For centuries people have been puzzled by the nation of Israel. The Roman government recognized the Jewish religion, but it still called the nation secta nefaria—”a nefarious sect.” The great historian Arnold Toynbee classified Israel as “a fossil civilization” and did not know what to do with it. For some reason, the nation did not fit into his historical theories.
Paul devoted all of Romans 11 to presenting proof that God is not through with Israel. We must not apply this chapter to the church today, because Paul is discussing a literal future for a literal nation. He called five witnesses to prove there was a future in God’s plan for the Jews.
The Callus On the Heart (Rom 11:1-12)
There was a question now to be asked which any Jew was bound to ask. Does all this mean that God has repudiated his people? That is a question that Paul’s heart cannot bear. After all, he himself is a member of that people. So he falls back on an idea which runs through much of the Old Testament. In the days of Elijah, Elijah was in despair (1 Ki 19:10-18). He had come to the conclusion that he alone was left to be true to God. But God told him that, in fact, there were still seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So into Jewish thought came the idea of The Remnant.
The prophets began to see that there never was a time, and never would be, when the whole nation was true to God; nevertheless, always within the nation a remnant was left who had never forsaken their loyalty or compromised their faith. Prophet after prophet came to see this. Amos (Am 9:8-10) thought of God sifting men as corn is in a sieve until only the good are left. Micah (Mic 2:12; Mic 5:3) had a vision of God gathering the remnant of Israel. Zephaniah (Zeph 3:12-13) had the same idea. Jeremiah foresaw the remnant being gathered from all the countries throughout which they had been scattered (Jer 23:3). Ezekiel, the individualist, was convinced that a man could not be saved by either a national or an inherited righteousness; the righteous would deliver their own souls by their righteousness (Eze 14:14, 20, 22). Above all, this idea dominated the thought of Isaiah. He called his son Shear-Jashub, which means The Salvation of the Remnant. Again and again he returns to this idea of the faithful remnant who will be saved by God (Isa 7:3; Isa 8:2; Isa 8:18; Isa 9:12; Isa 6:9-13).
There is a tremendous truth beginning to dawn here. As one great scholar put it: “No Church or nation is saved en masse.” The idea of a Chosen People will not hold water for this basic reason. The relationship with God is an individual relationship. A man must give his own heart and surrender his own life to God. God does not call men in crowds; he has “His own secret stairway into every heart.” A man is not saved because he is a member of a nation or of a family, or because he has inherited righteousness and salvation from his ancestors; he is saved because he has made a personal decision for God. It is not now the whole nation who are lumped together as the Chosen People. It is those individual men and women who have given their hearts to God, of whom the remnant is composed.
Paul’s argument is that the Jewish nation has not been rejected; but it is not the nation as a whole, but the faithful remnant within it who are the true Jews.
What of the others? It is here that Paul has a terrible thought. He has the idea of God sending a kind of torpor upon them, a drowsy sleep in which they cannot and will not hear. He puts together the thought of a series of Old Testament passages to prove this (Deut 29:4; Isa 6:9-10; Isa 29:10). He quotes Ps 69:22-23. “Let their table become a snare.” The idea is that men are sitting feasting comfortably at their banquet; and their very sense of safety has become their ruin. They are so secure in their fancied safety that the enemy can come upon them all unaware. That is what the Jews were like. They were so secure, so self-satisfied, so at ease in their confidence of being the Chosen People, that that very idea had become the thing that ruined them.
The day will come when they cannot see at all, and when they will grope with bent backs like men stumbling blindly in the dark. In Rom 11:7 the King James Version says, “they have been blinded.” More correctly, it should be, “they have been hardened.” The verb is poroun (<G4456>). The noun porosis (<G4457>) will give us the meaning better. It is a medical word, and it means a callus. It was specially used for the callus which forms round the fracture when a bone is broken, the hard bone formation which helps to mend the break. When a callus grows on any part of the body that part loses feeling. It becomes insensitive. The minds of the mass of the people have become insensitive; they can no longer hear and feel the appeal of God.
It can happen to any man. If a man takes his own way long enough, he will in the end become insensitive to the appeal of God. If he goes on sinning, he will in the end become insensitive to the horror of sin and the fascination of goodness. If a man lives long enough in ugly conditions he will in the end become insensitive to them. As Burns wrote:
“I waive the quantum of the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But och! it hardens a’ within,
And petrifies the feeling!”
Just as a callus can grow on the hand, a callus can grow on the heart. That is what had happened to the mass of Israel. God save us from that!
But Paul has more to say. That is tragedy, but out of it God has brought good, because that very insensitiveness of Israel opened the way to the Gentiles to come in. Because Israel did not want the message of the good news, it went out to people who were ready to welcome it. Israel’s refusal has enriched the world.
Then Paul touches on the dream which is behind it all. If the refusal of Israel has enriched the world by opening a door to the Gentiles, what will the riches be like at the end of the day, when God’s plan is fully completed and Israel comes in, too?
So, in the end, after tragedy comes the hope. Israel became insensitive, the nation with the callus on her heart; the Gentiles came by faith and trust into the love of God; but a day will come when the love of God will act like a solvent, even on the callus of the heart, and both Gentile and Jew will be gathered in. It is Paul’s conviction that nothing in the end can defeat the love of God.
In this section Paul points out that not all Jews have rejected God’s message of salvation. He draws upon the experience of Elijah to show that there had always been a faithful remnant among the people. In Paul’s day, there was still a remnant living by faith, under the law (11:5). After all, Paul was a Jew; so were Jesus’ disciples and nearly all of the early Christian missionaries. Part of God’s sovereign choice involves bringing a remnant of his people back to himself. This truth forbids any hint of anti-Semitism God’s plan still includes the Jews.
Paul Himself (Rom. 11:1)
“Hath God cast away His people? God forbid! For I also am an Israelite!” If God has cast away His people, then how can the conversion of the Apostle Paul be explained? The fact that his conversion is presented three times in the Book of Acts is significant (Acts 9, 22, 26). Certainly Dr. Luke did not write these chapters and repeat the story just to exalt Paul. No, they were written to show Paul’s conversion as an illustration of the future conversion of the nation of Israel. Paul called himself “one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). In 1 Timothy 1:16 he stated that God saved him “that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.”
The accounts of Paul’s conversion tell very little that parallels our salvation experience today. Certainly none of us has seen Christ in glory or actually heard Him speak from heaven. We were neither blinded by the light of heaven nor thrown to the ground. In what way, then, is Paul’s conversion “a pattern”? It is a picture of how the nation of Israel will be saved when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth. The details of Israel’s future restoration and salvation are given in Zechariah 12:10-13:1. The nation shall see Him as He returns (Zech. 14:4; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7), recognize Him as their Messiah, repent, and receive Him. It will be an experience similar to that of Saul of Tarsus when he was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians (Acts 9).
This is why Paul used himself as the first witness. The fact that he was saved does not prove that there is a future for Israel. Rather, what is important is the way he was saved.
11:1 I ask, then.NRSV Paul continues his “I ask” format that he used in 10:18 (“I ask: Did they not hear?”) and in 10:19 (“I ask: Did Israel not understand?”). Paul now asks: Has God rejected his people?NRSV
The Jewish nation had heard such words before. In the depths of their sinfulness when King Manasseh ruled the northern kingdom of Israel, God said, “I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies . . . because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day” (2 Kings 21:14-15 niv). Indeed, Jeremiah had warned the people: “Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath” (Jeremiah 7:29 niv). With this question Paul expresses a deep concern—has God finally grown tired of Israel’s constant disobedience and rejected them forever?
Paul responds, By no means!NRSV Literally, “May it never be!” One proof of this is Paul’s experience. Paul had received salvation, and he is an Israelite . . . a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.NIV Paul is a full-blooded Jew (who had even gone so far as to persecute Christians before he became a believer). Surely if God was going to reject someone, Paul would have been a good choice. But God, in his sovereignty, called Paul and rearranged his entire life.
The Prophet Elijah (Rom. 11:2-10)
Israel is God’s elect nation; He foreknew them, or chose them, and they are His. The fact that most of the nation has rejected Christ is no proof that God has finished with His people. In his day, Elijah thought that the nation had totally departed from God (see 1 Kings 19). But Elijah discovered that there was yet a remnant of true believers. He thought he was the only faithful Jew left and discovered that there were 7,000 more.
Paul referred to this “remnant” in Romans 9:27, a quotation from Isaiah 10:22-23. At no time has the entire nation of Israel been true to the Lord. God makes a distinction between Abraham’s natural children and his spiritual children (Rom. 2:25-29). The fact that the Jews shared in the covenant by being circumcised did not guarantee their salvation. Like Abraham, they had to believe God in order to receive His righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5).
Note that this remnant is saved by grace and not by works (Rom. 11:5-6). Note also the parallel in Romans 9:30-33. It is impossible to mix grace and works, for the one cancels the other. Israel’s main concern had always been in trying to please God with good works (Rom. 9:30-10:4). The nation refused to submit to Christ’s righteousness, just as religious, self-righteous people refuse to submit today.
If a remnant had been saved, thus proving that God was not through with His people, then what had happened to the rest of the nation? They had been hardened (a better translation than “blinded” in Rom. 11:7). This was the result of their resisting the truth, just as Pharaoh’s heart was hardened because he resisted the truth. Paul quoted Isaiah 29:10 to support his statement, and also referred to Deuteronomy 29:4. We would expect a pagan ruler to harden himself against the Lord, but we do not expect God’s people to do so.
Romans 11:9-10 are cited from Psalm 69:22-23. This psalm is one of the most important of the messianic psalms and is referred to several times in the New Testament. Note especially Romans 11:4, 9, 21-22. Their “table to become a snare” means that their blessings turn into burdens and judgments. This is what happened to Israel: their spiritual blessings should have led them to Christ, but instead they became a snare that kept them from Christ. Their very religious practices and observances became substitutes for the real experience of salvation. Sad to say, this same mistake is made today when people depend on religious rituals and practices instead of trusting in the Christ who is pictured in these activities.
Paul made it clear that the hardening of Israel is neither total nor final, and this is proof that God has a future for the nation. “Hardness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). The existence of the believing Jewish remnant today, as in Elijah’s day, is evidence that God still has a plan for His people. Paul did not imitate Elijah’s mistake and say, “I only am left!” He knew that there was a remnant of Israel in this world who trusted God.
11:2-3 God has not rejected his people.NRSV God did not reject his people in the days of Moses, nor in the days of the prophets. And he is not rejecting them now. Regardless of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God always keeps his promises.
- Samuel told Israel, “For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own” (1 Samuel 12:22 niv).
- A psalmist wrote, “For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance” (Psalm 94:14 niv).
- Jeremiah prophesied, “‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.’ This is what the Lord says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:36-37 niv).
Whom he foreknew.NRSV God’s foreknowledge of his people implies his special relationship with them. God chose “Israel to be the people through whom all other nations of the world could know him. He made this promise to Abraham, their ancestor (Genesis 12:1-3). Israel didn’t have to do anything to be chosen. God had given them this privilege because he wanted to, not because they deserved special treatment (Deuteronomy 9:4-6). God knew beforehand that Israel would be unfaithful; if God’s faithfulness to Israel was going to be dependent on their faithfulness, God would never have chosen them in the first place. God will remain faithful to his promises to Israel, despite Israel’s failure.
Elijah . . . appealed to God against Israel.NIV Paul then reminds his readers of a time when all Israel had deserted God, but God had preserved a remnant. After Elijah’s stunning demonstration of God’s power over Baal’s prophets at Mount Carmel (and the killing of all of Baal’s prophets.), Elijah fled for his life from the wrath of Israel’s evil Queen Jezebel who threatened to have him killed. He ran for many miles and then stopped to rest. In his terror and exhaustion, he cried out to God, “Lord they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.”NIV “They” actually refers to the evil leadership in the northern kingdom of Israel, but Elijah was holding the entire, nation responsible for the actions of many. He had concluded that he was the only person left in Israel who believed in God.
11:4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”NIV God shared some very important information with Elijah. Elijah was not the last of God’s people left on the earth—God had seven thousand believers who had not turned to idol worship. That was not a large number, but it was a faithful “remnant.” Notice that God reserved these faithful followers for himself-the remnant existed because of his sovereign choice.
When we experience conflict and antagonism, it is likely that we will feel alone. That is especially the case when we focus on the failure of others to recognize that we may be the last of the real followers. When we think this way, we overestimate our importance and underestimate God’s power. It is shocking to discover, at times, that verbalizing our faith causes others to reject us. But we also discover, much to our delight, that until we verbalize our faith, we don’t really know how many other believers there are that surround us. God always has his remnant in places we might least expect.
11:5 There is a remnant, chosen by grace.NRSV Just as God had preserved a remnant of his people when almost the entire nation had turned to idolatry, God is restoring a remnant through Christ—and only because of God’s sovereign choice and by his grace. The remnant is a small group who have remained faithful, yet it is by God’s grace that the remnant stands firm. The Jewish believers in this faithful remnant are proof that God has not rejected his people (2 Kings 19:4, 19). What Paul could say with confidence in his day, we can repeat today. No matter how grim and hopeless the situation might seem, because of God’s sovereignty we can say with confidence that at the present time there is still a remnant chosen by grace!
11:6 If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works.NRSV Jews who struggled to gain God’s acceptance by good works and adherence to the law have lost the grace of God. But the “remnant chosen by grace” (11:5) understand that God’s choice is not on the basis of works, but by his grace and mercy—his generosity to them. Salvation is never on the basis of works; it is always by God’s merciful choice, as Paul has explained earlier in this letter. Jews who believe in Christ are not denying their faith or their heritage; instead, they are discovering what these were truly meant to be.
Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.NRSV If God’s grace in choosing us depended on our works or obedience to the law, it would not be grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 niv).
|GOD’S GOOD GIFT|
|Do you think it’s easier for God to love you when you’re good? Do you secretly suspect that God chose you because you deserved it? Do you think some people’s behavior is so bad that God couldn’t possibly save them? If so, you don’t entirely understand that salvation is by grace, a free gift. It cannot be earned, in whole or in part; it can only be accepted with thankfulness and praise.|
11:7 What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain.NIV This verse provides an excellent summary of Romans 9-11. The nation had earnestly sought God’s acceptance by doing works of the law (see 10:2-3). But God did not accept them. Instead, he accepted the elect—the remnant chosen through his sovereignty and grace. Throughout the Old Testament God dealt with the people of Israel in two ways: (1) as individuals, and (2) as a corporate community. At times, God emphasized the responsibility that each person bears for his or her own sins. At other times, God emphasized the fact that the entire nation might be affected by the acts of a few. Paul uses the name Israel to indicate the community of Jews, most of whom rejected Jesus and most of whom were busily but hopelessly pursuing righteousness under the law.
But the elect did.NIV There was a chosen remnant among the chosen people, however, who did respond, who did obtain.
The rest were hardened.NKJV Israel’s failure was foreseen by God and, in fact, brought about by him (see 9:22-23, 33). This “hardening” was confirmation of their inability to understand and their insensitivity to God’s Word and God’s call. When God judged them, he removed their ability to see, hear, and repent; thus they would experience the consequences of their rebellion. But this “hardening” is not the same as rejection; rather, it confirms their response to God. Paul illustrates this “hardening” from two passages in Scripture (as follows).
11:8 As it is written. This verse describes the punishment for hardened hearts that was predicted by the prophet Isaiah.
“God has given them a spirit of stupor.”NKJV Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10. This stupor is a kind of numbness that results in blindness (eyes . . . could not see) and deafness (ears . . . could not hear).NIV When people repeatedly refuse to listen to God’s Good News, they eventually will be unable to hear and understand it. Israel’s present misinterpretation of their Scriptures and refusal to accept Christ as their Messiah is a continuation of their tendency to misunderstand God’s plans and purposes for them. Paul saw this happening in the Jewish congregations he visited on his missionary journeys.
|LEAVE ME ALONE!|
|Resisting God is like saying to him, “Leave me alone!” But because God is always and everywhere present, his answer to that prayer might be to agree and make that person less sensitive, more hardened to him. The very possibility of that happening ought to keep us asking God specifically for ears that really hear and eyes that really see—openness and responsiveness to him.|
11:9-10 David says. Verses 9 and 10 are from Psalm 69:22-23 (a psalm thought to be prophetic about the suffering of the Messiah). These words of David were originally a curse directed at Israel’s enemies. Paul turns the curse around and points it at the Jews!
Their table. This refers to the blessings that God had given Israel. These blessings should have drawn Israel to him and thus led them to Christ; instead, they became a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.NIV Israel’s blessings had led to pride that led them away from God. Thus, not only did they miss the Messiah when he came, but they also persecuted and killed him.
Eyes be darkened . . . and keep their backs forever bent.NRSV The Jews refused to see God’s truth when it was set before them (Isaiah 6:9-10), so they are cursed with eternal blindness and the back-breaking burden of their self-imposed law keeping and regulations, their sins, and their guilt. John 9 records Jesus confronting the Pharisees with their spiritual blindness. He had healed a blind man, but the religious leaders had invalidated the healing because it broke their Sabbath work rules. Eventually, the healed man came to realize Jesus was the Son of Man, the Messiah (John 9:35-38). Jesus used the man’s experience to explain his own ministry: “‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains'” (John 9:39-41 niv). For Jesus, those who claimed to see but could not recognize his true identity were afflicted with the worst possible blindness.
GOD’S MERCY ON THE GENTILES / Romans 11:11-24
Paul had a vision for the church, and thus for local churches, to be a place where all Jews and Gentiles would be united in their love of God and in obedience to Christ. While respecting God’s law, this ideal church would look to Christ alone for salvation. A person’s ethnic background and social status would be irrelevant (see Galatians 3:28)—what mattered would be his or her faith in Christ. In this section, Paul describes a large olive tree, from which some branches had been pruned and to which other branches had been grafted. That tree represents Paul’s vision for the church.
True Christians have no basis for persecuting others. Attempting to force Christian belief only destroys that belief “Evangelism” does not justify hurting others. Both Gentiles and Jews have done so much to damage the cause of the God they claim to serve that Paul’s vision of unity seems very distant. Yet God chose the Jews, just as he chose the Gentiles, and he still works to unite Jews and Gentiles in a new Israel, a new Jerusalem, ruled by his Son (see Ephesians 2:11-22).
But Paul’s vision has not yet been realized. Many Jewish people rejected the gospel. Depending on their works and heritage for salvation, they did not have the heart of obedience that was so important to the Old Testament prophets and to Paul. After Gentiles became dominant in many of the Christian churches, they began rejecting Jews and even persecuting them. Unfortunately, this practice has recurred through the centuries.
The Gentiles (Rom. 11:11-15)
In Romans 2:1-3 Paul used the Gentiles to prove the Jews guilty of sin, but here he used the Gentiles to assure Israel of a future restoration. His logic here is beautiful. When the Jews rejected the Gospel, God sent it to the Gentiles and they believed and were saved. Three tragedies occurred in Israel: the nation fell (Rom. 11:11), was lost (Rom. 11:12, “diminished”), and was cast away (Rom. 11:15). None of these words suggests a final judgment on Israel. But the amazing thing is that through Israel’s fall, salvation came to the Gentiles. God promised that the Gentiles would be saved (Rom. 9:25-26) and He kept His promise. Will He not also keep His promise to the Jews?
It is important to understand that the Old Testament promises to the Gentiles were linked to Israel’s “rise”—her entering into her kingdom. Prophecies like Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 60 make it clear that the Gentiles will share in Israel’s kingdom. But Israel did not “rise”; she fell! What would God then do with the Gentiles? God introduced a new factor—the church—in which believing Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). In Ephesians 3, Paul called this new program “the mystery,” meaning “the sacred secret” that was not revealed in the Old Testament. Does this mean that God has abandoned His kingdom program for Israel? Of course not! Israel is merely set aside until the time comes for God’s plans for Israel to be fulfilled.
Paul stated that the Gentiles had a vital ministry to Israel. Today, the saved Gentiles provoke Israel “to jealousy” (see Rom. 10:19) because of the spiritual riches they have in Christ. Israel today is spiritually bankrupt, while Christians have “all spiritual blessings” in Christ (Eph. 1:3). (If an unsaved Jew visited the average church service, would he be provoked to jealousy and wish he had what we have—or would he just be provoked?)
There is a future for Israel. Paul calls it “their fullness” (Rom. 11:12) and their “receiving” (Rom. 11:15). Today, Israel is fallen spiritually, but when Christ returns, the nation will rise again. Today, Israel is cast away from God, but one day they shall be received again. God will never break His covenant with His people, and He has promised to restore them. (See Jer. 31:35-37 where God links His promises to Israel to the sun, moon, and stars.)
11:11 Did they stumble . . . beyond recovery ?NIV This is the tenth time in this letter that Paul has asked a question only to respond in a strong negative: Not at all!NIV No, Israel’s stumbling did not cause them to fall so that God has declared the nation beyond recovery. Their blindness is not permanent (11:8); their fall is not fatal. Israel’s stumbling, their transgression (rejecting Christ so strongly that they killed him) means that salvation has come to the Gentiles.NIV Israel’s rejection of Christ was a part of God’s plan all along, as essential as God’s sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau (9:10-13) and his hardening of Pharaoh (9:17-18).
When Paul preached in various cities, he usually went to a synagogue first to speak to the Jews. Many times their unbelief would turn to hostility toward Paul. Then Paul would take the message to the Gentiles: “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'” (Acts 13:46 niv). But the salvation of the Gentiles is not the end of the story. It too has a purpose.
To make Israel jealous.NRSV Both the news that salvation is in Christ and that God accepted pagan Gentiles served to provoke Israel to jealousy. Israel had lost sight of the reason for their election as a nation; God had told Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 niv). Instead of accepting Jesus as Messiah and Savior and then taking that good news to all peoples on earth, the Jews were “hardened” for a time while God got the Good News out in other ways. But this was God’s plan all along. The blessings offered to the Gentiles would spur Israel to end their hostility toward the gospel and ultimately bring them to faith. God desires to restore Israel to himself.
11:12 Their transgression means riches for the world.NIV The Jews’ rejection of the Christ meant that the gospel was given to the rest of the world. The world was greatly blessed—those who received the gospel received great riches for eternity; and believers, in turn, have an influence for good on the rest of the world.
Their loss means riches for the Gentiles.NIV God took the riches that the Jews should have received and offered them to the Gentiles, who gladly received them.
How much greater riches will their fullness bring!NIV Paul looks beyond the present to a future time when Israel will accept the riches of salvation that God offers (see 11:26). The word fullness is to be understood in the same sense as “the full number of the Gentiles” in verse 25; in other words, all those chosen by God to receive salvation. Israel’s acceptance does not mean that the riches given to the Gentiles will be taken away; rather, when the Jews are saved, the Gentiles will enjoy even greater blessings along with them.
|UNITED AROUND CHRIST|
|Paul visualized a church in Rome where Jews and Gentiles would be united in their love of God and in obedience to Christ. There were plenty of spiritual riches for everyone. If either group tried to claim sole ownership of the truth, both groups would be impoverished. God’s plan involves a large, healthy tree of life, with both Jewish and Gentile branches growing vigorously. Healthy churches come in many shapes and sizes, and the power of Jesus Christ is often demonstrated in the sheer variety of people who gather around the Cross for worship. It is spiritually healthy to ask, from time to time, “Who, or what, is at the center of the church where you worship?”|
The Wild Olive—Privilege and Warning (Rom 11:13-24)
It is to the Jews that Paul has been talking up to this time, and now he turns to the Gentiles. He is the apostle to the Gentiles, but he cannot ever forget his own people. In fact he goes the length of saving that one of his main objects is to move the Jews to envy when they see what Christianity has done for the Gentiles. One of the surest ways to make a man desire Christianity is to make him see in actual life what it can do.
There was a soldier who was wounded in battle. The padre crept out and did what he could for him. He stayed with him when the remainder of the troops retreated. In the heat of the day he gave him water from his own waterbottle, while he himself remained parched with thirst. In the night, when the chill frost came down, he covered the wounded man with his own coat, and finally wrapped him up in even more of his clothes to save him from the cold. In the end the wounded man looked up at the padre. “Padre,” he said, “you’re a Christian?” “I try to be,” said the padre. “Then,” said the wounded man, “if Christianity makes a man do for another man what you have done for me, tell me about it, because I want it.” Christianity in action moved him to envy a faith which could produce a life like that.
It was Paul’s hope and prayer and ambition that some day the Jews would see what Christianity had done for the Gentiles and be moved to desire it.
To Paul it would be paradise if the Jews came in. If the rejection of the Jews had done so much, if, through it, the Gentile world had been reconciled to God, what superlative glory must come when the Jews came in. If the tragedy of rejection has had results so wonderful, what will the happy ending be like, when the tragedy of rejection has changed to the glory of reception? Paul can only say that it will be like life from the dead.
Then Paul uses two pictures to show that the Jews can never be finally rejected. All food, before it was eaten, had to be offered to God. So the law laid it down (Num 15:19-20) that, if dough was being prepared, the first part of it must be offered to God; when that was done, the whole lump of dough became sacred. It was not necessary, as it were, to offer every separate mouthful to God. The offering of the first part sanctified the whole. It was a common thing to plant sacred trees in places sacred to the gods. When the sapling was planted, it was dedicated to God; and thereafter every branch that came from it was sacred to God.
What Paul deduces from that is this—the patriarchs were sacred to God; they had in a special way heard God’s voice and obeyed God’s word; in a special way they had been chosen and consecrated by God. From them the whole nation sprang; and just as the first consecrated handful of dough made the whole lump sacred and the dedication of the sapling made the whole tree sacred, so the special consecration of its founders made the whole nation sacred in a special way to God. There is truth here. The remnant in Israel did not make themselves what they were; they inherited faith from their forefathers before them. Every one of us lives to some extent on the spiritual capital of the past. None of us is self-made. We are what godly parents and ancestors have made us; and, even if we strayed far away and shamed our heritage, we cannot totally part ourselves from the goodness and fidelity that made us what we are.
Paul goes on to use a long allegory. More than once the prophets had pictured the nation of Israel as the olive tree of God. That was natural, because the olive tree was the common est and most useful tree in the Mediterranean world. “The Lord once called you a green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit” (Jer 11:16). “His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive” (Hos 14:6). So Paul thinks of the Gentiles as branches of wild olive engrafted into the garden olive tree which was Israel. From the point of view of horticulture Paul’s picture is impossible. In horticulture it is the good olive that is grafted into the stock of the wild olive so that a fruit-bearing olive may result. The process that Paul pictures was never used in actual practice, because it would have served no useful purpose. But the point Paul wishes to make is quite clear. The Gentiles had been out in the deserts and the wildernesses and among the wild briars; and now, by the act of God’s grace, they are engrafted into the richness and fertility of the garden olive tree.
Out of this picture Paul has two words to speak.
(i) The first is a word of warning. It would have been easy for the Gentiles to develop an attitude of contempt. Had not the Jews been rejected that they might enter in? In a world where the Jews were universally hated such an attitude would have been all too easy. Paul’s warning is still necessary. In effect, he says there would have been no such thing as Christianity unless there had been Judaism first. It will be a bad day when the Christian Church forgets its debt to the root from which it sprang. It has a debt to Judaism which it can never pay by any other means than by bringing Christianity to the Jews. So Paul warns the Gentiles against contempt. Grimly, he says that if the true branches were lopped off because of their unbelief, still more can that happen to the branches which were only grafted on.
(ii) The second is a word of hope. The Gentiles have experienced God’s kindness; and the Jews his severity. If the Gentiles remain in faith they will remain in that kindness; but, if the Jews come out of their unbelief and enter into belief, once again they, too, will be engrafted in; for, says Paul, if it was possible for a wild olive to be engrafted into the garden olive tree, how much more is it possible that the olive tree’s own natural branches can be grafted in again? Once again Paul is dreaming of the day when the Jews will come in.
Much in this passage is hard to understand. It thinks in pictures which are out of our world altogether; but one thing is crystal clear—the connection between Judaism and Christianity, between the old and the new. Here is the answer to those who wish to discard the Old Testament as merely a Jewish book which is irrelevant for Christianity. He is a foolish man who kicks away the ladder which raised him to the height which he has reached. It would be a foolish branch which cut itself off from its stem. The Jewish faith is the root from which Christianity grew. The consummation will come only when the wild olive and the garden olive are one, and when there are no branches at all left unengrafted on the parent stem.
11:13-14 I am speaking to you Gentiles.NRSV We can almost sense the intensity of Paul’s words as he defines his audience. If we are not Jews, we know that the next words are meant for us. Paul singles out the Gentile believers to listen carefully to what he is going to say. They (and we) are being given an opportunity to understand their role in the divine plan. Paul will explain that the salvation of the Gentiles both depends on Israel and contributes to Israel’s salvation.
I am an apostle to the Gentiles.NKJV All of the apostles were preaching both to Jews and non-Jews, but Paul had been specially chosen and commissioned by God to go to the Gentiles: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15 niv; see also Galatians 2:3-10). Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul’s “mission” was to persecute the followers of Jesus. Once he became a Christian his ministry was to proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles. Throughout this ministry he had been a strong (and at first lone) advocate for Gentile freedom from the Jewish law.
I glorify my ministry.NRSV Paul is emphasizing God’s sending him to the Gentiles in order to somehow arouse his people to envy and save some of them.NIV Paul’s reference to envy means that he hopes to cause the Jews to recognize that God greatly blessed the Gentiles when they believed in the Jews’ own Messiah. The Jews might then realize that those blessings are still promised to them as part of God’s covenant with them, but they can only be obtained by faith in Jesus Christ. Again Paul is revealing his great desire to see his people be saved (see 9:1-3; 10:1).
11:15 If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world.NRSV Israel’s rejection by God meant that all other people could hear the Good News and be reconciled to God. But how can Paul make this statement when 11:1 states in forceful terms that God did not reject his people? In verse 1, the word translated “reject” is aposato, “putting away,” while in this verse, rejection translates the Greek word apobolei, “casting away or setting aside.” In spite of our use of the same word, Paul must have meant two different ideas. The context of the first “rejection” indicates that Paul was responding to the charge that God’s acceptance of the Gentiles meant abandoning his chosen people. This idea of “rejection” Paul does not support. In this verse, Paul presents the idea that God had always planned to include the Gentiles, even if that meant a temporary setting aside of the Jews. When the chosen people, who were designated as the vehicles of God’s blessing to the world, actually blocked that message from getting through, God made sure that the message arrived anyway. The “riches” that have been made available to the world (11:12) are found in reconciliation with God. (See the discussion on Romans 5:11; see also 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 for more on reconciliation.)
What will their acceptance be but life from the dead?NKJV The Jews had been moved aside, so God offered salvation to the Gentiles. When Jews come to Christ and God accepts them back, there is great rejoicing, as if dead people had come back to life. The structure of this verse is almost identical to verse 12, where Paul writes that the “transgression” and “loss” of the Jews brings “riches to the world,” but that their “fullness” (pleroma) will bring “much greater riches.” Several possible meanings have been suggested for life from the dead: (1) spiritual awakening in the world, (2) resurrection of the dead, and (3) the conversion of the Jews. But it is clear from the context that Paul has in mind the future role of the Jews in God’s plan. As Paul goes on to illustrate by his grafting metaphor, the “rejection” of the Jews actually allows them another opportunity to fulfill God’s purpose for them. Their terrible failure in rejecting Christ will make their eventual acceptance as vivid as the resurrection that all believers will experience.
Though we may not grasp all the nuances of Paul’s extensive argument, his purpose is unmistakable. He wants to give Gentiles every reason possible to welcome their Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith with open arms. At the same time, he wants to help his Jewish brethren reciprocate that welcome. Neither group is to claim supremacy in the church. The message is: God has made room in his family for both of you, so you must get along together.
The Patriarchs (Rom. 11:16-24)
From looking at the future, Paul next looked to the past to show Israel’s spiritual heritage. From the beginning, Israel was a special people, set apart by God. Paul used two illustrations to prove his argument that God was not finished with the Jews.
The lump of dough (v. 16a). The reference here is to Numbers 15:17-21. The first part of the dough was to be offered up to God as a symbol that the entire lump belonged to Him. The same idea was involved in the Feast of Firstfruits, when the priest offered a sheaf to the Lord as a token that the entire harvest was His (Lev. 23:9-14). The basic idea is that when God accepts the part He sanctifies the whole.
Applying this to the history of Israel, we understand Paul’s argument God accepted the founder of the nation, Abraham, and in so doing set apart his descendants as well. God also accepted the other patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, in spite of their sins or failings. This means that God must accept the “rest of the lump”—the nation of Israel.
The olive tree (vv. 16b-24). This is a symbol of the nation of Israel (Jer. 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6). Please keep in mind that Paul was not discussing the relationship of individual believers to God, but the place of Israel in the plan of God. The roots of the tree support the tree; again, this was a symbol of the patriarchs who founded the nation. God made His covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He cannot deny them or change them. Thus, it is God’s promise to Abraham that sustains Israel even today.
Many of the Jewish people did not believe. Paul pictured them as branches broken off the tree. But he saw an amazing thing taking place: other branches were grafted into the tree to share in the life of the tree. These branches were the Gentiles. In Romans 11:24, Paul described this “grafting in” as “contrary to nature.” Usually a cultivated branch is grafted into a wild tree and shares its life without producing its poor fruit. But in this case, it was the “wild branch” (the Gentiles) that was grafted into the good tree! “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
To say that the olive tree, with its natural and grafted branches, is a picture of the church would be a great mistake. In the church, “there is no difference”; believers are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). God does not look on the members of Christ’s body and see them as Jews or Gentiles. The olive tree illustrates the relationship between Jew and Gentile in the program of God. The “breaking off of the branches” is the equivalent of “the fall” (Rom. 11:11), “the diminishing” (Rom. 11:12), and “the casting away” (Rom. 11:15). To read into this illustration the matter of the eternal destiny of the individual believer is to abuse the truth Paul was seeking to communicate.
Paul warned the Gentiles that they were obligated to Israel, and therefore they dared not boast of their new spiritual position (Rom. 11:18-21). The Gentiles entered into God’s plan because of faith, and not because of anything good they had done. Paul was discussing the Gentiles collectively, and not the individual experience of one believer or another.
It is worth noting that, according to Bible prophecy, the professing Gentile church will be “cut off” because of apostasy. First Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 3, along with 2 Thessalonians 2, all indicate that the professing church in the last days will depart from the faith. There is no hope for the apostate church, but there is hope for apostate Israel! Why? Because of the roots of the olive tree. God will keep His promises to the patriarchs, but God will break off the Gentiles because of their unbelief.
No matter how far Israel may stray from the truth of God, the roots are still good. God is still the “God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6; Matt. 22:23). He will keep His promises to these patriarchs. This means that the olive tree will flourish again!
11:16 If the part . . . is holy, then the whole . . . is holy.NRSV Paul believes that Israel’s refusal to accept Christ is temporary and that one day the nation will be brought back to God. He explains this through two illustrations: the first fruits and the olive tree (with its branches).
In Numbers 15:20, Moses had instructed Israel about their offerings to the Lord. After Israel entered the Promised Land, they were to show their thanks to God for the bounty of food by presenting a portion of the food to the Lord as an offering: “Present a cake from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor” (niv). If the first part of the dough (the first fruits) offered is holy, then the whole batch is holy. It is set apart for the Lord, and the whole batch is blessed.
If the root is holy, so are the branches.NKJV The second illustration is a tree. The root obviously is the first part of a tree, and it will form the “character” of the branches. Abraham’s faith was like the root of a productive olive tree, and the Jewish people are the tree’s natural branches. As a result of God’s choice and Abraham’s response, the nation that descended from him was set apart for God.
Each of these illustrations conveys a different idea. In tile first, a sample, or tithe, or firstfruits represents the whole. In the second, the foundation, source, or root determines the quality of the particulars (branches).
In the Old Testament, God made his rightful ownership over everything clear, but he only required token gifts that acknowledged his ownership. The gift represented the whole. If given to God, it was declared holy and served to sanctify the whole. Paul extends the principle to cover the fate of his people. If the firstfruits, the remnant of Jews who since Abraham had lived by faith, were called holy by God, then there is still hope for the whole, proving that God has not rejected the dough (Israel). If the root, the tree of justification by faith, is holy, then any branch attached to and nourished by that root will also be holy. In the first illustration, the part affects the fate of the whole; in the second, the whole affects the fate of its parts.
Note the present parallel to how an unbeliever comes in contact with the church. He or she may meet the church as a corporate body by attending a worship service and draw certain conclusions about the individual members from their experience with the whole. Or the person may meet the church through one or more individual members and draw certain conclusions about the whole from particular believers. What might unbelievers think about Christianity from knowing you? What might they think of Christians from attending your church?
11:17 Some of the branches were broken off.NRSV God did not tear down the entire tree, but some of the branches were broken off because of sin and unbelief. These branches are Jews who failed to respond in faith to God’s mercy. In their place, the Gentile believers, likened to a wild olive shoot were grafted in.NRSV Grafting involves inserting a bud or shoot of one plant into a slit in the stem or trunk of another plant. The shoot shares in the nourishment from the main stem or trunk (the nourishing sapNIV) and grows. Usually the cultivated olive shoots were grafted into wild olive trees (11:24), not vice versa. But Paul is emphasizing God’s special work.
11:18 Do not boast over those branches.NIV But the Gentiles, the wild olive shoots who have been grafted into the cultivated olive tree (Israel), have no grounds for boasting. The Gentile “shoots” need to remember that they are just as dependent on “the root,” for their survival as the Jewish branches they have replaced. God has not changed his original plan; salvation stems from the promise to Abraham and God’s choice of Israel. Hence Paul’s warning and explanation: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.NIV Both Jews and Gentiles share the tree’s nourishment based on faith in God. For Paul, the only appropriate attitude for any “branch” is humble thankfulness. Any attitude of superiority is to be avoided, for it might indicate that grafted-in branches are candidates for the same fate as the original ones that had been broken off (see 11:21).
|SINNERS AND SAVIOR|
|Whether in worship, prayer, or our relationships with nonbelievers, from time to time all believers need to be reminded of who are the sinners and who is the Savior. There must never be any doubt who is the dependent one and who is the Sustainer. We are to share with the world a gospel they don’t deserve, while remembering that we don’t deserve it either!|
11:19 “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.”NKJV A Gentile believer might make this argument. It is true that it was necessary to break off some branches in the grafting process. But it would be a mistake to assume that Paul is limiting God’s acceptance, as if there was only so much room on the tree for branches. The point is not so much replacement as opportunity. The idea is not that Jews were broken off so that we could take their place; but rather that they were broken off so that the Gentile opportunity for justification by faith might become clear. This is underscored by Paul’s assertion that even broken off branches can be grafted back in (see 11:23).
11:20 Broken off because of unbelief.NIV The real reason some of the branches of the tree, some of the nation of Israel, were broken off was because of their stubborn unbelief.
You stand by faith.NKJV The Gentiles that were grafted in are only there by their faith and by God’s grace. Thus they are warned, Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.NIV Those who are arrogant cherish proud thoughts about themselves; they do not have a proper fear and respect for God. Our relationship with God is to be one of humble dependence (see 12:3).
Jesus used many of these images to explain his own role as the vine (John 15:1-8). He spoke of his Father, the Gardener who cuts off every branch that is unproductive. He also reminded the disciples that a branch cannot survive on its own, but is entirely dependent on the vine for its survival and nourishment. The branches serve their purpose in bearing fruit.
11:21 If God did not spare the natural branches. God willingly set aside Israel because of their stumbling and blindness to the Good News. The Gentiles should remember that God will set them aside as well if they became arrogant—he will not spare them either. Some readers may wonder if Paul is speaking of apostasy in this verse. According to the context, it is not absolutely clear whether Paul is referring to those who have fallen away from the faith or those whose faith was never real. What is clear is that he is warning Gentiles not to arrogantly think that their being grafted in is irreversible. The only way they can remain in the tree is by continuing to trust in God’s grace.
11:22 Sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness.NIV God sovereignly decided to put Israel aside for a time and offer salvation through faith to all the world. This was a stem act, but it was done in judgment on those who “stumbled over” Jesus Christ (9:32-33). He has been kind to the Gentiles, but Gentile believers must continue in his kindness. This refers to steadfast perseverance in faith—continual and patient dependence on Christ. Steadfastness is a proof of the reality of faith. If Gentile believers do not continue in their perseverance in faith, they will be cut off, just as the natural branches were cut off because of their unbelief. This does not mean individual believers can lose their salvation and be cut off from God; rather, Paul is speaking from a generalized standpoint, picturing Gentiles as a group turning away from God as the nation of Israel had. God’s sternness was demonstrated in that faith was not automatic for the chosen people; and his kindness was demonstrated in providing Gentiles with the opportunity for faith.
|Christianity is monotheistic, but God is not a monolithic deity. His character is infinitely varied. He is utterly consistent in the diversity of his personality. He manages to be divinely stem and kind without contradiction. It is healthy for us to worship him while contemplating as much of his awesome variety as possible. We approach him humbly, knowing that his love will motivate his sternness with us. We approach him joyfully, knowing that his kindness is wonderful to us.|
11:23-24 If they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in.NIV Returning to Israel, Paul says if they will stop persisting in their unbelief, God may decide to graft them in again. If, contrary to nature, wild olive shoots can be grafted into a cultivated olive tree, certainly the natural branches can be grafted back into root stock of the cultivated tree. We become part of God’s “tree” by faith; we forfeit any potential relationship with God by unbelief Gentiles are orphans graciously adopted into God’s family. A wayward Jew who discovers the faith of Abraham is coming home.
GOD’S MERCY ON ALL / 11:25-32
Paul is coming to the end of his argument. He has faced a bewildering, and, for a Jew, a heartbreaking situation. Somehow he has had to find an explanation of the fact that God’s people rejected his Son when he came into the world. Paul never shut his eyes to that tragic fact, but he found a way in which the whole tragic situation could be fitted into the plan of God. It is true that the Jews rejected Christ; but. as Paul saw it, that rejection happened in order that Christ might be offered to the Gentiles. To maintain the sovereignty of God’s purpose, Paul even went the length of saying that it was he himself who hardened the hearts of the Jews in order to open a way to the Gentiles; but, even then, however contradictory it might sound, he still insisted on the personal responsibility of the Jews for their failure to accept God’s offer. Paul held fast at one and the same time to divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But now comes the note of hope. His argument is a little complicated, and it will make it easier if we try to separate the various strands in it.
(i) Paul was sure that this hardening of the hearts of the Jews was neither total nor permanent. It was to serve a purpose, and when that purpose had been achieved, it would be taken away.
(ii) Paul sets out the paradox of the Jewish place in the plan of God. In order that the Gentiles might come in and that the universal purpose of the gospel might be fulfilled, the Jews had arrived at a situation where they were the enemies of God. The word that Paul uses is echthroi (<G2190>). It is difficult to translate, because it has both an active and a passive meaning. It can mean either hating or hated. It may well be that in this passage it has to be read in the two meanings at the one time. The Jews were hostile to God and had refused his offer, and therefore they were under his displeasure. That was the present fact about the Jews. But there was another fact about them. Nothing could alter the fact that they were God’s chosen people and had a special place in his plan. No matter what they did, God could never go back upon his word. His promise had been made to the fathers, and it must be fulfilled. It was therefore clear to Paul, and he quotes Isa 59:20-21 to prove it, that God’s rejection of the Jews could not be permanent; they, too, in the end must come in.
(iii) Then Paul has a strange thought. “God,” he says, “shut up all men to disobedience that he may have mercy upon all.” The one thing Paul cannot conceive of is that any man of any nation could merit his own salvation. Now, if the Jews had observed complete obedience to God’s will, they might well have reckoned that they had earned the salvation of God as a right. So Paul is saying that God involved the Jews in disobedience in order that when his salvation did come to them it might be unmistakably an act of his mercy and due in no way to their merit. Neither Jew nor Gentile could ever be saved apart from the mercy of God.
In many ways Paul’s argument may seem strange to us and the “proofs” he brings forward unconvincing. Our minds and hearts may even shudder at some of the things he says. But the argument is not irrelevant, for the tremendous thing at the back of it is a philosophy of history. To Paul, God was in control. Nothing moved with aimless feet. Not even the most heartbreaking event was outside the purpose of God. Events could never run amok. The purposes of God could never be frustrated.
It is told that once a child stood at the window on a night when the gale was terrifying in its savage velocity. “God,” she said, “must have lost grip of his winds tonight.” To Paul, that was precisely what never happened. Nothing was ever out of God’s control; everything was serving his purpose.
To that Paul would have added another tremendous conviction. He would have insisted that in it and through it all, Gods purpose was a purpose of salvation and not of destruction. It may well be that Paul would even have gone the length of saying that God’s arranging of things was designed to save men even against their will. In the last analysis it was not the wrath of God which was pursuing men, but the love of God which was tracking them down.
The situation of Israel was exactly that which Francis Thompson so movingly portrayed in The Hound of Heaven.
“I fled him down the nights and down the days; I fled him down the arches of the years;
I fled him down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat More instant than the feet—All things betray thee, who betrayest me.'”
Then comes the time when the fugitive is beaten:
“Naked I wait thy love’s uplifted stroke! My harness piece by piece thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten to my knee, I am defenceless utterly.”
Then comes the end: “Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom. after all, Shade of his hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am he whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me!'”
That was exactly Israel’s situation. They fought their long battle against God; they are still fighting it. But God’s pursuing love is ever after them. Whatever else Rom 9-11 may sometimes read like, it is in the last analysis the story of the still uncompleted pursuit of love.
Paul saved his best witness for the last. He proved that the very character and work of God were involved in the future of Israel. Men may dispute about prophecy and differ in their interpretations, but let every man realize that he is dealing with God’s people, Israel.
God’s timing (v. 25). What has happened to Israel is all a part of God’s plan, and He knows what He is doing. The blinding (or hardening, Rom. 11:7) of Israel as a nation is neither total nor final: it is partial and temporary. How long will it last? “Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). There is a “fullness” for Israel (Rom. 11:12) and for the Gentiles. Today, God in His grace is visiting the Gentiles and taking out a people for His name (Acts 15:12-14). Individual Jews are being saved, of course; but this present age is primarily a time when God is visiting the Gentiles and building His church. When this present age has run its course, and the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then God will once more deal with the nation of Israel.
Romans 11:25 is one of several “until verses” in the Bible, all of which are important. Read Matthew 23:32-39; Luke 21:24; and Psalm 110:1 for other references. It is reassuring that God knows what time it is and that He is never late in fulfilling His will.
God’s promise (v. 26). The reference here is Isaiah 59:20-21; and you ought to read Isaiah 60 to complete the picture. God has promised to save His people, and He will keep His promise. There are those who interpret this as meaning salvation to individuals through the Gospel, but it is my conviction that the prophet has national conversion in mind. “All Israel shall be saved” does not mean that every Jew who has ever lived will be converted, but that the Jews living when the Redeemer returns will see Him, receive Him, and be saved. Zechariah 12-13 give the details. It seems to me that there are too many details in these Old Testament prophecies of national restoration for Israel for us to spiritualize them and apply them to the church today.
God’s covenant (vv. 27-28). This is, of course, a continuation of the quotation from Isaiah 59; but the emphasis is on the covenant of God with Israel. God chose Israel in His grace and not because of any merit in her (Deut. 7:6-11; 9:1-6). If the nation was not chosen because of its goodness, can it be rejected because of its sin? “Election” means grace, not merit. The Jewish people are “enemies” to the believing Gentiles because of their hostile attitude toward the Gospel. But to God, the Jewish people are “beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” God will not break His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God’s nature (v. 29). “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). “God is not a man that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent” (Num. 23:19). God’s gifts to Israel, and God’s calling of Israel, cannot be taken back or changed, or God would cease to be true to His own perfect nature. The fact that Israel may not enjoy her gifts, or live up to her privileges as an elect nation, does not affect this fact one bit. God will be consistent with Himself and true to His Word no matter what men may do. “Shall their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” (Rom. 3:3, literal translation)
God’s grace (vv. 30-32). “Because of the unbelief of the Jews, you Gentiles were saved,” said Paul. “Now, may it be that through your salvation Israel will come to know Christ.” Note that Paul repeatedly reminded the saved Gentiles that they had a spiritual obligation to Israel to “provoke them to jealousy” (Rom. 10:19; 11:11, 14). Israel’s hardness is only “in part” (Rom. 11:25), which means that individual Jews can be saved. God has included “all in unbelief—Jews and Gentiles—so that all might have the opportunity to be saved by grace. “There is no difference.” If God can save Jews by His grace and mercy today, why can He not save them in the future?
We must remember that God chose the Jews so that the Gentiles might be saved. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” was God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). The tragedy was that Israel became exclusive and failed to share the truth with the Gentiles.
They thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved. But God declared both Jews and Gentiles to be lost and condemned. This meant that He could have mercy on all because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
God’s wisdom (vv. 33-36). Having contemplated God’s great plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles, all Paul could do was sing a hymn of praise. As someone has remarked, “Theology becomes doxology!” Only a God as wise as our God could take the fall of Israel and turn it into salvation for the world! His plans will not be aborted nor will His purposes lack fulfillment. No human being can fully know the mind of the Lord; and the more we study His ways, the more we offer Him praise. Are we to conclude that God does not know what He is doing, and that the nation of Israel completely ruined His plans? Of course not! God is too wise to make plans that will not be fulfilled. Israel did not allow Him to rule, so He overruled!
Paul summoned five witnesses, and they all agreed: there is a future for Israel. When Israel recovers from her “fall” and enters into her “fullness,” the world will experience the riches of God’s grace as never before. When Jesus Christ returns and sits on David’s throne to reign over His kingdom, then Israel will be “reconciled” and “received,” and it will be like a resurrection!
The best way to summarize this section is to quote the first and last phrases:
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers . . . God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.NIV As difficult as it may be for us to understand, God’s handling of the Jews and the Gentiles is intended to expose all of us to his mercy. Paul wraps up his argument by saying that in the end there will be room for both Jews and Gentiles in the plan of God. The details of exactly how God will do all this are aptly called by Paul a mystery!
When trying to understand the marvels of God’s dealings with people, we are never far from uttering the words of the disciples, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25 niv). At those times we also need to remember Jesus’ response, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 niv). We understand what we can; where we can’t, we trust.
11:25 This mystery. The temporary stumbling of Israel is part of what Paul calls a mystery (mysterion)—the word here means a truth that has been unrevealed up to this point but is now being made known. The mystery reveals, for example, that Israel’s stumbling has always been part of God’s plan. God put Israel aside for a time in order to offer salvation to the Gentiles. Paul reviews this mystery so the Gentiles will not be conceited.NIV Conceit would be a sign, that they were ignorant of God’s master plan that included everyone (see 11:32).
Israel has experienced a hardening in part.NIV The Greek word for “hardening” used here is not the same as the Greek word used in 9:17-18 describing the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart. The word in 9:18 suggests stubbornness; the word for “hardening” in this verse (and in 11:7) suggests a dullness in understanding.
This hardening is only partial (see also 11:7) because there is always a remnant that God promises to save. And the hardening is temporary, because it will only be experienced until the full number of the Gentiles has come inNRSV—that is, when all the elect of the Gentiles have come to salvation (see Acts 15:14). Then will come the “fullness” of the Jews (11:12). Everything will occur according to God’s plan.
God knows the size of that number of Gentiles who will be grafted into God’s tree of faith. We only know that the number will be complete (full). As many will have come in as are going to come in. Our main concern begins with our earnest interest in being one of that number. Here are several possible indicators that the number could be nearly full:
- A worldwide, sweeping revival among Gentiles.
- A prophetic fulfillment of what Christ called the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
- The point at which the gospel has been proclaimed in every tongue and nation (Mark 13:10).
There will be a marked increase in evangelization before Christ returns.
11:26 All Israel will be saved. This statement has provoked a variety of interpretations. The most widely held are as follows:
- “And so all Israel will be saved” means that the majority of Jews in the final generation before Christ’s return will turn to Christ for salvation.
- Paul is using the term Israel for the “spiritual” nation of Israel made up of everyone—Jew and Gentile—who has received salvation through faith in Christ. Thus all Israel (or all believers, the church) will receive God’s promised gift of salvation.
- All Israel means that Israel as a whole will have a role in Christ’s kingdom. Their identity as a people won’t be discarded. God chose the nation of Israel, and he has never rejected it. He also chose the church, through Jesus Christ, and he will never reject it either. This does not mean, of course, that all Jews or all church members will be saved. It is possible to belong to a nation or to an organization without ever responding in faith. But just because some people have rejected Christ does not mean that God stops working with either Israel or the church. He continues to offer salvation freely to all.
- “And so” means “in this way” or “this is how,” referring to the necessity of faith in Christ.
These explanations do not exclude one another, and they all serve to underscore Paul’s clear intention: to demonstrate that God had not rejected Israel. Indeed, Paul believed the nation of Israel would be restored to God. Both Jews and Gentiles will make up the flourishing tree that stands for the kingdom, as well the brush pile of broken branches prepared for burning that represents those who have rejected God’s gracious offer of forgiveness.
As it is written. To confirm his statement, Paul quotes from Isaiah, first from 59:20-21.
The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.NIV Jesus Christ is the deliverer who comes from Zion (Jerusalem). For the first and only time in this letter, Paul speaks of the second coming of Christ. At that time, Christ will purge Israel (here identified with the ancestor Jacob) of all godlessness (see also Psalm 14:7; 53:6). The mention of Jacob seems to indicate that Paul has primarily the actual descendants of Abraham in mind, rather than the broader spiritual Israel of whom he had spoken previously (see chapter 4).
11:27 Take away their sins. God also promises to cleanse his people from all sin. God had also spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel . . . I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34 niv).
God’s promise to take away . . . sins is a helpful description of forgiveness. Because we often continue to remember our sins long after we have confessed them, we assume that God also remembers them. But Scripture promises the opposite. What we keep are only memories. Confession allows God to remove the sins from our life. They are as gone as a demolished house that has been hauled to the landfill. If we continue in those sins, we are rebuilding a structure that already has been destroyed.
11:28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account.NIV Paul is still speaking to the Gentiles in his audience (11:13). In order for God to bring the gospel to them, he had to set the Jews aside—as if they were his enemies for having rejected the Good News.
As far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs.NIV But as far as God’s choice, his election, is concerned, Israel is loved by God because of his covenants with the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because God chose those men through whom he would carry out his promises, he will keep his promises to their descendants.
11:29 The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.NKJV The privileges and invitation given to Israel can never be withdrawn. God will not take back his gifts or withdraw his call. He will keep his promises. The important word is irrevocable, not irresistible. While God will not take back what he has offered, we are certainly able to reject it. Paul is making an application from God’s characteristic faithfulness to the Jews that anyone can rely on. God will do what he promises. The writer of Hebrews spoke of this same consistent purpose in God’s actions when he said, “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath” (Hebrews 6:17 niv). If God’s gifts were revocable, we could call into question his character.
11:30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience.NIV The Gentiles were disobedient before they knew God, but they received God’s mercy and offer of salvation because of Israel’s disobedience. Having received from God something that they had lacked previously, they could expect to keep on enjoying God’s mercy. By the same logic, however, the Jews could also expect God to be consistent with his promises, even though they had, for a time, rejected his mercy.
11:31 They too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.NIV From Paul’s time onward, Israel has been disobedient to God because of their refusal to accept salvation in Christ. Though they began with an advantage due to God’s gracious choice of them as his people, by being disobedient, the Jews had proved themselves equally needing God’s mercy. And Israel will receive mercy because as soon as all the elect of the Gentiles have come (see 11:25), then God’s mercy will again be directed to Israel.
In these verses, Paul shows how the Jews and the Gentiles benefit each other. Whenever God shows mercy to one group, the other shares the blessing. In God’s original plan, the Jews would be the source of God’s blessing to the Gentiles (see Genesis 12:3). When the Jews neglected this mission, God blessed the Gentiles anyway through the Jewish Messiah. He still maintained his love for the Jews because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (“on account of the patriarchs”). But someday the faithful Jews will share in God’s mercy. God’s plans will not be thwarted; he will “have mercy on them all” (11:32).
11:32 God has imprisoned all in disobedience.NRSV When Adam sinned, all humanity sinned with him (5:19). We are all sinners: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23); “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (3:9). When people choose to follow their own passion and desires, they are boundNIV in their disobedience. People who deliberately choose to disobey God imprison themselves. It is those who understand that they have been saying no to God who are in the best position to say yes to him.
That he may be merciful to all.NRSV God can only show mercy to people who know they have been bound in their disobedience. This is God’s ultimate purpose. He is willing to have mercy on all who come to him. For a beautiful picture of Jews and Gentiles experiencing rich blessings, see Isaiah 60.
EVERYONE NEEDS THE SAVIOR
|When in a large crowd, it is humbling to look around and think, “Everyone here needs the Savior!” Until we recognize profoundly God’s mercy in our own life, it is unlikely that we will seriously consider letting others know about that mercy.|
The Cry of the Adoring Heart (Rom 11:33-36)
Paul never wrote a more characteristic passage than this. Here theology turns to poetry. Here the seeking of the mind turns to the adoration of the heart. In the end all must pass out in a mystery that man cannot now understand but at whose heart is love. If a man can say that all things come from God, that all things have their being through him, and that all things end in him, what more is left to say? There is a certain paradox in the human situation. God gave man a mind, and it is man’s duty to use that mind to think to the very limit of human thought. But it is also true that there are times when that limit is reached and all that is left is to accept and to adore.
“How could I praise, If such as I might understand?”
Paul had battled with a heartbreaking problem with every resource which his great mind possessed. He does not say that he has solved it, as one might neatly solve a geometrical problem; but he does say that, having done his best, he is content to leave it to the love and power of God. At many times in life there is nothing left but to say: “I cannot grasp thy mind, but with my whole heart I trust thy love. Thy will be done!”
At this point, Paul has thoroughly spoken about God’s sovereign plan for the Jews and Gentiles. So he pauses before exploring a number of practical issues that occupy the remainder of the letter. For a moment, his mind is filled with the majesty of God. Paul remembers familiar phrases from the Old Testament, and he is caught up in an expression of heartfelt praise.
11:33 Depth . . . of the wisdom and knowledge of God!NIV Here Paul bursts into a song of praise as he concludes his entire treatise in chapters 1-11 on God’s sovereign plan for our salvation. It is beyond our understanding. God’s wisdom and knowledge are far too deep for us to understand; they are unsearchable and beyond tracing!NIV Nonetheless, we can appreciate their value, for even our limited knowledge has the effect of riches in our life. We can’t know or understand everything about God, but the wisdom and knowledge that God allows us to have constantly affects how we live.
11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”NRSV Paul quoted from Isaiah 40:13, pointing out that God alone knows the plan. In his unsearchable wisdom he designed it. No human being was, is, or will ever be involved in giving him advice or making new suggestions.
The implication of this series of questions is that no one has fully understood the mind of the Lord. No one has been his advisor. And God owes nothing to any one of us. Isaiah and Jeremiah asked similar questions to show that we are unable to give advice to God or criticize his ways (Isaiah 40:13; Jeremiah 23:18). God alone is the possessor of absolute power and absolute wisdom.
11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.NRSV God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Omega of all life. Everything comes from him and is for him to use for his glory. God is almighty and all-powerful, but even more, he cares for us personally. No person or power can compare with God.
Paul began his letter with the statement that God left his imprint on the world he created, but that the human beings of that creation had chosen rebellion. In the past eleven chapters, Paul has examined God’s marvelous plan for bringing the rebels home. God has chosen to “have mercy on them all” (11:32). Each one of us is one of the “all.” What more can any believer, saved by grace, say than, To him be the glory forever. Amen.NRSV
The Salvation of God’s True Israel (11:1-32)
Thus far in chs. 9-10 Paul has painted a very dark picture of Israel. He has implied that they are “cursed” (9:3). He has spoken of them as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (9:22, NASB). They have pursued righteousness, but have not found it (9:31-32) because of their willful ignorance of what true righteousness is (10:3). Indeed, Israel is “a disobedient and obstinate people” (10:21).
At the same time Paul has stressed the fact that God is welcoming the Gentiles as “the objects of his mercy” (9:23-24), according to prophecy (9:25-26). The Gentiles found the very righteousness the Jews were seeking (9:30), again according to God’s plan (10:19-20).
Such teaching naturally raises the question, “Did God reject his people?” (11:1). Has he simply given up on Israel, and turned his attention solely to the Gentiles? Romans 11 addresses this question and answers it with an emphatic No! God’s desire and intention are still to save as many Jews as possible, even to the point when ultimately “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
This chapter discusses not just the fact of Israel’s salvation, but also the means by which God is accomplishing it. This involves intricate interrelationships between the Jews and the Gentiles, which God uses for the salvation of both. Even as Paul writes about this, he is overwhelmed with awe and amazement at the wisdom and mercy of God, and most appropriately closes out the chapter and the entire section with a hymn of praise to the Creator and Redeemer (11:33-36).
It is important to see that the question addressed here is different from that in ch. 9, which focuses on God’s covenant faithfulness to ethnic Israel, i.e., how he kept his promises to them and how they fulfilled their purpose in God’s plan. In ch. 11 the focus is not on the Old Covenant purpose for Israel as fulfilled in Jesus Christ (9:4-5), but on God’s intended place for Jews as individuals under the New Covenant, in terms of salvation and eternal destiny. Throughout this chapter, the issue is salvation. What is God’s plan for Israel with regard to salvation in this New Covenant age?
In this connection a major issue of interpretation is the place of Israel as a nation in this NT era. One main view is that God is still under obligation to save, restore, and preserve national Israel because of the covenant promises he made to the patriarchs. MacArthur states this position: “God cannot be finished with the nation of Israel—for the obvious reason that all of His promises to her have not yet been fulfilled” (2:92). “Because of God’s promise to Abraham and to his descendants through Isaac…, the nation of Israel has always been and always will be divinely preserved…. God’s character and integrity, His trustworthiness and faithfulness depend on His continued preservation of Israel” (2:93). “God’s unqualified promises to Israel included the assurance that He would never completely forsake her.” Even the Jews’ initial rejection of their Messiah “could not abrogate the ultimate fulfillment of His promises to them. It is that glorious truth that Paul explains and clarifies in Romans 11” (2:95).
Another main view is the one defended here, i.e., that only the Old Covenant was made with Israel as a nation, that the essence of this covenant for Israel was service and not salvation, and finally that all God’s covenant obligations to national Israel were fulfilled when Christ came into the world the first time. Under the New Covenant God is dealing with the Jews as individuals, not as a nation. He is now gathering together the remnant, the new Israel, the true spiritual Israel, from among both Gentiles and Jews. Those who believe the gospel and accept Jesus as their Messiah are added to this remnant. See Lard, 345; McGuiggan, 319-320.
The following exposition will show that Paul’s teaching in Rom 11 is more consistent with the latter view.
A. God’s True Israel Is the Remnant Chosen by Grace (11:1-6)
Has God rejected Israel? The answer to this question is already obvious in chs. 9-10. In the first place, God has not rejected them; they have rejected him. “All day long I have held out my hands” to invite them to myself, God says (10:21), but “they did not submit” (10:3). See Matt 23:37.
In the second place, even if there is a sense in which God has “rejected” Israel, he has not rejected them all. Some Jews are still among “the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” (9:23-24). These are “the remnant” of whom Isaiah spoke (9:27-29); they are the Jews who accepted God’s righteousness on God’s terms (10:1-17). They are still “his people,” Israelites in the truest sense of the word.
Near the beginning of this main section (9:6b) Paul declares that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” This means in effect that there are two Israels. One is the physical nation descended from Jacob (renamed Israel, Gen 32:28), which was called as a group into covenant relationship with God to serve his redemptive purposes. The other is the remnant, the relatively small part of the nation who as individuals put their heartfelt trust in God’s promises as the basis of their personal salvation. This remnant is “his people” in a double sense, both ethnically and spiritually.
The remnant is the subject of this paragraph. Paul’s point is that God can never be accused of rejecting “his people,” because there has always been a remnant from among the Jews who have accepted his way of grace and are thus in personal fellowship with him. Thus no matter what happens to the nation as a whole, “Israel” will never perish, because “the real Israel has always been less than the nation” (McGuiggan, 317).
1. God has Not Rejected His People (11:1-2a)
11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! The word “then” (οῦ̓ν, oun, “therefore”) indicates that this question might naturally arise from the preceding chapters. Paul simply anticipates it and responds to it. The word for “reject” is ἀπωθέω (apōtheō—here in the middle voice). It means “to push away, cast away, or thrust away (from oneself); to repel; to spurn; to reject; to disown; to repudiate.”
To be rejected or cast away by God is a terrible prospect for anyone, but for the Jews it was an absolutely unthinkable idea, given the facts that God had chosen them through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), had established his covenant only with them at Sinai (Exod 19:5-6; see Deut 14:2), and thus had regarded them as his unique people for some 2,000 years. God described them as “my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself” (Isa 43:20b-21a). “I will be your God and you will be my people,” he promised them (Jer 7:23; see Lev 26:12).
But in view of 9:6b, we may ask, to which Israel does “his people” refer? Some think it refers only to the remnant, since “from Abraham onward only believing Israelites were ‘his people’” (Lenski, 680). Others say it refers to “the nation as a whole” (Godet, 391; see MacArthur, 2:99). Strictly speaking neither view is correct. Contra Lenski, at this point “his people” is not spiritual but physical, as Paul’s self-identification in v. 1b shows. But neither is it a reference to physical Israel as a whole, as if such a question (“Has God rejected the nation of Israel as such?”) could be answered yes or no. Rather, Paul is thinking of ethnic Jews, but he is thinking of them as individuals. Has God rejected all of them?
The answer depends upon what is meant by “rejected.” Does this “rejection” relate to Israel’s role of service in God’s redemptive plan, or does it relate to their personal, individual, eternal salvation? It cannot refer to the former, because such a question is irrelevant and meaningless. There is no sense in which God has ever rejected or will ever reject his nation Israel, either as a whole or as individuals, in reference to their role as the covenant people who prepared for the Messiah’s coming into the world. God cannot reject them in reference to this role, because every purpose for which he thus chose them has already been fulfilled (9:4-5). Because of this it is true, to be sure, that there is no longer any rationale for Israel’s continuing existence as a nation, or as Jews as distinct from Gentiles. Their existence as God’s special, unique physical nation has thus come to an end (10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). But this is not the same as being “rejected.” We may say, rather, that in full accordance with God’s plan Israel as a nation has been honorably retired from service.
“Rejected” in this context must then refer to the question of personal salvation. Has God excluded his own people, the Jews, from salvation? Has he shut them out of heaven? Is the gospel invitation closed to Jews? Such a question does not (indeed, cannot) apply to Israel as a nation, but it does apply to all Israelites as individuals.
“Did God reject his people?” The question itself contains a Greek particle (μή, mē) which shows that a negative answer is intended. The question could thus be worded, “God has not rejected his people, has he?” Paul’s answer is an emphatic and resounding NO! (μὴ γένοιτο, mē genoito; see 3:4; JC, 1:228). The very idea is unthinkable, and the evidence shows that it is not in fact the case.
The first bit of evidence that God has not rejected his people, the Jews, is Paul himself: I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. Here Paul emphasizes his physical Jewishness. He is an “Israelite,” which at the very least is equivalent to “Jew” (see 9:4). He is also “of the seed of Abraham” in the literal, physical sense (see 2 Cor 11:22), specifically of “the tribe of Benjamin,” which along with Judah was one of the only two original tribes to be restored to their homeland following captivity and to remain intact into NT times. Thus “Paul shows that he is as firmly located within Judaism as anyone can be” (Dunn, 2:635).
Why does Paul make a big deal of his Jewish credentials? Some think he does so in order to make it clear that he is expressing “an authentically Jewish viewpoint” (Dunn, 2:635; see Fitzmyer, 603). I.e., he is showing that he, as a Jew, realizes just how repugnant is the whole idea that the Jews—the Jews, of all people!—could be rejected by God. He would thus be explaining why he recoils so vehemently from this suggestion (see Murray, 2:66). To paraphrase him, “I, too, am an Israelite, to whom the very idea of God’s rejection of His people is an impious and incredible idea, to be repelled with horror” (Denney, 675).
This answer is possible, but more likely Paul thoroughly identifies himself as a Jew in order to give “living evidence” that God has not rejected “his people” (Moo, 673). “How do I know that God has not excluded Jews from salvation? Because I, Paul am the most Jewish of Jews, and I am saved!” Thus Paul himself is “proof that God had not abandoned Israel” (Bruce, 211), proof that a remnant does exist. As Brunner says, Paul “himself is the strongest evidence for the fact that saving grace can even subdue a fanatical advocate of the righteousness of the law” (93).
11:2a God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Again Paul emphatically denies that God has rejected his people. The wording here (as in 11:1a) seems to be taken from 1 Sam 12:22 and Ps 94:14, which use the future tense to assert God’s promise: “The LORD will not reject his people.” Paul changes it to past tense and thus states it as a fact; God has kept his promise!
Why does Paul add the qualifier, “whom he foreknew”? This again raises the crucial question as to the essential meaning of προγινώσκω (proginōskō; see 8:29; JC, 1:505-511). Many, especially Calvinists, declare that it refers to an act of distinguishing, choosing love, and is thus the same as election or predestination. Those who take “his people” as referring only to spiritual Israel (the remnant) usually accept this meaning of “foreknew” here. Thus they take this passage as another reference to the unconditional salvific predestination of the elect remnant, especially among the Jews, similar to the Calvinist interpretations of 8:29 and 9:6-29. In this context it becomes another reason why God has not rejected his people. How could he reject the very ones whom he has chosen (“foreknown”) from all eternity for salvation? Thus “the ‘foreknowing’ is the guarantee that God has not cast off his people” (Murray, 2:67). “Foreknowledge and rejection are mutually incompatible” (Stott, 292).
Many of those who equate foreknowledge with predestination do not think it refers to the eternal salvation of the elect in this verse, however. This is because they take “his people” as referring to the Jewish nation as such. I.e., God cannot reject the nation of Israel, because he unconditionally chose it and set it apart with his electing love (i.e., his “foreknowledge”). Cranfield (2:545) takes this view: “We take it then that the relative clause refers to the general election of the people as a whole, and indicates a further ground for denying that God has cast off His people. The fact that God foreknew them (i.e., deliberately joined them to Himself in faithful love) excludes the possibility of His casting them off.” Denney says, “Israel stood before God’s eyes from eternity as His people, and in the immutableness of the sovereign love with which He made it His lies the impossibility of its rejection” (676). “Israel is the only nation God has foreknown and predetermined to be His people,” says MacArthur. Because he has done so, “He can never totally reject them” (2:100). This is not a choosing of all Israel for salvation, though; it has to do only with the nation’s irrevocable historical role as God’s special people (see Moo, 674-675; Morris, 399).
The problem with each of the above views is its erroneous understanding of foreknowledge as such. As I have shown earlier (JC, 1:505-511), foreknowledge means just that: knowing beforehand, in the sense of prior cognitive or mental awareness. “Foreknew” here could then mean the same as in 8:29, i.e., God did not reject those from among his people whom he foreknew would accept his grace through faith. The effect then would be to narrow the meaning of “his people” from the nation in general to the remnant. I.e., has God rejected his people? No, he has not rejected all of them. To be more specific, he has not rejected the ones foreknown to become believers, who by their very faith are the only ones who are truly “his people.”
I do not think this is the point, however. I take “his people” in v. 2a to be the same as in v. 1a, i.e., it refers to all ethnic Israelites and thus to the nation of Israel; but it refers to them as individuals and not as a national unit. To say that God “foreknew” his people Israel means that even before he singled them out for a central role in his redemptive plan, he knew in advance the kind of people they would be all along the historical path to the Messiah and beyond. Nothing about them—their weaknesses, their failures, their unbelief, their idolatries—took him by surprise. He foreknew all these things and chose them anyway, because he also foreknew that there would always be a faithful remnant who would turn to him with believing hearts, who would keep the messianic hope alive, and who would turn to the Messiah when he came.
Thus God’s foreknowledge of his people included a foreknowledge of their persistent rebellion (JC, 1:509), as well as a foreknowledge of a continuing, faithful remnant. The latter is the main point, as vv. 2b-5 show. Because he foreknew there would always be an abiding remnant who is the true spiritual Israel, he did not abandon his ethnic people, even though he foreknew that most of them would never respond to his gracious invitation (10:21).
2. God Had a Remnant of Believers in the OT (11:2b-4)
11:2b-3 Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? In v. 1 Paul cited himself as evidence that God has not rejected his people; now he refers to a familiar incident from the OT as a further, more general proof (Godet, 392; Hendriksen, 2:361). In so doing he explicitly affirms the remnant concept introduced in 9:27-29.
“Don’t you know” implies a positive answer: “You surely know, don’t you?” “In the passage about Elijah” refers to 1 Kgs 17:1 through 2 Kgs 2:11. Students of Scripture in Paul’s day would have known where to find this, even though they did not have chapter-and-verse divisions as we do today.
Paul refers to the specific place in the Elijah section where “he appealed to God against Israel.” This is an unusual prayer, since most “appeals” to God regarding other people are intercessory, “a positive plea on behalf of someone,” which is the way this same word is used in 8:27, 34. But here Elijah is pictured as pleading with God against someone, in fact, against the people of his own nation (Moo, 675, n. 23).
Elijah’s prayer grows out of his frustration and despair over Ahab’s and Jezebel’s success in introducing Baal-worship into Israel (1 Kgs 16:31-32). Despite the Lord’s great victory over Baal and his prophets at Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs 18:16-40), Elijah was cowed by Jezebel and went into hiding in a cave at Mt. Horeb (1 Kgs 19:1-9). Here he was confronted by God, who twice asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs 19:9,13). Both times, Elijah answered (1 Kgs 19:10,14) with the complaint selectively paraphrased by Paul here in v. 3.
Elijah’s words sum up his perception of the religious crisis facing Israel at that time. God’s prophets were certainly being killed on Jezebel’s orders (1 Kgs 18:4), and the altars were being demolished (1 Kgs 18:30-32). Elijah’s lament that he was “the only one left,” even if it refers to prophets and not just true believers in general, is surely an exaggeration reflecting more his mood of despair than the facts as he knew them (see 1 Kgs 18:13,22).
The term translated “left” (“I am the only one left”) is important because it ties in with several other words that represent the remnant concept. The word is the passive form of ὑπολείπω (hypoleipō—used only here in the NT), and means “to be left behind.” Two other one-time words from this same family used in this context are λείμμα (leimma, 11:5) and ὑπόλειμμα (hypoleimma, 9:27). Both mean “the ones left behind,” i.e., the remnant. In v. 4 a more common word meaning “to leave” καταλείπω (kataleipō) is used. Thus when Elijah complained, “I am the only one left,” he was to the point of thinking he alone constituted the remnant of true believers (or at least true prophets).
11:4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In order to shake Elijah out of his black mood, God gave him a demonstration of his solemn majesty (1 Kgs 19:11-13) and some concrete instructions (1 Kgs 19:15-17). He added the firm yet gentle reminder that Elijah was not alone; there were seven thousand other true worshipers of Yahweh in Israel (1 Kgs 19:18).
Many think the number “seven thousand” is not meant to be literal, but (since it involves the perfect number 7) is symbolic for the complete and perfect number of believers among Israel (see Cranfield, 2:547; Dunn, 2:638). Paul follows the LXX and adds the word ἀνήρ (anēr, “male”) after “seven thousand,” i.e., “seven thousand men.” For a parallel see Acts 4:4. (The NIV translates anēr [“men”] in Acts 4:4, but leaves it out here.) If the number itself is symbolic and not literal, this is irrelevant. If not, then the total number of believers in Elijah’s day were even greater than seven thousand, including women and youth (see Matt 14:21).
God’s statement, “I have reserved for myself,” uses the verb καταλείπω (kataleipō), another “remnant” term (see v. 3). Its usual meaning is “to leave.” Those with Calvinist leanings see an oblique reference to unconditional predestination in this word. “Emphasis is placed on God’s action; he had reserved these” through his “efficacious grace and differentiation,” says Murray (2:69). The term refers to “the divine decision,” says Cranfield (2:546).
But this is not the point. Certainly this is an act of God regarding these men, but God’s act is conditioned on the fact that they “have not bowed the knee to Baal.” God is telling Elijah, “There are more than just you who have remained faithful. Indeed, I have identified and singled out from the great majority of Israelites a group of seven thousand true worshipers. I have separated them from the rest; in my sight they are a different group, a remnant. These are the ones I have kept in my saving grace and in close fellowship with myself.”
They are the ones, God says, “I have reserved for myself.” They are “his people” in a special, spiritual sense. In this spiritual sense only these seven thousand belonged to God; the rest were Baal’s. This remnant alone was the true Israel of 9:6b (McGuiggan, 319). “The seven thousand are Israel to Him” (Denney, 676). Thus God did not reject his people Israel. Though most rejected him, he still counted as his own those who sought him in faith. Though most abandoned him, these are still enough—a remnant to be sure—to constitute “his people.”
3. Those Under Grace Are God’s New Covenant Israel (11:5-6)
11:5 Paul’s reference to the Elijah incident is a good example of the remnant reality in OT times, but his main point is that this is an analogy of the Jewish situation in his own day. So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. Paul uses three words to connect this verse with the preceding one: “so therefore also.” He does not want us to miss the parallel, i.e., there is no difference between Elijah’s day and “the present time.”
What is the nature of the parallel? The main point is the very existence of a remnant from among the people of Israel. God is no more rejecting his people in this gospel era than he was in Elijah’s day. In the earlier time of national apostasy at least seven thousand remained true to God, “and so in Paul’s day there was a faithful minority who had not rejected the gospel” (Bruce, 211). The existence of this remnant is sufficient to prove that God has not rejected his people, and thus that he is still faithful to his word and to his promises.
Many OT passages speak of the remnant concept. The immediate reference for most of them is the temporal deliverance of a remnant of survivors from the hands of oppressive enemies such as Assyria and Babylon (e.g., Ezra 9:8; Isa 1:9 [Rom 9:29]; Isa 10:20-22 [Rom 9:27]; Isa 11:11,16; Isa 37:4,32; Jer 6:9; Jer 23:3; Jer 31:7; Ezek 9:8; Ezek 11:13; Joel 2:32; Amos 5:15; Mic 2:12; Mic 4:6-7; Mic 7:18; Zeph 3:13). Many refer to the end of the Babylonian captivity and the restoration of the remaining Israelites to their homeland. Because this event in itself is typological of spiritual deliverance from sin, many of these remnant references have clear messianic import. Thus it is appropriate that the remnant concept be used by Paul in a spiritual sense to represent those Jews delivered by the power of Christ from their bondage to sin. They are the true Israel, in contrast with the rest who still languish in such bondage.
The second part of the parallel has to do with the means by which the remnant of Israel is distinguished from the nation as a whole, i.e., the remnant is “chosen by grace.” Literally Paul says that in this present time a remnant “has come into existence according to an election [or choice] of grace.” Even though this was not stressed in the OT itself, by virtue of the parallel being drawn here we must conclude that the Old Covenant remnant, such as the seven thousand in Elijah’s day, were also established according to an election or choice of grace.
Paul says that the New Covenant remnant has “come into existence” or has “come to be” (NASB). The word is γίνομαι (ginomai—a word the NIV completely ignores), which basically means “come to be, become, originate” (AG, 157). The perfect tense of the verb may be referring to a single past historical event that brought the New Covenant remnant into existence, i.e., the establishment of the NT church (Acts 2).
Paul’s statement that the remnant has come into existence “according to a choice of grace” is often interpreted as an affirmation of Calvinist unconditional election. It shows, says Murray, that the distinction between the nation as a whole and the remnant is due solely to “God’s gracious election,” i.e., to “the sovereign will of God” and not to “any determination proceeding from the will of man” (2:70). As such it is often equated with the election of 9:7-18 as interpreted by Calvinists (e.g., Moo, 677).
I reject this meaning for Paul’s statement. For one thing, this election is not the same as that in ch. 9. The subject here is election to salvation; in ch. 9 it was election to service. Also, we have already seen in our discussion of 8:29 that election to salvation is based upon divine foreknowledge (precognition) of human choices. The remnant is a group chosen by God, but chosen according to his foreknowledge.
What does it mean to say that the remnant has come into existence according to a choice of grace? We must keep in mind that Paul is here explaining how the remnant is different from the nation as a whole, and I believe that he does intend for us to understand this by comparing it with the election in 9:7-13. In that passage Paul emphasizes that being chosen as an instrument for God’s use in carrying out his redemptive purpose was not a matter of natural right based on natural birth, but was a matter of God’s sovereign choice. It was “God’s purpose in election” (9:11) that led him to select Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. None of these sons had an inherent claim to the privilege.
Likewise, being part of the saved remnant (spiritual Israel) is not a matter of physical birth as a Jew; no ethnic Israelite has an inherent claim to salvation. Being a part of the remnant is a matter of God’s choice, and he has the sovereign right to establish the basis or criterion by which he chooses some Israelites rather than others. Thus the remnant is according to choice, not birth. Here the election of 9:11 and that of 11:5 are similar.
But there is an important difference between these two elections. Since 9:11 was not election to salvation, it was not described as an “election of grace.” But in 11:5 the issue is salvation. The remnant consists of those within the nation of Israel who are saved, and the only way for sinners to be saved is by receiving God’s gift of his own righteousness through faith (9:30-10:13)—in other words, by grace. This speaks to another main difference between the mass of ethnic Israel and the remnant. The former sought salvation by works or by their own righteousness (9:32; 10:3), while the latter sought it by faith in the righteousness of God. Thus to say that the remnant has come into existence according to an election of grace means that God chooses to save those Jews (and Gentiles, 9:30) who themselves choose his way of grace rather than the futile way of law. “God chose to elect all those who would choose to accept the grace extended through his son” (DeWelt, 176).
We must not lose sight of Paul’s purpose for even mentioning the remnant here. His point is to show that God has not rejected his people; the existence of the remnant is evidence that he has not. The fact that he is willing to constitute this remnant according to the terms of grace rather than law shows how faithful he is, and just how determined he is to preserve “his people” in spite of their sin.
11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. This verse sums up some of the main conclusions concerning law and grace as ways of salvation that were discussed in chs. 1-5 (see also 9:30-10:4). It also reinforces the point made under 11:5 above, that the main difference between ethnic Israel and remnant Israel is the latter’s choice of grace instead of law as the only way to a saving relationship with God.
The term “no longer” is used here in a logical sense, not temporal. I.e., Paul is not saying that in earlier times remnant membership was by works, but is so no longer. Rather, he is saying that once one sees that remnant membership is by grace, then he can no longer consider it to be by works.
Dunn notes that this is the first time Paul “brings ‘works’ and ‘grace’ into direct antithesis” (2:647). This is true of the terms themselves, but not of the concepts. The whole point of chs. 1-5 was the antithesis between law (works) and grace (faith) as ways of salvation. Since faith is a key element in the grace system, sometimes “faith” or “by faith” is simply shorthand for the system as a whole. Likewise, since works are a key element in the law system, sometimes “by works” or “from works” is just shorthand for the law system as a whole—which is the case here. In 10:5-6 Paul contrasts “righteousness by law” and “righteousness by faith”; this is exactly the same contrast as that between “by grace” and “by works” in 11:6.
It is crucial that we correctly understand the meaning of “works,” which is the same as “works of law” in 3:28. As explained there (JC, 1:268-271), “works” includes any response to the laws or commandments of the Creator given to human beings as creatures, without restriction as to dispensation (Old Covenant or New Covenant), form (written or innate), and motives (good or bad). Thus it is wrong to limit “works” to obedience to the Law of Moses. It is also wrong to expand the term to include “anything that human beings do” (contra Moo, 678; see 250), since it does not refer to the Redeemer’s instructions on how to be saved, i.e., the conditions for receiving salvation. These are not a part of the Creator’s law, and are not works in the Pauline sense. See JC, 1:270; MP, 449.
Those who wrongly expand the concept of works to include “anything a person does” usually then proceed to use v. 6 to support their Calvinist interpretation of v. 5. If “works” means anything a person does, this must include not only repentance, confession, and baptism, but even faith itself, insofar as it is a decision of man’s will. Thus to Calvinists, even faith, regarded as something a person does as a result of his own choice, is a grace-canceling work. As Murray says, “If grace is conditioned in any way by human performance or by the will of man impelling to action, then grace ceases to be grace” (2:70). Grace cannot be conditioned on anything a person does, says Moo, for then grace would not be free: “For grace demands that God be perfectly free to bestow his favor on whomever he chooses. But if God’s election were based on what human beings do, his freedom would be violated and he would no longer be acting in grace” (678). Moo acknowledges that Paul distinguishes works from faith, but declares nevertheless that “Paul’s conception of God’s grace… would seem to rule out anything outside God’s own free will as a basis for his actions. To make election ultimately dependent on the human decision to believe violates Paul’s notion of the grace of God…. God’s grace is the efficient cause of salvation, human faith being not its basis but its result” (679, n. 43).
Using the same too-broad definition of works, Morris says 11:6 “rules out the idea that God foreknows what people will do and chooses the elect on the basis of this foreknowledge of their works” (402; emphasis added).
This whole approach to grace is a serious error, since it includes more in the category of works than Paul intends (as discussed above). Also, it is a false concept of the freedom that is inherently involved in grace. That grace is conditioned on certain human acts is not a violation of God’s freedom in the bestowal of grace, since he himself is the one who freely chose to do it this way and the one who freely chose what the conditions shall be. Besides, the conditions he has chosen are completely consistent with the essence of grace.
Also, election according to foreknowledge does not contradict grace because the crucial object of God’s foreknowledge is not the presence or absence of human works but the acceptance or rejection of God’s free offer of grace in accord with the gracious conditions which he himself has laid down.
Paul’s point in this verse is simply to sum up the main message of Romans, that the only way for a sinner to be saved is by grace through faith, not by the system of law. The two systems are mutually exclusive; one must choose either God’s righteousness (grace) or personal righteousness (works) as the basis for his salvation. One must rely either upon himself or upon Jesus Christ; he cannot do both. Any trust in the worthiness of one’s own achievements or the merit of one’s own accomplishments is simply incompatible with grace. Trying to get to heaven by being “good enough” nullifies the way of grace.
As applied to remnant Jews, this means that they belong to the remnant not because they are essentially better than the rest, i.e., less sinful or more law-abiding, but because they have submitted to God’s way of righteousness (10:3), which is grace. If everyone were to be accepted or rejected on the basis of his works, there would be no remnant. By its very nature the remnant is a grace entity. Though Paul is making this point specifically regarding the remnant of the Jews, it applies equally to the Gentiles, and thus to the church as a whole.
B. Unbelieving Israel has Been Hardened (11:7-10)
If only a remnant of Israel is saved, what has happened to the rest? Are they totally abandoned and forgotten by God? Having served their covenant purposes as a means of bringing Christ into the world, and paradoxically having refused to accept him as their Messiah, are they now to be completely ignored? Paul’s answer is No, but exactly how they continue to be the object of God’s attention is somewhat surprising. This is Paul’s subject in this paragraph.
11:7 What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened,… The first part of this verse is a transitional statement that sums up the preceding thoughts in terms of a contrast between “the elect” on the one hand, and “Israel” (“the others”) on the other hand.
Paul does not use the usual word for “the elect” (ἐκλεκτός, eklektos; see 8:33), but carries over the noun used in 11:5 (ἐκλογή, eklogē, “choice, election”). In this context it is synonymous with “the remnant.” The term “Israel” here refers to the physical nation in general, or “Israel as a corporate whole,” as Moo says (679). But strictly speaking, Paul is referring not to the totality of physical Israel, but only to unbelieving Jews, “the others” in contrast to the elect.
What was Israel “so earnestly” seeking? The answer can be found in 9:30-10:3; they were pursuing righteousness, a right standing before God (Denney, 677; Morris, 402; Moo, 680). In 9:30-31 Paul says the Gentiles found such righteousness though they were not seeking it, while Israel was pursuing it but did not find it. The reason they did not find it, he says (9:32; 10:3), was that they were seeking it in their own works and not in God’s gift.
The NIV translates the verb as past tense (“sought”), which is consistent with the past tense of the verbs in 9:31-32; 10:3. But here the Greek is present tense (“that which Israel is seeking for,” NASB), which implies that the Israelites in general were still seeking for this righteous standing before God.
The emphasis, though, is not on the action of seeking, but on the result of the search. The good news is that the elect remnant did obtain the sought-for righteousness. The bad news is that the vast majority, Israel as a whole, did not (see 9:30). These are simply called “the others,” or “the rest” (NASB), i.e., the rest of the Jews (not the rest of mankind in general, contra Morris, 403).
At this point Paul introduces a new and surprising thought: “the others,” the unbelieving Jews, were hardened. This theme is a prominent part of the argument in the rest of this chapter, either implicitly or explicitly. Thus it is crucial that we understand it aright. The following facts concerning this hardening will emerge in the course of Paul’s argument, but may profitably be summed up before we go any further. (1) Whatever the nature of this hardening, it is not the cause of anyone’s unbelief. The only ones hardened are those who have already rejected God’s righteousness in Christ. (2) Whatever the nature of the hardening, it is not irrevocable and final. Those hardened are still able to come to faith, as the next point indicates. (3) God’s purpose for this hardening is to use it as a means of converting many Gentiles, which in turn will be a means of converting many of the hardened Jews themselves. Thus paradoxically the ultimate goal and result of the hardening is the salvation of those who are hardened! The sequence of events is as follows: the bulk of the Jews reject the gospel; they are hardened; as a consequence Gentiles are saved; as a consequence of this, many of the hardened Jews are made jealous and are saved; and as a consequence of this, even more Gentiles are saved!
The word for “hardened” is πωρόω (pōroō), the noun form of which (πώρωσις, pōrōsis) is used in 11:25. (The meaning is the same as the verb used in 9:18, σκληρύνω [sklērynō].) The verb pōroō “is a medical term used in Hippocrates and elsewhere of a bone or hard substance growing when bones are fractured, or of a stone forming in the bladder” (SH, 314). Hence it means “to harden, to petrify”; in the NT it is used in the figurative sense: “to make dull, obdurate, insensitive.” It refers to “the heart becoming hardened or callous,” i.e., to a state in which “a covering has grown over the heart, making men incapable of receiving any new teaching however good, and making them oblivious of the wrong they are doing” (SH, 314).
In this verse the verb is passive, and the agent of the hardening is not identified. Some declare that the Jews hardened themselves. The hardening came about “through their own rejection, choosing rather to obey Satan… than the grace of God” (DeWelt, 176). Such self-hardening is certainly a biblically-attested reality (Exod 8:15,32; Heb 3:8,15; 4:7). Some identify Satan as the agent of the hardening, by God’s permission (Lard, 351; MP, 451; Godet, 398). Others say the agent of the hardening is “intentionally left vague” and indefinite (Denney, 677; Morris, 403).
There is some truth in each of these views, but the context requires us to identify God himself as the main agent in the hardening of the Jews (see 9:18; 11:8; see Murray, 2:72; Moo, 680; Stott, 293). How he did so is not explained. It is very possible that he hardened them by allowing Satan a free hand to blind their eyes. Citing 1 Kgs 22:19-23, the book of Job, and 2 Cor 4:4, Godet says that “God proves or punishes by leaving Satan to act” (398). It is also possible that God hardened the Jews simply by diminishing or withdrawing his own positive influences toward them, as he did with the Gentiles when he “gave them over” to the destructiveness of their own sinful desires (1:24,26,28; JC, 1:149-150).
In any case there is general agreement that the Jews had already hardened themselves into a state of unbelief before God performed this act of hardening upon them. Thus the divine hardening is not the cause of their rejection of the gospel, but a punishment for it. They were hardened because they deserved it; it was retribution (v. 9) for their sin. It was “a judicial penalty for refusal to heed the Word of God” (Bruce, 215; see Lenski, 686). “God has judicially blinded those of His chosen people who willfully blind themselves to Him,” says MacArthur (2:101). “God hardens only those hearts who, in rejecting His gracious offer of righteousness, harden themselves to His grace” (ibid., 103; see Hendriksen, 2:365; Morris, 403). Brunner says it well: “Hardening is being able no longer to say anything but No. God permits them to become entangled in their own No.” As with the Gentiles in ch. 1, “so he has now hardened the Jews after they have said their No. The hardening is not the original cause but God’s punishment for their unbelief” (94).
What is the result of this hardening? Some interpret it as a final sealing of these Jews in a state of unbelief, and equate it with the eternal decree of reprobation that (in Calvinist thinking) predestines some to hell, just as the eternal decree of election unconditionally predestines others to heaven (Calvin, 417; Murray, 2:72). We may conclude, says Moo, “that God’s hardening permanently binds people in the sin that they have chosen for themselves” (681).
This view is a serious error, however, and must be vigorously rejected. Not even all Calvinists agree with it. Hendriksen (2:365) says, “To include Rom. 11:7… in a list of passages proving reprobation is an error,” because “even for the hardened ones there is hope,” as the following context shows. Cranfield agrees: “The divine hardening is not God’s last word for His rebellious people” (2:550). So whatever result this hardening has, it is something done only to unbelievers, and it does not ultimately prevent them from becoming believers. It is neither absolute nor irreversible. Hence it does not contradict the principle that God does not violate any individual’s free will to choose his own eternal destiny.
The result of the hardening is Paul’s subject in vv. 8-10. It certainly involves an insensitivity toward God’s word, blinding one’s spiritual eyes and deafening one’s spiritual ears toward God’s truth. In the act of hardening God takes away “from the heart the faculty of being touched by what is good or divine,” and he takes away “from the understanding, the faculty of discerning between the true and the false, the good and the bad” (Godet, 395). In so doing God is simply confirming what is already present in the unbeliever’s heart.
Why has God so hardened the Jews? As noted above, it is in the first place a judicial act, a recompense for unbelief. But there is an even deeper reason, a positive one that flows from the deepest and wisest recesses of God’s loving heart. God has used many people, including the Jews as a nation, to carry out his redemptive purposes. Sometimes this can be done only by a limited and temporary hardening, as in the case of Pharaoh (9:18). So it is here, that by hardening “the rest” of the Jews, he can use them “as an instrument of his good pleasure” in bringing many people to salvation (see McGuiggan, 322). As Paul goes on to explain in 11:11ff., the hardening of the Jews is intended as a means by which the Gentiles may be saved, which in turn is a means by which the hardened Jews themselves may be brought to faith in their Messiah.
11:8 [A]s it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.” In this and the next two verses Paul draws from three OT passages to reinforce his assertion about the hardening of Israel. These texts are not treated as prophecies but as precedents. In v. 8 two passages are used. “God gave them a spirit of stupor” is from Isa 29:10a, “For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep” (NASB). The last part of v. 8 is from Deut 29:4.
The words from Isa 29:10 make it clear that God is the one who is responsible for the hardening in 11:7. The word for “stupor” suggests not so much a deep sleep as a state of numbness, of being bewildered and stunned. The word is κατάνυξις (katanyxis), and probably comes from κατανύσσω (katanyssō), which means “to strike violently, to stun” (Earle, 208). Sometimes a person who has been struck on the head may seem to be fully conscious but is mentally confused and unaware of his surroundings. Just so, says Paul (as did Isaiah before him), God has enveloped Israel in a state of spiritual numbness, in “an attitude of deadness towards spiritual things” (Morris, 403), in a “mental and moral dulness [sic] or apathy” (Hendriksen, 2:364).
The word “spirit” probably means an attitude or a state of mind, but it is possible that it refers to a demonic spirit whom God permits to inflict Israel with this spiritual blindness. See 1 Sam 18:10 and 1 Kgs 22:20-23 for precedents. Whether this be the case or not, the result is God’s intention: a “punitive hardening which follows after self-hardening has fully set in” (Lenski, 687). “The eyes of their souls are shut; they see nothing rightly” (Lard, 351).
So that there may be no mistake, the “spirit of stupor” is explained with the reference to Deut 29:4, “eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear.” Again, Paul says God gave to Israel these nonseeing eyes and nonhearing ears. The mass of Israel seemed to be spiritually conscious and God-fearing; indeed they had “a zeal for God,” but it was “not in accordance with knowledge” (10:2, NASB). God reinforced their own willful ignorance by covering their spiritual eyes and stopping up their spiritual ears.
“To this very day” is part of the quotation from Deut 29:4. Moses’ point was that after forty years of wilderness wandering the Israelites still had not come to understand and appreciate what God had done for them in delivering them from Egypt and giving them their own land, even on the very eve of their possession of that land. Paul seems to be saying that the Jews of his day were still laboring under the same spiritual blindness that caused them to crucify their Messiah (1 Thess 2:14-15), and that this blindness had not yet been lifted or counteracted as 11:11-32 suggests will some day happen.
11:9-10 And David says, “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” These two verses are taken from Ps 69:22-23. This is appropriate because Ps 69 is widely recognized as Messianic and is cited or alluded to frequently in the NT (e.g., Mark 15:23, 36 [Ps 69:21]; John 2:17 [Ps 69:9]; John 15:25 [Ps 69:4]; Acts 1:20 [Ps 69:25]; Rom 15:3 [Ps 69:9]; see Dunn, 2:642). As David wrote the Psalm, it was his prayer for God to deliver him from his enemies and to give those enemies the punishment they deserved. As Paul applies it to his time, he suggests that “what David prayed would happen to his persecutors,… God has brought upon those Jews who have resisted the gospel” (Moo, 683). “Paul takes it for granted that the doom invoked in these words has come upon the Jews,” says Denney (678).
Paul’s main point in citing these imprecations seems to be to reinforce the idea that the hardening affirmed in v. 7 is actually deserved by the unbelieving Jews. David’s prayer was for three curses to come upon his enemies. The first is that “their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block.” Here “table” may be an allusion to the OT law in general, and especially to its sacrificial system, which involved an altar and a table for eating the sacrificial meal (Denney, 678; Dunn, 2:642-643, 650). Or it may simply be a household table representing the food and fellowship of ordinary mealtime and earthly prosperity in general (Lenski, 689; Murray, 2:74).
In either case the prayer is “a wish that even the good things which these enemies enjoy may prove to be a cause of disaster to them” (Cranfield, 2:551). “Their table… is that in which they delight, and it is this which is to prove their ruin” (Denney, 678).
The second curse is that “their eyes be darkened so they cannot see.” This clearly ties in with the “spirit of stupor” in v. 8 and the hardening in v. 7, and indicates that Israel as a whole was blinded toward the truth of the gospel.
The third curse is that “their backs be bent forever.” It is difficult to tell exactly what calamity this is supposed to represent. It may be a figure for the hard labor of slavery, the heaviness of a burden, a state of weakness, or the overwhelming effects of grief or fear. Any of these could apply to first-century Judaism. Paul may be saying, “May their backs be always weak and feeble under the burden that they bear because of their rejection of the gospel” (Fitzmyer, 607). Or he may be referring to “the state of slavish fear in which the Jews shall be held as long as this judgment of hardening which keeps them outside of the gospel shall last” (Godet, 397).
The main point, though, is expressed in v. 9b, where the wish is that their table may become “a retribution for them.” The sense of this term is that of being repaid or paid back in kind. The implication is that all these curses are a recompense or retribution, a deserved penalty upon the Jews “rightly demanded by their wickedness” (Lenski, 690). It declares that “the evil which came upon the Jews was caused by their own fault and sin” (MP, 452); it “confirms the judicial character of their hardening” (Murray, 2:74).
C. The Hardening of Unbelieving Israel Becomes a Blessing for Both the Gentiles and the Jews (11:11-16)
In this paragraph Paul is still developing his answer to the question in 11:1, “Did God reject his people?” He has supported his emphatic negative answer by pointing to the existence of the “remnant chosen by grace” (vv. 1-6). But what about the mass of unbelieving Jews not included in the remnant? They “were hardened” (11:7-10).
This leads to the question of the ultimate fate of hardened Israel. Are they simply and finally lost? Is there no place for them in the kingdom? Are they totally excluded from God’s mercy and God’s plan? “What about the sinning majority? Are they lost forever?” (Morris, 405).
Paul’s answer is another emphatic No! It is true that this majority rejected their Messiah, and that God hardened them. But this is not the final word; it is not the whole story. In this section the Apostle shows how even hardened Israel is part of the larger picture of God’s mercy, or “how Israel’s failure fits into the salvific plan of God” (Fitzmyer, 608). God can use this unbelieving nation for his own redemptive purpose, and even his hardening of them furthers this purpose.
In essence, Paul explains that God’s hardening of Israel (especially the withdrawing of direct evangelistic efforts to win them) is intended to start a chain reaction that leads back to the conversion of Jews by indirect means. In summary, the hardening of unbelieving Israel “is the occasion for the coming in of the Gentiles, which, in its turn, is to have the effect of awakening the unbelieving Jews to a realization of what they are missing and so to lead to their repentance” (Cranfield, 2:553). Thus “even the hardening of Israel serves the purposes of mercy” (Achtemeier, 181). As Hendriksen remarks, God’s “purpose is ultimately one of grace, and this for the benefit of both Gentile and Jews” (2:366).
Nearly everyone agrees that this section shows that Israel’s fall and hardening are not meant to be final. Just as vv. 1-10 show that her rejection is only partial, these verses show that it is intended to be only temporary. “God’s punitive action against the majority” is “not his last word concerning Israel” (Dunn, 2:666). The Jews can be saved.
Unfortunately, many interpreters take Paul’s basic message of hope for Israel and expand it into a veritable philosophy of history. They see in this paragraph the seeds of a complicated eschatology involving a renewed special role for the Jews as a nation. I.e., they take Paul’s statements about Israel’s salvation as referring to a large-scale future conversion of the Jews en masse, and a restoration of the nation as such to their original status as the people of God. Many regard this as the key precursor to the end of this age and the final resurrection (v. 15). This theory will receive some attention in the following discussion.
11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Of whom is Paul speaking? Not Israel as a whole, as a corporate nation (contra Moo, 686), but only the individual Jews who rejected their Messiah and were subsequently hardened, i.e., “the others” of v. 7 (Cranfield, 2:554; Denney, 678).
The first verb, “stumble” (πταίω, ptaiō, “to stumble, to trip”) is used in a figurative or moral sense, “to make a mistake, go astray, sin” (AG, 734; see Jas 2:10; 3:2; 2 Pet 1:10). The second verb, πίπτω (piptō), has a straightforward meaning: “to fall, to fall down, to collapse.” In a moral sense it means “to fall into sin, to go astray,” and may have an even stronger sense: to “fall from a state of grace, be completely ruined, perish” (AG, 665).
There is no question that hardened Israel stumbled (9:32-33), but did they fall? Despite Paul’s emphatic No! (μὴ γένοιτο, mē genoito; see 3:4), the answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. The main reason is that v. 22 refers to these same Jews as “those who fell,” and uses the same word as in v. 11 (piptō).
So what does Paul mean in v. 11? The most common approach is to give piptō an exceptionally strong meaning here, as in the NIV: “to fall beyond recovery.” It means to be “finally lost” in the sense of “a complete and irrevocable fall,” say Sanday and Headlam (320-321). It refers to a “fall without remedy” (Lard, 354), involving “irretrievable spiritual ruin” (Moo, 687). Paul does imply that falling is more serious than merely stumbling, so this interpretation seems to fit. As Fitzmyer summarizes it, “Israel has stumbled over Christ, but it has not fallen down completely so that it cannot regain its footing” (611).
Is this interpretation acceptable? Yes. It surely fits the context, since one of Paul’s main points is that fallen Israel can indeed be saved. A serious problem, though, is that it does not seem consistent with v. 22.
Thus out of concern for v. 22, some have suggested another understanding of v. 11. The point of the question, they say, is this: did Israel stumble “merely for the purpose that they might fall” (Murray, 2:76)? Paul’s No! is not intended to deny that they have fallen; it simply means that there is more to the story than this. They have not stumbled just for the purpose of falling, or with the simple result that they are now fallen and that’s that. No, Paul’s whole point is that God has incorporated Israel’s stumbling and falling into a much larger and more glorious plan.
Is this interpretation acceptable? Yes, and in my opinion it is preferable. If anything, it fits the immediate context even better than the more common view, and it takes full account of v. 22. The main problem is that the concept of “merely” must be read into the question.
Another issue is the meaning of the word ἵνα (hina), which connects the two verbs (“so as,” NIV). This word can imply either purpose or result. If Paul intends the former, he is asking whether hardened Israel stumbled “in order that they might fall” or “for the purpose of falling.” If we read it in this sense, then Paul would be implying that God caused Israel to stumble (to reject their Messiah), and that he had a purpose for causing them to stumble. The issue then would be to identify that purpose, that “divinely intended outcome” (Dunn, 2:652). This of course assumes a Calvinist view of sovereignty and free will, as is the case with Murray, who speaks of “the overriding and overruling design of God in the stumbling and fall of Israel” (2:76).
Most interpreters, however (even among Calvinists), take hina as stating result rather than purpose. That is, has hardened Israel stumbled “with the result that” they have fallen? This meaning “makes excellent sense,” says Dunn (2:653); and this is so however one understands the concept of “falling.”
The bottom line is that most Jews have indeed stumbled, i.e., have rejected Jesus and his grace, and consequently have fallen into a state of lostness and spiritual ruin. But that is not the whole picture; that is not the end of the story. The drama of Israel does not end on such a negative note. Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.
Paul refers here to “their transgression” (singular). Is this different from the stumbling and falling in v. 11a? It may be useful to bring together and analyze the variety of terms Paul uses to describe Israel’s downfall. It seems that he distinguishes three steps in the process, the first two of which are attributable to the sinner’s will and the last of which is an act of God. The first step is the sin of rejecting God’s way of grace, most significantly the initial sin of rejecting Jesus as the only Savior. The second step is falling out of a saving relationship with God and into a state of lostness. The third step is God’s placing those who have so fallen under his wrath and curse.
The first of these steps is what Paul means by “their transgression.” It is the word παράπτωμα (paraptōma), which is “frequently used by Paul to denote ‘trespass’, ‘sin’ (in the sense of a particular sinful deed),” as Cranfield says (2:555). It is the same as the stumbling in v. 11a, i.e., their stumbling over Christ (9:32-33), their rejection of Christ as the Messiah. It is called “unbelief” in vv. 20,23, and “disobedience” in v. 30.
The third step is God’s act of hardening (vv. 7, 25), which is his punitive response to the first two steps. This is also called his “rejection” of the Jews (v. 15), and his act of breaking off or cutting off the unbelieving branches (vv. 17,19-20,22).
In reference to the Jews’ downfall, these three steps always go together; even when only one is mentioned, the other two are assumed to be a part of the total picture. Thus here when Paul says “because of their transgression,” he does not mean the transgression alone, as distinct from the fall and the hardening. Rather, because of the transgression along with the consequent fall and the divine hardening, salvation has come to the Gentiles.
Herein lies the first element in God’s plan that evokes Paul’s extreme sense of awe and wonder at his wisdom (11:33-36), namely, that God has determined to use the Jews’ unbelief and fall (along with his own act of hardening) as a means of bringing salvation to the Gentiles! I.e., “Israel’s stumbling was the occasion for redemption to be opened to the gentiles” (Achtemeier, 180). Out of sin, salvation comes! Out of wrath, mercy comes!
This could refer to the fact that by delivering Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion, the Jews were inadvertently helping to bring about the one great act of redemption that is the source of salvation for all. More likely, though, it refers to the ordinary process of evangelism reflected in the book of Acts. I.e., once Gentile evangelism finally began (Acts 10), the missionary strategy was still to preach to the Jews first. But when the Jews typically rejected the gospel message, attention was turned to the Gentiles. As Moo says, “Paul probably had in mind the way in which he and other preachers of the gospel would turn to the Gentiles after being spurned by the Jews” (687; see Cranfield, 2:556; Bruce, 212). See Acts 13:44-52; 18:1-6; 19:8-10; 28:23-28.
But even this is not the whole story. If it were, hardened Israel would still be abandoned in their lostness. But this is not God’s plan. The other element in the divine strategy that evokes Paul’s reverent amazement is that God intends the conversion of the Gentiles to arouse the hardened Jews to jealousy (or envy) and thereby cause them to turn at last to their Messiah (see v. 14). The language Paul uses here does indicate a “divine intention” (Cranfield, 2:556). I.e., “the salvation of the Gentiles was intended in the divine providence to arouse in Israel a passionate desire for the same good gift” (Morris, 407). “Thus that hardening of which v. 7 spoke has for its ultimate purpose the salvation of those who are hardened” (Cranfield, 2:556).
Paul has already introduced this theme of “provoking to envy” in 10:19, where he cites Deut 32:21. Some may be concerned that God can speak of envy or jealousy as a motivation for accepting the gospel. Because they think of jealousy as always being sinful, it sounds to them like an “end justifies means” scheme. Some try to avoid this by using the word “emulation” instead (Lard, 355; MP, 454). But this misses the point. Emulation cannot be substituted for jealousy, since it is the effect of which jealousy is supposed to be the cause.
In the Bible jealousy is always the point of this word, but it is not always an evil attitude. God himself is often described as a “jealous God” (see GC, 409-416). Stott well says that “not all envy is tainted with selfishness, because it is not always a grudging discontent or a sinful covetousness.” The essence of envy, he says, is the desire to have for oneself what is possessed by another. It is good envy or evil envy depending on the nature of what is desired and on whether one has a right to it (297). Surely in this case the salvation possessed by the Gentiles is something good and something God wants the Jews to have anyway, and the Jews’ desire to have it will in no way diminish the Gentiles’ possession of it. Thus it is not at all an unworthy motive for accepting the gospel.
In this verse three things are linked in a cause-and-effect chain: the Jews’ transgression (their initial negative response to the gospel), Gentile salvation, and Jewish envy. It is significant that in the latter part of the verse there are no verbs, and thus no tenses (past, present, future). We know the first step has already occurred; we assume the second has at least begun (“salvation has come,” NIV, NASB). Many assume the last step (Jewish envy) is still in the future, but our conclusion on this point must be based on the following verses.
11:12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! Most of the content of this verse, rightly understood, has already been either affirmed or implied in v. 11 (Lard, 356; MP, 456-457). I.e., if the Jews’ transgression (stumbling, unbelief) results in riches (salvation) for the world (the Gentiles), and if their loss (fall) similarly results in riches (salvation) for the Gentiles, then how much more likely it is that the fullness (salvation) of the Jews will result in spiritual riches for all.
We should note that in the Greek there are no verbs (and thus no tenses) in this entire verse; thus we should be cautious about assigning to any one of these three clauses an entirely past or entirely future enactment.
The first two clauses seem to be restating the link between the Jews’ downfall and the Gentiles’ salvation taught in v. 11. “Their transgression” is the same word used in v. 11 and has the same meaning, i.e., their stumbling over and rejecting their Messiah in unbelief. “Their loss” is equivalent to the “fall” in v. 11.
The word translated “loss” (ἥττημα, hēttēma) is seldom used and is quite difficult. Some give it a numerical connotation (“diminishing, fewness, diminutiveness, reduction to a small number”), mainly based on the assumption that the corresponding word in the next clause (“fullness”) is also numerical. But this is wrong, especially since “fullness” itself should not be understood numerically. Also, it does not fit the context. The subject here is not Israel per se but the hardened portion of Israel, which in comparison with the remnant is not few but many.
The basic meaning of hēttēma seems to be “defeat” (Isa 31:8, LXX; 1 Cor 6:7), but the emphasis here seems to be more on the loss (e.g., of possessions, of freedom) that results from an actual defeat. “Loss” is thus a good translation. As a result of their rejection of their Messiah, the Jews suffered the loss of their relationship with God and of the spiritual riches of Christ’s kingdom. Thus they exist in “a state of missed blessings” (McGuiggan, 324). This contrasts well with “riches.” See Lard, 356; Murray, 2:78; McGuiggan, 323-324.
The point is that the Jews’ trespass, along with their consequent loss, is a means of bringing spiritual riches upon the Gentiles, as pointed out in v. 11. “Riches” refers to the spiritual riches of salvation and is equivalent to “salvation” in v. 11. See Eph 1:18, which refers to “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (See also 2:4; 9:23; 11:33; Eph 1:7; 2:7; 3:6, 8; Phil 4:19).
The last clause in this verse is extremely difficult. Literally it is very succinct: “by how much more their fullness” (no verb). How does this fit into the overall structure of the verse? The phrase “by how much more” (πόσῳ μᾶλλον, posō mallon) shows that some kind of comparison is being made between the first two clauses and this final clause. The common assumption is that “riches” is being compared with “more riches,” i.e., if the Jews’ transgression and loss bring riches to the Gentiles, their fullness will bring even greater riches.
I believe this misses the point, however. In six of its eight NT occurrences, the phrase posō mallon means “how much more likely it is that,” and is usually part of an argument from the lesser to the greater. This meaning fits very well here. Thus the clause is not an argument from riches to more riches, but this: “If the Jews’ transgression and loss mean riches for the Gentiles, how much more likely it is that the Jews’ fullness [means riches for the Gentiles].”
This conclusion will affect not only how we interpret v. 12, but also v. 15, where “life from the dead” is often identified with the alleged “greater riches” in v. 12. (E.g., see Moo, 689; DeWelt, 182.) Speculation then abounds. I.e., if the riches brought to the Gentiles by the Jews’ sin is (rightly) understood as their salvation (v. 11), then the greater riches (“life from the dead”) must be something even more significant than personal salvation; indeed, it must be something spectacular, such as a great future universal revival or the final general resurrection at the end-time. E.g., Denney posits some future “unimaginable blessing” (679), and Murray speaks of “unprecedented enrichment” (2:79).
But when we see that posō mallon is not really talking about “greater riches,” the basis for such speculation is gone; and when we realize also that there is no verb (and thus no future tense) in this clause, the assumption that this word refers to some great eschatological event is also weakened.
This brings us to the difficult question, what is the nature of the Jews’ “fullness” (πλήρωμα, plērōma)? There are two basic views. One is that this is a quantitative fullness, and refers to the ultimate conversion of the “full number” of Jews; the other is that the fullness is qualitative and refers to the Jews’ participation in the fullness of salvation.
The former view, that plērōma means “full and completed number,” is, as Cranfield notes, “widely accepted”; and in his opinion it “seems very much more likely” than any other view (2:558). It refers to “the entrance of the full complement of the nation into the Messianic kingdom,” say Sanday and Headlam (322). The TEV translates it “complete number.” This is often paralleled with a numeric interpretation of hēttēma in the previous clause; see the NEB: “If their falling-off [hēttēma] means the enrichment of the Gentiles, how much more their coming to full strength!”
To what, then, would this refer? The most common idea is that it refers to a future large-scale conversion of Jews, in contrast with the present “remnant” situation. Israel’s “diminishing to a small number,” says Godet, will be reversed by a “national conversion” of “the totality of the then living members of the people of Israel” (400-401). “Paul cannot rest content in the thought of only a remnant saved,” says Dunn (2:655). We must assume that the Apostle is referring to a future “conversion on a large scale,” in line with 11:25, says Lard (357). See also Stott, 296; Moo, 689-690.
Some expand this idea to include the restoration of the Jews to their original status as God’s chosen people. The word “fullness” means “a mass restoration of Israel is in view,” says Murray. “Nothing else than a restoration of Israel as a people to faith, privilege, and blessing can satisfy the terms of this passage” (2:79, 80). This is often linked with the establishment of a millennial kingdom in the premillennial sense (e.g., MacArthur, 2:110-111).
Others agree that “fullness” means “full number,” but interpret this (in a Calvinist sense) to mean the full number of elect Jews as they are gradually converted over the full course of Christian history. This is Hendriksen’s view: “The salvation of the full number of Israelites who had been predestined to be saved (cf. 9:6)—hence, not just the salvation of a remnant at any one particular time (see 11:5)—would progressively bring an abundance of blessings to the entire world” (2:367).
The meaning of v. 12 would then be, in Cranfield’s words, as follows: “If the present unbelief of the majority of Israel actually means the enrichment of the Gentiles, how much more wonderfully enriching must the situation resulting from the provoking to jealousy of this majority of Israel be!” (2:557-558).
The other view, and in my opinion the correct one, is that the plērōma of the Jews is meant in a qualitative sense and refers to spiritual fullness, or being filled with all the abundance of salvation. The word itself as used elsewhere in the NT does not refer to “full number” but to “completeness, abundance.” See, e.g., John 1:16, “the fullness of his grace”; Rom 15:29, “the full measure of the blessing of Christ”; Eph 1:23, “the fullness of him [Christ]”; Eph 3:19, “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”; Eph 4:13, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Compare the way the verb πληρόω [plēroō] is used in Rom 15:13-14; Eph 3:19; 5:18; Phil 1:11; Col 2:10.)
This meaning also fits the context. In v. 12 itself, “fullness” is in contrast with both “transgression” and “loss,” words that sum up the lost state as opposed to salvation. This is an especially appropriate contrast with “loss,” which as we have seen does not have a numerical connotation; the point is simply the lost state as compared with the saved state.
Also regarding context, this meaning is better in view of the connection between v. 11 and v. 12. Verse 11 describes a cause-and-effect chain: the Jews’ transgression leads to Gentile salvation which leads to Jewish envy. The reference to Jewish envy implies Jewish salvation, since this is its intended result (see v. 14). As noted above, v. 12 is giving further reflection on the relations among these three items, especially the idea that the Jews’ transgression results in riches (salvation) for the Gentiles. The one thought added in v. 12 is that the Jewish envy (and thus salvation) produced by the Gentiles’ conversion would in turn lead to even more Gentiles being saved. Thus it is natural to take “fullness” in v. 12 as referring to the Jews’ salvation, which in context corresponds to (since in fact it grows out of) their envy in v. 11.
As another contextual note, we shall see later that this meaning best corresponds to the meaning of plērōma in v. 25.
Thus I agree with McGuiggan when he says that the Jews’ fullness is the “rich blessedness” they receive when they abandon their unbelief and accept their Messiah’s salvation. “Israel by unbelief lost blessings, Israel by faith would be fully blessed.” McGuiggan rightly says, “There is no ground in the text whatever for supposing that ‘fulness’ is somewhat equivalent to a conversion of Jews ‘on a national scale’ or ‘on a scale commensurate with their rejection’ (numerically speaking).” In fact, in v. 12 “there is no allusion to the number of Jews lost and (therefore, in the antithesis) there is no mention of the number of Jews (to be) saved…. ‘Fullness’ speaks of a rich state of blessedness as opposed to ‘loss’” (324). See Lenski, 695.
We must also emphasize that the text does not project this conversion of the Jews to some distant future date; it does not preclude that it could already be happening at that very time. (Remember: the verse has no verbs and no tenses.) In fact, in vv. 13-14 Paul implies that his own ministry is already producing this result.
We must remember that the main point of v. 12 is not about the Jews but about the Gentiles, i.e., what will happen to the Gentiles as a result of the Jews’ unbelief as well as their belief. If some Gentiles are saved as the result of the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, then we have even more reason to expect Gentiles to be saved as the result of the Jews’ envy-induced acceptance of the gospel.
11:13-14 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. Many think v. 13a shows that the Gentiles were in the majority in the church at Rome (e.g., Dunn, 2:655, 669; Moo, 691, n. 39), but Cranfield is right that such a conclusion cannot be drawn from this verse (2:559). Paul is simply saying that he wants the Gentiles among his readers to pay special attention to what he is saying, not just in what follows but in the preceding verses as well.
This is true for two reasons. One, in this whole main section, Israel has been the focus of attention; the Gentiles have entered the discussion only marginally. Thus the latter group “may well have been reasoning that all this about the Jews had little to do with them. They may have wondered why the apostle to the Gentiles should be spending so much time worrying about the Jews” (Morris, 408). Thus Paul stops to reassure the Gentiles that he has not forgotten the main focus of his ministry. He wants them to see “that this argument has an application to Gentiles as well as Jews.” He is saying, in effect, “Do not think that what I am saying has nothing to do with you Gentiles. It makes me even more zealous in my work for you” (SH, 323-324). What he is showing them is that the welfare of the Jews and the Gentiles is entertwined.
Paul’s other reason for addressing the Gentiles specifically is the possibility that what he teaches about Gentile salvation in vv. 11-12 may lead some to develop an attitude of arrogance toward the Jews (see v. 20). He does not want them to conclude that the Jews are merely a means to an end, that end being the salvation and exaltation of the Gentiles. Paul assures them of his own genuine concern for the Jews’ salvation, and in the next section he shows them how much they owe to the Jews (vv. 17-24). He declares that even as God’s Apostle to the Gentiles, his work in that capacity has “an Israel-ward significance” (Cranfield, 2:559).
Paul says, “I make much of my ministry.” It is possible that διακονία (diakonia, “ministry”) here means “office” (KJV) in a special technical sense (see, e.g., Acts 1:25; 2 Cor 4:1; Col 4:17). More likely it means simply “ministry” or “area of service” or “mission,” i.e., his specific assignment to be the apostle to the Gentiles. “Make much of” is δοξάζω (doxazō), which means “to honor, to praise, to glorify.” It is usually used of giving glory to God, and is rarely used of men or anything human (see 8:30; 1 Cor 12:26; negatively, see Matt 6:2). Paul does not say that he honors or glorifies himself, but he glorifies his ministry as a task given to him by God. Thus he honors it not because of its fulfillment in himself but because of its origin in God.
Paul’s point is that he has the highest respect for his calling, and approaches it with the utmost seriousness and diligence. “He honours and reverences his ministry to the Gentiles, and so fulfils it with all might and devotion” (Cranfield, 2:560).
To what end does Paul honor his ministry? It is taken for granted that he does so in order to win converts from among the Gentiles, but in view of the divine plan spelled out in v. 11, he knows that his ministry is also an indirect means of bringing his own kinsmen to faith in Christ. “My own people” is literally “my flesh” (see 9:3), i.e., the Jews, “Israel according to the flesh” (1 Cor 10:18, lit.). The relation between their envy and their salvation has already been implied in vv. 11-12 (see the explanation of “fullness” in v. 12 above). Thus he glorifies his ministry, because “the more Gentiles Paul converts, the more of this jealousy he creates,… which results in conversions of the Jews” (Lenski, 697).
Paul understands that this process will not be automatic and will not convert every Jew. He pursues his apostleship to the Gentiles “in the hope that” some Jews may be saved thereby. “In the hope that I may somehow” translates εἴ πως (ei pōs) plus the subjunctive case of the verb. This is “an expression of expectation,” says Dunn (2:656), but as Moo says, it is a “hesitant expectation” (692, n. 46).
Why does Paul say “some of them”? Some interpreters think he says this because he knows that the number of Jews who will be saved through his own ministry will be few in comparison with the great ingathering and restoration of the Jewish people in the future. Thus his converts “are a precious foretoken of the salvation referred to in v. 26” (Cranfield, 2:561), or of the “fullness” in v. 12. As Moo says, “Paul does not see himself… as the figure whom God will use to bring Israel to its destined ‘fullness’” (692).
I believe this misses the point, especially since the whole idea of a future large-scale conversion of Jews is far from certain. We must look elsewhere for the reasons why Paul says “some of them.” First, he refers here only to the results of his own ministry, and he knew that Jews were being won to Christ by other evangelists and would continue to be won by others in later generations. Second, Paul knew from experience that the salvation of every individual Jew was too much to hope for. He knew that the unbelieving Jews of his own generation were hardened and strongly resistant to the gospel. But at the same time he knew that they still had the free will to believe, and that arousing them to envy was a means to this end. Thus by fulfilling his ministry to the Gentiles, he expected “some” of his ethnic brothers to be saved, but not all.
11:15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? “For” indicates this verse is explaining something or giving a reason for something in the preceding context. Some take vv. 13-14 as a parenthesis, with v. 15 going back and picking up especially on v. 12 and repeating it in more specific terms (e.g., Fitzmyer, 612). Others see v. 15 as explaining the last clause in v. 14, i.e., as explaining why Paul is so enthusiastic about his ministry to the Gentiles (e.g., Lard, 358; Cranfield, 2:561-562).
I think it is best to see v. 15 as reaching back into both v. 12 and vv. 13-14, accomplishing both of the purposes named above at the same time (SH, 325). The key thought linking the end of v. 12 and the end of v. 14 with v. 15 is the salvation (fullness, acceptance) of some of the hardened Jews. In v. 15 Paul is stating why he wants to see as many as possible from this group come to salvation, because that is nothing less than “life from the dead.”
We cannot ignore the fact that the form of this verse is very close to that of v. 12: if A leads to B, then surely C leads to D. “Their transgression” and “their loss” in v. 12 correspond to “their rejection” in v. 15. In both cases “their” refers to the unbelieving, hardened Jews. In v. 12 their transgression and loss refer to their unbelief and subsequent lost state. But what is the meaning of “rejection” in v. 15?
The word translated “rejection” is ἀποβολή (apobolē), which comes from the verb ἀποβάλλω (apoballō), which means “to throw away, to reject, to remove, to lose.” Dunn is correct (2:657) that the contrast with “acceptance” in v. 15b means that apobolē refers to the deliberate act of throwing away or rejecting something, rather than the passive act of losing something. But the question is, who is rejecting whom?
Some say it is the Jews’ rejection of Christ and the gospel of his grace. Thus it would be equivalent to “transgression” in vv. 11-12. Fitzmyer prefers this view since 11:1 specifically affirms that God has not rejected his people (612). However, in spite of v. 1, most take v. 15 to mean God’s rejection of the Jews, “their temporary casting away by God” (Cranfield, 2:562; see Moo, 692-693). This is equivalent to God’s hardening of Israel (v. 7), and his breaking off of some of the branches (vv. 17-20). It is “God’s response to Jewish unbelief” (McGuiggan, 327).
But in v. 1 did not Paul emphatically deny that God has rejected his people? How then can he say here that they have been rejected? The Greek words are different, but the concepts seem to be the same. Is there a contradiction, then? The answer is No, and the reason for this is very important. In v. 1 the issue is whether God has rejected the Jews as such, just because they are Jews. I.e., has he rejected every one of “his people”? The answer is obviously No, because there is a remnant of true believers who have not been rejected. But in v. 15 Paul is talking only about the nonremnant Jews, the unbelieving Jews who rejected the gospel and whom God hardened. After their initial refusal to accept their Messiah, God rejected them (hardened them, broke them off the tree).
It is important to understand this so that we do not interpret v. 15 as referring to Israel as a nation. This verse says nothing about God’s relationship with the nation as a whole. It refers only to those individual Jews who spurned the gospel and were consequently rejected by God, and to those individual Jews from among this group who later respond to the gospel and are consequently accepted by God—as individuals, on an individual basis. When we try to interpret v. 15 as referring to the Jews in general, or to the Jews as a corporate group, then we place it in conflict with v. 1.
God’s rejection of the unbelieving Jews leads to the “reconciliation of the world.” Here “world” must be taken in light of v. 12, where it refers especially to the Gentiles (Murray, 2:81; Lenski, 699-700). Thus the point is exactly the same as in the first two clauses of v. 12. “Riches for the world” (v. 12) and “the reconciliation of the world” (v. 15) both refer to the salvation of the Gentiles, with “reconciliation” being a specific aspect of that salvation (see 5:10; JC, 1:326-327). Reconciliation basically means the removal of hostility and the restoration of peace and friendship between two estranged parties. Some think this possibly refers to “the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in one new people of God” (Barrett, 215; see Stott, 298). Others think it refers to the objective reconciliation of the whole world to God through Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice, even if it is not accepted by all and applied to all (see 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:19). This is Cranfield’s view (2:562). Most probably, though, it refers to the actual subjective reconciliation of the believer to God, which is one aspect of individual salvation and the conversion process (see Lenski, 699; Moo, 693, n. 58). This reinforces the point made in the last paragraph, that Paul is thinking here of individuals rather than groups.
We now turn our attention to the second part of the verse, which is similar to the last clause in v. 12, both in its meaning and in its relation to the rest of the verse. I.e., if the assertion in the first part of the verse is true, then that gives us all the more reason to believe the second part.
“What will their acceptance be” is literally “what the acceptance.” There is no verb, and no possessive pronoun (“their”). The latter should probably be understood, in view of the similarity to v. 12; but the insertion of the future tense (“will be”) is based as much (if not more) on doctrinal presuppositions as on exegetical considerations. The word for “acceptance” is used only here in the NT, but the uses of its verb form support the translation “acceptance.” Other possibilities are “reception,” “taking to oneself,” “acquisition” (Dunn, 2:657), and “the act of welcoming” (Godet, 403).
As with v. 15a we must ask the question, who is accepting whom? Some take it as referring to the Jews’ “acceptance or welcoming of the gospel” (Fitzmyer, 612), but most take it to mean God’s acceptance of repentant Jews back into a saving relationship with himself (Moo, 693). God has rejected them because of their unbelief (15a), but he is just as eager to receive them back to himself if they will but turn to him.
What is this acceptance? Since it is the grammatical equivalent of “fullness” in v. 12, and since many interpret that fullness to mean a dramatic, large-scale, end-time conversion of the Jewish people, this is a common interpretation of “acceptance” as well. It is “God’s final acceptance of what is now unbelieving Israel,” says Cranfield (2:562). “Here again we supply will be, and make the Apostle assert the future conversion of the Jews,” says Lard (358). It refers, says Murray, to “the reception of Israel again into the favour and blessing of God,” i.e., “Israel as a whole,” or “the mass of Israel” (2:81).
There is no reason other than a dogmatic one to interpret the acceptance thus, however. We have seen that “fullness” in v. 12 need not have this meaning, and more likely refers to the salvation of individual Jews, something that was already occurring even as Paul wrote. Also, the “rejection” in v. 15a refers to the unbelieving Jews as individuals, not to the Jews as a nation; the same must be true of their “acceptance.” We must also remember that there is no future-tense verb in the original text. Thus it is altogether appropriate to interpret this acceptance of the Jews as referring to the ongoing conversion of individual Jews, something that was already happening in Paul’s day (Lenski, 700).
What happens when hardened Jews are converted? Well, says Paul, if God’s casting away of the Jews results in the reconciliation of Gentiles to God, what can we expect as a result of their return and reception except “life from the dead”? This leads to our discussion of one of the most controversial expressions in this chapter, “life from the dead.” Only v. 26 has “sparked more disagreement,” says Moo (694).
What does it mean? Stott has identified three main answers: the literal, figurative, and spiritual views (298). Now, giving life to the dead in any sense is a marvelous event (see 4:17), but defenders of the first two of these views believe that in this case it must refer to some future, worldwide, awesome resurrection of unprecedented magnitude. This approach is based on their perception of Paul’s lesser-to-greater arguments in both v. 12 and v. 15.
The common assumption is that in v. 12, the lesser element of the argument includes “riches,” so the corresponding greater element must be “greater riches.” Likewise it is assumed that in v. 15 the lesser includes “reconciliation,” so the corresponding greater must be “life from the dead.” In both verses what is perceived as the lesser element is identified with the individual’s present experience of salvation. Therefore the “greater riches” and “life from the dead” must be something greater than present salvation. Therefore since regeneration is part of this present salvation, then “life from the dead” cannot be regeneration but must refer to something of much greater magnitude. As Stott says, “Much greater riches demands to be understood as something new, even spectacular. To refer it to the new life in Christ which we already enjoy would be an anticlimax” (298). Cranfield agrees, declaring that “life from the dead” “must clearly denote something surpassing everything signified” by “salvation” in v. 11, by the “riches” in v. 12, and by “reconciliation” in v. 15. Therefore “it cannot denote the spiritual blessings already being enjoyed by the believing Gentiles” (2:562). Dunn agrees that it must be “something more wonderful” (2:658), as does Moo: “The logic of the verse shows that it must refer to a blessing even greater or more climactic than the extension of reconciliation to the Gentiles.” Why? Because “Paul argues from the lesser to the greater” (694).
What, then, is this greater “life from the dead”? The literal view says it refers to the final bodily resurrection of all the dead at the Second Coming of Christ, as preceded and signaled by the mass conversion of the Jews. This is Cranfield’s view (2:563). It is clearly an eschatological event, says Dunn, i.e., “the final resurrection at the end of the age” (2:658). Moo agrees and gives a helpful listing of those holding to or sympathetic with this approach (694, n. 61). He also gives three main arguments for the view (695-696), citing the frequency with which the phrase “from the dead” is used of the final resurrection in the NT, the relation of this event to other parts of the total process described in ch. 11, and Paul’s general apocalyptic tendencies.
The second view agrees that “life from the dead” must refer to some sort of sensational, unparalleled event, but interprets it in a figurative sense. It says that the Jews’ fullness and reception will trigger some sort of “world-wide blessing which will so far surpass anything before experienced that it can only be likened to new life out of death” (Stott, 298). This will be “a great spiritual movement” (Morris, 411), “an unprecedented, semi-miraculous revival” (MP, 458), “an unprecedented quickening for the world in the expansion and success of the gospel” (Murray, 2:84), “a vast and intense revival of true religion from a state which, by comparison, was religious death” (Moule, 193). Since this is something triggered by the mass conversion of Jews, it must be a mass conversion of the Gentiles (Godet, 404), a “great spiritual harvest” from among the Gentiles (Lard, 359).
The final view, the spiritual view, is that “life from the dead” refers to an element of the individual’s present salvation experience, namely, regeneration (see 6:4,11; 8:10; Eph 2:1-5; Col 2:12-13). Thus it is part of the “salvation” and the “riches” mentioned in vv. 11-12, and is in the same category as the “reconciliation” named in v. 15a. This, I believe, is the correct view.
But what about the common assumption that “life from the dead” must be something much different from and greater than this, in view of the fact that Paul is arguing from the lesser to the greater? In my judgment this is a major error based on a faulty understanding of the lesser-to-greater argument as Paul uses it here. As explained above in v. 12, the whole concept of “greater riches” misses Paul’s point. There he is not arguing that if a lesser cause produces a significant effect (“riches”), then a greater cause will produce an even more significant effect (“greater riches”). Rather, he argues that if the lesser cause produces a significant effect, we have even greater reason to expect a greater cause to produce a similar effect. No greater effect is mentioned in the verse. The point is that the first two views above are based mainly on the assumption of an equivalence with the argument in v. 12, which itself is misinterpreted.
But what about v. 15? Indeed, there is a lesser-to-greater argument here, but the language is different from v. 12 and the logical force is weaker (Lenski, 701). But it is equivalent to v. 12 in the sense that the lesser-to-greater element in v. 15 (as in v. 12) lies only in the comparative causes in the two clauses, not in the effects. I.e., if the lesser cause (rejection of the Jews) produces a significant effect, then surely a greater cause (acceptance of the Jews) can be expected to produce a similarly significant effect. Thus the argument that “the logic of the verse” rules out the spiritual view is without foundation in fact.
Other considerations should be kept in mind. For example, we must remember that there are no verbs in this verse, and therefore no grammatical reason to think that “life from the dead” refers to some event that is only future. Also, the argument that the terminology “from the dead” refers only to the future bodily resurrection is offset by other linguistic data spelled out in detail by Murray (2:82-83). Also, apart from unfounded speculation regarding the meaning of “fullness” (vv. 12,25) the whole theme of eschatology simply does not appear in this context. The subject of personal salvation is dominant.
Thus we must see “life from the dead” as referring to the spiritual experience of regeneration, of passing over from the state of spiritual death to the state of spiritual life (John 5:24; Col 2:12-13). Paul may be including the Gentiles within the scope of this statement, but its main application is to the Jews themselves. I.e., if the Jews’ rejection results in reconciliation for the Gentiles, then the Jews’ reception results in their own resurrection to new life in Christ. See Lenski, 701-702; Hendriksen, 2:369. As McGuiggan says, “The Jewish ‘received’ state is called ‘life from the dead’. It is the return of the prodigal in Luke 15. The boy had been lost and was therefore miserably unblessed; he had been ‘dead’ and was now ‘alive from the dead’” (327). Referring to 4:17, Wright says that “the natural meaning of 11.15” is this: ‘When a Gentile comes into the family of Christ, it is as it were a creatio ex nihilo, but when a Jew comes in it is like a resurrection’” (Climax, 248).
When we understand it this way, we see that v. 15 is just summing up what Paul has said thus far in this paragraph. Verse 15a focuses on the spiritual riches enjoyed by the Gentiles, brought about by the Jews’ unbelief and rejection (vv. 11-12); and v. 15b focuses on the salvation of the Jews themselves, brought about by their own envy of the Gentiles (vv. 13-14).
11:16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. Though many take this verse as starting the next paragraph, I agree with the NIV that it concludes the thought begun at v. 11. The general subject is still that there is hope for the salvation of the hardened portion of Israel. The main point is that God still has a special place in his heart for “his people,” even those who have rejected their Messiah. This does not mean that they receive special treatment with reference to salvation (see 2:1-3:20), but it does mean that God still loves them and will make every possible effort to save them.
This verse uses two metaphors. The first is based on the fact of the divine ownership of all things. To reinforce this fact in the minds of the Jews, God required that the first portion of any product be set apart (made holy) to him in a special way. Paul is here alluding to one example of this general practice, i.e., presenting as an offering to God a portion of bread made from the meal ground from the first-harvested grain (Num 15:17-21). Though Num 15 does not specifically state this, based on the general practice it is assumed that the offering of the firstfruits “thereby consecrated to the Lord the entire grain harvest” (Hendriksen, 2:369), or all the flour and dough made from it.
The second metaphor is the relation of a tree’s root to its branches. Since the root is the beginning of the pipeline through which the rest of a tree is watered and nourished, the condition of the root naturally affects the status of the branches as well. I.e., “if the root is holy, so are the branches.”
The question is, what do these metaphors represent? In answering this question, two cautions must be observed. First, we should not assume that they are identical in meaning. Second, we should not assume that the point of the root-branches metaphor in v. 16 is the same as the point of the extended root-branches metaphor in vv. 17-24.
Some do take the metaphors to be parallel. For example, some have understood the firstfruits and the root to refer to Jesus Christ. In view of the context, though, it is more probable that they refer somehow to the Jews. The most common view is that the firstfruits and root refer to the patriarchs, especially Abraham, while the “whole batch” or entire “lump” (KJV, NASB), as well as the branches, refer to all the Jews who have descended from them. According to most who hold this view, the Jews as a nation will always be treated in a special way because of their relation to “the patriarchs” (v. 28). Moo says, “Both of the metaphors in v. 16, then, assert that the ‘holiness’ of the patriarchs conveys to all of Israel a similar holiness” (700). See MP, 463; SH, 326.
What, then, would be the nature of this shared holiness? In a generic sense, to be holy means to be separated or set apart from all the rest; in a religious generic sense it means to be set apart for God or consecrated to God in a way that is special but does not necessarily involve salvation. Some interpret v. 16 thus, as God’s promise that the nation of Israel will always be a distinct and special people, just as the patriarchs were set apart in the beginning. Many tie this in with the idea that God will one day restore the Jewish nation to its “original pre-eminence as leaders in the worship of Jehovah” (MP, 464). This does not assert “the salvation of every Israelite but the continuing ‘special’ identity of the people of Israel in the eyes of the Lord” (Moo, 701). As such this verse gives “support for the ultimate recovery of Israel,” says Murray (2:85). Here Paul gives “the grounds of his confidence in the future of Israel” (SH, 326).
Some do interpret “holiness” in a salvific sense, however, and see this verse as a promise that all Israel will one day be saved (see v. 26). To some this means spiritual Israel only, i.e., “all the spiritual descendants” of the patriarchs (Lenski, 703). To others it is a promise that one day all (or a great majority of) ethnic Jews will be saved. In this verse, says Morris, “Paul proceeds to bring out the certainty that Israel will in due course enter salvation” (411; see MacArthur, 2:114).
I disagree with all of the above views. A key point is that the two metaphors are not parallel in their meaning, as if the firstfruits and the root refer to the same thing, and the lump and the branches refer to the same thing. What do they mean, then? In other texts Paul uses the term “firstfruits” (ἀπαρχή, aparchē) to refer to the first converts in a particular context (16:5; 1 Cor 16:15). That is the point of the first metaphor here. The firstfruits are the early Jewish converts, the Jewish Christian remnant; the “batch” is the Jews as a whole, especially the unbelieving and hardened ones.
Also, “holy” here does have the connotation of salvation. This does not imply, though, that just as the first converts have been saved, so ultimately all Jews will be saved. It means this, rather: if some Jews can be saved, then all Jews can be saved. Lard says it right: “If the first Jewish christians were accepted of God, the whole nation is capable of being accepted. They are not irrevocably rejected” (360; see DeWelt, 183). It is the same hope that Paul holds out in this paragraph when he refers to the “fullness” and “acceptance” of the Jews (vv. 12,15).
The second metaphor is slightly different. The root includes the patriarchs but not them alone; it refers to the entire OT Israelite nation considered as a whole. The branches are all ethnic Jews living in the NT era, considered as individuals. Here the primary connotation of “holy” is the generic concept of “set apart” or “consecrated” to God, but its ultimate reference is still to salvation. The point is this: under the Old Covenant God chose the nation of Israel to be the instrument by which he worked his redemptive purpose in the world (9:6-29). Even though he no longer has a special purpose for Israel as a nation, nevertheless the love and concern he had for “his people” in OT times carries forward into the gospel era. Every branch, i.e., every individual Jew, is just as personally precious and special to him today as was the root, the nation of old. Thus the door of salvation is still open even to the hardened, unbelieving Jews. God is waiting to add them to the remnant.
The point of the verse, then, is not to promise that Israel as a nation will be restored to its OT prominence, nor to guarantee that all Jews actually will be saved. Rather, it is to stress the fact that any and all Jews can be saved (v. 16a), and that God wants them to be saved (v. 16b). Following up on this, the point of the next paragraph is to show exactly how they can be saved.
D. The Olive Tree: A Metaphor of Judgment and Hope (11:17-24)
In this paragraph Paul stays with the metaphor of the olive tree, but he expands it considerably and uses it for different purposes. In brief, he uses it to show how the NT church is related to OT Israel, and how Jews and Gentiles are related to the church. The main point of vv. 17-22 is a double warning to Gentile Christians. They are warned not to have an attitude of self-righteous superiority toward unbelieving Jews, and not to presume that they are any more immune to falling away than the Jews who fell. The main point of vv. 23-24, on the other hand, is an explanation of how the fallen and hardened Jews can be saved.
Why has Paul used the olive tree as a basis for making these points? For one thing, the OT compares God’s people with an olive tree (Jer 11:16; Hos 14:6). Also, it was something his initial readers would have been very familiar with. Dunn notes that “the olive tree was the most widely cultivated fruit tree in the Mediterranean area” (2:660-661). Also, the common practice of grafting branches from one olive tree to another was a perfect illustration of the points he wanted to make.
Since Paul has just used the root-branches metaphor in v. 16, we would expect these two elements to have the same basic meaning in this new paragraph; and most agree that this is so. E.g., those who identified the root with the patriarchs in v. 16 do the same here. I agree that this is the best approach. Thus, as in v. 16, I identify the root with OT Israel as a national unit, and I identify the branches as (in part) including (some) individual Jews who live in this NT era.
In vv. 17-24, however, Paul has expanded the metaphor in at least three ways. First, the concept of the tree as a whole is important here. Whereas v. 16 was about the relationship between generic roots and branches, here a particular tree is in view. How the roots and branches of this tree are related is still important, but it is also important that we understand the character of the tree as a whole. Second, the branches are not limited to individual Jews, but refer also to individual Gentiles. Finally, the grafting of branches is a central element of the metaphor in this paragraph.
The rest of this introduction will explain, first, the concept of the olive tree as a whole, and second, the imagery of the pruning and grafting of the branches.
The Meaning of the Olive Tree As a Whole
Exactly what does this olive tree stand for? It represents the people of God in a general sense, including both OT Israel and the NT church, the latter including both Jews and Gentiles (see Moo, 698). This tree cannot be limited to ethnic Israel alone, as some think (see Fitzmyer, 610, for examples).
In one sense the nation of Israel as it existed in the OT era was a kind of prototree, and was a precursor of Paul’s olive tree. This is suggested by the references to the breaking off of some of the Jewish branches (vv. 17-21). If they were broken off, then they were already attached to something. Also, Paul calls his tree the Jews’ “own olive tree” (v. 24). In this sense pre-Christian Israel was itself a tree, but this is not Paul’s main point. Also, it is important to remember that the OT tree had no implications regarding the salvation of the individual Jews attached thereto as branches. The tree as a whole was an instrument by which God was working out his salvation purposes; some of the individual branches were saved and some were not.
Whatever the nature of this prototree which led to the existence of Paul’s olive tree, we must recognize that it underwent a radical transformation in character and purpose with the coming of the NT era. In Paul’s metaphor OT Israel is not identified with the tree as a whole, but only with its root. His focus is on the individual branches as they relate to this root. These branches themselves constitute an entirely new group: the NT people of God, the church. Most importantly, unlike the OT prototree, Paul’s olive tree is a soteric metaphor. Its branches as a whole are the aggregate of all saved individuals in this new era.
We may now look more closely at the composition of the olive tree. As in v. 16, the root stands for OT Israel as a whole. Thus it includes but is not limited to the patriarchs. It represents the entire nation throughout its entire history from the patriarchs forward, not as the aggregate of saved individuals (the remnant), but as God’s covenant servant. It represents Israel in its role of fulfilling God’s redemptive purposes, culminating in the coming of the Messiah. Thus the root includes all blessings enumerated in 9:4-5: the patriarchs, the covenants, the promises, and in a sense even the Messiah himself.
The branches of the tree, which are the focal point of the metaphor, are the saved individuals of the NT era. As such they are the new Israel. The olive tree as a whole represents the two Israels to which v. 9:6b alludes, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” The root is OT ethnic Israel; the branches are NT spiritual Israel. When the Messiah came and the OT prototree was transformed into the olive tree, this transformation was a moment of crisis for all Jews. Prior to this time all individual Jews—unbelievers as well as believers—were part of the prototree as an instrument of service to God. But with the coming of Christ and the transformation of the tree, all unbelieving Jews as individual branches of the old tree were broken off. There are no unbelievers on the olive tree; its branches consist of believers only.
The olive tree metaphor teaches us that there is a definite discontinuity between OT Israel and the NT church. Paul’s tree is not the same as the OT prototree. The latter was transformed at Pentecost (see MP, 464-465) into something different. What once was an entire tree is now just the root of a new tree. The church is as different from Israel as a tree’s branches are different from its root.
But this fact in itself implies a continuity between OT Israel and the NT church. The old tree was not simply cut down and replaced with a completely new one. The church by itself is not the entire tree, but only the branches that are growing from a root that is part of that same tree. The two parts of this one tree have never existed simultaneously but are sequential in time. I.e., the root and the branches represent two interconnected stages in salvation history. Though the root itself no longer exists, its prior existence was an essential preparation for the present reality of the branches. Herein lies the basis for one of Paul’s main points in this section: the relationship of dependence between the two Israels. I.e., the church as the new Israel is dependent upon what was accomplished by old Israel. The NT branches would have no existence apart from their OT root, and they constantly reap the rich benefits of what God has done through the latter (vv. 17-18). This is one reason why Paul warns the Gentile Christians not to boast over the fallen Jews (v. 18a).
The Imagery of the Pruning and Grafting of the Branches
While the meaning of the olive tree as a whole tells us something about the relation between OT Israel and the NT church, the imagery of the pruning and grafting of individual branches tells us something about the salvation of Jews and Gentiles in the NT era. Unlike the root-branches illustration in v. 16, which dealt exclusively with Jews, the branches in the extended metaphor include both Jews and Gentiles. While Jewish Christians are described as belonging naturally to the “cultivated” olive tree, Gentile Christians are pictured as belonging by nature to a “wild” olive tree and being grafted into the cultivated one (v. 24).
Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles in this paragraph is in terms of God’s pruning some branches from the tree and grafting others into it. A crucial point is that, when the OT prototree was transformed into the present olive tree, some of the original branches (Jews) that were attached to the former were broken off, which is an indication of their lost state. Before the transformation some of these attached branches were already lost, since the prototree did not have a soteric significance. But when Christ came and the tree was changed, all Jews who refused to accept him as their Savior were removed from the tree. We have every reason to assume that this included some Jews who were previously in a saved state because of their faith in Yahweh as he was known through OT revelation, but who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. On the other hand, all Jews who did believe in Jesus remained as branches on the new tree.
At the same time, all Gentiles who accepted Jesus as their Savior were taken from the wild olive tree (the pagan world) and were grafted into the cultivated and transformed olive tree, alongside the believing Jews, in the community of salvation.
Some have raised questions about the accuracy of Paul’s knowledge of the olive industry. It seems that the usual procedure for grafting olive branches is to take a shoot from a cultivated but depleted tree and graft it into a wild but vigorous tree, but here it is just the opposite. Some have concluded that Paul as a naïve city boy was just showing his ignorance. Others point to a few ancient sources which show that wild-to-tame grafts were sometimes made, just as Paul describes. Still others say that Paul knew wild-to-tame grafts were not a natural procedure, but he reversed the process in order to show that grace deliberately contravenes nature (v. 24). Either of the last two explanations is acceptable. The details of grafting as an agricultural practice are not crucial to Paul’s point. He simply incorporates the general concept into his metaphor and adapts it for his own purposes; one does not have to be an olive tree expert to understand what he is saying.
Paul uses the practice of grafting to make two main points. One is that the Gentile Christians, as wild olive branches grafted into a cultivated tree, have absolutely no room for boasting or considering themselves superior to the Jewish branches that were broken off the tree (vv. 17-22). One reason is that they are dependent upon the Jewish root of the tree for their very salvation and sustenance (v. 18b). The other reason is that their being grafted into the tree is due to their faith in what Christ has done, not to some boastworthy achievement accomplished by their own hands. If they ever reach a point where they no longer believe in Jesus, they too will be broken off just as the unbelieving Jews were (vv. 20-21).
Paul’s other point is a continuation of his theme in vv. 11-16, that the lopped-off Jews are not irrevocably lost but can still be saved, even though they are now in an unbelieving and hardened state. Here he is not just declaring that they can be saved, but showing how they can be saved, namely, by being grafted again into their own (transformed) olive tree, the church (vv. 23-24). This regrafting is done branch by branch, as individual Jews come to believe in their Messiah. It has absolutely nothing to do with a supposed “future restoration” of the Jewish nation (contra Godet, 404), or a time when “the natural descendants of Abraham will… once again be the Lord’s chosen people of blessing” (contra MacArthur, 2:118). It is a possibility that is open to all Jews, any time, anywhere. The stated requirement is simply that they “not persist in unbelief” (v. 23). If they do not, then they will become branches on the tree, i.e., members of the church of Jesus Christ. This is the one hope of Gentiles and Jews alike; this is how “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26).
We should note Paul’s emphasis on faith or the lack of it as the key to whether one is part of the olive tree or not. This is consistent with the main theme of Romans, that sinners are saved by grace through faith, and not by works of law (3:28), and consistent with his emphasis on faith in the previous main section (9:30-10:21).
1. Words of Warning to Gentile Christians (11:17-22)
The first part of this paragraph is a specific warning to Gentile Christians not to think of themselves as somehow superior to the Jewish branches that were broken off the tree. This may reflect some tension within the Roman church between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians, and it may reflect a general cultural anti-Semitism carried over into the church by converted Gentiles. But these are matters of speculation and need not concern us, since the arrogant attitude of which Paul speaks could have been readily aroused just by unsound reflection upon Israel’s history and the early decades of church history.
11:17-18a If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. This is an “if-then” sentence in which the if-clause (the protasis, v. 17) is assumed to be true, with the then-clause (the apodosis, v. 18a) naturally following.
Paul keeps the root-branches metaphor introduced in v. 16 and begins to apply it to the way individual Jews and Gentiles are saved. He refers first to the Jews, who are compared with branches on a tree, some of which have been “broken off.” This refers to the Jews who refused to accept Christ as their Messiah, and to God’s punitive act of hardening and rejecting them (vv. 7, 15). That Paul says only “some” branches were broken off is a deliberate understatement reminiscent of 3:3. Actually the majority of Jews were in this category.
Next Paul refers to the Gentile Christians, whom he is addressing (v. 13). He uses the singular “you” to put his admonitions on a more personal level. This “you” is the typical Gentile Christian representing the whole group (Dunn, 2:673). Paul addressed the Jews in a similar way in 2:1ff.
The Gentile Christian is here described as “a wild olive shoot” (a branch cut from a wild or uncultivated olive tree) that has been grafted into the cultivated olive tree “among the others.” The branches of this cultivated tree represent the NT church, and “the others” are the Jews who were the first converts to Christ and thus the first branches on the tree. That the wild branches were grafted in “among” them (beginning in Acts 10) means that they were placed alongside the Jewish Christians who had already been there from Acts 2 and following.
The last part of the protasis also speaks of Gentile Christians. It describes the result of their being grafted into the olive tree alongside the believing Jews. When this happened, says Paul, the Gentile Christians immediately became “fellow partakers” or “sharers together” (i.e., along with the Jewish Christians) of “the nourishing sap from the olive root.” As seen in the introduction above, this root is OT Israel as it fulfilled its covenant purpose of bringing the Messiah into the world. In this sense OT Israel is the indispensable source of all the spiritual benefits that are absorbed by the branches, i.e., by each individual member of the church.
The Greek text for “the nourishing sap” is somewhat uncertain (see Moo, 696-697, n. 1). The best reading literally says “of the root of the fatness.” This can be translated “in the root, that is to say, in the fatness (of the root)” (Cranfield, 2:567). The NIV follows this option, using “nourishing sap” to translate the word for “fatness” or “richness.” The phrase can also be rendered “the rich root” (Moo, 702, n. 28; see the NASB). Either way the main point is that when a Gentile becomes a Christian, he immediately begins to draw upon all the spiritual blessings made possible by two millennia of Jewish history—blessings which are a natural inheritance for Jews who accept their Messiah. The Gentile Christian becomes a partaker in “the blessing of Abraham” (Gal 3:14, NASB); whether he realizes it or not, his “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). See v. 18b.
In v. 18a Paul draws his conclusion from v. 17: “Do not boast over those branches.” This is in the form of an exhortation, but its logical force is “you have no reason” to boast over them. Paul still addresses Gentile Christians (in the person of their typical representative); “those branches” are the Jews. Do these Jewish branches include both Jewish Christians (“the others”) and the broken-off branches, or do they include only the branches that were broken off? I agree with Murray (2:86) that the latter is probably the case, in view of v. 19.
Thus in this exhortation Paul warns Gentile Christians not to brag or boast over against the Jews who were broken off the tree, as if becoming a Christian were the result of some kind of competition between the two groups, with the Gentiles being the winners. You have no reason to boast, he says, as if being grafted into the tree were a sign of your superiority over those rejected Jews.
11:18b If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. This is not an implicit permission to go ahead and boast. Rather, Paul is saying, “If you are still inclined to boast, or if you still have a boastful spirit, please remember this….”
What Paul asks them to remember is very close in meaning to v. 17c, but here he is more forceful: “You [emphatic] do not support the root, but [emphatic] the root supports you.” It is important to see that the root is not just the patriarchs, as many believe, and especially not just “the covenant of salvation that God made with Abraham,” but the entire scope of the Jews’ covenant service from Abraham to Christ. Paul is thus asking the Gentile Christians, “What, historically, do the Jews owe to you? Which of their glorious blessings (9:4-5) came through you? Obviously, none; so your boasting is vain. The relationship of dependence is actually the other way around.” In Denney’s words, “You owe all you are proud of to an (artificially formed) relation to the race you would despise” (680). “Any merit, any virtue, any hope of salvation that the Gentiles may have arises entirely from the fact that they are grafted in a stock” that is fully Jewish (SH, 329). How can they ignore their Jewish heritage? “It is that very heritage upon which the Gentile Christians themselves depend for their own spiritual standing” (Moo, 704).
Moo notes that Paul uses present tense: this OT root “continues to be the source of spiritual nourishment that believers require” (704). “A church which is not drawing upon the sustenance of its Jewish heritage… would be a contradiction in terms for Paul” (Dunn, 2:662).
11:19 Wanting to drive this point home further, Paul puts a question in the mouth of the proud Gentile Christian: You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” The way Paul words the question highlights the egotism that he wants to turn aside: “Branches were broken off so that I, even I, could be grafted in!” The implication is that this person thinks God excluded some Jews from the church just to make a place for Gentile believers. “That surely involves some superiority in me,” is the implied conclusion (Denney, 680). “I am surely better than those unbelieving Jews!” (Bruce, 218).
11:20a Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Paul’s opening word, “Granted” (καλῶς, kalōs), can be taken as “qualified agreement” (Moo, 705); it is “a form of partial and often ironical assent” (MP, 467). In other words, “There is some truth in what you are saying.” Here Paul is probably referring to the point made in vv. 11-16, that “because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles” (v. 11), and “their rejection is the reconciliation of the world” (v. 15).
Paul’s next statement can be paraphrased thus: “But this is not the whole story, and it is not even the most important part of the story. It’s true that many Jews were broken off, and it’s true that you, a Gentile, were grafted in. But this is not a neat, self-contained cause-and-effect sequence, as if there were some sort of intrinsic connection between these two events. No, the important fact is this: the Jews were broken off because of their unbelief! They refused to believe in Jesus! Those who believed in him were not broken off; would that this had been true for all of them! And you: why have you been grafted into the tree? Not because the Jews were broken off, but only because you have put your faith in Jesus. Even if every Jew had believed, you would still have been grafted into the tree by virtue of your faith.”
The implied conclusion, again, is that the circumstances of the Jews’ rejection and the Gentiles’ acceptance gave the latter absolutely no room for boasting against the former. This warning is reinforced by the reminder that the Gentiles stand, i.e., are saved, only by faith—a way of salvation that insistently excludes any reason for boasting (3:27; Eph 2:8-9).
11:20b-21 Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Here Paul tells the Gentile Christians the proper attitude to develop in place of arrogance: the fear of God. “Do not be arrogant” is literally “do not have high-minded thoughts” (see 12:16; 1 Tim 6:17), i.e., do not think so highly of yourselves. Instead, you should “fear” (NASB), or “be afraid” (NIV).
Either of these translations may be a proper rendering of the Greek ϕοβέω (phobeō), but they do not necessarily have the same connotation. The fear of God takes two different forms. One is the healthy, reverential awe of the creature before his Creator. The other is the terror and dread of the sinner in the presence of the holy Lawgiver and Judge.
To which of these kinds of fear is Paul referring? Certainly to the first, which is always a main element of holy living. Also, there is no better antidote to arrogance, nothing more conducive to humility, than to come to a full realization of our creatureliness before God Almighty. But what about the second, being afraid of the Judgment? Certainly when it is truly felt, this kind of fear likewise cancels out arrogance as fire consumes tissue paper. As a rule, such fear is inappropriate for Christians, since we are free from condemnation thanks to justification by faith in the blood of Christ. But there is one context in which the fear of terror is still necessary even for Christians, namely, when we stand on the brink of apostasy or falling away. In such a situation, how can we not call to mind that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31)? In view of Paul’s warning to the Gentile Christians in v. 21, I think he probably also has this kind of fear in mind in v. 20b, i.e., terror at the prospect of being cut off.
We should make no mistake: in v. 21 Paul holds before us all the real possibility of falling from grace and losing our salvation. This is another reason why Gentile Christians, and Jewish Christians as well, should realize the folly of arrogance regarding their salvation status. Here Paul uses an argument from the greater to the lesser. The “natural branches” are the Jews, who in view of their natal association with the root are inherently suitable for being attached as branches to the tree. But even so, when some refused to believe in Jesus, God did not spare them. I.e., he rejected them and broke them off the tree. This was true even if they were in a saved state before being confronted with the gospel. If they refused to convert their faith in Yahweh to a Trinitarian faith, they were broken off, and given no place in the transformed olive tree. And if God did not spare even these, he will certainly not spare the wild olive branches—Gentile Christians—that have no natural connection with the tree, if they return to their unbelief.
11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God:… This refers to what are rightly called “the two sides of the Divine character” (SH, 329). “Kindness” (χρηστότης, chrēstotēs; see 2:4) is an attitude of goodwill and generosity toward others, a goodness of heart or “kindly disposition” (SH, 55) that desires the happiness of others and especially their salvation. “Sternness” (ἀποτομία, apotomia; “severity,” NASB) is an attitude of relentless and vigorous commitment to justice, including retributive justice; a strict upholding of the requirements of the law; an “inflexible hardness and severity” in judging (see Köster, “τέμνω,” 107-108). Obviously, then, “the kindness and sternness of God” are “a fascinating contrast of attitudes, held simultaneously,” as Morris says (416).
These two attributes are generally equivalent to God’s love and God’s holiness, which I believe are the two most basic and equally-ultimate moral attributes of God. God’s love is his basic goodwill toward other moral beings. Other attributes within the sphere of his love are mercy, patience, grace, and kindness. God’s holiness, on the other hand, is his perfect moral character, which is the basis of his work as Lawgiver and Judge. It embraces other attributes such as wrath and vengeance. See GRe, 238-239, 255-257.
Because these two sides of God’s nature are equally ultimate, it is a serious misconception to think that they are just two different ways of expressing the same divine attribute. An example of this error is Cranfield’s assertion that both kindness and sternness “are the expression of God’s holy and faithful love” (2:569-570). There is probably no more widespread false doctrine in Christendom than this, and few with more serious consequences. See GRe, 303-314.
At the same time I will agree with Dunn’s contention that these two aspects of God’s nature are not of “equal weight,” since in Scripture the “stronger emphasis is on grace and mercy” (2:665). This makes his holiness and wrath no less real, no less distinct, and no less ultimate, however. See GRe, 372-375.
Why does Paul admonish the representative Gentile Christian (and us) to “consider” or “observe” the kindness and sternness of God? Because these are the two basic attributes that God expresses toward sinners, depending on their response to the grace of his Son, Jesus Christ. In this context they are the attributes that lie behind the breaking off of the unbelieving Jewish branches and the grafting in of the believing Gentile branches: sternness to those who fell, i.e., the Jews who rejected Christ (v. 11), but kindness to you as a Gentile who has accepted Christ.
In v. 20 Paul stressed that the reason the Gentile Christians were grafted into the tree was their faith in the Messiah, not some merit on their part. Here he shows that God’s willingness to accept someone on the simple basis of faith in Christ is a matter of his gracious kindness. There is no merit in faith itself.
Paul says all these things to set up his final warning to Gentile Christians, which also applies to all branches on the olive tree (all members of his church) in all times and places. I.e., the very fact that you are on the tree (and by implication saved) means that you have received the kindness of God. But be warned: you will remain on the tree as a recipient of God’s kindness provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
“Provided that you continue” is ἐάν (ean) with the subjunctive, a form that expresses a contingency that may or may not be the case in the future. (For the same form see 13:4; 14:8.) God will continue to bestow his kindness upon you, if and only if you “continue in his kindness.” To “continue in” God’s kindness means to continue to trust his kindness and grace as embodied in the saving work of Jesus. What will happen if you do not continue to trust God’s grace? Paul’s answer is very clear: “you also,” like the Jews who refused to believe, “will be cut off.” You will lose your salvation.
This verse brings into sharp focus the issue of whether or not salvation is conditional, which includes the issue of “once saved, always saved.” In general Calvinists believe that God’s grace is sovereignly bestowed and maintained in an unconditional way, and non-Calvinists believe that it is conditional. But even some non-Calvinists hold that once a person believes by his own free choice, he will unconditionally continue to believe from that point on. This is the essence of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine.
In my judgment this verse unequivocally supports the view that salvation is conditional. Just as becoming saved is conditioned upon faith, staying saved is conditioned upon continuing to believe. You will remain as a branch on the olive tree “if you continue” (NASB) in God’s kindness. (See Col 1:23 for the very same point.) More specifically this verse shows that falling from a saved state and thus losing one’s salvation is possible. Dunn rightly says, “The possibility of believers ‘falling away’…, apostatizing, is one which Paul certainly did not exclude.” He adds, “Perseverance is a Christian responsibility rather than an unconditional promise” (2:664-665).
How do Calvinists handle this text? One may be surprised to see the strong Calvinist William Hendriksen conclude from this verse that God’s kindness is “not unconditional. It requires genuine faith on man’s part” (2:375). At the same time this verse does not imply “that those who truly belong to him will ever be rejected,” as Stott explains (301).
But how could anyone believe that salvation is truly conditional, and at the same time deny the possibility of falling away? The answer, for the Calvinist, is as follows. First, God does require sinners to have faith in Jesus as a condition for being saved. Therefore, technically, salvation is conditional. But at the same time God sovereignly determines who will have faith and who will not. To those whom God has unconditionally chosen for eternal life, he unconditionally gives the gift of faith. Once the faith has been given, of course, it is the person who believes, and not God. Thus the person is fulfilling the condition for salvation. Hendriksen (2:375) says of 11:22 that it
must not be understood in the sense that God will supply the kindness, man the faith. Salvation is ever God’s gift. It is never a 50-50 affair. From start to finish it is the work of God. But this does not remove human responsibility. God does not exercise faith for man or in his place. It is and remains man who reposes his trust in God, but it is God who both imparts this faith to him and enables him to use it.
This, says Hendriksen, is the “sound, biblical sense… in which we can speak about salvation as being conditional.”
I sincerely believe that this and other such explanations are nothing but theological double-talk. To say that this is a “sound, biblical sense” in which salvation is conditional, and that such a system “does not remove human responsibility,” is a sham. It is not enough just to say that God sets conditions for salvation. The Calvinist may begin with this premise, but then he declares that God unconditionally decides who will meet the conditions, and then unilaterally causes them to meet these conditions. In such a scenario there are no conditionality and human responsibility in any normal sense of these terms.
If persevering faith is a sovereign gift of God, what is the purpose of warnings in the Bible, such as the one in 11:22? Moule (197) grants that such passages imply “contingency in man’s continuance in the mercy of God,” but they are nevertheless in harmony with “sovereign and prevailing Divine grace.” This is true because God both gives and preserves faith in the elect. The chosen will without fail persevere in faith, because God will infallibly enable them to do so. As Moule says, “Grace imparts perseverance by imparting and maintaining faith.” And how does grace maintain faith? Among other things, “faith is properly animated and energized” through these warnings themselves.
In my opinion all such attempts to harmonize the “if” in 11:22 (or elsewhere) with Calvinism, or with any “once saved, always saved” belief, amount to more double-talk and reduce Paul’s warning to a travesty. Unless there is a genuine possibility that this warning may be disregarded by a genuine believer, then it is not a warning at all, and its very presence in the Bible is deceptive.
Moo’s attempt (707, n. 57) to reconcile 11:22 with a denial of the possibility of falling away is a little different but just as untenable. His view is that not every branch on the tree is a true believer in the first place. This must be true, he says, because the unbelieving Jews who were cut off the tree in reality were never part of the tree at all. It is only for the sake of his metaphor that “Paul presents them as if they had been. In the same way, then, those Gentiles within the church… who appear to be part of God’s people, yet do not continue in faith, may never have been part of that tree at all.”
This explanation fails for three reasons. One, it is an unwarranted assumption that all the Jews who were originally cut off from the tree were never truly saved to begin with. As I have already stated, it is quite likely that many Jews who had a faith adequate to save them in light of the limitations of the OT revelation refused to elevate their faith to the NT level when first confronted with the gospel. (Paul himself may have been in this category.) These would be among the branches that were broken off.
Second, Moo’s explanation does not take account of the difference between the OT prototree and the olive tree as it has existed under the New Covenant dispensation. All Jews were branches on the former, but this had no soteric implications. The latter is occupied solely by those who are saved, Jews and Gentiles. Is this not the point of the breaking off of the unbelieving Jewish branches in the first place?
Third, the speculation that the Gentiles who do not continue in the faith may never have been part of the tree at all goes against everything Paul says in this paragraph. “You stand by faith,” he says to the Gentile representative in v. 20. If the addressee is not saved—not truly part of the tree, then everything about this statement is false. God’s kindness has been given to you, Paul says in v. 22, in contrast with the fallen Jews who received God’s sternness. There is no way to reconcile this affirmation with a mere appearance of salvation.
The focus in vv. 23-24 will shift to the fallen Jews, but at this point we may note that the conditional promise about Jewish unbelievers in v. 23a is parallel in every way to the conditional warning about Gentile believers in v. 22b. If we cannot take the warning seriously, why should we take the promise seriously? If we say that v. 22 does not imply that an actual falling away can take place, must we not assume that v. 23 does not mean that any fallen Jews will actually be saved? But no one would ever consider the latter. Here is a statement by Stott (301): “After this warning to Gentile believers against pride and presumption, Paul is ready with his promise to Jewish unbelievers. His argument is that if those grafted in could be cut off, then those cut off could be grafted in again.” Just so! But the “once saved, always saved” doctrine completely destroys the symmetry between the two conditions and leaves the latter open to doubt. Indeed, Stott himself says of the warning in v. 22, “Not that those who truly belong to him will ever be rejected…”! However, I have yet to see him or anyone else say of v. 23, “Not that those Jews who truly rejected him will ever be accepted….”
2. Words of Hope for Hardened Jews (11:23-24)
In these last two verses about the olive tree, Paul returns to the main theme of the chapter, that God has not completely rejected the Jews. It is true that only a remnant accepted the Messiah in the beginning, and that the rest were hardened, rejected, and broken off the tree. But since v. 11 Paul has held forth the possibility and the hope that individuals in this latter group may still return to God. Here he reaffirms that hope as he shows how the rejected Jews may be saved.
If you [believing Gentiles] do not continue in God’s kindness, you will be cut off the tree.
If you [unbelieving Jews] do not continue in unbelief, you will be grafted back into the tree.
The subject here is obviously “those who fell” (v. 22), the Jewish unbelievers. Literally Paul says, “And those also,” or, “Yes, and they too” (SH, 330). The verb translated “persist” is the same one translated “continue” in v. 22; and the conditional form is the same, ean with the subjunctive. The then-clause is just the simple future tense of ἐγκεντρίζω (enkentrizō, used in vv. 17,19), “they will be grafted in.” To be grafted into the tree is the equivalent of “life from the dead” in v. 15.
This is a clear indication that God has not abandoned the Jewish people but is ready and willing to receive them back to himself at any time. “The door of opportunity for the entrance of Jews—even for initially hardened Jews—is standing open” (Hendriksen, 2:375).
It is also clear in this verse that the Jews’ return to and acceptance by God is conditional. It is conditioned upon their change of heart concerning Jesus. They will be grafted into the tree if they do not continue in unbelief, but turn to Jesus in full faith and surrender. The promise that they will be grafted in is a promise that they will be saved.
In spite of the clear and obvious conditional nature of this promise, some interpreters completely ignore the stated condition and take Paul’s statement as an absolute promise that the Jews—all of them—will one day be saved. One writer says that Paul is here speaking of Israel’s “glad future” when the whole nation (“all Israel”) “shall be grafted in” and restored to “all their original privileges and rights.” Even if vv. 23-24 reveal it only as a possibility, it is “established fully as a decreed event in the next section” (MP, 468). Another says of v. 23, “In the end, Israel will accept God’s act for her in Christ and will return to her natural place within God’s chosen people” (Achtemeier, 184). Commenting on vv. 23-24, MacArthur says, “The destiny of Israel can and will be reversed. Her return to the Lord not only is possible but certain” (2:122). Even though this promise is given here with a condition, “God had long beforehand assured His people that the condition would be met” (2:118).
What is happening here? Just as in reference to v. 22b, we are witnessing an inability—or an unwillingness—to take seriously the significance of Paul’s “if.” In v. 22, in the interest of preserving the “once saved, always saved” doctrine, some declare that the if-clause is something that will not happen, period. Here in v. 23, in the interest of supporting a particular view of the end-times, some declare that the if-clause is something that will happen, period. Paul might just as well have omitted the “if” in both cases.
We must take Paul at his word. He does not say “when”; he says “if.” Hendriksen rightly reminds us that “the apostle does not say or imply that one day all unbelieving Jews are going to be grafted back into their own olive tree” (2:376). Or as Murray puts it, “No assurance is given in this verse that Israel will desist from unbelief” (2:89). Contrary to Fitzmyer, who says “Paul expects unbelieving Israel to be grafted once again” into the tree (616), McGuiggan rightly says that the tone of the verse suggests that he was not predicting “a national scale conversion of the Jews” (331).
We cannot say, of course, that this will never happen. But whether few or many Jews do come to faith in Christ, this verse shows how they will be saved and restored to God, namely, by being grafted into the olive tree, which is the church. There is absolutely nothing here about a restoration of the nation of Israel to its role as a separate and special people of God. The only thing Paul promises the Jews here, conditioned upon faith in Christ, is that they will be grafted into the olive tree. But this is not the same tree from which they were broken off in the first place. This is a transformed tree, only the root of which is OT national Israel. The branches are the new Israel, the church, and they consist of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. To be joined to the tree is to be united with the Gentiles, not set apart from them again. To expect a national restoration to an OT-like special role is to go against the very essence of the olive-tree metaphor.
We must not allow such false hopes to blind us to the very real possibility Paul sets forth here. The Jews can become a part of the tree, for God is able to graft them in again. The promise does not depend on what was possible with regard to literal grafting practices; it depends on the supernatural power of God: “God is able.” Denney says, “Even in the most hardened rejector of the Gospel we are not to limit either the resources of God’s power or the possibilities of change in a self-conscious, self-determining creature” (681).
We should note that God’s grafting the Jews into the tree is not the same as causing them to believe. The first part of this verse makes it clear that there is a difference between the believing and the grafting-in. God can and will graft them in, i.e., will add them to his church, but they must first meet the stated condition of not persisting in unbelief.
11:24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! This verse does not add anything new; it simply reinforces the last statement in v. 23, that God is able to graft the fallen Jewish branches back into the tree. It is an argument from the greater to the lesser. Paul says it is a lot easier to graft a broken-off branch back into its own olive tree than to graft wild and alien branches into that tree. Since God has already done the latter (in saving the Gentiles), we can be sure that the former (saving the Jews) will be no problem for him.
Using the singular, Paul still addresses the typical representative of all Gentile Christians. The first part of the verse sums up the Gentiles’ situation in terms of the olive tree. The phrase “by nature” probably does not modify the wild olive tree itself (contra the NIV), but rather the branch that was cut out of it (see Cranfield, 2:571; Moo, 708, n. 63). I.e., it should read, “If you, who by nature belong to a wild olive tree, were cut off from that tree and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree….”
This means that the Gentiles by nature belonged to the pagan world. This is where they were born and reared; this is where they learned and lived by the antibiblical worldview. This is where they were “at home,” i.e., on the wild olive tree. But when they came to Christ they were cut off from this tree and grafted into the “cultivated olive tree,” which is described as “cultivated” because of its Jewish root. The cultivation process includes all of God’s dealings with the Jews from Abraham up to the first coming of Christ. Because of this background the earliest Jewish Christians—the first branches of the transformed olive tree—in a sense grew naturally out of this root. But when Gentiles were pried loose from their paganism and united with this OT root (Lenski, 712), this was definitely “contrary to nature,” i.e., against everything they had thus far stood for.
On the other hand, v. 24b says that when unbelieving Jews (“these”) are converted, this is like grafting broken-off branches back “into their own olive tree.” Because of its Jewish root, even unbelieving, broken-off Jews have a natural affinity with the olive tree. Indeed, it is called “their own tree” for this very reason. OT ethnic Israel is not the tree as such, but it is the root of the tree. Thus when a Jew is converted to Christ he is being attached to his true roots; he is taking his natural place among the branches (the church) that were the divinely intended goal of the Israelite nation all along. What could be more natural than this?
Verse 24b is sometimes taken as an unqualified promise that the natural branches will be grafted in again, i.e., that they will be saved. E.g., Denney (682) says the future tense (“will be grafted in”) refers to the “actual restoration of the Jews.” In view of the “if-then” form of the verse, however, it is more reasonable to take this as a logical future. I.e., Paul is simply stating a greater-to-lesser argument: if A is true, then it is even more likely that B will also be true. Also, the condition in v. 23 must be carried over into v. 24; “will be grafted in” must be qualified with “if they do not persist in unbelief.”
The main point is to show that from God’s side, there is absolutely no obstacle to the Jews’ salvation. Their hardening (v. 7) and their rejection (v. 15) need not be the final word concerning their eternal destiny. God is ready and willing to receive them back, if they will believe in their Redeemer. He has already added repentant, believing Gentiles to the church; and if he has done this, how much more likely is it that believing Jews will also be added? The key expression is πόσῳ μᾶλλον (posō mallon, “by how much more”), the same phrase used in v. 12 in a similar kind of argument. The purpose of the present argument is to give us confidence in God’s power to save even fallen Jews.
Two implications from this olive tree metaphor must be emphasized. First, there is in this New Covenant age only one olive tree, only one chosen people, only one way of salvation. Any Jews who are saved will be saved by being grafted into this one tree. The Jewish branches and the Gentile branches are joined together into one aggregate of saved persons (the church), where the Jew-Gentile distinction is irrelevant. As Moo says, “Basic to the whole metaphor is the unity of God’s people.” There is only one olive tree, “whose branches include both Jews and Gentiles” (709). Hendriksen says (2:376), “For Jew and Gentile salvation is the same…. Remember: ONE OLIVE TREE.”
A second implication is that, contrary to a common misconception, it is possible for someone who has fallen from grace to be restored to full fellowship with God. Heb 6:4-6 is often misinterpreted as teaching the opposite, that it is impossible for a once-saved but now-fallen person to be brought back to a saved state. Some translations perpetuate this error by the way they translate Heb 6:6 (e.g., the word “because” in the NIV, and “since” in the NASB).
The olive-tree metaphor, however, shows that this interpretation of Heb 6 is false. This is true because we must assume that some of the Jews who were broken off the tree (v. 17) were believers in Yahweh as they knew him from the OT revelation and were thus in a saved state until they heard the gospel of Jesus and initially refused to accept it. E.g., Acts 2:41 says about 3,000 persons were baptized and added to the church on the day of Pentecost, when the church began. Unless this number includes the entire Pentecost audience, or unless it constitutes one hundred per cent of the pre-Christian Jewish believers who were present, then we must assume that some believing Jews who were present at Pentecost “fell away” by not accepting Christ on that day. Since both of these possibilities are highly unlikely, we can assume that some of the “natural branches” being grafted back into the tree are fallen-away believers who are being restored to salvation. This means the alternative translation of Heb 6:6 given in the NIV and NASB margins (“while,” i.e., “as long as”) is the correct one.
In other words, Paul’s teaching about the olive tree refutes both the “once saved, always saved” error, and the “once fallen, always fallen” error. Both are equally unbiblical.
E. God’s Plan for Israel’s Salvation (11:25-32)
In this paragraph all eyes are usually focused on v. 26a, “And so all Israel will be saved.” This is “the center of this paragraph,” says Moo (712); the NIV makes this statement the heading for the entire section. What it means, though, is notoriously difficult, and is the subject of endless discussion. Every part of it is controversial. How extensive is the word “all”? Does “Israel” refer to ethnic or spiritual Israel? To what status is Israel “saved”?
One of the more common conclusions based on this text is that at some time in the future, at or near the end of this age, most living Jews will turn to Christ and be restored as a nation to a place of preeminence in God’s kingdom. As Moule says, in this text Paul “now, in plain terms, reveals and predicts a great future Restoration” (197).
I cannot accept this interpretation, for reasons that will be made clear in the following exposition. At this point I will simply say that in v. 26a, emphasis is usually placed on the wrong word, namely, “all,” with the verse being read thus: “And so all Israel will be saved.” In my judgment the emphasis should be on the word “so,” taken in the sense of “thus, in this manner.” Thus we should read it: “And in this way all Israel will be saved.” I.e., regarding Israel’s salvation Paul’s point is “How?” and not “How many?”
This does not mean that there is a question whether Israel’s salvation will be by some means other than faith in Jesus. That issue has already been settled, especially in ch. 10. Rather, the question has to do with the interrelationship between Israel and the Gentiles, continuing the discussion begun in v. 11. Paul has already emphasized that Israel’s sin and rejection have been used by God as a means to save the Gentiles; here he is emphasizing that the salvation of the Gentiles is God’s means of bringing salvation to Israel.
This becomes clear when we view this paragraph in the perspective of ch. 11 as a whole. The discussion is still controlled by the question in 11:1, “Did God reject his people?” The answer is an emphatic No, for two reasons. First, there existed in the past, and there continues to exist “at the present time… a remnant chosen by grace” (11:5). What about “the others”? They were hardened (7b-10). Second, even those who are presently and hereafter hardened may still turn to Christ and be saved, because God has worked out a complex plan for showing mercy upon both Jews and Gentiles. This plan is spelled out in 11:11-32.
In the first step of his plan God uses the sin and hardening of Israel as a means of bringing the riches of salvation to the Gentiles. Paul emphasizes this in 11:11-16, while at the same time revealing that the salvation of the Gentiles will in turn be used to bring salvation to the Jews. The olive tree metaphor is an interlude meant to preclude Gentile Christian arrogance, especially by showing that the underlying reasons for being lost or saved are unbelief and belief respectively, for both Gentiles and Jews (11:17-24).
This leads to the present paragraph, where the main emphasis is on the climactic second step of God’s plan, namely, that God will use the salvation of the Gentiles as a means of bringing salvation to the Jews. This is the way in which “all Israel will be saved.” In v. 26a the word all is meant to be contrasted with the remnant saved “at the present time” (v. 5). I.e., in v. 5 Paul affirms that a saved remnant existed at the time of his writing. But what about “the others”—the mass of unsaved Jews, both present and future? They can be saved, too; and the burden of vv. 11-32 (vv. 25-32 in particular) is to show how this is done. I.e., all Israel, not just the presently-existing remnant, will be saved. But how will they be saved? In this way: by the fullness of the Gentiles (v. 25), if they put their faith in Jesus Christ. (v. 23).
These two main aspects of God’s complex plan for showing mercy upon all are summed up in vv. 30-31: because of the Jews’ disobedience the Gentiles have received mercy (v. 30; see vv. 11-16); and likewise because the Gentiles have received mercy, Israel will also receive mercy (v. 31; see vv. 25-32)!
What, then, is the purpose of this paragraph? Some think it is to reveal the mystery of Israel’s future. For example, Dunn’s heading for this section is “The Final Mystery Revealed” (2:675). Fitzmyer’s heading is “The Mystery of Israel: It Will All Be Saved” (618). This can hardly be the purpose, however, since there is nothing in this paragraph that has not been stated or implied earlier.
Moo suggests that the purpose of vv. 25-32 is to resolve the tension present throughout chs. 9-11, i.e., the tension between “Israel’s current hostile relationship with God” and “God’s expressed and irrevocable promises to Israel” (712-713). But this issue as such was resolved in ch. 9, where Paul indicates that God’s election of and promises to ethnic Israel related to their service and not to their salvation.
It is best to view this paragraph as presenting no new data, but as simply summing up the main points of ch. 11 with the main emphasis being on the way God uses the salvation of the Gentiles to bring mercy upon Israel. This serves as a fitting climax to chs. 9-11 as a whole, in that God is shown to be not just fair and faithful in his relationship with the Jews, but much more than fair in that he offers them his undeserved grace and mercy.
1. The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation (11:25-27)
First of all Paul declares the mystery of Israel’s salvation: its reality, its means, and its nature. He begins with a word not translated in the NIV: γάρ (gar, “for, because”). This word links vv. 25ff. with the olive tree illustration. Especially, the imagery of grafting the broken-off natural branches back into the tree helps us to understand how Israel will be saved.
11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:… “I do not want you to be ignorant” is a formula Paul sometimes uses to call attention to an important point (see on 1:13; JC, 1:96-97). “Brothers” is part of the formula. It indicates he is addressing the entire church, but the context shows he has Gentiles mainly in mind (see 11:13). In 11:17 he began using second person singular, addressing a typical representative Gentile Christian; but here he switches to second person plural. In this paragraph “you” and “they” still refer to Gentiles and Jews respectively.
Specifically, Paul does not want the Gentile Christians to be ignorant of “this mystery.” The word “mystery” does not mean something that is and forever will be mysterious and incomprehensible. In the biblical context it refers to a truth once hidden in the mind of God and undiscoverable by human reason, but now made known by divine revelation and fully open to human understanding. Thus Paul is claiming that what he is teaching here is a revelation from God. We need not assume that it was revealed to Paul himself, though it probably was, nor that it was revealed only to him (see Eph 3:3-5). Nor should we assume that this was something revealed to him only at the moment he was writing these words (see Gal 1:11-18).
The reason Paul wants Gentile Christians to understand the mystery is “so that you may not be conceited,” or “lest you be wise in your own estimation,” as the NASB literally translates it. In vv. 18-20 Paul has already warned Gentile Christians against arrogant boasting in view of the fact that they were being gathered into the church while only relatively few Jews were being saved. Here he warns them again not to be “puffed up with self-importance” (Cranfield, 2:575), i.e., not to assume that God had permanently abandoned Israel and was now focusing his attention exclusively on them (see Morris, 419).
Exactly what is the content of the mystery that will nullify the Gentiles’ pride? In the NT the word μυστήριον (mystērion) is often used in a general way for revelation concerning Christ and his church. A mystery that was of special importance to Paul, though, was the revelation that God had always intended to include Jews and Gentiles together in the church of Jesus Christ (Eph 3:3, 4, 9; see 2:11-3:11). In Eph 3 the emphasis is on the fact that God is bringing the Gentiles into the church; here in 11:25 the emphasis is on the fact that unbelieving Jews may still be brought into the church.
More specifically, in 11:25 the mystery focuses on “interdependence between the salvation of the Gentiles and that of Jews” (Hendriksen, 2:378). I.e., not only are the Jews and Gentiles united together in the one church, but in accordance with God’s plan each group in part owes its inclusion to the other. This is spelled out in the rest of this verse and the beginning of v. 26 in three clauses: (1) “Israel has experienced a hardening in part”; (2) “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”; (3) “and so all Israel will be saved.” This is the mystery, once hidden and now revealed. Moo rightly points out that the mystery is not just the fact that “all Israel will be saved,” but rather the way Israel will be saved, as expressed in v. 25b (716-717; see also Murray, 2:92; Stott, 302). Actually, vv. 25b-26a are a kind of summary of what has already been taught in vv. 11-24; thus we should not assume that “this mystery” refers only to what follows. It includes the content of the preceding verses as well.
The first element of the mystery is that Israel has experienced a hardening in part…. Paul has already referred to this hardening in v. 7. As we saw there, it is God’s response to Israel’s initial rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. In essence it is “a judicial process by which he hands people over to their own stubbornness” (Stott, 302).
Paul says that Israel’s hardening was only “in part” (ἀπὸ μέρους, apo merous). Most seem to understand this phrase in a numerical sense, i.e., only a part of Israel were hardened. The NRSV translates it, “A hardening has come upon part of Israel”; see Murray, 2:92; Cranfield, 2:575. If this is the meaning, it is certainly not a new thought, in view of the clear distinction made in v. 7 between the elect remnant and “the others.”
In my judgment, though, this is not what Paul means. The sentence says literally that “hardness from a part has happened to Israel,” not “hardness has happened to part of Israel.” The word “part” is not the object of the verb, nor does the phrase “from a part” modify Israel. It is possible that it modifies “hardness” itself, but more likely it modifies the verb, as it does in its other four NT occurrences. Either way it means that even though Israel was hardened, the hardening was only partial; the unbelieving Jews were not completely hardened so as to preclude the possibility of repentance. The NIV (“a hardening in part”) reflects this view, as does the NASB (“a partial hardening”).
Is this a new point, not made known until v. 25? Not really. That the hardening is only partial is clearly implied in the earlier references to Israel’s salvation (vv. 12,14-15,23-24). Thus it would seem that there is nothing new in this statement in v. 25 about Israel’s hardening. This part of the “mystery” has already been set forth.
The heart of the mystery is in the next clause, i.e., that the hardening will last until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. Combined with the preceding clause, and read in the light of vv. 11-12,15,18, this implies that the hardening of Israel has something to do with the coming of the full number or fullness of the Gentiles. At the same time, taken with the following clause (26a), and read in the light of vv. 11,13-14, it implies that the fullness of the Gentiles has something to do with the salvation of “all Israel.” As said earlier, the “mystery” thus is how salvation of Jews and Gentiles is interrelated. It is important for the Gentile Christians to see this, in order to avoid thinking too highly of themselves.
The key question is the meaning of the expression “the full number of the Gentiles.” The word translated “full number” (πλήρωμα, plērōma) is the same word the NIV translates as “fullness” in v. 12, where it refers to the fullness of the Jews. It seems that most interpreters favor the numerical connotation of the word, both here and in v. 12. It is said that Paul is referring to the “full destined number” of the Gentiles (Moule, 199); “the full completed number, the complement of the Gentiles, i.e., the Gentile world as a whole” (SH, 335); “the full number, totality, of the Gentiles” (Denney, 683); “numerical completion” (Moo, 719); “the full number of the saved Gentiles” (Lenski, 727). For some this refers to the total number of Gentiles saved over the whole course of church history up to the very end (e.g., Hendriksen, 2:378-379; Hoekema, Bible, 144). For others it refers to an unprecedented mass conversion of Gentiles near or at the end, “a greatly increased influx of Gentiles into God’s kingdom” (Murray, 2:95; see Dunn, 2:680).
As was the case in v. 12, I cannot accept a numerical connotation for plērōma. Hence (contra the NIV) I do not see this as referring to the “full number” of Gentiles, but rather to the fullness of salvation as it was proclaimed to and accepted by the Gentiles, beginning in Acts 10. (See on v. 12 above.) The NT nowhere else uses plērōma in a numerical sense, but does use it for the fullness of salvation. See John 1:16; Rom 15:29; Eph 3:19. See also Col 2:10, which uses the verb form of the word: “you have been given fullness in Christ” (NIV). Thus the “fullness of the Gentiles” is the “spiritual wealth with which God will make the Gentiles full” (McGuiggan, 332, quoting Beet), “the abundant nature of the blessings in Christ’s gospel” (ibid., 333). Thus Paul is not saying anything basically different from v. 11: “Because of [the Jews’] transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles”; or from v. 12: “Their loss means riches for the Gentiles”; or from v. 15: “Their rejection is the reconciliation of the world.”
In what sense does this full salvation of the Gentiles “come in”? This is εἰσέρχομαι (eiserchomai), the common word for “go in, enter.” In the NT it is occasionally used for people entering the kingdom (e.g., Matt 5:20; 7:21; John 3:5) or entering eternal life (Mark 9:43,45). Thus many take it in v. 25 as referring to the full number of Gentiles entering the kingdom or the church. But on some occasions the word means simply to come or to appear (see Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 19:30). I take it in a similar sense here, i.e., “until the salvation of the Gentiles has appeared or arrived or come into the picture.” Compare 5:12, where Paul uses this word to declare that sin entered or came into the world. Here he uses it to affirm that salvation came into the Gentile world.
The point is that the hardening of the Jews was the occasion for the commencement of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. Thus the Gentile Christians should not gloat over the Jews’ lost state; in one sense they owe their very salvation to it.
The other side of this coin is that the partial hardening of Israel has happened (and by implication will persist) until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. This places a limit on the hardening of Israel. Once the Gentiles’ participation in the blessings of salvation has become fully established, the period of Israel’s hardening will be over.
Those who interpret “fullness” as referring to a final ingathering of Gentiles at or near the second coming must naturally see this hardening as still present and as continuing up to or near the end. However, if we see the “fullness” as referring to the initial ingathering of Gentiles into the church, then the time of Israel’s hardening was relatively brief and perhaps was coming to an end in Paul’s own day. This is why he can say in v. 31 that the Jews “may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you [Gentiles].”
Paul implies that the Gentiles’ experience of the fullness of salvation in some way leads to the cessation of Israel’s hardness (see the references to arousing the Jews’ envy in vv. 11, 13-14). The further implication is that Gentile Christians, rather than feeling conceited because they are saved and most Jews are not, should instead be actively preaching the gospel to the Jewish community.
We may note again that what Paul affirms here in v. 25 has already been either stated or implied in vv. 11-24; hence this verse is not revealing anything new but is summarizing the “mystery” already set forth.
11:26a The last element in the mystery is this: And so all Israel will be saved,… This is the conclusion drawn from the first two parts of the mystery, and in fact from 11:1-25 as a whole. Has God rejected his people? It is true that most of them were hardened. But in God’s plan this hardening is instrumental in bringing the fullness of salvation to the Gentiles. Once the Gentiles have experienced this fullness, the Jews will be moved to envy and will be ready to receive God’s mercy. Thus the hardening will last only until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. After this they may be grafted back into the olive tree, if they accept the mercy offered to them through the gospel. And in this way, all Israel will be saved. So how can anyone say that God has rejected his people?
As we discuss this verse, three questions must be kept in mind at the same time. First, what does “Israel” mean? Also, how extensive is the “all”? Finally, what kind of salvation is Paul talking about? The key issue, of course is this: does this verse predict and thus guarantee the salvation of a large mass of Jews at some point in the future, or does Paul have something else in mind?
Before we examine the phrase “all Israel,” it is important to have a proper understanding of the first two words in the verse, “and so.” The word “and” clearly ties this sentence to the last two clauses, but the word “so” (οὕτως, houtōs) does so in an even clearer and more crucial way. Some take this word as indicating a temporal sequence between v. 25b and v. 26a: Israel has experienced a partial hardening until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and “when this is done” all Israel will be saved. Bruce refers to the “well attested use” if houtōs “in a temporal sense” (222). But such a use is hardly well attested. Indeed, Fitzmyer argues that a temporal meaning is not found elsewhere in Greek (622), and Moo agrees with him (719-720). It is best to reject this meaning for the word.
Rather, houtōs here should be given its common meaning of “in this manner, thus, so” (AG, 602). The point is not when all Israel will be saved, but how. Cranfield says the word is emphatic: “It will be in this way, and only in this way,” that all Israel will be saved (2:576). And what is this way? Here the term points us not to what follows but to what precedes. I.e., Israel will be saved by the coming of salvation to the Gentiles (v. 26b), which will arouse jealousy in the Jews themselves (vv. 11,13-14). Thus, “under the influence of the jealousy so excited—under the impression produced on the Jews by the sight of the Gentiles in their fulness peopling the kingdom—all Israel shall be saved” (Denney, 683). So also Godet (411), Dunn (2:681), and Moo (720).
But exactly what is meant by “all Israel”? The following discussion will seek to answer this question in two steps. First, the three major views will be explained. Second, the main arguments for and against these views will be presented, and one of the three will be identified as the best approach.
Of the three major views, the one most commonly held is that “all Israel” refers to ethnic Israel as a whole. (We shall call this view A.) The basic idea is that at some point in the future, once the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, there will be a mass conversion of Jews. This does not mean that every individual Jew will be saved, but it does mean that most Jews living at that time will become Christians. It is pointed out that the OT occasionally uses “all Israel” in this sense, e.g., 1 Sam 25:1; 1 Kgs 12:1; 2 Chr 12:1; Dan 9:11. Thus all Israel, and not just the present remnant (v. 5), will be saved. This view enjoys a “strong consensus,” says Dunn (2:681).
This view has two versions, eschatological and noneschatological. The former says the future conversion of all Israel will be associated with Christ’s Second Coming. Cranfield says it is probable “that Paul was thinking of a restoration of the nation of Israel as a whole to God at the end, an eschatological event in the strict sense” (2:577). It is clear, says Moo, “that Paul places this event at the end of time”; it will be “a large-scale conversion of Jewish people at the end of this age” (723-724). It will be “the climax of salvation-history,” says Dunn (2:692). For some this will involve the restoration of Israel as a national entity, along with its repossession of the original promised land. This is a common feature in the dispensational premillennial view of end-time events. “All Israel,” says MacArthur, means “the entire nation that survives God’s judgment during the Great Tribulation” and thus prepares the way for the millennium (2:128-129; see Pentecost, Things, 504-507).
The noneschatological version of this view says there will be a future mass conversion of Jews, but not necessarily associated with the end-times and not involving a nationalistic restoration. “All Israel” will be saved by becoming a part of the church, alongside Gentile Christians. As Moule puts it, Paul is “predicting the conversion of some generation or generations of Jews, a conversion so real and so vastly extensive that unbelief shall be the small exception at the most, and that Jews as such shall everywhere be recognized as true Christians” (199). Murray strongly defends this view (2:96-100), as does Stott, who says Paul promises that “the great mass of the Jewish people” will one day experience “salvation from sin through faith in Christ,” but does not promise “a return to the land” as a “political entity” (303-304). See also Lard (370-371) and SH (335-336).
The second major view is that “all Israel” means the remnant portion of ethnic Israel, or all believing Jews in all generations. (We shall call this view B.) Here the term “Israel” is taken in a slightly different sense in v. 26 as compared with v. 25 and elsewhere. I.e., it may be true that the mass of Israel has been hardened (v. 25), but all of true spiritual Israel will be saved (v. 26). They will be saved not in a single mass conversion but in the normal process of evangelism, being brought to faith in Christ and added to his church over the whole course of church history.
Hendriksen, a Calvinist, defends this view, saying that “all Israel” means “the total number of elect Jews.” It means that on the Judgment Day “not a single elect Israelite will be lacking” (2:381). Hoekema likewise says that v. 26a describes “the bringing to salvation throughout history of the total number of the elect from among the Jews” (Bible, 140). These are “the true Israelites,” he says (141). What Paul means, says Lenski, is that “all God’s true Israel, all of it that really deserves the name, will be saved” (719). This includes all true Israel “from the patriarchs onward until time ends” (724). As McGuiggan puts it, “Believing Jews are the real Israel. They are the Israel within Israel,” of whom Paul speaks in 9:6 (335). Thus “all Israel” means “every Jew who is truly an Israelite” (336).
The third main view of “all Israel” is that it refers to the whole of spiritual Israel, including both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. (We shall call this view C.) In other words, it is God’s new Israel, the church, which is identified in Gal 3:29 as “Abraham’s seed,” in Gal 6:16 as “the Israel of God,” and in Phil 3:3 as “the circumcision.” This view was common among the early church fathers (see Fitzmyer, 623-624), and was espoused by Calvin, who says, “I extend the word Israel to all the people of God” as gathered from among both Jews and Gentiles (437). See also Wright, Climax (250); and Smith (2:43).
We turn now to the second step of our discussion of “all Israel,” which is to set forth and evaluate various arguments for and against these views. We shall begin by examining the main arguments for A, that “all Israel” means ethnic Israel as a whole. The best argument for this view is that it is consistent with the way the term “Israel” is used elsewhere in Romans, and especially in this context. In 9:1-11:25 the words “Israel” and “Israelite” occur eleven or twelve times (allowing for textual variations), and “in each case the reference is clearly to Jews, never to Gentiles” (Hendriksen, 2:380). Thus, it is asked, how can we possibly expect Paul, abruptly and without qualification, to use this same term in v. 26 with an entirely different meaning? Murray declares “that it is exegetically impossible to give to ‘Israel’ in this verse any other denotation than that which belongs to the term throughout this chapter…. It is of ethnic Israel Paul is speaking and Israel could not possibly include Gentiles” (2:96). Especially, since “Israel” in v. 25 undoubtedly means the whole nation, it is impossible that he would use it in a different sense in v. 26 (Bruce, 221-222). Thus, says Cranfield, that “all Israel” here “does not include Gentiles is virtually certain” (2:576).
A second argument for A is that it seems most consistent with the overall context of 9-11. I.e., one of the main issues in this whole section is the fate of the nation of Israel (Godet, 410). “The whole context shows clearly that it is the actual Israel of history that is referred to” (SH, 336). Thus, says Hughes, “there is no way ‘Israel’ here can be spiritualized, considering the context of chapters 9-11. It clearly refers to ethnic Israel, the Jewish people” (199).
A third argument for A is that the salvation of all ethnic Israel has already been affirmed several times in this chapter, especially in the reference to Israel’s “fullness” in v. 12, her “acceptance” in v. 15, and her “grafting in” in vv. 23-24. Thus it is likely that v. 26 refers to the same thing, “because in vv. 15,25, we have had already a prediction of a restoration of Jews, en masse, to grace” (Moule, 199). It would be anticlimactic to refer v. 26 to anything less; indeed it would be “exegetical violence” (Murray, 2:97).
A final argument is that if “all Israel” is anything less than the whole nation of Israel, then this statement does not deserve to be called a “mystery” (v. 25) in the sense explained above. To say that all true/elect/spiritual Israel will be saved, whether in the sense of B or C, is called a truism or a tautology (Godet, 411), i.e., something true by definition. Only “the whole of ethnic Israel” does justice to the term “mystery” (Cranfield, 2:576-577; Morris, 421).
Do these four arguments rule out B and C, and establish A? The first argument is the strongest, and in my judgment makes C unlikely. I do not believe it rules out B, however, as will be seen below. The second argument likewise has merit and weakens the case for C, but again it does not rule out B. The third argument is altogether invalid because it is based on a false understanding of vv. 12,15, and 24-25. These verses do not refer to a future mass conversion of Israel. (See my explanation of them above.) Indeed, Hendriksen says that prior to v. 26 “the reader has not been prepared for the idea of a mass conversion of Israelites. All along Paul stresses the very opposite, namely, the salvation, in any age (past, present, future) of a remnant” (2:379). The fourth argument might have some merit if the emphasis in v. 26a were on the word “all.” But since the emphasis is actually on the word “so,” i.e., “in this way,” the argument misses the point completely. The how of all Israel’s salvation is surely worthy to be called a mystery. See Moo, 722.
The conclusion is that the arguments for A and against B and C are not as strong as one might expect, given the widespread acceptance of this view. The last two arguments are invalid in themselves; and the first two arguments, while making C unlikely, by no means rule out B. The issue then turns on whether a good case can be made for B.
Before turning to B we shall briefly consider C, the view that “all Israel” means all spiritual Israel in general (the church), including both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. I have already indicated that I believe the use of the term “Israel” in 9-11 makes this view unlikely. One cannot appeal to 9:6 to support this meaning for “Israel” in v. 26a, since the “spiritual Israel” in 9:6 includes only Jewish believers and not Gentile believers. Thus I agree that it is unwarranted to say that “Israel” in v. 26a means “spiritual Israel” in the broadest sense of that term, the church.
The argument that the context as a whole militates against this view is not as strong, since the salvation of Jews and Gentiles together certainly has been considered in this main section (9:24; 10:12), and even in the immediate context (the olive tree). Moo makes a good point, though, when he says that this view would weaken “the hortatory purpose of Rom. 11:11-32,” which is to counter the Gentiles’ tendency to hold themselves above the Jews. In fact, “for Paul in this context to call the church ‘Israel’ would be to fuel the fire of the Gentiles’ arrogance by giving them grounds to brag that ‘we are the true Israel’” (721).
While I do not accept this view (C) and believe that a good case cannot be made for it, I do not consider it to be an oddity or to be totally out of the question. As Wright (Climax, 250) points out, “Israel” is used in two different senses in a single verse (9:6) without warning or explanation. Can we rule out a similar tactic here? Also, in 9:24-29 Paul does speak of Jews and Gentiles together in the context of the remnant. In 10:12-13 he declares that no distinction can be made between Jews and Gentiles with regard to salvation. In 11:17-24 the olive tree contains both Jews and Gentiles, and even v. 25 refers to the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, at least by implication.
This leads to our examination of the arguments for B, which I consider to be the correct view. When Paul says that “all Israel will be saved,” he is speaking of all ethnic Jews who also belong to the true spiritual Israel. The first argument for this view is that it is consistent with the way Paul uses the term “Israel” in 9-11, and thus belies the criticism that A is the only view that interprets the term consistent with the context. To say that Paul uses this term elsewhere in this section only for ethnic Jews may be true; but that does not affect B, which agrees that v. 26a refers to ethnic Jews. The only issue is whether Paul uses the term only in the sense of the nation as a whole, and 9:6 shows that he does not. In 9:6 Paul uses the term “Israel” twice, first referring to the nation as a whole and then referring only to spiritual Israel, the remnant. In the Greek text of 9:6 these two uses are almost consecutive, being separated by only one Greek word. Thus 9:6 is more than enough justification for regarding “Israel” in 11:26a as referring to spiritual Israel, even though the same term in 11:25 refers to Israel as a whole.
The second argument for B is that it is totally consistent with the context in general. Proponents of A say that v. 26a must be talking about the nation as a whole, because the status of the nation as a whole is exactly what 9-11 is all about: How can we reconcile Israel’s lostness with God’s faithfulness? But this is not the whole picture. It is true that in 9-11 the unbelief of Israel in general is the problem, but it is also true that the existence of a remnant who believe is part of the answer to the problem. Hence the remnant concept is a prominent theme in the context as a whole. See especially 9:6,23-29; 11:1-7a.
Third, this view (B) is also consistent with the line of thought Paul is developing in ch. 11 specifically. Has God rejected his people? No. Though most are hardened, he has a remnant. But is there any hope for those who are hardened? Yes. Especially now that salvation has come to the Gentiles, all hardened Jews may believe in Jesus and become a part of the remnant. Paul has just declared that God can and will graft the broken-off branches back into the olive tree, conditioned upon their abandoning their unbelief (v. 23). In v. 24 Paul assures us that God will graft these natural branches back into the tree, but the condition of faith is obviously meant to be carried over from v. 23. The same is undoubtedly true in v. 26. When Paul says “All Israel will be saved,” in view of v. 23 we must understand it as “all Israelites who believe in Jesus Christ—i.e., the remnant—will be saved.” This shows the importance of translating houtōs as “thus, in this way.” When Paul says “in this way” all Israel will be saved, he is referring not just to the summary statement in v. 25, but to the more complete explanation in vv. 11-24, including the emphasis on conditionality in vv. 23-24.
A fourth argument for B is that it does justice to the word “all” in “all Israel.” One of the most serious flaws of A is that it really does not take the word “all” seriously. In practically every version of it, the only Jews who are saved are those who happen to be living at and possibly after a point of time still in the future, and for many it is only that final generation of Jews who are saved. Most individual Jews in the scores of generations preceding that time are actually not saved. Thus the saved “will be just a fragment of the total number of Jews who have lived on the earth. How can such a fragment properly be called ‘all Israel’?” (Hoekema, Bible, 144). Also, as McGuiggan points out, if the issue here is God’s faithfulness to his promises to the Jews, how is the saving of just one generation evidence of such faithfulness? “Did he make these promises only to a coming generation of Jews? Did he not make them to past generations of Jews?… In what way does the salvation of a coming mass of Jews vindicate God’s faithfulness?” (335-336; see Hendriksen, 2:379). But if “all Israel” means “the entire remnant of Jews,” then this refers to every believing Israelite in every generation. All who meet the condition of v. 23 will be saved.
A fifth argument for B is that it is consistent with Paul’s teaching in the following verses that “all Israel” is being saved now. As we shall soon see, the OT texts cited as confirmation of v. 26a refer to the first coming of Jesus and to the present salvation from sin by God’s grace. They do not refer to the Second Coming and to some future national restoration (Hendriksen, 2:380). Especially, in v. 31 Paul says it is God’s plan that the Jews “may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you [Gentiles].” View A does not do justice to this “now,” but B does. See Hoekema, Bible, 145-146.
Finally we may point out that Moo’s criticism that C is not consistent with Paul’s exhortations to the Gentile Christians (to not consider themselves better than the Jews) does not apply to B, since the remnant of which B speaks is from among the Jews only. In fact, though Moo accepts A, he declares that B “deserves consideration as a serious alternative” (723).
A final question in reference to “all Israel will be saved” is the meaning of “saved.” At stake is whether this salvation includes something special for the Jews, or whether Paul is referring simply to the ordinary salvation from sin enjoyed by Gentile believers as well. Those who hold to the eschatological version of A usually take the former approach, saying that this salvation includes the restoration of Israel as a political entity to its original Palestinian homeland as a preparation for the millennium (see MacArthur, 2:128-129; Cranfield, 2:577-578). Almost everyone else, though, in view of vv. 26b-27, understands “saved” to mean the ordinary way of salvation which Paul has been expounding throughout Romans. As Stott says, it is “salvation from sin through faith in Christ. It is not a national salvation, for nothing is said about either a political entity or a return to the land” (304). Moo agrees that there is no evidence in Rom 11 that salvation includes restoration to the land (724, n. 59).
If this is the case, how does the salvation of all remnant Israel depend on the fullness of the Gentiles? The main thing is that the latter is an occasion for envy on the part of the Jews (11:12,13-14), but DeWelt reminds us also that it must involve “nothing short of the faithful preaching of the gospel by the Gentiles to the Jews” (188).
11:26b-27… as it is written, “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” This is a brief OT confirmation that God is now saving “all Israel” through the gospel of Jesus Christ. These lines are taken from the LXX version of Isaiah. Verse 26b is basically the same as Isa 59:20; v. 27a is from Isa 59:21a; v. 27b is from Isa 27:9. In the last citation Paul changes “his sin” to “their sins.” The phrase “from Zion” also represents a change. The Hebrew text here reads “to Zion”; the LXX has “for the sake of Zion”; but Paul says “from Zion.” The fact that salvation comes “from Zion” is specifically mentioned in Ps 14:7; 53:6; 110:2. Paul chooses to incorporate this thought into his OT citation in order to make his point more clearly. (See Moo, 727-728.)
The word for “deliverer” is a participial form of the verb ρύομαι (ryomai), which means “to save, to rescue, to deliver.” The Hebrew text has גאל (go’el), “Redeemer” (see GRe, 15-20). This originally would have been applied to Yahweh, but Paul’s use of it here shows it is definitely a messianic prophecy. The “deliverer” is Jesus Christ. See 1 Thess 1:10.
“Jacob” of course was the original name of Isaac’s favored son before it was changed to Israel. OT poetic and prophetic literature often used it as a synonym for Israel when referring to the Jewish people. That is its meaning here. It simply means “Israel” or “the Jews.”
“Zion” was one of the hills on which Jerusalem was built. It was used in the OT as a poetic name for Jerusalem itself (e.g., Ps 48:2, 11-12; 51:18; 69:35), and often symbolically for the whole of Israel and the people of Israel (e.g., Ps 74:2; 78:68; 146:10; Isa 1:27; 46:13). Sometimes the nuance was Zion (Jerusalem) as the location of the temple and thus the dwelling place of God (e.g., Ps 76:2; 132:13; Isa 8:18; 18:7; 24:23; Jer 2:19; Joel 3:17,21). In this way “Zion” came to represent heaven itself as God’s dwelling place (e.g., Ps 9:11; 14:7; 20:2; 50:2; 53:6; 110:2; 134:3).
In the New Covenant era “Zion” represents the new temple, the new people of God, the church. Messianic prophecies about Zion, such as Ps 2:6 and Isa 28:16 (see also Isa 2:3 and Micah 4:2) could be referring to the fact that the church was established in the earthly city of Jerusalem (Acts 2), from which the gospel then was taken into all the earth. But these texts could also be referring to the church itself, which seems more likely in view of Rom 9:33; Heb 12:22-23; and 1 Pet 2:6. See also Gal 4:26.
How does Paul intend for us to understand “from Zion” in this quote from Isa 59:20? Possibly it just means “Israel,” i.e., Christ came forth from the people of Israel. Or it may mean “Jerusalem” in the sense that this is where the church and the preaching of the gospel originated. Most likely, though, it means Zion as God’s heavenly dwelling place, i.e., God the Redeemer will come forth from heaven itself.
It makes a considerable difference whether this refers to the Messiah’s first coming or his second coming. If it is the latter, this would give support to the eschatological version of view A above. Paul would be saying that all Israel will be saved when the Messiah returns from heaven. Cranfield explains it exactly this way, then observes that this confirms that Paul is speaking of an eschatological salvation for the Jews (2:578). See also Bruce (222), Dunn (2:682, 692), and Moo (727-728).
I believe, on the contrary, that this refers to the first coming of Christ. It is in future tense (“will come”) from Isaiah’s standpoint, not Paul’s. Christ’s first coming was just as much from the heavenly Zion as the second will be. The strongest reason for taking it to be the first coming is the specific stated purpose for which the Redeemer comes from Zion. The redemptive acts mentioned by Isaiah and recited by Paul refer not to a political restoration of the Jewish nation but to the personal salvation of individuals. This is why Jesus came the first time: to die for the sins of his people, and thereby to establish a new covenant with them, a covenant to take away their sins.
Specifically the deliverer has come to “turn godlessness away from Jacob” (v. 26b) and to “take away their sins” (v. 27b). This is the saving grace of forgiveness (justification), regeneration, and sanctification. It is a spiritual restoration, not a political one (Godet, 413; Denney, 684). This is the very thing Peter preached to the Jews in his second sermon in Acts: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (3:26). This taking away of sins, says Isaiah, is the purpose and result of God’s “covenant with them.”
Of which covenant is Isaiah speaking? Some assume it is the covenant God made with Abraham and his physical seed, the Jewish nation (e.g., Moo, 728-729). From this they conclude that God has promised salvation to the Jews as a nation (e.g., Fitzmyer, 625), and that for this covenant to be fulfilled God must ultimately bring about “the future restoration of Israel” (Murray, 2:100; see Moo, 729). This is completely off the mark, however. The covenant with Abraham was with the nation of Israel as a whole, but its promises were principally temporal blessings relating to Israel’s role of bringing the Messiah into the world (9:4-5), not the spiritual blessings of salvation as such. I.e., the Abrahamic covenant did not guarantee salvation to every Jew living under it. Also, the Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled with the first coming of Christ.
The covenant to which Isaiah’s messianic prophecy refers is thus not the Abrahamic covenant, but the New Covenant prophesied in Jer 31:31-34, and established through the death and shed blood of Christ (Luke 22:20; Heb 8:7-12; 10:15-17). The central promise of the New Covenant, as stated in Jer 31:34, is this: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This is exactly what Paul is emphasizing in his quote from Isaiah: God covenants to take away the sins of “all Israel” through the blood of Christ if they will but trust in him. This covenant is conditional (11:23), and God gathers Jews into it one by one over the whole course of church history. This is how all true Israel will be saved.
2. God’s Continuing Love for Israel (11:28-29)
11:28 Speaking of the Jews, Paul continues to address the Gentiles, explaining the reason why God’s salvation is offered to “all Israel.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,… This verse reflects the tension within God’s nature that sums up God’s relation to all sin and all sinners, i.e., the tension between his holiness and his love. This is seen in a special way in his attitude toward the Jews; they are at the same time his enemies and his beloved, the objects of both his hatred and his love.
The word ἐχθρός (echthros) is usually translated “enemy” in the NT; it speaks of an attitude of enmity and hostility and hatred. The main point here is not the sinner’s hatred of God, but God’s hatred of the sinner, in contrast with his love for the sinner in v. 28b (Morris, 422). To be hated by God is to be under his wrath, rejected by him, and shut off from him (SH, 337; Cranfield, 2:580). This divine hostility is not directed toward all Jews, but only toward those who have rejected the gospel. They are God’s enemies “as far as the gospel is concerned,” i.e., because they have refused to accept the gospel and to believe in Jesus as their Messiah (9:30-10:21).
Paul never ceases to remind the Gentile Christians, however, that God’s enmity toward the Jews has been the occasion for bringing the gospel to them. The Jews are enemies, yes; but they are enemies “on your account,” for your sake, “in order to open His kingdom wide to you” (Moule, 201). See vv. 11,12,15.
But this is only part of the picture, and the lesser part at that. Even though the hardened Jews have chosen to become God’s enemies by rejecting the gospel, God still loves them because of the original relationship he established with them through the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Thus he cannot forget them; he cannot pretend that this relationship never existed. Even if they no longer have a special role in God’s ongoing plan, they still occupy a special place in his heart.
“As far as election is concerned” has been taken two ways. In vv. 5,7 Paul uses this same term (ἐκλογή, eklogē, “election, choice”) for the elect remnant; some interpret it this way here, saying that v. 28b refers only to the remnant within Israel, and thus limiting God’s love to the elect alone. Others (correctly) interpret “election” here as referring to God’s original choice of Abraham and through him of the entire nation of Israel. This is not an election of individuals to salvation, but the election of the Jews as a corporate body to covenant service, as in 9:11.
Thus, whereas v. 28a reflects the reality of ch. 10 above, v. 28b reflects the reality of ch. 9. God chose Israel as a nation to serve his special redemptive purposes, and poured out upon them his special covenant blessings. Even though this relationship did not automatically guarantee salvation to every individual Jew, God cannot help but regard every natural descendent of Abraham with a special affection. Thus for the Jews perhaps more than others, God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9, NASB). That is why he wants to include them in his new covenant, the covenant of salvation (v. 27). God’s enmity to the hardened Jews is real (v. 28a), but it does not cancel out his love for them.
That all Israel is loved by God “on account of the fathers” does not mean that the patriarchs did anything to merit or deserve this continuing love for their descendants. Nor does it mean that God still has unfulfilled covenant obligations toward the fathers. This latter view is quite common, especially among those who believe there is just one covenant of salvation, beginning with Abraham and continuing through the NT era. According to this view, this is why God still loves the Jews and must save them, i.e., “for His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is sovereign and unchangeable” (Moule, 201; see Stott, 306; Dunn, 2:694). “When the Lord elected… the nation of Israel to be His own people, He bound Himself by His own promises to bring the Jews to salvation and be forever His beloved and holy people,” says MacArthur (2:131). Murray says, “God has not suspended or rescinded his relation to Israel as his chosen people in terms of the covenants made with the fathers,” and this is why he will save and restore them (2@:101).
This view errs in thinking that the covenant with the patriarchs is the same as the covenant of salvation Jesus established on the cross. Thus it errs in thinking that the patriarchal covenant promised salvation to Jews as Jews in perpetuity. The truth is that every promise to Israel as a nation through the patriarchs was completely fulfilled when Jesus came into the world the first time (9:4-5; Acts 13:32-34).
11:29 This is not contradicted by what Paul says in the next verse: for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. This refers still to God’s original general election of the nation of Israel. The “gifts” are not the gifts of salvation (contra Moule, 201; Hendriksen, 2:384; MacArthur, 2@:131). They are the benefits described in 9:4-5, which, though glorious in every respect, are still temporal and nonsalvific in themselves. The “call” likewise is not the salvific call to which only the elect respond, as in 8:30 (contra Denney, 684; Hendriksen, 2:384; MacArthur, 2@:132; Lenski, 734). It refers to the original call to Abraham and thus the call to Israel as a nation “to be His special people, to stand in a special relation to Himself, and to fulfil a special function in history” (Cranfield, 2:581).
These gifts and this call are “irrevocable,” Paul says. This is the first word in the verse in the Greek text and therefore is in a place of emphasis. What does it mean? It comes from μεταμέλομαι (metamelomai¯), which means “to regret, to repent, to change one’s mind.” Here, with the negating alpha, the word is ἀμεταμέλητος (ametamelētos, “not to be regretted, not to be repented of.” (See 2 Cor 7:10.) “Irrevocable” is not the best translation. The point is not that God must save the Jews because he has made an irrevocable promise to Abraham et al. to do so. Rather, it is that God does not regret his choice of Israel as the nation through whom he brought the Christ into the world. Despite the centuries of their heartbreaking unfaithfulness and idolatry in OT times, and despite their current rejection of the gospel, God does not regret all he did for them and through them to carry out his purposes.
This is why they are still beloved to him. Paul begins this thought with γάρ (gar), “for, because.” The Jews are still beloved because of the patriarchs (v. 28b), because God has never regretted this Old Covenant relationship he established with them in the first place. As Lard says, “Their fathers were chosen and loved, and on their account their rejected descendants are still loved” (373).
3. God’s Ultimate Purpose Is Mercy (11:30-32)
In describing God’s dealings with the Jews and Gentiles, this chapter has strongly emphasized both sides of God’s nature: his sternness and his kindness (v. 22), his enmity and his love (v. 28). It has not attempted to soften or disguise the wrath of God against the unbelieving Jews (vv. 7-10,19-22,28a). But this is not the main point of the chapter. The main point is that, in spite of the unbelief and disobedience of Gentiles and Jews alike, God wants the gracious side of his nature to prevail. His ultimate goal and purpose are mercy, not wrath. And the most marvelous thing of all is that God can use the universal disobedience of mankind as a part of his plan to show mercy unto all. By explaining how this is so, this paragraph is a striking example of 8:28.
11:30-31 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. The parts of these two verses are so carefully composed and so deliberately parallel that both must be printed together here. Dunn says this sentence is “the most contrived or carefully constructed formulation which Paul ever produced in such tight epigrammatic form, with so many balancing elements” (2:687). It may be diagrammed thus:
For just as YOU GENTILES
then were disobedient to God, but
now have received mercy
by the JEWS’ disobedience;
So also THESE JEWS
now have become disobedient, so that
now they also may receive mercy
by the mercy shown to you GENTILES.
In a real sense this sentence sums up everything Paul has said in this chapter. As Godet puts it, “Ver. 30 describes the rebellion of the Gentiles, then their salvation determined by the rebellion of the Jews; and ver. 31, the rebellion of the Jews, then their salvation arising from the salvation of the Gentiles” (414).
The word ποτε (pote, “then, at one time”) in v. 30a refers to the pre-Christian era when the Gentiles were limited to general revelation and were given over to the sinful excesses of their rebellion against God (1:18-32). The word νῦν (nyn, “now”) in v. 30b refers to the New Covenant era when Christ has commanded that the gospel be taken to all nations. Morris (424-425) points out that the contrast is not between disobedience and obedience, as if one could make up for his sins by beginning to obey the commandments of the law. As in 3:21-5:21, the only remedy for disobedience is the mercy and grace of God.
To say that the Gentiles have received mercy “as a result of their [the Jews’] disobedience” is simply to repeat vv. 11,12,15. God takes the Jews’ rebellion against the gospel of Christ as an occasion for sending that gospel to the Gentiles.
These verses continue to undermine Gentile smugness in relation to the Jews. Paul reminds the Gentiles (1) that they too were once in a state of disobedience; (2) that in one sense they owe their present state of grace to the Jews’ disobedience; and (3) that God’s plan is for the Jews to ultimately receive the same mercy now enjoyed by the Gentiles, even though they will arrive at it by a slightly different route.
To say that the Jews “have now become disobedient” refers to their initial rejection of the gospel at the beginning of the New Covenant era.
The word translated “in order that” is ἵνα (hina). It usually denotes purpose, as the NIV chooses to translate it here. But if that is what it means here, this would suggest that somehow God caused the Jews to be disobedient, so that he might accomplish the stated purpose. Thus it is important to know two things about hina. First, it can denote simple result rather than purpose (AG, 378). Also, “contrary to regular usage” hina sometimes “is placed elsewhere than at the beginning of its clause, in order to emphasize the words that come before it” (AG, 379). I believe both of these points are in evidence here in v. 31b. We should especially note that, for emphasis, “by your [the Gentiles’] mercy” is placed at the very beginning of this clause, even before the word hina. Taken thus it reads quite naturally as follows: “The Jews have now become disobedient, with the result that, by means of the mercy shown to you Gentiles, they too may now obtain mercy.”
This shows that God’s ultimate goal, even for the hardened Jews, is that they may receive his mercy and be saved. It also emphasizes again that the salvation of the Gentiles is an instrument by which God will bring this about. This recalls the point about the Jews’ being moved to envy by seeing the Gentiles enjoying the fruit of their own covenant service (vv. 11,13-14). It is also an incentive for Gentile Christians to evangelize the Jews. As Lard says, “The Gentiles have now to preach the gospel to the Jews, and induce them to obey it” (374).
The inclusion of the word “now” in v. 31b is very significant. It shows that the statement, “And so all Israel will be saved” in v. 26a does not refer to a mass conversion of ethnic Jews at some far distant point in the future (relative to the time of Paul’s writing), but that it refers to the ongoing conversion of remnant Jews beginning even “now,” in the first century (Hendriksen, 2:385). Those who take the former view give “now” some other meaning, such as “at any time” (Moo, 735), or “the eschatological now” (Cranfield, 2:586), i.e., sometime during this final messianic age, even if it is toward the end of it (Morris, 425). But the parallel with the “now” in v. 30b shows that Paul is thinking of the “now” in which he was living. Thus as Wright says, it indicates “a steady flow of Jews into the church, by grace through faith,” from that very time (Climax, 249).
11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. In this final verse of the present section Paul emphasizes once again that God’s goal and purpose are to bring mercy to all. The “all” in both clauses probably is not intended to refer to every individual as such, but to all in the sense of both groups, i.e., both Gentiles and Jews. To say God has bound all over to disobedience reflects Paul’s emphasis in 3:9, that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (see 3:9-20). The reference to God’s “mercy on them all” does not teach universal salvation, but refers to the fact that he has poured out his mercy on Jews and Gentiles alike (10:12).
As a matter of fact, though, all individuals in both groups are bound over to sin (3:23). Also, there is a sense in which God has mercy on all individuals, in that his mercy is intended for all and is offered to all. It is not the case, though, that all will in fact accept it. “Whether the mercy will ever be actually realized or not, depends on belief in Christ” (Lard, 375).
The word translated “bound over” literally means “to enclose, to confine, to shut up, to imprison.” How did God imprison the Gentiles in disobedience? This does not mean that he caused them to sin, or made it impossible for them not to sin. It refers to 1:18-32, and to God’s decision to “give them over” to the sinful desires of their hearts (vv. 24,26,28). How did he imprison the Jews in disobedience? Again this does not mean he caused them to sin. It refers rather to 2:1-29, and to the conclusion that the law, in which the Jews trusted, has but one verdict for sinners: condemnation. It refers also to 11:7 and the hardening of Jewish unbelievers. All in all, as Moo says, this statement refers to “God’s decision to ‘confine’ people in the state that they have chosen for themselves” (736).
From another standpoint, to say that God shuts up all men in their sin refers to the divine pronouncement that all have in fact sinned (3:23) and have become trapped in the consequences of their sin with no hope of escaping through any deeds or schemes of their own. “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (3:20, NASB). For sinners this is what it means to be “under law” (6:14,15). For sinners the testimony of the law is a word of wrath. This word of wrath is like cords that bind sinners and leave them shut up in the dungeon of death, in the very vestibule of hell.
But this is not the last word, because God has provided a way of escape from this dungeon, this prison of sin. It is the way of mercy, the way of grace (3:21-5:21); and it is the only way. This is the whole point of Romans: “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (3:28, NASB). “We are not under law but under grace” (6:15). This is the point to which all of ch. 11 has been leading: that God can and will provide this mercy to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. “As they have been together in the prison of their disobedience, so they will be together in the freedom of God’s mercy” (Stott, 307).