All Israel: The saved in Romans 11.26
". . . and so all Israel will be saved. . . ." [Rom. 11:26]
Thus ring the climaxing words of one of the most disputed passages in the New Testament. The question at issue: who are the "all Israel" that most certainly will be saved?
To this question, there have been a variety of answers. 1) "All Israel" refers to all the people of God, that is, the Church.1 2) "All Israel" refers to the elect remnant within the nation of Israel.2 3) "All Israel" refers to Israel considered as a nation, although not to a man, head for head.3 The first two views generally take this salvation to refer to God's activity throughout new covenant history, while the third interprets the statement in an eschatological (in the more restricted sense of the term) fashion.
As may be seen by the representatives cited in the footnotes, this entire spectrum of opinion can be found within the Reformed camp, as well as beyond it.4 This is thus an intramural debate within the Presbyterian and Reformed community.
What is the significance of this question? Clearly, there are at least two things to be affected greatly by our choice of interpretation. First, eschatology: varying views on the identity of all Israel will naturally imply varying understandings of "the last things." Second, hermeneutics: if national Israel is in view, then Paul's use of Old Testament prophecy in verses 26-27 will force us away from simply reinterpreting Old Testament prophecies as applying to the present state of the Church.5 It is not my intention to enter into an extended discussion of such implications; I only raise them to demonstrate the importance of the question that is before us.6
Ideally, in examining any passage of Scripture, we would proceed through the text in verse-by-verse exegesis. However, the comparative nature of our task would make such a design of action quite unworkable. Therefore, we will examine each of the three major positions in turn, both in terms of arguments offered in their favour, and objections which may be raised against them.
I. All Israel = All the People of God
It is not surprising that the interpretive position taken by men of the stature of Calvin and Luther7 would have an enduring following, although in recent years, very few biblical scholars have adopted it.
Calvin writes, "I extend the word Israel to all the people of God." His understanding of all Israel includes both Jews and Gentiles, the whole Church.
Upon what basis does Calvin proffer this position? "Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Gal. vi. 16."
In other words, in the context Paul is speaking of the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, and elsewhere the apostle does indeed use this language to speak of the Church in general.
Calvin's argument is very slender. Even if we grant that Paul uses this language in Galatians, that by no means demonstrates that he does so here. To the contrary, Calvin's own exegesis of the entire context militates against this: in every other verse in the chapter he takes Israel to refer to the Jews. That it is necessary to do so in verse 26 is necessitated by the wording of verse 25: "For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, in order that you be not wise unto yourselves: that hardening in part has come to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles may come in" (emphasis mine).8 Paul is positing a clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles here; the hardening of the former is conditioned upon the timing of the coming in of the latter.
The fact is, Israel has an ethnic referent throughout Romans (see 9:6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25, 26; also in the Majority text at 10:1), even at 9:6, where Paul denies that mere Israelitish ethnicity qualifies one to be the true Israel. Paul is speaking in that context of the continual sorrow he has in his heart because of the state of his kinsmen according to the flesh; it is they who are "Israelites," and who were entrusted with adoption, the covenants, the Torah, and much more (9:2-5). The distinction which Paul introduces here is not between Jews after the flesh, on the one hand, and all the elect, whether Jew or Gentile, on the other. He is still speaking of those who are Jews "according to the flesh," but he insists that the true Israel is also (not: instead) promise-children (cf. 4:12). When he reintroduces the Gentiles (9:24), the apostle does not label them Jews, although he is insistent that they have become God's people (9:25).
Therefore, it is clear that Paul has not conditioned his hearers to identify all the elect as Israel, and to do in midstream at this point, where he has just previously underscored the distinction, would be thoroughly confusing.
A further aspect of the context makes Calvin's interpretation of the phrase even more unlikely. As Moo pertinently notes,
In both Galatians and Rom. 4 Paul is arguing that Gentiles, as Gentiles, can become recipients of the blessings promised to Abraham and full members of the people of God. . . . But Paul's purpose in Rom. 11 is almost the opposite. Here, he counters a tendency for Gentiles to appropriate for themselves exclusively the rights and titles of 'God's people.' 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.'9
Moreover, it should be underscored that Calvin (unlike most people who, in a narrow way, adopt his exegesis of verse 26) did not deny the future spiritual recovery of Israel. This fact is almost never mentioned by those who purport to follow his view. Indeed, the complete quotation of the sentence from which I took a snippet above, runs as follows: "I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, - 'When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God's family."10 We thus see that what Calvin means here by extend is not merely that he understands the word Israel to refer to all the people of God, but that the promise of verse 26 literally extends beyond the future restoration of the Jews - which he assumes - to refer to the whole Church. Even the passage Paul immediately cites (Is. 59) Calvin considers to be of particular significance for the Jews: "as the Jews are the first-born, what the Prophet declares must be fulfilled, especially in them."11
Thus, even Calvin cannot avoid speaking of the Jews as the particular referent of this verse. The appropriation of all Israel to refer to the whole Church is, then, deservedly falling by the wayside.
II. All Israel = the Sum of All the Elect Remnants of Israel
A very popular understanding of Romans 11 among the Reformed is that articulated (perhaps most clearly in the English language) by William Hendriksen. Hendriksen's structure of the section (chapters 9-11) reveals his position: the divine rejection is not complete (chapter 9); it is not arbitrary (chapter 10); and it is not absolute or unqualified (chapter 11).12 "The term 'All Israel' means the total number of elect Jews, the sum of all Israel's 'remnants.'"13
None of the defenders of this position seem to have put together a neat package of positive arguments for their position (although Hendriksen does neatly summarize objections to competing positions), so we need to glean these from the exegetical work they provide of the chapter.
1. Limitation. The argument of the chapter arises from Paul's question in verse 1: has God rejected His people? Paul's answer is that God has not rejected the people whom He foreknew. This means that there is a limitation here to those who belong to the 'true Israel' mentioned in 9:6. This is why "the salvation of a small remnant from the total mass is ample proof that God's true people have not been, are not now, nor will be cast off."14
2. Present tense. The issue in Romans 11 is not eschatological in the sense of a future mass of conversions. Paul is concerned with the present situation. Verses 12 and 15 are verbless, and the idea of futurity must be read in. Moreover, Paul connects his own current work with the salvation of Israel (vv. 13-14). The disobedience and obedience of the Jews is not intended to be separated by a great period of time. "According to v 30, Gentiles once were disobedient, but now have received mercy. In the same manner, Israel now is found disobedient, that they also now may receive mercy. Both in the case of Gentiles and of Jews, the full cycle of movement from a state of disobedience to a state of mercy occurs in the present age."15 Hendriksen stresses the repeated "now" in verses 30-31: "all the while Paul is thinking not of something that will happen at, or just previous to, Christ's Return, but of events that are occurring right now, in fulfilment of God's plan from before the founding of the universe."16
3. Not a unit but a sum. Fullness in verse 12 refers "to the salvation not of a physical unit, 'the people of Israel'; but of the sum of all Israel's remnants. See 11:1-7, 26."17
4. Parallelism. All Israel in verse 26 parallels the fullness of the Gentiles in verse 25. They both refer to the complete number of the elect, of Jew and Gentile respectively.18
The subtlety of this position necessitates a careful interaction with it. Therefore, we will examine the assertions noted above, as well as interact with Hendriksen's attempts to refute other objections to his interpretation.
1. Only a Remnant?
Development in the argument.
Is Paul concerned in this chapter only with a remnant of Israel, the 'true Israel'? Two objections can be made to this assertion. First, Paul's rhetorical question at 11:1 does not preclude further development at the point of the rhetorical question of 11:11: "Therefore, I say - surely they have not stumbled in order that they might fall?"
In the previous section, the 'they' who stumbled are set over against the remnant whom God has reserved for Himself. Therefore, even if we granted that in the first section of the chapter, Paul was concerned only with the remnant and no more, this new rhetorical question pushes the issue forward.19 He has said there is a remnant, but now the further question is, what about that hardened mass; what about Israel as a whole?
God's people & the remnant.
Second, more basically, Hendriksen et al have misunderstood both the rhetorical question and answer in 11:1, and Paul's employment of the remnant motif in the first part of the chapter. Robertson severely prejudices the issue when he writes,
The question is not 'Has God cast off ethnic Israel with respect to his special plan for their future? The inquiry of this apostle to the Gentiles implies something even more radical. He asks, 'Has God cast off ethnic Israel altogether as they might relate to his purposes of redemption?' Is there any hope for the continuation of a saving activity of God among Israelites? Have they stumbled that they might fall (altogether)? (v 11).20
But neither the question which Robertson opposes nor the set of questions that he suggests are precisely at issue in the context. In the preceding section, Paul has described the error of Israel: they have not sought righteousness by faith. Thus it has come about that God is stretching out His hands to a disobedient and obstinate people (10:21). Yet he never indicates that there are no believing Jews. The issue is the nation.21
In 9:4-5, Paul has indicated that even presently the adoption and glory and promises (take note of this: this is the key possession at issue) belong to the nation as a whole.22 But if the nation possesses such promises, the question that naturally arises from 9:30-10:21 is whether they have fallen to the ground. Has the nation now forfeited those gifts outlined in 9:4-5?23 Paul opposes this strenuously, which becomes very clear by 11:28-29, where he asserts that such gifts and calling are irrevocable, even though the nation is considered hated in terms of their relationship to the gospel. Their relationship to the fathers sets them apart - and they are in that sense beloved.
What then of Paul's answer? Why does he qualify his answer by announcing that "God has not repudiated His people, whom He foreknew"? It must be understood that a qualification and a limitation are rather different things. Paul is not here defining God's people in terms of 9:6 (i.e., God's people are only the 'true Israel,' rather than the nation); rather, he is pointing to the solidity of the relationship. He is underscoring the unthinkability of God's repudiation of His national covenant, since it was based upon election (cf. Deut. 7:6ff.). When a father says he would not repudiate his children whom he loves, he is not thereby indicating that he only loves some of his children; he is providing the ground of his fidelity. So here Paul indicates the ground of permanence in this relationship of God to Israel: He has foreknown them. To borrow Paul's language elsewhere, even if it were but a man's covenant, it could not be made void (cf. Gal. 3:15).
In his drawing in of verse 11, Robertson's language misses the necessary distinction between the remnant and those who have fallen. Paul does not speak of the former as having stumbled! It is the hardened mass described in 7-10 that is the subject of verse 11. It is equivocation of the worst sort to identify them with the elect remnant.24
But, it will be objected, Paul's employment of his own case, and that of the remnant, is absurd if the nation is in view. If the issue is the nation as a whole, how would these cases justify Paul's vehement negative answer to the rhetorical question of verse 1?
This takes us to the heart of the issue. How is the remnant motif functioning in Romans 11? I believe that it is precisely this motif which is commonly misunderstood.25 Hendriksen et al are suggesting that the remnant is the true Israel, and that is all that Paul is interested in. But the shift at 11:11 gives clear indication that this is not the case.
In 9:29, Paul has indicated that it is the remnant which God has always used to keep the nation in existence, preserved from complete obliteration. Thus, Haldane is correct when he writes that the keeping of a remnant was "necessary for the preservation of the nation."26 But the current state of preservation is not to be understood as the permanent ideal; it is the means to an end, the bridge to a further destination.
In other words, Paul employs the remnant motif to demonstrate that God has not abandoned His people - but he does not do so to suggest that this is going to be the limits of God's dealing with His people. "The remnant is the adumbration of the salvation of all Israel."27
2. Present Tense Only?
Old Testament citations
This leads us to the second point: Paul is concerned in this chapter with eschatology, and not merely with the present. His citations of the Old Testament demonstrate this, even in the first section (verses 1-10). It must be recalled that the New Testament often cites verses from the Old, without wishing to completely ignore their original contexts. There is a growing awareness among biblical scholars of the need to carefully consider the passages of which the New Testament writer cites or alludes to only a part.28 This necessity is very much with us in Romans 11. In his comments on 11:8, Schreiner gives deserved attention to this hermeneutical reality:
The OT context of both quotations is suggestive. In Deuteronomy (29:2-30:20) Moses rehearses and foretells the history of Israel, arguing that they will face exile for their sin and will be delivered only in the future when God circumcises their hearts (30:6). At the beginning of his discourse (29:3)29 Moses acknowledges that the people of his day are incapable of keeping the law, because God has withheld understanding from them 'until this day'. . . . Significantly, Paul includes these words as well . . . indicating that he believes that the gracious work of God that will lift the blindness off the majority of Israel has not yet occurred. When the Lord circumcises their hearts (30:6), then all Israel will be saved. But Israel at this juncture is still in the state in which they are blinded from seeing the truth. Isaiah 29 contains a judgment oracle against the prophets (29:9-16; cf. 6:9-10). . . . But Isa. 29:17-24 looks forward to a new day in Israel in which shame will be removed from Jacob and understanding will be granted to them. Thus Paul understands Israel to be under the judgment described in Deuteronomy and Isaiah, although the contexts of both prophecies indicate that this is not the last word for Israel.30
We will say more about Paul's use of the Old Testament in the third section of the paper.
The verbless sentences
While it is certainly true that neither verse 12 nor verse 15 have verbs, the futurity of the "how much more" clauses are implicit. This is so, because, contrary to Hendriksen, the subject of the verses cannot refer to the remnant. These verses are an answer to the rhetorical question of 11:11, which as we have seen, refers to the hardened mass, as opposed to the remnant. But since the mass of Israel is yet unbelieving, their fullness (12) and acceptance (15) are yet future.
Paul's ongoing work
What then of Paul's stress upon his own present labour (13-14)? Hendriksen assumes that this implies that everything the apostle is referring to must be the case even at that time. But while Paul's present labour is certainly related to the issue at hand, it is by no means a given that it is related in precisely the way that Hendriksen assumes.
First, given the relationship between verses 12 and 15, it must be granted that 13-14 are parenthetical. Even Paul's introduction of these verses (Humin de lego tois ethnesin, But I speak to you Gentiles...) indicates somewhat of an aside - pertinent to be sure, but not an integral part of the argument which he is building.
Wherein lies the pertinence, then? Paul's present ministry to the Gentiles is related to the overarching issue in at least three ways: 1) He is demonstrating that even his own ministry, which is specifically to the Gentiles, is not an indication of abandonment of his people; even as God has not repudiated them, neither may it be supposed that the apostle has. 2) He is demonstrating the manner in which the great restoration will come about: through a provocation to jealousy. 3) The greater success Paul has in his ministry to the Gentiles, the further along the road the world comes to that day in which "the fullness of the Gentiles may come in" (v. 25) - and it is that day which will precipitate the salvation of "all Israel." Moreover, Paul is laying the groundwork for the hortatory section in verses 17ff., where he warns against arrogance on the part of the Gentile Christians.
It should further be noted that Paul's own limited ambition concerning Israel - that he might save "some" of them (v. 14) is in no way prejudicial against the notion of a mass restoration, since Paul was under no illusion that he was going to be the instrument of that great revival. In fact, we have little reason to suppose that he thought he would live to see it.
Beyond this, the term some is not necessarily as modest as it sounds: it is the same term (tines) employed in v. 17 to refer to the fallen branches (some were broken off)!
Just how brief is the cycle in 30-31? Robertson's suggestion that the whole cycle of disobedience and obedience (30-31) occurs in an apparently short span is unlikely. On his view, the mercy shown the Jews ought to have been marked by a present tense verb, indicating an ongoing action of reception into the present Christian community. Instead, Paul employs an aorist at the crucial point (eleethosin, v. 31). This would seem to indicate that Paul has in mind a particular period or event, not a current, ongoing process.
Robertson's idea is rather individualistic. By the disobedience of the Gentiles, he apparently understands the personal history of these believers. But Paul seems to have a broader redemptive-historical sketch in view; he is about to insist that God has closed up all together (sunekleisen) unto disobedience (32), an apparent reference back to assertions he has made both earlier in Romans, and elsewhere. The Law-age intended to close every mouth (3:19; this past age is set against the now apart from the Law of 3:21). This answers well to Galatians 3:22, where, contextually, the reference is clearly redemptive-historical - and the wording is remarkably similar to Romans 11:32: "the Scripture has shut up all men under sin" (sunekleisen he graphe ta panta hupo hamartian).
All of this demonstrates that Robertson has not been clear about precisely who the Jews are in 11:30-31. The people in view are those who presently are enemies (echthroi); these are not the remnant of which Paul has spoken in 11:1-10. They are ones who even now are shut up in disobedience.
Paul is making a redemptive-historical juxtaposition in order to prove further the certainty of Israel's coming salvation. For even as the Gentiles were left to walk in their own ways (cf. Acts 14:16), now God has hardened the mass of Jews. But even as His intent with the Gentiles was not permanent repudiation, so now God will not cast off His own people forever. Rather, He has shut them up unto disobedience in order that He might at last show mercy upon them. Thus it will be clear to all that salvation is by grace alone.
What about the repeated "now" of verses 30-31? The stress on this is somewhat exaggerated. In fact, the most crucial appearance of nun for Hendriksen's argument (attached to eleethosin, they may receive mercy) is absent from many important manuscripts, including Alexandrinus, P46, and the Byzantine family. Moreover, the most natural reading of the verses would not ascribe to the nun the status of absolute time, for at least two reasons. First, Paul has just given a prophetic description of the future (v. 26); the 'nows' are relativized by a future condition (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13). Second, the eschatological nature of Paul's writings ("the presence of the future," as Ladd calls it) places us in the era of blessing already. Indeed, depending upon one's view of the meaning of the "fullness of the Gentiles" (v. 25), one could say, "Paul writes nun because the salvation of the Jews can now occur at any time - in that sense it is imminent - for the time of Gentile disobedience has been replaced by Gentile salvation."31 The now is primarily logical rather than strictly temporal, in any case: Paul is showing the interrelation between the obedience and disobedience of both Jews and Gentiles.32
3. Does 'Fullness' = 'The sum of Israel's remnants?'
Hendriksen cites 11:1-7, 26 to show that the "fullness" of verse 12 refers to the sum of all Israel's remnants, rather than to a future unit at a given time. But this is simply an assertion which he can in no way prove - certainly the verses cited do not demonstrate his case. No natural reading of the text would lead us to add together 'remnants' to arrive at a fullness. To the contrary, as shown earlier, the subject of 11:11ff. is the hardened mass, not the remnants at all. It is improper, given the antithesis provided in 11:1-10, to suppose that the stumbling and falling and defeat mentioned in 11-12, or the loss mentioned in 15, are to be attributed to the remnant of Paul's day. The difficulties which give rise to the dreaded question in verse 11 are precisely the terrible punishments meted out upon most of Israel, as outlined in verses 7-10 - punishments which did not apply to the remnant but to the mass which constituted the greater part of the nation.33
4. Selective Parallelism
We come now to what is probably Hendriksen's best argument. While the three claims dealt with above are problematic assertions, there is a certain plausibility in the suggestion that all Israel (11:26) parallels the fullness of the Gentiles (11:25). And it may at first seem likely that the "coming in" of the fullness of the Gentiles refers to the completion of the induction of all the elect Gentiles.
Against this, however, is that the more natural relation between verses 25 and 26 lies in the juxtaposition of the coordinates merous (part) and pas (all), both of which refer to Israel. Although fullness (pleroma) certainly has a numerical idea, its parallelism to all is not as direct as the antithetic parallelism provided by pas.
Admittedly, this still leaves the question of the meaning of the phrase the fullness of the Gentiles. It could be argued that if this phrase does refer to the total number of elect Gentiles, then we would also be led to think that it means the total number of elect Jews in verse 12.
My response is that such reasoning is backward. Even if we do maintain that fullness in verse 25 is intended to parallel fullness in verse 12 (which is not necessarily the case, since with regard to the latter, the fullness is set off contextually against an idea of partiality, whereas the Gentile-pleroma is provided no such comparative standard), any transference of meaning should go in the direction of verse 12 to verse 25, and not the reverse. This is so, not only because verse 12 is earlier, but because the concept of the fullness of the Gentiles is not developed anywhere in the chapter. If we use it as our reference point, it is too easy to import our preconceived notions of what fullness of the Gentiles must mean, and from there prejudice our exegesis of the entire chapter. That simply is not exegetically responsible. What is dealt with extensively in the passage must shed light on what is mentioned only in passing.
Therefore, if we are to correlate the two appearances of pleroma in this chapter at all, we ought to exegete verse 12 carefully and see if the natural rendering there can also work naturally in verse 25.34
Finally, with regard to the fullness of the Gentiles: the unlikelihood that it refers to all elect Gentiles is heightened by Paul's employment of the aorist subjunctive as the verb of the clause. The aorist seems to indicate that there will come a particular time when this plhrwma enters in, whereas if we take the word to refer to all of the elect (Gentiles), the "in-coming" is thoroughly progressive in nature.35
Besides the criticisms leveled above, other objections have been raised against the 'remnant theory.' Hendriksen has summarized these and provided responses to them. It is to a couple of these we will now turn.36
1. Contrast Between the Remnant and the Mass of Israel Destroyed
It has been objected against Hendriksen that his interpretation destroys the contrast between the remnant in 11:5 and the mass of Israel. Hendriksen answers that this does not destroy the contrast but defines it more accurately; the real contrast is between the single remnants and the sum of all the remnants.37
The proper response to Hendriksen is that he himself is vulnerable to a refutation similar to that by which he refuted Calvin's position: the relationship of the word Israel in verse 25 to its appearance in verse 26.
Simply put, Israel in the context of 11:26 refers not to a remnant, but to the nation of Jews. Since 9:6,38 Paul has never referred to the elect remnant as "Israel"; the term has always referred to the nation (see 9:27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25). If Hendriksen insists against Calvin that there cannot be equivocation between verses 25 and 26,39 we may insist the same with regard to his own view. The notion of some contrast between the individual remnants and the sum of all of them is a notion that Hendriksen has read into the text, and can be attributed to no verse in the chapter. On the other hand, the contrast between the remnant and the nation as a whole is crystal clear (note esp. 11:7). Even more to the point, the contrast in situation presented in verses 25-26 is crystal clear: while at the present part of Israel is hardened, nonetheless the promise remains that all Israel shall be saved. It is simply inexcusable to overlook Paul's deliberate juxtaposition of merous in verse 25 and pas in verse 26.
2. The Trivialization of Paul's 'Mystery'
Another objection brought against this position is that it reduces Paul's 'mystery' to nothing more than that all Israel's elect will indeed be saved. But Hendriksen denies this. Rather, the mystery Paul refers to in 11:25 is the "marvelous chain of events that results in Israel's salvation." The issue, he claims, is the extraordinary way that salvation of the remnant is brought about - through the downfall of the nation.40
This answer, however, ignores the occasion which arouses Paul to express the mystery. He is not engaging in some abstract thinking but attempting to preclude boasting against the Jews on the part of the Gentile Christians. From verse 17 on, Paul is forestalling such arrogance by pointing out that the Gentiles stand only by humble faith, and that indeed, although branches have been cut off in order for them to be included, yet God is able to re-graft those branches. "For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, in order that you be not wise in the sight of yourselves: that hardening in part has come to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles may come in. Even thus all Israel shall be saved. . . ." (11:25-26a; emphasis mine).
The "marvelous chain of events" described by Hendriksen would hardly be a persuasive argument to prevent the Gentiles from boasting. What would be persuasive was the assurance that God was not only able but prepared to renew the Jews with relationship to their natural olive tree. Thus the most telling point of the mystery Paul mentions in verse 25 is the word until: a termination point in this sad situation is coming. This leads directly into the proclamation of verse 26: "Even thus all Israel shall be saved."
We will have more opportunity to interact with Hendriksen et al in the next section, where we will defend the third major position on this passage, namely, that all Israel refers to the nation of Jews at a particular point in time.
III. All Israel = the Nation as a Whole
The position of Murray, Hodge, Greijdanus, and numerous others is that all Israel in Romans 11:26 refers to a particular generation of Jews when the nation taken as a whole (but not necessarily head-for-head) will be turned to the Lord.
It was not possible to critique the other positions without tipping our hand somewhat with regard to these. But at the risk of repetition, we will draw attention to some familiar considerations regarding this passage. I have arranged these in textual order, rather than in what I would call order of argumentative weight, although I think that all of them are quite compelling.41
1. The Development of 11:11ff.
The use of the rhetorical question here reflects an intention to advance the argument. The question is one which naturally arises out of the pathetic situation of 11:7-10. If God is the One hardening the mass of Israel, does this not indicate that His intention is specifically for her fall?42 Paul's negative exclamation here matches the one in 11:1. In other words, such a thought is far from God's purpose. Rather, Paul explains, this stumble was to bring salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn would make the Jews themselves jealous. With regard to the former, this means that the Jews' stumble, their defeat, became the occasion for riches for the world (11:12).
The important thing to underscore here is that throughout this section, it is the stumbled nation, not the remnant, that is in view. Otherwise, the section would not be a proper outgrowth of verses 7-10, and would thus not provide an answer to the rhetorical question which introduces it.
2. The Language of Fullness
While there has been a great deal of argument over the precise meaning of pleroma in 11:12, it has often been rather a-contextual. Given what we have learned regarding the subject in verse 11, it would hardly seem surprising for Paul to reach back into the previous verses in order to make comparisons or contrasts. In those verses, the fact of a present remnant (leimma) has been established, while the rest (loipoi) of Israel has stumbled and is hardened. Thus the present situation is one of partiality. Given this, it is difficult to avoid drawing that theme into relation to the language of fullness in verse 12. In that light, fullness must refer to a national spiritual recovery.
3. The Metaphors of 11:16
Paul writes, "Now if the first-fruits are holy, so also the dough; and if the root is holy, also the branches." There are two quite satisfactory explanations of these metaphors, neither of which fit well into any view of the passage other than the one herein adopted.
The first (and most common) view is that the first-fruits and the root refer to the patriarchs, while the dough and branches refer to the nation of Israel. The meaning would then be that since God made His promises to the patriarchs, the promises are not to be simply cast away from their descendants, since they too are 'holy,' that is, set apart for God's covenantal purposes. The appeal of this view is twofold: it flows naturally into the ensuing discussion (11:17-24); and the idea of favour upon the nation for the sake of the patriarchs is repeated later (11:28-29).
The second view is that at least the first metaphor refers to the relationship between the remnant and the nation. Since God has reserved for Himself the first-fruits, He has given an earnest that He will one day take back the whole nation to Himself. There are a number of advantages to this view. First, Paul elsewhere employs the language of "first-fruits" to refer to converts as a "foreshadowing of the greater, eventual redemptive work of God."43 Second, the patriarchs have not been mentioned for some time preceding, and their introduction here would seem rather sudden. Third, the remnant has been discussed in the near context and set in a comparative relationship with the rest of the nation. Fourth, this view would provide a smoother transition between the preceding and following verses. Paul has demonstrated the existence of a remnant (11:1-10); he has exclaimed of the benefits of the reclamation of the nation (11:11-12, 15); and now he asserts that the existence of the former guarantees the actualization of the latter.
Against the second view is that it does create some problems with the ensuing verses, since if the remnant is the root, it seems odd that the mass is referred to as branches. (Another problem is that our translations render verse 17 as "you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted among them," which would make certain that the remnant is represented in the branches, not the root. However, it has been rightly pointed out that en autois can be translated as "in their place" - thus referring to those who were cut off - with equal legitimacy.44 This translation may be preferable, since in the remainder of 17-24, only the fallen branches are referred to.)45
While it is difficult to choose between these two views, it is clear that either one would support our overall position (and no other).46 For the metaphors make little transitional sense upon any other interpretation. Lenski suggests, as might be expected, that "the lump of dough and the branches denote all the spiritual descendants." But despite his claim that any "reference to 'theocratic' holiness introduces an idea that is extraneous to the discussion," he cannot demonstrate precisely what importance this verse should have at this point.47
The only other plausible reason that could be suggested for the introduction of the metaphors is to underscore to the Gentiles that it is precisely the root (or the first-fruits) that lends to them their holiness (as implied in 18: it is the root which bears the Gentile branches). However, there are telling problems with this interpretation. First, it is abrupt in its relation to the preceding. Second, the wording lays the stress in a different fashion. Paul links the dough to the first-fruits, and the branches to the root, only by kai (quite literally: if the first-fruit holy - also the dough; and if the root holy - also the branches); if his interest were at this point already to point to the root as the source of the Gentiles' (assumed) holiness, he would have employed language more directly causative (e.g. "the branches are holy because the root is holy"). The structure of the conditional sentences indicates that Paul assumes the holiness of the first-fruits and the root, and from that argues to the holiness of the lump and the branches, which is the reverse direction to that required by the interpretation under consideration.
Therefore, the purpose of verse 16 is to offer a reason for the optimistic prospect of verse 15 (and verse 12): the mass of Israel will indeed receive "acceptance" because of the holiness48 either of the believing remnant, or that of the patriarchs. The first-fruits anticipate a "fullness."
4. Israel in 11:25
In the verse preceding the mention of all Israel, Paul asserts that "hardening in part has come to Israel." This clearly refers back to 11:7-10. The juxtaposition between Israel and "the fullness of the Gentiles" in this verse clearly indicates that ethnic Israel is in view. Moreover, this ethnic denotation cannot be restricted to the remnant, since part of the Israel in view has been hardened. Hence, it is rightly agreed by all that the referent is the nation, part of which has been hardened.
If it is the nation that is in view in verse 25 (including that part which has been hardened), then the most natural and compelling understanding of Israel in verse 26 is that it also refers to the whole nation. The argument is that simple, and virtually strong enough to demonstrate our position all by itself.
5. The Paranetic Purpose of 11:25-26
Verses 25ff. flow out of the paranesis of 17-24. Paul is concerned to forestall any boasting against Israel on the part of the Gentile Christians. He has been building a case against such boasting by introducing the notion of Israel being re-grafted. In verse 23, this goes no further than the possibility: "God is able to graft them again." But in the verse following, Paul moves his argument along by pointing to its probability, employing the future indicative. If even you Gentiles, uncultivated branches as you were, were engrafted to the covenantal root, "how much more shall these, according to nature, be grafted to their own olive tree?"49
It is from this vantage point that the apostle goes back to his paranetic punch: "For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, in order that you be not wise in the sight of yourselves: that hardening in part has come to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles may come in." The stress in the successive clauses lays upon those two key things which would deflate Gentile arrogance: first, that the hardening is only partial; and second, that it is conditioned by time: it is only until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.
Moreover, the latter element is the more significant of the two; the former was not a revelation of the 'mystery' that Paul has mentioned. A mystery requires special revelation to bring it to light. Yet there were plainly Jews in the Roman church. It was hardly any secret that the hardening was partial and that a remnant remained. But what the Gentiles would be unsure about was the rolling back of the present state of affairs. (This is one compelling reason why acri hou here cannot mean while or during the period and also after. If the until, with the implicit notion of a coming reversal, is lost, then the punch of Paul's mystery in connection with his paranesis is removed from the text. But more on the phrase acri hou below, where objections are considered.)
6. The Usage of All Israel Elsewhere
The closest language we get to all Israel elsewhere in Romans is at 9:6. Quite literally, that verse reads, "For it is not the case - 'All from Israel [pantes hoi ex Israel]: these are Israel.'" In this verse, Israel clearly refers to the nation, since in the context it is being contrasted to the elect remnant.
Elsewhere in Scripture, the term is used in a rather general way to denote, not necessarily every Israelite head-for-head, but a substantial and representative portion of the nation. Most generally, it is taken for the nation as a whole, without requiring pedantic precision as to including every Israelite without exception.50 Israel is taken substantially but not exhaustively. An observation of the biblical texts bears this out (e.g. Jdg. 8:27; 1 Sam. 13:20; 2 Sam. 3:37; Acts 4:10; 13:24).
Given these facts, and the juxtaposition of "all Israel" with a remnant (distant context) and with a nation that is partially hardened (verse 25), it is unquestionably most natural to interpret verse 26 to be referring to the nation considered as a whole. Given the context, a substantial enough majority must be represented that the "hardening in part" can be said to have been removed.
7. The Tension in 11:28-29
I will boldly say that no other view can account for the language of these two verses without a great deal of equivocation. Paul writes, "Now, with respect to the gospel they are enemies for your sakes, but with respect to the election, beloved for the sake of the fathers: for irrevocable are the gifts and the calling of God."
On these verses, Lenski writes, "Considering the gospel (1:1, 16), these Jews are at first unbelieving, are 'enemies,' are personally hostile toward this gospel; all Jews are reared thus."51 So too Hendriksen interprets this passage to mean that the same Jews who were enemies are the beloved ones because they are elect, and thus become friends.52
Part of the trouble with such an interpretation is that it dissipates the deliberate tension provided by Paul. These verses do not depict an inner movement from unbelief to belief. Rather, they reflect a simultaneous status of the people spoken of. It is telling that neither Lenski nor Hendriksen opt for the full parallel between the two descriptions, which virtually demands that those beloved by God for the sake of the fathers are simultaneously those hated by Him for the sake of their standing in relation to the gospel and Christ's Church.
If Paul were really interested in communicating what Hendriksen et al claim, he would almost certainly not have written verbless clauses here; he would want to make such a subtle shift clear.53 Furthermore, it is unclear why Paul writes beloved for the sake of the fathers - if they have subsequently come to faith, they are also beloved for the sake of the gospel! - and needless to say, Paul's dynamic tension is thus lost altogether.
Much more likely is the understanding that here Paul is again making clear the basis of God's retention of Israel in His purposes. Although it is true that considered as a whole, Israel is at enmity with the gospel, yet God does not completely and finally repudiate them. Why? Because the gifts and calling which He has laid upon them (9:4-5) are irrevocable (grammatically the stress in 11:29 is upon the adjective ametameleta, irrevocable). Thus, as a community they are both despised and beloved. Their present situation is largely one of being held in suspension: God gathers a remnant here and there, and for the rest merely preserves the nation in view of the coming day of eschatological glory, when all Israel shall be saved.
This also leads naturally into verses 30-31. Even as the Gentiles were once shut up in darkness, so now it is with the Jews. But even in the face of that darkness, God's purpose for His people has not been abandoned, for even as He at length gave light to the Gentiles, so after shutting up the Jews, He will at length show mercy upon them as well. God shut off the nations from His light for century after century, but that did not mean that His purposes for the world were forgotten. Likewise, God now shuts off Israel (with the exception of His remnant, His down-payment or guarantee), but that does not mean that He has revoked the covenant which He made with her. Such could never be; God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind.
8. The Old Testament Promises
Clearly this is the broadest defense; proper consideration would require the exegesis of a great deal of other texts, which we have not space for here. However, it is appropriate to make a few comments with regard to the Old Testament material which Paul specifically refers to in this chapter.
First, as noted earlier, even those passages which Paul employs in speaking of the hardening upon Israel give contextual indication of a coming point when the situation will be altered; God will at last give His people eyes to see and ears to hear (Is. 29:17-24; contrast esp. with 29:9-10; Deut. 30:6; contrast to 29:4).
Second, as Käsemann aptly points out, in verse 14 Paul is building on the language of jealousy in Deuteronomy 32:21.54 It is important to take cognizance of the full content of that passage. Israel sins; God punishes her and provokes her to jealousy, for a time giving her up (Deut. 32:30) - but ultimately He will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants (Deut. 32:36; note also the end of verse 43). The general folly of Israel is a temporary condition.
Third, the glorious promises cited by Paul in 11:26-27 refer to a national awakening of Israel (Is. 59:20-21; Jer. 31:31-34).55 The application to Israel is often disputed, because the promises are elsewhere applied in the New Testament to the current blessings upon the Church (see how Heb. 8:8-12 employs Jer. 31:31-34). But what Paul underscores in Romans 11:17-24 is that the Gentile Christians have been engrafted onto the Jewish covenantal root, and it is in this way that they have been made partakers of the promises. They thus share in Israel's eschatology.
But admitting that outsiders have been inducted into the promises is not yet the same as demonstrating that the original recipients are now completely displaced. A complete denial of such an inference is precisely one of the points at issue in the paranesis of Romans 11:17-24. In truth, the citation of Jeremiah 31 is very telling, since God goes on in that passage to declare that only if the activity of sun, moon, and stars failed as ordinances before Him, would He give up the seed of Israel from being a nation before Him (Jer. 31:35-36). It is even possible that those words were in Paul's mind in Romans 11:28-29, since he had just alluded to the immediately preceding content in 11:27.
So then, here is our answer to the rhetorical question of Romans 11:1. God will not give up His people Israel, the nation.
It needs to be understood that even in the Old Testament the eschatological blessing foretells a day when the nations will flow to Zion (Is. 2:2ff.; Mi. 4:1ff.). Yet in these prophecies both Israel and the nations are mentioned. If the Gentiles simply replace Israel, it is hard to see how this distinction can function at all, for then the Gentiles are both "Israel" and "the nations."56
A number of objections have been raised against the view that Romans 11 teaches a future conversion of Israel considered as a nation. We must now give attention to these.57
1. Acri Does Not Mean Until-and-Then-a-Change
Hendriksen and others take acri in 11:25 in the sense of while, as long as. The point, they say, is that throughout the church age this partial hardening will remain on Israel, and that Paul is not giving any indication about what will occur thereafter. Robertson cites a number of examples to show that acri hou does not necessarily entail a reversal, but refers only to what will be the case up to whatever point is mentioned.58
Many scholars doubt that acri takes this alternative meaning when it is conjoined to a subjunctive verb, however.59 Godet insists that acri hou can only signify as long as if the verb is a present indicative.60
But even if we grant that either meaning is possible theoretically, we must not overlook the fact that context must determine the manner in which a word is being used. While Hendriksen et al may rightfully claim that acri can have a particular meaning, this does not answer to the real issue, which is simply whether their translation fits the context. To this, we must answer no. As we argued above, Paul presents the "mystery" in verse 25 so that the Gentiles would not be conceited.61 Only if acri is translated in the normal way, as implying a future alteration for the better in the condition of the Jews, is the mystery functional in terms of Paul's stated purpose.
2. Houtôs is not Temporal in Meaning
Romans 11:26 opens, "And [or even] thus [houtôs] all Israel shall be saved." Hendriksen objects that our interpretation of the passage renders houtôs then or after that, which it does not mean. This objection bears well, of course, with his insistence that the gathering of "all Israel" (= Jewish remnants) is an ongoing process throughout this present age, and does not refer to a future "event."
The objection, however, is misguided, since very few commentators claim that houtôs denotes a temporal meaning. Most are agreed that it is properly rendered thus or so, in this manner. The issue is whether the context means that the word carries a temporal connotation.
This can be illustrated in English. If I say, "I got in my car and drove, and so came to town," the so by itself denotes in this way, but within the sentence it carries an idea of temporality. Houtôs is employed this way in 1 Corinthians 11:28: "But let a man examine himself and so [houtôs] let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup." The eating and drinking follow self-examination, and yet it is the self-examination which provides the manner of eating and drinking.62
The use in 1 Corinthians 11 is marked even more strongly in Romans 11, since houtôs has followed a temporal word in the previous clause (acri).63 In the previous verses Paul has asserted the possibility and indeed, the probability, that the natural branches would be re-grafted to their own tree, and in making his assertion he employs a future tense indicative (11:24). In view of all this, it is not at all unreasonable for Moo to write that houtôs here, "while not having a temporal meaning, has a temporal reference."64
3. View Fails to do Justice to the Word All
Hendriksen objects that the future salvation of the nation would hardly to justice to the word all, since it would apply to only that tiny fraction of Jews who will actually be alive on earth just prior to Christ's return.
This objection, however, ignores the way "all Israel" is generally used throughout Scripture and elsewhere. Jonathan was not claiming that David had delivered Israel for all time when he said to his father, "For he took his life in his hand and struck the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great deliverance for all Israel" (1 Sam. 19:5).
While we would not go as far as Moo, who claims that "no occurrence of the phrase 'all Israel' has a clearly diachronic meaning,"65 we must say that it is almost always synchronic (i.e. at a given time, rather than throughout history). Certainly it would be difficult to find a diachronic usage in Scripture. Therefore, Hendriksen's objection is simply misguided. It must be remembered that the salvation of God's people Israel is repeatedly presented in the Old Testament as an eschatological event, set over against a history that is radically unlike the coming day.66
Hendriksen says that it would be strange for God to single out with a special favour that generation of Jews which will have been hardened against the longest chain of Christian testimony.
Frankly, I find it strange that someone who so strenuously proclaims the freeness of God's grace would make such an objection. For this is to imply that God looks toward some sort of preconditions, rather than saving out of His own stunning goodwill.
In fact, it is this very "strangeness" that is Paul's point in 11:30-32: that God shuts up His people in disobedience, so that the freeness of His mercy might be magnified before all. Indeed, this is what leads Paul into his grand doxology in verses 33-36: God's judgments are unfathomable; His ways incomprehensible.
5. Reader Unprepared for Notion
Although Hendriksen suggests that the reader has not been prepared for the idea of a national restoration prior to verse 26 (instead, Paul has been stressing the idea of a remnant in any and every age), I believe that I have already demonstrated that this is not the case. Hendriksen's confusion stems from his equivocation that begins already in verse 11, where he fails to recognize that those who have stumbled are precisely the hardened mass of 11:7-10, rather than the remnant. Throughout, the apostle has been building toward the direct statement in verse 26.
6. Contradicts 1 Thess. 2:14b-16
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul writes to the persecuted church, "you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they [the churches in Judea] did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost." It is to this last clause which Hendriksen draws attention, for "to the uttermost" translates the words eis telos. Hendriksen argues that a prediction of the restoration of Israel would contradict these words: Israel is under wrath until the consummation.
While it is true that eis telos sometimes refers to the Second Coming, it is doubtful that such is in view in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. Bruce points out that eis telos is idiomatic to mean in full or to the uttermost, as is indicated in most of our translations.67 Moreover, the wrath spoken of could very well point to the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem. The language of "filling up" of sins or guilt, particularly with reference to bloodshed, is present in Christ's prophecies of that event, as well as in this passage (Matt. 23:32). Notice also that the desolation of Jerusalem is referred to as "wrath [orge, as here] to this people" (Lk. 21:23).
Schreiner suggests that it is "perhaps more likely the words are reserved for those Jews who had actually rejected the gospel. These particular Jews (not all Jews) were already experiencing God's eschatological judgment because they had rejected the gospel."68
What is clear in any case is that this phrase is not definite enough to overturn a sound exegesis of Romans 11.
7. Quotations of O.T. Refer to Christ's First Coming, Not His Second
Hendriksen rightly observes that the verses following the promise in 11:26a refer to the coming of a deliverer who will turn godlessness and remove sin from Jacob. This, he says, was the purpose of Christ's first coming, not His second.
This objection is only relevant for premillennialists, and only those who assume that at Christ's return, the Jews will be given an opportunity to repent. But this is not the view which drives the interpretation which Hendriksen is opposing.
As Bruce writes, "This is not a covenant yet to be made, but the fulfilment of one made long before."69 The fact that the gospel will be preached in all the world (Matt. 24:14) is also a fruit of Christ's first coming, but that does not mean that it occurred immediately. In truth, the various elements of Old Testament prophecy (which Paul here employs) refer to a great many events that spread out over a long period - but they are all to be attributed to the one manifestation of Christ at His first coming. Therefore, Hendriksen's objection packs little punch.
8. The Nature and Purpose of Hardening
Objections have been raised against the position espoused that are related to the nature and purpose of hardening.
Hardening cannot be rescinded. First, hardening, since it is judicial, cannot be lifted. Those who are hardened are necessarily reprobate. Even should we grant this, however, it misses the point, since corporate hardening does not function precisely the same way as individual hardening. It involves hardened individuals, to be sure. But we need to be clear about what we mean when we say, "Israel is hardened; in the future, Israel will not be hardened." Such a statement does not mean that reprobation will be rescinded for anyone. Rather, whereas today there may be (say) 95% of living Jews hardened against the gospel, at a future time the situation will be reversed. But that does not mean that any of those 95% will themselves be softened. When we say that England went to war in 1776 and then went to war again in 1939, we are not implying that the same individuals were involved! The issue is with how things play out with the corporate entity.
Removal would indicate universal salvation. A second objection which is vulnerable to the same kind of response is that if the hardening is removed, then every Jew head-for-head would be saved, since hardening and reprobation are coterminous. That equation could be questioned, but the objection is not problematic in any case. For if we are speaking corporately, the salvation of (for the sake of consistency) 95% of the nation would still properly be spoken of in terms of the lifting of the hardening upon the nation. Not that I have any problem with the idea that at some point, every last Jew on earth could embrace faith in Christ. I do not believe that Romans 11 is that specific, but if one were forced to that position, I see no insuperable reason for rejecting it.
Removal would break the pattern. Another objection is that this principle of hardening "fits integrally into the historical outworking of the principle of election and reprobation." Suggesting that such hardening would be lifted would imply a great reversal in that pattern.70 This is a fuzzy argument that at best seems to boil down to something like this: historically, the reprobate have greatly outnumbered the non-elect. Therefore, such must always be the case, including among the covenant people themselves.
In truth, however, this is not an argument at all, but merely an assertion that things must continue the way they always have - a 'sanctified' version of 2 Peter 3:4: "Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue just as they were from the beginning." But Scripture gives us no indication that election by grace only "works" if the elect are always badly outnumbered.71 This objection removes freedom from God to save as He pleases. The very notion of eschatology undercuts any such static view of history.
9. Nobody Really Knows What a Jew Is
Although we speak of Israel and Jews, the truth is that the terms are fuzzy. It must be admitted that the idea of Jew is not purely ethnic; it has always been possible for proselytes to become Jews. Since the days of the patriarchs, the people of promise have been defined covenantally as much as ethnically.
Because of this, there are those who object that, in fact, a conversion of "Israel" is pretty much impossible.
But while it is to be admitted that we are unable to be precisionistic in our definition of Israel or Jew, it is rather pedantic to insist that simply because the edges are fuzzy there can be no "restoration of Israel."72 For the truth is, this situation is a long-standing one - in fact, one that has adhered from the beginning. Yet if God and His people could speak of eschatological blessings from the time of Moses onward, it is difficult to see why it is any more problematic to do so today. It is hardly the case that the lines are so blurred that even if such a mass conversion did hit, we would not be able to even recognize it, as some seem to imply.
10. Election in Verse 28 Parallels Election in Verse 7
In both 11:7 and 11:28, the word election (ekloge) appears. In verse 7, it refers to the chosen Israelite remnant: "the election has obtained, but the remainder were hardened." Therefore, it is argued that our exegesis of 11:28 must be incorrect.73 If 'the election' in verse 7 refers to the remnant, then in verse 28 the same terminology must have the same referent. (More accurately, ekloge in verse 7 would refer to the present remnant, while ekloge in verse 28 would refer to the future remnant as inclusive of those Jews yet to be converted in the future under the 'elect remnant' scheme.)
The problem with this argument is that it overlooks the basic fact that 'the election' is being used in highly different ways in the two verses. In verse 7, ekloge serves as a concrete noun: its referent is a group of people, the elect remnant. In verse 28, however, ekloge serves as an abstract noun: its referent is God's promising activity to the fathers.
The fact that ekloge in verse 28 does not refer to persons is plain enough by the parallelism of the verse. The ekloge is set off against the gospel, not a group of people. (This contrast between gospel and promise is, of course, understood temporally, and not essentially. It is not the case that the promising activity to the fathers is opposed to the gospel - far from it, the promise serves as the basis for the gospel. But in terms of the present situation, those who 'carry' the promise, i.e. the mass of Israel, are for the most part opposed to the gospel at this historical point.)
Therefore, despite the usage of the same word in both verses, this cannot demonstrate that 'election' in verse 28 must be restrictive in its objects (i.e. to a remnant) as it is in verse 7. Indeed, the point of the verse is to contradict just such a notion.
11. This View Undercuts the Argument of Romans 9-11
There is no distinction any longer between Jew and Gentile (Gal. 3:28). Salvation is only by grace to the elect through faith, and nationality plays no role. The manner in which Paul has argued this truth would be undercut, we are told, by any notion of a future national restoration.
Hendriksen words his objection this way: "if here in Rom. 11:26a Paul is speaking about a still-future mass-conversion of Jews, a spiritual restoration of the entire physical group, then he is overthrowing the entire carefully built-up argument of chapters 9-11; for the one important point which he is trying to establish constantly is exactly this: namely, that God's promises attain fulfilment not in the nation as such but in the remnant according to the election of grace."74 It has often been suggested that if Israel is promised a future all-encompassing revival, then the distinction between Jew and Gentile would have been re-erected.75
The meaning of equality. Such arguments are misplaced. What does Paul mean when he writes that there is neither Greek nor Jew? He does not mean that they are the same (autos); he says that they are one (heis) in Christ Jesus. Neither in Galatians 3:28 nor in Romans 9-11 are we told that the equal standing between Jews and Gentiles means that they can expect roughly equal percentages to be saved among them, throughout history. Rather to the contrary, we would probably expect from the language of 9:30-11:10 that the Gentiles will be proportionately a great deal more receptive!
No, the language of unity and equality has nothing to do with such things. It refers to the fact that a Gentile need not become a Jew in order to become a full partaker of the covenant blessings. He is baptized into Christ, and therefore circumcision is unnecessary. That is crucial to Paul's argument in Galatians 3, as well as earlier in Romans.
Proving too much. As indicated, Hendriksen's objection to the doctrine of a national spiritual restoration stems to a great degree in the notion that this would be prejudicial to the Jews, as over against the Gentiles. In truth, however, the notion that the Jews can have no such guaranteed future blessing is equally problematic to Hendriksen's position as it is to ours. For what other nation is guaranteed an elect remnant? For that matter, what other nation is even guaranteed to exist in any form until the Second Coming? No one can pretend that God is treating Israel in absolutely no different way than He does any other nation.
The real issue in Romans 9-11. Beyond this, we simply disagree with Hendriksen's analysis of the precise main point in Romans 9-11. For the "one important point" in this section is not "that God's promises attain fulfilment not in the nation as such but in the remnant according to the election of grace." Rather, it is that God's promises attain fulfillment only in the true Israel, which is characterized by faith. Nothing in Paul's argument throughout 9-11 indicates that the true Israel must always be a small minority, even if that is the case at present.
What we do need to see is the place in Paul's argument that Romans 9-11 serves. This section answers the natural objection raised by the preceding. If indeed nothing can separate us from the love of God (8:31-39), then what about Israel? Has God really been faithful to them? Judging by their present condition, it could be charged that He has abandoned them. In addressing himself to this problem, Paul does indeed mark out the elect remnant as the true Israel in Romans 9. He expands on this by arguing in 9:30-10:21 that Israel's failure is due to their own fault. In that section, he is arguing that fulfillment of the promises must come in relation to true faith.
But it is begging the question to assume that there are no further issues to address with regard to God's faithfulness. For if, as we have suggested, the Old Testament refers eschatological promises to the nation, then the answers given in Romans 9, 10, and even 11:1-10 are not sufficient. If God will allow those eschatological promises to fall to the ground, then neither can His Word to us be trusted.
Moreover, even here Paul contradicts nothing he has previously said. Even in Romans 11:26, the promises are fulfilled only in relation to a living faith. That is never in dispute. Rather, the issue is the old conditional-unconditional matter in regard to the Abrahamic covenant. The covenant is conditional: it requires faith. But it is also unconditional: God will keep His promises, no matter what way history turns - because, after all, He is the One Who grants faith.
At bottom, then, we are faced with only one question: what has God promised? I believe the natural exegetical answer from Romans 11, and from the Old Testament, is that God will restore His people Israel to fellowship with Himself.
It is evident that most of this paper has been spent interacting with the view of Romans 11 which has been articulated by William Hendriksen and a number of others. While Calvin's view has always had followers, it can hardly be disputed that it is held by fewer and fewer exegetes, and we would add, deservedly so.
Given the fact, then, that this paper has been necessarily devoted to interaction with Hendriksen's position after a rather narrow, close fashion, I think it is fitting to conclude with certain brief observations concerning his general handling of the passage in question.
I have stressed repeatedly that Hendriksen's interpretation does not do justice to the stated paranetic intent of Paul in Romans 11:17ff. In particular, Paul explicitly calls attention to a mystery in order to shut the mouths of the Gentiles. I believe it is a telltale sign of a faulty interpretation, that those who adopt an "elect remnant" view of this passage are unable to keep the passage breathing the precise hortatory spirit with which it was written.76
In our view, Hendriksen's interpretation means that much of Romans 11 is wasted breath on Paul's part. He has essentially introduced the idea of the remnant in Romans 9, and if the remnant does not imply a further development with regard to the nation, he has little reason to take up the subject again. Hendriksen valiantly tries to show how impressive the present 'cycle' is, with the fall of the Jews leading to the salvation of the Gentiles, in turn leading to the salvation of the remnant. But despite the genius which Hendriksen displays in attempting to pull together an alternative exegesis, I remain unconvinced with his arguments and unimpressed with his 'mystery,' which pales beside what the apostle is actually saying. That God will one day restore such a long-standing hardened people: now that is a mystery.
Unseeing eyes and unhearing ears, to this very day: and yet these natural branches shall be re-grafted into their own olive tree. And thus all Israel shall be saved. How deep are the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unfathomable His judgments and incomprehensible His ways!
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