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Romans 11:1-36

[I have written a more extensive analysis of the question of Israel’s future as a nation which may be found in two documentsunder the category of Controversial Issues elsewhere on the website.]

IV. God's Purpose with Israel - 9:1-11:36

A.        Israel's Fall - 9:1-33

B.        Israel's Fault - 10:1-21

C.        Israel's Future - 11:1-36

1.         The Principle of the Remnant - 11:1-10

a.         the historical reality - vv. 1-6

1)         the example of Paul - vv. 1-2a

a)         an improper deduction - v. 1a

Paul raises this question because he knows that some may say "yes" in view of his statement in 10:21 that Israel is a "disobedient and obstinate people."

b)         an indignant denial - vv. 1b-2a

But the apostle refuses to allow anyone to draw what otherwise appears to be a logical conclusion. "Despite her disobedience, Israel remains 'the people of God' – in what sense, Paul will explain in the rest of the chapter" (Moo, 673). His first proof, though, is himself. "How can you say that God has totally rejected the Jews," says Paul, "when I am a Jew?!

In other words, Paul is an example of the remnant within the nation as a whole, an individual who is both an ethnic and elect Israelite. The proof that God has not reneged on his word despite unbelief in the nation as a whole is the same as has been true all through redemptive history, namely, that God never chose in saving grace all the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but only a remnant, of which Paul is a current, living constituent member.

Paul rigorously denies that rampant unbelief in Israel is proof that God has turned his back on the Jewish people "whom He foreknew". There are two views on what "foreknowledge" means here: (1) Some say it is a restrictive use of the term that applies only to the believing, saved remnant within the nation as a whole. This would be consistent with his use of the term in 8:29 as well as his argument in 9:6-29. (2) Others contend that it is a broader use of the term that refers to God's election to theocratic blessing of the national entity as a whole. Says Moo (who favors this latter view), "in 8:29, where all those 'foreknown' are also justified and glorified, the election is clearly to salvation. In this verse, however, Paul reflects the common OT and Jewish corporate sense of election, according to which God's choosing of the nation Israel guarantees blessings and benefits . . . to the people as a whole but does not guarantee salvation for every single Israelite" (675). In support of this is that Paul has just referred to "the nation as a whole" (elect and non-elect alike) in 10:21. This makes it likely that the "people" in 11:1 whom God "foreknew" are again the nation as a whole, inclusive of both saved (elect, such as Paul) and unsaved (non-elect) Jews.

2)         the example of Elijah - vv. 2b-6

a)         an analogy from the past - vv. 2b-4

b)         an application to the present - v. 5

If the widespread defection of Israelites to the worship of Baal in Elijah's day did not invalidate God's choice of the nation as a whole, neither will the widespread rejection of Jesus as Messiah do so in Paul's day. If God's "word" (9:6a) did not suffer then, neither will it suffer ("fall/fail") now. In other words, just as Elijah concluded from widespread unbelief in Israel that he alone was loyal to Yahweh, Paul fears that some in his day might draw a similar inference.

c)         an analysis of a principle - v. 6

Here again Paul hastens to make clear that even the remnant is elect because of God's grace. It is not because of ethnic identity. Even the believing Jew must say: "God's choice of me to inherit salvation is not because I am a Jew, but because He is a God who sovereignly and graciously elects whomever He will."

b.         the theological reason - vv. 7-10

1)         the inevitable conclusion - v. 7

2)         the inspired confirmation - vv. 8-10

a)         from Moses (Dt. 29:4) - v. 8

b)         from David (Ps. 69:22-23) - vv. 9-10

In 9:26-29 Paul appealed to the concept of the remnant in a somewhat negative way: although all Jews are in one sense Israelites (9:4), it is only the remnant that will be saved. Here, however, "Paul cites the remnant with a positive purpose: the continuing validity of God's election of Israel is manifested in the fact that there is a remnant" (Moo, 679).

Thus we see that the gospel of Jesus Christ has revealed two groups within national Israel: a remnant who, through sovereign electing grace, have embraced the Messiah, and the rest (v. 7) who were justly hardened in their unbelief. Paul will now turn to address the question of whether this situation is permanent. His answer will be "No," for the current rejection of Israel is not the final chapter in God's book of redemptive history.

2.         The Pattern of the Restoration - 11:11-33

Much of what Paul writes in these verses is directed to Gentiles in the church at Rome (observe the repeated use of the 2nd person plural) who were boasting over their status as God's people, to the exclusion of the Jews (see esp. vv. 18, 25). Thus Paul warns them (and us!): "Don't assume that Gentile preponderance in the church means that God has abandoned his people Israel. God has brought salvation to the Gentiles without violating any of his promises to Israel and without retracting his election of Israel as a corporate whole: an election that, like all God's gifts, is 'irrevocable' (v. 29)" (Moo, 685).

a.         the fall of Israel - v. 11

Yes, Israel has "stumbled," i.e., the nation as a whole has rejected Christ and thus failed to attain to the righteousness that is available only in him (cf. 9:31-33). But No, this does not mean Israel has "fallen" into irretrievable spiritual ruin. In point of fact, as bad as Israel's rejection of Messiah is, God has used it (and will use it) to set in motion a process that will eventually lead once again to Israel's blessing.

Israel's transgression ----- Gentile salvation ----- Israel's jealousy/salvation ----- Gentile blessing

b.         the fulfillment of Israel - vv. 12-15

Paul's logic is at times difficult to follow, but he seems to be saying this: We know that because of Israel's failure (her rejection of Jesus) the gospel came to the Gentiles (see Acts 13:44-47; 14:1-3; 18:4-7; 19:8-10; 28:23-29). [This is what Paul means when he refers in v. 12 to the "transgression/failure" of Israel leading to the "riches" of the Gentiles.] But if the Gentiles were blessed through Israel's unbelief, how much more shall they be blessed through Israel's belief! In other words, if failure brought blessing, how much more shall fullness do so! This fullness (Gk., pleroma) of Israel most likely refers to the full number of ethnic Israelites who will, by God's electing love, come to faith. "The implication in this case," says Moo, "would be that to the present remnant there will be added a much greater number of Jewish believers so as to 'fill up' the number of Jews destined for salvation" (689). Again, Paul appears to suggest that "the present 'defeat' of Israel, in which Israel is numerically reduced to a small remnant, will be reversed by the addition of far greater numbers of true believers: this will be Israel's destined 'fullness'" (690).

Thus the argument in these verses runs this way: If God's "rejection" or casting away of Israel has led to the extension of salvation to the Gentiles, imagine what God's "acceptance" of Israel will mean! It will mean nothing less than "life from the dead" (v. 15). Paul's logic is clear, even if his meaning is not! "If something negative like Israel's rejection means that Gentiles are being reconciled to God, how much greater must be the result of something positive like Israel's acceptance?" (Moo, 694).

So what does Paul mean by "life from the dead" in v. 15? (1) Some say it is metaphorical and refers to unprecedented blessing such as the spiritual quickening or salvation of the whole world. But vv. 25-26 assert that the salvation of Israel (her "fullness") comes only after God has brought into the kingdom all the Gentiles who are to be saved (their "fullness"). Therefore, once Israel's "fullness" comes in, opportunity for salvation is over. All that is left is the consummation, i.e., the coming of Jesus and the end of the age. (2) Thus it would appear that "life from the dead" refers either to the general resurrection that occurs at Christ's return to earth or to the blessedness of life that follows that resurrection.

c.         the figure of Israel - vv. 16-24

Two important issues call for comment.

First, what about v. 22? Does it imply that genuine believers can lose their salvation? Three things may be said. (1) It may be that Paul is echoing a theme found elsewhere in his letters and throughout the NT, namely, that ultimate salvation is dependent on perseverance in faith (cf. Rom. 8:13; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:6,14; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 John 2:19), a faith which God graciously preserves and sustains within us. (2) Others have suggested that Paul's discussion here is about Gentiles as a class, considered collectively, and Israel as a class, considered collectively. In other words, just as "Israel" was cut off, so also "Gentiles" may be if they do not believe. [Speaking for myself, I don't find view (2) persuasive.] (3) Moo has another explanation: "While the olive tree represents the true, spiritual people of God, those who are said to belong to this tree are not only those who, through their faith, are actually part of the tree but also those who only appear to belong to that tree. This is evident from the fact that Paul speaks of unbelieving Jews as having been 'cut off' from the tree (v. 17). In reality, these Jews had never been part of the tree at all; yet to preserve the metaphor he is using, Paul presents them as if they had been. In the same way, then, those Gentiles within the church at Rome – and elsewhere – 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" (707). Views (1) and (3) may then be combined: Those who have truly believed will continue in God's kindness (Heb. 3:6,14). Those who do not continue in God's kindness show thereby that they were never truly part of the tree (on this, see esp. 1 John 2:19). Failure to persevere does not mean that one who was truly saved becomes truly lost. Rather, perseverance is itself the proof that one was truly saved. If one does not persevere, one has always been lost and never saved.

Second, Paul's comments here are clearly an obstacle to what is known as Replacement Theology. The metaphor of the olive tree indicates that Paul views God's people as a unity that crosses ethnic boundaries. There is only one tree in which, however, are both believing Gentiles and believing Jews. Moo explains:

"The turn of the ages at the coming of Christ brought an important development in the people of God: the object of one's faith became clearer and more specific and the ethnic makeup of that people changed radically, as God extended his grace in vastly increased measure to the Gentiles. But Paul's metaphor warns us not to view this transition as a transition from one people of God to another. Gentiles who come to Christ become part of that community of salvation founded on God's promises to the patriarchs. And 'messianic Jews,' following in the footsteps of their believing ancestors, belong to this same community [emphasis mine; cf. Eph. 2:11-22]. . . . Paul suggests that the church, defined as the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ, is simply the name for the people of God in this era of salvation history – as 'Israel' was the name of that people in the previous age" (710).

In summary,

"the coming of Christ did not for him [i.e., Paul] involve ethnic subtraction, as if Jews were now eliminated [or replaced], but addition, with Gentiles now being added to believing Jews. Paul's boundary for the people of God is a religious one – faith in Jesus Christ – not an ethnic one" (710).

d.         the future of Israel - vv. 25-32

1)         the character of Israel's salvation - vv. 25-26a

Paul's point here is that the "hardening" that has come to Israel is neither total nor final. We know that it is not total because there is now, as there has always been, a remnant that believes. He will now demonstrate that it is not final. A day is coming when the remnant will give way to fullness. When will this occur? Not until (v. 25) the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. In other words, "the Gentiles' 'fullness' involves a numerical completion: God has determined to save a certain number of Gentiles, and only when that number has been reached will Israel's hardening be removed. The 'fullness of Israel' (v. 12) is therefore matched by a 'fullness' of the Gentiles'" (Moo, 719; see also Luke 21:23-24).

Important issues: what is the meaning of "and thus" and who is "all Israel"?

First, there are four possibilities for "and thus":

(1) "and then", i.e., after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; but the Greek phrase nowhere is used temporally (if a temporal reference were in view, Paul would have used kai tote or eita or epeita);

(2) "and in consequence", i.e., in consequence of the process noted in v. 25b; although not impossible, this is a highly unlikely use of the phrase;

(3) "and thus", pointing forward to the OT quotes in vv. 26-27, i.e., saved in this way, "just as it is written . . . "

(4) "and thus", i.e., in the manner described in vv. 11-24. And what is that? Simply this: "God imposes a hardening on most of Israel while Gentiles come into the messianic salvation, with the Gentiles' salvation leading in turn to Israel's jealousy and her own salvation" (Moo, 720).

Second, the phrase "all Israel" has been taken in four ways:

(1) all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles (but Paul has used "Israel" 10x in Rom. 9-11 and each refers to ethnic Israel; furthermore, as Schreiner notes, “to posit that the term ‘Israel’ includes believing Gentiles in v. 26 requires that Paul lurches to a new meaning for the term ‘Israel’ in verse 26. For verse 25 says that a partial hardening has come upon ‘Israel’ while the full number of ‘Gentiles’ stream into the church. It is obvious in verse 25 that the term ‘Israel’ refers to ethnic Israel in contradistinction to the Gentiles. Thus it is extremely unlikely that the term ‘Israel’ would have a different meaning in verse 26 than it did in verse 25” [615]);

(2) the elect within Israel;

(3) all ethnic Israelites exhaustively who are alive at the second coming of Christ (but Paul does not say "every" Israelite);

(4) the nation of Israel as a whole, but not every single individual who is a part of that nation (for support of this view with evidence from the OT, see Moo, note 55, p. 722; e.g., 1 Sam. 7:5; 25:1; 1 Kings 12:1; 2 Chron. 12:1; Daniel 9:11).

In summary, the view of the majority of NT scholars is that Paul is describing a time subsequent to the salvation of the full number of God's elect among the Gentiles, hence at the end of the age, when the partial hardening that has come upon Israel will be lifted and there shall occur the salvation of the full number of God's elect among the Jews. At that time, "all Israel" will become Christian, members of the church, the body of Christ. This event will in some way be connected with the second coming of Christ.

Question: Does this promise of salvation for “all Israel” contradict Romans 9 where Paul says that the promise of salvation was only for a “remnant”? No, “for Rom. 11 does not promise salvation to all Israel throughout history but to ‘all Israel’ at the end of history. Such salvation of ‘all Israel,’ therefore, is still the salvation of only a remnant of Israel throughout history” (Schreiner, 622).

[An alternative view that we have not discussed argues that "all Israel" will be saved in the same way as Gentiles are being saved: throughout the course of history, as they believe. In other words, the salvation of all Israel is progressive. Paul is not describing something that will occur only en masse at the end of the age, but something that is occurring individually each time a Jew believes in Jesus. When the full number of elect Jews have believed (Israel's "fullness"), so too will the full number of elect Gentiles have believed (their "fullness"). But this is a process that occurs down through church history as ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles together trust in Christ. Appeal is made to Paul's emphasis on what is happening "now", "in the present time" (vv. 1,5,13-14,30-31) and not to what might happen in the future at Christ's second coming. Vv. 26-27 are interpreted as a reference to what Christ did at his first coming, not what he will do at his second. In other words, the future tense ("will come", "will remove") describes what was future from the perspective or vantage point of the OT prophet writing the words, not from the perspective of Paul in the first century. Some who embrace this view do not necessarily deny the possibility that other texts teach a future, mass conversion of Jews. They simply deny that Paul is teaching that in Romans 11.]

2)         the confirmation of the OT - vv. 26b-27

3)         the conclusions of the apostle Paul - vv. 28-32

3.         A Concluding Doxology - 11:33-36

a.         a declaration of God's attributes - v. 33

1)         wisdom

2)         knowledge

3)         judgments

4)         ways

b.         a denunciation of man's arrogance - vv. 34-35

c.         a demand for God's adoration - v. 36

Three declarations:

(1)       God's riches and wisdom and knowledge are infinitely unreachable

a.         Riches might refer to the infinite resources of God from which flow all divine blessings, or more likely it points to the saving kindness expressed in the grace he shows to undeserving sinners (see 11:12).

b.         Wisdom is a reference to the plan of salvation by which both Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ, a plan just delineated in Romans 9-11.

c.         Knowledge is a reference to God's knowledge of us, not our knowledge of him. This may well be a reference to his foreknowledge as mentioned in 8:29 and 11:2.

(2)       God's judgments are infinitely unsearchable

The word judgments may either be a reference to his judicial decisions (i.e., in pronouncing condemnation on the wicked and forgiveness to believers) or to his "executive decisions about the direction of salvation history" (Moo, 742).

(3)       God's ways are infinitely unfathomable

The ways of God is simply another way of referring to his judgments, i.e., the inscrutable nature of God's providential control in bringing salvation to his people.

Three rhetorical questions:

(1)       Who has ever figured out God's mind?

See Isa. 55:8-9

(2)       Who has ever told God what to do?

See Isa. 40:13-14

(3)       Who has ever made God his debtor?

God can never be any man's debtor, inasmuch as he is already the owner of all things (Ps. 24:1).

Three doxological assertions:

(1)       All things are from God: He is the Source

(2)       All things are through God: He is the Means

(3)       All things are to God: He is the Goal