Delimiting the Text
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;
31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:30-33)
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Here, Paul enters the second part of his defense of the fidelity of God. In this section, the intersection of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility becomes very prominent. He has extended his claim about election into the realm of salvation for Jews and Gentiles. The faith of the Gentiles is a subordinate question that arises from the same problem that is presented at the beginning of chapter 9. Now, he elaborates upon the puzzling fact that the Gentiles have found salvation, yet Israel has not. The promises given to Israel seemed to guarantee their salvation, yet the Gentiles who did not seek righteousness have earned it instead.
Paul clarifies the type of righteousness that the Gentiles have attained – it is a righteousness by faith. It is not to say that the Gentiles were lacking “goodness” and moral standards, but rather that they were not pursuing a right relationship with God. This standing with God can only be obtained through faith. This righteousness through faith is contrasted with Israel, who pursued righteousness by following the law.
It is to be noted that the specific thing Israel is faulted for is failing to reach the law. But why is the goal reaching the law, as opposed to reaching righteousness? Paul is careful to point out that the law leads to righteousness, it is not righteousness in and of itself. Israel’s failure to keep the law is their failure to attain righteousness. Verse 32 sheds further light on the failure of Israel – they failed to reach the law because they pursued it according to works and not by faith. They are unable to reach a right standing of God because they did not keep the law (that leads to righteousness), because their attempt was founded on works and not on faith in Christ.
Christ is identified in the Old Testament quotation in verse 33 – a conflation of Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16. The Jews have stumbled over Christ because they did not exercise faith in him. In the quotation from Isaiah, God is the one laying the stone of the stumbling – the unbelief of the Jews is again found under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty, as it has been in the rest of chapter 9. Paul’s use of Isaiah is harmonious with the themes of Isaiah 8 and 28, that judgment is spared for those who exercise faith in God, and impending for those that do not. Though Paul’s argument occurs in the context of God’s sovereign differentiation between Israel and the Gentiles, his quote from Isaiah clearly highlights that the problem of Israel’s unbelief is also anthropological. The sovereignty of God does not eliminate the culpability of men.
In 10:1, we see that Paul interjects his personal plea again for his brothers, that they may be saved. The fact that Paul pleads God for the salvation of his brothers is not contrary to the election that he has just finished writing about. God’s sovereignty does not come at the expense of human responsibility, a theme that will be expounded upon in this section, for prayer has always been the means by which God has ordained to accomplish his purposes. Paul prays for Israel according to verse 2 because they have a zeal for God, but their zeal is misplaced. In verse 3, Paul shows that their zeal for God is channeled into their own efforts rather than faith.
Fundamentally, the Jews had a knowledge deficit – they did not understand that God’s righteousness was a gift of grace through faith. Rather, their alternative was to earn righteousness through observing the law. As in 9:31, we see again that the law is not righteous unto itself. The law leads to righteousness, and the Jews have missed the point of the law. Paul’s explanation of Israel’s deficit echoes his defense of the law in chapter 8 that the law is not evil.
Verse 4 then depends on verse 3 – Christ is the end of the law for believers. Again, the focus of Paul’s exposition is two-fold – there is a relationship between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Paul most definitely teaches a shift in the paradigm of salvation because the Mosaic law is no longer in effect (Schreiner, 547). However, in the context of Romans 10:4, the primary issue is not that the Jews have missed the paradigm shift, but that their failure to attain their goal is a result of seeking to supplant faith in God with their obedience to the law (from verse 3). The focus on the specific error of the Jews prevents us from reading that Paul transitions the discussion back to the salvation of all peoples (“…to everyone who believes”). When he says that Christ is the end of the law, it is an experiential claim primarily for the Jews, but also for anyone that follows the Mosaic law. In the experiential interpretation, all who believe in Christ will no longer use the law for righteousness.