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Paul is not offering himself as a substitute in Romans 9:3

In my book, I argue that Paul in Romans 9:3 is swearing an oath of extraordinary commitment, in which he binds his own fate to that of Israel. He is thus acting as a representative for Israel, not offering himself as a substitute as many commentators assume.

Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to RomansRomans 9:3 should, I argue, be translated:

For I have vowed that I myself might be anathema from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsfolk according to the flesh.

What is Paul doing?

Paul is speaking here of an oath of extraordinary commitment in which he has bound his own future to that of Israel. Paul’s oath effectively “forces” God’s hand in favour of Israel. If God does not bring about his purposes for Israel, then God’s own apostle must be abandoned to a state of “anathema from Christ.” Paul is acting much like Moses, who “declines to be part of a future which does not include Israel also.”[see footnote] Paul is thus communicating to his readers that he, as apostle to the nations, is as committed to Israel’s future as he is to his own future (pp. 205-206)

The footnote explains the reference to Moses:

Moberly 1983, 57. This is the straightforward meaning of Moses’ statement, “If [you will] not [forgive their sin], blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exod 32:32). Abasciano (Abasciano 2005, 99–100) points out that most Pauline interpreters wrongly assume that Moses and Paul are offering their own destruction vicariously, as an alternative to Israel’s destruction. Rather, Paul, like Moses, “asks to suffer the fate of the people with them if the Lord will not forgive, as an inducement to the Lord to restore them” (100, emphasis mine).

The citations are from:

  • Abasciano, Brian J. 2005. Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1–9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis. Library of New Testament Studies 301. London: T&T Clark.
  • Moberly, R. W. L. 1983. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32–34. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 22. Sheffield: JSOT.

The full details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 6 of the book (pp. 204-206). The chapter is available from the publisher in electronic format:

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans. BZNW 205. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

Published inExodusPaulRomans

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

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