Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans

Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans

by Joseph Shulam


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Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans by Joseph Shulam

Now, a complete verse-by-verse commentary on Romans written from a Messianic Jewish perspective! Ancient Jewish texts are compared with the Dead Sea scrolls, intertestamental literature, and early rabbinic writings.



Joseph Shulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria on March 24, 1946. His family immigrated to Israel in 1948, where they settled in Jerusalem. In 1962, he came to faith in Jesus the Messiah. He was educated at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he received a B.A. in Bible and Bible Archeology. He later came to the United States and studied at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he received a B.A. in Chemistry and Biblical Studies.

Upon completion of his B.A., he returned to Israel where he has since been involved in the local Messianic Jewish community. He continued his studies at the Hebrew University, and received an M.A. in the History of Jewish Thought in the Second Temple Period. From 1972-1975, he studied Rabbinics and Jewish Thought at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Mr. Shulam is the Director of Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry in Jerusalem. Netivyah is an Israeli-government recognized organization, established by Mr. Shulam for the purposes of studying and teaching the Jewish background of the New Testament, providing a bridge between Jews and Christians and Judaism and Christianity, and nurturing the Messianic Jewish community in Israel. Mr. Shulam is also the Elder of Congregation Roeh Israel, also located in Jerusalem.

In addition to Biblical Studies, he lectures worldwide on such subjects as the First Century Church in Jerusalem, the Jewish Roots of the New Testament, and Contemporary Middle East Politics. He was an adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University (ACU), and directed the ACU. graduate extension program in Jerusalem in 1988. Joseph Shulam is married to Marcia Saunders Shulam, and they have two children.


Hilary Le Cornu was born in Jersey, Channel Islands, in 1959. She graduated with honors from Edinburgh University in 1983 with an M.A. in Religious Studies. While pursuing her M.A., she received a certificate in Judaic Studies from the One Year Program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she is currently completing her Ph.D. in the Department of Comparative Religion. Miss Le Cornu has been residing in Jerusalem since 1983. In 1986, she began working as Joseph Shulam's Research Assistant as part of the staff of Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry.

She also participated in a four-member Interfaith Reconciliation Program to Rome and the U.S.A. in 1984. She served for a number of years as a volunteer coordinator for the Holocaust Education Seminar at Yad VaShem, and taught a course on Religious Pluralism for the Jerusalem Extension Program of Abilene University in 1988. She spent several years as Adminstrative Officer of the Messianic Midrasha in Israel, and is currently working as a freelance editor and proofreader.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781880226216
Publisher: Messianic Jewish Publishers
Publication date: 03/28/2006
Pages: 550
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

(Excerpted from the Introduction)

The Book of Romans as a Jewish Text

Since there already numerous commentaries on all the different books of the New Testament, our first obligation to the reader is to justify the addition of yet another volume. Our basic premise is a very simple one. Simply put, it rests on the conviction that the book of Romans is a Jewish text. In this introduction we shall elaborate the meaning of this phrase and review the fundamental ramifications which it holds for understanding the New Testament in general and the book of Romans in particular.

The first element of our thesis lies in the fact that we are confronted with a piece of literature-a letter-which possesses the characteristics of all written material. These include the fact that it was written (not spoken)-and thus preserved in a set form. In conjunction with the issue of the canon, which we will address below, written material lays itself before the reader as a definitive and determined text. In contrast to oral material, which is flexible and can be retold in innumerable styles, the written text is black on white, and the order, layout, and content are a given. A text is an artifact, or a "piece of work."

Texts are also written by specific people, with specific personal histories, in a specific historical time period, to a specific addressee, with a specific agenda. They further possess certain linguistic constraints: Paul's letters were written in Greek, but by a person trained in a rabbinic tradition which thought and wrote in Hebrew. These linguistic constraints include grammatical and syntactical rules, again both Greek and Hebrew in this case.

In the course of the commentary, it will become evident, both through the content and the particular structure, that in a very fundamental and profound sense, "textual" and "Jewish" can in fact be used as interchangeable adjectives. In addition to the peculiarities of the written text noted above, the notion of a text goes hand in hand with that of the "canon" or what constitutes "sacred writ." Because the text is fixed (written), it possesses an innate authority, especially over those readers who accept its claim to be inspired by God. In order to change it, the reader must grant himself a modicum of authority over what he has himself received.

To the extent that a community recognizes a text as "Scripture" and therefore imbued with a sacred quality it also becomes what is frequently called a "textual community" or a community whose sense of identity derives from a specific written text to which the community attributes authority. It is no accident, for example, that Jews (and Christians) are frequently known as "the people of the Book."

The association between "textual" and "Jewish" is also true in regard to the other attributes of what is identified as "written." Our basic premise that the book of Romans (as part of the New Testament as a whole) is a Jewish text is conveyed in two further significant areas which derive one from another. The first of these is that the New Testament is indissolubly bound to what Christianity has traditionally erred in calling the "Old Testament." The New Testament as a written text is both a continuation of and a commentary on or explication of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. It cannot be understood without reference to the Tanakh, which provides it with its primary interpretive context.

This is one of the primary justifications for our premise that the New Testament is a Jewish text. Because of this fact, the issue of exegesis or interpretation is also bound to the content and context of the Tanakh. In addition, however, our claim of a Jewish text and Jewish mode of interpretation for the New Testament is tied to the specific historical period in which its books were written and the thought of the people who wrote them, who may be accepted as authentic examples of the Jewish world of the first centuries.

During this period, known generally as the Second Temple and Mishnaic period, the various strands within the Jewish community were producing variant interpretations and applications of the Tanakh to contemporary Jewish life. The earliest body of these is the "intertestamental literature," so named because it relates to the period between the two testaments (see the glossary). The earliest rabbinic document is the Mishnah, commonly identified with the legal rulings, known as halakhot, derived by the pharisaic rabbis from the biblical text.

The Mishnah then becomes the subject of a further commentary in the form of the Gemara (literally, completion, in the sense of further study). These two texts compose the Talmud. (Although the Talmud was edited around 500 C.E., it contains material of a much earlier period, prior to and contemporaneous with the New Testament writings; see below.) Moreover, during this general period, specific exegetical (hermeneutical) principles for the proper interpretation of Scripture were evolved within Jewish thought.

Since the New Testament numbers within the body of Jewish interpretation, our premise that the book of Romans is a Jewish text means that it also shares the same interpretive principles as those developed in other strands of Second Temple and Mishnaic Jewish thought, particularly those of rabbinic literature. If we apply the four basic rules governing the relationship between the Gemara and the Mishnah to those between later Jewish texts and the Tanakh, we see that the Tanakh is incontrovertibly accepted and regarded as the source material for the search for truth; that these sources are precise and accurate in every detail; that a common, shared basis underlies all the biblical writings; and that all statements in Scripture have independent and significant meaning. These general principles are then broken down into more specific exegetical rules, which we shall elaborate separately.

Jewish Background

Paul himself, of course, was Jewish, and his language, terminology, methodology, and style all reflect the Jewish education which he received and the Jewish traditions in which he was brought up. An additional reason for looking at Romans (as representative of the New Testament as a whole) as a Jewish text is the fact that it reflects, mediates, passes on, and builds on interpretations of biblical passages already current in Second Temple Judaism. The Targumim, for example-the early Aramaic translations of the Tanakh-make explicit references to the Messiah in verses which make no outright mention of him.

Much of Paul's understanding of the Tanakh and therefore of the arguments which he puts forward is filtered through these contemporary interpretations. These are themselves diverse in character, representing the various streams and tendencies within Second Temple Jewish thought. Moreover, his arguments and goals are those which emanate from the vision of Israel's prophets. Paul's pathos is therefore that of Israel and his eschatology, including his "messiology" (doctrine of the Messiah), is part of that of Second Temple Judaism. Finally, most of Paul's writings are dedicated to working out the participation of Gentile believers within the early community-how God's plans, announced through His prophets, were to elect a chosen people, Israel, through whom He could bless all the nations of the earth.

Without knowledge of these contemporary interpretations and the methods which they used to exegete the biblical text, the most logical assumption, drawn almost by default by most Christian commentators trained in the anti-Judaic atmosphere of institutional scholarship, is that Paul's conclusions were completely new. This attitude is largely the consequence of scholarly emphasis on the Hellenistic background of the New Testament and a corresponding neglect, at times even rejection, of the Jewish and rabbinic character of its writings.

We do not intend to ignore either the Hellenistic elements within Second Temple Judaism or in the book of Romans. However, the reader who is aware of the claim that Second Temple Judaism was to a large degree already hellenized will also recognize that although this may well be true, Paul was still writing within a Jewish and rabbinic context. Our claim is simply that the Jewish character of the New Testament writings is far more important for their correct understanding than is an emphasis on their difference from the Jewish thought of the time.

Exegetical Background

Of all the New Testament epistles attributed to Paul, no other letter has played a more significant role in the formation of modern "evangelical" Christianity than the book of Romans. Because of the great influence that this letter has exerted on Christianity and because many of the passages in this letter have become standard clichés, it is difficult to examine the book of Romans with historical and linguistic, not to speak of theological, objectivity. For over two thousand years of history, both Jews and Christians have referred to Romans to reinforce their biases. This makes the understanding of Romans difficult for both the scholar and the layman.

Much of the Reformation interpretation of Romans, for example, has formed the basis for the Protestant doctrine of "grace versus Law." Paul has been frequently portrayed as the champion of the "theology of grace" as it was articulated in Reformation thought and thus also regarded as the main exponent of the "gentilization" of Jewish Scripture which gave rise to the new Christian faith. This view, which has also been adopted by many Jewish thinkers, formed an integral element in the historical and theological trends which reinforced the schism between the two "religions," forcing them to develop independently and antagonistically, and inculcated the Jewish view that the New Testament is the book of the Christians and that Jews who believe in Yeshua (Jesus) become Christians and are no longer Jewish.

It has become obvious through time that this neglect or contempt of the Jewish character of the New Testament has played a large part in the formation of the claim that Paul was in fact the author of a new religion (Christianity). We are endeavoring as far as possible to redress this "historical aberration" and to demonstrate that the New Testament is a Jewish book and that Jews who believe in Yeshua remain Jews. Our primary concern is to remain faithful to the text, and our conviction is strong that to do so means examining the New Testament writings in their original Jewish context and milieu-historical, cultural, social, political, literary, and theological.

Table of Contents

The Outline of Romans

I. Introduction (1:1-15)
A. Address and greeting (1:1-6)
B. Paul's purpose in writing the letter (1:7-15)

II. The Kerygma of the letter (1:16-17)

III. The world's need for God's Messiah (1:18-32)
A. Introduction to the problem of God's wrath on the world (1:18)
B. The fall of mankind; i.e., the Gentiles (1:19-32)
1. Mankind's ability to perceive God through nature (1:19-20)
2. Mankind's fall into idolatry (1:21-25)
3. Mankind delivered into gross immorality and perversion of nature (1:26-32)

IV. No justification for mankind's sinful state-for Jew or a non-Jew (2:1-13)
A. "When you condemn others you will condemn yourselves"
[Paul employs a method like Nathan the prophet in the case of David and Bath-Sheva. He makes a general statement with which all would agree and then turns it around to include the Jews.] (2:1-4)
B. God's judgment requires repentance of both Gentiles and Jews (2:5-12)
1. God's wrath: Every deed justly rewarded or punished (2:5-6)
2. God's judgment: Mankind judged by their deeds (2:7-10)
3. God's judgment: Equivalent for Jews and Gentiles (2:11-13)

V. Gentiles judged by same standard as Jews (2:14-16)

VI. Jews ought to have known better because they had the Torah (2:17-29)
A. Over-confidence of the Jew (2:17-20)
B. Hypocrisy of those who claim to have the Torah (2:21-24)
C. Value of the Torah and living according to Torah (2:25)
D. Being Jewish requires circumcision of the heart (2:26-29)

VII. Answer to the question, "What advantage has the Jew?" (3:1-2)

VIII. Disobedience of Jews affect God's character and plan? (3:3-7)

IX. Accusation against Paul, Why should we not do evil so that good might come out of it? (3:8)

X. Jews are no better than the Gentiles: All have sinned and fallen away from God's will (3:9-20)
A. All mankind is sinful (3:10-18)
B. Torah alone is ineffective to justify mankind before God
[It is a tool that reflects mankind's sinfulness] (3:19-20)

XI. God's righteousness being revealed now in Yeshua the Messiah (3:21-26)

XII. All mankind are justified by their faith (3:27-28)

XIII. There's only one God for Jew and Gentile: Justification by faith does not contradict the Torah, but upholds it (3:29-31)

XIV. Abraham as a case study for the way God deals with mankind (4:1-25)
A. Abraham is justified by faith (4:1-3)
B. Faith's reward is righteousness; Work's reward is the earnings (4:4-5)
C. King David is a witness to God's grace (4:6-8)
D. Is God's grace only for the Jews? (4:9-11b)
E. Abraham is father of all who believe-Jews and Gentiles (4:11b-12)
F. Abraham's faithfulness benefits all mankind (4:13-22)
G. Lessons learned from Abraham: Proof that faith's principle still works through Yeshua the Messiah (4:23-25)

XV. Introduction to Yeshua's role in justification of the believer (5:1-11)
A. Direct benefits of one's faith in Yeshua (5:1-5)
B. God's salvation through Yeshua is an act of His love (5:6-11)

XVI. Effects of justification by faith: Everlasting life of righteousness (5:12-21)
A. First Adam analogy (5:12-18)
B. Messiah's analogy (5:19-21)

XVII. How does release from sin work out practically? (6:1-7:6)
A. Antinomian question that follows the teaching of salvation by grace (6:1-2)
B. Dying with Messiah in order to live for God (6:3-14)
C. Analogy of changing masters that changes our ability to do acts of righteousness (6:15-23)
D. Analogy of marriage (7:1-3)
E. Dying with Messiah and serving God in newness of spirit (7:4-6)

XVIII. Mankind and Torah in relationship to a system of faith (7:7-25)
A. Purpose of the Torah (7:7-13)
B. Mankind's final despair and the divine release (7:14-25)

XIX. Results of the Messiah's work: Life in the Spirit of God (8:1-17)

XX. Advantage of life in the Spirit in a world full of suffering; i.e., having hope in the Messiah (8:18-30)

XXI. Introduction to Israel's situation in relationship to the Gospel (God's love is irrevocable and stands even under conditions of extreme suffering) (8:31-39)

XXII. Israel and the Gentiles in God's purpose (9:1-11:36)
A. Paul's desire for Israel (9:1-3)
B. Israel's status in God's election (9:4-5)
C. God has not failed when He chose Israel's seed for His election (9:6-13)
D. Is God's election just? (9:14-18)
E. If God has sovereignly elected Israel, why is He condemning them? (9:19-29)
F. God's choice of Israel was not arbitrary, nor unjust (9:30-10:21)
1. Israel's unfaithfulness was built into the system (9:30-33, 10:18-21)
2. Israel did not understand the purpose of the Torah (10:1-4)
3. Moses knew that faith is the essence of the Torah (10:5-13)
G. Has God rejected His people? (11:1-32)
1. God has not rejected His people Israel (11:1-2a)
2. God is not left without a witness in Israel (The Elijah Syndrome and the Church's attitude toward Israel) (11:2b-12)
3. What should the Church learn from the way God dealt with Israel? (11:13-24)
4. God will vindicate His choice of Israel: He will save all Israel (11:25-32)
5. Paul enters spiritual ecstasy (11:33-36)

XXIII. The Halachik outworking of the Gospel in the lives of individuals and the Church (12:1-15:13)
A. A fair trade-off: God gave mankind His mercy; mankind, through its conduct, ought to offer its body as a living sacrifice to God (12:1-2)
B. General principles (kelalim) that regulate the life of individuals in the community (12:3-8)
C. Rules and morals that shape the character of God's people (12:9-21)
D. Attitude toward the state (13:1-7)
E. Principle of love and keeping of the Torah (13:8-14)
1. Practical implication of love in the Torah (13:8-10)
2. Time demands a special attention to moral conduct (13:11-14)
F. Special relationship of the Church to differences of culture and tradition (14:1-23)
G. Conclusion of the Halachik section (15:1-13)
1. Encouragement to stand firm through hard times (15:1-6)
2. Admonition to the Jews to understand the place of the Gentiles in the Church (15:7-13)

XXIV. Closing remarks and edification (15:14-30)
A. Reason for writing this letter (15:14-22)
B. Plans to visit Rome on the way to Spain (15:23-24)
C. The collection for Jerusalem (15:25-33)

XXV. Greetings, introductions, and warnings against heretics (16:1-23)
A. Introducing Phoebe (16:1-2)
B. Greetings to Paul's acquaintances in Rome (16:3-16)
C. Warning against heretics and problem makers (16:17-20)
D. Greetings from Paul's companions (16:21)
E. The signature of the Amanuenses, Tertius (16:22-23)

XXVI. Final doxology (16:25-27)

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