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Jews, Gentiles, & the
Goal of Redemptive History

An Exegetical & Theological Analysis of Romans 9-11

Copyright 1995, Fred G. Zaspel

Published by
The Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute
PO Box 423 • Hatfield, PA 19440 • USA


Area of Study

The subject assigned to me is at the same time big and controversial and yet crucial. And here I hope to settle the question in two lectures! A bit ambitions, granted; but precisely because the subject is so big and crucial, the pursuit is well worth our time. Let's just hope we'll not be more confused at the end than we are at the beginning.

        The question of the relationship of Israel and the church has received basically two answers. On the one hand there is the view that traces back at least as far as Augustine, that of strict continuity: the church replaces Israel in the redemptive plan of God. On the other hand there is the strict discontinuity view which holds that Israel and the church are two entirely different entities whose nature and destiny never have or will be confused. The first, of course, is the view of traditional reformed theology; and the second is the view of traditional dispensationalism.

        The question is not an isolated one. It has significant ramifications -- the land promises, the interpretation of prophecy generally, the relation of the law to the church, and the question of believer's seed, to name just a few.

        Many of you have heard me say before that I don't think either covenant or dispensational theology has a corner on the market; the truth, I think, lies somewhere in between the two. On one side is the tendency, in my opinion, to overlook the major, epochal difference brought about by Christ's first coming and His inaugurating of the Kingdom of God. But on the other side there is a tendency to overstate that division in redemptive history in a way that ignores the unity in God's purpose of redemption.

        But this is the passage (Rom.9-11) which I think should bring us to understand this more clearly; it is, after all, the normative passage on the question. So I'd like to approach the passage itself first, if in only a survey fashion. Then we will be better positioned to look to the specific issues involved.

Contextual Matters

In has often been my experience to hear Rom.9-11 described as a "parenthetical" excursus of some kind, more or less unrelated to what precedes and what follows, and in which Paul deals with the subject of Israel's future. That Paul here deals with Israel's future seems evident enough, but that it is a parenthetical excursus of whatever kind is a notion which I think misses the direction of Paul's argument in this epistle.

1. Jew/Gentile Relations in the Church

Beginning with his famous "to the Jew first" (1:16) and on through the remainder of the book, Paul seems intent (among other things, of course) on fostering a practical unity among the believers in the church at Rome -- which, I take it, consisted of both Jews and Gentiles. The Gospel may have gone to the Jew first, and there were reasons for this; but as Paul goes on to explain in detail (1:18-3:20), both divisions of humanity equally need it. Moreover (3:21-5:21), both receive its blessings in the same way -- by faith. And its privileges are equally enjoyed by both, apart from the law (6-8). Still more, this unity grounded in Christ is one that has very practical ramifications in the life of the church and demands an evident manifestation of humility toward each (14:1-15:13). Within this context chapters 9-11 fits very well. Its discussion of the purpose of God in redemptive history in regard to both Jews and Gentiles should foster humility and eliminate boasting on the part of both (11:16ff -- who has been set aside? Yet whose tree is it? etc.).

2. Theological and Soteriological Emphases

But there is more. Paul has been expounding the nature of Justification and its attending blessings (ch. 3-8). What is becoming painfully clear (to him particularly; 9:2-3; 10:1) is that Israel has begun to take back seat in the divine programme. Initially, Christianity consisted of almost exclusively Jewish believers. Then gradually there had become fewer and fewer, until now it was a dominantly Gentile affair. It would seem that if Paul's gospel were true -- that blessing comes by faith -- then Israel has lost out, and her promises have been annulled.

        So, is God's promise to His people failing? Given Israel's present state of unbelief, we are left to wonder "what advantage" remains for the Jew (3:1). The answer to the problem is found in the divine initiative. God himself can and will work in behalf of His chosen people again and bring them into faith and so into their promised blessings.

        Moreover, Paul has just expressed his firm confidence in God's decree of eternal salvation (ch.8). But if Israel fails, is God's decree at all certain? The promises to us are surely no greater than the promises to them! So again, there is this need of this which is often referred to as a theodicy: it is Paul's justification of God's dealings with humanity, a vindication of the righteousness and faithfulness of God.

        Now I have jumped ahead of myself here just a bit, but you can see from this that chapters 9-11 form no parenthetical idea at all. They are part and parcel of Paul's argument. If nothing else, they serve to head off any potential objection as to the validity of his gospel.

        Now then we come to a brief survey/exposition.


I. Explanations in Light of Israel's Failure

A. An Affirmation of Jewish Advantage (9:1-5)

We'll not take the time to analyze this entire section, but notice in passing that the privileges which were given to the nation of Israel are still her's -- "the adoption and the glory and the covenants," and so on (v.4). And they are said to have advantage on account of the patriarchs (v.5). The passage reads very much like 3:1-4, which describes the "advantage" that belongs to the Jew. Their advantage is precisely this, Paul says: their promises have never been revoked.

B. An Explanation of what part of Israel Receives the Blessings (9:6-29)

But if that is so, how do we account for Israel's present failure to receive the blessing? How and why is she in unbelief? Well, whatever answer we come to here, we may be sure that it is "not as though the word of God has taken no effect" (v.6a). His promise has not fallen to the ground.

        So some clarification is needed, and this Paul gives in verse 6b: "For (gar) they are not all Israel who are of Israel." That is to say, God's blessings do not come automatically to anyone just because of physical descent. They do not come irrespective of faith.

        And so we come to the exposition of the doctrine of election (vv.7-29). God demonstrated and exercised His sovereign elective rights with Isaac as over against Ishmael (vv.7-9) and with Jacob as over against Esau (vv.10-13). This is a divine prerogative which has been exercised from the outset, and it remains true. Nor is there any ground for objection; he is God (vv.14-16). And whether we speak in terms of God as over Pharaoh (vv.17-18) or of a potter as over his clay (vv.19-21), we must acknowledge that God is free to do as he wills in His creation and dispense blessing as he sees fit (vv.22-24).

        But it is just this, divine sovereign election, that offers Israel its only hope. As Hosea (vv.25-26) and Isaiah (vv.27-29) and so many of the prophets testify, it is by God's sovereign power that Israel will be brought back to the place of blessing. God will woo her, the adulterous wife, and in the end she will come back. God's sovereignty joined with steadfast love gives reason for Israel's hope.

C. Explanation of Israel's Failure to Obtain the Blessings (9:30-10:21)

But a question arises here: Why? Here we have Israel who had the law and who in a very real sense "pursued righteousness," yet they have not obtained it. And here are the Gentiles, who never did pursue any such righteousness, yet they now are obtaining it. How do we explain that?
        Beginning with 9:30 and on through chapter 10 Paul expands on the idea of Israel's culpability. She is responsible for her own actions. Her problem is not that God has rejected her but that she has arrogantly sought her own righteousness (9:30ff). The very idea, Paul explains, that they could somehow enjoy the blessings of God by way of self merit and apart from faith, is unthinkable. Nor is it that she could not have known better; the gospel was preached to her, and she rejected it (10:16ff). God waits all day long, yes, with open arms; but Israel remains stubborn (10:21).

        Now follow Paul's argument here. He has established at least three points in regard to Israel: 1) There is yet an advantage to being "of Israel" -- the promises were to her specifically. 2) There never was any promise that every last member of Abraham's seed would enjoy the blessings. And 3) It is simply because of the unbelief of the large part of Israel today that they do not enjoy blessing. Her failure is due to her unbelief and rejection of Christ.

        Next we come to deal with God's purposes for Israel more directly. This is the second step in Paul's argument.

II. An Analysis of Israel's Failure (11:1-24)

A. Israel's Failure is not total. (1-10)

After the strong indictment of Israel for her rebellion in spite of God's patience (10:21), the question naturally arises, "I say then (oun), has God cast away His people?" That is, this condition that characterized Israel in Isaiah's day persists in Paul's day; will this continue indefinitely? We might expect to read now that in fact God will indeed allow His people to persist in their rebellion forever; they deserve no better. But the apostle answers the question with a resounding No, "God forbid!" And for several compelling reasons.

1. The Character of God Demands it (v.1a)

The wording of the question in the Greek (me) suggests a negative answer, but it is not just the grammar. They are, after all, "His people." That kind of talk has necessary implications; and whatever else it may imply, Paul argues, it implies that no, He most certainly has not "cast them away." The very question harkens back to a host of promises designed to give just this assurance. For example, "The Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people" (1Sa.12:22). "For the Lord will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance" (Psa.94:14).

        Paul's exasperation at the thought is a well grounded one. There is something singularly abhorrent about the thought of God casting off "Hispeople." It would make Him a liar. God may well make certain kinds of changes along the way in the history of redemption (e.g., no longer blood sacrifices, temple worship, etc.), but the promises remain. They must remain, if God is true.

        But there is more.

2. The Conversion of Paul Demonstrates it (v.1b)

Paul goes on to point out that he, the apostle to the Gentiles, was himself an Israelite. Given the Israelite that he was (the blaspheming persecutor of the church), his participation in grace establishes well the fact that God is not through with the nation. For him, this is a sample illustration of God's continuing mercy.

3. The Promise of a Remnant Proves it. (vv.2-10)

In fact, Paul goes on to explain, he is but one of a promised "remnant according to the election of grace." And yet while the majority of Israel has been judicially hardened, Paul joins David in a kind of "merciful prayer of imprecation," hoping that God's stern dealings with them will bring them to their senses.

        In any case, Paul points out, Israel's failure is not total.

B. Israel's Failure is not final (vv.11-24)

Notice the question of verse 11a: "Have they stumbled that they should fall?" Again the construction suggests a negative answer, but there is more to the issue than grammar.

Answer #1 -- That is unthinkable. (v.11b)

"God forbid!" This idea too, Paul implies, would be blasphemous. It would prove God unfaithful to His covenanted word.

Answer #2 -- There is good reason for their temporary loss. (v.11c)

Their failure is designed in the plan of God to bring about Gentile ingathering. "Through their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles." And of course this is precisely the history of those early days of the apostolic mission. The first converts and churches were Jewish. But then there was the decision, "it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 18:6). This accords well with Jesus' words also: "Therefore the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Mat.21:43).

        For a time it seemed that the flood of Divine blessings seemed all dammed up in Israel, but by their unbelief it has spilled over to the Gentiles. This, Paul argues, is precisely the divine design in redemptive history.

Answer #3 -- Gentile Ingathering will result in Jewish Regathering. (v.11c)

By a quotation of Deu.32:21, Moses' prophecy of Israel's fall and restoration, Paul establishes the final step in the divine programme of the ages. The fall of Israel was designed to bring about Gentile conversion. In turn, the conversion of the Gentiles is designed to "provoke Israel to jealousy," and so effect her restoration to faith.

Answer #4 -- Jewish regathering will result in World-wide Blessing. (vv.12, 15)

These verses form a kind of a kind of logical analysis of the entire scenario: if the fall of Israel meant blessing to the world, what should we expect from her restoration? The question is excitingly suggestive.

C. An Illustration (vv.16-24)

Here Paul employs the two analogies in order to illustrate his point in two directions. The firstfruit and the root I take in connection with Abraham, the one through whom the blessing was promised. Perhaps it would be a bit more precise to say it is the Abrahamic covenant that is in view. In either case, it should be expected that if the firstfruit and the root are holy, so will be the entire loaf and tree. Given the nation's "natural" connection to Abraham, it is to be expected that the she will not come to ultimate ruin. She will come again to the place of blessing. To use Paul's words, she will be "grafted in again" (v.23).
        Along with this comes a warning directed primarily to the Gentiles, and it is one that enjoins both humility and perseverance. If these natural branches were cut off for unbelief, there is no room for boasting. Moreover, it is Israel's tree! The Gentile place of blessing is one of grace through faith; and just as no individual Israelite can lay claim to the blessings by reason of descent alone, so no Gentile can boast as though he has a personal right to be here.

        But Paul concludes his illustration by emphasizing his point. "For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?" That is to say, Israel's return to the place of blessing is not only possible, it is highly probable.

III. Conclusion: Israel's Blessing is Certain. (11:25-27)

All this is a "mystery" about which we should not be ignorant. Israel is not enjoying her blessing; it is the time of the Gentiles. That the Gentiles should enjoy the blessings apart from Israel is something the prophets never told us. But this "mystery" (i.e., previously unrevealed truth; secret) Paul now reveals. And he says this condition will not last forever, only "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in."

        And here his argument reaches its climax. Up to now he has spoken primarily in terms of possibility and then probability. But now he says Israel's blessing is certain. Israel's blindness is merely "in part" and temporary. But that she will have her blessing is a matter of recorded prophecy (vv. 26-27).

        This all is strikingly reminiscent of that famous story of the young boy in a London hospital who wanted to see the King. When the king came to visit, the boy didn't recognize him, because he wore no crown or kingly robes. Paul's picture of Israel here is something like that. Their long awaited King came, but he was not what they might have expected. He came in humility, in derision, and He was oppressed. And so they missed Him, and missing Him they missed all the promised blessings that He affords. But in that day when their "Deliverer comes out of Zion, He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (v.26), and this in keeping with covenanted promises (vv.27, 29). In the end, it sounds much like Zechariah, "They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only child" (12:10). Or, in words of Isaiah, they will cry,

"He grew up before us as tender plant and as root out of dry ground. He had no form nor comeliness, and when we saw Him there was no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, and we hid as it were our faces from Him. He was despised and we esteemed Him not! Surely, He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed" (53:2-5).

        In light of Paul's teaching here, it is not difficult at all to see these prophecies fulfilled finally in relation to their original and stated audience. They'll not miss Him then; this is precisely Paul's argument. Their fall is not final. And that is a matter of prophetic record.

IV. Summary (11:28-32)

Yes, Israel seems now to be our enemy so far as the gospel is concerned; and so she is (v.28a). But "as touching the election, she is beloved because of the patriarchs" (v.28b).

Conclusion (11:33-36)

Just this one thing remains to be said: What does all this make you think about God? Here he chose a specific man (Abraham) out of whom would come the nation of His choosing and blessing. Yet by leaving that nation for a time to its unbelief, He has brought blessing to us who deserve it even less. Yet by that he has determined to provoke "His people" back to faith and so bring about world-wide blessing. If this all strikes you as a great unfolding drama, then you have Paul's point. This is God's purpose in history.

        And in all that is revealed a God whose sovereignty and wisdom and power and grace are all indescribably marvelous. God has indulged us, sinners, and has interrupted our mad rush to hell and determined to bring us to glory. That is all to His exhaustless praise (vv.33-36). What a wonderful God He is.

Interpretive Issues

The Meaning of "Israel"

The term "Israel" occurs a total of 11 times in our passage, and it seems at first glance that the term has a consistent significance throughout. However, in two of its occurrences there has been dispute )

        In 9:6 Paul affirms that "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." This is popularly taken to be a justification for the idea that the term may include believing Gentiles -- that Paul is affirming that all who believe (Jew or Gentile) are a part of the "true" Israel. And quite frankly, when this assertion is made, it is usually made in conjunction with (and, in fact, resting on) a misquotation of the verse. For these the verse reads, "they are not all of Israel who are Israel." I trust that I am not misrepresenting the other side here, but this has been my experience I think without exception. It is clear that Paul is speaking here of a "true" Israel; that is beyond question (cf. 2:28-29; Jn.1:47). But it is also clear that he is speaking in reference to ethnic Israelites. This is how he shaped the discussion at the outset (vv.3-5): the people of whom he speaks are his physical kin (v.3) and the human family of Jesus (v.5). Moreover, in these verses (vv.6ff) there is a narrowing of the focus, not a widening. It is not Ishmael and Isaac, but Isaac alone who is the seed. It is not Jacob and Esau, but Jacob. The focus narrows within Israel; it does not widen out. But this is plain not only by the surrounding context (9:3-5, 7-13) but also by the very wording of his statement here. The "true" Israelites are those within Israel who believe. Paul is not merely contrasting men of faith from men of unbelief; he is contrasting men of faith within Israel from men of unbelief within Israel. His whole frame of reference at this point is the physical descendants of Abraham. What he asserts is that the term "Israel," in its truest and most meaningful sense, does not belong to every child of Abraham. The verse is really so plain on this point that we should need to spend no more time on it. Paul refines the significance of the term here, but he does not change its basic meaning to include Gentiles.

        When Paul lists these promises that belong (present tense) to Israel (9:3-5), at least two options were available to him. The "replacement" hermeneutic would expect Paul to proceed to show how these privileges are now realized in the church and then expound on this significance. This is plainly not what Paul does. He shows instead how they belong to Israel herself and how they have not become ineffectual for them; they offer no less a real hope today than ever.

        From here until 11:26, the meaning of the term "Israel" is not debated; it unquestionably continues to refer to ethnic Israel. In fact, the related term "Israelite" is used twice in this context also (9:4 and 11:1), and quite obviously can refer to no one other than those of ethnic Israel.

        Finally, there is the use of the term in 11:26 -- "all Israel shall be saved." That this refers to a national conversion of ethnic Israel is its plainest and most immediate sense, and that must be frankly admitted by all. But there are at least two major alternative interpretations that have been offered, one which we will consider here and the other one a bit later. It is contended by some that Paul here summarizes the salvation of all of God's elect, Jew and Gentile. "All Israel" is, according to this interpretation, all of the redeemed. This interpretation is impossible for several reasons. For starters, there is no clue or hint of any kind in the statement that the word has changed meanings so. Throughout this section "Israel" has in its other ten occurrences meant ethnic Israel. In verse 25 all admit that Paul is speaking of ethnic Israel. If in the very next verse -- the very same sentence in the original (UBS punctuation) -- Paul intends a different meaning, there must be some indicator, some reason to know why. To simply assume that he does is exegetical chaos. Worse, this interpretation misses the whole flow of Paul's argument in chapter 11. The question under discussion has to do with the destiny of ethnic Israel (11:1a). This verse is the climax of that argument (kai houtos), and to turn in another direction is unwarranted. Further, his phrase "all Israel" stands in contrast to the "remnant" within Israel discussed earlier (v.4ff) and which for Paul was evidence that God was not through with the nation. In that day, he says, not a remnant only but the nation itself will be saved. Still more difficult (for this view) is the fact that Paul proceeds to explain this statement in the following verses (gar, "for"; v.27), and to take this interpretation into verse 28 would be absurd (who is the "enemy" after all?). And so we are left (according to this interpretation) with one term lifted out and given a different meaning from that in all its other occurrences, and that against the flow of thought and without any explanation or warning. It appears evident that the motivation behind such a conclusion is not an exegetical one.

        Curiously, Paul begins this section (11:1) with a question about the destiny of ethnic Israel as a people. "Will they be cast off forever (i.e., as a people)?" Paul says no. This replacement interpretation says yes.

        But there is still another consideration. In verse 29 Paul grounds his conclusion (that all Israel will be saved) on the immutability of God's decree and promise. "The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." That is, God's decree can never be altered. And with that Paul condemns the "replacement" idea on theological grounds. It is not just a strange but a dangerous idea that God's election may be altered. How could God's election be changed into rejection? Under what circumstances could we consider God's election to be transferred from one to another? Yet this is precisely what is necessary if the church has somehow replaced Israel. That is an implication which we Calvinists should particularly abhor.

        Let me digress for a moment and point out that this highlights one of the most glaring weaknesses of the "Church replaces Israel" view. It is conveniently selective in dealing with God's ancient promises. It is suspiciously able, at will, to choose which of the ancient promises are still in force and in what sense. The promises of rejection are interpreted literally in reference to ethnic Israel. But just as easily the promises of restoration and blessing are interpreted figuratively in reference to the church. This is a long way from Paul's approach here, and again, I have to say that this kind of hermeneutic is not exegetically driven.

Paul's Interpretation of Hosea

Closely related to this discussion (Israel's relation to the church) is the question of how the apostle, in 9:25-26, interprets the prophecy of Hosea (Rom.9:25 = Hos. 2:23; Rom.9:26 = Hos.1:10). It is alleged that his reference to Jews and Gentiles in verse 24 shows the Hosea prophecy ofIsrael's restoration to be now "reinterpreted" to include both Jews and Gentiles (the church). It is generally argued next that this is the "apostolic model" of prophetic interpretation, and it gives us the clue as to what "Israel" now means and how prophecies concerning Israel should be interpreted. This approach to hermeneutics is a fair one, but it must be examined. Does Paul apply the prophecy of restored Israel to the salvation of Gentiles? And if so, in what sense? Just what is Paul saying, and why does he appeal to Hosea for support.

        Upon examination of the passage, the suggestion does not appear to be so well grounded. Hosea plainly prophesies a restoration of Israel to her place of prominence, and this Paul nowhere repeals. There is a connection, however, and it is one of analogy. Significant is the fact that Paul does not speak of Hosea here as "fulfilled"; he introduces the prophecy as an analogy (hos, "as"). The idea of analogy is all that can be forced from Paul's wording; this much is widely admitted by interpreters such as John Murray and Charles Hodge, men who certainly have no premillennial axe to grind. The sense of the citation, then, is that what God is doing for Gentiles finds a parallel in what God has promised to do for Israel.

        But I think this there is more to be said still. What sort of analogy is Paul drawing? The analogy, I think, is not so much an ethnic one as it is a soteriological one. Paul seems to be comparing not the two ethnic groups merely but the manner in which they are called. Interestingly, Paul alters the wording of Hosea from "I will say" to "I will call." Paul is continuing to stress the idea of divine initiative in salvation. It is His sovereign "call" that effects the change. God's electing grace is the source of blessing for Jews and Gentiles alike (9:24), and what he is doing now among the Gentiles he is doing also for the remnant within Israel (11:5) and will do eventually for Israel itself (11:26-27). This is the analogy Paul is making, and that while (ethnic) Israel remains the focus of his argument on through the end of the chapter. His point has not to do with the relationship of Jews and Gentiles but with the sovereignty of God in calling His elect, whether Jew or Gentile. This divine activity continues throughout the ages of redemptive history, whoever its object may be.

        It is an interpretive mistake to just assume that a quotation of an OT promises indicates its fulfillment. This is just not necessarily so, particularly when the citation is made with the language of analogy (hos). At any rate, Paul's citation of Hosea lends no weight to the idea that Israel and the church are one and the same. That idea draws more from the passage than the passage itself offers.

The Meaning of kai houtos ("and so," 11:26)

It is not uncommon to hear popularizers of the "no future for Israel" persuasion touting with great confidence, "Notice, Paul doesn't say 'And thenall Israel shall be saved;' he says 'And thus all Israel will be saved.'" Their suggestion, of course, is that Paul's "thus all Israel shall be saved" is tantamount to, "in this way (i.e., by both Jews and Gentiles coming to faith) all Israel will be saved." We have already seen, however, that this is both theological and exegetical chaos -- it shifts meanings of words in the same sentence and asks us to accept a transference of God's elective decree. But (as if that were not enough) there is still more that militates against this interpretation.

        There is little debate that the term houtos ("thus") can have a temporal sense ("then"). C. K. Barrett and F. F. Bruce -- neither of whom have any premillennial bias -- understand it in this sense here. However, I prefer, rather, to understand the term as having its more usual comparative force -- "so, in this manner." But even "so" there is little change of the obvious temporal/chronological sense. This event (the salvation of "all Israel," v.26) is to occur following the time of Gentile conversion/prominence (v.25), not along side it. Moreover, in vv.23-24 Paul speaks of Israel in the future tense as being "grafted in again," an idea plainly contrary to this view. Further, this is the climax of Paul's argument begun in 11:1. The question has to do with Israel's destiny. He has been building to this conclusion all along, and to understand this conclusion in any other sense is to take a hermeneutical turn that the text itself simply does not endorse. The salvation of the nation, Paul affirms, will occur "in this manner"; that is, when these preconditions have been fulfilled. This is not far at all from the idea of "then."

        Others, admitting the overwhelming evidence that Paul's reference is to ethnic Israel, argue that the statement has to do with the final tally of the saved from within Israel throughout the church age. "All Israel," in this view, means all of the elect of Israel who in the end have been saved. Paul has been showing that the "remnant" will continue, and in the end they will all (i.e., all of the remnant) be saved. To paraphrase, "and thus (by the age long continuous provoking of Israel's remnant to jealousy) all the elect of Israel will be saved." Through the writings of Herman Ridderbos, William Hendriksen, O. Palmer Robertson, and chiefly Anthony Hoekema this has become a rather popular view and demands some attention.

        This view is not new. Ian Murray points out that it was promoted in the early 17th century but subsequently "uniformly rejected by English and Scottish exegetes of the Puritan school." The view has been thoroughly examined by amillennialist John Murray and soundly rejected again.

        And the arguments which militate against this view are many. First, as Murray points out, the idea "all the elect of Israel will be saved" is at best a tautology, a truism hardly worthy of mention as the climax of an argument about Israel's destiny. It fits nowhere into Paul's discussion at this point and completely ignores the significance of the "mystery" mentioned in verse 25. That the elect of Israel (remnant) will be saved is no mystery at all.

        Moreover, Paul is not dealing with the salvation of Israel's "remnant" so much as he is dealing with Israel itself, the "people" (11:1). This is the climax. The "remnant" was brought into his discussion earlier (11:4ff) as illustrative of the future of the whole; the remnant is an "earnest" of the future hope, and this is its only function in Paul's argument. To speak of the final salvation of all who are a part of the remnant is merely to speak of the remnant. And Paul here (11:26) is speaking of "all Israel" in contrast to the remnant. He is speaking in terms of a reversal of fortune -- from "stumbling/falling" to "fullness" (vv.11-15), from "cast away" to "receiving" (v.15), and from "unbelief/cut off" to "grafted in again" (vv.23-24). Israel's remnant is now in the minority; the majority is lost. But in that day the situation will be reversed, and Israel's majority will come to faith. Still further, the terms "fullness" (v.12) and "acceptance" (v.15) demand a future condition that is in sharp contrast with Israel's present condition. It is no continuance of mere remnant status quo that is in view. At present Israel "stumbles" (v.11) and is "hardened" (vv.7, 25) so that only the remnant chosen in grace believes (v.5). This is the point of contrast; it is the "fullness" and "acceptance" that is in view up through and including verse 26.
        Similarly, this view does not square with Paul's language in verse 7. There "Israel" is in unbelief, and the remnant is in faith by virtue of God's election. But if "Israel" is now in unbelief (i.e., Israel's majority), it is difficult to see how "all Israel" can be explained in terms of the savedremnant.

Then there is the issue of chronological sequence. Israel is now "cut off" but will be grafted in "again" (v.23); the remnant was never cut off in the first place. Israel's partial blindness will last only "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (v.25). Again, as stated earlier, this event (the salvation of "all Israel," v.26) is to occur following the time of Gentile conversion/prominence (v.25), not along side it. There is to be a reversal of fortune: "again" (v.23) and "until" (achris) is terminology that is powerfully expressive of chronological sequence and, in context, of eschatology.

        Further, this view changes the meaning of "Israel" not only from within its context (i.e., its 11 occurrences in chapters 9-11) but even within the same sentence. Granted, Paul does something similar to this in 9:6, but there he gives clear indication that he is doing so. There "Israel" stands in stated contrast (ou) to "of Israel," and it is a plainly pivotal point of Paul's argument. However, there are no such indicators in verse 26. And not only are there no indicators that he is doing so, there are plenty of indicators to the contrary. This interpretation misses Paul's point entirely. To suggest such a shift here is not exegesis at all; it is eisegesis -- the thought must be imported from elsewhere.

        Next, this view does not square with verse 15. It is easy to understand Paul as saying that when the nation as a whole returns to the Lord there will be world wide ramifications. But it is not so easy to see how he could be saying that the one by one conversion of the remnant will have the same effect.

        Again, there is the simple observation of Paul's flow of thought in chapter 11. His point throughout verses 11 to 32 is plainly that Israel's fall is not final. There will be a better day.

        Finally, there is the time frame that is involved. Verse 24 speaks in the future tense -- this is not something occurring at the present time. And that Paul's reference to the "Deliverer from Zion" (v.26) is an eschatological one is widely agreed among the commentators, and for good reason. Connected as it is to Paul's summary argument (kai houtos) and the culmination of God's purpose in history, it could not refer only to Christ's first advent. Israel's blessing will attend the return of Christ.

The Relation of Israel and the Church

So then what is the relation of Israel and the church? One hermeneutical lesson rising out of this passage is this: if we can speak of a promised future for ethnic Israel in any sense, then it is impossible to speak of her as being replaced by church. Is it not impossible to see how an entity can both have its own promised blessings and yet be replaced by another entity which will have those blessings instead. The "replacement" theory is just too simplistic; Paul's teaching is more complex.

        In keeping with the tree analogy, we must say that there is a very real unity between Israel and the church. This would be in contradiction to the traditional dispensational teaching, but the fact remains that there is but one tree. And in this tree the two are brought together into one, and that with a common root.

        Yet there are two types of branches, and Paul never goes so far as to confuse them. Nor do the pruned branches lose their distinctive place in God's programme. There are natural branches, and there are wild branches. And in the end they will be brought together in a unified and complete people of God. But the terminology is never confused; that is a hermeneutical move that goes beyond the express warrant of the text

        One might have expected that since Israel is in unbelief, and that so stubbornly, this branch will remain cut off forever; the tree belongs now to the wild branches! Or we might expect that since this is the apostle to the Gentiles who is writing, and since he elsewhere stresses so the unity of the body of Christ, we are about to read of the branches being blended together and a new kind of hybrid tree developing. But this is precisely what we do not read. God's purpose is defined otherwise. There is distinction within unity.

It is common to identify the tree itself as the "true Israel." But the text does not go that far. To be sure, Abraham is the root (at least the Abrahamic promises). But does it necessarily follow that the tree is Israel? And then does it then necessarily follow that the church is Israel? The text does not make that conclusion; it is an unwarranted jump. It at the least goes a step beyond Paul's language. Paul's purpose here (Rom. 11) is to show God's purpose in redemptive history and explain how this relates to both the Jewish and Gentile segments of the church, but in doing so he never confuses the two. He stresses their unity, but he never confuses their identity.

        It would be closer to Paul's language, then, simply to see Abraham as the root and the tree as the people of God, of which Israel was a part naturally and into which we Gentiles have been grafted. I don't think that this conclusion rests on any "next step" assumptions but simply takes the illustration as it stands.

        This has the added advantage of allowing the plainest sense of the passage to stand: there is a future for ethnic Israel.

        This would have a further advantage, by the way. The first impression given when reading the NT is that the church and Israel are indeed distinct, at least in some sense. This view allows that impression to stand, while at the same time allowing for the very real unity that exists between them.

        We should mention at least in passing Paul's mention of "the Israel of God" in Gal.6:16, which is often understood to be the designation of the church as Israel. But that is not at all the only option open in the text. We have already seen in Rom.9:6 that the Israel of God is the believing remnant within ethnic Israel. This is "true Israel" (as also Rom.9:7-13; 11:1, 5). I have to ask why Gal.6:16 need be any different? And what a nice touch! After arguing so against these (Judaizers) who think themselves to be the true and loyal remnant of Israel, Paul pointedly remarks at the end of his letter that only these (Israelites) of faith are "the Israel of God." This interpretation fits very well with its own context and that of Rom.9-11. It seems to me to be much more comfortable. In short, I see no exegetical necessity for the church "replacement" view in Gal.6:16, particularly in light of Paul's other teaching on the subject.

        It is very simply demonstrable in the NT that the church has been brought in to enjoy many of the promised blessings to Israel. Hence, it is often argued that this is the NT's "reinterpretation" of the OT promises; i.e., that the church takes the place of Israel. There are several flaws in this reasoning. 1) It is not just the NT writers that speak of these Gentile blessings; the prophets themselves spoke of it (e.g., Isa.42:4). Indeed, the very first expression of the Abrahamic promise stated that in Abraham "all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gen.12:3). Now if the prophets could speak in these terms without identifying the Gentiles with "Israel," why should it be necessary to see the NT writers doing so? That Gentiles are being admitted to Israel's blessings in no way cancels or alters the promises as originally given; for such alteration we must demand express warrant. Pointing out similarities of theological category just will not do. 2) The argument assumes that unity means identity. There is no denial here that Israel and the Gentiles have been brought together into one. But it is simply wrong-headed to assume that this demands absolute identification. That they are one does not at all mean that they are the same. As with God the Father and God the Son Who are one, sharing all the same attributes, we would not want to identify the one with the other; and as husband and wife are "one" yet not the same; so also we can say that while the church is brought into the blessings of Israel, Israel does not thereby become the church. 3) It overlooks Paul's idea of "mystery" in verse 25. That Gentiles should share in Israel's blessing was not hidden at all -- Israel's prophets plainly spoke of it. But that the Gentiles should enjoy these blessings apart from Israel was something heretofore unrevealed. This is the "mystery" which Paul claims now to make known. Now if the "mystery" is that Israel's blinding is only partial and temporary and that for Gentile inclusion (v.25), then the prophecy that Israel herself will inherit the promise still stands. 4) It misses the Pauline contention that lies even on the surface of Romans 9-11; namely, that Israel has been and remains God's covenant people, and that she cannot be rejected.

        In the end, then, we must speak of both a continuity and a discontinuity between Israel and the church. The general impression given in the Scripture is that Israel represents the visible manifestation of the people of God under the old covenant, and the church represents the visible manifestation of the people of God under the new covenant. But the language employed is not always so cut and dried. Both the Old and the New Testaments speak of a present participation of the church in the blessings promised to Israel, particularly in the new covenant. Yet the promises stand that Israel will yet enjoy these blessings herself (e.g., Acts 3:19-21; Rom.11:29; 2Co.3:16). Neither the strict continuity approach nor the strict discontinuity approach fit very well with all this. And if the Scriptures leave the matter here and do not make that next step of identifying the one with the other, it is surely best that we be content with the same. We can deny neither the unity nor the distinctiveness of the two. They are not different insofar as their relationship to God is concerned; still, Israel retains her specific identity and distinctive role in redemptive history. To put it another way, they each have their own distinctiveness, yet they are united in one people with one faith and, ultimately, with one destiny.

Eschatology and The Millennial Question

Here is a brief summary of the evidence for a distinct future for ethnic Israel that we have gleaned from Romans 11.

1) The sustained contrast between "now" and "then" (e.g., "until," v.25)
2) The terminology "fullness" and "acceptance" (vv.12, 15)
3) The very question raised in v.1 which governs the entire discussion
4) The fact that Israel's blindness is "not final" (vv.11-24)
5) The future tense in verse 24
6) The parousia language of verse 26
7) The unalterability of God's election (v.29)
8) Paul's explicit affirmation of the unending certainty of Israel's promises and covenants (11:26-29)

        But we have not yet addressed the question of millennial systems. And this is the theme of our conference. And I am supposed to say how this passage lends weight to premillennialism. So what does this passage (Rom.9-11) say to the millennial question specifically? Not a lot. But there are a few details that hint in this direction.

An Earthly Kingdom Within History

First, in 11:15 Paul characterizes the situation of the world following Israel's "acceptance" as "life from the dead." Some have taken this to be literal resurrection, and if that is so then premillennialism seems to fit the scenario better. However, I am not ready to climb out on that limb; I don't think Paul is speaking of physical resurrection. I think he is using metaphorical language. But if so, then what is he implying? The programme, he says, is 1) Jewish hardening / Gentile blessing; 2) Jewish jealousy / conversion; and 3) unprecedented world-wide blessing ("life from the dead"). I frankly cannot see how that fits very well into an amillennial scheme, but it does sound very much like the premillennial one. It sounds like he is describing a universal kingdom in which righteousness dominates. And that, in turn, sounds like Paul's renewed earth anticipated in 8:18-23.

        Then there is the further observation that Paul is dealing here with God's purpose in history. This seems to just lie on the surface of chapter 11. The passage speaks of history's restoration, how that history itself will come to glorious fruition. In verse 15 he describes a time of unprecedented world-wide blessing, something we must define in terms of gospel advance at the very least. This (as also the consideration in the preceding paragraph) fits well in either a pre- or a postmillennial scheme. However, verses 25-26 place this restoration after the coming of Christ; hence, premillennialism. But for the amillennialist, this age is never restored but simply ended -- as some have said, "like throwing a brick through a television screen" -- and righteousness will prevail only in the eternal state. This is not at all Paul's outlook; he envisions a happyconclusion to history.

The Earthly Kingdom, the Land Promise, and The Ground of Paul's Argument

It should be noted further that the ground on which Paul bases his hope of the future conversion of "all Israel" is nothing other than Israel's ancient covenants. In 11:29 Paul says this directly, and in 11:26-27 he cites by way of support and explanation a composite of passages from the Old Testament (Psa.14:7; Gen.17:4; Isa.59:20-21; 27:9; Jer.31:33ff). The language is reminiscent of more passages, particularly from the prophets, in which the Davidic, Abrahamic, and new covenants are held in view for the people. Significantly, these same passages speak to a time when Israel, in her own land, will again enjoy her prominence among the nations. Now clearly, no amillennialist will want to admit this; but then how are we to explain Paul's appeal to these very passages? Are we to understand Paul as limiting their fulfillment to a soteric sense only? And if so, why? The Prophets certainly did not understand their word to be so restricted; they plainly held out a hope of salvation and restoration to the land and Israelite prominence among the nations. The hope of forgiveness which they offered the people was inseparably linked to and formed the basis of these other hopes, hence their equally vigorous heralding of them all. Nor does Paul indicate such a stripping away of the Prophets' message. Indeed, at the very outset of his discussion he affirms that these covenants do indeed still belong to Israel (9:3-4). And at the conclusion he reaffirms the same (v.29). The question then is this: what exegetical warrant is there for allowing only a part of the covenants' promises (i.e., the forgiveness of sins) and not the whole of them? In fact, if we would consider these covenants as still in force, the result would sound much like 11:15. And again, this fits very well with the premillennial scheme, but it is at this point the amillennialst must do some wiggling.

        Nor is this an isolated argument. The prophets plainly and repeatedly spoke of the inviolability and unending certainty of Israel's covenants. Paul alludes to and cites a sampling of these, noteworthy of which is his allusion in 11:8 to Deu.29:4. There Moses is promising the eventual realization of the land promise to Israel. He even explains that while this is conditioned on Israel's faith, Israel will nonetheless enjoy the promise because God in grace will bring them back from their stubborn disobedience.

        It is often argued that since the land promises are not repeated in the NT it is clear that they have been "reinterpreted" or "Christified" to be realized in union with Christ (i.e., that Christ is the "land"). There are several flaws in this line of reasoning. First, it seems to empty the promises of its stated significance and render the words meaningless. Far worse, it assumes that the old promises, so solemnly and so repeatedly made, are no longer valid as given unless the NT says so directly. But the OT was the Bible of the early church and of the apostles, and it seems that this approach to their Scriptures would have struck them as a particularly pernicious one (Marcionic?). Abrogation of these solemnly made promises demands more than silence. Both the holy prophets and apostles speak with continuing with authority (2Pe.3:2).

        Furthermore, the very premise of the argument is faulty. Is the NT silent on the subject of Israel in her land? The Gentile focus of the NT surely accounts for what silence there may be; and in fairness this must be admitted. But even so, I am not at all sure the silence is as real as it is said to be. There is much more data available than is often admitted to the discussion. For example, there are necessary implications of terminology such as "in the regeneration," "reclining with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." And several times the second coming is expressly linked with Palestine: the Mount of Olives, the flight on the Sabbath day, the temple, etc. And there is Jesus' direct prophecy that "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Lk. 21:24). Of course there is much more, particularly in the book of Revelation At any rate, it is gratuitous to simply dismiss all of these things out of hand and then claim that the NT is silent on the subject of Israel in her land in the eschaton.

        It is often assumed that Joshua 21:45 declares a full and final realization of God's covenanted promises to national Israel. But the verse does not say that at all. Joshua was merely claiming that God had come good on all He had said. That in no way rules out a further and fuller realization of the same promises; this is evidenced by the (later) announcements of the prophets that God was yet to give Israel her land, and that as a permanent possession (e.g., Amos 9:13-15). In other words, Joshua was not at all saying, "This is it! That's all!" He was merely showing God's faithfulness in doing as He said He would do. If that is so, then the verse does not end the discussion of Israel's inheritance of the land.


So in the end we are left to say with Paul: Yes, God is doing in Gentiles what He has not yet been pleased to do in Israel. Their blindness is partial and temporary and for the benefit of Gentiles. We have been allowed to share in her blessings. But it does not follow that the church has superseded Israel or that the old promises are abrogated. This is to go beyond the language of Scripture. Unity there is, but with distinction.


1) That the problems enumerated in this section at least involve issues that stem from Jew-Gentile relations is unanimously recognized among the commentators.

2) Me genoito, "God forbid!" or "May it never be!"

3) 9:6 (twice), 27 (twice), 31; 10:19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25, 26. KJV includes 10:1, however, with little textual support.

4) The term "all Israel" is a designation which need indicate nothing more than the majority of Israel, the dominant portion. This connotation is well attested (e.g., Dan.9:11). The issue at hand is Israel as a "people" (11:1), and Paul's point has to do with a reversal on the part of this "people." Just as they as a whole rejected their Messiah and so have stumbled; so they, as a whole will turn back to him.

5) The term "all Israel" is a designation which need indicate nothing more than the majority of Israel, the dominant portion. This connotation is well attested (e.g., Dan.9:11). The issue at hand is Israel as a "people" (11:1), and Paul's point has to do with a reversal on the part of this "people." Just as they as a whole rejected their Messiah and so have stumbled; so they, as a whole will turn back to him.

6) John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (1965, reprint; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 2:38-39. Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (1835, reprint; Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 326-327.

7) Hosea 2:23 "say" (Heb., we'amarti; LXX, ero); Rom.9:25 "call" (kaleso).

8) C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (1957, reprint; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 221, 223. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Romans, TNTC (1963, reprint; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 222.

9) Ian H. Murray, The Puritan Hope (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 64. See his discussion of this on pp.62ff.

10) The Epistle to the Romans, 94-95. It is suspiciously interesting, by the way, that neither Hoekema nor Robertson give even a notice to Murray's arguments, although his work preceded theirs by some fifteen years.

11) Cf. 11:1, 5, 7, etc.

12) I am not suggesting here that my illustration is exactly parallel, but it does illustrate my point that there can be unity without absolute identity.

13) Keep in mind that in the NT musterion carries the idea of "secret, something not revealed." It is not that the information in view is difficult to understand but that it is impossible to know apart from divine revelation.

14) Kathos, "just as"; gar, "for."

15) See also Mat.19:27-28; 20:20-21 (What kind of kingdom did they envision?); 23:37-39; Lk.13:34-35; Lk.1:32-33; 22:28-30; Acts 1:6-7.