The Church & Israel — Summarizing Romans 9-11

July 25th, 2009

Continuing my look at the Church, Israel, and Replacement Theology:

Romans 9-11 is one of the most important New Testament passages about the Church and Israel.  It’s interesting:  People on both sides argue, “My side has to be right–just look at Romans 9-11!”  There are other important passages–Galatians, Hebrews, & Revelation (particularly Gal. 6:16 and Rom. 2:29.) I know I haven’t studied them enough to come to really solid conclusions.  But on Romans 9-11, there are some things that I think are pretty clear.

The three chapters culminate in 11:25-32.  And that passage includes the key phrase, “in this way all Israel will be saved”.  What does Paul mean?  Is he talking about ethnic Israel?  Or is he talking about “true Israel”–all the children of God in Christ?

Dispensationalists (and some Replacement theologians) take “all Israel will be saved” to mean that there will be a future restoration of ethnic Israel:  Many Jews will turn to Christ.  (“See!”, they say, “Israel is still distinct from the Church in the plans of God!”)

Replacement theologians tend to take it this way:  Even though so much of Israel has rejected Christ, the promises of God will not fail–because true Israel is all those who believe in Christ, both Jew and Gentile.  And all of true Israel will be saved.  (“See!”, they say, “Everyone who knows Christ is now part of Israel!”)

I’m still trying to work some things out–there are pieces of this passage that aren’t clear to me.  I do think the Replacement crowd are at least partly right.  Ch. 9-11 is definitely about how the promises of God have not failed, and it definitely emphasizes unity between Jews and Gentiles in salvation.  The whole Church is definitely part of God’s family, and does inherit promises from the Old Testament.

But I’ve also concluded this:  Paul does point to future restoration & salvation for ethnic Israel, i.e. for currently unbelieving Jews.  And ultimately, this passage doesn’t say, “‘Israel’ now means the Church.” Replacement theologians are reading that in, they’re not getting it from here.  (Maybe you could build a case from other passages, but here, it’s not what Paul said.)

To see that, I want to walk through the passage to see the major flow of thought.  Then I want to look at how is the word “Israel” is used–and at what exactly the Gentiles are included in.  (I’m not perfectly clear on the last part.)

I’ll summarize, and zoom in on Ch. 11.  And to get some context, I’ll also say a bit about Ch. 7-8 and Ch. 12.

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(Romans 7-8) The background: In the midst of your weakness and struggles, rest secure in the promises of God.  He will rescue you.  He has called you, and given you a new heart, and has predestined you to be transformed to be like Christ.  Nothing can separate us from his love.  His promises will not fail.

The transition: Paul seems to anticipate an objection:  “Woah, wait up.  What about the Jews, most of whom rejected Christ?  Hasn’t God’s promise to Israel failed?  How can we rest secure, if they fell?”

(Romans 9) The basic answer: My heart breaks for the Jews, who own so many blessings–but no, the promise hasn’t failed.  Because a remnant of Israel did obtain it.  The promises were never meant for all ethnic Israel.  There were always physical descendants who weren’t children of the promise.  Always, God has chosen some–the remnant, chosen by grace, who rest in faith.  God’s children pursue him by faith, not on the basis of their works.  And God has now brought the Gentiles into his family–he has called them his people, his beloved, and they trust in Christ.  But today, most of the Jews are pursuing a righteousness based on their works.  So they’ve stumbled.

(Romans 10) I yearn for the Jews’ salvation–but we must know that salvation is by faith, not by works.  And salvation is for all who believe, both Jew and Gentile.  The gospel message has gone out into the world, but Israel has not all obeyed that gospel by believing.  The Gentiles are finding him, and thus God is making the Jews jealous.

(Romans 11:1-16) The reiterated answer: God has not rejected his people, God’s Word has not failed.  Because a remnant of the Jews, the elected remnant, has obtained it–and the rest were hardened.  But did God harden them in order to make them fall?  In order to finally reject them?  No!  Their sin caused the riches of the gospel to come to the Gentiles–and that’s making Israel jealous in turn!  I long to make my fellow Jews jealous, and so save some of them.

(Romans 11:17-24) Now, you Gentiles in the Church, don’t be arrogant toward the Jews!  (Antisemites: You’re being morons.)  Don’t be proud of how they were broken off so that you could grafted in.  They were removed because they did not believe.  You stand in faith–but you too could be removed for unbelief, and they could be restored!

(Romans 11:25-32) “I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved”.  You received mercy because of the disobedience of the Jews, but they were disobedient so that through your reception of mercy they would receive mercy, too!  (Er… Stop, you may need to read that sentence a couple times.)  In other words, their temporary disobedience leads to your salvation leads to their salvation.

(Romans 12) Because of all this–because of his gifts and calling, the necessity of persevering in faith, and the work of the Spirit to use everything in our lives, predestining us to be transformed to be like Christ–offer your lives to God, in worship.  Don’t conform to the world, conform to Christ.  (Perhaps: Gaze at God’s mercy in Christ, understand that his way is the most beautiful, glorious thing, and pursue it.  Show that God is good by living like you really value his way.)  Understand that you need the whole body of Christ (Jew and Gentile!), and all of you exercise the gifts God has given you.  Serve from genuine hearts of passionate pursuit of hope and joy and service and generosity and humility.

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In the next post, I’ll continue with some observations.  In the meantime, you might reread Romans, and decide whether I’m summarizing it correctly.

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