A Commentary by John Stott
In order to demonstrate the indispensable necessity of evangelism, Paul asks four consecutive questions.
First, if, in order to be saved, sinners must call on the name of the Lord (13), *How, then can they call on the one they have not believed in?* (14a). For calling on his name presupposes that they know and believe his name (i.e. that he died, was raised and is Lord). This is the only occasion in his letters on which Paul uses the term ‘believe in (*eis*)’, which is the regular expression in John’s writings for saving faith. Here, however, since saving faith is presented as ‘calling on’ Christ’s name, the kind of ‘belief’ Paul has in mind must be the prior stage of believing the facts about Jesus which are included in his ‘name’.
Secondly, *how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?* (14b). Just as believing is logically prior to calling, so hearing is logically prior to believing. What kind of hearing, however? ‘In accordance with normal grammatical usage’, the phrase *the one of whom (hou)* should be translated ‘the one whom’ and so means ‘the speaker rather than the message’. In other words, they will not believe Christ until they have heard him speaking through his messengers or ambassadors (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20; 13:3).
Thirdly, *how can they hear without someone preaching (kerysso,* to ‘herald’) *to them* (14c). In ancient times, before the development of the mass media of communication, the role of the herald was vital. The major means of transmitting news was his public proclamations in the city square or the marketplace. There could be no hearers without heralds.
Fourthly, *how can they preach unless they are sent?* (15a). It is not clear from the text what kind of ‘sending’ Paul has in mind. Because he uses the verb *apostello*, commentators have tended to assume that he has himself in mind as an apostle (see 1:1, 5; 11:13; cf. Gal.1:15f.), together with his fellow apostles, for they had been directly commissioned by Christ (E.g. Lk.6:12f.; Gal.1:1). They were also ‘apostles of the churches’, however, sent out as missionaries (2 Cor.8:23). The latter is a broader concept, for, although the apostles of Christ were appointed by him and required no endorsement by the church, the churches sent out only those whom Christ has chosen to send (E.g. Acts 13:1ff.). The need for heralds is now confirmed from Scripture: *As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (15b) (cf. Is.52:7). If those who proclaimed the good news of release from Babylonian exile were thus celebrated, how much more welcome the heralds of the gospel of Christ should be!
The essence of Paul’s argument is seen if we put his six verbs in the opposite order: Christ sends heralds; heralds preach; people hear; hearers believe; believers call; and those who call are saved. And the relentless logic of Paul’s case for evangelism is felt most forcibly when the stages are stated negatively and each is seen to be essential to the next. Thus, unless some people are commissioned for the task, there will be no gospel preachers; unless the gospel is preached, sinners will not hear Christ’s message and voice; unless they hear him, they will not believe the truths of his death and resurrection; unless they believe these truths, they will not call on him; and unless they call on his name, they will not be saved. Since Paul began this chapter by expressing his longing that the Israelites will be saved (1), he must surely have had them specially in mind when developing his evangelistic strategy in these verses. His next paragraph confirms this.
Tomorrow: Romans 10:16-21. 4). The reason for Israel’s unbelief.