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God’s Election of Israel


I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, 7and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. 9For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13As it is written,

“I have loved Jacob,

but I have hated Esau.”

14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,

and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.

God’s Wrath and Mercy

19 You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ”my people,’

and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”


“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’

there they shall be called children of the living God.”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; 28for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.” 29And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,

we would have fared like Sodom

and been made like Gomorrah.”

Israel’s Unbelief

30 What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; 31but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written,

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall,

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

3. For I could wish, etc. He could not have expressed a greater ardour of love than by what he testifies here; for that is surely perfect love which refuses not to die for the salvation of a friend. But there is another word added, anathema, which proves that he speaks not only of temporal but of eternal death; and he explains its meaning when he says, from Christ, for it signifies a separation. And what is to be separated from Christ, but to be excluded from the hope of salvation? It was then a proof of the most ardent love, that Paul hesitated not to wish for himself that condemnation which he saw impending over the Jews, in order that he might deliver them. It is no objection that he knew that his salvation was based on the election of God, which could by no means fail; for as those ardent feelings hurry us on impetuously, so they see and regard nothing but the object in view. So Paul did not connect God’s election with his wish, but the remembrance of that being passed by, he was wholly intent on the salvation of the Jews.

Many indeed doubt whether this was a lawful desire; but this doubt may be thus removed: the settled boundary of love is, that it proceeds as far as conscience permits; 285285     “Ut ad aras usque procedat.” Ainsworth gives a similar phrase and explains its reason, “Usque ad aras amicus — As far as conscience permits,” Gell., because in swearing they held the horns of the altar. — Ed. if then we love in God and not without God’s authority, our love can never be too much. And such was the love of Paul; for seeing his own nation endued with so many of God’s benefits, he loved God’s gifts in them, and them on account of God’s gifts; and he deemed it a great evil that those gifts should perish, hence it was that his mind being overwhelmed, he burst forth into this extreme wish. 286286     Most of those who take this view of the passage express the implied condition more distinctly than is done here. They have regarded the wish in this sense, “I could wish were it right or lawful.” So thought Chrysostom, Photius, Theophlylact, Luther, Parcus, Beza, Estius, Lightfoot, Witsius, Mode, Whitby, and others. The words of Photius are given by Wolfius, “He says not, I wish to be separated, but I could wish, that is, were it possible — ἠυχόμην ἂν τουτ ἐστιν εἰ δυνατὸν ἦν,Stuart and Hodge adopt the same view. “It was a conditional wish,” says Pareus, “like that of Christ in Matthew 26:39. Christ knew and Paul knew that it could not be granted, and yet both expressed their strong desire.” See Exodus 32:32
   Almost all critics agree that the Vulgate is wrong in rendering the verb optabam — “I did wish,” as though the Apostle referred to the time, as Ambrose supposed, when he was a Pharisee; but this is wholly inconsistent with the tenor of the passage. Erasmus, Grotius, Beza, and most others regard the verb as having an optative meaning; ἂν being understood after it, as the case is with ἐβουλόμην in Acts 25:22, and ἤθελον in Galatians 4:20

   There are two other opinions which deserve notice. The first is, that “anathema“ here means excommunication, and that “from Christ” signifies from his Church, Christ the head being taken for his body the Church, as in 1 Corinthians 12:12, and in Galatians 3:27, according to the manner of the Hebrews, as Grotius says, who called the wife by the name of the husband, Isaiah. 4:1. This is the view taken by Hammond, Grotius, and some of the Lutheran divines. But the word “anathema“ has not in Scripture this meaning, though in after-ages it had attained it both in the Church and among the Rabbins. In the New Testament it occurs only here and in Acts 23:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 16:22; and Galatians 1:8, 9; and the verb ἀναθεματίζω is found in Mark 14:71; Acts 23:12, 14, 21; and with κατὰ prefixed in Matthew 26:74. The corresponding word in Hebrew, הרם, rendered anathemaby the Septuagint, means two things: what is separated for a holy purpose and wholly devoted to God, incapable of being redeemed, Leviticus 27:28; and what is set apart and devoted to death or destruction, Joshua 6:17; Ezra 10:8. It never means excommunication, but cutting off by death. Compare Exodus 22:20, and Deuteronomy 13:1-11. It has hence been applied to designate a man that is execrable and accursed, deserving death. So the Apostle uses it in 1 Corinthians 16:22, and Galatians 1:8, 9

   The other view is more in accordance with the meaning of the term. It is thought that “anathema“ means an ignominious death, and that of one apparently separated from Christ; or that he wished to be made “an anathema” by Christ, or for the sake of Christ, or after Christ, that is, his example. The words ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ create all the difficulty in this case. This is the explanation given by Jerome, Locke, Limborch, Doddridge, and Scott The first meaning, however, as materially given by Calvin, is the most obvious and natural.

   Both Haldane and Chalmers follow the Vulgate, and put the clause in a parenthesis, as expressing the Apostle’s wish when unconverted; but there is altogether an incongruity in the terms he employs to express this wish; he surely would not have said that he wished to be separated from Christ as an accursed thing, for that is the meaning of anathema; for while he was a Pharisee he deemed it a privilege and an honour even to persecute Christ. And we cannot suppose that the Apostle would now describe his former wish in terms unsuitable to what it really was, but as he now regarded it. — Ed.

Thus I consent not to the opinion of those who think that Paul spoke these words from regard to God only, and not to men; nor do I agree with others, who say, that without any thought of God, he was influenced only by love to men: but I connect the love of men with a zeal for God’s glory.

I have not, however, as yet explained that which is the chief thing, — that the Jews are here regarded as they were adorned with those singular tokens, by which they were distinguished from the rest of mankind. For God had by his covenant so highly exalted them, that by their fall, the faithfulness and truth of God himself seemed also to fail in the world: for that covenant would have thus become void, the stability of which was promised to be perpetual, as long as the sun and moon should shine in heaven. (Psalm 72:7.) So that the abolition of this would have been more strange, than the sad and ruinous confusion of the whole world. It was not therefore a simple and exclusive regard for men: for though it is better that one member should perish than the whole body; it was yet for this reason that Paul had such a high regard for the Jews, because he viewed them as bearing the character, and, as they commonly say, the quality of an elect people; and this will appear more evident, as we shall soon see, from what follows.

The words, my kinsmen according to the flesh, though they contain nothing new, do yet serve much for amplification. For first, lest any one should think that he willingly, or of his own accord, sought cause of quarrel with the Jews, he intimates, that he had not put off the feeling of kindred, so as not to be affected with the destruction of his own flesh. And secondly, since it was necessary that the gospel, of which he was the preacher, should go forth from Sion, he does not in vain pronounce an eulogy in so many words on his own kindred. For the qualifying expression, according to the flesh, is not in my view added for the sake of extenuation, as in other places, but, on the contrary, for the sake of expressing his faith: for though the Jews had disowned Paul, he yet concealed not the fact, that he had sprung from that nation, the election of whom was still strong in the root, though the branches had withered. What Budoeus says of the word anathema, is inconsistent with the opinion of Chrysostom, who makes ἀνάθεμα and ἀνάθημα, to be the same.

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