In my previous post I address two examples of how Paul uses the term “Israel” allegorically. You can read that here: “Israel”: Two Examples of the Allegorical Use of Israel*. Despite that, in this post I will argue that when Paul says “all Israel will be saved” in Romans 11, he is using the term “Israel” to refer to literal Israel.
3 Approaches to “All Israel Will Be Saved”
Romans 11:25-27 has been a topic of argument among theologians for centuries, and there is still much disagreement as to what the phrase, “and so all Israel will be saved”(Romans 11:25b-26 NIV) means. What Paul means by all Israel is typically taken one of three ways:
- All believers – whether Jew or Gentile
- All the elect Jews
- All of ethnic or national Israel.
Interpretation of this passage depends largely, on which hermeneutical technique is utilized. When Paul uses the term Israel in Roman’s 11 it can either be taken literally to mean the Jewish people or nation, or it can be allegorized to mean the Church, the body of believers. It is my conviction that Romans 11:25-27 should not be interpreted allegorically, and the passage should be understood as; God will save all national and ethnic Israel through the process of electing the remnant of Israel (Merkle).
The Context: Israel in Romans 9-11
Romans 9-11 gives an account of God’s redemptive plan for Jews and Gentiles, while addressing three major steps in that plan, the hardening of Israel’s heart, the coming of the fullness of the Gentiles, and the salvation of all of Israel all through the process of election. The way that Israel is used throughout chapters 9-11 has to be studied in order to determine how Israel should be interpreted in 11:25-27 “As far as the general context and the immediate context is concerned, there is no ground for spiritualizing the word Israel”(Walvoord). The better part of chapter 9 is explaining God’s process of election in his overall redemptive plan. In verses 1-9 Paul deals with a problem that was running rampant among Jewish people specifically in Rome. Many of them believed that simply because they were decedents of Abraham they had a free ticket into the afterlife (Morris, 352). Paul is making the point that since Abraham, God has been choosing people for salvation. Both Jew and Gentile are under God’s authoritative power of election (Dunn, 666), “What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy…whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Because Paul says that both Jew and Gentile believers are God’s ‘chosen people’ Leon Morris believes that Israel or Israelites should be interpreted as the Church (Morris, 348). This causes some problems when we get to chapter 10. In Romans 10:1 Paul says, “Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” If Israel is referring to God’s elect both Jew and Gentile then it would be impossible for Paul to desire for them to be saved because they either are saved already or are predestined to be saved. The same problem arises in 10:16, “But not all the Israelites accepted God.” In fact there is no other passage in 9-11 in which an allegorical interpretation could fit. Taking the context into account and the contrast Paul makes between Jew and Gentile all throughout Romans 9-11 there is no reason to take the Israel in 11:25-27 allegorically.
Israel in Romans 11:25-27
Romans 11:25-27 should be interpreted as; God will save all national and ethnic Israel through the process of electing the remnant of Israel. Lee Irons believes that ‘all Israel’ is referring to the Church that has now been grafted into the tree, which originally were the Jewish people. He comes to this conclusion through the assumption that the covenant made with ethnic and national Israel was not made with them specifically but rather with God’s chosen people, therefore the covenant is carried along by the Church (Irons). The problem with this interpretation is that in verse 25 Paul makes a distinction between the Gentiles and Israel. If the Church and Israel should be understood as one and the same in this passage then why make the distinction? Douglas Moo believes the distinction is present because God used ethnic Israel to bring the Gentiles to himself and is using the Gentile believers to bring Israel to himself. (Moo, 306) God hardened, in part, the hearts of the Jews and therefore they rejected Christ. Without Israel’s rejection of the Messiah Christianity would have stayed an ethnocentric religion because of the strong nationalism that was present in 1st-century Judaism. (Dunn, 670) Because of the Jews rejection of Christ, countless Gentiles have come to Christ. In the same way that God used the Jewish rejection to bring Gentiles into the Kingdom, he will use the Gentiles acceptance to draw the Jews into the Kingdom. Paul discusses this process in Romans 11:13-15. He acknowledges that the Jews rejection is the “reconciliation of the world” (Romans 11:15) and hopes that by preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, the Jews will become envious of the hope that they have and turn to Christ at least in part. The distinction between the Gentiles and Israel in 11:25 is important because God has used each group in different ways to win the other to himself. Douglas Moo’s interpretation of Romans 9-11 is that at the end of time when God has saved all the elect of the Gentiles a great revival will take place among the Jewish people and all “Israel will be save”. This does not suggest that God only saved the Gentiles in order that the remnant of Israel would be saved, but that in God’s sovereignty he used both peoples, throughout history to bring the full number of Jew and Gentile to himself. “So the great revival of the Jewish people will take place at the end of history after the time of the Gentiles. At that time all Israel will be saved” (Moo, 305). This is was an important point to be made at the occasion of Paul’s writing to the church at Rome. They were experiencing disunity because the Jewish believers were trying to convince the Gentile believers that they had to follow Jewish customs, and the Gentile believers had a sense of pride coming from the idea that they had somehow taken the place of Israel (Moo, 304). It was important for the church at Rome, and for the Church today, to understand that God did not choose the Gentiles over Israel, or the Gentiles for Israel. Instead God chose the Gentiles and Israel in order that both peoples would be used to bring one another to him. Ben Merkle, following the influence of John Calvin and N.T. Wright points out that the full number of the Gentiles and the totality of the remnant of Israel in Romans 11:25-27 would be the total amount of people elected by God for salvation (Merkle).
In conclusion Romans 11:25-27 should be interpreted as; God will save all national and ethnic Israel through the process of electing the remnant of Israel, and taking the context of Romans 9-11 into account ‘all Israel’ should be understood as the remnant elect of ethnic national Israel, and should not be allegorized.
*Originally written as a paper for Crown College’s Romans class.
Dunn, James D. G. Romans: 9-16. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1988. Print.
Irons, Lee. “Paul’s Theology of Israel’s Future: A Nonmillennial Interpretation of
Romans 11.” Reformation and Revival RAR 06:2 (Spring 1997): Internet Source.
MacDonald, William, and Arthur L. Farstad. Believers Bible Commentary: New
Testament. Nashville, Tenn: T. Nelson Publishers, 1990. Print.
Merkle, Ben L. “Romans 11 And The Future Of Ethnic Israel.” Journal of the
Evangelical Theological Society JETS 43:3 (Dec 2000): Internet Source.
Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.
Co, 1996. Print.
Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1988.
Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael G. Vanlaningham. The Moody Bible Commentary. ,
About Nathan Phillips
Nathan is blessed to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ through His amazing grace. He is dedicated to serving Him with his life. As a part of this, Nathan is pursuing vocational ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He is also currently working on my MDiv at Crown College in Minnesota. He has an amazing wife and a beautiful baby daughter. His passions include providing for his family, theology, politics, and hanging out with loved ones.