6 Nov 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
But is Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 legitimate? Or is he guilty of an unprincipled allegorisation, and of reading into Scripture what is not there? We begin by noting that his only actual quotation (as opposed to allusion) is Deuteronomy 30:14, which is reproduced almost exactly in verse 8: *’the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart’*. There Paul stops, for the Deuteronomy text goes on to say that the reason the word was near them was ‘so that you may obey it’, whereas Paul calls it ‘the word of faith’. How then can Paul take a verse about the law which is to be obeyed and apply it to the gospel which is to be believed? It sounds a fundamental contradiction, especially while he is commending ‘righteousness by faith’. But it is not.
How does Paul use the Deuteronomy passage? He is not claiming either that Moses explicitly foretold the death and resurrection of Jesus, or that he preached the gospel under the guise of the law. No. The similarity he sees and stresses between Moses’ teaching and the apostles’ gospel lies in their easy accessibility. He knows that Moses began this part of his speech (although he does not quote it) by telling the Israelites that his teaching was neither ‘too difficult’ for them nor ‘beyond their reach’. Moses went on, using dramatic imagery, that it was neither up in heaven nor beyond the sea – remote, unrevealed and unknown – so that they would have to find someone to ascend into heaven or cross the sea in order to bring it to them. On the contrary, his teaching was very near them. They knew it already. Far from being above or beyond them, it was actually inside them, in their hearts and in their mouths.
What Moses had said about his teaching, Paul now affirms about the gospel. It is neither remote nor unavailable. There is no need to ask who will ascend to heaven to bring Christ down or descend to Hades to bring Christ up. Storming the ramparts of heaven and potholing in Hades, in search of Christ, are equally unnecessary. For Christ has come and died, and been raised, and is therefore immediately accessible to faith. We do not need to do anything. Everything that is necessary has already been done. Moreover, because Christ himself is near, the gospel of Christ is also near. It is in the heart and mouth of every believer. The whole emphasis is on the close, ready, easy accessibility of Christ and his gospel.
Verses 11-13 build on this. They stress that Christ is not only *easily* accessible, but *equally* accessible to all, to *anyone* (11) and to *everyone* (13), since *there is no difference* (12), no favouritism. All three verses refer to Christ and affirm his availability to faith, although each describes in different terms both the nature of faith and how Christ responds to believers. In verse 11 we ‘trust in him’ and will *never be put to shame*. In verse 12 *we call on him*, and he *richly blesses* us. In verse 13 we call *on the name of the Lord* and are *saved*. Let us now consider the three verses separately.
First, Verse 11: *As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’* This is a second quotation of Isaiah 28:16, the first having been in 9:33. The designation of saving faith as ‘trust’ shows that the ‘belief’ and the ‘confession’ of the two previous verses (9-10) are not to be understood as a mere subscription to creedal formulae.
Secondly, verse 12: *For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him*. It is a marvelous affirmation that through Christ there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Of course there is a fundamental distinction between those who seek righteousness by the law and those who seek it by faith. But between those who have been justifies by faith and are now in Christ, all distinctions, not only of race, but also of sex and culture, are not so much abolished (since Jews are still Jews, Gentiles Gentiles, men men and women women) as rendered irrelevant (see Gal. 3:28). Just as there is no distinction between us because in Adam we are all sinners (3:22f.), so now there is no distinction between us because in Christ, who *is Lord of all*, all who call on him are richly blessed. Far from impoverishing us, we all receive his ‘unsearchable riches’ (Eph. 3:8).
In the third verse (13) both our calling on him and his blessing of us are elaborated. To *call on him* is, more precisely, to call *on the name of the Lord*, that is, to appeal to him to save us in accordance with who he is and what he has done. *Everyone* who thus calls on him, we are assured, *will be saved* (13). In the first place this is a quotation from Joel 2:32. But Peter cited it on the day of Pentecost, transferring the text from Yahweh to Jesus (Acts 2:21), which is also what Paul does here. Indeed, this appeal to Jesus for salvation became so characteristic of Christian people that Paul could describe the worldwide community as ‘those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2).
What then, according to this section, is necessary to salvation? First the fact of the historic Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, risen, reigning as Lord, and accessible. Secondly, the apostolic gospel, *the word of faith* (8), which makes him known. Thirdly, simple trust on the part of the hearers, calling on the name of the Lord, combining faith in the heart and confession with the mouth. But still something is missing. There is, fourthly, the evangelist who proclaims Christ and urges people to put their trust in him. It is of Christian evangelists that Paul writes in the next paragraph.