Romans 1:1 Commentary - Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentSECTION 1 — PAUL GREETS THE ROMAN CHRISTIANS
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, which he promised before through His prophets in Holy Scriptures concerning His Son, who was born from David’s seed according to flesh, who was marked out as born of God in power according to spirit, a spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we received grace and apostleship, for obedience of (or to) faith in all the nations, on behalf of His nature; among whom are ye also, called ones of Jesus Christ; to all the beloved ones of God that are at Rome, called saints; grace fo you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rom 1:1. Writing as a stranger to the Christians at Rome, Paul begins by telling them his name, his position in the Church, the work for which he was placed in that position, and how this work brings him into contact with them.
Paul: in Latin, Paulus, as in Act 13:7 : well known as the name of an illustrious Roman family.
Servant: see under Rom 6:16 : one who acts habitually at the bidding of another.
Servant of Jesus Christ: Paul’s first description of himself. The same title is given in Rom 6:22 to all Christians. In the O.T., the term “servant of Jehovah” sometimes (e.g. Jos 1:1-2; Jos 1:7; Jos 1:13; Jos 1:15) denotes men who received direct commands from God, and who therefore in a special sense did His bidding.
Jesus: name given to our Lord at birth as a man among men: see Mat 1:21.
Christ: a Greek word equivalent to Messiah in Hebrew (cp. Joh 1:41; Joh 4:25) and denoting anointed. Cp. Act 4:26-27 with Psa 2:2. In 2Sa 2:14; 2Sa 2:16, Saul is called “Jehovah’s Messiah,” and in the LXX. “the Lord’s Christ.” The priest is called in Lev 4:5 Messiah or Christ. In Dan 9:25 the word is expressly applied to the coming Deliverer and King. So Bk. of Enoch, ch. xlviii. 10. In this sense the word became common among the Jews. They used it constantly for the expected Saviour, in reference to the kingdom of which He was the designated Heir: see Joh 4:25. The name Jesus speaks of a known man who lived at Nazareth and was crucified at Jerusalem. To add to this the name Christ, was to declare that He is the hoped-for Deliverer and future King. By calling himself a servant of Jesus Christ, Paul acknowledges that Jesus is Messiah and pays Him honour by calling Him Master. These words also suggest the kind of work Paul has to do, viz. to aid in setting up His kingdom. And they express his thoughts as he takes up his pen to write this letter: he writes, not to please himself, but as a servant doing his master’s work. They thus give him a claim upon his readers’ attention. A man who knocks at our door and calls himself a servant of some great one implies that he has come on his master’s business, and claims an attention to be measured by the importance, not of himself, but of his master.
A called apostle: one who by a divine call was made an apostle. It asserts Paul’s position among the servants of Christ. Apostle: an English form of a Greek word denoting one sent on some special business. “Missionary,” derived from the Latin, has almost the same meaning. So Joh 13:16 : “nor an apostle greater than he that sent him.” It is translated messenger in 2Co 8:23; Php 2:25. Same word in 1Ki 14:6, LXX. Alex. MS. It was given by Christ (Luk 6:13) to the first rank of His ministers, because (Joh 20:21) they were personally sent by Him on a great mission: cp. 1Co 12:28; Eph 4:11. By describing himself as an apostle, Paul claims this first rank. He was called to it by Christ as described in Act 26:16-18 : “to whom I now send thee.” See also 1Co 9:1; Gal 1:1.
Set apart for the Gospel of God: the work for which Paul was called to be an apostle. Set apart or marked off: a line drawn round him separating him from others: cognate to marked off in Rom 1:4. Gospel: the Greek word is cognate to “evangelist” and “evangelize,” and denotes good news, bringer of good news, etc. It is applied to personal matters in 2Sa 18:19-20; 2Sa 18:27, LXX.; Luk 1:19; Luk 2:10 : 1Th 3:6. Cp. Isa 52:7 with Rom 10:15. The Gospel is good news from God. For this good news, i.e. to proclaim it, Paul was set apart. He had nothing else to do. Even when working as a tentmaker, he did so in order thus the more effectually to preach the Gospel: 1Co 9:12. In the purpose of God, Paul was set apart (Gal 1:15-16) before his birth: he received the actual call on the road to Damascus. In Act 13:2 he was further set apart to take the Gospel to foreign countries. [The all-important preposition εις, which I have rendered for, (in A.V. and R.V. unto,) denotes primarily motion towards the inside of something, then tendency intentional or involuntary, and very frequently definite mental direction or purpose. It may be studied in Rom 1:5; Rom 1:11; Rom 1:16; Rom 1:24; Rom 1:27; Rom 3:26; Rom 4:20; Rom 5:8; Rom 5:12; Rom 5:18; Rom 6:3-4; Rom 7:10; Rom 8:7; Rom 8:28; Rom 9:22-23; Rom 15:24-26; Rom 16:6. In Rom 2:4, it must be rendered towards. It denotes always direction, either of actual movement, or tendency, or thought and purpose.]
Rom 1:2. Further information about the Gospel for which Paul was set apart.
Which he promised before: God foretold through the prophets not only good things to come but the announcement of the good things, i.e. that salvation would be preceded by glad tidings of salvation. See Isa 40:1-10; Isa 52:7-10; Rom 10:15. In one sense, God proclaimed beforehand (Gal 3:8) the good news to Abraham; but only as something far off and indistinct. To him and to the prophets it was only a promise of good things in a far future.
Prophets: men through whom God spoke to their fellow-men: see note under 1Co 14:40 : cp. Heb 1:1, The words following prove that the prophets referred to were those whose writings have come down to us.
Scriptures: writings of any kind.
Holy: that which stands in special relation to God: see note below. The phrase Holy Scriptures separates these writings from all others, and classes them with the holy objects of the Old Covenant, e.g. the sabbath, temple, sacrifices, and priesthood, as belonging in a special sense to God. See Diss. iii. The promise of good news passed through the prophets’ lips: it abides and speaks in the sacred writings.
This verse claims attention for the Gospel. That for which the way was prepared during centuries, and to proclaim the advent of which men like Isaiah and Jeremiah were sent, must indeed be great. To many of Paul’s readers, the prophets were almost superhuman. And to them the Old Testament was separated from all other books as holy, i.e. as belonging specially to God. This holy book and these prophets of God declared that in days to come good news from God would be announced. (In Romans 10, Paul will prove that his Gospel corresponds with what they foretold.) Therefore by his readers’ reverence for the book and the men he claims their attention. Again, by appealing to the prophets and the Scriptures, Paul pays honour to the Old Covenant. That the ancient prophets and books foretold the Gospel, increases our respect for them as well as for it. Paul thus guards against the error both of those who deny the abiding authority of the Old Testament and of those who claim as final the revelation therein recorded. We shall find that it was because these thoughts lay near the apostle’s heart that they came to his pen at the first mention of the Gospel. For coincidences, see Act 13:32; Act 26:6; Act 3:18; Act 10:43.
Rom 1:3-4 The great subject-matter of the Gospel, still further claiming our reverent attention. Just as the title “Jesus Christ” set forth our Lord as a man among men and as the hope and future king of Israel, so the title His Son declares His relation to God. That Paul uses this term to denote one definite person, and expects his readers to know to whom he refers, implies that Christ is the Son of God in a sense which marks Him out from all others, i.e. that He stands in a relation to God shared by no one else. This unique relation finds fuller expression in Rom 8:3; Rom 8:32.
Who was born: literally came into being, either absolutely as men do at birth, or came into a new mode of being as when men become what they were not before. It neither implies nor excludes, previous existence. That Paul refers to Christ’s birth (cp. Gal 4:4) through which He entered (Joh 1:14) a mode of being derived from David’s seed, we infer from these last words. He sprang by birth from the descendants of David: Joh 7:42; 2Ti 2:8.
Seed: common in the Bible (Joh 8:33, etc.) to denote offspring in whom a family lives on to other generations. Paul takes for granted, as needing no proof, that Christ sprang from David. As we read them, the genealogies in Matthew 1, and Luke 3, are no complete proof of this: for they give only the descent of Joseph. But in this matter Paul is himself a reliable authority. The genealogy of Christ was important to the Jews of Paul’s day; and was doubtless (Heb 7:14) sufficiently evident. To us it is of less importance: and evidence which to us would be superfluous is not given. Christ’s descent from David gave Him a claim upon the Jews as a descendant of their ancient kings; and as a scion of the stock to which the future royalty was promised: Jer 23:5; Psa 132:11.
Flesh: the material of our bodies which we have in common with other men, and, in a different form, with all that breathes. See note under Rom 8:11.
According to flesh; limits the foregoing assertion to the outer, lower, visible, and material side of the nature of Christ, i.e. to the constitution of His body, which indisputably came forth from David’s seed. And this bodily descent is sufficient to justify these words, here and in Rom 9:3; Rom 9:5, without supposing that Paul thought also of the derivation of His human soul from human ancestors. That the human soul of Jesus was in some measure thus derived, this suggested limitation does not deny. For, to limit an assertion is not to limit the extent of that which is asserted, but limits only the sense which the writer intends his words to convey. In this case, that all living flesh is animated by a corresponding invisible principle, makes it easy to extend to this invisible principle some things said about its visible frame. But the agency of the Holy Spirit (Luk 1:35) in the birth of Christ forbids us to infer that His human spirit stood in the same relation to human ancestry as do our spirits. This mysterious subject however was probably far from Paul’s thought. It was sufficient for his purpose to say that, touching His material side, He was born from David’s seed: for this made Him David’s heir.
Rom 1:4. Notice the stately parallel, and the greater length and fulness of the second clause, corresponding with the greater dignity there set forth. Beside that which his Master became, Paul now sets something which He was marked out to be, viz. Son of God. Literally, a boundary line was drawn between Him and others: so Num 34:6; Jos 13:27, LXX. And, whereas the mode of being entered at birth was derived from David’s seed, this visible boundary was derived from His resurrection. Since the distinction thus marked was derived, not from something peculiar to that one event, but from its abstract significance as an uprising of one who had been dead, the event is called generically a resurrection of dead ones. On earth, as we shall see in Diss. i. 7, Christ claimed to be, in a sense raising Him infinitely above all others, the Son of God. From His empty grave went forth proof that this claim was just. This proof is therefore a line drawn around Jesus on the page of human history and in human thought.
The words in power do not supplement the title Son of God. For the contrast in Rom 1:3 does not suggest weakness. But the word marked-out needs further explanation. The resurrection of Christ was a conspicuous manifestation of divine power. And in this manifested power lay the proof of the justice of Christ’s claim to be Son of God. From His empty grave went forth, amid an outshining of divine power, a line which marks the infinite exaltation of Jesus above men and angels. See 2Co 13:4; Php 3:10; Eph 1:19 f; Mat 22:29; Act 3:12; Act 4:7.
According to flesh, i.e. in reference to the constitution of His body, our Lord was born from David’s seed: but according to spirit, i.e. in reference to the inner, invisible, higher, immaterial, and animating side of His nature, He was marked out as Son of God. Paul now thinks no longer of the lips and hands derived from David’s seed, but of the unseen living principle which moved those hands, spoke through those lips, and smiled through that human face. By His resurrection, in reference to this unseen principle within, He was marked out as standing in a relation to God infinitely higher than that of even the noblest of His creatures.
In the human form born at Bethlehem, there dwelt, as the divine source of the human activity of Christ, the spirit of the eternal Son of God. But there dwelt also (see my Through Christ to God lect. xxxi.), closely associated with His human body, a created human soul, i.e. an animal life capable of hunger and thirst and bodily pain; and a human spirit permeated by, and reproducing the moral character of, the divine personality of the eternal Son. Each of these, as being invisible and immaterial, is spirit and not flesh. But the very close association of the soul with the body, its appetites corresponding, in all animals, with the nature of the body, suggests that this lower human soul of Jesus was in some measure derived from David’s seed. On the other hand, the sinlessness of the human spirit of Jesus, and the agency of the Holy Spirit at His birth, mark off His relationship to the race through one parent as quite different from our relation through two parents. Apparently, just as at first God breathed into an erect human form a rational spirit, thus creating a race holding a relation to God not shared by animals around, so at the incarnation, by the agency of the personal and eternal Breath of God, He breathed into human nature a higher life, thus placing humanity in a new and more glorious relation to Himself. But of these distinctions Paul probably does not here think. He thinks only of two contrasted elements in Christ. The power manifested in His resurrection proved that through Jewish lips (and, as we infer, through the mediation of a human spirit and soul) had spoken the Eternal Son of God.
Spirit of Holiness: a spirit characterised by unreserved, devotion to God: see note under Rom 1:7. Such was, by its very nature, the spirit which animated the body born at Bethlehem. When we look at Christ’s body, we find Him like ourselves, and we call Him David’s Son: but when we consider the spirit which moved those lips and hands and feet, which breathed in that human breast, turning always and essentially to God, we declare Him to be Son of God.
With singular unanimity the early commentators, (Origen is indefinite and confounds the divine nature of Christ with the Holy Spirit, and so is Augustine,) Chrysostom and Theodoret in the East, followed by Photius (Question 283), Œcumenius, and Theophylact, with the very early anonymous writer quoted as Ambrosiaster probably in the West, understand by spirit of holiness the Holy Spirit. With them agree some moderns. The exposition given above, I have not found in any early writer. So general a consensus demands respectful attention, but not implicit obedience. For the following reason, with Meyer, Sanday, and other moderns, I am unable to accept it.
Of the Holy Spirit, there is no hint in the whole chapter. To make such reference clear, the usual title would have been needful. By not using this title, Paul suggests that he does not refer here to the personal Spirit of God. No other reason for the phrase spirit of holiness instead of Holy Spirit, can I conceive. Moreover, if Paul refers to the Holy Spirit, he leaves quite indefinite His relation to the risen Saviour. This would be the more remarkable because nowhere else does he speak plainly of the Holy Spirit (cp. Mat 12:28; Luk 4:14) as a directive principle of the life of Christ. It is very unlikely that Paul would give a mere hint, in needlessly ambiguous language, of teaching which neither the context nor his own teaching elsewhere explains.
It cannot be objected that Spirit is the name, not of the Second, but of the Third, Person of the Trinity. For, although this term specially designates this last, as being present to our thought chiefly as the animating divine principle of the Christian life, yet it is not confined to Him. The entire nature of God is spirit; as is that in us which is nearest to God. Moreover, the term is used here to designate, not expressly the divine nature of Christ, but simply the higher element of His nature. That in Him this higher nature is divine, we learn elsewhere.
The order of Rom 1:3-4 is the order of Christ’s historical manifestation. He first showed Himself to men as David’s Son: and then by resurrection was proved to be the Son of God.
Jesus Christ our Lord: the Son in His relation to us. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the hope of Israel, our Lord.
Lord: one who has control over men and things. So Mat 21:40, “lord of the vineyard;” Mat 12:8, “Lord of the Sabbath.” It is correlative with “servant,” as in Rom 14:4; Mat 24:45; Mat 24:50; Mat 25:18-26; and is the title most frequently used to set forth Christ’s relation to us, as in 1Co 8:6; 1Co 12:3; Eph 4:5. For its use in the O.T., see under Rom 9:29.
Our: probably without definite limitation. Of all Christians, Christ is Lord.
Rom 1:5. Christ’s relation to Paul and to his readers.
Through: δια with genitive: a most important N.T. word. It denotes the means, whether it be an unconscious instrument or an intelligent agent, through which an effect is brought about, the channel through which purpose passes into actuality; whether or not the agent be also the first cause. It denotes regularly Christ’s relation to the universe and to the work of salvation: so Rom 1:8; Rom 3:24; Rom 5:1-2; Rom 5:10-11; Rom 5:17; Rom 5:19; Rom 5:21; 1Co 8:6; Joh 1:3; Joh 1:10; Joh 1:17. The plural we does not refer to others who joined Paul in this letter, as in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, nor can it include the readers. For the phrase in all the nations, added to give Paul’s reason for writing to men at Rome, calls our attention away from the other apostles. It refers probably to Paul only. Such use of the plural in formal documents is common in all languages and ages. It was perhaps suggested by remembrance that others besides Paul had received this apostleship, and a still larger number the favour of God.
Grace: that quality which calls forth favour or approbation in a beholder. Such objects are graceful. Since the favour called forth depends upon the character and abides in the heart of the beholder, we have the phrase “to find grace in one’s sight;” as in Luk 1:30; Act 7:46. Since this favour springs from generosity, we read of “grace given” and “received:”
Rom 12:3; Rom 12:6; Rom 15:15; 2Co 6:1, and this verse. Favour prompts us to do good to its object; and this good done, arising simply from good-will, stands in contrast to obligation, as in Rom 4:4. When we were in sin, God looked upon us. Repulsive as we were, in His sight we found favour. For he saw in us His own image, so sadly marred: and the sight called forth in the breast of God that which prompted Him to save us. The grace of God is His love seeking out its object and contemplating it with a purpose of blessing.
Through the great Person just described, Paul and others became objects of the favour of God. Not that Christ moved God to look on us with favour, but that the birth and death of Christ are the channel through which God’s favour reached us. For Christ is Himself a gift of the “grace of God:” Heb 2:9. See Rom 3:24-26; Rom 8:32.
Apostleship: Christ was the divine agent through whom God made Paul an apostle. Just as Elisha, a prophet sent from God and speaking with God’s authority, was appointed to his work by Elijah at God’s bidding, so Paul was appointed by the voice of Christ at the Father’s bidding. He was “an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the command of God:” 1Ti 1:1. See Gal 1:1. First favour, then apostleship: for God’s favour is the source of all other blessings: 1Co 15:10; Eph 3:8.
For obedience of faith: same words in Rom 16:26 : purpose for which Paul was made an apostle, viz. that men may obey faith: Cp. 2Co 10:5, “for the obedience of Christ.” We obey faith by believing. Faith is itself submission to God. To make this prominent, Paul writes, not “for faith” as in Rom 1:17, but for obedience of faith. Cp. Act 6:7, “obeyed the faith;” also Rom 10:3; Rom 10:16; Rom 2:8.
In all the nations: sphere in which God sent Paul to evoke obedience to faith.
Nations, or Gentiles: cp. Rom 15:10 with Deu 32:43; Rom 15:11 with Psa 117:1; and Rom 15:9 with Psa 18:49. The Jews looked upon themselves as separate from all others, and therefore needed a word to mark the separation. They noticed that they were one; and called themselves a people, the people of God. The rest of mankind consisted of various nations, all strangers to Israel. Hence the contrast in Act 26:17; Act 26:23. They therefore used the plural form nations, not merely for the aggregate of nations, but for the aggregate of individuals composing the nations. Consequently we must sometimes translate Gentiles, as in Rom 2:14; Rom 3:29; Act 13:48; Act 14:2; Act 14:5; and sometimes nations as in Rom 4:17-18. The singular is always “nation,” as in Rom 10:19. Paul’s commission is for all the nations, and therefore includes Rome.
On behalf of His name: further object of the commission of Paul, viz. that the name of Christ may be known and honoured. So Act 9:16; Act 15:26; Act 21:13; 2Th 1:12; Act 3:16. To believe what that name implies, and to confess it, were the conditions of salvation. That this name might be on every lip and in every heart, Paul preached and lived, and was ready to die.
Rom 1:6. Brings Paul’s readers within the sphere of his apostolic work. He was sent to lead men “in all the nations” to obey faith; and in these nations were the Christians at Rome.
Ye also: in addition to the other nations among whom (Rom 1:13) he has laboured so long. Cp. Rom 1:15 : “also to you at Rome.”
Called ones of Jesus Christ: they belonged to Christ, and had been made His by a divine summons. This summons, Paul represents as given by the Father: so Rom 8:30; Rom 9:24; 2Th 2:14. The Gospel is God’s voice calling men to Christ; and is as solemn as the voice from the burning bush, or that on the road to Damascus. They who have obeyed the call are Christ’s called ones. Just as by the voice of Christ God made Paul an apostle and gave him a right to call himself such, so by the Gospel God gave his readers to Christ and gave them a right to call themselves His. See under Rom 8:28. Thus Paul, while claiming his own relation to Christ, recognises that of those to whom he writes. It is better to render and punctuate as above, not ye are called ones etc.: for the Roman Christians came within Paul’s sphere not by being called, but by being among the Gentiles.
Rom 1:7. The definite greeting, for which Rom 1:1-6 have prepared the way.
Beloved of God: equivalent to “beloved by God” in 1Th 1:4. God’s love is the source of all blessing, and the sure ground of our hope: cp. Rom 5:6; Rom 8:39. Of this love, all men (Rom 11:28, Joh 3:16) are objects; but only believers are conscious objects. To them it is real and living, moulding their thoughts and life. Paul knows that the love which smiles on himself smiles also on them; and that in a consciousness of the same Father’s love, amid the same trials of life, both he and they rejoice and rest.
Called saints: further description of his readers.
Saints not only called to be saints, but actually holy men. So Rom 15:25-26; Rom 15:31; Rom 16:2; Rom 16:15, etc.: cp. 1Co 1:2. They were objectively holy: see note below. God claimed to be henceforth the aim of their life, purposes, effort. Therefore, apart from their own conduct, they stood in a new and solemn relation to God, as men whom He had claimed for Himself. They might be, like the Corinthians, carnal; but they were still sanctified in Christ: 1Co 1:2; 1Co 3:3. To admit sin or selfishness into Christians, is sacrilege. Hence the word saint, their common N.T. designation, points out their duty. It points out no less their privilege. By calling us saints, God declares His will that we live a life of which He is the one and only aim. Therefore, since our efforts have proved that such a life is utterly beyond our power, we may take back to God the name by which He calls us, and humbly claim that it be realised by His power in our heart and life.
After describing himself, his business, and his readers, Paul adds words of greeting: grace and peace. “May you be objects of the favour of God.” This is the source of all blessing, and therefore holds the first place in N.T. salutations.
Peace: rest arising from absence of disturbing causes within, or around, or before us: the opposite of confusion and unrest: 1Co 14:33; Isa 57:20-21. It is a result of the favour of God. We are at rest because He smiles, and we know that He smiles, on us.
Father: a constant title of God, as is Lord of Christ: cp. 1Co 8:6; Eph 4:5-6. We look up to God as the Father from whom we sprang, and to Christ as the Master whose work we do. The grace of God is an outcome of His fatherhood. He smiles on His children. And, because we know that our Father smiles on us, we are at peace.
The Lord Jesus Christ: in closest relation to the Father, as joint Source with Him of grace and peace. This remarkable collocation of names, constant with Paul, places Christ infinitely above man and infinitely near to God. It completes the honour paid to Christ in this first sentence of the epistle.
Notice the beauty and symmetry of Paul’s opening sentence. It is a crystal arch spanning the gulf between the Jew of Tarsus and the Christians at Rome. Paul begins by giving his name: he rises to the dignity of his office, and then to the Gospel he proclaims. From the Gospel he ascends to its great subject-matter, to Him who is Son of David and Son of God. From this summit of his arch he passes on to the apostleship again, and to the nations for whose good he received it. Among these nations he finds the Christians at Rome. He began to build by laying down his own claims; he finished by acknowledging theirs. The gulf is spanned. Across the waters of national separation, Paul has flung an arch whose firmly knit segments are living truths, and whose keystone is the incarnate Son of God. Over this arch he hastens with words of greeting from his Father and their Father, from his Master and their Master.
Every word increases the writer’s claim upon the attention of his readers. He writes to them as one doing the work of the promised Messiah, who lived at Nazareth and died at Jerusalem. Among the servants of Christ he holds no mean place, but has been solemnly called to the first rank. He has been set apart by God for proclamation of those joyful tidings whose notes were heard from afar by the ancient prophets and still resound in the words of the sacred books. The divine mission of the prophets and the sacredness of their writings claim attention for one who announces as present what they foretold as future. This claim is strengthened by mention of Him who is the great matter of the good news. Paul proclaims the advent of a scion of the house to which eternal royalty was promised; of One who, by divine power, by victory over death, has been separated from all others as the Son of God. This Son of David and of God is Paul’s Master and theirs. By His personal call, Paul has received the rank of an apostle. This office derives lustre from the grandeur of Him by whom it was conferred. The purpose of Paul’s mission is that in all nations men may obey faith. A further purpose is that the name of Christ, written in these verses in characters so splendid, may be revered and loved by all. Among these nations are Paul’s readers. But he does not write in order to lead them to faith: for Christ has already made them His own by a divine call. They are objects of God’s love, men whom He has claimed for Himself. Paul desires for them the smile of God, and the rest of spirit which only that smile can give. May it come to them from its only source, the common Father and the common Master.
In these words there is no mere rambling among sacred topics, no running after some great thought, no mere desire to put Christ’s name into every sentence. But there is everywhere order and purpose. In Rom 1:5 we find Paul standing as an apostle on the level on which he stood in Rom 1:1. But how great an advance he has made! The long-foretold Gospel has given importance to the man set apart to proclaim it. The apostle has been into the presence of the Son of God; and the glory of that presence now irradiates the office received from one so great. He comes forth as an ambassador claiming for his Master the allegiance of all nations.
Observe, in this section and epistle, the facts and teaching assumed by Paul. He takes for granted the resurrection of Christ, and his own call by Christ; that Jesus claimed to be in a special sense the Son of God; that the prophets spoke from God; that their writings were sacred books; and that the Gospel is a divine call by which Christ claims men for God.
HOLINESS. The words holy, hallow, holiness, and saint, sanctify, sanctification, represent in the English Bible nearly always one Hebrew and one Greek word, this last being the constant equivalent of the former in the Greek Septuagint Version. These words, so important for understanding the Bible, the character of God, and our relation to Him, demand careful study.
The above words are found only in reference to religion. They were familiar to Jews and proselytes by their use in the O.T., and by well-known objects which were called holy, e.g. the Sabbath, Mount Sinai, the firstborn of man and beast, the tabernacle with its altars and vessels, the priests and their clothing, the sacrifices, consecrated houses and fields, the censers used by Korah and his company, the wall of Jerusalem, and the Person and Name of God. See Exo 29:1; Exo 30:29; Exo 30:35-37; Exo 40:1-15; Leviticus 21:27, Num 3:11-13, and innumerable other O.T. passages.
From these various and different objects and from an idea embodied in them all, we may now derive a definition of holiness. For we notice that all belong to God. He has claimed them for His own, He requires that they be used only to advance His purposes, and according to His bidding. And in this sense, i.e. as specially claimed by God and therefore in a special sense belonging to Him, they are holy. Hence the common phrase “holiness for Jehovah.” Cp. Lev 20:26. Holiness is written upon everything belonging to the Mosaic ritual, and is one of its most conspicuous features. It is as conspicuous as the shedding of blood, and as important.
The word holy, thus understood, is applied to both men and things in two ways, viz. in reference to the purpose and claim of God and to the purpose and conduct of man. Whatever God claims for His own, we may speak of as holy without considering whether the claim is responded to. For, whatever man may do, God’s claim puts the object claimed in a new position. Men may profane it by setting God’s claim at nought; but they cannot destroy the claim. It remains to condemn the men who trample it under foot. The Sabbath, temple, priesthood, were holy, however polluted. But to pollute them was sacrilege, and defiance to God. This may be called objective holiness. If man’s will concur with the Will of God, if the object claimed be actually devoted to Him, if to Him its entire activity tends, we have what we may call subjective holiness: as in 1Co 7:34; 1Th 5:23. It is described in Rom 6:11, “living for God, in Christ Jesus:” Cp. 2Co 5:15. This distinction of objective and subjective holiness is of the utmost importance. God sanctified the Sabbath and the firstborn: Gen 2:3; Exo 20:11; Num 3:11-51. Israel was bidden to sanctify it and them: Deu 5:12; Jer 17:22-27; Exo 13:1. God and His name are holy; therefore man must hallow them: Lev 20:26; Lev 21:8; Isa 1:4; Lev 22:32; Isa 29:23.
These last quotations remind us that the word holy is used not only to describe the objects which God claimed for Himself but also to set forth His own nature. And the connection proves that in both cases the word represents the same idea. But it is differently applied. For the objects claimed by God are “holy for Jehovah;” whereas He is “the Holy One of Israel.” When God claims to be the one aim of our existence, He not only puts us in a new position, and thus makes us objectively holy, but also reveals Himself in a new character. Henceforth we think of Him as the great Being who claims to be the aim of our every purpose and effort. By calling Himself holy, God announces that this claim has its root and source in a definite element of His nature. He is the beginning, and the end. All things are from Him and for Him. As thus understood, the holiness of God bears a relation to that of men analogous to the relation of the Creator to the creature.
We now see a reason for the ceremonial holiness so conspicuous in the Old Covenant. To teach men, in the only way in which they could learn it, that He claims to be the one aim of their being, God commanded certain men and things to be set apart for Himself in outward ceremonial form. These He called holy. When men had become familiar with the idea of holiness, thus set forth, God declared in Christ that this idea must be realised in every man and every thing, in spirit and soul and body. Hence the various holy objects in the O.T. are used in the N.T. to set forth the Christian life. We are a temple, priesthood, sacrifice: 1Co 3:16; 1Pe 2:5; 1Pe 2:9; Rom 12:1. Our future life will be a Sabbath-keeping: Heb 4:9. These were embodiments, in things, men, and time, of the idea of holiness. They set forth in symbolic form the body, spirit, and life of the people of God.
When that which exists only for God is surrounded by objects not thus consecrated, holiness becomes a setting apart for God. The more alien from God the objects around, the more conspicuous is this separation. Just so, the temple was closed to all but priests, themselves set apart from their fellows and from common life. But separation is only an accidental and subordinate idea. The word holy is frequently used without thought of separation, e.g. for the angels. In the world to come there will be absolute holiness, but no separation. For God’s pleasure will be the aim of every word and act of His glorified sons. The idea of separation appears also in the holiness of God. For, that He is the one object of His creatures’ purpose, effort, service, and worship, places Him and His Name at an infinite distance above all others. His claim reveals the difference between the creature and the Creator.
Since sin is an erection of self into the end and rule of life, it is utterly opposed to holiness. God’s holiness makes Him intolerant of sin, because sin robs Him of that which His holiness claims. Only the holy are pure, and only the pure are holy. But the words are not synonymous. Purity in the creature and opposition to sin in the Creator are the negative side of holiness. Holiness, however, is a positive attribute; and would have existed in God and in man even though there had been no sin.
Righteousness looks upon man as capable of obeying or disobeying a law; holiness, as capable of choosing and pursuing an aim, and of choosing God and His purposes to be the one aim of life. The antithesis of righteousness is transgression: that of holiness (see 2Co 5:15) is self. The contrast in the one case is Right or Wrong; in the other, Mine or God’s.
Already we have met the word holy three times. The Scriptures are called holy. For they stand in special relation to God as a divinely-given record of divinely-given revelations. The spirit of the incarnate Son of God was an impersonation of holiness: for every movement of that spirit had God for its aim. Christians are called saints or holy persons objectively, as claimed by God. To refuse that claim is to act as Aaron, who is called in Psa 106:16 “the saint of Jehovah,” would have done had he refused the priesthood. And it is their privilege to be subjectively holy.
On the whole subject, see further in my New Life in Christ lectures xii.-xv., and xxxii.
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Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Joseph Agar Beet was an English Wesleyan, born at Sheffield on Sept. 27, 1840. He attended Wesley College, Sheffield (1851-56), and took up mining engineering, but afterward studied theology at the Wesleyan College, Richmond (1862-64). He was pastor 1864-85 and professor of systematic theology in Wesleyan College, Richmond, 1885-1905. He was also a member of the faculty of theology in the University of London 1901-05. He delivered the Fernley Lecture on The Credentials of the Gospels in 1889, and lectured in America in 1896.