What does Romans 9:31 mean?
ESV: but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
NIV: but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.
NASB: however, Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
CSB: But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law.
NLT: But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded.
KJV: But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
NKJV: but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
Verse Commentary:
Paul is using a question-and-answer approach to sum up what he has written in this chapter. In fact, he's tying together concepts used throughout the book of Romans. He imagines an incredulous Jewish person asking the question posed in the previous verse and in this one. That person might have asked, "are you saying, Paul, that even though the Gentiles never pursued the righteousness of God by attempting to follow the law of Moses, that those who have faith in Christ have been given God's righteousness, anyway? Are you also saying, Paul, that Israel, who has pursued God's righteousness by attempting to live under the law for generations, has not succeeded in keeping the law and has not been declared righteous by God?"

Paul's answer to both questions is a simple "yes." He has taught throughout this book that being declared righteous before God comes only through faith in Christ. That status cannot be reached by following the law. In the following verse he will answer the next question: Why?
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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