Skip to content

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

House of Windsor Editing Services

Bronwyn Windsor - House of Windsor Editing and Proofreading Services

Are you writing a thesis, book, academic article, resource, theological monograph, or anything else?

Bronwyn Windsor offers professional editing and proofreading services for writers. Press here to find out more: House of Windsor Editing Services

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on UnsplashWhat’s wrong with the world? Is there hope? (Ephesians)
    Guilt, weakness, spiritual slavery, prejudice, arrogance, tribalism, conflict, war, victimhood, persecution, pain, suffering, futility, ignorance, lying, deceit, anger, theft, greed, pornography, sexual sin, darkness, fear, drunkenness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace abuse, spiritual powers... In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says many things about the problems we face in this world. He also gives us wonderful reasons to find life, hope and healing in Jesus Christ. Along the way, he provides practical teachings about how to respond and live together.
  • What does Ephesians say about reconciliation?
    We humans are not very good at living up close with others. This is especially true when we have a history of conflict with those others. Reconciliation isn't easy. No matter how much you might want healing, it’s hardly ever a matter of just everybody getting on and pretending the hurts didn’t happen. In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says some very important, fundamental things about peace and reconciliation, and gives many other very practical teachings about how to live together in light of these truths.
  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on EphesiansLift Your Eyes – How it works
    Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians. Here's a video where I explain how the free online resource works.
  • Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
    I need to understand the people around me, so I can live for the gospel among them and speak the gospel to them. To do that, I need to understand the people around me. That's where Carl Trueman's book is so incredibly valuable.
  • What does Ephesians say about church?
    There are so many ideas about what the church is should be. How do we navigate them all? Here are ten key reflections from Ephesians.
  • Reading Ephesians & Colossians After Supersessionism (Cover image)Supersessionism and the New Perspective
    Here are my views on the issue of the New Perspective and Supersessionism, in light of a debate in the Harvard Theological Review.
  • The powerful Christian life: according to Ephesians
    What do we do when we feel weak in the face of powerful people? Here are seven key reflections on power from Ephesians.
  • Liturgy Song – Moore College Revue 2020
    Here's a tribute to our online chapel experience in mid-2020 at Moore College, in the full spirit of parody. I wrote it for our Moore College Revue, and had much fun performing it with Jordan Smith and Monique New.
  • My grandfather’s part in a WWII mission over Modane
    A journey of discovery of some of my family history. My maternal grandfather, Allan Fisher DFC, flew a mission over a rail yard in Modane.
  • Youth praying, Finchale PrioryWhat can we learn about prayer from Ephesians?
    Prayer: What are you doing when you pray? Who are you praying to? Why does it matter? Here are three reflections on prayer from my series on Paul's letter to the Ephesians. #liftyoureyes

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor