The Things Paul Wishes Would Never Be

In writing his letter to the Romans, Paul often imagines an objection or an alternative to his teaching. Many times he then responds, “May it never be!” (In Greek, μὴ γένοιτο.) What are these things that Paul wishes would never be, things that are unthinkable for the apostle? It is a revealing list.

In Romans, Paul’s expression “May it never be!” occurs nine times. It is impossible or unthinkable: that Jewish faithlessness would undo God’s faithfulness (3:4); that God would be unable to judge the world (3:6); that the Law would be undone (3:31); that we should live in sin, since we are dead to it (6:2); that we would go on sinning because we are ‘under grace’ (6:15); that the law itself is sin (7:7); that the Law, in itself good, became death to him (7:13); that God is unjust (9:14); and, finally, that God has thrust away his people Israel (11:1).

To summarize: it’s impossible that God’s purposes for his chosen nation should be frustrated by their failures; God is a faithful keeper of his promises (3:4; 11:1). It’s unthinkable that God’s judgment will not take place (3:6; 9:14), because God alone judges impartially  and ‘in line with the truth’ (2:2); he knows the secrets of human hearts (2:16). For God not to judge the world would mean the triumph of evil. It’s impossible that the Law should be ruined or bring death into the world (3:31; 7:13), since it is ‘the form of truth and knowledge’ (2:20) and, in itself, ‘holy’ (7:12). Finally, it’s impossible for us to keep living in sin who have died and live anew with Christ (6:2), even as we live under the continuing promise of God’s gracious forgiveness (6:15). That’s just not who we are any more.

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