As we begin our look at Romans 9, we must keep in mind that it is preceded by 8 other chapters. So we begin our examination of Paul's argument nine chapters in to a 15 chapter argument.
In chapter 1 Paul declares that salvation is not by works but it is by faith
In chapter 2 he shows that both Jews and Gentiles are as guilty as sin and so neither can be saved by their own efforts.
In chapter 3 he argues that both Jews and Gentiles are condemned and lost and that salvation can only come by faith and so the Jew has no advantage over the Gentile in terms of salvation.
In chapter 4 he shows that even Abraham was saved the exact same way, through faith and not by works of the law.
In chapter 5 he shows that all mankind is guilty because of the sin of our father Adam and shows that Jesus is a second Adam who can make righteous the offspring of Adam, both Jew and Gentile.
In chapter 6 he argues that all those who have faith in Jesus Christ should kill their fleshly desires and live according to the Spirit of God.
In chapter 7 he shows that the law of Moses has been set aside because the only thing that law was able to do was to condemn all as sinners and lawbreakers. It no power to help men live righteously.
In chapter 8 he argues that it is no longer those who have the law (Israel) who are sons of God but those who believe are the sons of God saying, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."
and again, "but you (those who believe in Christ) have received the Spirit of adoption as sons."
And so Paul makes a sharp distinction between unbelievers and believers. Believers are the adopted people of God and those who do not believe are not the people of God.
So far, Paul's argument is flowing nicely, every Jew who has the law is condemned and cut off from God and those who do not have the law are condemned and cut off from God. At the same time, those who have faith in Christ are children of God. However, once Paul gets to this point, he anticipates a question from those who will be reading. Perhaps he had heard the question before, or perhaps he had asked the question himself at some point. Why are the Jews not saved? Thus, he begins chapter 9 with this question in mind.
"For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen." (9:3-5)
Paul begins with by lamenting the fact that the Israelites have been cut off from God. He himself is a Jew and he wishes that they would be saved. He honors the Jews by confessing that they are the ones who were originally adopted by God. They were the ones who witnessed all of God's glorious works. They were the recipients of the covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic). The Jews are the ones who descended from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob's 12 sons. And to cap it all off, it was through this bloodline that Jesus, the Messiah himself, had come. What a privileged people! What glorious things they had witnessed and brought into this world. This is a special people. But contrary to these magnificent things, Paul confesses that they are not saved. They are cut off from God.
This is quite the contradiction. They are the blessed people of God whom God had promised to save, and yet here they are, cut off from God, unsaved, lost, and condemned. It is in this contradiction that Paul anticipates the next objection from his readers.
If God had chosen the Jews for the purposes of saving them, how can it be that they are not saved? Doesn't this mean that God's word has failed?
In the Old Testament, God had promised to save all of Israel. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord had promised "In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.” (Is. 45:45) The first century Jews read these old testament prophesies they took them too literally. They assumed that when God said that he would save "all the offspring of Israel" that God was speaking about Jacob's physical descendants. Therefore, it looked to them as if the word of God had failed.
This objection makes a lot of sense. It does seem like God's promise to save the Jews was either a lie, or perhaps God was just unable to bring them to salvation. It must be one or the other. And so Paul knows that his readers will ask, "has the word of God failed?" Interestingly, many Christians today interpret the Scriptures in the same flawed manner that the first century believers did. But as we continue through Paul's answer to the above objection we will clearly see that, according to Paul's understanding, God never intended to save the physical descendants of Abraham, but instead the Spiritual descendants of Abraham.
Paul begins answering this question in verse 6a he says, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed.
" So Paul confesses that God's promise to save "all the offspring of Israel" still stands.
Paul knows that the protest is coming, "how can the promise to save all the offspring of Israel be true when all the offspring of Israel are not saved?"
In the eyes of the readers, the word of God has
failed because God did not save "all
the offspring of Israel." Paul then shows his readers that the word of God has failed IF they make the mistake of identifying all those descended from Abraham as "the offspring of Israel" and he goes on to explain that when God promised to save the offspring of Israel, he was not promising to save all those who descended from Abraham, but he was only promising to save those who were "children of the promise," both Jews and Gentiles. So Paul says, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring."
all the offspring of Israel shall be justified" he says that "all the offspring of Israel" does not refer to physical Jews, but to spiritual Jews, or what he calls "the children of the promise."
Paul's final and summary statement regarding this understanding is verse 8, "This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring."
Typically we read prophecy about Israel and we think that it refers to Jews, but Paul says here that Israel as mentioned in the Old Testament does not necessarily refer to all
of the offspring of Abraham, nor does it refer to only
the offspring of Abraham.
Clearly, in Paul's mind, those who are descended from Abraham are not Israelites, at least not all of them. He makes a sharp distinction between "the children of the flesh" and "the children of promise." The children of the flesh are all those who are descended from Abraham which would be ethnic Israel. The children of the promise would be those who are descended from Abraham by faith, both Jews and Gentiles. So when Paul reads the prophet Isaiah and sees God say "
And so Paul immediately brings correction to the way that his first century Jews were understanding the promise to save "all the children of Israel." Paul says, "when you see the promise of God to save Israel, don't think of it in terms of physical descendants, but think of it in terms of spiritual descendants, those who have faith."
As he continues this line of argument he gives a few examples to back up this statement. He points to Jacob and Essau and declares that both are descended from Abraham (children of the flesh) and yet only one of them did God ever intend to save, "so that God’s purpose of election might continue ."
He then goes on to argue that the offspring of Abraham does not refer to those descended from Abraham, but instead, it refers to a mix of Jews and Gentiles saying:
"not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles. As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
And so we see Paul again emphasizing that the people of God are not all who are descended from Israel but instead, those whom "he has prepared before hand for his glory"
a mix of both Jew and Gentile. And so Paul's argument has been very clear so far. He basically says, "Yes I know that the Scriptures say that the promise of God was to save all the offspring of Israel, but you have to understand what God means when he says, all the offspring of Israel. He does not mean what you think he means. Israel means Jews and Gentiles of faith. Not physical descendants. It does not mean ethnic Israel. It does not refer to a nation, but it is a spiritual nation of the true sons of Abraham, made up of both Jews and Gentiles."
So up to this point, Paul has been arguing that the people of God are not the people of ethnic Israel, "for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel."
He then goes to prove to his readers that "all the offspring of Israel" never referred to the ethnic nation of Israel and he quotes Isaiah to prove his point, "And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved."
So Paul's point is, "don't think that 'all the offspring of Israel' means ethnic Israel. God never intended to save all of them."
And Paul concludes chapter 9 by announcing, "What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone."
And so the thrust of Paul's argument in chapter 9 is thus:
I know that you have read the promise of God to save all the descendants of Israel but "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring,...This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring...in order for God to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory... not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles. As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ and though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved."
So by following Paul's argument, Paul states in the clearest language possible, God never intended to save national ethnic Israel, he only intended to save a remnant of them. And so, when one thinks of Israel, they should not think of those who are descended from Abraham, but they should think of both Jews and Gentiles as "the children of the promise," as the true Israel. And in this way, Paul shuts down anyone who would attempt to argue that the word of God had failed. The word of God has not failed, Paul says, because God never promised to save ethnic Israel, Israel is much more significant term than anyone had realized.
It is likely that Paul took his understanding of Israel from Jesus himself who said that those who are descended from Abraham and yet don't have faith are not Abraham's children. (John 8:31-39)
Please note, that if Paul had any idea that national ethnic Israel was going to turn to God as a nation sometime in the future, then his answer to the question would have been much different.
If Paul were speaking about the future, the question would have been asked, "does this meant that the word of God has failed?" and the answer would have come, "Certainly not, at some future point in time God will cause national ethnic Israel to return to him and so all the offspring of Israel will be saved and God will have kept his word." If Paul knew of a future ingathering of Israel, he most certainly would have said that, and he most certainly would NOT have said, "The word of God has not failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring." Obviously, Paul does not see a time in the future when there will be a national ethnic turning of Israel to God because national ethnic Israel is a special "people of God." Paul clearly says that the offspring of Israel is a select few, "not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles."
In Paul's (and Jesus') theology, Israel is not an ethnicity, it is a spiritual People of faith. Paul has just spent an entire chapter showing that when God uses the word "Israel" in the OT he is not referring to an ethnic people but a spiritual people who have faith in Jesus.
As Paul begins chapter 10, he announces that his prayer for them (ethnic Jews) is that they might be saved and then he goes on to explain that they are not saved because, "they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness."
"there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him."
Again notice this repeating pattern of the people of God being identified as a mix of "Jew and Greek" as opposed to the modern idea that the people of God are ethnic Jews descended from Abraham.
Then in verses 5-10 he proceeds to make an argument that salvation is by faith and is not by the keeping of the law of Moses. He then goes on to proclaim that because salvation is by faith and not by the law of Moses,
If the promise of salvation which was made to "the offspring of Israel" in the Old Testament pertained to ethnic Israel, then there would certainly be a distinction between Jew and Greek. The Jews would be recipients of promises to which the Greeks would not have access, and there would be distinction between the two. But, because the laws and promises are for a "spiritual Israel" made up of Jews and Gentiles, there is now "no distinction between Jew and Greek."
As Paul says elsewhere, "For all the promises of God are yes and Amen in him (Jesus)."
So all the Old Testament promises do not pertain to ethnic Jews, but they pertain to Jesus and all who are in him. Again, this is why Paul redefines "all the offspring of Israel" to mean all those (Jews and Gentiles) of faith.
Paul then goes on to explain that in order to call on him they have to first believe, and in order to believe they must hear, and in order to hear one must preach, and in order to preach, one must be sent. And so Paul emphasizes the need for the sending of preachers who preach the gospel of salvation by faith because "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."
In verse 18 Paul turns his direct attention back to the Jews. In anticipation that someone might object to his argument thus far, Paul decides to cut off the possible objection before it starts. Paul anticipates someone saying that perhaps he is wrong and the Jews ARE the special people of God and they just aren't saved because they have not heard the gospel. So in anticipation of this argument Paul says, "But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
In other words, they have
heard that gospel and they have rejected it, so we can't blame their rejection of God on ignorance of the gospel.
He then anticipates another objection. He thinks that someone will say, "OK Paul, perhaps they have heard the gospel, but maybe they aren't saved simply because they have not understood it. So perhaps they ARE still the people of God and just aren't saved yet because they don't understand the gospel."
He responds to this objection in verse 19 saying, "But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
And so, for Paul, the Jews have both heard and have understood the message. The fault for their lost state lies right at their own feet.
So the next question that Paul is anticipating is, "OK Paul, if they have heard the gospel and they understand the gospel, then why are they not saved?" Paul answers this by quoting Isaiah, "But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Paul declares, Israel has heard the gospel. Israel has understood the gospel. Israel's problem is that they are a "disobedient and contrary people"
who were "ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness."
So in chapter 9 Paul says, 'don't think that everyone descended from Abraham is a son of Abraham. Instead, think of the sons of Abraham (the children of promise) as those Jews and Gentiles who exercise faith in the work of Jesus the Messiah.' And in chapter 10 he says that the reason the physical descendants of Abraham are not the people of God is because they refuse to submit to God's righteousness by faith." And that is why the physical Israelites are not the people of God.
With all of this talk about ethnic Israel not being the real people of Israel, Paul now anticipates another question from his readers. He knows that someone is going to ask, "does this mean that God has rejected the Jewish people altogether so that now He only cares about the Gentiles?" And so in chapter 11, he picks up with this question in mind.
Paul begins chapter 11 saying, "I ask, then, has God rejected his people? "
It is important for us to re-orient our thinking at this point. When Paul asks the question, "has God rejected his people?" he is not asking "is there a future time when God will save all of Israel?" (Remember that Paul just spent chapters 9 and 10 showing that God only intended to save a remnant within Israel) Oftentimes we allow this question to throw off our trajectory and we end up misunderstanding what Paul is saying in the rest of the chapter. Often we read, "has God rejected his people?" in a future sense, even though Paul is speaking in the present tense. In other words, even though the question is, "has God (presently)
rejected his people," what we end up hearing is "does God intend to save ethnic Israel at a future
date?" We have to fix this error. Paul is not asking the question in the future tense but in the present tense. In other words, Paul is asking, "has God turned to the Gentiles in such a way so that he has presently and completely given up on saving Jews?"
And the answer is an emphatic "by no means!"
Paul forcefully declares that God would NEVER stop saving the Jews. What is Paul's proof that God has not given up on saving Jews? He continues, "For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin."
Paul's answer to the question and his proof of the answer, himself, is one reason that we know that Paul's question is not in reference to the future. It simply has nothing to do with what God will or won't do in regards to Israel, but it is a question of the present day. Has God rejected the Jews presently? "By no means!" Is God so angry at the Jews that He has completely cut them off only to have the gospel preached to the Gentiles? By no means! Paul forcefully says that God has not cut off Israel but is now and will forever continue saving them. Of course it may seem like God has quit on the Jews. After all, Paul is the one who said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles."
(Acts 13:46) But Paul wants his readers to know that just because he has turned from the Jews, and just because he has been making an argument against them and their unbelief, that God has not, and never will, stop saving Jews.
Again notice that if Paul thought that ethnic Jews were going to turn to God at some future date, he would have not pointed to his own salvation as evidence that God had not rejected the Jews. Instead, he would have pointed forward and said, "God has not rejected his people because he's going to save the whole nation of them before he returns in glory." But Paul doesn't point his readers to the future, in fact, if he had, he would have just invalidated the last two chapters that he had written. He spent chapter 9 and 10 showing that God never intended to save all the nation of Israel because he had always intended that "only a remnant of them shall be saved"
and the reason is because "not all those descended from Abraham are sons of Abraham."
Therefore, when he wants to show that God has not completely abandoned the Jewish people, he does not point to some future influx of Israel into God's kingdom, but he points at himself in the present to show that God will never stop saving Jews. And therefore we can be certain that, "God has not rejected (in this present age) his people whom he foreknew."
If you need proof, just look at Paul himself.
Paul knows that his readers are thinking that this is not enough evidence. After all, Paul is just one man out of a whole nation, and one man doesn't prove that the whole nation is abandoned. The argument that Paul is expecting is this, "It sounds like you have been saying (in chapter 9) that God has rejected them, and you are only one man, and one man is not proof enough." The first century believers mistakenly believed that in order for God to be faithful to the Jews that God would have to save a great majority. yea, even the entire nation of them (strangely we have the same misunderstanding today). So in their mind, when Paul points to himself as proof of God's faithfulness, it is not enough to prove to them that God has not completely rejected the Jews. So Paul points them back to Elijah, "Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
This is significant. Paul wants them to know that God, has always kept, and still keeps a remnant within ethnic Israel that are his people even if they can't be seen. Paul wants his readers to see that it has ALWAYS been this way. God has never saved all, or even a majority of the physical descendants of Abraham, but He has always been faithful to save a remnant of them in every age. And if God is always faithful to save a remnant of them in every age, and he's saving a remnant of them still today, then we have proof positive that God has not rejected his people. But Paul is expecting a retort from his readers, "Sure Paul, we can buy into that argument. We can agree that there was a remnant in Elijah's day, but what about now, are you saying that there is a remnant still around today?" And so he continues the argument.
"So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
So Paul unmistakably declares that there is a remnant even now (at the time he wrote) and it has NOTHING to do with the fact that they are descended from Abraham. He does not say, "at the present time there is a remnant, chosen because of relation to Abraham", instead he says, "chosen by grace." It has everything to do with grace, not DNA.
So now Paul anticipates a new question, "OK Paul, if God is only going to save a remnant of Jews, what about the rest of the Jews?" And he answers in verse 7, "What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect (remnant) obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”
Notice again that Paul says that God is faithful to his people by saving a remnant of them, but the rest of them were hardened. Note well the end of verse 10, God darkens their eyes "forever." Paul does not see a national turning of Israel to God at the end of the age. He does not quote a text from the Old Testament that says, "let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see and bend their backs until right before the very end, and then right before the end, let their eyes be opened so that the whole nation can see." Instead, the Scripture is clear, this rejection of Israel and the saving of the remnant within Israel is a condition that persists up to the very end, " let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”
What Paul is arguing up to this point is the question, "has God turned away from the Jews completely only to focus solely on Gentiles?" and Paul's answer is "by no means." God will never stop saving Jews. I am a Jew that God has saved, and there is a whole remnant of Jews that God has saved, and will continue saving, and He will continue to save Jews right up to the very end of time.
In verse 11, Paul wants to drive his point home and so he asks the exact same question in another way, he says, "So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall?"
In other words, "again I ask, has Israel been so unfaithful that God has totally turned away from them and just doesn't care about saving them at all anymore?" This is the exact same question that Paul asked in verse 1. Therefore, Paul's answer is exactly the same, "by no means."
Their rejection of the Messiah (the stumbling block) certainly had caused the Jews to stumble, but not in such a way that God had washed his hands of them and was done with saving Jews. Paul is saying that although they had stumbled over the stumbling block they had not completely fallen.
Paul hears his audience saying, "Please explain this Paul. How can you say that they have rejected the Messiah and rejected the preaching of the gospel, and God has "let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bent their backs forever"
and yet you say that they have not completely fallen?"
Paul goes on to show that their rejection of the Messiah and of the gospel was actually planned by God so that salvation could be preached to the Gentiles. Then, Paul argues, that the salvation of the Gentiles was God's plan to save Jews. He says that as Gentiles come to faith and become adopted into all the blessings of Abraham, some Jews will become jealous and they themselves will return to the Messiah. Note closely as we continue, that Paul is not saying that "all Israel" will turn to the Messiah. He's making the case that some
Gentiles will come to Christ and receive the inheritance promised to Abraham, and some
Jews will become jealous and return to the Messiah. The fact that Paul is not speaking of all the nation of Israel will become apparent as we continue. But for now, Paul's point is to show a cyclical relationship. 1. Jews reject the Messiah and are cut off from God. 2. As a result Gentiles have the gospel preached to them, and they hear the gospel and are reconciled to God. 3. As a result the Jews (some) become jealous and return to God, because God has not cut them off completely, they have stumbled, but not fallen. God is still saving them by means of jealousy.
And so in verse 11 he says, "through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous."
1. Rejection 2. salvation for gentiles 3. Jews become jealous and return
He then continues in verse 12 "Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!"
Now, because many Christians are conditioned to think that there is a secret date in the future when God will bring the nation of Israel back to himself, the term "full inclusion" is often understood as meaning, "full number of Jews" or "the entire nation of Israel." But the term full inclusion cannot be shown to have such a meaning. When Paul is speaking of the "full inclusion" of Jews he is speaking of the full number of the remnant that God has decided to save. Or to put it in the language that Paul used in verse 7, the fullness of "the elect." If we've been paying attention through chapters 9 and 10 we know that “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved."
Another reason that we know that "full inclusion" does not mean the whole nation of Israel is because Paul uses the Greek word "pleroma" which means "the full number that belongs." If we try to say that "pleroma" means the full number of all the nation, we end up with problem farther down in Paul's argument. In verse 25 Paul uses the word "pleroma" again, except this time he uses it in reference to the Gentiles. So if "pleroma" means "all Israelites" in verse 12, then we have to confess that it should also mean "all Gentiles" in verse 25. This sort of interpretation would fit with the Postmillenial view but it simply does not fit within the context of the entire chapter. Clearly the term "pleroma" refers to the full number of elect in each group. One day, the fullness of the Gentiles and the fullness of the Jews will be saved, and on that day, all Israel (Jews and Gentiles) will be saved and God's promise to save "all the offspring of Abraham" will be fulfilled. What Paul sees is not a national turning of Israel to God, but he sees a continual saving of the remnant of Jews until the very end.
This is why Paul immediately follows this statement with "Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.
Notice that Paul doesn't think that the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of the Gentiles is going to make the Jews jealous and thus one day lead to the salvation of all
of them, but he says, "some of them."
And in the following verses he begins to make the exact same point all over again, namely that the stumbling of Israel is all part of God's plan. He is hammering home the idea that the trespass of the Jews made salvation accessible for the Gentiles and the salvation of the Gentiles will make the Jews jealous and thus they(some of them) will come to salvation. And so he continues, "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
Most Bible interpreters recognize that when Paul says that the Jews' rejection of Jesus results in "the reconciliation the world"
that he isn't speaking of the whole world, and yet these same interpreters will turn right around and suggest that when Paul speaks of the salvation of Israel, that Paul means "all of Israel." There is a lack of consistency here on the part of many interpreters. We cannot suggest Paul has contradicted himself. Up to this point he has made it clear that, not all Israel is Israel, only a remnant will be saved, and he hopes to stir them up to jealousy in order to "save some." If we turn back at this point and suggest that Paul is crafting an argument for the salvation of all of Israel, we have to explain this contradiction in Paul's writing. Suffice it to say that what Paul has been saying up to this point is that Israel has rejected God but God has not rejected Israel, or better said, He has not wholly
abandoned them for the Gentiles. He will continue to save his remnant, never abandoning them.
Paul then makes an argument as to why God would never cut them off completely even after having stumbled over the stumbling stone. Why won't God let them wholly fall? Because, "If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches."
Here Paul makes it clear that the Jews are God's people. He respects them simply because of the forefathers whom he had chosen. God is faithful to a thousand generations, never turning away from them so as to reject them completely. Paul is saying that God would never turn his back on Israel so as to forget about them and go to solely to the Gentiles, and he does this simply for the sake of the forefathers. Again, we must be careful here, we would be mistaken if we understand Paul to be saying that God will one day in the future save all the ethnic nation of Israel. Paul is making the argument that they are precious in God's sight but he has not made the argument that God is going to save the nation sometime in the future.
Paul has pointed us to the fact that because the root of Israel (the Forefathers) is holy, so God will never consider the Jews to be unworthy of salvation, simply for the sake of the "holy root." Often times, we read, "if the root is holy so are the branches" but Paul does not use the term "holy" in reference to salvation. In fact, in the very next verse he goes on to say that most of these "holy branches" in his day will not be saved.
He says, "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off."
Again notice Paul's focus on the present tense. He is speaking to the Jews and Gentiles in his day. The Jews were cut off from God in his day, the Gentiles were grafted into the tree in his day. He has not yet attempted an argument which speaks of the future. His argument is not about how many Jews will be saved and he is not addressing what God plans to do with the Jews. It is quite the opposite in fact. Paul has placed both Jews and Gentiles on the exact same playing field and his point here seems clear. He tells the Gentiles, "don't get puffed up in pride" for God broke off the natural branches, but only because of unbelief, and grafted you in, but only because of belief. It has nothing to do with Jews being a different class in God's sight, and it has nothing to do with Gentiles being better than Jews, it has nothing to do with blood at all, it only has to do with faith. Paul's whole point in this paragraph actually works against the idea that God has a special plan to save the Jews in the future. He has, in very clear language, said that Jew means nothing and Gentile means nothing. Faith is the ultimate deciding factor. Paul's emphasis is the worthlessness of ancestry and the value of faith.
As Paul finishes up the above point, he says something very interesting in verse 23. He says, "And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again."
It may be helpful to us if we look at what Paul did not
say. Notice that Paul did not say "and even they, they will
not continue in unbelief, but God will
graft them in again." Paul says, "if
they do not continue in unbelief" not "when
they turn from unbelief" and he says, "God is able
to graft them in again" not "God will
graft them in again one day." In other words, Paul doesn't know if there will come a day when they will nationally repent of their unbelief. This verse alone proves that Paul is not speaking of the future and seeking to show that Israel will be saved one day.
It is interesting that so many Christians point to the eleventh chapter of Romans and say that Paul is teaching about the salvation of the Jewish nation in the future. If he were teaching such a thing, he would have said, "the day will come
when they will not continue in unbelief and God will
graft them in again" but Paul has no idea whether this will happen or not, and so he says, "if
they do not continue in unbelief, they will be grafted in again." And the only reason that Paul speaks of grafting in and being cut off in such detail is because his intention to emphasize the fact that ALL of this is an issue of FAITH and has nothing to do with bloodlines. Paul's point in these verses could not be more clear. You are grafted in because of faith, not because you are a Gentile. Likewise, Israel was removed because of a lack of faith, not because they were Jews. Hence, Paul's whole point is, "If you don't continue in faith, you too will be removed, and if they don't continue in unbelief, they too will be grafted back in." That is all that Paul is saying here. He is not saying anything about whether or not the nation of Israel will repent on a national scale someday. The fact that he uses the phrase "if they do not continue in unbelief" shows that Paul doesn't know what the future holds in terms of the percentage of the Jewish nation who will believe and if Paul is uncertain, we too should be uncertain. Only the most masterful Scriptural contortionist that can extrapolate certainty regarding the future salvation of Israel from a text where Paul confesses his uncertainty. We do injustice to the text in Romans 11 if we take Paul's argument about the high value of faith and the worthless nature ancestry and we make it an argument about the high value of ancestry.
Paul ends this section by saying, "For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree."
In other words, you as Gentiles have absolutely no reason to be puffed up with pride. God can graft a Jew into Christ a lot easier than he can graft a Gentile into Christ, so don't think that you're better than the Jews. Many understand Paul's words, "the natural branches" to refer to "all" of Israel, but this is to force meaning into Paul's text. Paul simply states that God has taken the Gentiles and grafted them into the olive tree and Paul states that the natural branches will be grafted back in much easier. We have no reason to believe that Paul thinks that the day will come when "all Gentile branches have been grafted in" and similarly, we have no reason to believe that Paul thinks that "all Jewish branches will be re-grafted one day." Nowhere does he say that they all will be grafted in. His point is that it is easier for a Jew to be grafted into the Messiah than it is for a Gentile. This is a statement of degree of ease, not a statement of degree of number. The problem with modern interpretation is that we read it as if it were a statement of degree of number. This is simply not the case, Paul is saying that it is easier for God to graft a Jew into the Messiah than it is to graft a Gentile. We cannot assume that Paul thinks that the day will come when "all Jews" will be grafted back in, especially in light of verse 23 which came right before where Paul states his uncertainty regarding the matter.
Paul then says, " Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved"
Here again, Paul does not want the Gentiles to think that the reason that they have accepted the gospel is because they are wiser than the Israelites, or better than the Israelites. Remember that Paul's just finished arguing for the useless nature of ancestry versus the high value of faith. So he wants the Gentiles to know that the reason that the Jews have reject the Messiah is because God has caused a partial hardening so that the gospel would go forth to the Gentiles. It has nothing to do with one people group begin better than another people group, but it is all God's work of grace. And so Paul concludes the answer to the original question, "if God promised to save 'll the offspring of Abraham' why are there so many unsaved Israelites?" Paul's final answer, after having explained that Israel does not mean physical offspring of Abraham but instead refers to the spiritual offspring of Abraham (Jews and Gentiles alike) he concludes that when all (pleroma) Gentiles come in all Israel will be saved.
The phrase, "all Israel will be saved"
has led many to conclude that Paul knew that there would come the day when "all Israel will be saved." However, to think that this is what Paul means would contradict all that Paul has said up to this point. To understand, "all Israel" as pertaining to national ethnic Israel runs in contradiction to both the immediate context of the very verse, the broader context of Romans 9-11, and even the broader context of Paul's teaching throughout all his epitsles.
BROAD CONTEXT OF PAUL'S EPISTLES
The idea that the name "Israel" no longer describes the Jewish nation is a consistent theme throughout all of Paul's writings. According to Paul, Jews and Gentiles of faith are the new Israel and the true descendants of Abraham. For example, in Galatians 3 Paul states, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham."
and again, "there is neither Jew nor Greek... for if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise."
And again in Ephesians 2 he says, "For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people"
and again, "by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two."
Clearly, Paul does not see a difference between Israel and non-Israel. He sees only one people of God, and one Israel saying that God created "one new man in the place of two."
Also, in 1 Corinthians 12 he says, "we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks"
Thus, clearly, we see that Paul's general understanding of the true sons of Abraham are not the blood descendants but are "those of faith who are the sons of Abraham."
Paul completely redefines what "descendant of Abraham" means and declares that ethnic Israel is no longer the "heirs according to the promise." The heirs according to the promise, say Paul, is a mix of the remnant of the Jews and the number of the Gentiles that come to faith. So we cannot hear the phrase, "all Israel will be saved" and use a different definition for Israel that Paul himself uses.
NEARER CONTEXT OF ROMANS 9-11
Remember that Paul has already redefined Israel for us back in chapter nine telling us that Israel is not the ethnic bloodline of Abraham, but is a spiritual bloodline of Abraham (Jews and Gentiles of faith) saying, "not all Israel is Israel, not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants."
Then again in chapter 10 he repeats himself saying, "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek"
because it's not about physical bloodlines, it's about faith. So again, Paul's definition of Israel is not the ethnic descendant of Abraham but the spiritual descendants of faith. To say that "Israel" means the physical descendants of Abraham is to overturn all that Paul has taught thus far.
The immediate context of the verse shows that Paul is not speaking of a future day when Israel will be saved. When Paul says, "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved"
our natural tendency is to hear Paul say, "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and after this
all Israel will be saved." But Paul is not speaking in the future tense. He is speaking in the present tense. If he were speaking in the future tense he would have said, "and after this
, all Israel will be saved" but instead he is speaking about how
all Israel will be saved not when
. He says, "in this way" all Israel will be saved. The question then to ask is, "in what way?" In what way will Israel be saved? Paul says that when "the fullness of the gentiles comes in" all Israel will have been
saved. Remember that in Paul's thinking, Gentiles of faith ARE Israel. This goes right back to the original question. In fact, this is Paul's final answer to the first question asked.
Remember that the question is "has the word of God failed?" It certainly had looked like the word of God failed. After all, God had said, "In the Lord all
the offspring of Israel shall” be saved.
So Paul has been tasked with showing that God's promise to save all of Israel has not failed.
He begins by saying that the promise to save the "all the offspring of Israel" was not made to the physical Israelites, for "Not all Israel is Israel."
He then says that Israel is really a mix of Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Christ saying, " As indeed he says in Hosea,“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’"
for this reason, Paul continues saying, "there is now no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him."
So we clearly see Paul's line of reasoning. God has said, "all the offspring of Israel will be saved" and yet not all of the offspring of Israel is saved, so Paul defends God's word, saying "you don't understand what the phrase "offspring of Israel means" and so he continues showing that God was referring to his spiritual Israel and not the physical offspring. So, when the fullness of all the Gentiles comes in, then "In this way
, all Israel will be saved" Again, it is an explanation of "how"
they will be saved, not "when."
And yet, every time someone gets to the phrase "and in this way
all Israel will be saved" they force the words "after this
all Israel will be saved" into the Scripture. But we must face the fact that Paul did not say, "after this" he said, "in this way." In other words, Paul says that Gentiles are a part of Israel and once the fullness (pleroma) of Gentiles comes in, then God will have saved all Israel. To suggest that Paul recognized a difference between Gentiles and Israel is to bring in a foreign understanding into the text. Clearly Paul is not speaking of two people groups and "when" ethnic Israel will be saved, but he is speaking of Jews and Gentiles as one people group whom he calls Israel. This is in keeping with Paul's writings throughout all his epistles. He is not speaking of "when" but "how" all Israel will be saved, and when the very last Gentile believer comes to faith, then we can rest assured that all Israel has been
saved. God's promise to save all the offspring of Israel has not failed.
If I could put Paul's argument in common American English, he is saying "You are correct. God did promise to save 'all the offspring of Israel'
and he's going to keep that promise, therefore His word has not failed, but you have to understand that the offspring of Israel is not the number of Abraham's physical offspring but is the complete number of Jews and Gentiles of faith and so when the full number of the Gentiles comes in, then you can be assured that "in this way, all Israel will [have been] saved."
Paul then continues, "as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
Here he quotes Isaiah Isaiah 59:20. To understand this fully, let's look at the exact text.
“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
If you pay close attention to what God promised Isaiah, he promised that a Redeemer will come to "those in Jacob who turn from transgression." Note well that the promise is not to all those in Jacob as a whole, but it is made to a remnant within Jacob that will "turn from transgression." He goes on to promise the remnant that the word of promise will not depart from the mouth of the offspring, "from this time and forever more." Again, notice the present tense of what Paul (Isaiah) is saying. "From this time forevermore" salvation will come to you and your offspring. We have already seen that the promise is only to "those in Jacob who turn from transgression" and we have also seen that Paul has been trying to prove that the term "offspring" does not refer to ethnic Israel but instead refers to those of faith. So the promise of salvation is to those who "turn from transgression."
Some may suggest that there still remains a turning of Israel to the Lord because never in history has there been a fulfillment of the promise to "your children and your children's children." It therefore seems logical to look forward to a golden age of the gospel when all Israel will turn to God and even the children, grandchildren, and proceeding generations turn to God as well. However, Peter seems to think that this golden age began in the first century. This is why we see Peter preaching the gospel to the Jews and saying, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Now mark Peter's words, "the promise is for you and your children." Peter interprets Isaiah as if it is being fulfilled in his very day. Peter does not see it as something that will happen in the future. But this makes sense because Isaiah was not talking to Jacob as a whole but to "those in Jacob who turn from transgression" saying, "from this time forth and forever more." This is a present reality. So if the prophecy from Isaiah is true, and it is, and if Peter understands it correctly, and he does, then we should understand that God's promise is to save some Israelites from day one (Pentecost) and continue to save some until the last day.
So we see that Paul's quoting of Isaiah fits right in line with what he has been arguing all along. Namely, that salvation will always be given to the Jews, a remnant of them, in every age, from now and forever. Hence, God has not rejected his people. The thrust of Paul's argument being in the present tense shows that he is not arguing that there is a future time when there will be a national turning of ethnic Israel, but that God has plans to keep a remnant in every age, just as He did throughout the Old Testament. This is why Paul has been speaking of "so too in the present time"
as proof that God has not rejected his people, and the continual saving of the gentiles which makes some Jews jealous. This jealously which leads to salvation of the remnant in every age is proof that God has not rejected his people. And the fact that God will continue this pattern of saving Jews in every age is proof that God has never and will never reject his people. And when the fullness of the gentiles is added to the number of the remnant of the Jews, then God's promises stand and "all Israel will have been saved."
And thus Paul concludes,
"As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy."
Paul acknowledges that they are enemies of the gospel, but he says, because of the forefathers, God will never completely abandon them. In fact, Paul says, He is saving them even now and He will continue saving them. We should understand Paul's conclusion as a present reality of salvation and not a future promise of redemption for Israel. If we try to impose a future salvation for Israel into Paul's argument, it just doesn't fit.
Again, when Paul says that at one time the Gentiles were at one time disobedient but have now received mercy, we should not think that he is suggesting that all the Gentiles will receive mercy, nor should we think that there is golden age when almost all of the Gentiles will receive mercy at some point in the future. In fact, we see that Paul's argument continues to be in the present tense, he says that Gentiles have now received mercy. Paul is speaking of the salvation of both the Jews and the Gentiles in the present.
When modern American readers of the Bible come to the phrase, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" they automatically want to read this phrase as if Paul were suggesting a future act of God to save the nation. But to read it as a future promise of salvation is to rip the phrase out of its immediate context. Paul's evidence for the irrevocable nature of God's gifts and calling are not a promise of future salvation but instead that Israel "also now may receives mercy." It's tempting to read about the irrevocable gifts and calling of God in the future tense because, like Paul, we echo " I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart" for their salvation. I too want to imagine a day when a flood of souls come into the kingdom of God. Every Christian should want this. In fact, if anyone does not want this, he is most certainly not a Christian. But this is one of the great hurdles of Bible interpretation that must be overcome. We have to be able to separate what we want the Bible to say with what the Bible actually says. Look closely at the text at hand. When Paul says that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable; is he seeking to prove it by pointing us to a future day of national salvation? Or, is he seeking to prove it by pointing us to the present day? If we're honest we have to admit that Paul is simply saying that, even though God has hardened them, and even though they are, even now, enemies of the gospel, God is, even now, continuing to show them grace, and even now, they are receiving mercy.
Gentiles used to not be God's people, but God has shown them mercy. The Jews used to be God's people but now they are not God's people and they too are in need of mercy. Both groups live in alienation from the olive tree. Both groups are in need of mercy. Both groups are now receiving mercy.
It is a strange construct that we put onto Paul's words in chapter 11 when we seek to prove that Paul is arguing that a future salvation of Israel as proof of God's faithfulness. Paul clearly is arguing for a present salvation as proof of his faithfulness to those who are "beloved for the sake of the forefathers." This is in keeping with the text of Isaiah that Paul had quoted earlier saying that salvation for Israel will be "from this time forth and forevermore " When did, "this time" begin? It began in the first century. Paul is clearly speaking of the present reality of God's love for Israel.
If we read through chapter 11 we will see that Paul's entire argument is based in the present day. He is simply not making any claims about the future. As I noted earlier, Paul's only mention of the future is based on the conditional repentance of Israel saying "if they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted in." And again, instead of saying that God, "will graft them in again" he says, "God is able to graft them in again" if he so chooses. Paul is not claiming anything as certain in regards to the future of Israel. When we argue that Paul is speaking of a future salvation for Israel, we are placing words in Paul's mouth that are just not there. It simply does not fit with what Paul has written. Instead, his entire argument has been centered around God's continual love for the Jews as evidenced by the current and continual salvation of the remnant of Jews. So in his conclusion, Paul's reference to them is "they also may now receive mercy."
So, in Paul's estimation, salvation is all about grace, not ethnicity. It's all about mercy, not ethnicity. It's all about faith, and not ethnicity. This is clearly Paul's point. But he has been making this point while answering the question, "how then could God have promised to save "all the offspring of Israel and yet Israel at large remains in unbelief?" If Israel refers to Jews and Gentiles of faith, then God's promise makes sense and it stands as true and trustworthy. But, if the promise to save all the offspring of Israel refers to ethnic Israel, then God's word has failed. So if we read Isaiah 45:45 in a wooden and overly-literal way claiming that "Israel only refers to the physical offspring of Abraham," then we make the same mistake our first century brothers did, and we have to call into question God's truthfulness. But, if we define "Israel" the way that Paul shows us, in Romans 9-11, that it is those of faith who are the children of Abraham, then we see that God's word is true.
So does God promise to save the physical nation of Israel? Not in Romans 9-11 he doesn't. So if anyone wants to make a case that God will save all physical Israel, they will have to look elsewhere.