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Romans 11:25-26: The Interpretive Options

How do we interpret these two verses? The following options are listed by Christopher Zoccali, “And so all Israel will be saved: Competing Interpretations of Romans 11:26 in Pauline Scholarship” JSNT 30 (2008): 289-318 and Jason Staples, “What Do the Gentiles Have to Do with ‘All Israel’: A Fresh Look at Romans 11:25-27” JBL 130 (2011): 371-390.

  1. Israel will become collectively receptive to Paul’s “gospel” through a miraculous turning at Jesus parousia or “coming” at the end of the age. This is probably the view of the majority of Romans’ commentators today.
  2. Paul has redefined “Israel” around the church constituted by Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. This was the majority view among Christian theologians beginning in the Patristic period and has recently been associated with N. T. Wright.
  3. “All Israel” refers to the “total national elect” in the historical nation who have received Paul’s “gospel.” Christopher Zocalli has recently defended this view.
  4. “All Israel” refers to the historical nation that will inherit salvation based on their fidelity to the Mosaic covenant, while Paul insists that it is only Gentiles who need to be reconciled with God through the salvation provided by Christ. This is the “two covenant” approach of Lloyd Gaston and John Gager.
  5. Paul anticipates that he will have an upcoming fruitful ministry in Rome and, when his fellow Jews see the success of his ministry, they will be motivated to join in the Pauline mission and accept its rationale about how the in-gathering of the nations is part and parcel of the messianic age that has now begun. Mark Nanos takes this view.
  6. Paul identifies the non-Jewish Christ followers with the scattered northern tribes of Israel that had been dispersed among the nations, so their inclusion alongside the salvation of the Jews descended from the tribe of Judah signals the restoration of “all Israel.” Jason Staples has recently championed this reading.

I tend to think that Paul probably interpreted the resistance to his proclamation that the messianic age had begun in the death and resurrection of Christ among some of his own people to be a temporary hardening that would be miraculously removed at the imminent return of Jesus to fully establish the kingdom (point #1). The usual expectation that Israel would be restored before the nations would be gathered into Zion to worship Israel’s God has been reversed by Paul due to his historical situation. However, in support of Staple’s reading that Paul may have saw the salvation of the Gentiles as part of the restoration of the entire twelve tribe constitution of Israel (#6), Paul does seem to apply passages that originally referred to the northern tribes to his Gentile converts in Romans 9:25-26. I do think that the Christian supersessionist reading of the church totally replacing Israel has had highly problematic consequences in Christian history and have published critical analyses of this theology in the Epistle of Barnabas and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. Of course, since the Messiah’s coming along with the hopeful scenario of universal peace that Paul envisioned has been delayed, there is room to discuss how Romans 11:25-27 should be interpreted in our world and in interfaith dialogue today.

 

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