Both Jew and Greek

The equality of Jew and Gentile before God is a key theme throughout Romans – both stand or fall on the same basisRomans 1:15-16

Tiny Alpine Church - Photo by Ingmar Nolte on Unsplash
Paul wrote to the churches in Rome for two purposes: First, to prepare the ground for his planned visit to the city. Second, to deal with conflicts between Jewish and Gentile believers. In the first half of the letter, he presents a detailed explanation of his gospel. In the last half, he deals with questions about the status of the Jewish people and the areas of conflict in the congregation - [Photo by Ingmar Nolte on Unsplash].

Paul was planning to take the gospel to the western regions of the empire, especially to the Iberian Peninsula, and support by the Roman church was important to this effort. Prior to writing the letter, Paul had not been to Rome in his previous missionary activities. Someone else had established the faith there, which placed limits on his apostolic authority.
  • (Romans 1:8-12) – “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may be prospered by the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established… And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that often I purposed to come to you that I might have some fruit among you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles. I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome.
  • (Romans 15:22-24) – “Wherefore also I was hindered these many times from coming to youbut now, having no more any place in these regions, and having these many years a longing to come unto you, whenever I go to Spainfor I hope to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thither by you, if first in some measure I shall have been satisfied with your company.
The Apostle had some knowledge of the situation in Rome, including the tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers - (“your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world”). As the “apostle to the Gentiles,” that situation would have concerned him greatly, and who better to address the problem? And from the outset of the letter, he stressed the role of the gospel for both Jews and Gentiles:
  • (Romans 1:15-16) – “I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believesto the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
By “first” he does not mean Jewish believers have special privileges over Gentiles. His subsequent stress on their equality with Gentiles dispels any such notion. But the gospel came through Jesus, who was born of the seed of David” and “declared the Son of God.” He was the Messiah of Israel, who came first to the Jewish nation.

The statement also anticipates the later discussion on the status of the Jewish people. If Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, and if Israel was the chosen people of God, and if Christ first offered the gospel to the Jewish people, why, then, had most Jews rejected him? “Had the word of God failed?”

The issue of Jew and Gentile is the key to the understanding of the letter, and most certainly, it would have influenced how Paul presented the gospel. For example, he warned that “tribulation and anguish would befall every man who works evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek.” Likewise, there would be glory and honor for everyone who did that which is good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” – (Romans 2:9-10).

Israel certainly did receive a privilege offered to no other nation; namely, the possession of the Law. However, that also came with special responsibilities and heightened penalties for breaking it. It was not the “hearers of the law” who were justified before God, but the doers of the law.” And, though they may not possess the law of Moses, many individual Gentiles “by nature do the things of the law.”

Both “Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” The one God of Israel is also the “God of the Gentiles.” In the end, both men who sin “under the law” (Jews) and “without the law” (Gentiles) find themselves judged by the one God of all, and He will not show partiality on the “day of wrath.” Obedience counts, NOT ethnicity or nationality.

Neither was Paul suggesting that believing Gentiles are better than Jewish believers. “Are we better than they? No, certainly not; for we before charged both Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin.” In the context, “we” refers to Jewish believers in contrast to Gentile Christians. All have “sinned and lack the glory of God.” Likewise, all will be saved in the same way, whether Jew or Gentile, and that “through the faith of Jesus Christ for all that believe, for there is no distinction” – (Romans 3:1-26).
The issue is front-and-center in chapters 9 through 11, where Paul deals with the challenge, “Has the word of God failed?” Despite possessing the ordinances and covenant promises, collectively, Israel had rejected her Messiah. So, had God likewise rejected the Jewish people? Most emphatically, Paul declares, “No!” But his explanation includes aspects applicable to both groups, to Jews and Gentiles.

Not all “Israel are of Israelneither because they are Abraham's seed are they all children.” It is not biological descent that determines membership in the covenant people, but faithful response to the gospel. Paul himself provided clear evidence that God had not rejected the Jewish people, for he was Jewish and a believer in Jesus. And at the time he wrote, many Jews had accepted Jesus as their Messiah.

Many “wild branches” – Gentiles - had been “grafted into the olive tree” because of their faith, but many of the “natural branches” - non-believing Jews - had been “cut off” from the ONE olive tree, “because of their unbelief.” However, those “natural branches” may yet be grafted back in if they come to faith, just as the “wild branches” previously grafted onto the tree may yet find themselves “cut off” for unbelief. Once again, faith is the determining factor, not biology.

In chapter 14, Paul applies practical lessons to the immediate issues causing tensions in Rome, especially on matters of food and the calendar. When he concludes the presentation of his gospel in chapter 15, the issue of Jew and Gentile is still very much at the center. Jesus was sent to Israel to “confirm the promises to the fathers.” But those promises always envisioned the inclusion of the Gentiles:
  • As it is written, Therefore, will I give praise to you among the Gentiles… Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people… Praise the Lordall you Gentiles; and let all the peoples praise him… There shall be the root of Jesse, and he that arises to rule over the Gentiles, on him shall the Gentiles hope” – (Romans 15:8-12).
In all this, Paul refers to only one church and one people of God, now comprised of believing “Jews and Gentiles” put in right standing before God by the gospel, the “power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”



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