Sunday School Notes: Romans 10:5-13
5 For Moses writes [about] the righteousness from the Law that “The person who does these things shall live by them.” 6 But the righteousness from faith speaks in this way: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who shall ascend into heaven?’” that is, to bring Christ down, 7 “or, ‘Who shall go down into the abyss?’” that is, to raise Christ from the dead. 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith which we proclaim. 9 For, if you confess with your mouth Jesus [is] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him shall not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for he is Lord of all, being rich to all those who call upon him. 13 For “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Last week we saw Paul’s heart for the Jewish people as a whole: he prayed for their salvation, because though they have a zeal for God, their zeal is in ignorance. They are pursuing righteousness by works–obedience to the Law–as opposed to by faith, which Paul has argued previously was God’s original intention (see the example of Abraham in Romans 4). The Law is not an end in itself; Christ is, in fact, the end of the Law. Christ was whom the Law pointed to, and it’s in Christ that the Law finds fulfillment.
Paul now underscores this point, with reference to Leviticus 18:5. In Leviticus 18, God is commanding Israel not to do as the pagans do. This is a constant theme throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy. When they enter the promised land, the Jewish people were to be holy, set apart, and that holiness was to be obvious by the way they worshiped, and the way they conducted themselves. If they obeyed the Law, not only would they be pleasing in God’s sight, but they would also be drawing this important line of distinction between themselves and their pagan neighbors. To imitate the pagans would result in being defiled and cut off from the people of God. We know how well that went for them, and it only goes to make the point that while perfect obedience to the Law would indeed bring righteousness in the eyes of God, no-one is able to live up to that standard. This is why the Law is good, because it does lay out God’s righteous requirements. But it also shows how inadequate we are to keep them.
The case for faith-based righteousness Paul makes from Deuteronomy 30:12-14. Indeed, verses 6-8 serve as Paul’s commentary on this Old Testament passage. Note that this isn’t just Paul’s opinion. If we believe the Bible to be inspired by God, then this is inspired commentary. Any time an inspired author quotes and comments on an Old Testament passage, we can regard that interpretation as given by God Himself. Would that end-times speculators paid attention to this fact when they read Revelation!
The original context of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 is God reminding Israel that He has brought His Law, His commands, to them. They don’t have to go hunting around for it. Moses came down the mountain with stone tablets and explicit instructions. So they have no excuse; they can’t claim ignorance for their disobedience. Paul is not overturning this understanding of the passage, but he’s using it to make further application that is, in fact, quite consistent with the passage’s original meaning. Christ is the end, or fulfillment of the Law. So as much as Moses said about the Law in Deuteronomy 30 can be said of Christ. You don’t need to search heaven for Christ, as if to bring him down. In fact, God already did that in the Incarnation. And you don’t have to plumb the depths (the “abyss”) to find him, as if to raise him from the dead. Again, God has already done that. [Side note: Deuteronomy says "across the sea," and says nothing of "the abyss"--but "the sea" and "the abyss" were often used synonymously in Hebrew and Aramaic writings. The concept is certainly the same: a vast, wide, seemingly bottomless expanse.]
“The word is near you”–in Deuteronomy 30, the “word” was the command, or Law, of God. Here, Paul says it’s the “word of faith” that was proclaimed to them. Paul could have just said “the gospel” and meant the same thing, however, his point is that the gospel’s message is one of righteousness attained by faith. He doesn’t want them to forget that. The fact of Christ’s coming, and the good news that in Him there is forgiveness, peace with God, and imputed righteousness, is not hidden from them that they have to try to use some kind of “Bible code” to figure it out from Scripture, or hunt the Judean wilderness to find it. It’s in their mouth and in their heart (see Jeremiah 31:33, which speaks in this way of the New Covenant).
Verse 9 is a famous passage, often memorized, and used to emphasize the principle that Paul is teaching here: we are saved by faith alone, and not by works. Unfortunately, this verse is sometimes used as a formula: say this and believe this and you’re saved, without any reference to repentance of sin, acknowledgement of Christ’s death and burial, and what that means for us, and other important elements of the gospel proclamation. The good Christian evangelist, handling this passage correctly, will not use it to make quick-and-easy converts, but will use it as a springboard to discuss what it means to trust in Christ as Savior. For Jesus to be “Lord” involves a submission to his authority, an acknowledgement of his status as the only one capable of saving, and, indeed, a recognition of his divinity (as we shall see in verse 13). “God raised him from the dead” should be seen as a shorthand way of speaking of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
It’s clear that Paul is using Deuteronomy 30:14 as his template. The word is near, in the mouth and the heart. Thus, if you confess with your mouth Jesus is [or "as"--there is no verb supplied in the Greek], and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Notice that the word is–present tense–near, so confession and belief should be natural for one who has this faith. The promised salvation is for the one who confesses and believes, and the only way this can happen is if you have God-given faith. In verse 10, Paul says that with the heart one confesses unto (or “resulting in”) righteousness, and one believes unto salvation. There is likely little difference in meaning between “righteousness” and “salvation” here. They both speak of the same result.
Just as he did in 9:33, Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16. Remember, this verse is part of a discussion that started in chapter 9, so what he said at the end of that chapter is still relevant. Having re-established that justification is by faith, not by the Law, and having re-established that fact by use of the Old Testament, he’s now going on to re-emphasize the fact that this is not limited just to Jews. The term “shall not be disappointed” (or “put to shame”) translates the Greek kataischunthêsetai, and refers to shame at the Last Judgment (see Isaiah 5-:7-8). Again, very relevant to the present subject.
As there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile when it comes to sin (the Greek for “distinction,” diastolê, is used both here, in verse 12, and in 3:22-23), so there is no distinction when it comes to the mercy and grace of God in salvation. God’s lordship over all people, no matter what their ethnic origin, is clear in the Old Testament (the example of Rahab comes to mind), which itself demonstrates how vast the riches of His grace are (see Ephesians 2:7). We could, indeed spend hours talking about how rich God’s grace and mercy is to His people, and, in fact, over even those who are not His own. Here, it’s the fact that God doesn’t hold us accountable for our sin, but in the inestimable riches of His grace, he saves all who call upon Him. Given the context, “call upon” should be taken not as simply calling His name, but calling on Him for mercy–appealing to Him for salvation.
Verse 13 is taken from Joel 2:32, where the prophet is talking about the end times, or “the day of the Lord,” and how God will deliver His people from that time of great turmoil and upheaval. It’s quite clear that when Joel speaks of “the Lord,” he means God, the creator of heaven and earth, and the One who will bring about all the events of that time. It says a lot about Paul’s view of Jesus that he would, therefore, use this passage in a context where “the Lord” is clearly a reference to Christ. Paul’s message throughout this passage is that salvation has come to all by faith through Christ. It’s in him that we are made righteous. And hence, salvation is assured to all who call upon him. In Joel 2 (Joel 3 in the Hebrew), the word for Lord is the Hebrew word for God’s name: Yahweh. If it weren’t enough that Jesus would do something that only God could do–i.e., bring about salvation for his people–Paul applies to him the very name of God. For anyone that doubts the New Testament writers believed in the deity of Christ, please give this passage due consideration.
We will continue with verse 14 next week.