Christians have long debated the nature of “Israel” in Biblical and historical theology. Those who interpret the scriptures through the lens of the covenants often take “Israel” to denote the spiritual people of God whereas those who interpret the scriptures through the lens of dispensations often take “Israel” to mean the physical descendents of Abraham making up a national, ethnic people-group.
Amidst the debate sooner or later Romans 11:26 is brought up and many covenantalists who insist on maintaining no distinction between “Israel” and “the church” everywhere else, will abandon this basic covenantal tenant by affirming a core dispensational belief that in the end “all Israel [i.e. national, ethnic Israel] will be saved”. Three examples should suffice.
Geerhardus Vos, who near as I can tell is a Covenantal Premillennialist, writes,
“[a study of Romans 11:11-12] leave[s] no doubt that the general, national apostasy of Israel is referred to, and consequently the recovery from this must bear the same collective interpretation [for Romans 11:26].”
Amillennialist Kim Riddlebarger writes,
“Once the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, God will bring the vast majority of ethnic Jews to faith in Christ. And this is the harbinger of the end of the age.”
And finally Keith Mathison, a Postmillennialist, writes:
“By bringing salvation to the Gentiles, God will stir the hearts of Israel and they will one day recognize their Messiah.”
These three examples, each from one of the three branches of Covenantal Theology, should suffice to make my point. That these theologians who insist on one people of God – contra Dispensationalism – turn from a covenantal reading of scripture at its very core in their interpretation of Romans 11:26. The whole covenantal narrative of scripture and the redemptive story depends upon the philosophical interpretation of “Israel” as being a reference to the spiritual people of God and of there only being one people, not two. While two “Israel’s” are conceived of in the New Testament, the point of the distinction is to emphasize that God shows no ethnocentric favoritism. The covenantal meta-narrative depends on this distinction, and here’s why.
The story of the scriptures, of Creation-Fall-Redemption, is a story of a God who has chosen to make things right through covenants. He has chosen Abraham and established an unconditional covenant with him (Gen 15) in which God in essence says, “if what I promise does not come to pass, may what happened to these slaughtered animals happen to me”. But only two chapters’ later (Gen 17) conditions are added to the covenant so that while God will unconditionally keep his promise to Abraham and his descendents the question becomes, who are Abrahams descendents? And as Paul would later put it, “not all Israel are Israel” (Rom 9); because Abraham’s descendents prove to be unfaithful and end up exiled from the presence of God (cf. Adam’s exile from the garden). What is God to do? He must find a “true Israelite indeed” whom he can keep his unconditional promise with. This is the principle of representation: enters the Messiah. The Messiah is the true Israelite whose mission embodies the role of Israel so that through his faithfulness God fulfills his part of the covenant. The question again becomes, who is “in” Israel or who are the children of Abraham? The answer is: those who are of faith and are in the Messiah. (Michael Bird has recently summarized this narrative superbly in part 3 of his recent series “Church and Israel”; unfortunately, in part 2 of the series he concludes with this statement: “[Paul] still looks forward to the salvation of national Israel in the eschatological future (Rom 11:26).” How he reconciles his interpretation of this verse with the meta-narrative he outlines – which is in agreement with N.T. Wright in “Climax of the Covenant” – I do not know.)
So then to come to Romans 11:26 and all of a sudden suppose that Paul retracts everything else he has said about Israel not only throughout Romans but also in Galatians, Thessalonians and elsewhere, and suddenly begins to speak – and apparently only here and nowhere else – of a privileged people as a result of their special ethnic standing, despite the narrative the Apostle just outlined throughout the rest of Romans leading up to (perhaps climaxing with) Romans 11:26, seems irretrievably inconsistent to me.
So for the next few posts we’ll explore Romans 11:26 by presenting the exegetical arguments put forth for interpreting “Israel” in terms of an unprecedented ingathering of the national, ethnic people-group at the end times. We’ll then offer the exegetical counter-arguments put forth for interpreting “Israel” in terms of all the people of God, both Jews and Gentiles. Then I’ll offer some concluding remarks.
 O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God, p.33 ff
 Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, p.46
 That is, he holds to historic premillennialism, not dispensational premillennialism. There’s a world of difference.
 Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, p.89
 Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, p.193. Here Riddlebarger interprets “all” to mean “vast majority”, but still believes that it is a reference to the nation of Israel, though it might not apply to some within that nation.
 Keither A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of hope, p.129
 Example, “Not all Israel are Israel”, “Israelite after the flesh” et cetera.
 Circumcision which was to be done “in faith” (see Deuteronomy)
 Isaiah 41-53
 See in particular the Gospel of Matthew
 Romans 5, Philippians 2