Exposition of Romans 2:4-5, Do not waste God’s patient forbearance

There is little that is worse than self-deception. I know that from bitter, personal experience!

Imagine the shock when a Jew who thinks that relationship with Abraham has sealed heaven finds out he can expect God’s wrath. Nor should Christians take a complacent attitude about their salvation either!

(ESV) Romans 2:4-5

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

While Paul is still talking to his opponents of Jewish background, the principles he cites apply to all of us. Every human being has received abundant kindness and forbearance and patience (2:4) from God, who would have been fully justified in putting us to death the first time we rebelled against him and many times afterward!

If we offered a starving beggar $50 for food only to find our money thrown back in our faces with a demand for $100 instead, there is little doubt that the outcome would not be pretty. Yet Paul’s rhetorical question in 2:4 implies the Jews have done far worse. By denying that their own sin deserves God’s judgment, they are scorning his kindness and forbearance and patience. Instead, the appropriate response would be repentance (2:4).

Note that we who have trusted in Christ did roughly the same thing as the Jews up to the moment we surrendered our lives to the Lord. We too abused God’s kindness, though we did not hide behind Abraham or possession of the Law of Moses.

The Greek verb kataphroneohere (2:4) means “to look down on someone or something with contempt or aversion, with implication that one considers the object of little value, look down on, despise, scorn, treat with contempt.”[1] ESV says, “presume on”; NET and NIV say, “have contempt for”; NLT paraphrases with “Does this mean nothing to you?” The idea — deeply flawed — is that, if I already have salvation by being a descendant of Abraham, then I do not need God’s kindness!

Grant Osborne clarifies forbearance and patience (2:4):

The second area of abundance is God’s tolerance, referring to God’s postponing his judgment and giving people time to repent (so also 3:26). The third area is quite similar, God’s patience or longsuffering as he puts up with sinners, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).[2]

In a letter devoted to explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must face the fact that repentance occurs only in 2:4. Douglas Moo observes, “Repentance plays a surprisingly small part in Paul’s teaching, considering its importance in contemporary Judaism.”[3] C.E.B. Cranfield speculates that the reason for this low level of usage may be that Paul considers repentance to be an integral element of faith.[4] Perhaps, but our task is to understand Romans rather than to bring Paul’s theology nearer to our own thoughts.

It is difficult to select a favorite translation for Romans 2:5. Each of the following two has a small flaw:

(NET) But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!

(ESV) But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

NET correctly translates your stubbornness and thus preserves the emphatic, singular personal pronoun; Paul is still in his argument-with-single-opponent mode. But ESV does better with storing up wrath for yourself because it has preserved the Greek singular while NET has employed the English plural “yourselves.”[5]

Instead of storing up merit and waiting for assured salvation, Jewish stubbornness is simply storing up wrath, a very ironic use of this verb! Moo refers to biblical references (Ps. 110:5; Zeph. 1:14-15; Rev. 6:17) in adding, “‘Day of wrath’ is quasi-technical biblical language for the time of final judgment.’[6]

What are you storing up?

God’s patience has a limit; his forbearance will not last forever. Paul told the philosophers of Athens that God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).

1. Like the Jews of Paul's day, it is easy for someone with Christian parents or who attends church to think they have it made with God. What is the flaw in their thinking?

2. Even if we have trusted in Christ, we may still squander our opportunity to store up something positive for the day of judgment. Read Eph. 2:8-9 and Phil. 2:12-13 and then write down what God expects of you as a Christian.

Our opportunity to live for Christ is brief, and we must make the most of it. Give praise to our gracious God who allows us to serve in his kingdom.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] BDAG-3, kataphroneo, treat with contempt, q.v.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 61.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 133-134.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 144, footnote 2, extending to page 145.

[5] HCSB probably has the most accurate overall translation of Romans 2:5.

[6] Moo, Romans, 134.

Review of NIV 2011 by Daniel Wallace

In late July, 2011, Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary completed a four-part review of the NIV 2011, the latest major entry in English Bible translations. It is well worth your time to read his views. I forewarn you that when you first land on his blog, Dan’s picture makes him look like a Scottish mullah — however unlikely you find that description. Don’t let that stop you!

In Part 1, Dan provides a brief history of English Bible translation in order to set the NIV 2011 in its historical context. That is a helpful way to begin, especially for those who have no knowledge of trends in the production of such translations. Please don’t be one of those people who think history does not matter, because this field would prove you wrong.

In Part 2, Dan gives his now-familiar spiel on how literal translation is totally inadequate for idioms, and I suppose he does so to forestall those who demand that a translation always be literal. His argument is convincing, though it fails to address the legitimacy of less-than-literal translation in the vast territory outside of idioms.

One key statement says, “The primary focus of the NIV 2011 is an accurate translation (more on this later), and one has to admit that they have accomplished this objective admirably.” Another summary conclusion says: “The scholarship behind the NIV 2011 is probably as good as it gets. And the textual basis [Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic text within the Bible] is both bold and exceptionally accurate.” This is high praise from someone of Wallace’s standing among textual critics.

In Part 3, Dan discusses weaknesses of NIV 2011. The most important finding, in my opinion, is stated this way: “In this instance [1 Tim. 3:2], as in many instances throughout the NIV, I would have preferred that the translators retained a more interpretive-neutral stance as long as the English rendition wasn’t nonsense.”

Wallace offers “husband of one wife,” in 1 Tim. 3:2,  but NIV 2011 has “faithful to his wife.” This translation by NIV 2011 picks a favored interpretation from “a myriad of views.” The translation “husband of one wife” is what Wallace calls “an interpretive-neutral stance,” but the reader who has no skill with New Testament Greek reads the narrower “faithful to his wife” and does not realize that a choice has been made when other viable choices were available. NIV 2011 does not even provide a footnote, which would have been preferable here.

Wallace has some other material you will not want to miss, including a table that compares the NET Bible, NIV 2011, ESV, KJV, RSV, NRSV, RV, ASV and NASB in relation to elegance, accuracy and readability. Fascinating! One thing Dan did not do was to sum up all the scores and see how they stood in relation to each other. Out of a possible 30 points, ESV took the honors with 24, closely trailed by NET Bible and RSV at 23 points and NIV 2011 at 22 points. Remember that I am the one who summed up the points; Dan would probably say that elegance, accuracy and reliability are only three factors among many ways to compare translations. But it was still fun!

In Part 4, Dan puts a nice bow on the package: “As with the handful of other exceptional translations, the NIV 2011 definitely should be one that the well-equipped English-speaking Christian has on his or her shelf, and one that they consult often for spiritual nourishment.”

For what it’s worth, that is my conclusion as well.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:12–15

Genesis 9:12–15
And God said, “This is the guarantee of the covenant I am making with you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all subsequent generations: 13 I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds. Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things.”(NET Bible)

 A commitment to calm fears

On one level it is astonishing that the all-powerful Creator makes a binding agreement with the living things he has made. But he did so in unmistakable terms.

What is the significance of God making a covenant with humankind? What was the idea behind making known what he expected of us and what he would do in return?

The language of Genesis 9:12 seems formal in its careful enumeration of the covenant parties. The Hebrew text makes very clear that God is establishing a covenant “between me [God] and you [Noah, his sons and their wives] and every living being that was with you for farthest generations” (Gordon Wenham).[1] We should be equally careful in considering the covenant parties, but ordinarily we ignore the animals, whom God always includes! Perhaps this blind spot is a demonstration of how we have lost sight of our stewardship for God over the earth and its life forms.

The first words of Genesis 9:13 are “my rainbow” to emphasize it. But the time-sense of the verse, is an issue between translations:

NET Genesis 9:13 “I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)

ESV Genesis 9:13 “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)

NET is alone among major translations in saying “will . . . will,” placing all action in the future. ESV joins NIV 2011, The Jewish Bible, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible in some variant of “have . . . shall/will,” placing the initial action in the past and the subsequent action in the future.

I consider the ESV and other translations better than NET here, because rainbows would have already existed as a matter of physics (sunlight falling on water droplets at a certain angle); the newly introduced element was the significance God was giving the rainbow as a sign.

For God to bless Noah and his sons, rain would have to fall on the earth to nurture crops. But imagine the potential for panic when a storm rolled in. To provide peace of mind during his new start with Noah, God re-brands the meaning of a storm (Gen. 9:14). Instead of being a reminder of judgment, a rainbow would serve as a reminder of God’s covenant promise (Gen. 9:15). It is God who brings the necessary rains, and in doing so he provides rain for both the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 151.