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“To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according

to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever, Amen” (Rom. 9:5 ESV)


 

 

The Christ that the Apostle wrote and preached about was fully God (cf. Phil. 2:6; Titus 2:13) and fully man (cf. Gal. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:8)—the two natured Person. At a time when the gnostic heresy (which denied Jesus’ humanity) was mounting and deluding the church, Paul constantly presented a clear antithesis to the two natures of Christ. In Romans 9:5, we have just that: a contrast between the human origins and the deity of Christ. However, some ambiguity exists in the punctuation of the phrase kata sarka ho ōn epi pantōn theos (lit., “according to the flesh who is over all God”—i.e., to whom does the phrase refer—God the Father or Christ?[1]).

 

Although, the majority of early important church Fathers[2] and present day scholars[3] attribute the phrase to Christ—namely, Christ is over all God blessed forever.” Nevertheless, biblical translations are somewhat mixed. While some translations see the phrase as unambiguously referring to Christ (e.g., NIV, ESV, TNIV, NET, NLT, NKJV, Message, HCSB).

 

Others see the phrase as clearly referring to God the Father (e.g., RSV,[4] NEB, REB, NAB, TEV, GNB, CEV). Others are just ambiguous (e.g., KJV, ASV, JB, NRSV, and NASB). One thing we must keep in mind, the original text of the NT was written in all capital letters with no punctuation.[5] Thus, any subsequent punctuation was at the discretion of later editors.

 

 

There are both contextual and grammatical considerations that support the position that the phrase who is over all God blessed forever” refers to Christ.

 

Context:

 

1) Lament over Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The style of these opening verses is a lament, thus, it seems most natural to take this as an affirmation of the deity of Christ. For Paul is feeling deep sorrows for his kinsmen who although had Jewish privileges, they had rejected the true Messiah.

 

2) An independent or asyndetic (i.e., omission of conjunctions) doxology to God the Father is contextually out-of-place. A doxology (i.e., an outburst of praise) to God the Father would be incongruous in a passage marked by sorrow over Israel’s failure to recognize in Jesus Christ her spiritual blessing. This doxology jumps out in the middle of Paul’s utter grief for his fellow Jews who refuse to believe in Jesus as the true Messiah.

 

3) All of Paul’s doxologies are tightly link with the preceding context. Every time Paul gives a doxology, it is linked to the preceding context (e.g., Rom 1:25; 11:36; 2 Cor 11:31; Gal 1:5). There is no place in the writings of Paul where he steps out of the context to give a separate praise to God (unless one sees Rom. 9:5 as the one exception).

 

Grammar:

 

1) Kata sarka (“according to the flesh”). Throughout Paul’s writings, he routinely emphasizes the two natures of Jesus Christ—divine and human. In Paul’s theology, Jesus’ perpetual incarnation (as a literal blood descendant of David) is part of his gospel: Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant [spermatos] of David, according to my gospel (2 Tim. 2:8). We also find Paul placing the phrase kata sarka in apposition (side-by-side) to something else and/or set in contrast to Jesus’ deity. In Romans 1:3-4, for example, we find kata sarka in contrast to the phrase kata pneuma (“according to the Spirit”). If this doxology in Romans 9:5b refers to Christ, then, as NT scholar Murray Harris rightly points out,

 

there is a natural climax that elevates the person of the Messiah as well as an antithesis that complements the limitation signified by to kata sarka. . . . Not only did the Messiah come from Jewish stock, he is a universal monarch who will be eternally worshiped as God. To refer theos to Christ accords perfectly with the immediate context.[6]

 

 

2) Ho ōn. The phrase ho ōn (“who is”) adds significant weight to the affirmation that “who is over all God” refers to Christ. The participle ōn can denote a continuing state of being or timeless existence. The participle phrase is used in John 1:18: No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God [or “the one and only God”] who is [ho ōn—i.e., continually] in the bosom of the Father. . .” Since Paul’s doxologies are always connected with the preceding context, obviously the participle phrase in Romans 9:5 would modify the preceding context and thus point to the previous subject (namely, the Christ, whom the Jews rejected), not a different subject. In the NT, we find many examples where the articular[7] participle ōn further describes an existing subject as with John 1:18.[8]

 

Consider also that the participle phrase ho ōn agrees grammatically with ho Christos (“the Christ”),[9] which makes “the Christ” even more likely to be the referent to the phrase “who is over all God.” The “who is,” then, describes Christ as both “over all” and “God blessed, forever.”

 

3) “Over all.” First, the phrase epi pantōn (“over all”) is connected to the participle phrase ho ōn: “Who is over all.” “Over all” denotes ultimate supremacy. Jesus the Messiah is supreme ruler over all Jews, Gentiles, believing, and unbelieving. It is true that Scripture calls God the Father “over all” (cf. Eph. 4:6). However, Jesus is called “over all” in Acts 10:36: The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” Note the parallel to the phrase in Romans 9:5: ho ōn epi pantōn theos (lit., “who is over all God”) with the end of Acts 10:36: houtos estin pantōn kurios (lit., “He is of all Lord”). Further, in Romans 10:12, Paul states that Jesus is kurios pantōn—“Lord of all.”

 

The supremacy over all things is constantly expressed in Paul’s theology (esp. in Col. 1:16-17 where Jesus is Creator of all things, thus having the supremacy over all creation). As “God blessed forever,” we would except to read passages where Christ is supreme over all things; the “Lord of all”; “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8); and the Creator of all things.

 

4) Jesus as theos (“God”). Objection may be raised at Paul identifying Jesus as “God” being that he normally identifies the Father as “God” and Jesus as “Lord” (e.g., Gal. 1:1, 3; 1 Cor. 8:6). It is true that in the NT Paul normally refers to the Father as theos (“God”) and the Son as kurios (“Lord”) particularly when the Father and Jesus appear in the same verse or context. However, in religious contexts both titles theos and kurios were two equal descriptions of deity. This is especially seen when one considers that the very term used to translate the Tetragrammaton (i.e., YHWH, “LORD”) in the LXX was kurios.

 

Frequency does not mean exclusivity. The fact is, even though Paul regularly refers to the Father as “God,” he has specifically referred to Jesus as ho theos (“the God”) in Titus 2:13; existing in the nature of God in Philippians 2:6; and dwelling in “all the fullness of Deity” in Colossians 2:9; and, as mentioned, the Creator of all things in Colossians 1:16-17. To Paul, Jesus Christ is the YHWH of Isaiah 45:23 as presented in Philippians 2:10-11.[10] So referring to Christ as “over all God blessed forever” is quite consistent in Paul’s theology.

 

One more point, in Romans 9:5, theos (“God”) does not have the article: ho ōn epi pantōn theos (lit., “who is over all God”). As with John 1:1c (lit., “and God was the Word”) where the anarthrous[11] theos refers to the Word’s nature, not identity. Hence, in Romans 9:5, Christ is “over all God” as to His nature.

 

5) “Blessed forever.” When we examine the biblical record, whenever eulogētos (“blessed”) appears as an independent or asyndetic doxology to God the Father, it always comes before the name of God.[12] But here in Romans 9:5, it comes after “God”: “who is over all God blessed forever.” Paul uses the expression “blessed forever” twice in his letters and each time, undeniably, it is an assertion regarding the subject (see Rom 1:25 and 2 Cor 11:31). In 2 Corinthians 11:31, a similar construction as Romans 9:5 is found where ho ōn refers to the subject of the sentence: “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is [ho ōn] to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.”

 

Therefore, it is with the highest of probability that the phrase in Romans 9:5, “who is over all God blessed forever” refers to Jesus the Messiah. As seen in point 4 above, in Paul’s theology, Christ is the supreme God, which is congruous, not only within Paul’s own literature, but with the other biblical authors. Whereas Paul refers to Christ as “over all God” in Romans 9:5; John refers to Him as the “one and only God” and “the true God” (John 1:18; 1 John 5:20); the author of Hebrews refers to Him as “the God” (Heb.1:8) and unchangeable Creator—the YHWH of Psalm 102:25-27 (cf. Heb. 1:10-12); Peter refers to Him as “the God and Savior” (2 Pet. 1:1); and Jude refers to Him as “the only Master and Lord” (Jude 1:4).

 

Since his conversation on the road to Damascus, Paul’s life was forever changed. He personally encountered the “the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The Christ that Paul preached was from the line of David “according to the flesh” and as to His divine nature, He is “over all God blessed forever, Amen.”


 

[1] Either as: “the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever,” or “the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever!” or “the Messiah who is over all. God be blessed forever!”(the former referring unambiguously to Christ).

[2] E.g., Irenaeus, Cyprian, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Augustine, and Hilary, etc. 

[3] E.g., (partial list): Calvin (1540); Haldane (1958); Dwight (1881); Hodge (1886); Shedd (1879); Moule (1887); Sanday and Headlam (1902); Denney (1904); Lenski (1936); Schlatter (1959); Schmidt (1963); Murray (1965); Cranfield (1979); Metzger (1980); Bruce (1985); Morris (1988); Harris (1992); Fitzmyer (1993); Stott (1994); Mounce (1995); Moo (1996); Schreiner (1998).

[4] The RSV reads: “To them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen,” clearly attributing “God who is over all” to the Father.

[5] For example, an early copy of John 1:1 would look like this: ENARCHHNOLOGOSKAIOLOGOSENPROSTONQNKAIQSHNOLOGOS as compared to later manuscripts in which punctuation and spaces were added:) Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν  λόγος, καὶ  λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν  λόγος. 

[6] Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God, 165.

[7]Articular,” meaning with the article (“the”) in contrast to “anarthrous,” which means without the article.       

[8] Also at John 3:13; 11:31; 12:17; Acts 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Ephesians 2:13; Colossians 4:11.

[9] Both the articular Christos and the articular participial ōn are in the nominative (subject) case.

[10] Cf. Hebrews 1:10-12.

[11] See note 7 above.

[12] E.g., Genesis 14:20; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3.