20 December 2011

Romans 15:7-13

"For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs." (v. 8)


In this passage Paul's letter to the church in Rome, we see Paul as a reader and interpreter of the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament in the Christian Bibles). He quotes from a wide array of Old Testament books to show that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of prophecy: in verse 9, from 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49; in verse 10, from Deuteronomy 32:43; in verse 11 from Psalm 117:1; and in verse 12, from yesterday's passage (Isaiah 11:10).

Just as we are reading and seeking to understand what Paul is saying to us in this chapter, so in this letter Paul is setting out for the Roman Christians his understanding of what these Old Testament prophecies mean. He is suggesting to his readers, and to us, that all these different Jewish texts were pointing forward to nothing less than the coming of Jesus Christ.

Paul interprets these prophecies as foretelling a time when God would be worshipped not just by the Jews, but by Gentiles (non-Jews) as well, and so by "all the peoples" (v. 11). There was controversy in the early Church about whether non-Jews could be Christians, or whether everyone who believed in Jesus should be circumcised and keep to Jewish law. Paul's vision won the day: that the good news about Jesus was for everyone, and did not require the keeping of Jewish laws (see Acts 15).

The bold and radical vision Paul sets out in these verses, is that he and his first readers are living at the beginning of a new age, in which the Old Testament prophecies about God being worshipped by all people, are finally coming true. The new Gentile Christians are the first of a new kind of worshippers, belonging to all kinds of nations, but worshipping the one God witnessed to by the Jews. This is the new age that the coming of Christ has begun.

To Ponder

To what extent is Paul right to believe that these Jewish prophecies have come true in his day?

What is the Church doing in making sure that everyone realises that the coming of Jesus means that everyone can worship the God of Abraham?

As Paul's letter to the church in Rome sets out his understanding of these Old Testament writings, what would you put in a letter (or email) setting out how we should understand this passage from Paul?

Bible notes author

David Clough

David Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester. He is a Methodist local preacher, a member of the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment and the Faith and Order Network and drafted recent reports on peacemaking and climate change on behalf of the Methodist Church.