And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That was verse 13, and from it Paul launches a logical chain of steps that must take place for people to be saved. He expresses each step as a rhetorical question and arranges them in reverse order so that the final step—“call on him”—makes a direct connection with verse 13.
Paul’s purpose in this passage is to show why most Jews have so far failed to attain salvation and why they are solely to blame for their predicament. Paul marshals his evidence with the logic of a prosecuting attorney, and he continues to draw from Israel’s own divinely inspired Scripture.Salvation’s prerequisites
To clarify the progression of Paul’s logic, I number each step in chronological order, which is the reverse of Paul’s order: (1) God sends messengers, (2) those messengers preach the gospel, (3) people hear the gospel, and (4) they believe in Christ and call on him to be saved.
Of the four steps, where did Israel falter? The answer is clear from the very first line. Israel lacks faith in Jesus who is Christ (Messiah), and this is the reason she does not call on him to be saved. Jews cannot excuse their unbelief by claiming that God did not send preachers or that they did not hear the gospel preached. Let’s look at the steps in more detail.God sends preachers (verse 15)
God sends messengers to preach the gospel, just as he sent his Son to make the gospel possible. Jesus in turn sent his disciples to all nations, and these verses are the Romans version of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20).
When Paul wrote this epistle, had this step been fulfilled? Yes, Paul and other apostles had spread the gospel in synagogues throughout the region. Jews cannot claim no one was sent to preach to them.Also in verse 15, Paul’s quote of Isaiah 52:7 highlights the beauty of gospel preaching. In this chapter of Isaiah many Jews from the southern kingdom of Judah are captive in Babylon. Jerusalem is in ruins, but the prophet foresees a message coming to the disheartened few still there. Here is the Isaiah text:
For his own purpose, Paul changed Isaiah’s “brings good news” to “preach the good news.” Everett Harrison exclaims, “If the message to returning Israel in the former day was good news, how much more the promise of eternal salvation in God’s Son!”Hearing the gospel (14c)
Until copies of the NT epistles were widely distributed, people in Paul’s day depended on hearing the gospel preached. Many traveled far to hear a preacher. Although Paul and other apostles made sure the Jews were the first to hear, they heard but did not understand. This fulfilled another Isaiah prophecy (6:9), quoted by Jesus in Matthew 13:14: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
These verses specifically target Israel’s failure to believe the gospel, but they apply to all people and times. God continues to send missionaries to unreached people groups in remote areas of the world so they can hear the gospel for the first time. In our culture the gospel is so readily available people must close eyes and ears to avoid it. Anyone can read a Bible, attend a church, go to YouTube (two good messages are here and here), read on the web, or listen on the airwaves.
To those who think they can look inside themselves to find God, Joseph Fitzmyer says, “The message of God’s gospel must come to human beings from outside of them; it cannot rise spontaneously in their hearts or minds. They have to be accosted by it as announced by a commissioned herald.” If you are unsaved, both Father and Son want to come to dwell in you. You can let them in by receiving the gospel (John 14:23, 1 John 2:23–25).Believing and calling on (14b and 14a)
Believing in the Lord and calling on him are, as Harrison says, two sides of the same coin. We call on the Lord initially for salvation and keep calling on him for relationship (see 1 Corinthians 1:2). We call upon Jesus because we believe he is trustworthy both to save us and to keep us close to him now and for eternity.
The gospel consists of knowable facts: humanity’s sin and guilt, Christ’s saving work through his death and resurrection, and the removal of sin’s penalty and power. On the tongue of an anointed preacher, the gospel is a thing of surpassing beauty. There is paradox in the gospel. It tells of the glorious Son of God made ugly on the cross to transform ugly sinners into glorious children of God.