The Salvation of “All Israel” in Romans 11

This article, which is supplemental to the study on Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans 9-11), will attempt to clarify Paul’s complex address in chapter 11, particularly with regard to the declaration in verse 26a: kai\ ou%tw$ pa=$  )Israh/l swqh/setai (“and thus all Israel will be saved”). To begin with, it is important to keep the overall context of Romans 9-11 in mind when studying chapter 11; the following observations are especially significant:

    • The first argument (in Rom 9:6-13) of the section as whole, begins with the statement: “for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel” (v. 6b), i.e. not all Israelites are (the true) Israel.
    • Paul expounds this with the examples of Abraham and Isaac, to emphasize that true sonship and inheritance (of the blessing, etc) comes not from natural birth and ethnicity, but from the promise and favor of God (and God chooses and calls out whomsoever he wishes).
    • This is further applied in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel (the main theme of chapter 10)—Gentiles have responded to the Gospel, trusting in Christ, while many Israelites, God’s elect people, have failed (or refused) to accept Christ.

There is thus a fundamental connection between 9:6b and 10:15a:

“for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel”
or, “for not all the (one)s out of Israel are Israel” (9:6b)
“but not all (of them) listened under [i.e. obeyed] the good message” (10:15a)

Both use the expression “not all” (ou) pa/nte$), though the syntax of 9:6b makes this more difficult to see in translation. In any case, the implication is clear—only those (Israelites) who accept the Gospel are the true Israel. Now, to continue on with an analysis of chapter 11:

Paul’s initial address in Rom 11:1-12 contains a central argument (from Scripture), bracketed by two rhetorical questions (introduced with the formula le/gw ou@n, “I relate therefore…”). The central argument (in verses 3-10) draws upon the narrative in 1 Kings 19:9-18, of God’s revelation to Elijah as he sought refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. Paul refers specifically to verses 10, 14, where Elijah laments to YHWH that he is the only prophet (of YHWH) left who has not been killed, and that the rest of Israel has forsaken the covenant (Rom 11:2b-3); God responds in verse 18 to the effect that there are still seven thousand in Israel who have not “bowed the knee to Baal”. Note how Paul phrases this in Rom 11:4: “I have left down [i.e. left behind] for myself seven thousand…”—the addition of e)mautw=| (“for/to myself”), shifts the meaning slightly from the original context of being spared from death (by the sword) to being chosen by God. We should observe carefully the points that Paul expounds from this passage:

  • Verse 5—he applies the situation in 1 Kings 19:9-18 to his own (current) time: “so then, even now in (this) time, there has come to be a (remainder) left behind [lei=mma] according to (the) gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)”. In verse 4, the verb used is kataleip/w (“leave down, leave behind”); the noun lei=mma is related to lei/pw, indicating something which is left (behind), either in a positive or negative sense. The word lei=mma is typically translated as “remainder” or “remnant”; but here, as indicated above, this remnant is understood as a people gathered out (the noun e)klogh/, from e)kle/gomai, “gather out”), i.e. elected by God, just as Israel herself was chosen as his people.
  • Verse 6—this gathering out is the result of the favor (xa/ri$) of God, and not because of anything the people have done. Here Paul moves away from the Old Testament passage again, which seems to tie the people’s being spared with their particular religious behavior; instead, he emphasizes that the gathering out is no longer (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, not any more”) based on works (“out of works”, e)c e&rgwn). He has already applied this very idea to the example of Abraham in Galatians 3 and Romans 4.
  • Verse 7—only the remnant obtains what Israel seeks after (cf. Rom 9:30-33), the rest were hardened (lit. turned to stone). The metaphor of “hardening the heart” is common in the Old Testament, most famously in the example of Pharaoh in the Exodus narrative, which Paul references in Rom 9:14-18.
  • Verse 12—this verse is transitional, following Paul’s answer to the (second) rhetorical question (in verse 11), and leading into the address of vv. 13-24. He introduces the first of several qal wahomer exclamations, arguing from the lesser to the greater—i.e., if in this lesser/inferior case it is so, then how much more so when…! The contrast is between Israel’s h%tthma (“loss, defeat”), parallel with para/ptwma (“falling alongside [i.e. over the line]”), and their plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”). The exact meaning of plh/rwma here is important for the overall flow and force of Paul’s argument; I think it is best to understand it in the sense of a restoration (filling up) of what was lost.

Romans 11:13-24 is the first of two addresses Paul makes to Gentile believers specifically, with regard to Israel and its salvation (vv. 13-14).

  • Verse 14—”if… I will [i.e. that I might] save some of them”—note Paul’s use of ti/$ (“some of them”)
  • Verses 15-16—Paul applies three more qal wahomer-style arguments, similar to the one in verse 12:
    • Israel’s a)pobolh/ (“casting away from”) and their pro/slhmyi$ (“taking/receiving toward”); it is not entirely clearly whether these should be understood as subjective genitives (their rejection/acceptance of the Gospel) or objective genitives (their rejection/acceptance by God), since either is possible, and they actually represent two aspects of the same situation.
    • The (currently) small number of Israelite believers as the a)pa/rxh (“beginning of [lit. from]”, i.e. the first grain of the harvest) and the (future) full number as the fu/rama (“[mass of] mixed/kneaded [dough]”).
    • This may also refer to the current “remnant” of Israel as the r(i/za (“root”), and those who will follow as the kla/doi (“branches”); though the “root” perhaps should be understood more generally as the true people of God (faithful Israel) extending back to Abraham. The context of vv. 17-24 strongly suggests this latter, wider interpretation.
  • Verses 17ff—in the illustration of the olive tree and its branches, some branches are “broken out” (e)cekla/sqhsan) and others are (currently) being “poked in” (e)nekentri/sqh$); the sense generally is that the new branches from the “wild olive” tree (i.e. Gentiles) take the place of those that were broken off.
  • Verse 20—the branches were broken off specifically for “lack of trust” (a)pisti/a), i.e. a failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Christ. This has to be understood in terms of Rom 9:6; 10:15 (cf. above).
  • Verse 23—similarly the grafting back in of branches broken off depends entirely on “not remaining in [i.e. upon] a lack of trust”—that is, they must come to trust in Christ.

Romans 11:25-32, the second of the two addresses directed at Gentile believers deals more directly with the question of Israel’s ultimate salvation. Paul now adopts a more decidedly eschatological focus.

  • Verse 25—Israel’s hardness (i.e. their inability/unwillingness to accept the Gospel) lasts until “the fulness of the nations should come in”. The use here of plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”) for the nations (Gentiles) is parallel to that in verse 12 for Israel; Paul probably understands it in the sense of the full (or complete) number, measure, etc. It is only then, once the Gentiles have fully come to Christ, that “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26a).
  • Verse 26-27—the Scriptures Paul cites here are important for an understanding of v. 26a; the primary citation is from Isaiah 59:20-21a, along with Isa 27:9—the combination of elements is significant:
    • “the one rescuing” (o( r(uo/meno$)—Christ himself (1 Thess 1:10, etc), or God working through Christ.
    • “he will turn away from Jacob [i.e. Israel] a lack of (proper) fear [a)sebei/a] (of God)”—cf. Rom 1:18; here a)sebei/a (lack of fear/reverence) is synonymous with sin and wickedness in general, but also, specifically, with a lack of trust (a)pisti/a) in Christ. On the idea of Christ turning people from evil (using the verb a)postre/fw), see Acts 3:26.
    • “and this is the (agreement) set through [diaqh/kh] to them alongside [i.e. with] me”—diaqh/kh here in the sense of an agreement (covenant) between two parties (according to the Hebrew tyr!B=), referring to the “new covenant” in Christ and not the old covenant of Sinai and the Torah (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18). For the principal Old Testament passage relating to the “new covenant”, see Jer 31:31-34.
    • “when I should take away from (them) their sins”—probably an allusion to Isa 27:9, here set in parallel with the citation from Isa 59:21a, i.e. “turning them away from” and “taking away from them”. For the specific association between removal of sin (and its power), through the death of Christ, and the “new covenant”, see Jesus’ words in Mark 14:24 (par Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20).
  • Verses 28-29—the juxtaposition (me\nde/ “on the one hand… on the other hand…”) Paul establishes in verse 28 must be analyzed and treated with great care:
    • me/n (on the one hand)—
      • kata\ to\ eu)agge/lion (“according to the good message”)
        • e)xqroi/ (“[they are] enemies“)
          • di’ u(ma=$ (“through you”, i.e. for your sake)
    • de/ (on the other hand)—
      • kata\ th\n e)klogh/n (“according to the gathering out”)
        • a)gaphtoi/ (“[they are] loved“)
          • dia\ tou\$ pate/ra$ (“through [i.e. because of ] the fathers”)
    • Paul uses this construction to highlight the sense in which they are (currently) hostile to the Gospel—it is for the sake of Gentiles, that they should come to Christ, as Paul describes earlier in vv. 11-24, 25 (cf. also 10:19-21). For more on this difficult teaching, see below.
  • Verse 31—the mercy which will be shown to Israel is the same that has been shown to Gentiles—that is, the sacrificial work of God in Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel, which has the power to make human beings right before God and to free them from the enslaving power of sin.

Finally, it is left to address specifically the statement in v. 26a: “and thus all Israel will be saved”. There are a number of ways this has been interpreted, which I represent by the following five options:

    1. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved by the mercy and favor of God, but apart from their coming to faith in Christ.
    2. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved collectively through the work of Christ, but in a mysterious way understood only by God, and not necessarily in the sense of “becoming Christians”.
    3. All Israelites alive at the return of Christ will come to faith in him, and will thus be saved.
    4. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christ.
    5. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Based on the statement in Rom 9:6 and the olive tree illustration in 11:17-24, Paul certainly would have affirmed the fourth and fifth views above, in the sense that the true Israel is to be identified with believers in Christ (cf. also Rom 2:28-29). However, in Romans 11, and especially in verses 25-32, it would seem that he actually has something like view #3 in mind—namely that, at the end of the age, upon the return of Christ (or shortly before), there would be a widespread conversion of all Israelites and Jews currently living, that together (and/or all at once) they would come to faith in Christ. It is important to remember that, when Paul penned Romans, many, if not most, of the Israelites and Jews of his own generation, who had failed or refused to accept the Gospel, were still living, and he could envision the possibility that they could all still come to faith. As is abundantly clear from his letters, Paul, like most early Christians, expected Christ’s return and the end of the current age to occur very soon, presumably within the lifetime of most believers. In this context, Paul’s eschatological hope for Israel here makes good sense. Admittedly, it is rather more difficult to apply to the situation today, where nearly two thousand years have gone by, and many generations of Israelites and Jews have passed away—a situation, I am quite certain, that never would have occurred to Paul. Even so, it is still possible to affirm the belief (or at least the hope) that there will be a widespread conversion of Israel before the return of Christ; and, indeed, may Christians today hold just such a view.

Interestingly, in recent decades, there have been an increasing number of commentators and theologians who would adopt an interpretation along the lines of #1 and 2 above, at least in the sense that Israelites and Jews will be saved by God without having to “convert” or “become Christian”. This may be related to what is called the “Two Covenants” or “Dual Covenant” theory, which I will discuss briefly in an explanatory article.

Most distinctive is Paul’s teaching that Israel’s ‘hardening’ against the Gospel is directly related to the missionary outreach to Gentiles. This reflects historical reality, in that there were Jews who fiercely opposed the early Christian mission, according to Paul’s own testimony and the narrative in the book of Acts. Persecution often fuels the success of a religious movement, galvanizing support and helping to forge a strong and distinctive identity. This may also reflect, at some level, a degree of “cognitive dissonance”—Paul and other Christians were forced to explain the success of the mission among Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Italy (Rome), while many Jews, who (as the elect people of God) should have been more receptive, did not accept the Gospel. This leads Paul to two different explanations which he brings together in these chapters:

    • Not all Israelites are the true Israel (9:6), and
    • They fell away (i.e. refused to believe) in order to make room for the Gentiles to come to faith
      —this last proposition is most vividly illustrated by the image of the olive tree and the branches (11:17-24)
      • Paul viewed Christianity as the outgrowth of (faithful) Israel stretching back to Abraham (i.e., the “remnant” is the root of the tree)
      • The branches which are faithful and remain in the tree (cf. John 15:1-11) are the early Jewish believers
      • The branches of the wild olive tree are the Gentiles—believers are grafted into the tree of ‘true Israel’
      • The branches which were broken off (i.e., unbelieving Israelites and Jews) may yet come to faith and be grafted back in

Once the full number (or measure) of Gentiles have come to faith, then the unbelieving Israelites and Jews will have the covering removed from their mind (2 Cor 3:14-15) and will come to trust in Christ as well. This, at least, is how Paul appears to have viewed the matter. Fitting it into a particular eschatological framework today is, of course, especially difficult, as indicated by the wide range of interpretive approaches that have been adopted over the years.

August 5: Romans 10:4 (continued)

Romans 10:4

In the previous daily note, I discussed the immediate context of verses 1-3 (cf. also the article on Rom 9-11); today it remains to examine verse 4 in detail.

“For (the) Anointed {Christ} (is the) te/lo$ of (the) Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at is) trusting.”

Let us look at each element of this verse:

te/lo$ (“end”)—this word, which I left untranslated above, is in the first (emphatic) position; it has the fundamental meaning “completion, finish”, more commonly translated simply as “end”. The problem with rendering it as “end” is that this can be understood at least two ways: (1) as a termination, or (temporally) as the limit of a term, and (2) as a goal or purpose. Before discussing how Paul intends it to be understood in context here, I will proceed with the remainder of the verse.

ga\r (“for”)—this is a coordinating particle, connecting with what has come before (vv. 1-3) and serving to explain it.

no/mou (“of the Law”)—Paul normally uses no/mo$ (“law”) in reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah), though occasionally, particularly in Romans, he uses it in the wider sense of the “Law of God”; here, however, he specifically means the Old Testament Law.

Xristo/$ (“[the] Anointed”)—the regular shorthand title for Jesus (Christ), serving virtually as a proper name already in early Christian usage. A verb has to be supplied in English—”Christ (is) the end of the Law”—to fill out the predication. For the sense in which Christ is “the end of the Law”, see below.

ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn (“unto justice/righteousness”)—the preposition here (ei)$, “into/unto”) indicates purpose or end result; in English, it is typically translated “for justice/righteousness”. The noun dikaiosu/nh, used frequently by Paul in Romans, along with the verb dikaio/w, the adjective di/kaio$ and the related noun dikai/wma, indicates fundamentally the “just-ness” and “right-ness” of God, which is expressed both in the Law, and, more importantly, manifest in the person and work of Christ. For more on the meaning and translation of the dik-/dikaio- word-group, see the article on Justification and throughout the series on Paul’s View of the Law (in Galatians and Romans).

panti/ (“for all/every [one]”)—Paul often gives special significance to pa=$ (“all, every”), as a key word for the universal scope of the Gospel message—it is for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. The dative case here could be rendered “for all” or “to all”.

tw=| pisteu/onti (“the [one] trusting”)—the participle (of the verb pisteu/w, “trust”) is a regular way for Paul to refer to believers in Christ. In Romans and Galatians, Paul regularly contrasts trust (pi/sti$) in Christ with observance of the Torah (no/mo$, “the Law”, or “works [e&rga] of the Law”). While the full force and significance of this contrast is largely lost today, it is vital to an understanding of Paul’s thought, especially in Galatians and Romans. For more on this, see below.

Two essential interpretive questions remain to be addressed:

    1. What does Paul mean by te/lo$ (“end”) in this verse?
    2. What exactly does it mean to say that Christ is the “end of the Law”?

1. As indicated above, there are two main possibilities for te/lo$ here:

    • as a termination—emphasizing that the Law has ceased to be in force and is no longer binding
    • as a goal or purpose—emphasizing that the Law ultimately points and leads to Christ, whether or not one considers the Law in any way to be still in force

These, of course, are hardly incompatible, since, to use Paul’s regular metaphor of the race, upon reaching the goal, the race comes to an end. However, there are several factors which do need to be considered:

    • In 1 Cor 1:8; 10:12; 15:24, and (probably) also 1 Thess 2:16, Paul uses it in the sense of termination, of a cessation for the current Age; while in Rom 6:21-22; 2 Cor 11:15 and Phil 3:19, it similarly relates to a person’s fate at the end of the Age. In 2 Cor 1:13, the expression e%w$ te/lou$ (“until completion”) probably means “completely, fully”. Overall, he does not seem to use te/lo$ in the sense of an end goal or purpose.
    • In the only instances where he may refer to te/lo$ as a goal or purpose—2 Cor 3:13 and (possibly) 1 Thess 2:16—Paul uses the preposition ei)$ (ei)$ to\ te/lo$, “unto the end/completion [of]”). Here in Rom 10:4, ei)$ (indicating purpose or end result) is used with dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”). There is a similar context between 2 Cor 3:13 and Rom 10:4, as both passages deal with the Law in relation to Christ (cf. below).
    • The immediate context of Rom 9:30-33 suggests the metaphor of a race (“pursuing [after]”)—Gentiles take hold (of the prize) through faith in Christ, while many Israelites fail to reach the goal as they should. In this respect, te/lo$ would likely refer to the goal (justice/righteousness), though, as indicated above, it might also mean the termination of the race.

When we consider the other metaphors and illustrations Paul uses, especially those in Galatians 3-4 and Romans 6-7, we see that he repeatedly expresses the idea that, with Christ, the period governed by the Law comes to an end. Believers are no longer under the authority of the Torah, bound to observe it (Rom 6:14); in this regard, the “end” (te/lo$), in Paul’s way of thinking, is also understood in terms of death—in Christ, believers die (and are dead) to the Law (Gal 2:19; Rom 7:4-6, etc), so it no longer has any binding force over us. However, he also expresses elsewhere something of the idea that the Law points the way and leads to Christ (cf. below).

2. As already indicated, there are two related ways that Christ can be understood as “the end of the Law”:

    • With the coming of Christ—and, in particular, with his sacrificial death and resurrection—the period of the Old Testament Law (Torah) is terminated.
    • The justice/righteousness of God as expressed in the Law points toward the justice/righteousness that is manifest in the person and work of Christ; these are not in conflict, but the latter supersedes the former entirely, so that the old covenant is replaced by the new and the old covenant is no longer in force.

Throughout Galatians and Romans (esp. in Gal 3-4 and Rom 6-7), Paul has emphasized (and clearly taught) the first of these views; however, the second view is, in many ways, complementary to the first, and seems to be closer to Paul’s emphasis in Romans 10:1-4. This is to be seen in the language used earlier in 9:31:

“but Israel, pursing (the) Law of justice/righteousness, did not reach/arrive (first) unto (this) Law”

Here, the goal of the “race” is the “Law of justice/righteousness” (no/mo$ dikaiosu/nh$), best understood as “the Law of God” (cf. Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21), as expressed in the Torah. Israel did not reach this goal, or, at least did not reach it first—i.e., many Gentiles reached it, grabbing hold of the prize, ahead of them. Since Paul has also expressed clearly that Jesus Christ is the embodiment and manifestation of God’s justice/righteousness (Rom 3:21ff, etc), it is natural and appropriate to refer to Christ himself as the true goal of Israel’s pursuit. Paul’s sorrow stems from the fact that many of his fellow Israelites and Jews have failed to recognize or acknowledge this, as he movingly and powerfully describes here in Romans 9-11. A similar line of argument and discussion is found in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; the illustrative, contrasting juxtaposition he employs is forceful and striking:

The Old Covenant

  • Ministered by Moses
  • Attended by a temporary glory (that comes to an end)
  • Governed by the written word (gra/mma), i.e. Scripture/Torah
  • Written on tablets of stone
  • Ultimately leads to death
  • For those who read/hear it, there is a covering over the mind and heart
  • It has ceased to be in effect, with the coming of Christ

The New Covenant

    • Ministered by missionaries and apostles of Christ
    • Attended by an eternal glory that will not go away
    • Governed by the Spirit (pneu=ma), i.e. the (Holy) Spirit of God
    • Written on the heart
    • Leads to (eternal) life
    • Through the Gospel and trust in Christ, the covering is removed
    • It is lasting and eternal

Note especially Paul’s repeated use of the verb katarge/w in vv. 7, 11, 13-14; this verb has the basic meaning “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render it ineffective, inactive—in a technical (legal) sense, it means “invalidate, nullify, make void,” etc. In 2 Cor 3:7-14, it is used four times, each in the present passive (“is [being] made inactive”):

    • In verse 7, it refers specifically to the glory over Moses’ face, cf. Exod 34:29-35
    • In verse 11, the reference seems to be the entire ministration of the Covenant
    • Verse 13 refers to the temporary status of the Covenant (and its glory)—its fate/end is to be made inactive
    • In verse 14, the emphasis is on the old Covenant being made inactive in Christ

We can see how this passage blends together both meanings of te/lo$ indicated above: (a) the Law is terminated and ceases to be in effect, and (b) it ceases to be in effect “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|), i.e. God’s work in Christ as the ultimate purpose and goal of the Law. Interestingly, from what Paul says elsewhere in Romans and Galatians, the immediate purpose of the Law has to do with the manifestation of sin, in particular, the enslaving power of sin at work over human beings in the world and “in the flesh”; but the ultimate purpose is that God should show mercy and favor over human beings through the person and work of Christ, rescuing and freeing them from the power of sin and death. In the process, according to Paul’s remarkable teaching, we are also freed from the Law—in this sense, Christ truly is the finish, completion and end of the Law.