Commentary on Romans 11:25-32

Notes (NET Translation)

25 For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

Hope that the natural branches will be grafted in again is justified for Paul has been given knowledge of a mystery. The term “mystery” implies that a divine revelation has been given to Paul. The Gentiles should not be conceited and think that God has chosen them instead of ethnic Israel. The phrase “partial hardening” could also mean “temporary hardening”. The hardening of Israel will last until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles has come in. “Coming in” probably refers to entrance into the kingdom of God.

26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob.

What is meant by “all Israel”?

It does not refer to the elect, both Jews and Gentiles. In the surrounding context “Israel” always refers to ethnic Israel. In this passage Paul is countering the tendency of the Gentiles to appropriate for themselves exclusively the rights of God’s people and so calling the church “Israel” here would be counter-productive.

It probably does not refer to all the elect from Israel because that would involve a shift in the meaning of “Israel” between v. 25b and v. 26a. Verse 25b refers to Israel as a nation and so we should understand v. 26a to be doing the same.

The next issue is whether “all Israel” refers to the nation as a whole as it has existed throughout history (diachronic sense) or to the nation as a whole as it exists at one moment in time (synchronic sense). According to Douglas Moo, no occurrence of “all Israel” has a clearly diachronic meaning and so we should go with the synchronic meaning.

In light of the context (11:12, 15, 24-25, 30-31), it seems that many non-Christian Jews at the end of the age will be saved. When this happens all Israel, meaning the full number, will be saved. This need not mean that each individual Israelite will be saved.

Paul quotes Isa 59:20-21a but says “from Zion” instead of “for the sake of Zion”. He may do this to state that the Deliverer will come from the new Jerusalem (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22). If this is correct, he is saying the final deliverance will be accomplished by Christ at his parousia.

27 And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

The first half of the verse (“And this is my covenant with them”) may refer to the covenant with the patriarchs or to the new covenant mentioned in Jer 31:31-34. The second half of the verse (“when I take away their sins”) is from Isa 27:9 LXX, where Isaiah speaks of God restoring the exiled Israelites.

28 In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers.

Unbelieving Jews are enemies of God because they reject the gospel. They are enemies for the sake of Christian Gentiles because their rejection of the gospel has extended salvation to the Gentiles (11:11-12, 15, 17).

It is a bit surprising on first glance that Israel is said to be beloved “because of the fathers.” Is Paul thinking of the treasury of merits that the patriarchs accrued for later Israelites in accord with the conception in rabbinic literature? Such a notion would certainly contradict the Pauline gospel of justification by faith and would demonstrate that an incompatible element has been imported into Pauline theology, presumably because of his devotion to his ethnic heritage. But the charge of incompatibility should not be accepted. Indeed, the γάρ (gar, for) in verse 29 (“for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”) indicates that this verse functions as the ground or explanation for verse 28. Before explaining the relationship between verses 28 and 29, I need to unpack some of the elements of verse 29. The χαρίσματα (charismata, gifts) most likely refer to the list found in Rom. 9:4–5: Israel’s adoption, glory, covenants, law, service, and promises. The emphasis here lies on the promise of salvation. As usual in Paul (cf. 8:28, 30; 9:12), κλῆσις (klēsis, calling) denotes God’s effective call to salvation, and here Paul reflects on the call of Abraham and Israel (Gen. 12:1–3; Deut. 7:6–7; Ps. 135:4; Isa. 41:8–10; Ezek. 20:5). The word ἀμεταμέλητα (ametamelēta, irrevocable) is a legal term (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10) indicating the unbreakable nature of God’s gifts and calling. Discerning the connection between verses 28 and 29 helps us understand what the phrase “beloved because of the fathers” means. We can rule out the idea that they were beloved because of the fathers’ merits since verse 29 grounds God’s love for the fathers in his gifts and gracious call. God did not summon the fathers because of their virtue but because of the glorious freedom of his grace. Nor is the appeal to his past promises a constraint that binds God contrary to his freedom, for God freely made the promises from the beginning, and the fulfillment of the promises represents the constancy of his word. The salvation of Israel at the end of history, then, is the fulfillment of the covenantal promises that were made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God will not forsake his people but has pledged, in accordance with his covenantal love, to graft them again onto the olive tree. Israel’s ancestry does not amount to a claim on God. God freely pledged to bestow his grace upon Israel as an expression of his lovingkindness.1

29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.

That God’s gifts are ‘irrevocable’ does not mean that all Israelites will automatically be included among the elect. What it does mean is that God has not forgotten his promises to the patriarchs, his promise to bless their seed. Israel is still loved on account of the patriarchs, and this means that God has not rejected Israel in his preference for the Gentiles. It also means that he will fulfill his promises to the patriarchs. Paul is encouraged by this that many of his kinsfolk, though currently ‘enemies’ of God, will yet experience God’s blessing as God makes up the full number of the Jewish elect.2

30 Just as you were formerly disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.

The choice between textual variants in 11:31 influences the way this verse is understood. The NIV and NRSV adopt the variant that includes a second ‘now’ (‘so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy’). Two other variants involve either omitting the second ‘now’ or replacing it with ‘later’. The textual evidence supporting both the inclusion and the omission of the second ‘now’ is ‘evenly balanced’. If the second ‘now’ is omitted, Paul could be implying that the time when Israel receives mercy is still in the future. If the second ‘now’ is retained, he could be implying that, just as the Gentiles are ‘now’ receiving mercy through Israel’s disobedience, so too Israel is also ‘now’ receiving mercy as a result of God’s mercy to the Gentiles. Paul then would be seeing the effects of his ministry among the Gentiles, provoking Israel to jealousy and motivating them to repent and believe in the Messiah and so experience God’s mercy in the present time. Some who retain the second ‘now’ still interpret Paul’s statement in terms of a future reception of mercy by the Jews. In this case, as Moo suggests, Paul’s ‘now’ is ‘an expression of imminence, expressing his conviction that this final manifestation of God’s mercy to Israel could take place “now, at any time”‘. If the second ‘now’ is replaced by ‘later’, clearly Paul would be envisaging a future experience of God’s mercy by the currently unbelieving Israel, and therefore the passage would have an eschatological sense.3

32 For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all.

[God] structured history so that his mercy to the Jews would be highlighted in the period in which the Gentiles rejected God. With the arrival of the gospel, however, the situation has been reversed. Now the greatness of his mercy to the Gentiles is unveiled, whereas the Jews are blinded and disobedient. Nonetheless, this is not the last word for Israel. God will lift the darkness and shine on them in a saving way again. Thereby they will recognize that their salvation is truly a merciful gift and not deserved. Both the “imprisoning” and the extension of mercy are the work of God. The verb for “imprison” (συγκλείειν, synkleiein) emphasizes God’s work in “enclosing” all people under sin (cf. Gal. 3:22–23; in the LXX, Exod. 14:3; Josh. 6:1; 1 Macc. 5:5; 6:18). Similarly, God’s graciousness in bestowing mercy on both Jews and Gentiles is trumpeted.

Some scholars conclude that either universalism is taught here or it cannot be ruled out since the text says that God shut up “all” (πάντας, pantas) to disobedience in order to extend his mercy upon πάντας. They argue that πάντας must have the same denotation in both parts of the verse and thus all people without exception are included. Such an interpretation does not abide by the contextual limits of the Pauline discussion, for the previous verses clarify that the second πάντας refers to Jews and Gentiles as groups. The purpose is not to teach that all people without exception are recipients of God’s mercy, but that all people without distinction (i.e., both Jews and Gentiles) are the beneficiaries of his saving grace. God’s unexpected mercy is the theme that dominates history. He intervenes to save both Jews and Gentiles when they are plunged in sin. Moreover, the oscillation between the salvation of the Jews, then the Gentiles, and then the Jews again hammers home the point that no ethnic group deserves salvation and that God’s saving work is a result of his merciful grace.4

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. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 12179-12197 
  2. Kruse 2014, 446 
  3. Kruse 2014, 447 
  4. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 12234-12250 
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