I’ve written a few blogs on Romans 9-11 in the past (here and here) but I want to summarize what is going on within the passage. What is the apostle seeking to do within this pericope? I see two options: one, he is giving an apologetic concerning the ways of God as his plan of salvation is unraveling throughout human history or two, he is arguing for Gentile inclusion within the early covenant community which validates his ministry.
I do not think the second option of arguing for Gentile inclusion within the church which would validate his own ministry does the most justice to the text. Paul is refuting the idea that Israel was guaranteed salvation because of their election. This naturally flows from what the apostle said in chapter 8 and has argued since the opening of the letter. They thought their ethnicity necessitated their election which necessitated their salvation. Is God a liar because it sure looks that way because his elect people aren’t being saved? The Gentiles or nations are flooding in at an alarming pace. His comments exist to explain the wholesale constituency change in the people of God.
Paul’s begins his defense that God is not a liar by articulating his desire for the Israelites and recognizing the glory or benefits of being from Israel (9:1-5). His anguish exists because their salvation does not. From there he begins his apologetic by pointing out that God’s promises are not thwarted because not all of Israel are Israel (9:6-9). There has always been a remnant within the covenant community. He shows God’s purpose in election with the examples of Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), and his freedom in the election of Pharaoh (9:14-18). Some might protest that this is not fair so that leads Paul to defend God’s goodness in his providential oversight of who shall be saved. There is no charge of injustice in election (9:19-23) because God has rights by virtue of his personhood. He is the Creator and we are his creatures. Romans 9 is going back into the OT and reaffirming the age old process of God electing individuals (not nations) in order to correct a false understanding of present day Jews who applied a salvific notion of election (right) to the nation (wrong). He then closes the chapter with a statement about the electing love towards Gentiles (9:24-29). They are the beneficiaries of salvation because they have the faith of Abraham and David.
So why the current populational reversal within the plan or working of God? Why are so many Gentiles coming to God for salvation and ethnic Israel seems to be left behind in the dust? It was not because there was a new type or way of salvation. Israel failed to pursue righteousness by faith (9:30-33). They took Torah and the religious symbols and trusted in those instead of the God who raises the dead, procures to them their desperate need of righteousness, and makes them the people of God. They stumbled over Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law on their behalf. Paul then opens chapter 10 with the desire that the Jewish people be SAVED because they are very zealous. But, Israel’s zeal is not based upon the true knowledge of Christ’s righteousness. You cannot pursue the Law in hopes of gaining salvation. You must pursue Christ who is the “end or fulfillment of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Paul then discusses the righteousness that comes by faith and God’s universal call to salvation via the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (10:5-13). The people of God is defined as a people who accept the work of Christ for them and declare his work to the nether reaches of the world. This salvation is mediated by ambassadors who go in his name and proclaim God’s victory in Christ on people’s behalf (10:14-17). The fact that the Gentiles are coming into the covenant (as a result of justification) because they’re trusting Christ is grounded in the OT (10:18) and also in ethnic Israel’s unbelief (10:19-21). They’re receiving what Israel pursued because Israel pursued it wrongly! Paul is not offering a new way of salvation but redefining what it means to be a true Jew.
Paul does not leave the discussion about God’s promises to Israel being unfulfilled which would impugn his very character. No God’s promises have not failed because there exists a remnant of Israelites chosen by grace (11:1-6). Paul himself, as well as the other apostles, are Jewish! God’s salvific electing love includes those who are ethnically Jewish. There is a remnant of believing Jews who pursued salvation the right way, they bowed their knee to Jesus instead of pursuing their own righteousness via the Law. The Jewish people stumbled and failed to obtain what they were seeking because the object of their pursuit was wrong from the get go. The Law was never a means of salvation but showed the utter filthiness of their sin so that they would look away from themselves. Israel’s stumbling led to their hardening of their heart by God (11:7-10). It is their own fault. But, their faulted stumbling resulted in good for Israel’s failings led to salvation for the Gentiles (11:11-12). Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles exists partially to make the Israelites jealous unto salvation (11:13-16). He goes first to the self-righteous Jews who reject his message and then to Gentiles who look away from themselves to Christ and ironically receive the very salvation the Jews are “working” towards. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles exists in some sense to make his ethnically Jewish brothers see their need for salvation. And if one thinks the salvation of the Gentiles is good, just wait until what happens in the future!
Paul then goes on to warn against pride trusting in your position instead of who placed you in that position. Gentile pride is disavowed because of how they were grafted in (11:17-24). They did not obtain their position because of works so they are not boast over those who have not currently obtained that position (ethnic Israel) because of their filthy works. The Israelite branch was “broken off” because of unbelief. They disbelieved their Messiah and instead turned inwards and outwards at their symbols instead of what the symbols pointed to. But, this current state of ethnic Israel is not forever for a partial hardening of the Israelites has occurred until the full measure of the Gentiles is complete (11:25-27). God is not through with ethnic Israel but will cause a future religious revival in their hearts where they see their need and accept the riches found in their Messiah. God’s elective purposes in Israel still stand (11:28-32) though it currently seems dark for them. God’s purposes in election ultimately lead the apostle to doxology (11:33-36).
Romans 9-11 is laced with soteriological significance from start to finish for there is not such “being part of the community” which is not grounded in justification. Paul doesn’t seem to be theologically arguing for or validating his ministry but correcting their false theology in Romans 9-11.