Simply Israel: Romans 11:26 Part III

Derek Ouellette —  July 16, 2011

The more I look into Romans 11:26 the more I realize that I am like a fish swimming upstream. It is with a great deal of charity that Michael Bird writes, “several scholars try to take Rom 11:26… as referring to the consummated salvation of Jews and Gentiles.” citing only N.T. Wright, who happens to be one of my primary sources.[1] Furthermore, the arguments in favor of the view that Romans 11:26 is a reference to a great ingathering of Israel at the end times are very strong.

The following are five of what I believe to be the more compelling reasons to interpret “Israel” in Romans 11:26 as a reference to the nation.

Argument #1: Isn’t it obvious?

Michael Bird who just concluded a series very similar to this one waves off the view that Romans 11:26 could mean anything other than a reference to national Israel:

“It seems fairly clear from the wider context of Romans 9-11 (Rom 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:2, 11, 25), that Paul is looking ahead to the eschatological salvation of national Israel in the future.”

So just from reading the passage of Romans 9-11 it seems quite obvious that Paul believes in the national restoration of Israel in the future.

Argument #2: Collective apostasy requires collective recovery

Romans 11:11-12 speaks of Israel’s collective stumbling so that salvation may come to Gentiles. Verse 12 concludes with the statement, “how much more will their full inclusion mean!” It only makes sense that if a collective stumbling is in view then a collective recover of verse 26 must also be in view.[2]

Argument #3: Paul begins to us the word “covenant” in 9-11

James Dunn points out that the word “covenant” is not found anywhere in Romans 1-8, but appears (only twice) in Romans 9-11 in connection with “Israel”, and both times in reference to O.T. prophecies regarding their restoration.[3]

Argument #4: Romans 9-11 consistently uses “Israel” in the national sense

In Romans 11:25 Paul speaks of a hardening that has “in part happened to Israel” (NKJV)[4]. This is an obvious reference to “Israel” the nation. It seems unfathomable that Paul would change his use of “Israel” without warning in the span of only two verses. Furthermore, R. C. Sproul makes the point that when Paul uses the term “Israel” in this portion of Romans, that he consistently had the nation in mind.[5]

Argument #5: The O.T. promises Israel’s restoration

The Old Testament promises the restoration of Israel as a whole (Deut 4:25-31; 30:1-6) at which point God would usher in the age to come (e.g., Hosea 14:1-7; Joel 2:12-3:2). Paul seems to have shared this presupposition[6] and assumes it here in Romans 11:26.

Conclusion: As I consider the weight of some of these arguments I feel their force and understand why someone who otherwise holds to a covenantal approach to the scriptures might still see a future ingathering of the national ethnic people of Israel. It is important to observe that almost none of the scholars I have consulted take “all Israel” to mean “every last individual Israelite”,[7] neither have many of them commented on the mechanism of Israel’s salvation,[8] though they unanimously seem to agree that there is only one covenant, not two.

While these arguments are persuasive, they do not say all there is to say on the question of Israel in Romans 11:26. Some highly esteemed scholars have taken this passage to mean “all the people of God”. Next we’ll look at some of their main arguments before offering my concluding thoughts.

[1] Another that comes to mind is O Palmer Robertson.

[2] This is Geerhardus Vos’ argument in The Pauline Eschatology p.89: “the recovery from this must bear the same collective interpretation.”

[3] James D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, ©2005, p.443-444

[4] NRSV: “a hardening has come upon part of Israel”

[5] R.C. Sproul notes, “If Paul is referring to spiritual Israel, he is departing from the way he uses the term Israel here and in the preceding three chapters. Ever since chapter 8 Paul has been talking about ethnic Israel.” See his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p.379.

[6] See Craig Keener in the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament, p.437-438. Though he also notes: ‘although this is one of the few New Testament passages that had occasion to address it” and points out that “Jewish teachers commonly said that “all Israel will be saved,” but then went on to list which Israelites would not be saved.”

[7] “In the rabbinic teaching at m.Sanh. 10:1, “All Israel will have a share in the world to come,’ but exceptions then are listed, such as the person who denies ‘the resurrection of the dead’”. John Ruemann in the Eerdmans Commentary on the Whole Bible, p.1277.

[8] Ibid., Ruemann offers several different scholarly interpretations to that question.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Peter Berntsson

    So the exegetical arguments changed your position on this passage in particular? That’s a commendable trait, to be convincable by good arguments :)

    Personally, I think it’s clear that Rom 9-11 are primarily about national Israel in relationship to the “true” Israel (the only people of God), and thus 11:26 in context refers to those “cut off, natural branches” being to a large degree restored at some future point.

    • Brian MacArevey

      This is another really good post Derek. I mentioned in commenting on your last post that I am one who believes that Romans 11:26 does refer to national Israel. If I might, I would like to add one more reason, which I find to be the most compelling of all.

      The way I see it, Romans 9-11 works in a way that is not at all dissimilar to his approach in Romans 1-3. I would think that you probably agree that Romans 1 sets a trap for the self-righteous Jew, and in chapters 2 and 3, Paul establishes that the Jews and Gentiles were in the same boat. In 9-11, I believe that Paul is using a Jewish objection to God’s election of Christ and the subsequent inclusion of Gentiles, as Gentiles, into the people of God, as well as a Jewish questioning of God’s righteousness in regards to this election, in order that he might turn his entire argument around on his primarily Gentile audience, in order to exhort them not to have an attitude, toward national Israel, that in any way reflected the attitude of national Israel against the Gentiles.

      Romans 11:26, in my opinion, is a reflection of God’s intention in Christ; which included the salvation of national Israel. It is a statement designed to reflect God’s will and intention for the nation, in order that the church might possess an identical attitude (the same as Paul’s; Romans 9:3), and thus, behave towards the Gentiles as God would. Yes, God hardened them, and cut them off; but ultimately, His purpose is their salvation, so they too were to desire this as well. Surely, from their perspective, they seemed to be enemies of the gospel and the church, but from God’s perspective, they were beloved for the sake of the fathers.

      This is why I think that it is most important to see 11:26 as referring to national Israel. If we decide to make it about the Jew/Gentile church, then the ethical import of Paul’s writing is entirely lost. Instead of being about love for the other, and love for the enemy, it is about love of ourselves (the church), and about God’s plan to save us, and I believe that this conclusion also insinuates that God’s hardening and cutting off actually was permanent, an idea which Paul entirely contradicts.

      Obviously, I know (from your previous posts) that you are concerned to show that a covenantal reading of this verse is not replacement theology, so I believe that our agenda is the same, and so I will respect your reading either way; I just also am persuaded by these points (as well as those you made above, for the most part), and I enjoy the interaction. :)

    • Derek Ouellette

      Not quite Peter… but I strived to fairly present the argument as if they were my own. I did find them very persuasive (along with some of Brian’s thoughts), I’m now teetering on my views a bit, we’ll see where I end up.

      Brian, thanks for the thoughts. I like how you pulled a bit of the bigger picture into the discussion, though I can’t say that I share your view that the ethical import of Paul’s writing is entirely lost if Romans 11:26 is a reference to the Israel of God rather than national Israel. But what you say about Paul’s aim to get the Gentiles to view national Israel with the identitcal attitude as God (and not to be too cocky in their position as elect) is precisely what others have argued (like Bird, Dunn, Keener and others). It’s a good point.

  • Brian MacArevey


    Maybe my point about Paul’s ethical import being lost looks stronger to the one who holds to my view 😉 I guess that I am assuming that Paul’s primary point in this section was to convince Gentiles to act in a manner different from nationalistic Jews, and so if 11:26 does not refer to national Israel, then I believe that his point would be weakened substantially. That said, if you don’t agree with me that this was Paul’s point, then I completely understand why you would disagree with my point about the ethical thrust of Paul’s argument being lost. :) Sometimes I forget to think outside of my own little box. :)

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