NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXXII)
Methodist Bible scholar Adam Clarke also comments on the idea that every Jew alive will be saved. This will only happen after they openly acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. We should not misunderstand the term “saved” as meaning that every Jew alive at the time will be taken up to the kingdom of glory. The term “saved,” as applied to the Israelites in different parts of the Scripture, signifies no more than their being gathered out of the nations of the world, separated to God, and possessed of the high privilege of being His peculiar people. When used in the prophetic sense, it implies that during the Tribulation period, after much persecution the Jews will turn to Jesus who will then protect them from being destroyed during that terrible time.1
Robert Haldane has this to say about what Paul terms a “mystery.” When we look at the two previous verses (23-24), we see the restoration of the Jews exhibited first as a possibility, and next as a probability, according to the providence of God. Now the Apostle Paul, in this and the following verses down to verse 28, goes on to prove the certainty of the future conversion and restoration of Israel. Here he addresses the Gentiles as his brethren, thus expressing his affection for them, and gets their attention by declaring that he was about to reveal to them a mystery – something that up until then had been hidden by God.
The restoration of the Jews is called a mystery, for although it was declared in the Scriptures, it was not understood. And in this mystery, there were two parts, both of which are here unfolded. First, that blindness happened to Israel only in part. Secondly, that this blindness should continue until the fullness of the Gentiles comes to an end. This mystery was opened to prevent the Gentiles from being wise in their own conceit, that is, from being puffed up on account of the preference they now enjoyed. Ignorance of the Scriptures is the cause of high-mindedness in Christians. They are often arrogant and contemptuous through want of knowledge. In the absence of real knowledge, they often suppose that they have a true understanding of things with which they are still unacquainted. While this may be due to a lack of time, or a lack of teachers, or even a lack of interest, the worst reason for not being better acquainted with God’s Word is out of pride and conceit.
Haldane then goes on to comment on how, in verse 26, the Apostle Paul further unfolds the mystery he does not want his Jewish brethren to be ignorant of. In the previous verse, Paul declared that blindness had fallen upon Israel – the blindness which he spoke of in verses 8-10. This blindness, or being in a daze, would continue until a certain period in God’s plan to redeem the Gentiles was accomplished. Once that is over, Paul declares that at that time all Israel will be offered salvation. Haldane feels that we must understand that God’s rejection of Israel was meant for some but not for all.
Furthermore, it was also intended to cover a certain period of time and would not be unending. Initially, God’s time for sowing the seed of the Gospel among the Gentiles would come to an end and then the harvest would take place. After this harvest of the Gentiles, then God would turn His attention again back to Israel. They now would be evangelized with the Gospel. And when they also accepted Jesus as the Messiah and received Him as their Lord and Savior, then they too will be joined together with the Gentiles in the presence of God.2
Albert Barnes also points out that among the Jews was a maxim that every Israelite would have their portion in the World-to-Come.3 The Apostle Paul applies that same maxim to serve his purpose here, by declaring that in a sense that was true. He does not mean to say that every Jew of every age would be saved; he had proven that a large portion of them would be, in his time, rejected and lost. But the time would come when, as a people, they would be recovered; the nation would turn to God and accept His Son Jesus as the Messiah. That’s when it would be said of them that, as a nation, they were restored to God’s divine favor.
So, it is apparent that Paul does not mean that every individual Jew would be saved, but a large contingent of them. Neither does Paul go into detail and tell the Jews when this would take place. This is one of the things which the Father has kept to Himself.4 God has given us the assurance that it will be done to encourage us in our efforts to reach the Jews even during our time. Furthermore, the Father has concealed the time when it will take place so that we should not relax our efforts or feel that no exertion is needed to accomplish what must take place at a fixed time.5 Not all Bible scholars accept Barnes’ inference that Jews will be saved through the efforts of the Church. They believe Paul is telling the Gentiles not to count the Jews as lost because God has His own plan on how and when they will be saved. Prophecy scholars believe this will happen during the Tribulation period.
Henry Alford makes a point that should be a caution to all prophecy experts on the meaning of the word “mystery” used here by Paul. First and foremost, it is a prophetic event, unattainable by human knowledge, but revealed from the secrets of God. Alford’s reasoning is that this was meant to keep the Gentiles from becoming wise in their own conceit. In other words, that they would not take credit for some superior, divinely inspired wisdom. Just because they had received Jesus as their Lord and Savior did not give them unattended access to the secrets of God. These He must release under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit.6 Alford then goes on with a long dissertation on how many of the early church scholars came to their conclusions on this matter. Some of them think it will be all Jews, others that it will be a remnant of Jews living at the time, and others that Paul is speaking of the spiritual Israel to which the Gentiles have already been grafted.
H. A. Ironside also offers his opinion on what Paul is saying here about Israel’s spiritual future. He begins with noting that their term “fullness” is used by Paul a second time.7 This is a reference to the completion of God’s offer of grace and salvation to the Gentiles. It all started when the Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. The term “fullness” is used some 17 times throughout the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. The Apostle used it to describe a period in time, such as when God decided it was time to send His Son to earth as Savior8.9
From the creation of the heavens and the earth, to the creation of mankind, Noah’s flood, the calling of Abraham, the choice of Jacob as the father of Israel, the freeing of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage through God’s calling of Moses; David, son of Jesse being picked as king of Israel, birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, were all points in eternity that God chose to make them happen. They could not have come a day early or a day late. Therefore, we should not have any doubts that everything that has happened since then is also part of God’s eternal plan. This includes the calling of Paul the Apostle, Christianity being chosen as the religion for the Roman Empire, the Reformation, the Wesleyan Revivals, the resurgence of Pentecost
Charles Hodge also gives us his insights on this discussion. He notes that there have been numerous interpretations by various commentators on verses 25-27. They are not of a great variety, however, they are all modifications of one or the other of the following two general views of the passage. First, many understand that the Apostle is not predicting any remarkable future conversion of the entire Jewish nation. Rather, it was simply declaring that the hardening of so many Jewish hearts toward the Gospel would still not prevent many Jews from entering the Christian church nor would it keep Gentiles from continuing to be accepted. Thus, all those Jews, as well as Gentiles who embraced the Gospel should ultimately be saved. The second general view supposes the Apostle Paul, on the contrary, was predicting that a great and general conversion of the Jewish people would take place once the dispensation of grace was completed for Gentile converts. Then, and only then, would those prophecies be accomplished which speak of the salvation of Israel.10
Hodge then explains that the first of these views were presented, in different forms, by the great body of the authors who lived about the time of the Reformation. This was due to the extravagances of many prophecy writers and speakers concerning the second coming of Christ. The Reformist wanted to explain away much of the prophetic character found in the verses on the salvation of Israel.11 During the 1800s, German theologian Hermann Olshausen wanted to show the hostile feelings entertained by the Reformers towards the Jews. So he quoted a passage from Luther’s writings which said: “A Jewish heart is so stony-iron-devil-hard, that it cannot be moved by any means. It’s young devils condemned to hell who try to convert these devil’s children, which is impossible, as certain who are delusional invent from the Epistle to the Romans.”
Hodge goes on to explain that most scholars since the Reformation have interpreted Paul’s prophecy with the second view in mind. Namely, it seems obvious that Paul intended here to predict that the time would come when the Jews, as a body, should be converted unto the Lord.12 The prediction contained in this verse is to be explained by the context. The rejection of the Jews at the time of Christ, did not involve the perdition of every individual of that nation. Thousands, and even myriads, believed and were saved. So the restoration here foretold is not to be understood as including every individual of the Jewish people, but simply that there will be enough to declare it a national restoration.13
Jewish theologian David Stern makes mention of the stony heart that Luther was referring to. We see it better in the Jewish Bible translation of verse 25: “It is that stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Isra’el, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness.” Stern notes that the literal sense could yield this rendering: “Stoniness has come upon Israel, but stemming only from part of it.” Though close to Paul’s point, grammatical considerations exclude it because in the four other places where the phrase is found in the New Testament, it has descriptive force. Therefore, it should be understood here as modifying “stoniness,” so that translations should read, “Hardness has come upon part of Israel” (the part that rejects Yeshua).
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 227-228
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 540-541
3 Jewish Mishnah: Sanhedrin, Ch. 10:1., op. cit., p. 276
4 See Acts of the Apostles 1:7
5 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 105-107
7 See Romans 11:12
8 Galatians 4:4
9 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 576-577
11 See Jo. Christophori Wolfii, Curae Philologicae et Criticae, Basileae, Sumtibus Johannis Christ. 1541, Cap. XI, v. 25, In Epist. AD Roman, pp. 228-229
12 Cf. 2 Corinthian 3:16
13 Hodge: ibid., p. 579