This article is part of the Tough Passages series.
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25Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: 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 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 now receive mercy.32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Two New Testament scholars offer passage-by-passage commentary through the narratives of John and Acts, explaining difficult doctrines, shedding light on overlooked sections, and making applications to life and ministry today.
Has God Rejected His People?
To give understanding that can help his readers avoid arrogance, Paul explains a “mystery.” In his usage this term often refers to a previously unknown truth on which God has now shed light by revelation. “Brothers” points to Paul’s friendly and collegial regard. “Partial hardening” means that not all Jews reject Jesus as their messiah. It is also “partial” with respect to duration: it will persist “until the fullness of the Gentiles” has arrived. This could mean the full number of non-Jews that God has appointed to be saved (cf. Acts 13:48).
Once the process described in verse 25 has run its course, “all Israel will be saved.” Interpreters debate what this means.1Clearly Paul does not think Israelites, whether in OT times or his own era, will all be saved.
He has been lamenting lost Israel since the beginning of Romans 9, and Romans 2 details ways in which Jews have gone astray. He could be thinking of a time to come when large numbers of Jews will awaken to faith in Jesus as the promised messiah. This cannot be ruled out, since the gospel message certainly holds this potential. It is also possible that he is using “Israel” to include both (1) true Jews since Abraham, who like Abraham through faith know circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, not the letter (Rom. 2:29), and (2) Gentiles who have become children of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. An example of the former group would be Paul, the other apostles, Timothy, and other Jews who have confessed faith in Christ. An example of the latter group would be the Roman believers, mostly Gentile, whom chapter 11 has been describing as grafted into the cultivated olive tree.
Whatever the proper interpretation, all the redeemed will owe their status to the “Deliverer . . . from Zion.” He will bring about a new level of godliness—he will “banish ungodliness”—among God’s people, in keeping with the prophecy in Isaiah 59:20. This applies to both earthly and heavenly life.
To Isaiah’s prophecy in verse 26 Paul adds a portion of Jeremiah 31:33 (“and this will be my covenant with them”) and 31:34 (“when I take away their sins”). The Jeremiah phrases are from the new covenant prophecy (Jer. 31:31–34). To apply this when “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) is under discussion supports the idea that “Israel” in this context includes new covenant believers, i.e., Gentiles, as well as Jews who believe in the one who established that covenant, Jesus:
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:28)
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:24) Likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,
“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)
“They” are Jews who could and should be saved by the gospel but as yet are not. “For your sake” would mean that their opposition vindicates God’s wisdom and compassion, in contrast to his own people’s hostility toward Gentiles. “For your sake” could also be translated “because of you.” In that case Paul would be pointing to Jewish hostility toward accepting Gentiles as worship partners. But God’s election of a nation in Abraham has continuing implications even as Paul seeks to spread the gospel despite Jewish opposition. God’s faithfulness to the patriarchs guarantees his unwavering commitment to the patriarchs’ descendants.
There is a particular call to faith in Christ through the call of the gospel.
One reason for God’s unwavering commitment (Rom. 11:28) is that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” “Gifts” would include the countless promises made to his people and the blessings extended to them going back to Abraham and even before, to Noah and to Adam and Eve in the garden. They would also include God’s written Word (Rom. 3:2) and the specific blessings listed in Romans 9:4–5. The “calling of God” is his summons that brought Israel into being. But it is not only a common call; this call translates into an awareness, arising in people called to faith, of the presence of God and their responsibility to respond. There is a particular call to faith in Christ through the call of the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:1, 6, 7; Rom. 9:24). Both God’s gifts and his calling of Jews to faith in Christ remain in force and will not be revoked.
Paul draws an analogy between God’s mercy on the Jews and his mercy on Paul’s (Gentile) Roman audience. Prior to their reception of the gospel message, the Romans were “disobedient to God.” As Paul reminded the Ephesians and as is true of all non-Christians, they were without “hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But as Paul writes to them, God has shown them mercy. “Because of their disobedience” refers to the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, which opened the door for Gentiles (like the Romans) to be at the forefront of early church expansion. Paul foresees a similar process lying ahead for Jews. “They too have now been disobedient” (Rom. 11:31)—they have rejected the gospel. But as Gentiles continue to receive that message and prosper in the faith, the result may be that “they also may now receive mercy.” Jews may turn to Christ in the future in ways that Paul and the Romans do not presently observe.
Jew and Gentile alike are “consigned to disobedience.” Paul has already described the law’s role in this: God gave the law “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19). Using the same word translated as “consigned” (Gk. sunkleiō), Paul also writes, “The Scripture imprisoned [sunkleiō] everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22). He adds, “Now before faith came, we were held captive [sunkleiō] under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (Gal. 3:23). No one likes to be accused of wrongdoing. But God kindly pulls back the curtain on human sin so “that he may have mercy on all” who own up to their sin and accept God’s sole sufficient remedy.
- See Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 448–451, for six different views.
This article is by Robert Yarbrough and is adapted from ESV Expository Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Volume 10).
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