Does Paul identify Israel’s Messiah with God in Romans 9:5? I’ve examined this passage a couple of times (see links below) and have been more or less of the opinion that the grammar says perhaps, but the development of thought says no.
Since we’ve been looking at Brian Simmons’ The Passion Translation, let’s start with his characteristically periphrastic take on the verse:
We trace our beginnings back to the patriarchs, and through their bloodline is the genealogy of the Messiah, who is God over everything. May he be praised through endless ages! Amen!
The problem is that the sentence structure of the last part of the verse is ambiguous—it’s not clear how we should punctuate it: “…and from whom the Christ according to the flesh the one being over all things God blessed for the ages, amen.” There are three main ways to construe this:
- both “over all things” and “God” describe Christ, as in Simmons’ translation;
- “over all things” is applied to Christ, but it is God who is blessed for ever;
- neither “over all things” nor “God” is applied to Christ; rather, God alone is “over all things” and “blessed for the ages.”
I came across something today which I think adds weight to the differentiation of Christ and God in the third interpretation: “…and from the Christ according to the flesh. The one who is over all (ho ōn epi pantōn), God, be blessed for the ages, amen.”
Notice that the statement comes at the end of a catalogue of advantages that the Jews have despite being subject to the wrath of God: “…the adoption and the glory and the covenant[s] and the giving of the Law and the temple service (latreia) and the promises…, the patriarchs and… the Christ…” (Rom. 9:4, my translation).
The only other place in the New Testament where we find the phrase epi pantōn (“over all”) is in Ephesians 4:6. Here it occurs as the climax to a similar list of benefits or privileges—not those of Israel this time but of the church:
…one body and one Spirit, as also you were called in the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, the one over all (ho epi pantōn) and through all and in all.
In this case it is clearly God who is “the one over all,” and the “one Lord” is coordinate with body, Spirit, hope, faith, and baptism.
In the Ephesians passage the words “and through all and in all” are added to “the one over all,” but then the well-defined section of Romans that begins with the itemising of Israel’s advantages ends with the statement that God does not regret the gifts and calling of Israel (Rom. 11:28-29) and the doxological affirmation: “For from him and through him and to him are all things; to him the glory for the ages, amen” (Rom. 11:36).
This certainly echoes the language of Romans 9:5, and if we are willing to take the Ephesians passage into account, we have strong grounds, I think, for taking “the one who is over all, God, be blessed for the ages, amen” as a reference only to God. The Christ is one of the gifts that go with the calling of Israel, just as the one Lord is one of the gifts that go with the calling of the church, we might say. But it is God who is over all things, etc., and to be blessed and worshipped, amen.
To put it crudely, I don’t think that the direct identification of Jesus with the living God happens in the Jewish-Christian intellectual environment of the majority New Testament witness, and perhaps not even in John. But it was an inevitable and necessary development as the church established itself in the Greek world.