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Paul's View of Israel's Misstep in Rom 9.32–3: Its Origin and Meaning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2018

Frank Thielman*
Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Dr., Birmingham, AL 35229, USA. Email:


The form of Paul's citation of Isa 28.16 and 8.14 in Rom 9.32–3 indicates not only that his source was an early Christian collection of stone texts but also that this collection followed a particular interpretation of Jesus’ death: Jerusalem's ruling class planned Jesus’ death because of his controversial approach to the law and the temple. Paul quotes these texts to help explain why unbelieving Israel has rejected the gospel. Like Israel's ruling elites, they have lost sight of the law's weightier matters. Punctuated correctly, 1 Thess 2.14–16 confirms this understanding of Rom 9.32–3.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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1 A few commentators, focusing on the lack of any conjunction connecting v. 32b with v. 32c, have thought this means that no logical connection exists between the two statements. See e.g. Lagrange, M.-J., Saint Paul Épitre aux Romains (Paris: LeCoffre, 1922 3) 250Google Scholar: ‘Ce qui suit n'est donc pas l'explication de ce qui précède.’  The compressed statement ὡς ἐξ ἔργων requires explanation, however, and it is natural to see vv. 32c–33 as supplying this need.

2 Scholars have occasionally argued for an identification of the stone with something other than Christ, for example, the law, the preaching of the resurrection or the gospel.  See, respectively, Barrett, C. K., Essays on Paul (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982) 144–5Google Scholar; P. E. Dinter, ‘The Remnant of Israel and the Stone of Stumbling in Zion according to Paul (Romans 9–11)’ (Ph.D. diss., Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, 1980) 114–25; and Fitzmyer, J A., Romans (AB 33; New York: Doubleday, 1993) 579Google Scholar.  Some interpreters see the stone image as polyvalent, e.g. Wagner, J. R., Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans (NovTSup 101; Leiden: Brill, 2002) 155–7Google Scholar; idem, Faithfulness and Fear, Stumbling and Salvation: Receptions of LXX Isaiah 8:11–18 in the New Testament’, The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays (ed. Wagner, J. R., Rowe, C. K. and Grieb, A. K.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008) 76106Google Scholar, at 88.  Most commentators, however, believe that Paul's use of Isa 28.16 in Rom 10.11, where the pronoun αὐτῷ clearly refers to Christ, makes any other referent for the λίθος of 9.32b–33 improbable.  See Schleritt, F., ‘Das Gesetz der Gerechtigkeit: Zur Auslegung von Römer 9,30–33’, Between Gospel and Election: Explorations in the Interpretation of Romans 9–11 (WUNT 257; ed. Wilk, F., Wagner, J. R. and Schleritt, F.; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010) 271–97Google Scholar, at 288–9.

3 Munck, J., Christ and Israel: An Interpretation of Romans 9–11 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967) 7984Google Scholar; Jewett, R., Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 611Google Scholar.  For dismissals of Munck's view, see e.g. Dinter, ‘Remnant of Israel’, 115 n. 40 and Dahl, N. A., ‘The Future of Israel’, Studies in Paul (Minndeapolis: Augsburg, 1977) 137–58Google Scholar, at 143 n. 25 (whom Dinter also cites).

4 Cf., correctly, Schleritt, ‘Das Gesetz der Gerechtigkeit’, 289–97.

5 See especially Harris, R., Testimonies (2 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1916–20) i.26–32Google Scholar; Lindars, B., New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of the Old Testament Quotations (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 169–86Google Scholar; Stanley, C. D., Paul and the Language of Scripture: Citation Technique in the Pauline Epistles and Contemporary Literature (SNTSMS 69; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 120–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wagner, Heralds, 131–6.  Wagner argues successfully that an author's use of a particular text from a text collection does not necessarily imply that the author considered the context of the passage in its original source to be insignificant (Heralds of the Good News, 136–57; idem, ‘Faithfulness and Fear’, 84 n. 24).  Cf. Dodd, C. H., According to the Scriptures: The Substructure of New Testament Theology (London: Nisbet, 1952) 5960Google Scholar.

6 Cf. Wagner, Heralds, 128.

7 Wagner, Heralds, 129–31.  See BDAG 517, s.v. καταισχύνω 2; HALOT (Study Edition) i.300, s.v. I   חיש,חוש.

8 English translations of the Scriptures throughout are from the NETS and the NRSV.  Here, however, I have rendered the adjective ἀκρογωνιαῖον with an adjectival phrase rather than following the translation ‘cornerstone’ in NETS.

9 Dodd, According to the Scriptures, 43; Alex-Koch, D., ‘Beobachtungen zum christologischen Schriftgebrauch in den vorpaulinischen Gemeinden’, ZNW 71 (1980) 174–91Google Scholar, at 180; Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture, 120–1; Wagner, Heralds, 133–4.

10 Wagner, Heralds, 131–6.

11 It is common to see this sentence as an allusion to Dan 2.44 (Theodotion).  See e.g. Koch, ‘Beobachtungen’, 184 n. 42.  The second half of Luke 20.18 (ἐϕ᾽ ὃν δ᾽ ἂν πέσῃ, λικμήσει αὐτόν) may contain an echo of Dan 2.44 (ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ … λεπτυνεῖ καὶ λικμήσει πάσας τὰς βασιλείας), especially if a text similar to Theodotion's was circulating as early as the Greek sources of Matthew and Luke.  The first half of Luke 20.18 (πᾶς ὁ πεσὼν ἐπ᾽ ἐκεῖνον τὸν λίθον συνθλασθήσεται), however, is closer to Isa 8.15 (πεσοῦνται καὶ συντριβήσονται) than to Dan 2.34–5, 44–5.  It is also possible that Theodotion used the NT.  On this, see Nestle, E., ‘Lk 20,18’, ZNW 8 (1907) 321–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 322.

12 E.g. Davies, W. D. and Allison, D. C., The Gospel according to St Matthew (3 vols.; ICC; London: T&T Clark, 1988–97)Google Scholar iii.186 n. 65; Nolland, J., The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005)Google Scholar 865 n. ‘e’, 879.

13 E.g. Gnilka, J., Das Matthäusevangelium (2 vols.; HTKNT; Freiburg: Herder, 1988) ii.224–5Google Scholar; Luz, U., Matthew 21–28 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress) 36Google Scholar.

14 The sentence is missing only in D 33 it sys Ir Or Eussyr.

15 Metzger, B. M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2002 2) 47Google Scholar.

16 This would be true whether Luke and Matthew used a common source independently of one another or Luke used Matthew.  According to Luz (Matthew 21–28, 36) Matt 21.44 ‘is probably not redactional.’  On Luke's possible use of Matthew, see Watson, F., Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013) 117216Google Scholar.  It would be easy to imagine Luke tidying up Matthew's narrative at this point by omitting Matthew's reference to Ps 117:23 LXX in Matt 21:42b (cf. Mark 12:11) and putting the two stone texts together.

17 Käsemann, E., Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 279Google Scholar.

18 The term מכשול appears fourteen times in the OT and is translated by σκάνδαλον in the LXX only three times (Lev. 19.14; 1 Sam 25.31; and Ps 119 (LXX 118).45).  Aquila has σκανδάλου in Isa 8.14 and uses it to translate מכשול elsewhere (G. Stählin, ‘σκάνδαλον, κτλ.’, TDNT vii.343–4), but he was working in the late second century ce, and it is unclear to what extent he represents ancient alternatives to the LXX that were also available to the earliest Christians.  According to Eusebius, Symmachus also had σκανδάλου in Isa 8.14, but, as Stanley says, ‘it is always possible that the Christian Eusebius has confused the readings of Paul and Symmachus’ (Paul and the Language of Scripture, 124).  Cf. Koch, ‘Beobachtungen’, 182 n. 34.  For the relevant texts and discussion, see Müller, K., Anstoss und Gericht: Eine Studie zum jüdischen Hintergrund des paulinischen Skandalon-Begriffs (SANT 19; Munich: Kösel, 1969) 72–3Google Scholar.

19 Hort, F. J. A., The First Epistle of St Peter i.1–ii.17 (London: Macmillan, 1898)Google Scholar, 121.  On Hort's observation, see Harris, Testimonies, I.28–9.  Hort did not think that Peter and Paul used a common source but believed it was ‘morally certain that St Peter borrowed from St Paul’ (First Epistle of St Peter, 116).

20 Hort, First Epistle of St Peter, 121.

21 Five of his ten references to the language of stumbling are not germane to his point – one refers to John the Baptist (Matt 11.6/Luke 7.23), three others to the disciples (Matt 26.31, 33; John 16.1), and one to a group of disciples separate from the twelve (John 6.61). Hort's commentary was published posthumously from lecture notes (First Epistle of St Peter, ix–x), and this may account for the inexactness of his references.

22 See also Sir 32.15 and the discussion in Stählin, ‘σκάνδαλον’, 342–3.

23 On the metaphorical use of the term ‘builders’ for religious leaders in Jewish literature of the period, see Evans, C. A., Mark 8:27–16:20 (WBC 34B; Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001) 238Google Scholar.

24 Some interpreters believe that, at least for Paul, the σκάνδαλον in Rom 9.33 was Jesus’ crucifixion, just as it is in 1 Cor 1.23 and Gal 5.11.  See e.g. Lagrange, Romains, 250 and Byrne, B., Romans (SP 6; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007) 310Google Scholar.  Paul mentions Christ's crucifixion only once in Romans (6.6), however, and the emphasis there falls more on Christ's death than on the shameful nature of his death. The scandal of the cross, so important to Paul elsewhere, is not part of the argument in Romans, and it is unlikely, then, that Paul alludes to it here.

25 Meyer, B. F., The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979) 170Google Scholar.

26 Ibid.  On whether Jesus ‘cleansed’ the temple, see especially Sanders, E. P., Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 6171Google Scholar.

27 Hengel, M., The Pre-Christian Paul (London: SCM, 1991) 82Google Scholar calculates the time between Jesus’ controversial teaching on torah and temple and Paul's persecution of early Christians in Jerusalem as one to three years.

28 Haenchen, E., The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971) 297–8Google Scholar, 320–1 n. 2. See also Knox, J., Chapters in a Life of Paul (New York: Abingdon, 1950) 35–9Google Scholar.  The theory, based on Gal 1.22, that Paul's persecutions took place near Damascus and that he actually had no extensive contact with people in Jerusalem before his conversion is unlikely to be correct. Not only do Paul's references to Damascus and Arabia in 1.17 put him in the vicinity of Jerusalem prior to his conversion (Hengel, Pre-Christian Paul, 23–5), but he was a Pharisee (Phil 3.5), and the Pharisees were located primarily in Jerusalem. On this, see Murphy-O'Connor, J., Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996) 56–9Google Scholar and Dunn, J. D. G., Beginning from Jerusalem (Christianity in the Making 2; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 330–4Google Scholar. Paul's persecuting activity in Judaea most likely involved Greek speaking Jewish Christians (Luke's ‘Hellenists’) and left those who only spoke Hebrew relatively untouched. Gal 1.22 describes a situation in which Jewish Christians who spoke only Hebrew did not know Paul personally but heard reports from the Hellenists about Paul's dramatic change. On this, see Hengel, Pre-Christian Paul, 77 and the similar position in Dunn, Beginning, 275.

29 See Haenchen's complete survey of the relevant evidence (Acts, 320–1 n. 2).  Scholars will come away from Haenchen's survey with different impressions, but to some interpreters the evidence confirms the plausibility of the scenario Luke describes.  The evidence, in any case, does not seem to warrant Haenchen's definitve pronouncement about the impossibility of the scene (‘ein unmögliches Verfahren’).  For a more positive assessment of Luke's reliability on this point, see Pesch, R., Die Apostelgeschichte (Apg 1–12) (EKKNT 5/1; Zürich: Benziger/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1986) 309Google Scholar; Dunn, Beginning, 337; and Keener, C. S., Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (4 vols.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012–15) ii.1621–2Google Scholar.

30 The tight connection between the law and the temple is evident in the ‘Halakhic letter’ from Qumran 4Q399 (4QMMTf) with its description (4Q399, frr. 14–17 col. ii, lines 802–3) of a series of highly specific temple procedures as ‘works of the law’ (מעשי התורה).  Cf. Rom 9.32b, and see Goodman, M., ‘The Temple in First Century ce Judaism’, Judaism in the Roman World: Collected Essays (AGJU 66; Leiden: Brill, 2007) 4758Google Scholar, at 49–50.

31 Gilliard, F. D., ‘The Problem of the Antisemitic Comma between 1 Thessalonians 2.14 and 15’, NTS 35 (1989) 481502CrossRefGoogle Scholar.  Among commentators who have adopted this translation, see Malherbe, A. J., The Letters to the Thessalonians (AB 32B; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 169Google Scholar and Fee, G. D., The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 95–6Google Scholar.

32 Holtz, T., Der Erste Brief an die Thessalonicher (EKKNT 13; Zürich/Braunschweig: Benziger/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1990 2) 104Google Scholar.

33 Some commentators (e.g. Malherbe, Thessalonians, 170) believe that Paul is referring to persecution in Thessalonica, but for a convincing argument that he is describing opposition in Judea, see Fee, Thessalonians, 98–9.

34 Whether Luke's ὡς … ἐπληροῦντο ἡμέραι ἱκαναί (Acts 9.23) can accommodate Paul's μετὰ ἔτη τρία (Gal 1.18) is a classic conundrum, with many interpreters concluding that Luke's narrative at this point ‘ist unglaubwürdig’ (Pesch, Die Apostelgeschichte (Apg 1–12), 315; cf. Haenchen, Acts, 335–6) and others arguing that Luke has condensed his source in accord with his normal custom (e.g. Keener, Acts ii.1692) or followed the perspective that Paul is reacting against (e.g. Dunn, Beginning, 362–4).  For the historical plausibility of Luke's account of the Hellenists’ persecution of Paul in Jerusalem three years after his conversion, see M. Hengel and A. M. Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch: The Unknown Years (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997) 141–2.

35 Hengel and Schwemer, Paul, 141.

36 On the chronology of this period, see Riesner, R., Paul's Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 3589Google Scholar, 322.

37 See Table 1 in Barag, D. and Flusser, D., ‘The Ossuary of Yehoḥanah Granddaughter of the High Priest Theophilus’, IEJ 36 (1986) 3944Google Scholar, at 42.

38 E.g. Best, E., The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (BNTC; London: Adam & Charles Black, 1972) 117Google Scholar; Holtz, An die Thessalonicher, 105.  On the ancient slander that Jews were misanthropic, see e.g. Feldman, L. H., Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) 125–31Google Scholar.  Paul's statement is not unlike the slander as reported in Josephus (on the lips of Haman) that claims the Jewish people is ἐχθρὸν … ἅπασιν ἀνθρώποις (Ant. 11.212; cf. Esth 3.8; Esth 3.13e LXX; Tacitus, Hist. 5.5.1).

39 On the date of the Assumption of Moses, see Tromp, J., The Assumption of Moses: A Critical Edition with Commentary (SVTP; Leiden: Brill, 1993) 116–17Google Scholar, 204–5.  I have used Tromp's translation throughout.

40 On the text's Sitz im Leben, see Tromp, Assumption of Moses, 205.

41 Cf. Tromp, Assumption of Moses, 207–10, 212.  Tromp cautions against either limiting the rulers depicted here to the priests and the Sanhedrin or assuming that the author's highly biased description reflects reality.  It seems likely, however, that the powerful people who governed the temple were included in the author's portrait.  For a similar approach to As. Mos. 5.3–7.10, see Evans, C. A., ‘Jesus’ Action in the Temple: Cleansing or Portent of Destruction’, CBQ 51 (1989) 255Google Scholar; idem, Mark 8:27–16:20, 168.

42 Smallwood, E. M., ‘High Priests and Politics in Roman Palestine’, JTS NS 13 (1962) 1434CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 16; BDAG 139, s.v. ἀρχιερεύς 2a; VanderKam, J. C., From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004) 464Google Scholar: ‘Whatever may have been the range of meaning expressed by the plural high priests, they were undoubtedly the aristocrats among the clergy, people of rank and pedigree.’

43 VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas, 456–7.

44 VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas, 458–9.  On the possibility of a duplicate passage, see ibid., 465 n. 188.

45 On the interpretation of the passage, see Evans, ‘Jesus’ Action in the Temple’, 259 and VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas, 422–3, 465.  I have used the translation of Neusner, J., The Tosefta (2 vols; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002Google Scholar; reprinted, New York: KTAV, 1977–86) ii.1468.

46 Evans, ‘Jesus’ Action in the Temple’, 262–3; idem, Mark 8:27–16:20, 168.

47 Trans. Neusner, Tosefta, ii.1468.  On this, see Evans, ‘Jesus’ Action in the Temple’, 259.

48 Wagner, ‘Faithfulness and Fear’, 90.