to the Adam-Israel view.

Paul’s extraordinary conclusion is that sin “was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment, sin might become sinful beyond measure” (7:13). Sin’s sinfulness was enhanced by its use of God’s law. But the broader argument of Romans suggests that this was part of a wider divine purpose. “God gave the law (to Israel) precisely to bring sin to a point of maximum concentration so that right there (Israel) ‘where sin increased, grace might abound’ (5:20b), for the benefit of the entire world, in the person of Israel’s Messiah (cf. 8:3–4).”, SP (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1996), 221. This salvation-historical perspective fits with Paul’s argument in 9:30–11:24 and Gal 3:19–26. Cf. n. 19 above.

As Paul defends the goodness of the law of God in 7:7–25, he warns about the impossibility of bearing fruit for God by attempting to keep the written code. This is because of the captivating power of sin and the flesh. The apostle’s approach highlights the need for the new way of the Spirit announced in 7:4–6 and expounded in 8:1–14. God’s Spirit sets believers free from “the law of sin and death” by convincing them about freedom from condemnation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice (8:1–3; cf. 5:5–8; 7:4–5). (“law”) is most naturally understood figuratively in 8:2 (“the law of the Spirit of life,” “the law of sin and death”), as in 7:21 (“this law”); 7:23 (“a different law,” “the law of my mind,” “the law of sin”); 7:25 (“the law of sin”). Cf. 3:27 (“[the law] of works,” “a law of faith”).

The gift of the Spirit also makes it possible for “the law’s requirement” to be fulfilled in those who “do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:4; cf. 7:6; 13:8–10). This promise echoes Jeremiah’s prediction that God would place his law within his people and write it “on their hearts” (Jer 31:33), enabling them to know his will and be moved to do it. Such renewal would flow from the definitive forgiveness of their sins (31:34). In a parallel passage, Ezekiel promised that God would cleanse and renew his people, giving them a new heart and placing his Spirit within them to enable them to keep his law (Ezek 36:25–27).Covenant Life and Ministry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012), 29–43, 136–55; Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment, 145–78; Brian S. Rosner, Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God, NSBT 31 (Nottingham: Apollos; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013), 158–222.

There are also allusions to new covenant expectations in 2:14–15, 26–29. Preparing for his denunciation of the disobedient Jew in 2:17–24, Paul makes clear that “the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (2:13)., 97). As a challenge to those who are not genuinely doers of the law, he points to Gentile Christians who “do not by nature (φύσει) have the law” but who “do what the law demands” (2:14). is more likely to modify the verb that immediately precedes it, rather than the verb that follows it, the meaning is “they do not have the law by virtue of their birth.” These people “show that the work of the law is written on their hearts,” and “their consciences confirm this” (2:15). Later in Romans Paul negatively uses the plural expression “the works of the law” (3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10), but the singular expression “the work of the law” (τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου) has a positive meaning in 2:15. It signifies “the essential unity of the law’s requirements,”, 1:158. Simon J. Gathercole (“A Law unto Themselves: The Gentiles in Romans 2:14–15 Revisited,” JSNT 85 [2002]: 41–43) addresses objections to the view that 2:15 proclaims the fulfillment of Jer 31:33. Others who argue that the passage is about Gentile Christians include Cranfield, Romans, 1:155–59; N. T. Wright, “The Law in Romans 2”, in Paul and the Mosaic Law, ed. James D. G. Dunn, WUNT 89 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1996; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 131–50; Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 213–17; Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 130–40. which God writes on the hearts of his new covenant people.

In 2:25–29 Paul asserts that a true Jew will have a circumcised heart. 2:26–27 echoes 2:14–15 with the claim that Gentiles who are physically uncircumcised, yet fulfill the law’s demands, expose the failure of those who have “the letter of the law and circumcision” but are lawbreakers. But then Paul claims that “a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter” (2:29). This recalls the command of Deut 10:16 (“circumcise your hearts”; cf. Lev 26:41) and the promise in Deut 30:6 (“The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants”). Israel’s historic failure to respond to God’s demand is picked up by Jeremiah (4:4; 9:26), who announces God’s intention to transform the hearts of his people by the provision of a new covenant (Jer 31:33; cf. 24:7; 32:40). Ezekiel 36:26–27 clarifies that this will be accomplished when God puts his Spirit within his people, causing them to follow his statutes and carefully observe his ordinances.

§1.5 Israel’s Failure and God’s Judgment

When Paul links God’s promises to Abraham and the salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he makes plain that “the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith” (4:13). Recalling his previous argument about faith being credited to Abraham before he was circumcised (4:9–12), Paul asserts, “If those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made empty and the promise nullified” (4:14). It was always God’s intention that salvation for Jews and Gentiles would depend on faith in God and his promises, not on obedience to his commands.

This focus on “the righteousness that comes by faith” reflects what Gen 15:6 says about Abraham’s relationship with God. It is another way of speaking about divine justification, which Paul has asserted is not “by the works of the law” (3:20, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου), but “by faith apart from the works of the law” (3:28, πίστει . . . χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου; cf. Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10). “The works of the law” have been understood narrowly by some scholars to refer to boundary markers, such as Sabbath keeping, circumcision, and food laws, which clearly distinguished Jews from Gentiles., lxiii–lxxii, 158–59; Wright, “Romans,” 459–61. Simon J. Gathercole (Where Is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1–5 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001]: 218–22, 248–49) critiques this argument, as does Moo, Romans, 206–17; Fitzmyer, Romans, 338; Byrne, Romans, 120–21; Schreiner, Romans, 169–73. But Paul’s condemnation of his fellow Israelites does not simply focus on their failure to observe these requirements.

The benefit of circumcision without obedience to the law’s other requirements is certainly challenged (2:25–29). More broadly, however, Paul exposes the false confidence of Jews who know the will of God from the law and believe they are in a position to teach others but dishonor God by breaking the law comprehensively (2:17–24; cf. 3:9–18). “The works of the law” are simply “things done in obedience to the law.”, 209. Watson (“The Law in Romans,” 93) similarly argues that “works of the law” includes “those practices that together constitute the distinctive Jewish way of life.” The term “works” is apparently used as a substitute for “works of the law” in 4:2, 6; 9:11–12, 32; 11:6. Justification in God’s sight cannot be based on “the works of the law” because “the knowledge of sin comes through the law” and the law makes everyone “subject to God’s judgment” (3:19–20; cf. 4:15; 5:13; 7:13).

In 9:30–31 Paul resumes his teaching about the righteousness that comes from faith and is the outcome of God’s justifying work in Christ (3:21–4:25). Righteousness by faith has been “obtained” by Gentiles, who did not pursue it. But Israel as a people pursued the law for righteousness, as if it were by works. This caused them to stumble over the Messiah and reject the gospel proclaiming the righteousness that is through faith in him (9:32–33). Disregarding “the righteousness of God” and attempting to establish their own righteousness, “they have not submitted to God’s righteousness” (10:3), “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4). Now that the Messiah has come, the law has completed its task of revealing God’s righteousness to everyone who believes.10:4 in Pauline Perspective, JSNTSup 10 [Sheffield: JSOT, 1985], 118) argues that “Christ embodies that righteousness which the law promised.” Moo (Romans, 641) concludes that Christ is the “end” of the law in the sense that he brings its era to a close and its “goal” in the sense that “he is what the law anticipated and pointed towards.” The law itself showed that righteousness could only be by faith (10:6–8, reflecting on Deut 30:12–14), namely, by relying on the grace of God for the gift of righteousness and deliverance from judgment. In Christ and the gospel, these gifts are now available for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (10:9–13, citing Isa 28:16; Joel 2:32).

Not much attention is given in Romans to biblical history between the exodus and the coming of the Christ. But Elijah’s struggle with Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal lies behind the use of 1 Kgs 19:10, 14, 18 in 11:2–4. Paul also refers to prophecies concerning the Assyrian invasions in the eighth century BC (Hos 2:23; 1:10 in 9:25–26) and cites predictions that only a remnant of Israel would be saved from divine judgment (Isa 10:22–23; 28:22; 1:9 in 9:27–29). Such passages highlight Israel’s idolatry and disloyalty to God in every sphere of life. Paul’s use of Deut 32:21 in 10:19; 11:11, 14 concerns God’s use of unspecified foreigners to punish Israel for her disobedience and make her jealous. Other prophetic texts also come from contexts where judgment for Israel is either predicted or in train (e.g. Deut 30:12–14, and Joel 2:32 in 10:6–13; Hab 2:4 in 1:17).

These passages in their original context point to the need for God to intervene and save his people in a new way. They also highlight the need for Israel to trust God and live in the light of his promises. Using key terms from the prophetic literature and drawing upon significant texts, Paul points to Jesus as the anticipated messianic deliverer who comes to rescue Israel from her failure and apostasy and fulfill God’s promise to bring eschatological blessing to the nations (e.g., Isa 59:20–21 in 11:26–27 and a catena of texts in 15:8–12).

§1.6 Promises of Ultimate Deliverance

Much of the argument of Romans concerns the fulfillment of prophetic predictions about the future of Israel and the nations. Paul claims that his gospel comes from God and was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (1:2). The focus of this gospel is God’s Son, whom Paul immediately describes in two related confessional statements (1:3–4; cf. 1:9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32).

God’s Son is first proclaimed as “a descendant of David according to the flesh” (1:3)., 46) rightly argues that several key texts in Paul’s writings presume the preexistence of the Son, which is the implication of 1:3. Cf. Schreiner, Romans, 38–39. God’s promise to King David that he would establish the throne of his descendant forever (2 Sam 7:12–16) became the basis of messianic expectation before, during, and after the period of Israel’s Babylonian exile (e.g., Isa 9:6–7; 11:1–10; Jer 23:5–6; Ezek 34:23–24; Zech 9:9–10; 12:7–13:1). This hope is also evidenced in later Jewish writings (e.g., Pss\. Sol\. 17:21[“the Son of David”]; 18:5 [“his anointed”]; 4QFlor 1:1–19; 1 En. 48:10; 52:4). God’s rule over his people would be renewed by the provision of a king who perfectly reflected God’s values and intentions for his people. The broader context of these prophecies acknowledges the failure of Davidic kings to lead in a way that could deliver Israel from apostasy and the consequent judgment of God. (Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995).

The messiahship of Jesus is foundational to the gospel Paul preaches (e.g., 1:3–4; 15:7–12; 16:25–27; 1 Cor 15:3–8; 2 Tim 2:8), though he amplifies, transforms, and transcends early Jewish ideas about the Messiah. 98) argues that three elements in Paul’s preaching about Christ are without known precedent in early Judaism: “(1) Messiah is called God; (2) Messiah is said to have been crucified, and his death is seen as redemptive; (3) Messiah is expected to come to earth again.” Paul’s use of the term Χριστός was “mainly derived from the Christ event and his experience of that event.” Echoing 1:3, he declares that from the Israelites, “by physical descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, praised forever” (9:5). God’s salvific purpose was achieved through the incarnation and death of his Son. God “condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering” (8:3; cf. 5:10; 8:32; 1 Cor 15:3). Moreover, Jesus’s resurrection enabled him to fulfill the promise of an eternal rule for David’s Son: he “was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead” (1:4; cf. 4:25 [“raised for our justification”]). Indeed, as the one who died and was raised, “he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us” (8:34; cf. Ps 110:1).

Various combinations of the titles Christ and Lord appear with the name Jesus at critical points throughout Romans (1:4, 7; 4:24; 5:1, 11, 21; 6:23; 7:25; 8:39; 13:14; 14:14; 15:6, 30; 16:18, 20; cf. 10:9–13). This combination of terms mostly occurs at a climax or turning point in the argument and highlights the focus of Paul’s gospel on the person and work of the divine Messiah. With this Christological focus, Paul proclaims the fulfillment of biblical predictions about the renewal of Israel’s relationship with God, the blessing of the nations, and the hope of being glorified with Christ in a renewed creation.

Prophetic eschatology focused on the return of a remnant of Israel from exile and the restoration of the nation in the promised land. Critically, “the prophetic perspectives of the future restoration and ultimate salvation are based on, and follow the pattern of, the salvation history of the past.” (Nottingham: Apollos, 2012), 133. Goldsworthy observes that, “each prophet responds in his own way to the contemporary events and situation so as to reflect the nation’s condition as a covenant breaker. From a canonical point of view the overall message is the renewal of all things against the background of judgment and cleansing.” As they proclaim the return from exile and its consequences, the writing prophets convey “the more distant view of the Day of the Lord when God finally acts in a way that has ultimate significance for the coming of the kingdom of God.” (Nottingham: Apollos, 2012), 135. In association with promises about a new David, these prophets speak about a new creation (e.g., Isa 11:1–9; 65:17–21; Ezek 36:33–36), a new covenant (e.g., Isa 49:5–9; Jer 31:31–34; 33:25–26; Ezek 34:25–31), a new exodus (e.g., Isa 40:1–5; 43:1–7; Jer 23:5–8), a new entry and possession of the land (e.g., Ezek 34:11–16), a new Jerusalem (e.g., Isa 44:24–28; 49:14–21; 62:1–12), and a new temple (e.g., Isa 2:2–3; Ezek 40–47; Hag 2:6–9).

Paul reflects these perspectives in various ways throughout his letters. We have already noted his focus in Romans on the hope of glory and resurrection to new life with Christ in a new creation (e.g., 5:1–2; 8:17–25; cf. §1.1). The exodus and the promised return of the exiles form the basis of Paul’s explanation of how God is dealing with Israel in the gospel era (e.g., 9:14–33; cf. §1.3; 1.5). The fulfillment of new covenant expectations through the death of Christ and the eschatological gift of the Spirit is implied in various contexts (e.g., 2:14–16, 26–29; 5:5; 6:17–18; 7:4–6; 8:4; 11:25–27; cf. §1.4). The new Jerusalem and new temple themes are reflected in Paul’s use of cultic terms to describe his gospel ministry and the resulting establishment of believing communities everywhere (1:9; 15:15–19). God’s mercy toward Jews and Gentiles in the sending of his Son makes it possible for them to be united in calling upon the Lord Jesus for salvation (10:10–12) and to offer to God the service and praise that is due to him (12:1; 15:8–12).

Many other theological themes, such as Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, soteriology, ethics, and anthropology are “built upon the eschatological foundation of Paul’s thought.” 253. Kreitzer demonstrates this in his exposition of Pauline eschatology. Cf. James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 177–81. This will be illustrated in the examination of selected themes in the next section of this chapter. One of the features of Jewish apocalyptic is the division of time into two ages (e.g., 4 Ezra 7:50). Paul reflects this view when he warns about being conformed to “this age” in 12:2 (cf. 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6–8; 3:18; 2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4 [“this present evil age”]). But he also implies that “the age to come” has impinged on the present with the death and resurrection of Jesus (3:21–26; 5:1–11, 17; 6:3–11; 7:4–6; 8:1–11; 14:17; cf. Eph 1:21). Christians are to live as those who are still in “this age” but belong to the coming “day” (13:11–14; cf. 1 Thess 5:1–11). 259–60) shows how Paul develops the prophetic view of an eschatological day of the Lord in the light of his Christology so that it becomes “the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus” (2:16; cf. 2 Cor 5:10). Although Romans does not explicitly mention the parousia or second coming of Christ, it is the assumption behind 13:11–14 (cf. 1 Cor 1:7–8; 4:5; 11:26; 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23).