What does Romans 9:30 mean?
ESV: What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;
NIV: What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;
NASB: What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, but the righteousness that is by faith;
CSB: What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith.
NLT: What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place.
KJV: What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
NKJV: What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
Verse Commentary:
Paul's entire argument that God will show His mercy to some Jews and not others has been based on what he has written earlier in Romans. God will show His mercy exclusively and only to those who come to Him by faith in Christ. Up to this point in chapter 9, however, Paul has not anchored this argument to Jesus Himself. He begins to do so now.

First Paul asks his standard question after making a profound and difficult point: What shall we say then? It's another way of saying, "What are the implications of this?" A Jewish person reading or hearing this might ask Paul, "are you saying that Gentiles who didn't even try to become righteous before God have received righteousness from God, anyway, because of their faith?" Paul will ask the second part of his question in the following verse, but the answer to this one is an unequivocal "yes."

Non-Jewish Gentile peoples, for the most part, have never attempted to live under the law of Moses. They may have participated in a variety of religious practices over the generations, but they did not attempt to demonstrate their own righteousness to God by following the law. That law was never given to them, anyway.

Still, a declaration of righteousness is exactly the "stamp" God has given to Gentiles who come to Him by faith in Christ. In His mercy and grace, God has given to them credit for Jesus' righteousness and has accepted Jesus' death as payment for their sin. This means a Gentile's salvation is exactly the same as that of a Jewish person: by grace through faith.

In the following verse, Paul will ask the next shocking question for those Jews who had grown up living under the law.
Verse Context:
Romans 9:30–33 finds Paul declaring that though the Gentiles did not seek God's righteousness, it has been given to them by faith. Meanwhile, Israel pursued righteousness through following the law and did not reach it because they did not pursue it by faith. They stumbled over Christ, the stumbling stone. All who believe in Him will never be put to shame.
Chapter Summary:
Romans 9 begins with Paul describing his anguish for his people Israel in their rejection of Christ. After describing all the privileges God has given to the Jewish people as a nation, Paul insists that God will keep those promises. However, not every person born to Israel belongs to Israel, he writes. God reserves the right to show mercy to some and not others, as Paul demonstrates from Scripture. God is like a potter who creates some vessels for destruction and others for glory. God has called out His people from both the Gentiles and the Jews to faith in Christ, the stumbling stone.
Chapter Context:
Romans 8 ended with Paul's grand declaration that nothing can separate those who are in Christ Jesus from the love of God. Romans 9 turns a sharp corner and finds Paul heartbroken that his people, the Jews, have rejected Christ. He insists that God will keep His promises to Israel, but that not everyone born to Israel is truly Israel. God will show mercy to whomever He wishes, calling out His people from both the Jews and the Gentiles to faith in Christ. Romans 10 will find Paul discussing how Jewish people can be saved.
Book Summary:
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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