Paul’s overall message is that not all Jews are saved, but only those who believe. He explains that it has always been God’s plan to save those who believe the gospel and not those who perform the works of the law. He also handles objections raised by the Jews. The primary objection Paul deals with is that God’s plan to save Israel would have failed if God accepted those who have faith and rejected those who follow the law. Paul also deals with the subsequent objection that God is unfair to reject the Jews that follow the law to obtain salvation, because it was God’s choice to reject those who follow the law.
Verse by Verse Analysis
9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
Paul takes this matter very seriously. He is addressing Jews, and showing his great love for the Jewish people. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, which may have given rise to the question of his loyalty to the Jews. Paul affirms here that they are on his heart.
3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
There are very few parallels to this great of a love or burden for soul winning. Paul would literally stand in the Jews’ place if he could. Besides Christ, Moses was the only other who made a statement like this.
Exodus 32:32-33: "But now, if You will, forgive their sin --and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written! And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book."
The parallel is so strong that Paul seems to allude to this Old Testament passage. Exodus 32-34 describes the Israelites’ rebellion of worshiping the golden calf, just after God rescued them from bondage in Egypt and gave Moses the law.
This allusion is Paul’s first of two from Exodus 32-34. The second is upcoming in verse 15. More will be said about this important text in that place, but one point should be made here. Paul and Moses were unable to substitute for their people. Why not? God’s justice. God punishes the sinner. God’s justice did not allow Him to punish Moses in place of those that actually committed idolatry. Because of God’s justice in punishing sinners, only Christ’s death and the imputation of His righteousness can save.
Paul is speaking about the Jews as a nation, but specifically lost Jews. Paul identifies himself with the Jews nationally (kinsmen according to the flesh), but contrasts himself with them as it relates to their standing before God (accursed from Christ).
What is Paul’s basis for saying that the Jews are rejected? In the preceding chapters, Paul has firmly established that salvation is not through the works of the law, but through faith in Christ. The Jews were rejecting Christ and the Gospel and so were cut off.
4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
‘Israelites’ is the special name for Jews, derived from the special name God gave Jacob. Paul is talking about national adoption, not adoption into the family of God. Paul is about to make this point abundantly clear. The reference to glory likely refers to the cloud or the Shekinah glory that surrounded the temple and the ark. The covenants refer to the promises made to the patriarchs, kings and prophets. The giving of the Law is the Law of Moses, which guided Jewish life and conduct from morality to dietary customs, legal system, and medical system. In short, the law visibly set Israel apart from other nations. The service of God references temple worship and the priesthood. The promises refer to the promise of the Messiah and the blessings to follow.
5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
The fathers here are a reference to the Patriarchs. Christ came to the Jews specifically and His ministry centered around the Jews. What greater blessing than the highest revelation of God coming to that nation? Christ was God. Of note, this list provides many wonderful blessings from God, but not eternal life.
In this introductory section, Paul is basically saying that the Jews nationally have been rejecting Christ and are now being punished. They had been the recipients of many, many blessings from God, but because of their unbelief, they now stand rejected.
6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
Paul echoes chapter 4:13-16:
“For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all”
Paul had already taught that 1) God’s promise to Abraham would be on none effect if keeping the law was the condition for being made heir of the world and 2) those that believe are Abraham’s children.
Imagine for a second the response a Jew might give to Paul’s argument in Romans 1-8. I know I don’t perfectly keep the law. I sin. The whole book of Leviticus tells me what to do when I sin. It is not about me perfectly keeping the law; it is about God’s covenant. God made a covenant with my people. It was His doing that I was born a Jew, which put me into the covenant. God’s covenantal promises provide me with forgiveness of my sins, since I was born a Jew and remain a Jew by keeping the law. So if I am unforgiven despite God’s putting me into His covenant by making me a Jew, then His word has taken none effect.
This is the objection Paul is dealing with. He has to rule out not just the works of the law, but also national Judaism. Paul has already shown that becoming a Jew is unnecessary, but he also has to show that it is insufficient. Paul also has to show that God’s promise to Abraham did not fail even if many Jews are lost.
How does Paul rise to the challenge? Paul states that God’s word (adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises) given to national Israel, were effective in providing a spiritual blessing to a subset of spiritual Israelites. Simple physical descent from Israel was not enough. Spiritual descent was necessary for the blessings to take effect.
Paul introduces the Old Testament for the first time with this verse in the form of allegory. The same term Israel has two meanings. Israel physically is contrasted with Israel spiritually. The nation of Israel was subdivided into those in whom the word of God had taken effect and those whom it had not.
Physically, the Jews were Israel. They were in fact the recipients of the Law and promises. They were the natural descendants of Abraham. They were God’s chosen people. But physical descent from Abraham was not enough.
Spiritually, the Jews were rejected. They did not believe the Gospel and were now cut off from Christ. They were not the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:16)
The verse describes that not everyone who in Jewish is saved. This is the answer to the objection that if salvation is through faith in Christ and not Jewish nationality God’s plan would have failed in trying to save them. Paul’s answer is not that God’s plan could never change or fail, but that they misunderstood the plan. The plan was never to save national Jews or those who follow the law, but only to save those who have faith.