to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,
as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
These two verses are widely acknowledged to be Paul’s statement of his theological theme. That being the case, we could wish for a bit more clarity from the apostle, especially in verse 17. Before we try to discern what he means, it’s helpful to realize that Paul restates and elaborates this theme in 3:21–31. There he speaks of God showing his righteousness “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). There the words just and justifier are translated from the same Greek word as righteousness.
However murky verse 17 might be, it is Paul’s launchpad for the magnificent theme of justification by faith.
The centerpiece of this theme is, of course, the gospel that Paul introduced in verse 1 and that features God’s Son, who was raised to a position in power (verse 4). “Through him God has unleashed his own power” (Joseph Fitzmyer). Verse 16 foreshadows another Romans theme, the priority of the Jews, which Paul will develop in chapters 9–11. That subtheme will occupy us in this message.Jewish privilege
The priority accorded the Jews traces to God’s sovereign choice to make a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His promises to those patriarchs—reaffirmed through Israel’s prophets (1:2)—established the plan of salvation that has been playing out ever since, culminating in the sending of his Son as human Messiah to the Jewish people.
Israel’s rejection of Christ then opened the door of salvation to Gentiles (11:11). Eventually that door will close, at which time “all Israel will be saved” (11:26). Even now God continues to love corporate Israel on account of his promises to the patriarchs (11:29).
Paul’s mention of Jew and Greek is not a throwaway line but an integral part of his purpose in this letter. Helping us see this, both Douglas Moo and Richard Longenecker find in verse 16 a couple of not-so-obvious reasons why these groups are central to Paul’s argument that he is not ashamed of the gospel.Moo: “Everyone” means Jews and Gentiles
It is significant that Paul immediately follows the phrase “everyone who believes” with “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Greek here (unlike in verse 14) refers to all Gentiles. Moo points out that the availability of salvation for “all who believe” is a recurring motif in Romans, as Paul uses it four additional times (3:22; 4:11; 10:4, 11). In each case, Moo says, the phrase has particular relevance to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles
Moo says Paul uses “everyone who believes” when referring to the breaking down of barriers between Jews and Gentiles that were erected by the law. Those barriers had to come down to fulfill OT prophecies about the inclusion of Gentiles, and the gospel is God’s means of doing so. As Moo puts it, “Paul’s ministry to Gentiles derives from his understanding of the gospel itself as eschatological revelation that fulfills the OT promises about the universal reign of Yahweh.”
Here then is one reason for Paul to say he is not ashamed of the gospel. The unifying of Jews and Gentiles in the church is a priority for Paul, and he seeks to press its importance through this letter to a church in which these two groups were seemingly at odds. Moo says, “Nowhere does this principle receive more emphasis than in Romans, as Paul seeks to validate his gospel before a skeptical audience.”Longenecker: Paul corrects a misconception
In the previous message I noted Longenecker’s proposal that chapters 5–8 show how Paul contextualized the gospel for his proclamation to Gentiles by emphasizing its more personal and relational aspects. In chapters 1:18 through 4, on the other hand, Paul outlines the gospel’s Jewish Christian themes. Viewing the epistle through that lens, Longenecker now sees another motive likely behind Paul’s shame reference.
Longenecker suggests that the Christians in Rome, having heard reports of what Paul was teaching to Gentiles, may have thought Paul altered the gospel for his Gentile audience because he was ashamed of its forensic, judicial, and legal features. To assure the Roman church that is not the case, Paul affirms in these opening chapters those very features of the gospel.
Old Testament concepts of righteousness and faith are at the center of his thesis statement in verse 17. And the next three chapters, Longenecker argues, show by Paul’s rejection of “works” righteousness and his affirmation of justification by faith that his teaching is fully in line with the gospel the believers in Rome received from the mother church in Jerusalem.God’s enablement of belief
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel for one reason that is quite obvious. The gospel is “the supreme power, the almighty power of God Himself directed toward the salvation of men, God’s almighty saving power” (Charles Cranfield). Fitzmyer says Paul’s emphasis is on the gospel as a force or power unleashed in human history.
As in Paul’s day, many people dismiss the word of the cross as folly. But we know better: “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). No other power can move a soul from death to life, from God’s enemy to God’s son, from condemnation to glory.Salvation, as Cranfield observes, “is altogether—not almost altogether—God’s work.” His call is irresistible (8:30). God enables the human response of surrender to the gospel both by directing the message to the hearer and by laying open the hearer’s heart to the message, Cranfield says. And he makes this insightful point about the freedom of the human response:
God’s grace is like a swimming pool. He creates the pool, warms it to our satisfaction, gives us free admission, and invites us—even more, gives us the desire and the ability—to jump in. Even so, we must then dive in to experience its refreshment to our souls.