The Stumbling Stone of Rom 9:32–33 as Torah and Jesus

In a 2003 article, Morna Hooker makes the following, insightful argument about the referent(s) of the λίθος (stone) language in Rom 9:32–33:

Is Paul affirming here that Israel’s problem is simply that she has failed to believe in Christ? The majority of commentators accept this interpretation, but the possibility supported by some scholars that the stumbling-block is the law should not be too easily dismissed. It should be noted after all that Christ has not been mentioned since 9:1–5 and that the two subjects under discussion in Rom 9:30–31 are the law and righteousness. Moreover, what Paul has just stated is that Israel has misunderstood the function of the law. Perhaps then the stumbling-block over which Israel has fallen is the law.

But the reason that a stone causes one to stumble is normally that it is hidden from view—hardly true of the law. The metaphor suggests something obscure, which appears here to be the “hidden” meaning of Scripture. What was hidden from Israel seems to be the fact that the law could not be attained by works and that the righteousness promised in the law came only through faith—i.e., trust in God. It was this, says Paul, that Israel had failed to grasp even though it is set out in the law itself (3:19–22). In other words, Israel has tripped up because she has misunderstood the law and been unaware of its true significance. Scripture promises that those who have faith will not be ashamed (9:33). But in whom or what should they believe? The ambiguity in the quotation in v. 33 reminds us that the answer is still hidden from Israel. It will be spelled out in the next paragraph, where Christ is revealed as the “purpose” or “goal” of the law, and where the promise that those who believe on him clearly refers to him. The “hidden” meaning of Scripture is then Christ himself and the righteousness that is found in him. Those who maintain that the “stumbling-block” is Christ are also right! (57; cf. Wright 204, 239–44)

In this light, 1QS 8:1–12 is certainly instructive, but Paul’s preceding argument even within Romans itself (e.g., 3:21—31; cf. Gal 3:14:7) seems to move along similar tracks also.


In this post:

Climax of the Covenant
N. T. Wright
  • Morna Hooker, “The Authority of the Bible: A New Testament Perspective,” Ex Auditu 19 (2003): 45–64

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