King's Evangelical Divinity School

25 October 2011

Remnant versus Nation

A key passage in the current debate over whether God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people is Romans 9 to 11. By the end of chapter 9 one might be forgiven for believing Paul is arguing for so-called fulfilment theology. Fulfilment theology argues that the promises given to the Old Testament congregation are fulfilled in the New Testament congregation - the Church - of which believing Israelites become a part. The term is favoured by those eschewing the label "replacement theology" (embraced by many throughout Church history) because of its elitist and negative overtones suggesting the Church has superseded Israel. Yet this theology likewise argues that Israel is subsumed within the Church (in his analogy of the wild olive in Romans 11 Paul says the opposite, that Gentile believers are grafted into Israel, rather than the other way around). It also says God has finished dealing with Israel as a nation (by nation I mean the entire Jewish people rather than the State of Israel). In short, fulfilment theology argues for the fulfilment of the OT promises, and that's fine. But the problem is that it does so at the negation of the Jewish people for whom God no longer retains a plan and purpose as a distinct people. So fulfilment theology is replacement theology in all but name, de facto if not de jure supersessionism.

So to get back to my opening statement, by the end of Romans 9 on the surface there appears to be a case for fulfilment theology. This is because Paul seems to suggest the promises of the OT are now fulfilled in the people of God who are a remnant of Jews and believing Gentiles combined. So is a doctrine of fulfilment therefore tenable? But first, a little background. After setting out the central doctrine of justification by faith (which, incidentally, is undermined by some proponents of the New Perspective on Paul), Paul wraps up chapter 8 with a declaration of the triumph the believer in Christ enjoys. He concludes this "hymn" by declaring how nothing, nothing at all, can separate us from the love of God. But this, of course, then begs the inevitable question: If nothing can separate us from God, what about His people Israel? If salvation comes through faith in Christ, which means we have the security of not being separated from God, what about the Jewish people who, on the whole, rejected Yeshua HaMashiach? Thus the Apostle Paul launches his three-chapter discussion concerning Israel.

In chapter 9 the apostle begins by expressing anguish over his countrymen because of their rejection of Messiah. But he wants his readers to understand that this rejection does not mean God's promises to Israel have failed (9:6). Quite the contrary. Another people (believing Gentiles) join a remnant of Israel, despite the wider nation of Israel rejecting Messiah, and partake of those promises. Thus God's word has not failed, the OT promises are fulfilled in this remnant + Gentile community. And if Paul had stopped here, there would indeed be a case for fulfilment theology as currently understood. However, Paul doesn't stop here. Indeed, he is only a third of the way through his discussion.

Having discussed a remnant of Israel in chapter 9, Paul now shifts to a discussion of the wider nation. The Israelites are zealous for God, he says, but not according to knowledge (of the Messiah). Echoing back to the first eight chapters of Romans Paul makes it clear that salvation is through faith in the Messiah alone, not through the law (there is no place for dual covenantalism in Paul's theology). Unfortunately, wider Israel has rejected this gospel of faith. Thus chapter 10 culminates with the observation that while the nation rejects the gospel, God calls a people who are not a nation (the Gentiles). The purpose? To make the nation of Israel jealous (10:19).

It is in chapter 11 Paul now reaches the climax of his argument. No, the promises of the OT haven't failed because a remnant of Israel, together with believing Gentiles, bring about their partial (or initial) fulfilment (chapter 9). Meanwhile, the rest of the nation has rejected Christ (chapter 10). But it doesn't end there, Paul argues in chapter 11, where he shifts his discussion from a remnant being saved at the present time to the whole nation being saved at a future time. Paul's juxtaposition of a remnant versus the whole nation is unequivocal (remnant,  first fruits (12), root (16) versus full number (12), branches (12), whole batch (16), all Israel, 25). Thus Paul makes the startling statement, "If their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring?" (12).

All this leads Paul to present the analogy of the cultivated olive tree and the wild olive, which he specifically directs towards his Gentile Roman readers. In AD 49 Claudius had the Jews expelled from Rome. Two such Jews later became Paul's colleagues (Aquila and Priscilla, see Acts 16:1-2). The edict was repealed in AD 54 and Jews were permitted to return (thus Aquila and Priscilla are back in Rome when Paul wrote his epistle, see Romans 16:3). Several commentators have dwelt on this absence of Jewish believers and its effects upon the church in Rome. One can quite easily imagine how, during their absence, Gentile believers who remained in the imperial city interpreted their exile from Rome as evidence of God's judgment upon them. After all, didn't the OT Scriptures indicate exile as a form of judgement upon the nation of Israel? Whatever went through their minds one thing is clear: The Gentile church in Rome had no Jewish believers within its midst for at least five years. Eventually Jewish believers returned to Rome and their churches. But it seemed in their absence some Roman Christians now viewed their Jewish counterparts differently, no longer as God's elect nation but rather a people subsumed by and indistinct from the Church, which had become the new people of God. In short these Roman Christians had become the first replacementists, leading Paul to challenge their arrogance. Thus the apostle directs his comments to the Gentiles (11:13), setting out his analogy of the wild olive and warning the Gentiles not to become arrogant towards the Jews, because it is they who join Israel and not vice versa.

And how is this vindication of Israel and the ultimate fulfilment of the OT promises to be manifest? As stated earlier, in chapter 11 Paul shifts from a remnant to the wider nation, salvation of the first fruits (a remnant at the present time, 11:5) to the salvation of the whole batch, the salvation of "all Israel" at a future, eschatological date (11:25-6, cf Zech 12:10, 13:1 also eschatological in setting). Why? Because, Paul explains, they are loved while the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (11:28-9).

Fulfilment of OT promises through a remnant of Israel (together with Gentile believers) is theologically unproblematic. What is problematic is when such theology is at the negation of Israel. It is crucial to juxtapose this partial fulfilment "at the present time"(11:5) with its eschatological, full and climatic fulfilment at the end of time (11:25-6). In the same way that the kingdom of God is inaugurated but not yet, extended and widened to all the world but not yet seen in its fullness when Christ returns in person and Israel receives her King, so too there is a present and partial salvation of Israel but also an eschatological salvation of all Israel. No wonder, after 40 days of being taught by the Risen Lord about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) that the apostles asked Jesus if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). They had not misunderstood. Far from correcting them Jesus tells them it is not for them to know the times set by God. But for now their task was to preach the kingdom to all nations, until - as Paul makes clear - the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled (11:25).


Andrew Sibley said...

Hi Calvin - this is a very useful piece to help build understanding, and I agree with much of it. I wonder if I might offer a few comments? Romans 8 and 9-11 are I believe an exegesis by Paul of the message of Hosea and Isaiah. Hosea is the smaller and easier book to read, but it shows Israel sent away, then brought back in love in the Messiah, with the restoration of the land (which Paul suggests implies the whole of creation).

But, a few points.

Hosea is primarily a message to the ten northern tribes, but it shows a principle that applies to Israel and Judah - that God holds all over to disobedience so that He might have mercy on all in the end (which some read as Pauline universalism).

Aquilla was from Pontus, one area where the ten tribes had settled, an area where Peter ministered to as the diaspora. Can we assume then that, at that time, the northern Israelites were not 'lost' and that Aquilla was part of that wider diaspora that included Jews and Israelites?

But it raises an issue in Romans 9-11 as to who the ethnos were? Were they gentiles, or Israelites? The Greek word can be used to imply both.

The apostles question about restoring Israel (Acts 1:6) I agree was not misplaced because they knew their scriptures, and the fulfillment I believe began on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached to Jews and Israelites from all corners of the world. So I read Romans 9-11 to suggest that when the gospel has gone to all ethnos, and been accepted, then all Israel will be saved because the Jews and Israelites are presently in the ethnos.

This debate then seems to revolve around the question of who Israel is, was and will be. I can accept that God may wish to establish a nation called Israel in the promised land, but it would be one 'in Christ' and united with Gentile / Palestinian Christians (who I believe incidentally too have ethnic link to first century Jewish Christians). But primarily I believe the restoration of Israel is the final conversion of Jews and Israelites to Christ. And as you have said previously those who advocate fulfillment theology do not wish to be anti-semitic.

Calvin L. Smith said...

They were ethnic Jews, described as Paul 's kin according to the flesh (schoarshipmis pretty united on that now).. And btw he was from Benjamin, one of two southern tribes.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - I have had a look at some commentators on this issue, and some who hold to what you believe is fulfillment theology accept the possibility of an end time revival of Jews from Romans 11 as you do. But a number though read the passage in terms of reformed theology relating to the meaning of 'election' - I have looked for instance at Motyer and Robertson. So all Israel will be saved when the full number of elect Jews and Gentiles are saved, although I don't strongly agree with this. But the doctrine does not seem to arise from any consideration regarding the Jews, but for other reasons.

Secondly, why is it necessary to see the salvation of Israel in terms of a national salavation and not in terms of a great revival amongst the Jewish people? Surely, we have a 'nation' of Israel in terms of the Kingdom of God, or the city of God as the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. (I'm currently reading GK Beale's The Temple and the Churches Mission IVP - very interesting).

Calvin L. Smith said...

Why is it necessary to see the salvation of Israel in terms of a national salvation...

Well, why not? If God always dealt with them in history as a nation, isn't the onus on you to demonstrate why that's no longer the case?

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - if we use the imagery of Israel as the olive tree, consisting of a root that represents Jesus (also John 15), and branches that include both Jews and Gentiles grafted-in, then I wonder how God can save the broken-off branches as a nation that is separate to the olive tree. I believe there can only be one olive tree which is Israel in Messiah. The broken-off branches may form a nation apart from the olive tree, but I wonder how that can be salvation in the Messiah while at the same time being separate from the Messiah.

I believe the 'nation' or Kingdom that is Israel is now centred around Jesus, and that the broken-off branches will be brought into the Messiah at a future date to bring about the fulfillment of Israel. But the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles has been demolished for good for those who are in the Messiah (Ephesians 2:14).

Calvin L. Smith said...

I'm sorry, but I see nothing here which answers my question. Also, explain why you think Paul is referring to John 15. And perhaps you'll explain how the term "all Israel" (Ro 11:25), a biblical phrase meaning the nation, now somehow doesn't mean this.

Again, the onus is on you to demonstrate things have changed, not me to prove they haven't. With respect, so far I don't think you've proved this to readers of this blog.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - I think I have answered your question - I did not say that Paul was referring to John 15. I was referring you to John 15 because the vine is a similar metaphor to Paul's olive tree - Jesus said... “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."

For me there is a question of logical consistency. The true Israel is that now formed in Christ and that is where national-Kingdom Israel is to be found - I struggle to embrace what I see as a logical inconsisteny which holds that there can be two national Israel's in Christ. The Jewish people may be brought back into it in fellowship with Gentiles and ethnic Jewish believers, which will lead to fulness of Israel in Christ, and I pray they do come in.

Ephesians 2 "11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."

Calvin L. Smith said...

Your comment suggests you have not understood my juxtaposing a present remnant with a future national salvation. And again, the onus is on you to explain why "all Israel" has changed meaning from a biblical phrase denoting the nation.

Andrew, lengthy Scripture quotations don't work on a blog. Best to cite biblical references (except for when emphasis is needed) and focus more on elucidating and exegeting.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin you wrote " have not understood my juxtaposing a present remnant with a future national salvation."

I think I have understood it, but I don't think you understand my point. For me the remnant already is the nation-Kingdom of Israel, although as yet not complete or arrived in its fulness until the remaining Israelites-Jews turn to their Messiah.

Although Jews, the broken-off branches, might form a nation today, it is the people who need to come to the Messiah, into the true nation of Israel. The old Jerusalem cannot be a part of the new Jerusalem, but the Jews as a people can turn to the Messiah.

In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul compares Old Jerusalem with Hagar the slave woman and argues that Old Jerusalem can never share in the inheritance with the New Jerusalem. But Jews individually or collectively can still pass from the old to the new.
I hope that helps.

Calvin L. Smith said...

It helps me understand your position, but I still don't see how you've proved it from Scripture.

BTW, the Galatians 4 is about the law, not national Israel (quite an extraordinary suggestion).

Andrew Sibley said...

Perhaps Calvin you can inform us of how you see the future of 'national Israel?

Galatians 4 is more than just about the Law, Paul compared the old Jerusalem with the new Jerusalem. The implication being the whole temple system was his focus, a temple that was central to the life of the nation of Israel (so my comment is far from extrodinary). As well as having to deal with replacement theology in Rome, Paul was also dealing with 'Judizers' who were undermining his gospel of grace in the Messiah and the unity he was preaching between Jews and Gentiles. These other 'apostles' had seemingly been sent out by some associated with the Jerusalem church and were seeking to reintroduce the authority of the temple practices to Gentiles.

Today many Jews, and many Christian Zionists are looking for the construction of the third temple because they see it as part of the national life of Israel. I don't believe you hold that view, but I am interested as to how you see national Israel being expressed apart from Messiah, or even in Messiah in the future?

Calvin L. Smith said...

Will gladly set out my view after you explain why Romans 11 now longer refers to the nation. My view has also been set out various times in this blog and will do so again on TV.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - there are two groups here that may have a claim to be called Israel. But the central theme of Romans 11 is concerned with getting the broken-off branches grafted back into the true remnant nation of Israel, just as there were 7000 in the time of Elijah who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Why do you not see that the root, and the faifhful Jews Plus grafted in Gentiles represents the true Israel in this passage. Even though the broken-off part may form a nation outside of the olive root, that nation is not part of God's plan - instead God desires that the broken-off branches be regrafted into true Israel so that Israel might be fulfilled.
I am now interested to hear how you interpret this differently.

Calvin L. Smith said...

This is why I don't think you've understood fully my article.

End of Ro 9: Israel = remnant (believing Jews). Believing Gentiles are grafted in and partake of the promises.

End of Ro 11: Israel = rest of nation saved eschatologically

I don't think any NT evidence for changing the definition of "Israel". We join Israel, not become it, redefine it or subsume it.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - you suggest that fulfillment theology is replacement theology in all but name. However, some of us have been seeking to understand the Church congregation in terms of it being in continuity with Israel - i.e. the Church is literally the remnant of Israel. As you say gentiles are grafted into the remnant of Israel, and even though it is called the Church it is still the Ekklesia of Israel.

Remaining ethnic Jews and Israelites are to be grafted back into the Ekklesia of Israel for the 'fulness' to be reached. Perhaps the difference between us here is that you see fulfillment in terms of some distinct ethnic nation called Israel. But as Paul writes in Ephesians God has created 'one new man' out of the two (Jews and Gentiles) thus making peace. So even if God wishes to form a spritually legitimate nation of Jews and Israelites in Messiah, perhaps living in the Holy Land, it would be one in union with Gentiles because the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down in Messiah.

Part of the blessing of Abraham was that his descendents would be a blessing to all nations and a multitude too great to count (and too great a number for the Holy Land to contain). So we need to see the nation of Israel as the Ekklesia of Israel, and in terms of its global role in light of this blessing and purpose given through Abraham's seed.

Calvin L. Smith said...

No, I don't see it. The Church is not Israel as you say, it joins Israel.

Theirs are the promises etc (Ro 9:4 present continuous action). Ethnic Israel is still part of the equation.

Calvin L. Smith said...

PS I can accept (indeed always have) that Gentile believers join the congregation of Israel. My problem is your language of replacement: "The Church is literally the remnant of Israel". (Besides, in Ro 11:5 Paul indicates the "remnant" consists of believing Jews).

Yes, believing Jews and Gentiles together make up the One New Man. But that is not the end of the story. God will still deal with the rest of the nation and bring her to salvation.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - it does frsutrate me that there is an ongoing inability to see that there is a middle way forward in terms of expressing unity and continuity with the Israel of the Bible that is not replacement theology. If I say the church is literally Israel I am saying it is made up literally of ethnic Jews, ethnic Israelites together with grafted-in Gentiles.

I can't believe that is hard to understand.

I can't help feeling that the narrative of Christian Zionism needs to establish a dualistic dialetic position involving replacement theology on the one-side and Christian Zionism on the other. Paul's great vision though was that Israel would one day be complete and in unity, when the remainder of Jews are grafted back into the olive tree of Israel.

Philip said...

You say that Romans 9-11 is a key passage in the debate over whether God retains a plan or purpose for the Jewish people. I would caution against giving a critical role to such an, at times, perplexing and even bizarre passage.

As you mention later, Jewish / Gentile tensions are very much to the fore in the Roman church, and essentially inform the entire letter. All the application chapters at the end speak to this tension (see, for example, Doug Moo on this). Essentially he says to Jewish believers: you're no longer bound by the law and it's wrong to rely on it. To Gentiles: don't be arrogant towards your Jewish brothers.

Clearly we make sense of 9-11 in this context. He's tackling law-reliance and arrogance from each side. But it seems to me that the metaphors Paul uses are not part of one congruent allegory, but rather a series of different ones (loaves, and two different kinds of branch) which each makes a separate point. So I'm concerned that you give too much prominence to the allegory, and indeed that this passage be used so prominently. The plan outlined in ch 11 is, frankly, a little bizarre, and it is a challenge to react to it in, say, the way Paul does with his cry of wonder.

Here's an interesting perspective, too:

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, there seems little point debating this issue with someone who twice refers to a particular Scripture as "bizarre". We obviously have two quite opposite understandings of what the Bible is, which render any exegetical debate somewhat pointless.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Andrew, I suppose lots of people get frustrated when others don't accept their point of view, but unfortunately that's a fact of life. I'm sorry, but I do not find your views on this issue convincing.

Philip said...

Well, I take comfort in Peter having written, 'There are some things in [Paul's letters] that are hard to understand' (2 Peter 3.16)

Calvin L. Smith said...

Sure. Somewhat different from calling them bizarre.

Philip said...

Not really. But anyway, not sure how your response is constructive in any way. You may, of course, not have time, inclination or inspiration to respond, but in that case, just say so.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thread. I don't know whether Calvin and Andrew have read O. Palmer Robertson's book, The Israel of God.

Steve Lehrer has written a piece based on Palmer's work on the subject of Romans 11. I don't know if you'd consider reading this. Please see here:

I'd love to hear thoughts from either of you on this.

The argument put forward seems to be that God has not forsaken Israel as the Roman believers saw it, but God has been working since the Cross to save Jews and will continue 'until' the fullness of the gentiles come in. The word 'until' is described as terminative. 'Then' (in this way or manner) all Israel will be saved.

I often see people take Romans 11:25 and present it as 'all Israel will be saved' as a standalone statement. I don't have an issue with a large scale conversion of Jews to Christ in the future, it would be wonderful, but I don't think this verse on it's own and out of it's context should be used as a conclusive statement in the way it is.

I think rather than making the statement of every person within either nation Israel or every living Jew at a certain point in time will find Christ, Paul is explaining 'how' the salvation of Israel has been occurring since the time of his writing to the end of time.