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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
Paul now expands on chapters 1-8, in which he has demonstrated that all, both Jews and Gentiles, have sinned, and that all must therefore find salvation by faith through Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah. And he does it by 1). demonstrating the relationship of both Jews and Gentiles to the Messiah Who has come, and 2). showing that Salvation is for all through faith. This is because salvation comes about on God’s part through God’s election of both Jews and Gentiles (9.6-29), and on man’s part through the faith of both believing Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah Who is LORD of all (9.30-10.21), something which God has brought about by uniting both believing Jews and believing Gentiles in one olive tree (11.12-24). And the end in view is that the fullness of the Gentiles might come in, so that in this way all Israel might be saved.
Chapters 9-11 are built around a number of themes:
1). The Coming Of The Messiah.
The Messiah is immediately introduced in 9.1, 3, 5, and is revealed to be active throughout the three chapters. This looks back to the great emphasis that Paul has previously put on the saving activity of Jesus Messiah in men’s salvation. See for example 3.24-28; 5.15-21; 6.1-14; 8.1-18.
Thus a). in 9.1-5 Paul brings out that one major purpose for the existence of Israel was in order that they might bring forth the Messiah, the One Who is over all (and therefore concerned about both Jew and Gentile), Who is God, blessed for ever (9.5; compare 1.3-4). In consequence of their attitude to Him the elect as represented by Paul are ‘in Messiah’ (9.1), whilst the unbelieving among the Israelites are ‘accursed from the Messiah’ (9.3). Thus by His coming the Messiah has divided natural Israel into the true Israel who have responded to the Messiah on the one hand, and rejected, unbelieving Israel who are no longer a part of the true Israel on the other. And this on the basis of whether they respond to God, or whether they choose their own way. This had in fact been Israel’s problem throughout history, which is why the prophets had emphasised that only a remnant would be saved.
b). In 9.30-10.21 he brings out initially that Israel have stumbled on the Stone (a Messianic title in Isaiah), whilst those who believe (in Him) will not be put to shame (9.30-33). And this is because Messiah is the end of the Law unto righteousness for all who believe (10.4). Thus those who glorify, and seek after, the Law will reject Him, for they want the Law to continue to rule their lives. But those who seek righteousness by faith find that He is close to them. They have discovered that we do not have to climb into Heaven to bring Messiah down, because He was freely sent down from God. We do not have to descend into the Abyss in order to bring Messiah up from the dead, because He rose triumphantly from the dead. Indeed He is not far off from us. He dwells with us and is in us. He is near us, being on our lips and in our hearts (Ephesians 3.17), and thus with our lips we will confess Jesus as LORD, and in our hearts we will believe that God raised Him from the dead, in order that we might be saved, for ‘whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame (10.6-11). Such a state is inevitable if the Messiah is in us.
Notice the change from Messiah initially to LORD later on in this particular passage (compare 9.5 where He is ‘over all’). It is because He is both Messiah and LORD (compare Acts 2.36), that He offers salvation to the Gentiles. Thus there is now no difference between Jew and Greek (Gentile) for the same ‘LORD of all’ (compare 9.5) is rich to all who call on Him, for whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be saved (10.13). This faith will result in righteousness by faith (10.6), and it comes through hearing, and that comes through the word of Messiah (10.17) proclaimed by His messengers (10.15). Even the Jews know Him as LORD, for they say, ‘LORD, who has believed our report’ (10.16). Thus all are called on to respond to the Messiah as LORD, (the equivalent in the Greek of Yahweh in the Old Testament Scripture as the Scriptures cited reveal).
c). In 11.1-32 we may have a veiled reference to Jesus Messiah in His capacity as the One who sums up Israel in Himself (Matthew 2.15; John 15.1-6) in the olive tree, which speaks of ideal Israel (11.16-24). That depends on how we see the olive tree. But the most important reference is to Him as the Deliverer Who will come out of Zion, banishing ungodliness from Jacob, renewing the covenant and taking away sin. As a consequence the fullness of the Gentiles will come in, and thereby ‘all Israel will be saved’ (11.25b-26a).
So the Messiah comes from Israel, is rejected by unbelieving Israel when He reveals Himself as LORD, but has come to redeem His true people, Whom He will bring through to salvation without losing a single one (John 10.27-29).
2). The Election Unto Salvation Of All Who Believe.
A second theme of these chapters is that God is sovereign, and that it is He Who elects men to be saved. That is why His purposes are certain to come through to fruition.
a). 9.6-29. ‘Not all Israel is of Israel’ (9.6). In these words Paul commences his teaching concerning the true remnant who in God’s eyes represent the true Israel. And within this elect Israel are Gentiles like Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15.2) and Hagar the Egyptian (Genesis 16.3). That Eliezer is of the elect comes out in chapter 24 where he reveals his allegiance to Yahweh when seeking for a bride for Isaac. That Hagar is revealed as one of the elect comes out by her experiencing theophanies (e.g. Genesis 16.7-13). There can be little doubt that among the retainers of the Patriarchs there were other foreigners (Gentiles) who also believed in Yahweh, as the fathers led them in worship (e.g. Genesis 12.8). Thus ‘Israel’ from the commencement was a mixed society. (The idea that all Jews are direct descendants of Abraham is therefore incorrect).
In this passage Paul demonstrates that God chooses out an elect from the wider whole (an Israel from within Israel). And this is so that God’s purpose ‘according to election’ might stand. Thus not all the sons of Abraham are true believers, nor are all the sons of Isaac (while some of their Gentile retainers are). And that this idea of election carries on is demonstrated by the fact that ‘God has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens’ (9.18). As a result of this election He ‘makes know the riches of His glory’ through the ‘vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory’ (9.23), which are made up of ‘the called, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles’ (9.24). So the elect are made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Furthermore of the children of Israel ‘only a remnant will be saved’ (9.27), a ‘seed’ from among Israel (9.29). In consequence it is clear that God elects to salvation some from among both Jews and Gentiles (9.24).
b). In 9.30-10.21 ‘whoever calls on the Name of the LORD (Jesus as LORD - 10.9) will be saved’ (10.13) and they are then seen to be the elect from both Jews and Gentiles. And this fact is revealed by them ‘believing’ (in the Messiah through ‘the word of Messiah’ (10.17)), and ‘confessing Him as LORD, believing in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead’.
c). In 11.1-32, there is within Israel, (an Israel which has already absorbed into itself many Gentiles either as proselytes or by forced circumcision, and is therefore made up of both Jew and Gentile), ‘a remnant according to the election of grace’ (11.5). Galilee, for example, had been the scene of enforced circumcision under Aristobulus I when, on Israel taking over Galilee from the Ituraeans by military force, Galilean Gentiles had been forced to be circumcised and to submit to the Jewish Law (104/103 BC). No doubt many of their descendants had followed Jesus when He was preaching in Galilee and had responded to the preaching of the early church. Thus this remnant according to the election of grace included both home born Jews and former Gentiles. And we are further told concerning salvation that ‘the elect had obtained it and the rest had been hardened’ (11.7). In 11.25b we learn that ‘the full number of the Gentiles had come in’, again indicating election. Thus the branches which were being engrafted into the olive tree of Israel were being portrayed as the elect.
3). The Theme Of Salvation For Jew And Gentile.
The theme of salvation is closely connected with the theme of election and also runs throughout chapters 9-11. While salvation is not mentioned in 9.6-13 it is clear that those described therein are seen as saved (see the commentary), whilst in 9.14-18 Paul points out from Scripture that God has compassion on whom He will, and hardens whom He will. Thus He elects to salvation vessels of mercy which He has beforehand prepared for glory. This statement confirms that the salvation in mind is speaking of eternal salvation. And this includes both Jews and Gentiles who are believers in the Messiah (9.24). This idea of election is then carried through into Israel’s history so that in 9.27 we learn that ‘although the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved’. Thus the election previously spoken of in verses 6-24, whereby only a proportion of Israel were chosen, was clearly election to salvation.
In 10.1 Paul declares that his heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be ‘saved’. However small the remnant may be (and it was not all that small for the Gospel had spread widely in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and Galilee, and soon throughout synagogues around the world) he wants to enlarge on it. But he then makes clear that the reason why unbelieving Israel have not been saved is because they are seeking to establish their own righteousness rather than looking to the righteousness of God which is available through faith in Messiah (10.3). This again makes clear what Paul means by ‘saved’. Now, however, Paul makes clear that a new situation has arisen as a result of the coming of the Messiah. And that is that salvation is available to both Jew and Gentile quite apart from proselytisation. ‘For there is no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord of all is rich towards all who call upon Him, for whoever will call on the Name of the Lord will be saved’ (10.12-13), and this again is related to the coming of the Messiah (verses 14-17).
In chapter 11, as a result of the stumbling of the Jews, salvation is opened to the Gentiles (11.11). Thus a good part of this chapter concentrates on the riches received by the Gentiles by their being united with Israel, (‘riches for the world’, ‘riches for the Gentiles’ - 11.12) although it is intermingled with warnings to them not to become arrogant, but to treat unbelieving Jews respectfully and decently, in the hope that they might be saved. However, as we have already seen, this introduction of Gentiles into Israel is no new thing. It had occurred from the beginning. Many Gentiles had become Jewish proselytes in one way or another. But what is new is the number being saved, and the means, of their salvation, faith in the Messiah. Meanwhile Paul is urgent to save more Jews (11.14) by provoking them to jealousy. Thus we are faced with a salvation about to occur for both Jews and Gentiles. Verses 16-24 then describe the process by which this is taking place, by unbelieving Israel being broken off the olive tree of ideal Israel, and being replaced by the engrafting of branches from the wild olive of the Gentiles, thus strengthening the branches that remain. There is, however no mention of either Israel or the Gentiles in these verses because the identification has already been made or is assumed to be understood. Both are in fact involved. The branches that are broken off are the unbelieving Jews, the branches that remain are the believing Jews, with their Gentile proselytes, and the branches that are engrafted in are the Gentiles converted to the Messiah, and any Jews who may later be converted. The consequence of this is that the Gentiles become one with Israel, resulting in the fact that the fullness of the Gentiles come in and in this way ‘all Israel will be saved’, because in order for ‘all Israel’ to be saved it was necessary that all the elect from among the Gentiles should come in.
4). The Vexed Question As To Whether God Has Failed In His Promises To Israel As Given In The Old Testament Scriptures?
In chapters 9-11 Paul also looks into the vexed question as to why, with their promised Messiah having come, the Jews have, on the whole, not benefited by His coming. Does this then mean that God has cast off Israel, demonstrating that what the Scriptures have promised is rendered invalid? Furthermore, can Gentiles really be saved by faith alone without being circumcised and becoming Jews under the Law? These are important questions, not only for the Jews, but also for all who see the Old Testament Scriptures as the word of God, and he deals with them from three aspects:
5). That All Is In Fulfilment Of Scripture.
Underlying all that Paul argues in these three chapters is his use of Scripture, which was seen as authoritative by the Jews and by interested Gentiles. In 9.6-29 he uses first the Law of Moses and then the prophets for the purpose of demonstrating his case for election, and closes with a selection of Scriptures from the prophets (Hosea and Isaiah) demonstrating that Scripture taught the acceptance of the Gentiles, and the fact that only a remnant of Israel would be saved.
In 9.30-10.33 we again find a miscellany of quotations, together with indirect references, from the Law, the prophets and the holy writings, demonstrating that the rejection of the Messiah by Israel, and the proclamation of the Gospel to all, was prepared for in Scripture, as was the unbelief and disobedience of the Jews.
In 11.1-32 we have quotations from both the Prophets and the Holy Writings which demonstrate that only a remnant of Israel will be saved, while the larger part of Israel will fall into a spirit of stupor, the consequence being that, as a result of their stumbling, salvation will go out to the Gentiles, so as to provoke the Jews to jealousy. The illustration of the olive tree which follows is itself based on Scripture, and demonstrates the uniting into one of believing Jews and believing Gentiles. And finally it is Scripture that proclaims the coming of a Redeemer, as promised in 3.24, who will cause ‘all Israel’ (Jacob) to be saved.
Why Does Paul Concentrate So Much On The Problem Of Israel?
We might now ask, Why in a doctrinal letter like this should Paul concentrate so much on Israel? One reason is apparent above. He was seeking to explain God’s sovereign activity in salvation, and was demonstrating the foundational basis of the true Israel of which the church consisted, from its very commencement. After all the church of his day held the Old Testament to be their Scriptures and looked to them for spiritual guidance. It was therefore necessary to make clear how those Scriptures revealed what had happened to God’s people, and connected the old with the new.
But another factor that affected Paul’s decision was that he was very conscious when writing his letter that he was writing to a church where many, even though the minority, still had close links with Judaism, and he knew that many Christian Jews may well still have been attending the synagogue on the Sabbath, while worshipping with Christians on the first day of the week, this in the same way as Christian Jews were observing Temple requirements in Jerusalem (Acts 21.24). This could unquestionably also have been true of Gentile Christians who had formerly been Jewish proselytes. It may also even have been true of some God-Fearers, those Gentiles who had adhered to Jewish teaching whilst remaining uncircumcised, and who had responded eagerly to the Gospel. In consequence Paul recognised that unless they were aware of the truth, there would be the danger of their slipping back into Judaism in the same way as those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written were in danger of slipping back, losing sight of how the coming of the Messiah, and what He had accomplished through His death and resurrection, had totally altered their situation. This was partly what he was hoping to guard against.
Indeed, many Jews who claimed to believe in Jesus as the Messiah were nevertheless trying to convince Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised and obey the whole Law, including dietary restrictions and observance of the Jewish Feasts (14.3, 6, 14-15; Acts 15.1; Galatians 2.3-5, 12-14; Colossians 2.16), because they had failed to recognise the fullness of what Christ had done for them. They too had to be combated.
So that is why he now sets out to demonstrate that it is not physical Israel which is the true Israel, but that the true Israel is made up of ‘the elect’, that is of those who truly follow the Messiah (Jesus Christ), and respond to Him solely through faith (whether Jew or Gentile), seeking the righteousness of God through Him, the consequence being that all who fail to do so are no longer a part of the true Israel (10.3-4, 9; 11.17-28).
This aim has already been apparent in his letter earlier. During his attempts to demonstrate that all men are sinners Paul had specifically had to deal with the question of the special privileges claimed by the Jews, something which he had then dealt with in some detail because of what he saw as its importance (2.1-3.9). As part of his argument he had set forward a summary of their main claims, ‘You bear the name of a Jew, and rest on the law, and glory (boast) in God, and (claim to) know his will, and approve the things which are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth’ (2.17-20). In other words he made it plain that the Jews alone, among all nations, had received the direct revelation of God. This Paul was mainly willing to grant them, with reservations. But as he had also pointed out, due to their failure to actually observe the Law of which they were so proud, these privileges actually condemned them (2.1-3.20).
But it could then be asked, had God not included the Jews in the number of His elect as described in 8.29-30? This was the position held by many Jews. And it could further be asked, ‘If they were so privileged by God as to have the Law and the covenant sign of circumcision, why did they now suffer God’s rejection? Did not all Scripture make clear that such were the people of God?’ If the Scriptures did so, and if the Jews were no longer fulfilling God’s purpose, did it not mean that the Scriptures were wrong?
Paul had partially dealt with these points when he pointed out that many of those who called themselves Jews were in fact not true Jews, because their lives fell short of what was required of a true Jew (2.28). In his eyes the true Jew was a person who was a Jew inwardly, whose circumcision was that of the heart, and was spiritual (‘in the spirit’). It was not simply a matter of obeying what was written down (‘in the letter’). They had to be those whose praise came from God not from men. And he pointed out that this was true of both Jews and Gentiles (2.26, 29). Thus he considered that there were still ‘true Jews’ but that they were in the minority. Indeed, he argued that all men, whether Jew or Gentile, could be ‘true Jews’ if their hearts were directed properly and they had experienced the work of God in their spirits. (The Jews would not actually have denied that Gentiles could become Jews. It was happening all the time. But what they would have argued was that it was only on condition of their being circumcised and submitting to the Law of Moses as interpreted by the elders. This was why some who believed in Jesus as the Messiah wanted all Gentile converts to follow this procedure).
On the other hand he saw that the majority of those who claimed to be true Jews were in fact not true Jews because they had not experienced that transformation of heart that was Scripturally required in order to be so (2.28-29). Thus he had already prepared for the idea that not all of Israel were ‘the elect’. This did, however, still leave open the claim of the Jews to be ‘sons of Abraham’, to be God’s people and the elect of God, and to have special privileges not available to Gentiles, something which they considered made them ‘a special case’, and put them in the ‘favourites’ category. Paul now answers these claims by demonstrating that not all Jews are seen by God as true sons of Abraham (9.7-8); by pointing out that God’s elect were but a minority of Israel (9.9-29), and by claiming that God in His sovereignty has the right to save whom He will, and has elected to save some from among both Jews and Gentiles (9.14-29).
He will then go on to demonstrate that the true Israel are those who believe in the Jesus as the Messiah (10.4, 9), something which the majority of Israel have failed to do (10.16, 19, 21), and that the true Israel is therefore made up of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles who have been incorporated as one into ‘the olive tree’ (chapter 11), thus tying in with his position in 2.26, 29 and with 9.23-24.
For all these reasons, therefore, these three chapters form an essential part of his argument for ‘justification by faith’ as being through faith in Christ Jesus alone. They demonstrate why so many Jews were excluded from it because of their unbelief, something clearly evidenced by Scripture, and why so many Gentiles were being accepted on the basis of faith in the Messiah (Christ). They also serve to demonstrate why the Jews were not being incorporated into Christ, and why they were bereft of the Spirit. It is because they do not respond in faith to their Messiah.
It is thus a mistake to see these chapters as only dealing with the question of the position of the Jews (or more strictly or Israel), even though Israel feature prominently in his argument. They also deal in some depth with:
For a detailed examination of the question as to whether the church (ekklesia - ‘congregation’) is the true Israel see the excursus after chapter 11.
The Jews And Israel.
One important point to be kept in mind when studying these chapters is Paul’s use of the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Israel’. The term Jew(s) is used nine times in chapters 1-3, but only otherwise occurs in 9.24, where it is stressing that both Jews and Gentiles are included among the elect, and in 10.12 where it is used in the stereotyped idea of ‘Jew and Greek’ (compare 1.16; 1 Corinthians 1.22, 23, 24; Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11). It mainly indicates Jews in contrast with Gentiles, but is distinctively used of ‘true Jews’, which includes believing Gentiles, in 2.26-29. In the remainder of his letters Paul uses the term fifteen times.
On the other hand the term Israel occurs twelve times in Romans, but only in chapters 9-11, and it should be noted that in these chapters there are in fact three/four different meanings of the term Israel. The term is incontrovertibly used:
We would also claim that it is used to include both Jews and believing Gentiles (as with the term Jew in 2.26-29) in 11.25, 26.
The term Israel appears only seven times throughout the remainder of his other letters, in which he speaks of Jew/Jews fifteen times. It refers:
It is quite clear therefore that the term ‘Israel’ is fluid.
These distinctions were presumably made because in Romans 1-3 he was deliberately aiming to make clear that it was the current Jews whom he had in mind in his strictures, while acknowledging that they were in the main not really ‘true Jews’, whilst in chapters 9-11 his arguments very much had in mind the days of ‘Israel’, and the Old Testament viewpoint on them. It was to ‘Israel’ that a large part of his quotations were addressed (e.g. by Moses, Isaiah, Hosea, David, etc.). However, as we have noted, he specifically seeks in those chapters to demonstrate that there is a true Israel in the midst of physical Israel, and as we will argue, that that true Israel includes believing Gentiles.
Paul Is Concerned For Israel Because In Spite Of Their Many Advantages A Large Proportion of Them Have Rejected The Messiah Who Has Come From Among Them (9.1-5).
We find in Paul’s introductory comments some heart-rending words (9.1-3), as Paul demonstrates his love and concern for his fellow Israelites. He is not happy with their lot. He points out that the Israelites had many outward advantages, including the fact that they had produced the Messiah (9.1-5), but that he is heartbroken because they have not taken advantage of them. Indeed he is so concerned that he wishes that he could take their curse on himself, just as their Messiah had actually done (Galatians 3.10-13), so that they might be saved. It is noteworthy that Paul does not spell out what he saw as the situation of the ‘unbelieving’ Jews. He is not out to stir up hatred. But closer examination of the wider narrative indicates what that situation is:
He will then demonstrate in some detail from Scripture why this is undoubtedly so, and why the doctrine of election is no guarantee of salvation for all Israelites. It will be noted that there is no connecting word at the beginning of chapter 9, (e.g. no ‘therefore’, or ‘and’). This indicates that Paul is now commencing a new argument And as one who himself is ‘in the Messiah’ (in Christ - verse 1) Paul here brings out his depth of feeling for his fellow-Israelites, who were humanly speaking his ‘brothers and kinsmen according to the flesh’, but the majority of whom were not ‘in Christ’. He stresses the wonder of the privileges that God has given them, including the bringing forth of the Messiah, something for which he as a true Jew is clearly very gratified. But this makes their rejection of the Messiah all the more culpable. This emphasis on the Messiah underlines the fact that the reason why he is so distressed for his brothers in Israel is because they have not responded to the Messiah, and have thereby forfeited their position before God (this will be brought out more fully in 9.30-10.21). By inference from verse 3 they are ‘anathema from Christ’, they are no longer His people, and indeed his first following argument will emphasise that they cannot be seen as the children of God (verses 7-8), or even as Israel (verse 6; compare 11.16-24).
9.1-3 ‘I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh,’
He commences by making clear that what he has to say is as one who himself is ‘in Christ’ (‘in Messiah’), and as one who as regards the flesh is of Israelite descent (my brothers, kinsmen). They must not therefore see him as being ‘anti-Jewish’, for he is himself a Christian Jew. Indeed he brings out that it is his Holy Spirit enlightened conscience that testifies to the fact that he has a deep concern for his fellow-Israelites, a concern which causes him great anguish. He makes very clear that their parlous position does indeed cause him such pain and great anguish of heart, that if it were possible for him thereby to bring them to the truth and into a right relationship with the Messiah, he would be prepared himself to be ‘anathema from the Messiah (the Christ)’ for their sake. He thus does not want to be identified with those who treat the Jews lightly. As no other charge is brought against the Jews the inference must be that they in contrast are ‘accursed from the Christ’ (compare Galatians 3.10-11), something which if it were possible he would gladly take on himself for their sakes. If he had not seen their state as hopeless he would certainly not have wished himself accursed from Christ, even theoretically, and the only reason why he could have done so is because he saw himself as taking their place. He was willing in theory to do what his Master had done (Galatians 3.10-13), if it would have persuaded them
We should note immediately the emphasis here on Jesus as the Messiah. Paul himself is ‘in Christ (in Messiah)’ (verse 1). He sees the Jews as ‘accursed from the Messiah (the Christ)’, something which he would gladly take on himself (verse 3). And he sees the final privilege of the Jews as being that it was from them that the Messiah came (verse 5). Thus at the very commencement of his argument relationship to the Messiah, who is mentioned three times, is seen to be as of great importance, something which he will bring out in 9.30-10.17, where belief in the Messiah is confirmed to be the only basis of true righteousness (as previously emphasised in 3.24-4.25). This is the positive side of what he is saying.
‘Anathema from the Messiah’. Anathema basically means accursed. Thus Paul is here speaking of being excluded from the benefits brought by the Messiah as a consequence of being accursed. The implication from the words ‘that I myself might be accursed from the Messiah’ is that there were others who were ‘accursed from the Messiah’, whose place he was prepared to take, in other words those of whom he speaks (he had already described the unbelieving Jews as accursed in Galatians 3.10-11). But we should note that in his own case what he has in mind is not a genuine desire for his ‘wish’ to be accursed from Christ to be fulfilled, but a theoretical position which he speaks of, knowing at the same time that it could not in fact occur. It is thus, in his case, bringing out the deep passion in his heart, rather than reflecting a genuine wish. Being anathema from the Messiah was, of course, the position that the unbelieving Jews were themselves in. They were accursed because they failed to fulfil the Law completely (Galatians 3.10) and they were to be seen as excluded from the benefits of the Messiah because of their unwillingness to have faith in Him. As a consequence they were under the wrath of God. Thus such was his love and concern for them that he was explaining that he would gladly have been prepared to swap places with them if only that might have made them willing to believe. By this he no doubt saw himself as following, albeit theoretically, in the steps of Jesus Who did Himself become accursed in order to deliver those who were accursed (Galatians 3.10-13).
‘My brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.’ Paul often refers to his fellow-Christians as ‘brothers’. Thus here he differentiates his relationship with his fellow-Jews as brothers by describing it as ‘according to the flesh’. By this he is pointing out that he is not referring to spiritual brothers, but to those who are humanly speaking his kinsmen. In other words as an Israelite himself he sees himself as related to the Israelites (compare 2 Corinthians 11.22), and wants them to know that he has not overlooked the fact. We must beware, however, of reading into his use of the term ‘brothers’ any grand theological ideas. He is simply indicating a fleshly relationship of which he was deeply aware. Compare his words in Acts 22.1; 22.5. Indeed Acts 22.5 clearly suggests that ‘the brothers’ was a regular way of describing the leaders, or all the members, of the synagogues. It has no implications salvation-wise.
9.4-5 ‘Who are Israelites; whose is the adoption as sons, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, whose are the fathers, and of whom is the Messiah (the Christ) as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’
Paul now emphasises the huge benefits that had been the privilege of the Jews (compare 2.17-20). Firstly that they were ‘Israelites’. Thus they belonged to the nation chosen and redeemed by God (Exodus 20.2) to whom God had revealed Himself in history. And furthermore God had given them many advantages of which he will now describe a few.
What follows his statement that they are Israelites now divides up into three sections by the use of ‘whose’ referring back to ‘who are Israelites’. Thus:
The first lists all the privileges of being Israelites which were given at the beginning when Israel were first redeemed from Egypt, although later also supplemented; the second looks back to the source from whom the Israelites came, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel, descent from whom was seen by Israelites as of great importance; the third concentrates on their having among them the Messiah Who is over all, the great Hope of Israel, Whose coming from among them was seen as of equal, if not more, importance, than all the others (the order would appear to be from the least to the greatest). Paul has already made clear that the Messiah has come, in Christ (verse 1). Now he declares that He had come from among the Jews. It is significant that Paul does not say, ‘whose is the Messiah’, paralleling the other two phrases, for as a result of their having mainly rejected Him Paul could not see Him as belonging to them. Nevertheless His coming from among them is seen as of great significance, as indeed is the fact that He has come. And it leaves them without excuse, because the reason that they rejected Him was because He did not offer them what they wanted.
This list is especially significant because in what follows Paul will look in depth at the second and third statements. Does their leaning on the fathers necessarily mean that all Israel will be saved? This is answered as a ‘no’ in verses 6-29. What would be required for them in order to be reconciled to their Messiah? This is answered in 9.30-10.21 in terms of responding in faith to Him as the Messiah.
‘Who are Israelites.’ This links the Jews squarely with the Israelites whose history is made plain in the Old Testament. It was because they were ‘Israelites’ that the other privileges applied to them. It was a term which gave the Jews great pride. It indicated that they belonged to the people whom God had redeemed from Egypt and to whom He had given His covenant. And they (falsely) saw it as indicating that they were descended from Abraham and Jacob. But that was a myth perpetuated by their history. Even from the beginning large numbers of Israelites had had no direct connection with Abraham (and Jacob) by descent. They had been descended from servants in the ‘households’ of the Patriarchs (Abraham could call on 318 fighting men ‘born in his house’ - Genesis 14.14, and the Patriarchs went down to Egypt with their ‘households’ - Exodus 1.1. Thus many of the earliest Israelites were born from these household servants.). And after the Exodus the ‘mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12.38), which consisted of other races, probably including Egyptians, had been incorporated into Israel at Sinai, as had other groups like the Kenites (Judges 1.16), whilst even later there were those who voluntarily entered the covenant by submission to God (Exodus 12.48; Deuteronomy 23.1-8). All became absorbed as ‘sons of Abraham’. Thus Israel was a conglomerate nation.
Their ‘descent’ from the Patriarchs was therefore by adoption. In fact in the days of Jesus those who could prove direct descent from Abraham were relatively few (Jesus’ father was one because he was a son of David), and those who could so prove their descent, often tended to see themselves as unique and to despise other Jews, intermarrying among themselves in order to preserve their purity. Thus even the Jews acknowledged that few Jews could be shown to be genuinely descended from Abraham. Nevertheless the Jews happily accepted their position as those who had been adopted by Abraham so that they could call God their Father, a privilege which was not permitted to late proselytes (which was a little hypocritical because large numbers of Jews could have traced their descent to Gentiles incorporated among the Jews). What they also tended to overlook when they claimed to be Israelites was that the majority of Israelites in the past had been unfaithful to the covenant and had regularly been brought under the judgment of God, and had therefore been cast off in God’s eyes, even though they themselves had not seen it in that way. To be an Israelite was thus not a guarantee of acceptance by God.
Part of the reason for Paul’s distress would also appear to have been that it must have appeared to onlookers, from their rejection of their Messiah by the majority of the Jews, that the promises of God were not being fulfilled in their case, (they were being fulfilled with regard to the elect), for he lists all the privileges that the Jews should have been enjoying but were now missing out on as a result of their rejection of the Messiah:
Thus their privileges were great. But in spite of them they were still in unbelief, as Paul had made clear in 2.1-3.10, and were therefore still under the judgment of God.
The adoption by God of Israel as ‘His son’ (Exodus 4.22) must not be seen as comparable with the adoption through the Spirit of true believers as sons of God (8.15-17). Firstly because Israel’s sonship was primarily a ‘corporate sonship’ (‘Israel is My son, My firstborn’). Secondly because the Old Testament makes quite clear that large numbers of the Israelites had not lived up to this sonship. It is true that they had been put in a position of special privilege, but it was equally true that on the whole they had forfeited that privilege by their behaviour. That was what the teaching of the prophets was all about. It was only the comparatively few who had truly become children of God (as Paul will soon make plain). We may certainly see the term ‘son’ as indicating that God had not totally finished with Israel, He would still show them favour as a nation (11.28), but as Paul will shortly indicate, it would only be a remnant who would be saved, a remnant who responded to the Messiah. God’s adoption of Israel was no indicator that Israelites would automatically be saved. It was rather a privilege which had given them a greater opportunity than most to find the truth, a privilege that most of them had failed to take advantage of. They were like the son who said to his father ‘I will go, sir’, but who did not do so (Matthew 21.30).
‘And of whom is the Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’ And their greatest privilege was that coming from Israel as far as the flesh was concerned was ‘the Christ (Messiah)’. ‘As concerning the flesh’ may simply signify that while His humanity owed its origin to Israel, His spirit and influence were more exerted elsewhere so that He is not to be seen as an Israelite figure but a world figure. But it is far more likely that ‘concerning the flesh’ indicates that, while humanly speaking He came from Israel, He Himself in His essential being came from another source, a spiritual source, that is, from Heaven, which would agree with 1.3-4. This can be seen as confirmed by the statement that He is ‘over all’. So a contrasting description is found by recognising that what Paul is saying is that while in the flesh the Christ is a Jew, in His true being He is ‘God over all, blessed for ever’. This can again be paralleled with what was said in 1.3-4, of the One Who was ‘of the seed of David according to the flesh’ but was then declared to be in Himself the Son of God with power. If this be so then we have here a clear statement of Christ’s Godhood, parallel to that in Titus 2.13. See also Philippians 2.9-11, and compare 2 Peter 1.1 which is the same construction as 2 Peter 1.11 and therefore refers to Jesus as ‘our God and Saviour’. But it should be noticed that Paul’s constant reference to Jesus as ‘the LORD’ in parallel with speaking of God, equally demonstrates His Godhood. Thus Paul had no doubt about his own position. Not that our belief that Jesus is God requires these statements. He Himself made it quite clear in John 5.17-29 and John 14.7-9.
In further support of this interpretation of the latter part of verse 5 is the phrase ‘the One Who is’ which would naturally be seen as modifying something previously said, thus indicating that what follows is not just a doxology. Furthermore the placing of ‘God’ before ‘blessed’ would have been almost unique in Jewish doxologies (they said ‘blessed be God’), something of which Paul would have been well aware, it must therefore be seen as deliberately intended so as to connect blessed with the previous context and to prevent this being seen as simply an appended doxology. This being so Paul is here making clear that Jesus the Messiah is not only of Jewish descent, but is also God over all, to be blessed for ever.
Not All Israel Are The True Israel. The True Israel Are a Remnant Of Israel Chosen By God, Together With Some Believing Gentiles. For God Has A Right To Do What He Will (9.6-29).
Paul now begins to establish from the Scriptures what God’s method of working is, and what the true situation of the Jews (who considered themselves to be ‘the elect’) was. The basic purpose of these verses is in order to emphasise that the Scriptures themselves demonstrate that not all of Israel are to be saved and inherit eternal life, but only a proportion, (not all are ‘the elect’), while at the same time some Gentiles are among the elect (verses 23-24). This was basic to his whole argument about ‘justification by faith’ in 1.16-4.25. If many Jews were right who believed that Israel were God’s elect and therefore that to belong to the Jewish nation under the Law, and to be circumcised, was a guarantee of God’s final mercy for all Israelites, then Paul’s teaching concerning justification by faith would be seen to be false. He has already partially dealt with this problem in 2.1-3.18 from the angle that all Jews were sinners. Now he will deal with the question of the election of Israel, and how it relates to salvation, and to Gentile believers
This section of the chapter can be divided up as follows:
The Rejection Of Their Messiah By The Majority Of Israel Has Not Brought The Word Of God To Nought For It Has Always Been The Case That Not All Of Supposed Israel Are Truly Israel, But Only Those Who Are Chosen In Line With The Purposes Of God (9.6-13).
Paul now deals with the charge that his teaching, in which he has rejected the idea that the Jews who cling to the Law are in process of salvation (e.g. 2.1-3.20), and in which he has opened to Gentiles a way back to God through a means other than submission to the Law (the whole of 1-8), would mean that the word of God had come to nought in that Israel had not fulfilled its purpose. One such purpose, for example, was that the word of God was given to Israel so that it might be a teacher of the nations concerning Him (Isaiah 2.2-4; 49.1-6). They would have claimed that that assurance was not given in order that it might be sidelined. (Paul, of course, could have pointed out that that very prophecy was in fact being fulfilled, for it was being fulfilled in himself and in the original Jewish church). Indeed some Jews would have gone further for many believed that all who were circumcised Israelites were the elect of God and would thereby, unless they apostasised, obtain eternal life. The cases of the earnest Pharisee (Luke 10.25) and rich young ruler (Luke 18.18) do, however demonstrate, that this view was not widely accepted in Jesus’ days, at least among the more earnest, for in their case they wanted to be sure how they could obtain eternal life. Thus the danger was that Paul’s arguments might have been seen by some as suggesting:
And the argument would then continue by suggesting that if Israel was rejected in this way, what does it say about God and His word and His faithfulness?
Paul’s answer with regard to election is simple. A look back at Israel’s history will reveal that God has always been selective as to whom He allocates His blessing, and that He has always chosen those who would come within His blessing from among the many. It has never been the case that all have been blessed. God has always worked through an elect. That is why even at this very time it is only some Jews who have been called out along with some Gentiles (verse 24). In other words he is saying that within the physical nation of Israel there was a spiritual Israel who are in God’s eyes the true Israel, the Israel from among Israel.
His analysis is pungent and powerful. The fact that of all the sons of Abraham Isaac alone was the one through whom his seed would be called (verse 7) demonstrated that not all sons of Abraham were of the ‘called’. Furthermore the fact that not all the seed of Isaac (who was the chosen one) benefited by that call, but only Jacob, demonstrated that God’s call was of a proportion of the promised seed and not of the whole. Enough is thus said to demonstrate that even the seed of the elect of God were not necessarily elect.
9.6 ‘But it is not as though the word of God has come to nought. For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel,’
Paul is here concerned to demonstrate that the word of God has not come to nought in the failure of Israel to be what they should be, and it is on the basis that God never intended His word to apply to the whole of physical Israel. It was rather addressed to a spiritual remnant within Israel. To put it in simple terms, ‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel’. Here we have clearly expressed two meanings of the word Israel, one referring to the outward nation (including both believers in the Messiah and unbelievers) and one referring to the true spiritual Israel, the Israel within Israel (consisting at this time of believers in the Messiah, that is, of Christ). We should note in this regard that even the concept of the physical nation of Israel was fluid, for the Jews were scattered around the world, and large numbers had made themselves at home among other nations, of whom some would be careless of their ‘privilege’. But the point of Paul’s statement is that within what anyone might claim as representing Israel, were a spiritual inner core who were in God’s eyes the true Israel. Thus the fact that some of Israel had proved unworthy would not mean that God’s word concerning Israel had failed, and this was because God had always intended that what He had said only applied to the ones whom He chose, the true Israel, as he will shortly further demonstrate both here and in 11.1-10.
That Paul is speaking of election to salvation is made clear, firstly by the terminology used (‘children of God’ - compare 8.16; ‘reckoned’ - compare 4.3-11; ‘children of promise’ - compare Galatians 4.28; ‘called’ - compare 1.6; 8.28, 30; ‘not of works’ - compare 3.27-28; 4.3-5; Ephesians 2.9; all terms used elsewhere of those who had been accounted as righteous through the righteousness of God), and secondly by what follows. He has in mind those who were ‘prepared unto glory’, in contrast to those ‘fitted for destruction’ (verses 22-24).
‘The word of God.’ Here this must mean His word as given through the prophets (including Moses) and therefore through the Scriptures. It is ‘the word’ in which the promises were made, and Paul will justify his position precisely in terms of the Scriptures (e.g. 9.25-29, 33 and continually).
‘Israel.’ We should note that this is the first statement concerning Israel in the three chapters, and as such might be seen as defining ‘Israel’. Indeed we might say that Paul is going out of his way to define it. And his definition of ‘Israel’ is that it consists of the elect of God. Thus while he uses the term Israel in three ways, 1). as referring to the whole of Israel, including both believers in Jesus the Messiah and unbelievers; 2). as referring to unbelieving Israel only; and 3). as referring to the elect of Israel, it is only once specifically defined, and that is here. Thus when it comes to definition Paul defines ‘Israel’ as primarily meaning ‘those in the nation who are elect’. This might be seen as important when deciding the meaning of ‘all Israel’ in 11.26.
9.7 ‘Nor, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children, but, “In Isaac shall your seed be called”.’
Furthermore, Paul declares that not all of Abraham’s seed were to be seen as his children as far as the promises were concerned, but only those who were children of the promise. ‘In Isaac will your seed be called’ (Genesis 21.12). The called would come from among the seed of Isaac (and not of Ishmael or the sons of Keturah). But even then it would only be some of the seed of Isaac, as is demonstrated by the fact that Esau was not called. Consider also 11.1-5 where only a remnant of Israel remained true. Thus again God was to be seen as selective in whom He chooses.
In fact, of course, Israel were not composed solely of Abraham’s seed. Many came from the seed of his Aramean servants, and sometimes foreign servants, and many Gentiles had been absorbed into Israel and has been seed-bearing. The background of Israel was multi-national.
9.8-9 ‘That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. For this is a word of promise, “According to this season will I come, and Sarah will have a son”.
For the conclusion to be reached from the facts of Scripture is that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of promise, in other words those foreknown of God (11.1-5), and chosen by Him. And he gives, as an example of God’s promises, the promise that Sarah would have a son ‘when He (God) came’ (Genesis 18.10). ‘When He came’ indicated that the son of promise would be miraculously born to aged parents. So it should be noted that the promise related to a child especially elected by God, produced as a result of the activity of God, and being but a portion of the whole, an indication of what would follow.
‘The children of the promise.’ In Galatians 4.28 ‘the children of promise’ are those who are ‘born after the Spirit’ rather than the flesh (Galatians 4.29), that is by the miraculous working of God, and this because they are the result of God acting in accordance with His own promise and determination (Galatians 4.23). In the same way in Romans the usual parallel with flesh is the life producing Spirit (Romans 8.4-13), and this ties in with the idea here that ‘God will come’ to Sarah at the right time, that is, will visit her in order to bring about a miraculous birth, and will do it according to the word of promise. It was God Who, outside the normal scheme of things, determined that Isaac would be born. Thus the idea behind ‘the children of the promise’ is of those born supernaturally in accordance with God’s promise and determination. In other words they are exceptionally born through God’s foreknowing (8.29) and through the Spirit (consider John 3.1-7). Indeed when God says, ‘I will come’ it always indicates divine activity as in John 14.23 (compare John 14.18), and Luke 1.68 (compare Luke 1.35).
9.10-13 ‘And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac—. For the children being not yet born, nor having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls, it was said to her, “The elder will serve the younger”. Even as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (did not love)”.’
But it did not stop with the birth of Isaac, because although the promised seed was to be ‘called in Isaac’ (verse 7) Scripture immediately makes clear that not all Isaac’s seed would be children of promise. For the same situation also arose when Rebecca, Isaac’s wife had twins. Indeed in this case they came from the same mother at the same time, and were both sons of Isaac, the child of promise. Yet even before they were born God had chosen one above the other, and the younger one at that. At that stage neither had done good, and neither had done bad. So the election could not have been on the basis of merit. It was thus clearly revealed as depending solely on the call of God. For God had declared, even before they were born, that ‘the elder will serve the younger’ (Genesis 25.23). This was something to be seen as confirmed by the later Scripture, ‘Jacob I loved and Esau I hated (did not love)’ (Malachi 1.2). God elected Jacob and not Esau, and the effect of it passed on to their descendants. Once again, therefore, to be a child of promise involved not just physical birth, but the electing activity of God whereby one was chosen and the other not.
‘By our father Isaac.’ Here Paul is speaking as a Jew to Jews (compare verse 3). He is looking at it from their biased viewpoint because if taken literally ‘our father’ is not strictly true. Large numbers of the Jews were not physically descended from Isaac (see excursus at the end of chapter 11). Isaac was rather ‘their father’ by adoption, as ‘the father’ of the original family tribe which had formed the basis of Israel. The reason for the introduction of the phrase ‘our father Isaac’ is in order to underline the fact that both Esau and Jacob were descendants of Isaac, the one in whom Abraham’s seed would be called. But he then points out that even Isaac’s fatherhood was not a guarantee of election, for he was the father of Esau, who was not called.
‘That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls.’ For God’s election was not on the basis of deserts, nor on the basis of being sons of Isaac, but simply on the basis of His call. The terminology here is salvation terminology related to what he has previously written. For ‘the purpose of God according to election’ see 8.28-30, 33. For ‘not of works’ see 3.28; 4.2-5. Here salvation is made dependent on nothing but the call of God. If we try to talk about God ‘foreseeing faith’ or ‘foreseeing works’ we destroy Paul’s whole argument which is based on the fact that the decision is God’s alone without any merit or activity on our part.
It will be noted that Paul has not actually said anything with which the Jews would have substantially disagreed. They too would have agreed that Ishmael and Esau were not ‘elected’. But what Paul is saying is that they should therefore recognise a principle here, that God’s election is not a blanket one, but is confined at each stage to those who are chosen, and that being born of an ‘elect one’ does not guarantee ‘election’. And as verse 6 has made clear, the conclusion he wants them to come to is that the same applies to Israel. They are ‘not all Israel who are of Israel’, and ‘not all the sons of Abraham are of the chosen’. Thus by implication to claim to be a ‘son of Abraham’ did not necessarily signify being of the elect of God. Ishmael and Esau were ‘sons’ of Abraham, as were the sons of Keturah, and yet were not of the elect. Furthermore Esau was a son of Isaac in whom Abraham’s seed would be called, and yet Esau was not called. He was not of ‘the elect’.
‘The elder will serve the younger.’ It is often argued that this could only refer to the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom, because in fact Esau did not ‘serve’ Jacob. But the latter statement is not strictly true. Jacob did become the head of the family tribe, and in terms of the thought of those days Esau was therefore subject to him. This may well have been one reason why Esau came out to welcome Jacob home (Genesis 32.3 ff.) and was with Jacob in the burial of their father (35.29).
To take what Paul has said and make it mean on the basis of Malachi 1.2-3 that he was teaching that the whole nation of Israel is therefore elected to salvation is to reverse what Paul is saying. He was at this point arguing a principle, that at each step only a part were called, not directly discussing whether Israel as a whole were elect or not. It was, however, a principle which, once strictly applied, did cast doubt on the doctrine of the election of Israel as a whole to salvation. For that doctrine assumed that God had ceased making individual choices, whereas Paul makes clear that that was God’s method.
Having said that it would seem probable that Paul does have in the back of his mind the descendants of Jacob as being in special favour with God. The citation from Malachi, ‘Jacob have I loved’ indicated the nation of Israel as an entity (even though not necessarily as a whole), and even ‘the elder will serve the younger’ indicated that one nation would serve another (Genesis 25.23). So God’s election went on through history, but as Paul makes clear it was an election of those within Israel who responded from the heart, not an election of the whole (verse 6), and indeed it also included those who had not been Israelites, who would unite themselves with Israel in the true worship of God (just as Edom included far more than just the descendants of Esau. Esau had four hundred men to serve him right from the beginning). We can no more say that all Israelites were included than we can say that all Edomites were excluded. For while Esau was ‘not loved’, Edomites could enter into the congregation of the Lord from the beginning (Deuteronomy 23.7), and by the time of Jesus large numbers of Edomites had been co-opted into Israel by force in the time of John Hyrcanus (the Jewish High Priest and Governor), and were thus seen as included among ‘the elect’ in Jewish eyes. In that sense therefore it could be said that Esau had become loved. The truth is that the whole idea of nationhood and election, in terms of Israel’s election, was fluid. However, with regard to Paul’s intention in Romans we should note that any benefit received by Israel was seen as received because of the election of Jacob, which is what Paul is stressing here. The whole emphasis is on the choice between two people, as is made clear by the reference to the fact that neither of them had done good or evil before they were born.
Note On The Election of Israel.
Paul would undoubtedly have agreed that that there was a sense in which Israel s an entity were elected by God. Indeed it was something specifically stated in Scripture (Deuteronomy 7.6-8; Psalm 135.4: Isaiah 41.8, 9). But that was seen as because God intended to act in the world through that nation (e.g. Genesis 12.3; Isaiah 42.6; 49.6), rather than because each Israelite was to be seen as elected. Indeed Isaiah makes clear that ‘His servant Israel’ are to be seen as the spiritual element within Israel (Isaiah 49.3) There the task of ‘Israel’ is to include bringing Jacob to Him again, and restoring the preserved of Israel (Isaiah 49.6). As Israel as a whole could not restore itself, Isaiah 49.3 can only be seen as referring to a spiritual remnant within Israel.
That Israel as a whole was not seen as elected is clearly evident from their history. Those who rebelled against Him were cast off from Him to such an extent that He declared them ‘not my people’ (Hosea 1.9), and this was the majority of the people. Indeed the constant refrain of the prophets is that God will deal with a remnant (e.g. Isaiah 6.13; 7.3; 8.2, 18; 9.12; 10.21, 24; Jeremiah 23.3; Ezekiel 14.14-20, 22; Amos 9.8-10; Micah 2.12; 5.3; Zephaniah 3.12-13; Zechariah 13.8-9). In Elijah’s time God had left Himself only ‘seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal’ (11.4; 1 Kings 19.18). And in Jeremiah’s time there was not a righteous man in Jerusalem apart from Jeremiah and his adherents (Jeremiah 5.1). There is no suggestion that the nation as a whole retained God’s favour, either as individuals or as a nation. God’s favour was on those who looked to Him. It is man who lumps everyone together from a saving point of view, not God. But God does not save in batches, rather He saves depending on individual response, something, of course, that Paul has already made clear (2.29). (And something which is equally true of ‘the church’).
It is true that many of the Jews saw things differently, which is why Paul is arguing as he is. It is man’s way to favour his own group and see them as especially chosen. Rabbis would later claim that no Israelite would go into Gehenna, and that all Israelites had their portion in the world to come (interestingly Israelites there also included Edomites, for the remnant of the Edomites who fled to Israel were made Israelites by force by John Hyrcanus, and it included Gentiles, for Gentiles living in Galilee when it was recaptured by the Jews had been forced to be circumcised and become Jews by Aristobulus, son of John Hyrcanus). But that not all in the time of Jesus saw it in the same way is indicated by those who came to Jesus asking how they could inherit eternal life (Luke 10.25; 18.18 and parallels). So many Jews did still recognise that they were individually accountable, and that not all would receive eternal life. Nevertheless the Jews did develop a strong doctrine of election for the people as a whole, something which Paul has dismissed in 2.1-3.10 and also by inference dismisses here. It was in fact a doctrine based on false premises (see excursus at the end of chapter 11.).
End of note.
The Scripture Demonstrates That God Is Sovereign Over All Things And Has Mercy On Whom He Wills (9.14-18).
Paul recognises that what he has just demonstrated about God’s elective mercy might raise the protest, ‘but surely that means that God is being unfair’. So he immediately deals with that charge on the basis of the Scriptures, demonstrating what God had proclaimed to Moses, and what was revealed in God’s treatment of Pharaoh at the Exodus. The point behind these examples is that what he has already said about Israel is justified, and that God does what He wills because no man has any claim on Him on the basis of their goodness. He thus can have compassion on whom He chooses, and He can harden whom He chooses, because they have already all demonstrated their hardness of heart. By this he is bolstering his argument in the previous verses that God acts unilaterally on individuals and nations in order to further the fulfilling of His purposes.
9.14 ‘What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not.’
Paul first raises the question that might be asked, ‘does this not mean that God is behaving unfairly?’ Paul’s reply is strong, ‘Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not.’ God cannot in these cases be accused of unrighteousness, that is of acting contrary to His nature, because we are dealing, not with pure justice, but with questions of mercy and compassion. It is not as though anyone deserved God’s favour. The point is that no one does. Thus God is free to give His favour wherever He wills.
9.15 ‘For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”.’
Paul illustrates his point from Scripture. God had said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33.19). Thus God had by this indicated that He would have mercy and compassion on those whom He Himself chose. And Paul emphasises this by adding ‘and whom He will He hardens’. The decision therefore as to who will receive mercy and who will not is to be seen as due to the elective purpose of God, for mercy and judgment are both in His hands, to be exercised as He wills. Furthermore it should be noted that the statement in Exodus is made immediately following an incident where He had said, ‘he who has sinned, him will I blot out of my book’ (32.33), where Israelites are clearly in mind, some of whom were consequently so punished (32.35), while others received mercy, at least temporarily.
Someone may then question the morality of this, but the idea here is that as God is speaking of situations requiring mercy and compassion He is not bound by any moral requirement. In the nature of the case no one can be seen as deserving of mercy and compassion. The whole point of mercy and compassion is that they override the demands of justice. The persons in question, who are to receive mercy and compassion, are all clearly deserving of judgment, otherwise they would not require mercy and compassion. They would instead get what was due to them. In consequence, when He chooses to show mercy and compassion in one case and not in another, no question can be raised as to the morality of it. Whether to show mercy or not is solely at the discretion of the judge, and if mercy were shown to all then justice would cease to exist. Strict justice in fact would require that no mercy was shown at all. That was why God had to find a way of maintaining the demands of justice while showing mercy. And He accomplished it through the cross. Thus mercy is not bound by morality. We note the dogmatism of God’s statement. The decision is made solely on the basis of His will, as in the case of the election of Jacob.
It should also be noted that this statement was made concerning those who were ‘under the Law’, indicating that there were at least some who were under the Law who would not find mercy. Indeed on the basis of 9.22 some are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. This last demonstrates again the fallacy of the extreme Jewish position that no Jew would enter Gehenna. Certainly Paul did not believe that.
9.16 ‘So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy.’
‘It’ clearly refers to the previous verse, speaking of God’s showing of mercy, whilst the present tense of the verbs suggests that here Paul is enunciating a general principle. He is thus saying that in consequence of what God had said we can discern the general pattern that a man does not receive mercy in view of what he himself purposes (wills) or in view of what he has done, or indeed in view of what he promises to do. Neither his will nor his actions alter God’s decision. Rather, because by his will and actions he is subject to judgment, his hope can only lie in the mercy of God. And God dispenses that mercy as He wills. This again stresses that in order to receive mercy there is no requirement on man’s part. It is not a question of foreseen faith or works, it purely results from God’s sovereign decision. Faith and works must certainly follow that decision, but ultimately salvation is of God.
9.17 ‘For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose (for unto this thing) did I raise you up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth”.’
This overall sovereignty of God can be seen as illustrated from the life of Pharaoh, where God says to Pharaoh that He had ‘raised him up’ in order that He might show His power in the way He dealt with him, and might thereby reveal to all the earth His mighty power over a king who claimed to be a powerful god (Exodus 9.16; 15.14 ff). Pharaoh could have no justifiable complaint. He had resisted God from the start. Thus he was only receiving his due reward. In this case God, instead of exercising His prerogative of mercy, chose to harden an already hardened Pharaoh, and this was in order that the world might learn the truth about Him. So even this had a positive moral purpose. For Paul’s alteration of the OT text to ‘raise you up’ underlines the fact that even here God’s purpose was one of mercy, not on Pharaoh, but on all those who would hear and fear. God had raised up Pharaoh (and hardened his heart - verse 18) as a witness to the nations. In other words, God’s judgment on Pharaoh would result in His word going out to the nations, just as in Paul’s day the hardening of Israel was to result similarly in the word of God’s power going out as a witness to the nations (11.11-12, 15). As in Pharaoh’s case, the hardening of Israel had a positive purpose. Indeed his use of the verb ‘raised you up’ may also have been intended by Paul to remind his readers of an even greater occasion when God ‘raised up’ (1 Corinthians 6.14) Someone, His own Son, in order to demonstrate His power (1.4), but if so the implication is not drawn out.
The Hebrew text in Exodus 9.16 would appear to be the basis for Paul’s citation, for it reads ‘for this reason I have caused you to stand, for to show you My power, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth’. Paul’s is thus a somewhat loose paraphrase with ‘raised up’ being introduced by Paul.
‘The Scripture says.’ Here ‘the Scripture’ is used as a synonym for God, indicating that the Scriptures were indeed seen as ‘the voice of God’, and were seen as parallel with God’s own word.
9.18 ‘So then he has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardens.’
Paul assumes that his readers will connect Pharaoh’s being raised up to glorify God with his hardening of heart, a condition expressed a number of times in Exodus (e.g. Exodus 7.3; 9.12; 14.4, 17). He thus concludes by saying ‘He (God) has mercy on whom He will and whom He will He hardens’, particularly having Pharaoh’s behaviour in mind, although later applying the term ‘harden’ to Israel in 11.7, 25 demonstrating that God treats them like He treated Pharaoh. God is thus depicted as sovereign in all His dealings with men, and as One Who cannot be called to account for how He behaves towards men, although one reason why this is so is that none of them are deserving. Thus all men are seen as undeserving, and as therefore having no rights apart from that of judgment.
Here we cannot avoid the fact that Paul unquestionably puts the onus on God both for showing mercy and for hardening men’s hearts, and that eternal salvation and eternal destruction are in mind is made evident by his later illustration in verses 22-23. He thus does not shy away from indicating God’s responsibility for the fate of all men both positively and negatively. And as his aim in the passage is to demonstrate that God acts unilaterally we cannot avoid recognising that God is primarily sovereign over all, even over men’s decisions. Indeed this is confirmed in the following verses where Paul clearly acknowledges that he cannot explain it, and then asserts the facts even more emphatically. On the other hand we must certainly recognise that God’s actions do work in parallel with man’s behaviour. God’s mercy works in parallel with the exercising of faith by the objects of His mercy, and His mercy withheld works in parallel with the objects of His wrath sinning and refusing to believe (9.30-10.17). But the hardening of men by God necessarily follows the fact that they themselves are sinful, and is not the cause of it, for they are sinful from the womb (Psalm 58.3).
God Has The Sovereign Right To Do What He Chooses, And To Save Whom He Will (9.19-29).
Paul does not hide from the consequences of what he has been saying. He rather defends it by appealing to God’s absolute right over human beings, and then to Scripture. He sees the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as closely aligned with his argument that God has for the time being rejected the majority in physical Israel, while saving those within Israel who are believers in Jesus as the Messiah
9.19 ‘You will say then to me, “Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?” ’
He opens with a theoretical argument, although no doubt one he had heard many times, that of someone who says, “(If God hardens whom He will) why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?” The idea behind the argument is that if God is sovereignly responsible for men’s decisions, no blame can be laid on men for how they respond to Him. All they are doing is fulfilling His will. Thus it would be unfair of God to find fault with them.
9.20 ‘No but, O man, who are you who replies against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me thus?” ’
Paul’s response to the questions is illuminating, both in what he does not say and what he does say. He does not attempt to marshal arguments which he could have used had he believed them, such as 1). that God acts on the basis of what He foresees in men (whether belief or unbelief), or 2). that God has some other way of saving Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah. These are arguments which some among modern man would put forward. But Paul seemingly does not accept them. Rather he simply declares by his questions put to the ‘man’, that he knows of no explanation, indicating thereby that he has no valid argument apart from what the Scriptures have stated. He then simply challenges whether they as human beings are in any position to reply against God, or disagree with Him. And he does it on the basis that the creature cannot say to his Creator, ‘why did you make me thus?’, which is a loose rendering of Isaiah 45.9. The Creator, in other words, has sovereign rights to do what He will with His creation which no one can deny, and He can choose to do with His creatures what He will.
‘O man.’ This signifies, in context, puny man as compared with the mighty God, as puny man seeks to contest what God chooses to do.
9.21 ‘Or has the potter not a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel to honour, and another to dishonour?’
He now illustrates his position in terms of a potter who has a lump of clay and can use it both to make an ‘honourable’ vessel and to make a ‘dishonourable’ one. Which he makes is solely up to the potter’s discretion. So a potter may take his piece of clay, and set aside one part to produce an ornamental vase, and another part to produce a crude chamber pot. No one will question his right to do so. The idea therefore is that God has the same right to do what He will with what He has created. Applying this to his earlier argument Isaac and Jacob were honourable vessels. Their brothers were dishonourable vessels.
It is a quite false position to argue that Paul is likening ‘feeling people’ to mere lumps of clay, anymore than to argue that he is likening a humble potter to God. That is not his point. He is using an illustration, and his emphasis is on the fact that like the potter God can determine to do what He will.
9.22 ‘What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,’
Paul then directly applies his illustration of the Potter to God Himself. The idea of likening God to a Potter comes directly from the Old Testament Scriptures (Isaiah 45.9; 29.16; Jeremiah 18.6). And the idea behind it is that just as a Potter chooses what he will do with what he makes, so in the same way no man has the right to challenge God’s decisions as to what to do with His creatures, with the proviso, of course, that we know that He will do what is morally right.
Here he applies that concept to God as One Who, willing to demonstrate His wrath (antipathy to sin) and make His powers known (as He had done with Pharaoh), delays applying that wrath to the guilty immediately, but rather puts up with them with much longsuffering, even though they are vessels ‘fitted for destruction’. In context this latter does not just mean that they are of a kind that deserves destruction (fit for destruction), but rather that they have actually been made that way by ‘the Potter’, they have been ‘fitted for destruction’. He has made them with destruction in mind. They are dishonourable vessels, vessels which are made to fulfil dishonourable purposes, and then to be broken. These vessels basically represent all unbelievers, but especially in the context Jews who have refused to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.
Note that there is a purpose in what God does here. It is in order to make known His sovereign power. If man is not aware of God’s sovereign power the way he behaves is quickly affected. Thus it was necessary that through some examples man is made to recognise that he stands under the judgment of God, and in order to do this God gives men a certain license, as He did with Pharaoh. (Nevertheless that delay also gives man the opportunity to repent (2.4-5), and he can be sure that if he does so, God will show him compassion).
9.23-24 ‘And that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand to glory, even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?’
Having purposed that certain vessels would be made in such a way that they were fitted for destruction, God also purposed to make known the riches of His glory on vessels which were prepared with mercy in mind, vessels which He prepared beforehand for glory (like ‘honourable vessels’ such as ornamental vases). That these vessels are Christians is indicated by the word ‘us’ and confirmed by the references to the glory awaiting Christians in 8.17, 18, 21, 30. These Christians are then defined as those who are called, not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles. They are the called ones of God and come out from both Jews and Gentiles. Thus behind his whole argument is not simply that only the elect of Israel will be saved, but that the elect also includes believing Gentiles
All this, of course, indicates that the vessels fitted for ‘destruction’, (a word which in Paul always refers to ‘eternal destruction’), are the remainder of the Jews and the Gentiles, the unbelieving ones who have not been ‘called’ (in Romans ‘called’, when God is in mind, is a salvation word, 1.6, 7; 8.28, 30; 9.7, 11; 11.29). That salvation and judgment are concerned can hardly be doubted, confirming that both some Jews (the spiritual Israel of verse 6) and Gentiles will be saved (those called out), and that the remainder of both Jews (the physical Israel excluding the spiritual Israel) and Gentiles will be lost. Thus Paul’s arguments all the way through have had this in mind.
This is the first reference to Gentiles in the chapter, for the purpose of the chapter up to this point has been in order to bring out that only a proportion of Israel were God’s elect, and thus chosen to be saved, the Israel within Israel’ of verse 6. But all along he has had the intention of introducing Gentiles in order to demonstrate that God’s elect include Gentiles. Paul thus now emphasises that God’s call reaches out, not only to the Jews but to Gentiles.
9.25 ‘As he says also in Hosea (Greek - Osee), “I will call that my people, who were not my people, and her beloved, who was not beloved”.’
Paul then cites Hosea in order to demonstrate that it has always been God’s intention that some who were ‘not My people’ should become ‘My people’. That some who were not beloved and elect, would become beloved and elect. (In many cases ‘beloved’ and ‘elect’ were seen as synonyms).
He declares that in Hosea we read, ‘I will call that My people who were not My people, and (I will call) her beloved who was not beloved’ (a Pauline paraphrase of Hosea 2.23). It would certainly appear, at least at first sight, that this quotation from Hosea is backing up verses 23-24, for in it he is seeking to demonstrate from Scripture that some of those who were ‘not God’s people’ would become so. But some question who are in Paul’s mind here. The previous verses from verse 6 onwards have been referring to the election of only a part of Israel, with Gentiles only being introduced at the end as an additional final comment. Is he then continuing his argument on the election of only a part of Israel? Or is he now seeing the Gentiles as included? The direct connection with the previous verse would suggest that he is applying Hosea’ prophecy to ‘the called’ among both believing Jews and Gentiles, both therefore being seen as having been ‘not My people’, and now being ‘My people’. And the general impression at first sight is certainly that that is precisely what he meant. But against this is argued the fact that there is little doubt that the citation from Hosea only had Israelites in mind, because it was Israelites who were actually in the mind of Hosea.
However, if we take the view that Paul is drawing from Hosea’s wording, (that ‘not My people’ can become ‘My people’), the inference that this is God’s usual method of working, and that it is something which was evidenced by an Israel that had lapsed into Gentile idolatry and had therefore virtually become Gentile, having been cut off from God’s true Israel, then, it may well be that he sees this as evidence that God will reach out to believing Gentiles as well. That is indeed what the Jews themselves believed when they accepted into their synagogues both Gentile proselytes and Gentile God-fearers (uncircumcised adherents).
But strictly speaking, in Hosea ‘not My people’ referred to a rejected Israel. It may thus be that this is simply a continuation of the argument that ‘not all Israel is Israel’. His point would then be that for a while Israel had been ‘not My people’, and were thus not of the elect, but that as a result of God’s activity some of them would become ‘My people’ (‘some’ because many would die in their ‘not my people’ state), indicating again that not all Israel is Israel. Most scholars, however, see Paul here as referring to the Gentiles, with Paul’s point being that a principle is revealed in the statement which demonstrates that God can make ‘not My people’ into ‘My people’. It may, in fact, be that Paul had both possibilities in mind.
9.26 ‘And it shall be, that in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there will they be called “sons of the living God”.’
He then further cites Hosea 1.10 which asserts that those who were ‘not My people’ would at some stage become ‘sons of the living God’. If we see Paul as referring this to Gentiles, as he probably is, then he is declaring that Scripture teaches that some from among the Gentiles, will be called ‘sons of the living God’ (compare 2 Corinthians 6.16 with 18). If that is so then what he sees as inherent within the words is that God will call many from among the Gentiles to Himself, and make them children of God (as was true of the elect of Israel - verse 8). On the other hand, if we see the reference as being towards Jews then this is further confirmation that at one stage many in Israel had not been sons of the living God, and that all was therefore subject to God’s election. It may well be that Paul had both possibilities in mind.
In support of seeing these two verses as referring to Israel is that he later cites texts separately which demonstrate the acceptance of Gentiles in 10.19-20, and that the whole of this passage has been mainly dealing with the question as to whether all Jews were elect, with the mention of Gentiles only being brought in at the end to clinch his argument.
9.27-28 ‘And Isaiah cries concerning Israel, “If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant who will be saved, for the Lord will execute his word on the earth, finishing it and cutting it short.” ’
He then cites from Isaiah 10.22a (supplemented by Hosea 1.10) a verse concerning Israel which asserts that even though Israel should become very numerous, only a remnant of them would be saved, and this, as Isaiah 10.23 reveals, is as a result of the judgment of God on the remainder. This would support the case that the ‘all Israel’ in 11.26 who are saved means ‘the remnant’. ‘Finishing it’ refers to the certainty of God’s judgment’, ‘cutting it short’ might indicate that God stepped in to save the elect, or may indicate the speed with which the finishing will take place. In Isaiah 10 the prime reference of the verses is probably to deliverance from the Assyrians, although it may have included a wider reference to God’s deliverance in terms of the more distant future (as prophecies often did). Paul seemingly sees it as including a principle which was permanently applicable, that in all God’s dealings with Israel, only a remnant will be saved. So the teaching of verses 26-28 is, in Paul’s view, that only a remnant of Israel was to be saved, whilst numerous Gentiles were to become His people and His beloved, a situation which was true of the Christian church.
The LXX of these verses reads, ‘And though the people of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them will be saved. He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make a short work in all the world.’ (Isaiah 10.22-23 LXX). This has been supplemented at the beginning by ‘The number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea’ which is found in Hosea 1.10. This combining of texts, with reference only being made to the major source, was commonplace in Paul’s day. Compare a similar thing in Mark 1.2-3 where texts from Malachi and Isaiah are combined. We have no similar explanation for the rendering of Isaiah 10.23, although it is clear that while shortened, it does connect with the LXX text. This may have been found in the version from which Paul was citing, or it may simply have been his amendment of LXX. We simply do not know.
9.29 ‘And, as Isaiah has said before, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had become as Sodom, and had been made like to Gomorrah”.’
This picture is then seen as confirmed by Isaiah 1.9, where, apart from ‘a seed’ left to them by God (the seed of Abraham mentioned in verse 7? The holy seed of Isaiah 6.12), all Israel were to be destroyed by God’s judgment in the same way as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Once again those who were acceptable to God, and therefore saved, were only a remnant out of Israel. These three verses confirm that what the whole passage from verse 6 has been about was the election of a minority of Israel who would alone remain as God’s people, being supplemented by large numbers of Gentiles, who would also become God’s people. This incorporating of Gentiles into Israel to form the true Israel is confirmed in 11.17-25; Galatians 3.29, 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 1.9; etc.
‘The Lord of Sabaoth.’ A transliteration of the Hebrew which means ‘the Lord of Hosts.’
The Eternal Destiny Of All People, Both Jew And Gentile, Is Based On Belief In God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. (9.30-10.21).
There is now a vast change in Paul’s argument, for it will be noted that from 9.30-10.17 Paul lays huge emphasis on faith and on believing in Jesus Christ, this in contrast with 9.6-29 where they are not mentioned. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah undergirds this whole passage. The Greek words for faith and/or believing occur in almost every verse, with those verses which do not contain the words being in specific contrast with a verse that does. And the faith that is in mind is faith in the Messiah. Furthermore even in 10.17--21, which contain citations from the Old Testament Scriptures, faith and unbelief, although only mentioned once, underlie all that is said. Faith and belief are thus the keynote of this passage, and it is faith in Jesus as Messiah and LORD. Here then Paul is explaining how the Jews on the whole came short. It was because they did not respond in faith to their Messiah, Whose coming was the greatest of all the privileges that God had given them (9.4-5).
(In 9.1-29 Israel came short because of God’s elective purposes, the message being that God had always purposed that only a remnant would be saved. Here they come short because of unbelief in that they have failed to believe in the Messiah. We thus have human responsibility going hand in hand with God’s sovereignty).
A second emphasis in this passage, although subordinate to the first, is on ‘righteousness’, which occurs at least ten times (although in clusters), all of which are in 9.30-10.10. Paul is here seeking to bring out the difference between righteousness attained by works, which is the righteousness of men, and righteousness resulting from faith in the Messiah, a central feature of 3.19-4.25, which is the righteousness of God. Note the contrasts:
Thus we may see the whole passage as having as its central theme, faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah, (9.33; 10.4, 9-11, 13, 17) a faith which responds to Him and which results in reception of the righteousness of God, this being in contrast with Israel’s unbelief and refusal to respond to God’s way of righteousness. It is those who call on the Name of the LORD who will be saved (10.13), that is, those who believe on ‘Jesus as LORD’ (10.9).
Israel Has Stumbled And Hurt Itself Because It Has Not Believed In Its Messiah And Submitted To The Righteousness Of God Obtainable Through Faith In Him (9.30-33).
Paul emphasises that the believing Gentiles, by responding to the Messiah, have attained to the righteousness which is of faith, the righteousness which was God’s gift to them through Christ (3.24-28; 5.15-19). They had discovered that ‘he who believes on Him will not be put to shame’ (verse 33), that is, will have nothing to be ashamed of in the eyes of God the Judge when he comes before Him for judgment. In contrast unbelieving ‘Israel’, by rejecting their Messiah, and seeking righteousness by works, have stumbled and fallen on the Messianic stumblingstone (verse 32).
9.30-31 ‘What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith, but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at the law.’
‘What shall we say then?’ is a typical Pauline introduction to the next phase in his argument (4.1; 6.1; 7.7), although at the same time certainly also connecting up with the previous discussion. It summarises the situation from a new point of view. For here there is certainly a movement from the idea of God’s election, where all was of God’s decree, to that of man’s faith and belief, where man is responsible for his actions and attitudes. Prior to this all had been due to the sovereignty of God. God had been active in choosing out a remnant for Himself (8.29-30). Now, suddenly, emphasis is laid on man’s faith or unbelief as a deciding factor (constantly throughout 9.30-10.17), and it is faith or unbelief in the Messiah. Here is the human side of why the majority of Israel has been rejected. It was because they had rejected their Messiah. In contrast believing Gentiles, conjoined with the believing remnant of Israel, have been accepted because they have believed in Him.
So Paul is here dealing with what was a sticking point for Jews, that so many Gentiles were being saved, and on so simple a basis. They had been willing to accept that Gentiles could become a part of Israel, by being circumcised, after having gone through a process of instruction and Law keeping. What they could not stomach was this new mass movement in which Gentiles were being immediately included among the elect as a result of believing in Christ, without being circumcised and without being instructed in the Law. Paul, therefore, now explains the basis of it. Why are so many Gentiles being saved even though they had not followed the path of righteousness? (That is, they had not been Law-keeping Jews, nor had they submitted themselves to a probationary period under the Law). It is because they have ‘attained to righteousness’, the righteousness of God, the righteousness which is the consequence of faith and is given freely to those who believe in Jesus Christ. And as the whole of Romans 1-8 has demonstrated, this righteousness is based on the Messiah Jesus, and on what He has done for them (1.3-4; 3.21-28; 4.24-25; 5.1-21; 6.1-11, 23; 7.4, 25; 8.1-4, 9-11, 17, 32-39). As verses 32-33 emphasise, it was Israel’s failure to believe in Him that was the reason for their downfall. ‘The righteousness of faith’ is thus that righteousness which is received as a gift in consequence of the righteousness provided by the Messiah, and it is received through faith (3.21-26; 4.24-25; 5.15-21; 8.1-4).
In contrast with the believing Gentiles, who had attained to righteousness through accepting the free gift of Christ’s righteousness, were unbelieving Israel, who while ‘following after a law of righteousness’ did not arrive at it. (Or ‘who pursuing after the Law of righteousness did not overtake it’, metaphors possibly taken from the race track). We might have expected Paul to say ‘following after righteousness’ or ‘following after the righteousness of the Law’ (10.5) in contrast with what he had said of the Gentiles. But instead he speaks of ‘following after the Law of righteousness’. This was an important emphasis. For by stressing ‘the Law of righteousness’ he was bringing out what they really did seek. He was emphasising that what they sought was not true righteousness but a synthetic kind of righteousness which was comprised of obedience to the Law in accordance with their own interpretation of it. They were ‘following the Law’, and in practise the idea of ‘real righteousness’ was secondary. It passed them by (see Matthew 23.23; 9.13; 12.7; Mark 12.33). What they were more concerned with was ‘observing the Law’. For they had convinced themselves that by doing this they would please God, and observe the covenant. They saw it as their side of the bargain with God. To them the be all and end all had become ‘following the Law’ as interpreted by the Rabbis so as, in their eyes, to observe the covenant. But the problem with this was that they had by this observed the letter of the Law rather than the spirit of the Law. Indeed they had put their whole effort into observing it without any real concern as to whether they were truly being righteous, and thereby many had convinced themselves that they were righteous, when all they were was self-righteous (see Luke 18.11-12). For as Jesus had said, ‘you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, judgment and mercy and faith’ (Matthew 23.23). So Paul is saying that on the whole they had no conception of true righteousness.
And the consequence of this was that they had not ‘arrived at the Law’. They had not attained to it. They had failed to fulfil it. Indeed they had fallen far short of it. They had not even come close to achieving it. And this was because they had failed to observe its spirit, to love God wholly from the heart and to love all men as themselves (both their neighbour and the stranger who lived amongst them - Leviticus 19.18, 34). All the Law could do, therefore, was condemn them, as Paul had made clear in 2.1-3.20. So ‘not arriving at the Law’ indicates their falling short of it, and it brings out that what they really feared was not ‘falling short of righteousness’, but ‘falling short of the Law’ which they had turned into a list of rules. They had done what it is so easy to do, they had replaced the spirit with the letter.
9.32-33 ‘For what reason? Because (they sought) not by faith, but as it were by works. They stumbled at the stone of stumbling, even as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, and he who believes on him will not be put to shame.”
And why did they fail to ‘arrive at the Law’? That is fail to fulfil it to the Law’s satisfaction. It was because they had sought to fulfil it in the wrong way. They had thought that they could achieve it ‘by works’, that is, by hard endeavour, and by their own efforts. And many had struggled manfully to that end, like Paul had once done, but they had inevitably failed, because for sinful man it was unachievable. Thus what they should rather have done was respond to the righteousness of God which was by faith in their Messiah, in Jesus Christ (3.22), receiving it as a free gift (3.24; 5.15-19). Then the righteousness of the Law would have been fulfilled in them (8.4).
But to believe in Jesus Christ Who had brought them the true significance of the Law (Matthew 5-7), and Who had brought righteousness through faith in Him (5.14-21), was beyond them. For if He was right then they, and all they had lived for, were wrong. They stumbled at (the verb contains the idea of responding in annoyance to) the stumblingstone of which the Scriptures had spoken, the stumblingstone of the Messiah. (As men always stumble at and are annoyed with God’s ways). He was a stumblingstone because the way of salvation that He had brought was contrary to the ideas of men, and in their eyes, with their false emphasis, was contrary to the Law of Moses. Christ crucified was for them a stumblingblock (1 Corinthians 1.23). They had failed to see that the Law of Moses and the prophets pointed to a righteousness of God obtainable through Christ and through His death (3.21, 24-25; Leviticus 1-16; Isaiah 53.11). And so their pride in their own viewpoint was too great to enable them to accept His offer. They were so tied up with religious forms and ceremonies, and with the ‘traditions of the elders’, and were so proud of them, that as a result His way appeared too simple. It offended their religious perspectives and attitudes. And so He became both a stumblingstone, a stone which tripped them up, and a rock of offence, a rock on which they hurt themselves.
Paul then illustrates this with citations from Scripture which had by this time come to be seen by many as referring to the Messiah (this reference of it to the Messiah is found e.g. in some of the Targums, the Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament Scriptures which had been developed for synagogue use). His citation is “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, and he who believes on him will not be put to shame.” This is a combination of Isaiah 28.16 with Isaiah 8.14. Isaiah 28.16 reads, ‘Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, of sure foundation. He who believes will not make haste (LXX will not be put to shame).’ Isaiah 8.14 reads, ‘and He will be for a sanctuary, but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel.’ Paul thus conflates the two verses (which was, as we have previously seen, a general method of the day) in order to bring out that for the majority of Israel hope and sureness were replaced by unbelief and stumbling. He takes the opening and closing clauses in Isaiah 28.16 and inserts within them a portion (paraphrased) of Isaiah 8.14 because, sadly, He Who was intended for a foundation and a Sanctuary for Israel, was to turn out rather to be a stumblingstone and rock of offence for a large part of Israel. On the other hand, for those who believed in Him there would be nothing to be ashamed of. They could rest confidently in Him without shame, not racing about trying to find a solution. Thus he sees the unbelief of a large part of Israel concerning the Messiah as already prophesied in Scripture.
Interestingly this same combination of citations is found in 1 Peter 2.6-8 (although not conflated, and including another ‘stone’ quotation) suggesting that it was well recognised in the early church that these verses referred to Christ. Paul will cite Isaiah 28.16 LXX again in 10.11.
By Their Rejection Of Their Messiah The Jews Have Not Subjected Themselves To the Righteousness of God (10.1-4).
The reason that Israel have not been saved is because they sought their own righteousness (a lowered standard of righteousness based on the traditions of the elders - see Matthew 23.23; Mark 7.5-13), and refused to submit to the righteousness of God, a true righteousness which came up to God’s perfect requirement, which was to be found in the Messiah. Indeed they were so taken up with their own efforts after righteousness that they were ignorant of this righteousness of God. They missed the point of what Scripture was saying. And thus they failed to recognise that Christ (the anointed Messiah) had brought righteousness for everyone who believes, a righteousness which could be ‘reckoned to them’, a righteousness obtainable simply through faith (3.24-4.25). Meanwhile in contrast to their situation is the fact that, for those who believe in Him, the condemnation of the Law is rendered inoperative, for Christ (the Messiah) is ‘the end of the Law unto righteousness for all who believe’.
10.1 ‘Brothers and sisters, my heart’s good pleasure and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved (literally ‘unto salvation’).’
Paul now diverts (‘brothers and sisters’) in order again to express his deep regret over the fact that the Jews are not saved, for this is his great desire that they might find eternal life. And he explains how he longs that they might be so by believing in their Messiah. Indeed he points out that his feelings concerning them are so deep that he prays from ‘the good pleasure of his heart’ to God on their behalf ‘unto their salvation’. What ‘unto salvation’ means in this context is defined in 10.10. It is the consequence of confessing Jesus as LORD. And this is what he longs that the Jews might experience. Thus he quite clearly does not believe that they could be saved while they continued as Jews and in rejection of the Messiah. This is apparent from the whole context, for as he has emphasised, they had failed to submit to the Messiah (verses 3-4); they had not subjected themselves to the righteousness of God (verse 3); they were ignorant of God’s righteousness (verse 3); they had stumbled at the stumblingstone of the Messiah (9.32-33); and they had not arrived at the Law (9.31). As 2.1-3.19 has brought out they had failed in their attempt to fulfil the Law. Thus they were a disobedient and gainsaying (obstinate) people (10.21). It is clear then that at this present time they were not seen as in process of being saved.
This expression of Paul’s deep concern (compare 9.1-5) was important, for it brought home to the Jewish Christians that he was not complacent over the situation of the Jews, and that he had not denied his ancestry. Rather he was stressing that he was deeply concerned that they should participate in what the Messiah, Who had been born among them, had brought. The Gentile Christians should therefore note that Jews were not to be despised by them (see 11.18 ff.).
10.2-3 ‘For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge, for being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God.’
The tragedy of the Jews was that while they had a kind of zeal for God, (no people were more religious than they), their zeal was ‘not in accordance with knowledge (epignosis - higher knowledge)’ (compare 10.19). In other words their zeal was operating outside revealed truth. They had failed to interpret the Scriptures correctly. They were thus ignorant of the truth. For those Scriptures had pointed to a humble Messiah (Zechariah 9.9; Isaiah 52.13-53.12), and they had stressed the need for ‘circumcision of the heart’ (Leviticus 26.41; Deuteronomy 10.16; 30.6; Jeremiah 4.4; 9.26) and for a work to take place in their hearts (Jeremiah 31.31-34; Ezekiel 36.26-27; Psalm 51.7-12). But this was something that they had failed to recognise. Thus the very truth that they believed that God had given them was instead condemning them (compare 2.17-24; 3.19-20), because what the Law gave them was the knowledge of sin (3.20), whilst on the other hand they had overlooked the emphasis of the Scriptures on the fact that their righteousness was to come from God (4.3, 7-8; Genesis 15.6; Psalm 32.1-2; 51.7-12; Isaiah 46.13; etc). So in seeking to establish their own righteousness by constant obedience to the Law of Moses (in accordance with the traditions of the elders), they were merely compounding their sins. This was because the Law continually condemned them, whilst they themselves were missing out on much of what the Scriptures taught.
And this state of affairs resulted from the fact that they were ignorant of the righteousness of God, and did not submit themselves to it. Reference to 3.20-4.25; 5.15-19 establishes what this righteousness of God was. It was the free gift of righteousness, a righteousness which God had brought to His people in Jesus Christ the Messiah as a consequence of His death for them. Thus they had failed to submit to the Messiah and the message that He had brought. They had failed to submit to the truth.
‘Seeking to establish their own (righteousness).’ There is an echo here of Deuteronomy 9.4-6 where Moses pointed out to Israel that it was not because of their own righteousness that God was giving them the land, but rather in fulfilment of the word of the Lord given in His promises to their fathers ((Deuteronomy 9.5), a permanent reminder that God’s promises are not contingent on ‘our own righteousness’ but on His elective purposes. There too they were called on to respond to the word of the Lord, not depending on their own righteousness.
10.4 ‘For Christ (Messiah) is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one who believes.’
For if they would only recognise it their Messiah had come, the Messiah (Christos) Who ‘is the end of the Law unto righteousness to everyone who believes.’ This phrase can be interpreted in two ways, for the Greek word telos can signify either ‘the aim, final intention of the Law’ or ‘the cessation of the Law’. Both are in fact true, although the second is more likely, because in the Scriptures telos usually means ‘cessation’ (it was different in external Greek literature). For the fact is that Paul only uses the first sense once, in 1 Timothy 1.5.
Taking the first meaning Paul would be saying that the Law pointed forward to Christ both in its prophecies and its ritual. When men’s attitude of heart was right, temporary righteousness was provided through sacrifices and offerings, but it had awaited the Supreme Sacrifice of Christ to make this truly effective (3.24-25). So the whole system of sacrifices had pointed forward to the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah, as He bore our sins in His own body on the cross (3.25; 1 Peter 2.24; Isaiah 53.11). For, as 3.21 has brought out, ‘a righteousness of God has now been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets’. That is, the Scriptures had pointed forward to this righteousness of God obtainable through faith in Christ.
But in another way Christ’s offering of Himself can be seen as having ‘rendered the Law inoperative’ as a way of passing judgment on men; as having ‘ended’ the Law, because through His offering He had provided the gift of righteousness for men, a righteousness which wholly satisfied the Law (5.15-19). For those who received Christ (the Messiah), God’s free gift of righteousness was provided, a righteousness that made them acceptable to God. Then the Law could no longer point the finger at them. Its reign was over. It was not that the Law was totally got rid of. It still fulfils its task of passing judgment on men. And it can still be a guide to man. Rather in Christ it was fulfilled. He vindicated it by His complete obedience to it. Thus it was seen as fulfilled in all who are His. In support of interpreting as ‘cessation of the Law’ are a number of Scriptures which indicate the same. ‘He abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments given in ordinances’ (Ephesians 2.15). ‘Having blotted out the bond written in ordinances, which was against us, which was contrary to us, and He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to His cross’ (Colossians 2.14). Thus it is made clear that through His offering of Himself, the power of the Law to bring Christians into judgment had ceased.
There is no more important thought than this, that the world is divided into two. On the one hand are those who are ‘under law’, whether that of the Torah or that of conscience. They are all subject to condemnation. On the other are those who are under Christ. For them there is no condemnation. They are accounted as righteous in God’s sight.
‘Unto righteousness.’ Compare ‘unto salvation’ (verses 1 and 10). The purpose of Christ’s coming was in order to provide man with a righteousness which would stand the test in the Day of wrath and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God (2.5), the Day when God judges the secrets of men (2.16).
Note On ‘The End Of The Law’.
Taking the meaning as signifying cessation, we must recognise what this means. For example, that the Law was not simply to be written off is made clear in that Jesus Himself had said of it that ‘until heaven and earth pass away not one yod or tittle of it would ever pass way until all of it was fulfilled’ (Matthew 5.18), and the reference to heaven and earth passing away underlines its permanent nature. Furthermore James stresses that as the perfect Law of liberty it is important for seeing oneself as one is and with a view to being obedient to it (James 1.23-25), whilst Paul himself considered that to love one’s neighbour as oneself, a requirement for all Christians, was a fulfilling of the Law (Galatians 5.14). Such love is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22). Indeed he himself said that the Law was ‘holy and righteous and good’ (Romans 7.12) and that ‘if a man use it lawfully the Law is good’ (1 Timothy 1.8). Compare also Galatians 6.2; 1 Corinthians 9.19-21.
Nor are we to think that the Law was once the method of salvation, but was now being replaced. Paul’s whole point in verse 2 is that the Jews had misunderstood the purpose of the Law. They had been ‘ignorant of God’s righteousness’. He stresses that salvation has never been obtainable by observing the Law because the standard of God’s righteousness is too high. It has always been dependent on looking to the mercy and compassion of God (which in fact the Law itself had pointed out). The Law was rather given as a guide to living and enjoying a full life (verse 5). It was not given as a means of obtaining eternal life. It was given by a God Who had graciously redeemed Israel, and had already chosen them (Exodus 19.5-6), indicating what He now therefore required of them as a result (Exodus 20.2). It was a mind and conscience shaper, a guide to true living. It had, of course, included the ritual means by which men could come to God, but as the prophets had emphasised, that was only effective in so far as it came from the heart (Isaiah 1.11-18).
It was man who made the observance of it central to acceptability before God in the sense that by observing it they were putting God under an obligation. Thus Paul is not saying that the Law was once the method of salvation but has now been replaced by the Messiah. Indeed its judgmental nature as outlined in 1.18-3.19 has always been true, and thus it could never in itself save. What he is saying has ended has been the ability of the Law to condemn those who are God’s, because in the Messiah provision has been made for removal of that condemnation. As Paul has made clear in chapter 4, acceptability to God has always been dependent on faith, even as early as Abraham. It was those who sought God with a true heart looking to His mercy who found salvation. The Law was simply a guide to that end.
Certainly we may speak of a ‘dispensation of the Law’. For since Moses the Law (the Torah), and later its interpretation in the Prophets, had been the central means of knowing God, and that is why salvation had mainly been limited to Israel. It had, however, always been available to proselytes (Exodus 12.48) and in later times an Israel scattered throughout the known world had gathered proselytes on a wider scale. (Indeed Jesus’ complaint against many of the Scribes and Pharisees was that they led proselytes astray - Matthew 23.15). But the prophets had always insisted that the ritual Law was meaningless unless carried out by those who were obedient to God and were looking to Him for forgiveness (e.g. Isaiah 1.11-18), and that the truly righteous in Israel would ever be a remnant (e.g. Isaiah 6.13; Zechariah 13.9). And salvation had always been dependent on the mercy and grace of God (Exodus 20.6; 34.6-7; etc), with the Law acting as a guide and providing a means of approaching God if used rightly.
End of note.
The Righteousness Which Is Of The Law Is Compared With The Righteousness Which Is Of Faith, That Is, The Righteousness Which Results From Faith In The Messiah, And What He Has Done For Us Through His Death And Resurrection (10.5-13).
In this third contrast between the righteousness which is of the Law and the righteousness which is of faith there is a contrast between the life obtainable through the Law, and the full salvation available through Christ. In it Paul cites Moses in order to define the two righteousnesses, and then explains exactly how men can achieve the righteousness which is by faith. It is by confessing Jesus as LORD, and believing that God vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead. And this is true for both Jew and Gentile, for Jesus Christ is LORD of ALL.
10.5 ‘For Moses writes that the man who does the righteousness which is of the law will live by it,’
Paul is satisfied that he has now paid enough attention to the situation of the Jews with regard to righteousness, and thus refers to it only briefly as ‘the righteousness which is of the Law’. His concentration is rather now on presenting the positive side of the Gospel. But he refers to the righteousness which is of the Law again in order to contrast it with the Gospel and in so doing brings out important aspects of it. Moses had written that ‘the man who does the righteousness which is of the law will live by it’. The reference is to Leviticus 18.5 where it says, ‘you will therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, which if a man do he will live in them’. This reference is used by Paul in Galatians 3.12 in order to evidence the fact that ‘the Law is not of faith’. It can hardly therefore have any other meaning than that here.
Here then ‘the righteousness which is of the Law’ is defined as ‘keeping God’s statutes and judgments’, and this had very easily slipped from being a loving and grateful response to the God Who had redeemed them, which was what God had intended, to being in practise a determination to observe a highly detailed set of rules which they saw as explaining God’s requirements. They got bogged down in the detail. And this was in the hope that they would thereby ‘fulfil the covenant’ from their point of view, so that God would have to fulfil it from His. They saw the ultimate consequence of this as being that they would receive ‘life’, and their perception of ‘if a man do he will live in them’ was that it referred to the way in which a man could have eternal life (this verse was regularly cited in Jewish tradition). What Moses was, of course, meaning was that men could thereby enjoy fullness of life (he had no real conception of eternal life). But the two do equate in that ‘eternal life’ in its earthly aspect (John 5.24; 1 John 5.11-13) is indeed fullness of life (John 10.10). In this, in the view of the Jews, lay the Jew’s hope of final salvation.
Note the emphasis on ‘doing’. It appealed to those who believed in a righteousness resulting from works. But Moses was not thinking in those terms. He was concerned with what followed redemption, and was stressing the benefits of then obeying God, an emphasis with which Paul would have agreed. But the Jews misunderstood it and saw it as teaching that the way to eternal life was by doing the Law, that is, that doing the Law as an important part of the covenant would cause them to inherit the benefit of eternal life. It is this idea which Paul is seeking to counter.
10.6-7 ‘But the righteousness which is of faith says thus, “Do not say not in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down),” Or, “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).’
In contrast with the righteousness which is of the Law is the righteousness which is of faith. This presents us with a totally different picture. Whereas ‘observing the Law had required a constant, and unavailing struggle, the righteousness which is of faith was obtained solely by truly believing in the Messiah Who had died for them and risen again, and by genuinely confessing Him as LORD. It did not require great effort. It required submission and trust, and subsequently a whole change of attitude.
Paul exemplifies this in terms of Deuteronomy 30.11-14 LXX, although altering it from referring to God’s commandment, to referring to the Messiah, who is, of course, God’s Word (John 1.1-14; Hebrews 1.1-2; 1 John 1 1-4). It will be noted, however, that he does not in this case refer to his words as Scripture. There is no ‘the scripture says’, or ‘it says’, or ‘it is written’. It is ‘the righteousness of faith’ that ‘speaks’. It is thus an explanation of the righteousness which is by faith. The wording then, although mainly taken from Scripture, is not necessarily being cited as Scriptural evidence. He is rather using what Moses says about God’s commands as being something readily available, and applying it to the Messiah as Someone Who is readily available.
Just as it was with God’s commands to Israel so was it with the Messiah. We do not have to find some means of accessing Heaven in order to bring the Messiah down, for He has been sent by God and is already present among us. We do not have to descend into the depths of the nether world (the word ‘abyss’ could refer either to the depths of the nether world or to the depths of the sea) in order to bring the Messiah up from the dead, for He is already risen. No huge effort or mysticism is required, for the Messiah is not far away but near at hand.
In Amos 9.2 the idea of accessing Heaven or descending to the nether world was that of a task of great difficulty resulting from sheer desperation, something attempted in order to escape the hand of God. Something that the Psalmist knew was foolish to attempt, for they would find God there (Psalm 139.8). So Moses and Paul are thinking of a task of great difficulty, possibly even of desperation, as men seek God’s truth. But Paul’s point is that in the case of finding the Messiah it was unnecessary. He had come among us to reveal Himself to us. We may also see here that the Messiah was sent down from Heaven, and raised up from the nether world, in order that men and women may be able to access Him. That was why He was available. God had already done the difficult work for us.
On the other hand, if we bear in mind that Jesus as the Messiah was seen as ‘God’s Word to man’ (John 1.1-18), and as the One ‘through Whom God had spoken’ (Hebrews 1.2), we can see why Paul could associate Him in his mind with ‘God’s commandment’, seeing Him as God’s final commandment to men. In support of this is the reference to ‘the word’ which is ‘near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (verse 8). However, it may be that Paul was deliberately contrasting ‘the commandment’ with the Messiah in order to emphasise by the substitution the contrast between works on the one hand and faith in the Messiah on the other. Either way the emphasis is on the fact that the Messiah is near at hand for all who would call upon Him.
10.8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith, which we preach,’
But what does the righteousness which is of faith say? It says that ‘the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’, this word referring to ‘the word of faith’ (the word that produces faith) preached by the Apostles, and by Paul’s lieutenants. It is saying that it is readily to hand and easily available, affecting both mouth and heart, for it is receivable through faith. And the content of that word is now made clear in verse 9. The fact that it is ‘in your mouth and in your heart’ explains the next verse and why Paul speaks of confessing with the mouth and believing in the heart, for the content of that word is Jesus as LORD, and the resurrection.
10.9 ‘Because if you will confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and will believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,”
What was required in order to be saved was confessing with the mouth Jesus as LORD, and believing in the heart that God had raised Him from the dead, (that is, had vindicated Him as the true Messiah, as the only One so raised). An open willingness to confess with the mouth what we believe about Jesus was thus seen as important. As Jesus had said to His disciples, ‘everyone therefore who will confess Me before men, him will I also confess you before My Father in Heaven’ (Matthew 12.32). The main idea behind this was not so much witnessing, as being willing to take a stand when challenged. So to receive the righteousness which comes from faith it was necessary to take an open stand on the fact that Jesus is LORD (some see this as signifying a confession at adult baptism, but while that may be partly in mind it must not be limited to that. See Matthew 12.32; Philippians 2.11; 1 Corinthians 12.3), and to believe that God had vindicated Him and revealed the truth about Him through the resurrection, thereby demonstrating that He is the true and only Son of God (1.3-4). In other words receiving the righteousness that comes from faith requires belief in Who Jesus really is, ‘the Son of God with power’, and belief in Him, and open acknowledgement of Him, as LORD.
The word ‘LORD’ here has in mind the title of YHWH in the Old Testament. At some stage (although we do not know how early, for pre-Christian evidence for LXX is very limited) YHWH was almost always translated as ‘LORD (kurios)’ in the LXX except when YHWH was linked with adonai (‘Lord’), and is so translated in many English versions (ASV is an exception). There is certainly evidence that prior to the time of Jesus the Jews were doing this orally. And it is quite clear from Old Testament citations in the New Testament that the early church did the same from the beginning (Acts 2.21, 25). Thus the use of LORD (kurios) to signify YHWH is clearly attested. This is why Paul can constantly link God the Father with the LORD Jesus Christ on equal terms. He is thereby indicating their co-equality. Philippians 2.9-11 confirms this by informing us that, as a consequence of His resurrection, Jesus was declared to be LORD, which is the Name above every Name (i.e. the Name of YHWH), and had to be confessed as such, to the glory of God the Father, with people acknowledging Jesus as YHWH by bowing the knee and confessing Him as LORD (Philippians 2.10-11 with Isaiah 44.23). Compare also the equating of God with LORD in 1 Corinthians 8.6.
10.10 ‘Because with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’
This believing from the heart (that is, from the whole inner man) that God has raised Him from the dead (as the One Who had claimed to be the Messiah and had been crucified) will result in reception of the righteousness which comes from faith. See especially 4.25 where Christians are revealed as ‘accounted as righteous’ (justified) through His having been raised, in consequence of His being first delivered up for our offences. Consider also 5.10; 6.1-11; 8.10-11. The true and genuine confession of Jesus as LORD will result in salvation, because it will be by those who have committed themselves to Him as their Saviour and Lord on the basis of His death and resurrection. Note how we have here a continuation of the thought in 1.16-17. The Gospel is the power of God unto ‘salvation’ because in it the ‘righteousness’ of God is revealed. This paralleling of righteousness with salvation is common in the Old Testament, both in the Psalms and in Isaiah.
10.11 ‘For the scripture says, “Whoever believes on him will not be put to shame”.’
The Scriptures confirm this need for faith, for they declare, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 28.16), and in context this is referring to belief in the foundation stone, the precious cornerstone, a reference to the Messiah (see 9.33 above). So what he is asking of the Jews is found in their own Scriptures, and they can be sure that if they respond to the Messiah they will have no cause to be ashamed. He will not fail them. With these words Paul also emphasises the universality of the Gospel. It is for ‘whoever’, that is, for all. This is then confirmed in the next two verses.
10.12-13 ‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same (Lord) is Lord of all, and is rich unto all who call on him, for, “Whoever will call on the name of the LORD will be saved.” ’
The reference in Isaiah to ‘whoever’ is now seen by Paul as evidence that the Messiah is for all, something confirmed by the fact that He is LORD of all (compare Peter’s words in Acts 10.36). Thus there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (Greek speaking Gentiles). All must respond to His Lordship (compare Philippians 2.9-11). Previously we learned that there was no distinction because all have sinned (3.22-23), now there is no distinction because both are subject to His Lordship, even though with both Jews and Gentiles the large proportion will not call on Him.
‘For the same (Lord) is Lord of all, and is rich unto all who call on him.’ Here Paul is emphasising that Christ’s riches are given in equal measure to all. He has no favourites. He is rich to all who call on Him. He freely dispenses His love and grace towards all, just as God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2.4) and shows the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2.7). There it is connected with His work of salvation (Ephesians 2.8-9). Thus here we may also see that the Messiah’s richness towards all has in mind His work of salvation. He saves both Jew and Gentile without distinction if they call on Him.
‘For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” ’ In order to prove this he again cites Scripture. The citation is from Joel 2.32 where it has in mind the coming Messianic age (the age of the Coming King). It was probably one commonly used in the early church (Acts 2.21). It was very suitable for Paul’s use here for it stresses the ‘whoever’. It refers to ‘salvation’. And it indicates the need to ‘call on the Name of the LORD’, and, in the context here, that means the LORD Jesus Christ. This referring of Old Testament Scriptures which speak of ‘the LORD’ (i.e. God) to the LORD Jesus Christ is evidence of the high view of Jesus held from the beginning. ‘To call on the name of --’ was, in Gentile circles, a technical description for the worship of a god. It is perhaps significant that Abraham, the father of believers, also ‘called on the Name of the LORD’ (Genesis 12.8). Thus those who do so are revealing themselves as children of Abraham.
That the noun LORD here refers to Jesus Christ and not to God the Father is apparent:
So unless we totally cut verses 12-21 off from verses 1-11 it is clear that verses 12-21 also have Jesus Christ in mind, just as verses 1-11 do. Besides the citation would be pointless otherwise, for if we take it to refer to God the Father the Jews would have claimed that they already ‘called on the name of the LORD’, (even if not from a believing heart). Paul’s whole point is that by accepting Jesus as LORD, Scriptures referring to ‘the LORD’ can be applied to Him, and that the Jews have failed to recognise this and to call upon Him for salvation.
God Has Sent Out His Messianic Messengers To The World But Israel Have Not Listened (10.14-21).
Having established that salvation is to be found through faith in Jesus the Messiah, and that it is being offered to ‘whoever’, the question would now arise as to how the ‘whoever’ would hear. So Paul now stresses that the necessary means for reception of the message are in place. God has sent out His Messianic messengers both to Israel and to the world in order to arouse faith in the Messiah, just as the Scriptures foretold (verses 14-15). On the other hand the Scriptures also make clear that not all would respond, ‘Lord who has believed what we have reported?’, a question which was asked concerning Israel (verse 16). So the principle is that for those who do believe, their faith comes through hearing God’s messengers who are bringing to them the word of the Messiah (verse 17). The unbelieving part of Israel have, however, not believed because they would not hear, as the prophets had made clear would happen.
Thus no one has any excuse. Were there any who had not heard? No. All had heard. For the fact that they had ‘heard the message’ is evidenced by the fact that the sound of God’s messengers ‘has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world’ (verse 18). All must therefore have heard, both Jew and Gentile. But if that is so what about Israel particularly? Why have they not believed? Did they not know? Of course they knew about the message for those who did not believe within Israel were provoked to jealousy over, and made angry by, those who did receive it, as Moses had said would happen. That could not have happened had they not known about it.
Indeed Isaiah had also prophesied that this would happen, for while he had declared that the message was being received, he had also declared that it was being received by those who were no nation (they were not of the chosen nation) and were void of understanding (they did not fully observe, or did not even have, the Law and the prophets), that is, it was being received by the kind of Jews who were despised by the leadership, and it was being received by Gentiles. Thus, in accordance with Scripture, God was being found by, and manifested to, the Gentiles, in spite of their previous lack of seeking (verse 20), whilst the same Scriptures said concerning Israel that He would hold out His hands all day without response, because they were a disobedient and gainsaying people (verse 21). Thus the Scriptures had prophesied both the reception of the Gentiles and the unbelief of Israel. Israel’s unbelief was therefore not unexpected, for the Scriptures had declared that they would not believe.
So a regular pattern reveals itself, considering on the one hand those who would hear and believe (believing Jews and Gentiles) and those who would not believe, (unbelieving Israel). Thus:
Thus Israel have refused to listen to Isaiah when he speaks (verse 16), Moses when he speaks (verse 19), and God when He speaks through Isaiah (verse 21). They thus reject the word of the prophets, the word of Moses, and the word of God. Believing Jews and Gentiles, however, receive the word with joy (verse 15), have all heard it (verse 18), and have all found Him (verse 20).
10.14-15 ‘How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach, unless they are sent? Even as it is written, “How beautiful (or ‘timely’) are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” ’
All, both Jew and Greek, are being offered salvation through faith (verses 10-13). But the question now arises as to how this message of salvation through the Messiah is to go out into the world. How is it to reach them? For in order for men to believe, they must first hear. And for that to happen there must preachers. And for there to be preachers there must be those who are sent. There was, however, no problem with regard to this for the Scriptures had made clear that there would be those who were sent, that is, those who would bring to men the glad tidings of good things. That this refers to a ‘hearing’ by both Jews and Gentile is apparent from the link with ‘whoever calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved’, and with the fact that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek with respect to it (verses 14-15).
‘How shall they preach except they be sent (apostalowsin).’ Paul no doubt has primarily in mind the sending out by Christ of the Apostles (those who have been sent forth), including himself and his lieutenants. These are the ones through whom the true message of the Messiah has been proclaimed. But it also, of course, includes all who take out the Apostolic message.
The Scripture in question is Isaiah 52.7 which refers to men coming on the mountains on which Zion (Jerusalem) was built, subsequent to Israel’s subjection by Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 52.4), in order that men might know God’s Name. They would proclaim to Zion the good news that their God reigns. The impression given here is of the time of final restoration, when men would go out from Jerusalem ‘bearing the vessels of YHWH’ (Isaiah 52.11), in other words, in terms of those days, taking out the message and means of true worship to the world. (There are no real grounds in Isaiah for linking all this with the return from Babylon. That is a scholarly theory which has no real foundation in the text once the text is examined closely without presupposition. See our commentary on Isaiah. We have in fact no way of knowing how Paul interpreted it, but the New Testament undoubtedly sees Isaiah’s message as applying to the church - e.g. Acts 13.47). Now, says Paul, that time has come. God has raised up His Messianic messengers for the purpose of taking out His message to the world just as He promised, as was prophesied in Scripture.
10.16 ‘But they did not all listen to the glad tidings. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” ’
But that not all would receive those glad tidings was also made apparent in Scripture, for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ (Isaiah 53.1). The opening ‘Lord’ is found in LXX but not in MT. The noun ‘report’ (akoe) comes from the same root as the word ‘hear’ in verse 15 (akousowsin). Thus the idea is, ‘who has believed what they have heard from the messengers of the Messiah?’, and the answer expected in the context of Isaiah is ‘no one’ or ‘very few’. In Isaiah the question ‘Lord who has believed out report’ is then followed by a description of the humiliated Servant of YHWH Who will offer Himself up His people, and will make many to be accounted as righteous, thus the question is particularly apposite to preaching about the crucified Messiah. The question then is, ‘Who will believe it?’
To answer this question we must ask, who is the ‘they’ (in Paul’s letter) who did not listen? Certainly it is possible to see the ‘who’ in Isaiah’s words as addressing a generalised ‘who’ which could have included anyone. It is a question open to everyone. But the ‘our’ limits the statement to the Jews, as is evidenced by the later reference in the Isaianic chapter to ‘us’ and ‘our’. So the ‘our’ would appear to apply to Jews. And this can be seen as supported by the fact that Paul’s reference is to unbelievers (‘they did not all listen’). As Paul, when he speaks of unbelief, has in mind the Jews (it was they who were without excuse), rather than Gentiles, who were not necessarily expected to believe, this would confirm that this applies to the unbelieving Jews. And if that be so it would underline that there was a previous example of Israel’s unbelief in the face of God’s working in Isaiah’s day, and what is more, in the face of God’s offer of ‘righteousness’ through His Servant (Isaiah 53.11).
10.17 ‘So belief comes of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.’
All that has been stated in verses 14-16 has referred to a hearing of the Good News, with a view to believing it, there being the recognition that the Jews as a whole will not believe. So Paul now brings out how important the hearing (verse 15) and the not hearing (verse 16) are, for he sees belief as a consequence of such hearing, that is of hearing ‘the word of Christ (Messiah)’. ‘The word of Christ’ means either the word concerning Christ (the Messiah), or the word preached by Christ (the Messiah) through His messengers. And it is this word of Christ (the Messiah) which, on being heard, results in belief. so that the way to true faith is through hearing and believing. The reason then why Israel are in unbelief is because they have not listened to the word of their God-sent Messiah.
This verse is very necessary in the context, for Paul wants to bring back his reader’s thoughts from ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, to ‘hearing’ and ‘believing’. He has done this first by linking calling with believing in verse 14, a believing which results from hearing. And he now seals it with the summary, ‘So belief comes of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.’
10.18 ‘But I say, “Did they not hear?” Yes, truly, “Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
Paul then asks the question as to whether in fact the Messianic message has not been heard (in order to emphasise that it has been). He is no doubt referring to an objection put by some that men had not heard the message. His reply is put in Scriptural terminology, (but not necessarily as providing an authoritative citation, for it has no introductory ‘it is written’ or equivalent). Here he has in mind how the Gospel has spread widely, ‘into all the earth’, although that is not to be taken in terms of what we would call ‘worldwide’. This is evident from 1.8 where Paul could say of the Roman Christians that ‘their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world’ (1.8), that is, was spoken throughout the wide area that the Gospel had reached. He was, in fact, referring to Christians who would have knowledge about the Roman church, Christians in his ‘world’. He was speaking of the world as he knew it. Compare also how Jews were gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost from ‘every nation under Heaven’ (Acts 2.5), in other words from all around their known world.
The final sentence in the verse (18b) comes from Psalm 19.4, but he does not present it as a Scripture citation. Rather he appropriates the words as being convenient for the purpose of expressing what he wants to say, which is that the word of the messengers of the Messiah has reached the world as it was known to him. He sees the words as an indication of God’s mind, that all should hear, both Jew and Gentile.
10.19 ‘But I say, “Did Israel not know?” First Moses says, “I will provoke you to jealousy with what is no nation, with a nation void of understanding will I anger you.’
The switch here to addressing Israel tends to confirm that what has been said previously was directed more widely, that is, as speaking to both believing Jews and Gentiles. So the question now is, but what about (unbelieving) Israel? Did they not know? That raises the issue of what it was they were supposed to know. In context there are two main possibilities. The first is as to whether they knew the message about the Messiah. That has been answered in verses 2-3. They were ignorant of God’s righteousness, brought by the Messiah. The second is as to whether they knew that God’s word would go out to the Gentiles. That might be seen as answered in verses 14-15. (It is also answered in Isaiah 2.2-4; 49.6; 60.3; etc). In view of the fact that it is the preaching of the Gospel about the Messiah to the Gentiles which will arouse Israel to jealousy (11.11, 14), the first would appear to be more likely. For here Paul does cite Scripture authoritatively, when he declares what ‘Moses said’ (see Deuteronomy 32.21). And what did Moses say? He said that God would provoke Israel to jealousy by means of a ‘no-nation’, and would anger them by means of a nation ‘void of understanding’, that is one that did not know the Law (something which the followers of Jesus were accused of (John 7.49) and was clearly applicable, as well, to Gentiles). But in order to be provoked to jealousy in this way Israel had to have become cognisant of what was being proclaimed. Thus it is clear that they did know what the messengers of the Messiah were teaching.
10.20-21 ‘And Isaiah is very bold, and says, “I was found of those who did not seek me, I became manifest to those who did not ask of me.” But as to Israel he says, “All the day long did I spread out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people.” ’
Paul then summarises the situation as described above by two authoritative Scripture statements (seen as providing Scriptural authority because they are introduced by ‘Isaiah -- says’). The first declares that those who found God (the believing Jews, who were mainly from the despised element of Israel, together with the Gentiles) would not be those who sought Him (that is, the unbelieving Jews who prided themselves on seeking God), and that those who had God made manifest (openly shown) to them would be those who did not ask anything of Him (thus not the unbelieving Jews who asked for and expected a great deal).
The second is specifically referred to Israel and declares that God has long been holding out His hand ‘to a disobedient and gainsaying people’, in other words to the unbelieving Jews. The response of Israel to God’s compassion and mercy was that the Jews continued in opposition to Him, being both disobedient (they did not have the obedience of faith - 1.5), and obstinate (constantly speaking against Him). So we have in this verse both a manifestation of the grace of God in holding out His hands to an unbelieving people, and a description of the meanness of spirit that causes them to reject Him. Israel is seen to be without excuse and therefore as awaiting the judgment of God.
(The fact that Paul here deals with believing Jews and Gentiles in verse 20, and then with unbelieving Jews in verse 21, confirms the idea that the two questions in verses 18 and 19 do the same, as we have suggested there).
Note: Which Verses In Verses 14-21 Refer To The Gentiles And Believing Jews And Which To Unbelieving Jews?
We have expounded our own view of these verses, but there is in fact much dispute on this question. Some see almost the whole argument as written to condemn the Jews for rejecting the Messiah. The word went out to them through God’s messengers (14-15). They had heard but they did not listen (verse 16). The word went out to every nation under Heaven (verse 18), where there were patently Jews (Acts 2.5). But the Jews still did not respond, even though they knew what God had promised (verse 19). Thus even when the message was responded to by others, they were still disobedient and mulish in their response to God’s gracious appeal (verses 20-21).
Others argue, although not always agreeing in the details, for a division of the verses between unbelieving Jew on the one hand, and believing Jews and Gentiles on the other, in the latter case with believing Jews being included, for while they were now not being converted in large numbers in the way that they had been at the beginning, Jews were certainly still being converted, especially in the wider world. As will be noted we have argued this second position, and our view is based mainly on the context. We consider that the first suggestion both ignores the context in the previous verses, and ignores the clear markers that Paul puts down in referring to Israel only in verses 19 and 21. For in verses 11-13 it is made crystal clear that both believing Jews and Gentiles come within the sphere of God’s mercy, so that ‘whoever calls on the Name of the Lord (YHWH) will be saved’. In other words the message is to go out to all. Unless, therefore, it was indicated otherwise we would expect what follows in verses 14-15, describing the going out of the message, equally to apply to all. This makes verses 14-15 refer to both open-minded Jews and Gentiles.
Furthermore in verses 20-21 it is equally clear that verse 20 applies to the Gentiles, and possibly also to the not so orthodox Jews, such as those who were despised by the Priests and the Scribes (whom Jesus was delighted to reach). On the other hand, verse 21 clearly refers to the unbelieving Jews. And this is made crystal clear by the words, ‘but as to Israel’ in verse 21.
Following on from this we can see a pattern emerging, with Paul first dealing with the question of Gentiles and believing Jews, and then dealing with the question of unbelieving Jews. But can this be applied to intervening verses? As we have seen verses 14-15 have in mind those who heard and believed. In verse 16 we have reference to those who did not believe, therefore having the unbelieving Jews in mind. In verse 19 we are asked ‘did Israel not hear?’ Thus that verse clearly refers to the Jews. Comparison with the way that verses 20-21 are divided between Gentiles on the one hand and Jews on the other, and that by a reference to Israel in verse 21, might then suggest that the same applies to verses 18-19, with verse 18 referring to believing Gentiles and believing Jews, and verse 19, with its clear reference to ‘Israel’, referring to unbelieving Jews. We would then have the following pattern:
This pattern brings order out of uncertainty, and as we have seen in the exegesis there are good grounds for seeing these designations as being correct.
End of note.
So Paul has once again emphasised that the fact that the Good news has gone out to the Gentiles and has been accepted, has been prophesied in Scripture, whilst the failure of the majority of Israel to respond to their Messiah and find salvation through Him, due to their unbelief, has also been clearly prophesied in Scripture, thus demonstrating that the failure of the Jews to repent was not something that brought the Scriptures into question (9.6), but rather wholly confirmed them.
God’s Purpose With Regard Both To The Jews and The Gentiles (11.1-36).
Paul now carries forward the doctrine of the Israel within Israel, and evidences it again from Scripture, making clear that those who were saved in Israel, in other words were the true Israel, were always a remnant. He then brings out that in accordance with Scripture God has removed from Israel the unbelieving and unfruitful branches, (those who did not believe in the Messiah), and has replaced them with believing branches from among the Gentiles. This is an advance on the idea in John 15.1-6 where Jesus had represented Himself as the True Vine, the true Israel, for their Gentiles were not specifically in mind, but the idea is the same. Believers received their life from the vine. Unbelievers were broken off. Both the vine (in the person of Jesus as ‘the true vine’) and the olive tree in some way represent Israel.
Indeed Jeremiah brings out that the olive tree is the representative of Israel par excellence, for in Jeremiah 11.16, speaking of Israel/Judah, we read, ‘The LORD called your name “a green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit”.’ We should note the phrase ‘the LORD called your name’. ‘The LORD called your name --’ is patterned on Genesis 5.2, where God ‘called their name Adam’. Thus in being especially named in this way as ‘a green olive tree’ Israel were following in the footsteps of Adam. They were being revealed as being chosen as an entity (although not as a whole as Jeremiah’s prophecy makes clear). So in so ‘naming Israel’ God was, therefore, revealing that through them His purposes of restoration would be fulfilled. They would accomplish what Adam had failed to accomplish, a people true to God. But even in Jeremiah’s day branches were being broken (Jeremiah 11.16). It was not the whole of Israel who would be fruitful and would remain as the olive tree.
This passage can be divided up as follows:
We should note in this respect that Paul speaks of four ‘Israels’:
It is 3). which is Paul’s specific theological definition of Israel as found in 9.6, which is then in chapter 11 increased by the addition of believing Gentiles. The references to Israel in 1). and 2). arise from the fact that he has no alternative but to use the title in order to make his point understood. How else was he to distinguish them from the Gentiles? Especially as he clearly hesitates about using the term ‘Jew’ (only in 9.24; 10.12, where believing Jews are very much in mind). But they are not his theological view of Israel. That view is that theologically speaking the true Israel are the elect within physical Israel (9.6), as later supplemented by the Gentiles. Thus the true continuation of Israel in God’s eyes consists of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, with those who have rejected the Messiah being excluded. Israel in 1). refers to an entity to which God still shows favour. 2). is man’s definition of Israel
There is also a mention of Jews as a whole, which includes Messianic Jews (9.24; 10.12). In these cases the point is that from the Jews as a whole certain Jews become Christian Jews. Note with regard to the unbelieving Israel that, in 10.14-21, it is not contrasted with the Gentiles, but with all believers (both Jew and Greek - verse 12). It is therefore contrasted with the combination of believing Israel plus believing Gentiles. Open to question is the meaning of the ‘all Israel’ in 11.26 who ‘will be saved’. As there it is used theologically there are good grounds for suggesting that it signifies ‘the elect within physical Israel’, which is the theological definition in 9.6, supplemented by the Gentiles who have been grafted in (11.17-24). This can be seen as supported by the fact that ‘it is (only) the remnant who will be saved’ (9.27). But the question then is, can we really see it as including believing Gentiles?
We must ask this question because in 11.17-24 it is indicated that believing Gentiles become a part of the olive tree, that is, of Israel. This is then in favour of seeing ‘all Israel’ as signifying both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. And this would remove the contradiction which would otherwise occur between 11.25-26 and Galatians 3.28. In Galatians 3.28 Paul says that in the church there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek’ indicating that the distinction has been removed. Can we really then see Paul distinguishing between ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ and ‘all Israel’ when considering the final days of the age? He would be restoring the distinction that he claimed had been removed. On the other hand if ‘all Israel’ includes believing Gentiles then the problem is removed.
This is especially so as elsewhere Paul calls the whole church, ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16), and the same idea is present in 1 Corinthians 10.1-13. In Ephesians 2.19 Gentiles are ‘no longer sojourners and strangers, but -- fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God’. The distinction between ‘the circumcision’ and ‘the uncircumcision’ is removed in terminology which indicates that both are included in Israel. To Peter the church is ‘the elect race’ and ‘the holy nation’ (1 Peter 2.9; compare Exodus 19.6 where Israel is the ‘holy nation’). It is ‘the dispersion’ (1 Peter 1.2; a term used for worldwide Jewry). To James it is the twelve tribes of Israel (James 1.1). According to Paul to belong to Messiah is to be Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3.29). For as Jesus said to the Jews, ‘the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruits’ (Matthew 21.43), that is the new nation built on the Apostolic preaching. See also John 15.1-6.
This is not to say that the church replaces Israel. The contention is that it IS Israel. It is the genuine continuation of the true elect Israel, with unbelieving Israel being cast off. Israel had been severely pruned, and was being renewed. We can compare the severe pruning of Israel here with what happened as a result of the different captivities (first the Galilean - 2 Kings 15.29, then the Samarian - 2 Kings 17.6; 18.11, then Judah, as their cities were taken one by one - 2 Kings 19.8; then Jerusalem - 2 Kings 24.14-16; 25.11), when large parts of Israel were absorbed into the Gentile world. The renewed Israel is founded on the Messiah as a new congregation (Matthew 16.18) and on the twelve Jewish Apostles (Ephesians 2.20), with large numbers of followers of Jesus in Galilee as a result of Jesus’ ministry (e.g. the five thousand and the four thousand who had partaken in the covenant feasts) and initially made up almost exclusively of Jews (Acts 1-9), with ‘proselytes’ eventually being accepted from among the Gentiles, but without the need for circumcision because they have received the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11). See also Ephesians 2.11-22. . Note our excursus on ‘Is the Church Israel’ at the end of this chapter which examines the question more fully.
God’s Purpose For Israel Is Being Fulfilled Through A Remnant (11.1-10).
Paul now deals with the question as to whether Israel has been ‘cast off’. And his reply is ‘certainly not’, and this reply is based on the fact that many true Israelites, like Paul, are still acceptable to God. This, therefore, demonstrates that the whole people have not been cast off. And he then ties this in with his previous argument about God’s elective purpose within Israel (9.6-29). Israel has not been cast off as a whole. It is only that part of Israel which did not believe in the Jesus the Messiah (9.30.10-21), which has been cast off. And one reason why this has occurred is in order that salvation might come to the Gentiles in order to provoke them to jealousy (11.11). Here the distinction between believers (the elect) and unbelievers (the hardened) is made crystal clear (verse 7). And it is the former who make up the true Israel. The same distinction was made apparent in 9.18 against the background of 9.6-13.
11.1 ‘I say then, Did God cast off his people? Certainly not. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.’
In his usual manner Paul raises a question in order to answer it. His question is, ‘did God cast off His people’, and it is asked on the basis of the quotation in Isaiah which he has just used, ‘all day long have I held out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people’ (10.21). His initial answer is that this cannot possibly be so because he himself is one of ‘His people’ and has not been cast off (the ‘for’ confirms that this is the initial part of his argument in this passage). Thus it is not true Israel who has been cast off, only unbelieving Israel. Indeed a good proportion of the church in 1st century AD were recognised as Jewish Christians. They were ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’ (verse 5). They could have been cited as added evidence that God had not cast off His true people, the elect to whom His promises were made (9.6 onwards). But this was probably something which Paul expected his readers to infer.
So here Paul is powerfully arguing that Israel does continue to exist, even though God has purged it. It continues on in Paul and in the elect among the Jews. It is they who are the true Israel. In contrast modern man disinherits this Israel, and opts for unbelieving Israel as representing Israel. But to Paul ‘Israel’ as an existing, continuing, and vibrant entity was represented by believing Jews, supplemented by Gentile converts. While modern man looks to Palestine for Israel (the old unbelieving Israel which was cast off), God (and Paul) looks to the true congregation of Jesus Christ around the world. Here in fact was Paul’s dilemma. In order for men to understand what he was saying he had to refer to the old cast off Israel as Israel, for there was no other way in which to identify them. But to him the genuine Israel was the renewed Israel under the Messiah.
‘For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.’ In these words Paul establishes his credentials. He is an Israelite (compare 9.4), he is ‘of the seed of Abraham’ and he is ‘of the tribe of Benjamin’. These were credential which could be demonstrated tangibly. Whilst he may well not have been able to prove that he was a direct descendant of Abraham, something which few Jews could do, he could certainly prove that he was accepted as such on a basis satisfactory to Jews. The fact that he was recognised as being of the tribe of Benjamin explains why he was originally named Saul, for King Saul had been of the tribe of Benjamin.
11.2a ‘God did not cast off his people whom he foreknew.’
The idea of God casting off His people is taken from Psalm 94.14 where it says, ‘YHWH will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance’, but this is then defined as referring to ‘the upright in heart (verse 15), in contrast with ‘the workers of iniquity’. Thus it indicates that God will not cast off the faithful in Israel, the Israel within Israel (9.6).
‘His people Whom He foreknew.’ On the basis of 8.29 this could be seen as referring to the remnant, and be saying that those whom God foreknew, i.e. had entered into relationship with beforehand (the true Israel), He did not cast off. In other words the ones he cast of were those whose unbelief and disobedience demonstrated that they were not of the elect, that they were not a part of the true Israel. This can be seen as supported by his argument in 2.28-29 that the only true Jews were those who were circumcised in heart, in the spirit, a firmly established Old Testament principle (Leviticus 26.41; Deuteronomy 10.16; 30.6; Jeremiah 4.4; 9.26). And we should note that it had always been the case that those in Israel who broke the covenant would be ‘cut off from among the people’ (e.g. Genesis 17.14; Exodus 12.15, 19; 30.33, 38; 31.14; Leviticus 7.20; 17.4, 9. 14; 8.29; 19.8; 22.3; 23.29; and often). Thus it could be argued that by refusing to accept God’s Messiah, it was the unbelieving in Israel who were cutting themselves off from Israel. The rejecting of the Messiah was a crime far more heinous than those described in the references given. And this interpretation can be seen as supported by the illustration that follows where Paul demonstrates that among the nation of Israel there had always been a righteous remnant.
Some, however, see ‘foreknew’ as referring to Israel as a whole, with the idea being that they were still as an entity His ‘chosen people’, a people whom He had known before He chose them (Amos 3.2a), and that Paul is saying that they have not been wholly cast off, but have had their election temporarily suspended. This on the basis of verses like 12, 15-16, 23-24, 26. They then cite verse 28 which says, ‘as touching election they are beloved for the fathers’ sake, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’, which, according to their interpretation, is seen as indicating God’s concern for unbelieving Israel, for the first part of the verse refers to ‘the enemies of the Gospel’. But even if that interpretation was accepted it would merely be saying that these unbelievers, who have been cast out of Israel, are still loved by God in a certain way because of their connection with the fathers. They are like the lost sheep. It is not, however, saying that they belong now to what God sees as the nation of Israel. They are rather seen as those who, having been cast out, are still beloved of God because of their connection with the fathers whom God loved so dearly. Thus they are those whom He still longs to win them to Himself
We must not overlook the fact that the true Israel was seen by Paul as in existence. He saw it as the nucleus of Israel which had believed in the Messiah and had become ‘the church’ (ekklesia), the word which was also used in LXX for ‘the congregation of Israel’. They were the branches of the olive tree as described in 11.17-24 which had not been cut off. It was not, therefore, that God had cast off Israel. Rather He had cut off those who had proved themselves not to be ‘true Jews’ (2.25-27). Israel itself, consisting of all who had responded to the Messiah, had been built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, and His teaching concerning His Messiahship (Matthew 16.18), and their incorporation of Gentiles into Israel, was just what Israel had always done. So those who had been ‘cast off’ were merely those who had refused to believe in the Messiah, a heinous enough crime against God, and they were cast off in the same way as many who claimed to be His people had been throughout their history in consequence of their disobedience, even though they were often in the majority. It should be kept in mind that ‘the nation of Israel’ is not a New Testament expression. Israel are simply spoken of as ‘Israel’, a notion which, as we have seen, is much more fluid. Indeed Paul speaks of an ‘Israel after the flesh’ referring to those who still partake of sacrifices, presumably in contrast to ‘Israel after the Spirit’ who partake of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion - 1 Corinthians 10.18). This was necessary as there was no way of speaking of the old nation except as Israel. But that did not mean that they were the Israel of the promises. For that Israel was made up of the elect, as Paul has already demonstrated (9.6-24). The concept is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 10.1-13. For the whole question see excursus at the end of the chapter.
11.2b-4 ‘Or do you not know what the scripture says in Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have dug down your altars, and I am left alone, and they seek my life.” But what says the answer of God to him? “I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” ’
Paul then illustrates the fact that not the whole of Israel has been cast off by reference to 1 Kings 19.10, 14, 18. It was in the portion read in the synagogues under the heading ‘Elijah’ (compare Mark 2.26, ‘epi Abiathar’). There the Scripture states that when Elijah had thought that he was left on his own as the only one who was faithful to God, God had replied that ‘I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ These were the faithful, the elect remnant who constituted the true Israel with whom God was ready to deal. It is significant that, as Paul was well aware, a hundred or so years later the nation as a whole would be swept away in a number of captivities, with large numbers soon no longer owing allegiance to YHWH. And we must remember that they had been swept away because of their idolatry which demonstrated that they had turned their backs on YHWH. Only the upright in heart would take steps to continue their allegiance to YHWH in the conditions which ensued. Note that Paul’s citation is an abbreviation of the relevant verses in LXX.
‘Baal’ has the feminine article. This was a practise among the Jews. The purpose of it was in order to warn a reader not to pronounce the name but to substitute it, possibly by ‘bosheth’ (thing of shame). At one stage using the name of Baal was considered a thing of shame. As it is doubtful if Paul followed the practise it must have been in the copy of the LXX that he was utilising.
11.5 ‘Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.’
Paul then defines these 7,000 as ‘a remnant according to the election of grace’ (a description demonstrated as applying to them by the use of ‘also’), who can be seen as similar to the present ‘remnant according to the election of grace’, those who by their faith in Jesus Messiah ‘at this time’, have demonstrated that they are among God’s elect, as described in 9.6-29, a position which they have obtained through the unmerited, active favour of God. This ‘remnant according to the election of grace’ is the same as the Israel within Israel (9.6) supplemented by believing Gentiles (9.24)
11.6 ‘But if it is by grace, it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.’
Paul then relates this back to his previous arguments in 3.24, 27-28; 4.2-5, 16; 5.15-21; 6.15; 8.31-39. They have been chosen in accordance with the unmerited, active favour of God, without any deserving of their own. For if they had deserved it in any way through their ‘works’ of any kind, grace would cease to be grace, it would no longer be unmerited favour. The whole point of grace is that it is free and unmerited. It thus excludes any effort being made to be worthy of it. Thus when Israel were delivered from Egypt it was by the grace of God. They had done nothing to deserve it. That was the basis of the covenant (Exodus 20.2). And this had continued throughout their history. Every prophet who was sent to them was raised up by the grace of God. It was all due to God electing to save some of them in order to carry forward His purposes into the future. And as we have seen in chapter 9 that election was completely determined by the will of God. It was totally as a result of His goodwill and favour, freely given without cost to us (compare Isaiah 55.1-3). This incidentally is Paul’s definition of grace. God’s favour revealed freely through His activity on our behalf and without cost to us. Thus whenever we see the word elsewhere we must always interpret it in the light of this verse.
11.7 ‘What then? What Israel seeks for, that he did not obtain, but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened,’
What then are we to conclude from this? The conclusion must be that Israel as a whole failed to obtain what ‘it is seeking for’ (compare 9.31; 10.3). Unbelieving Israel was, and still is, seeking for a righteousness which would make it acceptable to God, but it failed in its purpose. Only the election obtained such a righteousness, because they sought it by faith. The rest were instead ‘hardened’, that is, their hearts were covered over with a hard substance preventing them from responding. The word originally refers to hard substances which develop in the body. The use of the passive verb (‘were hardened’) often denotes the activity of God. The aim of using the passive tense was in order to prevent the use of God’s name unnecessarily. Thus as verse 8 declares, it was God Who hardened them. ‘Whom He will He hardens’ (9.18; for although a different verb is used there, it contains a similar idea). This does not necessarily mean that they were hardened from birth, only that at some stage, because of their intransigence, God hastened the process, as He did with Pharaoh at the Exodus. God has so ordained that by proceeding in a course of action we form a habit hard to break. This was why so many of the Rabbis and Pharisees could not respond to Jesus. They were hardened in their ways.
11.8 ‘According as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor (Isaiah 29.10), eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, to this very day (Deuteronomy 29.4).’
Paul then provides two citations from Scripture in order to support his diagnosis. The first is a Pauline concoction and is mainly based on Deuteronomy 29.4 (3 LXX), ‘Yet the Lord God has not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, until this day.’ combined with elements from Isaiah 29.10 (LXX), ‘For the Lord has made you to drink a spirit of stupor, and he will close their eyes.’ In accordance with Isaiah 29.10 he makes the statement positive, bringing out that it is God’s doing. The spirit of stupor has prevented them from seeing and hearing. The word ‘stupor’ is rare, occurring here and in Isaiah 29.10; Psalm 59.4 (LXX 60.4). It is as though they have drunk something which prevents them thinking properly. The consequence is that they neither see nor hear.
Paul’s alteration of ‘made you to drink’ to ‘gave you’, while conforming with the opening verb in Deuteronomy 29.4, may be intended to contrast this experience of ‘gave you the spirit of stupor’, with ‘the giving of the Holy Spirit’ (John 3.34; 7.39; 2 Corinthians 1.22; 1 Thessalonians 4.8; 1 John 3.24) to those who believed in Jesus Messiah, the spirit of stupor having in mind ‘the spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2.2), ‘the god of this world who has blinded the eyes of those who do not believe’ (2 Corinthians 4.4). ‘To this very day’ emphasises the direct application to the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day.
11.9-10 And David says, “Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense to them, let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow you down their back always.”
The second citation is an adaptation from Psalm 69.22-23 which in LXX reads, ‘Let their table before them be for a snare, and for a recompense, and for a stumblingblock. Let their eyes be darkened that they should not see; and bow down their back continually.’ The reference to ‘a trap’ is incorporated from MT, but may have been in Paul’s LXX text.
The main reason for selecting this verse is the reference to ‘let their eyes be darkened’ tying in with the previous citation. But as the idea of them stumbling is taken up in the next verse Paul clearly has the whole citation in mind. The ‘table’ would have been a piece of leather unrolled and spread on the floor, which explains how it could become a snare, and a trap and a stumblingblock. The idea behind the whole citation is that what they would normally see as something joyous and beneficial (like a feast piled up on a table) is to become a snare, a trap and a stumblingblock to them. This is precisely what has happened to the unbelieving Jews with the Law. They want to eat of the table that they have set for themselves, with the result that they are not willing to eat at God’s table. They want righteousness by the Law. But this has proved to be ‘a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense to them’. All it can do is entrap them and make them stumble on in their ignorance.
Some see ‘the table’ as referring to the altar in which case there is the idea that they have allowed their ritual to be a snare to them and to cause them to stumble. Compare Isaiah 1.11-18.
We note that in accordance with Rabbinic practise Paul underlines his point from the Law (Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah), and the Holy Writings (the Psalms), the three division of the Jewish Scriptures.
God Has Established A True Israel Based On The Remnant Who Have Responded To The Messiah, With The False Israel Being At Least Temporarily Cast Off, To Be Restored If They Turn To The Messiah And Rejoin The True Israel (11.11-32).
We now commence with a new subsection, commencing as so often in Romans with a question, although one that continues the theme of verses 8-10. In it we have the clearest evidence of the fact that the ‘true church’, consisting of all true believers, is the continuation of Israel. It is not that the church has replaced Israel. Rather it IS the continuation of the Israel that was validated by God at Sinai, in the same way as a branch grafted into an olive tree becomes the olive tree. It is now unbelieving Jews who are not a part of Israel. The Gentile believers are incorporated into the true Israel, into that Israel which has believed in the Messiah, on the same basis as they have always been, by submission in faith to the (new) covenant (compare Exodus 12. 48). So what man sees as Israel is no longer so in God’s eyes. True Israel is composed of all true believers in the Messiah. (See excursus at the end of the chapter).
As a consequence of the predominance of Gentiles in the church (which was inevitable once the Gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles, simply on the grounds of statistics), and of the antagonism of those who ‘say they are Jews and are not’ (Revelation 2.9), this truth has in the main been lost sight of, except by some scholars, but the reason why all the Old Testament promises belong to the church is not by transfer, but is precisely because the church is the continuation of the true Israel, based on the true vine (John 15.1-6). It is not a matter of replacement, but of continuation. It is not that the church is ‘spiritual Israel’ or has ‘replaced Israel’, with Israel continuing in existence separately. It is that in God’s eyes the church is the genuine continuation of the pre-Christian Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, who had been very much of a part of the ‘old Israel’, were now the foundational material of the ‘new Israel’. The remnant were the true Israel (9.27). The remainder had been cast out of Israel. So all the promises now belong to the new congregation (church) which is composed of both Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles, who together form the true Israel.
We must not overlook what the huge importance of the coming of the Messiah has been. The whole of Israel’s thinking had been focused on His coming (compare John 1.1-18). Thus when He came the existence of Israel was dependent on their response to Him. His coming had been a main purpose for God’s choice of them. It was from the womb of Israel that He came (9.5). Thus His coming separated off the unbelievers in Israel from the true Israel (Matthew 21.43), and it was the true Israel which in God’s eyes were Israel, His ‘new nation’. And that was revealed by Jesus as those who were fruitful branches of the true vine, with the false branches being cut off (John 15.1-6), or, as Paul would have said, of the olive tree (verses 16-24; Paul had to alter the illustration to an olive tree because no one grafted branches into a vine, and both were seen in the Scriptures as pictures of Israel).
In the days following Jesus’ death and resurrection the true Israel was revealed, and it was revealed on the basis of response to the Messiah. In God’s eyes it was not the Christian Jews, the believers, who were cut off from Israel. It was the unbelievers, even though they were in the majority. It was these who were cut off from the true Israel, founded on Jesus Christ (Matthew 16 18), as Paul will shortly make clear. And God’s true Israel has continued on through the centuries in the form of the church, which IS the continuation of the true Israel. The early church never ceased thinking of themselves as Israel, and God never ceased looking on them as Israel. It is unbelieving Israel that has been rejected. It is no longer Israel in God’s eyes even though it might be so in its own eyes. Compare Acts 4.25-28 where it is made clear that the majority of the people of Israel were now aligned with the nations in antagonism towards God’s Messiah. So while God may still look on the unbelievers with favour because of His love for the Patriarchs (verse 28, but depending on how we interpret it)), He nevertheless does not look on them as consisting of the true Israel. They can only become a part of the true Israel by responding to Jesus Messiah.
Paul does, however, emphasise that God has not finally closed the door on Jews, only on their mind set. Their position was not totally lost. If they would but come to Christ then they too could become a part of the true Israel, God’s elect, and could bring into it all the riches of their culture. But their fall had been necessary in order that salvation might come to the Gentiles, for their way of thinking would never have allowed the kind of outreach achieved by the church of Christ. And it is unquestionable that that fall (partly through the persecution that it produced) resulted in the riches of Christ going out into the world (Acts 8.1, 4; 11.19-26; 13.45-46, 50-51; 14.19-25). Thus their loss contributed to the riches of the Gentiles in that many of the Gentiles came to believe and enjoy the full riches of Christ (2 Corinthians 8.9; Ephesians 1.7, 18; 2.7; 3.8; Colossians 1.27; 2.2). However, God’s hope was that when the unbelievers saw the new spiritual freedom in the church, and recognised the glorious liberty of the new children of God and the greatness of their blessings, they would become jealous, and would determine to have them for themselves by responding to Christ. For if only they were willing to submit to Christ their contribution could be so great.
Unbelieving Israel’s Fall Is Not Necessarily Permanent (11.11-12).
Paul now makes clear that the fall of unbelieving Israel is not necessarily permanent. As he will point out, they can be regrafted onto the olive tree (11.23). This theme then raises a question about the main emphasis in 11.11-32. Is the main emphasis that the conversion of Gentiles is intended to bring Israel to the Messiah (11.11-12, 14-15, 23-24), or is it that a new Israel has been formed including in it the nucleus of the elect of Israel (11.5) and all the Gentiles who have responded to the Messiah (11.17, 22-24), so that all might enjoy God’s salvation? There really is no contest, for while the former is an undoubted fact that underlies what is said, there can really be no doubt that Paul’s main purpose is to bring a new revelation concerning the incorporation of the believing Gentiles into the true Israel, based on what he has already revealed in Galatians 6.16 (that the church is the Israel of God). And this is finally evidenced in that it builds up to the dramatic statements in verses 25-26, and the final conclusion in verse 32. It is just that, being Paul, he cannot resist using what he is saying for the practical purpose of arousing Gentile Christians to seek the conversion of Jews to their Messiah, and to correct their attitudes towards them. Thus we would contend that the main aim of the subsection is to give teaching concerning the forming of the new Israel, with its final triumph in view, resulting in salvation for all, both Jew and Gentile (verses 25-26).
In order to demonstrate this further let us consider what verses 11 ff. tell us about the Gentiles who come to the Messiah:
It is clear then that the theme of Gentile salvation, viewed from different aspects, is what is primarily proclaimed throughout the passage.
The secondary theme, although an important one, is that of reaching out to unbelieving Israel to seek to incorporate them into the true Israel. Thus:
11.11 ‘I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? Certainly not, but by their false step salvation is come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.’
‘I say then --’, followed by a question, is one of Paul’s indicators of the commencement of a further stage in his argument (compare verse 1). And what follows is a declaration that salvation has come to the Gentiles, and that it was for this reason (among others already revealed in previous chapters) that the Jews had been allowed to stumble. And it is then stated that this salvation that has come to the Gentiles is intended to provoke the unbelieving Jews to jealousy, so that they too might turn back to their Messiah. Thus this opening verse includes both the main and the secondary themes of the passage.
This salvation that has come to the Gentiles will be the main theme of the passage that follows. It follows the equally important statement that there is a remnant according to the election of grace who have arisen among Israel, who have found what they were seeking for (salvation through the Messiah - 10.9-10), and leads up to the final consummation when ‘the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in, and in this manner all Israel will be saved’ (verses 25-26). It is, however, noteworthy for interpreting what follows, that the only people who are actually spoken of in this subsection as enjoying salvation in presumably large numbers are the believing Gentiles, (11.11) together with ‘some Jews’ (verse 14). This may be seen as having implications concerning the meaning of ‘all Israel will be saved’ which is what caps the subsection (does it refer to believing Jews + believing Gentiles, or does it just refer to believing Jews?). The implication is that it includes those of whose salvation the passage has spoken, the Gentiles, seen as incorporated into Israel through being united with Jesus Messiah in the olive tree, along with those who are of ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’ (verse 5).
The secondary theme is raised in the description of the stumbling of the Jews, which has resulted in their being broken off from Israel, and an assurance that they can still change their minds and respond to the Messiah and thus again become a part of the true Israel.
The point here is that a new Israel is being formed out of the old (Matthew 21.43). Israel is to be purged of unbelievers, while it is to open its doors to all who come to believe in the Messiah, whether they be Jew or Gentile. Those who are to be cast out are no longer Israel, even though they might call themselves it. They are no longer true Jews (2.25-29). Thus the nation of Israel in Palestine today is named as such by man not by God. But in God’s eyes Israel is His believing people. Men can therefore only become Israel by responding to Jesus Messiah.
But now as a result of their rejection of the Messiah salvation has come to the Gentiles. It should, of course, be remembered that Gentiles had always been welcome to become children of Israel. Proselytes from among the Gentiles were regularly initiated into Israel, having been circumcised and instructed in the Law (see Exodus 12.48). Indeed Jesus had criticised the Pharisees for making proselytes twice the children of Gehenna than they were themselves (Matthew 23.15). Note how Jesus sees unbelieving Jews as ‘children of Gehenna’ (branches cast out in order to be burned). Thus there was nothing unusual about Israel absorbing Gentiles. On the other hand, unbelieving Israel (with a few exceptions) made no great effort to win the Gentiles. They sat in their synagogues and waited for the Gentiles to come to them. Nevertheless many Gentiles had become proselytes and had therefore become part of Israel, the old unbelieving Israel who had now in the main rejected their Messiah. But now there was a new outreach to the Gentiles in the form of Paul and his fellow-labourers. It was not this, however, which caused the trouble (except occasionally). What caused the trouble was the basis on which Gentiles were being welcomed, on terms of faith in the Messiah without circumcision.
So the question is, does ‘the stumbling’ of the majority of the old Israel, which has been referred to in verse 10, mean that they have irrevocably fallen, with no hope of salvation? ‘Certainly not’, says Paul. The truth is rather that through their false step salvation has come to the Gentiles. Paul was very much aware of the truth of this for he himself had been caused to turn to the Gentiles because of the obstinacy of the Jews, when he had gone to their synagogues with a great desire to win them to their Messiah (Acts 13.42-47, which brings out that many Jews and proselytes did believe, but that the majority in the synagogue rejected the Gospel). Compare Acts 14.1-3; 18.4-7; 19.8-10; 28.23-29.
And Paul adds to this argument the point that one of the consequences of this was to provoke the Jews to jealousy. Presumably his point is that as a result of seeing the blessing that Jesus Messiah and His salvation brings to believing Gentiles, many of the Jews will become jealous and will be persuaded to return and respond to Him (verse 14). He is greatly concerned lest the idea become prevalent that Jews are not to have the Gospel preached to them, or lest Jews see themselves as excluded. (It is possible that such an idea had grown up among some in Rome when all Jews were expelled from Rome leaving the Gentile church on its own. Some may well have interpreted it as signifying God’s promotion of Gentiles as opposed to Jews).
11.12 ‘And if their false step is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness?’
For the false step of the unbelieving Jews in rejecting their Messiah, has resulted in riches for the world, because it has resulted in the Messiah being proclaimed more widely to the world so that the Gentiles have received the riches of His salvation. But at the same time it has caused loss to the unbelieving Jews as a result of their rejection (as being in God’s eyes no longer Israel). It has resulted in riches for the Gentiles, because it has caused more emphasis to be laid on the conversion of Gentiles to the Messiah, but if this be so how much more will their restoration to full belief in the Messiah result in even greater riches for the world, as they once more join Israel and use their religious zeal in proclaiming the Messiah.
This idea of ‘spiritual riches’ permeates this section. God has made known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He has beforehand prepared for glory (9.23). God is rich to all who call on Him whether Jew or Gentile (10.12). Now the fall of the unbelieving Jews has provided riches for the Gentiles, the riches of the glory that God purposes for His own, which are receivable by calling on Him in faith.
‘How much more their fullness.’ This could be seen as referring to the unbelieving Jews coming to ‘a full knowledge of Christ’, their Messiah, so that through their deeper understanding of the Scriptures they might increase the riches received by the Gentiles. We must ever remember that the Gentiles were relatively new to the Scriptures, and could not consult them with ease, whereas the Jews had been brought up to them from babyhood (see 2 Timothy 3.15). So once they have knowledge of the Messiah in their hearts through faith, what knowledge they could contribute, and what evangelists they will be!
Others see ‘fullness’ as referring to ‘achieving their full number’, with the idea being that the future would at some stage see an acceleration of the conversion of the Jews to a recognition of their Messiah. Compare ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ in verse 25. But either way the point is that the conversion of many Jews to Jesus Messiah will be a good thing for God’s people. What happened to Jerusalem later may well have caused many Jews to recognise that Jesus was the Messiah, because He had so clearly predicted it, and there have been other events through history which may well have resulted in conversions to Christ among the Jews. Their achieving their fullness does not necessarily require an end of age revival. It is just something that we can hope for. After all if there was only one more Jew elected to be converted, his conversion would bring Israel to its fullness, as in the case of the Gentiles. But Paul’s attitude may certainly be seen as giving the impression of something special.
The Illustration Of The Olive Tree (11.13-24).
‘The Olive Tree’ is the name of Israel specifically given to it by God. In Jeremiah we are told “YHWH called your name ‘a green olive tree’, fair, with goodly fruit” (Jeremiah 11.16). The formula ‘YHWH called your name’ is significant. It is the one used concerning YHWH’s naming of Adam as the representative of mankind (Genesis 5.2). Thus it is indicating the official pronouncement of a permanent reality. Mankind was called ‘Man’ by God. Israel is called by God ‘the green olive tree’, probably with a view to it benefiting the world with what it produces. Olive oil was a major Israelite export. But as with the true vine in John 15.1-6, fire would come against it and disobedient branches would be ‘broken’ (Jeremiah 11.16). YHWH who had planted it would bring evil against it. The continued existence of its people would depend ultimately on its faith and obedience.
Thus when Paul speaks of the olive tree from which branches would be broken off and into which branches would be grafted there is no doubt concerning what is primarily in mind. It is the Israel chosen by God, but as represented by those who are obedient, the ideal Israel in mind in Jeremiah 2.2-3. There is no room in such an olive tree for broken and unfruitful branches. They have to be removed. Here is a clear indication that it is the Jews who have believed in the Messiah who form the true Israel. Those of old Israel who have been disobedient and unbelieving are cast off. Believing Israel remain as branches in the olive tree. And, as Paul makes clear, the true Israel will be supplemented by Gentiles who also believe in the Messiah. They too become a part of the true Israel, the genuine continuation of the old Israel. When the cast off branches gather together and call themselves Israel, it is not as genuine Israel. They are not of the elect.
11.13-14 ‘But I speak to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh, and may save some of them.’
Paul now turns his comments specifically to the Gentile element in the church at Rome. He explains to them that, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, he glorifies his ministry in the hope by any means of provoking his fellow-Jews to jealousy, so that some of them might respond and be saved. It is quite clear from this that he does not see them as already saved. Their only hope, as with everyone else, is to truly believe in the Messiah. And that is what he is seeking to make them do.
‘I glorify my ministry.’ He makes it out to be a glorious ministry, something which he genuinely does believe, so as to arouse the jealousy of Jews in order that they might come back to the Messiah. He wants them to know that he has a great concern (already expressed - 9.1-3; 10.1-3) for the unbelieving among the Jews.
‘May save some of them.’ We must remember that Paul has a different perspective from us. He does not see two thousand years lying ahead. Like all the early church he is anticipating Christ’s soon return. Thus the fact that he only expects ‘some’ Jews to be saved is significant. This appears to contradict the idea that ‘all Israel’ will be saved as in verse 26. But as we shall see, in our view ‘Israel’ there includes the believing Gentiles. So while he is certainly confident that some Jews will be saved, and passes that confidence on in his words to the Gentile Christians in the Roman church, it is apparent here that he clearly is not expecting a huge revival among them in his lifetime.
11.15 ‘For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what will the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?’
And if he is successful in stirring the Jews to seek the Messiah this can only be for the good of the world. For if their casting off by God has resulted in the reconciling to God of men from the world, that is, from the Gentiles, how much more will their being received back result in life from the dead, new spiritual and abundant life, both for them and for many more. Bringing Jews to Christ can only be beneficial for the church. It is clear from 6.13 that being ‘alive from the dead’ signifies the new spiritual life received when we receive Christ. There may also be in mind here that the dead branches which are cut off from the olive tree become alive again when they are engrafted in, and give renewed life, to the olive tree, which was the purpose of grafting in branches (verses 17, 23).
Some, however, see this as having the deeper meaning that as their casting away has brought salvation to many Gentiles, so the receiving back of them by God will hasten the final resurrection, and the following life of bliss. This thus being an indication that prior to Christ’s coming and the general resurrection there will hopefully be a great turning to Christ of the Jews, something which will trigger the end of all things, and issue in eternal life for all God’s people. But while the resurrection is regularly described as ‘from the dead’, it is never described as ‘life from the dead’. And we notice in all this that Paul makes no such promises. What he does say is an expressed hope rather than a certainty. This does not sit well with his seeing his words, ‘all Israel will be saved’ as signifying a huge revival at the end of the age. For in verse 26 he speaks of certainty. Thus any interpretation of it which limits it to Jews converted in the final days of the age must be looked on with suspicion and must take into account the fact that Paul appears unaware of it until he gets to verse 26.
11.16 ‘And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.’
Paul now uses the illustration of the firstfruit and the root. The firstfruit as connected with ‘the lump’ comes from Numbers 15.17-21 LXX where the first of the dough is offered as a heave-offering to YHWH, leaving the lump for use by the offerer, although it is nowhere said that the lump is thereby made holy. The idea of ‘the root’ (hriza) is found in Isaiah 11.10 and Isaiah 53.2 where it refers to the son of Jesse and the Servant of YHWH respectively, an idea connected with Jesus in Revelation 5.5; 22.16. Equally important is that Paul elsewhere cites Isaiah 11.10 in Romans 15.12 (which see). The question then arises as to what these refer to, and why this illustration is used here. The fact that the ensuing lump and branches are holy implies that with regard to these we are dealing with those whom God had made holy, and in context that is the Gentiles in verse 11 to whom salvation has come, and those among the unbelieving Jews who are received as a result of believing in the Messiah, becoming ‘life from the dead’ (verse 15).
It may well be that the firstfruit is to be seen as those of Israel who initially believed in the Messiah, for ‘the firstfruit’ often indicates those who first believe (16.5; 1 Corinthians 16.15), possibly seen in terms of the original ideal Israel who were ‘the firstfruit of His increase’ (Jeremiah 2.2-3). These latter being ‘holiness to YHWH’ (Jeremiah 2.3). This would tie in with the firstfruit being holy. The lump then becomes those who spring from the firstfruit, namely elect Jews (verse 5), the Gentile believers who experience salvation (verse 11), and the unbelieving Jews who later believe and are grafted in again (verse 15, 23-24). In the same way the root could be seen as indicating the initial believers in the Messiah from whom the whole tree grew. They are, however, nowhere described as the root.
There is, however, One Who is described as both firstfruit and root, and is also spoken of as ‘holy’ (Acts 2.27; 3.14) and as having ‘the spirit of holiness’ (1.4), and as making His people ‘holy (1 Corinthians 1.2, 30). In 1 Corinthians 15.20, 23 Christ (the Messiah) is seen as the Firstfruit from the dead by His resurrection from the dead, the Firstfruit Whose resurrection guarantees the resurrection of those who have died in Him. This figure could easily be transferred to indicating Him as the firstfruit from Whom the whole lump of believers receive their holiness, for He is made unto them holiness (1 Corinthians 1.30). Furthermore ‘the root’ was a recognised title of Christ, which is referred to in 15.12. See also Isaiah 11.10; Revelation 5.5; 22.16. This idea is especially significant as the root is connected with the branches, and in context these must surely be seen as the branches of the olive tree (verses 17-24). It would thus tie in with the idea of the Messiah as the True Vine Whose true attached branches prove fruitful, and Whose false branches are removed and burned (John 15.1-6).
Added to this is the fact that it is man’s relationship to the Messiah which lies at the root of Paul’s message throughout Romans, and especially as exemplified in the previous passage in 9.30-10.21. There the concept of the need for faith in the Messiah for both Jews and Gentiles (i.e. for them to be grafted in to Him) is pre-eminent, with the stark contrast being made with unbelieving Jews who refuse God’s entreaties (and to be grafted into the Messiah). Whilst the fact that unbelieving Israel are accursed from the Messiah, and therefore cut off from Israel, is Paul’s great concern in 9.1-5. All would tie in with the idea of the olive tree representing the Messiah.
Jesus was, of course, seen as the One Who summed up the true Israel in Himself (e.g. Matthew 2.15), and His own words in John 15.1-6 confirm this. He is the true Vine in contrast with the false vine (e.g. Isaiah 5.1-7), representing an Israel which will retain its fruitful branches whole casting off its unfruitful. Thus it may well be that Paul intended us to combine these two ideas of ideal Israel as the firstfruit who were holiness to YHWH, and the Messiah of Israel as the Root, with the branches of the olive tree which remain being seen as those who sprung from them, that is, believing Israel made up of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, who were made holy in Him (1 Corinthians 1.2, 30; etc.).
One principle that lies behind the illustration is that holiness produces holiness, and there is no doubt that the Messiah as the Holy One, is the One who has made His people holy. Another is that of fruitfulness and provision. The dough would produce bread, the tree would produce fruit (John 15.1-6). Thus the firstfruit and the root are to produce what is satisfying to mankind, even though mankind may not be aware of it. They are to fulfil the promises given to Abraham (Genesis 12.3).
This combining of the ideal Israel with the Messiah (Who did represent the ideal Israel) is very similar to seeing the church as one body ‘in Christ’ (12.4-5). The ideal Israel, as personified in the early disciples, has the Messiah in its midst, just as the church has Christ in its midst, and the ideal Israel is ‘in the Messiah’, in the same way as Paul was (9.1), and this in the same way as the church is ‘in Christ’. Furthermore Paul elsewhere stresses that ideal Israel partook of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 10.4), with the unbelieving being overthrown in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10.5). The picture of Israel in 1 Corinthians 10.1-4 could be seen as very much that of ideal Israel as described in Jeremiah 2.2-3
On the other hand we must also probably see verse 16 as the lead in to verses 17-28, for verse 17 demands some kind of prior introduction, so as to form a basis for its argument, while ‘And if the branches --’ (verse 17) must surely refer back to ‘the branches’ (verse 16). Furthermore the passage that follows is looking towards the downfall of unbelieving Israelites, as branches that will be broken off (because they are not holy), and asking questions about its possible future restoration, something which would tie in well with this verse, which includes the illustration of the root and the branches, the holy root producing holy branches.
Thus Paul’s point is that because the firstfruit, the ideal Israel (Jeremiah 2.2-3), and the root, the Messiah (15.12; Isaiah 11.10; Revelation 5.5; 22.16), were holy, so are those who spring from them. Holiness begets holiness. This may be positional holiness, seen as passed on, or genuine moral holiness, demonstrating what is expected of the lump and the branches. It is because of this that the unbelieving branches have to be remove from the olive tree.
EXCURSUS. Who Did Paul Have In Mind As The Firstfruits Lump Of Dough And The Holy Root?
In view of the controversy about this subject we must now consider in more detail the question as to who Paul had in mind when he spoke of the holy firstfruits lump of dough and the holy root? And connected with this must be the question as to who the olive tree represents, for the passage immediately goes on to assume that Paul is speaking of an olive tree growing its branches. Indeed it is most probable that the root which produces branches in verse 16, is to be seen as equivalent to the olive tree which produces its branches, for in verse 18 it is said to be the root which produces the branches of the olive tree. And this being accepted, there are good grounds for seeing the olive tree as representing Israel in some form or another (Jeremiah 11.16). This would favour all being seen as representing ideal Israel, a holy Israel as seen in the mind of God (compare Exodus 19.6), possibly as combined with the One Who sums up in Himself the true Israel.
In this regard we should note that 9.1-11.10 have emphasised 1). an Israel within Israel, 2). election through the Patriarchs, 3). salvation in the Messiah of both believing Jews and Gentiles, 4). a salvation of the elect remnant from within Israel, and it is clear that he has in mind in each of these the same people. It would not therefore be strange if the idea of the olive tree included all these concepts.
There are seven main answers which are supported by different scholars which we should now consider:
More specifically it also does not fit well with the idea of their being ‘the firstfruits lump taken from a larger lump of dough’, for this suggests the two as existing at the same time, unless a). we see the dough as representing God’s elect people from the beginning, or b). we see Israel or the elect of Israel as being in their fathers’ loins. The latter would certainly be a Scriptural concept, but one problem with it is that the fathers were only fathers by blood to a limited number of Israelites, as God and Paul both well knew. In Paul’s day demonstrating pure descent in Israel was something that was seen as of high importance, so he would have been well aware of the lack of evidence for descent among the majority of Israel, and he would equally have been aware of the references that demonstrated that not all Israelites were directly descended from the fathers by human descent. It would fit better if the lump and the branches represented Abraham’s spiritual descendants. But the overall fact is that the fathers are never described as the firstfruit of anything, and are never spoken of in Scripture as the root.
On the other hand there are certain things in favour of this interpretation. In 11.28 we learn that, ‘as touching the election they are beloved for their fathers’ sake’, which clearly does indicate a connection between the fathers and whoever are seen as beloved, a connection which results in a benefit being passed on. But this was a connection that arose because of God’s love for their fathers, not from their being the firstfruits. One interpretation of 11.28 has it as saying that while He had cast the enemies of God’s people out of Israel, His love still reached out to them because they had once been part of Israel, and were thus connected with the fathers on whom He had set His love. This would, of course, favour the fathers as a whole, being seen as the root, rather than just Abraham. But this interpretation is at least questionable.
Also in favour is 9.6-24 where the elect, including both Jews and Gentiles, are traced back to their source in Abraham and Isaac. In this case the whole lump and the branches would represent the elect (verse 24).
Also in favour would be 11.1-2 where Paul looks back to his roots in Abraham and Benjamin, with their fruit being seen in the people whom God foreknew, which we have argued are the elect, but which others see as notional Israel as an entity.
But very much against this interpretation as indicating the fathers is the fact that it does not fit the later illustration. The fathers are nowhere likened to an olive tree, while this passage assumes that this verse is building up to the olive tree. (Unless, of course, we see the fathers as representing the ideal Israel. See 5). below). And indeed if we equate the patriarchs, or the promises made to them, with the olive tree, we have the difficulty of explaining why, on the one hand, the unbelieving Jews are broken off from them (verse 17), while at the same time on the other hand benefiting from their relationship with them, as described in verse 28. The point in verse 28 is surely that they have not been broken off from the promises. So this interpretation is inconsistent with what follows.
We would not, however, dismiss this idea totally. For there is no question but that the promises to the fathers were basic to the establishment of Israel, and indeed that those promise are basic to the election of the true line (the branches that remain in the olive tree), and the removing of those who were not of the true line (9.7-13), the branches which were removed. Thus Paul would no doubt have seen these as indicating incipient Israel. But the basic idea of the olive tree must, in Scriptural terms, have reference to Israel.
Added to this is the fact that it is man’s relationship to the Messiah which lies at the root of Paul’s message throughout Romans, and especially as exemplified in the previous passage in 9.30-10.21. There the concept of the need for faith in the Messiah for both Jews and Gentiles (i.e. for them to be grafted in to Him) is pre-eminent, with the stark contrast being made with unbelieving Jews who refuse God’s entreaties, and fall away from the Messiah, whilst the fact that unbelieving Israel are accursed from the Messiah, and therefore cut off from Israel, is Paul’s great concern in 9.1-5. All would tie in with the idea of the olive tree as representing the Messiah.
It can also be pointed out that Jesus is also described continually as ‘representing’ Israel. In other words Israel was summed up in Him as the Messiah. Thus it was as representing Israel that He was called out of Egypt (Matthew 2.15), and possibly as representing ideal Israel that He then went into the wilderness (Matthew 4.1-11). And as we have already seen it was that idea which lay at the root of John 15.1-6. And this was confirmed when He spoke of establishing ‘His congregation’ (a word signifying Israel in the Old Testament) on the foundation of Peter’s Messianic statement (Matthew 16.18). Furthermore the Kingly Rule of God was to be taken away from old Israel, and given to a new nation producing its fruit (Matthew 21.43) which would be founded on a new Cornerstone, which would be Jesus Himself (Matthew 21.42). This is why, as the true vine, He could well have been seen by Paul in terms of the olive tree, for Paul would have seen the change as necessary because branches are not engrafted into vines. After all, in the Old Testament Israel were seen as both the vine and the olive tree.
Additional to all this is that there is the emphasis throughout the letter that the church is ‘in Christ’ (e.g. 11.1), with its members therefore being branches of the olive tree (11.16-24) and of the true vine (John 15.1-6). We should note in this regard that in Romans there is a stress on the idea of our oneness in Christ in 5.12-21; 12.4-5. There is the stress on our being united with Christ in 6.5 seen in the light of its context. There is the idea of our being ‘joined with Him’ in 7.4. There is the continual emphasis on the fact that our righteousness comes from our being in Christ (see especially 10.6-10). There is the clear comparison between the olive tree ‘receiving’ those who are grafted in (11.15) and Christ ‘receiving’ His people (15.7). And finally there is the pointer to Jesus as the coming Deliverer Who would take away ungodliness from Jacob (11.26). There is thus a strong case for seeing the ‘root’ and the ‘olive tree’ as representing the Messiah, from whom branches are cut off (John 15.1-6), and into Whom other branches are engrafted.
4). That they represent Israel within Israel (9.6). As we have seen in Jeremiah 2.2-3 we read, ‘You went after Me in the wilderness, . . Israel was holiness unto YHWH, the firstfruits of his increase.’ The picture here is, of course, an ideal one as Israel in the wilderness were far from holy, so this may well be seen as speaking about the Israel within Israel (those who ‘went after YHWH’) as the firstfruits and root of Israel. Additionally early converts were regularly described as the ‘firstfruit’ (e.g. 16.5; 1 Corinthians 16.15), although those were not specifically Israelites. It was the remnant of Israel who were to take root downwards and bear fruit upwards (Isaiah 37.31). This identification also fits well with what follows, except that branches could not be cast off from the elect Israel, unless it is seen as the early Jewish church containing good and bad. But that is not Paul’s view of the elect who are those chosen by God and would therefore continue faithful For example, he would not have seen Ananias and Sapphira as part of the elect (Acts 5.1-11). It would need, therefore, to be combined with one of the other ideas.
It is true that as the passage goes on to deal with the ‘history’ of the later church ending at the consummation (verses 25-26) we would be justified in looking forward to the later church in our interpretation as in 7). But this is unnecessary. It appears to us, in the light of the specific background, and in the light of the illustration of the olive tree that follows, that the reference is to the notional ideal Israel, possibly conjoined with the ideal Israel in its early stages and the Israel within Israel, (which in a sense is the ideal Israel), an Israel which has to be kept pure, these as depicted as the olive tree spoken of by Jeremiah. This would tie in nicely with the fact that the following verses assume that in mind is the olive tree i.e. Israel. But it may be argued that the branches that are broken off are fatal to this identification. We could, however, reply that they were broken off precisely because they could have no part in the notional ideal Israel. Whilst the olive tree could theoretically be seen as physical Israel, physical Israel as it was in Paul’s day could neither be seen as a holy root or holy branches. What is in mind is therefore a hypothetical Israel, we could say an Israel in the mind of God, that has to be kept pure. This ties in nicely with Jeremiah’s depiction in Jeremiah 2.2-3. But it would be a brave person who denied a connection with Jesus as the Messiah in view of the evidence. With His being, as He was, the true representative of Israel (Matthew 2.15; and the fact that He probably accepted baptism for this reason) we may probably see Him as combined with ideal Israel. He was after all the full representative of ideal Israel. Thus the olive tree could be seen as the ideal Israel as personified in the risen Messiah. Compare Paul’s similar picture of the church as united with the risen Christ, forming one body (12.4-5; 1 Corinthians 12.12-27). And clearly the promises to the Patriarchs were an essential part of what ideal Israel was. Thus we may see the Olive Tree as arising out of the promises to the Patriarchs, as representing an Israel being purified, and as incorporating the Messiah, the root of Jesse.
But what then do the lump and the branches represent?
Again there are a number of possibilities:
Which interpretation we take will partly depend on how we interpret what follows, especially verses 25-28, something that we will now consider.
End of Excursus.
Taking up our suggestion that the firstfruit and root represent ideal, spiritual Israel, probably seen together with the Messiah, the root of David, and that the lump and the branches represent the true people of God (including both Jews and believing Gentiles), the unworthy having been cast off, the illustration is indicating that the holiness of God’s ideal people (Jeremiah 2.3), and probably of the Messiah, will be passed on to God’s people in Paul’s day, supplying them with provision and fruitfulness, which would be why the false branches have to be rooted out. This process is now described further with regard to the root and the branches.
11.17 ‘But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them, and became partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree,’
It is in this verse that we first learn that the olive tree is in mind, certainly in so far as verses 17 onwards are in mind. It is difficult, however, to avoid the conclusion from the phrase ‘but if some of the branches were broken off’ that these words assume that the branches of the olive tree have already been referred to in some way, i.e. in verse 16 as ‘the root and the branches’, especially as verse 18 refers to the root of the olive tree as though it represented the tree, and sees the branches as arising from it. The passage might just, however, be seen as standing apart from verse 16. But, however we see that, the olive tree is certainly in mind from now onwards, and that points to Jeremiah 11.16 where ‘the green olive tree’ is specifically the name by which God calls Israel (‘He has called your name “Green Olive Tree”). Compare also Hosea 14.6 and Jewish tradition which both compare Israel to an olive tree. It will be noted in Jeremiah 11.16 that as such it is burned and its branches are broken, a picture indicating the parlous state of Israel at that time. That was, of course, the situation in Jeremiah’s day, not necessarily the permanent situation of the olive tree as representing Israel. But it does indicate a tree that was marred.
The point being made here is that branches have been broken off the olive tree, and it is clear from the context (e.g. verse 20) that this refers to unbelieving Israel who have rejected their Messiah. A similar picture is given by Jesus in John 15.1-6 where ‘abiding in Messiah’ is the test, that is hearing Him and responding to Him and His words, whilst those who do not abide are removed and burned. Additionally in Paul’s illustration other wild olive branches are engrafted in, who clearly represent Gentile believers. The Gentile believers then commence partaking of the root of the fatness of the olive tree, in other words of all its benefits. They begin to partake of the Messiah, and of the ideal Israel that He represents. They have become a part of Israel, for it must be noted here that these branches now become a part of the olive tree, and thus a part of Israel (however defined). From now on they ‘are Israel’. Thus Israel now consists of Jews and some Gentiles as indeed it did before, but the difference now is that their faith is in the Messiah rather than in the Law. The olive tree in its entirety continues to be ideal Israel. The broken off branches cease to be a part of Israel. Here the true Israel in God’s eyes is seen to be finally composed of the elect, both Jews and Gentiles, as in 9.24.
It should be noted how all this parallels chapter 9, where the chosen remain within the promises of God (9.7-13), including later the Gentile believers (9.24), whilst those who are not chosen are separated off (Ishmael, the sons of Keturah, Esau), whilst in chapter 10 it is by being engrafted into the Messiah that men find salvation, whilst those who do not respond to the Messiah are cut off, they fail to hear the report about the Messiah.
Paul has been criticised for not recognising that it is not sound horticulture to graft wild olive branches into a good olive tree, but in fact it is known that exactly this principle was carried out by certain ancient horticulturalists, the wild olive branches revivifying the olive tree. But that is beside the point, for Paul is using an illustration in order to get over a point, not claiming that it is good horticultural practise in real life.
11.18 ‘Do not glory over the branches. But if you do glory, it is not you who bears the root, but the root you.’
The assumption here might be that Gentile Christians in Rome have been gloating over the situation as regards unbelieving Israel. It may, however, simply be that Paul foresees the danger of that happening (having seen it elsewhere) and is simply trying to prevent it. But that there were differences between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome comes out in chapters 14-15. Whichever way it is, his point is that they should not so glory in themselves, but should rather remember what they owe to Israel as the producer of the Messiah (9.5), and the preserver of God’s oracles (3.2). They owe what they now are to the root. Let them rejoice in what their salvation has brought. But let them not despise those who already had the word of God, even though they did hold it in unbelief. For their blessing has come from the root of Israel in one way or another. It is significant that the branches are seen as being borne by the root rather than the tree, for this closely connects the root with the tree and therefore connects with verse 16, ‘and if the root be holy so are the branches’.
11.19 ‘You will say then, “Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.” ’
He then forestalls an objection which he sees as possibly arising (and which he may have heard said among certain carnal Gentile Christians), and that is, said rather gloatingly, that the branches were broken off so that they as Gentiles might be grafted in. Said without gloating that would be perfectly true. But it is a sad reflection that we can admit that the gloating might well have been true, although it must be recognised in mitigation that it might have been in retaliation to the gloating of certain Jews over them as Gentiles. The fact is that carnal Christians can have a tendency to gloat over the benefits that God has given them, rather than simply receiving them with heartfelt gratitude and praise. Compare 3.27; 4.2. And this just as the Jews tended to gloat over the Gentiles. What we must always remember is that anything that we have received has been by the unmerited favour of God. While we may glory in it in the sense of having gratitude to God for the wonders that we have received, we should not gloat over it. Thus they (and we) are to beware of gloating over their privileges.
11.20 ‘Well, by their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Do not be highminded, but fear,’
So Paul reminds them that the Jewish branches were broken off because of their unbelief, whilst they themselves have been engrafted in, by faith in the Messiah. Thus they should not be highminded, seeing themselves as something special by their own merits, but should rather recognise that they owe it all to Christ. Indeed they should be on their guard, ‘working out’ their salvation with fear and trembling as God works it within them (Philippians 2.12-13), recognising that it is only through faith in God’s goodness and Christ’s sacrifice that they enjoy the position that they are in.
We see in these verses the clear interconnection between the major theme of the salvation of the Gentiles through being incorporated in the olive tree, and the secondary theme of behaving in a godly manner towards the unbelieving Jews.
11.21 ‘For if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare you.’
For let them recognise that they are only allowed to be in the olive tree as a consequence of their faith in the Messiah. Let that faith but cease (demonstrating that it was not genuine, compare Mark 4.16-17) and they will soon discover that they are not spared.
The Gentile Christians Are To Recognise Both The Goodness And Severity Of God (11.22-32).
So the Gentile Christians are to recognise both the goodness and the severity of God. Towards the unbelieving Jews who had rejected His Son, the Messiah, He showed severity. Towards the Gentiles He had shown goodness. But if they did not continue in that goodness by faith and obedience, they too would be cut off from the true Israel, and therefore from salvation. They too would experience His severity. Meanwhile if the unbelieving Jews changed their minds and began to believe in the Messiah they would be grafted in again. And the hardness which has happened to part of Israel will continue until the consummation, when the full number of the Gentiles will have come in to join the number of the elect, and will have responded to Christ (Messiah), at which point it will mean that all the elect have been gathered so that all who were to be part of the true Israel, including the full number of the Gentiles, will have been saved, and that in accordance with Scripture.
11.22 ‘Behold then the goodness and severity of God. Towards those who fell, severity; but towards you, God’s goodness, if you continue in his goodness, otherwise you also will be cut off.’
So their current position should make them recognise both the goodness and severity of God. Goodness towards those who continue in His goodness by continuing faith and obedience, and severity towards those who had fallen through not believing in the Messiah. But those who do not continue to benefit from His goodness through faith will inevitably find themselves also cut off.
We too should recognise the goodness and severity of God. The problem with the church at the present day is that so many rejoice in His goodness, without recognising His severity. We need to hold the two in balance. This is not to suggest that somehow we must seek to maintain our faith by ourselves, for it is God Who maintains our faith if we are His (John 10.27-29; 1 Corinthians 1.8-9; Philippians 1.6; Jude 1.24; 1 Peter 1.7). It is rather to warn that if we do not continue to truly believe it will be a sign that our faith was not genuinely in Him, otherwise He would have maintained it.
11.23 ‘And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.’
And the inference is that if those Jews who have been cut off through unbelief begin to have faith in the Messiah, they will be regrafted in. They will become a part of the true Israel. And consequently they will be saved. All is dependent on the electing grace of God.
11.24 ‘For if you were cut out of what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?’
Indeed, Paul points out, in the realm of the spirit the natural branches will ‘take’ better than the branches which were wild, and therefore not so well adapted to the olive tree. While this may not be good horticulture, it is certainly true in the realm of spiritual things. The Jews had at that time the built in advantage of having a greater familiarity with the Scriptures which could only be an aid to them in coming to the Messiah. How easily then would they adapt, as their changed attitude towards their Messiah resulted in the Scriptures that they knew, and that they were brought up on, coming alive to them.
We must once again underline here that if the olive tree in any way represents Israel, and it is difficult to see how it does not in one way or another, then by Paul’s illustration believing Gentiles are seen as becoming a part of Israel. They become Israel just as prior to Christ’s coming Gentile proselytes were seen as becoming a part of Israel. This also ties in with the idea that Jesus is revealed as the representative Who embodied Israel in Himself, in which case Gentiles who become ‘in Christ’ are necessarily made part of Israel in Him. See further on the question of whether the Gentile converts become Israel, the excursus at the end of this chapter.
God’s Final Purpose.
Paul now emphasises that God’s final purpose is that ‘the full number of the Gentiles will be gathered in, in this way all Israel will be saved’. We have seen in context that the elect of Israel at the time have become acceptable to God, i.e. have been saved (verse 5), (and we can therefore assume that that applies to all the elect of Israel through the ages) and that Paul is hopeful for the conversion of ‘some’ more (verse 14), and that salvation has also come to the elect Gentiles (verse 11). Taken together in line with the illustration of the olive tree this would indicate that all ‘elect Israel including elect Gentiles’ have been saved.
11.25 ‘For I would not, brothers and sisters, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part has befallen Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in,’
Paul now makes clear to the Roman church as a whole, a ‘mystery’, (a secret that has now been revealed) concerning which he does not want them to be ignorant, in order that they might not cherish wrong ideas which might make them conceited (i.e. that the Gentiles among them might feel that they are somehow superior to the Jews). And the revealed secret is that a hardening in part has happened to Israel, until ‘the full number of the Gentiles has come in’, (that is, until all the elect among the Gentiles have become Christians). He has already explained how and why this was true. It was by their being joined with the Messiah and with the true Israel. And it was in order that it might provoke the unbelieving Jews to jealousy, so that they too might seek their Messiah. The hardening is, of course, that hardening which is the consequence of obstinacy and unbelief, which is nevertheless seen as the work of God (9.18; 11.8-10). It makes them enemies of the Gospel (verse 28). As this hardening is said only to affect ‘Israel’ in part, ‘Israel’ here clearly signifies the whole of Israel, both believing and unbelieving, and there is no reason why we should not see it as incorporating Gentile believers (as it certainly includes Gentile proselytes). It is we who tend to exclude Gentile believers from Israel, not Paul (see the excursus at the end of this chapter). So while there has been a hardening, it has not affected the Israel within Israel as defined in 9.6, nor any believing Gentiles who have been incorporated into Israel.
‘That a hardening in part has befallen Israel, until --.’ It will be noted that such a hardening is mentioned twice in chapter 9-11 and in both cases it is permanent and thus results in judgment. See 9.17-18; 11.7-10; and compare also Mark 8.17. There is thus no reason for thinking that ‘until’ means ‘then once that is over something else will happen’, i.e. the process of saving Israel will begin. It can equally mean that the hardening will go on until the last Gentile has come in, and then will come the judgment. In this respect we should note the uncertainty lying behind Paul’s references to Israelites being restored in verses 12-24. He hopes it will happen, with happy consequences, but he is not sure. There is no confident certainty. See verses 12, 14 (note ‘some of them’), verse 15, verse 23-24 (note the ‘if’). This does not sound like a triumphant confidence in the salvation of large numbers of Jews. It is an expressed hope. One cannot but feel that if he was aware that he was building up to declaring that large numbers of extra Israelites would be saved, his expressions in these verses would have been more positive.
‘Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.’ In this case pleroma probably means full number. However, if we translate as ‘completeness’ we get the same result. (Either is possible). The point is that all Gentiles who are elect will have been saved as a necessary part of ‘all Israel’ being saved (compare Matthew 8.11). But what then have the Gentiles ‘come in’ to? The most obvious answer in the context is that they have ‘come in to Israel’, that is, into the community of the elect. This is suggested by the context. See verses 16-24 taken in context with verse 6. They have been grafted into the olive tree. They have come into the ideal Israel. In this connection it should be noted that Jewish sects at the time (such as those in Qumran) were also speaking of ‘entering into the elect community’.
Other suggestions are that it refers to ‘coming in to the Kingly Rule of God’ (e.g. Matthew 18.3; 19.23; Luke 18.7, 20, 25; ), translated as ‘entering into the Kingly Rule of God/Heaven’, or that it refers to ‘coming in’ to the sphere of salvation (found nowhere in the New Testament), or to ‘coming in to life (Matthew 18.8; 19.17, 18; Mark 9.43, 45), or to ‘coming in to their rest’ (Hebrews 3.18, 19; 4.6). The verb is only rarely used by Paul, see Romans 5.12; 1 Corinthians 14.23-24 neither of which are relevant here, which would suggest that it has to be interpreted by the context, i.e. entering in to Israel , or entering into salvation, compare verse 11.11. On the other hand it should be noted that the latter reference speaks of salvation as ‘coming to them’, which is the common idea in the New Testament, and may therefore exclude our seeing a reference here to entering into salvation. The New Testament nowhere speaks of entering into salvation. It is ‘obtained’ not entered into. Thus the Pauline background suggests that ‘entering in’ means entering into the true Israel.
11.26 ‘And in this way all Israel will be saved.’
He had made clear in verse 6 that the elect of Israel had, from God’s point of view, been guaranteed salvation. Now he indicates that once the number of the Gentile elect have been made up, it completes the make up of the true Israel. Thus all Israel will have been saved, including the elect Jews of verse 5, and the elect Gentiles of verse 16-24. Together with the elect Jews, the elect Gentiles will form the true Israel, the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16; compare 1 Peter 2.9). It is this Israel which is following the Messiah, and which is now seen as true Israel in God’s eyes. The unbelievers are cut off from Israel (even though for convenience sake having the term Israel applied to them by men). It is noteworthy that in the context of chapter 11 the idea of salvation has previously been specifically applied to the Gentiles (11.11), with an added hope that some Jews will be saved (11.14). In 10.10 whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. When the idea of salvation is applied to the Jews it is only a remnant who will be saved (9.27; 11.14). This would serve to confirm that in mind here are a large number of Gentiles combined with a sizeable remnant of the Jews.
The fact that all Israel being saved occurs at the point at which the full number of the Gentiles have ‘come in’, that is, have entered into the olive tree and have thus been saved (verse 11), in itself makes us recognise that this event of the conversion of the last Gentile must be included in the reference to ‘all Israel’. It is difficult to see how the salvation of large numbers of Jews can be seen as following the salvation of the final Gentile. And if they, were how could they be ‘life from the dead’ to the Gentiles (11.15)? The resurrection surely follows almost immediately on the conversion of the last Gentile. On the other hand, if ‘all Israel’ includes the believing Gentiles then everything fits perfectly. And we would expect this to be so precisely because believing Gentiles have, by believing, become a part of Israel. They have been engrafted into the olive tree.
Thus as we see from our discussion above this sentence signifies that all the redeemed of both Jews and Gentiles, that is all who truly believe in the Messiah, will at this point, at the final consummation, have been saved and will form what is Israel in God’s eyes. God’s work of grace will have been completed. The full number of the elect will have been made up. All that will now remain is the rapture of the saints, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment (1 Thessalonians 4.14-18; 1 Corinthians 15.52).
It makes little difference from this point of view whether we translate the opening houtos as ‘and then’ or ‘and so’ or ‘and in consequence of this process’ or ‘and in this manner’. All would result in the same conclusion. ‘In this manner’ is the most likely for grammatical reasons, and verses 25-26 would then be seen as indicating, ‘the fullness of the Gentiles will come in, and in this manner all Israel will be saved’ which confirms what is said above, that the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles results in all Israel having finally been saved. But we would not want to labour this translation
11.26b-27 ‘Even as it is written, “There will come out of Zion the Deliverer (Redeemer). He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant to them, when I shall take away their sins.”
‘Even as it is written.’ Paul now cites Scripture to support his case. The first question here is as to whether this citation is intended by Paul simply to refer to ‘all Israel will be saved’, or whether he sees it as referring to, ‘until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and in this manner all Israel will be saved’, thus patently including the believing Gentiles. It seems most probable that he intends to cover by the quotation the totality of what has gone before, otherwise why does he not give a citation supporting the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, something which he has always done previously (9.25-26; 10.18, 20)? Had the verses not been divided up as they have been, this would be more obvious to the casual reader.
The quotation is taken from a slightly altered Isaiah 59.20-21a LXX supplemented by Isaiah 27.9 LXX. Isaiah 59.20-21a LXX reads, ‘And the deliverer will come for Sion’s sake (MT ‘to Zion’: Paul ‘out of Zion’), and will turn away ungodliness from Jacob, and this will be my covenant with them ---’ (Isaiah 59.20-21a LXX). Note the replacement of ‘for Zion’s sake’ by ‘out of’. We do not know where Paul obtained ‘out of’ from (unless it was Psalm 14.7), but if he is applying the verse to the Gentiles we can see the reason for the change. The Redeemer has to come ‘out of’ Jerusalem in order to reach the Gentiles. Isaiah 27.9 LXX reads ‘Therefore will the iniquity of Jacob be taken away; and this is his blessing, when I shall have taken away his sin (Isaiah 27.9 LXX). It will be noted that it is the last part that is cited by Paul, but that the first part mainly parallels the idea in 59.20, ‘and will turn away ungodliness from Jacob’, thus being apposite.
The point is that as a result of God’s covenant the Deliverer will come ‘out of Zion’ (He being related to Zion in one way or another in all the texts), and will turn away ungodliness from Jacob, forgiving their sins. Thus as a consequence ‘Jacob’ will be saved. But as we have seen in verses 17-24, and will see in the excursus, ‘Jacob’ includes both believing Jews and believing Gentiles, for the believing Gentiles have been engrafted into Israel/Jacob (11.17-24). Thus God’s covenant with Israel holds good, and it is finally fulfilled for all of the true Israel as recognised by God, who, whether Jew or Gentile, have responded to their Redeemer, the Messiah (3.24). This interpretation is confirmed by the verses that follow where the final intention is claimed to be that God ‘will have mercy on all’, both Jews and Gentiles (verses 30-32).
The advantage of the interpretation that we have given is that it takes the ‘all’ in verse 26 as literally meaning ‘all. But is this what Paul is saying? This question will be dealt with in an Excursus.
EXCURSUS. Who Does The ‘All Israel’ Represent In 11.26?
Interpretation of verses 25 and 26 initially raises the question as to what ‘all Israel’ means. There are four possibilities:
As will be noted the first three interpretations take pas to literally mean ‘all’, which it often does. The last takes an equally valid translation of pas as signifying ‘a good number’. So the question is, which of the four possibilities are in mind in Paul’s statement that ‘in this way (manner) all Israel will be saved’. Again we must list the possibilities, and then expand on them. They will be dealt with in reverse order.
It is considered possible:
It is argued that strongly in favour of this interpretation is the mention of Israel in verse 25 where it is clear that the whole of Israel is in mind, a part of which is already hardened. It has even been said that ‘it is impossible to entertain an exegesis which takes Israel in verse 26 in a different sense from Israel in verse 25’. But is this correct? For such a statement ignores the fact that Paul has already distinguished two Israels in 9.6, which indicates that when speaking theologically we can distinguish between elect Israel and physical Israel, and while verse 25 is possibly referring to physical Israel there can be little doubt that verse 26 is referring to Israel as seen theologically in terms of salvation (as in 9.6). That being so the comment can be seen as invalidated. Paul had no problem with such a distinction in 9.6. Why should he have one here? It is precisely the situation where such a distinction would be maintained.
Besides the Israel in verse 25 is the whole of Israel without exception, whilst few scholars would actually claim that every single Israelite is seen as being saved in verse 26. Indeed, even the Rabbis did not believe that. There were some Jews whom even they could not see as being included. Thus whatever view we take the two Israel are not the same. They would only be the same if Paul was indicating that literally every acknowledged Israelite would be saved, and that would be to go contrary to all that we know of God’s revealed ways. The only ones who would accept this are universalists, those who believe that all men will be saved, something which is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.
But if it is true that we can differentiate ‘Israel’ when used simply to denote the nation historically, from Israel when it is used theologically of those who are acceptable to God, as 9.6 demonstrates, then there is no reason why Paul should not do so when speaking in a context of salvation, a context in which the reader would expect the distinction to be made. It must therefore be considered likely that when speaking of the final number of the saved the reader would immediately expect such a distinction. He would have remembered that, ‘They are not all Israel who are of Israel.’ The former is the whole of Israel, the latter is the true Israel of God. And in the end it is only the true Israel of God who can be saved. Thus ‘all Israel being saved’ would immediately alert the Christian reader to the distinction (he would know that it did not include unbelievers). But we have only to translate as ‘a large number’ to remove the problem altogether.
Furthermore, another reason why verse 26 cannot mean that all, or even the vast majority of physical Israel, would be saved, is because the idea that all Israel would be saved, signifying physical Israel, would go contrary to what Paul has said earlier. It is contrary to the impression given in 9.27-28 where ‘it is the remnant that will be saved’; to that in 9.29 where it says, ‘except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed’; and to that in 10.21 where it says, ‘all the day long did I spread out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people’, which gives the impression of a situation which will continue. For it will be noted that Paul never seeks to modify the picture given by saying, ‘but don’t worry, all will change at the end’. Rather he is explaining why it is that by only a remnant being saved God’s purpose and promises as contained in Scripture are fulfilled.
It is true that the case for this interpretation might be seen as strengthened if we see the statement in verse 28 that, ‘as touching the Gospel they are enemies for your sakes, but as touching the election they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’, in the way that some scholars do. It can then be argued that the ‘they’, in each case, refers to unbelieving Israel, and that those hardened as enemies of the Gospel most naturally refers back to the quotation in verses 26-27. The quotation in verses 26-27 is supporting the fact that there would be a widespread spiritual response to the Deliverer, and a widespread turning away from ‘ungodliness’, (a term which must include rejection of the Messiah). These verses would then support the idea of a good many of Israel being saved. But they would not support the idea that every Israelite would be saved.
However, it should be noted that there is no connecting word connecting verse 28 with what has gone before (something more important in Greek than in English). Thus it is more likely that verse 28 refers back to the Israel in verse 25 where all Israel is literally included, an Israel which includes both believing and unbelieving (hardened) Israel. The first part of verse 28 could then be seen as referring to ‘the hardened’ and the second part to ‘the elect’, with it making no claim about salvation for the whole of Israel. And besides, the favour spoken of in verse 28 is not necessarily seen as resulting in salvation. It merely indicates God’s continued interest in them. So verse 28 does not really give the support that is looked for.
But in view of Paul’s clear view of Israel as including both believing Jews and believing Gentiles there are really no ground for excluding believing Gentiles from the ‘many of Israel’ who would be saved. The only grounds for such an exclusion would be the contrast between verse 25b and 26a. But closer examination reveals that that is not a contrast but a declaration that the full number of Gentiles would have come in, resulting in ‘a large part of Israel’ (or even ‘all Israel’ if we see it as referring to the elect) being saved. Thus we can translate, ‘until the full number of Gentiles has come in, in this way a large number of Israel will be saved.’
Secondly by the statement in 9.27 that ‘only the remnant will be saved’, signifying that the ‘all Israel’ of verse 26, if it simply means Jews, includes only the remnant of Israel.
Thirdly because Paul tells us in Galatians that ‘if you are Christ’s then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3.29). Being of the seed of Abraham and belonging to the Messiah surely signifies being members of the true Israel. Thus this verse indicates that all believing Gentiles are members of the true Israel. Furthermore Paul says in Romans that ‘the promise is sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the Law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, a father of many nations have I made you’ (4.16). This is the promise of salvation which is made to all men who believe whether Jew or Gentile, and their being ‘of the faith of Abraham’ indicates that they are a part of the true Israel.
Fourthly because in the context Paul emphasises that the elect of Israel having been saved (verse 7), the Gentiles also need to be gathered in, so as to make one olive tree, that is, one Israel. In other words the reason why the fullness of the Gentiles needs to ‘come in’, is so that all Israel, both Jew and Gentile, might be saved together (verse 12). Indeed this salvation of the Gentiles by being joined with Israel (the olive tree) is the main theme of the passage (see commentary on verse 11), which means that we would expect the two together to be the climax.
We would expect from this emphasis that the climax of the age would therefore centre, not on physical Israel all being saved (as distinct from the Gentiles), or even on elect Israel being saved, but on both the elect Jews and the elect Gentiles being saved together. However, the only way that this can be read out of verse 26 is if ‘all Israel’ being saved includes the Gentiles. It was because of this that the Gentiles were not to become conceited, but must continue their efforts to win over even more of the Jews. They must do it because God intended them all to be grafted into the one tree so that ‘all Israel (both Jew and proselyte) might be saved’.
Fifthly because in accordance with the illustration of the olive tree the fullness of the Gentiles, along with the elect of Israel, ARE Israel. This is the consistent message of the New Testament (Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 1.1; 2.9; James 1.1; etc). All believing Gentiles are incorporated into Israel and become Israel (they do not replace Israel). For more detail on this see the excursus at the end of the chapter.
Sixthly, because the hardness of a part of Israel is to last until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, at which point ‘all Israel will be saved’. Can we really see Paul as saying that once the last Gentile has been converted a work will begin that will result in huge numbers of Jews being converted, without any more Gentiles being converted? But if the conversion of the last Gentile makes up the total number of ‘all Israel as he/she is engrafted into the olive tree then the whole makes sense..
Seventhly, because it is difficult to see Paul as deliberately distinguishing in the worldwide church between ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ on the one hand, and ‘all Israel’ (signifying all believing Jews) on the other. This would appear to be holding the two elements of the early church in tension and therefore as going totally contrary to Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.10-11 where Paul emphatically declares that there is no longer ‘Jew and/or Greek’ as far as believers are concerned. Can we really believe, in view of this, that Paul does make precisely that distinction here in the context of final salvation, demonstrating that the church is divided into two? All other comparisons in Romans between Jew and Greek have in mind their position before they became Christians (1.16; 9.24; 10.12). They are Jew and Greek before they are converted, at which point they become ‘Christians’ or ‘believers’, i.e. the true Israel, with no distinction being made. So for Paul to suggest a scenario which splits the church into two like this might be thought to be totally inconsistent. It would go against all that he believed. We could surely only hold such an opinion if there were absolutely incontrovertible reasons for doing so, and that is not the case here. This in our view rules out both 1). and 2).
It is no argument against this that Paul differentiates the Gentile part of the Roman church from the Jewish part, for that arises out of the failure of some to recognise that all are one in Christ Jesus. It is the failing of the church that causes it not Paul’s theology. And it is something which Paul strives to put right. Bit it would be quite another matter to say that God makes such distinctions, when Paul has elsewhere made clear that He does not.
Eighthly on the grounds that to Paul, as to the early church, ‘Israel’ very much included the whole church. For we should recognise that the only reason why we exclude the believing Gentiles from the term Israel is because in our day the church is so clearly distinct from what we see as Israel.
It is, of course, true that unbelieving Israel would not have recognised the believing Gentiles as being a part of Israel, even though they did in general accept Gentile proselytes as part of Israel, and would have recognised any Gentile joining Israel in the ‘orthodox manner’ at that time as part of Israel. So the reason for the rejection was not that the believing Gentiles were Gentiles, but that the believing Gentiles had not come into Israel in the approved manner, through circumcision and instruction in the Law. And we moderns inaccurately take the same view as them, because we see Israel as separate from the church (as using modern terminology it mainly is).
But that was not so when these words were written. When the Apostles initially went out to proclaim the Gospel they were seeking to bring Israel to recognise its Messiah. Their concern was the establishment of the true Israel on the basis of faith in the Messiah. Paul continued that emphasis. He too went first to the Jews. He too was seeking to establish the true Israel. And in both cases Gentile believers were incorporated because God demonstrated that it was His will. But we should recognise that the incorporation of believing Gentiles was not in itself something new. It had always been a policy of Israel.
In the same way the Jewish church also saw itself as very much part of Israel, indeed as the elect part of Israel, the true Israel, in the midst of a wider Israel. And there can be no doubt, as we note from Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22, that Paul would have included believing Gentiles in with them as part of Israel for the reasons that he has just explained in verses 16-24, as indeed would most Jewish Christians. After all elsewhere Paul could describe them as ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16). Indeed it was because the early church saw Gentile believers as becoming part of Israel that the question of circumcision arose. That was why there was such a storm about whether Gentiles being converted should be circumcised. The question was, could they become a part of Israel without being circumcised. Paul replies, ‘yes, because circumcision has been replaced by the circumcision of Christ’ (being crucified with Christ). But if the converted Gentiles were seen by Paul as having become part of Israel, that means that Israel in verse 25 is also made up of Jews and believing Gentiles. This would then favour verse 26 as having the same meaning to the early church.
Thus any supposed distinction arises because of the situation raised by our minds looking from our modern view point. That, however, is irrelevant to what Paul is saying. What matters is how Paul saw it. We totally distinguish Christians from Jews, although we accept that there are Jewish Christians. Christian Jews in the early church on the other hand would have seen themselves as ‘Israel’, and as including believing Gentiles who had been incorporated into Israel, just as they saw themselves as part of Israel. It would have been second nature to them. That being so ‘Israel’ spoken of in a salvation context would have been seen as automatically including all believers in the Messiah, whether former-Jew or former-Gentile.
In our view then ‘all Israel’ is inclusive of both believing ex-Jews and believing ex-Gentiles, the former being branches of the olive tree by its very nature, the latter being engrafted into the olive tree in order to become a part of it. And it is this body which IS the true Israel. It is a triumphant declaration that God’s purposes for His elect have been fulfilled (compare 9.24). As a consequence unbelieving Israel are then not Israel in God’s eyes, however men see them. Paul had merely spoken of them as Israel previously because he has no other term that he could use to indicate their identification with the Israel of the Old Testament. So he uses ‘Israel’ in two senses. Firstly to indicate the elect (9.6), and secondly in order to indicate historical Israel. If this argument is accepted then it is clear that ‘all Israel’ includes ‘the full number of believing Gentiles’ as well as the elect of Israel, both together forming the true Israel (the true Vine; see excursus at the end of the chapter). This is not to deny that there are various indications elsewhere that there will be an increase in Jewish conversions to the Messiah in the end days by their becoming part of the Israel within Israel through faith in the Messiah, although it is regularly depicted as a remnant. It is only to deny that it is specifically in mind here.
End of Excursus.
11.28-29 ‘As touching the gospel, enemies for your sake, but as touching the election, beloved for the fathers’ sake. For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.’
As has already been noted this statement is not connected with what has been said previously by any connecting word, something which is much more significant in ancient Greek than in English. For where there was no punctuation such devices were necessary.
One way of seeing these words is as signifying that God has not forsaken His people, because while in respect of the Gospel one part of the Jews are enemies so that the Gentiles might benefit by receiving the Gospel, in respect of God’s election (‘for your sake’), another part of the Jews (the elect) are beloved because God has remembered His promises to the fathers (‘for the father’s sake’), the latter demonstrating that the gifts and calling of God are not repented of. In them He has fulfilled His promises to the fathers, and as promised has saved a remnant out of Israel (9.27). This interpretation might be seen as confirmed by 15.8 where it is said that the promises are confirmed to those who respond to the truth of God.
As has been noted this verse does not open with a connecting word. It is not, therefore, referring directly to something spoken of previously. Rather it is commencing a new subject. The first part clearly refers to unbelieving Jews, and indicates either their enmity ‘to the Gospel’ or their enmity ‘in the light of the Gospel’, or simply to the fact that they are enemies of God. Whichever way it is they are opposed to God and His Gospel, and are His enemies. More in question is the remainder. Is it indicating that God has not wholly cast off the unbelieving part of ‘Israel’ for the fathers’ sake, even though, as Messiah rejecters, He does not see them as the true Israel? Or is it speaking only of ‘the elect’ and their ‘election’ and indicating that they as the true Israel are beloved of God?
This latter interpretation would be seen as supported by the following:
Thus the terminology used in the phrase ‘concerning the election beloved for the fathers’ sake’ all favours reference to believers.
Note. Do The Two Parts Of Verse 28 Refer To Two Different Sections Of Israel?
What is often seen as militating against this idea is that ‘concerning the election’ is in parallel with ‘concerning the Gospel’. It is argued that both must therefore refer to ‘the principle of’. But there is no real reason why Paul (or his amanuensis) should not have used parallel phrases for stylistic purposes whilst at the same time having intended two different nuances, especially as in the context ‘With respect to the election they are beloved for the fathers sake’, if we take it as seeing the ‘election’ as ‘the elect’ as in 11.7, makes extremely good sense. Indeed we could counter argue that the idea of ‘the gifts and calling of God’ refers to the gifts of the Gospel and the election, and that the calling refers to God’s call to those who are His, i.e. the elect, for in Paul, and especially in Romans, God’s calling is always seen as effectual calling.
And besides, even if we translate ‘in respect of the principle of the Gospel’ and ‘in respect of the principle of election’ that does not prevent the possibility that the references ‘enemies’ and ‘beloved’ are to two parts of the entity of Israel. The parallel may indicate contrast rather than similarity. ON the other hand it should be noted that the verse does NOT say ‘the principle of the Gospel’, it says ‘in respect of the Gospel’, thus the two parts are not parallel anyway. For a). the purpose of the enmity was in order that the Gospel might benefit by gaining adherents, whilst the purpose of the belovedness was not in order that the election (which is an act of God) might in some way benefit. Rather the benefit was the other way round. They were beloved because of the fathers. Thus the phrases are not parallels. b). ‘enemies for your sake’ does not strictly parallel ‘beloved for the fathers’ sake’, except gramatically. The first indicates that the believing Gentiles (for your sake) benefit from the enmity (as has been constantly indicated), but the second is not indicating that the fathers benefit from the election. Again it is the other way round. It is the beloved who benefit from the election. Thus whatever way we relate the two clauses, they are not strictly parallel thoughts. They have been made to look parallel grammatically. So this criticism that our suggested interpretation takes no account of the parallel is true for all interpretations.
Probably the majority of scholars, however, do see both parts of the verse as referring to the same people. The situation being referred to is then that, although at present many Jews are antagonistic towards those who believe in the Messiah, (or that God is antagonistic towards them), with the result that they are thereby excluded from Israel, they are not wholly cast off. They have stumbled but not necessarily so that they will fall irrevocably (11.11). For they were still those who had once belonged ‘to the elect people’ (Exodus 19.6; elect in the purposes of God, not elected to salvation), and, although they have been cast off, they are beloved for the sake of the Patriarchs, i.e. because of the promises made to the Patriarchs, with the result that God’s mercy does still reach out towards them. And this is because God’s gift and calling are not repented of. But there is no way in which this can literally be applied to all Israel, for there is nothing that is made more clear in the Old Testament than that a large part of Israel were not beloved. Thus the idea can simply be that Israel as an unparticularised continuing entity is beloved, without it signifying all Israelites..
The argument would thus be that the Gentile Christians are to avoid antagonism towards unbelieving Jews, recognising God’s continuing interest in Israel as an entity, and are therefore to love them as God loves them, hoping to win them to the Messiah. (Our argument has not been that the conclusions are not true. Clearly God does want His people to reach out to the Jews. It is only that they are not obtainable from this verse).
‘As touching the election.’ There are five possible interpretations of this phrase. It could refer to:
We have already argued above for 1). and 2). As regards 4). and 5). they are said to have been beloved for the fathers’ sake, not beloved because they had once belonged to Israel. Thus 4). would seem preferable to 5).
End of Note.
‘For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.’ This clearly has reference to the ‘election’ of the previous verse. It could signify God’s gifts of the Gospel and of election, with the calling’ referring to effectual calling of believers, as it always previously has. Or it could indicate the fact that God had made gifts to His people (see 9.4; the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the priestly service, the priesthood, the promises, the land, the promise of numerous descendants, the coming of kings, the Law) and, having called Abraham so that through his descendants all the world may be blessed, has chosen and called Israel as an entity to be a blessing to the world. None of this will be repented of. Indeed, it is fulfilled by the success of the Gospel. His true people enjoy these gifts as never before, including ‘the land’ in the new Heaven and the new earth (2 Peter 3.13).
But what may now be being seen as revealed is that God has greater gifts for Israel on top of these, namely the gift of the fullness of the Gentiles, and the gift of new branches for the olive tree, something certainly indicated in the Old Testament, although not quite to the same extent. The concept of Gentiles benefiting by Israel’s ministry is not, of course new. There were many proselytes and God-fearers who had turned to Judaism with its strict moral code, and who had been accepted, and the Old Testament continually indicates blessing to the Gentiles (e.g. Genesis 12.3; Isaiah 42.6; 49.6; 60.3). What is new is the nature of it. This is the mystery that has now been revealed. And that mystery is summed up in the Messiah, Christ in us the hope of glory (Colossians 1.26-27).
11.30-31 ‘For as you in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience, even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy.’
Paul now explains the situation to the Roman Gentile Christians. He points out that they too had once been disobedient to God. But now, as a result of the disobedience of unbelieving Jews, the message of the Messiah has reached the Gentiles so that they have obtained mercy. As a consequence they are to recognise that the unbelieving Jews are now in a state of disobedience, and that because of the mercy that they themselves have received, they must take the offer of God’s mercy to unbelieving Israel, so that they too might obtain mercy. So the secondary, though important, theme of the necessity of seeing the Jews as beloved by God and having potential for salvation, continues to be emphasised.
11.32 ‘For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.’
The section now ends with an emphasis on the primary theme, the salvation of all, both Jew and Gentile. For God’s purpose in shutting up to disobedience both Jews and Gentiles (1.18-3.20; note especially ‘God gave them up to’), is so that He might eventually be in a position to have mercy on all (i.e. ‘all’ meaning either ‘all who will accept it by believing in the Messiah’ or ‘all’ in the sense of it being inclusive of both Jews and Gentiles). That is His hope. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3.9). But, of course, it requires repentance and belief in the Messiah, and that is what is lacking by many.
Paul Marvels At The Amazing Wisdom And Knowledge Of God As He Considers God’s Way Of Working As Revealed In What He Himself Has Said (11.33-36).
Paul now marvels at the wisdom and knowledge that God has demonstrated in what He has done in using the unbelief of the Jews to bring about the evangelisation of the Gentiles, and then using the Gentiles to evangelise the Jews. It may also have in mind wonder at God’s method of salvation in chapters 1-8. But his verdict is that God’s judgments are truly unsearchable, and that His ways are beyond the ability of men to explain or trace out. And this is because there is no one in Heaven or earth who can understand the mind of God, or give Him advice on what to do. Nor is there anyone who can contribute something to God that puts Him in their debt. God is over and beyond all.
11.33 ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!’
As Paul considers the amazing nature of God’s plan, to leave the Jews in unbelief so that the way might be opened to the Gentiles, and then sees how this in turn will result in the Gentiles going to the Jews with the Gospel, he cries out in amazement. How deep are the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments, how untraceable are His ways. He may also have had in mind the mystery of election, and indeed the mystery of God’s whole way of salvation. For all are a matter of wonder and praise. They defy human comprehension, and must therefore be accepted by faith..
11.34-35 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counsellor? or who has first given to him, and it will be recompensed to him again?’
For who can possibly fathom the mind of the Lord? And who could possibly counsel Him? And who could first give something to God, so that God has to recompense him? All the giving is initially done by God. It is He Who acts towards us in the first place, not we who act towards Him. It is He Who offers salvation, and we who then receive. We owe everything to God, but God never owes us anything. All the true initiative is from God. This is especially brought out by the fact that salvation is through the grace of God, and does not depend at all on the works of man. For there is nothing that we can do that can merit God’s favour and mercy. As Jesus said, when we have done all we must say, ‘I have only done that which it is my duty to do (Luke 17.10).
11.36 ‘For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.’
And the reason why what he has just declared is true is because everything, apart from sin which is an act of man, is of God. He is the source of all things (‘out of Him’), He is the controller of all things (‘through Him’), He is the goal of all things (‘to Him’). To Him therefore be the glory. Amen (this is sure).
Excursus. Is The Church The True Israel In God’s Eyes?
Is The Church the True Israel?
The question being asked here is whether the early church saw itself as the true Israel. It should be noted that by this we are not speaking of ‘spiritual Israel’, except in so far as Israel were supposed to be spiritual, or of a parallel Israel, nor are we talking about ‘replacing Israel’, but we are asking whether they saw themselves as actually being the continuation of the real entity of Israel whom God had promised to bless.
In this regard the first thing we should note is that Jesus as the proclaimed Messiah spoke to His disciples of ‘building His congregation/church (ekklesia)’ (Matthew 16.18), that is, ‘the congregation of the Messiah’. Now the Greek Old Testament often used ekklesia (church) to refer to the congregation of Israel when translating the Pentateuch (see Deuteronomy 4.10; 9.10; 18.16; 23.3, 8; 32.1). This suggests then that Jesus was here thinking in terms of building the true congregation of Israel, the remnant arising out of the old (Isaiah 6.12-13; Zechariah 13.9). It thus ties in with John 15.1-6 where He calls Himself the true vine, in contrast with old Israel, the false vine (Isaiah 5.1-7; Jeremiah 2.21). The renewed Israel is springing up from the Messiah. Indeed the reason for the adjective ‘true’ is as a direct contrast to ‘the false’.
While this did come after He had said that He had come only to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, that is those of Israel who were as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 10.6; 15.24 compare 9.36 and see Jeremiah 50.6), it also followed the time when His thinking clearly took a new turn following His dealings with the Syro-phoenician woman, when He began a ministry in more specifically Gentile territory. So while at the core of His ‘congregation’ were to be those Jews who responded to His teaching and became His followers, He undoubtedly envisaged a wider outreach.
There is therefore good reason for thinking that in His mind the ‘congregation/church’ equates with the true ‘Israel’, the Israel within Israel (Romans 9.6), as indeed it did in the Greek translations of the Old Testament where ‘the congregation/assembly of Israel’, which was finally composed of all who responded to the covenant, was translated as ‘the church (ekklesia) of Israel’. That being so we may then see it as indicating that He was now intending to found a new Israel, which it later turned out would include Gentiles. Indeed this was the very basis on which the early believers called themselves ‘the church/congregation’, that is, ‘the congregation of the new Israel’, and while they were at first made up mainly of Jews and proselytes, which was all that the Apostles were expecting until God forcibly interrupted them, this gradually developed into including both Jews and Gentiles.
Indeed in Acts 4.27-28 Luke demonstrates quite clearly that the old unbelieving Israel is no longer, after the resurrection, the true Israel, for we read, "For in truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to come about." Note the four ‘items’ mentioned, the Gentiles, the peoples of Israel, ‘King’ (Tetrarch) Herod and Pontius Pilate the ruler. And note that these words follow as an explanation of a quotation from Psalm 2.1 in Acts 4.25- 26, which is as follows:
The important point to note here is that ‘the peoples’ who imagined vain things, who in the original Psalm were nations who were enemies of Israel, have now become in Acts ‘the peoples of Israel’. Thus the ‘peoples of Israel’ who were opposing the Apostles and refusing to believe are here seen as the enemy of God and His Anointed, and of His people (compare Romans 11.28). It is a clear indication that old unbelieving Israel was now seen as numbered by God among the nations (compare how Jesus told His disciples to ‘shake the dust off their feet’ when they left Jewish town which had not received them (Matthew 10.14), an action indicating that they were seen as ‘unclean Gentiles’), and that that part of Israel which had believed in Christ were seen as the true Israel. As Jesus had said to Israel, ‘the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruits’ (Matthew 21.43). Thus the King now has a new people of Israel to guard and watch over.
The same idea is found in John 15.1-6. The false vine (the old Israel - Isaiah 5.1-7) has been cut down and replaced by the true vine of ‘Christ at one with His people’ (John 15.1-6; Ephesians 2.11-22). Here Jesus, and those who abide in Him (the church/congregation), are the new Israel. The old unbelieving part of Israel has been cut off (John 15.6) and replaced by all those who come to Jesus and abide in Jesus, that is both believing Jews and believing Gentiles (Romans 11.17-28), who together with Jesus form the true Vine by becoming its 'branches'.
The renewed Israel, the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16), thus sprang from Jesus. And it was He Who established its new leaders who would ‘rule over (‘judge’) the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19.28; Luke 22.30). Here ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ refers to all who will come to believe in Jesus through His word (compare James 1.1), and the initial, if not the complete fulfilment, of this promise occurred in Acts. This appointment of His Apostles to rule 'over the tribes of Israel' was not intended to divide the world into two parts, consisting of Jew and Gentile, with the two parts seen as separate, and with Israel under the Apostles, while the Gentiles were under other rulers, but as describing a united Christian ‘congregation’ under the Apostles. Thus those over whom they ‘ruled’ would be ‘the true Israel’ which would include both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. These would thus become the true Israel.
This true Israel was founded on believing Jews. The Apostles were Jews, and were to be the foundation of the new Israel which incorporated Gentiles within it (Ephesians 2.20; Revelation 21.14). And initially all its first foundation members were Jews. Then as it spread it first did so among Jews until there were ‘about five thousand’ Jewish males who were believers to say nothing of women and children (Acts 4.4). Then it spread throughout all Judaea, and then through the synagogues of ‘the world’, so that soon there were a multitude of Jews who were ‘Christians’ (‘Messiah’s people’). Here then was the initial true Israel, a new Israel within Israel. An Israel which had accepted God’s Messiah.
But then God revealed that He had a more expanded purpose for it. Proselytes (Gentile converts) and God-fearers (Gentile adherents to the synagogues), people who were already seen as connected with Israel, began to join and they also became branches of the true vine by abiding in Christ (John 15.1-6) and were grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11.17-28). They became ‘fellow-citizens’ with the Jewish believers (‘the saints’, a regular Old Testament name for true Israelites who were seen as true believers). They became members of the ‘household of God’. (Ephesians 2.11-22). And so the new Israel sprang up, following the same pattern as the old, and incorporating believing Jews and believing Gentiles. That is why Paul could describe the new church as ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16), because both Jews and Gentiles were now ‘the seed of Abraham’ (Galatians 3.29).
Those who deny that the church is Israel and still equate Israel with the Jews must in fact see all these believing Jews as cut off from Israel, as ‘the Jews’ in fact in time did. For by the late 1st century AD, the Israel for which those who deny that the church is Israel contend, was an Israel made up only of Jews who did not see Christian Jews as belonging to Israel. As far as they were concerned Christian Jews were cut off from Israel. And in the same way believing Jews who followed Paul’s teaching saw fellow Jews who did not believe as no longer being true Israel. They in turn saw the unbelieving Jews as cut off from Israel. As Paul puts it, ‘they are not all Israel who are Israel’ (Romans 9.6).
For the new Israel now saw themselves as the true Israel. They saw themselves as the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16). And that is why Paul stresses to the Gentile Christians in Ephesians 2.11-22; Romans 11.17-28 that they are now a part of the new Israel having been made one with the true people of God in Jesus Christ. Paul was expressing here the view of the early church, not expounding a new teaching which had not previously been appreciated.
In order to consider all this in more detail let us look back in history.
When Abraham entered the land of Canaan having been called there by God he was promised that in him all the world would be blessed, and this was later also promised to his seed (Genesis 12.3;18.18; 22.18; 26.4; 28.14). But Abraham did not enter the land alone. He came as head of a family tribe. In Genesis 14 we are told that he had three hundred and eighteen fighting men ‘born in his house’, in other words born to servants, camp followers and slaves. One of his own slave wives was an Egyptian (Genesis 16) and his steward was probably Syrian, a Damascene (Genesis 15.2). Thus Abraham was patriarch over a family tribe, all of whom with him inherited the promises, and they came from a number of different nationalities. Only a small proportion were actually descended from Abraham directly.
We should perhaps note that ‘Abraham’ regularly means ‘Abraham and his household’, that is, his family tribe. Compare how ‘Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up against all the fenced cities of Judah and took them’ (Isaiah 36.1). ‘In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up’ (2 Kings 24.1). They did not do it on their own.
From Abraham came Isaac through whom the most basic promises were to be fulfilled, for God said, ‘in Isaac shall your seed be called’ (Genesis 21.12; Romans 9.7; see also Genesis 26.3-5). Thus the seed of Ishmael, who was himself the seed of Abraham, while enjoying promises from God, were excluded from the major line of promises. While prospering, they would not be the people through whom the whole world would be blessed. And this was also true of Abraham's later sons born to Keturah. Thus the large part of Abraham's descendants were at this stage already cut off from the full Abrahamic promises. As Paul puts it, as we have seen, 'In Isaac will your seed be called' (Romans 9.7).
Jacob, who was renamed Israel, was born of Isaac, and it was to him that the future lordship of people and nations was seen as passed on (Genesis 27.29) and from his twelve sons came the twelve tribes of the ‘children of Israel’. But as with Abraham these twelve tribes would include retainers, servants and slaves. The ‘households’ that moved to Egypt would include such servants and slaves. The ‘seventy’ were accompanied by wives, retainers, and their children. So the ‘children of Israel’ even at this stage would include people from many peoples and nations. They included Jacob/Israel’s own descendants and their wives, together with their servants and retainers, and their wives and children, ‘many ‘born in their house’ but not directly their seed (Genesis 15.3). Israel was already a conglomerate people. Even at the beginning they were not all literally descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Most were rather ‘adopted’ into the family tribe.
When eventually after hundreds of years they left Egypt, already a mixed nation, they were then joined by a ‘mixed multitude’ from many nations, who with them had been enslaved in Egypt, and these joined with them in their flight (Exodus 12.38). So to the already mixed people of Israel were united with the mixed multitude and became even more of a mixture. At Sinai these were all joined within the covenant and became ‘children of Israel’, and when they entered the land all their males were circumcised as true Israelites (Joshua 5.8). Among these was an 'Ethiopian' (Cushite) woman who became Moses’ wife (Numbers 12.1). Thus we discover that ‘Israel’ from its commencement was an international community. Indeed it was made clear from the beginning that any who wanted to do so could join Israel and become an Israelite by submission to the covenant and by being circumcised (Exodus 12.48-49). Membership of the people of God was thus from the beginning to be open to all nations by submission to God through the covenant. It was a theocracy. And these all then connected themselves with one of the tribes of Israel, were absorbed into them, and began to trace their ancestry back to Abraham and Jacob even though they were not true born, and still in many cases retained an identifying appellation such as, for example, ‘Uriah the Hittite’. (Whether Uriah was one such we do not know, although we think it extremely probable. But there must certainly have been many who did it. Consider the list of David’s mighty men and their origins - 2 Samuel 23). And even while Moses was alive it proved necessary to make regulations as to who could enter the assembly or congregation of the Lord, and at what stage people of different nations could enter it (Deuteronomy 23.1-8), so that they could then become Israelites, and ‘sons of Abraham’.
That this was carried out in practise is evidenced by the numerous Israelites who bore a foreign name, consider for example ‘Uriah the Hittite’ (2 Samuel 11) and many of the mighty men of David (2 Samuel 23.8-28). These latter were so close to David that it is inconceivable that some at least did not become true members of the covenant by submitting to the covenant and being circumcised when it was clearly open to them through the Law. Later again it became the practise in Israel, in accordance with Exodus 12. 48-49, for anyone who ‘converted’ to Israel and began to believe in the God of Israel, to be received into ‘Israel’ on equal terms with the true-born, and that by circumcision and submission to the covenant. These were later called ‘proselytes’. In contrast people also left Israel by desertion, and by not bringing their children within the covenant, when for example they went abroad or were exiled. These were then ‘cut off from Israel’, as were deep sinners. ‘Israel’ was therefore always a fluid concept, and was, at least purportedly, composed of all who submitted to the covenant.
Two examples of non-Israelites who became Israelites are found (1) in the Edomites who settled in southern Judah. When John Hyrcanus was High Priest and Governor he forced them at the point of the sword to be circumcised and become Israelites. And (2) in the large numbers of Gentiles who were resident in Galilee when it was seized by the Jews. Aristobulus treated them in the same way. Thus by the time of Jesus both groups were accepted as ‘Israelites’.
When Jesus came His initial purpose was to call back to God ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10.6), those in Israel who were seeking a Shepherd, and in the main for the first part, with exceptions (e.g. John 4), He limited His ministry to Jews. But notice that those Jews who would not listen to His disciples were to be treated like Gentiles. The disciples were to shake their dust off their feet (Matthew 10.14). So even during Jesus' ministry there was a cutting off as well as a welcoming. After His dealings with the Syro-phoenician woman, He appears to have expanded His thinking, or His approach, further and to have moved into more Gentile territory, and later He declared that there were other sheep that He would also call and they would be one flock with Israel (John 10.16).
Thus when the Gospel began to reach out to the Gentiles those converted were welcomed as part of the one flock. The question that arose then was, ‘did they need to be circumcised in order to become members of the new Israel?’ Was a special proselytisation necessary, as with proselytes to old Israel, which was to be evidenced by circumcision? That was what the circumcision controversy was all about. The Judaisers said 'yes' and Paul said 'No'. And the question was only asked because all saw these new converts as becoming a part of Israel. If they had not seen these Gentiles as becoming a part of Israel there would have been no controversy. There would have been no need for circumcision. It was only because they were seen as becoming proselyte Israelites that the problem arose. That is why Paul’s argument was never that circumcision was not necessary because they were not becoming Israel. He indeed accepted that they would become members of Israel. (Ephesians 2.11-22) But rather he argues that circumcision was no longer necessary because all who were in Christ were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ. They were already circumcised by faith. They had the circumcision of the heart, and were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11), and therefore did not need to be circumcised again.
Thus in Romans 11.17-24 he speaks clearly of converted Gentiles being ‘grafted into the olive tree’ through faith, and of Israelites being broken off through unbelief, to be welcomed again if they repent and come to Christ. Whatever we therefore actually see the olive tree as representing, it is quite clear that it does speak of those who are cut off because they do not believe, and of those who are ingrafted because they do believe (precisely as it was to happen with Israel), and this in the context of ‘Israel’ being saved or not. But the breaking off or casting off of Israelites in the Old Testament was always an indication of being cut off from Israel. Thus we must see the olive tree as, like the true vine, signifying all who are now included within the promises, that is the true Israel, with spurious elements being cut off because they are not really a part of them, while new members are grafted in. The difficulty lies in the simplicity of the illustration which like all illustrations cannot cover every point.
Furthermore it should be noted that ‘olive tree’ is the very name by which YHWH called Israel for in Jeremiah 11.16 we read, ‘YHWH called your name ‘an olive tree, green, beautiful and with luscious fruit’. The importance of this comes out in that those who are actually said to be ‘called by name’ by YHWH are very few (Adam, Jacob/Israel and Magormissabib, the last being an indication of the judgment that was coming on him in Jeremiah 20.3). So, as Paul knew, ‘olive tree’ was YHWH’s name for the true Israel.
This then raises an interesting question. If unbelieving Israel can be cut off from the olive tree, what in Paul’s mind is the olive tree? For this illustration suggests that unbelieving Israel had been members of the olive tree, and if the olive tree is true Israel then does that mean that they had once been members of true Israel?
Exactly the same question could be posed about the branches of the vine which are pruned from the vine in John 15.1-6 and are burned in the fire. They too 'appear' to have been members of the true vine. And the same could be said of those caught into the net of the Kingly Rule of Heaven who are finally ejected and brought into judgment (Matthew 13.47-50). They too 'appear' to have been a part of the Kingly Rule of God. Thus the olive tree, the true Vine and the Kingly Rule of Heaven are all seen as seeming to contain false members. On this basis then none of them could surely be the true Israel?
This argument, however, is clearly false. For the true Vine is Jesus Himself. Thus the fact that some can be cut off from the true Vine hardly means that the true vine (Jesus) is to be seen as partly a false vine. The illustration simply indicates that they should never have been there in the first place. They were spurious. Outwardly they may have appeared to have been members of the true vine, but inwardly they were not. The same can be said to apply to the Kingly Rule of God. Those who were gathered into the net of the Kingly Rule of God divide up into ‘children of the Kingly Rule’ and ‘children of the Evil One’. The latter were never thus children of the Kingly Rule. They were never a true part of the Kingly Rule. They were children of the Evil One all the time. Indeed their very behaviour revealed that they were not under God’s Kingly Rule. In the same way then the olive tree is an Israel composed of true believers, and is such that unbelieving Jews are cut off because essentially they are proved not to have been a part of it. Outwardly they had appeared to be, but they were not. In each case it simply means that there were spurious elements connected with them that were masquerading as the real thing, which simply have to be removed. Rather than being in the basic concept, the problem arises from the difficulty of conveying the concept in simple pictorial terms. For the true Vine can hardly really have false members, otherwise it would not be the true Vine. In each case, therefore, it is can clearly be seen that in fact those ‘cut off’ or ‘ejected’ were never really a part of what they were seen to be cut off from, but had only physically given the appearance of being so.
The same is true of the ‘church’ today. There is an outward church composed of all who attach themselves and call themselves Christians, and there is a true church composed of all who are true believers and are ‘in Christ’. It is only the latter who benefit, and will benefit, from all that God has promised for His ‘church’. The whole essence of the message of Jesus, and of the New Testament, was that it was only those who believed from the heart who were the true people of God.
In the same way, as Paul has said, not all Israel are (or ever were) the true Israel (Romans 9.6). Many professed to be but were spurious ‘members’. They were fakes. Their hearts were not within the covenant. They were ‘not My people’ (Hosea 2.23). This stresses the difference between the outward and the inward. Not all who say ‘Lord’ Lord’ will enter the Kingly Rule of God, but only those will enter who by their lives reveal that they truly are what they profess to be (Matthew 7.21).
This idea also comes out regularly in the Old Testament where God made it quite clear that only a proportion of Israel would avoid His judgments (e.g. Isaiah 6.13). The remainder (and large majority) would be ‘cut off’, for although outwardly professing to be His people they were not His people. And thus it was with the people of Israel in Jesus’ day. They were revealed by their fruits, which included how they responded to Jesus the Messiah.
But in Ephesians 2 Paul makes clear that Gentiles can become a part of the true Israel. He tells the Gentiles that they had in the past been ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise’ (2.12). They had not been a part of Israel. Thus in the past they had not belonged to the twelve tribes. But then he tells them that they are now ‘made nigh by the blood of Christ’ (2.13), Who has ‘made both one and broken down the wall of partition --- creating in Himself of two one new man’ (2.14-15). Now therefore, through Christ, they have been made members of the commonwealth of Israel, and inherit the promises. So they are ‘no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (2.19-20). ‘Strangers and sojourners’ was the Old Testament description of those who were not true Israelites. It is therefore made as clear as can be that they have now entered the ‘renewed’ Israel. They are no longer strangers and sojourners but are now ‘fellow-citizens’ with God’s people. They have entered into the covenant of promise (Galatians 3.29), and thus inherit all the promises of the Old Testament, including the prophecies. To Paul all true believers were Israel.
So as with people in the Old Testament who were regularly adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel (e.g. the mixed multitude - Exodus 12.38), Gentile Christians too are now seen as so incorporated. That is why Paul can call the church ‘the Israel of God’, made up of Jews and ex-Gentiles, having declared circumcision and uncircumcision as unimportant because there is a new creation (Galatians 6.15-16), a circumcision of the heart. It is those who are in that new creation who are the Israel of God.
In context ‘The Israel of God’ can here only mean that new creation, the church of Christ, otherwise he is being inconsistent. For as he points out, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters any more. What matters is the new creation. It must therefore be that which identifies the Israel of God. For if circumcision is irrelevant then the Israel of God cannot be made up of the circumcised, even the believing circumcised, for circumcision has lost its meaning. The point therefore behind both of these passages is that all Christians become, by adoption, members of the twelve tribes.
There would in fact be no point in mentioning circumcision if he was not thinking of incorporation of believing Gentiles into the twelve tribes. The importance of circumcision was that to the Jews it made the difference between those who became genuine proselytes, and thus members of the twelve tribes, and those who remained as ‘God-fearers’, loosely attached but not circumcised and therefore not accepted as full Jews. That then was why the Judaisers wanted all Gentiles who became Christians to be circumcised. It was because they did not believe that they could otherwise become genuine Israelites. So they certainly saw converted Gentiles as becoming Israelites. There could be no other reason for wanting Gentiles to be circumcised. (Jesus had never in any way commanded circumcision). But Paul says that that is not so. He argues that they can become true Israelites without being physically circumcised because they are circumcised in heart. They are circumcised in Christ. So when Paul argues that Christians have been circumcised in heart (Romans 2.26, 29; 4.12; Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.11) he is saying that that is all that is necessary in order for them to be members of the true Israel.
A great deal of discussion often takes place about the use of ‘kai’ in Galatians 6.16, ‘as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and (kai) on the Israel of God’. It is asked, ‘does it signify that the Israel of God is additional to and distinct from those who ‘walk by this rule’, or simply define them?’ (If the Israel of God differs from those who ‘walk by this rule’ then that leaves only the Judaisers as the Israel of God, and excludes Paul and His Jewish supporters. But can anyone really contend that that was what Paul meant?) The answer to this question is really decided by the preceding argument. We cannot really base our case on arguments about ‘kai’. But for the sake of clarity we will consider the question.
Kai is a vague connecting word. It cannot be denied that ‘kai’ can mean ‘and’ in some circumstances, and as thus indicate adding something additional, because it is a connecting word. But nor can it be denied that it can alternatively, in contexts like this, mean ‘even’, and as thus equating what follows with what has gone before, again because it is a connecting word (it does not mean ‘and’, it simply connects and leaves the context to decide its meaning). ‘Kai’ in fact is often used in Greek as a kind of connection word where in English it is redundant altogether. It is not therefore a strongly definitive word. Thus its meaning must always be decided by the context, and a wise rule has been made that we make the decision on the basis of which choice will add least to the meaning of the word in the context (saying in other words that because of its ambiguity ‘kai’ should never be stressed). That would mean here the translating of it as ‘even’, giving it its mildest influence.
That that is the correct translation comes out if we give the matter a little more thought. The whole letter has been emphasising that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (3.28), and that this arises because all are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. So even had we not had the reasons that we have already considered, how strange it would then be for Paul to close the letter by distinguishing Jew from Greek, and Gentiles from the believing Jews. He would be going against all that he has just said. And yet that is exactly what he would be doing if he was exclusively indicating by the phrase ‘the Israel of God’ only the believing Jews. So on all counts, interpretation, grammar and common sense, ‘the Israel of God’ must include both Jews and Gentiles.
In Galatians 4.26 it is made clear that the true Jerusalem is the heavenly Jerusalem, the earthly having been rejected. This new heavenly Jerusalem is ‘the mother of us all’ just as Sarah had been the mother of Israel. All Christians are thus the children of the freewoman, that is, of Sarah (4.31). This reveals that they are therefore the true sons of Abraham, signifying ‘Israel’. To argue that being a true son of Abraham through Sara is not the same thing as being a son of Jacob/Israel would in fact be to argue contrary to all that Israel believed. Their boast was precisely that they were ‘sons of Abraham’, indeed the true sons of Abraham, because they 'came' from Sara's seed.
Again in Romans he points out to the Gentiles that there is a remnant of Israel which is faithful to God and they are the true Israel (11.5). The remainder have been cast off (Romans 10.27, 29; 11.15, 17, 20). Then he describes the Christian Gentiles as ‘grafted in among them’ becoming ‘partakers with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree’ (11.17). They are now part of the same tree so it is clear that he regards them as now being part of the faithful remnant of Israel (see argument on this point earlier). With regard to the olive tree we are told that God said to Israel, ‘God called your name “A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit’ (Jeremiah 11.16). So the olive tree is very much a picture of the true Israel. This oneness is again declared quite clearly in Galatians, for ‘those who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham’ (Galatians 3.7).
Note that in Romans 9 Paul declares that not all earthly Israel are really Israel, only those who are chosen by God. It is only the chosen who are the foreknown Israel. See 9.8, 24-26; 11.2. This is a reminder that to Paul ‘Israel’ is a fluid concept. It does not have just one fixed meaning. It can mean all Jews. It can mean all believing Jews. It can mean all unbelieving Jews, excluding believing Jews, depending on Paul's context. Thus 'they are not all Israel who are Israel' indicates already two definitions of Israel (Romans 9.6).
The privilege of being a ‘son of Abraham’ is that one is adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel. It is the twelve tribes who proudly called themselves ‘the sons of Abraham’ (John 8.39, 53). That is why in the one man in Christ Jesus there can be neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3.28). For they all become one as Israel by being one with the One Who in Himself sums up all that Israel was meant to be, the true vine (John 15.1-6; Isaiah 49.3). For ‘if you are Abraham’s seed, you are heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3.29). To be Abraham’s ‘seed’ within the promise is to be a member of the twelve tribes. There can really be no question about it. The reference to ‘seed’ is decisive. You cannot be ‘Abraham’s seed’ through Sara and yet not a part of Israel. (If we want to be pedantic we can point out that Edom also actually ceased to exist and did become by compulsion, a part of Israel, under John Hyrcanus. Thus Israel was once again to be seen as an openly conglomerate nation. Furthermore large numbers of what were now seen as Galilean Jews (but some of whom had been Gentiles) had been forced to become Jews in the two centuries before Christ. Having been circumcised they were accepted as Jews even though not born of the twelve tribes).
Paul can even separate Jew from Jew saying, ‘he is not a Jew who is one outwardly --- he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and the circumcision is that of the heart’ (2.28-29 compare v.26). The true Jew, he says, is the one who is the inward Jew. So he distinguishes physical Israel from true Israel and physical Jew from true Jew. Furthermore he also declares that Gentiles can by this means become true Jews.
In the light of these passages it cannot really be doubted that the early church saw the converted Gentiles as becoming a member of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are ‘the seed of Abraham’ (Galatians 3.29); ‘children of promise (as sons of Abraham)’ (Galatians 4.28); sons of Abraham in that he is ‘the father of all who believe, though they be in uncircumcision’ (Romans 4.11); ‘spiritually circumcised’ (Romans 2.26-29; Colossians 2.11); ‘grafted into the true Israel’ (Romans 11.16-24); ‘fellow-citizens with the saints in the commonwealth of Israel’ (Ephesians 2.19 with 12); ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16); ‘the chosen race’ (1 Peter 2.9); the ‘holy nation’ (1 Peter 2.9). What further evidence do we need?
In Romans 4 he further makes clear that Abraham is the father of all who believe, including both circumcised and uncircumcised (4.9-13). Indeed he says we have been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11). All who believe are therefore circumcised children of Abraham.
When James writes to ‘the twelve tribes which are of the dispersion’ (1.1) he is taking the same view. (Jews living away from Palestine were seen as dispersed around the world and were therefore thought of as ‘the dispersion’). There is not a single hint in his letter that he is writing other than to all in the churches. He therefore sees the whole church as having become members of the twelve tribes, and sees them as the true 'dispersion', and indeed refers to their ‘assembly’ with the same word used for synagogue (2.2). But he can also call them ‘the church’ (5.14).
Yet there is not even the slightest suggestion anywhere in the remainder of his letter that he has just one section of the church in mind. In view of the importance of the subject, had he not been speaking of the whole church he must surely have commented on the attitude of Jewish Christians to Christian Gentiles, especially in the light of the ethical content of his letter. It was a crucial problem of the day. But there is not even a whisper of it in his letter. He speaks as though to the whole church. Unless he was a total separatist (which we know he was not) and treated the ex-Gentile Christians as though they did not exist, this would seem impossible unless he saw all as now making up ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’.
Peter also writes to ‘the elect’ and calls them ‘sojourners of the dispersion’, but when he does speak of ‘Gentiles’ he always means unconverted Gentiles. He clearly assumes that all that come under that heading are not Christians (2.12; 4.3). The fact that the elect includes ex-Gentiles is confirmed by the fact that he speaks to the recipients of his letter warning them not to fashion themselves ‘according to their former desires in the time of their ignorance’ (1 Peter 1.14), and as having been ‘not a people, but are now the people of God’ (1 Peter 2.10), and speaks of them as previously having ‘wrought the desire of the Gentiles’ (1 Peter 4.3). So it is apparent he too sees all Christians as members of the twelve tribes (as in the example above, ‘the dispersion’ means the twelve tribes scattered around the world).
Good numbers of Gentiles were in fact becoming members of the Jewish faith at that time, and on being circumcised were accepted by the Jews as members of the twelve tribes (as proselytes). In the same way the Apostles, who were all Jews and also saw the pure in Israel, the believing Jews, as God’s chosen people, saw the converted Gentiles as being incorporated into the new Israel, into the true twelve tribes. But they did not see circumcision as necessary, and the reason for that was that they considered that all who believed had been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ.
Peter in his letter confirms all this. He writes to the church calling them ‘a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession’ (1 Peter 2.5, 9), all terms which in Exodus 19.5-6 indicate Israel.
Today we may not think in these terms but it is apparent that to the early church to become a Christian was to become a member of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is why there was such a furore over whether circumcision, the covenant sign of the Jew, was necessary for Christians. It was precisely because they were seen as entering the twelve tribes that many saw it as required. Paul’s argument against it is never that Christians do not become members of the twelve tribes (as we have seen he actually argues that they do) but that what matters is spiritual circumcision, not physical circumcision. Thus early on Christians unquestionably saw themselves as the true twelve tribes of Israel.
This receives confirmation from the fact that the seven churches (the universal church) is seen in terms of the seven lampstands in chapter 1. The sevenfold lampstand in the Tabernacle and Temple represented Israel. In the seven lampstands the churches are seen as the true Israel.
Given that fact it is clear that reference to the hundred and forty four thousand from all the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7 is to Christians. But it is equally clear that the numbers are not to be taken literally. The twelve by twelve is stressing who and what they are, not how many there are. There is no example anywhere else in Scripture where God actually selects people on such an exact basis. Even the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19.18) were a round number based on seven as the number of divine perfection and completeness. The reason for the seemingly exact figures is to demonstrate that God has His people numbered and that not one is missing (compare Numbers 31.48-49). The message of these verses is that in the face of persecution to come, and of God’s judgments against men, God knows and remembers His own. But they are then described as a multitude who cannot be numbered (only God can number them).
Indeed if this is not so then we have to accept that no member of the tribe of Dan will be saved, for it is noticeable that this description of the twelve tribes is in fact artificial in another respect. While Judah is placed first as the tribe from which Christ came, Dan is omitted, and Manasseh is included as well as Joseph, although Manasseh was the son of Joseph. Thus the omission of Dan is deliberate, while Ephraim, Joseph’s other son, is ‘excluded by name’, but included under Joseph’s name. (This artificiality confirms that the idea of the tribes is not to be taken literally). The exclusion of Dan is probably because he was seen as the tool of the Serpent (Genesis 49.17), but this was hardly good reason for the tribe of Dan being refused salvation. And the exclusion of the two names is because the two names were specifically connected with idolatry.
In Deuteronomy 29.17-20 the warning had been given that God would ‘blot out his name from under heaven’, when speaking of those who gave themselves up to idolatrous worship and belief, and as we have seen idolatry and uncleanness were central in the warnings to the seven churches. Thus the exclusion of the names of Ephraim and Dan are a further warning against such things.
It is unquestionable that the names of both Ephraim and Dan were specifically connected with idolatry in such a way as to make them distinctive. Hosea declared, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone, their drink is become sour, they commit whoredom continually’ (Hosea 4.17-18). This is distinctly reminiscent of the sins condemned in the seven churches. It is true that Ephraim here means the whole of Israel, as often, but John saw the name of Ephraim as besmirched by the connection with idolatry and whoredom.
As for Dan, it was a man of the tribe of Dan who ‘blasphemed the Name’ (Leviticus 24.11), it was Dan that was first to set up a graven image in rivalry to the Tabernacle (Judges 18.30) and Dan was the only tribe mentioned by name as being the site of one of the calves of gold set up by Jeroboam, as Amos stresses (Amos 8.14; 1 Kings 12.29-30; 2 Kings 10.29). Indeed Amos directly connects the name of Dan with ‘the sin of Samaria’. Thus Dan is closely connected with blasphemy and idolatry. And to cap it all ‘Dan will be a serpent in the way, and an adder in the path’ (Genesis 49.17). He is the tool of the Serpent. Typologically therefore he is the Judas of the twelve. How could he not then be excluded? It is also voices in Dan and Ephraim which declare the evil coming on Jerusalem (Jeremiah 4.15), closely connecting the two.
That what is excluded is the name of Ephraim and not its people (they are included in Joseph) is significant. It means that the message of these omissions is that the very names of those who partake in idolatry and sexual misbehaviour will be excluded from the new Israel (compare the warnings to the churches, especially Thyatira). The exclusion of the name of Dan is therefore to warn us that those who are not genuine will be excluded from the new Israel. But that does not mean that there were not many Danites who had become Christians, or indeed were accepted as Jews.
So here in Revelation, in the face of the future activity of God against the world, He provides His people with protection, and marks them off as distinctive from those who bear the mark of the Beast. God protects His true people. And there is no good reason for seeing these people as representing other than the church of the current age. The fact is that we are continually liable to persecution, and while not all God’s judgments have yet been visited on the world, we have experienced sufficient to know that we are not excluded. In John’s day this reference to ‘the twelve tribes’ was telling the church that God had sealed them, so that while they must be ready for the persecution to come, they need not fear the coming judgments of God that he will now reveal, for they are under His protection.
In fact the New Testament tells us that all God’s true people are sealed by God. Abraham received circumcision as a seal of ‘the righteousness of (springing from) faith’ (Romans 4.11), but circumcision is replaced in the New Testament by the ‘seal of the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 1.22; Ephesians 1.13; 4.30). It is clear that Paul therefore sees all God’s people as being ‘sealed’ by God in their enjoyment of the indwelling Holy Spirit and this would suggest that John’s description in Revelation 7 is a dramatic representation of that fact. His people have been open to spiritual attack from earliest New Testament days (and before) and it is not conceivable that they have not enjoyed God’s seal of protection on them. Thus the seal here in Revelation refers to the sealing (or if someone considers it future, a re-sealing) with the Holy Spirit of promise. The whole idea behind the scene is in order to stress that all God’s people have been specially sealed.
In Revelation 21 the ‘new Jerusalem’ is founded on twelve foundations which are the twelve Apostles of the Lamb (21.14), and its gates are the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (21.12). Indeed Jesus said that he would found his ‘church’ on the Apostles and their statement of faith (Matthew 16.18) and the idea behind the word ‘church’ (ekklesia) here was as being the ‘congregation’ of Israel. (The word ekklesia is used of the latter in the Greek Old Testament). Jesus had come to establish the new Israel. Thus from the commencement the church were seen as being the true Israel, composed of both Jew and Gentile who entered within God’s covenant, the ‘new covenant’, as it had been right from the beginning, and they were called ‘the church’ for that very reason.
In countering these arguments it has been astonishingly said that ‘Every reference to Israel in the New Testament refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ And another expositor has added the comment, ‘This is true in the Old Testament also.’
Such statements are not only a gross oversimplification, but in fact they are totally untrue. They simply assume what they intend to prove, and are in fact completely incorrect. For as we have seen above if there is one thing that is absolutely sure it is that many who saw themselves as Israelites were not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many were descended from the servants of the Patriarchs who went down into Egypt in their ‘households’, and were from a number of nationalities. Others were part of the mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel (Exodus 12.38). They were adopted into Israel, and became Israelites, a situation which was sealed by the covenant.
Indeed it is made quite clear that anyone who was willing to worship God and become a member of the covenant through circumcision could do so and became accepted on equal terms as ‘Israelites’ (Exodus 12.47-49). They would then become united with the tribe among whom they dwelt or with which they had connections. That is why there were regulations as to who could enter the assembly or congregation of the Lord, and when (Deuteronomy 23.1-8). Later on Gentile proselytes would also be absorbed into Israel. Thus ‘Israel’ was from the start very much a conglomerate, and continued to be so. That is why many Galileans and the Edomites were forced to become Jews and be circumcised once the Jews took over their land. From then on they were seen as part of Israel. And those are only examples that we know of.
Nor is it true that in Paul ‘Israel’ always means physical Israel. When we come to the New Testament Paul can speak of ‘Israel after the flesh’ (1 Corinthians 10.18). That suggests that he also conceives of an Israel not ‘after the flesh’. That conclusion really cannot be avoided.
Furthermore, when we remember that outside Romans 9-11 Israel is only mentioned by Paul seven times, and that 1 Corinthians 10.18 clearly points to another Israel, one not after the flesh (which has been defined in verses 1-18), and that it is one of the seven verses, and that Galatians 6.16 is most satisfactorily seen as signifying the church of Jesus Christ and not old Israel at all (or even converted Israel), the statement must be seen as having little force. In Ephesians 2.11-22 where he speaks of the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ he immediately goes on to say that in Christ Jesus all who are His are ‘made nigh’, and then stresses that we are no more strangers and sojourners but are genuine fellow-citizens, and are of the household of God. If that does not mean becoming a part of the true Israel it is difficult to see what could. And it is an Israel composed of believers.
Furthermore in the other four references (so now only four out of seven) it is not the present status of Israel that is in mind. The term is simply being used as an identifier in a historical sense in reference to connections with the Old Testament situation. Thus two simply refer to Paul as a natural Israelite (2 Corinthians 11.22; Philippians 3.5), and two refer to ‘the children of Israel’ as connected with Moses (2 Corinthians 3.7, 13). Thus the argument that ‘Israel always means Israel’ is not very strong. Again in Hebrews all mentions of ‘Israel’ are historical, referring back to the Old Testament. They refer to Israel in the past, not in the present. In Revelation two mentions out of three are again simply historical, while many would consider that the other actually does refer to the church (Revelation 7.4). (Mentions of pre-Christian Israel obviously could not include the ‘church’, the new Israel. But they certainly do include Gentiles who have become Jews).
Indeed, ‘Israel’ in the Old Testament is equally fluid. At one stage it meant the whole of Israel and Judah (e.g. 1 Kings 4.1). Then it meant the Northern Kingdom. Then it meant that part of Israel which remained when a large part of the nation had been carried off as exiles, or had been incorporated into Gentile territory (2 Kings 17.1). Then it was used by the later prophets to refer to Judah (e.g. Jeremiah 18.6). Paul’s use is, of course, different again for when he uses it of natural Israel he is presumably referring to all Jews everywhere, sometimes including ‘believers’ (11.11, 25), sometimes excluding them (Romans 9.30-31), and sometimes signifying only believers (Romans 9.6).
Thus in Romans 9-11 it is made very clear that Israel can mean more than one thing. When Paul says, ‘they are not all Israel, who are of Israel’ (Romans 9.6) and points out that it is the children of the promise who are counted as the seed (9.8), we are justified in seeing that there are two Israels in Paul’s mind, one which is the Israel after the flesh, and includes old unconverted Israel, and one which is the Israel of the promise.
And when he says that ‘Israel’ have not attained ‘to the law of righteousness’ while the Gentiles ‘have attained to the righteousness which is of faith’ (9.30-31) he cannot be speaking of all Israel because it is simply not true that none in Israel have attained to righteousness. Jewish-Christian believers have also attained to the righteousness which is of faith, and have therefore attained the law of righteousness. For many thousands and even tens of thousands had become Christians as we have seen in Acts 1-5. Thus here ‘Israel’ must mean old, unconverted Israel, not all the (so-called) descendants of the Patriarchs, and must actually exclude believing Israel, however we interpret the latter, for ‘Israel did not seek it by faith’ while believing Israel did.
Thus here we see three uses of Israel, each referring to a different entity. One is all the old Israel, which includes both elect and non-elect (11.11) and is therefore a partly blind Israel (11.25), one is the Israel of promise (9.6; called in 11.11 ‘the election’) and one is the old Israel which does not include the Israel of promise, the part of the old Israel which is the blind Israel. The term is clearly fluid and can sometimes refer to one group and sometimes to another.
Furthermore here ‘the Gentiles’ must mean those who have come to faith and not all Gentiles. It cannot mean all Gentiles, for it speaks of those who have ‘attained to the righteousness of faith’ (which was what old Israel failed to obtain when it strove after it). It means believing Gentiles. Thus that term is also fluid. (In contrast, in 1 Peter ‘Gentiles’ represents only those who are unconverted. Thus all words like these must be interpreted in their contexts).
When we are also told that such Gentiles who have come to faith have become ‘Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3.29) we are justified in seeing these converted Gentiles as having become part of the new Israel, along with the converted Jews. They are now actually stated to be ‘the seed of Abraham’. That is why in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3.28). This clarifies the picture of the olive tree. Old unconverted Israel are cut out of it, the converted Gentiles are grafted into it. Thus old Israel are no longer God’s people while the converted Gentiles are. There is a ‘new nation’ (Matthew 21.43; 1 Peter 2.9) composed of the remnant of Israel, along with proselytised Gentiles.
It may then be asked, ‘What then does Paul mean when he says that ‘all Israel will be saved’?’ (Romans 11.26). It clearly cannot mean literally ‘all’ of old Israel, both past and present, for Scripture has made quite clear that not all of them will be saved. Let us consider the possibilities:
It is important in this regard to consider what Paul’s message was in Romans 9-11. It was that God began with Abraham and then began cutting off many of his seed, leaving the remnant according to the election of grace, those whom He foreknew. The entity of Israel was found in those whom He foreknew. Then He began incorporating others in the persons of believing Gentiles as we have seen, and these increased in proportion through Christ, and all who believed became members of the olive tree. Thus this was now ‘all Israel’, those whom God had elected from eternity past to be His people.
But what in fact Paul is finally seeking to say is that in the whole salvation history God’s purposes will not be frustrated, and that in the final analysis all whom He has chosen and foreknown (11.2) will have come to Him, whether Jew or Gentile.
In the light of all this it is difficult to see how we can deny that in the New Testament all who truly believed were seen as becoming a part of the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’.
But some ask, ‘if the church is Israel why does Paul only tell us so rarely?’. The answer is twofold. Firstly the danger that could arise from the use of the term, causing people to be confused. And secondly because he actually does so most of the time in his own way. For another way of referring to Israel in the Old Testament was as ‘the congregation’ (LXX church). Thus any reference to the ‘church’ does indicate the new Israel.
But does this mean that old Israel can no longer be seen as having a part in the purposes of God. If we mean as old Israel then the answer is yes. As old Israel they are no longer relevant to the purposes of God for the true Israel are the ones who are due to receive the promises of God. But if we mean as ‘converted and becoming part of believing Israel’ then the answer is that God in His mercy will surely yet have a purpose for them by winning many of them to Christ in the end days. Any member of old Israel can become a part of the olive tree by being grafted in again. And there is a welcome to the whole of Israel if they will believe in Christ. Nor can there be any future for them as being used in the purposes of God until they believe in Christ. And then if they do they will become a part of the whole, not superior to others, or inferior to others, but brought in on equal terms as Christians and members of ‘the congregation’.
It may well be that God has brought Israel back into the land because he intends a second outpouring of the Spirit like Pentecost (and Joel 2.28-29). But if so it is in order that they might become Christians. It is in order that they might become a part of the true Israel, the ‘congregation (church) of Jesus Christ’. For God may be working on old Israel doing His separating work in exactly the same ways as He constantly works on old Gentiles, moving them from one place to another in order to bring many of them to Christ. It is not for us to tell Him how He should do it. But nor must we give old Israel privileges that God has not given them.
But what then is the consequence of what we have discussed? Why is it so important? The answer is that it is important because if it is the fact that true Christians today are the only true people of God that means that all the Old Testament promises relate to them, not by being ‘spiritualised’, but by them being interpreted in terms of a new situation. Much of the Old Testament has to be seen in the light of new situations. It is doubtful if today anyone really thinks that swords and spears will be turned into ploughshares and pruninghooks. However we see it that idea has to be modernised. (Tanks being turned into tractors?). In the same way therefore we have to ‘modernise’ in terms of the New Testament many of the Old Testament promises. Jerusalem must become the Jerusalem that is above (Galatians 4.25-26; Hebrews 12.22). The sacrifices must become spiritual sacrifices e.g. of praise and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13.15; 1 Peter 2.5; compare also Romans 12.1; 15.16; Philippians 2.17; 4.18). And so on. But Israel continues on in the true church (congregation) of Christ, being composed of all who have truly submitted to the Messiah.
Note. Literal sacrifices in the Old Testament could not possibly be repeated in the future in any sense that is genuine. The so-called memorial sacrifices of some expositors are a totally new invention. They are certainly not what the prophets intended. So it is no less 'spiritualising' to call them memorial sacrifices than it is to speak of spiritual sacrifices. And can anyone really believe, if they open their eyes, that in a world where the lion lies down with the lamb, and the wolves and the sheep are mates, only man is vile enough to kill animals? It does not bear thinking about. It goes against all the principles that lie behind the idea. Whereas when we recognise that that is an idealised picture of the heavenly Kingdom and the new Earth where all is peace and death is no more then it all fits together.
Romans part 2 (5-8).
Romans part 4 12-16).
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