Sunday, January 25
Romans 3:9-20: After the diatribe that begins this chapter (verses 3-8), Paul returns to the theme in chapter two, the alleged moral advantage of the Jew over the Gentile. Even though GodŐs fidelity to the Jews, in spite of their infidelities to Him, does ironically manifest the privileged position of the Jews in salvation history, from a moral perspective it hardly warrants any boasting on the part of the Jews. Indeed, it makes them show up rather badly. In short, Paul is arguing, "we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin" (verse 9).
This is, in fact, manŐs concrete position under GodŃhe is "under sin" (hyphŐ hamartian).Such is PaulŐs major contention in Romans (verse 23; 5:5:12). Here, however, he uses the word "sin" for the first time in this epistle.
In support of this thesis about manŐs subjection to sin, Paul quotes (along with other sources) the Book of Psalms 14 (13):1-3; 53 (52):1-3. These two psalms both begin with the foolŐs assertion that "there is no God." In citing these psalms, therefore, Paul is once again taking up, from chapter one, the denial of God by the "fools" (1:22), whose "foolish hearts were darkened" (1:21). The "fool" in these psalms, Paul is suggesting, are not simply Gentiles, because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (verse 23).
The totality, the completeness, of manŐs sinful condition is indicated by PaulŐs scriptural references to the various body parts that contribute to the sin: throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, eyes. Man is, in short, completely sinful. What man? Well, the Old Testament passages cited by Paul seem to refer to the Jews, after all (verse 19), so the Jew can claim no moral superiority over the Gentile.
In verses 19-20 the totality of manŐs sinful state is accented by the triple use of the word "all" or "every" (pas).
In short, man is not justified before God by the works of the Law, because "by the Law is the knowledge of sin" (verse 20). This expression, "works of the Law," does not refer to good works generally; it refers, rather, to those commandments (including, ironically, a certain abstention from "work" on the Sabbath) laid down in the Law of Moses. Paul is not contrasting faith with works; he is contrasting the Gospel with the Law of Moses. The latter, he says, does not justify man; it gives man, rather, the knowledge or consciousness (epignosis) of sin.
Here the apostle cites Psalms 143 (142):1-2, where the inspired psalmist insists that "all flesh " (pasa sarxs) fails to be justified (dikaiothesetai) before God. How, then, is a man to be justified, to be rendered righteous? The psalmist himself answers, "In Your faithfulness hear me, in Your righteousness." That is to say, even according to the Old Testament, it is God who justifies; it is God who makes righteous.
Paul introduces here a theme that will be developed at greater length in chapter seven, namely, manŐs consciousness of sin made manifest by the Law. The function of the Law, in this context, is to prove to man just how rebellious, how depraved, how immoral he is (4:5; 5:13). If in this sense the Law makes sinners of us all, surely this is even more the case for the Jew, to whom the Law was given.
Monday, January 26
Romans 3:21-31: The tone of Romans has been negative hitherto, "but now" (verse 21) Paul introduces the Christian hope, rooted in GodŐs righteousness and fidelity manifested in Jesus Christ. The "now" here is chronological and not just rhetorical, because a new era has dawned in Christ, foretold by the Law and the Prophets. This has been called the "eschatological now" (also in verse 26; 5:9,11; 6:22; 7:6; 8:1,18; 11:5,30,31; 13:11; 16:26), the era of the Gospel which replaces the dispensation of the Law.
These verses express the very essence of the Gospel, salvation through faith in the God who redeems us in Christ. The "righteousness of God," which we just saw in Psalms 143 (142), is not a quality of condemnation, of outraged divine justice, but the source of divine deliverance from sin and corruption. Paul speaks of its four times in these few verses.
The "faith in Jesus Christ" (verses 22,26; Galatians 2:16,20) is literally the "faith of Jesus Christ." It is not simply an objective genitive, "faith in Jesus." This expression means, rather, "faith in all matters that concern Jesus Christ," faith in the entire dispensation of grace through Jesus Christ, including the faith that Jesus modeled for us in the course of accomplishing our redemption (cf. Hebrews 12:2).
Just as there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in sin, so there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ. After all, we all have sinned and fallen short of GodŐs glory (verse 23). This divine glory (doxsa) of which we fall short (that is, "miss out on"Ńhysterountai), is conveyed to us as we grow in grace (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6).
Although Paul uses the legal language of the Old Testament, it would be wrong to interpret "freely justified by His grace" only in the sense of an outward, judicial, forensic pronouncement on GodŐs part. Such a view would render divine grace just as external to manŐs heart as was the Law. This theory effectively separates repentance from holiness, as though God would declare a man righteous without actually making him righteous, pronounce him to be just without causing him to be a "saint," and convert him but without giving him a new heart. In fact, a major difference between the Law and the Gospel consists in this very distinction external form and internal form. GodŐs grace justifies by transforming from within; it actually produces something new. By this justifying grace we are made a "new creation" in Christ; we "become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God has set forth Jesus Christ "as a propitiation by His blood" (verse 25). The Greek word translated here as "propitiation" and used as a description of Christ our Lord is hilasterion, a word found in the New Testament only here and in Hebrews 9:5. It does not mean propitiation in the sense of placating an angry God. Indeed, both the Old and New Testaments avoid speaking about GodŐs anger in connection with blood sacrifice. The requirement of blood sacrifice, without which there is no atonement for sin, is not related in Holy Scripture to the divine wrath.
Hilastrion means, rather, the place of divine forgiveness, the locus of the atonement. It is the word used in the Septuagint to refer to the "mercy seat" where God meets man in the sprinkling of sacrificial blood (Leviticus 16:2,11-17).
According to biblical thought, "the life is in the blood." Therefore, the pouring out of JesusŐ blood in His sacrifice on the Cross is the pouring out of His life in love for the Father and for each of us. By this pouring out of His life, Jesus cleanses away our sins. By His death He defeats sin, and by His resurrection He defeats death.
The righteousness of man, received in faith, comes from the righteousness of God manifested in the expiatory mystery of the Cross. Through the death of Jesus, God both manifests Himself as righteous and makes believers righteous "by the faith of Christ" (verse 26).
Paul uses the metaphor of the Law to speak of "the law of faith" (verse 27), which is identical with "the law of the Spirit" (8:2) and "the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Man may not boast, therefore, for only God can justify him (verse 28).
Although in Christ there is an "end of the Law" (10:4), there is also a sense in which Christ establishes the Law (verse 31). The next chapter will be devoted to this theme.
Tuesday, January 27
Psalm 47 (Greek & Latin 46): Its eternal, "heavenly" character is an essential and defining feature of the priesthood of Christ our Lord. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, indeed, "if He were on earth He would not be a priest" (8:4). We have been redeemed and justified by Jesus, our high priest, not only by the shedding of His blood, but also by the power of His glorification over death, because He "was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25). ChristŐs redemptive sacrifice on the Cross, by which He ransomed us and paid the purchase of our souls, was completed, fulfilled, brought to perfection by His resurrection and entrance into the heavenly holy of holies, that place "within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech" (Hebrews 6:20).
The ascension of Christ is not, then, an afterthought, a sort of postlude to salvation. It is not merely an appropriate but optional parade celebrated in consequence of the victory already attained. It is an integral part, rather, of the triumph itself; or more properly, it is the crowning moment of the LordŐs priestly offering. The LordŐs ascension is a ritus, a liturgical event.
In this respect the Epistle to the Hebrews contrasts the earthly tabernacle of the Old Testament, the scene of the Mosaic sacrifices, with the eternal tabernacle of heaven, consecrated by the glorification of Jesus: "But Christ being come an high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (9:11f).
This ascension of Christ into glory is likewise the object of biblical prophecy, especially in several places in the Book of Psalms. One of the more notable places is the present psalm: "God has ascended with jubilation, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Oh sing to our God, sing! Sing to our King, sing!" This is an invitation to us on earth, a summons to join our voices in jubilation with the angels on high. The ascension of Christ is the event where heaven and earth are joined forever.
DavidŐs taking of the ark of the covenant into the holy city may be seen as a figure and foretype of the LordŐs entry into the heavenly Jerusalem, and that long distant day was likewise marked with the rapture of happiness at GodŐs approach: "And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet" (2 Samuel 6:14f). Our psalm calls for similar marks of celebration at the coming of Christ into the holy city on high: "Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord most high is awesome; He is the great King over all the earth."
What the Old Testament prophesied in narrative and psalm came finally to pass when God "raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come" (Ephesians 2:20f).
Our psalm of the ascension, therefore, sends forth its invitation to all the peoples of the earth. By reason of His glorification, all of history and all of culture belong to Christ. All nations are summoned before His throne, to share His exaltation: "God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the peoples are gathered together with the God of Abraham. For all the strong ones of the earth belong to God; they are greatly exalted."
The place on earth where heaven and earth meet is called the Church, which finds her very identity in the exaltation of Christ. The mystery of the ascension leads immediately to the mystery of the Church, GodŐs chosen people: "He has chosen us for His inheritance, the beauty of Jacob which he loves."
Wednesday, January 28
Romans 4:1-12: When St. Paul asserted, at the end of the previous chapter, that in the proclamation of the Gospel "we establish the Law," it is clear that he understood the latter term in the sense of the whole Torah, or even of the entire Old Testament. That is to say, the proclamation of the Gospel provides the proper basis for that entire body divinely inspired literature that the Christian Church has received from the Jews. The Gospel is the key to the Law; it provides the correct understanding of that literature.
In the present chapter the apostle illustrates and demonstrates that the principle of justification through faith lies at the heart of the Old Testament. His examples are the experiences of Abraham and David.
In the case of David, who had violated at least two articles of the Decalogue, justification came from the forgiveness of his sins. David had not observed the Law, but God had forgiven his lawless deeds and not imputed his sons unto him (verses 7-8).
In this non-imputation of sin, the verb employed is logizesthai, which Paul uses with respect to both David and Abraham. Such imputation is not some sort of legal fiction. This verb, in its normal and literal meaning, comes from accounting, bookkeeping, and the maintenance of ledgers. In the Greek Bible it is used metaphorically, in the sense of a recorded account of manŐs moral conduct, as though God and the angels were "keeping tabs" on him (Deuteronomy 24:13; Psalms 106 :31; Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12). Indeed, this figurative use of the verb in a theological sense seems to be an extension of its figurative use in a legal and forensic sense, such as in court records and similar official archives (cf. Esther 6:1-3).
Thus, when David writes that a forgiven manŐs sins are not imputed to him, the meaning is that those sins are no longer kept on the ledger, so to speak. They have been erased or "whited over." Our sins are removed from the divine calculation, as it were. Our sins are "covered" (verse 7), not in the sense that they still remain in the soul, but in the sense that God has put them out of His mind. They are over and done with. He remembers them no more. The blood of the Lamb has washed them away, and a man never again needs to remember things that God has forgotten.
Besides David, Paul writes of Abraham, "our forefather according to the flesh" (not, as some translations have it, "found according to the flesh"), which means "our biological ancestor" (verse 1; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8). Abraham lived long before the Sinai Covenant, in which the Mosaic Law was conveyed. Thus, he was justified in GodŐs sight, not by his observance of the Law, but his faith in GodŐs word, faith manifest in his obedience to GodŐs call (verses 2-5).
When the Sacred Text asserts that AbrahamŐs faith was "accounted to him for righteousness" (verse 3), it means that God was never in AbrahamŐs debt. God did not owe Abraham anything. The initiative of salvation in the story of Abraham was entirely GodŐs. God sought out Abraham, not the other way around. AbrahamŐs task was to believe, to trust, to obey. In faith he left his justification in GodŐs hands.
The biblical assertion of AbrahamŐs righteousness in Genesis 15 not only precedes the giving of the Mosaic Law in the Book of Exodus, it also precedes AbrahamŐs circumcision in Genesis 17. Indeed, Abraham received the circumcision as a "sign" (semeion) and "seal" (sphragis) of the righteousness he already had through faith. He is the father, therefore, not only of the circumcised Jew but also of the uncircumcised Gentile (verses 9-12).
Thursday, January 29
Romans 4:13-25: Independent of the Mosaic Law, Abraham received in faith the promise of God (verse 13), the promise of a great progeny. It is PaulŐs contention that Christians pertain to that progeny if they adhere to the faith by which Moses received the promise of it. It is faith, not the Law, which determines who are the true heirs of Abraham.
Suddenly, and as though by parenthesis, Paul asserts that "the law brings about wrath" (verse 15). By adding to manŐs moral responsibilities, the Mosaic Law increases the opportunities for transgressions, and transgressions evoke the divine wrath. That is to say, the Mosaic Law actually makes manŐs moral situation worse! Consequently, it cannot be the instrument of manŐs salvation. Paul barely introduces the idea here; he will elaborate it at some length in chapter seven.
Paul begins now to treat the theme of death, which he had introduced in 1:32. From this point on, the arguments of the Epistle to the Romans will be directed at death, the noun thanatos (a word found in Romans twenty-two times) and the adjective nekros (found in Romans sixteen times). Paul now begins his long argument that manŐs justification has to do with ChristŐs victory over death. That is to say, man is justified by the power of ChristŐs resurrection, unleashed into this world by the Gospel.
Abraham, exemplifying salvific faith, believed in the God who could make fruitful his own "dead" flesh and the "dead" womb of Sarah (verses 17-19; Genesis 17:15-21). He compares this to GodŐs calling all of Creation out of nothingness. This is the promise of the Resurrection, as Paul will make clear at the end of the chapter.
GodŐs word, which had called all things from nothingness, Abraham took to be the principle of all divine activity in this world (verse 18). In faith Abraham always took God at His word.
This ascription of righteousness to faith pertains not only to Abraham but to us his children (verses 23-24), if we live by that same faith. Concretely this means faith in the God who raises the dead, symbolized in the "dead" bodies of Abraham and Sarah. The God who raises Jesus from the dead is the same God who called all things from nothingness into being.
Early Christians readily related the Resurrection to Creation. For example, slightly after the year 200, Tertullian wrote: "This is the promise He makes even to our flesh, and it has been His will to deposit within us this pledge of His own virtue and power, in order that we may believe that He has, in fact, awakened the universe out of nothing, as if it had been dead, in the obvious sense of its previous non-existence for the purpose of its coming into existence" (Against Hermogenes 34; cf. Athenagoras of Athens, On the Resurrection 3).
The Creator who called into being things that were not is the same God who is triumphant over death, the death that entered this world by sin. ManŐs justification consists, not only in the removal of manŐs sins but in the gift of incorruptibility, which conquers death.
We, like Abraham, place our faith in the God who brings life from death, and we are justified through this faith. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, therefore, for our justification, to effect our righteousness (verse 25; 1 Corinthians 15:45).
The parallelism in the final verse is not a distinction, as though Paul were speaking of two different things. Our justification is identical with the removal of our transgressions. There is more, however, because the death and resurrection of Christ are two phases of the same mystery of redemption. Sin, removed by ChristŐs death on the cross, is not simply the cause of guilt; it is the cause of death, which entered this world through sin. Our full righteousness, then, has to do with victory over death, which was effected by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Thus, Paul proclaims that Christ was raised for our justification. Christian redemption does not consist solely in the payment for the price of our sins, but in the definitive victory over the forces of death and corruption.
Friday, January 30
Romans 5:1-11: Paul now moves from the fact of justification to the actual experience of the Christian life. That is to say, he moves from kerygma to theology, from the righteousness of God to the love of God (verses 5,8), from the experience of becoming a Christian to the experience of being a Christian. In these eleven verses Paul introduces in a few words the ideas that he will develop at much greater length in Romans 8:1-39.
It is useful to observe PaulŐs use of verbal tenses in this chapter. He now employs the past tense to speak of reconciliation and justification. This is something that has already happened: "having been justified through faith" (verse 1), "having now been justified by His blood" (verse 9), "we have now received the reconciliation" (verse 11).
If our reconciliation, our justification is spoken of in the past tense, however, our salvation still pertains to the future tense: "we shall be saved from wrath" (verse 9), "we shall be saved by His life" (verse 10). As we saw even in chapter one, references to salvation in the Epistle to the Romans tend to be in the future tense (9:27; 10:9,13; 11:4,26; 13:11). Paul always has in mind the return of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies in glory.
The dominant tense in PaulŐs description of the Christian life, nonetheless, is the present tense, the "eschatological now." In the present tense, "we have peace with God" (verse 1), "we stand and rejoice in hope" (verse 2), "we also rejoice" (verse 11). In the present tense the accent is on hope, because the final salvation of the justified Christian still lies in the future. Like faith, hope is based on the promise and fidelity of God. The grace in which we stand leads to the glory that is to come.
If, during the eschatological now, the Christian life proves to be somewhat tough, "we also glory in tribulations" (verse 3). This is why Paul insists on patience or perseverance, hypomone. "Patience is on account of hope in the future. Now hope is synonymous with the recompense and reward of hope" (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.22).
Unlike many human hopes, this hope will not be disappointed, because GodŐs love for us "has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (verse 5). The Christian life flows from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts, mind, souls, and bodies of justified Christians. Hope, then, has a double meaning. It refers to the present reality of the SpiritŐs assurance and also to the final object of the SpiritŐs longing. "Regarding this hope as twofoldŃwhat is anticipated and what has already been receivedŃhe now teaches the goal to be the reward of hope" (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 2.22).
This hope in the Christian heart, however, is sustained, not only by GodŐs love given us in the Holy Spirit, but by the lively recollection of the price that GodŐs Son paid for our redemption. And this He did when we ourselves were still helpless and ungodly (verse 6).
Only in Christ has death ever been an act of redemption, a victory instead of a defeat. His death vanquished the power of death (verse 9). This knowledge of what God has already done for us in Christ will sustain our hope for the full salvation that awaits us. Reconciled by His death, we shall saved by His life (verse 10).
We observe the Trinitarian structure of the Christian life: the love of our Father has been poured out and proved in His Son and Holy Spirit (verses 8-11). This is the reconciled life of the believer in communion with God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
Saturday, January 31
Romans 5:12-21: Having earlier treated of Abraham and David in regard to justification, Paul now turns to a consideration of Adam, whose sin introduced death into the world. Our mortality is the Fall that we sinners inherit from Adam. If, apart from Christ, sins reigns, "sin reigns in death" (verse 21). By reason of AdamŐs Fall, man without Christ is under the reign of death and corruption, because "the reign of death operates only in the corruption of the flesh" (Tertullian, On the Resurrection 47).
In the death and resurrection of Christ, on the other hand, are unleashed the energies of life and incorruption. This is the foundation of PaulŐs antithetical comparison of Christ and Adam.
Paul goes to Genesis 3 to explain what he calls "the reign of death" (verses 14,17). In the Bible death is not natural, nor is it merely biological, and certainly it is not neutral. Apart from Christ, death represents manŐs final separation from God (verse 21; 6:21,23; 8:2,6,38). The corruption of death is sin incarnate and rendered visible. When this "last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:56) has finally been vanquished, then may we most correctly speak of "salvation." This is why the vocabulary of salvation normally appears in Romans in the future tense.
Because of menŐs inheritance of AdamŐs Fall, "all sinned." (Paul is not considering infants here, but this consideration makes no difference to the principle. What has been handed on in AdamŐs Fall is not, in the first instance, a sense of personal guilt, but the reign of death. "Sin reigns in death" [verse 21]. Infants, alas, are also the heirs of death, and therefore of AdamŐs Fall.)
The reign of death was present from Adam to Moses, but because the Law had not yet been given, men were not held invariably held accountable for their transgressions (verse 13; 3:20; 4:15). No matterŃthey still died! Death reigned (verse 14).
Did the coming of the Mosaic Law improve the situation? Of course not. The Law did not only not take away the reign of death, it made men more consciously aware of their fallen state (verse 20; Galatians 3:13,19). "For as the Law was spiritual, it emphasized sin but did not destroy it" (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3.18.7).
It was by way of antithesis that Adam prefigured Christ, the new Head of humanity, who introduces a life more abundant, more extensive, more powerful than AdamŐs Fall (verses 15-21). No matter how much sin abounded, grace and mercy abound the more. That is to say, Christ has more than made up the "shortfall" of Adam. The abundant mercy of God is demonstrated by the fact that the whole blighted history of manŐs transgressions culminates, because of Christ, in manŐs acquittal.
The reign of death, then, is replaced by the reign of the saints. In contrast to the reign of death, this is a reign "in life" (verse 17), "justification of life" (verse 18, clearly an appositional genitive), even "eternal life" (verse 21).
The contrast between the obedience of Christ and the disobedience of Adam (verse 19) was evidently a theme of early pre-Pauline hymnography (cf. Philippians 2:5-10).
In what sense did AdamŐs sin make all men sinners? By the transmission of death as the human inheritance. "Sin reigns in death" (verse 21). In the Bible death apart from Christ is manŐs final and definitive separation from God, which is the essence of sin. Men are conceived and born as sinners because death reigns in their very being. Death is the essence of AdamŐs legacy to the human race. It is from the reign of death that Christ came to set us free.