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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans 11

Verse 1

[In the tenth chapter Paul’s argument for gospel universality only required him to show by Scripture that the Gentiles were to be received independently; i. e., without first becoming Jews. But the Scripture which best established this fact also proved a larger, greater fact; viz., that the reception of the Gentiles would so move the Jews to anger and jealousy that they would, as a people, reject the gospel, and thereby cease to be a covenant people, and become a cast-off, rejected nation. This fact is so clearly and emphatically proved that it might be thought that, as Tholuck puts it, "the whole nation, conjointly and severally, had, by some special judgment of God, been shut out from the Messiah’s kingdom." The denial of this false inference is the burden of the section now before us. In this section he will show that the casting off of Israel is not total, but partial: in the next section he will show that it is not final, but temporary.] XI. I say then Again, as in [verses 18 and 19 of the previous chapter, Paul, for the benefit of the Jewish objector, draws a false inference from what has been said, that he may face it and correct it], Did God cast off his people? [Apparently, yes; but really, no. He had only rejected the unbelieving who first rejected him. True, these constituted almost the entire nation; but it was not God’s act that rejected them; it was what they themselves did in rejecting God in the person of his Son that fixed their fate. Israel as believing was as welcome and acceptable as ever. So God has not rejected them. "The very title his people," says Bengel, "contains the reason for denying it." Comp. 1 Samuel 12:22) God had promised not to forsake his people (Psalms 94:14). He kept the promise with those who did not utterly forsake him, but as to the rest, the majority, Jesus foretold that the kingdom should be taken from them (Matthew 21:41-43). Comp. Matthew 22:7; Luke 21:24] God forbid. [A formal denial to be followed by double proof.] For I also am an Israelite [De Wette, Meyer and Gifford construe this as equal to: I am too good a Jew, too patriotic, to say such a thing. As if Scripture were warped and twisted to suit the whims and to avoid offending the political prejudices of its writers! If Paul was governed by his personal feelings, he ceased to be a true prophet. Had he followed his feelings, instead of revealed truth, he would have avoided the necessity for writing the sad lines at Romans 9:1-3 . The true meaning is this: God has not cast away en masse, and without discrimination or distinction, the totality of his ancient people, for I myself am a living denial of such a conclusion; or, as Eubank interprets it, such a concession would exclude the writer himself (as to whose Christianity no Jew has ever had any doubts). "Had it been," says Chrysostom, "God’s intention to reject that nation, he never would have selected from it the individual [Paul] to whom he was about to entrust [had already entrusted] the entire work of preaching and the concerns of the whole globe, and all the mysteries and the whole economy of the church"], of the seed of Abraham ["A Jew by nurture and nation" (Burkitt). Not a proselyte, nor the son of a proselyte, but a lineal descendant from Abraham. Compare his words at Acts 22:28], of the tribe of Benjamin. [Comp. Philippians 3:5 . Though the apostle had reason to be proud of his tribe as furnishing the first king in Saul (1 Samuel 9:16) and the last Biblical queen in Esther (Esther 2:17), yet that is not the reason for mentioning Benjamin here. He is showing that God had not cast off the Theocracy, and he mentions himself as of Benjamin, which was second only to Judah in theocratic honor. On the revolt of the ten tribes it constituted with Judah the surviving Theocracy (1 Kings 12:21), and after the captivity it returned with Judah and again helped to form the core or kernel of the Jewish nation (Ezra 4:1; Ezra 10:9). The apostle was no Jew by mere family tradition (Ezra 2:61-63; Nehemiah 7:63-65), nor was he of the ten tribes of outcasts, but he was duly registered as of the inner circle, and therefore his acceptance proved the point desired.]

Verse 2

God did not cast off his people which he foreknew. [Here is the second proof that God did not cast off his people. It is in the nature of an axiom, a statement which is so palpably true that it needs no corroboration. God’s foreknowledge can not fail, therefore that nation which in the eternity before the world he knew to be his own nation, can not ultimately fail to become his nation. "Of all the peoples of the earth," says Godet, "one only was [published and openly designated as] 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 the collective designation. 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 can not fail to be both." Comp. Acts 15:15-18; Isaiah 45:17; Isaiah 59:20; Jeremiah 31:31; Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 34:22; Ezekiel 37:23; Ezekiel 39:25; Romans 11:26] Or know ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? [Literally, in Elijah. Anciently Scripture and other writings were not divided into chapters and verses, but into sections. These among the Jews were called Parashah. Instead of being numbered, they had titles to them, describing the contents. Thus it came to pass that any one wishing to refer to a passage of Scripture would quote enough of the Parashah’s title to identify it. So Paul here quotes words found "in [the Parashah about] Elijah"; viz., 1 Kings 19:10-18 . Comp. Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37] how he pleadeth with God against Israel:

Verse 3

Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. [Against these two proofs adduced by the apostle it might be objected that if God was not rejecting his people he must be receiving them, but you, Paul, practically admit that this is not the case, for, were it so, why can you point only to your single self as accepted? Surely your very proofs are against you. To this objection Paul presents a third proof--i. e., the case of Elijah--and his argument, paraphrased, runs thus: You err in supposing that I alone am accepted, and this I will prove by the case of Elijah, who, prophet of prophets though he was, erred in so judging by appearances as to think that he alone remained acceptable. The law required that the nation use the one altar which stood in front of the sanctuary in Jerusalem (Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:1-14). But the Rabbins say (see Lightfoot and Whitby ad h. l.) that when the ten tribes revolted, and their kings forbade them to go up to Jerusalem to worship, then this law ceased as to them, and the Lord permitted them to build other altars and sacrifice on them as at the beginning (Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 22:9; Genesis 26:25; Genesis 33:20; Genesis 35:1-7; Genesis 46:1), and as they did before worship was centered at Jerusalem (1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 7:17; 1 Samuel 9:13; 1 Samuel 11:15; 1 Samuel 16:2-3). That this is so is proved by the conduct of Elijah, who reconstructed the Lord’s altar on Mt. Carmel (which these apostates of whom he speaks had thrown down) and offered sacrifice thereon, and the Lord publicly sanctioned and approved the altar by sending fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:30-39). The altars were to be made of earth and unhewn stone (Exodus 20:24-25), hence it was proper to speak of digging them down.]

Verse 4

But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal. [Jezebel and Ahab, in their zeal for the Phoenician god, Baal, had apparently exterminated the worship of the true God. At least, Elijah was deceived into so thinking. But the answer of God corrected his mistake. Paul inserts the words "for myself." "I. e.," says Meyer, "to myself as my property, and for my service, in contrast to the idolatrous abomination," or service of idols. The feminine article te is inserted before Baal, and this has greatly puzzled expositors, for the LXX. have the masculine article. It has been explained in various ways; Erasmus and others by supposing a feminine noun such as eikoni (image) to be understood; Estius, etc., by supposing stele (statue) to be supplied, or, as Lightfoot and Alford think, damalei (calf); or, according to Reiche, that there was a female Baal; or, as Wetstein and Olshausen, that Baal was androgynous (an hermaphrodite); or, as Gesenius and Tholuck, that the feminine was used of idols in contempt; or, as Fritsche, Ewald and Barmby, that Paul may have happened upon a copy of the LXX. which gave the feminine instead of the masculine. Of the above we prefer to supply damalei, calf, following the reasoning of Lightfoot. Baal was both a specific name for the Phoenician god, and also a common name for idols, hence the plural, Baalim. Of idols it the time referred to, Israel had two of great prominence: 1. The idol to the Phoenician god Baal, whose image was a bull. 2. The golden calves set up by Jeroboam, at Bethel and Dan. Now, it would avail nothing if Israel rejected one of these idols, yet worshipped the other, as in the case of Jehu, who rooted out the Phoenician, but accepted the calf of Jeroboam. But calf Baal would be an inclusive expression, striking at both forms of idolatry. (Comp. also 1 Kings 19:18 with Hosea 13:2) Moreover, the Phoenician worship was but recently re-established and had received a terrific blow at the hand of Elijah, while Jeroboam’s calves were old and popular, hence we find in Tobit the expression, "And all the tribes that revolted together, sacrificed to the calf Baal" (literally. te Baal, te damalei; to Baal, to the calf-- Tob. 1:5). Here we have an instance where the word damalei is actually supplied, and that by a Hebrew writer, and "where," as Alford adds, "the golden calves of the ten tribes seem to be identified with Baal, and were a curious addition in [the manuscript] Aleph refers expressly to their establishment by Jeroboam.]

Verse 5

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. [Resuming, the argument. "As at the time of the great deflection in Elijah’s day there seemed to him to be but one, yet God had reserved to himself seven thousand, so now in this time of falling away, you who judge by outward appearance will judge just as poorly. You may think derisively that I am the sole representative of the election of which I speak, but, scattered and dispersed as they are, there are vastly more than you dream (comp. Acts 21:20); for the unchangeable God always reserves to himself a remnant, whom he has chosen as his own." "One thing indeed," says Godet, "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 Elijah, 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 day 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." In the eternal purpose of God the election of the salvation-class preceded any human act, but it does not therefore follow that it preceded a presumptive, suppositious act. The same wisdom which foresaw the election also foresaw the compliance of the elect individual with the terms and conditions of election. This must be so, for in the outworking of the eternal purpose in the realms of the actual, man must first comply with the conditions of election before he becomes one of the elect; for, as Lard wisely says, "election or choosing, in the case of the redeemed, does not precede obedience, and therefore is neither the cause of it nor reason for it. On the contrary, obedience precedes election, and is both the condition of it and reason for it. Obedience is man’s own free act, to which he is never moved by any prior election of God. Choosing, on the other hand, is God’s free act, prompted by favor and conditioned on obedience. This obedience, it is true, he seeks to elicit by the proper motives; but to this he is led solely by love of man, and never by previous choice. True Scriptural election, therefore, is a simple, intelligible thing, when suffered to remain unperplexed by the subtleties of schoolmen." As the open reference to Elijah contains a covert one to Ahab and his Israel, Chrysostom bids us "reflect on the apostle’s skill, and how, in proving the proposition before him, he secretly augments the charge against the Jews. For the object he had in view, in bringing forward the whole of that testimony, was to manifest their ingratitude, and to show that of old they had been what they were now."]

Verse 6

But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. [With these words, Paul explains the last clause of the preceding verse--viz., "the election of grace"--and thereby shows that he means them in their full sense, and abides by that meaning. Alford paraphrases his meaning thus: "And let us remember, when we say an election of grace, how much those words imply; viz., nothing short of the entire exclusion of all human work from the question. Let these two terms [grace and work] be regarded as and kept distinct from one another, and do not let us attempt to mix them and so destroy the meaning of each." He means that grace and works are absolutely antithetical and mutually exclusive. Paul is talking about works of the law, not about the gospel terms or conditions of salvation. These terms are faith, repentance and baptism, and complying with them made, and still makes, anybody one of the elect. But does this compliance fulfill any part, parcel or portion of the Mosaic law? Assuredly not. On the contrary, it is seeking salvation by another way. Moreover, the one complying with these conditions is immediately one of the elect. Has he, then, in any way merited election, or is it wholly of grace?" Even granting that there is some work in complying with these conditions, could any one so lack brains as to be confused into thinking that the work weighs anything as a meritorious basis on which to demand election to that unspeakable gift, eternal life? But do not the works of a Christian life count as merit toward election? Assuredly not; for they are wrought after the election has taken place. In short, almost like Jacob, we are elected at the moment of our birth from the water, when we are spiritual babes in Christ (John 3:5; Titus 3:5), "neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God," etc. (Romans 9:11). Complying with the gospel conditions of election is mere spiritual birth, and what merit hath an infant though its struggles aid in its parturition? We are by the process of conversion brought no further than the condition of babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14; 1 Peter 2:2), and our birth-throes are without merit, though essential to our further continuance in life. There is, therefore, nothing in the gospel conditions which conflict with the doctrine of election by grace, nor do they mix works with grace.]

Verse 7

What then? [What results from the facts just stated? If God only acknowledges covenant relations with a remnant, and with them only by grace, surely you expect me to make some statement as to the status of the bulk of Israel. My statement is this:] That which Israel [the bulk or main body of the nation] seeketh for, that he obtained not; but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened [The search spoken of is that with which we are already familiar; viz., the endeavor to obtain justification before God. All Israel sought this treasure. Those seeking it by the works of the law (the vast majority of the nation) failed to find it, but the remnant, seeking it by faith in Christ, found themselves chosen of God or elected to it. "The Jew, he says, fights against himself. Although seeking righteousness, he does not choose to accept it" (Chrysostom). If he could not find it by his own impossible road of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency, he would have none of it, though the apostle showed how easily it might be obtained by pointing out those who made it theirs by receiving it as a free gift from God through faith in Christ. But for those despising this rich gift, God had another gift, even that of hardening, which means the depriving of any organ of its natural sensibility. The calloused finger loses the sense of touch; the cataractous eye no longer sees clearly; the hardened mind loses its discernment between things good and bad, and readily believes a specious lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12); the hardened heart becomes obdurate like that of Pharaoh’s, and is not touched or softened by appeals to pity, mercy, etc. We have seen, in the case of Pharaoh, that the hardness was the joint act of God and Pharaoh. The same is shown to be the case of the Jews, for Paul here attributes it to God, while it is elsewhere charged against the Jews themselves (Matthew 13:14-15). Of course God’s part is always merely permissive, and Satan is the active agent. "God," says Lard, "never yet hardened any man to keep him from doing right, or in order to lead him to do wrong. He is not the author of sin. He may permit other agencies, as Satan and the wickedness of men, to harden them, but he himself never does it"]:

Verse 8

according as it is written [Isaiah 29:10; Ezekiel 12:2; Deuteronomy 29:4], God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this very day. [As the passage quoted is a combination of Isaiah and Deuteronomy, and is found in part also in Ezekiel, it suggests that the spirit of stupor, deafness and blindness characterized the course of Israel from beginning to end; and it was therefore to be guarded against as a chronic sin. Katanuxis (stupor) may be derived from katanussoo (Fritsche, Meyer), which means to prick or sting, and hence, as in bites of reptiles, etc., to cause stupefaction; or it may come from katanuzoo (Volkmar), which means to bend the head in order to sleep, to fall asleep. It is used in Psalms 60:3; where it is translated "wine of staggering," though Hammond contends that the passage refers to the stupefying wine given to them who were to be put to death. It means, then, that condition of stupor, or intellectual numbness, which is almost wholly insensate; for the term "spirit" means a pervading tendency. "Such expressions," says Gifford, "as ’the spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61:3), ’a spirit of meekness’ (1 Corinthians 4:21), ’the spirit of bondage’ (Romans 8:15), show that ’spirit’ is used for the pervading tendency and tone of mind, the special character of which is denoted by the genitive which follows."]

Verse 9

And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, And a stumblingblock, and a recompense unto them [Psalms 69:22-23 . the word "trap" is added from Psalms 35:8 . Theodoret says that Psalm 69 "is a prediction of the sufferings of Christ, and the final destruction of the Jews on that account." That which is presented in the form of a wish is, therefore, really a prophecy. Let the food on their table be as the bait to the snare and the trap, and the stumbling-block over which the tempted creature falls to lame itself. Let that which they think a source of pleasure and life become an enticement to pain and death. Dropping the figure, the words mean that the very religion of the Old Dispensation, to which the Jew looked for spiritual joy and sustenance, should become to him a sorrow and a fatal famine, so that this very blessing became to him a curse. The word "recompense" denotes a punishment for an evil deed; its presence here shows that the evil which came upon the Jews was caused by their own fault and sin, and not by absolute decree]:

Verse 10

Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, And bow thou down their back always. [This verse is usually construed to picture the political servitude and spiritual bondage of Israel after the fall of Jerusalem. No doubt it has reference to conditions ushered in by that event, but it pictures the dimness and decrepitude of old age--a blind eye, and a back beyond straightening. The Jews were to partake of the nature of the old, worn-out dispensation to which they clung (Matthew 9:16-17; Hebrews 8:13). God’s people can not grow old, they renew their youth like the eagle’s (Psalms 103:5), but a people which ceases to be his, falls into decay. J. A. Alexander’s comment on Psalms 69:22 deserves note. He says: "The imprecations in this verse, and those following it, are revolting only when considered as the expressions of malignant selfishness. If uttered by God, they shock no reader’s sensibilities; nor should they when considered as the language of an ideal person, representing the whole class of righteous sufferers, and particularly Him who, though he prayed for his murderers while dying (Luke 23:34), had before applied the words of this very passage to the unbelieving Jews (Matthew 23:38), as Paul did afterward."]

Verse 11

I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? [Fall (piptoo) is a much stronger word than stumble, and the contrast between the two words makes the former emphatic. To fall means to be killed, and is in Greek, as in English applied to those slain in battle. (Homer, II. 8:475; 11:84.) As emphasized, then, it means to become "utterly irrevocable" (Clark): "irrevocable ruin, in opposition to that which is temporary" (Hodge): "to fall forever, finally" (Pool); "perish forever" (Meyer); "so as utterly to fall" (Stuart). Paul is arguing as to God’s intention. Therefore, according to his established custom, he asks a question that he may guard against a false conclusion, and the form of the question, as usual, demands a negative answer, for the false conclusion is to be denied. From the foreseen "stumbling" of Israel (Romans 9:33; Romans 11:9), and from the "hardening" (Romans 11:7), it might be concluded that God sent a stumbling-block Saviour, a Messiah in an unwelcome form, and an unpalatable gospel-salvation with the intent and purpose of working Israel’s downfall and ruin--his final, irrevocable fall. Did God bring about or cause a stumbling of the Jews of Christ’s day, that all future generations might fall, or be cast off forever? Such is the question, and the answer is] God forbid [This general denial is followed by a threefold explanation: (1) The fall of Israel was permitted because spiritually profitable to the Gentiles (11); (2) the rising again of Israel will be for the greater spiritual profit to the Gentiles (12-15); (3) the fall of Israel is only temporary--they shall rise again--26]: but [introducing the real purpose or design of Israel’s fall] by their fall [paraptoma, from the verb parapiptoo, which means to sideslip, to fall away, to fall. Hence paraptoma means fall, trespass (Alford), lapse (Stuart), slip (Green), false step (Godet), offence (Gifford), fault, sin. It is best translated here by the word "offence"] salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. [Emulation is a better translation than jealousy. Their offence was their unbelief, which caused God to put them away, and this putting away greatly facilitated the success of the gospel among the Gentiles. So great was the pride and exclusiveness of the Jews, and such was their blind loyalty to their race, ritual, temple, law, etc., that even the most thoroughly converted and indoctrinated Christians among them, such as the very apostles themselves (Paul alone excepted), never manifested any enthusiasm in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. It took a miracle to constrain Peter to do such a thing (Acts 10), and, after having done so, his Christian brethren demanded an explanation and apology for his intercourse with Gentiles (Acts 11), and later, instead of yielding to his apostolic leadership, they were so stubborn in their aversion to the free admission of Gentiles into the church, that the fear of them triumphed and caused Peter to conform to their views (Galatians 2:11-14; for further evidence of their bigotry, see Acts 15:1-2; Acts 21:17-24). Their opposition to Paul only ceased with his life. With such a spirit among Jewish Christians, two things were sure to happen if they retained their pre-eminence in the church, and continued to dominate its policy. (1) There would be but little preaching supplied to the Gentiles, since pride and enmity made the Jews unwilling to serve them (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16); (2) such gospel as was preached to the Gentiles would be woefully corrupted and perverted by Judaistic teaching and practice (Galatians 1:6-9; Galatians 3:1-3; Galatians 6:12-14), for "Israel," as Lange observes, "did not desire the Gentiles, under the most favorable circumstances, to participate in the Messianic salvation, except as proselytes of the Jews," since they took more pride and joy in converting men to Moses than in winning them to Christ. Thus by their zeal for the law they would imperil the Gentiles’ liberty in Christ (Galatians 4:9; Galatians 4:21-31 - Galatians 5:1), so that Christianity could scarce escape becoming merely a new patch on an old garment, even as the Master forewarned (Matthew 9:16), in which secondary capacity it could never so save the Gentile as to convert the world. Hence to save the wine Jesus cast aside the old Jewish bottle, and stored the gracious gospel fluid in the new Gentile wine-skin (Matthew 9:17). And he not only cast off the Jewish people as unworthy of that pre-eminence in the church which was naturally theirs, but he even stood aside the eleven apostles as too hopelessly narrow-minded for Gentile evangelism, and committed the whole of this colossal ministry to the one man, Paul (Acts 9:15; Acts 22:21; Acts 26:17-18; Romans 1:5; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:16; Galatians 1:15-16; Ephesians 3:7-8; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11; especially Galatians 2:7-9). And even in his case we note how the prompt "offence," or unbelief, of the Jews enabled him to preach "to the Jew first," yet speedily left him free and unfettered to push the work among the Gentiles (Acts 13:45-48; Acts 28:28). So the "offence" and consequent casting off of Israel did facilitate the conversion of the Gentiles. Israel, as a reluctant, sluggish, half-converted hindrance, was thrust from the doorway, that the Gentiles might enter freely and fully into the kingdom (Luke 11:52; Matthew 23:13). Salvation of the Gentiles was the proximate purpose accomplished, and still being accomplished, by the rejection of the Jews: the salvation of the Jews themselves was the remote purpose of the rejection, and it is largely future, even yet. It is to be brought about by a spirit of emulation. "Seeing," says Godet, "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 had rejected, how can they help saying at length: These things 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 the common father?" A blessed result indeed, but long delayed by the carnal, half-converted state of the Gentile church, as witnessed by the Roman Catholicism which is Sardis (Revelation 3:1) and Protestantism which is sectarianism (1 Corinthians 3:1-5), a Philadelphia church lapsing into Laodicean indifference-- Revelation 3:14-19]

Verse 12

Now if their fall [paraptoma] is the riches of the world, and their loss [hettema, that loss or diminution which an army suffers by defeat, also moral loss, impoverishment, to be defeated, to be reduced, or made inferior. "A reduction in one aspect to a race of scattered exiles, in another to a mere remnant of ’Israelites indeed’"--Moule] the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? [Pleroma, the full number, the whole body, the totality. To emphasize the situation and impress it upon his readers, Paul makes use of the Hebrew parallelism, presenting two clauses which express substantially the same thing. If there be any difference, we would say that "world" indicates sinners, and "Gentiles" the uncovenanted races. If paraphrased thus, it would read, Now, if the sin or offence of godly Israel enriched the ungodly, sinful world, and if the loss or spiritual impoverishment and numerical diminution of the covenanted people enriched and multiplied the covenanted among the hitherto uncovenanted people, how much more would both the sinful world and its uncovenanted inhabitants have been blessed every way, had Israel been of the right spirit, so as to have received enrichment instead of being cast off and diminished. Because Israel had a proud, narrow, inimical spirit (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16), its depletion worked blessing to the world and the Gentiles; but if Israel had yielded to Christ so as to be transformed like that persecuting Saul who became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who can measure the fullness of blessing which would have come to the inhabitants of the earth by the enlargement, enrichment and full spiritual endowment of every son of Abraham dispersed through the world! With millions of Pauls in all lands throughout all generations, we should have measured our heavenward progress by milestones instead of inches. "Goodness," says Thomas Aquinas, "is more capable of bearing blessing than is evil; but the evil of the Jews brought great blessing to the Gentiles; therefore much more should their goodness bring greater blessing to the world."]

Verse 13

But [A note of correction. At Romans 7:1; Romans 7:4 Paul began to address the Jews, and all that he has said since then has had specific reference to that people. Since verse 11, however, the thought has gradually passed to the Gentiles and now Paul openly notes that he is speaking to them, lest any should think he was still speaking to Jews about Jews] I speak to you that are Gentiles. [Much that the apostle has said might be misconstrued by the Gentiles so as to minister to their pride. The apostle therefore addresses them personally, and prepares the way for an admonition against vainglory in themselves and a contemptuous spirit against the Jews.] Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry;

Verse 14

if by any means I may provoke to jealousy them that are my flesh [my kindred: the Jews], and may save [do the human part of saving] some of them. [Finding myself set apart by Christ to minister to Gentiles instead of Jews, I perform my task with a double zest, for (I not only rejoice to save Gentiles, but) it is a means (also) of saving some of Israel by provoking them to an honorable and generous emulation even now; since the mass of them will be won that way in the end, as indicated above. And, moreover, I do this in fullest love and goodwill to you Gentiles, for I foresee what incalculable blessings the conversion of the Jews will bring to you.]

Verse 15

For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? [Again we have a passage wherein "the apostle," as Meyer expresses it, "argues from the happy effect of the worse cause, to the happier effect of the better cause." If a curse, so to speak, brought a blessing, what would not a blessing bring? If the casting away of Israel in Paul’s day resulted in the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, and the turning of them from idols and imaginary deities to seek after the true God as part of a theocratic family wherein converted Jew and Gentile are reconciled to each other and to God (see Ephesians 2:11-22 for a full description of this double reconciliation), what would the receiving again of the vast body of unconverted Jews at the end of the times of the Gentiles (Romans 11:25-26) be but a veritable life from the dead, an unprecedented, semi-miraculous revival? Theophylact, Augustine, Melanchthon, Calvin, Beza, Bucer, Turretin, Philippi, Bengel, Auberlen, Clark, Macknight, Plumer, Brown, Lard, Gifford, Moule, Riddle, etc., view this as a great spiritual resurrection, a revival of grace accompanying the conversion of the whole world. Others, as Origen, Chrysostom, the earlier commentators generally, Ruckert, Meyer, De Wette, etc., look upon it as a literal, bodily resurrection, while Olshausen, Lange and Alford consider it as a combination of spiritual and bodily resurrections. The first of these positions is most tenable. "This," says Barnes, "is an instance of the peculiar, glowing and vigorous manner of the apostle Paul. His mind catches at the thought of what may be produced by the recovery of the Jews, and no ordinary language would convey his idea. He had already exhausted the usual forms of speech by saying that even their rejection had reconciled the world, and that it was the riches of the Gentiles. To say that their recovery--a striking and momentous event; an event so much better fitted to produce important results--would be attended by the conversion of the world, would be insipid and tame. He uses, therefore, a most bold and striking figure. The resurrection of the dead was an image of the most vast and wonderful event that could take place." Some of those who view this as a literal resurrection, do so from a lack of clear conception as to the order of the dispensations. They look upon the conversion of the Jews as taking place at the very end of the world, and hence synchronous with the final resurrection. They do not know that the Jewish dispensation, or age, gave place to the present one, which is called "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24), and that this dispensation will give place to a third, known as the millennium or age of a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6). The Jewish dispensation ended with the death of Christ, and the Gentile dispensation will end when the gospel is preached unto all nations (Matthew 24:14). Its end, as Paul shows us at verses 25 and 26, will also be synchronous with the conversion of the Jews. Failure to grasp these important facts has led to much general confusion, and to gross mistakes in the interpretation and application of prophecies, for many Biblical references to the end of the Gentile dispensation, or age, have been erroneously referred to the end of the world, or end of the ages. The last age, or millennium, will be the triumph of the kingdom of God, the thousand-year reign of the saints on earth, and it will begin with the conversion of the world under the leadership of the Jews, and this is the event which Paul fittingly describes as "life from the dead." The millennium will be as a resurrection to the Jews (Eze 37), for they will return to their own land (Ezekiel 37:11-14; Ezekiel 37:21; Ezekiel 37:25) and revive their national life as a united people (Ezekiel 37:22). It will be as a resurrection of primitive, apostolic Christianity to the Gentiles, for the deadness of the "last days" of their dispensation (2 Timothy 3:1-9; 2 Timothy 4:3-4), with its Catholic Sardis and its Protestant Laodicea (Revelation 3:1-6; Revelation 3:14-22), will give place to the new life of the new age, wherein the "first love" of the Ephesian, or first, church will be revived (Revelation 2:4-5), and the martyr spirit of Smyrna, its successor, will again come forth (Revelation 2:10), and the devil will be chained and the saints will reign (Revelation 20:1-6). This spiritual resurrection of the last age is called the "first resurrection," for it is like, and it is followed by, the real or literal resurrection which winds it up, and begins the heavenly age, or eternity with God. Ezekiel tells what the last age will do to the Jews, Paul what it will be to the Gentiles, and John what it will mean to them both. As to Paul’s description Pool thus writes: "The conversion of the Jewish people and nation will strengthen the things that are languishing and like to die in the Christian church. It will confirm the faith of the Gentiles, and reconcile their differences in religion, and occasion a more thorough reformation amongst them: there will be a much more happy and flourishing estate of the church, even such as shall be in the end of the world, at the resurrection of the dead." All this, as Paul boldly asserts, will result from the blessed power of Jewish leadership, as in the beginning. "The light," says Godet. "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 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 fullness; 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 can not 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." Against the above view that Paul speaks of a spiritual resurrection it is weakly urged that it assumes a future falling away of the Gentiles, and a lapse on their part into spiritual death, and that the apostle gives no intimation of such a declension by them. But it is right to assume such a declension, for Paul most clearly intimates it; for (1) all the remainder of this section is a discussion of how the Jews brought their dispensation to an end, and a warning to the Gentiles not to follow their example and have their dispensation end in a like manner. (2) In verse 25 he speaks of the fullness or completeness of the Gentiles. But, according to the divine method, this dispensation of the Gentiles could not reach completeness and be done away with until it became corrupt and worthless. God does not cast off till iniquity is full and failure complete (Genesis 6:13; Genesis 15:16; Matthew 23:29-33). Moreover, some five years before this, in the second Epistle that ever came from his pen, Paul had foretold this declension in the church, and had described it as even then "working," though restrained (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). The assumption on which this view of a spiritual resurrection rests is both contextual and natural. Finally, as to this being a literal body resurrection, we must of course admit that an all-powerful God can begin the millennium that way if he chooses, but to suppose that the literally resurrected dead shall mingle and dwell with the rest of humanity for a thousand years, or throughout an entire dispensation, savors of fanaticism. Even Jesus kept aloof during his forty days of waiting before his ascension. A healthy mind can not long retain such an idea, nor can we think that Paul would introduce so marvelous and abnormal a social condition without in some measure elaborating it. As against a literal, physical resurrection Hodge argues strongly. We give a sentence or two: "Not only in Scriptures, but also in profane literature, the transition from a state of depression and misery, to one of prosperity, is expressed by the natural figure of passing from death to life. The Old Testament prophets represented the glorious condition of the Theocracy, consequent on the coming of Christ, in contrast with its previous condition, as a rising from the dead. . . . Nowhere else in Scripture is the literal resurrection expressed by the words ’life from the dead.’ Had Paul intended a reference to the resurrection, no reason can be assigned why he did not employ the established and familiar words ’resurrection from the dead.’ If he meant the resurrection, why did he not say so? Why use a general phrase, which is elsewhere used to express another idea? Besides this, it is not according to the analogy of scripture, that the resurrection of the dead, and the change of those who shall then be alive (1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18), are to be immediate, consequent on the conversion of the Jews. The resurrection is not to occur until ’the end.’ A new state of things, a new mode of existence, is to be then introduced. Flesh and blood--i. e., our bodies as now organized--can not inherit the kingdom of God." For a full discussion of the spiritual nature of the resurrection, from the pen of A. Campbell, see his articles on the second coming of the Lord, in the Millennial Harbinger. We shall never know how dead our liquor-licensing, sectarian, wealth-worshipping, stock-gambling, religio-fad-loving, political, war-waging Christendom has been until the spirit of the early church rises from the dead to form the new age; then it will be at once apparent to all what Paul meant by this bold figure, "life from the dead." But the glorious prospect here presented rests on the supposition that the Jews en masse shall be converted. As that is a supposition which many expositors even in our day regard with doubt, the apostle first shows its Scriptural and natural reasonableness, and then plainly and unequivocally predicts it. He presents its reasonableness thus]

Verse 16

And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so are the branches. [Another parallelism. The apostle demonstrates the same truth, first, from the standpoint of the law of God in the Bible (firstfruit and lump); second, from the law of God in nature (root and tree). As the harvest or raw material of the Jew was regarded as unclean, or ceremonially unholy, and not to be eaten till it was cleansed by the waving of a first-portion, or firstfruit, of it as a heave-offering before the Lord (Leviticus 23:9-14; Exodus 34:26); so the meal or prepared material was likewise prescribed until a portion of the first dough was offered as a heave-offering. This offered "firstfruit," or, better, "first-portion" (aparche), made the whole lump (phurama) from which it was taken holy, and thus sanctified all the future meal, of which it was the representative or symbol, so that it could now be used by the owner (Numbers 15:19-21; Nehemiah 10:37). The apostle, then, means that as the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (called fathers in verse 28), the firstfruit by the revealed law, and the root by the natural law, were holy, so all their descendants as lump and tree were likewise holy. But holiness has two distinct meanings: (1) Purity, moral and spiritual perfection, absolute righteousness--a holiness unto salvation; (2) that which is consecrated or set apart for divine use--a holiness short of salvation. The second meaning is the one intended here. The Jews, being out of Christ, are certainly not holy or righteous unto salvation, Paul being witness; but they have what Gifford styles "this legal and relative holiness of that which has been consecrated to God." In this respect they are still "the holy people" (Daniel 12:7), "the chosen people" (Daniel 11:15), preserved from fusion with the Gentiles, and ultimately to be restored to their original pre-eminence as leaders in the worship of Jehovah. In short, then, there is no divinely erected barrier rendering them irrevocably unholy, and preventing their conversion. On the contrary, they are pre-eminently susceptible to conversion both by law divine and natural, and only their persistent unbelief prevents their Christianization.]

Verse 17

But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou [O Gentile believer], being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree [Some commentators, recognizing that Christianity is a distinct thing from Judaism, have been unduly frightened at the manner in which the apostle here blends them as one tree. This has led them to forsake the obvious meaning of the apostle’s words, in an endeavor to contort them so as to keep distinct the Christian and Jewish bodies. Some of these, therefore, regard Christ as the tree, and others regard it as representing the Christian church. But such exegesis violates the text, for the Jewish unbelievers are pictured as branches "broken off." Now, they could neither be broken off from Christ nor the church, for they were never joined to either. The tree is the Theocracy (Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:6; Ezekiel 17:3; Zechariah 11:2). In a sense it is one continuous tree, for it bears to God the continuous relation of being his peculiar people, but in another sense it is, as the apostle here presents it, an entirely different tree, for all the branches which were formerly accepted on the basis of natural Abrahamic descent were broken off, and all the branches, whether Jew or Gentile, which had the new requirement of faith in Christ, were grafted in. Surely, then, the tree is distinct enough as presented in its two conditions. Yet is it the same Theocracy, with the same patriarchal root and developed from the same basic covenants and promises (Hebrews 11:39-40; Ephesians 2:11-22). Christianity is not Judaism, and no pen ever taught this truth more clearly than Paul’s. Yet Christianity is a development of the old Theocracy, and is still a Theocracy, a kingdom of God, and this is plainly taught; for the Christian, be he Jew or Gentile, is still a spiritual son of Abraham (Romans 4:16; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 4:28), a member of the true Israel; the true Jew. Now, the Christian Jew, having already an organic connection with the Theocracy, is viewed by Paul as simply remaining in it. And here is the point where the confusion arises. If he became regenerate (John 3:1-6), and, dropping the carnal tie of the old, received the spiritual tie of the new (John 8:37-44), he indeed remained in the theocratic tree, but in it as transport at Pentecost. If the Jew did not undergo this chance, he was broken off and cast aside (Matthew 8:11-12). Thus the apostle makes it clear that the Jew, as a Jew, and without spiritual change through faith in Christ, did not remain in any divinely accepted Theocracy. But as God originally contemplated the tree, every Jew was to develop into a Christian, in which case the tree would have been indeed continuous. Jewish unbelief frustrated the divine harmony and made it necessary for the apostle himself to here and elsewhere emphasize the difference between the old and new Theocracies. "The Gentiles are called a wild olive because God had not cultivated them as he did the Jews, who, on that account, are called (Romans 11:24) the good or garden olives. . . . The juice of the olive is called ’fatness,’ because from its fruit, which is formed by that juice, oil is expressed" (Macknight). "The oleaster, or wild olive," says Parens, "has the same form as the olive, but lacks its generous sap and fruits."];

Verse 18

glory not over the branches: but if thou gloriest [remember], it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee. ["Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Religious pride had proved the undoing of the Jews. It made them despise and reject an unregal Messiah; it caused them to spurn a gospel preached to the poor; it moved them to reject a salvation in which the unclean Gentile might freely share. As Paul opens before his Gentile readers the high estate into which they had come, he anticipates the religious pride which the contemplation of their good fortune was so soon to beget in them, hence he at once sounds the timely note of warning. As to the Jew they had no reason to boast, for they were debtor to him, not he to them, for "salvation is from the Jew" (John 4:22). As to themselves they could not speak proudly, for the depression of the Jew was due to God’s severity, and the exaltation of the Gentile was due to his goodness, The Gentile church was incorporated into a previously existing Jewish church, and their new Theocracy had its root in the old, so that in neither case were these privileges original, but wholly secondary and derived from the Jews. Moreover, "such presumption toward the branches," says Tholuck, "could not be without presumption toward the root." Would that the Gentiles, who to-day boast of their Christianity and despise the Jew from whence it was derived, could comprehend the folly of their course. How great is the sin of Christendom! "In its pride," says Godet, "it tramples underfoot the very nation 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 [of final restoration] like that which accompanied the fall of the Jews."]

Verse 19

Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. [The apostle here puts in the mouth of a representative Gentile the cause or justification of the pride. Was it not ground for self-esteem and self-gratulation when God cast off his covenanted people to receive strangers? -- Ephesians 2:19]

Verse 20

Well [A form of partial and often ironical assent: equal to, very true, grant it, etc. It was not strictly true that God had cast off the Jew to make room for the Gentile, for there was room for both. The marriage supper shows the truth very clearly. The refusal of the Jew was the reason why he was cast off, not because there was lack of room, or partial favor on God’s part, or superior merit on the part of the Gentiles-- Luke 14:15-24]; by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by thy faith [not merit]. Be not highminded, but fear:

Verse 21

for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee. [Faith justified no boast, yet faith constituted the only divinely recognized distinction in the Gentiles’ favor, in estimating between the Gentile Christian and the cast-off Jew. All the past history of the Jew stood in his favor; therefore the Gentile has vastly more reason to fear than had the Jew; for if natural branches fell through false pride which induced unbelief, how much more likely the adopted branches were to be cut off. Again, he had more reason for fear than for pride; for being on trial as the Jews had been, he was succumbing to the same sin of self-righteous pride, and more liable to suffer the same rejection. Paul now presents the even-balanced equality of Jew and Gentile if weighed in the scales of merit instead of the new scales of grace-toward-faith.]

Verse 22

Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them [the Jews] that fell, severity [for lack of faith, not want of merit]; but toward thee [O Gentile], God’s goodness [kindness not won by thy merit, else it were justice, not goodness; but goodness toward thee by reason of thy faith: a goodness which will be continued to thee], if thou continue [by faith, and the works thereof, to keep thyself] in his goodness: otherwise thou also [even as was the Jew for like reasons before thee] shalt be cut off. [From the theocratic tree. Severity and goodness, as used here, are merely relative. They do not express the true condition, but merely the state of affairs as viewed by those who still clung to the idea of legal justification and salvation by merit. To those holding such views it seemed severe indeed that the better man should be cut off for lack of faith, and a strange act of goodness that the worse should be received by reason of it and given opportunity to become fruitful; but the seeming severity vanishes and only the goodness remains when we reflect that according to the righteous judgment of God it was impossible that either of them should be received any other way. The apostle’s next purpose is to present a further argument against Gentile pride; viz., the final restoration of the Jewish people and the restitution of all their original privileges and rights. This prophetic fact is revealed as a possibility in the next two verses, and established fully as a decreed event in the next section.]

Verse 23

And they [the unbelieving mass of Israel] also [together with you], if they continue not in their unbelief [for it is not a question of any comparative lack of legal merit on their part], shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. [There is no insuperable reason why they can not be grafted in, and that blessed event will take place whenever the unbelief which has caused their severance shall cease. In Paul’s day individual Jews were being grafted in (the "some" of verse 14); but in the glad future of which the apostle here speaks, the nation (or the "all Israel" of verse 26) shall be grafted in. However, the word "able" suggests the extreme difficulty of overcoming the obdurate unbelief of Israel. It is a task for God’s almightiness, but, though difficult, yet, as verse 24 shows, most natural, after all.]

Verse 24

For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? [Here we are referred to nature for the point emphasized in the apostle’s lesson, that we may see that the present system of grace, as operating under the terms of conversion established as the basis of theocratic life in the New Testament, operates in double contradiction to nature. For (1) grafting is unnatural; (2) grafting bad to good is unnatural; for in nature the engraft always changes the juice of the stalk to its own nature, so as to still bear its own fruit. Hence the superior is always grafted into the inferior. But in grace this rule is so changed and operated so "contrary to nature," that the sap, passing into the tame, natural, superior Jewish branches, yielded corrupt fruit, so that they had to be severed; while the same sap, passing into the wild, grafted, inferior Gentile branches, communicated its fatness to them, so that they yielded good fruit. But as it is an accepted axiomatic premise that even God works more readily, regularly and satisfactorily along the lines of the natural than he does along those of the supernatural and miraculous, so it is unquestionably reasonable to suppose that if the Jew will consent to be grafted in by belief, the sap of his own tree will work more readily for him than it did in Paul’s day for the Gentiles, or wild olive branches which were not of the tree save by the grafting, or union, of belief. "For," says Chrysostom, "if faith can achieve that which is contrary to nature, much more can it achieve what is according to it." By age-long, hereditary and educational qualifications the Jew has acquired a natural affinity for, and a pre-established harmony with, all that has come to the world through the promises to Abraham, and in fulfillment of the words of the prophets. In short, the conversion of the Jew of our day is a vastly more reasonable expectation than the conversion of the Gentiles which actually took place in Paul’s day. Let no man, therefore, doubt Paul’s prediction of the ultimate conversion of the Jews. "If God," says Stuart, "had mercy on the Gentiles, who were outcasts from his favor and strangers to the covenant of his promise, shall he not have mercy on the people whom he has always distinguished as being peculiarly his own, by the bestowment of many important privileges and advantages upon them?"]

Verse 25

["The future conversion of Israel," says Gifford, "having been proved to be both possible and probable, is now shown to be the subject of direct revelation."] For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant [This form of expression is used by the apostle to indicate a most important communication to which he wishes his readers to give special attention, as something strange and contrary to their expectation (Romans 1:3; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13)--in this case, a revelation from God] of this mystery [The word musterion is used twenty-seven times in the New Testament. As digested and classified by Tholuck, it has three meanings; thus: 1. Such matters of fact as are inaccessible to human reason, and can only be known through revelation (Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:4; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 1:26; etc.). 2. Such matters as are patent facts, but the process of which can not be entirely taken in by the reason (1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 13:2; Ephesians 5:32; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Tim 16). 3. That which is no mystery in itself, but by its figurative import (Matthew 13:11; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 17:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:7). The first is the meaning here. Paul is about to communicate a revelation which was given of God, and could never have been divined by any process of the human intellect. As the conversion of the Gentiles was so unthinkable that it had to be made known to the Jew by revelation (Ephesians 3:1-6; Acts 10:11), so here the conversion of the Jew was so unbelievable that it also had to be made known to the Gentile by revelation], lest ye be wise in your own conceits [This revelation of the conversion and ultimate elevation of Israel to his former position of leadership comes to Paul, and is imparted by him to the Gentiles, to prevent them from following their own vain and mistaken opinions as to the relative theocratic positions of Jews and Gentiles, by which they would flatteringly deceive themselves into thinking too well of themselves as occupying permanently Israel’s ancient post of honor, and too ill of Israel as thrust out and cast off forever. The reversal of the Jews and Gentiles in fortune and honor was but a temporary affair. It is significant that this publication of a revelation, and accompanying rebuke of the opposing self-conceit of human opinion and judgment, should be addressed to the Church of Rome! The more one ponders it, the more portentous it becomes], that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel [Here is the first term of the threefold revelation. Calvin and others connect "in part" with "hardening," so that the meaning is that a partial hardening has befallen Israel. But hardening, as mentioned at Romans 9:18 or Romans 11:7; is not qualified as partial. "In part" is properly connected with "Israel." A portion of Israel is hardened. This agrees with the entire context, which tells of a remnant saved (Romans 11:5), and the rest or larger portion fallen (Romans 11:12), cast away (Romans 11:15), and hardened. So "in part" stands for "the rest" of Romans 11:7 , and in contrast to the "some" of Romans 11:17 . The bulk of the Jewish nation, persistently and rebelliously refusing to believe in Christ, had, as their punishment, a dulling of their perceptions and a deadening of their sensibilities sent upon them. We can understand this punishment better if we compare it with its counterpart which befell the Gentiles. As they dishonored the form or body of God by presuming to make degrading, beast-shaped images of it, so God gave them up to degrade their own bodies (Romans 1:23-24). As they preferred lies to truth in things pertaining to God, he gave them up to prefer lying, deceptive, unnatural uses of themselves, to the true and natural uses (Romans 1:25-27). As they refused to have a right mind about God, he gave them up to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28-32). So here, in his parallel treatment of the Jew, he found them steeling their hearts against his love (John 3:16) and against the drawing power of the cross (John 8:28; John 12:32), and he gave them up to the hardness which they chose and desired. Now follows the second term of the revelation which makes known how long this hardness should endure; viz.], until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in [The hardness of the Jews shall cease, and the veil which blinds their eyes shall fall (1 Corinthians 3:14-15), when the number of saved which God has allotted to be gathered during the Gentile dispensation (or "times of the Gentiles"-- Luke 21:24) has been made complete, and has "come in," to the theocratic olive-tree. In other words, as the Gentiles were "given up" (Romans 1:23; Romans 1:25; Romans 1:28) during the entire period of the Jewish dispensation, so the Jews are to be "hardened" during the entire period of the Gentile dispensation. The millennium, or final dispensation, which is to follow this present Gentile dispensation, will be given into the hands of Jew and Gentile jointly, and will be as life from the dead to both parties, because of the glorious season of revival which shall characterize it almost to its end. "Fulness of the Gentiles" is, therefore, "not the general conversion of the world to Christ, as many take it," says Brown; "for this would seem to contradict the latter part of this chapter, and throw the national recovery of Israel too far into the future: besides, in verse 15, the apostle seems to speak of the receiving of Israel, not as following, but as contributing largely to bring about, the general conversion of the world--but, until the Gentiles have had their full time [as possessors] of the visible church all to themselves while the Jews are out, which the Jews had till the Gentiles were brought in. See Luke 21:24 ." And this brings us to the conditions, or developments, which succeed the hardening, or the third term of the mystery or revelation which Paul is here making known; viz.];

Verse 26

and so [that is, in this way; namely, by abiding till this determinate time] all Israel [the national totality, the portion hardened; a round-number expression, allowing liberty to any small remnant which may possibly still persist in unbelief] shall be saved [Shall be Christianized by overcoming their unbelief. And this revelation, fully detailed by Paul, had already been adumbrated or partially published in the prophets, as follows]: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Isaiah 59:20]:

Verse 27

And this is my covenant [lit. the covenant from me] unto them, When I shall take away their sins. [Isaiah 27:9 . (Comp. Jeremiah 31:31-34) Verse 26 is quoted from the LXX., but Paul changes "come in favor of Zion" to read, "come out of Zion," following a phrase found at Psalms 14:7 . None can say why he made this change, but it prevents confusion as to the first and second advent. Christ’s second advent will be out of heaven, not out of Zion. Bengel calls attention to the fact that as Paul in Romans 3 combines Isaiah 59 and Psalm 14, to prove the sinfulness of mankind, especially of the Jews, so he here seems to combine the same two parts of Scripture to prove the salvation of Israel from sin. Moreover, as in chapter 9 he lets Isaiah describe Israel as reduced to a remnant (Romans 9:27-29), so he here appeals to the same inspired penman as the foreteller of the salvation of all Israel. Christ the Deliverer had already come, so that part of the prophecy had been fulfilled, but the future effects of the gospel were yet to accomplish the salvation of the Jews as a nation in two ways: (1) By turning them from their ungodly infidelity; (2) by forgiving their sins. Jewish unbelief will not be removed by any change in the gospel: it is complete and unalterable. The changes which will work upon the Jews will be those wrought in the world by the gospel. "And this is the covenant from me," etc., signifies, My covenant unto them shall be executed and completed on my part when I forgive their sins. To the Jews, therefore, there was, on God’s part, in Paul’s day, a present attitude of rejection manifesting itself in hardening, and a future attitude of acceptance sometime to manifest itself in forgiveness, and these attitudes are thus described]

Verse 28

As touching the gospel, they [the unbelieving Israelites] are [regarded by God as] enemies for your sake [that their fall might enrich you. See Romans 11:12]: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake. [Or on account of the fathers. The call, or election, of Israel gave them national, hereditary rights (of which salvation was not an essential part; it being eternally designed to be an individual, not a national, matter) that were to last to the end of the world (Leviticus 26:40-45); but which provided for, or anticipated, that break, interim or hiatus known as "the times of the Gentiles." During all the years of the Gentile dispensation God cast off his people and regarded them as enemies in every field of vision where they came in conflict with or interfered with the Christians, or New Covenant, Gentile people. Yet, notwithstanding, in all other respects they have been and will be loved and cared for by God, on account of his own love for the fathers, and his eternal covenants with them. This mixture of present enmity and future benevolence characterizes God’s attitude toward every unrepentant sinner who is to become a future saint. So long as he abides in sin he is an enemy, yet loved for the sake of the Lord Jesus. The condition of the Jew is therefore well defined. His ancestral covenants have no value unto salvation, but they are invaluable as an assurance that he shall be continued as a people until he accepts the gospel which is the covenant unto salvation.]

Verse 29

For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of. [A corollary growing out of the axiom that the all-wise God makes no mistakes and consequently knows no repentance (Numbers 23:19; Ezekiel 24:4; 1 Samuel 15:29). Repentance and regret imply miscalculation (James 1:7). The term "gifts" is of very wide application. God gave to the Jew certain spiritual endowments and moral aptitudes fitting him for religious leadership; God also gave to him manifold promises and covenants, and the general rights of the elder brother or first-born (Luke 15:25-32), including priority in all spiritual matters (Acts 1:8; Acts 3:5; Acts 26; Acts 13:46; Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9-10; 1 Peter 4:17). The calling is closely related to the gifts, for the Jews were called to be God’s peculiar people (Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalms 135:4), and were thereby called upon to discharge all the duties and obligations belonging to their station and arising out of their endowments (Luke 20:9-18); and likewise called to enjoy all the blessings and privileges of their stewardship, if found faithful in it (Luke 12:35-48). Now, God has not changed his purpose as to either gifts or calling. The Jew’s rights are temporarily suspended during the Gentile dispensation. They have never been withdrawn, and will be restored whenever the Jew becomes a believer. As pledge of the permanent nature of Jewish precedence, the twelve gates of the Eternal City bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12), and the twelve foundations thereof bear the names of the twelve Jewish apostles-- Revelation 21:14]

Verse 30

For as ye [Gentiles] in time past were disobedient to God [Romans 1:16-32; Acts 17:30], but now have obtained mercy by their [the Jews’] disobedience [Romans 11:15],

Verse 31

even so have these [the Jews] also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy. [How the Gentile received blessing by reason of the casting off of the Jew has already been explained at verse 15. As the Gentile went through a season of disobedience, from which he was saved by severity shown to the Jew, so the Jew was to have a like season of disobedience, from which he in turn is to be eventually saved by God’s mercy to the Gentiles. Some construe the "mercy" to mean that the Gentiles are to have a continuous, ever-increasing spiritual prosperity until finally the very excess of the flood of it sweeps Israel into belief, and therefore into the kingdom. But such a construction plainly denies the New Testament prophecies which speak of a "falling away" (2 Thessalonians 2:3) in "the last days" (2 Timothy 3:1-9), and do not accord with the effects of gospel preaching as announced by Christ (Matthew 24:14). The meaning is that God’s mercy to the Gentiles in Paul’s day preserved the gospel in the world for the ultimate blessing of the Jews, and God’s continued mercy to the Gentiles through the centuries, and even through the latter days of their acute apostasy, will still keep the gospel till the Jews are ready to accept it. God’s mercy to the evil, Gentile earthen vessel preserves the truth wherein lies salvation, and will continue to preserve it till the Jew drinks of the water of life which it conserves (2 Corinthians 4:7). In short, the cases are reversed. The Jewish dispensation ended in a breakdown, but not until the Gentiles became receptacles of the truth. Mercy was shown to the Jew till this Gentile belief was assured. So the Gentile dispensation shall likewise terminate in failure, but not until Jewish belief is assured. We are even now obtaining mercy waiting for the consummation of that part of God’s plan. As God once spared the Jew till his blessings were transferred without loss to the Gentiles, so will he now spare the Gentile till the truth now stored in him has time to pass safely to the Jew. And as surely as he shifted his Spirit and mercies from Jew to Gentile, just so surely will he in turn shift back and re-endow the Jew. The apostle is here giving, his whole attention to the acts of God, and omits for the time all reference to that human agency which paved the way for the divine action. However, it is indicated in the word "mercy." The change in either case was in justice long overdue before it came.]

Verse 32

For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all. [The verb "shut up" is, as Barnes observes, "properly used in reference to those who are shut up in prison, or to those in a city who are shut up by a besieging army (1 Macc. 5:5; 6:18; 11:65; 15:25; Joshua 6:1; Isaiah 45:1). It is used in the New Testament of fish taken in a net (Luke 5:6)." It here means that God has rendered it impossible for any man, either Jew or Gentile, to save himself by his own merit. For some two thousand years the Gentiles sinned against God as revealed in nature, and broke his unwritten law found in their own consciences (Romans 1:19-20; Romans 2:14-16), their sin being known generally as idolatry. And now, for about an equal length of time, the Jews have sinned against God as revealed in Christ, and have broken his written law as found in the Old Testament, their sin being practically the same as that of the Gentiles, though called infidelity. Thus God shut each class up under a hopeless condemnation of disobedience as in a jail, that he might extend a general pardon to each, and save each by his grace and not by human merit. "All" is used in the general sense, and does not signify universal salvation irrespective of belief in Christ (Galatians 3:22). It is used here to show that, in shifting from Gentile to Jew, God will act in no arbitrary or partial spirit. He will not reject any of either class who live worthily. It means that hereafter each class shall be equally favored in preaching and all other gospel privileges. "The emphasis," says Calvin, "in this verse is on the word MERCY. It signifies that God is under obligation to no one, and therefore that all are saved by grace, because all are equally ruined."]

Verse 33

[Guided by the revelations imparted by the Holy Spirit, the apostle has made known many profound and blessed mysteries, and has satisfactorily answered many critical and perplexing questions, and has traced for his readers the course of the two branches of the human family, the Jew and the Gentile, from their beginning in the distant past, in a condition of unity, through the period of their separation by reason of the call of the Jews into a Theocracy, followed by a continuation of the separation, by the call of the Gentiles into a Theocracy, on into the future when both are to be again brought together in unity (Matthew 15:24; John 10:16). "Never," says Godet, "was survey more vast taken of the divine plan of the world’s history." As the apostle surveyed it all, beheld its wisdom and grace, its justice and symmetry, he bursts forth in the ascriptions of praise which follow.] O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! [We prefer the marginal reading, "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge," etc. Either of the readings is perfectly grammatical. It is objected against the marginal reading that the reading in the text is "simpler and more natural" (Dwight); that the context following says nothing about riches (Brown); that the notion of riches is too diverse in kind to be co-ordinated with knowledge and wisdom (Godet). To these it may be added (as suggested by Meyer) that the style of the apostle usually follows that of the text. Compare "riches of his grace" (Eph 1:7; Eph 2:7; Phil 4:19). Nevertheless, depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge is the best reading here, for riches, as we have just seen, imply, with reference to God, his wealth of grace, or some kindred virtue; as, goodness, forbearance, longsuffering, etc. (Rom 2:4; Rom 10:12; Eph 2:4). Now, in this instance the mercy of God was the thrice-repeated and last idea (in the Greek, the last word) dropping from the apostle’s pen (Rom 11:31-32), and it is these riches of mercy and grace that move him to praise, and that give birth to the section before us. Moreover, these riches are the burden of what has gone before. See Rom 9:23 for "riches of glory upon vessels of mercy," and Rom 10:12 for "rich unto all," and Rom 8:35-39 for a description of the saints’ wealth in God’s love. As, therefore, the mercy or lovingkindness of God is uppermost in the apostle’s thoughts, and as it is the main inspiration for all human praise (Psa 107, 118, 136), it is hard to conceive that Paul would turn from it in silence, and burst forth in raptures over God’s wisdom and knowledge, for the wisdom and knowledge of God stir us to highest raptures only as we see them expended in merciful lovingkindness. "Depth" is a common Greek expression for inexhaustible fullness or superabundance. It is so used by Sophocles, Æschylus, Pindar and Plato (see references in Gifford). It is so used here, though, as employed by Bible writers, it generally means that which is so vast or intricate as to be incomprehensible to the common mind (Psa 36:6; 1 Cor 2:10; Rev 2:24). The superabundance of God’s knowledge has been made apparent in this Epistle. It, as Plumer describes it, "is his perfect intelligence of all that ever is, ever was, or ever shall be, and of all that could now be, or could heretofore have been, or could hereafter be on any conceivable supposition." It enables God to grant perfect free will to man, and still foresee his every act, and empowers him to combine men of free will in endless social, political and commercial complications, and yet foresee results arising from myriads of combined free agencies, thus enabling him to discern the effects upon the Gentiles wrought by the rejection of the Jews, and the results, proximate and ultimate, wrought upon the Jew by the acceptance and rejection of the Gentiles. Such are samples of the knowledge of God exhibited in Romans. The wisdom of God enables him to design the best purposes, the most blessed and happy results, the most perfect and satisfactory ends, while his knowledge empowers him to choose the best means, employ the best methods or modes of procedure, devise the best plans, select the most perfect instruments, etc., for accomplishing of those holy and benevolent purposes. In short, the wisdom of God foresees the desired end, and his knowledge causes all things to work together for the accomplishment of it. Refraining, for the moment, from describing the riches of God, the apostle proceeds to give a parallel setting forth of the excellency of God’s wisdom and knowledge, thus:] how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! [Job 5:9; Job 11:7]

Verse 34

For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? [Isaiah 40:13; Jeremiah 23:18 . "Judgments" and "mind" have reference to God’s wisdom; "ways" and "counsellor" look toward his knowledge. Knowledge precedes wisdom. It gathers the facts and ascertains the truths and perceives their meaning, and then wisdom enters with its powers of ratiocination and traces the relations of truth to truth and fact to fact, and invents procedures, devises methods, constructs processes, etc., and utilizes the raw material of knowledge to effect ends, accomplish purposes and achieve results. Therefore, as Gifford observes, "knowledge" is theoretical, "wisdom" is practical, and while "knowledge" is purely intellectual, "wisdom" is also moral, and for that reason is both the most perfect of mental gifts (Aristotle, Nic. Eth. 6:10) and the queen of all virtues (Cicero, ’de Off.’ 1:43)." God’s knowledge foresees all the evil desires, designs, intentions and actions of men and demons, of the devil and his angels; and his wisdom expends itself in transforming all these opposing powers and forces into so many means and aids for the accomplishment of his own holy designs and beneficent purposes. Exercising his wisdom, God judges or decrees, or determines or purposes in his mind, what is best to be done, or to be brought to pass, and these designs or purposes are wholly hidden from man save as God reveals them. We see his moves upon the chessboard of events, but the motives back of the moves lie hidden in a depth of wisdom too profound for man to fathom. "Ways" is derived from the word for "footsteps," and "tracing" is a metaphor borrowed from the chase, where the dog, scenting the footstep, follows the trail, or "way," the game has taken. The means which God chooses leave no track, and they can not be run down and taken captive by the mind of man. Nor does God seek information or ask counsel of man. He is a ruler without a cabinet, a sovereign without a privy council, a king without a parliament. His knowledge needs no augmentation. He accepts no derived information, and borrows no knowledge, but draws all from his own boundless resources. If we can not divine the purpose of his chessboard moves as chosen by his wisdom, neither can we even guess their effects which his knowledge foresees, for he produces unexpected results from contrary causes, so that he makes the Gentiles rich by Jewish poverty, and yet richer by Jewish riches. His wisdom sought the salvation of Jew and Gentile, yet his knowledge foresaw that racial antipathy would keep them from working together till ripened in character; so he worked with each separately. As each sought to establish the sufficiency of his own self-righteousness, he let them each try it, one with natural and the other with revealed law. To each he gave a season of covenant relation and a season of rejection, and in the end he will unite the two and have mercy on both. Such is the coworking of God’s wisdom and knowledge. The scheme is outlined in the parable of the prodigal son, the prodigal being the Gentile and the Jew the elder brother, not yet reconciled to the Father, but still offended at his kindness to the outcast. When the elder brother is reconciled, the story will be complete.]

Verse 35

or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? [Job 41:11 . This question emphasizes the riches of God, introduced at verse 33. The riches mentioned are those of mercy and grace. If we can not exchange gifts with God along the most material lines, as here indicated, how shall we purchase his mercy, buy up his love, or merit his salvation? The moralist, whether Jew or Gentile, can place God under no obligation whatever, for naught can be given to him who justly claims all things (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalms 24:1; Psalms 50:12). "Do we not," says Trapp, "owe him all that we have and are, and can a man merit by paying his debts?" (Luke 17:10). God gives all and to all, and he receives from none. Behold his grace! He freely publishes his unknowable knowledge, that the simplest may profit by his omniscience; he fully reveals his unsearchable wisdom, that the feeblest may co-operate with his omnipotence; and he lovingly gives his unmeritable gifts, that the poorest may enjoy his riches forever! Oh that men might know their riches in him, their folly, their weakness, their poverty without him!-- Revelation 3:17-18]

Verse 36

For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. [Summary statement of the all-comprehensive riches of God. 1. God, in the beginning or past, is the author, origin and creative source of all existence. He is the efficient original cause from whence all came (hence his perfect knowledge). 2. God, in the middle or present, is the sustaining, supporting means of all existence. He is the continuous cause by which all things are upheld. By ruling and overruling all forces, he is the preserving governor and the providential director of creation in its course toward to-morrow (hence his unerring wisdom). 3. God, in the end or future, is the ultimate purpose or end of all existence. He is the final cause for which creation was and is and will be; for all things move to consummate his purposes, fulfill his pleasure and satisfy his love. They shall glorify him and be glorified by him (hence his riches: he is all in all-- 1 Corinthians 15:28] To him be the glory for ever. Amen. [Thus with the customary benediction (Galatians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 5:11) and the formal "Amen," the apostle closes the doctrinal division of his Epistle.]

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First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 11". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/romans-11.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.