The Twenty-Fourth in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Romans
One of the major problems facing the apostle Paul was the thorny relationship between Jew and Gentile in those churches rapidly springing up throughout the cities of the Roman empire. Those Jews who came to believe that Jesus was Israel’s promised Messiah often-times expected Gentile converts to live as Jews. Many felt that Gentiles must submit to circumcision, keep the dietary laws and obey the Law of Moses in order to maintain a right-standing before God. Gentile converts, on the other hand, knew nothing of the Old Testament before coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Their question was simply, “who is Moses?” No doubt, the Gentiles had trouble understanding why Jews wouldn’t eat certain foods and why circumcision was such a big deal. Therefore, at some point in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul must explain the respective roles of Jew and Gentile in redemptive history. Now that Christ has come and fulfilled the Old Testament promises of redemption, Paul must explain Israel’s place in God’s future purposes.
The role of Romans 9-11 in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is the subject of much debate in contemporary biblical scholarship. The problem is this. Is this section of Romans an excursus–a personal detour in which Paul expresses his personal anguish about his people, the Jews–or is this section an essential part of the overall theological argument of the epistle? According to Charles Cranfield, “a superficial reading of the epistle might easily leave one with the impression that chapters 9-11 are simply an excursus which Paul has included under the pressure of his own deep personal involvement in the matter of Israel’s destiny but which is without any real inner relatedness to the main argument of Romans. But a closer study reveals the fact that there are very many features of chapters 1 to 8 which are not understood in full depth until they are seen in the light of chapters 9-11.” If true, this means that “these chapters may be seen to be in integral part of the working out of the theme of this epistle.”
What are these features which are not fully understood until we come to this section? In Romans 1:16-17, in which Paul sets out the thesis statement of this letter–through the preaching of the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, a righteousness from God is revealed–Paul made the point that the gospel which he preaches is the gospel concerning God’s son, Jesus Christ, who, according to the flesh was an ancestor of David, Israel’s greatest king (cf. Romans 1:1-4). Given the fact that Jesus is the Christ (Israel’s promised Messiah), at some point in this letter, Paul must explain how the gospel he preaches relates to God’s people, Israel, since the content of that gospel–the person and work of Jesus Christ–can only be properly understood as the fulfillment of that redemption from sin promised in throughout the Old Testament in which David’s ancestor was prophesied to play a major role.
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