Romans 10:6-7

But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). (ESV)

ἡ δὲ ἐκ πίστεως δικαιοσύνη οὕτως λέγει· μὴ εἴπῃς ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου· τίς ἀναβήσεται εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν; τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν Χριστὸν καταγαγεῖν· ἤ· τίς καταβήσεται εἰς τὴν ἄβυσσον; τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν Χριστὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναγαγεῖν. (NA28)

This logic is difficult for me to follow. (The purpose of ascent into heaven is “to bring Christ down”?) This is widely cited as a quote from Deuteronomy 30 (and verse 8 essentially makes that claim):

Οτι ἡ ἐντολὴ αὕτη, ἣν ἐγὼ ἐντέλλομαί σοι σήμερον, οὐχ ὑπέρογκός ἐστιν οὐδὲ μακρὰν ἀπὸ σοῦ. οὐκ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἄνω ἐστὶν λέγων Τίς ἀναβήσεται ἡμῖν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ λήμψεται αὐτὴν ἡμῖν;...ἔστιν σου ἐγγὺς τὸ ῥῆμα σφόδρα ἐν τῷ στόματί σου καὶ ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου καὶ ἐν ταῖς χερσίν σου αὐτὸ ποιεῖν. (LXX, Rahlfs)

This commandment that I command you today is not excessive nor is it far from you. It is not in the sky, saying, “Who will go up to the sky and get it for us?....The word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart and in your hands, to do it. (NETS)

The context is apparently about God’s law being clear to the Israelites, lest they evade responsibility for following the law by claiming that it is "far from [them]." On the other hand, the point of the Romans 10 discussion seems to be that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (v. 4).

  • What does the passage in Deuteronomy have to do with the discussion in Romans 10?
  • Does understanding that connection help clarify how "to ascend into heaven" means "to bring Christ down"?

7 Answers 7


The Idea in Brief

In both passages (in Deuteronomy and Romans) the "Word of God" is what saves man. According to the Christian New Testament, this same "Word of God" was in direct reference to Jesus of Nazareth.


In the Christian New Testament in Romans Chapter 10, the Apostle Paul identifies Jesus of Nazareth within the Torah, where "the commandment" (הַמִּצְוָה) appears translated as "the word" (הַדָּבָר) in Deut 31:14. That is, this "word" in the Greek Septuagint is ῥῆμα, which is the same word used by Paul in Romans Chapter 10. In both the Torah and Christian New Testament, the "word" descends from heaven and saves man.

By his own statement on various occasions, Jesus of Nazareth had referred to himself as "the son of man," but he also indicated that he had descended from heaven as well (John 3:13). That is, this descending not only included his "incarnation" but also included his death, whereupon this descent continued into "the belly of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). Thus descent carries the wider idea of not only descending to earth for his physical birth but also his death, at which time he continued the descent into "the belly of the earth." The subsequent ascent therefore is his rising; that is, the ascent is his resurrection from the dead. In this regard he returned to heaven from whence he had come (John 13:3).

Going back to the Book of Deuteronomy, the "Word of God" is what saves man. The "Word of God" had descended from heaven, but one need not seek "beyond the sea" to find this word.

Deut 30:11-14 (NASB)
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

"The word" highlighted in bold, above, is the same word ῥῆμα in the Septuagint that Paul had used in Romans 10. That is, the "Word of God" saves man. This "Word of God" is Jesus of Nazareth.

Of particular note in the Book of Deuteronomy, the reference to the sea appears to have carried an additional allusion to the underworld. For example, Jonah had entered the underworld through the sea.

Jonah 2:1-3 (NASB)
1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, 2 and he said,
“I called out of my distress to the Lord,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
3 “For You had cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the current engulfed me.
All Your breakers and billows passed over me.

That which is beyond the sea therefore may include the idea of Sheol in the Hebrew Bible. That is, according to the account of Jonah, Sheol is beneath the sea "at the roots of the mountains" (Jonah 2:6). Since mountains are made of earth (and not water), their roots would be beneath the seas. In this regard, the idea in Deuteronomy would not only include the idea of "crossing the sea" on the surface of the water in some horizontal sense (like sailing on the surface of the sea going somewhere), but also "crossing the sea" in some vertical sense (as in going downward through the depths of the sea). That is, the Hebrew phrase אֶל־עֵבֶר occurs eight times in the Masoretic Text, and appears to include the idea of "going to the other side" of something.

In summary, this discussion, above, has up to this point attempted to answer the first question of the OP:

  What does the passage in Deuteronomy have to do with the discussion in Romans 10?

Now the second question remains to be answered:

  Does understanding that connection help clarify how "to ascend into heaven" means   
  "to bring Christ down"?

The short answer is "yes."

In modern contemporary English, the refrain goes as follows: "What goes up must come down." The apparent understanding of the Apostle Paul was the opposite: "What comes down (from heaven) must go up (back to heaven)." The allusion of the descent of the Lord to earth appears again in the following passage written by the Apostle Paul:

Ephesians 4:7-10 (NASB)
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

 “When He ascended on high,   
  He led captive a host of captives,   
  And He gave gifts to men.”

9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

The citation by the Apostle Paul from the Hebrew Bible comes from Psalm 68, where the context appears to imply that the Lord (YHWH) had descended to Sinai (v.17) because the very same context makes explicit reference to his subsequent ascension on high (v.18). The allusion to Sinai therefore appears parallel to Deuteronomy 30, where the Lord had descended to Sinai in order to give his words to Moses, which will save man.


The Apostle Paul draws the connection between "the Word of God" in the Torah and the "Word of God" in the Christian New Testament. In each case, the hearer need not first ascend into heaven in order to receive revelation, nor need one descend beyond the seas (downward into the underworld) in order to find this revelation either. That is, "the Word of God" has descended and ascended back into heaven, and thus man has the necessary special revelation today that will save him.


To be honest there are several possible interpretations most of which are not worth considering, therefore I will only explain the only one that seems best.

The nuts and bolts of it are this:

In Deut 30 Moses is saying ‘the law clearly spells out how to be righteous and is not too difficult to understand.’ One does not have to do the impossible to get what it is saying, like ‘go to heaven’ or ‘cross the Ocean’ etc. In other words, the law tells a person how to be personally righteous under it’s clear rules. In Romans, Paul is showing an alternate way of salvation. A new kind of righteousness that is a gift not from one’s own personal obedience but just faith.

By using the style of language used in Deut 30, Paul seems to be combing the simplicity of the law in contrast to the simplicity of faith as a contrasting argument. Although the law was clear and not difficult to understand it, it is also clear that nobody can meet its demands! Therefore using ‘biblical phraseology’ along an entire new line of argument, Paul say’s: ‘The gospel is clear that salvation is by faith in Christ, apart from the works of the law, therefore, do not be an unbeliever and doubt that Christ died (descended) or that he rose (ascended) . By doubting the clear simplicity of this gospel, you would be reversing the eternal blessed facts of his death and resurrection with respect the benefits you might otherwise receive by them. In other words, if you refuse to believe he is resurrected you bring him down and lose the new righteousness and if you refuse to believe in his atoning death you bring him up and lose that righteousness as well. It’s simple and you must believe in both. That’s all you have to do. Confess this without any other strings attached and you have eternal life and righteousness.

I think the modern reader will feel something is lost using this ancient mode of expression, at least I do. To me it seems a rather convoluted way of expressing an idea, however if one is familiar in using this mode of expression to describe what is impossible it seems forceful. Recalling when the intolerable burdens of the law were first placed upon Israel with absolute clarity , added by Paul's argument of the ‘impossibility’ of being righteous under the law, plus adding the ‘simplicity’ of believing in Christ plus the importance of believing that Christ did the ‘impossible’ for us, al starts to create a picture.

Charles Hodge says it a little simpler then I have just done:

The apostle, therefore, is not to be understood as saying, Moses describes the righteousness of the law in one way, and the righteousness of faith in another way; but he contrasts what Moses says of the law with what the gospel says.

According to the interpretation given above, it is assumed the design of this passage is to present the simplicity and suitableness of the gospel method of salvation, which requires only faith and confession, in opposition to the strict demands of the law, which it is as impossible for us to satisfy as it is to scale the heavens. (COMMENTARY on the EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS by CHARLES HODGE, p535)


The wider passage is (v.6-8):

But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach

Moses told the Israelites that the Law was not "grievous" (Brenton translation of ὑπέρογκος), because they need neither not go to extreme lengths to find it - The word is very near thee, in thy mouth, and in thine heart, and in thine hands to do it (Deut 30:14).

Paul is coupling the images of searching the heights of heaven and the depths of the sea to the twin Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, wherein Christ came down from above and came up from below, respectively. One need not search heaven above, because Christ came down from heaven (the Incarnation); one not search below, because Christ came up from above (the Resurrection). Paul is paraphrasing a little, since in Deuteronomy Moses speaks of searching the other side of the sea and not the depths of the sea.

One Orthodox commentator, (Archbishop) Dmitri Royster, proposes the following explanation:

St. Paul makes a parallel between the "word" of God contained in the Law and the "word of faith, which we preach" [v.8]. (It should be noted that in both Deuteronomy of the LXX and in this verse, the Greek for "word" is rhēma, "sayings" or "words," which seems appropriate since Moses heard God's words, while the Apostles heard the words of the Incarnate Word of God.) One does not have to wish for someone to go up to heaven to hear God's words, because the eternal Word has come down to man; he does not have to wait for Christ to rise from the dead, since this has already taken place. The word is "nigh", having been directly proclaimed to them (Hebrews 1:2; John 8:2); it is "in their mouth" in that God's word reaches our innermost being (Luke 24:32), and governs our every action (See Luke 6:45).

St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary, p.262


This verse has always confused me. I am no Greek scholar, but I read through a lot of parallel readings of this verse and compared them with a Greek concordance. I think the English translators have erred with this verse. Young's Literal Translation has it best:

Thou mayest not say in thine heart, Who shall go up to the heaven,' that is, Christ to bring down? or, 'Who shall go down to the abyss,' that is, Christ out of the dead to bring up.

Paul didn't say, "That is, to bring Christ down," he said, "That is, Christ to bring down." Christ brought down the Torah from heaven. He reveals the perfect law of God to us from heaven.

Next, he didn't say, "That is, to bring Christ up from the dead," he said, "That is, Christ to bring up from the dead." The difference is staggering.

Israel, Yahweh's bride, played the harlot and broke his covenant. Rather than putting her to death, he put his Covenant to death by crucifying Yeshua, the Word (Tanakh) made flesh. But then he raised Christ up from the dead, also raising up his Torah from the dead. The New Covenant was instituted by Yeshua and sealed with his Holy Spirit on Shavuot. His Torah is not dead, it is alive and living within us because Christ brought it down from heaven and raised it from the dead.

  • 1
    Thank you for your thoughts, but Χριστὸν καταγαγεῖν unambiguously has "Christ" as the object (i.e., in modern English, "to bring Christ down"). Young's is apparently counting on your ability to recognize archaic or otherwise non-normative English word order in order to preserve the Greek word order. The latter, however, is not indicative of any particular syntactical relationship; this is instead marked by noun case (here, accusative).
    – Susan
    Mar 9, 2017 at 15:08
  • And when you have a moment, please take a moment to take the site tour and review some of our guidelines for participants.. Mar 24, 2017 at 4:27

This is about the fulfillment of the law in Christ Jesus under the New Covenant.

Paul is making a reference to the commandments that God has just given to the Israelites, where Moses were exhorting them: “This command I am giving you today is not too difficult to understand, and it is not beyond your reach. It is not kept in heaven, SO DISTANT you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’” (Deut 30:11 NLT)

Under the New Covenant, Paul is making the same plea: i.e. Salvation is not so far. Just believe and speak. (The NT is a mirror of the OT.) To do otherwise, to go back under the Mosiac law, is to “bring Christ down to earth”: i.e. to reject the Divinity of Christ, to make Him a mere earthly man where His sacrifice is common. But it is not.


The Romans passage is connected to the Deuteronomy passage because it's the exact same philosophy. Both passages are saying that, if a person gives their heart and soul to YHWH/Christ, that YHWH/Christ will be there for them. They don't need to search far and wide.

Deuteronomy 30:10-11, NETS

"if you turn to the Lord your God with the whole of your heart and with the whole of your soul, because this commandment that I command you today is not excessive nor is it far from you."

Romans 10:9, KJV

"But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

In Paul's time, Christ just died. People heard he came back and want to see him. Paul is telling them they don't need to search outside themselves, that Christ is available through faith. Ascending and descending into heaven and hell is a figure of speech. It's not a perfect analogy but it's almost like catching a baseball: they don't need to extend their mitt to the sky or to the plate because it's there for them, within them (Romans 10:8), if they turn to faith (10:9). "Up" and "down" is about bringing Christ back to Earth.

"Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down)"

Don't ask yourselves who's going all the way up to heaven to bring The Messiah down to Earth.

“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)

Don't ask yourselves who's going all the way down to the abyss to bring up The Messiah.


The text of Deuteronomy 30 is a prophecy that the exiled descendants of Israel would one day take to heart " The Blessings and the curses" and turn back to the Lord and keep his commandments ( repentance) and he would circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants.

And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; (Deu 30:1-2, KJV)

And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. (30:6)

The way back to God from Exile in the nations is prophetically seen through the Messiah's Decent to the earth, death and resurrection giving us the Spirit of Christ where he writes his law in our hearts.

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (Colossians 2:11)

The Jews didn't keep the Law themselves, but rather thought to establish their own righteousness through the religion of men and human effort “works of the law”, not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God.

When Paul said Christ is the end of the law to everyone that believes, the word end is translated from the Grk. Telos , which means "goal or purpose" . It could literally be rendered “The spirit of Messiah in us , is the goal of the Law to everyone who trust and is faithful.

Paul just spent two chapters teaching us that to have the Spirit of Christ in us is to mortify the deeds of the flesh sinful deeds, and live after the Spirit, having the law of God written on your heart. The Jews of Pauls’ time had not received the Spirit of Messiah and continue on with a religion that rejected the Torah for a religion of men called Pharisaical Judaism.

For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. (Jhn 5:46)

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange. We are glad you stopped by and hope you stick around. If you haven't done so already, please take a minute to check out how this site is a little different than most sites around the web... You answer could be improved by citing references that back your position and making sure you cover all of the OP's questions. It is not clear to me how your thoughts on this relate "clarifying how 'to ascend into heaven' means 'to bring Christ down'?"
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 19, 2016 at 1:23

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