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Romans 5 - Election and Mercy (9:1 - 11:36)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Also available:

1: Paul and his Gospel (1:1 - 17) 2: The Bad News (1:18 - 3:20)
3: The Good News (3:21 - 5:21) 4: Sanctification (6:1 - 8:39)
5: Election and Mercy (9:1 - 11:36) 6: Living the Gospel (12:1 - 15:13)
7: Travel plans, Greeting (15:14 - 16:27)

These are probably the most difficult chapters in Romans, raising some very controversial theological issues. In the second half of chapter eight, Paul was looking to the future, that God will prove faithful to complete his great plan of salvation: Those he foreknew and predestined were called and justified, and will be glorified (8:29-30). It all seems so certain, that God will complete the work he began.

However, there was a big problem with Paul’s fellow Jews. They were called to be God’s chosen people, the recipients of the great promises, and the receivers of the special revelation of God. Something had gone very wrong, as the majority of Jews had rejected their Messiah. This throws up some difficult questions about God’s election. How is it possible that God’s chosen people had rejected their Messiah? Had God’s promises failed? Or are they to be blamed?

In these chapters, Paul looks at both sides of this issue, extending the question to the deeper theological issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will - a question theologians and philosophers have been struggling with and arguing over for centuries. If God is sovereign, does that imply that mankind no longer has free will? Or if mankind does have freewill, does that take away from God’s sovereignty?

This is one of the most difficult questions in the understanding of God and Christian doctrine, and there are no easy answers. We have to be content to live with a paradox: two things which are both true, but which appear to contradict each other. According to the Bible: Is God sovereign? - Yes. Does mankind have freewill? - Yes. But how does that work?

The majority of attempts to explain this paradox have the unfortunate consequence of taking something away from either one side or the other. If man’s freewill is over-emphasised, the result is to decrease the sovereignty of God, to say that he is not really in control, and does not know what will happen in the future. God becomes rather weak, and this does not give much security to the believer, as well as placing a heavy burden of responsibility on him or her. If God’s sovereignty is over-emphasised, the result is to decrease the responsibility of mankind to exercise their freewill, taking away some of their humanity, and reducing people to robots or pawns in the hand of a sovereign and rather nasty God. It is 'both / and', rather than 'either / or'. If we are going to teach the Scriptures faithfully, we need to proclaim both.

In church history, there has been a long-running division between Calvinists and Arminians. John Calvin (1509-64) was French but ministered in across the border in Geneva. He tended to emphasise God’s sovereign will and election, and even taught that some were chosen for glory, while others were chosen for destruction, a doctrine known as 'double predestination'. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) in Holland, reacted against this teaching, making more emphasis on the free will of people to chose to come to faith. Since their time, there has been a tendency to go to greater extremes, causing much unnecessary division in the church.

As we read these chapters, we should remember the context of the whole book, and the flow of Paul’s argument, particularly that no one deserves to be chosen, as all deserve the wrath of God. These three chapters contain nearly thirty quotations from the OT, mostly in pairs. Paul uses them to back up his argument, as well as demonstrating the continuity of the Gospel with God’s activity in the OT. Even though some difficult theological issues are wrestled with, they all come in the context of a real pastoral situation, the refusal of the Jews as God’s chosen people to receive their Messiah. Each of the three chapters begin with Paul and his emotions (9:1-2, 10:1-2, 11:1).

This section can be divided into three, according to the chapters. In chapter nine, Paul looks at Israel’s fall, particularly focussing on God’s sovereignty and election. Then in chapter ten, he looks at the other side, at Israel’s fault. It is man’s responsibility to respond to the Gospel and to preach it. Finally, in chapter eleven, Paul brings the two together, looking to Israel’s future, and wrestling with the paradox between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. He concludes with a doxology, essentially declaring that this is something that only God can understand.

God’s sovereignty: He chooses to show mercy (9:1-33)

In chapter nine, Paul begins by focusing on God’s election, answering questions about God’s faithfulness, justice and fairness. Because God is God, he has the right to make a choice who to show mercy to, and humans have no grounds to object, because Paul has already shown that no one deserves to receive that mercy. If God shows mercy to anyone, it is an act of his grace.

Great sorrow for my own people (9:1-5)

This paragraph sets the atmosphere of the section, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish" (v2). This section is not a theological textbook, but an expression of Paul's broken heart. Paul is agonizing and personally grieving at the failure of the majority of the Jews to accept the gospel (also 10:1). He is particularly concerned because he is also a Jew and so finds their refusal to respond to the gospel a problem very close to his heart. It affects him so deeply that he was even willing to forego his own salvation (v3), if that would in any way assist other Jews to accept Jesus. However, this personal anguish by Paul over Israel is merely the surface of a deeper theological issue involving questions about the sovereignty of God. It is significant that even the difficult theological issue of man’s freewill and God's sovereignty is discussed in the context of a real life issue. The Bible knows nothing about academic theoretical theology.

We should notice that Paul is addressing Gentiles about the Jews, referring to them as, "my own people, my kindred according to the flesh" (v3) He lists seven great privileges of the Jews (v4-5, as 3:2), describing the special revelation given to them through the Old Covenant, their ultimate privilege being the Messiah. The Saviour of the world was born a Jew. He quite naturally ends with a doxology (v5).

In the NT there is a tension between God's plan of salvation and the responsibility of the Jews. God's plan of bringing salvation to a lost world was brought about through the Jews rejecting the Messiah, but the Jews are still held responsible. In Peter’s speech at Pentecost (Acts 2:23), he declared that Jesus was handed over according to God’s foreknowledge, but the Jewish leaders had deliberately plotted to crucify Jesus by the hand of the Romans.

In the rest of chapter nine, Paul responds to questions that would be posed in response to his preaching. These questions are accusations against God, and his faithfulness. Paul defends God, showing that the Jewish rejection of Jesus cannot be blamed on God.

The Word of God has not failed, not all children of promise (9:6-13)

The first objection asks whether God is unfaithful, whether his promise has failed. This main question involves God's sovereign election. In chapter eight, Paul showed how the Gospel involved the salvation of God's elect (8:28-32), showing the process from foreknowledge and predestination, through calling and justification to glorification. The question now arises, whether the failure of the Jews to respond to the Gospel shows that God had failed to keep his word of promise to Israel? Paul immediately assumes that the answer is 'No'. The issue is not the faithfulness of God, but rather the definition of the word 'Israel'.

In his answer, he uses a rather enigmatic phase, "Not all Israelites truly belong to Israel" (v6b). In one sentence, Paul uses the word 'Israel' in two different ways, one physical, one spiritual. So his phrase means this: Not all physical Israelites truly belong to the spiritual faithful remnant of Israel. Physical birth as a Jew does not equal salvation. In the OT, there were always two Israels: physical Israel and the faithful remnant. Paul has already redefined what true circumcision is, who the true Jews are (ch2), and who the true children of Abraham are (ch 4), now he redefines who the true Israel is. Being part of the people of God is a spiritual issue, not a physical issue. Heart circumcision is required. To be a true child of Abraham is to imitate his faith, so to be part of Israel takes more than mere physical descent.

Paul explains this using two examples from the patriarchs. The first generation are the sons of Abraham (v7-9): Isaac was chosen, Ishmael was rejected. Paul shows, from the Old Testament, that God did not chose all the descendants of Abraham to be his special people, Israel. Instead, God chose some and rejected others. He chose Isaac, and rejected Ishmael, so not all of Abraham's children are sons of Abraham. The second generation are the twin sons of Isaac (v10-13): Jacob was chosen and Esau was rejected. In contrast to Abraham, this generation the sons were twins born from the same father and mother. In both cases, against the cultural norms of the time, the second son was chosen, rather than the first.

Isaac and Jacob were the children of the promise, while Ishmael and Esau were children of the flesh. This shows that election is not determined by physical descent, but rather by the sovereign will of God. The choice of Jacob rather than Esau before they were even born shows clearly that God's election is not determined by human achievement or character (v11-12). Paul quotes the words spoken to Rebecca when she was told that two nations were in her womb, and that the elder (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob) (Gen 25:21-24). He follows with a quotation from Malachi, "I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau" (v13, Mal 1:2-3). This sounds very strong, but the word 'hated' in this context is used when one person is given preference over the other (as Gen 29:30-31). Malachi is speaking about the nations that would come from Jacob and Esau, Judah was restored after the exile, while Edom (descended from Esau) was not. The point Paul is making is that because God is God, he is free to chose who he wills. This leads directly on to the second objection: Is God unjust? (v14-18).

Is God unjust? He chooses to have mercy (9:14-18)

The second objection questions God's justice, asking whether he is being unjust in choosing some and rejecting others. However, the issue here is God's mercy, not his justice (v16). If God decided only according to his justice, he would not chose anyone, as all human beings deserve God's condemnation and judgement. Paul has already demonstrated that no one deserves God's mercy (ch 1-3). In his sovereign freedom, God can decide who he extends mercy to, and cannot be charged with being unjust. Sinful man has no rights before a holy God.

Two contrasting people are used as examples: God showed mercy to Moses, but withheld mercy from Pharaoh (v15-17). The blessing on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was completely due to God's mercy and grace. Pharaoh was an example of a Gentile, whose heart was hardened. God was showing his sovereignty over the strongest man on the earth at that time. But, according to the account in the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh hardened his heart first. We also need to notice the positive reason for hardening Pharaoh's heart, so that God’s name may be proclaimed in all the earth (v17).

To summarise, God has the right to show mercy or to harden the hearts of whoever he likes (v18). Taken out of context, this seems very harsh and makes God seem very severe. But we need to read it in the context of the rest of the Book of Romans, particularly chapters 1-3, where all deserve his wrath, and that God desires to be merciful on all, both Jew and Gentile (11:32). If anyone is lost, it is their fault, and if anyone is saved, God gets the glory.

In chapter nine, we see God hardening Gentile hearts and blessing Jews, then in chapter eleven, we see God hardening Jewish hearts and blessing Gentiles, where the conclusion is that he wants to show mercy on both groups (11:32).

Is God unfair? Potter has right over the clay (9:19-29)

The third objection is whether God is being unfair. If he choses some and hardens the hearts of others, why does he still hold people responsible? Does God's sovereign election remove the personal responsibility from the people being chosen or rejected? How can God blame those to whom he did not extend mercy and blessing? For example, how could Pharaoh be blamed if God had hardened his heart (v18)? The basic question is whether God's sovereignty removes human free will and responsibility.

Paul’s first response is to rebuke his opponent (v20-21), who is quarrelling with God and judging God, showing a rebellious attitude. This is quite different from honest questioning, which comes from the fundamental conviction that God is good and righteous. Paul’s answer is difficult for us to accept. God is the sovereign creator God and he can chose who he likes. Who are we, as part of his creation, to object? Just as the potter has right over the clay (from Is 29:16, 45:9, Jer 18), the Creator God has rights over his creation. Our problem with this illustration is that clay does not have feelings, while humans are made in the image of God and do have feelings, so this can seem unfair to us.

In the second part of his response, Paul presents a hypothetical argument, twice using the phrase, "What if .." (v22,23). Paul suggests that God could have made vessels of mercy, to demonstrate his mercy, and vessels of wrath to demonstrate his wrath (when both actually deserve wrath). Paul is not actually saying that God really did create vessels of wrath, people predestined for wrath. We should also notice that God endures the vessels of wrath with much patience (v22). God continually delays his wrath, waiting for repentance.

For the third part of his response, Paul shows that Scripture had foretold this (v24). The fact that God has shown mercy to the Jews had actually become a blessing to the Gentiles, who had originally been rejected. This, rather than showing that God was unfair, it actually shows his incredible mercy. Both Jew and Gentile deserved God's wrath, but through choosing Israel as his object of mercy to receive the wonderful privileges as the people of God, he enabled the Gentiles also to enjoy these privileges through the Gospel. Both Jews and Gentiles are objects of God's mercy. We must remember that grace is completely undeserved, therefore we cannot demand it, therefore we cannot accuse God of being unfair.

Using two quotations from Hosea, he shows that Gentiles will be included in the vessels of mercy (v25-26, quoting Hos 2:23, 1:12). Not all people outside Israel will be lost, but some will be included into the promise. The inclusion of Gentiles into the community of God was not an after-thought, but something consistently predicted in the OT.

Turning to the Jews, he uses two quotations from Isaiah to show that only a remnant of Jews will be saved (v27-29, Is 10:22-23, 1:9). The majority of the Jews had rejected their Messiah, and only a remnant accepted the Gospel and were saved, including Paul and the early apostles. Isaiah predicted, that although the Israelites were a multitude like the sand on the seashore (as the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham in Gen 22:17), that they would go into exile in Babylon as judgement on their persistent idolatry, but only a remnant would return to the land (Is 10:22-23). It was this remnant who returned with Zerubbabel and Ezra (Ezra 9:8,13-15), while the majority remained in Babylon or spread around the ancient world. This promise of a return to the land with a glorious future of peace and prosperity were partly fulfilled in the return from the exile in 536 BC. Now Paul applies this to those who had accepted the Gospel, through which the remnant now includes both Jews and Gentiles. The theme of the remnant is developed more in chapter eleven (11:1-6).

Israel stumbled over righteousness by faith (9:30-33)

From 9:30 onwards, Paul begins to address the other side of the argument, moving from God's sovereign election to man's responsibility, which is the focus of chapter ten. He shows that even though God has chosen them, the Jews were responsible for rejecting the gospel.

Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, attained it (v30), while the Jews who did strive for righteousness, by law-keeping, did not attain it (v31). They stumbled over the stumbling stone (v32), which is righteousness by faith. The cross removes the place for pride and self-righteousness. So the first reason for Jews rejecting the Gospel was their unbelief. They attempted to strive for righteousness by keeping the law, rather than by faith.

Man’s responsibility: Israel rejected God (10:1-21)

In chapter ten, the focus changes to Israel’s responsibility and man’s free will to choose and act. Israel failed because they strove for their own righteousness based on keeping the law. They failed to submit to God’s righteousness, based on faith. In contrast to law-keeping, being saved by faith is very easy. Everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord and believes in him will be saved, whether Jew or Gentile. However, for people to be able to do this, they need to hear about Jesus, which is why the Gospel needs to be proclaimed.

Zeal but not enlightened (10:1-4)

Paul again expresses his deep emotion and personal concern (as 9:1-5). His greatest desire and prayer was that his fellow-Jews would be saved. The underlying understanding is that Jews are not saved if they are not part of the remnant. He can personally testify that they have unenlightened zeal, just Paul had, before his conversion on the Damascus road (Phil 3:4-10, Gal 1:13-14). Paul respects their great zeal; however their zeal is misguided. They are very sincere, but unfortunately they are sincerely wrong. It is not enough just to have zeal. They had zeal without correct knowledge, which can only lead to misguided fanaticism. They are ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God (v3), and are trying to establish their own righteousness through law-keeping. However, Christ is the end of the law (v4). The law has come to an end, being fulfilled and completed in Christ, so all has been accomplished, and righteousness is available for everyone who believes. For salvation, Christ and the law are incompatible. So, the second reason for Jews rejecting the gospel is their self-righteousness.

Word is near: confess and believe (10:5-13)

Achieving righteousness through the law is impossible, but achieving righteousness by faith is very easy. Paul makes a quotation from the law, if you want to be righteous by keeping the law, you must keep all of it - one hundred percent (Lev 8:5, also quoted in Gal 3:12). However, nobody can possibly achieve this. It is impossible to be justified by keeping the law. Jesus was the only person ever to be righteous under the law.

This is a difficult passage to understand completely, but Paul seems to be saying that although salvation is unattainable through the law, Christ is readily accessible. You do not have to hunt from heaven to the abyss, the word is very close to you. So close, that it is on your lips and in your heart (v8). Salvation comes through confessing Jesus with your lips, and believing in your heart. Compared with law-keeping, justification by faith is easy. He is also implying that it is dishonouring to Christ to try to achieve righteousness based on the law. This justification is for both Jew and Gentile. There is no distinction, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (v13, quoting Joel 2:32)

Sent, proclaimed, believed (10:14-17)

A series of questions are asked, showing that evangelism is essential. Christ needs to send preachers of the Gospel, so people can hear, then believe, call upon Jesus, and be saved. The Gospel needs to be preached (v15, quoting Is 52:7), and people need to respond in faith (v16, quoting Is 53:1).

Have they heard? (10:18-21)

The next logical question is whether Israel has heard. The answer is, 'Yes', so they have no excuse. The problem is not the lack of hearing, but the lack of obedience. Israel has heard, but have not repented. In the Book of Acts, Paul preached the gospel in the synagogues, but his message was continually rejected by Jews. As Isaiah predicted (v16), only a remnant have believed. So the first question is, "Did they hear?". The answer is, 'Yes'. By the time of the writing of Romans (AD 57) the Gospel had been preached throughout the Jewish world, including the Dispersion.

The second question is, "Did they understand?" (v19). Again the answer is, 'Yes'. From quotations in Deuteronomy and Isaiah, Gentiles have found God even though they did not seek him (v20, Is 65:1), but Israel’s problem was their stubbornness (v21, Is 65:2), which God grieves over.

God’s plan to graft Jews back (11:1-36)

Chapter eleven asks whether there is any future and hope for the Jews. Is their rejection total or final? His answer is, 'No'. There is hope because the rejection of the Gospel by Jews has led to a blessing to the Gentiles. How much more blessing will there be when the Jews respond. They are still chosen and beloved by God, so he has not given up on them. Israel is currently hardened, but this hardening will be removed and then they will respond. Bringing together God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill is a mystery which only God understands, so Paul concludes with a powerful doxology.

A remnant chosen by grace (11:1-6)

Paul then asks a logical question following from chapter ten: If the Jews rejected God, has God rejected the Jews? (v1). His answer is, "By no means!". A remnant of Jews have shown faith, including himself. The rejection is not total or final.

The first example is Paul himself (v1). He gives his own testimony to show that God has not rejected the Jews. He had the Jewish privileges of birth: a physical descendant of Abraham and physical genealogy of the tribe of Benjamin, but came to faith on the road to Damascus, so he can now include himself as an example of the faithful remnant.

The second example is Elijah (v2-4). Elijah was called by God to be his prophet during a period of great spiritual darkness in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Jezebel had encouraged Ahab to establish the worship of the rain-god Baal, and Elijah was called by God to confront this. Following his great victory at Mount Carmel against the priests of Baal (1 Kg 18), his life was threatened by Jezebel, and he thought he was the only person in the land who remained faithful to Yahweh (v3, quoting 1 Kg 19:10,14). However, God replied saying that there was 7000 others who were faithful to Him, and had not bowed the knee to Baal (v4, quoting 1 Kg 19:18). These 7000 plus Elijah formed the faithful remnant at this time.

Paul then applies the OT concept of the remnant to his own time (v5). There is a spiritual remnant chosen by grace. Only a remnant of the Jews, including himself, had responded to the Gospel. It was these people who continued the line of faithful people in the OT. The majority were unfaithful and would not receive the promises, but instead would come under the wrath of God, as they had in the OT. There had always been a remnant of faithful believers within the larger community. Even in the Book of Acts, there were Jews who responded: a great many priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7), and James said that were many thousands among the Jews who believe (Acts 21:20).

The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened (11:7-10)

Paul now makes a distinction, effectively redefining who the elect are. The nation of Israel were very aware that they were God’s chosen people, his elect. The elect are now restricted to the faithful remnant, who were chosen, and obtained salvation. The rest of Israel, the majority, were hardened. There was a spiritually elect group within the physically elect people, but it is spiritual election that counts.

Paul makes a quotation from Isaiah (v7, Is 29:10), which is frequently quoted in NT, about God hardening the hearts of the people who rejected him. Because the Jews rejected Jesus, they became blind. The same thing is currently happening to the Jews as had previously happened to the Gentiles (1:18ff), who rejected the general revelation of God. The Jews had rejected both the general and the special revelation. So God is dealing with both groups in an identical manner. This is followed by a quotation from David, (v9-10, Ps 69:22-23), showing the judgement on the Jews for rejecting and persecuting Jesus.

Through their stumbling, salvation came to Gentiles (11:11-12)

The next logical question is whether God has finished with the Jews. Again the answer is, "By no means!". They have not stumbled as to fall. Their stumbling is not final, so there is still hope for the physical Jews who have rejected Jesus. Israel’s fall is temporary and has brought some unexpected blessings. Their rejection of their Messiah brought salvation to the Gentiles, and this will make the Jews jealous.

There will be a greater blessing when Jews do respond. If the Gentiles were blessed through their rejection, how much more blessing will there be when they do respond. Their 'full inclusion' does not promise that all Jews will be saved, any more than the 'full number of the Gentiles' (v25) implies that all Gentiles will be saved.

The steps can be summarised as follows: Israel fell, so salvation came to Gentiles. This had happened partly through the ministry of Paul. Gentile salvation will make Jews jealous, so they will turn to faith. The restoration of the Jews will then be a blessing to the Gentiles.

Glorify ministry to Gentiles to make Jews jealous (11:13-16)

Through this section, Paul is addressing Gentiles, challenging any boasting. There would be tendency for Gentiles to despise the Jews for rejecting their Messiah.

Paul now looks at his own ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles in this context. Through the Book of Acts, in each city, he went to the Jews in the synagogue first, then to the Gentiles. Throughout his ministry he faced opposition from Jews for preaching to Gentiles. However he will glorify his ministry, seeking to make his people even more jealous by preaching to Gentiles, so some Jews will be saved. The jealousy is a productive jealousy, leading to something good. Using the same argument as the previous paragraph (v11-12), if their rejection of the Gospel meant a blessing to the Gentiles, how much more of a blessing will their inclusion be. He concludes with a quotation from Numbers applied to this situation: "If the part of the dough (Jews) offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch (including Gentiles) is holy; and if the root (Jews) is holy, then the branches (Gentiles) are also holy" (Num 15:19-21).

Wild olive shoot grafted in, so do not boast (11:17-22)

This next section is known as 'The Parable of the Olive Tree'. We should notice that Paul is still addressing Gentiles, perhaps an individual Gentile man (v17). In this parable, Paul is adapting the image of the olive tree, which was used by OT prophets to describe God's people. For example, Jeremiah described the Jews as a green olive tree (Jer 11:16), and Hosea predicted the glorious future for Israel as the beauty like the olive tree (Hos 14:6). Inscriptions from Jewish cemeteries in Rome have shown that there was a Synagogue of the Olive Tree in the city, which Paul may have had in his mind when he used this illustration.

Paul uses this parable to explain the rejection of the gospel by the majority of the Jews, and the fact that Gentiles have responded to the gospel in large numbers. He also uses it to look into the future, especially to the future of the Jewish people who have currently rejected their Messiah. In his parable, the olive tree refers to God's people in their entirety, those who have faith, whether Jew or Gentile, and in both OT and NT periods. There is only one olive tree, only one people of God.

He says that some of the branches of the original tree have been broken off (v17a). These branches are those Jews who have rejected their heritage by not responding to the gospel, and they have been broken off because of their unbelief (v20b). They have lost their place among God’s people. In their place, wild branches have been grafted in, describing the Gentiles who have become Christians (v17b). These new branches now share the rich root of the olive tree with the native branches, meaning that Gentile Christians now share the rich spiritual heritage which originally only belonged to the Jews. The root of the olive tree would refer to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as the blessings of the law and covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures, in which both Jew and Gentile believers have their spiritual heritage. It is important to recognise that Christianity has a Jewish root, and Gentiles owe a debt to the faithful Jews of the OT.

The wild branches, the Gentiles, are warned not to boast over the native branches, the Jews, because it is the Jewish root that supports believers from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds (v18b). The Gentiles owe their position in the olive tree only because of their faith (v20) and God's kindness (v22), not through any of their own virtue or achievements, so Paul is warning against any spiritual pride or arrogance.

Natural branches grafted back (11:23-24)

Paul encourages the native branches, the Jews, by showing that although God is currently showing severity to those who had not responded to the Gospel because of their unbelief, there is hope for them because God can graft them in again (v23). Paul himself is an example of this. He shows that grafting in cultivated olive branches is a more natural process than grafting in wild olive branches (v24). The Jews are the natural stock and should be grafted in more easily than the Gentiles, the wild branches. By his reasoning, it should be easier for Jews to repent and respond to the Gospel than it is for Gentiles, who do not have the rich spiritual heritage of the root of the olive tree.

Because there is only one olive tree, only one people of God, the only way to become the people of God is through believing in his Son and receiving the Gospel of grace. We must resist any tendency to think that there is some separate plan of salvation for the Jewish people. They too, like Paul, need to repent and believe in their Messiah, and be grafted back into the olive tree.

Interestingly farmers occasionally do graft wild branches into a cultivated olive tree. This is done to re-invigorate an old olive tree that is ceasing to bear fruit, stimulating the tree bear fruit again. This is not the normal thing to do, but it fits Paul’s illustration, with the inclusion of wild branches (Gentiles) re-invigorating the Jewish root.

Hardening on part of Israel - God merciful to all (11:25-32)

In the parable of the olive tree, Paul suggests that he hopes for a much greater response to the Gospel by the Jews in the future (v23-24). In this difficult paragraph, Paul reveals a mystery, disclosing a new revelation which has previously been hidden. In Paul’s writing, the mystery is the Gospel, especially the incorporation of the Gentiles (16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:1-6).

He suggests that part of Israel has been hardened (v25). This refers to the majority of the Jews, who have refused to respond with faith to the Gospel, but have hardened their hearts in unbelief (those who are not yet part of the remnant). Because of this unbelief, the natural branches have been broken off (v20). Paul suggests that this is only a temporary state of affairs, and that he still has hope that the Jews will embrace the Gospel in much greater numbers in the future. The hardening of the majority of the Jews is only until the full number of the Gentiles come in (v25). We should note that he gives no indication of when this will happen.

The word, 'to come in', refers to entering the Kingdom of God, and is frequently used in the NT to describe salvation (eg Acts 14:22). Paul is anticipating a time when the full number of the Gentiles have been saved. At that time the hardening will be removed from the unbelieving Jews, which will free them to respond to the Gospel in large numbers.

The conclusion is that, "all Israel will be saved" (v26). There is much controversy over what the name, 'Israel', means in this context. Does 'Israel' just mean physical Jews here? It is sometimes claimed that this passage teaches that all physical Jews will eventually be saved, or all the Jews of the last generation before the second coming. This may sound very optimistic, but it does not agree with the overall teaching of Scripture. Salvation is always only through faith in Jesus, never by merely being a Jew, and Jesus did warn that the way is narrow and only few will find it (Mt 7:13-14).

Otherwise, does 'Israel', as used here, refer to the people of God, both Jew and Gentile, who have faith? This could be called spiritual Israel, the complete olive tree. We have to remember that 'Israel' in chapters nine to eleven does not always refer to all the physical Jews (eg 9:6). Throughout the Book of Deuteronomy 'all Israel' refers to the congregation of Israel in a corporate sense (eg: Deut 1:1). It is also important to remember the wider context of the letter, showing the spiritual unity that exists now between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, and exhorting them to live together in harmony.

Currently there seems to be a paradox, the Jews are still beloved by Gods in regards to election, but are enemies of God in regards to the Gospel (v28). A distinction is being made between election and salvation, which is rather confusing. We can ask, in what way are they still beloved? At a minimum, God still loves them, and desires that they be saved (10:1), so there is still hope for them. However, we need to be careful not to use this passage to come to conclusions which do not fit the rest of the Book of Romans. Both Jews and Gentiles face the wrath of God, and need to respond with faith to the grace of God in the Gospel.

Paul looks forward with hope to the time when this paradox will be resolved, when the process of salvation will be complete, for both Gentiles and Jews. This will be at the second coming of Jesus, which is probably referred to when Paul writes of the Deliverer coming out of Zion (v26, quoting Is 59:20-21). This is when the great multitude from every nation, tribe and tongue will worship Jesus (Rev 7:9), made up of the full complement of Jews and Gentiles. The final emphasis in this paragraph is on God's mercy. His desire is to have mercy on all, both Jews and Gentiles (v32).

O the depth of riches, wisdom and knowledge of God (11:33-36)

Paul has been wrestling with the difficult issues of God’s sovereign election and Israel’s responsibility, trying to bring them together. At the end of this section it almost appears that he gives up and praises God. As mere human beings we cannot understand the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God. Ultimately we cannot understand the mind of God, because his ways are higher than our ways (Is 55:9). For our limited human minds, the answer to the paradox of his sovereignty and our freewill is beyond our understanding. However God understands, and knows the answer to the paradox, so we can praise him and give him the glory.

Also available:

1: Paul and his Gospel (1:1 - 17) 2: The Bad News (1:18 - 3:20)
3: The Good News (3:21 - 5:21) 4: Sanctification (6:1 - 8:39)
5: Election and Mercy (9:1 - 11:36) 6: Living the Gospel (12:1 - 15:13)
7: Travel plans, Greeting (15:14 - 16:27)