Introduction: Romans can be a difficult book to understand. Even Peter said some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-18), but one should not get discouraged like those of John 6:66. Be like Peter, who persevered (Jn. 6:67, 68). Sadly, Romans 10:9, 10 has been misunderstood or twisted by untold numbers of people. Some seem to think this is the only passage in the Bible telling man how to be saved, and many have interpreted this confession to be “the sinner’s prayer.” Those who believe such are strongly encouraged to study further. This article presents some thoughts to encourage an honest, objective study of Romans 10 and its relation to man’s salvation. It is highly recommended to read Romans chapter 10 in its entirety before reading the following points.
- The epistle to the Romans was written to Christians—not alien sinners who had never been saved (Rom. 1:7, 8), so there was no need for Paul to go into great detail to teach them how to become Christians, although he would address that subject briefly. Note that these Christians would need to continue confessing their faith in Christ before men.
- Paul had already shown the necessity of baptism in chapter 6, before he wrote chapter 10, and the honest reader of Romans 10 will not discard that Truth to take a position that contradicts other passages (Lk. 8:15; 2 Tim. 2:15-18). Paul said these Romans had already been “baptized into Jesus Christ…into his death,” where Jesus’ blood is contacted and where they were “then made free from sin” (Rom. 6:3-5, 16-18; cf. Jn. 19:33, 34; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 1:5). Paul said we bury the person who is dead in sin and are raised to new life, “through faith in the working of God” (Rom. 6:1-11; Col. 2:11-13; Titus 3:5; cf. Jn. 3:5; Gal. 3:26, 27). He said “if” we have done this, “we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). One cannot be saved outside of Christ (Rom. 8:1; 2 Tim. 2:10), but Paul taught that one is not “in Christ” until he is “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3).
- The confession of Romans 10 is a confession of faith before men, not a prayer, and certainly not a prayer to Jesus, because Jesus said to ask Him “nothing” in prayer (Jn. 16:23; Mt. 10:32; Mk. 8:38). Romans 10:9 is the same kind of confession to men that Jesus mentioned as an essential step for salvation (Mt. 10:32); the confession of the Truth upon which the church was built (Mt. 16:16); the confession early Christians made to men before being baptized to wash away their sins (Acts 8:37-39). It is the good confession that Timothy made before many witnesses (1 Tim. 6:12, 13). It is also the same kind of confession that many Jews were unwilling to make (Mt. 26:74; Jn. 7:13; 9:22; 12:42; 16:2), and that is apparently why Paul emphasizes this particular part of the plan of salvation in Romans 10:9, 10.
- The verses surrounding Romans 10:9, 10 clearly indicate that Paul was focusing on the Jews in that context (10:1-8, 12, 16-21). In fact, chapter 9 and much of chapter 11 also deal primarily with the Jews, many of whom did not believe in Christ or were ashamed to confess faith in Jesus before men. When reading Romans 10:9, think of Jews who were ashamed to confess Christ. That does not mean they did not have to repent or be baptized to be saved like the Jews on Pentecost, or like Paul himself! (Acts 2:38-41; 22:16; cf. Rom. 6:3-5). Saul/Paul was still mourning his sins and fasting until he was baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 9:18, 19; 22:16).
- Romans 10:11 proves that Paul emphasized confession so people (especially Jews) would not be ashamed to confess Christ before men: “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (10:11; cf. Mt. 10:32, 33; Mk. 8:38; Jn. 12:42). In fact, that was Paul’s point at the end of chapter 9 also, when speaking of Israel’s reluctance: “Israel…whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (9:31, 33). This context must be considered to understand Romans 10:9, 10! Paul was quoting Isaiah 28:16, which says, “…he that believeth shall not make haste,” meaning he will not be ashamed or afraid, running away in fear.
- The Bible often uses a figure of speech called a synecdoche, in which a concise statement is used to represent something more complex. Romans 10:9 is a concise figure of speech used to emphasize something that was sorely needed: people (especially Jews) who were not ashamed to publicly proclaim their faith in Jesus.
- If someone does not believe, the teacher will focus on the necessity of belief (Jn. 3:12-16). If someone already believes, but still needs to change, the teacher will likely focus on repentance and may not even mention belief (Acts 2:38). In Romans 10:9, the focus is on belief and confession, because of the Jews’ common reluctance to do so. Imagine someone saying, “If you would just be willing to confess Christ, you could be saved!” That does not mean that confession is the only thing involved. It’s a figure of speech. Their refusal to publicly confess Jesus was the main hindrance to their salvation, thus the emphasis.
- To take Romans 10:9 and say that confession is required, but baptism is not, is like taking First Peter 3:21 and saying baptism is required, but confession is not. Both statements are false, because “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” and we must learn how to “rightly divide” God’s Word, believing every bit of it (Psa. 119:160, 172; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16, 17).
- Repentance is not mentioned at all in Romans 10, but surely nobody rules out repentance as being required for salvation (Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30, 31; 26:20; 2 Pet. 3:9; cf. Lk. 13:3, 5; 2 Cor. 7:10). If one believes that repentance is required because God said so in other passages, he should also believe baptism is required, because God said so (Mk. 16:15, 16; Jn. 3:5; Acts 2:38; 9:6; 10:6, 35, 48; 19:5; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5, 16-18; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:11-13; Titus 3:5; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:20, 21). If repentance is required, so is baptism. Although neither repentance nor baptism are explicitly mentioned in Romans 10, they are both implied.
- It is also inconsistent to say man is saved by “faith alone,” while also requiring the act of confession (cf. Jam. 2:24). This very passage (Rom. 10) contradicts the doctrine of “faith only” salvation, and the entire Book of Romans emphasizes obedience to Christ, not just belief (1:5; 2:6-11; 4:12; 6:1-22; 8:1-13; 10:16, 21; 12:1, 2; 13:1; 13, 14; 16:26). The Book of Romans, like many of Paul’s writings, was written to prove that men, whether Jews or Gentiles, could only be saved through obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ—not by works of “the law” [of Moses] (Rom. 1:16; 2:17, 28, 29; 6:1-6; 16-18; 7:4-7; 8:1-4; 9:2-8, 31, 32; 10:1-3; Gal. 2:15, 16; 3:19-29; 5:3-6; Eph. 2:8-16; Col. 2:14-17, etc.).
- It would be erroneous to claim that the confession of Romans 10:9, 10 is “the sinner’s prayer.” Acts 8:12-24 shows that baptism should take place before prayer (cf. Prov. 28:9; Jn. 9:31; 1 Pet. 3:12). Prayer is a spiritual blessing for those in Christ (Eph. 1:3), and one is not in Christ until he is “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3). As has already been shown, interpreting the confession of Romans 10:9, 10 as a prayer does not fit the context, and one will not see any conversion in the Bible of an alien sinner living under the New Covenant who was commanded to pray to be saved.
- What is seen is a confession of faith before men that takes place before baptism: “Philip…preached unto him Jesus…and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:35-37; cf. 1 Tim. 6:12). By the way, the Ethiopian rejoiced after baptism, not after his confession, because his sins were washed away in baptism (Acts 2:38; 8:39; 22:16). That is why he urgently wanted to get to the water, because when Philip “preached Jesus,” he preached the necessity of believing and being baptized for salvation (cf. Mk. 16:15, 16).
- One must confess his belief before he is baptized into Christ, because Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mk. 16:16). Others do not know you believe, unless you “confess with thy mouth” (Rom. 10:9). That is surely why Philip required a confession of faith from the Ethiopian before baptism in Acts 8, and that confession was not a prayer. Please note that Jesus did not say, “He that believeth and prays the sinner’s prayer shall be saved…” He said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mk. 16:16).
- Romans 10:10 is elaborating on 10:9, thus the “for” at the beginning of the verse. The phrases “unto righteousness” and “unto salvation” in Romans 10:10 are synonymous, meaning “towards salvation.” This is not translated correctly in translations such as the ESV, NIV, or NLT. The first phrase in 10:10 cannot literally mean that one is saved at the point he believes, because that would contradict the second phrase about “confession unto salvation.” Is he declared righteous (saved) at the point of belief, or at the point of confession? They are both “towards” salvation, but salvation is not actually obtained until one “calls on the name of the Lord” by being baptized in the name of the Lord (10:13; cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 22:16). The Romans 10 confession is made before one “appeals to the authority of the Lord” by being baptized in the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13; cf. Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21, 38; 8:37; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Strong’s Greek Lexicon says that “calling on” means “appeal,” and “name” means “authority” (cf. Acts 4:7; 25:11, 12, 21, 25; 26:32; 28:19). This pattern of confession before baptism is exemplified in the conversion of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:35-39; cf. Rom. 10:9-13).
- A study of the following three passages proves that one calls on the name of the Lord when he is baptized in the name of the Lord: Acts 2:21, 2:38, and 22:16. Acts 2:38 explains what Peter meant in Acts 2:21—call on His name by being baptized in His name (His authority, Acts 4:7). In Acts 22:16, the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” is a participial phrase describing what Saul was doing when he arose, was baptized, and washed away his sins in the name of the Lord. Men do not have the power (authority) to save themselves, so they must appeal to the authority of Jesus by doing what the Author of salvation authorized for salvation (Mt. 4:17; 10:32; 28:18-20; Mk. 16:16; Heb. 5:9). Water baptism is how the penitent believer calls on (appeals to) the Lord to be saved, because that is what Jesus commanded for man’s salvation (Mk. 16:16). First Peter 3:21 also says water baptism is how one appeals to God for a good conscience, salvation.
- When the whole book of Romans is examined, it is clear that one believes unto (towards) righteousness, confesses unto (towards) salvation, and is finally “baptized into Jesus Christ” to be “made free from sin” (Rom. 6:3, 17, 18; 10:10, 13). Note that repentance is also “unto” eternal life (Acts 11:18), and baptism is “unto” the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). The Greek preposition eis is the same word used in all these passages, translated as “unto” in Romans 10:10, so if belief and confession are unto salvation, so are repentance and baptism, with baptism being the final step “into Christ” (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27).
- In Romans 10:15, Paul mentions preachers being “sent” to “preach the Gospel,” and in 10:18 he goes on to say, “…Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” This is obviously referring to the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded baptism for the salvation of all people and did not mention confession (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15, 16; Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38-40). In fact, there are many more verses in the New Testament stating the necessity of water baptism than there are for confession, but God only has to say something once for it to be eternally binding. The Great Commission began on Pentecost, the day the apostles first taught people to call on the name of the Lord by being baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21, 38-41; cf. Rom. 10:12-18).
- What is being discussed in Romans 10 is summarized by this statement: “But they have not all obeyed the Gospel…” (10:16). The basic facts of the Gospel are the death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4), so how does one obey that? Paul already told us in Romans 6 – a penitent believer must be baptized into His death, buried with Him in baptism, and raised to walk in new life (6:3-5). When we “obey from the heart that form of doctrine” we have “obeyed the Gospel” and are “then made free from sin” (6:16-18; 10:16). The Christians in Rome would have understood that “obeying the Gospel” was just another way to describe being baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Those who do not obey the Gospel will be separated from God eternally (2 Thess. 1:7-9; 1 Pet. 4:17).
- In Romans 10:17 Paul says, “faith cometh by hearing…the Word of God,” so those who do not believe what God said about the necessity of repentance and water baptism cannot be people of true faith. A person of faith will believe everything God said (Psa. 119:172).
- A primary rule of Biblical interpretation is that any interpretation of a passage that contradicts other passages is incorrect (Psa. 119:160; 172). Immediate and remote contexts must be considered for a proper understanding. When discussing something as important as Heaven and Hell, it is the height of irresponsibility to take one or two verses as “proof texts” while ignoring or trying to explain away the rest of the Bible. It is extremely dangerous to precious souls when one wields God’s Powerful Sword so recklessly (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Jam. 3:1). Peter warned it is quite possible to take more difficult Scriptures, like those written by Paul, and twist them to our own destruction. He thus commanded growth in knowledge (2 Pet. 3:15-18). Love for others and our own souls would demand that we be honest with God’s Word, being careful with it, studying it diligently, knowing that the way we use it can save or condemn.
Conclusion: In Romans 10, Paul had expressed his desire for Israel to be saved. Even though they had a zeal for God, it was without proper knowledge: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-3). Many today could be described in the same way: they love God and are very zealous, but they lack knowledge of how God’s Word harmonizes regarding salvation, or they refuse to acknowledge the Truth. Because of this, they have created their own system of righteousness that is different from God’s. May we lovingly encourage them to reconsider and submit to the righteousness of God, “that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1; cf. Acts 19:1-5; Rom. 6:16-18; 16:17; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 4:16).
Note: If anyone reading this believes I am in error, let me know. Show me from God’s Word how I am wrong, and I will consider your words as they relate to the Bible. I just want to do whatever God wants (Psa. 141:5; Prov. 27:5, 6).