Recently (4 March 2014), I was given the privilege to speak on behalf of Tzedakah Ministries at the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (North America) on the topic of the significance of Paul utilizing two Isaiah passages (45:17 and 59:20) and Jeremiah 31:34 in Romans 11:25-27. I will not overwhelm you with the whole paper because you might fall asleep as some in the audience more than likely did! However, I thought it might valuable to share with you an edited and abbreviated section of the paper over a misunderstood and controversial verse of Scripture … Romans 11:26 (please note that this verse is from my translation of the Greek text). as well as share with you what I believe Paul meant when he wrote the phrase, “all Israel will be saved.”
TRANSLATION OF ROMANS 11:26
And so (in this manner) all Israel will be saved (attain salvation), just as it has been written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer, he will remove godlessness from Jacob.
As a former professor of Speech Communication, the paper’s author warned her students against such generic terms as “everyone,” “no one,” and most definitely “all.” However, Paul under the leading of the Holy Spirit uses the seemingly innocuous πȃς (translated as “all”) to answer the mystery of verse 25. James Edwards in his commentary on Romans for the New International Bible Commentary series acknowledges that there are three or four non-universalistic approaches to resolution; however, he is still confronted with the possibility that “all” simply and only means “all.” However, this inclusive universalism goes against the essence of Romans 9-11. How does one resolve the question of universalism against the heartbreaking lament of Romans 9:3? How does one answer the unspoken question if “all” simply means “all” that God is playing eternal favorites with a select group of people?
“All Israel will be saved” certainly sounds either dual covenantalistic or universalistic. “All” means “all” … does it not? Many people struggle with the temptation to become universalists, especially as it relates to the Jewish people in light of the horrors of the Holocaust. For would it not be easier if “all” meant “all”? Actually, the answer is surprisingly “No.” To answer “Yes” to this question would invalidate the entirety of the Romans 9-11 section which begins with a Pauline lament and ends with a statement of praise. To answer “Yes” would cast reasonable cause on the crucifixion of Jesus. To answer “Yes” would create an exegetical vacuum that would literally swallow up the entirety of Scripture.
The liberal theologian Johannes Munck begins somewhat to adequately explain the concept of “all” when he points his readers to the concept of “remnant” in verses 2-4. E. Earle Ellis providing a counterpoint to Munck’s more liberal leanings also approaches the “remnant concept” as a true possibility for interpretation. It is just that his strong Calvinistic positions make the nominal Calvinist or open Arminian often feel uncomfortable in accepting, even though he was a supporter of Jews for Jesus before his death (I know this personally because he was my professor in seminary and he shared this fact in class). However, the remnant motif does provide a reasonable exegetical and hermeneutical answer to the “all” question. One does not have to be Calvinistic to accept this premise. A premise that Messianic Jewish theologian Arnold Fruchtenbaum allows for even if he would not go to the interpretative or exegetical interpretation of either Munck or Ellis.
The remnant motif was not an uncommon thought in the Hebrew Scriptures. From the time of Moses where we have a constant “weeding” out of the Israelites in the desert, to the “safekeeping” of the two tribes of Judah as opposed to the dispersion of the ten tribes of Israel by the Assyrians, to the promise of Isaiah that there were be a remnant which remains (10:21), God does protect the “all” who are His. The Mishnah also allows for a remnant understanding of “all” in relationship to Israel can be restricted to a remnant of the population (m. Sanh. 10:1). Understandably, the idea of a limited all might not satisfy the connotation of the word “all” that a portion of the Christian world has in regards to Romans 11:26. Additionally, it might also create a level of discomfort for a portion of us in the Messianic and Jewish evangelistic community who seem to limit the “all” of Romans 11 to the strictly millennial encounter of Zechariah 12. However, there is a Biblical rationale for doing so.
Please note that I am not trying to eliminate the eschatological fulfillment of Romans 11:26. I am proposing that Paul was allowing for a both/and interpretation — “remnant” concept and future fulfillment of Zech. 12:10. As one considers the verses from the prophets that Paul utilizes in Rom. 11:25-27, it is an allowable Biblical interpretation. In addition, it might be a pragmatic interpretation as well. For there are several issues floating out in Christendom that could be resolved if we choose to consider this both/and proposal.
- First, we could forestall the growing influence of dual covenantalism that is growing in evangelical circles for as the modern Christian Zionism movement is growing, so too is the tendency to believe that Jewish people are “fine without Jesus.”
- Second, we could challenge the concept that Jewish evangelism is a fruitless effort because God’s hardening will not be lifted until but not before the Second Coming.
- Third, and finally, we could deal with the perception in the non-believing Jewish community that Christians “just want to rush the Apocalypse where two-thirds of the Jewish people die but if one is lucky enough to survive then they can go to heaven as well.” For, indeed, that is the perception one finds in the community that Tzedakah Ministries is so desperately trying to reach.
One should never underestimate the theological significance of Romans 11:25-27. The possible eternity of God’s Chosen Ones is under debate and the decision made by readers of Scripture will impact how they do or do not share the Gospel with the Jewish people. Failure to develop an exegetically correct theology of Romans 11 could result in a dual covenantalistic approach that does permanent damage to the entire canon of Scripture. However, focusing on a future “all” could limit reaching the remnant “all” of the present. We should focus on what the Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten reminded us in his words about this passage,
“This means that not only those Jews who are now individually converted to the gospel one by one will be saved in the end, namely, the Jewish Christians, but in the context of the parousia there will be a mass conversion of Israel to the Messiah of God.”
Let us focus on the one by one of today and allow God to consider the “all” of tomorrow. For failure, ultimately, is not an option because 99% of God’s Chosen People, the Jewish people, are in need of the truth of Messiah Jesus … whether they now realize it or not.
Paul truly had a heart for Jewish evangelism as best expressed in the three chapters (9-11) found in the middle of what has been called Paul’s magnum opus. He longed to see his brothers and sisters (9:3) come to faith. He dreamed of a day in which the veil would be lifted from their eyes (10:1-5; cf. 2 Cor. 3:12-18). He dreamed of a day when the remnant would be realized and truly “all Israel will be saved.” Should we dream of anything less?