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A Rebuttal to Shabir Ally’s Response to Dr. James White Pt. 4e

Sam Shamoun

We continue discussing the evidence which confirms that the blessed Apostle Paul believed that Christ is God in an absolute sense, and therefore essentially co-equal with the Father.


Romans 9:5

In his inspired epistle to the Romans, Paul enumerates some of the privileges and blessings which God bestowed on the nation of Israel, and concludes by highlighting the greatest blessing of them all:  

“to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Here is another rendering:

“The Jewish ancestors are theirs, and the Christ descended from those ancestors. He is the one who rules over all things, who is God, and who is blessed forever. Amen.” Common English Bible (CEB)

The Apostle mentions that Israel was privileged to have the Messiah physically descending from them who is not only sovereign over all things, but also happens to be the God who is forever praised!

Since Ally may accuse us of forcing the text to agree with our presupposition that Jesus is God Almighty, we have decided to quote from several liberal, critical scholars who do not believe that the Holy Bible is inspired and/or inerrant.

We start with one of Ally’s favorite Bible critics:

(c) A full stop may be put at the end, after aionas (“forever”), a comma after sarka. In this punctuation all the words after sarka are a relative clause modifying “Christ.” Thus, “… the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.” This interpretation would mean that Paul calls Jesus God. From a grammatical viewpoint this is clearly the best reading. Also, the contextual sequence is excellent; for, having spoken of Jesus’ descent according to the flesh, Paul now emphasizes his position as God. The only real objection to this interpretation is that nowhere else does Paul speak of Jesus as God.35  

This passage is a famous crux, and we cannot hope to reach a decision that will be accepted by all. Distinguished scholars are aligned on both sides. Among those who think that Rom 9:5 applies the title “God” to Jesus are Sanday and Headlam, G. Findlay, Boylan, Nygren, Lagrange, and O. Michel. Among those who think that the reference is to the Father are H. Meyer, Dodd, Bultmann, J. Knox, Barrett, and Taylor. Personally, we are inclined to accept the grammatical evidence in favor of interpretation (c), but at most one may claim a certain probability that this passage refers to Jesus as God. (Raymond E. Brown, Jesus God and Man: Modern Biblical Reflections [Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York 1967], pp. 21-22; bold and underline emphasis ours)

35 Already in this section we have rejected such texts as Gal 2:20; 1 Tim 3:16 (n. 17 above); in the previous section we pointed out a number of Pauline texts which would seem to indicate that Paul did not refer to Jesus as God. In our opinion, besides Rom 9:5, the only Pauline text that has real plausibility as an instance of Jesus’ being called God is Tit 2:13. But this is in the Pastoral Epistles, which many scholars regard as deutero-Pauline. Nevertheless, it may be argued that, whether or not they were written by Paul, the Pastorals are a homogeneous development of Pauline usage; thus the usage in Tit 2:13 may be interpreted as a continuation of Paul’s own way of speaking already instanced in Rom 9:5. – We should caution that an argument based on Paul’s usage or nonusage of “God” for Jesus is different from the claim that Paul was so imbued with Jewish monotheism that he could not have thought of Jesus as God. Such a claim assumes that Paul could find no way of reconciling two truths. Wainwright, art. cit., p. 276, rightly criticizes this circular reasoning. (Ibid., p. 21; bold emphasis ours)

The following is another Ally favorite:

“… Part of the problem in this half verse is the punctuation of it; there are four main possibilities: (1) ‘… from whom is the Christ by physical descent, who is above all things, God blessed forever! Amen.’ So the VAST MAJORITY of the interpreters of Rom IN THE FIRST EIGHT CENTURIES and many modern commentators (Althaus, Cranfield, Cullmann, Kuss, Leenhardt, Michel, Pesch, Nygren, Sanday-Headlam). (2) ‘… from whom is the Christ by physical descent. God who is over all be blessed forever! Amen.’ So a few writers from the 4th cet. on. Erasmus (who introduced the modern discussion), and many exegetes today (Barrett, Bultmann, Cerfaux, Dodd, Feine, Goodspeed, Kaemann, Lietzmann, Robinson, Wilckens; NEB, RSV). This punctuation (period before ‘God’) creates a doxology addressed to God in the manner of Jewish doxologies; Paul blesses God at the mention of the Messiah. (3) ‘… from whom is the Christ by physical descent, who is over all. God be blessed forever! Amen.’ This punctuation (comma after ‘descent’ and period before ‘God’) divides the phrase between Christ and God. (4) ‘… from whom is the Christ by physical descent, and to whom belongs God who is over all, Amen.’ So J. Weiss and the early K. Barth. This interpretation conjecturally inverts the words ho on (to hon ho theos) and introduces yet another privilege, making God himself Israel’s prerogative. The last two interpretations are improbable and have little to commend them; the choice is between (1) and (2). The preference of (1) is mainly based on three considerations: (1) The normal sense of this half verse in its context; the phrase to kata sarka ‘by physical descent,’ calls for some contrast. (ii) The normal wording of a doxology is not used; ‘blessed’ should precede theos. In Paul’s writings such a doxology is never joined asyndetically with what precedes or with the subject expressed first (see Gal 1:5; 2 Cor 11:31; Rom 1:25; 11:36; cf. Eph 3:21; 2 Tim 4:18; 1 Pet 4:11; Heb 13:21). (iii) The use of theos of Christ is compatible with Paul’s teaching even though the appellation is not found elsewhere. Other statements of his make this attribution not unjustifiable (see 1 Cor 8:6; Phil 2:6; cf. Titus 2:13 for a possible later extension of his thought). In any case, one cannot argue apodictically about this matter.” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., “The Letter to the Romans,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 856; capital and underline emphasis ours)

This next one is taken from another critical commentary which casts doubt on the integrity of the Holy Bible:

i. from them comes the Messiah according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever, Amen.

ii. from them comes the Messiah according to the flesh, who is over all. God be blessed for ever, Amen.

iii. from them comes the Messiah according to the flesh. God who is over all be blessed for ever, Amen.

Grammatically the arguments weigh heavily on the side of (i); in other words, on the side that Paul does indeed here ascribe divinity to Christ. Of the various arguments here, perhaps the strongest is that it would be highly unusual for Paul to write an asyndetic doxology–that is, an expression of praise that is not linked to a word in the immediately preceding sentence (see, e.g., 1:25).

More compelling than grammar alone is the consideration of how v. 5, read according to (i) above, makes sense in its wider context. We have already remarked how the complex theological statement of the gospel in 1:3-4 serves as an introduction to the whole letter, especially to chaps. 1-8. In this statement Jesus is described as both “of the seed of David according to the flesh” and also “son of God in power according to the spirit holiness.” This leads to an emphasis on his universal rule and a call to allegiance. A double statement in which the Messiah’s “fleshly” descent is balanced by his universal sovereignty would form a close parallel to this, creating a probability that at least “who is over all” goes with “Christ.” This would seem to favor (i) or (ii), but it has to be said that the abrupt final sentence of (ii) is even less likely than the longer but nevertheless “unbalanced” sentence in (iii). In other words, if 9:5 is intended to be the same kind of double statement that we find in 1:3-4, (i) is the most likely reading… 

If we read v. 5 in this way, what force does it add to the opening paragraph as a whole? Just this: that the Messiah who is from Israel’s own race, their highest privilege and final hope, is the very embodiment of their sovereign Lord, their covenant God. And it is he whom they have rejected; this is precisely the point Paul makes in 10:21, at the close of the main “story” of chaps. 9 and 10. Just as Israel rejected their God on Mt. Sinai, precipitating Moses into his extraordinary prayer (see above), so now Israel according to the flesh has rejected its God as he came in the flesh, precipitating Paul into his own version of that prayer and his own great, unceasing grief. Israel’s highest privilege, when spurned, becomes the cause of Israel’s greatest tragedy.

But even that tragedy contains within itself the seed of hope. Just because the Messiah “according to the flesh” is also “God over all, blessed for ever,” and particularly because his “flesh” was the place where God “condemned sin” (8:3), so the strange and sad story of Israel’s fate, to which Paul will now turn, is designed to lead on and out into new life. Read in this way, 9:5 becomes an exact, if ironic, summary of both parts of the argument that will now unfold. (N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, pp. 630-631; bold emphasis ours)

We saved the best quote for last. Here is what Bart D. Ehrman says regarding Paul’s view of the risen Lord, especially the translation of Romans 9:5:

“Paul says even more exalted things about Christ. In Chapter 2, we saw that some Jewish texts understood God’s Wisdom to be a hypostasis of God–an aspect or characteristic of God that took on its own form of existence. Wisdom was the agent through which God created all things (as in Proverbs 8), and since it was God’s wisdom in particular, it was both God and a kind of image of God. As the Wisdom of Solomon expressed it, Wisdom is ‘a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… for she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness’ (7:25-26). Moreover, we saw that Wisdom could be seen as the Angel of the Lord.

“Jesus, for Paul, was the Angel of the Lord. And so he too was God’s Wisdom, before coming into this world. Thus Paul can speak of ‘the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God’ (2 Cor. 4:4). Even more striking, Christ can be described as the agent of creation … (1 Cor. 8:6)

“This verse may well incorporate another pre-Pauline creed of some kind as it divides itself neatly, as can be seen, into two parts, with two lines each. The first part is a confession of God the Father, and the second a confession of Jesus Christ. It is ‘through’ Christ that all things come into being and that believers themselves exist. This sounds very much like what non-Christian Jewish texts occasionally say about God’s Wisdom. And God’s wisdom was itself understood to be God, as we have seen. So too Jesus in Paul. One of the most debated verses in the Pauline letters is Romans 9:5. Scholars dispute how the verse is to be translated. What is clear is that Paul is talking about the advantages given to the Israelites, and he indicates that the ‘fathers’ (that is, the Jewish patriarchs) belong to the Israelites, and ‘from them is the Christ according to the flesh, the one who is God over all, blessed forever, amen.’ Here, Christ is ‘God over all.’ This is a very exalted view.

“But some translators prefer not to take the passage as indicating that Christ is God and do so by claiming that it should be translated differently, to say first something about Christ and then, second, to give a blessing to God. They translate the verse like this: ‘from them is the Christ according to the flesh. May the God who is over all be blessed forever, amen.’ The issues of translation are highly complex, and different scholars have different opinions. The matter is crucial. If the first version is correct, then it is the one place in all of Paul’s letters where he explicitly calls Jesus God.

“But is it correct? My view for many years was that the second translation was the right one and that the passage does not call Jesus God. My main reason for thinking so, though, was that I did not think Paul ever called Jesus God anywhere else. So he probably wouldn’t do so here. But that, of course, is circular reasoning, and I think the first translation makes the best sense of the Greek, as other scholars have vigorously argued. It is worth stressing that Paul does indeed speak about Jesus as God, as we have seen. This does not mean that Christ is God the Father Almighty. Paul clearly thought Jesus was God in a certain sense–but he does not think that he was the Father. He was an angelic, divine being before coming into the world; he was the Angel of the Lord; he was eventually exalted to be equal with God and worthy of ALL of God’s honor AND WORSHIP. And so I now have no trouble recognizing that in fact Paul could indeed flat-out call Jesus God, as he appears to do in Romans 9:5.

“If someone AS EARLY IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION as Paul can see Christ as an incarnate divine being, it is no surprise that the same view emerges later in the tradition. Nowhere does it emerge more clearly or forcefully than in the Gospel of John.” (How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee [HarperOne, Hardcover edition: 2014], 7. Jesus as God on Earth: Early Incarnation Christologies, pp. 267-269; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The foregoing expositions of the text should carry more weight even for Ally since these authorities and scholars are not trying to force the Holy Bible to agree with their beliefs concerning Christ. This is especially so with Ehrman who happens to be an agnostic that calls God’s existence into question!

Rather, these sources are simply allowing the context to determine the precise meaning of the passage. As such, the verse clearly testifies to Christ being the One who is sovereign over creation as the God who is to be forever praised.

However, the only God who is forever praised and is above all creation is Yahweh God:

“Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the Lord, art the Most High over all the earth.” Psalm 83:18

 “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him. Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of thy judgments, O God. For thou, O Lord, art most high over all the earth; thou art exalted far above all gods.” Psalm 97:7-9 – cf. 95:3; 96:4; 135:5

Therefore, Paul could only describe Christ as the God who reigns over all and is forever praised if he believed that Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate. This brings me to the next citation from Romans:

“But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, ‘every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Romans 10:8-13

Here, the blessed Apostle refers to Christ as the Lord of all, which is simply another way of saying that he is over all, and claims that salvation comes from confessing Jesus as Lord whom God raises from the dead. Paul then cites the following OT reference to support his argument:

“And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.” Joel 2:32

According to this OT text, salvation comes from calling upon the name of Yahweh, which Paul says is precisely what happens whenever a person confesses that Jesus is Lord!

To put this simply, the blessed Apostle is saying that Jesus is the Yahweh whom believers are to call upon for salvation. I.e., calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus is exactly the same as calling upon Yahweh’s name since Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh!

In the words of the renowned liberal NT scholar:

“… At first, Kyrios seems to refer to Yahweh since Paul uses Jewish expressions, ‘the Lord of all’ (Josephus, Ant. 20.4.2 90), ‘call upon the name of’ (1 Sam. 12:17-18; 2 Sam. 22:7), and refers explicitly in v. 13 to Joel 3:5. But in the context (esp. after 10:9) Kyrios can refer ONLY to Jesus, who is the risen Lord of Jew and Greek (cf. 9:5; Phil. 2:9-11). In the OT those who ‘call upon the name of the Lord’ denoted sincere and pious Israelites; in the NT it is transferred to Christians. Verses 12-13 are an eloquent witness TO THE EARLY CHURCH’S WORSHIP OF CHRIST AS KYRIOS.” (Fitzmyer, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 859; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Another noted NT scholar shows how Romans 10:12-13 provides additional evidence for taking 9:5 as a proclamation of Christ's Deity:

“But there are also indications that Paul intended 9:5 to serve in this way–not as a detached Christological statement (he was not given to sudden statements of doctrine, however, important, in isolation from actual arguments), but as a kind of heading for what is to come. The whole argument of 9-11, as we have suggested, moves toward, and finally affirms, the universal sovereignty of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, with 10:4-13 as the decisive statement. Though Paul does not there call Jesus (theos, ‘God’), he calls him (kyrios, ‘Lord’), in one of the many passages where he is quoting from a Septuagint passage in which kyrios stood unambiguously for the Tetragrammaton, the sacred name YHWH… (10:13, quoting Joel 3:5 LXX; see the Commentary on 10:13). The stress on ‘all’ in this central passage picks up exactly the point of ‘who is over all’ in 9:5, and increases the strong possibility that Paul intended the word ‘God’ there to understood as a predicate of the Messiah. Chapters 9-11 close with the intention of God toward ‘all’ (11:32), and a burst of praise to God (11:33-36) that echoes the brief ‘blessed for ever’ of 9:5 (cf. 14:5-12).” (Wright, The New Interpreter’s Bible, pp. 630-631; bold emphasis ours)


“… Jew and Gentile come together in sharing the common faith in the same Lord (Paul is already looking ahead to chap. 14). And the ‘Lord’ in question, while identified from the earlier verses as Jesus the Messiah, is equally the (kyrios) of the LXX. This is where the breathtaking assertion of 9:5, that the Messiah who belonged to Israel according to the flesh is also ‘God over all, blessed for ever,’ shows up at the heart of the argument. This is where christology determines ecclesiology–including where the church stands vis-à-vis the pagan emperor!–as well as soteriology. ‘The same Lord is Lord of all.’ That was what Caesar claimed, and it was what Paul claimed for Jesus. At the same time, Paul is picking up, and transforming, a regular Jewish theme: one God, therefore one people of Israel (cf. Zech 14:9-17). Where, before, ‘no distinction ‘ was explained by ‘for all have sinned’ (3:23), now it can be explained by ‘for there is one Lord of all.’ As in 3:27-30, monotheism undergirds the universality of the gospel–though, as elsewhere in Paul, it is monotheism with Jesus at the heart of it.” (Ibid., p. 665; bold emphasis ours) 

Hence, this leaves absolutely no doubt that this Apostle of the risen Lord proclaimed that Christ is Yahweh God Almighty.

We have more to say concerning the beliefs of this blessed servant of Christ in this next part of our reply.