To Glorify God’s Integrity
just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” “And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (11:26b–29)
Scripture is replete with affirmations of God’s utter truthfulness and trustworthiness. “God is not a man, that He should lie,” Balaam informed Balak, “nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). The writer of Hebrews gives the encouraging assurance, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). From Peter we have a similar affirmation: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God’s promises are certain and they are punctual. They will be fulfilled in exactly the way and at exactly the time that the Lord has determined and declared. Others cannot thwart God’s promises, and He Himself will not break them. In every form and to every degree, His Word is immutable.
As he nears the conclusion of this momentous section on God’s dealing with Israel (chaps. 9–11), Paul emphasizes once again God’s sovereignty and integrity. In saving “all Israel,” the Lord will display Himself to the One who always keeps His promises and fulfills His covenants. Just as it is written, Paul says, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob” (emphasis added; cf. Isa. 59:20–21). Quoting again from Isaiah, he then says, “And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins” (cf. Isa. 27:9).
Salvation is the forgiveness and removal of sin, the eradication of that which separates fallen man from the holy God. The power of salvation is God’s grace, and the condition of salvation is man’s faith. But even that required faith is divinely provided. As Paul has already made clear, our calling to salvation, our justification, sanctification, and glorification all flow from God’s sovereign grace, the fruit of His divine foreknowledge and predestination (Rom. 8:29–30).
The ultimate salvation of Israel is also assured by divine certainty. In order for “all Israel [to] be saved,” all her sin must be forgiven and removed. And that is expressly what God promises to do: remove ungodliness from Jacob and take away their sins. The promise is unconditional. It will not depend on Israel’s deciding on its own to comeback to the Lord but on the Lord’s sovereignly bringing Israel back to Himself.
Perhaps God’s most dramatic promise of final, unconditional dealing with His chosen people Israel is seen in the mysterious and unique covenant He made with Abraham that is described in Genesis 15. In answer to the patriarch’s question, “O Lord God, how may I know that I shall possess [the land]?” God directed him to take “a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram” and to cut them in half (vv. 8–9). The parts of each animal were then laid out opposite each other, along with a turtledove and a pigeon. After causing Abraham to fall into a deep sleep, God alone passed between the pieces, thereby sealing several divine promises. Abraham would die peacefully in old age; after 400 years of oppression and enslavement, his descendants would be delivered from a foreign nation; and God’s promise of the land was reiterated (vv. 10–21). But unlike other covenants, not only its terms but its ratification were wholly God’s doing. Despite his being asleep, Abraham was aware of what God was doing and saying, but only as a silent onlooker. Abraham was not required so much as to acknowledge, much less agree to, this covenant. The promises were without condition. This covenant amounted to a divine and unalterable declaration, to which God bound Himself in the unique act described in this passage.
Paul continues to explain that, from the standpoint of the gospel they [Israel] are enemies for your [the Gentile’s] sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. As he has already explained at some length (vv. 11–24), because of Israel’s transgression in rejecting her Messiah, she was set aside—becoming God’s enemies, as it were—in order that salvation could come to the Gentiles. That was her temporary situation from the standpoint of the gospel. But from the permanent, eternal standpoint of God’s sovereign choice, Israel is even now (they are) and forever will be beloved for the sake of the fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
When the Lord elected (by divine choice) the nation of Israel to be His own people, He bound Himself by His own promises to bring the Jews to salvation and to be forever His beloved and holy people. During this present age, Israel might be called the “beloved” enemies of God. Because of unbelief, they are, like all the unsaved, at enmity with God (Rom. 5:10; 8:7). But God’s eternal election guarantees that their enmity is not permanent, for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Gifts translates charismata, which carries the fuller connotation of grace gifts, gifts flowing from the pure and wholly unmerited favor of God. Calling refers to God’s divine election of Israel to be His holy people. God will not change His plan for Israel’s spiritual regeneration.
Just as God’s sovereign grace and election cannot be earned, neither can they be rejected or thwarted. They are irrevocable and unalterable. Nothing, therefore, can prevent Israel’s being saved and restored—not even her own rebellion and unbelief, because, as Paul has just declared, her ungodliness will be sovereignly removed and her sins graciously taken away (vv. 26–27). What is true of elected believers is true of elected Israel: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thess. 5:24).
“All Israel Will Be Saved”
And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
About one hundred years ago, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, was having a discussion with his chaplain about the truth of the Bible. The king had become skeptical about Christianity, largely through the influence of the French atheist Voltaire. So he said to his chaplain, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be capable of very easy proof. So often, when I have asked for proof of the inspiration of the Bible, I have been given some large tome that I have neither the time nor desire to read. If your Bible is really from God, you should be able to demonstrate the fact simply. Give me proof for the inspiration of the Bible in a word.”
The chaplain replied, “Your Majesty, it is possible for me to answer your request literally. I can give you the proof you ask for in one word.”
Frederick was amazed at this response. “What is this magic word that carries such a weight of proof?” he asked.
“Israel,” said the chaplain.
Frederick was silent.
There are many other proofs for Christianity, of course. But it can hardly be doubted that the continuing existence of Israel as a distinct people throughout the four thousand years of her history is a striking phenomenon. Dispossessed of her homeland and dispersed throughout the world, Israel has nevertheless survived while other peoples in similar situations have not. Coupled with the Bible’s identification of the Jews as God’s elect people and its many prophecies concerning their unfolding history, the preservation of Israel as a people is strong evidence for the Bible being the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
Even more than that, and much to the purpose for our study, the survival of Israel suggests that God has preserved these people through their many dispersions and persecutions not because he does not care for them, but because he does, and because he has a plan for the Jewish people that will unfold in blessing in the last days.
Proof from Isaiah
Romans 11:26 is the conclusion and clearest statement of this argument, the bottom line of Paul’s discussion of God’s historical purposes with the Jews, namely, that in the last days God will fulfill his promises to the Jews nationally by bringing the mass of Israel to faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah: “And so all Israel will be saved.”
We have already made that point several times over in the studies that have been leading up to this one, but what is unique about verse 26 is the fact that here at last Paul proves his argument from the Old Testament. This has been his pattern before, as I have already pointed out several times. Paul’s pattern is to make his argument first and then, when he has completed it, to nail it down with one or more Old Testament citations. He did this in chapter 3, after having argued the case for human depravity. He did it again in chapter 4, after explaining the gospel at the end of the previous chapter. The same pattern was followed in chapters 9 and 10.
This is opposite to the pattern followed by the apostle Peter, to give just one contrary example. In his sermon on Pentecost, Peter first gave his texts and then argued from them, rather than the other way around. He did this three times, expounding Christian truth on the basis of Joel 2:28–32; Psalm 16:8–11, and Psalm 110:1 (cf. Acts 2:14–41).
In Romans 11, Paul proves his argument concerning Israel by a quotation from Isaiah 59:20–21. Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33–34, and Psalm 14:7 may have also been in his mind, since he seems to have included wording from those additional verses in his quotation.
However, there are two ways in which this quotation can be taken, and, not surprisingly, they correspond to the two ways of looking at what Paul is saying about Israel, which I have already examined. The text could be saying that the Redeemer will emerge out of Israel in order to take away the people’s sins by his death on the cross. In that case, it would be a reference to Jesus’ first coming and earthly ministry. Or else it could be saying that Jesus will come out of heaven to Israel in order to turn the hearts of the people from unbelief to faith. In this case, it would (or could) be referring to a time of future blessing. Those who do not believe in a future period of national conversion for Israel naturally incline to the former interpretation. Those who think Paul is prophesying an age of future blessing choose the latter.
I have already indicated my reasons for choosing the second of these views. I add here that in my judgment the emphasis in Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 59:20 is on the future tense of the verb “to be,” that is, the words “will come.” From Isaiah’s point in history, to say that the Messiah “will come” could be a reference only to Jesus’ first coming. But from Paul’s vantage point, which followed that first coming, the verb must be looking to a period still future, and Paul must be thinking of it.
Here are two observations that are very important.
- Although by itself the passage in Isaiah could refer either to the first coming of Jesus or to a time of future blessing of Israel by God, from the point at which Paul under the guidance of the Holy Spirit has interpreted it as referring to this future blessing, we have the proper meaning and ought to interpret the verses in this way. In other words, to go back to the idea of the “mystery” Paul says he is revealing (v. 25), it is as if Paul acknowledges that readers of the Bible could not be sure what Isaiah was referring to before this revelation but that now we can be sure of it because of what he is teaching.
Robert Haldane says, “We may be assured that the Apostle, speaking by the same Spirit as the Prophet, and directed by the Spirit to quote him, has … given the meaning of his words.”
Following a similar line of thought, Charles Hodge says, “We are, of course, bound to receive the apostle’s interpretation as correct.”
- My second observation is that this positions us to see many passages that might otherwise be construed as referring only to a past blessing as actually referring to a day of future blessing, or at least possibly referring to it. This is what John Murray is arguing when he says, “This express application is an index to the principle of interpretation which would have to be applied to many other Old Testament passages which are in the same vein as Isaiah 59:20, 21, namely, that they comprise the promise of an expansion of gospel blessing such as Paul enunciates in verses 25, 26.”
If that is right, this is the place in our exposition to recognize that there are other Old Testament texts that should be seen as prophesying the future conversion of the mass of Israel and to look at some of them.
Old Testament Texts
There must be hundreds of such passages. An exhaustive study would fill volumes. Yet here are some that are especially significant.
- Jeremiah 16:14–16. “ ‘… the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when men will no longer say, “As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,” but they will say, “As surely as the Lord lives, who brought Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.” For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers. But now I will send for many fishermen,’ declares the Lord, ‘and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.’ ”
Since Jeremiah was writing before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian armies under Nebuchadnezzar, this might be taken as a prophecy of the return of the Jews to Judah in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and it may even have had a partial fulfillment at that time. However, in view of the apostle Paul’s understanding of Isaiah 59:20–21, it may also be referring to a more important return of Israel to her ancient homeland in the last days.
In fact, when we begin to think of the text along these lines, the words “and out of all the countries where he had banished them” take on new meaning. For now the prophecy is seen not merely as foretelling the return of the Jews from one nation alone, that is, from Babylon, but from all the world’s nations, where the Jews have indeed been scattered and from which they must come if they are to return to the land of Israel.
- Jeremiah 32:36–40. In Jeremiah 32, the chapter in which God tells Jeremiah to buy a field as a symbol of his lasting commitment to the Jewish homeland, God says, “You are saying about this city, ‘By the sword, famine and plague it will be handed over to the king of Babylon’; but this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.”
Like Jeremiah 16:14–16, this passage seems at first to be referring only to the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylon, even though some of the elements in the prophecy do not seem to fit perfectly, for instance, that the people will serve God in “singleness of heart” and “always fear” him, and that God will make “an everlasting covenant with them.” Singleness of heart hardly describes the history of the people from the days of Ezra and Nehemiah on. In fact, they were as wayward then as ever, and in the days of Jesus they actually turned against their Messiah.
On the other hand, as soon as we begin to think in terms of a still future blessing, the idea of “singleness of heart” and “always fearing” God and “an everlasting covenant” have an exact meaning and are seen to refer to the same future conversion of the mass of Israel that Paul is prophesying.
- Hosea 1:10 and 2:21–23. A classic and often re-echoed prophecy of this future age is found in Hosea’s symbolic naming of his children and God’s promise to change their names in that day. Hosea called his children Jezreel (meaning “scattered”), Lo-Ruhamah (meaning “Not-Loved”), and Lo-Ammi (meaning “Not-My-People”). But God said, changing the names to Planted, Loved, and My People, “I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one,’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ” (See study 135, “ ‘Children of the Living God,’ ” in this volume.)
There are prophecies similar to this toward the end of many of the minor prophets (cf. Joel 3:17–21; Amos 9:11–15; Micah 7:8–20; Zeph. 3:9–20).
- Zechariah 12–14. Special attention should be given to the last three chapters of Zechariah, which are presented as “an oracle” about the final days. The words “on that day,” which customarily refer to God’s final wrapping-up of history, including the last judgment, occur sixteen times and tie the chapters together. These chapters describe a time in which:
First, God will deliver Jerusalem from the nations of the earth, which are attacking her (12:1–9),
Second, the people will “look on … the one they have pierced” and “mourn for him” (12:10–13),
Third, a “fountain” will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem “to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (13:1–3),
Fourth, the people will call on God, causing him to say, as in Hosea 2:23, “They are my people,” and the people to say, “The Lord is our God” (13:9),
Fifth, the Lord will descend on the Mount of Olives to save the people in a time of great trouble, deliver Jerusalem, and bring prosperity to the land (14:1–15),
Sixth, Gentiles will go to Jerusalem to worship God (14:16–19), and
Seventh, the people will become holy in all they are and do (14:20–21).
Nothing like this has ever happened; therefore, it must be future. Besides, these things were written after the regathering of the people in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra, which means that they cannot refer to those past days but must refer instead to a time yet future. That is, they must refer to the time of future Jewish belief about which Paul is writing.
Jews for Jesus
At this point the natural reaction is to say that widespread Jewish conversions are unlikely, considering the traditionally strong opposition of Judaism to Jesus and Christianity. But even if we are only looking at this from a human point of view, it may not be as far out as many think, because there seems to be a new interest in Jesus by Jewish thinkers.
Sholem Asch, a Polish Jew who was one of the best-known Jewish writers of his day, said in an interview published in the Christian Herald many years ago:
Since I first met him [Jesus], he has held my mind and heart.… I was seeking that something for which so many of us search—that surety, that faith, that spiritual content in my living which would bring me peace and through which I might bring some peace to others. I found it in the Nazarene.…
Jesus Christ, to me, is the outstanding personality of all time, of all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man.… No other religious leader … has ever become so personal a part of people as The Nazarene. When you understand Jesus, you understand that he came to save you, to come into your personality. It isn’t just a case of a misty, uncertain relationship between a worshipper and an unseen God; that is abstract; Jesus is personal.”
Constantine Brunner, the German Jewish philosopher, looked upon Jesus as the great representative of pure Judaism. He wrote:
Is it only the Jew who is incapable of seeing and hearing all that others see and hear? Are the Jews stricken with blindness and deafness as regards Messiah Jesus, so that to them alone he has nothing to say?… Understand, then, what we shall do: We shall bring him back to us. Messiah Jesus is not dead for us—for us he has not yet lived: and he will not slay us, he will make us alive again. His profound and holy words, and all that is true and heart-appealing in the New Testament, must from now on be heard in our synagogues and taught to our children, in order that the wrong we had committed may be made good, the curse turned into a blessing, and that he at last may find us who has always been seeking after us.
Ferdynand Zweig, a contemporary English Jew who has taught at the Hebrew and Tel Aviv universities, says, “The Jewish religion seems to be at present to the large mass of Israeli Jews uninspiring and uninspired. Could it be that Jesus could give it a new lease of life?”
Hans Joachim Schoeps, the Jewish theologian who taught the history of religion at Erlangen University in Germany, wrote:
The Messianism of Israel aims at that which is to come, the eschatology of the Gentile church at the return of him who has come. Both elective covenants confront the ebb and flow of the finite world in the shared expectation that the decisive event is still to come—the goal of the ways of God that he travels with mankind in Israel and in the Church. The church of Jesus Christ has preserved no portrait of its lord and savior. If Jesus were to come again tomorrow, no Christian would know his face. But it might well be that he who is coming at the end of days, he who is awaited by the synagogue as by the church, is one, with one and the same face.
None of these authors has accepted Jesus as his personal Savior from sin, and no one would say on the basis of these quotations that the Jews as a whole are ready to accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. But they do indicate what even many Jews are calling a new openness to Jesus and suggest, to Christians at least, that the time of future national conversion that Paul writes of in Romans, may not be far distant.
Jews and the Gentile Church
I close with a few observations on what God’s historical dealings with the Jewish people mean for today’s largely Gentile church.
First, the experience of Israel through the thousands of years of her history is a demonstration of the biblical principle that where there is obedience there will be blessing, and where there is disobedience there will be judgments. Israel has suffered many judgments during the centuries of her disobedience to God’s law and rejection of God’s Messiah. But it is the same for Christians. God is not mocked. If we disobey God’s Word and persist in going our own way, God will discipline us, gently if he can but also forcefully if he must. Many believers have been so disciplined. You may be one. Learn from it. You cannot fight against God successfully.
Second, God is faithful to his covenant. We are going to pursue this in our next study, because it is the explicit teaching of Romans 11:27 (“And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins”). This is an encouragement because it tells us that God will not give up on those whom he has chosen, even if our sins cause him to turn away his face for a time.
Third, there is a lesson about grace. For ultimately that is what this discussion is all about. God’s relationship to Israel is a tremendous illustration of his grace. Chosen, yet frightfully disobedient, even to the point of rejecting and actually killing the very Son of God sent to them, Israel nevertheless has been loved by God, continues to be loved by him, and will one day be brought back to God—because God is gracious. This is our God, too. The New Testament calls today the day of God’s grace.
But this day of grace will not last forever, and the regathering of Israel in her own land may indicate that God’s days of grace are fast drawing to a close. Where do you stand in your relationship to Jesus, who came into this world and died on the cross to save you?
He is coming again! Will you be ready for him when he comes?
The Bible says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:1–3a).
26. And so all Israel, &c. Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning,—“When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.” This interpretation seems to me the most suitable, because Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Gal. 6:16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles; and he sets the people, thus collected from their dispersion, in opposition to the carnal children of Abraham, who had departed from his faith.
As it is written, &c. He does not confirm the whole passage by this testimony of Isaiah, (Is. 59:20,) but only one clause,—that the children of Abraham shall be partakers of redemption. But if one takes this view,—that Christ had been promised and offered to them, but that as they rejected him, they were deprived of his grace; yet the Prophet’s words express more, even this,—that there will be some remnant, who, having repented, shall enjoy the favour of deliverance.
Paul, however, does not quote what we read in Isaiah, word for word; “come,” he says, “shall a Redeemer to Sion, and to those who shall repent of iniquity in Jacob, saith the Lord.” (Is. 59:20.) But on this point we need not be very curious; only this is to be regarded, that the Apostles suitably apply to their purpose whatever proofs they adduce from the Old Testament; for their object was to point but passages, as it were by the finger, that readers might be directed to the fountain itself.
But though in this prophecy deliverance to the spiritual people of God is promised, among whom even Gentiles are included; yet as the Jews are the first-born, what the Prophet declares must be fulfilled, especially in them: for that Scripture calls all the people of God Israelites, is to be ascribed to the pre-eminence of that nation, whom God had preferred to all other nations. And then, from a regard to the ancient covenant, he says expressly, that a Redeemer shall come to Sion; and he adds, that he will redeem those in Jacob who shall return from their transgression. By these words God distinctly claims for himself a certain seed, so that his redemption may be effectual in his elect and peculiar nation. And though fitter for his purpose would have been the expression used by the Prophet, “shall come to Sion;” yet Paul made no scruple to follow the commonly received translation, which reads, “The Redeemer shall come forth from Mount Sion.” And similar is the case as to the second part, “He shall turn away iniquities from Jacob:” for Paul thought it enough to regard this point only,—that as it is Christ’s peculiar office to reconcile to God an apostate and faithless people, some change was surely to be looked for, lest they should all perish together.
26a The first clause of v. 26 is the storm center in the interpretation of Rom. 9–11 and of NT teaching about the Jews and their future. Three issues must be settled: the meaning and reference of houtōs (“in this way”); the reference of pas Israēl (“all Israel”); and the time and manner of all Israel’s salvation (sōthēsetai).
We have four basic options in the interpretation of the word houtōs. First, it might have a temporal meaning: “And then [after the events depicted in v. 25b] all Israel will be saved.” But Fitzmyer seems to be right: “a temporal meaning of houtōs is not otherwise found in Greek.” Second, houtōs could introduce a consequence or conclusion: “And in consequence of this process [v. 25b] all Israel will be saved.” This use of houtōs is attested in Greek and in Paul, but it is rare, and there seems no good reason to abandon the usual meaning of the word, which is to denote the manner in which an action takes place. A third option understands houtōs to have this meaning and connects it with the “just as it is written” formula that follows: “It is in this way that Israel will be saved: namely, just as it is written.…” But Paul never elsewhere pairs houtōs and “just as it is written.” Therefore the fourth option—taking houtōs to indicate manner and linking it with what comes before—is to be preferred: “And in this manner all Israel will be saved.” The “manner” of Israel’s salvation is the process that Paul has outlined in vv. 11–24 and summarized in v. 25b: God imposes a hardening on most of Israel while Gentiles come into the messianic salvation, with the Gentiles’ salvation leading in turn to Israel’s jealousy and her own salvation. But this means that houtōs, while not having a temporal meaning, has a temporal reference: for the manner in which all Israel is saved involves a process that unfolds in definite stages.
But what is the “all Israel” so destined to be saved? We can best answer that question by examining the interpretive possibilities, beginning with the word “Israel” and then moving on to the word “all.”
Pauline usage makes it possible to define “Israel” as (1) the community of the elect, including both Jews and Gentiles; (2) the nation of Israel; or (3) the elect within Israel. The first of these options received some support in the very early church and became especially widespread in the post-Reformation period but has received less support in the modern period.46 Moreover, this lack of support seems to be justified. Paul has used the term “Israel” ten times so far in Rom. 9–11, and each refers to ethnic Israel. This clearly is the meaning of the term in v. 25b, and a shift from this ethnic denotation to a purely religious one in v. 26a—despite the “all”—is unlikely. But another factor is even more damaging to the idea that Paul uses Israel in v. 26a to refer to the church generally: the hortatory purpose of Rom. 11:11–32. Paul’s view of the continuity of salvation history certainly allows him to transfer the OT title of the people of God to the NT people of God, as Gal. 6:16 probably indicates (cf. also Phil. 3:3). And this same theology surfaces in Romans itself, as Paul argues that Abraham’s “seed” consists of faithful Jews and Gentiles (4:13–18). But the difference in purpose between Rom. 11 and these other texts makes it unlikely that Paul would make the semantic move of using Israel to denote the church here. In both Galatians and Rom. 4 Paul is arguing that Gentiles, as Gentiles, can become recipients of the blessings promised to Abraham and full members of the people of God. Paul’s application to Gentiles of OT people-of-God language is perfectly appropriate in such contexts. But Paul’s purpose in Rom. 11 is almost the opposite. Here, he counters a tendency for Gentiles to appropriate for themselves exclusively the rights and titles of “God’s people.” For Paul in this context to call the church “Israel” would be to fuel the fire of the Gentiles’ arrogance by giving them grounds to brag that “we are the true Israel.”
The choice between the other two options is more difficult to make. Paul uses “Israel” in Rom. 9–11 of both the nation generally and of the elect from within Israel, as 9:6b succinctly reveals: “not all who are from Israel [the nation] are Israel [the elect].” If Paul uses “Israel” here in the latter sense, he would be affirming that all elect Jews would be saved. Some have dismissed this interpretation because it would turn Paul’s prediction into a purposeless truism: after all, by definition those who are elect will be saved. But this objection is not decisive. As we have seen, Paul’s focus is not so much on the fact that all Israel will be saved as on the manner in which it will be saved. A more serious objection to this interpretation is that it requires a shift in the meaning of “Israel” from v. 25b to v. 26a since the Israel that has been partially hardened is clearly national Israel. For this reason, and also because of the usual meaning of the phrase “all Israel” (see below), I incline slightly to the view that Israel in v. 26a refers to the nation generally.
What, then, is the significance of Paul’s emphasis that it is all the nation of Israel that will be saved? A few scholars have insisted that this must indicate the salvation of every single Jew. But Paul writes “all Israel,”54 not “every Israelite”—and the difference is an important one. “All Israel,” as the OT and Jewish sources demonstrate, has a corporate significance, referring to the nation as a whole and not to every single individual who is a part of that nation. The phrase is similar, then, to those that we sometimes use to denote a large and representative number from a group; that is, “the whole school turned out to see the football game”; “the whole nation was outraged at the incident.” A more difficult issue is whether “all Israel” refers to the nation as a whole as it has existed throughout history (a “diachronic” sense) or to the nation as a whole as it exists at one moment in history (a “synchronic” sense).57 In favor of the former is the “all,” which, it could be argued, is hardly justified if Paul has in mind only the nation at one moment of time, excluding the many millions of Jews who have lived at other periods. But usage of the expression “all Israel” and the perspective from which Paul writes favor the synchronic sense. No occurrence of the phrase “all Israel” has a clearly diachronic meaning. And Paul, we must remember, is not consciously thinking in terms of the passing of many centuries before these events are completed, but of a potentially very short time.
We conclude that Paul is probably using the phrase “all Israel” to denote the corporate entity of the nation of Israel as it exists at a particular point in time. We must note, however, that the interpretation that takes the phrase to refer to the elect among Israel throughout time deserves consideration as a serious alternative.
We turn, finally, to the question of the time and manner of “all Israel’s” salvation. Many points that I have already made in the course of my interpretation of vv. 11–24 and of vv. 25–26a in particular make clear that Paul places this event at the time of the end.
(1) The prediction of v. 26a seems to match the third step in the salvation-historical process that Paul describes throughout these verses (“their fullness” [v. 12]; “their acceptance” [v. 15]; the grafting in again of natural branches [v. 24]; cf. also vv. 30–31). Since Paul makes clear that this reintegration of Israel is in contrast to the situation as it exists in his own time—when Israel is “rejected”—it must be a future event.
(2) The specific point in the future when this will occur is indicated by Paul’s probable connection between Israel’s “acceptance” and the eschatological resurrection of the dead (v. 15).
(3) The implication of v. 25b is that the current partial hardening of Israel will be reversed when all the elect Gentiles have been saved; and it is unlikely that Paul would think that salvation would be closed to Gentiles before the end.
We may add to these points two others drawn from v. 26 itself. First, the OT quotation that Paul cites in v. 26b–27 to confirm the truth that “all Israel will be saved” probably refers to the second coming of Christ (see below). Second, the hope of a spiritual rejuvenation of the nation of Israel is endemic in the OT prophets and in Jewish apocalyptic. This rejuvenation is often pictured as a regathering of Jews that reverses the judgment of Israel’s exile and that ushers in the eschatological age. Paul—and the rest of the NT—teaches that the coming of Christ has brought the fulfillment of many of these prophecies about Israel’s renewal. But Paul’s language in Rom. 11 seems deliberately calculated to restate this traditional hope for Israel’s renewal. His point seems to be that the present situation in salvation history, in which so few Jews are being saved, cannot finally do full justice to the scriptural expectations about Israel’s future. Something “more” is to be expected; and this “more,” Paul implies, is a large-scale conversion of Jewish people at the end of this age. The corporate significance of “all Israel” makes it impossible to reckon the actual percentage of Jews living at that time who will be saved. But the contrast between the remnant and “all Israel” would suggest a significantly larger percentage than was the case in Paul’s day. Nor is it possible to be precise about the exact timing of the conversion of Israel in comparison with other events of the end times, although the fact that it will take place only after the salvation of all elect Gentiles suggests that it will be closely associated with the return of Christ in glory.
How will this eschatological salvation of “all Israel” happen? Several scholars have argued recently that the absence of any specific christological language in Rom. 11 is very significant for this question. They think that this absence is deliberate and that Paul is implying that Israel will be saved in a “special way,” a different way than the faith in Christ required of Gentiles for salvation. The most extreme form of this view finds in Rom. 11 the exegetical basis for a “bi-covenantal” theology, according to which Gentiles are saved in their (“new”) covenant by faith in Christ while Jews are saved in their (Mosaic) covenant by their adherence to torah. Such a view, allowing as it does for both the Jew and the Christian to affirm the integrity of each other’s religion, has proved quite attractive to our “post-holocaust” and pluralistic age. But Paul knows nothing of it. He teaches that salvation can be found in one place only: within the one community made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ. There is only one tree, and one becomes attached to this tree by faith: Jews can be grafted back in only if they do not persist in unbelief (v. 23). Nor can the absence of the name of Christ in Rom. 11 justify the conclusion that this faith need not be faith in Christ. Paul has defined the faith he is talking about here quite adequately in the first ten chapters of the letter: it is faith in Jesus Christ (see esp. 3:22, 26; 10:4–13). As Paul has made clear in the immediately preceding chapter, faith is inextricably tied to Jesus and his resurrection victory (10:9), and it is this faith that brings salvation to Gentile and Jew alike (10:10–13). Jews, like Gentiles, can be saved only by responding to the gospel and being grafted into the one people of God. Paul has certainly not forgotten his great summary of the theme of his letter as he writes chap. 11: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe, for the Jew first, and then for the Gentile” (1:16). The end-time conversion of a large number of Jews will therefore come about only through their faith in the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.65
26b–27 As Paul has done in the conclusions of each of the other main parts of his argument in Rom. 9–11 (cf. 9:25–29; 10:21–21; 11:8–10), he reinforces his teaching with a composite quotation from the OT. He quotes Isa. 59:20–21a in vv. 26b–27a and a clause from Isa. 27:9 in v. 27b. Both parts of the quotation follow the LXX closely, with one notable exception: where the LXX of Isa. 59:20 says that “the redeemer will come for the sake of [heneken] Zion,” Paul says “the redeemer will come out of [ek] Zion.” And not only does Paul’s reading differ from the LXX, it differs also from the Hebrew text and from every known pre-Pauline text and version. How are we to account for this variation? Paul may have inadvertently assimilated this text to others in the OT that speak of Israel’s deliverance as coming “from Zion” (cf. Ps. 13:7; 53:7; 110:2). He may have deliberately changed the wording to make a point: to show that Christ, “the redeemer,” originates from the Jewish people (cf. 9:5); to show that the final “missionary” to the Gentiles, Christ, comes, like the present missionaries to the Gentiles, from Jerusalem (cf. 15:19); or to show that Christ will save Israel by coming from the “heavenly” Zion at his parousia.71 Or Paul may, in fact, be faithfully quoting from a form of the LXX text that we no longer have.72 The last alternative must certainly be taken seriously, but it is perhaps on the whole best to think that Paul is assuming the tradition that surfaces in Heb. 12:22, according to which “Zion” is associated with the heavenly Jerusalem, the site of Christ’s high-priestly ministry. If so, he probably changes the text in order to make clear that the final deliverance of Israel is accomplished by Christ at his parousia.74
While, therefore, the “redeemer” in Isa. 59:20 is Yahweh himself, Paul probably intends to identify Christ as the redeemer. It is when Christ comes “out of” heaven that he will “turn away ungodliness from Jacob” and thus fulfill the covenant with Israel.76 In light of Paul’s reference to the patriarchs in the next verse and his extensive use of the OT traditions about God’s covenant with Abraham, we are justified in assuming that he would identify this covenant with the promise-covenant that God entered into with Abraham and his descendants. Paul, of course, insists that this covenant has been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ and his provision for both Jews and Gentiles to enter, by faith, into the people of God (Gal. 3; Rom. 4). But, in a pattern typical of the NT, Paul suggests that this covenant with Abraham still awaits its final consummation—a consummation that will affect Israel in particular.
Paul uses a clause from Isa. 27:9 to interpret this covenant in terms of the forgiveness of sins. Some similarity in wording between this verse and Isa. 59:20–21 probably helped draw Paul’s attention to this verse; but more important is the context from which it is taken. For Isaiah 27, like Isa. 59:20–60:7, predicts that Yahweh will deliver “Jacob” from her exile/sins, bringing the scattered people back to their own city. Isaiah 27 notes that the judgment God has brought on Israel (in the Exile) is different from the judgment God brings on other nations: for Israel’s judgment, it is implied, will be both temporary and sanitive (vv. 7–8). The prophet therefore foresees “days to come” when “Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit” (v. 6); when God will regather his people and the exiles will return to “worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (vv. 12–13). The parallel between this scenario and Paul’s teaching in 11:11–32 that the hardening of Israel is temporary and intended to lead to her ultimate deliverance cannot be missed. Moreover, by focusing on “the forgiveness of sins” as integral to the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel, Paul ties this final deliverance to the cross, where the price for these sins has been paid (cf. 3:21–26). With this quotation, then, Paul not only suggests when Israel’s deliverance will take place; he also makes clear how it will take place: by Israel’s acceptance of the gospel message about the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.
11:25–27 / “Let us remember of this word mystery,” says Calvin, “that [the Jews’] conversion will neither be common nor usual.… It is called a mystery because it will be incomprehensible until the time of its revelation” (Romans, p. 435). Note also Paul Achtemeier’s discussion of mystery:
Clearly, Israel’s rejection of Christ is open to a variety of interpretations. One interpretation: They rejected Christ because when Christ came, God was through with them, and so their call proved to be only temporary. Another interpretation: Israel’s call never was valid, and their claims of a special relationship to God the Creator were self-serving illusions. Yet another: In the end God rejected them because of their rejection of his Son. All are possible, indeed even plausible—and all are wrong. The reason for Israel’s being hardened in its rebellion against God’s Son? Grace! Grace for gentiles, and finally grace for Israel as well! God’s plan, says Paul, runs from God choosing Israel, to his hardening Israel to save gentiles, and then to his saving gentiles in order finally to save Israel (Romans, p. 188).
Ernst Käsemann (Romans, p. 324) and Otfried Hofius (“Das Evangelium und Israel,” ZTK 83 , pp. 318–19) argue that whereas Gentiles come to faith through proclamation of the gospel, Jews will come to faith only through the word of Christ himself at his second coming. It is an intriguing thesis, but does it not run counter to passages like 9:2ff. and 11:23, where Paul struggles with the Jews’ disbelief? Must the future tense of the deliverer will come from Zion (which is, after all, an ot quotation) refer unconditionally to the Parousia, or could it not possibly refer to Christ’s first coming and the covenant (v. 27) of the cross? Moreover, does not 10:14–21 imply that Jews, like Gentiles, come to faith through the preaching of the gospel?
Vers. 25–27.—For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that hardness (πώρωσις; see ver. 8) in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved. Πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ here must mean the whole nation; not, as Calvin explains, “complebitur salus totius Israel Dei [i.e. of the spiritual Israel, as in Gal. 6:16] quam exutrisque [i.e. with Jews and Gentiles] colligi oportet;” for “Israel” must surely be understood in the same sense as in the preceding verse, where it denotes the Jewish nation as opposed to the Gentiles. Σωθήσεται, as seems required by the whole context, means coming into the Church (cf. Acts 2:47, Ὁ δὲ κύριος προσετίθει τοὺς σωζομένους καθ᾽ ἡμέραν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ). As it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; and this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. Referring, as throughout the Epistle, to the Old Testament for confirmation, St. Paul here, as in former instances, combines passages, and quotes freely, perhaps from memory. The main citation is from Isa. 59:20, 21, with an addition from Isa. 17:9, the LXX. being followed. The citations are relevant, being specimens of many others that might have been adduced, predicting the final pardon and restitution of the house of Israel itself, notwithstanding judgments, through the Redeemer who was to come.
26a. And so all Israel will be saved.
1. The Most Popular Theory
“All Israel” indicates the mass of Jews living on earth in the end-time. The full number of elect Gentiles will be gathered in. After that the mass of the Jews—Israel on a large scale—will be saved. This will happen just previous to, or at the very moment of, Christ’s Return.
For the names of some of the advocates of this theory see p. 307.
- The Greek word οὕτως does not mean then or after that. The rendering “Then all Israel will be saved” is wrong. In none of the other occurrences of this word in Romans, or anywhere else in the New Testament, does this word have that meaning. It means so, in this manner, thus.
- This theory also fails to do justice to the word all in “all Israel.” Does not “all Israel” sound very strange as a description of the (comparatively) tiny fraction of Jews who will still be living on earth just before, or at the moment of, Christ’s Return?
- The context clearly indicates that in writing about the salvation of Israelites and Gentiles Paul is not limiting his thoughts to what will take place in the future. He very definitely includes what is happening now. See especially verses 30, 31.
- Would it not be strange for God to single out for a very special favor—nothing less than salvation full and free—exactly that generation of Jews which will have hardened its heart against the testimony of the longest train of Christian witnesses, a train extending all the way from the days of Christ’s sojourn on earth—in fact, in a sense, all the way from Abraham—to the close of the new dispensation?
- The reader has not been prepared for the idea of a mass conversion of Israelites. All along Paul stresses the very opposite, namely, the salvation, in any age (past, present, future) of a remnant. See the passages listed under 11:5, p. 363. If Rom. 11:26 actually teaches a mass conversion of Jews, would it not seem as if Paul is saying, “Forget what I told you previously”?
- If Paul is here predicting such a future mass conversion of Jews, is he not, contradicting, if not the letter, at least the spirit, of his earlier statement found in 1 Thess. 2:14b–16:
“… the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and do not please God, and are hostile to all men, in that they try to prevent us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But upon them the wrath [of God] has come to the uttermost”?
- The immediately following context (11:26b, 27) refers to a coming of “the Deliverer” who will turn away godlessness and remove sin from Jacob. Was not that the purpose of Christ’s first coming? But the popular interpretation of Rom. 11:26 predicts a mass conversion of Jews in connection with Christ’s second coming. That theory is, accordingly, not in harmony with the context.
For these several reasons Interpretation A. should be rejected.
2. John Calvin’s Theory
“All Israel” refers to the total number of the elect throughout history, all those who are ultimately saved both Jews and Gentiles. In his Commentary on his passage Calvin expresses himself as follows:
“I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning: when the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also will return from their defection to the obedience of faith, and thus will be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both …”
The same view is defended by J. A. C. Van Leeuwen and D. Jacobs, op. cit., p. 227; and, in a sense, by Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief, Zürich, 1954, p. 401; English tr., p. 416.
Inasfar as Calvin interprets the term Israel spiritually—“Israel” refers to the elect—his theory must be considered correct. Cf. Rom. 9:6. Also his claim that the section, verses 25–32 (considered as a unit), describes the one people of God cannot be successfully refuted. On the other hand, Calvin’s application of the term “Israel,” in verse 26, to all the people of God, both Jews and Gentiles, is wrong. In the preceding context the words Israel, Isrealites(s) occur no less than eleven times: 9:4; 9:6 (twice); 9:27; 9:31; 10:19; 10:21; 11:1; 11:2; 11:7; and 11:25. In each case the reference is clearly to Jews, never to Gentiles. What compelling reason can there be, therefore, to adopt a different meaning for the term Israel as used here in 11:26? To be sure, at the close of verse 25 the apostle makes mention of the Gentiles, but only in order to indicate that the partial hardening of the Jews will not cease until every elect Gentile will have been brought into the kingdom. Accordingly, Paul is still talking about the Jews. He does so also in verse 26b. Even verse 28 contains a clear reference to Jews. Not until verses 30–32 are reached does the apostle cause the entire body of the elect, both Jews and Gentiles, to pass in review together.
Therefore, while appreciating the good elements in Calvin’s explanation, we cannot agree with him in interpreting the term “all Israel” in 11:26 as referring to all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles. A passage should be interpreted in light of its context. In the present case the context points to Jews, not to Gentiles, nor in verses 26–29 to a combination of Jews and Gentiles.
3. A Third Theory
The term “All Israel” means the total number of elect Jews, the sum of all Israel’s “remnants.” “All Israel” parallels “the fulness of the Gentiles.” Verses 25. 26 make it very clear that God is dealing with both groups, has been saving them, is saving them, and is going to save them. And if “All Israel” indicates, as it does, that not a single elect Israelite will be lacking “when the roll is called up yonder,” then “the fulness of the Gentiles” similarly shows that when the attendance is checked every elect Gentile will answer “Present.”
For the meaning of “will be saved” see on 1:16, p. 60. For Jew and Gentile the way of salvation is the same. In fact, their paths run side by side. Opportunity to be saved will have ended for both when Christ returns. As indicated previously, the two—“the fulness of the Gentiles” and “All Israel”—constitute one organism, symbolized by a single olive tree. It should be clear that if, in the present connection, fulness must be interpreted in its unlimited sense, the same holds for all in “All Israel.”
The words “And so” are explained by Paul himself. They indicate, “In such a marvelous manner,” a manner no one could have guessed. If God had not revealed this “mystery” to Paul, he would not have known it. It was, in fact, astonishing. The very rejection of the majority of Israelites, throughout history recurring again and again, was, is, and will be, a link in the effectuation of Israel’s salvation. For details, see above, p. 366, 367, 377, 378 (Rom. 11:11, 12, 25).
Although, to be sure, this interpretation is not nearly as popular as is theory A, among its defenders are men of recognized scholarship (as holds also, of course, for theories A and B). Let me mention but a few.
One of the propositions successfully defended by S. Volbeda, when he received his summa cum laude doctor of theology degree from the Free University of Amsterdam was: “The term ‘all Israel’ in Rom. 11:26a must be understood as indicating the collective elect out of Israel.”
- Bavinck, author of the four-volume work Gereformeerde Dogmatiek [Reformed Dogmatics], states, “ ‘All Israel’ in 11:26, is not the people of Israel, destined lo be converted collectively, neither is it the church consisting of united Jews and Gentiles; but it is the full number which during the course of the centuries is gathered out of Israel.” Cf. H. Hoeksema, God’s Eternal Good Pleasure, Grand Rapids, 1950, p. 465.
And L. Berkhof states, “ ‘All Israel’ is to be understood as a designation not of the whole nation but of the whole number of the elect out of the ancient covenant people … and the adverb οὕτως cannot mean ‘after that,’ but only ‘in this manner.’ ”
For a similar interpretation see H. Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 263.
Not only scholars of Reformed persuasion and Dutch nationality or lineage have adopted this interpretation, but so have many others, as is clear from a glance at Lenski’s commentary on Romans, pp. 714, 726, 727. See also O. Palmer Robertson, “Is There a Distinctive Future for Ethnic Israel in Romans II?,” in Perspectives on Evangelical Theology, Grand Rapids, 1979, pp. 81–94. These interpreters are convinced that this is the only interpretation that suits the text and context.
Objections Stated and Refuted
This interpretation destroys the contrast between the remnant mentioned in 11:5, on the one hand, and the mass of Israel, on the other.
Our interpretation does not destroy a contrast but defines it more accurately. The real contrast is that between single remnants (see, for example, 11:5), on the one hand, and “all Israel,” that is, the sum of all the remnants throughout history (verse 26), on the other.
According to this interpretation the “mystery” mentioned by Paul amounts to no more than that all Israel’s elect will be saved. But that is a truth so obvious that it fails to do justice to the implications of the term “mystery.”
Not so! The mystery of which Paul speaks has reference to the marvelous chain of events that results in Israel’s salvation. It points to seemingly contradictory factors which in God’s loving and overruling providence are so directed that ultimate salvation for “all Israel” is effected. See above, pp. 377, 378.
26b, 27.… as it is written:
“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
whenever I shall take away their sins.”
Note the following:
- It is logical to connect “And so all Israel will be saved” with “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer,” and to interpret this divine deliverance as rescue from sin and bestowment of salvation, which blessings Jehovah brought about through the person and work of the Mediator, Jesus Christ.
- As the words “as it is written” indicate, what immediately follows upon “And so all Israel will be saved” is material quoted from the Old Testament. It does not consist, however, in a quotation of this or that single passage, but rather in a skillful symposium of several passages; such as, Isa. 59:20; 27:9; 59:21, in that order, with reminders of Micah 5:2 (or a similar verse) and probably Jer. 31:31 f.
In addition, it should be borne in mind that Paul is conversant with the LXX (Greek) translation of the Old Testament as well as with the original Hebrew text. What is to be admired is that he is able to weave these various strands into one beautiful, consistent pattern.
- The words “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer” are quoted from LXX Isa. 59:20, except for the fact that LXX has “for the sake of Zion,” the original Hebrew “to Zion,” and Paul “out of Zion.”
This presents no real difficulty, for all three are true. Did not the Deliverer come “for the sake of Zion,” that is, to rescue Zion? And did he not also come “to Zion”? How else could he have saved it? And is it not also true that according to his human nature he came “out of Zion”? Think of Mic. 5:2. In connection with “out of,” “from” or “from among,” see also Deut. 18:15, 18; Ps. 14:7; 53:6; and Isa. 2:3.
- The task which, according to prophecy, the Deliverer was to perform, consisted, according to the LXX of Isa. 27:9, in this: to turn away godlessness or lawlessness from Jacob, that is, from Israel. Naturally it would be turned away only from the elect of Israel. We now understand why Paul has a right to quote these very passages to prove that “all Israel” would be saved; for, in order to save Israel it must be delivered not from this or that earthly foe but from godlessness, from sin.
- Returning again to Isa. 59, this time to verse 21, the apostle continues (quoting the Lord as saying), “As for me, this is my covenant with them.” He then quickly turns his attention to another precious passage in which that divine covenant is mentioned in connection with the removal of sins, namely, Jer 31:31 f. There we read, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah … I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.” So he writes, “… whenever I shall take away their sins.”
- It is clear that in this entire passage (11:26b, 27) Paul is not thinking of what Jesus will do at his second coming, when he will come not “out of Zion,” but “from heaven” (1 Thess. 4:16), and when forgiveness of sin will no longer be possible. Paul is thinking of Christ’s first coming when, by means of his vicarious death, he established the basis for the forgiveness of sins, and therefore also for the salvation of “the fulness of the Gentiles” and of “all Israel.”
- Paul is not deviating from his central theme. Is not the removal of sin one of the main ingredients of justification by faith? See Rom. 4:25; 5:8, 9, 19; 8:1–3. The promise of the covenant goes into effect “whenever” in the life of any Israelite sin is removed. Romans 9–11 shows that this doctrine is historical, indicating what happens again and again during history’s course.
11:25–27. But when might that happen? How long will Israel remain “cut off” from the root through which their salvation and blessings had flowed since their beginning? The short answer is, Until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. The longer answer, that Paul wants his Gentile readers (brothers) to understand, is that Israel’s hardening is not complete, it is only in part. It is not permanent, it is only temporary—until the elect among the Gentiles are saved. Paul does not want the Gentile believers in Rome to become conceited or arrogant in their new-found position of blessing. Israel is waiting in the wings to enter back into covenant fellowship with God, as the prophets had declared.
As he has done before in Romans, Paul draws on several Old Testament prophetic passages to put together a description of future events, in this case, Isaiah 59:20–21; 27:9 and Jeremiah 31:33–34. God prophesied to Israel in the Old Testament that her sins would one day be removed, and here Paul confirms that they will be—when the deliverer [comes] from Zion to turn godlessness away from Jacob. At that time (apparently at the return of Christ), all Israel will be saved.
All Israel is not best understood numerically any more than “the Gentiles” should be taken to mean every individual Gentile. The implication is not that at the parousia of Christ all Jews alive at that time will be saved. The best understanding is that offered by F. F. Bruce: “ ‘All Israel’ is a recurring expression in Jewish literature, where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception,’ but ‘Israel as a whole’ ” (Bruce, p. 209). Paul’s point here is that in the future, when the elect of the Gentiles have been saved, the hardening currently afflicting Israel will be removed and all Israel will resume its position as the elect people of God before him. At that point, salvation of individuals will occur as it did for Paul and always has—on the basis of personal faith in Israel’s Savior and Messiah, Jesus Christ.
11:25–27. A mystery (v. 25) could be a truth hinted at in the OT but fully revealed in the NT, or one altogether unknown in the OT and revealed in the NT. The latter is the sense here, for the OT speaks of an enormous number of Gentiles being included in the one people of God (cf. the notes on Is 2:2–4; 66:18–24), but the idea that those Gentiles are included prior to the wholesale restoration of Israel is not seen in the OT. Partial hardening means that a (majority) part of Israel were not saved based on God’s sovereign choice, but a minority (the faithful remnant) like Paul believed. Fullness of the Gentiles refers to the “full number of Gentiles” whom God has determined to be saved prior to Him lifting the hardening from Israel. All Israel will be saved (v. 26) is the climax of all of Rm 9; 10, and 11. All Israel, according to the use of the phrase in the LXX, never referred to every single Jew (cf. 1Ch 19:17 where it refers only to soldiers; 1Sm 25:1, where it refers only to those who buried Samuel), and more than likely Paul does not mean that in the future every Jew will be saved. All Israel should probably be understood to refer to the vast majority of the ethnic people of Israel, Jews from every tribe and from every locale all over the world. For the timing of Israel’s salvation, cf. the comments on Zch 12:10, Mt 23:37–39, and Ac 3:19, which indicate that Israel’s salvation happens during the tribulation period—before, not during, the second coming—and is a necessary precursor for His return. In addition, all Israel never referred to every Jew from all time. When the phrase is used in the LXX, it refers to a representation of Jewish people at a given point in time (e.g., Nm 16:34; 1Ch 11:10; 15:25; 2Ch 10:3), and Paul’s use of the phrase reflects the same understanding. At a specific point in time that was future to Paul (and to us), a colossal number of Jews from all wings of Judaism will turn to Christ. Paul is not referring to Jewish people who became believers throughout the church age and who are enfolded into the church, and in fact Israel does not refer to “the Church” comprised of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, though it is often understood that way. In 11:25, Israel clearly refers to the ethnic people of Israel, and there is no indication that Paul redefines the term in v. 26 to mean the Church. In addition, in v. 28, they has as its antecedent all Israel in v. 26, and in v. 28 the Church is not in view. Paul cited Is 59:20–21 in 11:26b, c, and 27a, and Is 27:9 in 11:27b to provide warrant for his confidence that in the future all Israel will be saved, and it is less likely that they present the time of this conversion. Some view these OT verses as an indication of the time of Israel’s salvation (when the Deliverer comes from Zion—i.e., at the second coming), but it was already argued above that the salvation of all Israel must precede the second coming, so that Is 59:20–21 and 27:9 give the assurance from the OT that all Israel will be saved, rather than establishing the time when that salvation takes place. Israel’s salvation is grounded in the death of Messiah Jesus at His first coming, not at His second.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 130–132). Chicago: Moody Press.
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 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 437–439). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
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 Vanlaningham, M. G. (2014). Romans. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1764). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.