Both Jews and Greeks

Paul wrote Romans with at least two purposes in mind. First, to prepare the ground for his visit to the city and his planned missionary trip to Spain. Second, to deal with conflicts between Jewish and Gentile believers in the assemblies of Rome. In the Letter’s first half, he explains his Gospel. In the second, he addresses the status of the Jewish people and the specific conflicts in the congregation.

Paul planned to take the Gospel to the Iberian Peninsula and support from the Roman church would have been essential to this effort. He had not been to Rome in his previous missionary activities - someone else established the faith in the city, therefore, the Apostle to the Gentiles needed to establish his credentials with the community of believers in the imperial city.

Glass Globe - Photo by Jake Weirick on Unsplash
[Photo by Jake Weirick on Unsplash]

In Rome, the church was experiencing tensions, including disagreements over dietary restrictions and calendrical observations. Based on his years of dealing with Jewish and Gentile believers, Paul was certainly qualified to deal with such matters.

  • I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome… For I am not ashamed of the gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” - (Romans 1:10-12, 15-16).

In his first paragraph, he points to the role of the Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles. By the term “first” he does not mean that Jewish believers have special privileges over Gentiles as his subsequent stress in the Letter demonstrates. The conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers is key to understanding the Letter, and it has influenced how Paul presents his Gospel.

For example, he warns that “tribulation and anguish will befall every man who works evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek.” – (Romans 2:9-10).

Israel certainly did receive a great privilege that was offered to no other nation, especially the possession of the Law or Torah handed down at Sinai, but that also came with special responsibilities and heightened penalties for failure to keep it.

It is not the “hearers of the law” who are justified before God, “but the doers of the law.” Moreover, though they may not possess the Mosaic Law, many Gentiles “by nature do the things that are required by the law.”

ALL MEN UNDER SIN


As Paul wrote, both “Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” The one God of Israel is also the “God of the Gentiles.” In the end, both the men who sin “within the law” (Jews) and “without the law” (Gentiles) will find themselves judged by the one God of all who will not show partiality on the “Day of Wrath.” Obedience counts, NOT ethnicity or nationality.

Neither is Paul suggesting that believing Gentiles are better off than Jewish saints. “Are we better than they? No, certainly not; for we before charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” All men and women are in the same predicament due to their disobedience.

All have “sinned and therefore lack the glory of God.” Likewise, all will be saved in the same way - “through the faith of Jesus Christ for all that believe, for there is no distinction” – (Romans 3:1-26).

The issue becomes front-and-center in Chapters 9 through 11 where Paul deals with the challenge, “Has the word of God failed?” Despite possessing the ordinances and covenant promises, collectively, Israel had rejected her Messiah. So, did God likewise reject the Jewish people? Paul declares most emphatically, “No!

Moreover, not all “Israel are of Israel, neither because they are Abraham's seed are they all children.” It is not biological descent that determines membership in the covenant people, but a faithful response to the Gospel.

FAITH NOT BIOLOGY


Paul himself provided clear evidence that God had not rejected the Jewish people since he was a convert and Jewish disciple of Jesus. Likewise, many other Jews at the time had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.

The many “wild branches” (Gentiles) were “grafted into the olive tree” because of their faith. But many of the “natural branches” (Jews) were “cut off” from the ONE olive tree “because of their unbelief.”

However, the “natural branches” may yet be grafted back in if they come to faith in Jesus, just as the “wild branches” previously grafted onto the tree may yet find themselves “cut off” for unbelief. Once again, FAITH is the determining factor, not biological descent.

Jesus was sent to Israel to “confirm the promises to the fathers.” But those promises always envisioned the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s one covenant people - (Romans 15:8-12).

In all this, Paul refers to only one Church or Body of Christ which is comprised of believing “Jews and Gentiles” who have been justified  through the “faith of Jesus Christ.”  The Gospel he preached is the “power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”



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