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Twenty-third Passage (chap. 11). God's Plan in Israel's Rejection.
The apostle has proved in chap. 9 that when God elected Israel, He did not lose the right one day to take the severest course against them, if if it should be necessary. Then he has showed in chap. 10 that in fact there was a real ground and moral necessity for this measure. He proceeds, finally, to establish in chap. 11 that it was taken with all due regard to the position of this people, and within the limits in which it should subserve the salvation of mankind and that of Israel themselves.
This chapter embraces the development of two principal ideas, and then a conclusion. The first idea is this: The rejection of Israel is not total, but partial ( Rom 11:1-10 ). It bears only on that portion referred to in the demonstration of God's right, given in chap. 9. The second: This partial rejection even is not eternal, but temporary ( Rom 11:11-32 ). For after it has served the various ends which God had in view in decreeing it, it shall come to an end, and the entire nation shall be restored, and with the Gentiles shall realize the final unity of the kingdom of God. The conclusion is a glance at this whole vast plan of God, and the expression of the feeling of adoration which is inspired by the contemplation, Romans 11:33-36.
Vv. 1. “ I say, then, Hath God cast away His people? Let it not be! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. ”
From all that preceded, chaps. 9 and 10, the reader might have concluded that God had completely and finally broken with all that bore the name of Israel; hence the then.
The form of the question is such ( μή ) that only a negative answer can be expected. This is likewise indicated by the pronoun αὐτοῦ , his, which of itself implies the moral impossibility of such a measure.
The expression His people does not refer, as some have thought, to the elect part of the people only, but, as the expression itself shows, to the nation as a whole. It is evident, indeed, that the rest of the chapter treats not of the lot of the Israelites who have believed in Jesus, but of the lot of the nation in its entirety. Thus then, this question of Rom 11:1 is the theme of the whole chapter.
The apostle takes a first answer, by way of preface, from his own case. Is not he, a Jew of well-approved Israelitish descent, by the call which he has received from above, a living proof that God has not cast away en masse and without distinction the totality of His ancient people? De Wette and Meyer give a wholly different meaning to this answer. According to them, Paul would say: “I am too good an Israelite, too zealous a patriot, to be capable of affirming a thing so contrary to the interests of my people.” As if the interests of truth were not supreme, in Paul's view, over national affections! And what in this case would be meant by the epithets descendant of Abraham and of Benjamin, which Meyer alleges against our explanation? May not one, with his civil status as an Israelite perfectly unquestionable, comport himself as a bad patriot? What Paul means by them is this: “It is nothing my being an Israelite of the purest blood; God has nevertheless made of me such as you see me, a true believer.” Meyer still urges the objection of the exceptional position of a man like Paul; but the apostle does not confine himself to pleading this personal fact; he adds to it immediately, from Rom 11:2 onward, the patent fact of the whole Judeo-Christian portion of the church.
Weizsäcker makes the important remark on this Romans 11:1: “Paul could not possibly take his proof from his own person, if the mass of the Christians of Rome were Judeo-Christian, and so themselves the best refutation of the objection raised.”
The partial character of the rejection of God's people is proved, first by the conversion of St. Paul himself ( Rom 11:1 ); then by the existence of a whole Judeo-Christian church ( Rom 11:2-6 ). And if this church does not contain the entire Jewish people, it is the effect of a judgment of a partial hardening rendered necessary by the moral state of the people ( Rom 11:7-10 ).
Vv. 2, 3. “ God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. Or wot ye not what the Scripture saith in the passage about Elijah; how he maketh intercession to God against Israel:Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have digged down Thine altars, and I am left alone, and they seek my life. ”
The formal denial which begins Rom 11:2 is intended to introduce the more general proof, the exposition of which begins with the words: Or wot ye not? Several commentators (Or., Aug., Chrys., Luth., Calv., etc.) have explained the words: whom He foreknew, as a restriction narrowing the general notion of the people of Israel: “He could undoubtedly cast away the mass of the people, but not the foreknown elect who form, strictly speaking, His people. ” This meaning is inadmissible; for, as we have already seen in Romans 11:1, the matter in question here is not the lot of this elect portion, but that of the people as a whole. Is it not of the entire people that the apostle speaks when, in Romans 11:28-29, he says: “ As touching the election, they are loved for the Father's sake; for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance?” These words are the authentic explanation of the expression in Romans 11:2: His people whom He foreknow. Of all the peoples of the carth one only was chosen and known beforehand, by an act of divine foreknowledge and love, as the people whose history would be identified with the realization of salvation. In all others salvation is the affair of individuals, but here the notion of salvation is attached to the nation itself; not that the liberty of individuals is in the least compromised by this collective destination. The Israelites contemporary with Jesus might reject Him; an indefinite series of generations may for ages perpetuate this fact of national unbelief. God is under no pressure; time can stretch out as long as He pleases. He will add, if need be, ages to ages, until there come at length the generation disposed to open their eyes and freely welcome their Messiah. God foreknew this nation as believing and saved, and sooner or later they cannot fail to be both.
As usual, the form: or know ye not, signifies: “Or if ye allege the contrary, do ye forget”...
The expression ἐν ᾿Ηλίᾳ , literally, in Elias, is a form of quotation frequent in the N. T. (Mark 12:26; Luk 20:37 ) and in the Rabbins to denote: “in the passage of the Scriptures which contains the history of Elias.”
The preposition κατά can signify nothing else here than against. To intercede against is a strange expression, but fitted to bring out the abnormal state of the people in regard to whom the prophet could only pray thus, that is to say, protesting before God against their conduct. Comp. 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:14; 1 Kings 19:18.
Vv. 3. In the Hebrew text the second clause of the verse is put first; it is needless to seek an intention for this inversion.
Mention is made of “ altars of God,” though according to the law there was, properly speaking, only one legitimate altar, that of the sanctuary. But the law itself authorized, besides, the erection of altars in the places where God had visibly revealed Himself ( Exo 20:24 ), as at Bethel, for example. Moreover, participation in the legitimate altar being interdicted within the kingdom of the ten tribes, it is probable that in such circumstances the faithful ventured to sacrifice elsewhere than at Jerusalem ( 1Ki 8:29 ).
Meyer interprets the word alone in this sense: “alone of all the prophets.” This meaning seems to us incompatible with God's answer. The seven thousand are not prophets, but simple worshippers. Elijah, in that state of deep discouragement into which foregoing events had plunged him, no longer saw in Israel any others than idolaters, or believers too cowardly to deserve the name.
Vv. 4, 5. “ But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Even so then, at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. ” Χρηματισμός : the direction of a matter, and hence: a decision of authority; then: a divine declaration, an oracle ( Mat 2:12 ).
It is impossible to apply the words: “I have reserved to myself,” to the temporal preservation of this elect body of pious Israelites, in the midst of the judgments which are soon to burst on Israel. It is in the spiritual sense, as faithful worshippers in the midst of reigning idolatry, that God reserves them to Himself. They are the leaven kept by His faithfulness in the midst of His degenerate people.
It is impossible to understand what leads Hofmann to take κατέλιπον as the third person plural: “ They (the persecutors) have left me seven thousand men.” This cannot be the meaning in the Hebrew, where the grammar is opposed to it; and as little the sense meant by Paul, where the words to myself and according to the election of grace, Romans 11:5, prove that he is speaking of the action of God Himself. The pronoun to myself does not belong to the Hebrew text; it is added by Paul to bring more into relief the settled purpose of grace in this preservation.
The substantive Βάαλ , Baal, is preceded by the feminine τῇ : “ the (female) Baal.” This form is surprising, for Baal, the god of the sun among the Phoenicians, was a masculine divinity, to whom Astarte, the goddess of the moon, corresponded, as the female divinity. By the LXX. the name Baal is sometimes used as feminine, sometimes as masculine. In our passage this version uses it in the latter way. To explain the female form as used here by Paul, it has been thought that Baal was sometimes regarded as a hermaphrodite divinity. But in 1 Samuel 7:4, we find Baal put along with Astarte, and both in the feminine form. It seems to us more natural simply to understand the feminine substantive εἰκόνι , the image, in the sense of: “the statute Baal.” Meyer objects that in that case the article τοῦ would be required before Βάαλ . But the Jews took pleasure in identifying false gods with their images, as if to say that the god was nothing more than his material representation. The Rabbins, in this same contemptuous spirit, had invented the term Elohoth to designate idols, a feminine plural of Elohim, and several have been thereby led to suppose that our feminine article might be explained by a feeling of the same kind. This explanation is not impossible, but the previous one seems to me the more simple.
Vv. 5. This verse applies the case of the seven thousand to present circumstances. The remnant, of whom the apostle speaks, evidently denotes the small portion of the Jewish people who in Jesus have recognized the Messiah. The term λεῖμμα , remnant, is related to the preceding verb κατέλιπον , I have reserved to myself, kept. There is no reference whatever to the members of the Jewish people who shall survive the destruction of Jerusalem, and shall be preserved to go into exile. These form, on the contrary, the rejected portion to whom the words, Romans 11:7-10, apply.
The three particles which connect this verse with the preceding context: so, then, also, refer, the first to the internal resemblance of the two facts, for the same principle is realized in both; the second, to the moral necessity with which the one follows from the other in consequence of this analogy. The third simply indicates the addition of a new example to the former.
The words: according to the election of grace, might apply to the individuals more or less numerous who are embraced in this remnant, now become the nucleus of the church. The word election would in that case be explained, as in the case of the elect in general, Romans 8:29-30, by the fact of the foreknowledge which God had of their faith. But the matter in question throughout the whole of this chapter is the lot of the Jewish people in general; it is therefore to them in their entirety that the idea of the divine election refers; comp. Romans 11:2; Romans 11:28. One thing indeed follows from the election of grace applied to the whole of Israel; not the salvation of such or such individuals, but the indestructible existence of a believing remnant at all periods of their history, even in the most disastrous crises of unbelief, as at the time of the ministry of Elias, or of the coming of Jesus Christ. The idea contained in the words: “according to the election of grace,” is therefore this: In virtue of the election of Israel as the salvation-people, God has not left them in our days without a faithful remnant, any more than He did in the kingdom of the ten tribes at the period when a far grosser heathenism was triumphant.
Vv. 6. “ Now, if it is by grace, then is it no more of works; since grace would be no more grace. ”
The apostle wishes to express the idea, that if Israel possess this privilege of always preserving within their bosom a faithful remnant, it is not because of any particular merit they have acquired before God by their works; it is purely a matter of grace on the part of Him who has chosen them. The instant there was introduced into this dispensation a meritorious cause, whether for little or for much, there would be taken away from grace its character of freeness; it would no longer be what it is. Why add this idea here? Because it is only inasmuch as the maintenance of the faithful remnant is a matter of grace, that the rejection of the mass (of which Paul is about to speak, Rom 11:7-9 ) is not an injustice. If there were, on the part of Israel as a people, the least merit arising from work as the ground of their election, even that partial rejection, of which the apostle speaks, would be impossible.
The word οὐκέτι , no more, should be taken here in the logical sense: the principle of grace being once laid down. The verb γίνεται (literally, not is, but becomes) should be explained as Meyer does: Grace ceases to show itself as what it is, ceases to become in its realization what it is in its essence.
The second proposition, parallel to the former, which is found in the T. R., is entirely foreign to the context, and for this reason alone it must appear suspicious. But it is decidedly condemned by its omission in the greater number of documents, and in particular by the harmony on this point of the Alex. and Greco-Latin texts, excepting the Vaticanus. It is impossible to imagine a reason copyists could have had for rejecting it. Volkmar, in order to remain faithful to the Vatic. alleges this very fact of the want of relation to the context as that which struck copyists, and gave rise to its rejection. This is to do them too much honor. We should have had much graver and more numerous variants in the N. T. if copyists had proceeded so freely. It is much more probable that a reader composed a proposition parallel and antithetic to the former, and wrote it on the margin, whence it passed into the text. Cases of this kind are frequent.
It is obviously wholly unnecessary, in order to explain this verse, to hold, with the Tübingen school, that the apostle means to refute the Judeo-Christian principle of the mixing up of works and grace. Besides, would not the apostle have addressed himself directly in this case as he does to his Gentile-Christian readers in the passage Romans 11:13-14, which Volkmar himself puts parallel to this?
Let us again remark the correlation between this passage, Romans 11:1-5, and the preceding, Romans 9:6-13. The latter referred to the carnal portion of the nation, and proved the right God had to reject them (as much as Ishmael and Esau); the present passage refers to the faithful portion, and establishes the fact that God has not failed to maintain a similar elect number in Israel. These two points of view taken together form the complete truth on the subject.
Reuss finds in this passage two theories placed side by side with one another, but “which logic deems contradictory.” The one, he thinks, is that of unconditional grace, by which the holy remnant are kept in their fidelity; the other that of works, by which Paul explains the rejection of the nation in general. But there is no contradiction between these two points of view; for if the faithfulness of the elect supposes the initiative of grace, it nevertheless implies faith on their part, and if the mass of the nation are rejected, this rejection only arises from their voluntary and persevering resistance to the solicitations of grace.
The apostle put the question whether the present relation between God and Israel was that of an absolute divorce; and he began by answering: no, in the sense that a portion at least of Israel have obtained grace, and form henceforth the nucleus of the church. But, he adds for this is the other side of the truth it is certainly true that the greater part of the people have been smitten with hardness. This is what he expounds in Romans 11:7-10, showing, as his habit is, that this severe measure was in keeping with the antecedents of the theocratic history and the declarations of Scripture.
Vv. 7, 8. “ What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, while the election hath obtained it; but the rest were hardened. According as it is written, God hath given them a spirit of torpor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day. ”
By the question: What then? Paul means: If Israel are not really rejected, what then? What has happened? As he has elucidated this question in chap. 10, he confines himself to summing up in a word all that he has explained above regarding the foolish conduct of Israel. The object of their search, the justification to be obtained from God, having been pursued by them in a chimerical way (by means of human works), they have not attained the end which the elect have reached without trouble by faith. The present ἐπιζητεῖ , seeketh, for which there must not be substituted, with the oldest translations (see the critical note), the imperf. sought, indicates what Israel has done and is still doing at the very moment when the apostle is writing.
The elect then being once excepted, it is quite true that all the rest, οἱ λοιποί , have been rejected, and that in the severest way: a judgment of hardening with which God has visited them. The term πωροῦν , to harden, signifies in the strict sense: to deprive an organ of its natural sensibility; morally: to take away from the heart the faculty of being touched by what is good or divine, from the understanding, the faculty of discerning between the true and the false, the good and the bad. The sequel will explain how it is possible for such an effect to be ascribed to divine operation.
Vv. 8. Holy Scripture had already either witnessed to an operation of God in this direction in certain cases, or had raised the foreboding of it in regard to the Jews. So when Moses said to the people after their exodus from Egypt, Deuteronomy 29:4: “The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.” And yet ( Rom 11:2 ) “they had seen all that the Lord did before their eyes.” All the wonders wrought in the wilderness they had seen in a sort without seeing them; they had heard the daily admonitions of Moses without hearing them, because they were under the weight of a spirit of insensibility; and this judgment which had weighed on them during the forty years of their rejection in the wilderness continued still at the time when Moses spoke to them in the plains of Moab, when they were preparing to enter Canaan: until this day. In quoting this remarkable saying, Paul modifies it slightly; for the first words: “ God hath not given you a heart to perceive,” he substitutes a somewhat different expression, which he borrows from Isaiah 29:10: “The Lord hath poured upon you the spirit of deep sleep.” The negative form of which Moses had made use (“God hath not given you”...) perfectly suited the epoch when this long judgment was about to close: “God hath not yet bestowed on you this gracious gift to this day; but He is about to grant it at length!” While, when the apostle wrote, the affirmative form used by Isaiah to express the same idea was much more appropriate: “God hath poured out on you”...The state of Israel indeed resembled in all respects that of the people when in Isaiah's time they ran blindfold into the punishment of captivity. Hence it is that Paul prefers for those first words the form of Isaiah to that of Moses.
There is something paradoxical in the expression: a spirit of torpor; for usually the spirit rouses and awakens, instead of rendering insensible. But God can also put in operation a paralyzing force. It is so when He wills for a time to give over a man who perseveres in resisting Him to a blindness such that he punishes himself as it were with his own hand; see the example of Pharaoh ( Rom 9:17 ) and that of Saul ( 1Sa 18:10 ).
The term κατάνυξις , which is ordinarily translated by stupefaction, and which we prefer to render by the word torpor, may be explained etymologically in two ways: Either it is derived from νύσσω , the act of piercing, rending, striking, whence there would result, when the blow is violent, a state of stupor and momentary insensibility; or it is taken to be from νύω , νύζω , νυστάζω , to bend the head in order to sleep, whence: to fall asleep. It is perhaps in this second sense that the LXX. have taken it, who use it pretty frequently, as in our passage, to translate the Hebrew term mardema, deep sleep. This second derivation is learnedly combated by Fritzsche; but it has again quite recently been defended by Volkmar. If we bring into close connection, as St. Paul does here, the saying of Isaiah with that of Deuteronomy, we must prefer the notion of torpor or stupor to that of sleep; for the subject in question in the context is not a man who is sleeping, but one who, while having his eyes open and seeing, sees not.
The works of God have two aspects, the one external, the material fact; the other internal, the divine thought contained in the fact. And thus it comes about, that when the eye of the soul is paralyzed, one may see those works without seeing them; comp. Isaiah 6:10; Matthew 13:14-15; John 12:40, etc.
The apostle adds in the following verses a second quotation, taken from Psalms 69:22-23.
Vv. 9, 10. “ And David saith, Let their table be made a snare and a trap and a stumbling-block, and [so] a just recompense unto them! Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see; and bow down their back alway! ”
Paul ascribes this psalm to David, according to the title and Jewish tradition; he does not meddle with criticism. Is this title erroneous, as is alleged by our modern savants? They allege Romans 11:33-36, which close the psalm, and in which we have mention made of the liberated captives who shall rebuild and possess the cities of Judah, expressions which naturally apply to the time of the captivity. But, on the other hand, the author speaks “of that zeal for the house of God which eats him up;” which supposes the existence of the temple. Nay more, the adversaries who oppress him are expressly designated as members of God's people: they are “his brethren, his mother's children” ( Rom 11:8 ); they shall be blotted out of the book of life” ( Rom 11:28 ); their name was therefore inscribed in it; they are not the Chaldeans. Finally, what is stronger: those enemies, his fellow-countrymen, enjoy perfect external well-being; while they give the Psalmist, the object of their hatred, gall to drink, they themselves sit at table and sing as they drink strong drink (Romans 11:22; Rom 11:11-12 ); a singular description of the state of the Jews in captivity! It must therefore be held that the last verses of the psalm ( Rom 11:33-36 ) were, like the last and perfectly similar verses of Psalms 51:0 ( Rom 11:18-19 ), added to the hymn later, when the exiled people applied it to their national sufferings. The original description is that of the righteous Israelite suffering for the cause of God; and his adversaries, to whom the curses contained in the two verses quoted by Paul refer, are all the enemies of this just one within the theocracy itself, from Saul persecuting David down to the Jewish enemies of Jesus Christ and His Church.
The table is, in the Psalmist's sense, the emblem of the material pleasures in which the ungodly live. Their life of gross enjoyments is to become to them what the snares of all sorts with which men catch them are to the lower animals. It is difficult to avoid thinking that the apostle is here applying this figure in a spiritual sense; for the punishment which he has in view is of a spiritual nature; it is, moral hardening. The cause of such a judgment must therefore be something else than simple worldly enjoyment; it is, as we have seen, the proud confidence of Israel in their ceremonial works. The table is therefore, in Paul's sense, the emblem of presumptuous security founded on their fidelity to acts of worship, whether the reference be to the table of showbread as a symbol of the Levitical worship in general, or to the sacrificial feasts. These works, on which they reckoned to save them, are precisely what is ruining them.
The Psalmist expresses the idea of ruin only by two terms: those of snare and net (in the LXX. παγίς , net, and σκάνδαλον , stumbling-block). Paul adds a third, θήρα , strictly prey, and hence: every means of catching prey. This third term is taken from Psalms 35:8 (in the LXX), where it is used as a parallel to παγίς , net, in a passage every way similar to that of Psalms 69:0. By this accumulation of almost synonymous terms, Paul means forcibly to express the idea that it will be impossible for them to escape, because no kind of snare will be wanting; first the net ( παγίς ), then the weapons of the chase ( θήρα ), and finally the trap which causes the prey to fall into the pit ( σκάνδαλον ).
The Hebrew and the LXX., as we have said, contain only two of these terms, the first and the third. Instead of the second, the LXX. read another regimen: εἰς ἀνταπόδοσιν , for a recompense. Whence comes this expression? They have evidently meant thereby to render the word lischelomim, for those who are in security, which in the Hebrew text is put between the words snare and stumbling-block. Only to render it as they have done, they must have read leschilloumim (probably after another reading). This substantive is derived from the verb schalam, to be complete, whence in the Pïel: to recompense. It therefore signifies recompense; hence this εἰς ἀνταπόδοσιν , for a recompense, in the LXX. Paul borrows from them this expression; but he puts it at the end as a sort of conclusion: “and so in just retribution.” In Rom 11:10 the apostle continues to apply to the present judgment of Israel (hardening) the expressions of the Psalmist. The reference is to the darkening of the understanding which follows on the insensibility of the heart ( Rom 11:9 ), to such a degree that the Gentiles, with their natural good sense, understand the gospel better than those Jews who have been instructed and cultivated by divine revelation.
The last words: bow down their reins, are an invocation; they refer to the state of slavish fear in which the Jews shall be held as long as this judgment of hardening which keeps them outside of the gospel shall last. They are slaves to their laws, to their Rabbins, and even to their God ( Rom 8:15 ). We must beware of thinking, as Meyer does, that this chastisement is their punishment for the rejection of the Messiah. It is, on the contrary, that rejection which is in the apostle's eyes the realization of the doom of hardening previously pronounced upon them. As St. John shows, Joh 12:37 et seq., the Jews would not have rejected Jesus if their eyes had not been already blinded and their ears stopped. It could only be under the weight of one of those judgments which visit man with a spirit of torpor, that any could fail to discern the raying forth of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ, as the apostle declares, 2 Corinthians 4:4. In this passage he ascribes the act of blinding to the god of this world, who has cast a veil over the spirit of his subjects. This means, as is seen in the book of Job, that God proves or punishes by leaving Satan to act, and it may be by the spirit of torpor mentioned in Romans 11:8, as with that spirit of lying whom the Lord sent to seduce Ahab in the vision of the prophet Micaiah, 1Ki 22:10 et seq. However this may be, the rejection of Jesus by the Jews was the effect, not the cause of the hardening. The cause
Paul has clearly enough said, Rom 9:31-33 was the obstinacy of their self-righteousness.
Vv. 11, 12. “ I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? Let it not be! But by their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now, if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more will be their fulness! ”
The then indicates that this new question is occasioned by the preceding development: “A portion have been hardened; is it then forever?” The question with μή anticipates a negative answer. According to many commentators, the two terms stumble and fall have almost the same meaning, and they make the question signify: “have they fallen solely for the end of falling?” But this meaning would have required the adverb μόνον , only, and it is contrary besides, to the difference of meaning between the two verbs; πταίειν , to stumble, expresses the shock against an obstacle; πίπτειν , to fall, the fall which follows from it. Consequently the meaning can only be this: “Have they stumbled so as to leave forever their position as God's people, and to remain as it were lying on the ground (plunged in perdition)?” Comp. the figures of striking against, Romans 9:32, and stumbling, Romans 11:9. “No,” answers the apostle, “God has very different views. This dispensation tends to a first proximate aim, namely, to open to the Gentiles the gateway of salvation.” According to Reuss, the apostle means to say, God “has for the present hardened the Jews that the gospel might be carried to the Gentiles.” If by this the author means anew to ascribe to St. Paul the idea of the unconditional decree in virtue of which God disposes of men independently of their moral liberty, he completely mistakes the apostle's thought. It is through the fault of Israel that it has been impossible for the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles to be carried out except by God's breaking with the chosen people. If, indeed, this people had lent themselves with intelligence and love to God's purpose toward the rest of mankind, they would willingly have let fall their theocratic pretensions; and, substituting the righteousness of faith for that of the law, they would themselves have become God's instruments in offering to the Gentiles the grace they enjoyed. But as their national pride did not permit them to enter on this path, and as they wished at any cost to maintain their legal system, God was obliged to blind them, so that they should not in Jesus recognize their Messiah. Otherwise the gospel would have been Judaized; believing Gentiles would have required to become the proselytes of Israel, and this would have been an end of salvation for the world, and of the world for salvation. Moreover, in consequence of the proud contempt of the Jews for the Gentiles, there would have been formed between them and the latter such a relation of enmity, that if Christianity offered itself to the world under cover of this detested Judaism, it would, no doubt, have gained some adherents, but it would have been the object of the antipathy which the Gentile world felt to the Jewish people. In these circumstances, God, who wished the salvation of the world, necessarily required to disentangle the cause of the gospel from that of Judaism, and even to oppose them to one another. And this is what was brought about by the refusal of Israel to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The preaching of the Christ, delivered by this very separation, was able, free from all hindrance, to take its flight over the world. Once, then, Israel had become by their own fault what they were, God could evidently not act otherwise, if He would save the Gentiles; but nothing forced Israel to become such. There is nothing here, therefore, of an unconditional decree; it is ever the same law we meet with: God's plan embracing the vagaries of human liberty, and making them turn to its own fulfilment.
But that is not all. Wonderful result! Israel, having been unwilling to concur with God in saving the Gentiles, must end by being themselves saved through their salvation. It is undoubtedly a humiliation for them to be the last to enter where they should have introduced all others; but on God's part it is the height of mercy. Here is the more remote end (for which the conversion of the Gentiles becomes a means), which Paul indicates in the words borrowed from the passage of Moses quoted above, Romans 10:19: “ to provoke them to jealousy. ” Seeing all the blessings of the kingdom, pardon, justification, the Holy Spirit, adoption, shed down abundantly on the Gentile nations through faith in Him whom they have rejected, how can they help saying at length: These blessings are ours? And how can they help opening their eyes and recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah, since in Him the works predicted of the Messiah are accomplished? How shall the elder son, seeing his younger brother seated and celebrating the feast at his father's table, fail to ask that he may re-enter the paternal home and come to sit down side by side with his brother, after throwing himself into the arms of their common father? Such is the spectacle of which Paul gives us a glimpse in the words: to provoke them to jealousy. The sin of the Jews could modify the execution of God's plan, but by no means prevent it.
God has not then, absolutely speaking, rejected His people; but it is perfectly true that He has hardened and rejected a portion of them. Yet there are two restrictions to be noted here: This chastisement is only partial; and, besides, it is only temporary. It is this second idea which is developed in the following passage. It is obvious how far Reuss is mistaken when he calls this second passage, in relation to the former, “a second explanation.” This critic's constant idea is that of contradictory points of view placed in juxtaposition in the apostle's writing. On the contrary, the following passage is the logical complement of the preceding: “And this chastisement, which has fallen on Israel only partially, is itself only for a time.”
This passage includes four sections, having each a distinct subject.
The first, Romans 11:11-15, points out the two ends, the proximate, and the final, of the rejection of the Jews. The proximate end was to facilitate the conversion of the Gentiles, the final end is to restore the Jews themselves by means of the converted Gentiles, and that to bring down at length on the latter the fulness of divine blessing.
The second section, Romans 11:16-24, is intended to put the Gentiles on their guard against the pride with which they might be inspired by the position which is made theirs for the present in the kingdom of God, as well as against contempt of the Jews into which they might be carried.
In the third, Romans 11:25-29, Paul announces positively, as a matter of revelation, the fact of the final conversion of Israel.
Finally, the fourth, Romans 11:30-32, contains a general view of the course of divine work in the accomplishment of salvation.
It is impossible, in a subject so difficult, to imagine a simpler and more logical order.
Vv. 12. The δέ is that of gradation: well then. It is a new and more joyous perspective still which the apostle opens up. If the exclusion of the Jews, by allowing the gospel to be presented to the world freed from every legal form, has opened for it a large entrance among the Gentiles, what will be the result of the restoration of this people, if it shall ever be realized? What blessings of higher excellence for the whole world may not be expected from it! Thus the apostle advances from step to step in the explanation of this mysterious decree of rejection.
Their fall or their false step: this expression, which refers back to the term πταίειν , to stumble, Romans 11:11, denotes Jewish unbelief.
By the riches of the world, Paul understands the state of grace into which the Gentiles are introduced by faith in a free salvation.
The two abstract expressions fall and world are reproduced in a more concrete way in a second proposition parallel to the first; the former in the term ἥττημα , which we translate by diminishing ( reduction to a small number); the latter in the plural word the Gentiles. The word ἡττημα comes from the verb ἡττᾶσθαι , the fundamental meaning of which is: to be in a state of inferiority. This inferiority may be one in relation to an enemy; in this case the verb means: to be overcome ( 2Pe 2:19 ), and the substantive derived from it signifies defeat ( clades). Or the inferiority may refer to a state fixed on as normal, and below which one falls. The substantive in this case denotes a deficit, a fall. Of these two meanings the first is impossible here; for the enemy by whom Israel would be beaten could be no other than God; now in the context this thought is inapplicable. The second and only admissible sense may be applied either qualitatively or numerically. In the former case, the subject in question is a level of spiritual life beneath which Israel has fallen; comp. 1 Corinthians 6:7: “There is utterly an inferiority, ἥττημα (a moral deficit), among you because ye go to law one with another,” and 2 Corinthians 12:13. Applied here, this meaning would lead to the following explanation: “The moral degradation of Israel has become the cause of the enriching of the Gentiles.” But there is something repugnant in this idea, and, besides, we should be obliged by it to take the substantive πλήρωμα , the fulness, which corresponds to it, also in the moral sense: the perfect spiritual state to which the Jews shall one day be restored. Now this meaning is impossible in view of Romans 11:25, where this expression evidently denotes the totality of the Gentile nations. We are therefore led by this antithesis to the numerical meaning of ἥττημα , diminishing to a small number (of believers): “If their diminishing as God's people to a very small number of individuals (those who have received the Messiah) has formed the riches of the world, how much more their restoration to the complete state of a people”...! But it is important to observe the shade of difference between this and the often repeated explanation of Chrysostom, which applies the word ἥττημα to the believing Jews themselves, which would lead to an idea foreign to the context, namely this: that if so small a number of believing Jews have already done so much good to the world by becoming the nucleus of the church, the entire nation once converted will do more still. The pronoun αὐτῶν ( their) excludes this sense; for in the three propositions it can only apply to the same subject, the Jewish people in general (Meyer).
Instead of “the riches of the world,” the apostle says the second time “the riches of the Gentiles; ” because now there presents itself to his mind that indefinite series of Gentile nations who, ever as the preaching of the gospel shall reach them, shall enter successively into the church, and thus fill up the void arising from the reduction of Israel to so small a number of believers.
Their fulness: the totality of the then living members of the people of Israel. The term πλήρωμα , used apparently in such different acceptations by the N. T. writers, has but one fundamental signification, of which all the others are only various applications. It always denotes: that with which an empty space is filled ( id quo res impletur); comp. Philippi simplifying Fritzsche. In the application of this term to the people of Israel, we must regard the abstract notion of a people as the empty frame to be filled, and the totality of the individuals in whom this notion is realized, as that which fills the frame.
From what we have said above, we must set aside meanings of a qualitative nature, such as: “the fulness of the Messianic salvation,” or “the restoration of Israel to its normal position,” or the state of spiritual perfection to which it is destined (Fritzs., Rück., Hofm.). Neither can the meaning be admitted which Philippi ascribes to the two words ἥττημα and πλήρωμα ; he supplies as their understood complement the idea of the kingdom of God, and explains: “the blank produced in the kingdom of God by their rejection,” and “the filling up of this blank by their readmission.” This is to do violence to the meaning of the genitives αὐτῶν , and to introduce into the text an idea (that of the kingdom of God) which is nowhere indicated.
Vv. 13-15. “ For I say it to you Gentiles: Inasmuch as I am an apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the restoring of them be, but a resurrection from the dead? ”
It is somewhat difficult to decide between the two readings γάρ ( for) and δέ ( now then). The authorities are balanced; but it is probable that the δέ , now, has been substituted for for, because the observation which begins Rom 11:13 was connected with the preceding verse in this sense: “Now I tell you that (the preceding) specially you Gentiles.” And as this connection is decidedly mistaken, and the apostle's observation refers manifestly to what follows ( Rom 11:13-15 ), there is reason to believe that the true connection is that which is expressed by for. And in fact the natural transition from Rom 11:11-12 to Rom 11:13-15 is this: “What I have just told you of the magnificent effects which will one day be produced among you Gentiles by the restoration of the Jews, is so true that it is even in your interest and as your apostle, the apostle to you Gentiles, that I strive to labor for the salvation of the Jews; for I know all that will one day accrue to you from their national conversion, a true spiritual resurrection ( Rom 11:15 ).” There is a wholly different and widespread way of understanding the meaning of these three verses. It is to take Rom 11:13-14 as a sort of parenthesis or episode, and to regard Rom 11:15 as a somewhat more emphatic repetition of Romans 11:12; comp. for example, Rom 11:9-10 of chap. 5. In that case, what the apostle would say in this parenthesis ( Rom 11:13-14 ) would be this: “If I labor so ardently in my mission to the Gentiles, it is that I may thereby stimulate my fellow-countrymen, the Jews, to seek conversion.” It is the opposite thought from that which we have been expressing. This meaning occurs in almost all the commentaries. But, 1st. It is impossible to understand how Paul could say that as the apostle of the Gentiles; he would rather say it though their apostle and as a Jew by birth. 2d, After an interruption like that of Romans 11:13-14, it would be unnatural to make the for of Rom 11:15 bear on Romans 11:12. This is what renders the case so different from that of chap. Romans 5:9-10. Let us study our text more closely, and we shall certainly be led to the first meaning which we have stated. The emphasis is not on the fact that in laboring for the conversion of the Gentiles he is laboring in the end for that of the Jews which is undoubtedly true, Rom 11:13-14 but on the fact that in laboring thus for the conversion of the Jews he is in that very way laboring for the good of the Gentiles, who are his proper charge, Romans 11:13-15.
To you, Gentiles: Baur and his disciples (Volkmar, Holsten), and also Mangold, allege that this style of address embraces only a fraction of the church, the members of Gentile origin, who are only a weak minority. Meyer rightly answers that in that case Paul must have written: Τοῖς ἒθνεσιν ἐν ὑμῖν λέγω , “I address those of you who are of Gentile origin.” Weizsäcker, in the often quoted work (p. 257), likewise observes with reason, that the form employed being the only direct style of address used to the readers in this whole passage, it is natural to apply it to the entire church; that one may consequently conclude from these words with the utmost certainty that members of Gentile origin formed the preponderating element in this church. We shall ask further, if in the opposite case Paul could have called the Jews my flesh, as speaking in his own name only, while the great majority of his readers shared with him the characteristic of being Judeo-Christians.
And what does the apostle say to those Gentiles who have become believers? The conjunction ἐφ᾿ ὅσον may signify as long as, or inasmuch as. It is clear that the notion of time has no application here, and that the second sense is the only possible one; comp. Matthew 25:40. By this expression Paul distinguishes in his own person two men: one, in whose name he is here speaking; that is, as he says, the apostle of the Gentiles. Who is the other? That is understood of itself, and the following expression: μου τὴν σάρκα , which should be translated by: my own flesh (in consequence of the prominent position of the pronoun μου ), reveals it clearly enough: it is the Jew in him. What does he mean then? That if as a Jew who has become a believer he certainly feels the desire to labor for the salvation of his fellow-countrymen ( his flesh), he strives all the more to do so as the apostle of the Gentiles, because the conversion of his people must end in loading the Gentiles with all the riches of the blessings of the gospel. The sequel will explain how ( Rom 11:15 ). In this connection of ideas there is no doubt that the μέν , which the T. R. reads after ἐφ᾿ ὅσον , and which is rejected by the Greco-Latin reading, belongs really to the text. For this particle is intended to fix and bring out forcibly the character belonging to Paul of apostle to the Gentiles, in opposition to the other which he also possesses. The word is supported, besides, even by the Alexs., which read μὲν οὖν . As to this οὖν , therefore, added by the latter, it is evidently, as Meyer himself acknowledges, a gloss, occasioned by the fact that the first proposition was connected with Romans 11:12, in order to begin afterward a wholly new sentence.
What does Paul understand by the expression: I magnify mine office? These words might be applied to the defences which he was constantly obliged to make of his apostleship, to the narratives in which he proclaimed before the churches the marvellous successes which God granted him (Acts 15:12; Acts 21:19; 1Co 15:9-10 ). But instead of contributing to bring the Jews to faith ( Rom 11:14 ), such recitals could only embitter them. It is therefore of the zeal and activity displayed by him in the service of his mission that the apostle is thinking. To magnify his ministry as the apostle of the Gentiles, is to convert as many heathens as possible. And thereby at what remoter result is he aiming? He tells us in Romans 11:14.
Vv. 14. He would try if in any way ( εἰπως ; comp. Php 3:11 ) he may reach the end, by dint of success, of awakening his people, whom he loves as his own flesh, from their torpor, should it only be by jealousy? Here, as in Romans 11:11, he uses the expression which Moses had employed ( Rom 10:19 ). No doubt he does not deceive himself; he does not reckon on a conversion of Israel en masse before the last times; but he would like at least, he adds, to save some of them, as first-fruits of the harvest. But we are not at the goal. That even is only a means. The final aim is declared in Romans 11:15.
Vv. 15. In truth, it will not be till the national conversion of Israel take place, that the work of God shall reach its perfection among the Gentiles themselves, and that the fruit of his labor as their apostle will break forth in all its beauty. Such is the explanation of the words of Romans 11:13: “inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles.” As a Jew, he certainly desires the conversion of the Jews; but he desires it still more, if possible, as the apostle of the Gentiles, because he knows what this event will be for the entire church. It is clear how closely the for at the beginning of this verse joins it to Romans 11:13-14, and how needful it is to guard against making these two last a parenthesis, and Romans 11:15 a repetition of Romans 11:12. It is also clear how wide of the truth are Bauer and his school, when they find in these verses a clever artifice by which Paul seeks to render his mission among the Gentiles acceptable to the so-called Judeo-Christian church of Rome. According to this interpretation, his meaning would be: “You are wrong in taking offence at my mission to the Gentiles; it is entirely to the profit of the Jews, whom it must end by bringing to the gospel;” an adroit way, if one dared say so, of gilding the pill for them! Not only is such a supposition unworthy of the apostle's character, but it is just the opposite of his real thought.
Here it is as it results from the three verses combined: “To take it rightly, it is as your apostle, you Gentiles, that I labor in seeking to provoke the Jews to jealousy by your conversion; for it is not till they shall be restored to grace that you yourselves shall be crowned with fulness of life.” This saying is not therefore a captatio benevolentioe indirectly appealing to Judeo-Christian readers; it is a jet of light for the use of Gentile-Christians.
The term ἀποβολή strictly denotes the act of throwing far from oneself (Acts 28:22: ἀποβολὴ ψυχῆς , the loss of life). How is the rejection of the Jews the reconciliation of the world? Inasmuch as it brings down that wall of law which kept the Gentiles outside of the divine covenant, and opens wide to them the door of grace by simple faith in the atonement.
Now, if such is the effect of their rejection, what shall be the effect of their readmission? The word πρόσληψις (translated by Osterv. their recall, by Oltram. their restoration, by Segond, their admission) strictly signifies the act of welcoming. When cursed, they have contributed to the restoration of the world; what will they not do when blessed? There seems to be here an allusion to what Christ Himself did for the world by His expiatory death and resurrection. In Christ's people there is always something of Christ Himself, mutatis mutandis.
A host of commentators, from Origen and Chrysostom down to Meyer and Hofmann (two men who do not often agree, and who unfortunately concur in this case), apply the expression: a life from the dead, to the resurrection of the dead, in the strict sense. But 1st. Why use the expression a life, instead of saying as usual ἀνάστασις , the resurrection? 2d. Why omit the article before the word life, and not say as usual the life, life eternal, instead of a life? And more than all, 3d. What so close relation could there be between the fact of the conversion of the Jews and that of the bodily resurrection? Again, if Paul confined himself to saying that the second event will closely follow the first, this temporal relation would be intelligible, though according to him the signal for the resurrection is the return of the Lord ( 1Co 15:23 ), and not at all the conversion of Israel. But he goes the length of identifying the two facts of which he speaks: “What shall their return be but a life?” It is evident, therefore, for all these reasons, that the expression: a life from the dead, must be applied to a powerful spiritual revolution which will be wrought in the heart of Gentile Christendom by the fact of the conversion of the Jews. So it has been understood by Theoph., Mel., Calv., Beza, Philip., etc. The light which converted Jews bring to the church, and the power of life which they have sometimes awakened in it, are the pledge of that spiritual renovation which will be produced in Gentile Christendom by their entrance en masse. Do we not then feel that in our present condition there is something, and that much, wanting to us that the promises of the gospel may be realized in all their fulness; that there is, as it were, a mysterious hindrance to the efficacy of preaching, a debility inherent in our spiritual life, a lack of joy and force which contrasts strangely with the joyful outbursts of prophets and psalmists; that, in fine, the feast in the father's house is not complete...why? because it cannot be so, so long as the family is not entirely reconstituted by the return of the elder son. Then shall come the Pentecost of the last times, the latter rain. We are little affected by the objection of Meyer, who alleges that, according to St. Paul, the last times will be times of tribulation (those of Antichrist), and not an epoch of spiritual prosperity. We do not know how the apostle conceived the succession of events; it seems to us that, according to the Apocalpyse, the conversion of the Jews (chap. Rom 11:13 and Rom 14:1 et seq.) must precede the coming of the Antichrist, and consequently also Christ's coming again. Paul does not express himself on this point, because, as always, he only brings out what belongs rigorously to the subject he is treating.
Vv. 16. “ But if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches. ”
The Jewish people are consecrated to God by their very origin that is to say, by the call of Abraham, which included theirs ( Rom 11:29 ).
According to Numbers 15:18-21, every time the Israelites ate of the bread of the land which God had given them, they were first of all to set aside a portion of the dough to make a cake intended for the priests. This cake bore the name of ἀπαρχή , first-fruits; it is to this usage the apostle alludes in the first part of our verse. It has sometimes been alleged that he took the figure used here from the custom of offering in the temple, on the 16th Nisan, on the morrow after the Passover, the sacred sheaf gathered in one of the fields of Jerusalem, as first-fruits and as a consecration of the entire harvest. But the subject in question here is a portion of dough ( φύραμα ), which necessarily leads to the first meaning. This cake offered to God's representative impressed the seal of consecration on the entire mass from which it had been taken. What is it that corresponds to this emblem in the apostle's view? Some answer: the Jews converted in the first times of the church; for they are the pledge of the final conversion of the whole people. But exactly the same thing might be said of the first Gentile converts, as being the pledge of the successive conversion of all the Gentiles. Now, by this figure Paul's very object is to express a characteristic peculiar to the Jews. Some Fathers (Or., Theod.) apply this emblem to Christ, as assuring the conversion of the people from whom He sprang. But this reasoning would apply equally to Gentile humanity, since Jesus is a man, not only a Jew. We must therefore, with the majority of commentators, take these holy first-fruits as the patriarchs, in whose person all their posterity are radically consecrated to the mission of being the salvation-people; comp. Rom 9:5 and Romans 11:28.
But this figure, by which the entire nation was compared to a lump of dough consecrated to God, did not furnish the apostle with the means of distinguishing between Jews and Jews, between those who had faithfully preserved this national character and those who had obliterated it by their personal unbelief. Thus he is obliged to add a second figure, that he may be able to make the distinction which he must here lay down between those two so different portions of the nation. There is therefore no need to seek a different meaning for the second figure from that of the first.
Origen, again, applies the emblem of the root to Christ, inasmuch as by His heavenly origin He is the true author of the Jewish people; but this notion of Christ's pre-existence is foreign to the context.
It follows from these two comparisons, that to obtain salvation the Jewish people had only to remain on the soil where they were naturally rooted, while the salvation of the Gentile demands a complete transplantation. Hence a double warning which Paul feels himself forced to give to the latter. And first the warning against indulging pride.
The apostle proves in this passage the perfect congruity, from the viewpoint of Israelitish antecedents, of the event which he has just announced as the consummation of Israel's history. Their future restoration is in conformity with the holy character impressed on them from the first; it is therefore not only possible, but morally necessary ( Rom 11:16 ). This thought, he adds, should inspire the Gentiles, on the one hand, with a feeling of profound regard for Israel, even in their lapsed state ( Rom 11:17-18 ); on the other, with a feeling of watchful fear over themselves; for if a judgment of rejection overtook such a people, how much more easily may not the same chastisement descend on them ( Rom 11:19-21 )! He finishes with a conclusion confirming the principal idea of the passage ( Rom 11:22-24 ).
Vv. 17, 18. “ Now, if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in their place, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches; and if thou boast, it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee. ”
We might give δέ the sense of but (“ but if, notwithstanding their natural consecration, the branches were broken off”); or that of now, which is better, as the argument continues down to the inference drawn in Romans 11:18.
Undoubtedly an event has happened which seems to be in contradiction to this people's character of holiness; a certain number of its members, like branches struck down with an ax, have been rejected. The term some indicates any fraction whatever, small or considerable matters not (see on Rom 3:3 ). Σὺ δέ , and if thou. Some commentators think that this style of address applies to the Gentile-Christian church personified. But in that sense would not the article ὁ have been needed before ἀγριέλαιος , the wild olive? Without an article the word is an adjective, and denotes the quality, not the tree itself. Besides, it is not one tree that is engrafted on another. By this style of address, therefore, Paul speaks to each Christian of Gentile origin individually, and reminds him that it is in spite of his possessing the quality of a wild tree that he has been able to take a place in this blessed and consecrated organism to which he was originally a stranger.
The words ἐν αὐτοῖς , which we have translated: in their place, properly signify: in them, and may be understood in two ways: either in the sense of among them that is to say, among the branches which have remained on the trunk, converts of Jewish origin or: in the place which they occupied, and, as it were, in the stump which has been left by them, which would apply solely to the branches which have been cut down. The prep. ἐν , in, which enters into the composition of the verb, might favor this latter meaning, which is, however, somewhat forced.
Once engrafted on this stem, the wild branches have become co-participants ( συγκοινωνοί ) of the root. This expression is explained by the following words: and of the fatness of the olive, of which the meaning is this: As there mounts up from the root into the whole tree a fruitful and unctuous sap which pervades all its branches, so the blessing assured to Abraham ( ἡ εὐλογία τοῦ ᾿Αβραάμ , Gal 3:14 ) remains inherent in the national life of Israel, and is even communicated by believing Jews to those of the Gentiles who become children of the patriarch by faith; comp. Galatians 3:5-9. The Alexs. reject the word καί , and, after ῥίζης , root: “the root of the fatness of the olive.” It would be necessary in that case to give to the word root the meaning of source, which is impossible. This reading must therefore be rejected, as well as that of the Greco-Latins, which omit the words: of the root and of: “co-participant of the fatness of the olive.” The meaning would be admissible; but this reading is only a correction of the text once altered by the Alex. reading.
This passage demonstrates in a remarkable way the complete harmony between St. Paul's view and that of the twelve apostles on the relation of the church to Israel. The Tübingen school persists in contrasting these two conceptions with one another. According to it, the Twelve regarded Christians of Gentile origin as simply members by admission, a sort of plebs in the church; while Paul made them members of the new people, perfectly equal to the old. The fact is, that in the view of Paul, as in that of the Twelve, the believers of Israel are the nucleus round which are grouped the converts from among the Gentiles, and God's ancient people, consequently, the flock with which the Gentiles are incorporated. “I have yet other sheep, said Jesus ( Joh 10:16 ), who are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and there shall be one flock, one Shepherd.” Excepting the figure, the thought is identical with our passage.
It has been objected to the figure used here by the apostle, that a gardener never engrafts a wild branch on a stem already brought under cultivation; but, on the contrary, a stem is taken which still possesses all the vigor of the wild state to insert in it the graft of the cultivated tree. There are two ways of answering this objection. It may be said that, according to the reports of some travellers, the course taken in the East is sometimes that supposed by the figure of the apostle. A wild young branch is engrafted in an old exhausted olive, and serves to revive it. But there is another more natural answer, viz. that the apostle uses the figure freely and without concern, to modify it in view of the application. What proves this, is the fact that in Rom 11:23 he represents the branches broken off as requiring to be engrafted anew. Now this is an impracticable process, taken in the strict sense.
Vv. 18. If it is so, Christians of Gentile origin have no cause to indulge pride as against the natural branches. The true translation would perhaps be: “ Do not despise the branches. But if, nevertheless, thou despisest ”...Must we understand by the branches those broken off? Certainly, for it is on them that the look of disdain might most easily be cast by those who had been called to fill their place. Do we not see Christians at the present day often treating with supreme contempt the members of the Jewish nation who dwell among them? But this contempt might easily extend even to Judeo-Christians; and this, perhaps, is the reason why Paul says simply the branches, without adding the epithet: broken off. It is all that bears the name of Jew which he wished to put under the protection of this warning. As to the idea Fritzsche had of applying this word branches to Christians of Jewish origin solely, it does not deserve refutation.
Yet the apostle supposes that the presumption of the Gentile-Christian continues, in spite of this warning. This is why he adds: “But if, notwithstanding, thou despisest”...We have not to understand a verb such as: know that or think that. The idea understood, if there is one, is to this effect: “Be it! despise! But this, nevertheless, remains the fact.” And what is the fact that nothing can change, and with which such a feeling conflicts? It is, that the salvation enjoyed by this believer has been prepared by a divine history which is one with that of Israel, and that the Christian of Gentile origin enters into possession of a blessing already existing and inherent in this people. As Hodge says: “It is the Jews who are the channel of blessings to the Gentiles, and not inversely.” The Gentiles become God's people by means of the Jews, not the Jews by the instrumentality of the Gentiles. In view of this fact, the contempt of the latter becomes absurd and even perilous.
Not only, indeed, should Gentile believers not despise the Jews; but if they understand their position rightly, the sight of this rejected people should lead them to tremble for themselves.
Vv. 19-21. “ Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well! because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith; be not high-minded, but fear! For if God spared not the natural branches, [it may be] that neither will He spare thee. ”
The objection Paul puts in the mouth of his reader is taken from the very answer which he had just made to him in Romans 11:18; hence the then: “Since branches have been cut off the stem to make place for me, who was foreign to it by nature, the preference of God for me appears thereby still more striking than if God had confined Himself to engrafting me on the same stem with them.”
The article οἱ , the, before the word branches, is to be rejected, according to the majority of the documents. Paul means, in reality: “beings who had the character of branches.” The particular emphasis resting on the ἐγώ should be remarked; literally: “that I on my part should be grafted in.” To make place for me, even me, God rejected branches!
Vv. 20. Paul grants the fact; but he denies the inference drawn from it. There is no arbitrary favor in God. If the Jews have been rejected, it is in consequence of their unbelief; and if thou fillest their place for the present, it is a consequence of faith that is to say, of divine grace. For there is no merit in faith, since it consists only in opening the hand to receive the gift of God. The term: thou standest, alludes to the favored position of the engrafted branch which now rises on the stem, while those it has replaced lie on the ground.
The reading ὑψηλοφρόνει ought certainly to be preferred to the form ὑψηλὰ φρόνει , which is substituted for it by the Alexs., probably after Romans 12:16. In the passage 1 Timothy 6:17, where this word again occurs, there is the same variant.
But it is not enough to avoid self-exaltation; there should be a positive fear.
Vv. 21. May not what has happened to the natural branches, happen to the engrafted branches? There is even here an a fortiori: For the engrafted branches being less homogeneous with the trunk than the natural branches, their rejection may take place more easily still, in case of unbelief. The Alex. reading rejects the conj. μήπως , from fear that; thus the meaning is: “neither will He spare thee.” But the T. R., with the Greco-Latins, reads μήπως before οὐδὲ σοῦ , and should be translated by borrowing from the word fear in the preceding verse the notion of fear: “[fear] that He will no more spare thee.” It is difficult to believe that a copyist would have introduced this form μήπως , lest, which softens the threat; it is more probable that this conjunction should have been omitted. Why? The other variant which the last word of this short proposition presents probably explains the reason. The future φείσεται , will spare, which is read in all the Mjj., seemed incompatible with the conj. μήπως , which usually governs the subjunctive. Hence two kinds of corrections in opposite ways: the one (the Alex.) have rejected the conjunction, all the more that it was not dependent on any verb; and the others, the Byz. Mnn., have changed the indicative ( φείσεται ) into the subjunctive ( φείσηται .).
Vv. 22. “ Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity;but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in this goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. ”
The readers have just been contemplating two examples, the one of severity, the other of grace; the first, in the person of the Jews; the second, in their own. Hence two lessons to be derived which the apostle entreats them not to neglect. In opposition to χρηστότής , goodness, from χρηστός (literally: that may be handled), the apostle uses the forcible term ἀποτομία (from ἀποτέμνω , to cut right off, to cut short): a rigor which does not bend. We may read in the second clause the two substantives in the nominative with the Alexs., and then we shall have either to understand the verb is (“severity is on those who”), which is excessively clumsy, or to make these two words absolute nominatives, as sometimes happens in Greek appositions. But the Received Reading puts these words in the accusative, which is much simpler. It is, besides, sufficiently supported.
In passing to the application of God's two modes of acting which he has just characterized, the apostle begins with the second; and he connects it directly with what precedes by this grave restriction: “if thou continue in this goodness.” Continuance is effected by the same disposition whereby grace was appropriated at the first, humble faith. Unhappy is the believer for whom grace is no longer grace on the hundredth or the thousandth day, as it was on the first! For the slightest feeling of self-exaltation which may take possession of him on occasion of grace received or of its fruits, destroys in his case grace itself and paralyzes it. There is nothing more for him to expect in this condition than to be himself also cut off from the stem. Καὶ σύ , thou also, as well as the Jews. The future passive ἐκκοπήσῃ , thou shalt be cut off, abruptly closes the sentence, like the stroke of the axe cutting down this proud branch.
It is but too clear to any one who has eyes to see, that our Gentile Christendom has now reached the point here foreseen by St. Paul. In its pride it tramples under foot the very notion of that grace which has made it what it is. It moves on, therefore, to a judgment of rejection like that of Israel, but which shall not have to soften it a promise like that which accompanied the fall of the Jews.
For the rest, I do not think that any conclusion can be drawn from this passage against the doctrine of an unconditional decree relative to individuals; for the matter in question here is Gentile Christendom in general, and not such or such of its members in particular (see Hodge).
In Rom 11:23-24 the idea of severity is applied, as that of goodness was in the foregoing verse. As the goodness which the Gentiles have enjoyed may through their fault be transformed into severity, so the severity with which the Jews had been treated may be changed for them into compassionate goodness, if they consent to believe as the Gentiles formerly did. With the close of this verse the apostle returns to his principal subject, the future of Israel.
Vv. 22-24 derive for believers of Gentile origin the practical application of all they have been reminded of in Romans 11:17-21.
Vv. 23, 24. “ And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! ”
Severity to the Jews was a threat to the Gentiles; so the goodness displayed to the Gentiles is a pledge, as it were, of mercy to the Jews. Let them only give up persisting in their unbelief (a contrast to the non-persistence of the Gentiles in faith, Rom 11:22 ), and on this one condition the power of God will restore them their place in His kingdom. It will engraft them on Christ, who will become to them a vivifying stem, as well as to the Gentiles. And this transplantation will be effected more easily still in their case than in the case of the Gentiles.
Vv. 24. There is, in fact, between the Jewish nation and the kingdom of God an essential affinity, a sort of pre-established harmony, so that when the hour has come, their restoration will be accomplished still more easily than the incorporation of the Gentiles.
The words: how much more, seem to us to signify naturally in the context: “How much more easily.” It is objected, no doubt, that one thing is no easier to God than another. That is true in the physical world; but in the moral world God encounters a factor which He Himself respects moral freedom. The Jewish people having been raised up only with a view to the kingdom of God, will not have an organic transformation to undergo in order to return to it; and if it is objected that a Jew is converted with more difficulty than a Gentile, that proves nothing as to the final and collective revolution which will be wrought in the nation at the end of the times. A veil will fall ( 1Co 3:14-15 ), and all will be done.
Thus far the apostle has shown the moral congruity of the event which he has in view; now he announces the fact positively, and as matter of express revelation.
Vv. 25 contains the announcement of the fact; Rom 11:26-27 quote some prophecies bearing on it; Rom 11:28-29 conclude as to Israel; finally, Rom 11:30-32 sum up the whole divine plan in relation to Israel and to the Gentiles.
Vv. 25, 26 a. “ For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in own your conceits:that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved. ”
The form of expression: “I would not that ye should be ignorant,” always announces a communication the importance of which the apostle is concerned to impress. The style of address: brethren, leaves no room to doubt that the apostle is here speaking to the church as a whole. Now it is indubitable that in Romans 11:28; Rom 11:30 those readers whom he addresses with the word ye are of Gentile origin. This proof of a Gentile majority in the church of Rome seems to us incontrovertible.
Paul uses the word mystery to designate the fact he is about to announce. He does not mean by this, as might be thought from the meaning this term has taken in ecclesiastical language, that this fact presents something incomprehensible to reason. In the N. T. the word denotes a truth or fact which can only be known by man through a communication from above, but which, after this revelation has taken place, falls into the domain of the understanding. The two notions mystery and revelation are correlative; comp. Ephesians 3:3-6. The apostle therefore holds directly from above the knowledge of the event he proceeds to announce; comp. 1Co 15:51 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15.
Before stating the fact he explains the object of this communication: “that ye be not wise in your own eyes.” The reference here is not, as in Romans 11:19, to proud thoughts arising from the preference which God seems now to have given to the Gentiles. It is the wisdom of self whose inspirations Paul here sets aside. The converted Gentiles composing the church of Rome might form strange systems regarding Israel's rejection and future history. Paul is concerned to fix their ideas on this important point, and leave no place in their minds for vain and presumptuous speculations. He borrows his expressions from Proverbs 3:7. Instead of παῤ ἑαυτοῖς , beside yourselves, two Alexs. read ἐν ἑαυτοῖς , within yourselves. The copyists may possibly have changed the original ἐν ( in) into παρά , under the influence of the text of the LXX. The meaning is substantially the same.
The contents of the mystery are declared in the end of this verse and the first words of the following: “ hardness is happened.” Paul had already pointed out this, Romans 11:7; but he adds: in part, ἀπὸ μέρους . This word is explained, as it seems to me, by the expression of Romans 11:7: “the rest were hardened,” and by the term some, Romans 11:17. Hence it follows that we must here give the word in part a numerical sense. Judgment has not fallen on the totality of Israel, but on a part only; such is also the meaning to which we are led by the antithesis of the all Israel of Romans 11:26; comp. 2 Corinthians 2:5. It is a mistake in Calvin to apply this word: to the degree, of the hardening which according to him still left room for partial blessings; and in Hofmann, in a more forced way still, to apply it to the restricted time during which it is to last.
But even this judgment, which has overtaken one entire portion of the nation, will have an end: to make it cease, God waits till the totality of the Gentile nations shall have made their entry into the kingdom of God. This is the people which should have introduced all the other peoples into it; and for their punishment the opposite is what will take place, as Jesus had declared: “The first shall be last.” It is almost incredible how our Reformers could have have held out obstinately, as they have done, against a thought so clearly expressed. But they showed themselves in general rather indifferent about points of eschatology, and they dreaded in particular everything that appeared to favor the expectation of the thousand years' reign which had been so much abused in their time. Calvin has attempted to give to the conj. ἄχρις οὖ , until that, the impossible meaning of in order that; which in sense amounted simply to the idea of Romans 11:11-12. Others gave to this conjunction the meaning of as long as, to get this idea: that while the Gentiles are entering successively into the church, a part of the Jews undoubtedly remain hardened, but yet a certain number of individuals are converted, from which it will follow that in the end the totality of God's people, Jews and Gentiles ( all Israel, Rom 11:26 ), will be made up. This explanation was only an expedient to get rid of the idea of the final conversion of the Jewish people. It is of course untenable 1st. From the grammatical point of view the conj. ἄχρις οὖ could only signify as long as, if the verb were a present indicative. With the verb in the aor. subjunctive the only possible meaning is: until. 2d. Viewed in connection with the context, the word Israel has only one possible meaning, its strict meaning: for throughout the whole chapter the subject in question is the future of the Israelitish nation. 3d. How could the apostle announce in a manner so particular, and as a fact of revelation, the perfectly simple idea that at the same time as the preaching of the gospel shall sound in the ears of the Gentiles, some individual Jews will also be converted? Comp. Hodge.
The expression: the fulness of the Gentiles, denotes the totality of the Gentile nations passing successively into the church through the preaching of the gospel. This same whole epoch of the conversion of the Gentile world is that which Jesus designates, Luke 21:24, by the remarkable expression: καιροὶ ἐθνῶν , the times of the Gentiles, which he tacitly contrasts with the theocratic epoch: the times of the Jews (Luke 19:42; Luk 19:44 ). Jesus adds, absolutely in the same sense as Paul, “that Jerusalem shall be trodden down until those times of the Gentiles be fulfilled;” which evidently signifies that after those times had elapsed, Jerusalem shall be delivered and restored. In this discourse of Jesus, as reported by Matthew ( Mat 24:14 ) and Mark ( Mar 13:10 ), it is said: “The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached unto the Gentiles throughout all the earth; and then shall the end come.” This end includes the final salvation of the Jewish people.
Olshausen and Philippi suppose that the complement of the word πλήρωμα , fulness, is: “of the kingdom of God,” and that the genitive ἐθνῶν , of the Gentiles, is only a complement of apposition: “Until the full number of Gentiles necessary to fill up the void in the kingdom of God, made by the loss of Israel, be complete.” This is to torture at will the words of the apostle; their meaning is clear: Till the accomplishment of the conversion of the Gentiles, there will be among the Jews only individual conversions; but this goal reached, their conversion en masse will take place.
Ver. 26a Καὶ οὕτως cannot be translated “and then;” the natural meaning is: and thus; and it is quite suitable. Thus, that is to say, by means of the entrance of the Gentiles into the church, comp. Romans 11:31. When Israel shall see the promises of the O. T., which ascribe to the Messiah the conversion of the Gentiles to the God of Abraham, fulfilled throughout the whole world by Jesus Christ, and the Gentiles through His mediation loaded with the blessings which they themselves covet, they will be forced to own that Jesus is the Messiah; for if the latter were to be a different personage, what would this other have to do, Jesus having already done all that is expected of the Messiah? Πᾶς ᾿Ισραήλ , all Israel, evidently signifies Israel taken in its entirety. It seems, it is true, that the Greek expression in this sense is not correct, and that it should be ᾿Ισραὴλ ὁλος . But the term πᾶς , all ( every), denotes here, as it often does, every element of which the totality of the object is composed (comp. 2 Chronicles 12:1: πᾶς ᾿Ισραὴλ μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ , all Israel was with him); Acts 2:36; Ephesians 2:21. We have already said that there can be no question here of applying the term Israel to the spiritual Israel in the sense of Galatians 6:16. It is no less impossible to limit its application, with Bengel and Olshausen, to the elect portion of Israel, which would lead to a tautology with the verb shall be saved, and would suppose, besides, the resurrection of all the Israelites who had died before. And what would there be worthy of the term mystery ( Rom 11:25 ) in the idea of the salvation of all the elect Israelites!
Paul, in expressing himself as he does, does not mean to suppress individual liberty in the Israclites who shall live at that epoch. He speaks of a collective movement which shall take hold of the nation in general, and bring them as such to the feet of their Messiah. Individual resistance remains possible. Compare the admirable delineation of this period in the prophet Zechariah ( Rom 12:10-14 ).
Two prophetic sayings are alleged as containing the revelation of this mystery.
Vv. 26b, 27. “ As it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: and this is the covenant I will make with them when I shall take away their sins. ”
Two passages are combined in this quotation, as we have already found so often; these are Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 27:9. As far as the word when, all belong to the first passage; with this conjunction the second begins. Both in Isaiah refer to the last times, and have consequently a Messianic bearing. Paul follows the LXX. in quoting, with this difference, that instead of ἐκ Σιών , from Sion, they read ἕνεκεν Σιών , “in favor of Sion.” The form of the LXX. would have as well suited the object of the apostle as that which he employs himself. Why, then, this change? Perhaps the prep. ἕνεκεν , in favor of, was contracted in some MSS. of the LXX. so as to be easily confounded with ἐκ , from. Or perhaps the apostle was thinking of some other passage, such as Psalms 110:2, where the Messiah is represented as setting out from Sion to establish His kingdom. But what is singular is, that neither the one nor the other form corresponds exactly to the Hebrew text, which says: “There shall come to Sion ( the Zion), and to them who turn from their sins in Jacob.” It is probable that instead of leschave (“them that turn”) the LXX. read leschov ( to turn away); and they have rendered this infinitive of aim by the future: he will turn away. Hence the form of our quotation. However that may be, the meaning is that He who shall deliver Sion from its long oppression, will do so by taking away iniquity from the entire people. Such is, in fact, the bearing of the term ᾿Ιακώβ , Jacob, which denotes the whole nation collectively. It is therefore on this second proposition of Rom 11:26 that the weight of the quotation properly rests. As to the first proposition, it may be regarded as a simple introduction; or we may find in it the idea, that after setting out from Sion, the preaching of the gospel, having made the round of the world, will return to Israel to purify it, after all the other nations; or, finally, it may be held, with Hofmann, that the words from Sion denote the place whence the Lord will make His glory shine forth, when He shall fulfil this last promise on the earth.
Vv. 27. The first proposition of this verse belongs also to the first of the two passages quoted; but, singular to say, it is almost identical with the clause with which Isaiah begins the second saying used here ( Isa 27:9 ): “And this is the blessing which I shall put on them when”...This is no doubt what has given rise to the combination of these two passages in our quotation. The meaning is: “Once the sin of Israel (their unbelief in the Messiah) has been pardoned, I shall renew with them my broken covenant.” The pronoun αὐτῶν , their, refers to the individuals, as the word Jacob denoted the totality of the people.
In the two following verses the apostle draws from what precedes the conclusion relative to Israel. In Rom 11:28 he expresses it in a striking antithesis, and in Rom 11:29 he justifies the final result (28b) by a general principle of the divine government.
Vv. 28, 29. “ As touching the gospel, they are, it is true, enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sake; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. ”
To sum up, Israel are in a two-fold relation to God, at once enemies and beloved; but the latter character will carry it in the end over the former. The term ἐχθρός , hated, opposed as it is here to ἀγαπητός , beloved, can only be taken in the passive sense: an object of the hatred, that is to say, of the just wrath of God; comp. chap. Romans 5:10. It needs not be said that when the feeling of hatred is applied to God, we must eliminate from it all admixture of personal resentment, or of the spirit of revenge. God hates the sinner in the same sense in which the sinner ought to hate himself, that is to say, his own life. This sentiment is only the hatred of holiness to evil; and then to the wicked man in so far as he is identified with evil.
The words: as concerning the gospel, refer to what was said above: that the Jews being once determined not to abandon their law and their monopoly founded on it, needed to be struck with blindness, so that they might not discern in Jesus their Messiah; otherwise a Judaized gospel would have hindered the offer of salvation to the Gentile nations. The apostle might therefore well add to the words: as concerning the gospel, the further clause: for your sakes.
But in every Jew there is not only an object of the wrath of God, there is an object of His love. If it is asked how these two sentiments can co-exist in the heart of God, we must remark, first, that the same is the case up to a certain point with respect to every man. In every man there co-exist a being whom God hates, the sinner, and a being whom He still loves, the man created in His image, and for whom His Son died. Then it must be considered that this duality of feelings is only transitory, and must issue finally either in absolute hatred or perfect love; for every man must arrive at the goal either absolutely good or absolutely bad of his moral development, and then the divine feeling will be simplified (see on chaps. Rom 5:9-10 ).
The words: as touching the election, must not be referred, as Meyer will have it, to the elect remnant, as if Paul meant that it is in consequence of this indestructible elect that God always loves Israel. The antithesis to the expression: as concerning the gospel, leads us rather to see in election the divine act by which God chose this people as the salvation people. This idea is reproduced in the following verse by the expression: ἡ κλῆσις τοῦ Θεοῦ , the calling of God.
This notion of election is closely connected with the explanatory regimen: for the fathers' sake. It was in the persons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the divine election of Israel was originally realized, and through them that it was transmitted to the whole people. The love with which God loved the fathers continues toward their descendants “even to a thousand generations” ( Exo 20:6 ). Only let the hearts of the children return to their fathers, that is to say, let them return to the sentiments of their fathers (Malachi 4:6; Luk 1:17 ), and the beneficent cloud which is always spread over their head will again distil its dew on them.
Vv. 29. This verse justifies the assurance of salvation expressed in favor of Israel in the second proposition of Romans 11:28. The gifts of God might denote divine favors in general; but it seems to us more in harmony with the context, which refers throughout to the destination of Israel, to give this term the special meaning which it usually has in St. Paul's Epistles. He there uses the word to denote the moral and intellectual aptitudes with which God endows a man with a view to the task committed to him. And who can fail to see that the people of Israel are really endowed with singular qualities for their mission as the salvation-people? The Greeks, the Romans, the Phoenicians had their special gifts in the different domains of science and art, law and politics, industry and commerce. Israel, without being destitute of the powers related to those spheres of mundane activity, have received a higher gift, the organ for the divine and the intuition of holiness. The calling of God is on the one hand the cause, on the other the effect of those gifts. It is because God called this people in His eternal counsel that He entrusted the gifts to them; and it is because he enriched them with those gifts that in the course of time He called them to fulfil the task of initiating the world in the way of salvation, and of preparing salvation for the world. Of this august mission they have for the time been deprived: instead of entering first, they will enter last. But their destination is nevertheless irrevocable; and through the overflowing of divine mercy (chap. Rom 5:20 ) it will be realized in them at the period announced by the apostle, when, saved themselves, they will cause a stream of life from above to flow into the heart of Gentile Christendom (Romans 15:12; Romans 15:15; Rom 15:25-26 ).
This irrevocable character of Israel's destination has nothing in it contrary to individual liberty; no constraint will be exercised. God will let unbelieving generations succeed one another as long as shall be necessary, until that generation come which shall at length open its eyes and return freely to Him. And even then the movement in question will only be a national and collective one, from which those shall be able to withdraw who refuse decidedly to take part in it. Only it is impossible that the divine foreknowledge in regard to Israel as a people (“the people whom God foreknew,” Rom 11:2 ) should terminate otherwise than by being realized in history.
There is nothing in this passage pointing to a temporal restoration of the Jewish nation, or to an Israelitish monarchy having its seat in Palestine. The apostle speaks only of a spiritual restoration by means of a general pardon, and the outpouring of the graces which shall flow from it. Will there be a political restoration connected with this general conversion of the people? Or will it not even precede the latter? Will not the principle of the reconstitution of races, which in our day has produced Italian unity, German unity, and which is tending to the unity of the Slavs, also bring about Israelitish unity? These questions do not belong to exegesis, which confines itself to establishing these two things (1) That according to apostolical revelation, Israel will be converted in a body; (2) That this event will be the signal of an indescribable spiritual commotion throughout the whole church.
The theme of the chapter is properly exhausted; we are furnished with light from all points of view, that of right, that of cause, and that of aim, on the mysterious dispensation of the rejection of Israel. Nothing remains but to gather up what has been said of the past and future of this elect people into a general view of God's plan as to the religious progress of humanity. This is what the apostle does in Romans 11:30-32.
Vv. 30. The Gentiles first had their time of disobedience. The expression in time past carries the reader back to the contents of chap. 1, to those times of idolatry when the Gentiles voluntarily extinguished the light of natural revelation, to abandon themselves more freely to their evil propensities. This epoch of disobedience is what the apostle calls at Athens ( Act 17:30 ) by a less severe name: “the times of ignorance.” Perhaps we should read with the T. R. καί , also, after for. This little word might easily be omitted; it reminds the Gentiles from the first that they also, like the Jews, had their time of rebellion.
That time of disobedience has now taken end; the Gentiles have found grace. But at what price? By means of the disobedience of the Jews. We have seen this indeed: God needed to make the temporary sacrifice of His elect people in order to disentangle the gospel from the legal forms in which they wished to keep it imprisoned. Hence it was that Israel required to be given up to unbelief in regard to their Messiah; hence their rejection, which opened the world to the gospel. Now then, wonderful to tell, an analogous, though in a certain sense opposite, dispensation will take effect in the case of the Jews.
Vv. 30, 31. “ For as ye also in time past disobeyed God, but have now obtained mercy by their disobedience; even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may obtain mercy. ”
The entire course of the religious history of the world is determined by the antagonism created among mankind by the calling of Abraham, between a people specially destined by God to receive His revelations, and the other nations given over to themselves. From that moment (Genesis 12:0) there begin to be described those two immense curves which traverse the ages of antiquity in opposite directions, and which, crossing one another at the advent of Christianity, are prolonged from that period in inverse directions, and shall terminate by uniting and losing themselves in one another at the goal of history.
Ver. 30 describes the rebellion of the Gentiles, then their salvation determined by the rebellion of the Jews; and Romans 11:31, the rebellion of the Jews, then their salvation arising from the salvation of the Gentiles.
Vv. 31. The word νῦν , now, strongly contrasts the present period (since the coming of Christ) with the former, Romans 11:30. Now it is the Jews who are passing through their time of disobedience, while the Gentiles enjoy the sun of grace. But to what end? That by the grace which is now granted to the latter, grace may also one day be accorded to the Jews. This time, then, it will not be the disobedience of the one which shall produce the conversion of the others. A new discord in the kingdom of God will not be necessary to bring about the final barmony. In this last phase, the good of the one will not result from the evil of the other, but from their very blessedness. Israel went out that the Gentiles might enter. But the Gentiles shall not go out to make place for the Jews; they will open the door to them from within. Thus are explained at once the analogy and the contrast expressed by the conjunctions ὥσπερ , as, and οὕτω , even so, which begin and form a close connection between Romans 11:30-31. It cannot be doubted that the clause τῷ ὑμετέρῳ ἐλέει , by your mercy (that which has been shown to you), depends on the following verb ἐλεηθῶσι , may obtain mercy, and not on the preceding proposition. The apostle places this clause before the conj. ἵνα , that, to set it more in relief; for it expresses the essential idea of the proposition. Compare the similar inversions, Romans 12:3; 1Co 3:5 ; 1 Corinthians 9:15, etc.
For the form καὶ οὖτοι , these also, in the first proposition, there is substituted in the second the form καὶ αὐτοί , they, or they themselves also, to bring out the identity of the subject to which those two so opposite dispensations apply. It is impossible to admit the Greco-Latin reading, which has καὶ αὐτοὶ both times. We must also reject the reading of some Alex. and of some ancient translations, which in the second proposition repeat the νῦν , now. These last words refer evidently to the future.
Vv. 32. “ For God hath included all in disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all. ”
Here we have, as it were, the full period put to all that precedes the last word in explanation of the whole plan of God, the principal phases of which have just been sketched ( for). The term συγκλείειν , to shut up together, applies to a plurality of individuals, enclosed in such a way that they have only one exit, through which they are all forced to pass. The prep. σύν , with, which enters into the composition of the verb, describes the enclosure as subsisting on all sides at once. Some commentators have thought that there must be given to this verb a simply declarative sense, as in Galatians 3:22, where it is said: “The Scripture hath concluded all under sin,” in this sense, that it declares all men to be subject to sin and condemnation. But in our passage the action is not ascribed to an impersonal subject like Scripture; the subject is God Himself; it is His dispensations in the course of history which are explained. The verb can therefore only refer to a real act, in virtue of which the two portions of mankind just spoken of have each had their period of disobedience. And the act whereby God has brought about this result, as we know from all that precedes, is the judgment denoted in the case of the Gentiles by the term παρέδωκεν , He gave them up, thrice repeated, Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28, and in the case of the Jews by the word ἐπωρώθησαν , they were hardened, Romans 11:7. Only it must be remarked that this divine action had been provoked in both cases by man's sin; on the part of the Gentiles through their ingratitude toward the revelation of God in nature, and on the part of the Jews by their ignorant obstinacy in maintaining beyond the fixed time their legal particularism. The Danish theologian Nielsen says with good reason, in his short and spiritual exposition of the Epistle to the Romans: “The sinful nature already existed in all; but that the conviction of it might be savingly awakened in individuals, this latent sin required to be manifested historically on a great scale in the lot of nations.” To be complete, however, it must be added that this latent sin was already manifested actively and freely on the part both of Gentiles and Jews before taking the form of a passive dispensation and of a judgment from God. Thus the act of συγκλείειν , shutting up together, is already justified from the viewpoint of cause; but how much more magnificently still from the viewpoint of end! This end is to make those Jews and Gentiles the objects of universal mercy. The word τοὺς πάντας , all, is applied by Olshausen solely to the totality of the elect in these two parts of mankind; and by Meyer, to all the individuals comprehended in these two masses, but solely, according to this author, in respect of their destination, in the divine mind. For that this destination may be realized, there is needed the free act of faith. But it should not be forgotten that this saying does not refer to the time of the last judgment and the eternal future, which would necessarily suppose the resurrection of the dead, of which there is no question here. According to the whole context, the apostle has in view an epoch in the history of the kingdom of God on this earth, an epoch, consequently, which comprehends only the individuals who shall then be in life. Hence it is that he puts the article τούς , the, before πάντας , all; for the subject in question is a determined and already known totality, that which comprehends the two portions of mankind which Paul has been contrasting with one another throughout the whole chapter.
The domain of disobedience, within which God has successively shut them all up, leaves both in the end only one issue, that of humbly accepting salvation from the hand of mercy. As Nielsen again says: “Divine impartiality, after having been temporarily veiled by two opposite particularisms, sbines forth in the final universalism which embraces in a common salvation all those whom these great judgments have successively humbled and abased.” There is therefore no inference to be drawn from this passage in favor of a final universal salvation (De Wette, Farrar, and so many others), or even of a determinist system, in virtue of which human liberty would be nothing more in the eyes of the apostle than a form of divine action. St. Paul teaches only one thing here: that at the close of the history of mankind on this earth there will be an economy of grace in which salvation will be extended to the totality of the nations living here below, and that this magnificent result will be the effect of the humiliating dispensations through which the two halves of mankind shall have successively passed. The apostle had begun this vast exposition of salvation with the fact of universal condemnation; he closes it with that of universal mercy. What could remain to him thereafter but to strike the hymn of adoration and praise? This is what he does in Romans 11:33-36.
Vv. 33. “ O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! ”
Like a traveller who has reached the summit of an Alpine ascent, the apostle turns and contemplates. Depths are at his feet; but waves of light illumine them, and there spreads all around an immense horizon which his eye commands. The plan of God in the government of mankind spreads out before him, and he expresses the feelings of admiration and gratitude with which the prospect fills his heart.
The word βάθος , depth, applies precisely to that abyss which he has just been exploring. The genitive πλούτου , of riches, by which the word depth is qualified, is regarded by most commentators as a first complement, co-ordinate with the two following: of wisdom and of knowledge. In this case it must be held that the abstract term riches applies to a special divine attribute which can be no other than divine mercy; comp. Romans 10:12; Ephesians 2:4, etc. The two καί , and...and, which follow, would furnish an instance of a construction like that of Luke 5:17. And one might make these three complements, riches, wisdom, knowledge, parallel to the three questions which follow, Romans 11:34-35, as in fact the first refers rather to knowledge, the second to wisdom, and the third to grace. But if this latter relation really existed in the apostle's mind, why should the questions be arranged in an opposite order to that of the three terms corresponding to them in our verse? Then is not the notion of mercy too diverse in kind from those of wisdom and knowledge to allow of the first being thus co-ordinated with the other two? Finally, would not the abstract term riches have required to be determined by a complement such as ἐλέους or χάριτος (mercy, grace)? The apostle is not afraid of such accumulations of genitives ( Rom 2:5 and Eph 1:19 ). It rather seems to me, therefore, that the second of these two abstract terms ( depth and riches) ought to be regarded as a complement of the other: a depth of riches, for: an infinitely rich depth, that is to say, one which, instead of being an immense void, presents itself as embracing contents of inexhaustible fulness. Calvin has well caught this meaning: “This is why,” says he, “I doubt not that the apostle exalts the deep riches of wisdom and knowledge which are in God.”
This depth is rich, not in darkness, but in light; it is a depth both of wisdom and knowledge.
The two καί , both...and..., have the disjunctive sense; they distinguish the two following substantives very precisely, however closely allied their meaning may be. The second, γνῶσις , knowledge, refers especially in the context to divine foreknowledge, and in general to the complete view which God has of all the free determinations of men, whether as individuals or as nations. The former, σοφία , wisdom, denotes the admirable skill with which God weaves into His plan the free actions of man, and transforms them into so many means for the accomplishment of the excellent end which He set originally before Him. We cannot reflect, however little, without seeing that the very marked difference which Paul here establishes between these two divine perfections, is by no means indifferent; it is nothing less than the safeguard of human liberty. If the omniscience of God, especially His foreknowledge, were counfounded with His wisdom, everything in the universe would be directly the work of God, and the creatures would be nothing more than blind instruments in His hands.
Paul sees these two attributes of God shine forth in two orders of things which, combined, constitute the whole government of the world: judgments, κρίματα , and ways or paths, ὁδοί . Here the general sense of decree is sometimes given to the former of these terms. But the word in every case implies the idea of a judicial decree; and what Paul has just been referring to, those severe dispensations whereby God has successively chastised the ingratitude of the Gentiles (chap. 1) and the haughty presumption of the Jews (chap. 10), shows clearly that we are to keep to its strict sense.
Ways, ὁδοί , do not really denote different things from judgments; but the term presents them in a different and more favorable light, as so many advances toward the final aim. The term judgments expresses, if one may so speak, the because of the things, as the word ways points to their in order that. We may thus understand the twofold relation of the events of history to knowledge on the one hand, and wisdom on the other. From the knowledge which God possesses, there follow from the free decisions of man the judgments which He decrees, and these judgments become the ways which His wisdom employs for the realization of His plan (Isaiah 40:14: κρίματα , ὁδοί ).
These two orders of things are characterized by the most extraordinary epithets which the most pliant of languages can furnish: ἀνεξερεύνητος , what cannot be searched to the bottom; ἀνεξιχνίαστος , the traces of which cannot be followed to the end. The former of these epithets applies to the supreme principle which the mind seeks to approach, but which it does not reach; the latter to an abundance of ramifications and of details in execution which the understanding cannot follow to the end. These epithets are often quoted with the view of demonstrating the incomprehensibility to man of the divine decrees, and in particular of that of predestination (Aug.). But it must not be forgotten that St. Paul's exclamation is called forth, not by the obscurity of God's plans, but, on the contrary, by their dazzling clearness. If they are incomprehensible and unfathomable, it is to man's natural understanding, and until they have been revealed; but, says the apostle, 1 Corinthians 2:10. “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth ( ἐρευνᾷ ) all things, even the deep things ( τὰ βάθη ) of God.” It is therefore in view of the unveiled mystery that the exclamation is raised, as is done by Paul here: “O the depth of the riches!” A fact which does not prevent the mind which understands them in part from having always to discover in them new laws or applications.
Vv. 34, 35. “ For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto Him again? ”
Here is the Scripture proof that God's designs are impenetrable until He reveal them Himself to His apostles and prophets, and by them to His people. The first passage quoted is Isaiah 40:13, which Paul uses as if it were his own saying. This question in the mouth of the prophet applies to the wonders of creation. Paul extends it to those of the divine government in general, for the works of God in history are only the continuation of those of nature.
The question: Who hath known? is a challenge thrown down to the natural understanding. As to those whom God has enlightened on the subject of His designs, Paul himself says, 1 Corinthians 2:16: “But we have the mind of Christ.”
This first question contrasts the always limited knowledge of man with the infinite knowledge of God ( γνῶσις τοῦ Θεοῦ , Rom 11:33 ). The second goes further, it bears on the relation between human and divine wisdom. It is no longer merely the discovery of the secrets of God by the study of His works which is in question, but some good counsel which man might have been called to give to the Creator in the organizing of His plans. The word σύμβουλος denotes one who deliberates with another, and can communicate to him something of his wisdom. It is therefore a more exalted position than that supposed by the previous question.
The third question, Romans 11:35, would imply a still more exalted part. The matter in question is a service rendered to God, a present which man is supposed to have made to Him so as to merit a gift in return. Such, indeed, is the position which the Jews were taking, and by which they claimed especially to limit the freedom of God in the government of the world on account of their meritorious works. “There is no difference,” said the Jews of Malachi's day pettishly, “between the man who serveth God and him who serveth Him not. What have we gained by keeping His commandments?” This spirit of pride had been growing; it had reached its apogee in Pharisaism. The preposition πρό , in advance, which enters into the composition of the first verb, and the preposition ἀντί , in exchange, which enters into that of the second, perfectly describe the relation of dependence on man in which God would be placed, if the former could really be the first to do something for God and thereby constitute Him his debtor. With this third question Paul evidently returns to the special subject of this whole dissertation on the divine government: the rejection of the Jews. By the first question he denied to man the power of understanding God and judging Him till God had explained Himself; by the second, the power of co-operating with Him; by the third, he refuses to him the power of imposing on Him any obligation whatever. Thus is fully vindicated the liberty of God, that last principle of the mysterious fact to be explained.
This question of Rom 11:35 is also a Scripture quotation which Paul weaves into his own text. It is taken from Job 41:11, which the LXX. translate strangely ( Job 41:2 ): “Or who is he that will resist me and abide?” It is true that in the two MSS. Sinait. and Alex. there is found at the close of Isaiah 40:14 a saying similar to the apostle's translation. But there it is certainly an interpolation taken from our epistle itself.
Vv. 36. “ For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: To whom be glory for ever! Amen. ”
God's absolute independence, man's total dependence in everything which might be a matter of glory to him: such is the thought of this verse, the termination of this vast survey of the plan of God. The first prep. ἐκ , of, refers to God as Creator; it is of Him that man holds everything: “life, breath, and all things,” Acts 17:25. The second, διά , through, refers to the government of mankind. Everything, even the free determinations of the human will, are executed only through Him, and are turned immediately to the accomplishment of His designs. The third, εἰς , to, refers to the final goal. The word to Him does not refer to God's personal satisfaction, an idea which might undoubtedly be supported; for, as Beck says, “the egoism of God is the life of the world.” But it is more natural to apply the term to Him to the accomplishment of His will, in which His own glory and the happiness of His sanctified creatures blend together as one and the same thing. It has been sometimes attempted to apply these three prepositional clauses to the three persons of the divine Trinity; modern exegesis (Mey., Gess, Hofm.) has in general departed from this parallel; and rightly. When Paul speaks of God, absolutely considered, it is always the God and Father he intends, without, of course, excluding His revelation through Christ and His communication by the Holy Spirit. But this distinction is not raised here, and had no place in the context. What the apostle was concerned to say in closing, was that all things proceeding from the creative will of God, advancing through His wisdom and terminating in the manifestation of His holiness, must one day celebrate His glory, and His glory only.
The application of the word all things might be restricted to the two portions of mankind spoken of (as in Rom 11:32 ). But Paul rises here to the general principle of which Rom 11:32 was only a particular application, and hence also he substitutes the neuter all things for the masculine all. What is meant, therefore, is the totality of created things, visible and invisible.
The glory of God, the reflection of His perfections in all that exists, that glory, now veiled, in so many respects in the universe, must shine forth magnificently and perfectly forever and ever. For, as Hodge says, “the highest end for which all things can exist and be ordered, is to display the character of God.” This goal of history is, as it were, anticipated by the wish and prayer of the apostle: “To Him be glory!”
The first part of the doctrinal treatise had terminated in the parallel between the two heads of mankind, a passage in which there was already heard a more exalted note. The second part closed, at the end of chap. 8, with a sort of lyrical passage, in which the apostle celebrated the blessing of sanctification crowning the grace of justification, and thus assuring the state of glory. The third, that which we are concluding here, terminates in a passage of the same kind, a hymn of adoration in honor of the divine plan realized in spite of, and even by means of, human unfaithfulness. After thus finishing the exposition of salvation in its foundation (justification), in its internal development (sanctification), and in its historical course among mankind (the successive calling of the different nations, and their final union in the kingdom of God), the apostle puts, as it were, a full period, the Amen which closes this part of the epistle.
Never was survey more vast taken of the divine plan of the world's history. First, the epoch of primitive unity, in which the human family forms still only one unbroken whole; then the antagonism between the two religious portions of the race, created by the special call of Abraham: the Jews continuing in the father's house, but with a legal and servile spirit, the Gentiles walking in their own ways. At the close of this period, the manifestation of Christ determining the return of the latter to the domestic hearth, but at the same time the departure of the former. Finally, the Jews, yielding to the divine solicitations and to the spectacle of salvation enjoyed by the Gentiles as children of grace; and so the final universalism in which all previous discords are resolved, restoring in an infinitely higher form the original unity, and setting before the view of the universe the family of God fully constituted.
The contrast between the Jews and Gentiles appears therefore as the essential moving spring of history. It is the actions and reactions arising from this primary fact which form its key. This is what no philosophy of history has dreamed of, and what makes these chaps. 9-11 the highest theodicy.
If criticism has thought it could deduce from this passage the hypothesis of a Judeo-Christian majority in the church of Rome, if it has sought to explain it, as well as the whole of our epistle, by the desire felt by Paul to reconcile this church to his missionary activity among the Gentiles, it is easy to see from the passage, rightly understood, how remote such criticism is from the real thought which inspired this treatise. The conclusion from an altogether general application, Romans 11:30-32, in which he addresses the whole church as former Gentiles whom he expressly distinguishes from Jews, can leave no doubt as to the origin of the Christians of Rome. Supposing even that in Rom 11:13 he had divided his readers into two classes, which we have found to be a mistake, from Rom 11:25 he would in any case be again addressing all his readers. And as to the intention of the whole passage, it is evidently to show that those who should have been first, though now put last, are not, however, excluded, as the Gentiles might proudly imagine, and that if the πρῶτον , firstly, ascribed to the Jews by God's original plan ( Rom 1:16 ) has not been historically realized (through their own fault), the divine programme in regard to mankind will nevertheless, though in another way, have its complete execution. Rom 11:32 is the counterpart of Romans 1:16. It is therefore to impair the meaning of this passage to see in it an apology for Paul's mission. The thought is more elevated: it is the defence of the plan of God Himself addressed to the whole church.
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Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Romans 11". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
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