For much of Romans 9 and 10, Paul has painted a very negative view of Israel.
- Paul’s lament in Romans 9 foreshadows the extent to which Israel has gone astray.
- Romans 9:2–3 (ESV) — 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Israel rejected God’s righteousness.
- Romans 10:3 (ESV) — 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
Israel rejected the fulfillment of Moses Circumcision of the Heart Event in the Jesus Event.
- Romans 10:8–9 (ESV) — 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
- There was no recognition of the relationship between Moses’ COH event and Jesus…
- So no confession of Jesus as Lord.
Israel rejected the Gospel (which is the Jesus event).
- Romans 10:16a (ESV) — 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
Israel, though they knew and understood, was flat out disobedient and contrary to Yahweh.
- Romans 10:21 (ESV) — 21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
But…Paul didn’t give up on his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3).
- Romans 10:1 (ESV) — 1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
And this leads us into Romans 11.
- Paul’s hope for Israel.
Today we will deal with verses 1-10.
Romans 11:1–6 (ESV) — 1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Big Picture – Saving Paul From Incoherence:
Does the remnant solve the Israel rejection problem and vindicate God’s promise keeping?
Some argue that Paul teaches that the solution to the Israel problem is the remnant.
- Yes, Israel has rejected Jesus, but God chose a faithful remnant.
- They are now the true Israel.
Paul himself seems to say so:
- Romans 9:27–28 (ESV) — 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”
But there is a problem with this view if we are to hold 9-11 together as a unified piece of writing.
- The problem is that it makes Paul’s argument in Romans 11 incoherent.
Why is this so?
- Romans 11:25–26 (ESV) — 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel [NOT the remnant obviously], until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
I point this out now so that we will keep these two seemingly contradictory ideas in mind.
- Especially give the fact that verses we just read (1-6)…
- Seem to heighten the apparent tension highlighted above.
- And seem to indicate that the remnant DOES solve the Israel rejection problem.
For now, however, know that the tension will be dissolved…
- As I hinted at last week on our primer on grace,
- By understanding Paul’s take on “the incongruity of the mercy [grace] of God” – John Barclay.
- More on incongruent grace in a moment.
On to the text – verses 1-6.
Paul’s First Hope – The Remnant By Grace:
John Barclay can get us started.
- “The first ground for hope for the future of Israel [all Israel] is Paul himself (11:1). Where 9:30-10-21 had spoken of Israel only in negative terms, at least here is one ‘Israelite’ who has submitted to the righteousness of God, and one who (by analogy with Elijah) finds himself in the company of others (11:2-4)…a remnant according to the selection of grace” – Barclay.
Romans 11:1 (ESV) — 1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
In his usual fashion…
- Paul asks a rhetorical question and gives his own answer.
- “…has God rejected his people?”
Who are God’s people?
In Romans 9:4-5 Paul is very specific about who he is talking about.
- Romans 9:4–5 (ESV) — 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
And in 9:6, Paul even declares that…
- All those descended from Abraham’s son Isaac (as opposed to Ishmael) are children of the promise.
- Paul says, it is “they [who] are counted as offspring” of the patriarch Abraham (9:8).
This means, that Paul’s question has in view…
- Not the remnant…
- But all Israel.
BTW – it would be easier if it were the remnant he was talking about.
So, what’s Paul’s answer to his own question?
- He emphatically denies that God has rejected the Israelites.
- “By no means!” has God rejected Israel.
God has not rejected the children of Abraham, the counted offspring.
- Those for whom Paul laments (9:2-3) and those for whom he prays (10:1).
Why does Paul believe this?
The first reason he gives to support his conclusion is himself.
- “For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.”
Paul, an Israelite, has not rejected Jesus as Lord – the righteousness of God.
- Paul’s entire ministry is evidence that God’s incongruent grace is effective.
- (Remember – we saw last week that perfect grace/gift is one that achieves its intent – it is effective).
- We’ll see more about incongruent grace in verse 6.
Romans 11:2–4 (ESV) — 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
A second reason, Paul believes God has not rejected Israel is…
- He sees evidence of God’s incongruent and effective grace at work in the history of Israel.
Even in the worst of times, when…
- Israel was killing its prophets…
- And demolishing God’s altars…
- God “kept for” himself 7,000 men “who have not bowed the knee to Baal”.
I know what you are thinking.
- God kept these men because of works – they were loyal.
- Or, God kept these men because he “graced” them in a special way.
- Probably not…to both.
Paul has already taught that no works or badges of membership secure one’s standing before God.
- God’s choosing is “incongruent”.
- It is in spite of one’s worthiness or actions.
And if he “graced” them that they then could be loyal…
- This would, again, put works into the equation.
- This is not a incongruent grace – an extravagant grace.
What Paul is saying here is that just like…
- God choose Jacob and not Esau.
- And God choose Isaac and not Ishmael.
- God chose the 7,000.
In fact, the text from which Paul draws, 1 Kings 19:18 says in the MT text:
- “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel…”
Their loyalty to God had nothing to do with it.
- It was all God.
If loyalty was the lynchpin to their remnant status…
- We have another possible inconsistency with God or Paul.
Remember, Paul’s described his Israel as, having “a zeal for God” (10:2)…
- Something that Elijah said of himself – “I have been very jealous for the Lord” (1 Kings 19:14)…
So if Elijah was right before God due to his zeal (jealous)…
- Surely Israel’s zeal would have put them in God’s graces.
Why is it important to understand that Paul and the remnant were chosen, not on merit, but only due to God’s incongruent and effective grace?
- The answer to this question is crucial, as we talked about last week, to how the apparent contradictions in Romans 9-11 are resolved.
As John Barclay’s answer:
- “Paul makes sense of Scripture, of Israel, of the present crisis, of the Gentile mission, and of God’s purposes for the future by finding in all these interlinked phenomena the paradoxical operation of God’s incongruent grace” – John Barclay.
- We’ll play this out over the coming weeks.
Romans 11:5 (ESV) — 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
Paul then makes the obvious connection.
- There was a grace-selected remnant in Elijah’s time.
- And He and the Jews in the Roman church are evidence of a “present time” grace-selected remnant.
- Elijah wasn’t alone; Paul is not alone.
- God’s incongruent and effective grace is still at work in the “present time”.
- This is important for Paul’s understanding of the fate of “all Israel”.
- More on this in the coming weeks.
Romans 11:6 (ESV) — 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
We’ve mentioned effective incongruent grace a number of times.
- Here Paul confirms for us that it really is…
- This kind of grace at work in Israel.
Why is this so?
It can be fleshed out as follows:
- Paul says the remnant is by grace – “it is by grace”.
So the 7,000, Paul and all God’s remnant are a grace-selected remnant.
- The remnant is “no longer on the basis of works”.
Paul then furthers his point with an important deduction.
- He says, “grace would no longer be grace” if it were “on the basis of works”.
- In other words, if it were a grace grounded in the worthiness or action of the recipient.
And what is a grace that is not “on the basis of works”?
- It is an incongruent grace.
- A grace given with no regard for the worthiness of the recipient.
All this is simple enough.
But there are two things that are curious about verse 6:
- (1) “no longer”
- (2) “on the basis of”
(1) Does “no longer” mean that God used to dispense grace “on the basis of works”?
- In other words, on the basis of the worthiness of the recipient?
- The answer – “No”.
We need to see that Paul’s words here are not about different “dispensations” of grace.
- By that I mean an OT version of grace and a NT version of grace.
Schreiner confirms this for us:
- “In saying that election is ‘no longer’ by works, there is no implication that salvation in the old covenant was by works, for the word οὐκέτι here is logical rather than temporal” – Tom Schreiner.
We can also put it like this – Paul is not saying:
- There used to be a grace-selection based on worthiness (congruent grace)…
- And now there is a new style of grace-selection that isn’t (incongruent grace).
The Significance of This:
What is going on here with Paul is…
- A revolutionary rethinking of how God has always operated in the life of Israel (Barclay).
Given Paul’s encounter with Moses’ COH event in the person and work of Jesus…
- He had to rethink everything…including the nature of God’s grace.
John Barclay puts it this way:
- Paul’s new, post-Christ view of grace, “…is a conviction Paul has reached under the impact of Christ…and the Christ event” – Barclay.
Paul has completely up-ended the normal view of grace due to the Jesus event.
In other words…
- God’s grace-selection has always been on the basis of his incongruent grace.
- It is the Jew, including Paul, which mistakenly thought it was on the basis of the worthiness.
Here are a couple of examples of Paul’s new thinking in action.
- Romans 4:2 (ESV) — 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Abraham was not worthy to be declared righteous.
- But obviously, Jews thought Abraham was somehow worthy to receive such a declaration.
- Paul’s new take, “No. Abraham was not chosen because of worth”.
- Romans 9:15–16 (ESV) — 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
The Jew thought Israel was somehow worthy.
- But, none of Israel was worthy – including any remnant.
This is why Paul was so clear in Romans 3.
- Romans 3:23–24 (ESV) — 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
John Barclay sums up Paul’s revolutionary new view of God’s incongruent grace.
- “…every practice [works of the law included] is equally insignificant as a criterion for the favor of God” – Barclay.
- “…the election of God pays no regard to the worth of works: the favor of God that constitutes his people does not correspond to human worth, not even what worth might be identified in their practice” –
Doug Moo puts it this way:
- “For grace demands that God be perfectly free to bestow his favor on whomever he chooses. But if God’s election were based on what human beings do, his freedom would be violated and he would no longer be acting in grace.” – Doug Moo.
(2) What is “on the basis of” supposed to mean exactly?
- I ask this question, because this phrase is not in a number of translations.
- And finding which translation is a better fit will help us better understand what Paul is trying to say.
- (This is a bonus lesson on Bible translations.)
For starters, it is interesting to note that the Greek uses one word where the ESV uses 4.
This is why there are differences between the ESV and some other translations:
- “not by their good works” (NLT)
- “no longer by works” (NET, NIV)
- “not by works” (HCSB)
Instead of using “on the basis of”…
- These translations go simply with “by”.
So which is better?
- Which helps us understand Paul better – “on the basis of” or “by”?
To help us answer this, we can see from the screen shot that the Greek word is “ek”.
The BDAG tells us what “ek” usually means in this context:
- “marker denoting origin, cause, motive, reason” – BDAG.
Given this, we can paraphrase verse 6 and get at the meaning of “ek”:
- The ‘chosen remnant’ did not originate or exist by reason of their works. They originated and exist by reason of God’s incongruent grace.
Ok…that’s helpful…so what about “by” and “basis”?
- Given that “basis” means – “a relation that provides the foundation for something”.
- And “by” means – “the means of achieving something”.
- Which of the two translations best captures our paraphrase?
- The winner is “on the basis of”.
This translation doesn’t pit “grace” against “works”.
- And so it is in line with what Paul teaches.
Paul understands the role and necessity of “works” – the “obedience of faith”.
- He never throws either the law or Jewish badges of membership under the bus.
- He understands that God’s people are obligated beneficiaries of God’s grace.
“By” on the other hand seems to convey an either/or scenario.
- Which, it seems to me, pits works against grace.
Israel may have rejected God…
- But God has not rejected Israel.
Paul can be sure of this because of a remnant:
- He has confessed Christ.
- And other “kinsmen of the flesh” have confessed Christ (in the Roman church, e.g.).
But even more importantly…
- Paul has confidence that God’s effective incongruent grace…
- Which has always been at work in Israel…
- And which is not dependent upon works (or lack thereof)…
- Will accomplish what God promised.
Next week we’ll see Paul’s second reason to have hope for “all Israel”.
- How the current condition of “all Israel” aligns with the perfect efficacy of God’s grace.