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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Does Paul say that Jesus is God in Romans 9:5?

I have been puzzling over Romans 9:5—a notorious interpretive crux, as scholars like to say. Is this a rare place in the New Testament where it is stated that Jesus is God? This is how the ESV takes it:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Or should the final clause be read as a separate doxology, as in the RSV: “God who is over all be blessed for ever”? It all comes down to where we put the periods and commas. Be warned. This is not a post for the fainthearted.

Form…

There are three ways in which the contentious second half of the verse may reasonably be punctuated, the first of which would offer excellent support for a high christology:

A) …from whom the Christ according to the flesh, the one being over all, God, blessed for the ages, amen.

B) …from whom the Christ according to the flesh. The one being over all, God, blessed for the ages, amen.

C) …from whom the Christ according to the flesh, the one being over all. God, blessed for the ages, amen.

There seems to be general agreement among commentators, including those who reject the christological interpretation of the doxology, that reading A makes best sense of Paul’s syntax. While Dunn thinks that B is the “more natural reading in terms of the flow of Paul’s thought”, he admits that A is “stylistically the most natural reading”.1

It is also generally agreed that if the verse was meant to end in an independent doxology, we would expect the form “Blessed be God…”, not “God be blessed” (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3). Only in one or two instances in the LXX does the subject precede “blessed” (cf. Ps. 67:19; 71:17 LXX).

The stylistic arguments for A, however, are not always convincing. Wright makes much of the fact that Paul does not write “asyndetic” doxologies—statements of praise that are not expressly linked to what goes before.2 The point is illustrated by Romans 1:25, where “blessed forever” is attached by “who” to “the Creator” in the preceding clause (cf. Rom. 11:36; Gal. 1:5; 2 Cor. 11:31; Eph. 3:21; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Pet. 4:11; Heb. 13:21):

…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

This argument, however, does not take account of the fact that readings B and C would entail a change of subject, which would make the lack of connection entirely appropriate.

…and substance

But alongside the stylistic considerations we have to ask whether reading A is theologically plausible.

In the first place, it seems to me unlikely that Paul would conclude a list of Jewish privileges with the casual affirmation that the Messiah is God over all, blessed for ever. Such a “jump” would be “unexpected, to say the least”, in Dunn’s words. But the main problem with reading A is that it is virtually impossible to reconcile it with the general form of the relationship in Paul between God as Father and Jesus as Lord.

In Romans 1:1-4 the one descended from David “according to the flesh” was determined or appointed “Son of God in power” as a consequence of his resurrection from the dead. Paul closes this introductory paragraph with a “grace” which distinguishes between “God our Father” and the “Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7). I disagree with Wright here that this constitutes a “close parallel” to reading A.3 Romans 1:3-4 emphasises Jesus’ “universal rule”, which may equate to the phrase “the one being over all”, but the thought is that of Psalm 2:7-9: Jesus is YHWH’s king who has been “begotten” and given the right to rule over the nations. By the resurrection God makes Jesus “Lord”. He does not make Jesus “God”.

A similar distinction is found in the passage which immediately precedes Romans 9. Christ died, was raised by God, is at the right hand of God, and intercedes for the suffering churches. Nothing can separate them from the “love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:34-39). This whole narrative presupposes the fundamental separation of God and Jesus.

Elsewhere the blessing formula is consistently “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 1:3; 11:13; Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3; cf. Lk. 1:68; Rom. 1:25). At his trial the high priest asks Jesus if he is “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed” (Mk. 14:61). That is, nowhere else is Jesus spoken of as “blessed”, and God is always “blessed” as Father distinct from Jesus as “Lord”. Reading A would be a significant departure from this pattern.

Wright argues that reading A would anticipate Romans 10:4-13, where a divine kyrios text (Joel 3:5 LXX) is applied to Jesus: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But while God is kyrios in the Old Testament, the argument in the New Testament is that this title and the authority that goes with it have been transferred by God to Jesus. This is especially clear from Philippians 2:6-11. Jesus was obedient even to death, therefore God “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name”—that is, the name kyrios. The allegiance, obedience, trust, honour, etc., that would have been directed towards YHWH as “Lord” is now to be directed to Jesus as “Lord”.

Dunn makes the point that a direct identification of Jesus with God would be out of keeping with the overall shape of Paul’s thought:

Where Paul elsewhere ascribes universal lordship to Christ there is a clear note of theological reserve: the exalted Christ as fulfilling Adam’s intended role…; Christ as “Lord” as a way of distinguishing him from the one God…. To render the text as [A] would imply that Paul had abandoned all his inhibitions and theological circumspection so carefully maintained elsewhere….4

Dunn makes note of Titus 2:13 but argues that Jesus is here identified as “the glory of God”, rather than simply as God: we await the “appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, [which is] Jesus Christ”. Note that a few verses earlier Paul mentions the “doctrine of God our Saviour” (Tit. 2:10).5 It is perhaps questionable whether 2 Peter 1:1 can be understood in the same way: “the righteousness of our God and Saviour, [which is] Jesus Christ”.

Käsemann and Dunn also draw attention to 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.6 Christ reigns as Lord until the last enemy is destroyed, at which point “the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all”. It is very difficult to see how Paul could affirm so emphatically both that the Christ is God and that Jesus will in the end be subordinated to God. It is fully coherent to argue, however, that Jesus has been given authority to rule until it is no longer necessary because the last enemy has been defeated.

So where does all this leave us? Those who reject reading A in favour of an independent doxology have to account for a stylistic anomaly. Those who accept reading A have to account for a considerable theological anomaly. I think I’ll stay on the fence for now.

  • 1. J.D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Word Books, Publisher, 1988), 528-29.
  • 2. N.T. Wright, Romans (NIB vol. 10, 2002), 630; cf. D. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT, 1996), 567.
  • 3. N.T. Wright, Romans, 630.
  • 4. J.D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, 529.
  • 5. Mounce discusses this view, attributed originally to Hort, but dismisses it on rather flimsy grounds (W.D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Thomas Nelson, 2000), 431).
  • 6. J.E. Käsemann, Romans (SCM, 1980), 259; D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, 535-36.

Comments

He does not include the word Jesus. Christ is Anointing - Anointed and One who Anoints - God is Spirit.

I am not a trained theologian but I read some parts of the Bible with close attention - like the Psalms - and I believe that Christendom is guilty of quite a bit of odd thought.

Surely the references to “Christ Jesus” in 8:31-39 make it clear that he is talking about Jesus in 9:5? Besides, “from whom the Christ according to the flesh” can only refer to Jesus.

Andrew - I can see from all these comments how refined and subtle this issue is.

I wonder though why it is that Paul sometimes says Christ Jesus, and sometimes Jesus Christ, and sometimes the Spirit of Christ, sometimes just Christ, maybe even just Jesus - and so on. Is there not some recognition of the true humanity of Jesus and the true divinity of the Anointing - even though they are conjoined twins in this case? I am sure I might have lost my head for such a question at various times, but… is it a question worth following or should I get out my catechism and do a better job at memorizing the answers (not to mention keeping the rules)?

I read recently a suggestion that Jesus = YHWH. I don’t think Paul ever makes this direct identification. Our Bibles have confused us all with the Adonai / Hashem / LORD conventions.

The Jewish Annotated NT has no note on this verse. The Joel text is בְּשֵׁ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה - but not the LXX - how curious and how confusing.

Hi Andrew, thanks for detailed discussion! Couldn’t this very plausibly be an example of scribal interpolation? Seems to make the most sense to me.

There is no text-critical evidence for an emended text, and I didn’t see the possibility considered by any of the commentaries that I looked at. The Socianian Schlichting conjectured a long time ago that ho hōn (“the one being”) was originally hōn ho (“of whom the”)—the change from the participle to the pronoun is lost in transliteration. This would give: “of whom the sonship… of whom the fathers and from whom the Christ…, of whom God over all, blessed forever”. But no one buys that.

“There is no text-critical evidence for an emended text.”

No, although as Bart Ehrman points out in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, there are a number of clearly evidenced examples of scribes altering biblical texts so as to give them a more orthodox slant. Often this took the subtle form of an added or altered word or two, and in the case of Romans 9:5, all that would be required would be the addition or alteration of the “who is God over all” phrase. I don’t know off hand the date of the earliest extant manuscript that includes Romans 9:5, but certainly it’s decades if not centuries later than the original letter, which is plenty of time for a textual corruption such as this to slip in.

As for why this is not merely plausible but perhaps the best explanation of what’s going on here, I can’t do any better than to echo Peter Wilkinson’s quotation of Gordon Fee:

It seems incongruous both to the letter as a whole and to the present context in particular—not to mention Paul’s usage throughout the corpus—that Paul should suddenly call the Messiah theos when his coming in the flesh is the ultimate expression of what God is doing in the world.

Jeff, it would take something very clear and blatant - and with other explanations being even less plausible - to assume that there is a textual corruption when we have zero textual evidence for it, in my opinion.

PS: I wonder if there is any textual evidence for the (obvious) insertion of similar phrases (ie., asserting the divinity of Christ) in any extant Pauline letters? If so, it could at least show a precedent for that sort of thing.

I don’t know Daniel, it seems to me more plausibly understood as an interpolation than as a genuine Pauline phrase. Of course that’s speculative, but all of the options here are speculative.

I can understand why many people would want to resist this option, because it would be to admit that we can’t–even in principle–pristinely reconstruct the biblical texts, but is there any sound methodological reason for resisting it?

I’m not sure it’s about not being able to reconstruct the text. There are several places where manuscript evidence is pretty even split and the correct reading is pretty much 50/50. But this isn’t one of those cases. When the text is unanimous in a specific instance, it just seems to me methodologically dangerous to assume its corrupt, because on those grounds you can assume any difficult statement is unoriginal - and on that assumption, discount it.

Interpreting the statement (by repuncuation or whatever) is not “speculative.” It’s dealing with what we have. To assume it’s not from Paul is speculative. Plausible, maybe, but speculative. But it would raise its own questions. For example, if a scribe wanted to add a statement about the deity of Christ into Romans, why in 9:5 of all places? There seem to be more natural spots to slip it in, like 1:3-4, or 8:3, etc.

Interpreting the statement (by repuncuation or whatever) is not “speculative.” It’s dealing with what we have.

I know very little about Greek, so I’m following Andrew’s lead here:

Those who reject reading A in favour of an independent doxology have to account for a stylistic anomaly.

So it really does seem to me that all of the options here are speculative, and I don’t see that interpolation is somehow in a whole separate class of speculation.

I’m not sure it’s about not being able to reconstruct the text.

That’s true, that’s a helpful clarification. Perhaps, rather, it’s that many would object to the suggestion of interpolation because it would be to admit that all of the biblical texts ought to be scrutinized for signs of textual corruption, rather than only those for which we have variant readings in the extant manuscripts.

When the text is unanimous in a specific instance, it just seems to me methodologically dangerous to assume its corrupt, because on those grounds you can assume any difficult statement is unoriginal - and on that assumption, discount it.

Well, I’m certainly not assuming that Romans 9:5 is corrupt. What I’m saying, rather, is that we shouldn’t assume that it’s not corrupt. It seems to me that textual corruption in this case is very plausible and that we should consider it a live possibility. And I don’t see that as methodoligcally dangerous in the least. It’s simply to argue that we can’t just assume a text “innocent” until proven guilty–rather, we should scrutinize each text in order to assess the probability that it’s genuine. Certainly a large and complicated and oftentimes ambiguous task, to be sure.

Another reference work on Romans 9:5 worth considering is Gordon Fee - Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007 pp 272-277). Fee is not as fashionable as the authors mentioned in your study, and does not have the same approach. Nevertheless, this is an acclaimed work by an outstanding NT scholar. I also happen to agree with him! In a review of Fee’s book on Evangelion, Don Garlington says:

Readers may be surprised that in the two places in his letters where Paul appears explicitly to call Christ God, Rom 9:5 and Titus 2:13, Fee denies that such is the case. As regards the former, Fee concludes: “It seems incongruous both to the letter as a whole and to the present context in particular—not to mention Paul’s usage throughout the corpus—that Paul should suddenly call the Messiah theos when his coming in the flesh is the ultimate expression of what God is doing in the world” (277). Don Garlington - Evangelion

Fee’s interpretation is very detailed and densely argued, referring to the three interpretations as outlined in your post. The section needs to be read in full, but he comes to the following summary (my apologies for the absence of pointing):

My point, then, is that the presence of the ων is ultimately irrelevant in terms of meaning but its occurrence is almost certainly responsible for the present word order. Had Paul chosen to emphasize only that God should be blessed forever, then none of this discussion would have happened, because there would have been no ων επì πάντον.But since the emphasis is on God’s being the ultimate source and ruler of “all things,” especially the glorious history of his people, the word order comes out the way it does. It seems incongruous both to the letter as a whole and to the present context in particular—not to mention Paul’s usage throughout the corpus—that Paul should suddenly call the Messiah θεος when his coming in the flesh is the ultimate expression of what God is doing in the world.

(To make complete sense of this, the whole passage needs to be read, which it can be here).

The fact that Titus 2:13, which seems to say something similar to Romans 9:5, is brought into the argument seems to me significant.

Thanks. Very helpful. I have Fee’s book somewhere but can’t find it.

Interestingly, the Codex Alexandrinus has a space and a punctuation mark between sarka and wn. Possible indication of how the scribe and his community undertood the text. Or even of uncertainty of authenticity.

O’Neill thinks the word “God” might have been absent from the original text, and that marginal notes have been inserted into the text by a copyist along the way. He notes that Codex Sangermanensis is missing “God” and Irenaeus has it in a different place in the sentence.

The result would be that the text originally said “of them is Christ, who is above all blessed forever”, which solves both the grammatical problems and the theological ones.

Nice investigative work, Paul D!

Here's a possible alternative reading/punctuation of Romans 9:5 for your consideration. In verse 4 Paul presents a litany of benefits accruing to the Israelites. To the Israelites are the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the law-giving and the service and the promises – six “to-whoms” altogether in v4. The litany continues in v5, beginning with another “to whom” construction paralleling that at the beginning of v4. Maybe, instead of a to-whom and a from-whom, there are two “to-whoms” listed in v5, thus continuing the list begun in the preceding verse. I.e., to the Israelites are also (7) the fathers and (8) the God above all. The “from-whom” clause in the middle of the verse then serves as a subordinate modifier for the final “to-whom.” Thus: “to whom are the fathers and – from whom is the Messiah according to flesh – the God above all who is blessed to the ages, amen.” Or, reorganized into a more English syntax: “To whom are the fathers and the God above all, from whom is the Messiah according to the flesh, who is blessed to the ages, amen.”

It's a bit of convoluted construction, but I don't think it's incorrect grammatically in Greek or in English. The question then becomes whether the God above all can be deemed the source of the Messiah “according to flesh.” I don't know why not.

But we all know that Jesus is God really, don't we?

Not so sure about that… ;-)

Jesus is not God. Why would Jesus write about God as another person? Then the BIble could be 100 pages. THere are endless arguments why Jesus is not God. I think that given alone the fact that humans tend to glamorise humans, is a basic reason that explains it. Jesus in fact always talked against glamorizing himself as God. He called himself sone of God.

Are people bad at reading or grasping the said? He said son of God. It does not mean God. WHy would he ever say son of God if he were God????

So you think Jesus lies and you believe in Jesus. That makes you liars too right.

Try to be honest and understand things as they have been written. Don’t be like those interpreters of poems that might mean anything you want them to mean.

WOsrhio God and appreciate and search God in the name of his son Jesus CHrist who showed us the way. We need to be like Jesus Christ that means to be like God because Jesus Christ was living according to God. He is the example we need to follow. SO we can never enter Gods Kingdom if not being like Jesus Christ. Since we can not be like Jesus Christ its enough to recognize Christ as our redeemer and ask for his blood and flesh to be poured all over us to clean us and to WANT to live in his example.

It does not mean that Jesus is God just because Jesus says he is in the father and the father is in him and they are one. Paul also says that the disciples are in Jesus and Jesus is in them. In John he says the disciples are in Jesus and thereby in the father. THe disciples are “in US”.

Does that mean the disciples are equal to God? No I thought so. It means that Jesus OR the disciples are coherent with God. It does not mean they are identical. Those postulates are human made. I know quite a few stubborn christians who never questioned this but took it right from the mouth of some “priest” or “christian”. I believe the scriptures. Not humans. HUmans have an ego and a form and usually refer to some form when explaining their “truth”. God Yahuwa is beyond form and can never be judged. I believe GOd is equal to the holy spirit. I believe his son came to preach the word of God. But of course it does not mean Jesus is God. Why would GOd suddenly be restricted to a human who gets crucified. Humans who believe so ought to be crucified to become humble and believe the scriptures and the evident words of Christ, instead of inventing some story and trying to convince others, just because some religion decided to tell that story because catolicism invented trinity and then everything has been sought to fit to that postulate.

As to whether God can be the source of anything “according to flesh”… While Paul tends to conflate “flesh” with “sinful flesh,” he’s not a thoroughgoing Gnostic dualist who regards materiality as intrinsically bad. Presumably God isn’t either. That the Israelites are “according to flesh” doesn’t mean that God withholds the host of benefits he bestows on them as listed in Romans 9:4-5. That Jesus is declared the Messiah “according to flesh,” born of the seed of David “according to flesh” (Romans 1:3), doesn’t make him unworthy of being God’s designated agent. To the contrary: his humanity, his “flesh,” is one of the essential features that qualifies him for being Messiah.

The reason why many “christians” tend to assume that GOd is equal to Jesus as opposed to separate is that the catolic church invented the doctrine of trinity, setting Jesus Christ equal to God.

The protestant church adopted this view which in reality is a combination of a heathen believe in a trinity of gods (such as Zeus and family) as passed on through new-Platonian scriptures referencing the trinitarian custom of Babylon.

The church in my theory then made a compromise since Judaism was strictly monoteistic, to maintain the monoteism but introduce trinity otherwise, as ONE God with 3 faces.

I believe its simply a humanly thought out invention in order to perhaps satisfy peoples need and habbit of worshipping trinities, and get them into the stable so to speak.

I believe we need to apply all factors of uncertainty including copies of the original scriptures containing mistakes or subjective interpretations, the intention of the church, variations in expressions and the lack of understanding the way of thinking at that time, PLUS the possible doubt of the apotoles making them being sometimes rather vague instead of clear in their definitions. Remember how the close disciples of Jesus had doubt until the end.

The way to fully understand the truth is to not memorise doctrines invented by the church but allow for the holy spirit to enlighten us, and cast aside our egos tendency to insist on conclusions, that is to be netral and objective and truth seeking as opposed to nurturing the ego and humans habbits, trends and tendency to assume the words of “authorities”. As Jesus says the authorities and titles matter nothing. Its the faith and humility that allows for truth to enter and for one to be worthy.

Thanks for this thread with many arguments/considerations similar to my mine. I wrote a thread in another language on a huge site providing emails as well as debates and many topics. The archive was seemingly lost. My thread about this topic was visited by many in a short time. THe title was: “Is trinity false? Is Jesus equal to God?” Was it the devil? Perhaps an inspiration for another book or article of yours? I am a writer myself writing about health combined with the power of faith.

By the way the text dissapeared when I forgot to write the verification. The first longer one not but this last one.

Cheers