Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 9:1-5

Note: This post opens with a brief introduction to Romans 9:1-11:36, followed by a summary and notes on 9:1-5.

INTRODUCTION TO ROMANS 9:1-11:36

With this chapter begins the third section of the Dogmatic Part of this Epistle. In the preceding chapter the Apostle exposed his conception of the Christian life—the life of faith, animated by the Holy Ghost and destined for unfading glory in heaven. The Gospel is the power of God to everyone that believes, to the Jew first, and then to the Greek (Rom 1:16). But how is it, then, it may rightly be asked, that the great majority of the Jews have failed to embrace the Gospel and enter the Church of Christ? This is the problem which engages the Apostle’s attention in the present and in the two following chapters. The Jews were, indeed, the chosen people of God who gave the Redeemer to the world (Rom 9:1-5), and although they have, notwithstanding, been in the main excluded from a part in the Messiah’s redemption, still the divine promises have not failed in their regard (Rom 9:6-29); their rejection is due to their own culpableness, blindness and disobedience (Rom 9:30-x. 21); and even in this the mercy of God has been manifest, for a remnant has been saved already; the Gentiles have profited by Israel’s loss, and all the Jews will find mercy at the end (Rom 11:1-32). These profound reflections are a reason for praising the wisdom and knowledge of God’s inscrutable providence (Rom 11:33-36).

THE APOSTLE’S PROFOUND SORROW OVER THE STATE OF THE JEWS

A Summary of Romans 9:1-5~Following upon the exposition of a new system of justification by faith, the glorious life and outcome of which inspired the hymn of triumph that closed the preceding chapter, comes now an expression of sorrow the most profound. St. Paul explains to his Roman readers why his own people have been rejected by God, in spite of all their privileges, and incidentally why he himself turned from them to the Gentile world, in spite of his natural ardent love for them.

Tom 9:1. I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost: 

I speak the truthI lie not. These are strong ways, one positive and the other negative, of assuring his readers of the truth of what he is about to say. The Apostle avows that he is acting in union with Christ, conformably to his own conscience, of which the Holy Ghost is the interior principle. Cf. 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Cor 11:31; 2Cor 7:14; 2 Cor 12:6; Gal 1:20.

The before “truth” is not in the Greek.

Rom 9:2. That I have great sadness, and continual sorrow in my heart.

The fact of Israel’s having cut herself off from the Messianic blessings was a continual source of sorrow to St. Paul. Some of the Jews (Acts 21:21) considered the Apostle to be an enemy of their nation, but here he shows the truth and sincerity of his feelings toward them. Sadness expresses mental pain; sorrow is grief in general. 

Rom 9:3. For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh. 

I wished, etc. Better, I could wish (ηυχομην, optarem), if it were possible. The Apostle knew this was not a serious hypothesis, and was expressing himself in the language of sentiment rather than according to cold reasoning (Lagrange); he was giving expression to an impracticable wish. 

Anathema from Christ, i.e., to be separated from Christ so as to be deprived of Christianity and of the Messianic benefits. “Anathema” literally means a thing set up to be destroyed; it comes from two Greek words signifying to place apart. To the Jews it meant a person or thing cursed, and therefore fit for destruction (Lev 27:28-29; Deut 7:26; Josh 6:17). With St. Paul it meant cursed of God (Gal 1:89; 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Cor 16:22). According to Cornely, therefore, St. Paul meant to say that, for the sake of his brethren, the Jews, he was willing to be externally separated from Christ forever, and to be condemned to eternal torments, without ceasing, however, to be united to Christ through grace. But as there seems to be nothing in the context to suggest this distinction, and as there is not question of future time, but of the present (ειναι = “to be”), we think it better to accept for this passage the explanation of Lagrange given above. 

Optabam of the Vulgate would better be optarem. 

Rom 9:4. Who are Israelites, to whom belongeth the adoption as of children, and the glory, and the testament, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises:

Here the Apostle enumerates the principal prerogatives of the Jews.

Israelites—a title of honor, comprehending all the privileges of the Jews, and given to them because they were descendants of Jacob, to whom God gave the name Israel (Gen 22:29).

The adoption, etc., by which the Israelites had been selected from among all others, to be the people of God (Exodus 4:22; Exodus 19:5; Deut 14:1),—which adoption, however, being only political, was merely a figure of, and therefore far inferior to that which the Christian enjoys through the grace of Christ.

The glory, i.e., the Shechinah, or sensible manifestation of the presence of God in the Tabernacle and in the Temple (Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10; Ezek 10:11; 2 Macc 1:18, etc.).

The testament. In Greek the plural is used, “the testaments,” i.e., the covenants ( αι διαθηκαι) that were made with Abraham ( Gen 15:18; Gen 17:2, etc.), with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 2:24), and with Moses and the whole people (Exodus 24:7 ff.).

The giving of the law, i.e., the Mosaic Law, which regulated the service; i.e., the worship of the true God in antiquity (cf. 2 Macc 6:23).

The promises made to Abraham, and especially those concerning the Messiah, which were contained in the numerous prophecies relative to the Redeemer (cf. Rom 4:13; Gal 3:16).

In the Vulgate testamentum should be plural, testamenta.

Rom 9:5. Whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever. Amen.

The dignity of the Jews because of their origin is now shown. Their ancestors were the fathers, i.e., the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—men beloved of God above all others (Exodus 3:6; Deut 4:37; Acts 7:32).

Of whom is Christ. The greatest of all the dignities of the Jews consisted in the fact that Christ was to come from them, that they were to give the Messiah to the world.

According to the flesh, i.e., as regards the flesh (το κατα σαρκα, quantum attinet ad carnem), namely, according to His human nature.

Who is . . . God, i.e., this Christ, who was of Jewish origin according to His human nature, was also God, the Creator and Ruler over all things, and had, therefore, a divine nature, and hence is blessed for ever.
St. Thomas observes that in this verse four heresies are destroyed: (a) that of the Manicheans, who said that Christ had not a true, but only an apparent body; against which the Apostle here says that Christ was descended from the Jews according to the flesh; (b) that of Valentine who taught that the body of Jesus was not from the common mass of the human race, but had come from heaven; whereas St. Paul here says that according to the flesh Christ was from the Jews; (c) that of Nestorius who held that the son of man was one person, the son of God another person in Christ; against which the Apostle asserts that the same person who was from the Jews according to the flesh was God, the Ruler of all things; (d) that of Arius, who said that Christ was less than the Father and created out of nothing; against which the Apostle insists that Christ was God over all things and that He is blessed forever: only God could be blessed forever.

Certain Rationalists (Julicher, Lipsius, Lochmann, etc.), in order to weaken this clear testimony of the Apostle regarding the Divinity of Christ, have said that a period should be placed after secundum carnem or after omnia, and that the remainder of the verse should be considered as a doxology in praise of God. This opinion, however, cannot be sustained,—(a) because it is opposed to the traditional reading, found in the vast majority of MSS. and in almost all versions; and (b) because it is opposed to the authority of the oldest Fathers, who made use of this very text to prove the Divinity of Christ. Cf. Cornely, h. 1.; Lagrange, h. 1. ; Revue Bib., 1903, pp. 550-57O.

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