Romans (4)

Read - Romans 9.1-11.36

Romans 9-11 is a section of Romans that confuses some and is ignored by others.  Why does Paul spend so much time talking about the unbelief of the  Jews?  NT scholar Katherine Grieb details how for centuries, ever since the Reformation, commentators have struggled with how these chapters fit in the letter.  The most influential British NT scholar of the 20th century, C.H. Dodd, in his commentary suggested that these chapters were extra material from a sermon Paul had preached which he decided to include with the letter.  Rudolph Bultmann, the German scholar suggested that the OT was not part of Christian revelation but was somebody else’s story.  And Adolph Harnack, a prominent church historian commented that ‘it is Paul who delivered the Christian religion from Judaism.’  [quoted by K. Grieb in The Story of Romans, p.86-87].

Since the Holocaust (1939-45) however, Christian theologians have been forced to re-examine these chapters, and to consider more carefully the place of Israel in God’s plan for the reconciliation of the world.   Several points worth paying attention to:

1   Paul ends chapter 8 with the stirring words that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’   How does this apply to ‘unbelieving’ Israel?

2   Richard Hays contends that Romans 9-11 are structured as a lament psalm.  It’s as if he is appealing to God from Israel’s own scriptures to keep God’s promises. 

3   Paul knows, and struggles with, the truth that God has chosen some and not others  and he uses the examples of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Pharaoh to try and help us understand.

Questions for reflection:

1   Paul’s anguish over his missionary experience – failure with Jews, success with Gentiles - leads us to ask: How do we go about assessing religious experience, success and failure?

2   If faith is a gift from God, how can we be held responsible for unbelief?

3   In 11.17-24, Paul tells a parable of an olive tree and its branches to explain how Israel’s unbelief allows Gentiles into God’s family.  What are some of the gifts for which Christianity is indebted to Judaism?

4   Have you ever wondered if God ‘plays fair?’   Does trusting God’s faithfulness make it easier for us to be faithful, or not?

*Note:  For one of the most devastating and disheartening accounts of the history of relations between Christians and Jews read James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword.