My Faith—A Philosopher’s Look At Christianity, 29

Romans 10 And Beyond

Let’s move on to Chapter 10. Verse 1 is a real kicker: “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Earlier in this work I mentioned that philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche was a philologist. Philology is the study of language used in texts looking for the meaning of the words and how the author uses them and how we understand them. Translating one language into another language can be very complex and in the case of Greek the ancient Greek language has distinct differences from modern Greek which has evolved over time, much the same as English has. While technical people are precise in the words they use humorists aren’t. It’s like the difference between very detailed art that looks like a photograph and abstract that uses color and shapes to create a mood, not detail. While both may be of the same subject they are using the same subject to say, or concentrate, on different things.

There were three languages the Hebrews spoke when Jesus was born: Biblical Hebrew or Classical Hebrew; Aramaic—a Semitic language of Syrian dialect used as a lingua franca—communication between people who do not share a native language—in the Near East from the 6th century BC, and the language Jesus used most, and Koine Greek—also a lingua franca—which was the common language spoken in the Greco/Roman world and the language the New Testament letters were written in. I’ve gone into language already and you should remember that no matter what the language every word can have either divergent or nuanced meanings and which meaning the writer intends for us to understand comes from context. Sometimes being technical is important, other times not pushing a word to its extreme technical meaning says what we want. This came up because of the Greek word logos. It comes up now in Paul’s use of the word translated in English as “saved” in verse 1. I am not a Greek scholar but I am intelligent enough to make my way around words like “saved” and wherever it is used what is the Greek word and is it the same or different and what meanings come with each?

In Luke 19:10 we read: “For the son of man is come to save that which is lost.” It is the story of Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax gatherer and because he could not see Jesus who had entered Jericho he climbed a tree so he could see him. Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down because he wanted to stay in his house and this encounter completely changed Zacchaeus and Jesus said: “Today salvation has come to this house.” The Greek word Luke used to express this was “sōzō” and the context here you could argue is eternal salvation. In Matthew 27:42 we read: “He saved (“sōzō”) others, himself he cannot save (“sōzō”). The context here for the same word is physical salvation from the experience of the cross.

In Romans 10:1 the word for “saved” is σωτηρίαν (sōtērian). In Acts 7:25 the context happens as the Hebrews are in slavery in Egypt and an Egyptian was beating a Hebrew and Moses intercedes on his behalf killing the Egyptian and in his mind Moses thought the Israelites would see that he was “saving” them, a physical saving. But just a few chapters later in Acts 13:47, the same word for “save” now is used in the context of eternal salvation. Moral of the lesson? The story determines the meaning and the context for Roman 10:1 and it isn’t referencing eternal salvation.

We are either saved “from” something or “to” something, or both at the same time. Paul writes, “I pray to God for them [his Jewish brethren] to be saved.” He says of them:

  • They have zeal for God but it is misguided.

  • They don’t recognize God’s righteousness and promote their own idea of it.

  • The Law has ended with Christ, now one is justified by faith.

  • Moses said if you keep the Law you will draw life from it, but . . .

  • Righteousness comes by faith.

Paul then quotes from Leviticus 18:5 that reads, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them.” Righteousness, the Jews had always believed, came by keeping the Law, but Paul who is following Jesus’s teaching reminds them that real righteousness comes from faith. Then Paul reminds them of these verses from Deuteronomy 30:12-14 after God tells them in verse 11 “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach,” he then says, “It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” Paul changes this to say, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim.” He has changed out “The Law” for “Christ.”

  • The Word (Christ) and not the Law is in your mouth and heart.

  • What is in your heart makes you righteous and what is on your lips saves you.

  • In this there is no distance between Jew and Greek.

So what are they saved from? The Law impressed on you from outside, something you couldn’t keep anyway because it was impressed on you and not a righteousness that came from your heart, from inside you, the real you. You don’t have to go get it, Paul tells them, because it is your heart. All those decrees and rituals were temporary, a placeholder until Christ came and showed you it was always in your heart. That’s the real Jew. They are saved from keeping the outward law to fulfilling the inward law, Christ. Peter understood that in his epiphany moment. The Jews had thought the rituals and Laws was their religion and Christ told them no, he was their religion.”

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In verses 12-13 Paul makes it clear that there isn’t two different religions, Jewish and Christian, and remember he is speaking to the Roman Jews because they are trying to make that distinction, even when they have accepted Christ, but in itself it is a universal truth, God never intended religion, just followers of Him.

Ancient history did something we moderns, especially, don’t understand. For us the name of something is an abstract from the thing itself. There was in ancient philosophical beliefs that there was the abstract name of something and the “true” name of something, the true name being mystically the thing itself. The Greek sophist Gorgias wrote: “Nothing exists. Even if something did exist, nothing can be known about it; and even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it cannot be communicated to others. And, finally, even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.” In the idea of the “other”, the metaphysical side of the physical world there came about a belief that to speak the “true” name of a thing we would have before us the thing, the wholly other thing, itself, and that could be terrifying. To call upon the name of God, the true name, would be to bring the presence of God himself and the Hebrews used YHWH in reference God. To call upon the name of God is to invite the presence of God, not an abstract idea of God 

Now this idea wasn’t from God it was a mystical belief people created themselves. By the time of Jesus there were perhaps some über religious Jews who still believed in this but the Greek and Roman influences upon them would have worn it away. Certainly the Greco/Roman world, while they still had their fantastical gods didn’t hold to this mystical true name idea. But somewhere along the way Christians picked it back up so when Paul writes at the end of what we call verse 13, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”, they must have on their lips a specific name, in this case the name Jesus, to be saved.

Now he’s not been talking about eternal salvation to these Jews but being saved to fulfill their role God always had for them clearly seen in the Covenant with Abraham. He goes on to write:

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15.)

The Church as always thought of this as another statement of the Great Commission because Church doctrine has always held that mystical nature of the Bible, at least after the Bible was formed into one Book, and each letter was not so much contextual help for specific issues but theology for the whole of Christendom. Every word had a dual meaning; for them, but mostly for us. If we keep reading the context is clear: “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.” What was that good news the Jews didn’t accept? It is that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, who by his death and resurrection, took away the penalty of their unbelief and now they are whole. He was specifically speaking to the Roman Jews. Paul in his great knowledge of the Jewish Bible makes it clear that he is speaking of Jesus when he quotes from Isaiah 53:1, and Paul references these words of Isaiah, that really begin in Chapter 52:13 through the end of 54, and you should read it, to be about Jesus.

Now Paul is also going to quote from Psalms 19:4 and in doing so he clearly takes what he is saying to a larger audience, in this case the whole world and we understand this when reading Psalms 19:1-6:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.”

This certainly gives legitimacy to what he wrote in Chapter 1 taking away the excuse the world might want to claim in not knowing God and supports my argument that there will be those outside that box of Jewish history who know God. They may not know the name the Jews know or that Christians know but in their hearts they have experienced and know him in a way that He accepts. But while Paul is referencing this larger context clearly in these paragraphs beginning in Chapter 9 he is speaking to the Roman Jews and again this is clear when Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 32 where Moses is quoting a song of his about Jewish rebellion: “I will make you jealous of a people who are not even a nation . . .” (Romans 10:19.) Obviously Christians who aren’t a nation. And in case these Roman Jews didn’t understand he was speaking to them he again quotes from Deuteronomy 32, this time from 32:21: “They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.” 

The Roman Church (now Roman Catholic Church) by 1095, the beginning of the Crusades, didn’t grasp, or didn’t want to grasp, Paul’s next words beginning in Chapter 11:1 and beyond: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” After the chiding Paul gave the Roman Jews they might have begun to think of themselves as of no account. If the Roman Jews were a little bit haughty about their heritage Christians had no right  to dismiss them as meaningless in God’s plan. It isn’t that God walked away from them, Jesus Christ was part of the plan of eternal salvation the Jews were supposed to bring to the world. As a whole they didn’t accept Christ and so the story picks up with Christians, followers of Jesus Christ.

Both the Jerusalem Bible and the New International Version use the same title for Chapter 11: “The Remnant of Israel.” I began my look into Romans 9-11 because I asked the question Did these chapters contradict what Paul wrote in Romans 1? Not only do these chapters not contradict Romans 1—the world can know and should know God—they support it, but in doing so Paul explains the purpose of Israel they had forgotten because they had become internalized. A purpose because they rejected it has shifted primarily to Gentiles, those who accept Christ, but still remains with the Jews if they accept Christ. From Deuteronomy 29, Isaiah 29, and Psalms 69, in one paragraph he reminds them of this history:

  • There is a remnant chosen by grace.

  • Nothing to do with good deeds (keeping the Law).

  • It is not Israel as a whole that found what it was looking for but a chosen few.

  • The others (the rebellious) were not allowed to see the truth.

  • The rebellious were given up because of their rebellion and their hearts were made sluggish.

  • God darkened the eyes of the rebellious so they wouldn’t see.

  • The Jews have not fallen forever.

  • That fall has “saved the pagans in a way the Jews may now well emulate”.

  • “Think of the extent to which the world, the pagan world, has benefited from their fall and defection.” (JB)