For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ - This and the two preceding verses are thus paraphrased by Dr. Taylor: I am so far from insisting on the doctrine (of the rejection of the Jews) out of any ill-will to my countrymen, that I solemnly declare, in the sincerity of my heart, without the least fiction or dissimulation - and herein I have the testimony of my own conscience, enlightened and directed by the Spirit of God - that I am so far from taking pleasure in the rejection of the Jewish nation, that, contrariwise, it gives me continual pain and uneasiness, insomuch that, as Moses formerly (when God proposed to cut them off, and in their stead to make him a great nation, Exodus 32:10;) begged that he himself should rather die than that the children of Israel should be destroyed, Exodus 32:32, so I could even wish that the exclusion from the visible Church, which will happen to the Jewish nation, might fall to my own share, if hereby they might be kept in it and to this I am inclined by natural affection, for the Jews are my dear brethren and kindred.
Very few passages in the New Testament have puzzled critics and commentators more than this. Every person saw the perfect absurdity of understanding it in a literal sense, as no man in his right mind could wish himself eternally damned in order to save another, or to save even the whole world. And the supposition that such an effect could be produced by such a sacrifice, was equally absurd and monstrous. Therefore various translations have been made of the place, and different solutions offered. Mr. Wakefield says: "I see no method of solving the difficulty in this verse, which has so exercised the learning and ingenuity of commentators, but by the ευχομαι ειναι of Homer, I profess myself to be; and he translates the passage in a parenthesis, thus: (for I also was once an alien from Christ) on account of my brethren, etc. But how it does appear that Saul of Tarsus was ever an alien from Christ on account of his kinsmen, is to me perfectly indiscernible. Let us examine the Greek text. Ηυχομην γαρ αυτος εγω αναθεμα ειναι απο του Χριστου ὑπερτων αδελφων μου, 'For I did wish myself to be an anathema From Christ (ὑπο, By Christ, as some ancient MSS. read) for my brethren.' As ηυχομην is the 1st per. sing. of the imperfect tense, some have been led to think that St. Paul is here mentioning what had passed through his own mind when filled with the love of God, he learned the rejection of the Jews; and that he only mentions it here as a thing which, in the effusions of his loving zeal, had been felt by him inconsiderately, and without any Divine afflatus leading him to it; but that he does not intimate that now he felt any such unreasonable and preposterous wish." I am afraid this is but ill calculated to solve the difficulty.
The Greek word αναθεμα, anathema, properly signifies any thing devoted to God, so as to be destroyed: it answers to the Hebrew חרם cherem, which the Septuagint translate by it, and means either a thing or person separated from its former state or condition, and devoted to destruction. In this sense it is used, Deuteronomy 7:25, Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 6:17, Joshua 6:18; Joshua 7:12.
It is certain that the word, both among the Hebrews and Greeks, was used to express a person devoted to destruction for the public safety. In Midrash hanneelam, in Sohar Chadash, fol. 15, Rabbi Chaijah the elder said: "There is no shepherd found like unto Moses, who was willing to lay down his life for the sheep; for Moses said, Exodus 32:32, If thou wilt not pardon their sin, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." Such anathemas, or persons devoted to destruction for the public good, were common among all ancient nations. See the case of M. Curtius and Decius among the Romans. When a plague took place, or any public calamity, it was customary to take one of the lowest or most execrable of the people, and devote him to the Dii Manes or infernal gods. See proofs in Schleusner, and see the observations at the end of the chapter, ( Romans 9:33; (note), point 1.). This one circumstance is sufficient to explain the word in this place. Paul desired to be devoted to destruction, as the Jews then were, in order to redeem his countrymen from this most terrible excision. He was willing to become a sacrifice for the public safety, and to give his life to redeem theirs. And, as Christ may be considered as devoting them to destruction, (see Matthew 24), Paul is willing that in their place Christ should devote him: for I could wish myself, αναθεμα ειμαι απο (or, as some excellent MSS. have it, ὑπο ) του Χριστου, to be devoted By Christ, to that temporal destruction to which he has adjudged the disobedient Jews, if by doing so I might redeem them. This, and this alone, seems to be the meaning of the apostle's wish.
In this letter Paul gave free expression to his burden in behalf of the Jews. Ever since his conversion, he had longed to help his Jewish brethren to gain a clear understanding of the gospel message. “My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is,” he declared, “that they might be saved.” AA 374.1
It was no ordinary desire that the apostle felt. Constantly he was petitioning God to work in behalf of the Israelites who had failed to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah. “I say the truth in Christ,” he assured the believers at Rome, “my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites, to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever.” AA 374.2
The Jews were God's chosen people, through whom He had purposed to bless the entire race. From among them God had raised up many prophets. These had foretold the advent of a Redeemer who was to be rejected and slain by those who should have been the first to recognize Him as the Promised One. AA 374.3Read in context »