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What does “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26) mean?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. “Israel” actually means “the church”, composed of Jew and Gentile, e.g. Calvin, Barth and N. T. Wright.
  3. Paul is simply envisaging the resolution of a specific anomalous situation in the Roman church (Nanos).
  4. 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.

Published inRomans

14 Comments

  1. Thanks Lionel.
    As you know this is one of my pet interests, although I’ve not gone back to it in recent years. I’m still in Camp 2, but then I’ve not had the opportunity to review the argument since then.
    You might also be interested in this video of a discussion at Trinity Debates (including Messrs Moo & Feinberg – http://www.henrycenter.org/programs/trinity-debates/

    and, while my stream of consciousness splurts out, wanted to affirm your second bullet:

    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

    Seems entirely correct to me. Whatever it is that Paul is saying, “all Israel will be saved” is a summation of what he has just argued.

    • David, you hold a minority position with an impressive heritage, and for that I salute you 🙂 Thanks for the link; I’ll check it out. If you want to review this further, you might also want to check out an even more recent article by Susan Eastman on the term “Israel” in Romans 11:26 and Galatians 6:16: “Israel and the Mercy of God: A Re-reading of Galatians 6.16 and Romans 9-11.” New Testament Studies 56 (2010): 367-395.

  2. What are his arguments against the “eschatological miracle”?

    • @Luke, he basically shows that the arguments used to support the “eschatological miracle” position are very weak. He has an argument from the text, and an argument from the context. The argument from the text consists primarily of the two exegetical points I mentioned in my post. The argument from context is that the “eschatological miracle” interpretation would introduce an alien concept into the argument of Romans 9-11, and especially of Romans 11, which is speaking about the interdependence of the pre-parousia mission to the gentiles and the salvation of Israel. He also shows that his own interpretation fits the text and the context far more satisfactorily.

  3. John Smuts

    Thanks for this Lionel. I’ve always read Romans 11 this way (and therefore am slightly surprised at your confidence in the “eschatological miracle” being the clear majority view).

    I really think Calvin et al are mistaken here. The immediate context does seem to demand Israel to be used in a national sense. Romans 9: 6 is also important but is to remote in context to control this verse two chapters later.

    However, I do think that the key is found at the beginning of chapter 9. This is not just a theological problem but a personal issue that Paul is wrestling with. He, personally, is an Israelite who has believed in Christ – how come so few of his countrymen have done the same? Romans 11: 26 is an affirmation of faith. Paul is tying together his personal and theological arguments and bringing them to a conclusion.

    And his conclusion is this – rest assured, by the end all elect Israelites will be saved by trusting in Christ, the Lord will not lose a single one. Neither Israelite nor Gentile will be complaining, “That’s not fair!” when Christ returns in glory.

    • Hi John – this seems the plainest reading to me too, and I have held something like it for the last few years at least. I suppose that means I’m biased towards accepting Zoccali’s arguments 😉 Even so, I think he makes a very good case.

      It’s important to note that I qualified my statement about the “majority” view – I said it was the majority view “amongst commentators and scholars” (by which I meant published writers). I don’t know if anyone has ever done a survey to find out what the average reader of Scripture thinks 🙂 FYI, Zoccali cites the following commentators and scholars among those who take this view (I’ll just quote author, year and page number):

      Bruce 1966: 220-22
      Munck 1967: 131-38
      Mussner 1976: 241-55
      Cranfield 1979: 572-79
      Käsemann 1980: 311-15
      Sanders 1985: 194
      Dunn 1988: 677-84
      Hofius 1990: 19-39
      Barrett 1991: 204-207
      Fitzmyer 1993: 618-25
      Stuhlmacher 1994: 170-73
      Bell 1994: 127-45
      Moo 1996: 710-29
      Byrne 1996: 348-55
      Esler 2003: 305-306
      Witherington 2004: 273-76
      Jewett 2007: 694-706

      I’m with you on the importance of Paul’s statements about himself – in fact, that’s exactly what I’m concentrating on right now in my studies: the significance and function of Paul’s self-references in Romans 9-11! I think that Paul doesn’t merely see this as an important issue because he is an Israelite, but because he is the Israelite servant of the Lord (Rom 1:1, cf. Isa 49:1-7), with a task from God both for the sake of the rest of Israel and for the sake of the nations.

  4. John Smuts

    Interesting Lionel – I always love to see a list of names with Kasemann and Sanders alongside Moo and Witherington!

    Also interesting about the servant allusion. I’m just starting to preach my way through Isaiah and I’m wary (of myself) in seeing the suffering servant everywhere I look. The title I’ve given to the whole book is ‘The First Gospel’ since I’m gaining confidence in just how influential Isaiah is to the NT writers.

    Your current studies sound fruitful.

  5. @John: I think you’re right to be wary. I spent about 8,000 words arguing that Romans 1:1 is an allusion to the servant of Isaiah, and in a few weeks I’m going to present my argument to a bunch of other students and ask them to pick holes in it or shoot me down!

    Many others have called Isaiah the “Fifth Gospel”: cf. (rather randomly) Sawyer and Trimmer. I like “first”, though, just as a simple matter of timing. May God bless his people through your preaching.

  6. you know what, I sat down with a parishioner last week and worked through Romans 9-10 with them. I was struck again that the “true Israel” in those chapters is clearly the ongoing elected remnant within the ethnic nation.
    If that’s the case then does that put me in severe danger of veering towards an option 5 – ie that there the “all Israel” is the “all true Israel” (viz Rom 9:6 etc)? If that’s the case then is it the continuation/extension of the same themes in Rom 9?

    • Hi David – great stuff! I think the quick answer is that while Romans 11 is closely related to Romans 9-10, it has different emphases; especially in Romans 9-10 you have a “whittling down” / “deconstruction” of Israel, but in Romans 11 the general gist is towards a “fulfilling” / “reconstruction” of Israel. Some people even see it like a death and resurrection of Israel (I’m not sure about this yet). The remnant of Paul’s present day is specifically mentioned in 11:1-10, but the remnant seems to be smaller than the “all Israel” mentioned later. “All Israel” looks like it’s a bigger, or at least more complete / final, group than “some of Israel” or of the “remnant”.

  7. so is that then a “modified eschatological miracle”?
    Admittedly, I’ve not read the Zoccali article yet. Long gone are the days when I could be at the theological library in 2 minutes and cheerily mull it over between classes!

    Oh, and can you set up a simple comment subscription on individual posts? Is that possible?

    • @David: 4 responses to 4 comments:

      1) Not necessarily a “modified eschatological miracle”. The “eschatological miracle” interpretation assumes that the salvation of “all Israel” will happen suddenly, all at once, as a miracle at the Parousia. Zoccali’s interpretation is deliberately vague on the timing, but basically sees “all Israel” as the elect being called over the time between the resurrection and the parousia. The point about the difference between the “remnant” and “all Israel” is that the “remnant” term in the OT (and therefore in Paul) is generally reserved for a smallish group whose existence holds the hope for a larger group. “All Israel” is that larger group – the totality of the elect Israelites called over time between resurrection and parousia, not just the elect remnant from Israel at Paul’s time.

      2) About the Gentiles and the remnant, I guess I have noticed it (sorry); I think that’s because Paul sees a very strong interdependence between the existence of the elect remnant from Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles. My own thesis (at this point) is exploring this relationship in terms of Paul’s own ministry: Paul the apostle to the Gentiles is an “Israelite, seed of Abraham” (11:1) This doesn’t necessarily imply that the Gentiles are part of the elect remnant from Israel; just that elect from Israel and the elect from the nations share an interdependent relationship.

      3) About your glory days in the library: it reminds me of the great privilege I have to have been given the time and opportunity to do this kind of stuff!

      4) Thanks for the prompting about the comment subscription service – I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but keep putting it off. It’s done now!

      • well then,

        1) That sounds entirely reasonable.
        2) boo, can’t you just pretend that in the 2,000 history of Christian scholarship I’m the first to notice that?
        3) true, but I seem to remember that your concentration levels were distinctly higher than mine – despite my attempts to level them both to an equally (low) status.
        4) well, one out of four isn’t bad…. 😉

  8. One more thought for your consideration – when you work hard at the OT quotes that Paul uses in Rom 9-10 (not gone back to 11 yet) it is fascinating that while they speak of an “elected remnant” amongst Israel they all also come in the context of an influx of Gentiles.

    Please tell me you hadn’t seen that yet 😉

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