A Catholic Reading of the Letter to the Romans
Posted by Tony Listi on October 12, 2010
Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.
We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation.
Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
Romans is probably the book of the Bible that is most “Protestant-friendly.” And so I’ve decided to take this book on next after my last post on the gospel of Matthew, which I consider to be plainly and overwhelmingly anti-Protestant. If I can successfully explain Romans from the Catholic perspective, then every other book will likely be a piece of cake.
Now I’ve never said that Protestant interpretations have no plausibility. They do; all heresies have plausibility to some extent. The fact that Protestantism hasn’t gone the way of past heresies (extinction) is a testament to the plausibility of its interpretations, though still erroneous. (Protestantism heavily resembles many past heresies in both its method and beliefs though.) Perhaps no other book gives more plausibility to Protestantism than Romans. But as I will show, it too is a Catholic book, ultimately, and repudiates man-made Protestant traditions (i.e. traditional Protestant interpretations of Scripture).
This letter of St. Paul’s is the longest and most systematic exposition of his salvation theology. However, like all his letters, this one arose out of a specific situation and historical context. Thus it was not intended to be a comprehensive and exclusive explanation of salvation. At this point, Paul has never been to Rome. The church there was not established by him; its origin is unknown but likely grew out of the Jewish community there. Thus Paul is eager to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity by emphasizing the principle of faith. That is the crucial context one has to keep in mind. He is not writing to people who are ignorant of the moral precepts of the Law. He also is writing to introduce himself to this church and to enlist support for future missionary work in Spain (which he never gets to do).
Protestants like chapters 3-5 but ignore or dismiss 1-2 and 6. Chapters 6 in particular seems to be very anti-Protestant.
The heart of the letter is St. Paul’s explanation about how Christians are forgiven and justified by faith alone, but not, as we’ll see, saved by faith alone as Luther conceived of it. Here is an ordered outline of the basic points of the letter on this topic:
- The law gives knowledge of sin, which is disobedience to the law (moral law). (2:20; 4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:7-9, 13)
- Sin condemns everyone because everyone sins. (2:1-3, 21-23; 3:7, 9-12, 23; 5:12, 18)
- The just sentence for sin is death. Thus everyone is under a death sentence because everyone sins. (1:32; 3:23; 4:15; 5:12; 7:10-11)
- The law itself and obedience to the law cannot forgive sins. Only one who has no original sin, has never sinned, and observes the law perfectly can be justified by the law alone (which is no one; the law condemns all to death). No human will or exertion can achieve the mercy of forgiveness. (2:12-13; 3:19-20; 4:2-8; 8:3; 9:16, 30-32)
- Faith alone in Jesus Christ forgives sins. This faith/forgiveness for disobedience is a free gift of God’s grace and (combined with obedience to the law) justifies, saves, and gives eternal life. (2:13; 3:24-28; 4:2-8, 13-14, 20-25; 5:1-2, 17, 21; 7:4-6)
- Works of the law, i.e. Mosaic/Jewish rituals with regard to cleanness, animal sacrifices, and circumcision, do not forgive and thus do not save. (2:25-29; 3:28)
- Forgiveness through faith comes through the sacraments of baptism and reconcilation, through the ministry of the Church. (2:4-5; 3:25; 5:5; 6:3-4)
- But faith, a free gift of God, requires, as one is able to, the willful response of action, of the fruit of good works and obedience to the moral law (e.g. the Decalogue) as given by Jesus, of participation in the life and love of Christ and the Spirit. Faith and obedience/works are inseparable. (1:5, 8-12, 17-18; 2:2-10, 13, 16, 25-29; 3:31; 4:16; 5:10; 6:1-23; 7:1, 4-6, 12; 8:5-13, 15-17; 10:4-6; 11:30-32; 12:1-2; 13:2, 8-14; 15:18-19)
- Salvation is not instantaneous, guaranteed, or unlosable the moment one first believes. It requires perseverance in faithful obedience. Grave sins after baptism void/destroy one’s justification gained through faith and baptism. (1:6-7, 18; 2:8, 25-26; 3:25; 5:3-5; 6:2-6, 16, 21-23; 8:9-25, 35-39; 11:21-22; 13:2, 11-14; 15:4)
- Every such sin requires repentance and reconciliation to renew one’s faith and justification before God. (2:4-5)
- Faith cannot be used as an excuse to sin. Faith is not a spiritual contraceptive that allows one to sin without consequences for one’s fate after death. It ceases to be faith then. That is a diabolical mockery of faith, one that Protestantism promotes on principle if not in practice (“sin boldly“). (3:8; 6:1-2, 15)
God will judge us according to our works and justify/forgive us according to our faith (2:6). Good works/obedience do not obtain forgiveness, but they, along with forgiveness through faith, obtain salvation. Salvation comes through 1) obedience and 2) forgiveness of disobedience.
The Church and its authority is also evidenced in several passages. (1:2, 5; 3:2-4; 9:1-2; 10:8; 11:16-18; 12:3-8; 15:15-16)
I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on Romans that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.
1:1 “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God….” Paul considers his entire life to be dedicated to Jesus, as “a servant” (or slave in some translations) is entirely dedicated to his master. Paul does not follow a normal life; rather, he has been “set apart” from all other activities for this mission of evangelism. The vow of celibacy makes Catholic clergy slaves of Christ, set apart for a special purpose (in fact, that is what the Roman collar symbolizes: slavery to Jesus). Paul is also an apostle, one who has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle.
1:2 “…which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures….” I think it is important for Protestants to realize that EVERY mention of Scripture in the New Testament refers to the Old Testament. While the authors of the New Testament surely thought their writings had the same authority as Scripture, they did not believe their writings to be Scripture, strictly speaking.
St. John Chrysostom interprets this as St. Paul defending himself and his authority: “Now since they have laid against it the charge of novelty also, He shows it to be older than the Greeks, and described aforetime in the Prophets.” He also interprets no Protestant emphasis on the written Word to the exclusion of authoritative preaching and actions: “For, we do not proclaim it by words only, he means, but also by acts done; since neither was it human, but both divine and unspeakable, and transcending all nature…. Because the Prophets not only spoke, but also writ what they spoke; nor did they write only, but also shadowed them forth by actions, as Abraham when he led up Isaac, and Moses when he lifted up the Serpent, and when he spread out his hands against Amalek, and when he offered the Paschal Lamb.”
1:5-7 “…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints….” St. Paul intimately links obedience and faith in this verse. As we shall see in later verses, he does not mean that faith alone in some abstract sense is obedience itself. Rather, true faith is inseparable from obedience manifested in one’s actions. Moreover, St. Paul does not say that these Christians already belong to Christ or are already sainsts (holy); specifically, he does not say they are already saved. He says they are CALLED to belong to Christ, to be saints, to be saved. And a call by God can be freely accepted or rejected at any moment of one’s life.
St. John Chrysostom interprets “obedience of faith” as an assertion of apostolic authority: “For we were not sent, he means, to argue, but to give those things which we had trusted to our hands. For when the Master declares anything, they that hear should not be nice and curious handlers of what is told them, but receivers only; for this is why the Apostles were sent, to speak what they had heard, not to add anything from their own stock, and that we for our part should believe….”
1:8 “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” Another odd verse for the Protestant. If faith alone saves and thus all the faiths of individual Christians are equally saving, then why would the faith (as opposed to the works) of the Romans be so renowned and spoken of? Faith is faith to the Protestant; there’s no improving upon it! For how can one improve upon already obtained and unlosable salvation? This difficulty is easily dispelled under the Catholic interpretation in which faith and obedience/good works are inseparable. The faith of the Romans is “proclaimed throughout the world” because their faith bears good fruit in obedience and good works (see 16:19). Some faith bears fruit and some doesn’t. A faith that is mere mental assent could not be so renowned.
St. John Chrysostom interprets the verse the same way, saying it is ”able to teach all men to offer unto God the firstlings of their good deeds and words, and to render thanks not only for their own, but also for others’ well-doings….”
1:11-12 “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Again, another curious verse for the Protestant. How can faith be strengthened if, according to the Protestant, salvation, which comes from faith alone, cannot be lost? In the KJV, it reads, “that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established.” It seems that one may or may not be “established” in faith until the end of one’s life. The only way the Protestant might reason around this difficulty is to say that “faith” here means “the faith” or “knowledge of the faith,” but that still doesn’t make sense, for the Protestant does not believe increased knowledge prevents a falling away from the faith and salvation.
How can Christians be strengthed by one another’s faith? Protestants irrationally divorce faith from action in their interpretations of Scripture (and thus divorce salvation from actions). But it is impossible for the faith of one Christian to benefit another Christian without some action taking place, e.g. a work of charity, dialogue, preaching, teaching, etc. Again, the Catholic interpretation renders the verses completely understandable. The strict Protestant inactive conception of faith leads to contradictions and confusion.
St. John Chrysostom interprets the verse in the Catholic tradition saying, “And he does not tell them his meaning openly, but by way of hints, for he does not say that I may teach you, that I may instruct you, that I may fill up that which is wanting; but,
that ‘I may impart;’ showing, that it is not his own things which he is giving them, but that he was imparting to them what he had received…. This then also comes of grace, namely, the being unwavering and standing fast. But when you hear of grace, think not that the reward of resolve on our part is thereby cast aside; for he speaks of grace, not to disparage the labor of resolve on our part, but to undermine (ὑ ποτεμνόμενος, as piercing a thing inflated) the haughtiness of an insolent spirit. Do not thou then, because that Paul has called this a gift of grace, grow supine. For he knows how, in his great candor, to call even well doings, graces; because even in these we need much influence from above.”
1:13 “I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles..” What is the result of real faith? Fruit, as the KJV puts it: “that I might have some fruit among you also.” Paul wishes to strengthen the faith of the Romans so that they might bear fruit in obedience to God and in good works of charity.
1:16-18 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” Believing the gospel is necessary for eternal life. Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2:4 which says “the just man, because of his faith, shall live.” Again, notice that virtue and faith are intimately connected here. The obedient and virtuous man will have faith and thus be saved. Likewise, the disobedient and vicious man cannot have faith and thus cannot be saved. Every sin is an act of unbelief, unfaith. Those who act with impiety and wickedness, regardless of their claims to faith, will incur God’s wrath.
St. John Chrysostom interprets the verse in the Catholic tradition saying, “For it [salvation] is not to all absolutely, but to them that receive it. For though thou be a Grecian (i.e. Heathen), and even one that has run into every kind of vice, though a Scythian, though a barbarian, though a very brute, and full of all irrationality, and burdened with the weights of endless sins, no sooner have you received the word concerning the Cross, and been baptized, than you have blotted out all these….” He continues: “For after saying that the Gospel is the cause of salvation and of life, that it is the power of God, that it genders salvation and righteousness, he mentions what might well make them fear that were heedless of it…. For since in general most men are not drawn so much by the promise of what is good as by the fear of what is painful, he draws them on both sides. For this cause too did God not only promise a kingdom, but also threaten hell. And the Prophets spoke thus with the Jews, ever intermingling the evil with the good. For this cause too Paul thus varies his discourse, yet not any how, but he sets first the good things, and after the evil, to show that the former came of the guiding purpose of God, but the latter of the wickedness of the backsliding…. If then ye insolently scorn the gifts, then will the penalties await you.”
1:25-28 “[T]hey exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another. Men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.” These verses are for all those “Christians” out there who think homosexual behavior is not sinful or immoral. There is no mention whatsoever of pederasty or rape here, so there is no way to claim that homosexual behavior is not what’s being condemned here. And it seems that STDs were around in ancient times too, for what else could Paul be referring to with “receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error”?
1:32 “Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.” The sins that Paul previously mentions are all mortal sins, deadly sins that rupture friendship with God and merit death rather than eternal life. Our sinful actions deprive us of eternal life in heaven.
2:1 “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Paul is not condemning the judgment of others behavior. Otherwise, he’d be condemning himself because that is what he just did in chapter 1. He is condemning hypocrisy, of which all Christians are guilty of in some area or another.
2:2-10 “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good….” These verses are devastating to Protestantism. First and foremost, let’s remember the obvious: Paul is writing to the church at Rome; his audience is already Christian! The Romans already have faith (a renowned one even, as Paul tells them at 1:8). According to Protestantism, these Christians in Rome are already saved and forgiven of all their sins, past, present, and future. Yet Paul is condemning their disobedient actions and calling them to repentance, telling them they will go to hell if they have an “impenitent heart.” Apparently, they were NOT saved “the hour [they] first believed.” Most shocking of all to Protestants, Paul says God will judge each “according to his works” without mentioning faith at all this time. It will be important to remember these verses as we interpret the rest of the book.
St. John Chrysostom interprets these verses similarly: “But if you say, I know that I deserve punishment; yet through His long-suffering thinkest slightingly of it, and art confident because thou dost not suffer punishment immediately; this surely is a reason why you ought to be afraid and tremble. For the fact that you have not yet suffered punishment, will not result in your not suffering any punishment, but in your suffering a more severe one if you abide unamended…. For whenever you utter this common notion, that God does not exact justice, because He is good and long-suffering, he says, You do but mention what will make the vengeance intenser. For God shows His goodness that you may get free from your sins, not that you may add to them. If then thou make not this use thereof, the judgment will be more fearful. Wherefore it is a chief ground for abstaining from sin, that God is long-suffering, and not for making the benefit a plea for obstinacy. For if He be long-suffering, He most certainly punishes…. For the fact of showing many who, if they repent not, are liable, yet still are not punished here, introduces with it necessarily the judgment, and that with increase…. For after that he had showed the goodness of God towards men, he then shows His vengeance that it is unbearable for him who does not even so return to repentance…. Here also he awakens those who had drawn back during the trials, and shows that it is not right to trust in faith only. For it is deeds also into which that tribunal will enquire…. Again, he deprives of excuse those that live in wickedness, and shows that it is from a kind of disputatiousness and carelessness that they fall into unrighteousness…. And he does not say, who are ‘
compelled by,’ ‘
lorded over by,’ but who ‘
obey unrighteousness,’ that one may learn that the fall is one of free choice, the crime not of necessity.”
2:12-13 “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Again, this is devastating to Protestant soteriology. Later in the letter Paul will say that we are justified by faith, but here he explicitly says that we are also justified by observing the law (not the works of the law, but the law; the former ritual, the latter moral. Get the difference straight!). It will be important to remember these verses as we interpret the rest of the book. Those “without the law” are the Gentiles, not Christians. Those under the law are the Jews and Christians, meaning they received the law. However, as Paul will explain, all have sinned and it is only the Christian who will escape the penalty of sin (death) required by the law by means of faith.
St. John Chrysostom interprets these verses similarly and in the Catholic tradition: “[H]e shows not only the equality of the Jew and the Gentile, but that the Jew was even much burdened by the gift of the Law. For the Gentile is judged without law. But this ‘without law’ (Gr. lawlessly) here expresses not the worse plight but the easier, that is, he has not the Law to accuse him. For ‘without law’ (that is, without the condemnation arising from it), is he condemned solely from the reasonings of nature, but the Jew, ‘in the Law,’ that is, with nature and the Law too to accuse him. For the greater the attention he enjoyed, the greater the punishment he will suffer. See how much greater is the necessity which he lays upon the Jews of a speedy recourse to grace! For in that they said, they needed not grace, being justified by the Law, he shows that they need it more than the Gentiles, considering they are liable to be punished more…. For if it is by the Law you claim to be saved, in this respect, says he, the Gentile will stand before you, when seen to be a doer of what is written in the Law. And how is it possible (one may say) for one who has not heard to be a doer? Not this only, he says, is possible, but what is much more even than this. For not only is it possible without hearing to be a doer, but even with hearing not to be so.”
2:16 “…on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” St. Paul emphasizes that at the Final Judment God will judge the evil that others do not see, whether it be evil thoughts in one’s heart or evil works that go unnoticed and unpunished.
At length St. John Chrysostom interprets the verse so as to encourage the Christian to a strict examination of conscience and to repentance at all times: “Now let each man enter into his own conscience, and reckoning up his transgressions, let him call himself to a strict account, that we be not then condemned with the world…. Call then to mind what is said in the Gospel, the Angels running to and fro, of the bridechamber being shut, of the lamps going out, of the powers which drag to the furnaces. And consider this, that if a secret deed of any one of us were brought forth into the midst, today, before the Church only, what could he do but pray to perish, and to have the earth to gape for him, rather than have so many witnesses of his wickedness? How then shall we feel, when, before the whole world, all things are brought into the midst, in a theatre so bright and open, with both those known and those unknown to us seeing into everything?… For if any one have sense and reason, he has already endured a hell when he is out of sight of God. But since this does not pain, fire is therefore threatened. For we ought to smart not when we are punished, but when we sin…. We have turned aside from Him when calling and drawing us to Him by all ways, yet has He not even upon this punished us, but has run Himself unto us, and held us back, when fleeing, and we have shaken Him off and leaped away to the Devil…. In their place He sent no longer Prophets, no longer Angels, no longer Patriarchs, but the Son Himself. He too was killed when He had come, and yet not even then did He quench His love, but kindled it even more, and keeps on beseeching us, after even His own Son was killed, and entreating us, and doing all things to turn us unto Himself. And Paul cries aloud, saying, ‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: be ye reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). None of these things however reconciled us. Yet not even then did He leave us, but keeps on both threatening hell, and promising a kingdom, that even so He may draw us unto Himself. But we be still in an insensible mood…. For what can we have to say for ourselves, if even Satan’s injunctions we value more than the Laws of Christ, and are reckless of our own salvation that we may choose the works of wickedness, before Him who suffered all things for us? And what pardon do these things deserve? What excuse have they? Not one even. Let us stop then after this in our headlong course, and let us grow again sober; and reckoning up all these things, let us send up glory unto Him by our works (for words alone suffice not thereto), that we may also enjoy the glory that comes of Him, which may we all attain unto by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom, and with Whom, to the Father be glory, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.”
2:20-23 “…having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth–you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” The law is “the embodiment of knowledge and truth,” always and forever. It has not been abolished for Christians. Again, St. Paul condemns hypocrisy among the Christians in Rome. Those who teach the law will not be saved by merely teaching it. So also, no priest or bishop or pope will be saved merely by teaching the univeral Church the faith. Clergy too must live out the faith in their actions to obtain the salvation they preach.
St. John Chrysostom interprets these verses similarly: “And towards the beginning he had said, that the hearing of the Law is valueless unless the doing be thereto added (‘for not the hearers of the Law,’ he says, ‘are just before God,’) but now he shows further still, that not only the hearing, but, what is more than the hearing, the teaching of the Law itself will not be able to screen the teacher, unless he do what he says; and not only will it not screen him, but will even punish him the more.”
2:25-29 “Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God…..” Just as circumcision can become uncircumcision through disobedience to the law, faith can become unfaith through disobedience to the law. True faith is “of the heart” and thus obeys the law (and repents of sins). By “inwardly,” St. Paul clearly means active and obedient to the law, not inactive and disobedient. This is indirect proof that one can indeed lose faith and salvation.
St. John Chrysostom interprets the verses similarly: ”Thus also there are two uncircumcisions, one that of nature, and the second from conduct: and one circumcision in the flesh, and the other from the will. I mean for instance, a man has been circumcised upon the eighth day; this is circumcision of the flesh: a man has done all the Law bids him; this is circumcision of the mind which St. Paul requires above all, yea rather the Law also…. As then in the case of those who are in dignified stations and are after convicted of the greatest misdemeanors, the judges deprive them of the honors of their stations and then punish them; so has Paul also done. For after saying, if you are a breaker of the Law, your ‘circumcision is made uncircumcision,’ and having shown him to be uncircumcised, he condemns him after that without scruple…. It is not then the Law that he dishonors (for he reverences it greatly), but him that does disgrace to the Law…. By saying this he sets aside all things bodily. For the circumcision is outwardly, and the sabbaths and the sacrifices and purifications…. But when he has said ‘in the spirit’ he thereafter paves the way for the conversation of the Church, and introduces the faith. For it too is in the heart and spirit and has its praise of God. And how comes he not to show that the Gentile which does aright is not inferior to the Jew which does aright, but that the Gentile which does aright is better than the Jew which breaks the Law? It was that he might make the victory an undoubted one. For when this is agreed upon, of necessity the circumcision of the flesh is set aside, and the need of a good life is everywhere demonstrated. For when the Greek is saved without these, but the Jew with these is yet punished, Judaism stands by doing nothing. And by Greek he again means not the idolatrous Greek, but the religous and virtuous, and free from all legal observances.”
3:2-4 To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every man be false….” Paul is talking about the Jews here. The infidelity of the Jews came from their disobedience to the law. Similarly, though some Christians will be unfaithful and lose God’s offer of salvation, God is ever faithful, never ceasing to offer forgiveness and salvation. These words also have special meaning for the Catholic with regard to wayward and sinful clergy. The Church has been “entrusted with the oracles of God,” yet some of its leaders have been and are unfaithful. But “their faithlessness [cannot] nullify the faithfulness of God.” Though individual Catholic clergy may sin, God will never abandon his Church to error and death. The Church is indefectible, and thus the Catholic Church remains the one, true Church.
St. John Chrysostom interprets the verse as talking about the past sins of the Jews: “That, if there could be a trial and an examination of the things He had done for the Jews, and of what had been done on their part towards Him, the victory would be with God, and all the right on His side.”
3:7-8 “But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just..” Before the possession of faith, everyone is “still being condemned as a sinner.” And one cannot sin and think any good can come of it. We are not saved by sinning but by obedience and forgiveness. St. Paul is clearly condeming any notion that the Christian should “sin boldly” to manifest the grace of God. But when one believes God has instantly and completely forgiven one of all sin, even future sins, one may logically delude oneself into thinking one may glorfiy God in sinful acts. Also, just as the Jews found a false sense of security in circumcision and the possession of the law, to the neglect of obedience, so Protestants also have a false sense of security in “Lord and Savior” professions of faith to the neglect of the necessity of obedience.
St. John Chrysostom interprets the verse similarly: “For if God, he means is shown to be a Lover of man, and righteous, and good, by your acts of disobedience, you ought not only to be exempt from punishment but even to have good done unto you. But if so, that absurdity will be found to result, which is in circulation with so many, that good comes of evil, and that evil is the cause of good; and one of the two is necessary, either that He be clearly unjust in punishing, or that if He punish not, it is from our vices that He has the victory. And both of these are absurd to a degree…. For whereas Paul said, ‘where sin abounded grace did much more abound’ (Romans 5:20), in ridicule of him and perverting what he said to another meaning, they said, We must cling to vice that we may get what is good. But Paul said not so; however to correct this notion it is that he says, ‘What then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!’ (Rom 6:1, 2.) For I said it, he means, of the times which are past, not that we should make this a practice. To lead them away then from this suspicion, he said, that henceforth this was even impossible. For ‘how shall we,’ he says, ‘that are dead unto sin, live any longer therein?‘… But of the Jews, even if their life seemed to have been careless, still they had great means of cloaking these things in the Law and circumcision, and the fact of God having conversed with them, and their being the teachers of all. And this is why he strips them even of these, and shows that for these they were the more punished, and this is the conclusion to which he has here drawn his discussion. For if they be not punished, he would say, for so doing, that blasphemous language— let us do evil that good may come— must necessarily gain currency. But if this be impious, and they who hold this language shall be punished (for this he declared by saying, ‘whose damnation is just’), it is plain that they are punished. For if they who speak it be deserving of vengeance, much more are they who act it, but if deserving thereof, it is as having done sin. If then you do not grave images as did they, yet do you with great eagerness bow under the very same passions, when you make the members of Christ members of an harlot, and plunge yourself into the other deeds of iniquity (1 Corinthians 6:15). I therefore exhort you to lay to heart the exceeding unseemliness hereof, and to flee from idolatry:— for so does Paul name covetousness— and to flee not only covetousness in money, but that in evil desire, and that in clothing, and that in food, and that in everything else: since the punishment we shall have to suffer if we obey not God’s laws is much severer. For, He says, ‘the servant that knew his Lord’s will,’ and did it not, ‘shall be beaten with many stripes’ (Luke 12:47). With a view then to escaping from this punishment, and being useful both to others and to ourselves, let us drive out all iniquity from our soul and choose virtue. For so shall we attain to the blessings which are to come, whereto may it be granted us all to attain by the grace and love toward man, etc.”
3:9-12 “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one….’” Before the possession of faith, everyone is under the domination of sin.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He had accused the Gentiles, he had accused the Jews; it came next in order to mention the righteousness which is by faith. For if the law of nature availed not, and the written Law was of no advantage, but both weighed down those that used them not aright, and made it plain that they were worthy of greater punishment, then after this the salvation which is by grace was necessary…. But as yet he does not venture, as having an eye to the violence of the Jews, and so turns afresh to his accusation of them; and first he brings in as accuser, David speaking of the same things at length, which Isaiah mentioned all in short compass….”
3:19-20 “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Only observing the law cannot bring justification because observing the law does not forgive sins, and everyone has sinned. The law merely gives us the ”consciousness of sin” on our souls. But just because the law cannot forgive sins doesn’t mean that we should disobey it and sin more! More sinning does not bring forgiveness either; that merely digs the hole of damnation deeper. Moreover, the “works of the law” are circumcision, animal sacrifices, abstention for certain “unclean” foods, and ritual washings. They are not the traditions of the apostles, the sacraments.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And for what reason did he not say, we know that what things soever the prophet says, but what things soever the Law says? It is because Paul uses to call the whole Old Testament the Law…. For since it was the principal bane of the Jews that they were so conceited with themselves (which thing he mentioned as he went on, ‘how that being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they submitted not themselves to the righteousness of God’; Romans 10:3), the Law and the Prophet by being beforehand with them cast down their high thoughts, and laid low their conceit, that being brought to a consideration of their own sins, and having emptied out the whole of their unreasonableness, and seen themselves in danger of the last extremity, they might with much earnestness run unto Him Who offered them the remission of their sins, and accept grace through faith…. Here then he exhibits them as destitute of the boldness of speech which comes of works, and only using a parade of words and behaving in a barefaced way. And this is why he uses so literal an expression, saying, ‘
that every mouth may be stopped,’ so pointing out the barefaced and almost uncontrollable pomposity of their language, and that their tongue was now curbed in the strictest sense…. But the words ‘that all the world may become guilty before God,’ are spoken at once both of Jews and of Greeks. Now this is no slight thing with a view to take down their unreasonableness. Since even here they have no advantage over the Gentiles, but are alike given up as far as salvation is concerned. For he would be in strict propriety called a guilty person, who cannot help himself to any excuse, but needs the assistance of another: and such was the plight of all of us, in that we had lost the things pertaining to salvation…. He springs upon the Law again, with forbearance however (for what he says is not an accusation of it, but of the listlessness of the Jews). Yet nevertheless he has been earnest here with a view (as he was going to introduce his discourse about faith) to show its utter feebleness. For if you boast in the Law, he means, it puts you to the greater shame: it solemnly parades forth your sins before you…. For the Law accomplished the disclosure of sin to you, but it was your duty then to flee it. Since then you have not fled you have pulled the punishment more sorely on yourself, and the good deed of the Law has been made to you a supply of greater vengeance. Now then having added to their fear, he next brings in the things of grace, as having brought them to a strong desire of the remission of their sins….”
3:21-26 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.“ Again, Paul reiterates more explicitly now that everyone has sinned and thus is in need of “redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” The forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ, and thus our justification before God, is a free gift of God’s grace. And this forgiveness/justification (combined with our obedience when we are not sinning) is our salvation. We receive this forgiveness/justification “through faith.”
However, notice that he says that this forgiveness is for “former sins.” How on earth does the Protestant explain this? According to Protestantism, all sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven instantly the moment one professes faith in Jesus. As a Catholic, the only thing I can think of is that St. Paul has baptism in mind, which does forgive all previous sins but NOT the sins that one commits after baptism. Another sacrament is required to forgive those future sins after they have been committed.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For if they that lived in the Law not only did not escape punishment, but were even the more weighed down thereby, how without the Law is it possible not only to escape vengeance, but even to be justified? For he has here set down two high points, the being justified, and the obtaining these blessings, without the Law. And this is why he does not say righteousness simply, but the righteousness of God, so by the worthiness of the Person displaying the greater degree of the grace, and the possibility of the promise. For to Him all things are possible…. And this is why the Apostle here keeps presenting them in turns, and speaks of the righteousness of God being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. Then that no one should say, How are we to be saved without contributing anything at all to the object in view? He shows that we also offer no small matter toward this, I mean our faith. Therefore after saying, ‘the righteousness of God,’ he adds straightway, ‘by faith unto all and upon all that believe.’… For you need not be afraid at hearing the ‘
without the Law,’ inasmuch as the Law itself approves this…. What is declaring of righteousness? Like the declaring of His riches, not only for Him to be rich Himself, but also to make others rich, or of life, not only that He is Himself living, but also that He makes the dead to live; and of His power, not only that He is Himself powerful, but also that He makes the feeble powerful. So also is the declaring of His righteousness not only that He is Himself righteous, but that He does also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores of sin suddenly righteous…. Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God, for it is a blessing in two ways; because it is easy, and also open to all men…. Do you see how often he keeps reminding them of their transgressions? Before, he did it by saying, ‘through the Law is the knowledge of sin;’ and after by saying, ‘that all have sinned,’ but here in yet stronger language. For he does not say for the sins, but, ‘for the relaxing,’ that is, the deadness. For there was no longer any hope of recovering health, but as the paralyzed body needed the hand from above, so does the soul which has been deadened.”
3:27-28 “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” Because faith/forgiveness/justification is a free gift of God’s grace we cannot boast in ourselves of our hope of salvation. Notice that Paul does NOT say “faith alone” saves; faith alone forgives. And it is clear he doesn’t mean faith alone because earlier in Ch 2 he says that observing the law also justifies us (2:13). Moreover, “principle of faith” is literally “law of faith,” a play on words. The faith and the law work together in our justification; the former forgiving our sins and the latter teaching us what sins to avoid. The “works of the law” refer to Mosaic/Jewish rituals with regard to cleanness, animal sacrifices, and circumcision, NOT to the 10 Commandments and the moral law, which Christians are required to obey. Paul emphasizes this in his next statements….
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Paul is at great pains to show that faith is mighty to a degree which was never even fancied of the Law. For after he had said that God justifies man by faith, he grapples with the Law again…. And after saying, ‘Where then is the boasting?’ he does not say, it is put out of sight and has come to an end, but ‘it is excluded,’ which word rather expresses unseasonableness…. For since all were convicted, He therefore saves by grace. And this is why He has come but now, that they may not say, as they would had He come at the first, that it was possible to be saved by the Law and by our own labors and well-doings. To curb therefore this their effrontery, He waited a long time: so that after they were by every argument clearly convicted of inability to help themselves, He then saved them by His grace…. How then does he say it was excluded? ‘By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith.’ See he calls the faith also a law delighting to keep to the names, and so allay the seeming novelty. But what is the ‘law of faith?’ It is, being saved by grace. Here he shows God’s power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only. And in saying this he attempts to bring the Jew who has believed to act with moderation, and to calm him that has not believed, in such way as to draw him on to his own view. For he that has been saved, if he be high-minded in that he abides by the Law, will be told that he himself has stopped his own mouth, himself has accused himself, himself has renounced claims to his own salvation, and has excluded boasting. But he that has not believed again, being humbled by these same means, will be capable of being brought over to the faith. Do you see how great faith’s preeminence is? How it has removed us from the former things, not even allowing us to boast of them?”
3:31 “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Christians are still subject to the law (but not the works of the law), e.g. the Decalogue (as made more strict by Jesus) and the Golden Rule. Faith supports the law in the sense that faith forgives (if we are sincerely repentant) those acts in which we fail to obey the law.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For here he shows that the faith, so far from doing any disparagement to the ‘Law,’ even assists it, as it on the other hand paved the way for the faith. For as the Law itself before bore witness to it (for he says, ‘being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets’), so here this establishes that, now that it is unnerved. And how did it establish? He would say. What was the object of the Law and what the scope of all its enactments? Why, to make man righteous. But this it had no power to do. ‘For all,’ it says, ‘have sinned:’ but faith when it came accomplished it. For when a man is once a believer, he is straightway justified. The intention then of the Law it did establish, and what all its enactments aim after, this has it brought to a consummation. Consequently it has not disannulled, but perfected it. Here then three points he has demonstrated; first, that without the Law it is possible to be justified; next, that this the Law could not effect; and, that faith is not opposed to the Law. For since the chief cause of perplexity to the Jews was this, that the faith seemed to be in opposition to it, he shows more than the Jew wishes, that so far from being contrary, it is even in close alliance and cooperation with it, which was what they especially longed to hear proved. But since after this grace, whereby we were justified, there is need also of a life suited to it, let us show an earnestness worthy the gift. And show it we shall, if we keep with earnestness charity, the mother of good deeds. Now charity is not bare words, or mere ways of speaking to men, but a taking care of them, and a putting forth of itself by works, as, for instance, by relieving poverty, lending one’s aid to the sick, rescuing from dangers, to stand by them that be in difficulties, to weep with them that weep, and to rejoice with them that rejoice (Romans 12:15)…. For many weep with them that weep, but still do not rejoice with them that rejoice, but are in tears when others rejoice; now this comes of grudging and envy…. Yet at the same time many that have endured the harder task have not accomplished the one easier than it, but pine and consume away when they see others in honor, when a whole Church is benefited, by doctrine, or in any other fashion…. How will you be able, in this state of mind, to ask forgiveness of sins? For if those that allow not the things done against themselves to pass, neither does He forgive, what forgiveness shall He grant to those who go about to injure those that have done them no injury? For this is a proof of the utmost wickedness. Men of this kind are fighting with the Devil, against the Church, and haply even worse than he. For him one can be on one’s guard against. But these cloaking themselves under the mask of friendliness, secretly kindle the pile, throwing themselves the first into the furnace, and laboring under a disease not only unfit for pity, but even such as to meet with much ridicule…. He thirsts, since He thirsts after your salvation; and it is for this that He even begs; for this that He even goes about naked, negotiating immortal life for you. Do not then neglect Him…. For He desires, yea desires exceedingly, our salvation: let us then think scorn of money, that we may not be thought scorn of by Christ.”
4:2-8 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: ’Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins
are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.’” Again, all that St. Paul is saying here is that no amount of obedience/works can deserve or merit forgiveness. Rather, forgiveness through faith is a blessed gift from God. There is no way to earn forgiveness. One can only choose to accept it. In this way, faith is preeminent over works. Paul does not repudiate works but makes a relative comparison.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For to abstain from stealing and murdering is trifling sort of acquirement, but to believe that it is possible for God to do things impossible requires a soul of no mean stature, and earnestly affected towards Him; for this is a sign of sincere love. For he indeed honors God, who fulfils the commandments, but he does so in a much greater degree who thus follows wisdom by his faith. The former obeys Him, but the latter receives that opinion of Him which is fitting, and glorifies Him, and feels wonder at Him more than that evinced by works. For that glorying pertains to him that does aright, but this glorifies God, and lies wholly in Him…. For reflect how great a thing it is to be persuaded and have full confidence that God is able on a sudden not to free a man who has lived in impiety from punishment only, but even to make him just, and to count him worthy of those immortal honors. Do not then suppose that this one is lowered in that it is not reckoned unto the former of grace. For this is the very thing that makes the believer glorious; the fact of his enjoying so great grace, of his displaying so great faith. And note too that the recompense is greater. For to the former a reward is given, to the latter righteousness. Now righteousness is much greater than a reward. For righteousness is a recompense which most fully comprehends several rewards…. And when I speak of blessedness, I mean the chiefest of all good things; for as righteousness is greater than a reward, so is blessedness greater than righteousness. Having then shown that the righteousness is better, not owing to Abraham’s having received it only but also from reasonings (for he has whereof to boast, he says, before God ); he again uses another mode of showing that it is more dignified, by bringing David in to give his suffrage this way…. But he does so on purpose, not through inadvertency, to show the greater superiority. For if he be blessed that by grace received forgiveness, much more is he that is made just, and that exhibits faith. For where blessedness is, there all shame is removed, and there is much glory, since blessedness is a greater degree both of reward and of glory.”
4:13-16 “The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants — not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all,….” If merely adhering to the law was the only way to salvation, God’s promised forgiveness and inheritance to us, the descendants of Abraham, would be void. Why? Because none of us are able to adhere to the law perfectly and avoid sin and consequent death! None of us can be heirs according to the law alone, for the law alone “produces wrath” for us all. Therefore, God has established that salvation will be granted “not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham” as well. Notice how both obedience to the law and faith are necessary to obtain the promise.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He had shown that faith is necessary, that it is older than circumcision, that it is more mighty than the Law, that it establishes the Law. For if all sinned, it was necessary: if one being uncircumcised was justified, it is older: if the knowledge of sin is by the Law and yet it was without the Law made evident, it is more mighty: if it has testimony borne to it by the Law, and establishes the Law, it is not opposed to it, but friendly and allied to it…. For he that clings to the Law, as if of saving force, does disparagement to faith’s power; and so he says, ‘faith is made void,’ that is, there is no need of salvation by grace. For then it cannot show forth its own proper power; ‘and the promise is made of none effect.’ This is because the Jew might say, What need have I of faith? If then this held, the things that were promised, would be taken away along with faith…. Now if it [the Law] works wrath, and renders them liable for transgression, it is plain that it makes them so to a curse also. But they that are liable under a curse, and punishments, and transgression, are not worthy of inheriting, but of being punished and rejected. What then happens? faith comes, drawing on it the grace, so that the promise comes into effect. For where grace is, there is a remitting, and where remitting is, there is no punishment. Punishment then being removed, and righteousness succeeding from faith, there is no obstacle to our becoming heirs of the promise…. Here he lays down two blessings, both that the things given are sure, and also that they are to all the seed, so gathering in those of the Gentiles, and showing that the Jews are without, if they contend against the faith. For this is a surer thing than that. For faith does you no hurt (be not contentious), but even now you are in danger from the Law, it preserves you.”
4:20-25 “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.’ But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Again, faith alone is to be credited for the forgiveness of our sins. Thus both our obedience (2:13) and our faith, which gives us forgiveness for disobedience, lead to heaven.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For since this discourse was about them that work and them that believe, he shows that the believer works more than the other, and requires more power, and great strength, and sustains no common degree of labor. For they counted faith worthless, as having no labor in it. Insisting then upon this, he shows that it is not only he that succeeds in temperance, or any other virtue of this sort, but he that displays faith also who requires even greater power. For as the one needs strength to beat off the reasonings of intemperance, so has the faithful also need of a soul endued with power, that he may thrust aside the suggestions of unbelief…. And he does not use the word ‘believed’ merely, but, ‘being fully persuaded.’ For such a thing is faith, it is clearer than the demonstration by reasons, and persuades more fully. For it is not possible for another reasoning succeeding to it to shake it afterwards. He indeed that is persuaded with words may have his persuasion altered too by them. But he that stays himself upon faith, has henceforward fortified his hearing against words that may do hurt to it. Having said then, that he was justified by faith, he shows that he glorified God by that faith; which is a thing specially belonging to a good life…. Let us then also glorify Him by faith as well as by works, that we may also attain to the reward of being glorified by Him. ‘For them that glorify Me, I will glorify’ (1 Samuel 2:30)…. For He counts nothing unworthy of Himself which may be conducive to our salvation. Since then we aware of this, let us shun sin altogether, because by reason of it He is blasphemed. For it says, ‘flee from sin, as from the face of a serpent: if you come too near unto it, it will bite you’ (Sirach 21:2): for it is not it that comes to us, but we that desert to it…. But the desert and place of the Devil is nothing else than sin. We then have need of the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, not only that we may not get evil intreated, but that ever should he be minded to leap upon us, we may cut off his head. Need we have of continual prayer that he may be bruised under our feet, for he is shameless and full of hardihood, and this though he fights from beneath. But yet even so he gets the victory: and the reason is, that we are not earnestly set upon being above his blows.
5:1-5 “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Faith puts us at peace with God just as sin puts us at war with God. Our rebellious sins are forgiven and taken away by faith. With the rebellion put down, we have peace and this peace is the state of “grace in which we stand” in the present time.
But notice, that none of these verses rule out the possibility that the Christian could return to rebellion and war with God through sin. These verses do not rule out the possibility that we may choose to fall from the grace in which we once stood. Moreover, through his emphasis on “hope,” “proven character,” and “endurance,” Paul implies that this could indeed happen. The hope and love of God cannot disappoint, but we can surely disappoint God by choosing not to endure in that hope and love.
Paul says that Christians boast in their “afflictions,” knowing that suffering is part of the process of salvation since suffering “produces endurance” and “proven character.” This is justification for the penances given by the priest in the Sacrament of Reconcilation.
Notice that Paul uses the word “poured.” The implication is the water of baptism where we receive the Spirit.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For after having said much on the subject of faith, he had set it before righteousness which is by works, to prevent any one from supposing what he said was a ground for listlessness, he says, ‘let us have peace,’ that is, let us sin no more, nor go back to our former estate. For this is making war with God. And ‘how is it possible,’ says one, ‘to sin no more?’ How was the former thing possible? For if when liable for so many sins we were freed from all by Christ, much more shall we be able through Him to abide in the estate wherein we are. For it is not the same thing to receive peace when there had been none, and to keep it when it has been given, since to acquire surely is harder than to keep. Yet nevertheless the more difficult has been made easy, and carried out into effect. That which is the easier thing then will be what we shall easily succeed in, if we cling to Him who has wrought even the other for us. But here it is not the easiness only which he seems to me to hint at, but the reasonableness. For if He reconciled us when we were in open war with Him, it is reasonable that we should abide in a state of reconciliation, and give unto Him this reward for that He may not seem to have reconciled untoward and unfeeling creatures to the Father…. For He died for us, and farther reconciled us, and brought us to Himself, and gave us grace unspeakable. But we brought faith only as our contribution. And so he says, ‘by faith, unto this grace.’ What grace is this? Tell me. It is the being counted worthy of the knowledge of God, the being forced from error, the coming to a knowledge of the Truth, the obtaining of all the blessings that come through Baptism. For the end of His bringing us near was that we might receive these gifts. For it was not only that we might have simple remission of sins, that we were reconciled; but that we might receive also countless benefits.
5:9-11 “Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.” Christians are “reconciled to God” by Jesus’ death/blood and “saved by his life.” Forgiveness and salvation are intimately connected, but they are not the exact same thing. Forgiveness leads to reconciliation, and reconciliation is the seed of salvation. Salvation comes from a participation in the life of Christ, which requires forgiveness through faith first. But this forgiveness in baptism is only the first step in living in Christ and being saved by Him. Notice the future tense: “we shall be saved.”
5:12-13 “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned – sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.” All have sinned. All are under the sentence of death. The law gives knowledge of sin and knowledge is necessary for accountability.
5:17-19 “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Forgiveness is a free gift from God that cannot earned. It is a matter of grace. When Paul says “acquittal and life came to all,” he means that they are offered to all. Those who reject this offer will be deprived of heaven.
Also, being “made righteous” is just another way of saying that our sins are forgiven in baptism, and thus we are righteous in the sight of God who made us so through this forgiveness. But this doesn’t mean that we are automatically saved once and for all. Through our sins after baptism, we may become unrighteous again and thus are in need of forgiveness again through repentance and the Sacrament of Reconcilation.
5:20-21 “The law entered in so that transgression might increase but, where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Paul is not saying that the law was given so that we might sin more. Once given, the law makes known what actions are sinful and thus sin “increases” only in the sense that knowledge of what constitutes sin increases. Again, forgiveness is a matter of grace and is the work of Jesus alone. The only “work” we do is repent and accept this forgiveness in faith.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Since then he had shown that the world was condemned from Adam, but from Christ was saved and freed from condemnation, he now seasonably enters upon the discussion of the Law, here again undermining the high notions of it. For it was so far from doing any good, he means, or from being any way helpful, but the disorder was only increased by its having come in. But the particle ‘that’ again does not assign the cause, but the result. For the purpose of its being given was not ‘in order that’ it might abound, for it was given to diminish and destroy the offense. But it resulted the opposite way, not owing to the nature of the Law, but owing to the listlessness of those who received it.”
6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” Our baptismal grace and persistence in sin are incompatible. The grace we have received through faith requires the avoidance of sin, i.e. obedience. Chapter 6 builds upon what was previously written by Paul and takes a turn that Protestants seem to ignore. Luther certainly did when he said ”sin boldly.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Since then he showed the greatness of the grace by the greatness of the sins it healed, and owing to this it seemed in the eyes of the unthinking to be an encouragement to sin (for if the reason, they would say, why greater grace was shown, was because we had done great sins, let us not give over sinning, that grace may be more displayed still), now that they might not say this or suspect it, see how he turns the objection back again. First he does it by his deprecation. ‘God forbid.’ And this he is in the habit of doing at things confessed on all hands to be absurd.”
6:2-6 “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” The whole point of Jesus dying and forgiving our sins was so that we would have the opportunity to sin no more (which is what Jesus says to those whom He healed)! Baptism is only the beginning. Notice all the conditional verbs and clauses: “might walk,” “if we have been united,” “might be destroyed,” and “might no longer be enslaved to sin.” Salvation is not automatic at the moment of baptism. It is conditional upon the choices we make after baptism.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “But what is becoming dead to it [sin]? The not obeying it in anything any more. For this baptism effected once for all, it made us dead to it. But this must of our own earnestness thenceforth continually be maintained, so that, although sin issue countless commands to us, we may never again obey it, but abide unmovable as a dead man does. And indeed he elsewhere says that sin itself is dead. But there he sets that down as wishing to show that virtue is easy (Romans 7:8)…. What does being ‘baptized into His Death’ mean? That it is with a view to our dying as He did. For Baptism is the Cross. What the Cross then, and Burial, is to Christ, that Baptism has been to us, even if not in the same respects. For He died Himself and was buried in the Flesh, but we have done both to sin. Wherefore he does not say, planted together in His Death, but in the likeness of His Death. For both the one and the other is a death, but not of the same subject; since the one is of the Flesh, that of Christ; the other of sin, which is our own. As then that is real, so is this. But if it be real, then what is of our part again must be contributed…. Here he hints, along with the duty of a careful walk, at the subject of the resurrection…. But this he leaves for the present to the conscience of his hearers to reason out, but himself, after the resurrection to come had been set before us, demands of us another, even the new conversation, which is brought about in the present life by a change of habits. When then the fornicator becomes chaste, the covetous man merciful, the harsh subdued, even here a resurrection has taken place, the prelude to the other. And how is it a resurrection? Why, because sin is mortified, and righteousness has risen again, and the old life has been made to vanish, and this new and angelic one is being lived in. But when you hear of a new life, look for a great alteration, a wide change. But tears come into my eyes, and I groan deeply to think how great religiousness Paul requires of us, and what listlessness we have yielded ourselves up to, going back after our baptism to the oldness we before had, and returning to Egypt, and remembering the garlic after the manna (Numbers 11:5). For ten or twenty days at the very time of our Illumination, we undergo a change, but then take up our former doings again. But it is not for a set number of days, but for our whole life, that Paul requires of us such a conversation. But we go back to our former vomit, thus after the youth of grace building up the old age of sins. For either the love of money, or the slavery to desires not convenient, or any other sin whatsoever, uses to make the worker thereof old. ‘Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away’ (Hebrews 8:13). For there is no body, there surely is none, to be seen as palsied by length of time, as a soul is decayed and tottering with many sins…. Such then are the souls of sinners; not so those of the righteous, for they are youthful and well-favored, and are in the very prime of life throughout, ever ready for any fight or struggle. But those of sinners, if they receive even a small shock, straightway fall and are undone…. Such was that son who wasted out all his share, and was reduced to the greatest wretchedness, and was in a feebler state than any imbecile or disordered person. But when he was willing, he became suddenly young by his decision alone and his change. For as soon as he had said, ‘I will return to my Father,’ this one word conveyed to him all blessings; or rather not the bare word, but the deed which he added to the word. For he did not say, ‘Let me go back,’ and then stay there; but said, Let me go back, and went back, and returned the whole of that way. Thus let us also do…. For our Father has a natural yearning towards us, and will honor us if we be changed, no less than those that are unattainted, if we change, but even more, just as the father showed that son the greater honor…. And how am I to go back again? One may say. Do but put a beginning upon the business, and the whole is done. Stay from vice, and go no farther into it, and you have laid hold of the whole already. For as in the case of the sick, being no worse may be a beginning of getting better, so is the case with vice also. Go no further, and then your deeds of wickedness will have an end. And if you do so for two days, you will keep off on the third day more easily; and after three days you will add ten, then twenty, then an hundred, then your whole life.” He continues: “What I had before occasion to remark, that I mention here too, that he continually digresses into exhortation, without making any twofold division as he does in the other Epistles, and setting apart the former portion for doctrines, and the latter for the care of moral instruction. Here then he does not do so, but blends the latter with the subject throughout, so as to gain it an easy admission. Here then he says there are two mortifyings, and two deaths, and that one is done by Christ in Baptism, and the other it is our duty to effect by earnestness afterwards. For that our former sins were buried, came of His gift. But the remaining dead to sin after baptism must be the work of our own earnestness, however much we find God here also giving us large help. For this is not the only thing Baptism has the power to do, to obliterate our former transgressions; for it also secures against subsequent ones. As then in the case of the former, your contribution was faith that they might be obliterated, so also in those subsequent to this, show forth the change in your aims, that you may not defile yourself again…. For as His Body, by being buried in the earth, brought forth as the fruit of it the salvation of the world; thus ours also, being buried in baptism, bore as fruit righteousness, sanctification, adoption, countless blessings. And it will bear also hereafter the gift of the resurrection. Since then we were buried in water, He in earth, and we in regard to sin, He in regard to His Body…. And he does not say is crucified, but is crucified with Him, so bringing baptism near to the Cross. And on this score also it was that he said above, ‘We have been planted together in the likeness of His Death that the body of sin might be destroyed,’ not giving that name to this body of ours, but to all iniquity. For as he calls the whole sum of wickedness the old man, thus again the wickedness which is made up of the different parts of iniquity he calls the body of that man. And that what I am saying is not mere guesswork, hearken to Paul’s own interpretation of this very thing in what comes next. For after saying, ‘that the body of sin might be destroyed,’ he adds, ‘that henceforth we should not serve sin.’ For the way in which I would have it dead is not so that you should be destroyed and die, but so that you sin not. And as he goes on he makes this still clearer…. as he that is dead is henceforth freed from sinning, lying as a dead body, so must he that has come up from baptism, since he has died there once for all, remain ever dead to sin. If then you have died in baptism, remain dead, for any one that dies can sin no more; but if you sin, you mar God’s gift. After requiring of us then heroism (Gr. philosophy) of this degree….”
6:10-12 “The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” Paul is giving the Romans commandments. They are to avoid all sin, living for God alone. The faith that brings forgiveness requires a response of obedience to God’s moral law.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Do you see how he affrights them? For if He does not die again, then there is no second laver, then do thou keep from all inclinableness to sin. For all this he says to make a stand against the ‘let us do evil that good may come. Let us remain in sin that grace may abound.’ To take away this conception then, root and branch, it is, that he sets down all this. But in that ‘He lives, He lives unto God,’ he says—that is, unchangeably, so that death has no more any dominion over Him. For if it was not through any liability to it that He died the former death, save only for the sin of others, much less will He die again now that He has done that sin away. And this he says in the Epistle to the Hebrews also, ‘But now once,’ he says, ‘in the end of the world has He appeared to put away sin by the Sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation’ (Hebrews 9:26-28). And he both points out the power of the life that is according to God, and also the strength of sin. For with regard to the life according to God, he shows that Christ shall die no more. With regard to sin, that if it brought about the death even of the Sinless, how can it do otherwise than be the ruin of those that are subject to it?... He does not say, let not the flesh live or act, but, ‘let not sin reign,’ for He came not to destroy our nature, but to set our free choice aright. Then to show that it is not through any force or necessity that we are held down by iniquity, but willingly, he does not say, let it not tyrannize, a word that would imply a necessity, but let it not reign. For it is absurd for those who are being conducted to the kingdom of heaven to have sin empress over them, and for those who are called to reign with Christ to choose to be the captives of sin, as though one should hurl the diadem from off his head, and choose to be the slave of a frantic woman, who came begging, and was clothed in rags…. Yet it is possible even for one with a mortal body not to sin. Do you see the abundancy of Christ’s grace? For Adam, though as yet he had not a mortal body, fell. But you, who hast received one even subject to death, canst be crowned. How then, is it that ‘sin reigns?’ he says. It is not from any power of its own, but from your listlessness. Wherefore after saying, ‘let it not reign,’ he also points out the mode of this reigning, by going on to say ‘that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.’… See how by his bare words he exhorts them, on that side naming ‘sin’ and on this ‘God.’ For by showing what a difference there is between the rulers, he casts out of all excuse the soldier that leaves God, and desires to serve under the dominion of sin…. But by calling it an arm, he makes it clear that there is a hard warfare at hand for us. And for this reason we need strong armor, and also a noble spirit, and one acquainted too with the ways of this warfare; and above all we need a commander. The Commander however is standing by, ever ready to help us, and abiding unconquerable, and has furnished us with strong arms likewise. Farther, we have need of a purpose of mind to handle them as should be, so that we may both obey our Commander, and take the field for our country.”
6:14-16 “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Again, sin is not supposed to have power over the Christian. More precisely, the Christian is not supposed to allow sin to have power over him. Though the baptized Christian in the state of grace is not “under the law” in the sense that he is not condemned, he is still under the law in the sense that he is obligated to obey it and may stand condemned again if he disobeys it again (see 7:1). If the Christian obeys sin after baptism, he has departed from the path ”which leads to righteousness” and returned to that path that “leads to death.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If then sin has no more dominion over us, why does he lay so great a charge upon them as he does in the words, ‘Let not sin reign in your mortal body,’ and, ‘yield not ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin?’… It is this; that our body, before Christ’s coming, was an easy prey to the assaults of sin…. But when Christ had come, the effort became afterwards more easy, and therefore we had a more distant goal set us, in that the assistance we had given us was greater. Wherefore also Christ says, ‘Unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matthew 5:20)…. unless we stoop down very low to it, sin will not get the better of us…. Now it seems to me that he is not signifying here the whole life of a believer, but instituting a comparison between the Baptism and the Law. And this he says in another passage also; ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6). For the Law convinces of transgression, but grace undoes transgression. As then the former by convincing establishes sin so the latter by forgiving suffers us not to be under sin…. I do not, he would say, mention hell as yet, nor that great punishment, but the shame it is in this world, when you become slaves, and slaves of your own accord too, and sin’s slaves, and when the wages are such as a second death. For if before baptism, it wrought death of the body, and the wound required so great attendance, that the Lord of all came down to die, and so put a stop to the evil; if after so great a gift, and so great liberty, it seize you again, while you bend down under it willingly, what is there that it may not do? Do not then run into such a pit, or willingly give yourself up. For in the case of wars, soldiers are often given up even against their will. But in this case, unless you desert of yourself, there is no one who will get the better of you. Having then tried to shame them by a sense of duty, he alarms them also by the rewards, and lays before them the wages of both; righteousness, and death, and that a death not like the former, but far worse. For if Christ is to die no more, who is to do away with death? No one! We must then be punished, and have vengeance taken upon us forever. For a death preceptible to the senses is not still to come in this case, as in the former, which gives the body rest, and separates it from the soul. ‘For the last enemy, death, is destroyed’ (1 Corinthians 15:26), whence the punishment will be deathless. But not to them that obey, for righteousness, and the blessings springing from it, will be their rewards.”
6:17-18 “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Before baptism, we are slaves to sin. After baptism, we are required to be obedient and sin no more.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Just as any one who has rescued a captive from a cruel tyrant, and advises him not to run away back to him, reminds him of his grievous thraldom; so does Paul set the evils passed away most emphatically before us…. You were neither forced nor pressed, but you came over of your own accord, with willing mind. Now this is like one that praises and rebukes at once. For after having willingly come, and not having had any necessity to undergo, what allowance can you claim, or what excuse can you make, if you run away back to your former estate? Next that you may learn that it came not of your own willing temper only, but the whole of it of God’s grace also, after saying, ‘You have obeyed from the heart,’ he adds, ‘that form of doctrine which was delivered you.’ For the obedience from the heart shows the free will. But the being delivered, hints the assistance from God. But what is the form of doctrine? It is living aright, and in conformity with the best conversation…. For what would be the advantage, pray, of a king dressed in a purple robe and possessed of arms, but without a single subject, and exposed to all that had a mind to attack and insult him? In like manner it will be no advantage to a Christian to have faith, and the gift of baptism, and yet be open to all the passions. In that way the disgrace will be greater, and the shame more. For as such an one having the diadem and purple is so far from gaining by this dress any honor to himself, that he even does disgrace to that by his own shame: so the believer also, who leads a corrupt life, is so far from becoming, as such, an object of respect, that he is only the more one of scorn…. For I placed (He might say) all the passions in subjection to you by baptism. How then comes it that you have disgraced so great a gift, and hast become one thing instead of another? I have killed and buried your former transgressions, like worms— how is it that you have bred others?— for sins are worse than worms, since these do harm to the body, those to the soul; and those make the more offensive stench. Yet we perceive it not, and so we are at no pains to purge them out. Thus the drunkard knows not how disgustful the stale wine is, but he that is not drunken has a distinct perception of it. So with sins also, he that lives soberly knows thoroughly that other mire, and the stain. But he that gives himself up to wickedness, like a man made drowsy with drunkenness, does not even know the very fact that he is ill. And this is the most grievous part of vice, that it does not allow those who fall into it even to see the greatness of their own bane, but as they lie in the mire, they think they are enjoying perfumes…. These kindle the hell which never extinguishes. To prevent this from happening then, let us do away with this fountain of evil, and extinguish the furnace, and let us draw up the root of wickedness from beneath, since you will do no good by cutting the tree off from above, if the root remains below, and sends up fresh shoots of the same kind again.”
6:20-23 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Before baptism, we are slaves to sin. The inevitable end of sin is death. The grace of the sacraments, God’s free gifts, confer sanctification, and the end of all the sacraments is eternal life. Eternal life is not guranteed from the beginning at baptism; we receive it at the end of our lives only if we are obedient and free from sin through repentance and forgiveness. God will pay the Christian with the “wages of…death” if he returns to his sins and does not repent of them and receive forgiveness again.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Now, therefore, since you have come over to righteousness, give yourselves wholly up to virtue, doing nothing at all of vice, that the measure you give may be at least equal…. Since then shame seems to be no such serious evil, he comes to what is very fearful, I mean death; though in good truth what he had before mentioned were enough. For consider how exceeding great the mischief must be, inasmuch as, even when freed from the vengeance due to it, they could not get free of the shame. What wages then, he says, do you expect from the reality, when from the bare recollection, and that too when you are freed from the vengeance, you hide your face and blush, though under such grace as you are!… Do you see how he points out some things as already given, and some as existing in hope, and from what are given he draws proof of the others also, that is from the holiness of the life. For to prevent your saying (i.e. as an objection) everything lies in hope, he points out that you have already reaped fruits, first the being freed from wickedness, and such evils as the very recollection of puts one to shame; second, the being made a servant unto righteousness; a third, the enjoying of holiness; a fourth, the obtaining of life, and life too not for a season, but everlasting. Yet with all these, he says, do but serve as you served it [sin]…. After speaking of the wages of sin, in the case of the blessings, he has not kept to the same order (rank or relation): for he does not say, the wages of good deeds, ‘but the gift of God;’ to show, that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. And so there was a superiority for this cause also, in that He did not free them only, or change their condition for a better, but that He did it without any labor or trouble upon their part: and that He not only freed them, but also gave them much more than before, and that through His Son…. That these things then might not both make them rather listless, he inserted the part about strictness of life, using every opportunity of rousing the hearer to the practice of virtue. For when he calls death the wages of sin, he alarms them again, and secures them against dangers to come. For the words he uses to remind them of their former estate, he also employs so as to make them thankful, and more secure against any inroads of temptations.”
7:1 “Do you not know, brethren — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only during his life?” The moral law of God has not been abolished by Christianity and never will be. The law of faith has not rescinded the moral law. We are bound to obey the moral law for our entire earthly lives. Paul merely uses the law itself (with regard to marriage) as a metaphor for how God’s forgiveness frees the Christian from the condemnation of the law. Because baptism is a kind of death, it frees the Christian from the law’s condemnation and death sentence.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Since then he had said, we are ‘dead to sin,’ he here shows that not sin only, but also the Law, has no dominion over them. But if the Law has none, much less has sin: and to render his language palatable, he uses a human example to make this plain by. And he seems to be stating one point, but he sets down at once two arguments for his proposition. One, that when a husband is dead, the woman is no longer subject to her husband, and there is nothing to prevent her becoming the wife of another man: and the other, that in the present case it is not the husband only that is dead but the wife also. So that one may enjoy liberty in two ways. Now if when the husband is dead, she is freed from his power, when the woman is shown to be dead also, she is much more at liberty. For if the one event frees her from his power, much more does the concurrence of both.”
7:4-6 “Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” The purpose of faith and baptism is to “bear fruit for God,” not to sin, thinking there will be no consequences. These verses must be read in light of 6:16 and 7:1. Thus the Christian is “discharged from the law” and “not under the old written code” only in the spiritual sense that past sins are forgiven and forgiveness for future sins is also available to the repentant. Baptism is a spiritual death, a death to sin, that frees us from the condemnation of the law and provide help in overcoming future temptation and sin. But we are bound to obey the moral law for our entire earthly lives.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What has become now of those that speak evil of the Law? Let them hear, how even when forced upon it, he does not bereave it of its dignity, but speaks great things of its power; if while it is alive the Jew is bound, and they are to be called adulterers who transgress it, and leave it whiles it is alive. But if they let go of it after it has died, this is not to be wondered at…. See how he dwells upon the accusations of those who transgress the Law, while it is yet living. But since he had put an end to it, he afterwards favors it with perfect security, without doing any harm hereby to the faith. ‘For if while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she is called an adulteress.’ Thus it would have been natural to say next, you also, my brethren, now the Law is dead, will not be judged guilty of adultery, if you become married to another husband. Yet he does not use these words, but what? ‘You have become dead to the Law;’ if you have been made dead, you are no longer under the Law…. And he does not say when we were in the Law, so in every passage shrinking from giving a handle to heretics; but ‘when we were in the flesh,’ that is, in evil deeds, in a carnal life…. he neither says that the Law is the cause of sins, nor yet frees it from odium. For it held the rank of a bitter accuser, by making their sins bare: since that, which enjoins more to him who is not minded to obey at all, makes the offense greater. And this is why he does not say, the ‘motions of sins’ which were produced by the Law, but which ‘were through the Law’ (Romans 2:27), without adding any ‘produced,’ but simply ‘through the Law,’ that is to say, which through the Law were made apparent, were made known…. See how he again in this place spares the flesh and the Law. For he does not say that the Law was made of no effect, or that the flesh was made of no effect, but that we were made of no effect (i.e., were delivered). And how were we delivered? Why by the old man, who was held down by sin, being dead and buried. For this is what he sets forth in the words, ‘being dead to that, wherein we were held.’ As if he had said, the chain by which we were held down was deadened and broken through, so that that which held down, namely sin, held down no more. But do not fall back or grow listless. For you have been freed with a view to being servants again, though not in the same way, but ‘in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.’… When then Adam sinned (he means), and his body became liable to death and sufferings, it received also many physical losses, and the horse became less active and less obedient. But Christ, when He came, made it more nimble for us through baptism, rousing it with the wing of the Spirit. And for this reason the marks for the race, which they of old time had to run, are not the same as ours. Since then the race was not so easy as it is now. For this reason, He desires them to be clear not from murder only, as He did them of old time, but from anger also; nor is it adultery only that He bids them keep clear of, but even the unchaste look; and to be exempt not from false swearing only, but even from true (Matthew 5:21-33). And with their friends He orders them to love their enemies also. And in all other duties, He gives us a longer ground to run over, and if we do but obey, threatens us with hell, so showing that the things in question are not matters of free-will offering for the combatants, as celibacy and poverty are, but are binding upon us absolutely to fulfil. For they belong to necessary and urgent requisites, and the man who does not do them is to be punished to the utmost. This is why He said, ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:20). But he that does not see the kingdom, shall certainly fall into hell.
7:7-13 “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.” The law gives knowledge of sin, and it is sin, not the law specifically, that brings death. Paul praises the law as “holy and just and good” and speaks about it in the present tense. Thus the law is not dead in the sense that we are no longer bound to obey it; it is dead only in the sense that it no longer kills us.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Even before this he had been saying, that ‘the motions of sins, which were by the Law did work in our members’ (Romans 7:5): and, ‘sin shall have no dominion over you, for you are not under the Law’ (Romans 6:14). And that ‘where no law is, there is no transgression’ (Romans 4:15). And, ‘but the Law came in, that the offense might abound’ (Romans 5:20); and, ‘the Law works wrath’ (Romans 4:15). Now as all these things seem to bring the Law into disrepute, in order to correct the suspicion arising from them, he supposes also an objection, and says, ‘What then, is the Law sin? God forbid.’ Before the proof he uses this adjuration to conciliate the hearer, and by way of soothing any who was troubled at it…. Do you see how he has cleared it of all blame? For ‘sin,’ he says, ‘taking occasion by the commandment,’ it was, and not the Law, that increased the concupiscence, and the reverse of the Law’s intent was brought about. This came of weakness, and not of any badness. For when we desire a thing, and then are hindered of it, the flame of the desire is but increased. Now this came not of the Law; for it hindered us (3 manuscripts endeavored) of itself to keep us off from it; but sin, that is, your own listlessness and bad disposition, used what was good for the reverse. But this is no fault in the physician, but in the patient who applies the medicine wrongly. For the reason of the Law being given was, not to inflame concupiscence, but to extinguish it, though the reverse came of it. Yet the blame attaches not to it, but to us…. But if he treats the discussion about the Law with somewhat of vehemence, do not feel surprise. For Paul is making a stand against the present exigency, and suffers not his language to give a handle even to those that suspected otherwise, but takes great pains to make the present statement correct. Do not then sift what he is now going on to say (4 manuscripts ‘here saying’) by itself, but put beside it the purpose by which he is led on to speak of these things, and reckon for the madness of the Jews, and their vigorous spirit of contention, which as he desires earnestly to do away with, he seems to bear violently against the Law, not to find fault with it, but to unnerve their vigor. For if it is any reproach to the Law that sin takes occasion by it, this will be found to be the case in the New Testament also. For in the New Testament there are thousands of laws, and about many more (‘far more,’ Field) important matters…. Do you see that to the wicked in all cases occasions of greater punishment result from good things? But we shall not in this accuse the benefits of God, but rather upon this even admire them the more: but we shall throw the blame on the spirit of those who abuse the blessings to contrary purpose. Let this then be our line with regard to the Law also…. Yet the charge is not against the Law, but the listlessness of those who received it. For sin wrought it, though by the Law. But this was not the purpose of the Law, nay, the very opposite, Sin then became stronger, he says, and violent. But this again is no charge against the Law but against their obstinacy…. For even those before the Law knew that they had sinned, but they came to a more exact knowledge of it after the giving of the Law. And for this reason they were liable to a greater accusation: since it was not the same thing to have nature to accuse them, and besides nature the Law, which told them distinctly every charge…. This seems indeed to be an accusing of the Law. But if any one will look closely at it, it will be seen to be even an encomium of it. For it did not give existence to sin that before was not, but only pointed out what had escaped notice. And this is even a praise of the Law, if at least before it they had been sinning without perceiving it. But when this came, if they gained nothing besides from it, at all events this they were distinctly made acquainted with, the fact that they had been sinning. And this is no small point, with a view to getting free from wickedness. Now if they did not get free, this has nothing to do with the Law; which framed everything with a view to this end, but the accusation lies wholly against their spirit, which was perverse beyond all supposition…. You observe how he everywhere keeps to sin, and entirely clears the Law of accusation…. For there are some that say, that he is not here saying what he does of the Law of Moses, but some take it of the law of nature; some, of the commandment given in Paradise. Yet surely Paul’s object everywhere is to annul this Law, but he has not any question with those. And with much reason; for it was through a fear and a horror of this that the Jews obstinately opposed grace…. Therefore if these things are said about the natural law, we are found to be without the natural law. And if this be true, we are more senseless than the creatures which are without reason. Yet this is not so, certainly…. Now neither Adam, nor any body else, can be shown ever to have lived without the law of nature. For as soon as God formed him, He put into him that law of nature, making it to dwell by him as a security to the whole kind…. But the law of nature was not given to us by the Spirit. For barbarians, as well as Greeks and other men, have this law. Hence it is plain, that it is the Mosaic Law that he is speaking of above, as well as afterwards, and in all the passages…. By the very means he uses to accuse sin, he again shows the excellency of the Law. Neither is it a small point which he has gained by showing what an evil sin is, and unfolding the whole of its poison, and bringing it to view…. Hereby he also shows the preëminence of grace above the Law, the preëminence above, not the conflict with, the Law. For do not look to this fact, that those who received it were the worse for it; but consider the other, that the Law had not only no design of drawing wickedness out to greater lengths, but even seriously aimed at hewing down what already existed. But if it had no strength, give to it indeed a crown for its intention, but adore more highly the power of Christ, which abolished, cut away: and plucked up the very roots an evil so manifold and so hard to be overthrown…. Now no law is ever given to put an end to things natural, but in order to correct a way of acting purposely wicked. And this the lawgivers that are without too are aware of, and all mankind in general. For it is the evils from viciousness alone that they are for setting right, and they do not undertake to extirpate those allotted us along with our nature; since this they cannot do. For things natural remain unalterable….”
7:15-25 “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if (I) do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin.” Paul is describing the spiritual warfare that takes place in the soul of every Christian. The true Christian knows the good and wants to do good, but the flesh is fallen and sinful urges/desires never depart from us during our earthly lives. Inner sincerity and allegiance to the law is what matters and what leads to repentance and forgiveness.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What does the I know not mean?— I am ignorant. And when could this ever happen? For nobody ever sinned in ignorance. Do you see, that if we do not receive his words with the proper caution, and keep looking to the object of the Apostle, countless incongruities will follow?… Whence it appears that he says, that I would not, not as denying free will, or as adducing any constrained necessity. For if it was not willingly, but by compulsion, that we sinned, then the punishments that took place before would not be justifiable…. For the fact that no good thing dwells in it, does not show that it is evil itself. Now we admit, that the flesh is not so great as the soul, and is inferior to it, yet not contrary, or opposed to it, or evil; but that it is beneath the soul, as a harp beneath a harper, and as a ship under the pilot. And these are not contrary to those who guide and use them, but go with them entirely, yet are not of the same honor with the artist. As then a person who says, that the art resides not in the harp or the ship, but in the pilot or harper, is not finding fault with the instruments, but pointing out the great difference between them and the artist; so Paul in saying, that in my flesh dwells no good thing, is not finding fault with the body, but pointing out the soul’s superiority…. But the soul has more wisdom, and can see what is to be done and what not, yet is not equal to pulling in the horse as it wishes. And this would be a charge not against the flesh only, but against the soul also, which knows indeed what it ought to do, but still does not carry out in practice what seems best to it…. But the enemies of the truth, along with their impiety, fall unawares also into great unreasonableness. For they do not accuse the flesh only, but they also disparage the Law. And yet if the flesh were evil, the Law would be good. For it wars against the Law, and opposes it. If, however, the Law be not good, then the flesh is good. For it wars and fights against it even by their own account. How come they then to assert that both belong to the devil, putting things opposed to each other before us? Do you see, along with their impiety, how great is their unreasonableness also? But such doctrines as these are not the Church’s, for it is the sin only that she condemns; and both the Laws which God has given, both that of nature and that of Moses, she says are hostile to this, and not to the flesh; for the flesh she denies to be sin, for it is a work of God’s….”
8:1-2 “Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.” Who are those “who are in Christ Jesus” and who are not condemned? Those who are free from sin through obedience and faith. Inner sincerity and allegiance to God gives one access to forgiveness, to freedom from “the law of sin and death” that plagues us in the flesh.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Then as the fact that many fall into sin even after baptism presented a difficulty (ἀ ντέπιπτεν), he consequently hastened to meet it, and says not merely ‘to them that are in Christ Jesus,’ but adds, ‘who walk not after the flesh;’ so showing that all afterward comes of our listlessness. For now we have the power of walking not after the flesh, but then it was a difficult task…. The other was merely given by the Spirit, but this even furnishes those that receive it with the Spirit in large measure.”
8:3-4 “For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” The law was, is, and always will be powerless to forgive any sins. But again, the whole point of Jesus’ death and consequent forgiveness was so that we might live anew ”according to the spirit” in obedience to God’s law, “not according to the flesh.” The gift of the grace of forgiveness was given for a specific purpose: renewed strength for obedience.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Again, he seems indeed to be disparaging the Law. But if any one attends strictly, he even highly praises it, by showing that it harmonizes with Christ, and gives preference to the same things. For he does not speak of the badness of the Law, but of
what it could not do; and so again,
in that it was weak, not,
in that it was mischievous, or designing. And even weakness he does not ascribe to it, but to the flesh, as he says,
in that it was weak through the flesh, using the word
flesh here again not for the essence and subsistency itself, but giving its name to the more carnal sort of mind. In which way he acquits both the body and the Law of any accusation…. Again, there were no use of the greater, if the lesser had not been supplied. For what good is it to know what things ought to be done, if a man does not follow it out? None, for it were but a greater condemnation…. So you see it is sin that gets condemned everywhere, and not the flesh, for this is even crowned with honor, and has to give sentence against the other.”
8:5-8 “For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace. For the concern of the flesh is hostility toward God; it does not submit to the law of God, nor can it; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” If the baptized Christian lives “according to the flesh,” he will be condemned accordingly to death for his hostility to God. To live “according to the flesh” in spite of one’s baptism is to reject God’s grace and forgiveness.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What means this word, righteousness? Why, the end, the scope, the well-doing. For what was its design, and what did it enjoin? To be without sin. This then is made good to us (κατώρθωται ἡμἵν) now through Christ. And the making a stand against it, and the getting the better of it, came from Him. But it is for us to enjoy the victory. Then shall we never sin henceforth? We never shall unless we have become exceedingly relaxed and supine. And this is why he added, ‘to them that walk not after the flesh.’ For lest, after hearing that Christ has delivered you from the war of sin, and that the requisition (δικαίωμα) of the Law is fulfilled in you, by sin having been ‘condemned in the flesh,’ you should break up all your defences; therefore, in that place also, after saying, ‘there is therefore no condemnation,’ he added, ‘to them that walk not after the flesh;’ and here also, that the requisition of the Law might be fulfilled in us, he proceeds with the very same thing; or rather, not with it only, but even with a much stronger thing. For after saying, ‘that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us that walk not after the flesh,’ he proceeds, ‘but after the Spirit.’ So showing, that it is not only binding upon us to keep ourselves from evil deeds, but also to be adorned with good. For to give you the crown is His; but it is yours to hold it fast when given. For the righteousness of the Law, that one should not become liable to its curse, Christ has accomplished for you. Be not a traitor then to so great a gift, but keep guarding this goodly treasure. For in this passage he shows that the Font will not suffice to save us, unless, after coming from it, we display a life worthy of the Gift. And so he again advocates the Law in saying what he does. For when we have once become obedient to Christ, we must use all ways and plans so that its righteousness, which Christ fulfilled, may abide in us, and not come to naught“… And what hope of salvation is there left, if it be impossible for one who is bad to become good? This is not what he says. Else how would Paul have become such as he was? How would the (penitent) thief, or Manasses, or the Ninevites, or how would David after falling have recovered himself? How would Peter after the denial have raised himself up? (1 Corinthians 5:5) How could he that had lived in fornication have been enlisted among Christ’s fold? (2 Corinthians 2:6-11) How could the Galatians who had fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4), have attained their former dignity again? What he says then is not that it is impossible for a man that is wicked to become good, but that it is impossible for one who continues wicked to be subject to God. Yet for a man to be changed, and so become good, and subject to Him, is easy. For he does not say that man cannot be subject to God, but, wicked doing cannot be good”…. For that which you had no power to do under the Law, now, he means, you will be able to do, to go on uprightly, and with no intervening fall, if you lay hold of the Spirit’s aid. For it is not enough not to walk after the flesh, but we must also go after the Spirit, since turning away from what is evil will not secure our salvation, but we must also do what is good. And this will come about, if we give our souls up to the Spirit, and persuade our flesh to get acquainted with its proper position, for in this way we shall make it also spiritual; as also if we be listless we shall make our soul carnal. For since it was no natural necessity which put the gift into us, but the freedom of choice placed it in our hands, it rests with you henceforward whether this shall be or the other…. For He, on His part, has performed everything. For sin no longer wars against the law of our mind, neither does it lead us away captive as heretofore, for all that state has been ended and broken up, and the affections cower in fear and trembling at the grace of the Spirit. But if you will quench the light, and cast out the holder of the reins, and chase the helmsman away, then charge the tossing thenceforth upon yourself. For since virtue has been now made an easier thing (for which cause also we are under far stricter obligations of religious living), consider how men’s condition lay when the Law prevailed, and how at present, since grace has shone forth. The things which aforetime seemed not possible to any one, virginity, and contempt of death, and of other stronger sufferings, are now in full vigor through every part of the world, and it is not with us alone, but with the Scythians, and Thracians, and Indians, and Persians, and several other barbarous nations, that there are companies of virgins, and clans of martyrs, and congregations of monks, and these now grown even more numerous than the married, and strictness of fasting, and the utmost renunciation of property. Now these are things which, with one or two exceptions, persons who lived under the Law never conceived even in a dream. Since you see then the real state of things voiced with a shriller note than any trumpet, let not yourself grow soft and treacherous to so great a grace. Since not even after the faith is it possible for a listless man to be saved! For the wrestlings are made easy that you may strive and conquer, nor that you should sleep, or abuse the greatness of the grace by making it a reason for listlessness, so wallowing again in the former mire.”
8:9-13 “But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” At the moment of baptism, the Christian is no longer in the flesh. But after baptism, it is possible that one can return to sin, to a life in the flesh rather than in the spirit. Notice all the “if”s that Paul uses to connote the conditions for salvation. Salvation and eternal life are not automatic at baptism; rather, one has to live out one’s faith according to the Spirit of God. One has to allow the Spirit of Christ to dwell within oneself. One must “put to death the deeds of the body,” the deeds of sin, to obtain eternal life. One must mortify the body through discipline, e.g. fasting, abstinence, etc.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here again, he does not mean flesh absolutely, but such sort of flesh, that which was in a whirl and thraldom of passions. Why then, it may be said, does he not say so, nor state any difference? It is to rouse the hearer, and to show that he that lives aright is not even in the body…. For we are not to look to the bare words, but always to the sentiment of the speaker, and so come to a perfectly distinct knowledge of what is said…. For some things are good, some bad, and some indifferent. Thus the soul and the flesh belong to things indifferent, since each may become either the one or the other. But the spirit belongs to things good, and at no time becomes any other thing. Again, the mind of the flesh, that is, ill-doing, belongs to things always bad. ‘For it is not subject to the law of God.’ If then you yield your soul and body to the better, you will have become of its part. If on the other hand thou yield to the worse, then are you made a partaker of the ruin therein, not owing to the nature of the soul and the flesh, but owing to that judgment which has the power of choosing either…. And so if while here thou drive away the grace of the Spirit, and do not depart with it still safe, you will assuredly perish, though thou dost rise again. For as He will not endure then, if He see His Spirit shining in you, to give you up to punishment, so neither will He allow them, if He see It quenched, to bring you into the Bride-chamber, even as He admitted not those virgins (Matthew 25:12)…. But far otherwise is he that lives to the Spirit, for he stands at once above fears and grief and dangers and every kind of change: and that not by undergoing no such thing, but, what is much greater, by thinking scorn of them when they assail him. And how is this to be? It will be if the Spirit dwell in us continually. For he does not speak of any short stay made thereby, but of a continual indwelling. Hence he does not say ‘the Spirit which’ dwelt, but ‘which dwells in us,’ so pointing to a continual abiding. He then is most truly alive, who is dead to this life. Hence he says, ‘The Spirit is life because of righteousness’….” He continues: ”Having then defined this point, and having proved that we are debtors to the Spirit, to show next for what benefits it is that we are debtors, he does not speak of those past (a thing which serves as a most striking proof of his judgment), but those which were to come; although even the former were enough for the purpose. Yet still he does not set them down in the present case, or mention even those unspeakable blessings, but the things to come. For a benefit once for all conferred does not, for the most part, draw men on so much as one which is expected, and is to come. After adding this then, he first uses the pains and ills that come of living after the flesh, to put them in fear, in the following words; ‘For if you live after the flesh you shall die,’ so intimating to us that deathless death, punishment, and vengeance in hell…. ‘But if you through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.’ You see that it is not the essence of the body whereof we are discoursing, but the deeds of the flesh. For he does not say, ‘if you through the Spirit do mortify’ the essence ‘of the body,’ but ‘the deeds of’ it, and these not all deeds, but such as are evil. And this is plain in what follows: for if you do this, ‘you shall live, he says’…. What sort of deeds then does he mean us to mortify? Those which tend toward wickedness, those which go after vice, which there is no other way of mortifying save through the Spirit…. And it is not the body only, but the soul itself too, that he is for setting under reins of this sort. For he would not have even that independent, but place its authority also under the power of the Spirit. For lest through a confidence in the Gift of the Font they should turn negligent of their conversation after it, he would say, that even supposing you receive baptism, yet if you are not minded to be ‘led by the Spirit’ afterwards, you lose the dignity bestowed upon you, and the pre-eminence of your adoption. This is why he does not say, As many as have received the Spirit, but, ‘as many as are led by the Spirit,’ that is, as many as live up to this all their life long, they are the sons of God.”
8:15-17 “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Paul says that it is possible to “fall back into fear,” back into the slavery of sin and the fear of condemnation it rightly inspires. Also, he says achieving salvation is conditioned upon our suffering with Christ. Again, we must struggle with sin, not give in to it. We must suffer through our struggles with sin, constantly repenting and turning back to Him. Otherwise, we will not achieve the salvation that is freely offered us.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “But we all, priests and laymen, rulers and ruled, are ordered to pray herein. And this is the first language we give utterance to, after those marvellous throes, and that strange and unusual mode of labor. If in any other instances they so called Him, that was only of their own mind. But those in the state of grace do it through being moved by the in-working of the Spirit…. Then to show that the Gift is not of grace only, and to give at the same time a credibility to what he says, he proceeds, ‘If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.’ If, he would say, we be sharers with Him in what is painful, much more shall it be so in what is good…. In what went before, he requires of the spiritual man the correcting of his habits (Mar. and 6 manuscripts passions), where he says, ‘You are not debtors to live after the flesh,’ that such an one, for instance, should be above lust, anger, money, vainglory, grudging.”
8:19-25 “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” Who will be saved at the Final Judgment will be revealed then. That knowledge is not for us to know now but to hope for. We Christians were saved at our baptism as a matter of hope, not of fact. Thus our salvation was not automatic and guaranteed at baptism or at ”the hour I first believed.”
This passage is also evidence that all of creation fell with the Fall of man. And thus all of creation will be redeemed at the redemption of man. There will be no more vicious weather, disease, earthquakes, etc. at the end of time.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What is the meaning of, ‘the creation was made subject to vanity’? Why that it became corruptible. For what cause, and on what account? On account of you, O man. For since you have taken a body mortal and liable to suffering, the earth too has received a curse, and brought forth thorns and thistles…. For as a nurse who is bringing up a king’s child, when he has come to his father’s power, does herself enjoy the good things along with him, thus also is the creation, he means. You see how in all respects man takes the lead, and that it is for his sake that all things are made. See how he solaces the struggler, and shows the unspeakable love of God toward man. For why, he would say, do you fret at your temptations? You are suffering for yourself, the creation for you. Nor does he solace only, but also shows what he says to be trustworthy. For if the creation which was made entirely for you is in hope, much more ought thou to be, through whom the creation is to come to the enjoyment of those good things…. Next, that he may give the heretics no handle, or seem to be disparaging our present world, we groan, he says, not as finding fault with the present system, but through a desire of those greater things. And this he shows in the words, ‘Waiting for the adoption.’ What do you say, let me hear? You insisted on it at every turn, and cried aloud, that we were already made sons, and now do you place this good thing among hopes, writing that we must needs wait for it? Now it is to set this right by the sequel that he says, ‘to wit, the redemption of our body.’ That is, the perfect glory. Our lot indeed is at present uncertainty to our last breath, since many of us that were sons have become dogs and prisoners. But if we decease with a good hope, then is the gift unmovable, and clearer, and greater, having no longer any change to fear from death and sin. Then therefore will the grace be secure, when our body shall be freed from death and its countless ailments (or passions). For this is full redemption, not a redemption only, but such, that we shall never again return to our former captivity.… Now since he had dwelt upon the promise of the things to come, and this seemed to pain the weaker hearer, if the blessings are all matter of hope; after proving before that they are surer than things present and visible, and discoursing at large on the gifts already given, and showing that we have received the first fruits of those good things, lest we should seek our all in this world, and be traitors to the nobility that faith gives us, he says, ‘For we are (Gr. were) saved by hope’…. We are not to seek our all in this life, but to have hope also. For this is the only gift that we brought in to God, believing Him in what He promised shall come, and it was by this way alone we were saved. If then we lose this hope, we have lost all that was of our own contributing. For I put you this question, he would say, Were you not liable for countless sins? Were you not in despair? Were you not under sentence? Were not all out of heart about your salvation? What then saved you? It was your hoping in God alone, and trusting to Him about His promises and gifts, and nothing besides had you to bring in. If it was this then that saved you, hold it fast now also. For that which afforded you so great blessings, to a certainty will not deceive you in regard to things to come…. Say not to me, hopes again! expectations again! faith again! For it is in this way thou were saved from the beginning, and this dowry was the only one that you brought in to the Bridegroom. Hold it then fast and keep it: for if you demand to have everything in this world, you have lost that well-doing of yours, through which you became bright, and this is why he proceeds to say, ‘But hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for?’… That is, if you are to be looking for everything in this world, what need is there for hope? What is hope then? It is feeling confidence in things to come. What great demand then does God make upon you, since He Himself gives you blessings quite entire from His own stores? One thing only, hope, He asks of you, that you too may have somewhat of your own to contribute toward your salvation. And this he intimates in what he proceeds with: ‘For if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.’ As then God crowns him that undergoes labors, and hardnesses, and countless toils, so does He him that hopes. For the name of patience belongs to hard work and much endurance. Yet even this He has granted to the man that hopes, that He might solace the wearied soul.”
8:29-30 “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.” God’s foreknowledge is no more coercive than human knowledge is. Knowledge does not prohibit or constrain free will. Just as our foreknowledge of physical phenomena according to science and reason allows us to plan our lives and actions accordingly, so also God plans and acts with the foreknowledge of our own free actions, even before we act. God works with and around our freedom (for the most part) and accomplishes His purposes whether we freely embrace them or reject them.
8:35-39 “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Notice that Paul does not say that nothing whatsoever will separate us from the love of God. Here merely lists out various things that cannot separate us from the love of God. Judging from his list, one may conclude that no external entity or circumstance can separate us from God. It is only our own inner willful disobedience of God’s law (and thus a rejection of God and His love) that can separate us from God. We separate ourselves from God; no one else and nothing else can. He will not save us against our will; He will not save us if we want to be saved yet not obedient to Him.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For Christ he loved not for the things of Christ, but for His sake the things that were His, and to Him alone he looked, and one thing he feared, and that was falling from his love for Him. For this thing was in itself more dreadful than hell, as to abide in it was more desirable than the Kingdom.”
9:1-2 “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.” I just want to point out how St. Paul claims and speaks with authority in the Spirit. In the Church, there are those with authority and there are those who have none. In chapter 9, Paul turns to the topic of the Jews who have refused to embrace the gospel.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For as on the point of entering upon greater things than those, and therefore liable to be disbelieved by the generality, he first uses a strong asseveration about the matter he is going to speak of; which many are in the habit of doing when they are going to say somewhat which is not believed by the generality, and about which they feel the utmost certainty in their own minds.”
9:6-7 “But it is not that the word of God has failed. For not all who are of Israel are Israel, nor are they all children of Abraham because they are his descendants….” Not all who are members of the institutional Church will be saved. The Word of God never fails; it is merely that some choose not to accept it. The truth doesn’t cease to be true because someone rejects it. The power and dignity of God is not lessened because He respects our free will.
9:14-18 “What then are we to say? Is there injustice on the part of God? Of course not! For he says to Moses: ‘I will show mercy to whom I will, I will take pity on whom I will.’ So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘This is why I have raised you up, to show my power through you that my name may be proclaimed throughout the earth.’ Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.” God’s mercy is not gained through sheer “will or exertion.” God, knowing his creation perfectly and the free choices men will make, is free to bestow mercy or harden hearts as He wishes. We trust that God acts justly. Ultimately though, these workings of God are mysteries. It is dangerous to speculate too much about what we cannot know. However, salvation is more than just mercy. Mercy is necessary but not sufficient in itself for salvation.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For it is not yours to know, O Moses, he means, which are deserving of My love toward man, but leave this to Me. But if Moses had no right to know, much less have we. And this is why he did not barely quote the passage, but also called to our minds to whom it was said. For it is Moses, he means, that he is speaking to, that at least by the dignity of the person he might make the objector modest.”
9:19-24 “You will say to me then, ‘Why (then) does he still find fault? For who can oppose his will?’ But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker,’Why have you created me so?’ Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one? What if God, wishing to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction? This was to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared previously for glory, namely, us whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.” Paul cites the principal danger of such speculation about the damned: pride and impiety. He says that God does what He does for the sake of the saved, the “vessels of mercy.” And it may be that God “endured with much patience the vessels of wrath.” One must keep in mind that the foreknowledge of God extends to the effects that God’s own actions will have upon a person. Being limited beings of limited knowledge, we should not question the actions of God who has such complete knowledge of human souls and wills.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This he does to take down the objector’s unseasonable inquisitiveness, and excessive curiosity, and to put a check upon it, and teach him to know what God is, and what man, and how incomprehensible His foreknowledge is, and how far above our reason, and how obedience to Him in all points is binding. So when he has made this preparatory step in his hearer, and has hushed and softened down his spirit, then with great felicity he introduces the answer, having made what he says easy of admittance with him. And he does not say, it is impossible to answer questions of this kind, but that it is presumptuous to raise them. For our business is to obey what God does, not to be curious even if we do not know the reason of them…. Here it is not to do away with free-will that he says this, but to show, up to what point we ought to obey God. For in respect of calling God to account, we ought to be as little disposed to it as the clay is. For we ought to abstain not from gainsaying or questioning only, but even from speaking or thinking of it at all, and to become like that lifeless matter, which follows the potter’s hands, and lets itself be drawn about anywhere he may please. And this is the only point he applied the illustration to, not, that is, to any enunciation of the rule of life, but to the complete obedience and silence enforced upon us…. [D]o not suppose that this is said by Paul as an account of the creation, nor as implying a necessity over the will, but to illustrate the sovereignty and difference of dispensations; for if we do not take it in this way, various incongruities will follow, for if here he were speaking about the will, and those who are good and those not so, He will be Himself the Maker of these, and man will be free from all responsibility. And at this rate, Paul will also be shown to be at variance with himself, as he always bestows chief honor upon free choice. There is nothing else then which he here wishes to do, save to persuade the hearer to yield entirely to God, and at no time to call Him to account for anything whatever…. And yet not even is it on the potter that the honor and the dishonor of the things made of the lump depends, but upon the use made by those that handle them, so here also it depends on the free choice. Still, as I said before, one must take this illustration to have one bearing only, which is that one should not contravene God, but yield to His incomprehensible Wisdom…. Pharaoh was a vessel of wrath, that is, a man who by his own hard-heartedness had kindled the wrath of God. For after enjoying much long-suffering, he became no better, but remained unimproved. Wherefore he calls him not only ‘a vessel of wrath,’ but also one ‘fitted for destruction.’ That is, fully fitted indeed, but by his own proper self. For neither had God left out anything of the things likely to recover him, nor did he leave out anything of those that would ruin him, and put him beyond any forgiveness. Yet still, though God knew this, He endured him with much long-suffering, being willing to bring him to repentance. For had He not willed this, then He would not have been thus long-suffering. But as he would not use the long-suffering in order to repentance, but fully fitted himself for wrath, He used him for the correction of others, through the punishment inflicted upon him making them better, and in this way setting forth His power. For that it is not God’s wish that His power be so made known, but in another way, by His benefits, namely, and kindnesses, he had shown above in all possible ways…. But in saying, ‘which He had afore prepared unto glory,’ he does not mean that all is God’s doing. Since if this were so, there were nothing to hinder all men from being saved. But he is setting forth again His foreknowledge, and doing away with the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles…. As then Pharaoh became a vessel of wrath by his own lawlessness, so did these become vessels of mercy by their own readiness to obey. For though the more part is of God, still they also have contributed themselves some little.”
9:30-32 “What then shall we say? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have achieved it, that is, righteousness that comes from faith; but that Israel, who pursued the law of righteousness, did not attain to that law? Why not? Because they did it not by faith, but as if it could be done by works. They stumbled over the stone that causes stumbling….” Righteousness before God comes through forgiveness which in turn comes through faith. Forgiveness cannot be obtained through obedience or works. Again, forgiveness/justification and salvation are not the same thing.
10:3-6 “For, in their unawareness of the righteousness that comes from God and their attempt to establish their own (righteousness), they did not submit to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith. Moses writes about the righteousness that comes from (the) law, ‘The one who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down)….’” The Jews disobediently rejected faith in Jesus, and in so doing they “did not submit to the righteousness of God.” Again, Christ is the fulfillment of the law, not its abolishment. Notice that Paul does not deny that righteousness comes from obedience to the law. He does not say Moses or Scripture is wrong. He merely implies that righteousness comes from both obedience and faith, both of which must be accepted. The stain of unrighteousness that sin gives the soul can be removed only by faith.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He shows that there is but one righteousness, and that has its full issue in this, and that he that has taken to himself this, the one by faith, has fulfilled that also. But he that rejects this, falls short as well of that also. For if Christ be the end of the Law, he that has not Christ, even if he seem to have that righteousness, has it not. But he that has Christ, even though he have not fulfilled the Law aright, has received the whole. For the end of the physician’s art is health. As then he that can make whole, even though he has not the physician’s art, has everything; but he that knows not how to heal, though he seem to be a follower of the art, comes short of everything: so is it in the case of the Law and of faith. He that has this has the end of that likewise, but he that is without this is an alien from both. For what was the object of the Law? To make man righteous. But it had not the power, for no one fulfilled it. This then was the end of the Law and to this it looked throughout, and for this all its parts were made, its feasts, and commandments, and sacrifices, and all besides, that man might be justified. But this end Christ gave a fuller accomplishment of through faith. Be not then afraid, he says, as if transgressing the Law in having come over to the faith. For then do you transgress it, when for it thou dost not believe Christ. If you believe in Him, then you have fulfilled it also, and much more than it commanded. For you have received a much greater righteousness…. Moses shows us the righteousness ensuing from the Law, what sort it is of, and whence. What sort is it then of, and what does it consist in? In fulfilling the commandments. ‘He (R.T. the man), that does these things,’ He says, ‘shall live by (or in), them’ (Leviticus 18:5). And there is no other way of becoming righteous in the Law save by fulfilling the whole of it. But this has not been possible for any one, and therefore this righteousness has failed them.”
10:8-13 “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we preach), for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. For the scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Notice that merely confessing with one’s mouth is not enough to be saved; one also has to believe “with the heart.” And anyone who believes in his heart will do good works, including the work of calling upon the Lord. In St. Paul’s time, publicly confessing faith in Jesus Christ was dangerous to one’s life and limb. To suffer for the faith is proof of sincere, heartfelt belief.
Notice also that Paul says the Word of God comes from his preaching, apostolic preaching. Scripture apart from apostolic interpretation and preaching is not Christian and was foreign to the early Church.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Then again that we may not seem to be making it contemptible by showing it to be easy and cheap, observe how he expands his account of it…. For as to the virtue manifested in works there is opposed a listlessness, which relaxes our labors, and it requires a very wakeful soul not to yield to it: thus, when one is required to believe, there are reasonings which confuse and make havoc of the minds of most men, and it wants a soul of some vigor to shake them thoroughly off…. And as he did in Abraham’s case, so he does here also. For having there shown that he was justified by faith, lest he should seem to have gotten so great a crown by a mere chance, as if it were a thing of no account, to extol the nature of faith, he says, ‘Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations. And being not weak in faith, he considered his own body now dead, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able also to perform’ (Romans 4:18-21): so he showed that there is need of vigor, and a lofty soul, that takes in things beyond expectation, and stumbles not at appearances. This then he does here also, and shows that it requires a wise mind, and a spirit heavenly (Gr. heaven-reaching) and great. And he does not say merely, ‘Say not,’ but, ‘Say not in your heart,’ that is, do not so much as think of doubting and saying with yourself, And how can this be?”
10:17 “Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Paul places emphasis here on the spoken Word of God. Protestantism errs in placing Scripture at odds with apostolic interpretation and preaching.
10:21 “But regarding Israel he says, ‘All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contentious people.’” It is instructive that Paul intimately links unbelief with disobedience. Those who do not obey God and who do not repent do not really believe and have faith in God. Those who do not believe do not really obey. Is this not common sense?
11:5-6 “So also at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if by grace, it is no longer because of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Grace is the beginning and the end of all salvation ultimately, but the working of God’s grace does not exclude human free will and human works. Grace is the prime mover but not overpowering and exclusive of human action, for God’s grace works in and through His own creation, including human beings. Human works are a secondary cause of salvation just as the obedience of Mary (“full of grace”) was a cause of our salvation. One should not stretch Paul’s emphasis on grace here too far such that one denies the necessity of willful cooperation with grace.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe that each word maintains its own rank, showing at once God’s grace, and the obedient temper of them that receive salvation. For by saying election, he showed the approval of them, but by saying grace, he showed the gift of God…. And if by grace, it will be said, how came we all not to be saved? Because ye would not. For grace, though it be grace, saves the willing, not those who will not have it, and turn away from it, who persist in fighting against it, and opposing themselves to it…. Let us then give thanks, that we belong to them that are being saved, and not having been able to save ourselves by works, were saved by the gift of God. But in giving thanks, let us not do this in words only, but in works and actions. For this is the genuine thanksgiving, when we do those things whereby God is sure to be glorified, and flee from those from which we have been set free. For if we, after insulting the King, instead of being punished have been honored, and then go and insult Him afresh, since we are detected in the utmost ingratitude, we should with justice have to suffer the utmost punishment, one greater far than the former. For the former insolence did not show us so ungrateful as that committed after honor and much attention shown us. Let us then flee those things from which we have been set free, and not give thanks with our mouths only, lest it be said of us also, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but with their heart is far from Me’ (Isaiah 29:13). For how is it else than unseemly, when the ‘heavens declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19:1), and thou, for whom the heavens were made that glorify Him, doest such things that through you the God that made you is blasphemed? It is for this that not only he that blasphemes, but yourself also, will be liable to punishment…. How miserable then will it be for the creation which was made for you to be fashioned ‘according to the glorious liberty of the children of God,’ (Romans 8:21) but for us who were made children of God, through our much listlessness, to be sent away to destruction and hell, for whose sake the creation shall enjoy that great festal time? Now to keep this from coming to pass, let such of us as have a pure soul keep it still such, or rather let us make its brightness more intense. And let those of us that have a soiled one, not despair. For ‘if’ (he says) ‘your sins be as purple, I will make them white as snow. And if they be as scarlet, I will make them white as wool’ (Isaiah 1:18). But when it is God that promises, doubt not, but do those things whereby you may draw to you these promises. Are they unnumbered, the fearful and outrageous acts done by you? And what of this? For hitherto you are not gone away into the grave where no man shall confess. (ib. 38:18; Psalm 6:5.) Hitherto the arena is not broken up for you, but you are standing within the line, and you are able even by a struggle at the last to recover all your defeats…. For thou who hast had so long a period fixed you, and neither done yourself good, nor any else, how when you are under the Judge’s hands shall you be able to obtain this grace? Putting all these things together then, let us cling fast to our own salvation, and not lose the opportunity of this life present. For it is possible, it is, even at our last breath to please God.”
11:16-18 “If the firstfruits are holy, so is the whole batch of dough; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place and have come to share in the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. If you do boast, consider that you do not support the root; the root supports you.” Paul is talking here about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, the latter of which includes Gentiles. However, there is special signficance in these verses for the Catholic-Protestant divide. The early Church is the holy firstfruits and root of the Church and the faith. Its Scriptural interpretations, which Catholicism adheres to, should not be ignored and dismissed. The truth and holiness of the Catholic Church as an institution comes from its roots in the truth and holiness of the early apostolic Church.
11:19-23 “Indeed you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is so. They were broken off because of unbelief, but you are there because of faith. So do not become haughty, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, (perhaps) he will not spare you either. See, then, the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who fell, but God’s kindness to you, provided you remain in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. And they also, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” Take note of Paul’s insistence that Christians can indeed be cut off from salvation, cut off from the vine, separated from the holy root. Christians can remove themselves from the kindness of God by their disobedience. One can fall from “God’s kindness” through sinful disobedience. Notice all the “if”s that impose conditions for salvation. Severity is what those who fall from grace receive.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For the blessings do not abide by you unmovable if you turn listless, as neither do the evils with them, if they alter; For thou also, he says, ‘unless thou continue in the faith,’ will be cut off…. For it was not God that cut them off, but they have broken themselves off and fallen, and he did well to say have broken themselves off. For He has never yet so cast them off, though they have sinned so much and so often. You see what a great thing a man’s free choice is, how great the efficacy of the mind is. For none of these things is immutable, neither your good nor his evil. You see too how he raises up even him in his despondency, and humbles the other in his confidence; and do not thou be faint at hearing of severity, nor thou be confident at hearing of goodness. The reason why He cut you off in severity was, that you might long to come back. The reason why He showed goodness to you was, that you might continue in (he does not say the faith, but) His goodness, that is, if you do things worthy of God’s love toward man. For there is need of something more than faith. You see how he suffers neither these to lie low, nor those to be elated…. For thou also, he says, will be cut off if you grow listless, (for the Jew was cut off), and he will be grafted in if he be earnest, for thou also wast grafted in.”
11:30-32 “Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may (now) receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” Again, notice how Paul intimately links faith and obedience. Those who have mercy from God also obey Him. God allows all to be disobedient, so that they might freely receive his mercy too.
12:1-2 “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Having just threatened the Romans with the possibility that God may cut them off, Paul commands them to be obedient to God to ensure that they are not cut off.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “[H]e next puts it forward with a view of persuading those who have received the benefit to exhibit a conversation worthy of the gift…. For since, he means, it is from this you have those numberless blessings, from the mercies of God, reverence them, be moved to compassion by them. For they themselves take the attitude of suppliants, that you would show no conduct unworthy of them. I entreat you then, he means, by the very things through which you were saved…. And how is the body, it may be said, to become a sacrifice? Let the eye look upon no evil thing, and it has become a sacrifice; let your tongue speak nothing filthy, and it has become an offering; let your hand do no lawless deed, and it has become a whole burnt offering. Or rather this is not enough, but we must have good works also: let the hand do alms, the mouth bless them that cross one, and the hearing find leisure evermore for lections of Scripture. For sacrifice allows of no unclean thing: sacrifice is a first-fruit of the other actions. Let us then from our hands, and feet, and mouth, and all other members, yield a first-fruit unto God…. He says not change the fashion, but ‘be transformed,’ to show that the world’s ways are a fashion, but virtue’s not a fashion, but a kind of real form, with a natural beauty of its own, lacking not the trickeries and fashions of outward things, which no sooner appear than they go to nought. For all these things, even before they come to light, are dissolving. If then you throw the fashion aside, you will speedily come to the form. For nothing is more strengthless than vice, nothing so easily wears old. Then since it is likely that being men they would sin every day, he consoles his hearer by saying, ‘renew yourself’ from day to day. This is what we do with houses, we keep constantly repairing them as they wear old, and so do thou unto yourself. Have you sinned today? Have you made your soul old? Despair not, despond not, but renew it by repentance, and tears, and confession, and by doing of good things. And never fail of doing this.”
12:3-8 “For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Paul clearly says that there is hierarchy in the Church (“over others”). Course, the individual Christian must evaluate soberly where he fits into the hierarchy and what function he is called by God to serve. Thus there is no problem with authoritative clergy from a Scriptural perspective. Notice that Paul uses the phrase “measure of faith.” Again, this notion of different measures and proportions of faith and grace is largely foreign to Protestant theology, at least from the perspective of salvation.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It is not my word, he would say, that I am speaking, but one from God. And he does not say, For I say unto you by the wisdom of God, or, for I say unto you by the Law given of God, but, ‘by the grace,’ so reminding them continually of the benefits done them, so as to make them more submissive, and to show that even on this account, they were under an obligation to obey what is here said.” He continues: “Here he names a comprehensive thing. For the Apostleship even is called a ministry, and every spiritual work is a ministry. This is indeed a name of a peculiar office (viz. the diaconate); however, it is used in a general sense.”
12:18 “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.” This verse is for all those who think Christianity is a non-confrontational or pacifist religion. Notice that Paul does not discount the possibility of Christians engaging in confrontation, violence, or war. This verse is support for the Last Resort criterion of just war theory developed by the Catholic Church.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And in what follows he limits his meaning well, by saying, ‘If it be possible.’ For there are cases in which it is not possible, as, for instance, when we have to argue about religion, or to contend for those who are wronged. And why be surprised if this be not universally possible in the case of other persons, when even in the case of man and wife he broke through the rule? ‘But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart’ (1 Corinthians 7:15). And his meaning is nearly as follows: Do your own part, and to none give occasion of war or fighting, neither to Jew nor Gentile. But if you see the cause of religion suffering anywhere, do not prize concord above truth, but make a noble stand even to death. And even then be not at war in soul, be not averse in temper, but fight with the things only. For this is the import of ‘as much as in you lies, be at peace with all men.’ But if the other will not be at peace, do not thou fill your soul with tempest, but in mind be friendly as I said before, without giving up the truth on any occasion.
13:1-2 “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.” Governmental authority is divinely established. All governments that do in fact have legitimacy and authority received it from God. Paul says that the authorities that exist currently in his time (the Roman Empire and its subdivisions) are legitimate and have authority. This verse should not be taken to mean that every single government at any place or time has authority and that this authority is God-given. Mere existence does not establish authority.
But Christians who oppose legitimately established authority oppose God and “bring judgment upon themselves.” It is not possible to have a saving faith and yet resist the earthly authorities appointed by God. Breaking just laws have spiritual consequences.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Of this subject he makes much account in other epistles also, setting subjects under their rulers as household servants are under their masters. And this he does to show that it was not for the subversion of the commonwealth that Christ introduced His laws, but for the better ordering of it, and to teach men not to be taking up unnecessary and unprofitable wars…. And to show that these regulations are for all, even for priests, and monks, and not for men of secular occupations only, he has made this plan at the outset, by saying as follows: ‘let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,’ if you be an Apostle even, or an Evangelist, or a Prophet, or anything whatsoever, inasmuch as this subjection is not subversive of religion. And he does not say merely ‘obey,’ but ‘be subject.’ And the first claim such an enactment has upon us, and the reasoning that suits the faithful, is, that all this is of God’s appointment…. It may be said; is every ruler then elected by God? This I do not say, he answers. Nor am I now speaking about individual rulers, but about the thing in itself. For that there should be rulers, and some rule and others be ruled, and that all things should not just be carried on in one confusion, the people swaying like waves in this direction and that; this, I say, is the work of God’s wisdom. Hence he does not say, ‘for there is no ruler but of God;’ but it is the thing he speaks of, and says, ‘there is no power but of God. And the powers that be, are ordained of God’…. For since equality of honor does many times lead to fightings, He has made many governments and forms of subjection; as that, for instance, of man and wife, that of son and father, that of old men and young, that of bond and free, that of ruler and ruled, that of master and disciple. And why are you surprised in the case of mankind, when even in the body He has done the same thing? For even here He has not made all parts of equal honor, but He has made one less and another greater, and some of the limbs has He made to rule and some to be ruled. And among the unreasoning creatures one may notice this same principle…. For in this way he was more likely to draw the governors who were unbelievers to religion, and the believers to obedience. For there was quite a common report in those days (Tert. Ap. 1, 31, 32), which maligned the Apostles, as guilty of a sedition and revolutionary scheme, and as aiming in all they did and said at the subversion of the received institutions. When then you show our common Master giving this in charge to all His, you will at once stop the mouths of those that malign us as revolutionists, and with great boldness will speak for the doctrines of truth. Be not then ashamed, he says, at such subjection. For God has laid down this law, and is a strong Avenger of them if they be despised.”
13:3-7 “For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience. This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” Legitimate governmental authority is established by God for the purpose of justice, to punish those who commit evil acts. Thus the Christian should obey such authority not merely out of fear of earthly wrath but out of fear of divine wrath and out of love for God.
However, if a government ceases to be “devoting themselves” to the public good and to punishing evil acts, that government ceases to be a servant/minister of God and thus ceases to have authority from Him. When the law is perverted such that it no longer punishes evil but it itself becomes an instrument to inflict evil, then that government no longer possesses God-given authority. Thus the Christian, on principle, is not required to pay taxes to an illegitimate government that has no authority. Yet the Christian may be required to pay taxes to such a government as a matter of prudence. I doubt that the Apostles and the early Church fathers could have imagined such evil governments as those that dominated the 20th century. They have a very idealized view of governmental authorities.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For it is in no small degree that they contribute to the settled state of the present life, by keeping guard, beating off enemies, hindering those who are for sedition in the cities, putting an end to differences among any. For do not tell me of some one who makes an ill use of the thing, but look to the good order that is in the institution itself, and you will see the great wisdom of Him who enacted this law from the first…. For if he laid these laws down at that time, when the rulers were Gentiles, much more ought this to be done with them now they are believers…. “
13:8-10 “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, (namely) ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” Love is a shorthand, a heuristic, for the law. Love and the law are not opposed to each other; they complement each other. In some sense, they are one and the same. To love another person is to obey God’s law in one’s interactions with that person. To disobey God’s law is to hate another person. To love God is to obey His commandments. To disobey God is to hate Him and forfeit the promise of eternal life (if the disobedience is not confessed, repented of, and forgiven).
13:11-14 “And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness (and) put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Wait a minute, I thought that “amazing grace…saved a wretch like me…the hour I first believed”! That song is in error and anti-Scripture. Paul describes salvation as if it were a distant place. When we first believe is when we become aware of the existence of that distant place. We draw nearer and nearer to salvation throughout our lives if we bear fruit and avoid sin. Contrary to Protestant dogma, salvation is not something we possess already. If we do not “throw off the works of darkness,” “conduct ourselves properly,” and “make no provision for the desires of the flesh,” then we will not arrive at the destination of salvation.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Since he had given them what commands were fitting, he again thrusts them on to the performance of good works, in consideration of what was pressing upon them. For the time of judgment, he means, is at the doors…. It is, that near is the Resurrection, near the awful Judgment, and the day that burns as a furnace, near. Henceforward then we must be free from our listlessness…. If then thou be prepared, and hast done all whatsoever He has commanded, the day is salvation to you; but if the contrary, not so.… Then since it was not unlikely, that in the beginning of their early endeavors they would be most earnest, in that their desire was then at its full vigor, but that as the time went on, the whole of their earnestness would wither down to nothing; he says that they ought however to be doing the reverse, not to get relaxed as time went on, but to be the more full of vigor. For the nearer the King may be at hand, the more ought they to get themselves in readiness; the nearer the prize is, the more wide awake ought they to be for the contest, since even the racers do this, when they are upon the end of the course, and towards the receiving of the prize, then they rouse themselves up the more…. Yes, for the day is calling us to battle-array, and to the fight…. What then, is there no necessity for you to fight? Yea, needful is it to fight, yet not to be distressed and toil. For it is not in fact war, but a solemn dance and feast-day, such is the nature of the arms, such the power of the Commander. And as the bridegroom goes forth with joyous looks from his chamber, so does he too who is defended with these arms. For he is at once soldier and bridegroom…. Not that he would forbid drinking, but the doing it immoderately; not the enjoying of wine, but doing it to excess…. “
14:1-5 “Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (For) one person considers one day more important than another, while another person considers all days alike. Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Again, what can “weak in faith” mean to the Protestant who believes faith in itself has nothing to do with action and works? I guess one can be weak in faith in the sense that one is saved but not as knowledgeable about the doctrinal content of the faith, and that seems to be a legitimate interpretation in this chapter. But faith is more than mere knowledge of the faith.
Many Christians in the early Church were converts from Judaism who retained many of their Mosaic rituals/beliefs because they were not fully instructed yet or stubbornly held to Jewish rituals. Of course, just because Paul acknowledges these believers shouldn’t be condemned doesn’t mean that he doesn’t believe his own opinion is in fact absolutely correct: the Mosaic laws with regard to diet and festivals are null and void. He merely says that the Romans are not to condemn fellow Christians who deviate from the faith in these matters and are not to act in any way that harms the faith of another Christian. Gentleness of approach was in order.
It is important to note that merely because these Mosaic ritual laws no longer have authority this does not mean that the Catholic Church, which does have authority, cannot bind the conscience of the Christian to observe Christian feast days and fasts. Catholic feast days and fasts are not practiced because any particular day in itself is unique or because any food is unclean; they spring from the Christian faith itself. The ritual baggage of Jewish converts was to be tolerated only for a certain period of time.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “I am aware that to most what is here said is a difficulty…. There were many of the Jews which believed, who adhered of conscience to the Law, and after their believing, still kept to the observance of meats, as not having courage yet to quit the service of the Law entirely…. Therefore the blessed Paul, out of fear lest, from a wish to be right about a trifle, they should overthrow the whole, and from a wish to bring them to indifferency about what they ate, should put them in a fair way for deserting the faith, and out of a zeal to put everything right at once, before the fit opportunity had come, should do mischief on vital points, so by this continual rebuking setting them adrift from their agreement in Christ, and so they should remain not righted in either respect: observe what great judgment he uses and how he concerns himself with both interests with his customary wisdom. For neither does he venture to say to those who rebuke, You are doing amiss, that he may not seem to be confirming the other in their observances; nor again, You are doing right, lest he should make them the more vehement accusers: but he makes his rebuke to square with each…. He does not say, let him alone, nor does he say, do not blame him, nor yet, do not set him right; but do not reproach him, do not ‘
despise’ him, to show they were doing a thing perfectly ridiculous. But of this he speaks in other words. ‘
Let not him which eats not, judge him that eats’…. Here he seems to me to be giving a gentle hint about fasting…. Yet it was not a very desirable task, not in its own nature, but on account of the time chosen, and because they were novices in the faith. For when he is writing to the Colossians, it is with great earnestness that he forbids it…. But here he does not use this vehemency, because the faith was lately planted in them. Let us therefore not apply the phrase, ‘
Let every man be persuaded in his own mind,’ to all subjects.”
14:10-12 “Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So (then) each of us shall give an account of himself (to God).” We should not judge another Christian or another person in the sense of usurping God’s own judgment on the Last Day. Everyone, including Christians, will render an account to God of his deeds then.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For he does not barely say every one shall worship, but
shall confess, that is, shall given an account of what he has done. Be in anxiety then as seeing the Master of all sitting on his judgment-seat, and do not make schisms and divisions in the Church, by breaking away from grace, and running over to the Law.”
14:13-15, 19-21 ”Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; still, it is unclean for someone who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being hurt by what you eat, your conduct is no longer in accord with love. Do not because of your food destroy him for whom Christ died…. Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another. For the sake of food, do not destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to become a stumbling block by eating; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Christians are to exercise prudence in such matters. The faith of others is to be of primary importance to those with a solid faith.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Why this is just why you ought to be patient. For if he were strong, then he would not require so much attention. But now, since he is of the feebler sort, he does on this ground need considerable care. Let us then yield him this, and in all respects bear his burdens, as it is not of our own sins only that we shall have to give an account, but for those also wherein we cause others to offend. For if that account, were even by itself hard to pass, when these be added too, how are we to be saved? And let us not suppose, that if we can find accomplices in our sins, that will be an excuse; as this will prove an addition to our punishment….” He continues: ”For keeping a person from meats is no such matter as overwhelming with grief. You see how much he insists upon charity. And this is because he is aware that it can do everything. And on this ground he makes somewhat larger demand upon them. For so far he says from its being proper for them to distress you at all, they ought even, if need be, not to hesitate at condescending to you…. Or do you not value your brother enough even to purchase his salvation at the price of abstinence from meats? And yet Christ refused not to become a slave, nor yet to die for him; but thou dost not despise even food, that you may save him. And yet with it all Christ was not to gain all, yet still He died for all; so fulfilling His own part. But are you aware that by meat you are overthrowing him in the more important matters, and yet makest a disputing? And him who is the object of such care unto Christ, do you consider so contemptible, and dishonor one whom He loves? Yet He died not for the weak only, but even for an enemy. And will you not refrain from meats even, for him that is weak?… But if you condescend to him, then he will love you, and will not suspect you as a teacher, and you will afterwards gain the power of sowing imperceptibly in him the right views. But if he once hate you, then you have closed the entrance for your reasoning. Do not then compel him, but even yourself refrain for his sake, not refraining from it as unclean, but because he is offended, and he will love you the more. So Paul also advises when he says, It is good not to eat flesh, not because it was unclean, but because the brother is offended and is weak.”
14:22-23 “Keep the faith (that) you have to yourself in the presence of God; blessed is the one who does not condemn himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because this is not from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” When it comes to minor matters of food, drink, and special days, the Romans are to keep such matters to themselves until those weak in faith can be fully instructed. This is not a prohibition against evangelism, obviously. From those who know the faith well more is expected.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here he seems to me to be giving a gentle warning to the more advanced on the score of vanity. And what he says is this, Do you wish to show me that you are perfect, and fully furnished? Do not show it to me, but let your conscience suffice. And by faith, he here means that concerned not with doctrines, but with the subject in hand…. For when a person does not feel sure, nor believe that a thing is clean, how can he do else than sin? Now all these things have been spoken by Paul of the subject in hand, not of everything.”
15:4 “For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” The Old Testament was written to prepare us for the hope of Christianity, which is forgiveness of sins and salvation. Notice that Paul considers “scriptures” to be the Old Testament, as he always does in his letters. We have hope of salvation if we endure in the faith, an endurance that the scriptures teach and encourage.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “That is, that we might not fall away, (for there are sundry conflicts within and without), that being nerved and comforted by the Scriptures, we might exhibit patience, that by living in patience we might abide in hope. For these things are productive of each other, patience of hope, and hope of patience. And both of them are brought about by the Scriptures.”
15:13-14 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit. I myself am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.” Paul’s emphasis on hope again echoes the interpretation that salvation is only for those who endure and remain in the faith until the end. Salvation is hoped for, not possessed.
Paul’s praise for the church at Rome is quite striking. I don’t believe he says any other church is “filled with all knowledge” (reminscent of Jn 16:13). And yet this church must be very ancient because Romans is probably the earliest letter that we have of St. Paul’s and yet he did not found the church. It is curious that such a holy church should be so early and have such a mysterious origin.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For this is the way for you to be filled with joy, if you believe, if you hope. Yet he does not say if you hope, but, if you abound in hope, so as not to find comfort in troubles only, but even to have joy through the abundance of faith and hope. And in this way, you will also draw the Spirit to you. In this way, when He has come you will continually keep to all good things. For just as food maintains our life, and by this rules the body, so if we have good works, we shall have the Spirit; and if we have the Spirit, we shall also have good works. As also, on the other hand, if we have no works, the Spirit flies away. But if we be deserted by the Spirit, we shall also halt in our works. For when this has gone, the unclean one comes…. Let us sing then the Psalm of good deeds, that we may cast out the sin that is worse than the demon. For a demon certainly will not deprive us of heaven, but does in some cases even work with the sober-minded. But sin will assuredly cast us out…. Since then he had often made his language somewhat harsh, he now speaks kindly…. But he seems to me here to be calling their virtue perfect. And he does not say you have, but ‘you are full of.’ And the sequel is with the same intensitives: ‘filled with all knowledge.’ For suppose they had been affectionate, but yet did not know how to treat those they loved properly. This was why he added, ‘all knowledge. Able to admonish others,’ not to learn only, but also to teach.”
15:15-16 “But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the holy Spirit.” Paul explicitly refers to himself as a priest who offers up sacrifices, meaning the Gentiles in this case.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And in all parts of his Epistles one may find this to be frequently observed. But here even in a greater degree. For they were in a higher rank, and there was need to bring down their fastidious spirit, not by astringents only, but by laxatives also…. As if he had said, I have not snatched at the honor for myself, neither was I first to leap forward to it, but God commanded this, and this too according unto grace, not as if He had separated me for this office because I deserved it. Do not ye then be exasperated, since it is not I that raise myself up, but it is God that enjoins it…. For after his abundant proof of his statements, he draws his discourse to a more lofty tone, not speaking of mere service, as in the beginning, but of service and priestly ministering. For to me this is a priesthood, this preaching and declaring. This is the sacrifice I bring. Now no one will find fault with a priest, for being anxious to offer the sacrifice without blemish. And he says this at once to elevate their thoughts, and show them that they are a sacrifice, and in apology for his own part in the matter, because he was appointed to this office…. That is, that the souls of those that are taught by me, may be accepted. For it was not so much to honor me, that God led me to this pitch, as out of a concern for you. And how are they to become acceptable? In the Holy Ghost. For there is need not only of faith, but also of a spiritual way of life, that we may keep the Spirit that was given once for all.”
15:18-19 “For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to lead the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit (of God), so that from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum I have finished preaching the gospel of Christ.” Notice that Paul intimately links preaching the gospel to the Gentiles with leading them to obedience. Faith and obedience go together. It should also be noticed that Paul does not mention Scripture here; merely handing out copies of Scripture was not the best way to spread the gospel to the Gentiles and teach them to understand it.
15:25-27 “Now, however, I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the holy ones. For Macedonia and Achaia have decided to make some contribution for the poor among the holy ones in Jerusalem; they decided to do it, and in fact they are indebted to them, for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to serve them in material blessings.” I draw this to you attention because this is how charity functioned in the early Church. The churches did not rely on Caesar for the material well being of the poor and unfortunate. Church communities took care of each other.
16:1-2 “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is (also) a minister of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well.” The word for minister here is diakonos, i.e. deacon, not presbyter (priest) or bishop (episkopos). This verse is not Scriptural support for the idea that women should be allowed into the priesthood, only that they may participate in certain ministries in the Church, for that is the literal meaning of diakonos, i.e. minister or servant. But Paul’s high praise should put to shame any thought of Christianity being hostile to or disparaging of women.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “See how many ways he takes to give her dignity. For he has both mentioned her before all the rest, and called her sister. And it is no slight thing to be called the sister of Paul. Moreover he has added her rank, by mentioning her being ‘deaconess’…. First come the encomiums, then he makes an exhortation intervene, and then again gives encomiums, so placing on each side of the needs of this blessed woman her praises. For how can the woman be else than blessed who has the blessing of so favorable a testimony from Paul, who had also the power to render assistance to him who had righted the whole world? For this was the summit of her good deeds, and so he placed it the last….”
16:6-7 “Greet Mary, who has worked hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me.” Junia almost certainly refers to a woman but may be typo of sorts in certain manuscripts. Again, this verse is hardly conclusive evidence that women should be allowed into the priesthood. She was prominent in the opinion of the apostles or perhaps she was given the designation “apostle” as a matter of honor. Again, the praise of women puts to shame claims of Christian misogyny. Notice also that honor is due to those who are “in Christ before” us.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “How is this? A woman again is honored and proclaimed victorious! Again are we men put to shame. Or rather, we are not put to shame only, but have even an honor conferred upon us. For an honor we have, in that there are such women among us, but we are put to shame, in that we men are left so far behind by them…. In what sense then does he say, ‘I suffer not a woman to teach?’ (1 Timothy 2:12) He means to hinder her from publicly coming forward (1 Corinthians 14:35), and from the seat on the bema, not from the word of teaching. Since if this were the case, how would he have said to the woman that had an unbelieving husband, ‘How do you know, O woman, if you shall save your husband?’ (1 Corinthians 7:16) Or how came he to suffer her to admonish children, when he says, but ‘she shall be saved by child-bearing if they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety?’ (1 Timothy 2:15) How came Priscilla to instruct even Apollos? It was not then to cut in sunder private conversing for advantage that he said this, but that before all, and which it was the teacher’s duty to give in the public assembly; or again, in case the husband be believing and thoroughly furnished, able also to instruct her. When she is the wiser, then he does not forbid her teaching and improving him. And he does not say, who taught much, but who bestowed much labor, because along with teaching she performs other ministries besides, those in the way of dangers, in the way of money, in the way of travels. For the women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake…. ‘Who are of note among the Apostles.’ And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even among these of note, just consider what a great encomium this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! How great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle! But even here he does not stop, but adds another encomium besides, and says, ‘Who were also in Christ before me.’”
16:17-18 “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent.” Paul warns the Romans against false teachers who teach doctrines contrary to what they first learned in the beginning. I would say the same thing to Protestants: beware the false teacher Martin Luther who, as a matter of historical fact, taught doctrines contrary to what was first taught in the early Church.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For this is, if anything the subversion of the Church, the being in divisions. This is the devil’s weapon, this turns all things upside-down. For so long as the body is joined into one, he has no power to get an entrance, but it is from division that the offense comes. And whence is division? From opinions contrary to the teaching of the Apostles. And whence come opinions of this sort? From men’s being slaves to the belly, and the other passions. For ‘such,’ he says, ‘serve not the Lord, but their own belly.’ And so there would be no offense, there would be no division, unless some opinion were thought of contrary to the doctrine of the Apostles. And this he here points out by saying, ‘contrary to the doctrine.’ And he does not say which we have taught, but ‘which you have learned,’ so anticipating them, and showing that they were persuaded of and had heard them and received them. And what are we to do to those who make mischief in this way? He does not say have a meeting and come to blows, but ‘avoid them.’ For if it was from ignorance or error that they did this, one ought to set them right. But if they sin willingly, spring away from them.”
16:19-20 “For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” It seems that everything I read, from Scripture to the Church fathers, has only high praise for the church at Rome. Notice that Paul emphasizes the obedience of the Romans.
16:25-27 “Now to him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.” How fitting that this letter ends with once again the intimate linking of obedience and faith.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For faith requires obedience, and not curiosity. And when God commands, one ought to be obedient, not curious.”