on Romans 9 :3
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ - This and the two preceding verses are thus paraphrased by Dr. Taylor: I am so far from insisting on the doctrine (of the rejection of the Jews) out of any ill-will to my countrymen, that I solemnly declare, in the sincerity of my heart, without the least fiction or dissimulation - and herein I have the testimony of my own conscience, enlightened and directed by the Spirit of God - that I am so far from taking pleasure in the rejection of the Jewish nation, that, contrariwise, it gives me continual pain and uneasiness, insomuch that, as Moses formerly (when God proposed to cut them off, and in their stead to make him a great nation, Exodus 32:10) begged that he himself should rather die than that the children of Israel should be destroyed, Exodus 32:32, so I could even wish that the exclusion from the visible Church, which will happen to the Jewish nation, might fall to my own share, if hereby they might be kept in it and to this I am inclined by natural affection, for the Jews are my dear brethren and kindred.
Very few passages in the New Testament have puzzled critics and commentators more than this. Every person saw the perfect absurdity of understanding it in a literal sense, as no man in his right mind could wish himself eternally damned in order to save another, or to save even the whole world. And the supposition that such an effect could be produced by such a sacrifice, was equally absurd and monstrous. Therefore various translations have been made of the place, and different solutions offered. Mr. Wakefield says: "I see no method of solving the difficulty in this verse, which has so exercised the learning and ingenuity of commentators, but by the ευχομαι ειναι of Homer, I profess myself to be; and he translates the passage in a parenthesis, thus: (for I also was once an alien from Christ) on account of my brethren, etc. But how it does appear that Saul of Tarsus was ever an alien from Christ on account of his kinsmen, is to me perfectly indiscernible. Let us examine the Greek text. Ηυχομην γαρ αυτος εγω αναθεμα ειναι απο του Χριστου ὑπερτων αδελφων μου, 'For I did wish myself to be an anathema From Christ (ὑπο, By Christ, as some ancient MSS. read) for my brethren.' As ηυχομην is the 1st per. sing. of the imperfect tense, some have been led to think that St. Paul is here mentioning what had passed through his own mind when filled with the love of God, he learned the rejection of the Jews; and that he only mentions it here as a thing which, in the effusions of his loving zeal, had been felt by him inconsiderately, and without any Divine afflatus leading him to it; but that he does not intimate that now he felt any such unreasonable and preposterous wish." I am afraid this is but ill calculated to solve the difficulty.
The Greek word αναθεμα, anathema, properly signifies any thing devoted to God, so as to be destroyed: it answers to the Hebrew חרם cherem, which the Septuagint translate by it, and means either a thing or person separated from its former state or condition, and devoted to destruction. In this sense it is used, Deuteronomy 7:25, Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 6:17, Joshua 6:18; Joshua 7:12.
It is certain that the word, both among the Hebrews and Greeks, was used to express a person devoted to destruction for the public safety. In Midrash hanneelam, in Sohar Chadash, fol. 15, Rabbi Chaijah the elder said: "There is no shepherd found like unto Moses, who was willing to lay down his life for the sheep; for Moses said, Exodus 32:32, If thou wilt not pardon their sin, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." Such anathemas, or persons devoted to destruction for the public good, were common among all ancient nations. See the case of M. Curtius and Decius among the Romans. When a plague took place, or any public calamity, it was customary to take one of the lowest or most execrable of the people, and devote him to the Dii Manes or infernal gods. See proofs in Schleusner, and see the observations at the end of the chapter, (Romans 9:33 (note), point 1.). This one circumstance is sufficient to explain the word in this place. Paul desired to be devoted to destruction, as the Jews then were, in order to redeem his countrymen from this most terrible excision. He was willing to become a sacrifice for the public safety, and to give his life to redeem theirs. And, as Christ may be considered as devoting them to destruction, (see Matthew 24), Paul is willing that in their place Christ should devote him: for I could wish myself, αναθεμα ειμαι απο (or, as some excellent MSS. have it, ὑπο) του Χριστου, to be devoted By Christ, to that temporal destruction to which he has adjudged the disobedient Jews, if by doing so I might redeem them. This, and this alone, seems to be the meaning of the apostle's wish.
on Romans 9 :3
For I could wish ... - This passage has been greatly controverted. Some have proposed to translate it, "I did wish," as referring to a former state, when he renounced Christ, and sought to advance the interests of the nation by opposing and defying him. But to this interpretation there are insuperable objections.
(1) the object of the apostle is not to state his former feelings, but his present attachment to his countrymen, and willingness to suffer for them.
(2) the proper grammatical construction of the word used here is not I did wish, but I could desire; that is, if the thing were possible. It is not I do wish, or did wish, but I could desire ἠυχόμην ēuchomēn, implying that he was willing now to endure it; that his present love for them was so strong, that he would, if practicable, save them from the threatened ruin and apostasy.
(3) it is not true that Paul ever did wish before his conversion to be accursed by Christ, that is, by the Messiah. He opposed Jesus of Nazareth; but he did not believe that he was the Messiah. At no time would he have wished to be devoted to destruction "by the Messiah," or "by Christ." Nothing would have been more terrible to a Jew; and Saul of Tarsus never doubted that he was the friend of the promised Messiah, and was advancing the true interests of his cause, and defending the hopes of his nation against an impostor. The word, therefore, expresses a feeling which the apostle had, when writing this Epistle, in regard to the condition and prospects of the nation.
Were accursed from Chest - Might be anathema by Christ ἀνάθεμα εἶναι ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ anathema einai apo tou Christou. This passage has been much controverted. The word rendered "accursed" (anathema) properly means,
(1) Anything that was set up, or "set apart," or consecrated to the gods in the temples, as spoils of war, images, statues, etc. This is its Classical Greek meaning. It has a similar meaning among the Hebrews, It denoted what was set apart or consecrated to the service of God, as sacrifices or offerings of any kind. In this respect it is used to express the sense of the Hebrew word חרם cherem "anything devoted to Yahweh, without the possibility of redemption." Leviticus 27:21; Leviticus 27:29; Numbers 18:14; Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 6:17-18; Joshua 7:1; 1 Samuel 15:21; Ezekiel 44:29.
(2) as what was thus dedicated to Yahweh was alienated from the use of him who devoted it, and was either burnt or slain and devoted to destruction as an offering, the word came to signify a devotion of any thing to destruction, or to complete ruin. And as whatever is devoted to destruction may be said to be subject to a curse, or to be accursed, the word comes to have this signification; 1 Kings 20:42; Isaiah 34:5. But in none of these cases does it denote eternal death. The idea, therefore, in these places is simply, "I could be willing to be destroyed, or devoted, to death, for the sake of my countrymen." And the apostle evidently means to say that he would be willing to suffer the bitterest evils, to forego all pleasure, to endure any privation and toil, nay, to offer his life, so that he might be wholly devoted to sufferings, as an offering, if he might be the means of benefiting and saving the nation. For a similar case, see Exodus 32:32. This does not mean that Paul would be willing to be damned forever. For,
(1) The words do not imply that, and will not bear it.
(2) such a destruction could in no conceivable way benefit the Jews.
(3) such a willingness is not and cannot be required. And,
(4) It would be impious and absurd. No man has a right to be willing to be the "eternal enemy" of God; and no man ever yet was, or could be willing to endure everlasting torments.
From Christ - By Christ. Grotius thinks it means from the church of Christ. Others think it means "after the example of Christ;" and others, from Christ forever. But it evidently means that he was willing to be devoted by Christ; that is, to be regarded by him, and appointed by him, to suffering and death, if by that means he could save his countrymen. It was thus the highest expression of true patriotism and benevolence. It was an example for all Christians and Christian ministers. They should be willing to be devoted to pain, privation, toil, and death, if by that they could save others from ruin.
My kinsmen ... - My countrymen; all of whom he regarded as his kinsmen, or relations, as descended from the same ancestors.
According to the flesh - By birth. They were of the same blood and parentage, though not now of the same religious belief.
on Romans 9 :3
9:3 I could wish - Human words cannot fully describe the motions of souls that are full of God. As if he had said, I could wish to suffer in their stead; yea, to be an anathema from Christ in their place. In how high a sense he wished this, who can tell, unless himself had been asked and had resolved the question? Certainly he did not then consider himself at all, but only others and the glory of God. The thing could not be; yet the wish was pious and solid; though with a tacit condition, if it were right and possible.