What was Paul thinking when he wrote “Christ… the one being over all, God, blessed for the ages” (Rom. 9:5)?

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Does Paul say that Christ is God in Romans 9:5? He speaks with candour about his anxiety regarding the future of Israel. He could wish himself “anathema from the Messiah” for the sake of his own race according to the flesh, of whom are “the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the worship and the promises, of whom the fathers,” and “from whom is the Messiah according to the flesh…” (Rom. 9:1-5). Then we have the problematic words “the one being over all God blessed (ho ōn epi pantōn theos eulogētos) for the ages, amen.” The question is whether this is a relative clause further describing the Messiah or a new sentence referring only to God, who is blessed forever. There are some other minor permutations.

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

…from whom the Christ according to flesh. The one who is God over all be blessed for the ages, amen.

I looked at this in some detail a while back and couldn’t make my mind up. I won’t go over that ground again, though it could probably do with updating. Here I want to explore some curious intertextual rabbit holes opening under the unpunctuated phrase “the one being over all God blessed” (ho ōn epi pantōn theos eulogētos).

1. The normal way of pronouncing a blessing on God would be along these lines: “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things” (Ps. 71:18). The word eulogētos comes at the beginning. There are dozens of examples of this formula in the Septuagint.

2. The New Testament follows this convention: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3; cf. Lk. 1:68). This is important because it suggests that a hierarchy is intrinsic to the blessing formula: God is blessed and he is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Caiaphas asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mk. 14:61). God is the blessed one, Jesus is the Son of the blessed one. In Romans 1:25 it is God alone as creator “who is blessed for the ages, amen.”

3. Grammatically, the blessing statement in 2 Corinthians 11:31 parallels the one in Romans 9:5 rather closely:

…the one being over all God blessed (ho ōneulogētos) for the ages… (Rom.9:5)

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus knows—the one being blessed (ho ōn eulogētos) for the ages—that I am not lying… (2 Cor. 11:31)

I would suggest that “over all” in Romans 9:5 includes the whole narrative of Jewish privilege leading up to “from whom the Messiah” and is, therefore, includes the relationship “Father of the Lord Jesus.” The God who is blessed is the one being (ho ōn) over the whole story of Israel’s election and redemption.

4. Remarkably, ho ōn occurs only twice in the Septuagint—in 1 Kings 16:22 in the expression “the people being behind Ambri,” and in Exodus 3:14:

And God said to Moses, “I am the one being (Egō eimi ho ōn)”; and he said, “Thus shall you say to the sons of Israel, The one being (ho ōn) has sent me to you.’”

5. There is only one instance in the Greek Old Testament where eulogētos comes after “God” as it does in Romans 9:5. This is Psalm 67:19 LXX: “The Lord God be blessed…” (kyrios ho theos eulogētos). This occurs in a passage describing the mountain ascent of the victorious warrior God:

You ascended on high; you led captivity captive; you received gifts by a person, indeed, when they were disobedient to encamp. The Lord God be blessed; blessed be the Lord day by day; the God of our deliverance will prosper us. (Ps. 67:19–20 LXX)

6. The only other place in the New Testament where we find the expression epi pantōn (“over all”) is Ephesians 4:4-8. Paul says that there is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and “one God and Father of all, who is over all (ho epi pantōn) and through all and in all.” This suggests that the Lord Jesus as Israel’s Messiah is distinct from the God who is “over all,” who, as in the standard blessing formula, is his Father.

7. Interestingly, Paul then goes on to quote a modified version of that solitary Old Testament verse in which “blessed” comes after “God.” There is one body, etc., but the grace was given to each “according to the measure of the gift of the Messiah.” So it is written, “Having ascended to a height, he led captives captive, he gave gifts to the people” (Eph. 4:7-8; cf. Ps. 67:19 LXX = 68:18 MT). How weird is that!

So in the grammatically difficult expression “the one being over all God (be) blessed” two or three intertextual rabbit holes seem to converge on the blessing of the God of Israel, who overcomes his enemies, redeems his people, and grants to the Lord and Christ at this right hand the authority to give gifts of the Spirit to the churches (cf. Acts 1:33-36).

But what has all that got to do with Paul’s argument in Romans 9?

Well, perhaps in an underground chamber of his mind is a little cluster of scriptural ideas that leads him to bless the God—the one “who is”—who once gave privileges to his people through Moses, according to the flesh, but now gives a different set of gifts to his people through the risen Christ, according to the Spirit. It is not the “children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom. 9:8); and the evidence of this is the gift and gifting of the Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5; 8:3-4, 17-18, 23; 12:3-8).

Marc Taylor | Thu, 10/15/2020 - 13:14 | Permalink

 The fact that “Christ was born of a descendant of David” is one of the main introductory themes given by Paul in this epistle to the Romans (1:3). This links with Paul’s affirmation that he too belongs to the Jews “according to the flesh” (9:3). But Paul does not share their spirituality as it relates to Christ (Romans 2:28-29). And although Christ shares this physical descent with them the contrast Paul makes concerning Christ and the Jews is far more extensive — He is God (9:5). 

 Paul is in anguish that many of the Jews rejected their Messiah (9:1-3). He longs for theirsalvation (Romans 10:1). How could they (and all others) be true children of God? How can they their salvation take place? To this Paul replies in Romans 10:13 that one must pray to Jesus (call upon His name) in that He is YHWH (God). The same “Lord of all” (Romans 10:12) corresponds to Christ being “God over all” in Romans 9:5.