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Romans 9-11, Part 11

Romans 11:25-29

Delimiting the Text

25 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.

26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Discussion

Paul continues to write to ward off Gentile boasting, and he does so by finally bringing to light the mystery of God. Here, the third movement in his defense of the fidelity of God comes to fruition. God will be true to his word in saving Israel, because there will be an end to the hardening and a final salvation for Israel. What has been implied previously, the salvation of more than just a remnant, is now made more explicit.

The revelation of verse 25 is written to support the regrafting of Israel that is alluded to in verse 24. There should be no mistake about the meaning of the analogy – Israel has been rejected and are apostate (cut from the olive tree) and the Gentiles have been saved instead (grafted contrary to nature), yet this is only temporary and Israel will be saved in the future (regrafted into their own tree). The partial hardening of Israel is their current unbelief (Paul’s anguish over Israel in 9:1-5, their failure to reach righteousness in 9:27-33, their disobedience in 10:18-21, their rejection of God in 11:1-7 and God’s hardening of Israel in 11:8-10), and it will continue until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”. There is no indication in the text as to what the full number of Gentiles will be, yet the meaning still stands that there will be an end to the hardening of Israel. Paul’s concern is primarily for the Israelites who are accursed and cut off (9:3), and not for the specific number of Gentiles who will be saved.

The central focus of the mystery though is not the hardening of Israel, nor is it the salvation of Gentiles. As Moo observes, the focus of the mystery is on the timing of the salvation of Israel. Even the question of who “all Israel” entails is not primary, though it is an interesting side issue. There is an entire spectrum of opinions on this question, from “all Israel” encompassing all elect Israelites throughout history [1], to “all Israel” being an icon for all people of God, Israelites and Gentiles.[2] The most popular viewpoint to consider is that a great number of Israelites who will then be alive will believe and be saved, but not all (Moo, Schreiner, Piper, and Murray).[3] Regardless of the minute datums of who will be saved, God will cease to reject Israel as a people and an ethnic group.

Verses 26-27 are constituted by a conflation of various Old Testament texts (Isaiah 27:9 and Isaiah 59:20 primarily, and probably Jeremiah 31:34) in order to support the future salvation of Israel. The parallelism in the two quotations is readily seen in the last line, where “banish ungodliness from Jacob” is equivalated with “when I take awake their sins.” Similarly, the new covenant that Christ will establish in verse 27 is the deliverance of Israel. When Christ returns, he will remove the unbelief that has plagued Israel. In this way, Christ will fulfill the covenant made to the patriarchs that Israel will be saved, and thus establish a new covenant with Israel.[4]

In response to Gentile boasting, Paul concludes that the Gentiles are right to see the Jews as enemies (enemies here does not imply enimity). But they are only enemies so that the Gentiles might be saved. And though Israel has stumbled and disbelieved, they are not lost. They will be saved because God had loved their forefathers. This does not necessarily indicate that God will count the good standing of the patriarchs toward the salvation of the Israelites. The “for” linking verse 29 explains the reason the forefathers are there for God’s love – God made promises to the forefathers out of his own volition. Th e gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable, not because they were made to worthy individuals, but because of the worthiness of God. God’s election is not based on any human distinctives, but based on his sovereign love.

Paul’s conclusion is not just a closure to the issue of Gentile boasting. It is also his conclusion in response to the question of Romans 9:6 – “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” God is faithful to his word, because he will not renege on his promises. Israel will be saved.

[1] Murray says here that this would be a “stunningly anticlimactic” ending to Paul’s argument, to say that those who are elect will be saved. Duh.

[2] Israel in “all Israel” should not be thought of as a general substitution for all the people of God, whether Israelites or Gentiles. The distinction being made from chapters 9-11 is that God has rejected ethnic Israel, and the Gentiles have instead come streaming into the kingdom of God. Even up to verse 25 there has been a preservation in the distinction between Israel and Gentiles, and it would be a great logical leap to suddenly remove those distinctions.

[3] 1 Kings 12:1 and 2 Chronicles 12:1 are often cited to support that “all Israel”, while referring to the nation as a whole, does not always have every individual Israelite in view.

[4] This does not posit a separate way of salvation for Israel (Israel will not be saved through the Torah and perfect obedience enabled by Christ, versus the Gentiles who will be saved by faith in Christ). Paul’s original assertion is that Israel is separated from Christ (9:1-5), and that Israel has failed to put their faith in Christ (9:31-10:21). The hypothesis that Israel therefore will be saved by enabling perfect obedience to the law negates the necessity for a faith in Christ. As Paul has already argued that faith in Christ is the only way to salvation for both Jews and Gentiles (10:9-17), this hypothesis makes no sense.

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