On Sunday, a well-quoted passage was… well… quoted. Not exactly a blog-worthy occurrence, as this should be pretty common.
Romans 10:13-15 – How can they call upon who they’ve not believed >> and believe in whom they’ve not heard >> and hear without preaching >> and preach without being sent? Standard missionary text. People need to hear to believe, so we need more missionaries. I don’t disagree. But I did have an observation…
My observation/thought had to do with the tension between the urgency to send, preach, hear, believe and call upon the Lord (13-15), and the almost never-quoted verses that follow in the next few verses (16-21), which speak of God being ‘found by those who did not seek, and known to those who did not ask after Me.’ Do these contradict one another? Does Paul forget what he’s just written when he writes these later verses? Can people who’ve not heard know God or not?
Of course, the wider context always clears things up.
Romans 10:13-15 is in the middle of the infamous chapters 9-11, which deal with the question of whether or not God has forsaken the Jews. The Jewish Covenant arrangement, with a Jewish kind of Law and a Jewish kind of ‘righteousness’ had been made effectively worthless with the New Covenant arrangement, with a Jew + Gentile kind of Law (the Law of Christ, a.k.a. Love), and a Jew + Gentile kind of ‘righteousness’ (the righteousness of Christ).
This is really what Romans is all about. How is God being faithful (‘righteous’) to His covenant purposes with all this new stuff happening? Jewish believers had the tendency to emphasise their Jewish superiority over these newcomer Gentiles, after all they were the Abraham people, the covenant people, the Law people. These Gentiles would have to get some Law if they were going to be ‘proper’ believers. Gentile believers had a tendency to return the favour, though. Surely all of that Law stuff was unnecessary and irrelevant.
Paul wants them to see that what really matters is not their Jewish ‘faithfulness’ to the Law or their Gentile freedom from it. What matters is that they both believed and confessed Jesus.
A nice little chiasm in verses 9-10 illustrates this:
A – Because if you confess the Lord Jesus,
B – and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead,
C – you shall be saved.
B – For with the heart one believes unto righteousness,
A – and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation.
Confessing (and believing/’trusting’ in) your Jewish-ness (‘we are Law people!’) or your Gentile-ness (‘we are free from all the stuff!’) is not what matters under the New Covenant. Confessing (and believing/’trusting’ in) the risen Lord Jesus was what they really had in common.
So what about the question above? Can people who’ve not heart know God?
I am persuaded to think (and I’ve not got time to really sort this out with some proper commentaries) along these lines:
- Verses 13-15 are aimed at humbling the Gentiles (‘You didn’t believe in Jesus all on your own! You heard about him through Jewish preachers!!’)…
- …and verses 16-21 are aimed at humbling the Jews (‘You guys had the Law and missed who God was, and meanwhile God was known by these foreigners!’).