God Blessed Forever - Romans 9:4-5 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.—Romans 9:4-5

We have been considering the argument put forward for the new translations that turn the last part of verse 5 into a doxology addressed to God instead of being a description of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have seen that we must face this because so many of God’s people today are being misled and misguided by various false religions and cults that we really cannot afford to be uncertain with regard to this matter. How, then, do we deal with this argument?

My first answer is that it is very interesting to observe that these people who would refuse to ascribe those words to the Lord Jesus Christ and who ascribe them only to God as a doxology, do not attempt to base their position on grounds of grammar. Now, much of the change in modern translations from the Authorized Version is done on such grounds—they say that because of the grammar alone, we are compelled to do this and that, and so to change the great teaching of the New Testament. But here they do not say that, for the very good reason that they cannot possibly do so. They have to fall back, therefore, on this more general statement, that this is something that the apostle Paul does not do in his writings. So that is a general argument instead of a particular one in terms of grammar. Indeed, we shall find that the grammar is most certainly against them and on the side of the Authorized Version translation.

Secondly, this variation in the translation is not based…on a question of the various manuscripts of the New Testament. Commentaries often refer to those manuscripts and compare them, so it is important that we should know something about them. This is textual criticism…Textual criticism means that these various ancient manuscripts should be examined and compared. It is important for the purposes of translation that we should get as accurate a manuscript as is available and, beyond any question, much excellent work has been done in that direction during the past one hundred and fifty years or so…I refer to all this just to indicate that here, in verse 5, the proposed variations in the translations are not based upon a matter of manuscripts. We must always pay serious attention to manuscript evidence; but here, there is no such evidence because what decides the translation here is ultimately a question of punctuation—whether you put a full stop after “flesh” or whether you put a comma. So it has nothing to do with the manuscripts because the punctuation of the Scriptures did not come in until the third century…

It is important, then, that we should see that the argument for these modern translations is not at all a question of “scholarship.” How over-awed we are by “scholarship”! But grammatical literary criticism does not come in here, nor, especially, does textual criticism because there is no evidence from that line at all. So it cannot be justified in those terms.

Now lest somebody should think that I am merely giving my own opinion here, let me quote from some great authorities. Here is what the commentary written by Sanday and Headlam says—and neither of these men was an evangelical Christian—“It may be convenient to point out at once that the question is one of interpretation and not of criticism.” Now that is a statement by two great authorities on the whole matter of criticism, so that we are in the happy position that we cannot be over-awed and frightened by the words scholarship or criticism. They do not apply here. So those who would dispute the Authorized Version translation have to fall back upon this general statement, that it is not the custom of the apostle to describe our Lord as God.

So we can now come to the particular arguments. Why should we contend for this Authorized Version translation? Well, looking at it superficially and generally, one reason is that it would be quite unnatural to introduce a sudden doxology to God at this point because there is nothing that leads up to it and nothing that calls for it. The apostle is expressing his sense of sorrow and so on, and he is referring here to the Lord Jesus Christ. So that there is nothing that indicates any reason for suddenly uttering a doxology to God.

“But,” somebody may say, “does he not do that very thing in the first chapter in verse 25, where we read, ‘Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen’?” But that is not a parallel because in Romans 1 verse 25 the apostle is referring to God the Father—the Creator. And having referred to the Creator, he says, “Who is blessed for ever.” He is not changing from one person to another, so that that does not make any difference whatsoever to our argument. That, therefore, is the first reason, especially coupled with the fact that the apostle here, because of the very subject with which he is dealing, is obviously not in a state or mood that would suddenly cause him to burst forth into a doxology to God the Father.

Then secondly—and here we are dealing with grammar—look at this word who: “…of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all.” Or, if you take the other way of translating it, “of whom Christ came according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” Now “who” means “the one who.” And, surely, by all rules of grammar that indicate that a relative pronoun should always refer to the nearest antecedent then this “who” clearly refers to the Lord Jesus Christ: He is the nearest antecedent. The apostle is writing and talking about Him, and when he says “who” you naturally take it to mean the same person; the One Who as concerning the flesh came from these people. That is the One to Whom he is referring and about Whom he is now going to say certain further things…

Then we add to that a third argument, and this is a very important one. The apostle in the first part of the statement tells us something about the Lord Jesus Christ: “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” So you would expect that if he has put emphasis upon “according to the flesh” or “concerning the flesh,” then he has a contrast in his mind—what is the other side of Christ? Christ has two natures in one person; so then, Paul goes on to complete it concerning the flesh.” He has come of the children of Israel, but on the other hand, He is God over all, God blessed forever. Now this is not only a natural parallel here to complete a balanced statement; it is, of course, an exact repetition of what we find the apostle saying about Him at the very beginning of the Epistle in chapter 1. Here are the first four verses: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:1-3a). Then he speaks of Christ like this—“which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (1:3b-4). You see, he starts all like that. He is anxious that we should know that in this blessed Person there are these two natures. He is truly man, but He is also truly God. There is something that is true of Him “according to the flesh”; there is something that is true of Him “according to the spirit.” And here in Romans 9, you have a repetition of exactly the same parallel, the two sides of the same statement, the antithesis—“flesh,” “spirit”; natural, human, divine, eternal, spiritual...

Then the fourth argument, again, is a very interesting one. Notice the relative position of the words God and blessed. “Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” What is the significance of the relative position of these two words? Well, in doxologies, the order of the words is the exact opposite of what it is here! This is a typical doxology: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “blessed” comes first, “God” follows it. Charles Hodge went into this matter very thoroughly, and others have done the same. Charles Hodge says that there is no exception to that order in the Greek or the Hebrew Scriptures…

So far, we have been dealing with this point purely in terms of grammar and syntax, but what about the other argument—that the apostle never refers to the Lord Jesus Christ as God, and that that teaching only comes later? It is said, also, that it is not customary to describe our Lord as “over all” because He was subservient to the Father and submitted Himself to the Father’s will; and that the whole tenor of the teaching in the New Testament is that the Son is subordinate to the Father, and the Spirit subordinate to the Son and to the Father. What of this argument?...

Well, there is a great deal to be said in reply to this contention also. The first is that the apostle Paul very frequently does describe the Lord Jesus Christ as the Head of all creation. Take, for instance, 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” There Paul reminds us that simply for the purposes of our salvation the blessed Holy Trinity has divided the work between them. We often describe this as the “economic Trinity.” But in 1 Corinthians 11, the Lord Jesus Christ is described as “the head of every man.” That is the important point there.

Then we find exactly the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15:28: “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” Again, the two ideas come in; but the point is that Paul is teaching there that everything is put under Him. You also have the same in Philippians 2:5-11, especially in verses 10 and 11: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [Jehovah], to the glory of God the Father.”

The same truth exactly is found in Colossians 1:15-17: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” There is a perfectly clear, plain, and explicit statement of the fact that He is “over all,” and it is characteristic of New Testament teaching…

Then take again that tremendous statement from Philippians 2:6: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” This means that in this equality with God that was true of Him, He did not consider it to be a prize to be clutched at and held on to at all costs. No, instead, He made Himself of no reputation. But the statement is that He was equal with God. It means nothing else, and it is a very powerful argument. Notice the terms: form of God and equal with God.

Notice, too, the statement in Colossians 2:9: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” You cannot get anything beyond that. Hebrews 1:3 says the same thing: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” Again you get the notion associated with it, that the Son is the “heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds,” and who upholds “all things by the word of his power.” There, then, are terms that should satisfy us that here there are expressions used with respect to Him that clearly indicate that He is God, that He is equal with God; the same form, the same appearance as God. There is only one meaning to these statements…

Those, then, are the important answers to the arguments brought against this translation that we have in the Authorized Version. So let me close this study by quoting in full the comments made on this verse by Sanday and Headlam, who we have seen had no axe to grind—Sanday in particular. Neither of these men was by any stretch of the imagination an evangelical believer; but they were great scholars, and this is their conclusion. Here you have two professors belonging to the University of Oxford, a university that is famous for its carefulness, for its balance, for its fearfulness to commit itself, rejoicing in “the balanced mind.” So notice how careful they are! “Throughout there has been no argument which we have felt to be quite conclusive, but the result of our investigations into the grammar of the sentence and the drift of the argument is to incline us to the belief that the words would naturally refer to Christ unless God is so definitely a proper name that it would employ a contrast in itself: we have seen that that is not so. Even St. Paul did not elsewhere use the word of the Christ, yet it certainly was so used at a not much later period. St. Paul’s phraseology is never fixed; he had no dogmatic reason against using it. In these circumstances, with some slight—but only slight—‘hesitation’ ”—notice the qualification of the qualification of the qualification!—“we adopt the first alternative and translate: ‘Of whom is the Christ as concerning the flesh, Who is over all God blessed for ever. Amen’!”

Now is it not interesting that on such a flimsy basis these modern translators do not hesitate to go against what has been believed throughout the running centuries? What makes them do it? It is a theological interest alone. There is something in them that makes them jump at any opportunity of detracting from the certainty of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was the eternal Son of God. There is no other reason…we should have no hesitation in adopting this Authorized Version translation and realizing that the apostle is saying here that the supreme privilege that was given to the nation of Israel was that out of them according to the flesh came the One Who is God over all, blessed for ever, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

From “Sermon 7,” pp. 79-90, in Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 9 God’s Sovereign Purpose, The Banner of Truth Trust, www.banneroftruth.org.

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