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Why does Paul call himself an “Israelite” in Romans 11:1?

Romans 11:1–2a is a major turning point in Paul’s argument:
Vocational Dimension of Jewish Identity

I ask, then: God has not rejected his inheritance, has he? Absolutely not! For I myself am an Israelite, from the seed of Abraham, tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Rom 11:1–2a)

Why does Paul invoke his own person at this pivotal moment to answer the issue concerning Israel’s salvation? In my book, I argue that:
Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans

Paul is drawing attention to his existence, not simply as a saved Israelite, but as the preaching Israelite—the apostle to the Gentiles from Israel. Paul is arguing that Israel’s future is guaranteed because Israel’s divine vocation is in fact being fulfilled by an Israelite. (p. 232)

I first show the inadequacy of alternative proposals (pp. 232-235).

  • It cannot simply be understood in terms of rhetorical effect, since it occurs at a pivotal point in his argument.
  • Paul cannot simply be presenting himself as one example of a “faithful Jew” or an example of the “remnant”, since this explanation does not fit with the argument at this point nor with his situation with respect to his readers
  • Paul cannot be referring to his own paradigmatic conversion experience, since he is personally unknown to his readers and has not mentioned his conversion experience anywhere else in Romans.

Rather,

when Paul speaks positively of his status as “Israelite,” he is speaking of his status as God’s instrument to bring God’s revelation to the world. For Paul, God’s concern for Israel is bound up with God’s choice of Israel to achieve his wider purposes. The fact that it is an Israelite who is achieving God’s positive global purposes, therefore, demonstrates that God has not rejected Israel. (pp. 235-236)

So:

Paul’s self-description as an Israelite from the seed of Abraham and the tribe of Benjamin, therefore, provides the hinge for Israel’s transition from a negative role to a positive role in God’s worldwide purposes. (p. 238)

The full details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 6 of the book (pp. 231-238). The chapter is available from the publisher in electronic format:

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans. BZNW 205. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

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