Rightly Dividing: Romans 11

Remember to approach Romans 11 in the context and flow of chapters 9 through 11. These chapters concern the objects of gospel – the question is: who gets to enjoy these gospel benefits?

Here is an outline of the whole book in terms of Paul’s unfolding of the gospel:

1-3: Universal gospel

4-8: Spiritual effects of the gospel (personal)

9-11: The objects of the gospel

12-16: the practical effects of the gospel (communal)

Remember also that the trigger for chapters 9-11 was Romans 8:28-30, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. / For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. / Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Romans 11 is textured with many complicated arguments. However, the whole chapter has a relatively simple structure. It consists of two questions and a doxology. Here consider the big questions posed, along with their clear answers:

11:1-10 Has God cast away His people? Answer: there is and has always been an elect remnant.

11:11-32 Why did God make national Israel fall? Answer: to bring in the nations.

11:33-36 Doxology – in praise of all that has been discussed in chapters 1-11.

Big question here: Is this chapter describing the future return of of the Jews, or a return of the Jews in Paul’s time? Or both?

Some helpful interpretive guidelines in reading this chapter:

My friend John Andrade said, “We believe that the church doesn’t replace Israel but that we are instead made one with them and that in Christ there is no telling us apart. A believing Jew and a believing gentile look identical to God and His plans for both of them are the exact same.”

It would be wrong for us to look for a future influx of Jews or a future salvation of the entire political nation of Israel at one point in human history. Note that the things Paul is praying for in Romans 11 he is praying for in his lifetime. He is not setting forth a plan for human history, but rather a hope that could take place at any time, including in Paul’s life.

If we want to be precise, we could say that the church is ingrafted into Israel. But also that national Israel always had a remnant within it of actually, spiritually saved people, who we could think of as “true Israel.” That true Israel is saved in the same way that everyone in the church is saved. And the promises that John MacArthur (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtue2oFiIMQ) would relegate to Israel alone are actually for all saved people – all, both from the nation of Israel and from the nations of the world.

Moreover, the church is “spiritual Israel,” and the church should be taught and enabled to grasp every single promise given in the Old Testament as spiritually, directly, and intimately giving to the church.

I think it is lamentably sad that men like MacArthur would relegate the passages he mentions in the above clip to national Israel alone. Evidence against that way of thinking: the whole book of Hebrews, as well as many of the OT quotations Paul has mobilized throughout Romans.

“It has to be this way” Passages

At this point in our study, we ought to look back and gather what I would call Paul’s “it has to be this way” passages. These are affirmations of the logic of the book of Romans. At the same time, they are proclamations of God’s sovereignty. And at the same time, they are interpretive keys to the whole book. In the following passages, it is as if Paul is saying, “This is how God works, and what I, Paul, have described is a fulfillment of His working, and a reflection of His attributes. What we are talking about here is absolutely necessary in God’s eyes, and is in absolute accordance with our Lord’s unbreakable will.”

Romans 4:16: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…”

9:11 “…for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls…”

11:5-6 “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. / And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.”

It has to be that way. What Paul is describing is meant to lock and solidify the inner workings of the will of God in our minds and hearts. It can be no other way. And why would be want it any other way?

One thought on “Rightly Dividing: Romans 11

  1. Hi Sam, I read over your Romans 11 notes. Interestingly, I did so AFTER I sent you my GBOM notes. As you can see, I would argue against the idea of the spiritualization of Israel and incorporation of gentiles into Romans 11:26 specifically. I included my eschatology papers from last semester which go into this point in great detail. The main problem with essentially saying that “all of Israel” includes the saved gentile believers is that it would not allow for fulfillment of God’s unconditional covenant promises to the Israelites in multiple OT passages.


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