Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ridderbos on "Israel" in Romans 11:25-32

The perennial question for interpreters of Romans 11:25-32 is, what does Paul mean when he says, "and in this way, all Israel shall be saved"?  More specifically, the question is, what is meant by "all Israel"?  Doug Moo helpfully narrows the possibilities down to three:
(1) the community of the elect, including both Jews and Gentiles;
(2) the nation of Israel;
or (3) the elect within Israel.
The first view is actually Calvin's view, and it is a tempting view, primarily because it does justice to Paul's spiritualization of Israel ("Not all Israel is of Israel").  It strikes me as being a knee-jerk reaction to the dispensational tendency to make every reference to "Israel" in the Bible a reference to ethnic Israel.  However, there are problems with this view - namely, it redefines Israel from the way Paul has been using it up until this point (for Paul up to this point, "Israel" has an obviously ethnic flavor to it) through Romans.  Herman Ridderbos proposes to defend the third view - one which most interpreters of Romans 11 do not give much consideration.  Before I get into this any further, I wish to list a few defenders of the view Ridderbos is about to enunciate: Berkhof, Bavinck, Volbeda, Hendricksen, O. Palmer Robertson, and Gaffin.

A few years ago, Richard Gaffin did an informal translation of Ridderbos on this subject.  Until I came to RTS I did not have access to it because the RTS Jackson library is the only place where this translation of Ridderbos is available to read.  In his discussion of this question, Ridderbos argues that "Israel" in Romans 11:25-32 refers to the whole number of the elect out of Israel.  He offers several reasons:

1)  "It must be considered exceedingly strange that the apostle here discloses a major eschatological event in five words without going into it further with a single word or ever alluding to it elsewhere."

2) "The complete conversion of Israel at the end of in an eschatological respect entirely incomprehensible, does not fit any one eschatological scheme, and also is not at all made clear by a single exegete..."  Recall that for Paul in 11:25, the mystery which Paul refers to is that the fulness of the Gentiles must first come in before the fulness of the Jews.  In other words, Ridderbos does not know of a eschatological view which allows for an "interim between the entrance of one-half of mankind into the kingdom of God and the final end of the world".

3) "Not one word is said about the conversion of all Israel after the fulness of the gentiles has entered.  Paul does not say: afterward all Israel will be converted, but: and so in this way, all Israel will be saved...So then, it is not a matter of a national conversion still to take place at some time in the future; no, then when the fulness of the gentiles enters, then all Israel also will be saved."

4) "In Romans 9-11 Paul undoubtedly speaks again and again of Israel's conversion as the condition of Israel's salvation.  By that he has in view exclusively a conversion of Israel in history, not in post-history.  Israel must be provoked to jealousy now...All this zeal, this intense longing to save even if it were only a few through his work is difficult to understand if at the same time the apostle expected over the short or long term the conversion of all Israel as the fruit of one great eschatological event.  Rather it appears that the apostle sees no other way for Israel's conversion than through the preaching of the gospel in history."

5) "The whole notion of a national conversion of Israel in the end time makes the overall thrust of Romans 9-11 nonsensical and completely strange."  Ridderbos goes on to ask whether those Jews who lived prior to the mass-conversion were not also Israel.  Unless one becomes a universalist, he observes, "one is placed before the necessity in maintaining the national conception of 'all Israel' to limit this national restoration to that part of the Jewish nation that will still be found to exist at the end of the days.  But then on this basis can Paul or anyone else maintain that God is keeping his promise to (national) Israel?"

6) "The national conception of 'all Israel" in conflict with what Paul has just demonstrated in Romans 9, namely, that not all are Israel who are descended from Israel.  Paul thus challenges just such a national conception of Israel as God's elect people.  His entire argument is directed toward demonstrating that the true Israel is hidden in the national Israel as the kernal in the shell...It would certainly be very strange if the apostle would subsequently reconsider this view and would present the matter as if God's promise to Israel will only be fulfilled, when what is left of the nation at the end of the days will repent and be saved in its entirety."

In summary, Ridderbos says, "The expression 'all Israel' comprises the same thing quantitatively as what already in verse 12 is called 'the fulness' of Israel, just as 'the fulness' of the gentiles spoken of in verse 25 can also be expressed, in the light of verse 32, by all gentiles or the whole of heathendom."

1 comment:

  1. I agree! Following are my reflections on this passage. Also to be noted (not included below) is that the word translated "until" in 11:25 is often used in the NT for processes that are continuous even after the "until" objective occurs. In other words, the Gr. word often carries no suggestion of the process coming to an end at some point, but only that it will not come to an end prematurely. This means that 11:25 does not necessarily contain any promise that the partial hardening of Israel will come to an end.

    “And so all Israel shall be saved” (KJV, etc.)
    The greatest emphasis in this phrase is on “so” (see The Emphasized Bible, Rotherham).

    “So” has many different meanings. The definition “in the way or manner described” is often listed first. The definition “afterward, then” is usually at least the 5th to 8th definition given (17th according to

    This word (Gr. word) is used 17 times in Romans. I could not find another place in this book where Paul appears to use this word to mean “afterward, then.” It is usually used to mean “because of this,” “in the same way,” or “this way.”

    David Stern: “Greek outôs means 'thus,' not 'then'... the emphasis is on the manner in which all Israel will be saved, not the time when it will happen, for the time is 'now'” (Jewish NT Commentary, 418).

    Of 21 translations on, only The Message, Worldwide English, and an HCSB footnote suggest “then” as a translation for "so."

    Therefore, based on context, we can conclude: “And in this way [as the partial hardening of Israel leads to the salvation of Gentiles, making Israelites jealous] all Israel will be saved”

    This is not an “end-times” national salvation, for it is describing a process which began in Paul's day.
    Paul does not say “God will give Israel a special chance to respond to Christ at the end of the age, and in this way all Israel will be saved.” That would be contrary to Paul's whole message in Romans, which emphasizes that there is “no distinction between Jew and Greek [Gentile]” (10:12). Both are saved now through the same good news. Rather, Paul is emphasizing that the way that Israel will be saved is through Jews responding to Christ as they are made jealous by Gentile conversions. This is happening “now” (11:13b-14, 31[not in KJV]).

    Therefore, the “all Israel” to which Paul refers includes those who were coming to faith in Christ in Paul's own day.

    Therefore, “all” cannot mean “every individual Jew who is alive at one time at the end of the age,” for it includes people from Paul's time until the end.

    It certainly cannot mean “every individual Jew,” for not all Jews in Jesus or Paul's day responded in faith.

    Consider Paul's use of “all.” Sometimes “all” doesn't mean “all”! It is defined by context:
    15:14; 5:18; 3:22b-24 (“all have sinned ... being justified as a gift by His grace”; is Paul saying that “all” [everyone] will be justified?); 9:6 (“They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”).

    “In Hebrew thinking, the word 'kol' ('all') in reference to a collective does not mean every single individual of which it is composed, but rather the majority, or the essential part, or even a significant or highly visible component possible much smaller than a majority. [Stern notes Matt 2:3; 3:5.]” (Jewish NT Commentary, 422). See, for example, Gen 7:13-14; 21, where “all” = all except for those already excluded by context.

    Does “all Israel” include Gentile believers? Probably not, because Paul, who is speaking to Gentiles (11:13, 25, 28), refers to “Israel” as “they” (11:28), not "you."

    Therefore, finally, we can paraphrase: “And in this way [as the partial hardening of Israel leads to the salvation of Gentiles, making Israelites jealous] all Israel [true Israel; all Jews throughout history who will believe] will be saved”


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