Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Is God going to save all the Jews? Does Romans 11:26 really teach that “all Israel” is going to be saved? Is this passage figurative? How can I interpret Romans 11 correctly?

Due to the fact that this is a very challenging question, this post will be longer and more in depth than others. I encourage you to not just skip to the conclusion, but instead, read through it with an open mind, an open Bible and a desire to understand the book of Romans.

Introduction to Romans 11
A main turning point in the book of Romans is chapter 11.  In chapter 11 Paul directs his attention from the Jews to the Gentiles. 11:13 states “But I speak to you that are Gentiles” (ASV).  Chapter 11 does not stand alone, as it relates to the underlining theme of the book of Romans.  The book of Romans is a book about unity, and in chapter 11 Paul again tries to unite the Jews and Gentiles on common ground. Please note how the theme of unity flows through the previous chapters. 

Overview of  Chapters 1-10
The book of Romans begins in chapter one with the unifying theme as found in (1:16), which declares to the reader that Jew and Gentile can be made just by faith in the gospel “as it is written ‘but the righteous will live by faith” (1:17).  

Chapter 1:18 – 3:31 unifies its readers by teaching that all have sinned, all need to be justified and that none can justify themselves by keeping law.  

Chapter 4 unifies the Jews and Gentiles on the basis of justification by faith, this is illustrated by the account of Abraham and how it was reckoned to him as righteousness when he believed. Righteousness on the basis of the faith of Abraham makes him the father of “all” (Jew or Gentile). This means that all who believe may also be reckoned as righteous. 

Chapter 5 again unites the Jew and Gentile by illustrating from the account of Adam that all are subject to death and that all need Christ. In chapter 6 we learn that if one is in Christ, they will be dead to sin, and in chapter 7, the struggle to die to sin is illustrated. 

Chapter 8 shows the blessings that come from being united in Christ on the basis of justification by faith, and chapter 9 confirms that it has always been God’s plan. Chapter 10 brings the final argument for justification by faith and not the keeping of law, and the end of chapter 10 and all of chapter 11 remind Israel that God has not rejected them.

The Context of Romans 11
In this section the Apostle Paul is painting an exquisite picture of God’s unwavering love for Israel.  A Jew reading this epistle may have come to the conclusion that they could not ever be just, they may be thinking that they had been wasting their time and that God has neglected them for the Gentiles.  Paul in 11:1 answers the Jewish question about God rejecting them, Paul declares “may it never be”.  Paul does say that although God never rejected Israel, many of Israel have rejected God. He shows that one of the reasons that the gospel was given to the Gentiles was to provoke the Jews to jealousy and move them to draw closer to God (11:11).

In (11:13) the chapter takes a turn and the intended audience goes from the Jews to the Gentiles. As he did with the Jews, Paul exhorts the Gentiles to not be arrogant, but instead have an attitude of humility. This is illustrated with an example of an Olive Tree. 

In (vs.17-25) Paul identifies God’s people as being a tree. The Jews were part of this tree, but some Jews rejected Christ and were broken off. Where the Jews broke off the Gentiles were allowed to be grafted in.  At this point in the text the Gentiles may be feeling superior to the Jews, but again Paul reminds them in (vs.21) “for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee”. If the Gentiles continued in their boasting they would be broken off in the same way the unbelieving Jews were broken off.  If the Jews believe, they likewise will be grafted back into the tree in the same manner as the Gentiles (11:23-24). The point about not being conceited is driven home in (vs.25) in which he declare to them to “not be wise in their own understanding”. 

What is the meaning of “all Israel” (11:26)?
Without a doubt, the most difficult passage in this chapter is the first part of (11:26) which states “and so all Israel will be saved”. The question of who “all Israel” is and reference to is a challenging one.

This writer is of the persuasion that the most likely interpretation of (11:26), is that “all of Israel” is referring to the physical nation of Israel. The Gentiles were assuming that the “hardening” of the Jews was eternal, but Paul is correcting them by proclaiming that “all of Israel shall be saved”. “All Israel” in the context of Romans 11 must be seen as literal. In (Romans 11:1,2,7 and 25) the Israel being referred to is literal Israel. It is poor exegesis to take one verse out of five and make the word mean something different than the definition of the word in the preceding verses. 

One should note, the word hutosand so” in verse 26 could be better translated “in this manner” (Bauer 602). Thus, what Paul is saying, is in the same manner of being grafted in as the Gentiles were, the unbelieving Jews can be grafted in also if they believe.  100% “all” of Israel has the chance of being saved if they believe and are grafted in as the Gentiles were.

Continuing in verse 26 the quotes Isaiah 59:20-21 to reiterate the point that God has always wanted to offer salvation to the Jews, as chapter 11 continues this is made wonderfully clear. God wants Jew and Gentile to be saved! 

The passage shows there was a time where both groups rejected God but now they can both be united together as they are grafted into the tree of salvation the same way.  In (11:32) it states “For God hath shut up all in disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all”. God’s plan is not always a plan that all can understand (11:33). Even though all the nuances of God’s plan cannot be understood, the point of this passage is clear.  God wants both Jew and Gentile to be saved, both Jew and Gentile were separated from God at one time, both Jews and Gentile are saved in the same way, and thus, neither Jew or Gentile has reason to boast!

The book of Romans proclaims justification on the basis of faith. Paul wants the readers (both Jew and Gentile) to be united upon this truth. Rome was a church divided, the Jews and Gentiles were in opposition to one another.  In chapters 1-11 Paul beautifully illustrates numerous reasons on why Jew and Gentile are one in the same in the eyes of God. Chapter 11 brings to an end the doctrinal unity that the Jews and Gentiles must embrace. In chapter 12 the book takes a turn to the practical application of the previous eleven chapters. Chapter 11 is the conclusion of Paul’s doctrinal discourse for unity, chapter 11 shows that no matter what race you are, whether you rejected God in the past or in the present, there is room for all in God’s tree. You can be grafted in, if you have faith, and come to Him. 

By Cliff Sabroe - Quotes from ASV and NASB95 Bible 
Work Cited - Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  2nd E.d. Edited By. W.F Arndt and F.W Gingrich. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.