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Bible Commentaries
Romans 11

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-36

XI 1-36 Further Points bearing on the Problem of the Present Exclusion of Israel from the Salvation of the Messias— The main theological issues raised by the present exclusion of Israel from the salvation of the Messias in the Church have been decided in chh 9 and 10: God is free in his spiritual government of the world in spite of the election of Abraham and Israel, ch 9; and Israel is responsible for having missed the way in spite of the primary importance of grace in the process of salvation, ch 10. Here St Paul could have left the subject. But in ch 11 he pursues the discussion by viewing the problem from other points of view which he thinks might help to simplify the evident difficulties in the existing situation.

Plan. The whole chapter can be divided into five paragraphs. Israel’s rejection: 1(1) is not complete, 1-6; (2) is not without purpose, 7-12; (3) should give no occasion for contempt of Israel, 13-24; (4) will not last for ever, 25-32; (5) epilogue, 33-36. For another arrangement see SH, Cornely, Lagrange; and Lietzmann, Sickenberger, Boylan.

1-6 The Present Exclusion of Israel from the Salvation of the Messias must not be Exaggerated, it must not be regarded as complete— The popular use of the phrase ’the rejection of Israel’ can easily cause exaggerations. It is not true that the whole of Israel is excluded from the salvation revealed in the Gospel. There are many examples to the contrary. The Apostle himself is one (cf. 1:1, 5; Galatians 1:1) and there are many more. In fact the situation may well be compared with the days of Elias, when in spite of all appearances to the contrary, 3 Kg 19:14, God reserved for himself no less than 7,000 out of Israel, 3 Kg 19:18. As in those days so now, there is a ’Remnant’ of Israel that has been elected by God to become the nucleus of the new Church.

The idea of a remnant or nucleus had already been touched on in 9:27-29. Here it is further developed but not so elaborately as later in 13-24. Still, there is one important addition in 1-6. Anxious to prevent any misunderstanding or weakening of his former doctrine of justification not by works but by faith the Apostle in 6 goes out of his way to stress that this remnant has not been selected because they had been more punctual in the observance of the law. Their election is due to God’s grace not to their own works. Grace—faith—works: this is the sequence in the process of salvation. In 1-6 Paul is concerned only with the first of these three.

1a. Another rhetorical question continuing 10:18 f. 3. ’What the Scripture saith in the chapter (= paragraph) of Elias’: an ancient way of quoting the OT; cf.Mark 12:26 (’in the bush’). 5. ’Remnant’: a noun from the verb translated ’I have left’, in 4; only here in NT. Cf. § 857p.

7-12 The Present Exclusion of the Majority of Israel from the salvation of the Messias must not be represented as a rejection that is arbitrary or meaningless —From the chosen remnant, 1-6, Paul turns to the majority of Israelites now outside the Church. Their exclusion from the salvation of the Messias is admittedly a fact and a problem. But there are also answers which simplify at least parts of the problem. One such answer, 8-10, recalls that the spiritual blindness or hard-heartedness to which their present unbelief in the Messias is due is a divine punishment foretold in the Scriptures. The texts which St Paul quotes as his proofs are: (1) Deuteronomy 29:4 (plus ’a spirit of stupor’, WV, from Isaiah 29:10) and (2) Psalms 68:23s f. LXX. A’ further answer, 11 f., to the problem is that which takes into account the good effects of this punishment. They are two: (1) Owing to the unbelief of Israel the doors of the Church were at once thrown open to the Gentiles, cf.Acts 13:46; Acts 14:1; Acts 18:4 ff.; 19:9; 28:28. (2) The conversion of the Gentiles is meant to rouse the jealousy of Israel and thereby bring her back in due time to the one true Church of God on earth.

7-10 is in many commentaries connected with 1-6 under the heading: Israel’s rejection is only partial. 8-10. The final clauses in these OT texts are treated as consecutive clauses by some commentators, cf.Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10.9. ’Table’: a metaphor for Israel’s blessings. 10. ’Bow down’, Psalms 68:24 LXX = ’make their loins shake’, MT: is a metaphor for weakness, here for spiritual blindness, contrast Luke 13:11.11-24 appears as a new paragraph in many commentaries under the heading: the rejection of Israel is only temporary.

11a. ’That they should fall’: The context makes it necessary to add: for ever or irrevocably.

12. An argument a fortiori. ’Offence’ = failure to embrace the faith, is left without its antithesis. ’Diminution’: either quantitative = in number; or qualitative = in their position in the Church. ’Fullness,’: antithesis to ’diminution’; therefore again either quantitative = referring to the numerical completeness of their final conversion; or qualitative, referring to the fulfilment (= Consummation) of their mission in their final conversion.

13-24 The Present Rejection of the Greater Part of Israel must not be made an occasion for contempt of Israel or for spiritual pride on the part of the converted Gentiles—From the unbelieving Israelites, 7-12, the Apostle turns his attention to the Gentiles who have taken their place in the Church. This time, however, his purpose is not to defend their rights as in Gal but to exhort them to humility.

To begin with, 13-16, Paul stresses a third time (cf. 9:1-5; 11:1-2) that his missionary work among the Gentiles is in no way meant to be a reflexion on Israel’s privileges, cf.1 Corinthians 9:20. His being proGentile is not equal to being anti-Israel. He is no renegade, and Israel in spite of all has not lost the holiness which she has inherited from the Patriarchs who are, as it were, both her ’firstfruit’ and her ’roots’. This means, that the holiness of the Patriarchs sanctifies the whole of Israel in the same way, as that small first portion (= firstfruit) of dough which according to the law, Numbers 15:17-21, was set apart for the temple consecrated the whole dough. And again, Israel is holy because she is sanctified by the Patriarchs in the same way as the branches receive their life from the roots of the tree. Boylan compares the objective holiness or ’consecration’ of the children of Christian parents, cf.1 Corinthians 7:14.

After this introductory defence of Israel Paul enlarges in 17-24 on the second metaphor of 16 in which he had compared Israel to a tree whose branches must be as holy as its roots (= the Patriarchs). No sooner had he used the phrase than it occurred to him that the Gentile Christians might use it in their favour by arguing that genuine branches of this tree were lopped off, to engraft ’gentile branches’. Hence they might claim now to be alone the living tree and despise Israel as dry wood. The object of 17-24 is to condemn such an attitude towards Israel on the part of the converted Gentiles, and to recommend humility instead.

First, 17 f., the Gentile Christians should remember that before their conversion they belonged but to a ’wild’ olive tree compared with Israel. Therefore when they were engrafted on Israel’s ancient stem, it was done contrary to all human standards. They brought nothing to the old tree; they were engrafted only out of mercy to obtain new life from the ancient stem. Hence all the debt of gratitude and duty of humility is on their side. For another explanation of the simile developed in 17 f. see W. Ramsay, Pauline Studies, 1908, 223 f.; S. Linder, Palästina Jahrbuch 26 ( 1930) 40-3.

In 19-24 Paul derives further motives for humility from the simile of the olive tree in 16, 17-18. He evidently has reason to think that the Gentile Christians may feel inclined to insist on the fact that whatever their origin may have been, at present they are the living branches of the Church while almost all the old branches have been cut off and thrown away on the heap of dry wood. This fact is undoubtedly true. But what the Gentile Christians should learn from it is: (1) fear of God’s severity, since he did not spare even his own chosen people, 21, 22a; (2) gratitude for the grace of their own faith, 22; (3) respect for God’s omnipotence, 23. The wonderful way in which God, contrary to all that could be expected, has engrafted the Gentiles into the ancient stem of Israel should be a constant reminder to them that he can do the same at any time with those branches that are at present rejected. To belong to the Church is a grace of God; the one condition on men’s part is faith. Gentiles have been received into the Church because they believed, and Israelites have been excluded because they refused to believe.

13 f. are taken as a parenthesis by those commentators who regard 13-24 as a development of 11 f., in which case the new paragraph begins with 11. So Cornely, SH, Lagrange, Jülicher. 15. ’Loss’ = rejection, WV. ’Receiving’ = restoration to favour, Boylan. ’Life from the dead’: can be taken (1) metaphorically = an increase of the spiritual life in the whole church on earth so great that it could be compared to a resurrection from the dead, cf.Ez 37:3 ff.; Luke 15:24, Luke 15:32; or (2) literally = the new life after the general resurrection from the dead, i.e. the last and perfect stage in the history of the kingdom of God, inaugurated by the conversion of Israel, cf.1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:52. The latter explanation seems more likely because ’the life’ of nr 1 is essential to the Church of all ages. For a history, of exegesis cf. Cornely. 16. ’Holy’: refers to Israel’s objective holiness, i.e. her being set apart for God = her election, cf. 11:28. It must not be identified with the personal sanctification by grace and faith in the Christian sense. 17-24. Olive tree: a metaphor for Israel in Jeremiah 11:16; Os 14:7; cf. also the vine in Isaiah 5:7; Psalms 79:9; and the fig-tree of Luke 13:6 ff. In 17-24, however, it is no longer the symbol of the church of the OT only, but of the Church in general, i.e. the church of the OT continued in the church of Christ, in which Gentile branches are grafted on the old tree, and not planted as new trees. 22. ’If thou abide in [his] goodness’ = kindness of God towards thee.

25-32 The Present Exclusion of Israel from the Salvation of the Messias must not be regarded as Final —From the present, 1-24, St Paul turns his attention to the future. The time will come when the present problem of Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias will cease to exist because of her conversion, which will follow upon the conversion of the Gentiles.

The final conversion of Israel could not be known to St Paul from any natural source. He himself calls it a mystery, 25, cf.Matthew 13:11; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:3 f. Nevertheless he does not claim a special revelation as the authority for his statement but argues the point. The reasons which he advances are taken (1) from the Scriptures, (2) from Israel’s history, (3) from the divine plan of salvation (= oeconomia salutis = soteriology). (1) The evidence from Scripture, 26 f., is the prophecy of Israel’s restoration in Isaiah 59:20 f., plus the concluding clause ’when I shall take away their sins’ from Isaiah 27:9.

See also Jer 31 ( 38):31-34. (2) The reason from Israel’s history, 28 f., is the election of the Patriarchs. This is a dogmatic-historical fact which cannot be undone. The promises made to the Patriarchs must one day be fulfilled in every respect, because God is unchangeable, cf.Deuteronomy 4:31. (3) The reason from the divine plan of redemption, 30-32, is taken from the doctrine so often repeated in Rom that salvation is the gift of God’s mercy (= grace = pardon) after man’s failure to obtain ’justness (= holiness) by his own efforts. In this divine plan, therefore man’s failure becomes Mercy’s opportunity. So it has been in the case of the Gentile Christians to whom Paul is speaking, so it will be in the case of the now disobedient (= unbelieving) Israelites. ’God has abandoned all to their rebellion (= disobedience, WV = unbelief, DV) only to include them all in his pardon’, 31, KNT, cf. 10: 12.

25. ’Mystery’: Lagrange, Ev. selon S. Luc, 1927, 396, on Luke 13:35 finds this mystery already revealed by our Lord himself. ’Fulness of the Gentiles’: need not be pressed so as to mean every individual, nor, 26, ’all Israel’. 31. ’For your mercy’: is dative in the Greek, and as such can be explained: (1) as causal dative to ’they have not obeyed’, i.e. the salvation of the Gentiles has become the cause of Israel’s unbelief; (2) as instrumental dative, to ’that they may obtain mercy’, i.e. when roused to jealousy through mercy shown to the Gentiles. Nr 2 yields a clear sense but strains the structure of the sentence; nr 1 follows the natural structure of the sentence but yields a sense which many reject because it would be contradicted by the fact that Israel disobeyed the Gospel before the conversion of any Gentiles. This contradiction, however, need not be pressed. When Paul wrote Rom the mercy shown to the Gentiles was a cause that stiffened the resistance of Israel.

33-36 Epilogue— The long list of arguments collected by St Paul in chh 9-11 to explain God’s dealing with Israel in past and present has come to an end; and he ’concludes on a note of baffled wonder and prostrate homage’, WV. It is true, election as well as rejection are facts in Israel’s history, and one may call either predestination. But nevertheless and in spite of all the difficulties that remain unsolved Israel’s election as well as her present rejection are both part of a wonderful plan, designed by God’s mercy, wisdom, understanding, and omnipotence for the purpose of the salvation of all. God is free and can do as he chooses, ch 9; Israel is responsible for her failure, ch 10; the salvation of Gentiles and Israelites alike is God’s ultimate aim in all his ways, ch 11.

33-36 develop v 32, cf. the similar conclusion in 8:35 f. 33. ’O the depth of the riches, and of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God’: three coordinated genitives. ’The riches’: scil. of his mercy, cf. 10:12. ’Judgements’: passed on Jews and Gentiles in the course of history to bring them to a realization of their misery and their need of divine assistance, Boylan. 35 is taken from Job 41:3 MT. The sense is: no one can earn the grace of salvation, so that he can claim it as his right. That Paul is not thinking here of meritorious works and their reward follows from the context and from such passages as 2:5: f. 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 11:5; Galatians 6:7 f.; 2 Timothy 4:8, etc. 36a. ’From him, through him, and for him is everything’: God is the efficient, sustaining and final cause of all; cf. Rickaby. The appropriation of the first to the Father, of the second to the Son, and of the third to the Holy Ghost, is not stated in the text but common in the commentaries of the Latin Fathers after St Augustine, cf. Cornely 633 f. Alleged parallels in stoic literature are collected by Lietzmann 107, e.g. M. Aurelius IV 23.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Romans 11". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/romans-11.html. 1951.
 
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