The Remnant of Israel, 1-10
Rom 11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
Did God reject his people? – This questions is raised because of Paul’s accusation about Israel in Rom 10:21 – they are a ‘disobedient and contrary people’.
I am an Israelite myself – God can scarcely have rejected his people, since Paul is himself a ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews’.
‘In Romans 9-11 [Paul] is agonising over the destiny of Jews who have rejected their messiah. And he expresses the conviction that a substantial number of them will respond to Christ: God has not cast off his ancient people for ever. Otherwise his faithfulness would be in question…[But] Paul gives no hint here of a political future for Israel, any more than Jesus did. It is the recognition of Jesus’s messiahship which concerns him…Paul’s exposition here does not imply any distinctive dealing of God with the Jewish race at a future date – for example after the rapture when, according to some theories, Jesus will come to remove Christians to the heavenly world. Paul’s whole argument right through Romans is that “there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles” (Rom 10:12; cf 1:16f; 2:9-11; 3:22f). There is one Lord, and one gospel for all, one way of salvation – the way of faith…When Jews turn to Jesus in large numbers, they will come to him through faith, during the present course of history. And the return of Jews to Palestine – although it happens under the providence of God, and although it could be the prelude to a spiritual turning of Jews to Jesus – is not in itself a specific fulfilment of biblical prophecy.’ (Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus,p132f)
Rom 11:2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel:
‘In Rom 11:2 divine foreknowledge has the connotation of God’s joining a people to himself in eternity in loving faithfulness. Implicit here is the idea that divine foreknowledge as election implies predestination to salvation. “’God has not rejected his people’ whom he foreknew, has he?” The thought that God might have rejected Israel is seen to be incompatible with God’s foreknowledge of his people. Unbelieving Israel may now be hardened, (Rom 11:7) but there is a believing remnant because of God’s gracious election, (Rom 11:5,7) and that remnant provides hope that the rest are yet consecrated to God because of their election. (Rom 11:16,28) The divinely “foreknown” people have a destiny of salvation, (see Rom 11:25-26) as unlikely as that may have appeared in Paul’s day.’ (DPL)
Rom 11:3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?
Rom 11:4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Rom 11:5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
‘God has his witnesses in the world, that bear their testimony against the wickedness of it; a remnant, that have not bowed to idols; (Rom 11:4f) a virgin-company, that kept their purity when all the world wondered after the beast.’ (Rev 13:3) (Matthew Henry)
Rom 11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Rom 11:7 What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened,
Rom 11:8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.”
Rom 11:9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.”
David says – Ps 69:22,23. Here imprecations originally uttered against Israel’s enemies are applied against Israel itself.
Rom 11:10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”
Ingrafted Branches, 11-24
Rom 11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.
‘There is no doubt that the Jews, or the majority of them, have stumbled (cf. Rom 9:32f.) and lost their place; the Gentiles are overhauling them. But does this mean that they are now out of the race? that they are for ever outside the sphere of salvation? It is probable that some Christians gave a positive answer to this question; there are passages in the gospels which suggest this (e.g. Matt. 21:43; 27:25). But this was not Paul’s solution of the problem.’ (Barrett)
v11f ‘Nothing less than a restoration of Israel as a people to faith, privilege, and blessing can satisfy the terms of this passage. The argument of the apostle is not, however, the restoration of Israel; it is the blessing accruing to the Gentiles from Israel’s “fulness”…Thus there awaits the Gentiles, in their distinctive identity as such, gospel blessing far surpassing anything experienced during the period of Israel’s apostasy, and this unprecedented enrichment will be occasioned by the conversion of Israel on a scale commensurate with that of their earlier disobedience.’ (Murray, The Epistle to the Romans)
‘The apostle Paul, in the 11th chapter of the Romans, speaks of the success of the gospel among Jews and Gentiles in the primitive times, though embracing a multitude of churches, as but the first fruits – the pledge and the earnest of a coming, a golden harvest; and he speaks also of the Jews being brought in to the fulness of the Gentiles; implying that there is a Gentile fulness yet to be gathered.’ (Lorimer, in The Revival of Religion, 195)
‘Jewish refusal to respond to the gospel, Paul implies, has opened the way for preaching to the Gentiles – a circumstance Paul had witnessed repeatedly in his own missionary work. (e.g. Acts 13:45-47; 18:6; 19:8-10; 28:24-28) At the same time, we must emphasize that the turn from Jews to Gentiles was much more than a historical circumstance: as the NT makes clear here and elsewhere, it was part of God’s sovereign plan of salvation (see the quotations of Isa 49:6 in Acts 13:47 and of Am 9:11-12 in Acts 15:16-18). Then, as Jews see Gentiles enjoying God’s blessing, they in turn are made envious – as Dt. 32:21, which Paul quotes in 10:19, predicts.’ (NBC)
Rom 11:12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
‘In this paragraph Paul sets Jewish unbelief in the context of an unfolding plan of God for the salvation of all his people. That plan involves an oscillation between Jews and Gentiles in three stages: (i) Jewish transgression opens the way for (ii) Gentile salvation, which leads in the end to (iii) Jewish salvation. The importance of this point to Paul’s argument is revealed by the fact that he restates it no less than six times in this section (cf. vs 12, 15, 16, 17-24, 25-26, 30-31). In v 12 and again in v 15 the final inclusion of the Jews – their fullness/their acceptance – leads to a fourth stage: greater riches/life from the dead. Since Paul presents this inclusion of the Jews as an event of the end-times (11:26), it is likely that these phrases refer to the ultimate establishment of God’s kingdom through the coming of Christ, bringing with it extraordinary blessing and the resurrection of the dead.’ (NBC)
‘Undoubtedly, that people of the Jews shall once more be commanded to arise and shine, and their return shall be the riches of the Gentiles, Rom 11:12, and that shall be a more glorious time than ever the Church of God did yet behold.’ (Robert Leighton)
Rom 11:13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry
I am talking to you Gentiles – who may have been tempted to look down on their Jewish brethren.
‘Although the Roman church is predominantly Gentile, Paul’s motto is still “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”. Rome’s Jewish population had recently been persecuted, and it may have been tempting for the Roman church to effectively declare itself to be a Gentile organisation in order to “clear itself of local suspicion in relation to the capital’s Jewish population” but Paul will insist that the weak bear with the strong (14-15), and not repeat the mistakes of Antioch.’ (Stephen Harris, summarising Wright’s The Climax of the Covenant)
I am the apostle to the Gentiles – See Gal 2:8n
Bruce summarises Paul’s argument at this point: “‘Jew as I am by birth,’ says Paul, ‘I am the Gentiles’ apostle, and I esteem the honour of my commission very highly. This I do not only for the sake of the Gentiles to whom I carry the gospel, but for the sake of my Jewish brethren as well. I want to stir them to emulation, as they see Gentiles entering into the full enjoyment of gospel blessings. I want to make them say, “Why should the Gentiles have all these blessings? Why should we not have a prior share in them?” Well may they say so, for these blessings are the fulfilment of their own ancestral hope; they are bound up with faith in their own Messiah. And when at last Israel is stimulated to claim the Messiah, with all the blessing he brings, words cannot describe the blessing which Israel’s restoration will mean to the world.’”
Rom 11:14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.
Arouse my own people to envy – ‘hina parazēlōsō mou tēn sarka‘ – ‘making my flesh jealous’, echoing Rom 7; 9:4f. See the discussion in Wright, Paul and the faithfulness of God.
Rom 11:15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
Their rejection – Is this (a) an objective genitive (God’s rejection of Israel); so Moo, Schreiner and others, or (b) a subjective genitive) Israel’s rejection of the gospel; so Fitzmyer? The former appears to be more consistent with v8 and v17, whereas the latter appears to be consistent with v1, where Paul insists that God has not rejected Israel. See this article by Sibley (who supports the subjective genitive reading.
Rom 11:16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Rom 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,
Rom 11:18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.
Rom 11:19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”
Rom 11:20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.
Do not be arrogant – They might have thought that the Jewish branches had been removed in order to make room for themselves. But there is room for both; and, in any case, they themselves can be removed too (v21).
‘Israel was cut off because of her disobedience, and the Gentiles were grafted in, but this by no means give an excuse for Gentile believers to gloat over the Jews, for to do so would simply to repeat the sectarianism that had caused Israel’s problems in the first place.’ (Harris, summarising Wright)
Rom 11:21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Rom 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
The kindness and sternness of God – ‘No attribute of God is in conflict with another. God is never at cross-purposes with himself.’ (A.W. Tozer)
‘The act of severity to which Paul referred was God’s rejection of Israel as a body—breaking them off from his olive tree, of which they were the natural branches—because they did not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Israel had presumed on God’s goodness, while disregarding the concrete manifestation of his goodness in his Son; and God’s reaction had been swift—he had cut Israel off. Paul takes occasion from this to warn his Gentile Christian readers that if they should lapse as Israel had lapsed, God would cut them off too. “You stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (Rom 11:20–21 RSV). The principle which Paul is applying here is that behind every display of divine goodness stands a threat of severity in judgment if that goodness is scorned. If we do not let it draw us to God in gratitude and responsive love, we have only ourselves to blame when God turns against us.’ (Packer, Knowing God)
Otherwise, you also will be cut off – ‘Those who decline to respond to God’s goodness by repentance, and faith, and trust, and submission to his will, cannot wonder or complain if sooner or later the tokens of his goodness are withdrawn, the opportunity of benefiting from them ends, and retribution supervenes.’ (Packer, Knowing God)
Rom 11:23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
Rom 11:24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
Paul does hold out a prospect for (many?) Jewish people to come to God through Christ.
All Israel Will Be Saved, 25-32
Rom 11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
This mystery – This might refer to (a) what Paul is immediately about to say concerning the partial hardening of Israel (Kruse); (b) what he then goes on to affirm, namely that ‘all Israel will be saved’; (c) what he has just been discussing, namely the grafting of both Gentile and Jew into the olive tree.
The last of these options appears the most likely, given that Paul usually reserves the term ‘mystery’ to refer to the ‘mystery of the gospel’, Rom 16:25–26; cf. 1 Cor. 2:1, 7; 4:1; Eph 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 6:19; Col 1:26, 27; 2:2; 4:3; 1 Tim. 3:9,16.
For Kim, the content of the mystery would then be: ‘Partial hardening has come upon Israel untilo the full number of the gentiles have come in, and so all Israel will be saved.’
‘The most instructive parallel to this text – which envisions the grafting of both Gentile and Jew into the same olive tree-is Eph 3:3-6, where Paul says that the content of the “mystery of Christ” is the inclusion of the Gentiles as fellow heirs of the promise with Jews in the new community of Christ’s body.’ (HSB)
A hardening in part – or, ‘for a while’; a temporary, rather than a permanent hardening (Kruse).
Until the full number of the Gentiles has come in – Kruse: ‘The full number of the Gentiles refers to the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles called by God (cf. Rom 9:22–24).’
‘Clear, of course, is Paul’s insistence that by faith Christian Gentiles are incorporated into Israel … Paul probably understands the Gentiles ‘coming in’ [as in 11:25] as their entering the people of God … As Paul sees it, Gentiles abandon their religion when they accept the gospel (1 Thess 1:9–10), but observant Jews who accept it do not change religions but reconfigure the religion they already have. Together both groups constitute something new, a new ‘people’ united by a shared conviction about the Christ-event as God’s eschatological act.’ (Keck, cited by Wright, Paul and the faithfulness of God).
Palmer Robertson asks: ‘Into what do the full number of elect Gentiles comes?’ He answers: ‘Believing Gentiles come into Israel! Is that not exactly the point made by Paul earlier in this chapter? Gentiles have been “grafted in among” the Israel of God (Rom 11:17). They have become additional branches, joined in the single stock that is not other than Israel…In other words they have become “Israelites”.’ (Cited by Sizer, Zion’s Christian Soldiers, p60)
Rom 11:26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. Rom 11:27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
And so – ‘Outos‘ is not ‘and then’ here, but rather ‘in this manner’ (Moo); ‘in this way’ (Bruce, Morris’ Kruse), that is, in the manner that Paul has just outlined in vv11-24 and summarised in v25b, with the salvation of the Gentiles leading to jealousy and salvation on the part of Israel.
All Israel will be saved – See extended note below. Most commentators argue that because Paul has been referring to ethnic Israel all along in this passage (right up to v25), he must be doing so here. But this is to miss the whole point, which is that believing Israelites and believing Gentiles together make up the people of God.
‘”all Israel” being saved does not mean “all Jews” being saved, but the Israel being saved is the True Israel being saved through faith, as Abraham had been promised. Wright argues that it is entirely accurate to suggest that ‘Israel’ has two different meanings, and Paul has already begun this section of thought with this distinction (see Rom 9:6).’ (Harris, summarising Wright)
As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion” – Referring to Isa 59:20. However, the original passage has: ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins’ (emphasis added). Peter Enns (The Evolution of Adam; Inspiration and Incarnation) argues that Paul has altered the original in order to make a new point (that the Messiah comes from Zion; he is a Jew). See also Psa 14:7; Jer 31:33f.
‘The quote is a combination of Isa 2:3, 27:9, 59:20f and Jer 31:34, and all speak of the renewal of the covenant, the end of exile and the blessing of the nations through Israel, which is already happening through the Messiah and the preaching of the Gospel.’ (Harris, quoting Wright)
Rom 11:28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,
Rom 11:29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Some argue that because God established and ‘everlasting’ covenant with Abraham, and, as the present verse says, his ‘gifts and his call are irrevocable’, his plan for Jewish people is separate and distinct from his plan for non-Jewish people. This two-covenant theology, however, flies in the face of everything Paul says about the ‘one people’ that God has established through the gospel. More specifically, it flies in the face of what he says here about the one olive tree. As Stott says, ‘the two-covenant theology also has the disastrous effect of perpetuating the distinction between Jews and Gentiles which Jesus Christ has abolished.’
“When God calls a man, he does not repent of it. God does not, as many friends do, love one day, and hate another; or as princes, who make their subjects favourites, and afterwards throw them into prison. This is the blessedness of a saint; his condition admits of no alteration. God’s call is founded on his decree, and his decree is immutable. Acts of grace cannot be reversed. God blots out his people’s sins, but not their names.” (Thomas Watson)
Rom 11:30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience,
Now – note the three ‘nows’ in v30f. ‘Paul is envisaging a steady flow of Jews into the church, by grace through faith,’ rather than ‘a large-scale, last-minute salvation of ethnic Jews’ (Wright). See, however, the comment on the text of v31.
Rom 11:31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
In order that they too may now receive mercy – Some manuscripts have this ‘now’; others omit it; and still others replace it with ‘later’. So Paul may, after all, be thinking of a future turning of Jewish people to Christ (and, as Moo explains, even if this ‘now’ is retained, it could be read as a ‘now’ of imminence – “now, at any time”).
Rom 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Mercy on them all – Taken out of context, this might seem to teach universalism. But in chapters 1-4 Paul has presented a careful argument that all people are subject to God’s judgment and that salvation is received only through faith. In context, Paul is referring, not to ‘all’ without exception, but to ‘all’ without distinction (i.e. to Jews and Gentiles alike).
‘Here at length the full meaning of Paul’s ‘double predestination’ is revealed. God has predestinated all men to wrath and he has predestinated all men to mercy. If they were not predestinated to the former they could not be predestinated to the latter. It is true that the stress here does not lie on the ‘all men’ but on the ‘disobedience’ and the ‘mercy’; Paul does not intend to make a definite pronouncement about the ultimate destiny of each individual man. But the hope of mankind is more, not less, secure because it is rooted in the truth about God, rather than in a truth about man himself.’ (Barrett)
Rom 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
‘But when Paul wrote [this], he was not saying, “So close your Bible and make up your own reality.”
On the contrary, those words about God’s inscrutable ways were written as a climax to eleven chapters of the greatest news in the world, all of which are written to be understood. For example, when Paul touches on the inevitability of suffering, he says: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 5:3–5).’ (Piper, Coronavirus and Christ)
‘It was’ (writes Donald Macleod) ‘no mystical or aesthetic experience which prompted such an exclamation, but a rigorous examination, sustained through eleven magnificent chapters, of God’s goods news concerning his Son (Rom 1:2).’ (The Person of Christ, p156)
‘Here was the masterpiece of divine wisdom, to contrive a way to happiness between the sin of man and the justice of God. We may cry out with the apostle, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.’ Rom 11:33. This astonished men and angels. If God had put us to find out a way of salvation when we were lost, we could neither have had a head to devise, nor a heart to desire, what God’s infinite wisdom had found out for us. Mercy had a mind to save sinners, and was loath that the justice of God should be wronged. It is a pity, says Mercy, that such a noble creature as man should be made to be undone; and yet God’s justice must not be a loser. What way then shall be found out? Angels cannot satisfy for the wrong done to God’s justice, nor is it fit that one nature should sin, and another nature suffer. What then? Shall man be for ever lost? Now, while Mercy was thus debating with itself, what to do for the recovery of fallen man, the Wisdom of God stepped in; and thus the oracle spake:- Let God become man; let the Second Person in the Trinity be incarnate, and suffer; and so for fitness he shall be man, and for ability he shall be God; thus justice may be satisfied, and man saved. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God, thus to make justice and mercy to kiss each other! Great is this mystery, ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ 1 Tim 3:16. What wisdom was this, that Christ should be made sin, yet know no sin; that God should condemn the sin, yet save the sinner! Here was wisdom, to find out the way of salvation.’ (Thomas Watson)
Rom 11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?”
Rom 11:35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
Rom 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.