Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What did Paul mean by "And so all Israel shall be saved." (Romans 11:26)?

I preached last Sunday (9/25) on All Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:25-32).  This is a passage with more than one difficult verse to interpret.  At the head of the list is what Paul meant when he wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved" (v. 26).  Here are the three options for interpretations I presented, opting for the third as the right division of the text:

Now, we come to v. 26 and this central declaration, “And so all Israel shall be saved.” What did Paul mean?

Again, we have at least three options:

1. Did he mean all ethnic Israelites will eventually be saved regardless of their response to Christ?

Are there two plans of salvation? One by virtue of explicit faith in Christ and one by virtue simply of being part of the physical seed of Abraham? This is a view put forward by some dispensationalists, but it fails the test of interpreting Scripture by Scripture.

First, the Bible teaches that there is no salvation apart from explicit faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:9; John 14:6).

Second, in context, we clearly see that Paul did not expect all of his kinsmen according to the flesh to be converted. Instead, he strove to see “some” come to faith (see Romans 11:14; cf. 1 Cor 9:20-22).

2. By “all Israel” did Paul mean the all believers, both Jews and Gentiles, who are as Paul calls them in Galatians 6:16 “the Israel of God”?

In favor of this interpretation is the fact that Paul does say in Romans that not all those who are ethnic Israelites are part of spiritual Israel (cf. Romans 2:28-29; 9:6). This was, in fact, the interpretation favored by John Calvin in his commentary on this text. All of spiritual Israel shall be saved.

We would find this interpretation wanting, however, for at least two reasons.

First, in the immediate context it is clear that Paul is speaking of “ethnic” Israel and not “spiritual” Israel (see v. 25 which contrasts the blindness of Israel and the fullness of the Gentiles).

Second, as Murray points out in his commentary this would mean Paul would only be stating the obvious. It essentially makes the verse mean, “All the saved will be saved.” Or “All the redeemed shall be redeemed.”

This leave us in need of a third option:

3. By “And so all Israel shall be saved” Paul was again offering the hopeful affirmation that God had not cast away the physical seed of Abraham.

Though now only a few have been saved, one day many more will be added to that number. The full number of God’s elect among the ethnic Israelites shall be saved! Paul offers this to encourage his fellow Jewish believers and to challenge and humble the Gentile believers.


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