Romans 9 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Romans 9)


Too well aware that he was regarded as a traitor to the dearest interests of his people (Ac 21:33; 22:22; 25:24), the apostle opens this division of his subject by giving vent to his real feelings with extraordinary vehemence of protestation.

1, 2. I say the truth in Christ--as if steeped in the spirit of Him who wept over impenitent and doomed Jerusalem (compare Ro 1:9; 2Co 12:19; Php 1:8).
my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost--"my conscience as quickened, illuminated, and even now under the direct operation of the Holy Ghost."

2. That I have, &c.--"That I have great grief (or, sorrow) and unceasing anguish in my heart"--the bitter hostility of his nation to the glorious Gospel, and the awful consequences of their unbelief, weighing heavily and incessantly upon his spirit.

3. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for--"in behalf of"
my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh--In proportion as he felt himself severed from his nation, he seems to have realized all the more vividly their natural relationship. To explain away the wish here expressed, as too strong for any Christian to utter or conceive, some have rendered the opening words, "I did wish," referring it to his former unenlightened state; a sense of the words too tame to be endured: others unwarrantably soften the sense of the word "accursed." But our version gives the true import of the original; and if it be understood as the language rather of "strong and indistinct emotions than of definite ideas" [HODGE], expressing passionately how he felt his whole being swallowed up in the salvation of his people, the difficulty will vanish, and we shall be reminded of the similar idea so nobly expressed by Moses (Ex 32:32).

4. Who are Israelites--See Ro 11:1; 2Co 11:22; Php 3:5.
to whom pertaineth--"whose is"
the adoption--It is true that, compared with the new economy, the old was a state of minority and pupilage, and so far that of a bond-servant (Ga 4:1-3); yet, compared with the state of the surrounding heathen, the choice of Abraham and his seed was a real separation of them to be a Family of God (Ex 4:22; De 32:6; Isa 1:2; Jer 31:9; Ho 11:1; Mal 1:6).
and the glory--that "glory of the Lord," or "visible token of the Divine Presence in the midst of them," which rested on the ark and filled the tabernacle during all their wanderings in the wilderness; which in Jerusalem continued to be seen in the tabernacle and temple, and only disappeared when, at the Captivity, the temple was demolished, and the sun of the ancient economy began to go down. This was what the Jews called the "Shekinah."
and the covenants--"the covenants of promise" to which the Gentiles before Christ were "strangers" (Eph 2:12); meaning the one covenant with Abraham in its successive renewals (see Ga 3:16, 17).
and the giving of the law--from Mount Sinai, and the possession of it thereafter, which the Jews justly deemed their peculiar honor (De 26:18, 19; Ps 147:19, 20; Ro 2:17).
and the service of God--or, of the sanctuary, meaning the whole divinely instituted religious service, in the celebration of which they were brought so nigh unto God.
and the promises--the great Abrahamic promises, successively unfolded, and which had their fulfilment only in Christ; (see Heb 7:6; Ga 3:16, 21; Ac 26:6, 7).

5. Whose are the fathers--here, probably, the three great fathers of the covenant--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--by whom God condescended to name Himself (Ex 8:6, 13; Lu 20:37).
and--most exalted privilege of all, and as such, reserved to the last.
of whom as concerning the flesh--(See on Ro 1:3).
Christ came--or, "is Christ"
who is over all, God--rather, "God over all."
blessed for ever. Amen--To get rid of the bright testimony here borne to the supreme divinity of Christ, various expedients have been adopted: (1) To place a period, either after the words "concerning the flesh Christ came," rendering the next clause as a doxology to the Father--"God who is over all be blessed for ever"; or after the word "all"--thus, "Christ came, who is over all: God be blessed.", &c. [ERASMUS, LOCKE, FRITZSCHE, MEYER, JOWETT, &c.]. But it is fatal to this view, as even Socinus admits, that in other Scripture doxologies the word "Blessed" precedes the name of God on whom the blessing is invoked (thus: "Blessed be God," Ps 68:35; "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel," Ps 72:18). Besides, any such doxology here would be "unmeaning and frigid in the extreme"; the sad subject on which he was entering suggesting anything but a doxology, even in connection with Christ's Incarnation [ALFORD]. (2) To transpose the words rendered "who is"; in which case the rendering would be, "whose (that is, the fathers') is Christ according to the flesh" [CRELLIUS, WHISTON, TAYLOR, WHITBY]. But this is a desperate expedient, in the face of all manuscript authority; as is also the conjecture of GROTIUS and others, that the word "God" should be omitted from the text. It remains then, that we have here no doxology at all, but a naked statement of fact, that while Christ is "of" the Israelitish nation "as concerning the flesh," He is, in another respect, "God over all, blessed for ever." (In 2Co 11:31 the very Greek phrase which is here rendered "who is," is used in the same sense; and compare Ro 1:25, Greek). In this view of the passage, as a testimony to the supreme divinity of Christ, besides all the orthodox fathers, some of the ablest modern critics concur [BENGEL, THOLUCK, STUART, OLSHAUSEN, PHILIPPI, ALFORD, &c.]

6. Not as though the word of God had taken none effect--"hath fallen to the ground," that is, failed: compare Lu 16:17, Greek.
for they are not all Israel which are of Israel--better, "for not all they which are of Israel are Israel." Here the apostle enters upon the profound subject of ELECTION, the treatment of which extends to the end of the eleventh chapter--"Think not that I mourn over the total loss of Israel; for that would involve the failure of God's word to Abraham; but not all that belong to the natural seed, and go under the name of 'Israel,' are the Israel of God's irrevocable choice." The difficulties which encompass this subject lie not in the apostle's teaching, which is plain enough, but in the truths themselves, the evidence for which, taken by themselves, is overwhelming, but whose perfect harmony is beyond human comprehension in the present state. The great source of error here lies in hastily inferring (as THOLUCK and others), from the apostle's taking tip, at the close of this chapter, the calling of the Gentiles in connection with the rejection of Israel, and continuing this subject through the two next chapters, that the Election treated of in the body of this chapter is national, not personal Election, and consequently is Election merely to religious advantages, not to eternal salvation. In that case, the argument of Ro 9:6, with which the subject of Election opens, would be this: "The choice of Abraham and his seed has not failed; because though Israel has been rejected, the Gentiles have taken their place; and God has a right to choose what nation He will to the privileges of His visible kingdom." But so far from this, the Gentiles are not so much as mentioned at all till towards the close of the chapter; and the argument of this verse is, that "all Israel is not rejected, but only a portion of it, the remainder being the 'Israel' whom God has chosen in the exercise of His sovereign right." And that this is a choice not to mere external privileges, but to eternal salvation, will abundantly appear from what follows.

7-9. Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children--"Not in the line of mere fleshly descent from Abraham does the election run; else Ishmael, Hagar's child, and even Keturah's children, would be included, which they were not."
but--the true election are such of Abraham's seed as God unconditionally chooses, as exemplified in that promise.
in Isaac shall thy seed be called-- (Ge 21:12).

10-13. And not only this; but when Rebecca, &c.--It might be thought that there was a natural reason for preferring the child of Sarah, as being Abraham's true and first wife, both to the child of Hagar, Sarah's maid, and to the children of Keturah, his second wife. But there could be no such reason in the case of Rebecca, Isaac's only wife; for the choice of her son Jacob was the choice of one of two sons by the same mother and of the younger in preference to the elder, and before either of them was born, and consequently before either had done good or evil to be a ground of preference: and all to show that the sole ground of distinction lay in the unconditional choice of God--"not of works, but of Him that calleth."

14. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid--This is the first of two objections to the foregoing doctrine, that God chooses one and rejects another, not on account of their works, but purely in the exercise of His own good pleasure: "This doctrine is inconsistent with the justice of God." The answer to this objection extends to Ro 9:19, where we have the second objection.

15. For he saith to Moses-- (Ex 33:19).
I will have mercy on whom I will have--"on whom I have"
mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have--"on whom I have"
compassion--"There can be no unrighteousness in God's choosing whom He will, for to Moses He expressly claims the right to do so." Yet it is worthy of notice that this is expressed in the positive rather than the negative form: not, "I will have mercy on none but whom I will"; but, "I will have mercy on whomsoever I will."

16. So then it is not of him that willeth--hath the inward desire
nor of him that runneth--maketh active effort (compare 1Co 9:24, 26; Php 2:16; 3:14). Both these are indispensable to salvation, yet salvation is owing to neither, but is purely "of God that showeth mercy." See on Php 2:12, 13, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which, out of His own good pleasure, worketh in you both to will and to do."

17. For the scripture saith to Pharaoh--observe here the light in which the Scripture is viewed by the apostle.
Even for this same--"this very"
purpose have I raised--"raised I"
thee up, &c.--The apostle had shown that God claims the right to choose whom He will: here he shows by an example that God punishes whom He will. But "God did not make Pharaoh wicked; He only forbore to make him good, by the exercise of special and altogether unmerited grace" [HODGE].
that I might--"may"
show my power in thee--It was not that Pharaoh was worse than others that he was so dealt with, but "in order that he might become a monument of the penal justice of God, and it was with a view to this that God provided that the evil which was in him should be manifested in this definite form" [OLSHAUSEN].
and that my name might--"may"
be declared--"proclaimed"
in all the earth--"This is the principle on which all punishment is inflicted, that the true character of the Divine Lawgiver should be known. This is of all objects, where God is concerned, the highest and most important; in itself the most worthy, and in its results the most beneficent" [HODGE].

18. Therefore hath he--"So then he hath." The result then is that He hath
mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth--by judicially abandoning them to the hardening influence of sin itself (Ps 81:11, 12; Ro 1:24, 26, 28; Heb 3:8, 13), and of the surrounding incentives to it (Mt 24:12; 1Co 15:38; 2Th 2:17).

Second objection to the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty:

19. Thou shalt say then unto me, Why--"Why then" is the true reading.
doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted--"Who resisteth"
his will?--that is, "This doctrine is incompatible with human responsibility"; If God chooses and rejects, pardons and punishes, whom He pleases, why are those blamed who, if rejected by Him, cannot help sinning and perishing? This objection shows quite as conclusively as the former the real nature of the doctrine objected to--that it is Election and Non-election to eternal salvation prior to any difference of personal character; this is the only doctrine that could suggest the objection here stated, and to this doctrine the objection is plausible. What now is the apostle's answer? It is twofold. First: "It is irreverence and presumption in the creature to arraign the Creator."

20, 21. Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made--"didst thou make"
me thus?-- (Isa 45:9).

21. Hath not the potter power over the clay; of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another to dishonour?--"The objection is founded on ignorance or misapprehension of the relation between God and His sinful creatures; supposing that He is under obligation to extend His grace to all, whereas He is under obligation to none. All are sinners, and have forfeited every claim to His mercy; it is therefore perfectly competent to God to spare one and not another, to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor. But it is to be borne in mind that Paul does not here speak of God's right over His creatures as creatures, but as sinful creatures: as he himself clearly intimates in the next verses. It is the cavil of a sinful creature against his Creator that he is answering, and be does so by showing that God is under no obligation to give His grace to any, but is as sovereign as in fashioning the clay" [HODGE]. But, Second: "There is nothing unjust in such sovereignty."

22, 23. What if God, willing to show--"designing to manifest"
his wrath--His holy displeasure against sin.
and to make his power--to punish it
known endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath--that is, "destined to wrath"; just as "vessels of mercy," in Ro 9:23, mean "vessels destined to mercy"; compare Eph 2:3, "children of wrath."
fitted for destruction--It is well remarked by STUART that the "difficulties which such statements involve are not to be got rid of by softening the language of one text, while so many others meet us which are of the same tenor; and even if we give up the Bible itself, so long as we acknowledge an omnipotent and omniscient God we cannot abate in the least degree from any of the difficulties which such texts make." Be it observed, however, that if God, as the apostle teaches, expressly "designed to manifest His wrath, and to make His power (in the way of wrath) known," it could only be by punishing some, while He pardons others; and if the choice between the two classes was not to be founded, as our apostle also teaches, on their own doings but on God's good pleasure, the decision behooved ultimately to rest with God. Yet, even in the necessary punishment of the wicked, as HODGE observes, so far from proceeding with undue severity, the apostle would have it remarked that God "endures with much long-suffering" those objects of His righteous displeasure.

23. And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy--that "glorious exuberance of Divine mercy" which "was manifested in choosing and eternally arranging for the salvation of sinners."

24. even us, whom he hath called, &c.--rather, "Whom he hath also called, even us," &c., in not only "afore preparing," but in due time effectually "calling us."
not of the Jews, &c.--better, "not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." Here for the first title in this chapter the calling of the Gentiles is introduced; all before having respect, not to the substitution of the called Gentiles for the rejected Jews, but to the choice of one portion and the rejection of another of the same Israel. Had Israel's rejection been total, God's promise to Abraham would not have been fulfilled by the substitution of the Gentiles in their room; but Israel's rejection being only partial, the preservation of a "remnant," in which the promise was made good, was but "according to the election of grace." And now, for the first time, the apostle tells us that along with this elect remnant of Israel, it is God's purpose to "take out of the Gentiles a people for His name" (Ac 28:14); and that subject, thus introduced, is now continued to the end of the eleventh chapter.

25. As he saith also in Osee--"Hosea."
I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved--quoted, though not quite to the letter, from Ho 2:23, a passage relating immediately, not to the heathen, but to the kingdom of the ten tribes; but since they had sunk to the level of the heathen, who were "not God's people," and in that sense "not beloved," the apostle legitimately applies it to the heathen, as "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise" (so 1Pe 2:10).

26. And--another quotation from Ho 1:10.
it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children--"called sons"
of the living God--The expression, "in the place where . . . there," seems designed only to give greater emphasis to the gracious change here announced, from divine exclusion to divine admission to the privileges of the people of God.

27-29. Esaias also crieth--"But Isaiah crieth"--an expression denoting a solemn testimony openly borne (Joh 1:15; 7:28, 37; 12:44; Ac 23:6; 24:21).
concerning Israel, Though the number of the children--"sons"
of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a--"the"
remnant--that is, the elect remnant only shall be saved.

28. For he will finish the work, and cut--"is finishing the reckoning, and cutting it"
it short in righteousness; because a short work--"reckoning"
will the Lord make upon the earth-- (Isa 10:22, 23), as in the Septuagint. The sense given to these words by the apostle may seem to differ from that intended by the prophet. But the sameness of sentiment in both places will at once appear, if we understand those words of the prophet, "the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness," to mean that while a remnant of Israel should be graciously spared to return from captivity, "the decreed consumption" of the impenitent majority should be "replete with righteousness," or illustriously display God's righteous vengeance against sin. The "short reckoning" seems to mean the speedy completing of His word, both in cutting off the one portion and saving the other.

29. And as Esaias said--"hath said"
before--that is, probably in an earlier part of his book, namely, Isa 1:9.
Except the Lord of Sabaoth--that is, "The Lord of Hosts": the word is Hebrew, but occurs so in the Epistle of James (Jas 5:4), and has thence become naturalized in our Christian phraseology.
had left us a seed--meaning a "remnant"; small at first, but in due time to be a seed of plenty (compare Ps 22:30, 31; Isa 6:12, 13).
we had been--"become"
as Sodom, &c.--But for this precious seed, the chosen people would have resembled the cities of the plain, both in degeneracy of character and in merited doom.

30, 31. What shall we say then?--"What now is the result of the whole?" The result is this--very different from what one would have expected.
That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained--"attained"
to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith--As we have seen that "the righteousness of faith" is the righteousness which justifies (see on Ro 3:22, &c.), this verse must mean that "the Gentiles, who while strangers to Christ were quite indifferent about acceptance with God, having embraced the Gospel as soon as it was preached to them, experienced the blessedness of a justified state."

31. But Israel, which followed--"following"
after the law of righteousness, hath not attained--"attained not"
unto the law of righteousness--The word "law" is used here, we think, in the same sense as in Ro 7:23, to denote "a principle of action"; that is, "Israel, though sincerely and steadily aiming at acceptance with God, nevertheless missed it."

32, 33. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were--rather simply, "as"
by the works of the law--as if it were thus attainable, which justification is not: Since, therefore, it is attainable only by faith, they missed it.
for--it is doubtful if this particle was originally in the text.
they stumbled at that stumbling-stone--better, "against the stone of stumbling," meaning Christ. But in this they only did.

33. As it is written-- (Isa 8:14; 28:16).
Behold, &c.--Two Messianic predictions are here combined, as is not unusual in quotations from the Old Testament. Thus combined, the prediction brings together both the classes of whom the apostle is treating: those to whom Messiah should be only a stone of stumbling, and those who were to regard Him as the Cornerstone of all their hopes. Thus expounded, this chapter presents no serious difficulties, none which do not arise out of the subject itself, whose depths are unfathomable; whereas on every other view of it the difficulty of giving it any consistent and worthy interpretation is in our judgment insuperable.

Note, (1) To speak and act "in Christ," with a conscience not only illuminated, but under the present operation of the Holy Ghost, is not peculiar to the supernaturally inspired, but is the privilege, and ought to be the aim, of every believer (Ro 9:1). (2) Grace does not destroy, but only intensify and elevate, the feelings of nature; and Christians should study to show this (Ro 9:2, 3). (3) To belong to the visible Church of God, and enjoy its high and holy distinctions, is of the sovereign mercy of God, and should be regarded with devout thankfulness (Ro 9:4, 5). (4) Yet the most sacred external distinctions and privileges will avail nothing to salvation without the heart's submission to the righteousness of God (Ro 9:31-33). (5) What manner of persons ought "God's elect" to be--in humility, when they remember that He hath saved them and called them, not according to their works, but according to His own purpose and grace, given them in Christ Jesus before the world began (2Ti 1:9); in thankfulness, for "Who maketh thee to differ, and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" (1Co 4:7); in godly jealousy over themselves; remembering that "God is not mocked," but "whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap" (Ga 6:7); in diligence "to make our calling and election sure" (2Pe 1:10); and yet in calm confidence that "whom God predestinates, and calls, and justifies, them (in due time) He also glorifies" (Ro 8:30). (6) On all subjects which from their very nature lie beyond human comprehension, it will be our wisdom to set down what God says in His word, and has actually done in His procedure towards men, as indisputable, even though it contradict the results at which in the best exercise of our limited judgment we may have arrived (Ro 9:14-23). (7) Sincerity in religion, or a general desire to be saved, with assiduous efforts to do right, will prove fatal as a ground of confidence before God, if unaccompanied by implicit submission to His revealed method of salvation (Ro 9:31-33). (8) In the rejection of the great mass of the chosen people, and the inbringing of multitudes of estranged Gentiles, God would have men to see a law of His procedure, which the judgment of the great day will more vividly reveal that "the last shall be first and the first last" (Mt 20:16).