Romans 11 and "all Israel"… another wisdom of crowds job

Romans 11:11-32 outlines the climax of Paul’s dialogue regarding the inclusion of Jews & Gentiles into the kingdom of God. As hotly contested verses go, these are up there. Doug Moo notes most scholars ‘agree that the key verse is 11:26: “All Israel will be saved.” But the identity of “Israel” and the manner and time of its salvation are contested’ (Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 2002).

Whilst there are a broad range of potential solutions, there are only three credible possibilities:

  1. “All Israel” refers to a significant number of Jews who will turn to Christ and be saved at the parousia (so Tom Schreiner, Bob Mounce, Doug Moo, et al)
  2. “All Israel” refers to the entirety of the church. So, the elect Jewish remnant and the fullness of the Gentiles will “come in” ushering in the eschaton (so most Reformers, Stuart Olyott, Tom Wright, et al)
  3. “All Israel” refers to ethnic Israel but, rather than a significant number at the end of time, only those elect Jews throughout the course of history (so C.M. Horne)
I am pretty happy rejecting one of the above options without too many qualms (I simply don’t think it fits the data). However, I am rather torn between the other two options.

I have an inclination as to which option I favour (not much more than that) but I thought the wisdom of crowds might be useful.

So, those so inclined, what are your thoughts?

4 comments

  1. It seems to me that the most natural reading of verses 26 is that when Paul refers to “all Israel” he is using it in the same sense as verse 25, where it is clearly ethnic Israel in contrast to the Gentiles.

    “The full number of the Gentiles coming in” and “all Israel will be saved” seem to me to be showing the parallel between Jew and Gentile, that they will be saved in the same way – one of Paul's themes in Romans is that Jew and Gentile are alike saved by God's righteousness in Christ through faith.

    So I'd say that it's the “full number of the Gentiles” plus “all Israel” that are the whole church, rather than “All Israel” being the whole church including the Gentiles.

    Verses 11-12 also seem to support this. Paul asks: “Did they [disobedient Israel] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” He goes on to say how their transgression – loss – full inclusion means riches and greater riches for the world and the Gentiles. I can't see any way that “full inclusion” can refer to the church generally when it's used in contrast to the Gentiles – it has to be ethnic Israel. This idea of “full inclusion” seems to reinforce the idea of all ethnic Israel being saved.

    Also, in verse 15, Paul says that the “acceptance” of “my own people” will be “life from the dead”. This could just be referring to new spiritual life, but it suggests a connection with Christ's return and the resurrection of the dead, that the general acceptance of Christ by ethnic Israel will herald his return.

    As an optimistic premillennial, I'd take this not in the postmillennial sense that all individuals among the Gentiles and among Israel will be saved prior to the Second Coming – I think Paul is referring to the full number of the elect among these.

    But Paul's emphasis is on the extensiveness of God's salvation – he will have mercy on them all – not on the smallness of a tiny remnant.

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  2. Thanks for your comments Caleb. Sounds like you are siding with Schreiner, Moo and Mounce (fine company indeed!) Though, I'm not sure any of them would buy into your premillenialism.

    You have at least managed to avoid defending the position I am certain I don't hold.

    To be honest, my inclination (not much more than a general leaning) is toward view #2 but I am open to persuasion on your view (though wouldn't quite support some of your emphases above).

    Thanks for the comment though. It's all grist for the mill.

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  3. I certainly favour the second option. I take 9:6-7 as programmatic for the three chapters so the near context doesn't necessitate the sense being constant across verses 25 and 26. If anything I see verse 26 as explanatory, in much the same way that 9:6 is, saying that in national Israel being hardened until the Gentiles come in, all of the real Israel will be saved.
    To back that up, logically, national Israel is already all of national Israel. So the only way that national Israel without the Gentiles not being all Israel makes sense is if “all Israel” includes the Gentiles, ergo it is the Church. How else does the distinction make sense?

    I certainly don't see it as a temporal progression, that Gentile inclusion will spark the subsequent event of ethnic Jewish salvation. The verses simply don't read that way, as some kind of map of future plans.
    Verses 31 and 32 seem, rather than upholding the ethnic divides (which are upheld precisely nowhere else in the NT but consistently broken down), to conclude that the present state is that ethnic Jews and Gentiles both now come to God the same way, by the same grace (which is in far better harmony with the rest of the NT). That is describing a present reality where there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile; that is the end Paul has been working towards throughout Romans. There is nothing in that of a future ingathering; it is consistent with the language through 9-11 of a remnant and some faithful within a larger unfaithful group, that was always true and remains so.

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  4. Hi Alan,

    thanks for the comment – very useful.

    Like you, I take 9:6f as laying the base for all that follows. Incidentally, so does Schreiner yet he still comes to position #1.

    To be frank, it is only the sheer number of good, modern commentators coming to #1 that gives me pause for thought. NT Wright would be a major exception but, given his line on a number of other things, I'm not always comfortable running with his views.

    I've always read 11:25f as follows (my paraphrase): A partial hardening has come upon ethnic Israel – so that some Jews may still be saved – until (and so that) the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. At this point, the Lord will return. This will mean the lifting of the partial hardening of ethnic Israel, just as all hardened people will too bow the knee to Jesus (cf. Rom 14:11; Php 2:10).

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