Monday, December 14, 2009

Israel and Romans 11

An interesting discussion in Bible class yesterday (Sunday) - we're in Romans 11. This concerns St. Paul's use of the name "Israel," which can be used in Scripture in several ways, among which are:

1) The new name of the man Jacob
2) The nation of people descended from Jacob (the nation of Israel, the Jews, the OT people of God)
3) The Church (the New Testament people of God)

There is divided opinion in our class regarding how we should interpret "Israel" in Romans 11. Obviously, this is not about the man Jacob, so that leaves us either options 2 or 3. When Paul speaks of "Israel" in the context of Romans 11, does he mean the Jews or does he mean the Church (comprised of, of course, both Jews and Gentiles)?

There was a lively discussion as opinions run both ways.

Any thoughts from Cyberspace? I'm including the ESV text below from Bible Gateway.

Romans 11

The Remnant of Israel
1I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham,a]">[a] a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life." 4But what is God’s reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

7What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8as it is written,

"God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day."

9And David says,

"Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever."

Gentiles Grafted In
11So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusionb]">[b] mean!

13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing rootc]">[c] of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation
25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers:d]">[d] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

"The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob";
27"and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins."

28As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may nowe]">[e] receive mercy. 32For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34"For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?"
35"Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?"

36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

  1. Romans 11:1 Or one of the offspring of Abraham
  2. Romans 11:12 Greek their fullness
  3. Romans 11:17 Greek root of richness; some manuscripts richness
  4. Romans 11:25 Or brothers and sisters
  5. Romans 11:31 Some manuscripts omit now


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

It is about how the idea of Israel the nation as the people of God (a la the OT) is passing (and now has passed) away and is surplanted by the new Israel - the Church, both Israelite and Gentile now united in Christ.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

Yes, that is certainly Paul's image of the grafted tree. Nobody disputes that whole beautiful and powerful metaphor.

But specifically, do the pronouns terms "they" and "them" in verse 23 mean "Jews and Gentiles together in the Church," or does this mean "the Jews"?

And verse 25, does the "partial hardening" mean the Jews, or does it mean "the Church" (Jews and Gentiles)?

What about in verse 28 "As regards the gospel, *they* are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, *they* are beloved for the sake of their forefathers." Do the "they" and the "their" refer back to the Jews, or to the Church?

In verses 31 and 32, who does Paul mean when he says "you" and "they"? Does the "they" mean the Church (Jews and Gentiles), or does it specifically mean the Jews?

St. Paul says "Israelite" in verse 1, Israel in verses 2, 7, 11, 25, and 26. Contextually, is he talking about the Jews, or does he mean the NT Church in those instances and in the instances in which the discussion continues with pronouns?

Jonathan said...

I *think* he is using the example refering to the nation of Israel, the Hebrews, who are and always will be a special and favored status as a people because of God's promise that they carry.

That's as far as I take their *election* in v 28; not that they have an alternate path to salvation. Ultimately, some of the nation of the Hebrew nation of Israel will be grafted back in, and in that way, God fulfills his promise.

However, as he is speaking of this cutting and grafting into and out of the church as the new Israel, then it could certainly apply to any any people, Jew or Gentile. As in, watch out that you don't get to arogant or you, too, could just as easily find yourself cut off and in need of mercy to be grafted back in.

Catawissa Gazetteer said...

Father Hollywood,

I’m far from a biblical scholar or a linguistic expert but I’m going to throw in my two cents worth anyway.

I read the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible. This may be a personal thing but I often find less clarity in the newer translations. It seems more obvious in this text that Paul is referring to the Jews when he uses “they” and “them”. Like I say, I’m no expert but the natural flow of the conversation seems to work in the direction of this understanding.

I looked up Romans 11 in “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” to see where it had been cited. I know, you’re Lutheran, but what the heck.

Paragraph 591 uses 11:20 and 11:25 to point to the Sanhedrin directly. Paragraph 674 is even more to the point:

674 The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by "all Israel", for "a hardening has come upon part of Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus.569 St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old."570 St. Paul echoes him: "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?"571 The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of "the full number of the Gentiles",572 will enable the People of God to achieve "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", in which "God may be all in all".573

569 Rom 11:20-26; cf. Mt 23:39.
570 Acts 3:19-21.
571 Rom 11:15.
572 Rom 11:12, 25; cf. Lk 21:24.
573 Eph 4:13; 1 Cor 15:28.

The Biblical text seemed to me to point to a distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles, and I think that the Catechism bolsters my initial reading. St. Paul seems to be drawing a clear line between the two for the purpose of comparison. He is also doing this to draw a distinction between a belief in salvation through faith and a belief in salvation through works

I think that in verse 1 Paul is referring to himself as a member of the tribe of Israel while in the remaining passages he is referring to the tribe itself.

In verses 31-32 the word “they” definitely means the Jews. Paul is referring back to verse 11 and how the Jewish jealousy of Christian salvation will draw them to that same salvation.

Thanks for your time, Father. I enjoy trying to understand the Bible and my faith as well as I can and having to think my way through questons like yours is always a valuable exercise.

Preachrboy said...

Funny. I was just reading a 1989 article on "Replacement Theology" from the Lutherans in Jewish Evangelism (an LCMS RSO). They are pretty down on it.

Might be helpful, or... not.

Rev Keith Reeder said...

I've found Gal 6:16 to be instructive, understanding it to be reference to Israel as the Church.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Keith:

Absolutely! There are indeed a lot of uses of "Israel" that mean the NT church. But does Paul's use of "Israel" in this way in Gal 6:16 mean we can substitute "Church" for "Israel" wherever Paul uses it across the board? Or does it *sometimes* mean "the Jews" when Paul uses it elsewhere?

So, back to Romans 11. What does this mean?

Anonymous said...

In Romans 11:21-24 Paul is contrasting the "natural branches" (Israel) with the "grafted branches" (gentiles). The "they" in verse 23 refers to the "natural branches" (Israel) there were cut off due to unbelief, but can be grafted in again.

Verse 25, "25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers:d]">[d] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in."

I don't know... that verse looks pretty clear to this layman. God has partially hardened Israel and not the Church. If it referred to the Church I would have to then wonder what "the Gentiles" could be referring to, since they are also in the Church and the previous verses distinguish "natural branches" (Israel) from "grafted branches" (Gentiles).

I also believe "they" in verse 28 refers to Israel. It reminds me of John 1:11-13 "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

Anonymous said...

I just had one other thought, but can't make a case for it. Paul's reference to "election" in verse 28 might be a tip off that he is talking about two factions in the Church, the Judaizers and the Gentiles. I would have to do more digging to see if that idea has any merit.

rog m said...

A teaching from Hebrews 9 helped settle this for me. Specifically v. 10, but certainly in context.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Isreal after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws in their mind and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.
I enjoy your site and appreciate you and your household.

rog m said...

oops, my bad...said Hebrews 9 should have said 8. 8:6-13

Mike Green said...

I'm inclined to think Paul is referring to the literal Jews and not the Church. However, I'm certainly comfortable with the Lutheran stock answer, "Both...and..." Even if Paul meant the Jews specifically, the Spirit could also be delivering a message to the Church. Are we not "by schisms rent asunder and heresies distressed"?

We've heard some very sound arguments for the Jews. Father Hollywood, could you post some of the arguments used by those who take the other position?