When I first began to read the scriptures different from how I was used to, in what I would later discover to be “Covenantal” theology, one of the earliest books to have a major impact on my understanding of “Israel” in the scriptures was by a Jewish Christian named Steve Wohlberg whose book was titled End Time Delusions.
It was there that I learned that “Israel” had two designations throughout the scriptures; a national designation referring to the ethnic-people group and a spiritual designation referring to people who were faithful to God and his covenant of love. Ideally both designations referred to the same group of people, unfortunately we discover early on in their history that this ideal was not to be met. There was the broader national people-group whom God continued to try and draw back to himself so that they would fulfill their mission of first actually being His people and second of being the light to the world. Then there were the remnant, a select group of individuals who remained faithful to God. We might refer to this dynamic as an “Israel within Israel” and although the phrase was not yet in use, it seems clear that the concept was very much present that “not all Israel were Israel”.
Eventually I would dive into the writings of N.T. Wright who brought “filler” to this basic outline of the Biblical narrative. Soon it made no sense to me to speak of the nation of Israel as having a salvific privilege solely based on their national-ethnic identity, not even in terms of their ethnic relation to Abraham. Having this radical shift in how I read the scriptures resulted in many familiar texts taking on fresh meaning and sometimes without having engaged a particular text to any great extent, I would take them for granted as we all do when we read and assume a passage from our bias. Romans 11:26 was one of those texts I came to understand had to refer to all the people of God, because to interpret it as being a reference to the nation of Israel seemed to break with the meta-narrative of scripture. If I am correct in the story I believe the scriptures to be telling – and of course I think I am – than it would be a mistake to think that Paul is making a prophetic statement about a future ingathering of the nation of Israel.
This study I’ve engaged with has caused me to take a closer look at Romans 11:26 with surprising results. I am less dogmatic about the text to some extent, now understanding the force of the arguments in favor of reading it in terms of national Israel. In fact after reading many of the arguments put forth for that perspective I truly did wonder if maybe there was room here to reconsider my position. After all, how could so many – almost all the works I consulted – interpret this passage in terms of Israel the nation and still be wrong? But then when reconsidering the arguments from the other perspective I was taken aback by how strong they were. So strong in fact, that I feel compelled to remain true to my first understanding that Romans 11:26 is a reference to the people of God total, and not to any special ethnic people group. And yet, to recapitulate what I said in conclusion of my last post, there remain some exegetical questions to the contrary, so while believing as I do I also acknowledge that more study needs to be done.