That’s pretty much where I’m at Craig. It should be noted however that although Israel was initially ethnic orientated THAT was not there strength. At the core of Israel’s identity was NOT race but “covenant” – they were elect of God to reflect Him to the world beyond and the OT is replete with Gentiles joining themselves in covenant to Yahweh via becoming a part of historic Israel.
So, when you really think about it and considering the likes of David’s gentile heritage, this also gives another nifty twist to Paul’s… “they are not all Israel who are of Israel”.
PS: if you haven’t read them already I have some other thoughts on “Israel” in this thread over HERE.
On the expression “all Israel,” Wright is famous for arguing a minority position that this refers to all who will become Christian believers. Dr. John Barclay, N.T. prof at Durham, earned his doctorate under Wright, and has sympathy with much of his approach. But in discussing this with him, he told me about a large conference of N.T. scholars that met with Wright in Australia and pressed him about 11:26. Barclay said that not one scholar sided with Wright’s interpretation. For the dominating interpretation was that in the surrounding context Paul is using ‘Israel’ to refer to ethnic Jews, and this was his way of speaking about his burden for his kinsmen by race. I think this interpretation is shared by both Talbott and Parry. Thus, while my interpretations are profoundly influenced by Wright’s penetrating interpretations of both Jesus and Paul, my bias is that the burden concerning 11:26 is on those who would argue that the context supports a reference to non-Jews here.
I can certainly understand where you are coming from Paidion but I do at this stage lean toward the idea that in v26 Paul is speaking of his fellow Jews, those of his own race - as Davo and Bob have put forward. This seems to fit better with the following verses. I can see how v26,27 could fit in with your interpretation as you have described but I cannot see how vs 28-31 can fit in well with it. If you have any comments on how you understand v28-31 in relation to v26 I would be interested in hearing them.
For Bob and Davo or any others who understand “Israel” in v26 to be referring to ethnic Jews - some more questions if I may.
1 If “Israel” refers to ethnic Jews, what does Paul mean by “All Israel”?
2 After discussing 11:26 Talbott says on p72 “There is simply no way, as far as I can tell, to escape the universalistic implication here.” Do you agree with him? How does your understanding of this verse relate to your understanding of Universal Reconciliation?
3 How do you relate what Paul says in 9:27 “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved” with 11:26 “All Israel will be saved”? These statements sound contradictory.
Good questions, Craig! I think the major debate on “all” here has been whether it is a hyperbolic way of speaking of a lot Jewish converts (perhaps responding to the time of the the second coming) versus a more universalistic salvation of Jews. The context of angst over unbelieving fellow Jews and the doxology that follows 11:26’s affirmation makes it plausible to interpret it as all Jews (Paul’s apparently satisfied joy here seems strange if he thinks that the reality is that Most Jews will be damned). Of course, this is short of proving universalism that encompasses non-Jews (which relies more on other texts). But it’s not inconsistent with universalism, and 11:12 encourages that when Israel’s “full inclusion” happens, it will lead to even greater riches experienced among Gentiles. My own sense if that if we see Paul affirming that God’s irrevocable promises to Jews means that ultimately they all will experience salvation, it would seem strange to believe that God’s grace would not be equally generous to all of those created in his image.
9:27 does sound contradictory. But Isaiah was referring to the historical reality that the survivors of exile amounted to only a small remnant (in a context where there may have been no dealings expected beyond death). Similarly, at some points such as here, Paul seems to address the historical reality that only a small remnant of Israel has believed. But this is in a wider context of arguing that God is not finished yet, and that they are not beyond recovery. Rather, it is that hope that allows one to affirm that God’s promises concerning Jews still stand. This allows the climax of 11:26 to then refer to an ultimate universalistic outcome. Have you seen Parry’s new section on Romans 9-11 in the revised Evangelical Universalist? I recall that it focuses on this very tension. He argues in detail that Paul uses “Israel” in two different senses in this passage, and that at some points Paul speaks of God’s dealings with Israel as conditional and thus only being observed to be fulfilled in a remnant, yet at other places Paul seems to affirm a more unconditional and ultimately universal hope for “Israel.”
Thank you for bringing that up, Craig. I will attempt to exegete verses 28-32. I know they can be interpreted from the point of view that God intends to save all national Israel and fulfill the promises made to ancient Israel by restoring them in the promised land, reinstating the Mosaic law, etc. But this does not jive with the rest of Paul’s teachings concerning the Old Covenant passing away and being replaced by the New. He illustrated this by saying that when a man dies, his wife is free to marry another. (Rom 7:1-3).
Paul is doubtless speaking of his “brethren according to the flesh” for whom he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” and wished that “he himself were accursed and cut off from Christ” for their sake. (Rom 9:1-3). He states that with regards to their calling they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. He doesn’t say by whom they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. Some claim they are beloved by God for their forefather’s sake. But does that make sense? Did Jesus honour the Pharisees for the sake of their forefathers? He uttered some very harsh words in their direction, calling them names such as “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs” (Matt 23:27). He also said to them,
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (Matt 21:43).
That doesn’t sound like Jesus was promising their restoration in the promised land. What was the “nation” to which the Kingdom would be given? Was it not the nation that were subjects to the King, the Messiah that was sent to them?—that is, the Messianic nation (or “Christian” nation).
I think in vs 28, Paul is indicating here that he himself loves his “brethren according to the flesh” for the sake of their forefathers. That is why he would be willing to be cut off from Christ, if they could only be saved.
Wow! If this is what this sentence says, I would have to concede that I was wrong in my understanding. For many in the other camp (those who believe this is all about Christ restoring national Israel, and the Mosaic law, and setting up His headquarters in Jerusalem), this is their prime proof text. God’s calling of Israel is irrevocable, and so He WILL restore them as a nation under His rule, and save them all.
But unfortunately for that interpretation the word “ἀμεταμελητος” does NOT mean “irrevocable”. Rendering it as such, I think, is based on the paradigm of translators from the other camp due to their understanding (or misunderstanding) of the passage. There is one other verse in the NT which uses this Greek word. Let’s see how the NKJV of that passage would look if the word were translated as “irrevocable”, as they had translated it in Rom 11:29:
For Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, irrevocable; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2Cor 7:10)
Does this make sense? But fortunately, the NKJV translates the word correctly in this case:
For Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2Cor 7:10)
And this is exactly how Rotherham translated the word in Rom 11:29
For, not to be regretted, are the gifts and the calling of God. (Rom 11:29 Rotherham)
In Greek, the prefix ἀ is placed before a word to express its negation. Thus “ἀμεταμελητος” means “not μεταμελητος”.
The word “μεταμελητος” occurs several timesin the NT, and I assure you it does NOT mean “revocable”. No translation renders it as such.
The NKJV renders the word 3 times in these verses as “do regret”, “did regret” or “regretted”, twice as “will relent” and once as “was remorseful”"
Mt 21:29 "He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went.
Mt 21:32 "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.
Mt 27:3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
2Co 7:8 For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.
Heb 7:21 (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: “The LORD has sworn And will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’”)
Thus, as I see it, this verse is saying that God does not regret the fact that He called ancient Israel, and gave gifts to her.
Paul seems to be saying that the Gentiles in the Roman church used to be disobedient, but now the gospel went out to them because the disobedient Jews would not receive it, and so God had mercy on the Gentiles who responded to the gospel. Likewise, now that the Gentiles have accepted the gospel, the Jews can now receive mercy if they respond to the message given to them by the Gentiles.
God has not intervened to prevent the disobedience of either the Jews or the Gentiles. But He sent His Son, and through the apostles the gospel, so that He might have mercy on all.
Having written all these marvels, Paul is overwhelmed by the wisdom, knowledge, and judgments of God! We cannot understand the logistics, but neveretheless, by means of these characteristics and actions, He carries out His divine purposes of restoration to Himself!
On #1) “ALL” speaks of historic Israel of ages past and present up to Christ’s Ad70 Parousia where all vestiges the OC age closed in finality.
On #2) Much of Paul’s “universalism” is specifically Israel-centric; it did however in divine consequence have a broader intended purpose and reach, as per…
Rom 11:12, 15Now if their [Israel’s] fall is riches for the world [humanity], and their [Israel’s] failure riches for the Gentiles [firstfruit saints [b]Act 13:48; 15:14, 17], how much more their [Israel’s] fullness! … For if their [Israel] being cast away [by God] is the reconciling of the world [humanity], what will their [Israel’s] acceptance [by God] be but life [redemptive resurrection]* from the dead?*.
On #3) Given various contexts the terms ‘saved/salvation’ and have differing applications. As for Rom 11:26 it speaks to historic Israel’s national or corporate redemption i.e., the forgiveness of sins – specifically described as “the ungodliness of Jacob” as per verses 27 & 28. Rom 9:27 however alludes to part of the process by which this came became a reality, mainly Israel’s elect firstfruit saints and the deliverance i.e., “salvation” out of the soon coming ‘great tribulation’ of Ad66-70.
And by way of clarification… what I’m advocating with regards to the restoration of historic Israel is NOT the same as Paidion is saying with regards to a return and resumption of OC realities, THAT is however what dispensational futurism teaches and I agree with Paidion as this couldn’t have been further from Paul’s mind. What I’m saying, happened in the past and should be left in the past being part of Christ’s “this generation” where redemption and reconciliation were secured, period, for time immemorial.
Remember, the restoration of Israel was not about fleshly ordinances but all about covenant renewal and that came and was fulfilled in Christ 2Cor 1:20].
Thanks Paidion for your exegesis of 11:28ff. There is much here that sounds very good and some new information for me to think on.
The main weakness to me seems to be in this:
Paul says he is talking to the Gentiles in v13. So the “you” in the following verses refers to the Gentiles.
“They” seems to refer to ethnic Israel throughout the chapter and “Israel” refers to ethnic Israel throughout the chapter (with the possible one exception of v26)
You have agreed that “they” in verse 28 refers to ethnic Israel - “Paul’s brethren according to the flesh”. Wouldn’t “they” in v28 most naturally refer back to and be the same group of people as “Israel” in v26?
In other words, if Israel in v26 is the “true Israel” consisting of both believing Gentiles and Jews, then wouldn’t it be most natural to think that “they” in verse 28 would also refer to the “true Israel” - but you have agreed that it refers to ethnic Israel.
I realise that Paul can often be confusing to read, but if Paul used Israel in v26 to mean “true Israel” without clearly saying, and then followed it with “they” meaning ethnic Israel, this would be very confusing indeed!
Do you have any thoughts on this problem?
Thanks Bob very much for your helpful post. You asked
I have read it in the past, but just read it again and am still digesting it. My impression is that he is trying well to gather together a number of seemingly contradictory and confusing things, but in a way that tries to do justice to all of the material. I feel positive toward his view at the moment. It is in Appendix 6 under “The election of Israel” for anyone interested in reading it.
I will need to think more about it and see if I still have some more questions.
Paidion, some of your problems with understanding “Israel” as ethnic Israel in v26 seem to be related to an opposition to dispensationalism, reinstating the Mosaic law, restoring Israel to the promised land etc. I may be wrong because I am a bit ignorant about dispensationalism, but I don’t think it is necessary to hold to a literal fulfilment concerning the land, the sacrifices, the temple, the Mosaic law etc to believe that God still has plans for the conversion of all ethnic Israel. Davo seems to be saying this as well.
I was wondering if you have read Robin Parry’s section on Rom 9-11 or can see problems with his view that I am missing at this stage and should look into further. Thank you.
Thanks Davo for your post. I agree with much of what you say. I will need to look into your preterist leanings more at some time in the future.
I agree with distinguishing 11:26 from dispensationalism (which seems a peculiarly American interpretation). When Barclay said all the scholars affirmed “Israel” as a reference to ethnic Jews, I assume very few were dispensationlist, or saw a return to O.T. national Israel. I presume that they just assumed Paul was affirming that God’s commitment to Jews is stedfast, and will ultimately be fulfilled in some sort of turning to Christ as their genuine Messiah, in a way that paralleled what had already been happening with some Gentiles and Jews.
Yes, in thinking along the lines of Robin Parry’s interpretation, the dispensational approach never occurred to me until Paidion brought it up.
As I am thinking more about it, I think Paidion does have a point though that I am confused about. You said
Robin Parry mentions 9:4,5 and Rom 11:28,29 and the present tense of the blessings of the covenants etc to say that the corporate election of ethnic Israel is still in place. This makes sense to me the way it reads, even if Paidion’s comments about “irrevocable” meaning “without regret” are correct.
On the other hand, Paidion makes the point that other parts of scripture sound like the old covenant has passed away and so could sound contradictory to what Robin says.
This seems to be what is driving Paidion to disagree with Robin’s view.
Bob, (or anyone else who is interested), do you have any more comments on this area of confusion? Thank you.
I suppose it depends on how one interprets “the corporate election of Israel is still in place.” I’m not at all clear that Parry means by this that there will be a return to Israel’s separateness in the national form that is seen in the Old Testament. 229-33 says it means that “God’s election and calling of Israel is not and cannot be negated by Israel’s rejection of the Messiah.” For since this rejection by part of Israel is literally God’s “strategy,” we should affirm that Paul’s reference to the part of Israel in unbelief set aside for wrath “is Not about the eternal fate of those ‘not elect in grace.’” Thus, “if God is to be faithful to Israel as chosen,” "Jews that are currently ‘non-elect’ must become ‘elect.’
As you know, there is much debate as to the nature of Israel’s unique selection and role, and whether Jews should continue to have a separate identity and lifestyle from Gentile believers, etc, much less will function differently in the eschatological future. I’m not sure, but I interpret Parry’s words about “Israel’s continuing corporate election” as simply arguing that God’s original commitment to deliver this ethnic group means that nothing can stop him from faithfully seeing that every one of them will ultimately be saved from his wrath into God’s full blessing in Christ. Of course, as a universalist, I see Israel’s calling to bring all peoples to God, as ultimately implying that nothing can stop God from faithfully seeing that all Gentiles will also be saved. I.e. if “corporate election” essentially means God’s saving choice of ethnic Jews in Parry’s wider sense of election, one can affirm that historically unique commitment without implying some sort of dispensational future, or that God will forever have two people separate in how they come to God, or in their ultimate identity. This is how I see it, though I wish I could state it with more clarity
Craig, I can see that you are really searching and trying to make sense of Rom 9-11. Yes it does appear that Paul speaks of a single “Israel” in all verses, but I think it is clear that Paul speaks of the purification of Israel, and refers to non-remnant Israelites and Messianic Israelites, as well as Israel prior to purification and Israel after purification . Could the “olive tree” of which Paul speaks refer to ethnic Israel? What then were the branches of the wild olive tree which were grafted in? Jewish proselytes? I don’t think so.
The whole passage is all about the purification of Israel. Prior to purification, it contained true Israelites (the remnant) and non-remnant Israelites. Israel was purified in two ways, (1) by removing non-remnant Israelites, and (2) by placing within Israel disciples of the Messiah who were Gentiles. In this way the two became one “new man” as Paul declared in Ephesians. That “new man” was the Israel of God, the “household of God.”
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph 2:11-221)
I am going to quote the passage using “word or words” for non-remnant ethnic Jews, word or words for Israel prior to purification, and “word or words” for the purified Israel, the Israel of God (as I see it); although the true Israel also is “ethnic” in a very real sense; the early Christians (including Jews, of course) referred to themselves as a nation. And Peter wrote the following to Gentiles (who once were not God’s people, but “now”, after becoming disciples of the Messiah, they became God’s people:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9,10)
And now examining the passage from Rom 11:
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry
14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.
15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,
18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.
21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.
24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
25 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.
29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
30 Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience,
31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.
So it’s all about the purification of Israel so that it become the Israel of God. This purification has already occurred (even though both Jews and Gentiles have continued to be grafted in throughout the centuries).
Ethnic Israel, in the nation of Israel today, contains true Israelites, both Jews and Gentiles, as well as many non-remnant Jews who are religiously Jewish. Paul did not consider Jews who were not disciples of Jesus the Messiah to be true Israelites but called them his “kinsmen according to the flesh.” The only promises that God has for them is His offer to them of His Messiah.
I’m not sure I’m following you here. I think the olive tree highlights the difference between ethnic Israel and true Israel, and also that total ethnic Israel consists of believing Jews and unbelieving, hardened Jews. The natural branches broken off are the hardened, unbelieving Jews. The grafted-in branches are the believing Gentiles. Those remaining in the tree or grafted into the tree are the true Israel (both Jewish and Gentile believers). Those broken off are not true Israelites. I think we would agree on these things.
Are you saying that even though he doesn’t actually use the term “Israel” in verses 13-24, Paul is talking about the difference between ethnic Israel and true Israel, so that when he does use the term “Israel” in v 25,26, his readers would have understood him to be using it in the different senses of the word he has just been describing in the olive tree illustration, and just like he does in 9:6?
Perhaps his original readers would not be as confused by this as I am? Hmmmm. I will need to give this some more thought.
I still think it gets a bit awkward though for your view the way you have done it with the colours in v26-28.
If I understand you correctly, Paul would be saying that
All true Israel (red - which includes both believing Jews and Gentiles) will be saved. To back this up from the scriptures, it is written that the Deliverer will banish ungodliness from total ethnic Israel (green - which includes believing Jews and unbelieving Jews) and take away the sins of the unbelieving, hardened Jews (blue).
They (the unbelieving, hardened Jews) ……
I may have misunderstood what you are saying here, but if that is what you mean, it does seem difficult to follow Paul’s train of thought.
So I’m still thinking that although your view would solve some problems, it struggles a bit with the verses following v 26.
Another question I asked a while back that you may have missed, concerns the affect your view of Rom 9-11 has on UR.
If I can understand how both your view and Bob’s view are consistent with Christian Universalism, and how each view does not require a Calvinistic view of Rom 9, then I may be satisfied that either view is possible, even though I may lean more to one than the other.
Re Romans 9:27, in context, this is limited to events in “the earth” (v.28), not final destiny (Rom.5:18; 11:26-32; Mt.1:21 + 2:6)
after the earth has passed away & there is a new heavens & a new earth (Revelation 20-22; 1 Cor.15:22-28).
One take or concievable possibility on the specifics of it is as follows:
“27 Isaiah’s testimony is to the same effect. A remnant in Israel shall be saved in the coming time of reckoning.
These are seen in the Unveiling as the hundred and forty-four thousand and the vast throng (Un.7:4, 9)” concordant.org/expositions/conco … he-romans/
In the above quote the site lists it as v.21 which i assume is a typo.
Unveiling refers to the book of Revelation by another name.
I have some things to comment concerning Romans 9-11, most (if not all) of which I have learned from reading N. T. Wright’s recent book, “Paul and the Faithfulness of God,” which has been absolutely excellent. As for some opening remarks to frame my own background, I would like to comment a few things about myself and N. T. Wright’s book on Paul as I understand it.
I was raised in the RLDS Church (a denomination within Mormonism) until I was five. I have no memory of being a Mormon, however.
My parents converted to evangelicalism when I was five. During the past three years (I’m in my mid-twenties), I have become convinced that evangelicalism is not a tradition for me. Specifically, I personally find evangelicalism’s approaches to the Bible, ecclesial (Church) authority, sexuality, and “the gospel” to be rather quaint and shallow. However, I do respect evangelicalism as it is meant to be.
I began considering eschatological universalism a little over a year ago when I read George MacDonald’s sermon called “Justice.” (I now refer to George MacDonald affectionately as “Saint MacDonald.” Yes, he is that fantastic, as I am more than confident that multiple contributors to this forum will passionately agree.) Other figures who helped me come to my current position, which I call “convinced eschatological universalism,” include Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, Isaac of Syria, William Barclay, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jürgen Moltmann, and David Bentley Hart. I call my position “convinced eschatological universalism” because:
i) I am convinced that all humans and demons – including the devil – will be saved at some point in the eschatological future.
ii) I am convinced that eschatological universalism can be accepted as a dogma because it is itself rooted in the nature and character of God as revealed by Scripture and Tradition.
iii) I believe that universalism, in order to be Christian, must be eschatological. Christian Scripture and Tradition gives little reason to suspect that everyone is “automatically” saved. Salvation is a process, one that few individuals undergo completely in this age. (Incidentally, this is also why I believe in the sanctification model of purgatory espoused by Arminian scholar Jerry L. Walls.)
About N. T. Wright’s book on Paul:
Wright has explicitly expressed his lack of interest or faith in any kind of universalism, except for the universalism which says that Christ accepts all who have faith “without distinction.” (Jews or Greeks can all be saved, but that does not mean that every “Jew” and every “Greek” will be saved.)
Wright does not believe that Paul was by any means a “universalist” in the sense that we in this forum use the term.
That said, I am prepared to make a few remarks about Romans 9-11 in Wright’s thought.
I imagine that this has already been noted (I know in particular that our beloved Robin Parry is aware of this), but Wright’s view of “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 means “all of the Church.” Wright notes elsewhere where Paul refers to Christians as “the Jew” (Romans 2:29) or “the circumcision” (Philippians 3:3) without qualifying either the statement “the Jew” or “the circumcision.” Similarly, Wright argues – to my own mind, convincingly – that Paul is referring to the Church in Romans 11:26. The Church is the true Israel, as it is the true “circumcision.” Therefore, if Wright is right (hehe), Romans 9-11 does not itself seem to “prove” universal salvation.
Wright sees Romans 9-11 as an overtly eschatological text. Beginning with recounting the, to an ethnic Jew, strictly uncontroversial story of Israel in Romans 9 – Romans 9 is NOT about theological determinism, contrary to the zealous insistence of many Calvinists – Paul proceeds to Romans 10, where he explains the role of the Messiah in all of the strange recent events, and then finally arrives at Romans 11, where he is in completely new territory as far as First Century Second-Temple Judaism was concerned. The Messiah came at the end – the “telos” – of Israel’s story as told in Romans 9. Again, Romans 9 would have been uncontroversial to most ethnic Jews, though it would undoubtedly have been quite surprising to persons of non-Jewish backgrounds. (Hence Paul’s question in Romans 9:14.) Tragically, the Messiah was rejected by most ethnic Jews. What then? Romans 11 seeks to answer that question.
Wright argues that several of Paul’s comments suggest that Paul did not explicitly expect the salvation of all. If Paul knew all would anyhow be saved, why pray the prayers of Romans 9:3 and Romans 10:1? Why say, “if,” in the sentence, “if they do not remain in unbelief” (Romans 11:23) if Paul knew in any case that they would one day all believe?
In my opinion, there are multiple possible explanations of the third point above. One that is satisfying to me is that Paul was not a convinced eschatological universalist. That is, Paul was not a universalist. This personally does not bother me at all (even though I am a convinced eschatological unversalist). After all, many excellent mothers and fathers of the Church have not been universalists. St. Augustine was almost the opposite of a universalist, but his writings are still incredible. Aquinas was not a universalist, either, but we can still learn from him. If Paul was not a universalist – and he still might have been, per Romans 5:18-19, 1 Corinthians 15:22, Ephesians 1:10, Philippians 2:9-11, Colossians 1:19-10, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 1 Timothy 4:10, though N. T. Wright would undoubtedly disagree with me here – it really would not affect my own belief in universalism much at all. We should expect that, over the ages, elements of truth will become clear to the Church that were before only glimpsed “as only a reflection in a mirror, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
These are some of my foremost thoughts on Romans 9-11. I hope they will be helpful.