Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 9:5b—Does Paul claim that Jesus is God?

[ESV] 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh,
is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
[NIV] 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry
of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
[RSV] 5 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.
[NASB] 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh,
who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. [NASB]

A close look at these translations reveals a significant difference in the second part of this verse. Is Jesus Christ “God over all, blessed forever” as ESV translates (similar to NIV’s “God over all, forever praised”)? Or, rather than this phrase being about Christ, is it a blessing or doxology of God the Father, as RSV translates: “God who is over all be blessed for ever”?

Adding to the puzzle is NASB’s Christ “is over all, God blessed forever.” Should we understand this to mean that Christ is God and is blessed forever or that Christ is blessed by God forever?

Translation of this phrase has been contested through the ages. Some scholars have favored the sense of the RSV (Revised Standard Version), but the majority both in the past and even more so in the present believe that ESV, NIV, and NASB (properly understood) have it right.

Comma or period?
Because Greek NT manuscripts rarely have punctuation marks, the verse can be punctuated with either a comma after Christ, in which case Paul calls him God, or with a period, in which case Paul writes separately of God the Father. So did Paul intend to say Jesus Christ is God, or after completing his statement about Christ did he then close with a blessing of God the Father?

Because of the implications for Christology, the issue demands attention. By no means, however, does Christ’s deity hinge on this single verse. From beginning to end the NT proclaims that Jesus is God (for example, John 1:1, 18; John 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Hebrews 1:8; and 2 Peter 1:1). We’ll start with an overview of scholarly opinion.

Deity dominates
Richard Longenecker comments, “The debate among biblical scholars during an earlier generation has been almost equally divided. Of late, however, scholarly opinion in favor of the Christological interpretation seems to have become dominant.”

According to a lengthy list offered by Moo, the majority of theologians and commentators have seen this verse as ascribing deity to Christ. I include only a few from Moo’s list: most of the church fathers, almost all ancient translations, Calvin, Hodge, Shedd, Denney, Moule, Lenski, Bruce, Cullmann, Wright, Fitzmyer, and Metzger. Charles Cranfield, a strong supporter of this view, cites Murray and Barrett as also favoring the Christological alternative.

As for Moo himself, he believes the evidence greatly favors taking “God” as descriptive of Christ. Understanding this verse to affirm the deity of Christ is, as he puts it, “exegetically preferable, theologically unobjectionable, and contextually appropriate.” Cranfield says the case for this view “is so overwhelming as to warrant the assertion that it is very nearly certain that it ought to be accepted.”

The primary argument of those who favor the period after “Christ” and view the last phrase as a doxology of God is that Paul does not call Jesus “God” elsewhere in his epistles, a claim that Moo disputes, pointing to Titus 2:13 and other language by Paul affirming the full deity of Christ.

Rationale for ascribing deity
The main arguments in favor of seeing this verse as a reference to the deity of Christ are as follows:
1. In both OT and NT, a doxology by itself always has “blessed” as the first word of the sentence. Thus the formula would be “Blessed be God,” not “God be blessed.” Here the Greek word for “blessed” follows the word for “God.” Because the subject is Christ, the natural reading would refer both “God” and “blessed” back to Christ. Cranfield says that this stylistic argument alone is “so strong as to be in itself almost conclusive.” Bruce Metzger, a highly regarded scholar of NT language, states in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament that it is “altogether incredible that Paul, whose ear must have been perfectly familiar with this constantly recurring formula of praise, should in this solitary instance have departed from established usage” (cited by Moo).

2. Paul’s doxologies do not spring out of nowhere but are closely connected to the preceding context. In this passage, after Paul has expressed his deep sorrow over Israel’s failure to receive her Messiah, a doxology to God would be out of place. As Cranfield notes, “though a recital of Israel’s privileges might well ordinarily be an occasion for such a doxology, in this case they have been mentioned in order to emphasize the grievousness of the Jews’ disobedience.”

3. The context in this case suggests that Paul may very well have wanted to declare the divinity of Christ after stating his humanity (“according to the flesh”). The two assertions would complement each other. Archibald Robertson regards 9:5b as a “clear statement of the deity of Christ following the remark about his humanity.”

4. The phrase “the one who is” would naturally modify a word in the previous context, not after. Translations that follow this natural rule of style have the phrase modifying Christ. To connect the phrase to God, as RSV does, disregards this stylistic principle by moving the phrase out of its literal order. Robertson states that the phrasing “who is over all, God blessed forever” (as is used by the NASB) “is the natural and the obvious way of punctuating the sentence.”

In search of accuracy and clarity
We can dismiss RSV for all the reasons above. It’s worth noting that this version was revised in 1989 by a committee chaired by Metzger with the result that the phrasing of this passage in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) now conforms to the NASB. Although this translation is faithful to the Greek, it, like the NASB’s, must be understood properly.

The ambiguous wording of the NRSV and NASB can lead even scholars to read the text differently. Colin Kruse, who apparently wants to avoid a close association between Christ and God in this verse, construes NRSV to mean, “Christ is described as the one who rules over all, and is blessed by God forever.” All the other commentators I consulted believe Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is God, not blessed by God.

Other modern translations leave no ambiguity. As the NKJ reads, Christ is “over all, the eternally blessed God.” NIV, New Living, and Message in varying ways also make it clear that Paul ascribes deity to Christ. Longenecker offers a translation similar to ESV’s: “And from them is the Christ according to the flesh, who is God over all, blessed forever!” Cranfield would object, however, that “over all” should not be placed after “God” to avoid implying that Christ is said to be over even the Father.

Perhaps Moo has it best for accuracy: “Christ, who is supreme over all things, God blessed forever.” Then, to improve clarity, I propose the insertion of a second comma: “Christ, who is supreme over all things, God, blessed forever.”

Paul’s use of “Lord”
Although Paul refers to Jesus as God here and quite probably in Titus 2:13, his favorite title for Jesus is “Lord,” a title that for Paul also denoted divinity. For example, Philippians 2:6–11 asserts Jesus’ equality with God and closes with the proclamation that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This title likewise denotes deity in many OT passages.

Longenecker suggests a reason why Paul may have been at times reluctant to call Jesus “God.” When Paul was addressing polytheistic Gentiles, he would not want them to think he was depicting Jesus as one of many gods. By referring only to the Father as God, Paul was able to preserve in his audience the idea of monotheism. Thus, Longenecker says Paul employed “the title ‘God’ to signal the note of monotheism and the title ‘Lord’ to designate the supremacy of Christ Jesus, though for the apostle himself the ascriptions ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ were broadly equivalent.” And he did use each when it suited him.

With Paul and with Jesus’ disciple Thomas when he saw and touched the wounds of the resurrected Christ, we proclaim “My Lord and my God!” Amen!