Mal Couch, Ph.D., Th.D.
Paul Answers Hank
Christian radio personality Hank Hanegraaff has come out with a new book entitled: The Apocalypse Code (Thomas Nelson, 2007). In it he takes to task Dispensationalism and Premillennialism. Generally, his attacks have to do more with personalities rather than substance. In trying to read his book, I was continually stalled because in about every paragraph there were historical, contextual, and exegetical mistakes. It would take forever to answer all his faux pas that filled these pages.
It is always best to answer error with the Bible. The Word of God can expose false doctrine and state the truth better than we can. And no other passage of Scripture is so definitive in regard to God’s restoration of Israel than Romans 9-11. In these verses Paul discusses the issues of: (1) the individual election of Jew and Gentile (2) the fact that God is now working more specifically with the Gentile nations rather than the nation of Israel, (3) the fact that Israel means Israel, and that God is not through with the Jews, either individually or as a nation, (4) the fact of the present postponement of God working with the Jewish nation, but (5) that He will soon restore that direct involvement with Israel as a national entity and fulfill His national promises to the ancient Jewish fathers. In other words the nation of Israel will be back on line in God’s historic and prophetic purposes for the world.
As a Greek teacher, and one who took Romans in graduate school under the great Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, I decided to let the apostle Paul answer the exegetical mistakes that seem to be pouring forth today from so-called Bible teachers. I will however use appropriate commentaries and grammar notes from great authors who have gone before, but the major thrust in answering will come from Paul’s Greek exegesis of these chapters and verses.
What will be the great hermeneutical and exegetical secret in answering Hanegraaff? There is none! This study will simply let the Bible in its normal, literal, and clear grammar and exegesis answer for itself. Satan is the author of confusion. And while he is not indwelling Christians who teach error, he can manipulate and side-track them and cause them to muddle up plain language whereby laymen are left in the dark. I will follow the Army’s KISS principle here! Keep It Simple Stupid!
[Detailed book References will be given at the end of the exegesis of Romans 11.]
INTRODUCTION TO ROMANS 9-11
The apostle Paul has just finished climbing spiritual Mt. Everest in his discussion about God’s personal election and individual salvation in 8:28-34. He closes these subjects with one of two of his great Romans anthems, a poetic statement about God’s wonderful glory and grace in saving and keeping those who are His (vv. 35-39). He finishes with a look at the Lord’s mercy that defies and goes against everything in the realm of "height, … depth, … [and driven by] any other created thing"—nothing in that sphere "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v. 39).
But there is a burning issue that just comes to mind naturally that Paul knows needs to answer, and that is, what about God’s promised plans and purposes for the Jewish people? Because God is reaching out and saving Gentiles, does this mean He is through with His working with the nation of Israel, as prophesied?
God is not through with Israel as a national force in history. The promises made about the Messiah ruling (literally and actually) in Jerusalem have not gone away, but it does seem they have been set aside temporarily. And if so, when will those literal messianic promises be fulfilled?
This must have been a burning issue raised over and over again by Gentiles, and especially Gentile Christians. This would be similar to today. "Is God through with the Jews as a people since God is so dramatically now working the church, and this church has no geographical boundaries as Israel had?" "Is the church some kind of ‘new’ Israel?" That these were Gentile questions seems to be clear from chapters 9-11. Paul is clearly addressing the Gentiles and writing about them, that is, the Jews both as individuals but also as a nation flooded from the Old Testament with unfulfilled promises about them as a nation. On this, Woodrow Kroll writes:
In many ways Romans 9-11 is parenthetical. … Paul may have been accused of being so dedicated as the apostle to the Gentiles that he had completely forgotten about his Jewish … kin. He therefore addresses the question of Israel and its future. … The only way to reconcile God’s promises with Jewish unbelief is to see the sovereignty of God underlying all of history. … God is not finished with the Jew. (Romans, Kroll, pp. 153-54)
Paul’s Heart Is Broken For Israel
Because the Jews were so hateful toward Paul, one would expect him to wish the worse upon them because of the rejection of Christ. But instead here, the heart of the apostle is laid bare. His concern for Israel comes from the depths of his conscience and this is sealed by the witness and the veracity of the Holy Spirit.
Truth I am speaking in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience witnessing together to me in the Spirit (who is Holy). (9:1) (Couch, Greek Translation)
9:1 By using the word truth without the article, Paul is emphasizing the quality of his statement (D&M, p. 137). To him, his concern for Israel creates a terrible emotional grief. Some may want to doubt his sincerity but he makes his statement based on what is absolutely correct. The apostle is telling the way it is, the way he is feeling, at the time of this writing. He uses a running list of present indicatives ("I am speaking right now," "I am not presently lying," "I am presently witnessing together" [summartureo])
Paul may be using the preposition en with the instrumental idea. "I am speaking by means of Christ," and "I am witnessing by means of the Spirit Holy." Paul’s "conscience is not left to itself but it is informed and enlightened by the Spirit of God." (Ellicott, p. 403) "’In Christ’ means that Paul is speaking in fellowship with Christ so that falsehood is impossible." (Nicoll, p. 656) What he is saying and feeling is really generated by Christ and the Spirit who dwell within! Paul is speaking as a Christian who is united to Christ. (Ellicott, p. 403)
… because sorrow in me is great even [as] unceasing (and constant) torment in the heart of me. (9:2) (Couch, Greek Translation)
9:2 Paul is really suffering pain in regard to his Jewish brothers who have rejected Christ. The word sorrow is the Greek word lupe from which we get the word for the disease lupus that causes the flesh and the muscles to fall and disintegrate. We might say Paul’s face and spirit has fallen over this matter! His pain, sorrow, and torment is almost overwhelming. It is megale, as great as is possible to be! By using the present indicative of eimi (is) Paul shows how this is an unending issue with him. He struggles daily (present tense) with his emotions about his people the Jews! "Paul cannot find words strong enough to convey his feelings." (Nicoll, p. 657)
But the questions will be raised before these chapters are over: Is God through with the Jews? Has He permanently set aside all His promises for the nation of Israel? Has He cast them away forever?
For I could have prayed (wished) in the past that I myself to be anathema (cursed) from the Anointed (Messiah, Christ) concerning my brothers, my together-born according to the flesh. (9:3) (Couch, Greek Translation)
9:3 Paul uses the Greek word euchomai in the Potential Imperfect (Past) tense, Indicative mood, which turns the word into a kind of wish—a wish that he expressed even continually in the past—and possibly often! The Indicative mood here also expresses an impulsiveness on the part of Paul—he is so moved about the spiritual condition of his people. (D&M, p. 169) This Greek word euchomai actually means "to pray." Could it be that he actually prayed to God that he could have substituted himself for his brothers’ salvation? More than likely the "wish" idea is best (Thayer, p. 264) From these three verses we can see that Israel’s lost-ness before God is a burning and all-consuming issue with the apostle! "This form of expression implies that the wish had actually been conceived." (Nicoll, p. 657)
The Greek word anathema is a powerfully negative word. It means "something devoted to God (like a sacrificial animal) without hope of being redeemed, therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction, detestable, cursed." (Thayer, p. 37)
The word Christos is the Greek of the Hebrew word HaMaschoich, meaning the "anointed one." It is used to describe the King-ship of the Son of God in Psalm 2. He will come and reign over Israel from Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, so it says plainly in Psalm 2:6.
In verse 3 could one ever get the idea that God will someday be forever through with Paul’s own kinsmen, the Jews? No. The word kinsmen is actually one of the strongest words to describe the physical nature of the Jewish people and Paul’s physical relationship with them. It is the word sungevon with genon referring to the physical generation they share together in the Jewish blood line (sun).
Paul is not referring to the Jewish people in some kind of "spiritualized" or allegorical way. By using the Greek word flesh (sarka) Paul makes it clear that the physical-ness of the people of Israel is a matter of utmost importance. One cannot get rid of the Jews as a physical people. They will not disappear off of the map of God’s plans for the world!