Anyone using Scripture Union’s Encounter with God for their daily Bible readings will be exploring Romans 9–14…with me! Romans 9–11 is one of the most debated texts in Paul, and here are my reflections on approaches to reading it:
These chapters of Romans bring together some of Paul’s most densely argued and disputed material along with some of the best-known verses in the New Testament—we are going to have an exciting couple of weeks!
In the first of these two weeks we are focussing on chapters 9 to 11, which have most often been misread in one of two ways. The first is to think that this is some minor aside, a detour, which we can skip over or bypass, and continue with Paul’s main argument from chapter 8 to chapter 12. The second is to think that this is a special section giving us keys to understand the issues around the state of Israel today. But in fact this section is an integral part of Paul’s letter for at least three reasons.
Firstly, Romans is less of a doctrine textbook and reads more like a summary of the story of God’s dealings with his creation and his people. So Paul looks back to Adam, to Abraham, to the writings and the prophets, and naturally reflects on the present status of his people the Jews within this. Secondly, Paul is here reflecting on the key questions of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. Although this question had a particular sharpness for Paul in his day, it is a question of importance for us all. Thirdly, it is striking how these chapters refer back to issues Paul has already considered—the themes here are woven throughout Romans.
Having explored the riches of the mercy and compassion of God, Paul then turns in chapter 12 to the question of our response. After the indicative (what God has done) comes the imperative (what we should now do). As we read these chapters, we need to see as Paul does that all of our action springs from what God has first done for us. And this touches every aspect of life—how we respond to God, how we conduct ourselves, how we use our gifts and resources, how we treat others (both within and outside the community of faith) and how we respond to the powers that be. It is a compelling vision of the transformed life.