Romans 9-11, Part 7

Romans 10:14-21

Delimiting the Text

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”


The logic of verses 14-15 are also relatively uncomplicated in breaking down verse 13 (“everyone who call on the name of the Lord will be saved”). There is a chain of progression that allows the gospel to reach the ears of men. The chain of progression, read backwards from verse 15 to verse 13, states that a preacher must be sent to preach the gospel, so that someone can hear the gospel and believe and call on the Lord and be saved. Paul appends a quotation from Isaiah 52:7 at the end to give credence to the necessity that someone must proclaim the message of salvation.[1] Verse 17 nicely summarizes the conclusions of verses 14-15 – faith in Christ’s lordship and resurrection (from verse 9) comes from hearing the words of Christ, preached by those that were sent.

Between verses 15 and 17 Paul interjects a comment that interrupts the flow of thought, that “they have not all obeyed the gospel”. Who has not obeyed the gospel, and why not? The controlling questions of chapters 9-11 regarding the fate of Israel are still at play. The concern that has brought Paul to this very comment is that the majority of Israel has not been saved because they have sought to supplant the righteousness of God. This is furthermore supported by the quotation from Isaiah 53:1 at the end of verse 17. A closer examination of Isaiah 52 and 53 is helpful here:

“Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (Isa 52:13-53:1)

Isaiah predicted the salvation of the Gentiles (“so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths…”), and contrasts that with the disbelief of Israel, who have rejected the Messiah. Paul is not grieved because of the unbelief of the Gentiles, but because the Jews have refused to believe the gospel of faith and righteousness (Schreiner).

So then, what has gone wrong with Israel, if this is how salvation is preached and yet they have not believed? They have heard the gospel, yet have not obeyed. The implication is very strong that hearing the gospel does not save by itself, it takes something more than hearing to save. Paul quotes from Psalm 19:4:

​“Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,” (Ps 19:4)

In Psalm 19, David praises God because his glory is made manifest to all people. His glory is revealed in creation (v. 1 – “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above…”) and in the giving of the law (v. 7 – “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul…”). This voice proclaiming God has gone out to all the earth, so that Israel can make no special plea that they of all people have not heard.

Israel did hear the gospel, but did they understand? Paul continues in verses 19-20 by asking a rhetorical question. Paul calls upon two Old Testament witnesses to show that Israel cannot claim ignorance about what was forthcoming:[2]

​“They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” (Deut 32:21)

“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. ​I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;” (Isa 65:1-2)

Moses predicted that Israel would be brought to jealousy and anger by another nation. Isaiah further builds upon this by prophesying that the Gentiles, who did not seek God, have found the way to salvation. This recalls the claims of Romans 9:30-31. John Murray insightfully points out that the distinctive feature of these verses “is not the universal diffusion of the gospel; it is the provocation of Israel as the by-product of this diffusion. Strangers and aliens will become partakers of covenant favour and blessing.” This is what Israel knew and understood, and yet they rejected the gospel anyways. This rubs right up against the claim of verse 21, that God has continued to wait patiently and genuinely for the salvation of his people, making Israel’s unbelief all the more perplexing.[3] Israel as a whole has been disobedient to the gospel, and Paul shows in chapter 10 that their disobedience is inexcusable. The preponderance of evidence that Paul brings shows that Israel should have believed, and are faulted for their disbelief. But this is not the end of God’s dealings with them, as Paul will go on to show in chapter 11.[4]

[1] The theme of the intersection of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty shows up again. There is no conflict here between the act of preaching and the sovereignty of God. The acts of sending and preaching as a human work are the methods that God has ordained for salvation his will to be done. So also in 10:1, where Paul prays that his brothers may be saved. He does not posit that his prayer will change God’s mind, but that does not stop him from praying nevertheless.

[2] Schreiner inserts that Paul is responding to a Jewish objection that the gospel is more successful among the Gentiles than the Jews, and that the quotations from Moses and Isaiah are meant to show that Paul’s gospel cannot be faulted for that. There is nothing in the text that indicates that the basis of the Jewish objection was the number of Gentiles that have entered into salvation. The tone of chapters 9-11 suggests that the stumbling block for the Jews is not the mass inflow of Gentiles, but rather that they have rejected a righteousness that is by faith. The purpose in bringing the Gentiles in is to make the Jews jealous that their special rights as a nation have come to nothing.

[3] I will have to admit that studying up to the end of chapter 10 has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life, because I was frantically searching for the reason why Israel did not believe, despite the prophesies given to them from verses 18-21. They knew of their own destiny, and yet they continued to reject God. What type of answer do I give for why Israel continues in sin? There is nothing else to say except that I understand why Paul needed to address this question, why Paul’s heart breaks for his brothers.

[4] Since this chapter is an important marker in the biblical discussion of human responsibility and divine sovereignty, and since it is only addressed obliquely and not directly in this chapter, I will make some concluding remarks in the footnotes. Paul does not invent a mechanism for philosophical equilibrium between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. This much is clear: God has hardened most of Israel, to the effect that many will perish (Romans 9). However, Israel is also at fault, because they have rejected the righteousness that comes through faith. To claim that one is more prominent than the other is to skew the biblical witness.

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