Simply Israel: Romans 11:26 Part II

Derek Ouellette —  July 13, 2011 — 5 Comments

Anti-Semitism has a long and ugly history within Christianity. It is a terrible and repulsive thing to hate any people-group for any reason. It may be an overstatement to say that the Apostolic church fought against anti-Semitic tendencies within its ranks,[1] but it certainly seems clear that a certain amount of tribalism soon developed between the Jews and the Gentiles, especially in Rome.

Before we go on in our study of Romans 11:26, it is important to lay some preliminary ground work:

1. It is crazy – in my opinion – to suggest that God has abandoned Israel, for that would amount to God abandoning the apostle Paul: “I say then, has God cast away His people [Israel]? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite” (Romans 11:1). This is an important point to make because many suppose that Covenantal theology amounts to Replacement theology.[2] We need to be able to affirm with the scriptures that there is now no difference between Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3:28) without supposing that this somehow amounts to a disparity toward the Jewish people.

2. Paul, a Jew, is writing to a predominantly gentile church which had recently received an influx of returning Jewish Christians from exile.[3] Tensions were high. The program for the book of Romans is set in Romans 1:16-17, with particular emphasis on the phrase “for the Jew first and also for the Gentile” and “righteousness of God… from faith to faith”. The question the book of Romans seeks to address (in my opinion) is the question, “how can God be faithful to his covenant promise to Abraham if he has abandoned Abraham’s children, Israel?” In other words, God’s righteousness seems to be on trial, to which the answer Paul points to is that a true Israelite is one who has the faith of Abraham.[4] So right away the program has been set to see two concepts of “Israel”; one of ethnic decent, and one of faith (which, it is imperative to note, may just as well include a Jew as much as a gentile.)

3. One of the striking features I see throughout the New Testament, especially in the gospels, is a judgment and call to repentance of Israel for what has been termed their “meta-sin”: national or ethnic zeal, supposing that by being a descendent of Abraham they were automatically “the people of God”.[5] The result is that Israel looked inward and consequentially they failed in their mission and purpose of existence, which was to be a light to the world.[6] (In many ways this problem persisted within the early Church.[7])

To summarize: on the right is the erroneous idea that “Israel” has been replaced by the “Church”. To the left is the erroneous idea that “Israel” holds a place of distinct privilege apart from gentiles, a privilege that is based on their nationalistic ethnocentric standing. And in the center stands Paul, wrestling – especially throughout Romans and Galatians – to counteract the lopsidedness of each. To suggest that “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 is a reference to all the people of God, Jew and gentile alike, no more hints at a hatred toward Jews as it would a hatred toward gentiles. The ground is even at the foot of the cross (which also happens to be the only way to a resurrected body).

To speak anachronistically, on the right is supersessionism, on the left is some form of dispensationalism. In the center is Paul’s covenant theology.

Next I’ll offer the exegetical arguments put forth in favour of interpreting “Israel” in Romans 11:26 as being a reference to the national ethnic people-group, after which I’ll look at the counter-arguments and then offer some concluding thoughts.



[1] Anti-Semitism is defined as a “hatred” toward the Jewish people, and I don’t think it can be shown that in the first century gentile Christians hated Jews. A century or two down the road anti-Semitism clearly became a black spot in our history.

[2] See for example “Israel and the Church: The Origins and Effects of Replacement Theology” by Ronald Diprose. Sadly, Diprose makes the categorical mistake of equating Replacement Theology with Covenantal Theology, and this led to John MacArthur’s embarrassing lecture titled, “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is an Premillennialist”, by which MacArthur means Dispensationalist.

[3] See James Dunn’s introduction to his commentary on the book of Romans.

[4] See Romans 4

[5] Cf. Matthew 3:9-10, Luke 16:24, John 8:39-47, Galatians 3:29 et al.

[6] For a full discussion of this see N.T. Wright, JVP p.417-19, 449-50, “Jesus’ teaching… was aimed precisely at telling Israel to repent of – her militaristic nationalism… [the Messiah’s destiny was to affirm] the destiny of Israel as the bringer of light to the world, not as one who would crush the world with military zeal.” P.50

[7] Timothy Gombis in July’s edition of Christianity Today, p.48

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Brian MacArevey

    Derek,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this so far…you make some excellent points. Although I do not agree that “all Israel” refers to the Jew/Gentile church (I think that it does refer to national Israel, but not for traditional reasons necessarily), I do believe that everything that you have said is very important, and even essential to a correct understanding of this passage. I can actually affirm all three of your points, and simultaneously hold to the belief that Paul had national Israel in mind in Romans 11:26. From my perspective, the interpretive difficulties that arise out of traditional exegesis of this verse are the result of a misunderstanding with regard to Paul’s purpose in writing this passage, as well as the context in which we must receive it; part of which you have explained quite capably in your second point. I am not sure how many posts you plan on doing on this subject, so I do not wish to get ahead of you. That said, I would love to discuss this issue more. Good stuff so far.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Thanks for the thoughts Brian. This post was written in anticipation of the objection that Covenant Theology amounts to either Replacement Theology or Anti-Semitism. Nothing written above should be taken as an attempt to argue against a ethnocentric interpretation of Romans 11:26 from a covenantalist perspective (that post is coming). So that you affirm my three points and disagree with my interpretation of that passage is perfectly acceptable and gladly received.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

    “I say then, has God cast away His people [Israel]? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite” (Romans 11:1).

    The salvation of Israel is not through any covenant but by God’s grace, through Jesus Christ. <– That is, at least as far as some of my readings on Monergism still Replacement Theology. God did not cast away Israel, for grace is still offered to them; if He had cast them away there would be no grace and no hope.

    As I started to leave Dispensationalism, eschatology was never much of an issue, all Evangelical views of eschatology work out the same- Jesus' return. Where I first started disagreeing with Dispensationalism was Israel and "Rightly Dividing the Word of God." I have not spent much time reading Replacement Theology studies but from what I have noticed is that it is widely differing on points, it is obvious that there are still promises awaiting natural Israel, but it is equally obvious that we have (gentiles) become by adoption, sons of Abraham. I think it is rather simple and until Dispensationalism it has always been pretty simple, God cut off Israel and we replaced them. However, where the symbolism falls short is that in a natural tree, the cut off vines die; however, in reality Israel is still lead to God (Prevenient Grace) and can be saved the same way that any human can be saved.

    In my understanding, Replacement Theology is not racist, if anything the Dispensational view is. To elevate any race above others is a form of racism, Replacement Theology only de-elevates Israel to the level of everyone else.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      “The salvation of Israel is not through any covenant but by God’s grace”… God’s grace was administered through covenants. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

    Well ya, but I think you know what I mean; well, judging from the smiley anyways.