Romans 11:25-32 Paper

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Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by mattrose » Sat Apr 17, 2010 5:46 pm

This was a research paper I just finished, so it isn't as 'flowing' as I normally like to write. But I thought I'd post it anyways in case anyone was interested :)

And So All Israel
By Matthew Rose

INTRODUCTION

It has become quite commonplace to interpret Romans 11:25-32 as a revelation that, at the end of time, God will save ethnic Israel. The more concretely this stance is held, the more tension seems to exist between this text and the rest of Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11. The popularity of this interpretation of Paul’s words, especially of Romans 11:26a, reached me as well, but so did the tension. As the tension thickened, I was interested to explore new options that turned out to be old but neglected. As my thoughts on these verses have developed over the past few years, I was pleased to have the time, opportunity, and resources afforded by this semester to take my longest look yet into Paul’s substantial words. As it now stands, I depart significantly from the majority of interpreters on the interpretation of this passage, but I am certainly not alone.

A BRIEF LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE

Romans 9-11 answers the question of whether or not God has been faithful to His covenant with Israel. Paul's passion for his biological brothers is impossible to ignore. He wants them to be saved, but he recognizes that being “in Israel” is meaningless unless one is “in” the true “Israelite”, namely, Jesus Christ. And so he re-defines Israel. He says that not everyone from one of the twelve tribes is an Israelite (Rom. 9:6). He says it's not by natural means that we are considered God's children (Rom. 9:8). In other words, it's not about genetics. Now, then, Paul is working with two definitions for the term “Israel” (national Israel & spiritual Israel). He uses this theme side by side throughout the argument. For instance, in Romans 9:27 he says not all the Israelites will be saved, but only the remnant. The first group must be national Israel since part of it is saved and part of it is unsaved. The latter 'remnant' must refer to spiritual Israel since it is a completely saved entity.
Paul builds on his argument, arguing that there is really no difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to salvation (Rom. 10:12). Not all Israelites (referring to national Israelites) accepted the good news, just like not all gentiles accepted the good news (Rom. 10:16). Paul's hope is that, by his ministry to the gentiles, he will arouse national Israel to envy and see “some” of them be saved (Rom. 11:14). The “some”, of course, would be spiritual Israel. His point is that any national Israelite can become a spiritual Israelite “if they do not persist in unbelief” (Rom. 11:23). That brings us to Romans 11:25-32.

THE EXEGESIS

I have chosen to exegete the passage in the order in which Paul has given it to us. Some verses are broken down into smaller pieces for closer examination while others are grouped together due to their nature as summary. To make matters as clear as possible, I have made an additional choice in which the bulk of my research is presented in a question and answer format. The biblical text is in bold (with references below) while the relevant questions are italicized.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited
(Romans 11:25a)

How is Paul using the term mystery?

In light of the long list of interpretations of Romans 11:25-32, the word “mystery” is an appropriate title for the beginning of this analysis. Paul communicates to his brethren in Rome that they should be aware of a certain mystery. Knowledge of this mystery will, apparently, keep them from being conceited. For some, the mystery is treated as a brand new teaching introduced only in this section (or even a sudden revelation given to Paul as he penned this part of the letter). This opinion is particularly held by “those who find a tension between the teaching about Israel in 11:25-32 and the earlier parts of Romans 9-11”. For others, though, the mystery is more of a tightly wrapped conclusion to Romans 9-11 as a whole. It should be noted that, despite neglect from translators, Romans 9:25-32 is linked to the previous section by the word “for”. It is unlikely that Paul is sharing some fresh revelation at this point and referring to it as a mystery. Rather, as Wright notes, “he probably intends to use the word to refer not to hidden truth open only to initiates, but to an aspect of the long-range plan and purpose of God that has now been unveiled through the gospel of Jesus the Messiah”. The mystery fits with the context rather than being in friction against it.
One would be wise, too, to keep in mind the use of mystery in the Pauline corpus. In Ephesians, Paul describes the mystery as being that which brings all things together under one head, Christ (Eph. 1:10). He says bluntly that this mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:6). In other words, there are no second class citizens of the kingdom. God's purpose was to take believing Jews and believing Gentiles and not only make them loving brothers, but to actually make them one new man (Eph. 1:15). Any reading of Romans 11:25-32 that stands against this broader Pauline context should be avoided.

Who is Paul speaking to?

Paul is here addressing his brothers. In Romans, Paul’s uses this term in at least three ways. Most commonly he uses the term to address the body of believers that makes up the church in Rome. In Romans 9:3, Paul specifies that he is using the term to refer to his biological brethren. At other points, as in Romans 1:13, the term refers specifically to the Gentiles within the church. If it can be safely assumed that the majority of believers in Rome were Gentiles, then perhaps most of the references that include the term brother have a believing Gentile audience in mind. This is certainly the case with our passage. Paul is warning believing Gentiles that ignorance of this mystery may leave room for arrogance to develop in them. Because Paul so commonly refers to Gentiles as his brethren, there is a danger that we miss the significance of that classification. Paul, a Jew, counts these Gentiles to be members of his family of faith. They are united. This truth is not insignificant to the proper interpretation of our passage.

How would the content of the mystery keep them from being conceited?

We will discuss the content of the mystery below, but in so doing we must keep in mind that whatever the mystery is, it includes knowledge that can keep the believing Gentiles from becoming conceited. In other words, as we analyze the meaning of the mystery, it is important that our conclusions do not remove us from the purpose for which the mystery is being given.

The content of the mystery is usually spoken of as being made up of three distinct parts. According to Cranfield, the mystery “has to do with three successive stages of the fulfillment of the divine plan of salvation”. Moo lists them in this way: (1) a hardening has come partly on Israel; (2) until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in; (3) And in this way all Israel will be saved. Fitzmyer provides a similar list, albeit in a slightly different order: (1) the partial insensibility of Israel; (2) the manner of Israel’s salvation; (3) and the salvation of not only Israel, but of all humanity through Christ Jesus. Wright speaks of Paul making two modifications to the aforementioned hardening of Israel (Romans 11:7). The first modifying phrase speaks of the partial nature of the hardening. The second speaks to how long the hardening will last. These two modifications lead, for Wright, to the thrilling conclusion that all Israel will be saved. Despite varied nuance, then, the threefold nature of the mystery is generally accepted. Below we will examine each of the three in greater detail.

Israel has experienced a hardening in part
(Romans 11:25b)

What is the source of this hardening?

Before we examine the partial nature of the hardening that is being experienced by Israel, we should stop to examine the source of the experience. Is the hardening a divine judgment, a human choice, or in some way both? In asking this, we are in the familiar territory of the debate between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Part of the reason the debate has been so long standing is because different Scriptures seem to answer the question in different ways. For instance, in Paul’s earlier allusion to the Exodus narrative he mentioned the hardening of Pharaoh (Romans 9:18). There, Paul speaks of God being the one who hardened the Egyptian ruler. But if we take the time to read the Exodus narrative itself, we find that sometimes it speaks of Pharaoh hardening his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32, 9:34) and other times speaks of the Lord doing so (Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:8). This is not inconsistent with something we saw earlier in Romans where we find human rejection of God (Romans 1:18, 21a, 28a) coupled with a judgement from God that further hardens humanity (Romans 1:21b, 24, 26, 28b). Perhaps the safest statement is to say that God reserves the right to harden sinful humanity. And not only does He reserve that right, He actually puts it to use when doing so serves His greater purposes. In the Exodus narrative, God hardened Pharaoh so that His miraculous signs could be performed among the people (Exodus 10:1, Romans 9:17). As we continue to analyze Romans 11:25-32 it will be important to keep in mind the question of what God’s purpose may be in the partial hardening of Israel.

What is meant by in part?

This question arises from the fact that Paul has placed the partial nature of the statement between the word for hardening and the word for Israel. It is possible, then, to argue that he is referring to a partial hardening of all of Israel or that he is referring to a hardening of part of Israel. Dunn provides two arguments for the former. First, he claims that this reading is most consistent with Paul’s other uses of the term for part. Second, he argues that Paul here “retains a concept of Israel as a unified whole”. Wright, however, while recognizing Paul’s normal usage, suggests an alternative. Given the context (specifically, Romans 11:7) he believes it is more likely that the word part “implies a division between the Israel that is hardened and the Israel that has become the remnant”.

Despite the claim of some that “the difference in meaning is not great”, it does seem significant that we understand whether Paul is referring to a partial hardening of all Israel or to a hardening of a part of Israel. Dunn’s claim that Paul still thinks of Israel as a unified whole, while true to some degree, seems to fall short given the opening statements of the broader section. Paul has already argued that not all ethnic Israelites are true Israelites (Rom. 9:6). He then illustrated this point with a number of examples. Abraham had more than one child, but only Isaac’s line was considered his true offspring (Rom. 9:7). Isaac, too, had more than one child, but Jacob was elect while Esau was not (Rom. 9:11). Paul then moved on to the Exodus narrative to further illustrate the point that God has the right in His sovereignty to select some individuals and harden others (i.e., Pharaoh). Finally, he completes his abbreviated tour of Israel’s history by showing how God elected some parts of Israel (the remnant) and rejected the rest. Whatever he is doing here, Paul is not “retaining a concept of Israel as a unified whole”!

Wright, then, is correct that “God always intended that only some of Abraham’s descendants would carry forward the saving purpose”. This context should influence our interpretation of Romans 11:25-27. Part, but not all of Israel has been hardened. Isaac, Jacob, the seven thousand in Elijah’s day, the ratio of Jews to Gentiles in the first two decades of the church, and Paul himself served as evidence that some Israelites are, rather than being part of the hardened, part of the elect. This truth is a caution against any view that considered God to be now exclusively on the side of the Gentiles. Re-iterating that not all Israelites have been hardened was a worthwhile warning against conceit amongst the believing Gentiles in Rome. Paul’s use of the term hardening is, though a term of judgment, also a term of hope. As long as ethnic Israel is in the state of hardening, they are not yet judged. And if they are not yet judged, they still have the opportunity to repent. And if they have the opportunity to repent, the Gentile Christians in Rome should certainly not view themselves as exclusive members of God’s family. Any repentant Jew still had time to be grafted back into God’s family tree, a tree on which they would fit quite naturally.

Until the full number of the Gentiles has come in
(Romans 11:25c)

Does the word until imply that something different will come after?

If the partial nature of Israel’s hardening was a means to keep the Gentile believers in Rome from becoming conceited, the word “until” is packed with just as much potential. But it could accomplish this in at least two distinct ways. On the one hand, Paul could be saying that at a particular point in the future, God would remove the hardening from Israel so that they may believe. On the other hand, he may be stating that the Jewish remnant may continue to come to faith right up to the last day. Both of these interpretations of Paul have the potential to humble feelings of Gentile superiority, but certainly Paul did not mean both, as the interpretations are quite different. Below, we will briefly examine the merits and demerits of these two views.

Moo recognizes that “some scholars have questioned whether Paul implies any change in Israel’s condition of hardening, it being suggested that Paul is teaching only that Israel’s hardening will continue ‘right up to’ the last day”. He even admits “the Greek construction Paul uses could mean this”, but ultimately rejects this reading in favor of the view that belief will happen subsequent to the removal of the hardening. He claims the preceding context as a support for his interpretation. According to Moo, Paul has “throughout vv. 11-24 implied that Israel would one day experience a spiritual rejuvenation that would extend far beyond the present bounds of the remnant”.

Wright, though, reads this text quite differently from the majority of commentators. Rather than seeing Romans 11:25-26 as a temporal sequence, he believes Paul is stating the length of time in which the hardened members of Israel will have their judgment delayed. It is not that once the full number of Gentiles has come in, God will remove the hardening from Israel so that they too may believe. Rather, it is that throughout the entire mission to the Gentile world, God will delay His judgment of Israel so that some of them may repent and believe as well. For Wright, then, the word “until” is indeed a matter of time, but it is not indicating something that will come afterward (mass Jewish conversion), but what is possible beforehand (steady Jewish conversion). Israel’s hardening will not give way to a future softening. It will, rather, finally give way to delayed judgment. The preceding context (that Moo feels made the former case) fits just as well, if not better, with the position of Wright. After all, Paul was careful throughout those verses to use the word “some”. His hope is that “some” of the hardened Jews will, out of envy, believe. His hope is that some of the branches that have been broken off will be grafted back in again. Paul’s hope was not in some future event, which would free hardened Jews from disbelief, but that more of his contemporary brothers in the flesh would see the light just as Paul had.

Though both of these interpretations are possible and could have helped to deter the Gentile believers in Rome from becoming conceited against the Jewish people, Wright’s view is arguably even more capable of accomplishing this task. If, after all, the Jewish people are on hold (so to speak) until a time after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then reaching out to them before than time would have quite possibly been viewed as unnecessary. But if Paul was pleading with the Gentile believers in Rome to see their Jewish contemporaries as only the step of repentance away from re-inclusion into God’s family, then conceit could truly give way to commission, acceptance, and unity.

What is meant by the full number of Gentiles coming in?

Paul envisions a full number of Gentiles coming in. But what exactly does the full number of Gentiles mean and what exactly are they coming into? As to the first question, Paul seems to be purposefully drawing the attention of his hearers/readers back to Romans 11:12 where he spoke of the fullness of the Jews. As Dunn states, “by using the same word Paul presumably intended to indicate that the incoming of the Gentiles would be equivalent to that of Israel”. He does not mean, of course, that the ratio of believing Jews and Gentiles will be 1:1, but that there will be a pleasing correlation between the two. Here, Paul seems to have in mind the perfect balance of quality and quantity in regards to the Gentile mission. When that balance is reached, judgment will no longer be delayed and only believing Jews and Gentiles will escape since they have come in. This brings us to the second question. What does Paul imagine that the Gentiles are coming in to? Almost undoubtedly he is referring to the community of salvation. Interestingly, Dunn points out that the infrequency of this terminology in Paul and its frequency in the Jesus tradition makes for a strong case that “Paul is drawing here on pre-Pauline tradition which stems from Jesus”.

And so all Israel will be saved
(Romans 11:26a)

Is this a sequence or a statement?

Some translations display an interpretive bias in their rendering of the first two words of this line. The NEB reads “when that has happened” demonstrating a clearly chronological sequence. The interpretation of the JB translators is rather explicit in that it reads “and then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well.” Such renderings are closer to interpretations than translations in this case. The majority of translations utilize the words “and so”. Wright notes that this “is technically not incorrect; but it may be misleading if it is supposed that Paul has a temporal sequence in mind”. Indeed, many people seem to read the passage as if the words were “and then” rather than “and so”. Wright must here be quoted at length:

But the Greek simply does not bear this sense. It regularly means ‘thus, in this way, after this fashion, by this means…’ it describes the manner in which, rather than the time at which, something happens. To look no further than the present epistle (though a larger search through the NT would underline the same point), in every other occurrence in Romans [it] obviously means ‘in this way,’ and never comes close to meaning ‘then’ or ‘after that’ (1:15; 4:18; 5:12, 15, 18-19, 21; 6:4, 11, 19; 9:20; 10:6; 11:5, 31; 12:5; 15:20…). In the present context it must mean ‘and in this way,’ or ‘and that is the way in which.

Fitzmyer agrees with Wright that any translation that conveys a temporal understanding of the phrase is simply incorrect. While stating that “some temporal weight cannot be excluded”, Dunn, too, admits this basic sense of the Greek. Moo presents four options for interpreting the beginning of this phrase, but he too agrees that the temporal understanding is not likely. The statement, then, is an answer to the question of “how” all Israel will be saved rather than answering “when” such a thing will occur. The manner in which all Israel will be saved is by the hardening of part of Israel and the inclusion of the full number of Gentiles.

What is meant by the term Israel here?

“Israel means Israel.” By these three words, of course, the person saying such would be implying that the word Israel in the Scriptures always refers to natural/ethnic Israel, the Jewish people. But such an understanding should not necessarily be taken for granted. One of Paul’s points all throughout Romans 9-11 has been that there is indeed a difference between natural Israel and the truly elect. Is it not possible, here, that Paul is continuing an Old Testament motif and defining Israel in a way that is at once both narrowing and inviting? But before we make a case for this sort of reading of the term Israel, we should examine the arguments against this re-definition.

Moo suggests three possible interpretations of the term Israel: (1) the community of the elect, including both Jews and Gentiles; (2) the nation of Israel; or (3) the elect within Israel. While he considers “the choice between the other two options” to be quite difficult, he strongly dispenses with the first option as highly unlikely while providing two main pieces of evidence to support this dismissal.

First, he states that all previous uses of the term Israel in this section refer to ethnic Israel. Not only is this not quite accurate, but it is also an argument too heavily focused on a narrow word search. The second and third occurrence of the term Israel (Rom. 9:6) certainly shows that the term has more than a monopolized semantic range. If not all of ethnic Israel is Israel then the latter reference to Israel is clearly something distinct from broader ethnic Israel even if it is made up of only ethnic Israelites. But even more significantly, we must broaden our search simply from keywords to concepts if we are to truly understand what Paul is doing with the idea of the people of God. Gentiles are, in this very section, counted as God’s people (Rom. 9:24-25). Paul refers to them as brothers (Rom. 10:1, 11:25). He flatly states that there is no difference between believing Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 10:11-12). Faithful Jews and Gentiles are both part of the same family tree (Rom. 11:23-24). By expanding our view from a mere word search, then, we are able to see that Paul has had the unification of believing Jews and Gentiles into the one people of God in mind throughout the entire section.

As a second argument, Moo insists that the rhetorical situation of Romans 9-11 dictates that Paul would not risk speaking of Gentiles as Israelites insofar that it would spur on their arrogance rather than humble them. He makes this point somewhat tentatively, noting that Paul is elsewhere quite comfortable to speak of Gentiles as included in the people of God. Moo even refers back to Romans 4:13-18 where all people of faith (Jew and Gentile alike) are counted as children of Abraham. Nevertheless, he states that “Paul’s purpose in Rom. 11 is almost the opposite” than that of Romans 4. This is also the main objection given by Zoccali even though he admits that seeing Israel as the Church is “more plausible than most commentators are willing to admit.” But we must ask if the rhetorical situation in Romans 4 could possibly be so different from that of Romans 9-11 if both sections were delivered to the same audience of mostly Gentile believers. What’s more, we must ask how treating believing Jews and believing Gentiles as equal members in the family of God would “Fuel the fire of the Gentiles’ arrogance”. Who is arguing that the term Israel in verse 26 excludes believing Jews? All Israel does not equate with the fullness of the Gentiles, but with the combination of the non-hardened part of Israel and the believing number of Gentiles.

I am convinced that Wright is right in concluding that the term “Israel” in Romans 11:26 refers to the collective people of God, believing Jews and Gentiles alike. The objection that Paul would not give new meaning to a key term in close proximity to its more common usage fails to recognize that Paul routinely does just such a thing. In Romans 2:28-29, Paul redefines both the meaning of “Jew” and the meaning of “Circumcision”. In Romans 4 he provides new meaning to the phrase “children of Abraham”. Given this tendency it is at least possible that Paul could be redefining the term “Israel” as well, especially since such a strong case can be made that he has done just that in Galatians 6:16.

This reading of Romans 11:26a also connects better with the context of the entire Epistle. Paul has been at the business of pointing out that all people are under the same condemnation and that God will save all of His people in the same way. Why would Paul suddenly depart from this and break up the unity of believing Jews and Gentiles? If his hope is that the Gentile Christians in Rome will receive Jewish Christians into their community without distinction, how would insisting that God still considers them separately help? As with Paul’s other uses of the term mystery, he is arguing, here, for one new man (Eph. 1:15).

How will they be saved?

If one has taken a wrong turn at some point in the above exegesis, this question becomes quite complicated, but if we’ve followed Paul’s train of thought, we are on quite comfortable ground. How will they be saved? It should not matter who we imagine the “they” to be, for salvation is found in no one but Jesus (Acts 1:12). Of course, those who imagine that the “Israel” in Romans 11:26a is still referring to ethnic Israel seem to feel somewhat forced to offer alternative means to salvation for Jews at the end of time. Moo notes that “several scholars have argued recently that the absence of any specific christological language in Romans 11 is very significant” and point to s special means to salvation for future Jews. But these very questions are rendered obsolete by the above exegesis. We don’t have to wonder whether the “all” refers to all elect Jews, every individual Jew at the time, every individual Jew throughout history, or national Israel (but not necessarily every individual), because the “all” doesn’t refer to only ethnic Israel to begin with. It simply means, as a matter of definition and fact, that all believing Jews and Gentiles are and will be saved. Nor do we have to wonder if the salvation of ethnic Israel will occur immediately before the Second Coming or right at the Second Coming. Again, the passage isn’t referring to the salvation of ethnic Israel, but of the Israel of God (believing Jews and Gentiles alike, who are saved throughout history). And finally, we don’t have to wonder if ethnic Israel will be saved through some other kind of faith or some type of divine intervention. They will be saved in the only way to be saved, by faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. The presence of such confusion amongst various interpreters may simply be the ugly fruit of having made the choice to read a non-sequential passage sequentially.

There is another sense, however, in which the question of how remains a relevant one. Our passage does, in fact, discuss the means by which Jewish men and women throughout history will come to faith in Jesus Christ. Though the Jewish majority in the early church eventually gave way to a Gentile majority, the possibility remained and remains that the hardened part of Israel had and has opportunity to repent (since divine judgment has been delayed). Indeed, seeing that Gentiles are now partaking in their privileges may serve as the catalyst for just such repentance. Because they were hardened, salvation was brought to the Gentiles. Because salvation was brought to the Gentiles, some hardened Jews would, in holy jealousy, want to share in their Messiah. And thus, all of God’s true people, Jewish and Gentile alike, would be saved.

As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
(Romans 11:26b-27)

What is Paul quoting here and why?

At this point, Paul “reinforces his teaching with a composite quotation from the Old Testament”. This consistent habit of Paul to support his arguments with Scripture may serve as a tool by which we can better understand the meaning of the mystery. Nevertheless, in this case, the Old Testament quotations have more often added to the confusion of the passage. There is not much need for debate about which texts Paul is quoting, but there is some debate about how he quotes them. He has written a composite quotation that virtually all commentators agree is formed from pieces of both Isaiah 59:20-21 and Isaiah 27:9.

The first clause, adapted from Isaiah 59:20a, speaks of the Redeemer coming “to” Zion in the MT while the LXX has said Redeemer coming “on account of” Zion. Throughout this paper we have departed from the common interpretation of Romans 11:25-32 that sees these verses as a sequence culminating in the future salvation of ethnic Israel. If that interpretation were indeed correct then it would have to be considered quite surprising that Paul states that the deliverer will come “from” Zion. If Paul had wanted to make the dispensational case, for instance, that after the believing Gentiles are removed the next sequential step is the salvation of ethnic Israel, he would have done better to leave well enough alone. But Seifrid is probably correct in saying that “Paul’s unique use of the preposition is likely intentional”. Wright adds, “So far from pulling the text toward the parousia, he seems rather to be emphasizing the opposite: the redeemer, by whom he must mean Jesus the Messiah, ‘comes’ from Zion into all the world”. Paul is referring, then, to the Gentile mission rather than making a claim about mass Jewish conversion at the end of time. Interestingly, Fitzmyer notes that “In the Jewish tradition [Isaiah 59:20] was often cited to show how Gentiles would share eventually in the blessing of Jerusalem”.

Paul’s second clause states that God will turn godlessness away from Jacob. This, too, is somewhat of an adaptation of the LXX, this time of Isaiah 59:20b. The LXX reading focuses on deliverance from Israel’s enemies, but Paul presents “an ironic reversal of their usual reading of the passage: the ‘ungodly deeds’ that the Redeemer removes from Jacob are those not of the adversaries, but rather of ‘Jacob’ himself”. In this sense, Paul’s thinking is more in line with the Hebrew text of Isaiah and the idea of repentance from sins and forgiveness from God. Thus, the first two clauses are less likely about some future mass conversion of ethnic Jews and more likely about the present conversion of both Jews and Gentiles. As Wright says, “v.26b is explaining v.26a” in light of the fact that “Israel” now includes both Jews and Gentiles.

These two realities, the extension of the Covenant so as to include Gentiles and the continued faithfulness to the Jews, make up exactly what the covenant was about all along. Thus, the third clause “recalls Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant and essentially expresses the same promise”. And the fourth clause explains that this covenant is put into effect whenever the sins of a given individual are taken away. Wright comments, “11:27b enables Paul to include the idea of a recurring action. ‘Whenever’ God takes away their sins, i.e. whenever Jews come to believe in Christ and so enter the family of God, in that moment the promises God made long ago to the partriarchs are being reaffirmed”. In fact, Wright deserves to be quoted at length here as a summary of Paul’s Old Testament quotation:

The combined texts in vv. 26b-27, then, undergird, rather than undermine, all that Paul has said so far in chaps. 9-11, and indeed in chaps. 1-8. Verses 25-27 as a whole fit perfectly into the flow of the chapter’s argument, instead of sticking out from it like a sore thumb. This, Paul is saying, is how God is saving ‘all Israel,” the people promised long ago to Abraham. God is doing it, not by having two tracks, a Jewish one and a Christian one; not by having a ‘Christian’ scheme in the present and then re-inventing a ‘Jewish’ one at the last minute; nor by suddenly relenting and allowing a partial, last-minute version of the ‘favored nation clause’ that had been sternly ruled out up to that point; but by God doing, throughout the period that beings with the Messiah’s death and resurrection, what had always been promised in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and elsewhere.

In reaching this point, we have examined the mystery with some degree of thoroughness. The remaining verses, Romans 11:28-32, serve as a summary of Paul’s argument so far. The summary does not seem overly complicated unless one is unfamiliar with what has preceded it or unable to accept that Paul’s tightly crafted words were not meant to bring confusion but rhetorical force. Dunn notes that “this is the most contrived or carefully constructed formulation which Paul ever produced in such a tight epigrammatic form, with so many balancing elements”. We would do well, then, to truly treat it as a summary rather than attempt to uncover new bits of information. Due to the nature of the section as summary, comments will remain somewhat brief as compared to the above exegesis.

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
(Romans 11:28-29)

Romans 11:28-31 fit nicely into a separate paragraph but is connected to Romans 11:25-27 through use of the word “they”. “They” are hardened Israelites, but the believing Gentiles in Rome should by no means consider them a lost cause. The revelation of the mystery will not allow for such a conceited position. Hardened Israelites are enemies of the Gospel since they reject the source of the good news, the Messiah Jesus. Their status as enemies need not be permanent, however, since God’s offer of blessings and call to obedience is still on the table. They are not now saved, but there is certainly hope for them especially in light of the fact that they have been part of the plan all along. What is more, their status as enemies is seen here as pivotal to their potential re-engagement with God. Dunn states it well:

“In the mystery of the divine purpose it was necessary for Israel to stand outside the gospel for some time, and to experience that hostility to God which is characteristic of humankind in this age, in order that the gosple might be offered to Gentiles as God’s free grace to man, not as the gospel of the Jews defined in ethnic terms. Only so could it be open to man as the free gift of forgiveness to an enemy rather than a right of nationality or race; and only so, of course, could Israel rediscover it in its character of free grace to all”.

With this statement, Dunn transitions us well into the second half of the paragraph.

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
(Romans 11:30-31)

Paul reminds his generally Gentile audience of their former status as disobedient men and women. It was in this state of disobedience that they received mercy from God. What is more, they received this mercy from God only after the majority of Jews rejected it. Dunn, again, helps us to sum up:

“For the tables have now been completely turned; Jewish assumption of monopoly on divine mercy and of gentile exclusion through disobedience has been turned on its head. Gentile disobedience did not disqualify from mercy, and, irony of ironies, what did ‘qualify’ the Gentiles was Jewish disobedience”.

Is it not fitting, then, that salvation come full circle? Now it is the hardened Jews who are in a state of disobedience. Could it not be that they, too, might receive mercy in their disobedient state? And how fitting that this mercy may be received especially as a result of the mercy shown to Gentiles? A third time, Dunn states it best:

"By coming to see that their exclusive claim to God’s covenanted mercy was what was actually disqualifying them from that mercy, they would become open once again to receiving that mercy as sheer mercy, mercy to the disobedient. This interaction of Jewish disobedience, resulting in Gentiles receiving mercy, resulting in Jews at large receiving the same mercy, is already in play, part of the eschatological ‘now’”.

It should not be under emphasized that Paul is speaking, here, of a present reality. He is not looking forward to some future mass conversion of his brothers in the flesh. Rather, he is stating in as clear as terms as possible that unbelieving Jewish people are presently invited to receive God’s mercy from their state of disobedience through, we may safely infer, faith. And not only are they invited to do so, they may indeed be motivated by jealousy because of God’s mercy to the Gentiles.
The final statement of our section serves as a summary of this summary, of our section, of Romans 9-11, and possibly of the whole epistle. All humanity, both Jew and Gentile alike, has been found guilty so that sheer grace and mercy may save all humanity, both Jew and Gentile alike. It is, perhaps, appropriate to allow Paul’s twelve Greek words (eighteen in the NIV’s English) in Romans 11:32 to conclude our exegesis: For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

CONCLUSION

The interpretation offered above is by no means a novelty. Indeed, Augustine (amongst others) spoke of Israel in Romans 11:26a as the truer Israel. He states, “the fullness of the Gentiles comes in among those who have been called according to the plan, and there arises a truer Israel of God… the elect from both the Jews and the Gentiles”. Perhaps it is time that this ancient interpretation made a thorough comeback.

The questions Paul was dealing with in Romans 11 were not about the distant future. He first answers the question (Rom. 11:1) of whether or not God has rejected ethnic Israel. Paul’s answer is a strong no! But if the chapter is about what many commentators and congregations think it is about, one would think his support for this case would be a clear statement that at some future date ethnic Israel will come to believe. They imagine, then, that the question was really about the permanence of God’s rejection of ethnic Israel. Paul, however, doesn’t see the rejection as being present, let alone permanent. The support for his “No!” is that he himself (and the remnant in general) is an example of God’s continued faithfulness to true Israel. The second question (Rom. 11:11) is about whether or not more ethnic Israelites might come into the fold in the future. Paul states plainly that they may indeed. In fact, as an increasing number of Gentiles receive mercy from Israel’s God, Paul hopes that more and more of his brothers in the flesh, motivated by envy, will be aroused to salvation.

God has been faithful to His promise, but the promise was always that of a large and blessed family of equals. He has accomplished this through the rejection of the Gospel by some Jews, the acceptance of the Gospel by the fullness of the Gentiles, and the subsequent (and envy produced) acceptance of the Gospel by, hopefully, more and more Jews. The whole of this is the stunning reality that all Israel, every one of God’s people, will be saved. God will have His large family. They will be the blessed children of mercy, both Jew and Gentile alike.

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Douglas
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by Douglas » Tue Apr 20, 2010 4:00 pm

Thanks Matt,

Very well written and logically put together. I enjoyed reading your exegesis.

Doug


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RickC
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by RickC » Tue Apr 27, 2010 3:06 am

Excellent job, Matt!
(It took me a few days, but I finally made it through all-that), ;)

I just finished N.T. Wright's Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision.
Man! - what a totally awesome and profound read!
(simplifying things, actually - have you read it? - methinks probably so)

Any chance you might slap on a quick bibliography?
Just books and/or articles (not pages).

WTG, Matthew!!! :)

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mattrose
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by mattrose » Tue Apr 27, 2010 7:12 am

RickC wrote:Excellent job, Matt!
(It took me a few days, but I finally made it through all-that), ;)

I just finished N.T. Wright's Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision.
Man! - what a totally awesome and profound read!
(simplifying things, actually - have you read it? - methinks probably so)

Any chance you might slap on a quick bibliography?
Just books and/or articles (not pages).

WTG, Matthew!!! :)
Thanks Rick.... I actually have not read the Wright book you mentioned. I read his 'Climax of the Covenant' and his commentary on Romans for this particular paper. Here is my bibliography:

Bray, Gerald. Romans. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT Vol. VI. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. 1998.

Cranfield, C. E. B. Romans. The International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975.

Dunn, James D. G. Romans. Word Biblical Commentary, 2 Vols. Dallas, Tex: Word, 1988.

Fitzmyer, Joseph. Romans. Anchor Bible. Doubleday & Co., 1993.

Gregg, Steve. Audio commentary found at http://www.thenarrowpath.com

Moo, Douglas. The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Seifrid, Mark. “Romans”. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.

Wright, N. T. “Romans”. New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002.

Wright, N.T. The Climax of the Covenant. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Zoccali, Christopher. “And so all Israel will be saved: competing interpretations of Romans 11.26 in Pauline scholarship”. Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 30 (3):289-318.

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RickC
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by RickC » Tue Apr 27, 2010 9:40 pm

Thank you, Matthew!
Wright's Justification is actually the only the second book I've read by him.
The other was The Last Word -
(a title he didn't like, was chosen by his publishers for the 'American' version).
Also a great read.

I'd read one or two books he put out with Marcus Borg a few years ago -
(which came from debates they held).

Thanks again, Matt! and....
when you find time, Justification!!! :)

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mattrose
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by mattrose » Tue Apr 27, 2010 9:54 pm

I liked The Last Word. I also liked Surprised by Hope. By I really recommend his big volumes. I think there are only 3 so far with 2 more coming (I'm guessing on that part).

He's also good on video.

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RickC
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by RickC » Tue Apr 27, 2010 10:38 pm

Matt -

I've not read any of the big volumes as I've had this bad habit of reading books up till about the last chapter...then inventing my own end! :D

And as far as NTW audios & vids - yep!
Huge fan here too!

Here's the latest I've found (via NTWpage):
The Big Read - NTW - Intro to, and the Passion in, Luke
(a 3rd session will be posted in May)

In any event, I didn't mention that -
While reading your Paper; at times it reminded me of "what NTW said."
And thus, two-thumbs-up for Brother Matt! :!: :!:
Keep up the good work!

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mattrose
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by mattrose » Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:35 pm

Haha, yeah, I actually don't like to agree with people so fully b/c I'm afraid that I'm just being a copy-cat. But in this case, the positions of NT Wright and Steve Gregg on Romans 9-11 were basically identical to my hunch. B/w Wright & Steve I think the case for this interpretation of 9-11 is extremely strong.

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darinhouston
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Re: Romans 11:25-32 Paper

Post by darinhouston » Sun Nov 21, 2010 2:44 pm

Did you ever complete this?

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