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Romans 11

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This extremely interesting chapter concludes Paul’s burden of revelation concerning the Jews. What is called the Jewish problem dominates the entire epistle, especially in its relation to the master theme of God’s rectitude; but, beginning with Romans 9, Paul began to lay the ground for the revelation of the mystery concerning Israel which was finally stated formally in Romans 11:25.

The key facts which Paul had already established regarding Israel are: (1) they are not all Israel who are of Israel (Romans 9:6), making it clear that there are, and always have been, TWO Israels: (a) the external Israel, the state, the nation, the visible Jewry on earth, and (b) true Israel, called "his people," that is God’s people, children of the promise, the seed of Abraham, the people whom he foreknew, etc.; (2) the external Israel God had rejected and hardened, as extensively prophesied by their own prophets, and as just punishment for their rejection of God, climaxed by their stumbling on Christ; and (3) the true Israel are now the redeemed in Christ, but such a fact excludes no one; "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). These three important facts about Israel should be kept in view.

For centuries the two Israels had been almost indistinguishable, there being no sharp separation between them, but Paul showed in the beginning of this chapter that the separation had been made, with the true Israel continuing as Christianity, and the "rest" (Romans 11:7) hardened, the latter being the whole of external Judaism. Paul devoted most of the remaining verses to explaining the relationship between the two Israels by the use of several comparisons, and then dramatically stated the mystery in Romans 11:25.

Verse 1

I say then, Did God cast off his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

Did God cast off his people … This question regards the true Israel, not the nation, which certainly had been cast off, there being then "no distinction" (Romans 9:12) in the sight of God between either Jews or Gentiles. Paul guarded against confusing the people here mentioned with external Israel by saying immediately that it was "the people whom he foreknew" (Romans 11:2) who were not cast off. Many make the mistake of supposing this to mean that God had not cast off the nation. Even so perceptive a writer as Hodge missed this altogether, saying,

When we consider how many promises were made to the Jewish nation (!), as God’s peculiar people; and how often it is said, as in Psalms 94:14, "The Lord will not cast off his people," it is not surprising that the doctrine of the rejection of the Jews, as taught in the preceding chapters, was regarded as inconsistent with the word of God.(F1)

Hodge plainly failed to distinguish between nation and people.

Paul refuted the allegation that God had cast off his people by appealing to his own conversion as proof of the validity of God’s promise; which fact demonstrates what Paul meant. Paul was not saved through his membership in the Jewish nation at all, but as an individual obedient believer in Christ, such salvation also being available to all who ever lived since Christ came (Jews and Gentiles alike), and upon identical conditions. How could God be supposed to need anything any better than that or any different arrangement?

But the mania regarding the Jewish nation persists. Note what Wuest said:

The covenant of God with Israel, having been NATIONAL, shall ultimately be fulfilled to them as A NATION; not by the gathering in merely of individual Jews, or of all Jews individually, into the Christian Church, — but by the restoration of the Jews, not in unbelief, but as a CHRISTIAN BELIEVING NATION.(F2)

Now Paul alleged his own redemption as the fulfillment of God’s promise not to cast off his people, but Wuest and many others do not accept Paul’s premise. Why? They have incorporated into their reasoning a major premise which is false, that being the opinion that God’s covenant was with a nation, state, or race of people. That is not true at all. God’s covenant was with the spiritual seed of Abraham, as Paul showed extensively in Romans 9, where he proved that the promise never was to the fleshly seed of Abraham, but to the people "whom he foreknew," the spiritual seed. God’s covenant was never with the state, or kingdom, of Israel, nor with any of their kings, AS SUCH. Even the Davidic kingdom was not the earthly state but the spiritual kingdom, upon the throne of which, even now, Christ indeed reigns. As noted at the head of this chapter, the earthly kingdom and the spiritual "people" of the promise were historically indistinguishable for centuries, but Paul here showed the separation as finally precipitated in the first advent of our Lord.

The thought that God ever had any covenant with the ancient kingdom of Israel, in the sense of their state, through any of their kings, is repugnant. The very existence of their line of kings was contrary to God’s will, existing with his permission, but not with his approval, as a glance at 1 Samuel 8:7 proves. It was precisely in the events there recorded that Israel "rejected God" from reigning over them; and the great historical rejection of God by the fleshly Israel, in their irrevocable repudiation of God as their king and the elevation of one of themselves to rule over them, was the pivot upon which all their later apostasy turned. The Solomonic empire which they so ardently desired to be restored with its earthly glory was the concept that totally blinded them to the Christ, and which still blinds many as to what is meant by God’s "people."

Think of it. If God should be thought of as owing anything at all to the fleshly descendants of Abraham, as viewed separately from the spiritual seed, why does he not owe it also to the Edomites, the Arabians, and the Ishmaelites? "Race," in the sense of fleshly descent, means absolutely nothing to God. And as to that southern portion of the divided kingdom, could there be any justice whatever in making them the recipients of any special dispensation of God’s grace, in view of the bitterest denunciations of them pronounced by God through the mouths of their noblest prophets? That southern state, historically identifiable as the present Israel, and also that of Paul’s day, could not possibly deserve anything at God’s hands which could be viewed as favoring them over the ten northern tribes who were swallowed up in oblivion, because Ezekiel plainly declared the sins of the southern kingdom to have been "more than" those of the kingdom that disappeared (Ezekiel 23:16), even declaring that Judah’s sin exceeded that of both Samaria and Sodom.

Thou wast corrupted more than they all (Samaria and Sodom) in thy ways (Ezekiel 16:47).

Now, if nothing but the flesh is considered, if Israel is to be viewed as any people identified with Abraham merely through fleshly descent, why should God have annihilated Sodom and Samaria and have spared Israel whom God himself declared to be worse than either of them? The reasons why God did spare fleshly Israel in preference over the ten tribes, until the historical fulfillment of their mission as flesh-bearers of the Messiah, and the reasons why fleshly Israel is still spared, contrary to all apparent righteousness, appears in the revelation of the great mystery of 1:25. But the fantastic notion that the true Israel now has, or ever will have, any identification with that fleshly remnant is contrary to the scriptures and to all reason.

Lard has observed that

The nation most certainly was cut off, deservedly. As a nation God cast them off; but at the same time, he has retained many individuals in his love, because of their belief in Christ.(F3)

The individuals mentioned by Lard are God’s "people" in the sense of this verse.

Verse 2

God did not cast off his people whom he foreknew. Or know ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? how he pleaded with God against Israel.

His people which he foreknew … See under preceding verse. Although Sanday also seems to have missed the distinction between "nation" and "people," his comment is nevertheless helpful. He said,

This must not be pressed too far, as implying an absolute indefectibility of divine favor.(F4)

God’s promise of blessing to Israel was always founded upon the premise of their remaining faithful to God. The people God foreknew were those who would be faithful, the elect, the spiritual seed. Hodge expressed it thus:

God has indeed rejected his external people, as such, but he has not cast away his people whom he foreknew.(F5)

Lard was very near the meaning of these first three verses in this comment:

That God has rejected Israel as a nation is indisputable; and equally certain it is that he has not rejected them all. What is true then, and all that is true is, that he has not wholly rejected his people.(F6)

In Lard’s analysis, however, there is a failure to make the sharp distinction that is needed, due to the confusion of "nation" with "people." It is not true, exactly, as Lard stated it that God has not "WHOLLY rejected his people," but it is as Paul said, "God has not rejected his people," meaning that he has not rejected ANY OF THEM. The introduction of the historical case of Elijah here was Paul’s way of showing, not that in those times God had not rejected all of his people, but that EVEN IN THOSE TIMES God’s people were distinguished from the nation.

The case of Elijah (1 Kings 19:10) was here brought forward by Paul to demonstrate that God’s "people" during the period of the monarchy were not the state, or nation, in any sense, but were the faithful spiritual seed, whom God had not cast off, and never will cast off.

The apostasy of Israel was so complete under Ahab, during the days of Elijah, that Elijah was convinced that God had no people at all except himself. Ahab, the head of the Jewish state, had murdered the prophets of God, overthrown the worship of God, and led the nation into total rebellion, as a nation, against God, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Samuel that Israel, through their demand of a king, had indeed rejected God from reigning over them (1 Samuel 8:7). The existence, along with Elijah, of 7,000 faithful persons as the true Israel during those terrible days when Jezebel sat on the throne in Jerusalem was revealed to Elijah by the Lord for his encouragement; but the existence of the true Israel even at that time was totally separate and apart from the nation, as such, for the nation was God’s unqualified enemy. Still, the true Israel was throughout that period concealed in and mingled with the other Israel.

Verse 3

Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.

Was such a nation the people of God? God forbid. The people of God were that pitiful remnant with Elijah, and God had not cast them off.

Verse 4

But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

Seven thousand men … does not include the women and children which made up their families, after the Jewish method of reckoning (see Matthew 14:21). The true Israel numbered at least 20,000 or more, and possibly much more, if "seven" should be understood as a sacred number. They err greatly who think Paul was here concerned merely with showing that God had not rejected "all of his people"; for God in fact had rejected none of his true people. Paul was showing that throughout Israel’s history, "they are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Romans 9:6), that being the key to making any sense at all out of what is stated here in Romans.

Significantly, the separation between the two Israels, the true and the fleshly, was not the result of some whimsical "eternal decree" of God, choosing some and rejecting others; but it was based solidly in fundamental and profound differences between the true and the false. Paul stated the basis here as the fact that the true Israel "had not bowed the knee to Baal." God’s election is always based upon qualities in people themselves, but in no sense of such qualities actually meriting or earning God’s favor. Of those who will obey God’s gospel, or refrain from bowing the knee to Baal, as in those days, it is God’s "eternal decree" that SUCH PERSONS are his "people whom he foreknew." Lard explained it thus:

Obedience is man’s own free act, to which he is never moved by any prior election of God. Choosing, on the other hand, is God’s free act, prompted by favor and conditioned upon obedience. This obedience, it is true, God seeks to elicit by the proper motives; but to this he is led solely by the love of man, and never by previous choice. True scriptural election, therefore, is a simple, intelligible thing, when suffered to remain unperplexed by the subtleties of men.(F7)

Verse 5

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

See Lard’s quotation under preceding verse. The wretched apostasy under Ahab was a fit illustration of that same Israel (after the flesh) which in Paul’s day had not merely murdered the prophets, but the Christ, and had made the temple a den of thieves and robbers, who had decided to kill the true King and take his inheritance for themselves, and who, after the resurrection of the Lord, bribed witnesses to deny it, and sought with stones and bloodshed to exterminate the church of God itself from the earth! People who can see in fleshly Israel "the people of God" (!) need to look again.

Even so then at this present time … is Paul’s way of saying that, just as the true Israel in Elijah’s day was in no way part of the corrupt nation, just so then, at the beginning of the Christian era, the true Israel had no connection whatever with the hardened and apostate nation that murdered the Lord. Then as now, Paul was saying, God’s true people are of a different order, after the election of grace. They are the people who have accepted the gospel, have been baptized into the body of Christ, thus being Abraham’s true seed (Galatians 3:29).

A remnant … means a part of fleshly Israel. And who were they? They were the 3,000 souls who obeyed the gospel on Pentecost. The original church of Christ was almost totally Jewish, including the Twelve, and many others of that first period. They are the remnant, the true spiritual seed, later extended by the inclusion of Gentiles and "whosoever will."

Paul’s argument here is crystal clear. God’s keeping the covenant with Israel always had meant, and never meant anything else, keeping the covenant with the spiritual seed, the righteous remnant, the true Israel, not the other.

Verse 6

But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.

No more of works … means "not of fleshly descent," as the expression is used in Romans 9:11, which see, especially the quotation from John Murray. The great objection to Paul’s preaching the gospel of Christ, on the part of the old Israel, had to do with his categorical rejection of all the elaborate ceremonial of Moses’ law, to which the fleshly Israel tenaciously clung, not in the sense of keeping it, as did Zacharias and Elizabeth, but in the sense of making it a device of their own glorification; and, upon such a basis, they denied that salvation could be extended to Gentiles. Further, the glaring fact that Paul had just shown that the righteous remnant, both in Elijah’s day and presently, had obeyed God, the former by not bowing to Baal, the latter by obeying the gospel, and the equally glaring fact and even notorious fact of the fleshly Israel’s thinking that salvation could be "earned" through the devices they followed, coupled with Paul’s passion to show that salvation was never, either then, nor previously, nor now, nor ever, something people could earn or merit — all this prompted Paul here to pause and stress again the great doctrine of grace. R. L. Whiteside has a perceptive paragraph on this as follows:

There is no grace when a man merits salvation. Works by which a man merits justification and commands which one must obey to be saved are distinct matters. It is unfortunate that many cannot, or will not, see this distinction. Because of this, they conclude that a sinner must do nothing in order to be saved; but a man has no real understanding of either works or grace if he thinks that a sinner’s complying with the terms of salvation causes him to merit it. Many things are of grace, and are yet conditional. Is anyone so simple as to think that Naaman’s healing from leprosy was any less a matter of grace because he had to dip seven times in the Jordan river? Is any so blind that he cannot see that Jesus’ giving sight to the man born blind was any less of grace because he was required to wash in the pool of Siloam?(F8)

Verse 7

What then? That which Israel seeketh for, that he obtained not; but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened.

That which Israel seeketh for … refers to fleshly Israel’s "seeking" God and his approval, a thing which they did not truly seek at all, for if they had truly sought the Lord, they would have found him, as one of their great prophets said:

And ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).

Israel did not seek God in the sense of truly believing in him and walking as he commanded, but by the pursuit of their own righteousness (see under Romans 10:3).

Thus, the "seeking" in this verse, as it pertained to the old Israel, is mentioned in the sense of what they really should have done, and not in the sense of what they actually did. Christ made the same distinction in Luke 13:24 and Matthew 7:8.

The election obtained it… refers to the true Israel who feared God and honored him in their lives. Specifically, these were the righteous remnant, as distinguished from the nation.

And the rest were hardened … This is past tense and refers to the nation in its entirely after the separation of the true Israel which was accomplished by the preaching of the gospel. It is understood as the rest of the COMMINGLED ISRAEL, as distinguished after the commingling ceased. The commingling of the two Israels had continued right up until the ministry of Jesus Christ, as witnesses by the fact that Zacharias and Elizabeth (part of the true Israel) were truly serving God within the institution of the law of Moses, and that Jesus Christ himself was born under the law and submitted to it in perfect obedience. But with Pentecost came the preaching of the gospel to all nations; and thereafter the separation of the two Israels was complete. What appears to be the total Israel, called here "the rest," were hardened. The true Israel had accepted Christ, and the total fleshly Israel were hardened. The totality here should be distinguished. It would have been incorrect to say that all Israel was hardened, for the spiritual Israel, until then commingled with the fleshly Israel, was not hardened; but the "rest" of that commingled Israel, meaning all of the fleshly Israel, were the ones hardened.

The two Israels in this verse emerge clearly under two designations, "the election" being the true Israel, "the rest" being the fleshly Israel. The election received God’s blessing through the obedience of faith. The rest received it not through unbelief, rebellion, and self-hardening, terminating finally in God’s judicial hardening. The fact of fleshly Israel’s culpability in their terminal condition was stated by Christ thus:

And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith:

By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand;

And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive:

For this people’s heart is waxed gross,

And their ears are dull of hearing,

And their eyes they have closed;

Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes,

And hear with their ears,

And understand with their heart,

And should turn again,

And I should heal them

(Matthew 13:14-15).

It was Israel’s closing of their eyes against the light that made them guilty; and, given that conduct on their part, God did indeed harden them. The same condition is appropriately called "blindness" by the sacred writers. Paul also called it a "strong delusion" and a "working of error" (2 Thessalonians 2:11). To Corinth he wrote that:

The God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Thus, there are three centers of participation in the hardening, or blinding (spiritually) of people who choose to be evil and close their eyes and ears against the truth, these being: (1) the wicked himself; (2) Satan, the god of this world, acting permissively under the will of God, and (3) God himself who wills that the willfully wicked shall be blinded, or hardened, in their condition. The hardening of Israel (all of the fleshly Israel) is of such tremendous importance to the remainder of this chapter, that a further study of it is appended here.


Biblically, God’s judicial hardening of the reprobate is extensively illustrated. The entire antediluvian world, Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon, Jericho and the 32 kingdoms displaced by the Jews, Babylon, Nineveh, Chorazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida are all examples of kingdoms and cities that fell under God’s judicial sentence of hardening, and to these must be added the kingdom of Israel as made up of the ten lost tribes. What happened when God hardened such peoples? They were destroyed with cataclysmic destruction and fell never to rise again, eternal death also apparently being included in their doom. To this list of great cities and kingdoms, the scriptures add the names of various individuals who were hardened, such as Pharaoh (ominously introduced by Paul himself in this epistle as an example), and Judas Iscariot. They too perished almost simultaneously with their being hardened judicially.

Something of the nature of judicial hardening and how it occurs was captured by the discerning words of Lenski, thus:

Ten times Exodus reports that Pharaoh hardened himself; then, only in consequence of this self-hardening, we read ten times that God hardened this self-hardened man. In each instance, ten is the number of completeness. Even the hardening by God’s agency is not complete at once; it follows these stages, permissive, desertive, and judicial, only the last being final and hopeless. The door of mercy is not shut at once upon the self-hardened so that they crash into the locked door with a bang. WE might close it thus. God’s mercy closes it gradually and is ready to open it wide again at the least show of repentance in answer to his mercy; and, not until the warnings of the gradually closing door are utterly in vain does the door sink regretfully into its lock.(F9)

Pharaoh is the outstanding Biblical example of hardening, because of the details revealed in the scriptures, and the fullness of the description of it. The utmost significance of Paul’s pointed reference to Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) is seen in his application of that example to the hardening of Israel. The citation by the apostle is alone sufficient to justify the assumption of Israel’s judicial hardening in a manner like that of Pharaoh, but there are other considerations that make it absolutely certain,, as follows:

(1) There is the Saviour’s statement that the prophecy of Israel had been fulfilled in Israel (Matthew 13:14-15).

(2) There is the express declaration of scripture that Israel’s conduct was every whit as bad as that of Sodom and Gomorra (Jeremiah 23:14), and even worse than that of Samaria (Ezekiel 16:47), all of which other people were hardened and destroyed; and there can be no doubt that the thing alone which prevented the same fate for Israel was God’s plan of bringing in the Messiah through their race.

(3) Christ formally sentenced Israel to hardening and death in some of the most dramatic words ever written, in Matthew 23:37 f. No one who reads Jesus’ heart-breaking denunciation there can fail to believe that his words were indeed the formal pronouncement of God’s judicial sentence upon them. The city of Jerusalem itself was consigned to the torch, the pestilence, and the sword, to famine and death, to the heel of the invader and the dashing of her little ones against the stones, a sentence so terrible that Christ wept as he uttered it; and it was all the more tragic and pitiable because it came of their own willful obduracy. The Lord said,

How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.

(4) Not merely the destruction of the great Jewish capital was announced by Christ. The religious hierarchy that governed the people were called a generation of vipers, the Lord promising that upon them would come the blood even of previous generations which had slain the prophets. He announced the destruction of their temple and the dissolution of their state and flatly declared that they should be trodden under the foot of the Gentiles for a period of time now known to have been at least nineteen centuries. "The King," Jesus said, "would send his armies, destroy those murders, and burn their city" (Matthew 22:7)! There can be no doubt at all that Jerusalem and the nation of Israel were judicially hardened and condemned to death and subjection by none other than the Saviour himself. After such a sentence as that, who could have imagined that Israel (the old fleshly Israel) would still be around after nearly two thousand years? especially when viewed against what always happened before when God hardened a people? This mystery is that of Romans 11:25.

(5) In the analogy with Pharaoh and his changing his mind ten times, hardening himself repeatedly, Israel measured up fully in comparison with it. Their rebellions were so frequent, so willful, so arrogant and extensive that the entire Old Testament is required for the outline of them, thus providing the righteous basis for the declaration of Paul that God, in the case of Israel, "endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted for destruction" (Romans 9:22). God indeed endured Israel, through necessity, that the promise of the Messiah through them should not fail; but upon their rejection of Christ and murder of the King himself, the cup of wrath overflowed.

Verse 8

According as it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this very day.

Paul here quoted Deuteronomy 29:4, which reads,

Yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.

This was spoken to a generation that had witnessed the miracles of God through Moses in their fantastic deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea. The thrust of the words here is that although they had indeed "seen" such wonders, in the sense of stimuli on the retina of the eye, they had not grasped the true meaning and significance. This was appropriate and applicable to Paul’s generation who had witnessed even the greater wonders of Christ but had somehow failed to get the message. The great realities are morally and spiritually understood. Thus, when Jesus condemned unbelief, he made it the consequence of moral blame rather than of intellectual doubt (John 3:19).

There was doubtless another point in Paul’s introduction of this passage from Deuteronomy describing the lost generation of the wilderness. They themselves were another outstanding historical example of God’s judicial hardening and destruction. Due to the promise of the Messiah, God did not destroy them, but delayed their entry into Canaan until the death of the whole generation!

Verses 9-10

And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, And a stumblingblock and a recompense unto them: Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, And bow thou down their back always.

Paul brought this forward from Psalms 69:19 for the purpose of further proving from the scriptures that the hardening of Israel had long been foretold by the word of God.

Let their eyes be darkened … is a clear reference to hardening.

Snare … trap … stumblingblock … As Murray said, these words are closely related, and precise distinctions of meaning are not to be pressed.(F10) That "their table" is to be made such, is a reference to the fact that the very devices which God had provided, by which Israel should have been restrained and purified, such as the law of Moses and all of the religious institution, (those very things) became the occasion of their fall, not through God’s fault at all, but through their abuse of sacred privilege. This also may have reference to such things as the monarchy, which, though contrary to God’s will, was permitted them as something they ardently wanted, being in that sense "their table," but being at the same time the very thing that blinded them to the Lord when he came. See under Romans 11:1.

Their table … is also suggestive of what Jesus said regarding the temple, "Behold your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38), indicating that even divine things, set up by God himself, if perverted and debased to serve human ends, lose all their sanctity, thus being no longer God’s but "theirs."

Bow down thou their back always … refers to the perpetual nature of the sentence imposed upon Israel, not referring exclusively to their being perpetually subjected, but to the endurance of the hardened condition finally imposed. Certainly, in this place, there is no suggestion that after certain centuries have passed, or after the Gentiles are saved, God will commute the sentence and restore them!

Verse 11

I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? God forbid: but by their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.

This verse is admittedly difficult because of the uncertainty of just what is meant by the pronoun "they." In view of there being TWO Israels in view throughout this portion of Romans, it may not be amiss to refer the first "they" to fleshly Israel and the second "they" to the true Israel. Although this usage of pronouns may be a little unusual, it is by no means ungrammatical, and would seem to be absolutely required by the difficulty of understanding the passage without this device. As Lard said,

Did Israel stumble that they might fall? The answer is, "Not at all." But what is the precise point denied? Not certainly Israel’s stumbling, for this the question concedes. It must be the fall; and yet unqualifiedly a fall cannot be denied, for the next clause concedes one.(F11)

Lard resolved the difficulty by amending "fall" to mean "fall without remedy"; but there is far less authority for that than there is for understanding different antecedents for the two pronouns "they." It is plain that a fall is admitted and denied in this verse, and no logic occurs to this writer by which that can be understood otherwise than affirming a fall for fleshly Israel and denying it for spiritual Israel.

A paraphrase of what Paul’s thought here probably was is thus:

Did fleshly Israel then stumble so completely as to involve even the spiritual Israel also in their fall? God forbid. Just the opposite happened, because their fall has greatly advanced the conversion of Gentiles, thus provoking the old Israel to increased acts of violence against the faith, through their jealousy.

Such appears to be the thought of this verse. The other device of understanding this place through imposing a different meaning upon "fall" so as to make it mean "fall without remedy as far as individuals are concerned," does no violence to the truth, if properly understood, but seems to this writer to be more cumbersome and unnatural than supposing the two Israels to be in Paul’s purview. However, Lard’s method of understanding this is subject to the gravest abuse. Allow God’s word, "fall," to mean anything else, or anything different from total and final apostasy and hardening of fleshly Israel; and the result will be all kinds of wild speculation about fleshly, or national, Israel and God’s supposed ultimate plans for them.

Nothing that Paul wrote in Romans, or elsewhere, may rightly be construed as a plain promise that the hardening of Israel will ever cease; and although such a promise MIGHT be intended in Romans 11:25, through Paul’s use of the word "until," there is no authority in the word of God for so reading that word there (see Romans 11:25). Against the possibility of so reading "until" in that place, is the prophetic statement of Psalms 69:19, just cited by Paul (Romans 11:10), to the effect that Israel’s condition is for "always."

Provoke them to jealousy … is read as emulation by many commentators; but the word "provoked" does not go with that thought at all. What is intended is the explanation of why fleshly Israel should have been so murderously vindictive against the Christians of the Pauline age, not even the savage persecutions of Roman emperors exceeding it in fierceness.

By their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles … Hodge commented that

The rejection of the gospel on the part of the Jews was the means of its wider and more rapid spread among the Gentiles, as clearly intimated in several passages of the New Testament.(F12)

This came about through persecutions which multiplied the centers of propagation of the new faith, like that which resulted from the martyrdom of Stephen, and also from the result of freeing the church of encumbering Jewish practices. Thus, as Hodge said:

If Jews, for example, had made up the principal body of the primitive church, they would have proved a hindrance by their efforts to clog up the gospel with the ceremonial observances of the law, and such things as circumcision, abstaining from certain meats, and many others.(F13)

Verse 12

Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?

The first two clauses here are parallel, "fall" and "loss" meaning the same thing, and "riches of the world" and "riches of the Gentiles" having reference to identical results of the fall and the loss of Israel (fleshly); but by means of this parallel, Paul brought forward a rich new idea bearing upon the hardening of Israel, which is in the word "loss." Concerning this word, Barrett said,

Paul uses a word which in strict etymology is derived from a verb meaning "defeat." Accordingly, some commentators, quoting from Isaiah 31:8, translate (this place), "Their defeat has lead to the wealth of the Gentiles."(F14)

Whiteside especially stressed this, observing that:

The Jews were defeated in their efforts to destroy Christ and his teaching by crucifying him.(F15)

The defeat of the Jews in their opposition to Christianity was complete and extensive. Their efforts did not stop with the crucifixion of Christ, but extended to savage persecution and martyrdom of the earliest disciples, and included the most sustained and destructive opposition to the spread of Christianity upon the mission field; and their opposition did not really desist until God’s sentence upon Jerusalem was summarily executed by the legions of Titus and Vespasian in 70 A.D. Since Romans was written at least 12 years before that event, there might have been a prophecy intended in the word "loss" (defeat).

Their fullness … Upon these words is built the platform containing a great superstructure of future events, including a projected return in the future of the old fleshly Israel to a spirituality and obedience they have been void of for thousands of years, accompanied by a massive and universal conversion of the whole world to Jesus Christ. Would God it could be so! But, alas, the scriptures teach no such thing.

Lenski’s perceptive understanding of this place was expressed thus:

Paul does not say, "If their fall WAS or IS world riches, and their loss WAS or IS Gentile riches, much more WILL BE or SHALL BE their fullness in the future, at the millennium, or before the world ends." This is obviously untenable. What he writes is that already THEN (at that time), the Jewish fall and loss should be considered the world’s and the Gentile’s riches. Paul asks, If that is true, "by how much more" must not the fullness of salvation ATTAINED (already) by the Jewish remnant (the true Israel) be likewise considered the world’s and the Gentile’s riches, especially because their fullness (conversion) is void of the least trace of Jewish exclusiveness.(F16)

"Fullness" is thus a synonym for conversion to Christ, and, as such, is an instructive metaphor indeed. How vain and empty are the lives without Christ! With such a meaning, therefore, it is impossible to apply this word to the old fleshly Israel.

Verses 13-14

But I speak to you that are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry; If by any means I may provoke to jealousy them that are my flesh, and may save some of them.

What a brickbat this verse is to the air castles sometimes built on the preceding verse! Instead of Paul’s thought having to do with some vast ingathering of fleshly Israel at some future time, it is concerned with the near impossibility of saving any of them at all. As Barrett noted,

Paul’s hope here seems surprisingly limited … "and so save some of them" … Out of the provocation of Israel as a whole ("my flesh and blood"), there may come a few conversions.(F17)

This verse certainly does not envision any wholesale conversion of Jews in Paul’s day or at any other time.

Provoke to jealousy … should still be viewed not as productive of emulation but as producing enraged opposition. Even that, Paul was prepared to endure in the hope of saving a few of them. This ascription of the meaning of "jealousy" derives from the connotation of "provocation" here associated with it, and also from the fact of its being produced, not in Paul’s brethren, else he would have used that word, but in his "flesh," which is a plain reference to the fleshly Israel. Whether or not it was Paul’s intention to arouse bitter opposition, that was surely what resulted from the jealousy of the fleshly Israel. Another reason for this understanding of "jealousy" is that it hardly seems a proper motive for becoming a child of God.

I am an apostle of Gentiles … Lard suggested this meaning of these words:

As I am your apostle, I make bold to tell you (Gentiles) that both the fall and loss of Israel have proved blessings to you. Whatever they are to Israel, to you they are gain.(F18)

Perhaps Lard’s thought should be expanded to include the mention of "fullness" thus: "And if even their loss is your gain, think what the conversion of a few of them can mean; and, with that in view, I am ready to provoke all of them in the hopes of saving some."

Verse 15

For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

This verse is another conspicuous example of the translators’ adding words to the text in order to clarify what they thought to be the meaning; but if there is a case of butchering a text in all the Bible, this is it. They put no less than five shafts into this one! They supplied two verbs, one in the present tense and another in the future tense, and also threw in a prepositional phrase to boot. Given this kind of liberty, there is hardly any meaning that might not be imported into any text. Our first concern is to rewrite this verse without its human additives, thus:

Romans 11:15, For if the casting away of them the reconciling of the world, what the receiving but life from the dead?

What was Paul saying? He had just mentioned the possibility of saving a few Jews; and it was of them that he said, "What the receiving but life from the dead"! Every Jew Paul converted was viewed by him as one baptized out of a cemetery. The hardened, judicially condemned and sentenced nation (fleshly Israel) was morally and judicially dead. Yet even from THAT NATION some were being saved, and the converts were indeed as life from deadness!

Casting away of them the reconciling of the world … as is the other clause, is a reference to the preceding verse, making Paul’s meaning respective of that and not directed to some future event. The future tense is not in this verse at all except by the gratuitous indulgence of the translators. "Shall be" is their word, not Paul’s.

The millennial, or future wholesale Jewish conversion theories which are imported into this verse through the human additions to the text, encounter an impossible antithesis. Since the reconciling of the world (a universal concept) is said already to have been accomplished by the fall of Israel, their "fullness" if viewed as some future wholesale acceptance of Christianity would have to be viewed as accomplishing something even more wonderful than the "reconciling of the world," and, pray tell, what could that be? The scriptures do not teach any such thing, but quite the contrary, Jesus himself asking plaintively,

Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8).

It’s too bad that Jesus didn’t know about all that wholesale conversion of Jews out of fleshly Israel that our translators boldly said, "shall be"!

How could people have done such a thing as importing such fantastic speculations into Paul’s word here? Perhaps no better example may be found of "how" such a thing happened than that which appears in the works of the beloved Lard himself. He wrote:

Here again we supply "will be" or "shall be," and so make the apostle assert the future conversion of the Jews. This course seems necessitated by the nature of the case!(F19)

Ones does not question the sincerity of such a man as Lard; but the judgment of any person who will "supply" words to make an "apostle" of Jesus Christ "assert the future conversion of the Jews" can simply not be relied upon in that instance. It is precisely in what people have made Paul say here that the trouble lies. It is held as axiomatic by this writer that if Paul had believed in a future conversion of fleshly Israel, he would have trumpeted the fact to the skies in words that no one could avoid understanding. The above words of the beloved Lard are an admission that the future conversion theory regarding Israel is what people have made Paul say, and not what Paul wrote. Amen.

Verse 16

And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Here are two simple parallel metaphors, both meaning exactly the same things, which is, that since God had so graciously accepted the first Jewish converts, all Jews who would accept the Lord would likewise be accepted.

Firstfruit … refers to Numbers 15:20, in which passage the Jews were instructed to "offer up a cake" of their dough to the Lord when they first prepared bread from the new harvest. After the sacrifice of that first symbolical portion of it, the remainder, or lump, was considered to be ready for general use.

This illustration, by use of twin metaphors, is actually an appeal to the axiomatic truth that the whole partakes of the nature of its parts. Despite the obvious simplicity of this homely truth, it is true that

Few passages have been loaded down with more fanciful interpretations than has this, or made to serve more foreign ends.(F20)

Barrett agreed that the firstfruit and the root in this verse "refer to Jewish Christians."(F21)

It should be particularly noted that nothing is said in this verse about the "whole lump" being holy, nor "all the branches" being holy. Lenski noted this omission thus:

Paul does not write "the WHOLE lump … ALL the branches," which he might have done but avoided doing, so as not to shift the emphasis and thus afford an occasion of misunderstanding.(F22)

To construe this verse, therefore, as a support of the theory that the whole Jewish nation, now morally dead, and sentenced to perpetual hardening, will some day accept Christianity, goes extravagantly beyond anything the verse says. Pray God it might even be true; and yet, it is not so declared.

Verses 17-18

But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree; glory not over the branches: but if thou gloriest, it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee.

These two verses are only an extension of the homely metaphor of the preceding verse and are in no sense to be considered as some mysterious parable of the olive tree.

Some of the branches were broken off … is a reference to pruning, the implied thrust of such an illustration being "and men gather them into bundles and burn them." This is a metaphor of old fleshly Israel. And what of the branches not "broken off"? They are the true Israel, the spiritual seed, who accepted Christ, and formed the first community of believers in Christ (Acts 2:5-10; Acts 2:22).

Thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them … is impossible of misunderstanding, because the only thing in five thousand years of recorded history into which Gentiles could have been "grafted in among" Jews is the church of Christ, established on the day of Pentecost. The grafting did not take place that day, for it was some time before the early church got around to accepting the full import of the worldwide nature of the gospel.

Grafted in … means converted to Christ.

Wild olive … is a reference to the inferiority of Gentiles, generally, in comparison with the more cultured and perceptive Jew, who had had the advantages of centuries of exposure to God’s true commandments.

Among them … never could mean "instead of them," as asserted by some. The Gentiles were not accepted into God’s church in place of anybody, nor did their coming in displace or exclude anybody. There is plenty of room for all; and "whosoever will may come." Regarding the alleged translation which some pretend, making this read, "instead of them," Lard said that

The original is incapable without great violence, of bearing such a rendition.(F23)

The great error foisted off upon this verse is that the church built by Christ was but a continuation of the old Jewish "church" which, of course, had infants in it; and, by such a device, it is quite easy to premise an infant membership in God’s church now; but the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a continuation of anything, but an altogether new thing. Note:

Wherefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold they are become new (1 Corinthians 5:1).

That he might create in himself of the two one new man (Ephesians 2:15).

For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (Galatians 6:15).

Christ is the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 12:24).

Christians are not connected in any way with the old Jewish lump, but are a "new lump" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Here have been cited but a few of many passages which teach the total severance of Christianity from Judaism. Paul himself cut the umbilical cord that bound the infant church to the body of its parent Judaism.

Glory not over the branches … Exactly here surfaces what was probably an underlying motive of the first magnitude leading to the production of this epistle with its almost extravagant emphasis of salvation’s being "by grace," as contrasted with all human merit. This was Paul’s warning of the Gentile Christians not to fall into the same foolish and fatal error that had destroyed the old Israel. Of that Israel, their pride of possessing God’s law, and their superior knowledge, had led them into all kinds of boasting against the Gentiles; and, at the time Paul wrote (58 A.D.), the character of God’s church was leaning more and more toward a preponderantly Gentile composition; and, alas, this presented an opportunity for the Gentiles to develop the same boastful and inconsiderate attitude as that which once marked the feelings of the Jews toward them. Alas, Paul’s warning was not heeded. During the subsequent centuries, especially in the Dark Ages, the hatred of Christians for Jews, and their vigorous and relentless persecution of the once chosen people, extending even down into our own times, constitutes some of the blackest chapters of church history. The un-Christian conduct of the Christians toward the Jews surpassed anything the Jews ever did to them. "Glory not over the branches" burns like a branding iron in the conscience of the historical church.

The root thee … Salvation had come to the Gentiles through the Jews, Jesus himself having pointedly declared that "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Our Lord was Jewish, as were the apostles and practically all the original Christians. Judaism was the matrix in which had been formed the priceless jewel of Christianity, and no full understanding of Christianity is possible without knowledge of its Jewish origins.

That the pagan-bred, low cultured Gentile, reeking with the stink of Bacchus and Aphrodite upon him, through his conceit at having been accepted as a child of God, should already have begun to manifest an attitude of superiority and disdain for the Jews, is a consideration demanded by Paul’s introduction of these warnings here. What a pity they were not heeded, except, possibly, for a little while. The Gentile should have recognized that his blessings were of the grace of God and not of any merit on his part, but the general failure of people of all ages to comprehend this, and the specific failure of the Gentiles to grasp it, a failure exactly like that of the Jews, were doubtless the underlying reason why Paul diligently strove in Romans to prove the absolute unworthiness of all people, and to establish the golden premise that salvation is of grace through an obedient faith, as positively distinguished from all human merit. Paul’s awareness of the encroaching attitude of superiority in Gentile Christians must have produced emotions similar to those of a mother, whose entire family were ruined through alcoholic debauchery, beholding the start of the alcoholic habit in her only remaining son. In just a moment Paul would formally pronounce a doom upon Israel that should not be lifted for two millenniums. What must have been his thoughts as he contemplated the same godless self-righteousness which had destroyed fleshly Israel rearing its viperous head in the church of the living God?

Alas, the Gentile Christian, proud and boastful of his hope of heaven, fell into the trap of supposing that he deserved it, whereas the truth was that he deserved it even less than the Jew whom he came to despise, disdainfully ignoring the truth that neither he nor the Jew could ever be saved except upon the basis of God’s unmerited love and favor. The Gentile’s wickedness in this regard produced the Medieval Church with its apparatus of inquisition and its engines of torture.

Verse 19

Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.

This was the Gentile’s way of saying, "God prefers me to the Jews; he broke them off and put me in their place." Oddly enough, that is exactly what some would make Paul say in Romans 11:17; but the Gentile boast was an arrogant lie, as proved by Paul’s reply. Barrett discerned that in Paul’s reply (Romans 11:20), the apostle,

While admitting that branches were broken off, refused to admit that any preference was involved.(F24)

Verse 20

Well; by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear.

How instructive! Admitting, of course, that branches had been broken off, as the Gentile indicated in his boasting, Paul would not emphasize the fact that God broke them off, but shifted the emphasis to the fact that it was Israel’s unbelief which had been the provocative cause.

And thou standest by faith … means that the Gentile had not been accepted in place of anyone, and that it was not his merit at all, but God’s grace that enabled him to stand. The standing of the Gentile in the church of God was totally without reference to anything that Israel did or did not do, and was and is exactly the same as it would have been if Israel did not exist. The Gentile’s place in the church was due to the unmerited favor of God, and came to him following his faith and obedience of the gospel, but, even so, being absolutely undeserving of so great salvation.

Be not highminded, but fear … is an eloquent warning, founded upon the long history of Israel as God’s covenant people, who, at last, had forfeited it all through unbelief; and the argument is that "If it could happen to them, it could happen to you." Back of this lies the divine principle that "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34).

Verse 21

For if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee.

In the event that Gentiles should manifest the same qualities of unbelief and obduracy which marred the life of fleshly Israel, the consequences for them will be the same, there being here another hint of the superiority of the Jews, as represented in the degree of preference pertaining to the natural branch over the wild branch. This verse shouts the conditional nature of God’s favor. Far from there being any such thing as an everlasting decree that this or that shall happen, people are endowed with freedom of the will to act as they choose to act; and the immutable election is to the effect that whichever way they act will determine their destiny. This verse shows that exactly the same principles of God’s judgment are applied to Jews and Gentiles alike with impeccable impartiality. It is God’s intrinsic righteousness, the basic theme of Romans, which required Paul to spell out the immutable quality of the eternal justice of the Creator, as in this passage.

Verse 22

Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, God’s goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

Preeminent among all of the attributes God has revealed concerning himself, the quality of his everlasting goodness stands out, not in the sense of being more than other qualities of God, but in the sense of being most frequently stressed and emphasized in the word of God. God’s attribute of invariable righteousness undergirds the blunt warning here; and that warning is: all of the Father’s promises to sinners saved by grace are conditioned upon their continuation in his loving service. When even an angel sins, God will not ignore it. The possibility of Christians’ defecting from the divine favor is tersely stated here. The fact of it is proved by the history of Israel, by God’s dispossession of the fallen angels, by the spectacular warnings of the scriptures, and the ultimate impossibility of any sin’s being able to stand in God’s presence.

Thou shalt be cut off … These words were addressed to people who had just been encouraged with the marvelous sentiments of Paul’s 8th chapter, hence, the conclusion that these words are addressed to Christians, Spirit-filled, bona fide sons of the Highest; but this verse thunders a condition, "if thou continue in his goodness"! As the eloquent words of Trench have it:

Nor may we leave out of sight that ALL FORGIVENESS, short of that crowning and last act, which will find place on the day of judgment, and will be followed by a blessed impossibility of sinning any more, is CONDITIONAL — in the very nature of things, so conditional, that the condition in every case must be assumed, whether stated or no; that condition being that the forgiven man CONTINUES in faith and obedience.(F25)

Severity of God … is another of the divine attributes, but the minds of men are reluctant to dwell upon it. It was the loving and faithful God who swept the whole earth of the antediluvian race, and it has already been noted extensively in this chapter that when sin and rebellion reach their point of no return, God hardens and destroys. The current love-cult has, to some degree, perverted man’s conception of the divine goodness by leaving out of view the aspect of God’s character which Paul here commanded men to behold. The severity here mentioned derives from the righteousness and justice of him who is angry with the wicked every day, who abhors evil, and who must punish all who deserve it.

God’s goodness … is beyond the capacity of man to understand it. It is a goodness that loved people, even in their sins, gave the Beloved for their rescue, and waits in longsuffering patience upon man’s repentance, not willing that any should perish, but desiring the salvation of all. The divine goodness is not a weak and vacillating namby-pambyism, which is as revolting and disgusting as it is untrue of that divinity which gave us birth.

Verse 23

And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.

This verse is not an assertion that the fleshly Israel will cease from unbelief, nor a promise that God will graft them in again, but is a continuation of Paul’s revelation at this place on the conditional nature of salvation. It works both ways. The wicked who believe and obey will be saved, regardless of who they are; the righteous who sin to defection shall be lost, no matter who they are.

The POSSIBILITY of Israel’s return is stated here, but it is conditioned upon the cessation of their unbelief. No miracle or special manifestation on Israel’s behalf, other than the continuing miracle of themselves and the Holy Bible, may be expected. Paul here stated that "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16), for both Jews and Gentiles. No special way is promised for any man.

The very possibility of Israel’s conversion and being "grafted in" again is an intoxicating thought. If Israel (ah, there is that tragic word "if"), at last worn out with frustrations and dead hopes of some other Messiah’s ever arising to aid them, shall at last turn and believe in Christ, they would certainly be acceptable to God then, as always, upon God’s terms, not as Jews but as Christians, there being no longer, in the sight of God, any covenant difference whatever between Jew and Gentile. As long as the unbelief of Israel holds, that long they shall remain without; but, if they believe, they may enter. It must not be thought, however, that any such thing as a state or nation could ever be converted. People do not enter Christ as races, nations, ethnic groups, or parties of any kind. Paul did not enter the church on the basis of his being a Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin; he entered as a believing, penitent, and baptized sinner saved by grace. No one, so far as the scriptures reveal, shall ever enter any other way.

Verse 24

For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

Wild olive tree … is an apt metaphor of the Gentiles who had continued for uncounted generations in pagan debauchery, without the knowledge of God in any degree comparable to that of the Jew. Gentile culture lacked the noble instincts which enhanced that of the Jew; and Gentile nature has proved to be difficult and slow of transformation, as attested by the experience of missionaries all over the earth until this day. If the Jew accepts Christ, he much more readily assimilates the great spiritual truths of the gospel, such being the meaning of "how much more."

Contrary to nature … emphasizes the looseness of Paul’s metaphor. People do not graft a wild olive into a good one, but vice versa. But the unbelievable had happened; Gentiles had been grafted into the spiritual Israel, exclusively identified since Pentecost as the church of Christ.

Grafted into … is the Pauline metaphor for "conversion."

Their own olive tree … is used accommodatively. In no actual reality can it be said that the institution of the body of Jesus Christ is "theirs," in the sense of belonging to fleshly Israel; and Paul could not have had anything of that kind in mind. Paul himself reiterated tbe truth of the newness of Christianity (see under Romans 11:18), and was himself mightily used of God in the severance from the Jewish institution. Paul, in this verse, was still dealing with the problem of emerging self-righteousness among the Gentiles and their hauteur toward the Jews; and these words of Paul here are a reminder to Gentiles that all of the origins of Christianity are Jewish. In the sense that the church herself is the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, it may be spoken of as descending from Judaism, or more properly, as ascending out of it. The commingled Israels of the Old Testament were the matrix in which God formed the new institution, the entire Judaic heritage having been the enveloping sheath from which came the full corn in the ear. There was a striking weight of typical and prophetic excellence in Judaism looking forward to Christianity; and, in the sense of the essential kinship between type and antitype, the "olive tree" could be called "theirs." And the burden of the apostle’s thought here is Jewish excellence, as compared with Gentiles, which he stressed in order to diminish and restrain the rising vainglory of Gentile Christians. For generations, the Jews had lived under God’s law, heard his prophets, believed in the coming of the Messiah, and lived in daily hope of his appearance; but no such advantages had pertained to Gentiles. Therefore, IF the Jew should decide to become a Christian, he would certainly be a better one than the average Gentile. Thus, Gentile pride is throttled by Paul’s emphasis upon the natural superiority of the Jew, due to long privilege under God’s covenant.

How much more … is Paul’s way of saying, "You Gentiles are nothing to brag about, as Christians; IF the Jews were grafted in again, they would show you!" The tragedy of ages is that so few have done it. It is not correct to read this verse apart from the "if" which determines both this and the preceding one.

Verses 25-26

For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the, Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

This mystery … A mystery in the New Testament means something revealed, rather than something hidden, but implies that it had been hidden until revealed. The term is appropriate, however; because, even when God reveals a mystery, the knowledge of it still appears arcane or enigmatic, due to man’s imperfect understanding. This is especially true with the mystery revealed here.

What is the mystery that Paul revealed? That Israel was hardened? No, for this had been open knowledge since the ministry of Christ. Was it that only part of Israel had been hardened? No, because the separation of the two Israels, the true Israel and the hardened Israel, had been in view for a whole generation. Was it that the hardening of Israel was scheduled to terminate? No, for that is not stated, either here or elsewhere in the word of God. So that is not the mystery.

What, then, is the mystery? It is that HARDENING HAS BEFALLEN ISRAEL UNTIL THE FULLNESS OF THE GENTILES BE COME IN. But "hardening" (until that of Israel) had invariably meant the destruction and disappearance of the people hardened, as occurred with the ten northern tribes, and all the instances cited under Romans 11:7 (which see). Paul here knocked down the conceit of the Gentiles by the declaration that God had spared hardened Israel! They would not be destroyed in the final sense at all, nor would they disappear. Their continuation upon the earth was here revealed to extend until the entire harvest of Gentile Christians was reaped; and, in the light of what is now historical truth, God here spared, or announced through Paul that he had spared, hardened Israel for a period of two millenniums (at least) upon the earth. In view of the shocking disappearance, due to judicial hardening and destruction, of the great Gentile nations of Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, Sidon, Assyria, Nineveh, and Babylon, the Gentile Christians (some of them) were anticipating the same fate of the hardened Israel, and were GLORYING IN IT. It is impossible to understand this chapter without focusing upon that problem of Gentile pride and conceit which dominates the thought in Romans and which was concisely stated in Romans 11:25 as the reason for the revelation of the mystery: "lest ye be wise in your own conceits." Now, what was there in this revealed mystery to allay the conceit of Gentiles glowing against the Jews? It was the thundering fact that God had spared hardened Israel from the fate hitherto inseparable from the hardened; and Paul’s phrasing of this announcement was equivalent to saying, "The Jews will be here as long as any Gentiles are being saved."

Furthermore, Paul brought dramatically to the spotlight in this that there was a fullness, or completion, in view for the Gentiles; even the saving of Gentiles was not to be thought of as something inevitable and eternally continuing. The Gentiles under God’s favor would run their course, just like the Jews; and in their "fullness" one must read the time when the Gentile position up stage center in God’s favor will be no more, and for the very same reasons that removed Israel from that favor.

Fullness … speaks of something else also. The fullness of Gentiles is not the whole of God’s concern (Where art thou, conceited Gentile?). In the same breath, Paul said,

So all Israel shall be saved … Could this possibly have any reference to hardened Israel? The very fact of their being "saved" identifies Israel here as the spiritual Israel. And what Paul was saying was that when the Gentile harvest had been reaped, that reaping, or fullness, is the means by which the determination of the whole body of the redeemed from earth shall at last be concluded. Thus, in that manner, God’s precious harvest of the earth shall be concluded. Or, as Paul stated that very truth, "So (in that manner) all Israel (the entire spiritual Israel of Jews and Gentiles and whomsoever) shall be saved. A final blow, a coup de maitre, to Gentile pride is in "all Israel," here said to be the Gentiles themselves who have been saved and brought into the spiritual Israel (!). They themselves are Jews (!), spiritual seed of Abraham. God could find no way of saving a Gentile, except by making him a Jew (!) (in Abraham through Christ). If such a thought as this could not kill Gentile pride, what could?

Until the fullness, etc. … This is sincerely thought by many to mean that the hardness will cease at whatever time is indicated by "until"; and, in all fairness, the word could mean that, and often does, as, for example, when it was written that Joseph knew not his wife Mary "until" she brought forth her firstborn son and laid him in the manger (Matthew 1:25). The problem lies in the utter lack of authority in any man to affirm that a particular meaning must be understood here. The other frequent meaning of "until" leaves all thought of termination out of sight. R. L. Whiteside called attention to this, thus:

"And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month" (Genesis 8:5). That does not indicate any change after the tenth month: the record shows that the waters continued to decrease. "Thy servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth even until now" (Genesis 46:32). This does not mean that they were then going out of the cattle business. "My Father worketh even until now" (John 5:17). And, of course, God kept on working as he always has. "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth until now" (Romans 8:22). Nor did Paul mean that the creation quit groaning upon the publication of Romans.(F26)

Thus, in this very place where the future conversion theory regarding Israel is supposed to be promised, it does not appear. The choice of a meaning for "until" which could imply that is unjustified, for no such meaning may certainly be inferred from it. This verse simply does not tell what will happen after the fullness of the Gentiles is come in; the most probable event to follow that is the loosing of Satan for a little season, and then the end. When the Gentiles have run their course in God’s favor, as fleshly Israel have already run theirs, what, except the end, may be logically expected?


The mystery, as more fully identified above, is that Israel, judicially condemned and hardened by God himself, in consequence of their own self-hardening, and formally and officially sentenced by Christ himself to condemnation and destruction (Matt, 23:37f), shall nevertheless continue to exist in that condition until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, which may very well mean the end of time, and certainly does mean that, if the fullness of the Gentiles and the end of the world occur simultaneously, as many believe.

God reduced the penalty of total destruction and oblivion for Israel, contrary to all that might have been expected. (See under Romans 11:7.) This commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment, as it were, was formally announced by Paul in Romans 11:25, for the purpose of countermanding the conceit of the Gentiles; but there were doubtless other valid reasons for God’s action of sparing hardened Israel which will be noted below.

Israel’s hardening in part (the part hardened being the fleshly Israel) was made, through God’s commutation of their sentence, to be a perpetual thing. Far from perishing, the nation would stand in ceaseless petrifaction throughout the long ages of Gentile acceptance of the gospel, frozen and hardened against the God of their noble ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a gaunt and terrible witness unto all ages of the absolute truth of every word of their sacred Old Testament, and also of the indisputable verity of the New Testament and all that is revealed there of the Lord Jesus Christ. The nation stands, a stark and awesome monument of God’s displeasure vented upon them throughout history in the dispersions and persecutions that have dogged their steps all over the world. Mystery indeed! There was never anything like it, nor shall there ever be. This judicially doomed nation, bound in a cohesive and indissoluble union, flowing through the oceans of earth’s populations like a human Gulf Stream, retaining an identity and destiny of their own across centuries and millenniums, is a manifestation of God so tragic and heartbreaking that the very thought of it mists the eyes with emotion. Behold the mystery of hardened Israel, worse than Sodom and Gomorra (Jeremiah 23:14), but not annihilated like Sodom and Gomorra, but moving blindly through history, still hardened, still disobedient, still blaspheming the name of Christ, still enemies of the gospel of grace, still hating Christ and his religion; but, despite all this, being in themselves, by their very existence, the most eloquent and convincing proof on earth of the total truth of their sacred scriptures, and of the absolute truth and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the faith he revealed in the New Testament.

And furthermore, even if God’s wisdom should have concealed from us such a thing as the future return of this hardened nation, and if human speculation should prove to be true, it would still stand that what is said here is the way it has been for nearly two thousand years!

So all Israel shall be saved … has been treated here as reference to the spiritual Israel, it being the conviction that both the Israels which dominated Paul’s mind throughout the epistle are in view in these two verses, being designated here as the hardened Israel (Romans 11:25) and the saved Isreal (Romans 11:26). Another widely held view construes both Israels as a reference to the hardened Israel. Although disagreeing with that, this writer offers the following as a viable meaning of this clause, in the event of referring it to hardened Israel, best understood by stating it negatively:

No Israelite Will Ever Be Saved Any Other Way.

Paul expounded throughout this letter the teaching that salvation is only in Jesus Christ, through union and identification with Christ, and by no other means whatsoever.

The people who would be saved must believe and obey Christ, God making no distinction between Jews or Gentiles, That there is a definite emphasis upon "the manner" of salvation, inherent in the word "so," appears in these words of Lard:

"And so …" is of particular interest, because it means, "thus, or in this manner."(F27)

So much for the view of construing this as a reference to hardened Israel. It is precisely in the meaning of "so" that the difficulty of thus understanding it lies. By this word, Paul was saying, "In this manner of being saved"; and the only example in the context of any salvation having occurred is that implied in the fullness of the Gentiles, a reference to gathering God’s people out of the nations into the spiritual Israel and summing up into a single "all Israel" in the sense of spiritual Israel. That it is the spiritual Israel intended here is seen in Paul’s immediate introduction of two quotations from Isaiah (Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 27:9), where, especially in the former, the new covenant is prophesied. This diverse use of "Israel" in two senses is not unusual with Paul, for in Romans 11:11 he used the pronoun "they" in exactly the same way (see under Romans 11:11).

Of particular interest is a significant change Paul made in Isaiah 59:20, which reads thus in the Old Testament:

And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and to them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.

Paul quoted it, "shall come out of Zion." This change by Paul was due to his avoidance of a misunderstanding. Isaiah’s prophecy referred to the first advent of our Lord, in which the Lord both came out of Zion, and also to Zion; and without the change he made, the passage would have seemed to refer to the second advent. By the change, Paul said that the Lord has already come to Zion, and also has already come out of it. This forbids any supposition that Christ will return "to Zion," as some vainly suppose will be the case when all the Jews are converted! Paul’s use of Isaiah’s prophecy makes it mandatory to construe it as already fulfilled. As McGarvey has it:

Christ the Deliverer Had Already Come, so that Part of the Prophecy Had Been Fulfilled.(F28)

These quotations make it certain that, in whatever sense "all Israel shall be saved," everything is contingent upon their acceptance of the Great Deliverer who has already come.

Verses 27-29

As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake: For the gifts and calling of God are not repented of.

Who are these designated here as "enemies for your sake"? Their identity is clear from the last clause of the preceding verse, where the portion of Jacob whose sins were forgiven, and who had turned away from transgression, are the ones spoken of, making them the subject of this verse. At first, we are shocked that the true Israel (the redeemed portion of Jacob) should here be called "enemies." How is this true? Just as Christians on both sides of nations at war are technically enemies, so it is here. Part of the true Israel, through birth and environment, was then and continues to be, commingled with the old Israel. There are some of every generation of fleshly Israel that fall into this category. But within that environment, they are environmentally enemies of the truth, having been identified with the enemies of the gospel from birth, and afterward, by upbringing and education; but, despite this, there are some of that old Israel in every generation who are of the true Israel, who are of "the election" and the "righteous remnant" and therefore beloved "for the fathers’ sake" and being the true seed of Abraham, no less than Christians from among the Gentiles; but they become so only by obeying the gospel. They, upon their acceptance of the gospel, claim the inheritance that is theirs as "children of the promise." God has not abrogated his promise to THAT Israel. The true Israel has been separated from the fleshly Israel, but the inalienable right of every soul born into this world to decide which way his soul shall go, whether or not he will be of the true Israel, is not contravened. The physical descendants of Abraham in the national entity known as Israel, or scattered throughout earth’s populations, AS INDIVIDUALS are not lost and doomed through the accident of their birth, any more than others, the final right of choice still belonging to every man alive.

Some of the old Israel are still being saved, the same as in Paul’s day, and the same as in Elijah’s day. Therefore no fatalism is taught in the revelation here regarding the hardening of fleshly Israel.

To clear up any confusion, the separation of the two Israels which came about in the events connected with the rise of Christianity, simply reversed the situation that had existed prior to the first advent of Christ. In those days the Gentiles were hardened, and the Jews were the covenant people; but, even under that condition, INDIVIDUAL Gentiles now and again forsook the wickedness of their world and were received into the true spiritual seed of Abraham, Ruth the Moabitess being a conspicuous example. Now, the opposite situation prevails, and again and again, INDIVIDUAL Jews accept the Lord and claim their rightful inheritance as true Sons of Abraham in Christ. The hardening of the Jewish institution has not affected the sovereign right of any man, Jew or Gentile, to obey the gospel and be saved. That the earthly organization called Jewry, and including the state of Israel, shall ever be saved AS SUCH, in the light of the scriptures, appears to be an absolute impossibility, in the same way that it was impossible under reverse conditions before Christ for any state like Babylon or Rome to be accepted AS SUCH into the benefits of Gods’ redeeming covenant.

"For the gifts and calling of God are not repented of …" The gifts and calling of God are the great promise of God to Abraham that in him "all the families" of the earth shall be blessed with eternal life, such promise never having been confined to Abraham’s fleshly posterity alone, and never having included all of them, but only that portion of them who were Abraham’s kind of faithful obedient people, the "spiritual seed" as they are called (fully expounded in Romans 9).

But the institution, or establishment, of Israel flatly rejected any thought that God’s blessing should be extended to Gentiles; and the very mention of God’s will in that regard precipitated the great riot in the temple which led to Paul’s imprisonment, the enraged Israelites crying that "It is not fit that he (Paul) should live" (Acts 22:22). The establishment had not merely murdered the Christ and suborned lying witnesses to deny the resurrection, they launched a campaign of eradication directed at the entire following of Jesus Christ, stoned Stephen to death, plotted to kill Paul, and sought by every possible means to thwart the preaching of the gospel on the mission field, Paul himself being on precisely that kind of mission of destruction when he was converted. If the hardened Israel, therefore, had had their way, God’s great promise would have failed. This great clause is an affirmation that it did not fail. God did not repent of his purpose, merely because people did not agree with it.

What a glorious onward thrust of God’s will is envisioned by Paul in these words! The whole nation of Israel might oppose it; but the will of God moved inexorably to the achievement of the divine purpose.

Verses 30-31

For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience, even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also now may obtain mercy.

In a word, Paul said here that the situation had been reversed (as elaborated under the preceding verses). In previous times the establishment of Gentile nations were the hardened, and any among them who were saved faced the necessity of forsaking their establishment and uniting with the covenant people, as did Rahab the harlot of Jericho. This was manifestly a harder requirement than was required of the spiritual seed in the co-mingled state of ancient Israel, for in those days the covenant was outwardly identified with their establishment. In the situation that long prevailed thus, it is not hard to see that there was an inevitable partiality, resulting not from God’s partiality (God has always been impartial), but from the human situation. But even that unavoidable "preference" which belonged to Israel has now been wiped out, for now it is THEY who must forsake their establishment and unite with the "spiritual seed" in Christ, the Christian religion being, in a sense, an establishment belonging to the Gentiles.

That relatively greater numbers, in the times before Jesus Christ, were saved from Judaism than were saved from among the Gentiles was due to the hardening of the Gentiles and the residence of the covenant with outward Judaism; that relatively greater numbers since Christ are saved from among the Gentiles than from hardened Jewry is due to that hardening, the covenant lying (outwardly) with the Gentiles. Thus God has equalized his treatment of Jews and Gentiles.

Even so … are the big words here. They mean: even as it was once with Gentiles, so now it is with Jews.

How about those here said to have obtained salvation from someone’s disobedience? Representatives of this class in the pre-Christian ages were that larger number saved because of the covenant’s resting with Israel, thus making it easier for Jews to be saved than Gentiles. Representatives of this class in the current age are that larger number of Gentiles saved, because it is easier to be saved with the covenant resting in their establishment. It is now harder for Jews to be saved, just as it was once harder for Gentiles to be saved, because it is their establishment which is now hardened. Behold the justice of God!

There is still another sense in which some are saved by the disobedience of others. We have already seen that the hardening of Israel was the event which sent the preachers of the word to the Gentiles. When they rejected Paul, he said, "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). Now what did this mean? It meant that whatever remnant of the fleshly Israel were of the "spiritual seed" were totally reliant upon Gentile preaching for their salvation. Certainly, the old fleshly Israel, the establishment intent on destroying the Christian faith, would never have preached it to them in a thousand years. But the disobedience of hardened Israel triggered the extension of the gospel to Gentiles, whose preaching of it was then available to the "spiritual seed," making it a fact that it was the disobedience of hardened Israel that brought salvation to the Gentiles, as well as to their own remnant of the "spiritual seed."

That by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy … This is Paul’s statement of the fact that the mercy shown to Gentiles had its inevitable overtones in the conversion of certain Jews of Israel, who, without the Gentile ministry, could never have known the truth.

Verse 32

For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

This is the summary Paul made of the preceding explanation; and this shows that the subject of God’s intrinsic righteousness was principally in view.

Shut up all unto disobedience … means that with the hardening of Israel, God has thus hardened or "shut up" the whole world unto disobedience, the Gentiles in pre-Christian ages, the Jews now, in order that his mercy might be extended to all, equally, and without partiality, and upon the same terms, namely that of being his "people whom he foreknew," "the children of the promise," the true seed of Abraham.

It is a gross error to interpret this as meaning that God has made sinners out of everybody so he can save the whole human race. "Mercy upon all" has reference to that mercy’s being extended impartially, and under the same conditions, to all alike. Moreover, it is "mercy upon all" in that it is truly available to all. Everyone on earth "may" receive it, in the sense that he has permission and is invited to receive it. This aspect of meaning is quite clear in Romans 11:31, where it is said, "They MAY now obtain mercy," not "WILL obtain mercy." Thus, "mercy upon all" has reference to God’s invitation and permission, not to any fiat of arbitrarily saving everybody. The tragic truth, so emphatically stated by the Christ himself that few shall be saved (Matthew 7:13-14) does not compromise the fact that God’s mercy is "upon all." Attempts to make this verse teach universal salvation are denials of the entire corpus of Christian truth.

Verse 33

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

The magnificent doxology, here and to the end of the chapter, is an exclamation of adoration and praise to God, with which doxology Paul concluded his tremendous dissertation upon the Father’s attribute of righteousness. Paul traced the divine record of God’s dealings with humanity throughout all previous history and spelled out in the most concise and logical manner possible, the fairness and justice of God’s treatment of Jews and Gentiles alike, with the conclusion stated in Romans 11:33, that God had shut up all unto disobedience and that he had provided mercy for all, the two "all’s" there being the measure of God’s absolute justice and righteousness.

Paul’s termination of this section of the epistle with such a warm and eloquent expression of loving truth of God is a source of great confidence to all the saved. Paul, who understood such things better than any other who ever lived, stated his absolute trust and confidence in the inscrutable ways of God, whether people understand them or not (and, in the very nature of things, people can never FULLY understand them), God is in control. Nothing else really matters. God’s ways cannot be fully known to mortals; and in the degree that they are known they are not fully comprehended; but true faith receives all that God does in full trust and confidence. He who gave his Son to die for people will grant eternal happiness to every possible recipient of it, provided only that people believe and obey him.

Verse 34

For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor?

These words resemble this from the Old Testament:

Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor, hath taught him? (Isaiah 40:13).

God’s ways are higher than man’s. His wisdom does not need human acceptance or approval. God’s actions derive from considerations resident in himself and have no reference to men’s acceptance or rejection of them, and they are determined apart from and beyond any human factor whatever. In his holy revelation, God has now and again accommodated himself to human ignorance and misunderstanding; but where such was ever done, it derived from no need on God’s part that he should do it, but was solely a manifestation of his love and grace.

Verse 35

Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

Once more, the apostle found a text from the Old Testament to be made the vehicle of his thought, thus:

Who hath first given to me that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine (Job 41:11).

Behold the true status of human and divine relations. God is all in all. Not God’s need of people, but their need of God, is the basis of all spiritual thought. Debt or obligation of God to human kind is not.

Verse 36

For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

As the great philosopher, John Locke, noted:

This emphatic conclusion seems, in a special sense, to regard the Jews, whom the apostle would hereby teach modesty and submission to the overruling hand of an all-wise God, whom they are very unfit to call to account, for his dealing so favorably with Gentiles. His wisdom and ways are infinitely above their comprehension, and will they take upon them to advise him what to do? Or is God in their debt? Let them say for what, and he shall repay it to them. This is a very strong rebuke to the Jews, but delivered, as we see, in a way very gentle and inoffensive, a method which the apostle endeavors everywhere to observe towards his nation.(F29)

Locke’s understanding this doxology as a rebuke would seem to be justified, as the application of its sentiments is undeniable. Macknight also took the same view of the passage, as have many others; but there is a message here for all people. No one should be slow to accept this message for himself, for the thrust of these noble sentiments is timeless, belonging to all times and nations. The supreme majesty and glory of the ineffable God, Creator and upholder of all things, whose existence is from everlasting to everlasting — let people contemplate such as this, and all of their petty misgivings and doubts will disappear. It is with such a God that we have to do, and people’s attitude should be that of Job, who said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him" (Job 13:15).

There are some who stumble because so much of this great epistle is concerned with what was essentially a racial problem. Paul, however, saw it in a larger light as having an application to the essential and inherent character of God himself. It is in that light that his extremely full treatise on this subject is more than justified. Furthermore, it must be remembered that Paul himself had lived in constant jeopardy of his very life for holding the views proclaimed here. The brutal beatings he received, the harassment before kings and governors, the imprisonments, the brutal purpose of slaying him, the whole evil tide that surged against his noble life — all that must indeed have bruised him. But, thanks be to God, in such bruisings the full fruit of his matchless intellect in the discernment of the profoundest questions ever pondered with reference to God’s dealings with people was brought forth unto perfection and made available to the people of all ages in the epistle to the Romans. Here indeed was one in Christ!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Romans 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/romans-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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