Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Romans 11:33-36



The earlier part of this chapter dealt with God’s purpose for Israel. Israel has been “a disobedient and contrary people” (10:21), but God has not rejected Israel (11:1). However, “by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles, to provoke (the Jews) to jealousy” (11:11). “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). In other words, the call of God to the Jews is still valid. They may have been disobedient, but God has granted them mercy. “For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all” (11:32).


33 Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!

“Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom (Greek: sophia) and the knowledge (Greek: gnosis) of God!” (v. 33a). Having addressed the grand scope of God’s mercy in verses 1-32, Paul now concludes with a doxology—a hymn of praise to God.

Paul begins his doxology with a joyful expression concerning God’s wisdom (sophia) and knowledge (gnosis).

Elsewhere, Paul has a great deal to say about God’s wisdom. He contrasted God’s wisdom, as manifested by the cross of Christ, with human wisdom. He said:

“The foolishness of God is wiser than men,
and the weakness of God is stronger than men….

God chose the foolish things of the world
that he might put to shame those who are wise.
God chose the weak things of the world,
that he might put to shame the things that are strong;
and God chose the lowly things of the world,
and the things that are despised, and the things that are not,
that he might bring to nothing the things that are:
that no flesh should boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-29).

There are two Greek words for knowledge—oida, which is intellectual knowledge or book-learning, and gnosis, which is a more practical type of knowledge—an experiential knowledge—street-smarts. Paul uses gnosis in his verse as he speaks of God’s knowledge.

I like to think of knowledge as having to do with facts and wisdom as knowing how to use those facts to accomplish one’s objectives.

In any event, God’s wisdom and knowledge are deep—rich—beyond measure. God knows everything about us from head to toe—from morning till night—from birth till death.

“How unsearchable are his judgments, (Greek: krima) and his ways past tracing out!” (v. 33b). The Greek word krima has to do with the kinds of judgments that a judge might render in a courtroom—or that God might render on Judgment Day.

Paul anticipates that the day of the Lord will come soon. On that day, “God will judge the secrets of men” (2:16). The righteous will be saved, but the unrighteous will suffer eternal punishment.

We often wonder about the status of this person or that one. What about those who have never heard of Jesus? What about those who act kindly toward other people, but never darken the door of the church? What about those who are in church every Sunday, but treat other people like dirt? What about the person who lived a dissolute life, but mumbled something that might have been a confession of faith on his deathbed? What about the devout Muslim, Buddhist, etc.?

We can argue these special cases until the cows come home, but we’ll never resolve them to everyone’s satisfaction. Fortunately, that isn’t our calling. God knows every hair on everyone’s head (Luke 12:7), so he will be able to judge fairly in every case. I like to think that, on Judgment Day, God will look for reasons to keep us instead of reasons to throw us out. If so, he will have more data at his fingertips than we can ever imagine, so any surprises will be in the direction of grace.


34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or who has first given to him,
and it will be repaid to him again?”

“For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (v. 34a). This and the following questions are rhetorical questions that anticipate the answer, “No one.” For a human to try to know the mind of the Lord would be like an ant trying to understand the Theory of Relativity. As the Lord said elsewhere, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9 WEB)

“Or who has been his counselor?” (v. 34b). This quotes Isaiah 40:13, which says, “Who has directed the Spirit of Yahweh, or has taught him as his counselor?”

But there are those who would try to be God’s counselor. Don’t we sometimes pray, “Please remember this, Lord!” “Don’t forget that, Lord!” “He really isn’t that bad, Lord!”

“Or who has first given to him, and it will be repaid to him again?” (v. 35). We have nothing to offer God that will make him our debtor—nothing with which to bargain. We try, nevertheless. In extreme moments, we pray, “If you will just let me live, I will become a priest”—or go to church every Sunday—or quit drinking—of whatever we think might persuade God to let us live.

Sometimes people who pray prayers of that sort survive, and some of them do what they promised. They should not, however, think that their compliance has repaid their debt. Jesus paid that debt on the cross. That’s the only way it could be paid.


36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.
To him be the glory for ever! Amen.

“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things” (v. 36a). Some people have tried to make this a statement about the Trinity, but Paul is really talking only about God the Father. This is a poetic statement about the nature of God and his relationship to his creation. It is Paul’s attempt to express his wonder at the all-embracing character of God.

“To him be the glory (Greek: doxa) for ever! Amen!” (v. 36b). God has created us for his glory. God’s glory is manifested in his mighty deeds (Exodus 14:4, 17; 16:7). It fills the tabernacle, and manifests itself in a cloud (Exodus 40:34-35). It proclaims his greatness (Deuteronomy 5:24). It has power—Moses asked to see God’s glory, but God replied, “no one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:18-20).

“The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), but God’s people are expected to make it known as well. Joshua said to Achan, “My son, please give glory to Yahweh, the God of Israel” (Joshua 7:19). David ordered, “Declare his glory among the nations, and his marvelous works among all the peoples” (1 Chronicles 16:24).

We give glory to God when we sing his praises, and we also give glory to God when we live according to his will and obey his commandments.

God’s glory will, indeed, last forever. When John described the New Jerusalem, he said, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. The city has no need for the sun, neither of the moon, to shine, for the very glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:22-23).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


Briscoe, D. Stuart, The Preacher’s Commentary: Romans, Vol. 29 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982)

Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)

Dunn, James D. G., Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 9-16, Vol. 38B (Dallas: Word Books, 1988)

Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981)

Luther, Martin, Commentary on Romans, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1976)

MacArthur, John, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16 (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1994)

Moo, Douglas, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996)

Morris, Leon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1988)

Mounce, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Romans, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995)

Talbert, Charles H., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Romans (Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2002)

Witherington, Ben III with Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary,(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004)

Wright, N. Thomas, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)

Copyright 2014, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan