I submit that there can be no fuller answer to this question than that given by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones some 70 years ago in a lecture on this verse.1 He summarizes the factors to consider in making a decision on how to translate this verse, and interpret it, presents evidence from the best scholarship of the 20th Century, and a short list of theologians from the Second through the Nineteenth Centuries that agree with the older translation (Christ = God over all). So I will simply here provide an outline of his lecture. (Most all of what follows should be quoted, so please overlook the lack of strict formatting. )
This is the gist of MLJ's arguments for the translation of Romans 9:5 found in the AV and the vast majority of translations, followed by the individual points supporting the hypothesis.
The location of the comma in this verse cannot possibly be determined on the grounds of grammar. And it does not depend on discrepancies in the manuscripts. They do not vary, because punctuation wasn't used until the 3rd Century. No one can say the earliest mss. supports their translation. So the ONLY argument for it to be translated as a doxology to God is based on a (false) generalization that Paul does not make such a direct reference to Jesus as God anywhere else, and so isn't making one here. This is not MLJ's own opinion, but is supported by Sanday and Hedlam, authors of one of the most scholarly commentaries on Romans2, neither of whom were evangelical Christians (which he mentions to show that they "had no axes to grind", but were purely judging the text itself). They assert:
This is the most debated verse in the whole of scripture. ... It may be convenient to point out at once that the question is one of interpretation, and not of [textual] criticism." [p.233]
Points in support of the AV translation and against the modern "doxology" translation
- It would be unnatural to introduce a sudden doxology here, in the midst of the Apostle's expression of his sorrow and disappointment with the rejection of Christ by the Jews. This affirmation of Christ is similar to his affirmation of the Creator God in 1:25, but neither are doxologies:
"who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen."
- Gramatically, the words "ὁ ὢν" are naturally translated "the one who", which ought to refer to the nearest antecedent, that is, Christ. The grammar is against these modern translators and on the side of the AV. Cf. John 1:18, "the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father"
- The contrast would be lost with the modern translation. The verse has a description of the two natures of Christ, first "as regards the flesh", then he completes the contrast, "who is God over all". Similar to Ro 1:4, "of the flesh.. Seed of David," then, "of the Spirit … the Son of God".
- The relative positions of "God" and "blessed". In doxologies the order of the words is the exact opposite, "Blessed be God". Charles Hodge and others say that "There is no exception to that order in the Greek or Hebrew scriptures," with one (doubtful) exception, Ps 68:19, which authorities tend to agree is not a doxology at all, but a simple affirmation. Even Faustus Socinus (1539–1604), who rejected the deity of Christ, agreed that Paul was clearly referring to Christ as God in this verse.
Arguments against the reasons for the "doxology" translation
Next MLJ answers the assertion that the Apostle Paul never refers to Jesus as God, and that it is not customary to describe Him as "God over all" since, as many argue, "Christ was subordinate to the Father". This argument can be answered thus:
- Paul often describes Jesus as God, using a multiplicity of expressions. E.g.:
- Col 1:15ff – "who is the image of the invisible God"
- 2 Cor 4:4 – "Christ who is the image of God"
- Phil 2:6 – "Who being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God" – this verse, especially, states the **equality of Jesus with God**, which has to be truly twisted out of shape to be overlooked as modern translators have done.
- Col 2:9 – "in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily"
- Heb 1:3 – "Who being the … express image of His Person"
- The same word "Lord" is used of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father, which clearly shows the thinking of Paul and other NT writers on the deity of Christ:
- 1 Cor 3:5-7 – "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase."
- 2 Cor 3:17 – "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
- Ac 4:29 – "Now, Lord, look on their threats" – Peter's prayer is to the Father
- Act 5:3,4 – Peter equates the Holy Spirit and God
It is perfectly true that at the beginning, the Jews were somewhat hesitant to call Jesus 'God', they were almost afraid to mention the name of Jehovah. And here was someone standing before them as a man in the flesh. One can well understand their hesitation about calling Him God. But we have evidence to show that, even at the very beginning, they'd already begun to do so.
- More evidence from the NT that the first believers understood Jesus as God:
- Matthew 1:23 – "They shall call His name Emmanuel, … God with us".
- John 1 – "The Word was with God, and the Word was God."
- John 20:28 – "My Lord and my God!" The Jew Thomas didn't hesitate to refer to Jesus as God.
- Acts 20:28 – Paul commands them "to feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His Own blood." He isn't referring to the Father, but to Jesus.
- Titus 1:3 – "the commandment of God our Savior". Are these translators disputing that Paul wrote Titus? How then can they argue that "Paul never refers to Jesus as God"?
- Titus 2:13,14 – "appearing of the great God and Savior Jesus Christ"
It takes a violent prejudice against the deity of Christ to deny these manifest references to Christ as God by Paul and other NT writers.
- Another argument against the "Christ = God" translation has been that doxologies are nowhere addressed to Jesus. So MLJ then shows that doxologies ARE addressed to Jesus, to wit:
- 2 Tim 4:18 – "… to whom be glory forever and ever.
- 2 Peter 3:18 – "in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus, to Him be glory now and forever."
- Rev 5:13 – "And every creature… saying, "Blessing and honor and glory and power… and unto the Lamb." The same ascribed to the Son as to the Father.
- Rev 15:3 – "The song of the lamb, … Lord God Almighty, thou king of saints."
- Lastly, he lists several supporting authorities, both old and and new:
Sanday and Hedlam's conclusion of their article on "The punctuation of Romans 9:5" [p.238]:
Throughout there has been no argument which we have felt to be quite conclusive, but the result of our investigations into the grammar of the sentence and the drift of the argument is to incline us to the belief that the words would naturally refer to Christ, unless θεός is to be so definitely a proper name that it would imply a contrast in itself. We have seen that that is not so. Even if St. Paul did not elsewhere use the word of the Christ, yet it certainly was used at a not too much later period. St. Paul's phraseology is never fixed; he had no dogmatic reason against so using it. In these circumstances with some slight, but only slight, hesitation we adopt the first alternative and translate "Of whom is the Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen."
The testimony of history: Almost unanimously, until the end of the 19th Century, when the "higher criticism" began to do its devastating work, everyone translated this verse as the Authorized Version has it. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Ciprian, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, Hilary, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, Beza,Tolep (sp?), Philippi, Delich (sp?), Alford, Wordsworth, Hodge, Haldane.
MLJ's conclusion is both a gracious but scathing rebuke and a soundly scriptural interpretation, all in one:
Now isn't it extraordinary that, on such a flimsy basis, these modern translators don't hesitate to go against what has been believed throughout the running centuries. What makes them do it? Sanday and Hedlam have put it perfectly: It is a theological interest alone. There is something in them that makes them jump at any opportunity to detract from the certainty of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was the eternal Son of God. There is no other reason. They can't do it on grounds of grammar or scholarship or textual criticism. We must realize that the Apostle is saying here that the supreme privilege that was given to the nation of Israel was this: That out of them, according to the flesh, came the One who is God over all, blessed forever, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a most condensed version of MLJ's teaching on this verse. It in no way does justice to the Doctor's original lecture (or sermon), but will give you the major points, and hopefully, provide some inkling of the volume of writing and study that has been expended on this one verse.
1 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Sermon "Christ … Who is … God", available at Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust, and as a full chapter in vol. 9 of his 14-volume Commentary on Romans, God's Sovereign Purpose, Romans 9:1-33 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991.)
2 William Sanday and Arthur Hedlam, Critical and Exegetical Commenatary on the Epistle to the Romans, orig. pub. 1895, 5th Ed. 1902, Oxford.