ROMANS 10. THE CONTEXT
As we look at verses 5-15, we must remember how they relate to the rest of the chapter. Note the abundance of connecting words with which Paul links one thought to another: “but” (vv. 2, 6, 8, 14, 18, 21)—”and” (vv. 14,15)—”for” (vv. 3, 4, 5, 10, 12, 13, 16, 18—the NRSV fails to include “For” at the beginning of v. 5, but it is there in the Greek)—”because” (v. 9)—”so” (v.17)—”Again” (v. 19)—”Then” (v. 20). Paul reminds us again and again that we cannot understand isolated portions of this chapter apart from their context.
Throughout chapters 9-11, Paul talks about the salvation of Israel and the broadening of the plan of salvation to include Gentiles. Israel’s unbelief is a problem (9:30-33), but Paul expresses his “heart’s desire and my prayer…that they may be saved” (10:1). “For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness” (10:3), and have failed to understand that “Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4).
ROMANS 10:5. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW
5For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, “The one who does them will live by them.”
“For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law“ (v. 5a). The NRSV leaves out the “For,” but it is there in the Greek, showing us that verse 5 grows out of verses 1-4, where Paul spoke of his “heart’s desire and prayer to God for (his fellow Israelites) that they might be saved,” and their “ignorance of the righteousness of God,” preferring to establish their own righteousness.
In this verse, Paul sets up a contrast between “the righteousness of the law” and “the righteousness which is of faith” (v. 6).
“The one who does them will live by them“ (v. 5b). Paul paraphrases Leviticus 18:5, where Moses said, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances; which if a man does, he shall live in them: I am Yahweh.” Israel staked its salvation on keeping God’s ordinances, and Israel’s devotion to God’s law, while far from perfect, distinguished Israel from other nations.
There were, however, two problems related to Israel’s keeping God’s law:
• The first was their frequent failure to do so. The law demanded a high standard of obedience, which Israel largely failed to achieve.
• That, in itself, would not have been fatal had Israel been able to appreciate the role of faith in salvation—but they did not. Paul said that Israel “didn’t arrive at the law of righteousness…Because they didn’t seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (9:31-32). The law, which had been intended as a help and guide, became a stumbling stone when Israel came to rely on it rather than faith—when they sought to establish their own righteousness and failed to submit to God’s righteousness (10:3).
ROMANS 10:6-8. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS OF FAITH
6But the righteousness which is of faith says this, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down); 7or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)” 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;” that is, the word of faith, which we preach:
“But the righteousness which is of faith“ (v. 6a) contrasts with “righteousness of the law” (v. 5a). Paul spoke earlier of “righteousness which is of faith” (9:30) and “God’s righteousness” (10:3).
“Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down); or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.) ‘But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart’“ (vv. 6b-8). Paul alludes to Deuteronomy 30:11-14, where Moses exhorted the Israelites to obey Yahweh’s commandments—commandments that were neither too difficult nor too remote to observe. Those commandments were nearby, in their mouths and in their hearts. Yahweh had made those commandments accessible so that the Israelites could, without difficulty, know and obey them.
Moses emphasized that, when God commanded observance of the law, he was not requiring the impossible. The law was not distant from Israel (in heaven or beyond the sea), but was, instead, present with them (“in your mouth, and in your heart”).
“Don’t say in your heart“ (v. 6) alludes to Deuteronomy 9:4, where Moses warned Israel, “Don’t say in your heart, after Yahweh your God has thrust them out from before you, saying, ‘For my righteousness Yahweh has brought me in to possess this land;’ because Yahweh drives them out before you because of the wickedness of these nations.”
Moses was warning against a presumptuous attitude on Israel’s part—assuming that they had achieved personal excellence. This allusion reinforces Paul’s emphasis on“righteousness which is of faith“ (v. 6) rather than “righteousness of the law“ (v. 5)—and reinforces that true righteousness is a gift of God rather than something earned.
Just prior to these verses in Deuteronomy, however, Moses spoke of curses that would result from sins (Deuteronomy 27:11-26) and blessings that would result from obedience to God’s law (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). He warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). He clearly expected Israel to disobey and to suffer the consequences. But Deuteronomy 30 says that Israel will return to God—and the Promised Land (Wright, 659).
Paul omits the last few words of the Deuteronomy quotation—”that you may do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). He wants to emphasize righteousness achieved by faith rather than righteousness achieved by observing the law, and “that you may do it” falls too heavily on the side of righteousness achieved by observing the law.
Paul reinterprets these verses from Deuteronomy to speak of Christ rather than commandments, asking: “‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down)” (v. 6) and “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)” (v. 7). In doing so, Paul reveals a hidden layer of meaning to these verses from Deuteronomy that could be understood only after the resurrection.
The parallel between the Deuteronomy 30 wording and Christ’s experience (his ascension into heaven and descent into the abyss—see Ephesians 4:9-10) certainly encourages such a reinterpretation. The more significant parallel is between the commandments and Christ as God’s means of life-giving grace. Christ’s coming did not abolish the commandments, but instead brought them to their highest fulfillment (Matthew 5:17)—making God’s grace accessible in ways that it had not been previously.
“‘The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;’ that is, the word of faith, which we preach“ (v. 8). Just as the commandments were not “too far away,” but were “in your mouth, and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 34:11, 14), so also, Paul assures these Roman Christians, the word of faith is near—”in your mouth, and in your heart” (v. 8). Paul notes, “we proclaim” this “word of faith” (v. 8).
ROMANS 10:9-13. CONFESS, BELIEVE—BE SAVED
9that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (kurion—from kurios), and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “Whoever (Greek: pas—all, everyone) believes in him will not be disappointed.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. 13For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
“that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (kurion—from kurios), and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved“ (v. 9). In verse 8, Paul said, “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart.” Now he tells us what that means in practical terms. The word on our lips (v. 8) means confessing that Jesus is Lord (v. 9). The word in our heart (v. 8) means belief in the resurrection (v. 9). One oddity: The order seems backwards. One must believe before one can confess. Paul’s adopts the confess/believe order because Deuteronomy 30:14 puts “mouth” before “heart”: “But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).
The word kurios is used thousands of times to refer to God in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament). While the word kurios does not always refer to God, Paul clearly intends its use in this verse to place Jesus on the same level as God.
Today, confessing Jesus as Lord with one’s lips is often limited to a worship setting in a church sanctuary. We invite people to confess their belief that Jesus is Lord as a part of the baptismal rite or the recitation of the creed, but that is pretty much the end of it. We hesitate to announce that Jesus is Lord in other settings lest we offend someone. We are conscious—overly so—that we live in a multicultural world where people have differing beliefs, and are sensitive—overly so—about stepping on someone else’s religious toes.
When we read this verse about “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord,” we should remember the setting in which Roman Christians did so. Rome considered Caesar to be Lord, and required its citizens and subjects to say, “Caesar is Lord.” To proclaim Jesus as Lord was to invite charges of disloyalty or treason, for which the penalty was death. It is likely that some of the Christians to whom Paul wrote this epistle knew Christians who had died for confessing that Jesus is Lord—and yet they continued their public proclamation—and so the church prospered, even as it was nurtured by the blood of the saints.
“believe in your heart” (v. 9b). Both Old and New Testaments use the word, heart, to refer to the core of the person. When Paul talks about believing in your heart, it is clear that he means something greater than mere intellectual assent. Heart belief is a wellspring at the core of our being, and determines not only what we think but also how we act and the direction that our life will take.
“that God raised him from the dead” (v. 9c). Faith in Christ and belief in the resurrection are essentially synonymous.
“you will be saved” (v. 9d). We are saved by the grace of God, but our faith and confession of that faith are essential components of that salvation.
“For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation“ (v. 10). Paul reverses the order of verse 9, putting belief before confession—a more conventional order.
In verse 10, Paul uses two words, justified and saved, that, while having different meanings, are nevertheless related. Justification is the process by which a person is counted as righteous and brought into a right relationship with God. Salvation comes about as a result of justification, and involves deliverance from sin and punishment.
“Whoever (Greek: pas—all, everyone) believes in him will not be disappointed“ (v. 11). A literal translation from the Greek would be: “All who believe in him will not be put to shame.” In this case, the literal translation seems preferable, because “All” highlights the inclusive character of God’s saving action. The idea is that everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved—both Jew and Gentile.
This allusion to Isaiah 28:16 (cf. Joel 2:26) was more fully developed in Romans 9:33, where Paul quoted it this way: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense; and no one who believes in him will be disappointed.”
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him“ (v. 12). Earlier, Paul said: “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (3:21-23). In chapter 3, the “no distinction” was our sin. In chapter 10, the “no distinction” is God’s grace.
“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved“ (v. 13). Paul alludes to Joel 2:32, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The original context was “the great and terrible day of Yahweh” (Joel 2:31), and those saved were to be from “Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” (Joel 2:32). In Romans, however, “Everyone” takes on a broader character, because “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all (Jew and Gentile) who call on him” (v. 12).
To call on the name of the Lord implies a call for help—a call for salvation, whether temporal salvation (being saved from immediate perils) or eschatological salvation (being saved for eternity).
In its original context, “the Lord” would have meant YHWH, but Paul reinterprets “Lord” to mean Jesus—a fact made apparent by his “Jesus is Lord” language in v. 9.
ROMANS 10:14-15. HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? 15And how will they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace,
who bring glad tidings of good things!”
The four questions in these verses explain why it is necessary to preach the gospel. Paul has just said, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is a wonderful promise, but many people have not called on the name of the Lord. In some cases, they have refused to do so because they are in rebellion against the Lord. In other cases, they have neglected to do so because they were consumed by other concerns. But in many cases, they have not called on the name of the Lord because they know nothing about the Lord. They need someone to tell them.
The four questions in these verses are progressive and deal with what is needed if people are to call upon the name of the Lord (v. 13):
• The first requirement is that they believe (v. 14a).
• But they cannot believe in the Lord unless they hear about him (v. 14b).
• And they cannot hear about the Lord unless someone proclaims him (v. 14c).
• And no proclamation can be made unless the proclaimer is sent (v. 15a).
“And how will they preach unless they are sent?“ (v. 15a). Sent by whom? By God! The church is also involved in the sending. It ordains people to various kinds of ministry and provides them with resources—but it simply acts as the agent of God, who called the people to ministry in the first place. It is God who calls and sends, and it is God who empowers.
Today, we sometimes hear stories of people who happen to pick up a bible—perhaps a Gideon bible in a hotel room—and by reading it are brought to belief and salvation. Paul does not talk about the possibility of reading the word, but instead focuses on hearing the word. The reason is simple. While some people in that time were literate, most were not—and those who were literate had limited access to reading material. Almost without exception, if they were to know Christ, it would be because someone told them. Even though we now live in a world where literacy and reading materials are common, most people still come to Christ because someone told them.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (v. 15b). Paul alludes to Isaiah 52:7, which says: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'”
In its original context, Isaiah was talking about the messengers who brought news of release from Babylonian captivity—and the joy of those who received that news from the messenger. Everything about those messengers would seem wonderful to the people who received the good news from them.
Even the messengers’ feet—a part of the body not usually considered beautiful—would seem beautiful because of the good news that they brought. Those feet were, after all, the feet that carried the messenger across miles of roads so that they could deliver the good news.
ROMANS 10:16-21. HAVE THEY NOT HEARD?
These verses are not included in this week’s reading, but it is useful to know what they say. Paul goes on to say that Israel’s problem is not that they have failed to hear but that they have failed to obey. “But I say, didn’t they hear? Yes, most certainly” (v. 18).
Then he says that God has chosen to provoke Israel to “jealousy with that which is no nation” (v. 19). While Paul does not spell out God’s purpose, it is clearly to bring Israel back into the fold by making them jealous of his attention to Gentiles.
Paul then quotes Isaiah, who quotes God as saying, “I was found by those who didn’t seek me”—Gentiles (v. 20). And then Paul concludes by saying, “But as to Israel he says, ‘All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people'” (v. 21).
These verses clearly reveal Paul’s frustration (and God’s frustration, too) at Israel’s failure to obey. However, in 11:1-10, he will go on to tell us that Israel’s rejection is not final. He finds hope in “a remnant according to the election of grace” (11:5). God has not abandoned Israel, but continues to pursue and woo his people.
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.
Dunn, James D. G., Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 9-16, Vol. 38B (Dallas: Word Books, 1988)
Morris, Leon, 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)
Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)
Talbert, Charles H., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Romans (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2002)
Witherington, Ben III, and Hyatt, Darlene, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary(Grand Rapids: 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 2008, 2010, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan