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Romans: the Epistle to the Romans Paperback – Import, January 1, 1968
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He wrote in the Introduction to this commentary (the first half of which was first published in 1959), “Readers of the epistle may sometimes wonder about the relevance of chapters IX-XI. They seem to disturb the unity and logical sequence of the argument… But this factor must not be overlooked. Paul was a Jew… who had converted from that same perversity which at the time of Paul’s writing characterized Jewry as a whole… The extent to which the grand theme of the epistle is concerned with the characteristic sin of Jewry… which he directly charges… in Rom 2:17-29, makes it inevitable … that Paul should give expression to the burning desire of this heart for the salvation of his brethren.” (V1, pg. xiv-xv)
He comments on 1:18-21, “the truth is regarded as asserting itself within the men concerned but that they hold it down or suppress it… Undoubtedly there is a witness of the truth welling up from within which men suppress by their unrighteousness… the apostle is dealing with the truth derived from the observable handiwork of God in the work of creation. The notion of ‘holding back’ is well suited to express the reaction which men by their unrighteousness offer to the truth thus manifested… they hinder the truth because there is a manifestation of the truth to them, and the truth manifested to them is described as ‘that which is known of God.’” (V1, pg. 36-37) He adds, “the design of God in giving so open and manifest a disclosure of his eternal power and divinity in his visible handiwork is that all men might be without excuse…Besides… we cannot eliminate from the all-inclusive ordination and providence of God the design which is presupposed in the actual result.” (V1, pg. 40)
He observes, “In chapter 4 Paul proceeds to prove from the Scripture of the Old Testament the pivotal element of the doctrine which he had unfolded in the preceding chapter. It cannot be doubted that the cardinal interest of the apostle in the argument which he had presented is the antithesis between justification by works and justification by faith..” (Pg. 127) He adds, “In appealing to this text [Gen 15:6] it should be apparent that Paul is basing his argument mainly upon the fact that it is the FAITH of Abraham that is in the foreground.” (V1, pg. 129-130) He continues, “The antithesis is therefore between the idea of compensation and that of grace… The antithesis is not simply between the worker and the non-worker but between the worker and the person who does not work BUT BELIEVES.” (V1, pg. 132) [I must point out that Murray refrains from a detailed discussion of James 2:17-22 in his commentary, which he mentions only in passing, and only in the second volume.]
He comments on 5:12 [“through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death”], “That sin entered through one man is an integral element of the comparison or parallel upon which is to be built Paul’s doctrine of justification.” (V1, pg. 181) He adds, “If Paul meant that death passed upon all because all men were guilty of actual transgression, this is the way he would have said it… Is this what the apostle meant? Pelagians say so. There are conclusive objections to this view… It is not historically true. Not all die because they actually and voluntarily sin. Infants die and they do not voluntarily sin… The most conclusive refutation of the view in question is the explicit and repeated affirmations … to the effect that condemnation and death reign over all because of the ONE SIN of the ONE MAN Adam.” (V1, pg. 182-183) He concludes, “we must reject the supposition that when Paul says, ‘in that all sinned’ he means the actual voluntary sins of all men.” (V1, pg. 184) He says of 7:18-20 [“it is not more I that do it…”], “Here the apostle identifies his ego, his person, with that determinate which is in agreement with the law of God, and he appears to dissociate his own self from the sin committed... and places the responsibility for the sin committed upon the indwelling sin… no longer does HE commit the sin but rather the sin that dwells in him---the reason is that what he does HE does not will.” (V1, pg. 263-264)
He interprets 9:11-21: “‘the purpose of God according to election’ will have to be understood as the electing purpose that is determinative of and unto salvation and equivalent to that which we find elsewhere.” (V2, pg. 19) He continues, “the statement ‘Esau I hated’ is not satisfactorily interpreted as meaning simply ‘not loved’ or ‘loved less’ but in the sense that an attitude of positive disfavor is expressed thereby. Esau was not merely excluded from what Jacob enjoyed but was the object of a displeasure which love would have excluded and of which Jacob was not the object because he was loved… Thus the definitive actions denoted by ‘loved’ and ‘hated’ are represented as actuated not by any character differences in the two children but solely by the sovereign will of God…” (V2, pg. 23) He states, “In view of the sustained emphasis on the free, sovereign will of God we must recognize that this sovereignty is just as inviolate in the hardening as it is in showing mercy… the sovereignty of God is ultimate in both cases and as ultimate in the negative as in the positive.” (V2, pg.. 27) He asks rhetorically, “How can God blame us when we are the victims of his irresistible decree?... The answer is the appeal to the reverential silence which the majesty of God demands of us… we have an ultimate on which we may not interrogate him nor speak back when he has uttered his verdict. Why are WE to dispute his government?” (V2, pg. 31) He adds, “If God in the exercise of his sovereign right makes some vessels of wrath and others vessels of mercy what have we to say?” (V2, pg. 33)
About 10:9-10 [“if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved”] he observes, “the accent falls upon believing in that heart that God raised him… We are not to regard confession and faith as having the same efficacy unto salvation. The contrast between mouth and heart needs to be observed. But we may not tone down the importance of confession with the mouth. Confession without faith would be vain… But likewise faith without confession would be shown to be spurious… In verse 10 the order is inverted; faith is mentioned first and then confession. This shows that verse 9 is not intended to announce the priority whether causal or logical.” (V2, pg. 55-56)
He says of 13:1-2 [“the powers that be are ordained of God”], “He is not now treating of government in the abstract nor entering into the question of the different forms of government. He is making categorical statements regarding the authorities in actual existence… The civil magistrate is not only the means decreed in God’s providence or the punishment of evildoers but God’s instituted, authorized, and prescribed instrument for the maintenance of order and the punishing of criminals who violate that order… At the same time… We cannot but believe that he would have endorsed and practised the word of Peter and other apostles: ‘We must obey God rather than men… Where there is conflict between the requirements of men and the commands of God, then the word of Peter must take effect… Paul does not deal with the questions that arise in connection with revolution… in this passage as a whole there are principles which bear upon the right or wrong of revolution. But these matters… are not introduced into this passage… The apostle is not writing an essay on casuistical theology but setting forth the cardinal principles …regulating the behaviour of Christians.’” (V2, pg. 148-150)
On 14:5-6 [“One man esteemeth one day above another”], he says, “Since this difference of conviction among believers is in the same category as the difference respecting the use of certain kinds of food, we must conclude that the observance of the days in question did not proceed from any continuing divine obligation. The person who esteems every day alike… is recognized by the apostle as rightfully entertaining this position. This could not be the case if the distinction of days were a matter of divine obligation… The injunction to be fully assured in one’s own mind refers not simply to the RIGHT of private judgment but to the DEMAND.” (V2, pg. 177-178) He says of Phoebe in 16:1, “It is highly probable that Phoebe was the bearer of the epistle to the church at Rome… It is common to give Phoebe the title of ‘deaconess’ and regard her as having performed an office in the church corresponding to that which belonged to men who exercised the office of deacon… there is neither need nor warrant to suppose that she occupied or exercised what amounted to an ecclesiastical office comparable to that of the diaconate. The services performed were similar to those devolving upon deacons. Their ministry is one of mercy to the poor, the sick, and the desolate… there is no more warrant to posit an OFFICE…” (V2, pg. 226)
This is solid, comprehensive and detailed commentary by a highly-respected Reformed theologian; it will be of great interest to anyone studying Romans.
Although written in a scholarly fashion with enough serious theological meat and exegetical and textual material to satisfy the scholar, at the same time the material is presented in a sufficiently accessible manner that even the theological novice (as I was when I first encountered it) can use and understand it. Over the years I have used this commentary extensively, for instance, when preparing a series of sermons on Romans and while compiling notes in preparation for teaching a Bible study.