Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Romans Road Leads to Isaiah 53

It's interesting to trace Paul's mention of the gospel through the book of Romans and ultimately back to the Old Testament. In his opening salutation to the Christians in Rome the apostle draws immediate attention to "the gospel" (Rom. 1:1). He states that the gospel of God was "promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Rom. 1:2). Paul mentions "the gospel" several more times in the first few chapters of his epistle (Rom. 1:9, 1:16, 2:16) and proceeds to expound upon various truths that enter into his gospel of grace - including Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and manifestation to walk in newness of life (see Rom. 6:3-5; cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-5).1 But it's not until the tenth chapter of Romans that Paul again mentions "the gospel" (Rom. 10:15, NKJV). Quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah he exclaims, 

"As it is written [in Isaiah]: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things [i.e. the good news of salvation]!" (Rom. 10:15b, NKJV, cf. Isa. 52:7)

Then an element of tragedy enters as Paul mourns Israel's unbelief. Paul again quotes the prophet Isaiah:

"But they have not all obeyed the gospel, for Isaiah says, 'LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?'" (Rom. 10:16; cf. Isa. 53:1)

Notice here that Paul equates his gospel with Isaiah's gospel. That's what Paul  is saying. Isaiah's gospel revealed "the arm of the LORD" (Isa. 53:1). Paul's gospel is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). It's the same gospel. So what exactly is Isaiah's report? What's his gospel message? Let's consider Isaiah's gospel in more detail beginning with Isaiah 53:1 (the verse Paul quotes in Romans 10:16). Isaiah, the prince of prophets, writes:

"(1) Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (2) For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (3) He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (4) Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (5) But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (6) All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (7) He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. (8) By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? (9) His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (10) But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (11) As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (12) Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty [plunder or prize] with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sins of many, and interceded for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:1-12)

C. I. Scofield affirms that this passage in Isaiah 53:1-12 is "the evangelistic message" of Isaiah.2 The gospel according to the prophet Isaiah chronicles Christ's substitutionary death (Isa. 53:5), burial (Isa. 53:9), resurrection (Isa. 53:10), and manifestation to His offspring (literally "seed," Isa. 53:10; cf. Jn. 12:23-24, 14:18-19, 16:16-22, 20:19-23, etc.). David  records a similar prophecy outlining the Messiah's death (Ps. 22:14-16), burial (Ps. 22:15; cf. Ps. 104:29), resurrection (Ps. 22:19-21), and manifestation to His brethren (Ps. 22:22; cf. Matt. 28:10; Jn. 20:17; Heb. 2:11-13).3 Additionally, Psalm 40 - a Messianic Psalm (verses 6-8 are quoted in Hebrews 10:5-10 and applied to Christ) pictures Christ's death (i.e. His "Cries from the Cross," Ps. 40:1; cf. Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34; Lk. 23:46; Jn. 19:30, etc.), burial (Ps. 40:2a), resurrection (Ps. 40:2b), and appearances (Ps. 40:3: "many will see," cf. Matt. 28:10, 17; Mk. 16:7; Lk. 24:36-39; Jn. 20:19-20).4 This is also the gospel according to the apostle Paul (cf. Acts 13:26-41, 26:22-28; Rom. 10:15-16; 1 Cor. 15:1ff, etc.). No wonder Paul declares his gospel to be "promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Rom. 1:1-2; cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12)!

Commenting on the gospel in Isaiah 53, Herbert Lockyer relates the following true story from the life of D. L. Moody: "When Moody was asked to conduct his first mission in London in 1874, union meetings were comparatively new. The committee asked him to explain his methods. Everything went smoothly until one member asked him his creed. Moody calmly replied, 'My creed is already in print.' A member seized a paper and pencil and asked where it could be found. 'In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah,' Moody answered."5


ENDNOTES:

1 Commenting on the passage in Romans 6, Tom Stegall attempts to remove Christ's burial and resurrection appearances from the glorious gospel of salvation. He says: "The burial of Christ is referred to only one time in the entire epistle in Romans 6:4. And even this lone reference occurs in the Christian life section of the epistle in chapters 6-8, rather than the justification section in chapters 3-5. However, the post-resurrection appearances of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5-8) are not referred to even once in Romans." (Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL (Pt. 9)," The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2008]: p. 32, note 46, emphasis his.) Once again Stegall is beating upon the anvil of God's Word with the hammer of his reductionist reasoning. Stegall is attempting to use the book of Romans to redefine the gospel as excluding the historical facts of Christ's burial (1 Cor. 15:4) and resurrection appearances (1 Cor. 15:5). In regards to the latter fact, it's a bold claim to say that Christ's post-resurrection appearances "are not referred to even once in Romans." (Ibid.) But more than this, it's a false claim because Christ's post-resurrection appearances are referred to in Romans 1:1-2 when Paul says that the gospel was "promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Rom. 1:2; cf. Ps. 22:22; Isa. 53:10), and they're referred to again in Romans 10:15-16 with the mention of Isaiah's gospel (cf. Isa. 53:1-12). That's at least two references to Christ's resurrection appearances in Romans, which is twice as many references as Stegall claims don't exist!
     In response to Stegall's objection about Christ's burial being mentioned in the Christian life section of Romans rather than the justification section, this is quite beside the point in proving his groundless gospel (in other words "the burial of Christ isn't really part of the gospel" interpretation of the gospel) because even he admits: "The Gospel message is for believers and unbelievers." (Stegall, "THE GOSPEL OF THE RESURRECTED CHRIST (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)," Miscellaneous Message [March 27, 2005].) Stegall makes a similar statement in his book The Gospel of the Christ. He writes: "The gospel is absolutely essential both for the evangelization of the lost and for the sanctification of the saved." (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 418.) What's more, Stegall has even said that "Rom. 6:1-11...is a picture of the Gospel!" (Stegall,  "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL (Pt. 5)," The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2007]: p. 27.) So in reality it doesn't matter that the mention of Christ's burial occurs in the Christian life section of Romans rather than the justification section because the gospel has reference and application to both.
     And as to Stegall's argument that Christ's burial is not explicitly mentioned in the justification section of Romans, even he affirms the basic premise that when a truth is not denied it's "implied". (Stegall, THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 3," The Grace Family Journal [Fall 2007]: p. 8.) The words of Dean Flemming are appropriate: "in his letters the substance of Paul's gospel is generally assumed rather than spelled out. Paul only discusses those aspects of it that are relevant to the situation at hand. He could grant that his converts had already received instruction in the basic understanding of the faith, and in general Paul does not need to repeat this unless there is some misunderstanding of the gospel that needs to be corrected [like in 1 Corinthians 15:1ff]. Just as a sermon may not continually retell the story of the text on which it is based, but presupposes it throughout, so Paul's letters constantly assume and interpret the gospel story of God's redeeming action in Christ." (Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, p. 93.) Since Stegall affirms the basic premise that when a truth is not denied it's implied, the burden of proof rests upon him to show that Christ's burial is denied in the gospel in the book of Romans. But the evidence actually suggests that Christ's burial is implied in the gospel in Romans. Three examples will suffice in this regard. First, notice that the burial of Christ is implied in Romans 1:1-2 when Paul says that the gospel was "promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Rom. 1:2; cf. Ps. 22:15; Isa. 53:9). Second, consider Paul's famous statement on the gospel in Romans 1:16. S. Lewis Johnson remarks: "[In Romans 1:16] The apostle does not set forth the details of his 'gospel.' The interpreter, however, is upon reasonably safe ground in assuming that they are found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. The gospel is the good news of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances, together with the apostolic explanation of the doctrinal significance of these great facts." (S. Lewis Johnson, "The Gospel That Paul Preached," Bibliotheca Sacra 128 [October 1971]: p. 330.) Similar to S. Lewis Johnson, William R. Newell also looks back to 1 Corinthians 15 to define the gospel in Romans (Newell, Romans Verse-By-Verse, pp. 6, 20, 24, etc.). In this context the Bible interpreter may echo the words of singer-songwriter Eddie Money and say: "I Wanna Go Back!". Even Stegall admits that  Paul wrote 1 Corinthians before Romans so he can't claim it's anachronistic or out of place chronologically to go back to 1 Corinthians 15 when discussing the gospel in Romans (Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 6," The Grace Family Journal [Spring 2008]: p. 5). The preeminence of the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 is normally recognized, and even Dennis Rokser has said that "the most definitive passage in the New Testament explaining to us the very content of the Gospel is found in this same book, 1 Corinthians chapter 15." (Rokser, Seven Key Questions about Water Baptism, p. 5.) Third, notice that the burial of Christ is implied in the reference to Isaiah's gospel in Romans 10:16 (cf. Isa. 53:1-12). It's no wonder, therefore, that in his book Stegall never addresses Romans 10:16 in the chapter titled "What Is the Gospel According to Romans?" (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, pp. 411-477.) Amazingly, after discussing Romans 2:16 Stegall jumps ahead to discuss Romans 16:25 without ever addressing Romans 10:16 - even though he had said: "Each occurrence of the term 'gospel' in Romans will now be addressed"! (Ibid., p. 418.) Sadly, it seems that  in his attempt to remove Christ's burial and appearances from the gospel Stegall is only substantiating Isaiah's searching statement: "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" (Rom. 10:16; cf. Isa. 53:1).

2 C. I. Scofield, What Do the Prophets Say?, pp. 57-58.

3 See C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 608 note 3; 609 note 1.

4 See C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible, p. 618 note 1.

5 Herbert Lockyer, All The Books And Chapters Of The Bible, p. 173.

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