This is the second part of a fairly extensive review of John Piper’s The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23.
In the second chapter of The Justification of God, Piper’s aim is to show what is at stake in Romans 9–11: “[I]t appears that what God has guaranteed is in fact not happening — the end-time salvation of Israel.”1 If this is the case, then God can no longer be considered reliable. This notion of unreliability is what Paul is going to fight.
For Piper, Romans 9:1–5 fits very neatly into this argument. He divides the text into two major portions: (a) Rom 9:1–3 and (b) Rom 9:4,5.
Piper’s goal in his examination of Rom 9:1–3 is to show that Paul very much believes the plight of his kinsmen to be dire. Piper very quickly dispenses with this section,2 showing that Paul thinks the worst for his kinsmen: that they are cut off from Christ.
Romans 9:3 appears to be the crux of this argument. Paul, who does not consider himself “cut off from Christ,”3 is willing to trade places with his kinsmen who most certainly are cut off from Christ.
Though Piper does not spend much time on this, I agree with his exegesis. The situation of the Israelites is no laughing matter — in Paul’s view they are clearly in a great deal of trouble. Paul, in his magnanimity, and out of love, expresses a desire to trade places with these guys. Of course, he knows that this is not possible.
These verses are an extended definition of the privileges granted to Paul’s kinsmen, the Israelites. Piper does an excellent job of pulling some theology from the grammar in this section by pointing out that the nouns used to describe the Israelites in v. 4 are (a) all feminine and (b) rhyming. This creates a very nice bit of parallelism, which Piper believes explains some of the odd word choice (e.g., “giving of the law” [νομοθεσία] which is a hapax legomenon).
Piper uses a keen eye to examine each of the claims made about Israel in this section. He expertly chooses interpretations from various commentaries while explaining why he disagrees with others.
Each individual chunk of v. 4 is too lengthy for me to go into here. What is important for Piper is for the reader to understand that Israel has incredible privileges that have not just “been transferred to the Church but apply in a real sense to the Israel of Paul’s own day, most of whom are unbelieving.”4 Further, these privileges refer to redemption and eschatology — what is at stake is the promise of salvation for Israel.
Thus, the problem: How can it be that God’s promise to save Israel appears to be in Jeopardy?
Piper promises that Romans 9–11 will answer that question for us.
Article Series - The Justification of God
- Piper, The Justification of God (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1993) 46. ↩
- Ibid., 44–45. Indeed, it seems like an awful lot of ground to cover in only two pages. However, I feel that the brevity of this section is its strength. Piper has spent so much time looking at the next section (Rom 9:4,5) that it is a relief for him to make his point so succinctly. ↩
- This is how Piper and many other choose to translate ἀνάθεμα. ↩
- Piper, The Justification of God, 46 ↩