I am your shield, your very great worth!
An examination of Romans 4
4:1 What shall we say therefore, that Avraham Aveinu--Abraham (father of many peoples) our father—has discovered regarding the flesh? 2 For if Avraham was justified by working, he has something to boast about, but not before G-d. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham trusted G-d, and it was credited to him as righteousness--right standing with G-d.”
Shaul/Paul continues his diatribe/rhetoric/rabbinical discussion by addressing the first century Jewish understanding of z’khut-avot—merits of the fathers’. The Amidah (standing prayer) is an essential part of daily Jewish prayer. The words, “zokher chasdei-avot”--You remember the good deeds of the patriarchs—are pronounced in the first blessing of this prayer several times a day. The traditional rabbinical understanding infers a reward for the descendants of the patriarchs’. Shaul/Paul’s teaching doesn’t deny the value of being circumcised children of Avraham, rather he revises the way that z’khut-avot is to be understood. In Paul’s view the merit is G-d’s, the patriarchs offer an inheritance of trust, that is, they have accepted G-d’s gift by faith/trust and pass on this principal to their descendants. However each descendant must trust G-d for themselves, no one merits right standing with G-d based on the trust of an ancestor. This understanding is an affront to the then and present perspective of rabbinical Judaism, however it is by definition a Hebrew understanding, after all Avraham is ha-Ivri—the Hebrew.
Note that Avram has something to boast about based on his working, but not before G-d. In other words, a man may boast to others about what he has done and achieved and at times this may impress his hearers but this will never give him right standing before G-d.
The Scripture in question is Genesis 15:6. In typical rabbinical style Shaul/Paul is providing the premise for the remaining verses of the chapter. He intends that the whole portion of Genesis 15 be understood by the reader/hearer.
Genesis 15 15 After these things the Word (d’var, Yeshua) of the L-rd (YHVH) came to Avram (father of a people) in a vision, saying,
“Do not fear, Avram,
I am your magen—shield;
Your me’od (very), rabah (great) sakar (worth).”
Notice that the text here reads Avram (father of a people) and not Avraham (father of many peoples). The inception of Avram’s belief happens when he is father of only one people: a people without an heir.
Avram had recently fought and won a great battle by G-d’s hand, now HaShem (YHVH) was assuring Avram of his security in Him. The love and protection of HaShem is offered to Avram prior to his accepting G-d’s gift by trusting/faithfulness. The New Testament reminds us that we love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
HaShem states as fact that He is Avram’s shield—protection, shelter, security—by extension He is the shield of all who believe by faith/trust.
HaShem states that He Himself is Avram’s big, great worth. English translations that suggest that G-d is simply offering a great reward to Avram forget that Avram has earned no reward. Nor will he earn a reward for trusting. On the contrary, in the previous chapter of Genesis Avram refuses a reward for his role in defeating King Kedorlaomer and his allies. What G-d is giving is credited to Avram, the Hebrew, “sakar” should be understood as worth/value: in other words, “I am your great worth.” Avram and his descendants—both by flesh and by faith—find their worth/value in G-d.
At this point the Word (d’var) appears to Avram in a vision but as things progress we see a transition in the appearance of the Word (Yeshua)
2 Avram said, “Adonai (lord, master) HaShem (YHVH), what will You give me, since I am childless, and the ben (son & heir) of my house is Eli-ezer (my G-d is a helper, advocate) of Damascus?” 3 And Avram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”
It seems that at this point Avram is seeking a physical proof of G-d’s promise. At this time in history a man sought a son to continue his family name and line, Avram had only a male servant to pass on his name to. He clearly had his heart set on a male heir born of his own seed.
Consider the names and their meanings: Avram, which has at its core the meaning father (HaShem) and Eli-ezer which represents G-d as Helper or Advocate (Ruach ha-Kodesh, the Holy Spirit). It seems that Avram’s request is not too far off the mark. After all a son is the only missing part of the whole from Avram’s point of view.
From HaShem’s perspective however all are present: D’var (Yeshua, Son), Eli-ezer (Ruach ha-Kodesh, Advocate) and Avram (HaShem, The Father).
4 Then behold, the Word (d’var, Yeshua) of HaShem came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”
Thus, the Son (Yeshua, d’var) comes to Avram (father of a people) from ha-Av (the Father) to pronounce the birth of a son, Yitzchack (he laughs, with joyous fulfillment).
The son born to Avram will manifest both his physical and spiritual hope. He will be a prophetic type for Mashiyach. Thus The Son prophecies a son.
Note that this appearance of the Word (Yeshua) is not in a vision as before, in fact we will soon see that the Word acts in a physical way in leading Avram out to gaze at the stars.
5 And He (the d’var, Yeshua) took him outside (a physical interaction) and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
The Word took him outside, the Word didn’t lead him outside or tell him to go outside, rather He (The Word) took him outside, a physical act. Some have called this the pre-incarnate Messiah but it is not necessary for Him to be pre-incarnate: after all, upon resurrecting from the dead and going to be with the Father Messiah is once again beyond the limitations of time and space. In other words the one who was before creation, who had entered the chronology of humanity as the man-God Messiah is now, in his resurrected state, able to reenter the chronology of humanity at any point. Thus it is an incarnation of Messiah who meets with Avram, He is G-d with us, He knows the end from the beginning and reveals it to Avraham.
The stars become a symbolic promise of the multitude of descendants of Avram. Many years hence a star will return the nations to G-d and they will send representatives to Israel, to Bethlehem to behold the Son of promise ha-melekh Yeshua the King of righteousness who would offer redemption to both Israel (a people) and the goyim (many peoples). The promised Son would once again be offered by a father only this time the Son would physically die and rise again for the purpose of redeeming all who would accept His sacrificial death and His life giving resurrection.
6 Avram trusted HaShem (YHVH); and HaShem credited it to him as righteousness.
Avram accepts what HaShem has offered as a gift (not payment for services rendered) and has already completed outside of time. It is the relational act of trusting that is the catalyst for redemption. HaShem has trusted Avram to trust HaShem. HaShem trusts you to trust Him in the same way a parent trusts a teenager to trust in their parental protection and deep love and concern. Because G-d knows you and because He knows the end from the beginning He is able to trust you with His ultimate gift of love, the gift of His Son.
Say these words to yourself, “G-d trusts me.”
Now repeat the words with this addition, “G-d trusts me to trust Him.”
Brother, sister, The Father of all creation trusts you to trust Him, He rejoices over you with singing.
“HaShem your Elohim is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves (Yeshua). He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
7 And He said to him, “I am the HaShem who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” 8 He said, “Adonai HaShem, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Avram drove them away.
Avram admits to HaShem his frailty of belief, he asks for a physical, tactile, kinetic symbol of affirmation. Admission of the frailty of doubt is not the same as rebellious doubt: one is a show of humility, the other a rebellion born of pride. Avram exhibits the former here.
Notice that this sacrifice does not emulate the later sacrifices of Israel’s priesthood. The High priest of creation is facilitating this sacrifice. The accuser Satan detests it because he sees in it the birth of salvation and a turning back to HaShem of the creation. Hence the birds of prey, G-d does not prey on humanity or her offerings, on the contrary He seeks her reconciliation.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram;
Notice that Avram is in a deep sleep when this covenant promise takes place. The only one then responsible for its fulfillment is HaShem Himself. Where other covenants are conditional on right action on the part of Israel/humanity, this covenant is reliant entirely on the faithfulness of G-d alone.
And behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Avram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.
G-d doesn’t hide pain and suffering from His children, He journeys with us through pain and suffering and in the midst of it He gives us hope and a promise of freedom and prosperity in the days ahead. Our suffering is real but temporary, G-d, who suffers with us will bring us into eternal peace. Like Avram we will rest in peace, this is not a colloquial expression denoting death, to the contrary it is a promise promoting life. The darkness may last for a night but joy comes in the morning!
16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”
This refers to the fact that the evil actions and practices of the Amorites will reach a time of judgment when G-d sends Israel against them to wipe out their rebellious and idolatrous worship of false gods.
17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking pot and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 On that day HaShem (YHVH) made a covenant with Avram, saying,
“To you descendants I have given this land,
From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:
Notice yet again that Avram is not the one making this covenant nor is he participating in it, he is in a deep sleep. HaShem alone makes this covenant and offers as a physical promise the land of Israel to Avram’s direct descendants that is the descendants of the promised son Yitzchak. This is a promise reliant on G-d alone, a promise that He will credit the land of Israel to the Jewish people.
As followers of Yeshua we can also see the allegorical truth that the promise of our saving relationship with G-d and our hope in the Olam haba (World to come) is not reliant on our ability but is entirely reliant on the faithfulness of G-d. This is Shalom (peace, security, wholeness, surrounding fidelity.)
Back to Romans 4:4
4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his emunah (faithfulness) is credited as righteousness (right standing with G-d), 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom G-d credits righteousness apart from hypocritical works:
7 “Blessed are those whose (Adam) rebellious deeds have been forgiven,
And whose offences have been kaparah (covered, wiped away.)
8 “Blessed is the human being (Adam) who’s Perversity HaShem (YHVH) will not take into account.”
Shaul/Paul affirms what the account of Avram tells us, that G-d alone redeems us. We are entirely unable through any work of our own to earn salvation (Yeshua). Logically speaking, even our very nature tells us that we cannot earn another person. Salvation is a person, His name is Yeshua.
Human beings who have received the free gift of G-d experience this wonderful truth, that our rebellion (perpetual sin nature, yetzer hara) has been forgiven, that the individual offences we have committed (past, present and future) have been covered over and wiped away by Yeshua our kaparah, and HaShem Himself will no longer hold our perversity against us: meaning we no longer stand in condemnation but have been (past tense) redeemed and are being made Holy (set apart) unto G-d alone for all eternity. It is finished!
Paul does not end there however: the quotation of Psalm 32 leads us upon yet another midrashic journey of illumination.
A Psalm of David. A Maskil (rhythm). 32 How blessed are those (Adam) whose rebellion is forgiven,
Whose offences are kaparah (covered)!
2 How blessed is the person (Adam) to whom HaShem does not impute perversity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
This is the platform for all human hope.
3 When I kept silent, my bones decayed
Through my groaning in the height of the day.
4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. (I pause to contemplate)
The psalmist reminds us that when we attempt to deny our sin by keeping silent before G-d we only hurt ourselves. G-d’s hand then becomes heavy upon us by means of discipline because He disciplines the ones He loves. We are asked to pause and soberly contemplate this. This reminds us again that G-d’s wrath is an act of love.
5 I acknowledged my offences to You,
And my perversity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to HaShem”;
And You forgave the perversity of my offences. Selah. (I pause to contemplate)
The acknowledgement of sin on our part doesn’t benefit G-d, it benefits us. He has given us the gift of confession in order to birth in us a cycle of growth and renewal. Through confession we receive what has already been offered, forgiveness, not only of individual acts but also of the perpetual nature of sin itself. Again the psalmist sees this as a point of contemplation.
6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
This is a challenge to be faithful (emunah). The alternative to faithful trust is drowning in our own folly. While G-d is always close to us we are sometimes unable to find Him because of the walls we have built up of our own fruition. When we act of our own strength we steal away the freedom of G-d.
7 You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. (I pause to contemplate)
We are utterly and completely secure in G-d. Ask a friend to grip your wrist with both hands and with all their strength, then try to pull your hand free. This is the grip of grace. Contemplate it.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
Which way should I go? “Peace child, rest, I will instruct you.”
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
When my wife and I are in a crowded room some distance from each other and I need some fresh air, I am able to catch her eye and with a certain look and a glance toward the door I can indicate to her that I want to go outside with her. The leading of the eyes is an intimate action. This is what it means to belong to G-d in Messiah.
9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
A final warning from one who has been there done that. Don’t allow your stubborn heart to refuse G-d’s loving hand or He will be forced to use the bridle for your good. A wicked core produces a sorrowful outcome, instead, choose joy.
But he who trusts in HaShem, chesed (mercy, loving kindness) shall surround him.
11 Be glad in HaShem and rejoice, you righteous (right standing before G-d) ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.
David finishes the way he began, affirming our position as children of G-d. You who trust HaShem, know that you are soaking in the chesed (mercy, loving kindness) of G-d. You are a sponge soaked in mercy. So be glad in this knowledge, shout for joy at the understanding that you are secure in Him.
Back to Romans 4:9
9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised only, or on the fore-skinned also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Avraham (Avram) as righteousness.”
Notice that Shaul/Paul uses Avraham, while the Scripture he had formerly quoted specifically says Avram. He knows that his Jewish listeners will realize the wordplay and understand that he is interchanging the meanings of the names. Shaul is saying that the father of many nations (Avraham) whom Israel claims as hers alone is in actuality the father of a nation (Avram) which is the commonwealth of Israel reconciled to the nations of the world through Messiah. This doesn’t negate Israel’s unique physical identity but it does make a way for all who believe by trusting to enter into the kingdom of G-d.
10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or fore-skinned? Not while circumcised, but while fore-skinned; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness (right standing with G-d) of the faith which he had while fore-skinned, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of Aveinu Avraham (our father Abraham) which he had while fore-skinned.
Avraham’s righteousness was credited to him prior to him becoming ha-Ivri (The Hebrew) and thus all people who believe by trusting share Avraham as a venerated father of faith. As a sign of his faith he received circumcision just as all who believe receive the sign of a circumcised heart—which Paul has already alluded to.
Shaul/Paul affirms the Jew as one who while being circumcised can also believe by faith and the sign of his physical circumcision will be a reminder of his heart circumcision. What advantage has the Jew? Much, in every way!
13 For the promise to Avraham and to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law of circumcision, but through the righteousness of faithfulness. 14 For if those who are of the Law of physical circumcision are heirs based on circumcision, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Torah brings about wrath (reveals sin), but where there is no Torah (That is when the issue is an entirely separate one, that of faith), there also is no violation.
Something that is not governed by law is not subject to law. Shaul/Paul illuminates this principal further in his letter to the Galatian ecclesia:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law of circumcision, but also to those who are of the faith of Avraham, who is the father (Av) of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even G-d, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
All who believe by trusting will receive the free gift of G-d. This is affirmed by the fact that G-d both redeemed Avraham’s son Isaac with a ram and redeemed the nations with His Son the Ram of G-d who takes away the sins of the world. This is likened to the act of creation itself. G-d bara (creates from the nonexistent) a new heart in each of us, as the Scripture says elsewhere, “The old has gone, the new has come.”
18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”
Avraham, leaning against Hope for support, placed all his hope in HaShem and His promise.
19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb;20 yet, with respect to the promise of G-d, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to G-d,
Although he was physically incapable of seeding children and knew that his wife was also barren, he none the less did not even flinch in unbelief but became even more convinced of the faithfulness of G-d.
21 and being fully assured that what G-d had promised, He was able also to perform.
Avraham was fully assured, that is G-d had fully assured him. We too can know this assurance, not by achieving it ourselves but simply by receiving it from G-d. He assures us, this is not our responsibility.
22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.
Formerly Avram had trusted G-d for the Promised Land and it was credited to him as right standing with G-d, now for a second time he trusts G-d according to the promise of a son and heir. This too is credited to him as right standing with G-d. Notice that Avram is not a one hit wonder, rather his faith is shown as faithfulness, his trust as trustworthiness.
23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Yeshua (Jesus) our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
We who have trusted G-d in Messiah Yeshua are children of the faith of Avraham. Like our venerated father Avraham we can be assured by G-d, trusted to trust Him and able to believe the impossible at the very Word of G-d Himself.
Go outside and count the universes, if you can (I know you can’t) thus will your eternity be, this is the promise of G-d, that leaning on Him as our hope we will hope in Him for the reconciliation of creation, the physical resurrection of the dead and the Olam Haba (World to come), where we will dwell with Him forever.
Child of the faith of Avraham, G-d has credited your trust in Him to you as right standing with Him through His Son Yeshua. You are in Messiah in G-d.
Child of G-d you are blessed because your rebellion is forgiven,
Your offences are kaparah (covered)!
You are blessed because G-d no longer holds your perversity against you,
His Spirit in you doesn’t deceive!
G-d cannot lie!
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Torah is established by G-d’s faithfulness, our trusting Him does not negate His Instruction, rather it illuminates it and gives it greater significance.
An examination of Romans 3.
Romans 3 is one of the most misunderstood chapters of this wonderful letter: Calvin continues to demand predestination alone while Arminius insists on free will, neither one understanding that they have embraced a false choice. Rather than enter the mystery of faith and action, some modern Christian commentators have also demanded that we take sides. Thus begins the false battle between faith and works. It is almost as if we were being asked to choose sides between two friends who have no argument with one another.
Faith and Works were having a picnic, then along came a group of Christian scholars who proceeded to fight over who had the better sandwiches.
“It’s Faith” said one, “His sandwiches just seem to melt on my tongue, I don’t even need to chew.”
“No,” said another, “Work’s sandwiches are much more satisfying, the flavor in the meat is released as I chew giving me a great sense of fulfillment.”
The argument continued, becoming more and more animated and volatile: in the end it drew much blood. Meanwhile Faith and Works had sneaked away to another park to enjoy a peace filled afternoon, each eating what was left of the other’s sandwiches.
I have stated previously that, faith and works do not oppose one another, faith is a beating heart and right action is its life blood, neither one can function without the other and both fulfill the meaning of emunah (faith) which is the joining of faith and fullness as faithfulness.
As we begin this chapter of Romans, let’s hold lightly the teachings of our forebears and expose them to the light of Mashiyach that they might be gleaned for truth and that we might see the chaff blown away. We are about to cradle the mystery of faith and salvation and receive the sum of justification (being declared righteous) and eternal hope.
The Pauline Rhythm:
Shaul the rabbi to the Y’hudim and Paul the rabbi to the Goyim work in an authentic rhythm of key thought and explanation throughout Romans. At certain catalytic points Shaul seeds Jewish thought, sending the Jewish mind on a homiletic discovery and then proceeds to explain those core concepts in a way that the Gentile mind can comprehend.
From the beginning of Romans Shaul/Paul initiates a rhythm of speaking first to those who first received the Logion—Word essence—of G-d and then he equally illuminates that Word essence to Jews and Greeks alike in a unique dialogue that each one can understand simultaneously.
For example, in Romans 3:29 Shaul reminds the Jewish believers that G-d is echad—one, alone. This triggers a recollection of their tri-daily recitation of the Shema, meanwhile Paul solidifies the argument by presenting the obvious conclusion, that G-d’s oneness establishes the Torah through faith, an idea the Gentiles would rather do away with, not wanting to be exposed by that same Torah, preferring rather to participate in Greek freedom which leads to bondage.
This rhythm allows Shaul/Paul to minister to two unique people groups while maintaining a unified Gospel message of redemption through the faithfulness of G-d in the sacrificial death of His Son, whose own faithfulness bears example to the adopted children of G-d, the members of the Way.
Without Rhythm a song wanders aimlessly, boring the listener and ending unresolved. Rhythm drives a song, gives it purpose, steers it toward an objective. Rhythm unites the many instruments and guides them in singular passion toward completion. This kind of song is a pleasure to listen to and leaves the listener with a satisfied soul. This is the song of HaShem, the rhythm of a life in Him. Yeshua is Shaul/Paul’s rhythm, He also offers His eternal rhythm to our lives at the present time.
3:1 Then what advantage is there in being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 There is great advantage in every respect.
Notice that Rav Shaul (Paul) says, “There is great advantage to being Jewish in every way!” Not just in some small way but in every way, not just advantage but great advantage. This is where we learn that favor is not the same as partiality, HaShem has said, “Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated.” HaShem judges Jacob and Esau impartially but He favors Jacob. In Rabbinic methodology the previous verse reads as a kal v’chomer (lite and heavy) argument. HaShem doesn’t hate Esau as such, but the comparison is made to emphasis the favor placed on Jacob and his lineage.
First of all, Jews have been entrusted with the logion—utterances; Aramaic: memra, Hebrew: d’var—words of G-d.
So why do Jews have great advantage in every way? Because we have been entrusted with the very logion (cosmic word essence of G-d, a person) in written form. The memra (Aramaic) and d’var (Hebrew) are both personal representations of G-d’s Word (Yeshua: Yochanan 1:1). From the inception of the Hebrew nation at Sinai G-d imparted by flame the engraved words of the Torah. Words engraved by the finger of G-d Himself. So yes, firstly we have the Word, though at first we may not have recognized Him (Yeshua). Thus, “Great advantage in every way!”
3 What then? If some did not believe, will their unbelief nullify the emunah (trust/faith/faithfulness) of G-d, will it? 4 Heaven forbid/A Curse on it!--qelalah (Hebrew); ginomai-me (Greek) literaly ‘No, Never!’
So are the Jews that don’t believe now forsaken? Will their refusal of the Word/Torah (Yeshua) cancel out the faithfulness of G-d? Absolutely no way, I cough up a mucus clump and spit on that idea, cursing it to kever—the earth, dust, and to Abaddon—destruction! –A. J. Brown paraphrase Romans 3:3
While the Greek literally translates, “No, never!” the same Greek phrase is used in the Septuagint—Greek Old Testament—to translate the Hebrew “qelalah,” which means, “A curse on it,” or “Heavens forbid,” inferring G-d’s controlling interest but not naming Him directly.
Jews would not have said “G-d forbid” as some translations read because the Name of G-d is holy and pronunciation even of the generic term for G-d Elohim was limited to sacred occasions in reverence for the Holy name. What this does mean is that the idea that G-d’s faithfulness could ever fail to offer salvation (Yeshua) to Israel, whom He had chosen as the least among the nations to be His people was anathema—a heinous contradiction—to Shaul/Paul and indeed to the Jewish people as a whole.
Rather, let G-d be found true, though every human being be proved a liar, as it is written:
“That You may be justified in Your words,
And prevail in Your judging.” (Psalm 51:4)
Shaul/Paul is now quoting directly from the Tehillim—Psalms—and by way of rabbinic tradition is expecting that his readers will understand that the whole of psalm 51 is intended. He then proceeds to present a Midrash— a homiletic, spiritual allegory—on Psalm 51 as a teaching tool for his readers. For the purpose of illuminating the text of Romans 3 further I have inserted the psalm in question you’re your reference.
“51:1 Be gracious to me, Elohim—G-d, according to Your chesed—loving kindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion machah—erase—my peshah—rebellion.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my avon—perversity
And cleanse me from my chata—habitual sinfulness.
3 For I know my rebellion,
And my habitual sinfulness is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned and missed the mark
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
5 Behold, I was shaped in perversity,
And in habitual sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
7Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
9Hide Your face from my offences
And erase all my perversity.
10 Bara—create from nothing—in me a clean heart, Elohim,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation (Yeshua)
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach the perverse Your ways,
And habitual sinners will turn to You.
14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, Elohim, the Elohim of my salvation (Yeshua);
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your tzedakah—righteousness.
15 O Adonai, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of Elohim are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, Elohim, You will not despise.
18 By Your favor do good to Zion;
repair the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You will delight in the sacrifices of the tzedek—righteous one,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.”
5 But if our--humanity—unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of G-d, what shall we say? The G-d who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 Heaven forbid/A Curse on it!—No, never! For otherwise, how will G-d judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of G-d abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.
This is a rhetorical argument based on the foundation of the psalm, which is written by a guilty David. Predestination devoid of free will produces the same absurd argument. The obvious answer to this foolishness is that those who perpetuate it are justly condemned.
9 What then? Are we (Jews) better than them? Not entirely; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for G-d;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles 7:20)
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,” (Psalm 5:9)
“The poison of asps is under their lips”; (Psalm 140:3)
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; (Psalm 10:7)
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.” (Isaiah 59:7-8)
18 “There is no fear of G-d before their eyes.” (Psalm 36:1)
So are we Jews better off? Well, yes and no. We had a great head start and continue to have the wonderful guidance of the Torah and the covenant of circumcision, however the very Torah that guides us also accuses us just as it accuses all humanity. Shaul/Paul collects together a veritable plethora of proof texts from the Tanakh to confirm what his listeners already know to be true, “there is none who is righteous, not even one.” Of course there is one exception, ha-Tzedek—the Righteous One.
19 Now we know that whatever the Torah--Instruction—says, it speaks to those who are within the borders of the Torah, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to G-d;20 because by legalistic observance of the Torah no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Torah comes the knowledge of sin.
What we already know is confirmed to us by the Torah. That there is no one who has an excuse. The borders of the Torah were always intended to be spread far and wide by Israel according to her calling to be a light to the nations in order to expose sin and bring all humanity into a Trust relationship with HaShem. Note that every mouth and all the world are held accountable to G-d based on the Torah. An observance of Torah devoid of relational trust in G-d will result only in the exposure of sin.
21 But now quite apart from the Torah, the righteousness (Messiah the tzadek) of G-d has been manifested, being witnessed by the Torah and the Prophets,
What is meant here is that aside from the issue of Torah the righteousness of G-d, which is personified in Yeshua, has been revealed, having already been testified to and witnessed by the Torah and the prophets.
22 even the righteousness of G-d through the faithfulness of Yeshua Ha-Mashiyach (Jesus Christ) for all those who believe;
Not through our faith in Him—as some English translations infer—but through His faithfulness.
For it makes no difference whether one is a Jew or of another ethnicity;
That is, “it makes no difference regarding salvation through faithfulness.” This doesn't refer to the cultural and practical differences between ethnicities.
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d,
This is an illumination/midrash on psalm 51.
24 being justified--declared righteous—as a gift by His chesed--loving kindness—through the ransom which is in Messiah Yeshua; 25 whom G-d displayed publicly as kapparah--atoning covering, wiping away—sacrifice in His blood through emunah--faithfulness.
Notice that in psalm 51 the petitioner begins by saying, “Sacrifice and offering You did not require.” What this means is that there was no sacrifice that David could offer to atone for what he had done. All he could do was to show himself broken and contrite, humbling himself before G-d. But at the end of the psalm G-d accepts the sacrifice of the tzedek—righteous: this refers to the sacrifice of the Righteous One (Yeshua) who will not only cover but also erase David’s habitual sinfulness.
This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of G-d He passed over--Pesach—the sins previously committed;
The first Pesach—Passover—was a temporary covering of former sins in anticipation of the fulfillment of G-d’s plan in the Pesach—Passover—of Yeshua the lamb of G-d. Yeshua’s sacrifice not only covers sin it also erases it.
26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has emunah--faith, faithfulness, trust—in Yeshua.
Because G-d has proved His loving kindness and righteousness from the beginning He is now seen to be irrefutably just and is able to justify all those who would accept His faithfulness through the faithfulness of His Son the tzedek—Righteous One.
27 Where then is (hypocritical) boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of Torah? One of legalistic observance? No, but by a Torah of emunah--trust, faith, faithfulness.
You can’t boast about your legalistic miss observance of the Torah. Yeshua is proof that G-d’s faithfulness is the only means by which Torah can be lived. The kind of Torah—instruction—being offered here is a Torah of trust in the faithfulness of G-d. This kind of Torah is living and sharper than a two edged sword, dividing between bone and marrow. Yeshua had previously said that, “For truly I tell you, until the heavens and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means be removed from the Torah until everything is accomplished.” (Mattitiyahu 5:18) This will occur at the resurrection of the dead after the judgment. After this there will no longer be any need for instruction because G-d Himself will dwell with us in manifest glory.
28 For we maintain that a person is justified--declared righteous—by emunah--trust, faith, faithfulness—which has nothing to do with legalistic observance of the Torah.
We are justified by G-d’s faithfulness and our receiving of the gift of G-ds Son, the Righteous One whose blood has made atonement for our habitual sinning. Because of G-d’s faithfulness toward us we are able, through Messiah to be faithful to Him, not through legalistic Torah observance but through a trust relationship with G-d.
Those who say that our salvation has nothing to do with us are speaking nonsense. A husband cannot say “I do” on his wife’s behalf and love by definition must be chosen freely. As Stephen Hawking once said, “I have noticed that even those who assert that everything is predestined and that we can change nothing about it still look both ways before they cross the street.”
29 Or is G-d the G-d of Jews only? Is He not the G-d of all ethnos--ethnicities? Yes, of all ethnicities, 30 since indeed G-d will justify the circumcised on the origin of faithfulness and the uncircumcised through that same faithfulness.
It is true that over 360 times in the Tanakh G-d refers to Himself either directly or indirectly as the G-d of Israel, however the Shema clearly states that He is G-d alone. Therefore, being the only G-d He is by definition the G-d of all.
Notice that G-d will justify the Jews--circumcised—on the very origin of faithfulness, that is Messiah Yeshua—the Word made known first to Israel through the Torah and the Prophets—Himself and that in turn the Gentiles--fore skinned—come to faith through that revelation. Israel, in Messiah is now able to fulfill her calling to be a light to the nations.
31 Do we then nullify the Torah through trust/faith/faithfulness? Heaven forbid/A Curse on it! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.
We are not saved/redeemed in order to break the Torah, on the contrary through faith our view of the Torah changes from punitive Law to Instructional discipline. We are not saved by it but we do live within its borders. After all, G-d disciplines the ones He loves.
Trust is the key, one who trusts G-d has accepted the gift of G-d’s righteousness. The governance of the written Torah over the individual ends at physical death because its purpose is to reveal sin in a sin laced creation. In the Olam haba (World to come) we will have no need of the written Torah because we will know only good and G-d Himself will be our dwelling place. Unlike the borders of the written Torah the borders of eternity are limitless.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Equality doesn’t dissolve ethnicity
An examination of Romans 2
2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.2 And we know that the judgment of G-d rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
It is important to note that Paul is using the singular here, “you—singular—have no excuse.” In chapter 1 of Romans Paul addresses everyone, but as he begins the diatribe/rhetoric of Romans 2 he changes tack, specifically challenging individuals. There can now be no standing on the side lines, he is addressing you directly.
“For a person who keeps the entire Torah (Instruction) yet fails to keep one of the least of its commands, is guilty of breaking all of them.” Yaakov (James) 2:10
Paul ends Chapter one with an extensive list of sinful actions, his readers/hearers will most assuredly judge those who do these things to be lost—not of the Way. But Paul now says that those among his hearers—Roman ecclesia—who judge these acts to be wrong have no excuse either. The bad news is, that by living a lifestyle of hypocrisy we condemn ourselves. We have already agreed that G-d’s judgment upon these actions is just. Our sin is pride. We can’t stand outside of humanity, we are human and live among the wicked, full of our own evil thoughts and desires, and we too must turn from sin toward Messiah.
One of the overarching core concepts of Romans is faith. Pistis the Greek for faith can also be translated faithfulness: this equates to the Hebrew word emunah (faithfulness.) We believe and continue faithfully, our belief, received from G-d, keeps us sober. Through salvation (Yeshua) in the Spirit of G-d, we are born to self-examination and are disciplined while we are being made Holy—set apart.
“Rabbi Eli’etzer said, ‘Repent one day before you die.’ His talmidim (disciples) asked him, ‘who knows on what day he will die?’ He answered them, ‘All the more reason to repent today, because you might be dead tomorrow!’” –Shabbat 153a
3 But consider this, human being, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, do you think you will escape the judgment of G-d? 4 Or do you take for granted the riches of His kindness/grace (chesed) and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness/grace (chesed) of G-d leads you to returning (repentance/tishuvah)—to G-d?
We must not take the completed work of Messiah for granted. This is not a threat to our salvation but an illuminating of our hearts: a challenge to soberly examine ourselves. Those in Rome who have become followers of Messiah are more than aware that G-d’s chesed (loving kindness) has brought them to faith (emunah) faithfulness.
5 But because of your stubbornness and unreturning heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of G-d, 6 Who will render to each person according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth (Yeshua), but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
Romans 1:18-19 tells us that the wrath of G-d is being poured out against the wicked actions of humanity. Storing up wrath is the practice of continual rebellion. This wrath will be swallowed up by victory for all who return to G-d in Messiah.
These are not new concepts, they are found in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Gospels. In the Hebrew mind faithfulness (emunah) is the combining of faith and fullness, the fullness is the action born of faith which perpetuates faith. This is what emunah means. As I have said previously, faith and works are not opposed to one another. Faith and good works together oppose rebellion and bad works. Job 34:11, Matthew 16:27, John 5:29
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of humanity who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with G-d.
Paul wants to make it clear to all, including devout Jews that religious observance alone cannot save them. In order to show how good the Good News really is he must first remind his hearers of the fact that no one is righteous, except of course the Tzadek (Righteous One.)
Because G-d is just and impartial (He shows favor but doesn’t show partiality) He renders judgment sequentially according to the birth order of His chosen and adopted children, firstly the Jew and also the Greek. In the following verses Paul will show the equity with which G-d judges.
12 For all who have sinned outside the framework of the Torah—Instruction—will also perish outside the Torah, and all who have sinned in connection with the Torah will be judged by the Torah;
We must ask the question, “Why do those who sin outside the Torah perish while those within the framework of the Torah are judged?”
The Scripture says, “For HaShem so loved the world that He gave is only begotten Son, that whoever believes (continues in faith) in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” –Yochanan/John 3:16
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fully fill them.” –Mattitiyahu/Matthew 5:17
Yeshua Himself is the continuity and filling of the Torah, He is the d’var (Word) of HaShem. Therefore Paul uses the rabbinical technique called remez (a hint of something more profound) to show that Yeshua is the living Torah and that those who sin outside of His saving work (not outside of Him, because in Him all things move and breathe and have their being) will perish. On the other hand, all those who sin within the framework of Yeshua’s saving work will be judged and redeemed.
This profound remez doesn’t detract from Paul’s p’shat (intended literal, contextual and cultural reading) of the text which specifically refers to a distinction between Jew and Greek.
13 for it is not the hearers of the Torah who are just before G-d, but the doers of the Torah who will be justified. 14 For when ethnicities who do not have the Torah do instinctively the things of the Torah, these, not having the Torah, are a Torah to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Torah written in their hearts, (Jeremiah 31:32, Hebrews 8:8-12) their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, G-d will judge the secrets of human beings through Messiah Yeshua.
Our every action is our representation of what we think G-d looks like. The use of the term hearer is important because some Jews of the time may have heard the Torah read/chanted in the synagogue but did not have access to Torah scrolls themselves.
The doer of the Torah is the one who by faith, of G-d, receives the gift of salvation (Yeshua), this faith becomes faithfulness and produces good works which are the proof of the gift of G-d.
“The day when… G-d will judge the secrets of human beings through Messiah Yeshua.” Can refer either to the day of individual salvation or to the Day of Judgment at the end of history.
17 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Torah and boast in G-d, 18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Torah, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Torah the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Torah, through your breaking the Torah, do you dishonor G-d? 24 For “the name of G-d is blasphemed among the Goyim—nations—because of you,” just as it is written.
Both the bad news and the Good News are first for the Jew. Paul organizes his letter to follow this pattern of instructional discipline. He is beginning with himself and his own people, then he will move on to the Goyim (nations), specifically the Greeks.
The person Paul is speaking to sounds an awful lot like the man he used to be. (Acts 22:3, 26:5, Gal 1:13-14) Israel has been called to be a light to the Goyim, (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6) when she fails in that calling she is a false witness to the true character of G-d, hence the quote from Isaiah 52:5. The irony here is that today many Christians misrepresent the Messiah to Jewish people who subsequently reject their false gospel of hypocrisy.
It is important to note that Paul is again using the singular here, “you (singular) bear the name Jew.” He is speaking to a certain type of person among the Jewish believers of Rome. Some have suggested that this diatribe/rhetoric is not meant for members of the Roman ecclesia (believers) but for some other imaginary opponent. What nonsense. No one writes a letter to a specific group of people and then proceeds to speak to an entirely different audience. If there were not cause for Paul to suspect that this type of hypocrisy was present in the Roman ecclesia then he would not have written to address it. This is after all a letter, not a philosophy paper. Western scholarship loves to think of Paul as a Greek. He is not. He is a Jew, we are a people devoted to protecting ourselves from assimilation, this guides our consciousness, we think, eat, breathe, bathe, pray, walk and feel in Hebrew regardless of the colloquial language we may use to convey our thoughts, concepts, philosophies and emotions.
“Those who lie freely to non-Jews and steal from them, are worse than ordinary criminals. They are blasphemers; for it is due to their guilt, that some say, ‘Jews have no binding Torah, no moral standards.’” –Rabbi Moses of Coucy
25 For indeed the covenant of circumcision is of value if you practice the Torah; but if you are a transgressor of the Torah, your covenant of circumcision has become a foreskin--without covenant. 26 So if the fore-skinned man keeps the requirements of the Torah, will not his foreskin--lack of covenant—be regarded as circumcision--a covenant? 27 And he who is physically fore-skinned, if he keeps the Torah, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Torah and the covenant of circumcision are a transgressor of the Torah? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from G-d.
Paul is specifically addressing a hypocritical Jewish person, regarding inward and outward Jewishness he is speaking to Jews, not Gentiles. True Jewish observance in Messiah is inward, as is true Gentile observance, however here the Jew and not the Gentile is being addressed.
In verse 25 Paul explains that circumcision is of value if you honor the Torah, this refers to a life style born of heart circumcision rather than a single action. Romans 3:1-2, 9:4-5, 11:11-32. It is important to note that circumcision is a blood covenant between G-d and the people of Israel. Two types of covenant are being alluded to here, a physical one and a spiritual one. Yeshua embodies both covenants and is the author and finisher of the renewed covenant which circumcises the heart.
The imagery of heart circumcision comes from Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 9:24-25.
Notice that Paul doesn’t fault Authentic Judaism, rather he faults the one who is not Jewish inwardly, spiritually. Y’hudi (Jew) means praise, thus “don’t let your praise come from human beings who see only your outward performance, but let your praise come from G-d Who sees your heart.”
This does not mean that Gentile Christians become Jews. Paul teaches in Galatians 3:28 that Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slave and free are equal in the sight of G-d regarding salvation (Yeshua), made one in Messiah, however, equality doesn’t dissolve physicality, genealogy, sociology or gender. A woman may be equal in standing with a man before G-d, this doesn’t mean that the two sexes trade their defining physical parts and become asexual in Messiah. We remain who we are as unique representations of creation and culture and together we share and delight in the beauty of our diversity, be it seen in gender, sociology or ethnicity. We are not assimilated into some sort of hive mind, rather we are welcomed into a family who are like minded.
Throughout Romans Paul makes a clear distinction between the physical people of Israel chosen by G-d for His purposes and the ecclesia adopted by G-d through the Messiah (a Jew.) A Jew can be both a physical Jew and become a follower of Messiah, a Gentile can become a follower of Messiah and become one who gives praise (Y’hudah) to G-d inwardly but will never be a physical Jew. This is an important distinction that stops the false teaching of supersessionism/replacement theology in its tracks. G-d has orchestrated a wonderful plan for the salvation of humanity, this doesn’t negate the promises that He has made to a specific people group, namely Israel. We know that G-d cannot lie, therefore we know He will keep the promises He has made to Israel (the physical nation) that are yet to be fulfilled.
Regarding the four key modes of Rabbinical exegesis:
· P’shat – simple sense/literal-contextual
· Remez – a hint of something more profound
· Drash – an allegory or homiletic
· Sod – secret meaning
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
G-d’s wrath is motivated by love and its purpose is to bring humanity to Salvation
An examination of Romans 1
Before we examine the text itself, let’s take a look at the Composer, Historical/Cultural context and the approximate time of writing.
Many of Israel’s prophets and kings dictated their teachings to scribes, this practice was not uncommon. Perhaps in dictating ones thoughts there is less likelihood of confusing what is being said. Sometimes the act of writing can in itself be a distraction. Therefore it is possible that this technique offered room for the Ruach Ha-Kodesh to unify the thoughts and words of the inspired Scriptural composition of Romans.
I have also wondered whether it is possible that Paul was unable to write as a result of injuries obtained from the beatings, whippings, shipwrecks and near death stoning he had undergone. Perhaps his fingers or hands were damaged and ill repaired following these events. Paul speaks of a thorn that G-d had not taken from him, while many conjecture otherwise, perhaps that thorn is a physical disability—there is no way of knowing this side of the Olam Haba.
With the book of Romans, as in the case of many of Paul’s letters, a scribe recorded what Paul dictated. In the case of Romans Tertios—third—was the scribe. (Romans 16:22) Hence my use of the term composer to describe Paul as the human being who, inspired by the Ruach Ha-Kodesh--Holy Spirit, gave us the words of the letter to the Romans.
The Composer: Shaul (Saul)/Paul
Shaul means, inquirer. Paul’s Hebrew namesake king Shaul of Israel inquired of G-d but G-d didn’t answer him because he had willfully turned away from G-d.
In Paul--Shaul—the apostle’s case, on the other hand, G-d inquired of him and he repented/turned to G-d who had appeared to him in the person of Yeshua the King of Kings.
Shaul the king dishonored his tribe Benyamin and desecrated Israel, he persecuted G-d’s chosen king David and sort the death of his followers.
In a similar way Paul--Shaul—the apostle also persecuted the followers of David’s greater Son Yeshua—King of Israel. On the road to Damascus Yeshua himself appeared to Shaul and said, “It is I Yeshua whom you persecute.” As a result of this encounter G-d redeemed Shaul and gave him an additional name—Paul—according to the ministry he would have in Messiah.
Esther—a heroine of Israel; see Ha-Megilah, the book of Esther—had previously and physically completed the task Shaul the king of Israel had left undone—that is the destruction of the Amalekites, thus redeeming Benyamin’s honor on earth.
Now in Shaul/Paul the apostle G-d redeems the tribe of Benyamin spiritually. Through the salvation--Yeshua—of this one man an entire tribe is reconciled to HaShem. It is fitting that this be the premise for Paul’s Gospel mission to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Why? Because ours is a ministry of reconciliation.
Shaul is Paul’s Hebrew name, it always will be.
Paul is an additional name, worn by Shaul as an emblem representing his ministry to the nations, many of whom were Greek speakers. Hence the Greek name Paulos meaning, to desist, stop, restrain—perhaps in reference to the fact that Shaul had ceased to persecute followers of Ha-Derakh—the Way, or in respect for the fact that he had found rest/Shabbat in Messiah: the Hebrew equivalent of Paulos in this case should be Shabbat—rest, desist, stop, seventh, cease.
We also know the following about Paul:
Fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the Brit Ha-Chadashah--New Testament--have traditionally been attributed to Paul, and approximately half of Acts deals with Paul's life and works.
· A Jew/Israelite
· Of the tribe of Benyamin—son of my people
· A Hebrew of Hebrews
· A Perush—Pharisee—separated, set apart one
· Born in Tarsus in Cilicia, south-central Turkey approx. 5 C.E.
· Circumcised on the eighth day
· Citizen of Rome
· Sent to Jerusalem at a young age to study under the great Rabbi Gamaliel
· Dramatically brought to faith in Messiah on the road to Damascus
· Went on three major missionary journeys
· Made a habit of returning to Jerusalem for important Aliyah--going up, pilgrimage--festivals
· The most prolific minister, teacher, church planter and preacher of the Gospel among the dispersed Jews and the nations on behalf of the early Church
· Thought to have died at the hands of Rome in 67 C.E.
Philippians 3:4-6 4 Though I also have reason for confidence in my ethnicity. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in his being Jewish, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benyamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the Torah a Perush—Pharisee, 6 as to zeal a persecutor of the ecclesia—followers of Messiah, the Way, as to righteousness under the Torah, blameless.
Historical/Cultural Context: Time of Composition
Most scholars agree that the letter to the Roman believers was written after Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and at the end of Paul’s third missionary Journey. This puts the estimated date of Romans at 57 C.E.
Paul had not yet brought the Gospel to Rome, though he clearly had a fierce desire to do so. He was writing to a group of believers of whom he knew only a select few. The believers in Rome were most likely born of the Jewish contingent returning from the Shavuot festival where the Ruach Ha-Kodesh was poured out. Many Jews from all over the known world were reconciled to Messiah on this wonderful occasion. Jews from Rome are specifically mentioned in the Acts 2 account.
Initially this would have meant that the followers of the Way in Rome consisted largely of Jewish followers of Messiah Yeshua and G-d fearing Greeks who had been attracted to the religion of Israel.
Later in the Roman ecclesia’s development things changed dramatically. In 49 C.E. Emperor Claudius, annoyed by the conflict that was developing between traditional Jews and the members of the Way, expelled all Jews from Rome. This meant that the Roman community of believers lost their Jewish contingent for a number of years. We know, due to Paul’s mentioning Jewish friends like Aquila and Priscilla in Romans 16: that the Messianic Jews had returned by the time the letter to the Roman ecclesia was being penned.
The Messianic Jews returned to the Roman community of believers in approximately 54 C.E. and found a tragically different practice of worship amongst them. It is clear from Paul’s letter to the Roman community that the Greek believers were beginning to become disconnected from the Jewish roots of their faith and that the Jewish believers were now in the minority.
We can conclude therefore that the Roman community of believers was largely Greek with a minority Jewish contingent at the time Paul composed his Letter to the Roman ecclesia—body of believers. All of this illuminates our understanding of the text and enables us to journey through the eyes of Paul and listen with the ears of the Roman ecclesia.
Shaul/Paul: Theological Journey
Before beginning our examination of Romans we should also consider the theological changes that Shaul has undergone from the time of his salvation in approx. 31-36 C.E. until the time of the composition of the Roman letter in approx. 57 C.E.
It is clear from Paul’s writings that he maintained a strong Pharisaical life style and taught in a Pharisaical style. He had formed his progressive theology of Messiah and Israel and therefore G-d’s plan for the nations based on the unity of his upbringing and the inception of belief in the Messiah Yeshua as revealed to him by the Ruach Ha-Kodesh. Paul has had some 25 years since his personal meeting with Yeshua, to consolidate his thoughts and experiences of HaShem. It is from this developed theological position that Paul crafts a thoughtful Midrash on the Scripture of the Tanakh, specifically the quoted text of Habakkuk 2 in Romans 1, among others.
From the beginning of this letter Paul makes it clear that he is presenting nothing new. He shows from the first verses that the Gospel of G-d is explained throughout the Tanakh and that it is from these teachings, joined in the revelation of the resurrection of Messiah and the Ruach Ha-Kodesh, that he will present to the Roman ecclesia the Good News of Messiah Yeshua.
There are those who from the outset will want to interpret Paul’s letter to the Romans retrospectively as a systematic theology or an apologetic against works based religion, this is a mistake. If this letter is systematic it is not systematic in any linear sense, on the contrary, it spirals upward through spherical loops of thought and then comes crashing down to earth to taste the soil of Israel. Romans is as systematic as cloud formation, it is a beautiful view of the world from outside of the bubble of time and space.
Romans is not a letter of doctrine so much as it is a letter of cultural—spiritual reconciliation. A reconciliation born from above that disperses into the world like air blown into a deflated balloon. Paul is not favoring Faith over works—as some suggest, nor is he advocating partiality with regard to the Jews—his own people.
Rather than presenting Faith and works as opposing forces, Paul is seeking to help Greek thinkers understand the unity of parts within Messianic belief. Faith and works are no more opposed to one another than the lungs and the heart, in fact one cannot function or survive without the other. While the Greeks seek linear solutions, the Hebrew—Paul—seeks to share a spherical Hebraic way of thinking about faith. The Gospel it seems, is a group of parts functioning as a body. Paul wants to remind the predominantly Greco Roman ecclesia that she was born of Hebrew parents for the purpose of freedom in Messiah.
It is with all this in mind that we now approach the text itself.
1:1 Paul, a servant/slave/bond servant of Yeshua Mashiyach—Jesus the Christ,
This opening salutation is both utterly humble and appropriately honoring. Paulos—restraint, desist, stop—rather than promote himself—as was his right—as a learned rabbi of the Perushim—Pharisees, chooses to offer himself to his readers as a humble and willing slave/servant of Yeshua. In addition, those among the audience for this letter who know the Tanakh—Old Testament—also know that the title “Servant of HaShem—YHVH—“is an honorary title reserved for G-d’s prophets and kings.
A Roman citizen would never consider willfully becoming a slave. The very essence of Roman citizenship is in personal freedom and a self-sustaining lifestyle. Slaves were rarely Romans, they were usual taken from lands conquered by Rome. Paul however was born a Roman Citizen and willfully submits himself as a slave to Messiah.
From a Roman perspective this simple statement also reads as an affront to Caesar whose citizens called themselves his servants. Anyone claiming to be the servant of another authority or King was effectively making a proclamation of rebellion against Caesar’s authority. Paul is the first century C.E. equivalent of a dangerous 21st century activist. The pen is, after all, mightier than the sword.
Called to be an apostle—sent one, set apart—separated, Perush, Pharisee, for the gospel of G-d
‘Called’ here is more than just a request for service, it is an appointment to a vocation—latin vocātiō. Paul is essentially saying, “My calling is to be sent as a Pharisee for the gospel of G-d.” This is the first reference to the Good News: 1. the Good News of G-d.
2 which He promised beforehand through his prophets in the Tanakh, 3 the gospel concerning his Son,
All this was promised from the beginning and written in the Holy text of the Jewish people, which explains the Gospel of His Son. This is the second reference to the Good News: 2. the Good News of His Son.
Who was descended from David according to ethnicity.
The prophets, mentioned previously, say that the Mashiyach will be a descendant of David. Yeshua is indeed David’s greater son, the promised eternal King of Israel Who will sit on David’s throne and reign forever. Both His father Joseph and His mother Miriyam were direct descendants of King David. Yeshua is a human being.
4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Ruach Shel Kadosh by His resurrection from the dead, Yeshua Mashiyach our Lord,
The prophets also predicted that He would be called “Mighty G-d, Everlasting Father, and Immanuel.” The fact that Yeshua is G-d is affirmed in His resurrection. While the Kings of the nations and in particular the Caesars of Rome were venerated as gods after they had died, Yeshua proved to be G-d Himself through His resurrection from the dead. What other king has ever lived who could claim the power of resurrection? In just four brief verses Paul has openly resisted the ethos of Rome and her rulers and has proclaimed a new King, not just a king of Rome but the King of nations, Yeshua Ha-Mashiyach. This is a courageous opening paragraph born of a man who has met Yeshua face to face and lived.
5 through whom we have received chesed—loving kindness, grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith—trust—for the sake of his name--Yeshua Mashiyach—among all the nations--ethnos, ethnicities, 6 including yourselves who are called--vocation, a way of life—to belong to Yeshua Mashiyach;
Notice that Paul says that the believers have received chesed—loving kindness. They didn’t earn it but were offered it as a gift and those who were willing received it along with the directive to be sent out so that others among the ethnicities of the world could become obedient to that same faith and trust in G-d through the Name of Yeshua. All this because the recipients of the Gospel in Rome had been called to belong to Yeshua in the first place: having originally heard the Gospel from Jews like Shaul/Paul who had believed Messiah and received the Ruach Ha-Kodesh.
7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be Kedushav—Holy/set apart ones, saints:
Paul is saying that through Messiah all may be called holy regardless of ethnicity. This doesn’t negate the special physical and spiritual calling of Israel. Just as the name Paul is added to Shaul, so too the nations can be added to Israel’s commonwealth.
Chesed—loving kindness—Grace to you and Shalom—peace—from G-d our Father and the Lord Yeshua Mashiyach.
Some believe that the use of Grace here is significant because it is a common Greek greeting and that in combination with the Hebrew greeting Shalom is meant to signify a unifying of the two ethnicities. While this may be the case I believe there is also a strong case for the Hebrew equivalent chesed to be used to affirm the fact that Loving kindness and Peace are pillars of Hebrew spirituality and that in Messiah these pillars are offered to the Jews first and also to the Greeks.
8 First, I thank my G-d through Jesus Christ for all of you,
“My G-d,” is an important distinction that must be understood by Paul’s hearers. It is the G-d of Israel as G-d alone, unique among gods that Paul is thanking. He is wanting to make clear to the Greeks of the Roman congregation that G-d is not a universal monotheistic deity, He is the G-d of Shaul of the tribe of Benyamin, the Israelite, the Perush, and the Hebrew of Hebrews. Paul says this through his Mashiyach—also Jewish, Israelite, the Hebrew of Hebrews. Make no mistake, Paul begins and ends his letter with the zeal, thinking and passion of a Jewish teacher. He is not presenting Gnostic or stoic arguments as some mistakenly conclude.
Because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
The Roman ecclesia are known throughout the Greco-Roman world for their strong and it seems, evangelical faith in Mashiyach as members of the Way. Notice that Paul never addresses the congregation in Rome using the term Christian. Even thirty years after the death and resurrection of Mashiyach Yeshua the Ecclesia were still known as the Jewish sect or followers of Ha-Derakh—the way.
9 For G-d is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son,
Paul is openly accountable before G-d. Here we have the third mention of the Good News: 3. The Good News of G-d’s Son.
That without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers,
This is not the only time we are told of prayer without ceasing in the Brit Ha-Chaddashah—New Testament. How is this possible? It is only possible if prayer is understood as an eternal conversation which G-d began with us before the creation of the universe.
10 asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
Paul clearly aches for an opportunity to teach the Roman ecclesia. Perhaps in part—given the evidence of this letter in particular—to guide them into a future faith reconnected to its Jewish roots. It also may be that the few Roman believers he knows personally are dear friends. To this we add Paul’s fierce fervor for the Good News and its spread among the nations and we can understand Paul’s desperation as he begins this letter.
11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you a certain spiritual gift to strengthen you,
Most English translations render the Greek tis as some. There has validity however if we translate this Greek word as certain—an equally valid translation--I believe we gain continuity in what Paul is saying regarding the Gospel itself. This translation also supports his desire to impart an authentic faith to his readers. If this rendering is correct then I believe the certain spiritual gift being offered is the unadulterated Good News as received directly from Yeshua. The following verse affirms this reading.
12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
In humility Paul expresses his desire to receive teaching from the Roman ecclesia. This is consistent with the Talmudic teaching that says, “If you want to become a rabbi find yourself a talmid—student—and become his pupil.”
13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the other ethnicities.
Some ask, “What prevented him from coming to Rome? Was it illness, Satan, a word from G-d?” The answer is that, “G-d is over all things so whatever prevented a rightly motivated man from pursuing his mission was allowed for the sake of the kingdom by G-d Himself.” Elsewhere Paul has said that Satan had blocked his way, this doesn’t mean that Satan had any kind of control over Paul’s journey, after all the Tanakh speaks of G-d sending Satan to sway David’s judgment regarding a census over Israel. Even Satan is under G-d’s control. HaShem will have His way, the Way--Ha-Derakh!
14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to non-Greeks, both to the wise and to the foolish: 15 so I am eager to preach the good news to you also who are in Rome.
Some dislike the word obligation here: the Greek opheiletēs means to be indebted. Some would prefer that this indebtedness belong to Paul alone and therefore read it as oppressive law. However the truth is that if Paul has an obligation to pass on his faith to the nations then those who, like him receive that faith, also have an obligation. This is understood as Torah—instruction, discipline and not as Law.
When we embrace the chesed—loving kindness—Grace of G-d we must not forget that the lungs and heart work together, they do not oppose one another. Freedom and obligation stand hand in hand. A married man is obligated to honor his wife and in doing so is freed from sexual sin, an adulterer on the other hand refuses his obligation, seeing himself as one who is utterly free and yet he is imprisoned by sexual sin.
The common Hebrew literary tool of doubling is used here to show the width and breadth of the Gospel’s reach. Greeks were educated, thus they are matched to the wise, non-Greeks were considered uneducated, thus they are coupled to the foolish. Paul is saying that his desire is to preach the gospel to every person regardless of education or social standing, specifically he is eager to share the gospel in all its fullness with the Roman ecclesia.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for Yeshua—salvation—to everyone who has faith—trust, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness--Tzadek, the Righteous One—of G-d is revealed through faith for faith;
Why does Paul say he is not ashamed? Perhaps he has met Jewish believers who have felt the need to hide their new found faith from family members who might reject them for their beliefs? Maybe he has heard that there are those in Rome who are fearful?
Most likely he is aware that his claim to be a servant of Yeshua is a dangerous one and that his readers may be nervous about his letter getting into the wrong hands. He is assuring his readers that he will not be silent, or ashamed or embarrassed about his message of hope in Mashiyach. Why is he not ashamed? Because, “the gospel is the power of G-d for salvation to everyone who has faith,” and he has met that very Power Himself, the risen Mashiyach Yeshua. This has birthed in him eternal confidence. Notice here the fourth Good News reference: 4. The Good News is The Power of G-d for Salvation—Yeshua
Salvation--Yeshua—is first for the Jew historically, chronologically and perpetually. It is also for the Greeks/nations as ones born of the Gospel that comes from the Jews. Yeshua Himself, speaking of Himself said, “Salvation--Yeshua—comes from the Jews.” This is as true today as it was in 57 C.E. when Paul composed this letter to the Roman ecclesia.
Paul specifically uses the Greek word Hellen—Greek—rather than the Greek word ethnos—ethnicity, nation, why is that? It is because he has already declared in the preceding verse that the Gospel is the power of G-d for the salvation of all who believe—all nations. He now targets the Roman ecclesia specifically knowing that they are made up of Jews and educated Greeks.
The righteousness of G-d is revealed first—soon we will read of the revelation of the wrath of G-d. The righteousness of G-d is a gift of faith that is received from G-d and returned to G-d in faith.
As it is written, “The righteous one will live by faith.”
Here Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 with the intention that it be understood that he is referencing the entire passage according to rabbinical tradition. Why does he do this? Firstly he quotes these specific words to solidify the point he is making about faith itself. Once faith is received as a gift it must be lived by. The text here can refer to any Israelite and his decision to stand firm in faith in the face of adversity. It can also be read to refer specifically to the Messiah, the Tzadek--righteous one--who lives by faith. This is also consistent to the Hebrew doubling device and the teaching that faith is both a gift and an obligation.
The wider text of Habakkuk 2 is almost identical in theme to Romans 1:17-32. In fact Paul is writing a Midrash—illuminating commentary—on Habakkuk. In doing so he is reminding the Jewish believers in Rome of the Tanakh and redirecting the Greek believers so as to return them to the Jewish roots of their faith. He is also saying that from creation until this point nothing has really changed, humanity is still sinful and in need of a Redeemer and that Redeemer is The Tzadek—Righteous One Who lived by Faith.
18 For the wrath of G-d is revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of humanity who by their wickedness suppress the truth.
What is the wrath of G-d revealed against? It is revealed against the sinful actions of humanity. His love is for human beings but His wrath is against sin.
Why is His wrath revealed? Because by the sinful actions of humanity the truth is suppressed, covered up, so that human beings fail to receive it and are in danger of being utterly lost. Therefore G-d’s wrath is motivated by love and its purpose is to bring humanity to salvation--Yeshua. This is why He first revealed His righteousness through the Faithful One Yeshua our Mashiyach.
19 For what can be known about G-d is plain to them, because G-d has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;
Who are they? They are all humanity living in rebellion toward G-d. Why are they without excuse? Because everyone has an opportunity to enjoy creation and recognize the order, continuity and design of a higher intelligence, G-d Himself. Apparently it takes an intentional act of the will to deny G-d’s existence. Therefore all humanity is without excuse.
21 for although they knew G-d they did not honor Him as G-d or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
If we believe as the Scripture says, that “In Him all things exist and have their being,” then we must also agree that all things are in some way aware of G-d. Hence the words, “although they knew G-d they did not honor Him as G-d.”
As a result of our refusal to acknowledge the obvious and honor G-d we have been left without purpose, we have become futile, our own thoughts frustrate us and our minds refuse the light of HaShem. We have purchased our own darkness through rebellion.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal G-d for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
Notice the doublets here that link back to verse 14. It is the wise who are now the fools and the glory—wisdom—they might have enjoyed in G-d has been exchanged for worthless dead images.
In this we also see the hope seeded in verse 14. After all, Paul’s—and our—obligation is to preach the Gospel to both the wise and the foolish.
24 Therefore G-d gave them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
G-d neither gave up on them nor abandoned them, rather He allowed them the free will to pursue their own sinful lust. We should note that the dishonor they receive is at their own hands. G-d does not dishonor them, He loves them and seeks to honor them.
25 because they exchanged the truth about G-d for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The truth about G-d was already in view for these people or else how could they have exchanged it? Therefore the truth about G-d is even today still seen in creation and even today humanity both individually and corporately is intentionally refusing that truth and in exchange accepting the lie that creation itself is god, that we are god. This is the root of all sin, idolatry, the sin that caused the fall of Satan.
G-d can be seen in everything because everything exists in Him. That doesn’t mean that everything is G-d. G-d is light but light is not G-d. A hamburger exists in G-d but G-d is not a hamburger.
26 For this reason G-d gave them up to dishonorable passions.
Again, G-d simply allowed them to exercise free will, to pursue their own self destruction. This is the second giving up. There is a progression here, at each step of the way and at any time a person might repent, turn back to G-d. Likewise at each step of the way a person may choose to rebel further.
Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
The Bible is clear regarding Lesbian and homosexual acts. The Torah calls these sexual acts abominations and issues the penalty of death against them. However Paul is saying here that the practice of these perverse sexual acts bring about their own penalty regardless of the punishment of law or lack thereof.
While homosexuality is beyond the scope of this study, suffice to say that many of those who enter this life style were initially seeking to fulfill a legitimate need for wholesome male relationships—Father, brother, close platonic male friend—but without access to positive manifestations of these relationships they have been seduced by a lie and have entered into darkness.
It is important to remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood, we are called to love the lost. Like Paul we seek the salvation of those who are trapped in sin. G-d’s wrath is revealed against the evil actions of humanity and not against humanity itself. It is Satan who seeks our demise, not G-d.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge G-d, G-d gave them up to a depraved mind and to improper conduct. 29 They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, and haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.
Four the third and final time G-d gives them up to their sinful path. At this point their minds are depraved to such depths that the light is a distant memory. Therefore all forms of evil begin to manifest in their lives. Evil itself becomes so familiar to them that it seems normal: good becomes bad, evil becomes good, righteousness is mocked and deviousness is celebrated. This creates a society where evil perpetuates evil and honors those who practice perversity. This was the world that the followers of the Way lived in. This is the world that we live in.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.