Romans 10:14-17 says:
How, then, can they call upon one whom they have not believed?
And how can they believe one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without preaching?
And how can they preach unless they are sent?
Just as it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who evangelize the good [news]!”
But not all have obeyed the gospel.
For Isaiah says: “Lord, who has believed our report?”
Hence faith [comes] from a report
And the report [comes about] through the message of Christ …
I used to think that Romans 10:14-18 was about the (mostly failed) Christian mission to Jews. This is how the majority of commentators today take the passage. It’s also assumed by a number of translations. For example, the NIV inserts “the Israelites” into Romans 10:16, even though these words don’t appear in the original text.
However, I was wrong. After closely reading this text, I now think it’s about Paul’s Gentile mission. In this, I agree with John Calvin, N. T. Wright and Francis Watson.
In my book, I argue:
Many interpreters claim that in Rom 10:14–18, Paul is speaking about Israel’s particularly stubborn unresponsiveness to the Christian mission to Jews. On this basis, the passage is often understood to be an assertion of Israel’s “responsibility” which provides a counterbalance to the strong predestinarianism of Rom 9. This interpretation, however, fails to take into account the flow of Paul’s argument here. As we have just seen, in Rom 10:11–13 Paul has emphasized the need for “everyone” (πᾶς) to “believe” and to “call upon” (verb ἐπικαλεῖν) the name of the Lord for salvation. At the start of Rom 10:14, Paul uses the connective οὖν and repeats the verb ἐπικαλεῖν, implying that the subject of his discourse remains the same as it was in the previous verse. There is no indication that Paul has suddenly switched in verse 14 to discuss the belief or unbelief of “Israel.” Later in verse 19, Paul does indicate that he is changing subjects by explicitly naming “Israel” as the subject of his discourse. In verses 14–18, however, the subject of the verb “call upon”—and thus of the verbs “believe” and “hear”—is the same as it was in verse 13: “all people” (πᾶς).
This observation is quite understandable in light of our examination of Rom 9–11 so far. We have been arguing that Israel’s salvation is not the only issue here. Paul is claiming that his own view of Jewish identity, a view which is based on a right understanding of the Law, also entails a successful Jewish vocation: which is expressed in a “preaching” role towards the nations (cf. Rom 10:8). This will help us to understand the purpose of Paul’s argument here in Rom 10:14–18. Building on the interpretations of Wright and Watson (and, earlier, Calvin), we shall demonstrate that Paul is here describing the place of the Gentile mission (in which he himself plays a key role) in God’s worldwide purposes. Although Paul only uses one first-person reference in this passage (“our” in the citation the end of verse 16), he nevertheless chooses words throughout the passage which elsewhere characterize his own apostolic ministry. Just a few verses earlier (v. 8), Paul has described himself as being among those who “preach” (verb κηρύσσεῖν) the “message” (ῥῆμα) of “faith” (πίστις)—words which all make a reappearance in vv. 14–18. Paul has also described himself as an “apostle” (ἀπόστολος, Rom 1:1; cf. 1:5, 11:13)—and in v. 15 he uses the cognate verb ἀποστέλλειν. Furthermore, the text Paul chooses to cite in v. 15 (Isa 52:7a) contains the highly significant Isaianic verb εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, a word which Paul uses elsewhere to speak of own ministry (cf. Rom 1:15, 15:20).
The full details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 6 of the book (pp. 220-228). 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.