One of the best articles I’ve read on what Paul meant when he said “all Israel will be saved” is by Christopher Zoccali, “‘And So All Israel will be Saved’: Competing Interpretations of Romans 11.26 in Pauline Scholarship.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 3 (2008): 289-318.
Zoccali argues, compellingly to my mind, that “all Israel” refers to “the complete number of elect from the historical/empirical nation”; that is, it is describing the process from the resurrection of Jesus to his return whereby a significant number of Jews are provoked to jealousy by the gentiles’ generally positive response to the preaching of the gospel and so come to trust in Jesus as their own Messiah.
Zoccali list four main alternatives to this view, and shows the problems with each of them:
- The “eschatological miracle”; i.e. a wholesale turning of the Jewish people to Christ when he returns. This is the majority view today amongst commentators and scholars.
- “Israel” actually means “the church”, composed of Jew and Gentile, e.g. Calvin, Barth and N. T. Wright.
- Paul is simply envisaging the resolution of a specific anomalous situation in the Roman church (Nanos).
- The “two covenant” interpretation, which holds that all Israel will be saved through the Sinai covenant irrespective of faith in Christ, e.g. Gaston and Stowers.
Here are a couple of exegetical points he makes:
- “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25) doesn’t necessarily imply that this hardening will be taken away in a miraculous act at the end of time. In the context of chapter 11, it’s making a statement about the significance of the hardening of Israel; that it is allowing for Gentile salvation by opening up a period of time during which this salvation can occur.
- The phrase καὶ οὔτως (11:26) means what it normally means, “and in this way”. It doesn’t mean “and then”. If Paul had meant to say “and then”, he would have written καὶ τότε
The whole article is worth a read if you’re planning to preach on Romans 11 or if you want to chase up the issue further. Even if you disagree with him, he summarises the issues and the main options very clearly.