Commentary on Romans 11:11-15

Notes (NET Translation)

11 I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous.

The rejection of the gospel by Jews is not irrevocable. According to Acts (13:44–47; 14:1–3; 18:4–7; 19:8–10; 28:23–29), Paul would often preach the gospel first to the Jews and if the Jews transgressed by rejecting the gospel, he would turn his attention to the Gentiles.

But the salvation of Gentiles leads in turn back to Israel. Borrowing the concept from Deut. 32:21, which he quoted in 10:19, Paul indicates that one of the purposes of the salvation of the Gentiles is to stimulate Israel to jealousy. Paul apparently thinks that the Jews, as they see the Gentiles enjoying the messianic blessings promised first of all to them, will want those blessings for themselves.1

12 Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring?

This is an argument from the lesser to the greater: “if the trespass of Israel has led to worldwide blessing, then their belief will bring even greater blessing to the world.”2 Verse 15 explicitly states that the greater blessing is life from the dead.

The emphasis in plērōma is probably not on a set number of the elect, but rather on a full or large number, a great multitude. Paul’s vision of salvation is grand. He does not believe that only a tiny remnant of Jews and Gentiles will be saved. Käsemann suggests that what is in view is the filling up of the remnant, so that eventually “all Israel” is saved. Some have interpreted plērōma to mean something like the full restoration or conversion, but this is unlikely. Here Paul is making a quantitative comparison between a small remnant and a fullness of the saved. The only question is whether he sees this as the adding of the unbelieving majority to the believing minority of Jews, which then amounts to “all Israel.” Or is he talking about adding the unbelieving majority of Jews to the whole people of God and so the whole people are brought up to “fullness,” both Jew and Gentile united in Christ. But if in v. 25 Paul means by plērōma those Gentiles now converted plus those yet to be converted, the parallel would then suggest that “fullness” here and “all Israel” in v. 26 is the adding of the now unbelieving Jews to believing Jews to make a full complement.3

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I could provoke my people to jealousy and save some of them.

Paul may explicitly talk to the Gentiles because they were resistant to his message about Israel or to warn them about a boastful attitude towards unbelieving Jews (11:17-24). He magnifies his ministry “by working with all his strength to accomplish the ministry vouchsafed to him by God.”4 Paul is an apostle to the Gentiles by the commission of the risen Christ (Rom 1:1-6; 16:26; Gal 1:1, 15-16; Acts 9:14-17; 22:14-15, 21) and recognized as such by the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:6-9).

The idea of provoking Jews to jealousy is one Paul has already employed in 10:19, where he cites Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 32:21 to show that God is going to make Israel envious by blessing Gentiles while he brings judgment upon the Jews. It is possible that Paul was encouraged by the divine strategy of Deuteronomy 32:21 to vigorously pursue his Gentile mission in the hope of making his fellow Jews jealous as they saw Gentiles enjoying the blessings of God through acceptance of the gospel. He hoped that they would become envious, would repent and accept the gospel, and some of them would be saved.5

But Paul’s modesty in the last part of v. 14 shows that we must not overestimate the importance that he assigned to his own ministry. By limiting the hoped-for fruits of his ministry to “some of them” (e.g., Jews), Paul suggests that he does not see himself (as some imagine) as the figure whom God will use to bring Israel to its destined “fullness.”6

15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

On first reading the apostle’s reference here to the ‘rejection’ of Israel appears to contradict what he said back in 11:1-2: ‘I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew’. However, the overall context in Romans 11 makes it clear that the issue addressed in 11:1-2 is that of ultimate rejection, whereas in 11:15 Paul has in mind a temporary rejection. Thus the apostle’s question in this verse could be paraphrased as follows: ‘If Israel’s (temporary) rejection (by God) has led to the reconciliation of the world, that is, the reconciliation of Gentiles, what will Israel’s reacceptance (by God) be but life from the dead?’7

[T]wo points favor the rendering “their [the Jews’] rejection [by God].” First, Paul uses the word “acceptance” in the second half of the verse as a direct contrast to “rejection.” And, while the word Paul uses here does not occur anywhere else in the NT, Paul uses a verb related to it in Rom. 14:3 and 15:7 to refer to God’s and Christ’s “accepting” of believers. This strongly suggests that “acceptance” refers to “God’s acceptance of the Jews”; “rejection,” by contrast, would refer to “God’s rejection of the Jews.” A second reason for adopting this rendering is the emphasis Paul places throughout this section on God’s responsibility for Israel’s present spiritual obduracy. “God has given them a spirit of stupor” (v. 8); they have been “cut off [by God]” (v. 17).8

The “reconciliation of the world” probably refers to the salvation of believing Gentiles (11:12). “Life from the dead” refers to physical resurrection at the end of the age. If the fullness of the Gentiles enters in before all Israel is saved (11:25-26) then we should see the acceptance of the Jews as the climax of history.

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Moo 1996, 687–688 
  2. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 11650-11651 
  3. Witherington III 2004, 267-268 
  4. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 11630-11631 
  5. Kruse 2014, 429-430 
  6. Moo 1996, 692 
  7. Kruse 2014, 430 
  8. Moo 1996, 693 
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