Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How "All" Israel Will Be Saved

Chris Tilling has a post up on the meaning of "all" in Romans in which he shows that "all" does not always mean "all".

Of course, a key passage is Romans 11:25-26:
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, 26 and so all Israel [πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ] will be saved...
The key question here is whether Paul believed every single Israelite would be saved.

I do not have the time to write an extensive essay on this--I've got to get back to finishing my dissertation. In fact, Scott Hahn presented a paper at the International Meeting of SBL a few years ago which looks at this passage in great detail--and let me tell you, to fully treat this subject would take another dissertation! Nonetheless, I want to piggy-back off Tilling's post and say a few things about this passage.

The key here is identifying how "all Israel" [πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ] is used in the Old Testament and non-canonical Jewish literature. For that I recommend an excellent article by James M. Scott [“All Israel Will Be Saved,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish & Christian Perspectives (ed. J. M. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 489-526]. Scott shows that the phrase is typically used to describe all twelve tribes. In other words, the term is typically used to identify the inclusion of the northern tribes.

2 Samuel 2:8-10: Now Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul's army, had taken Ish-bo'sheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahana'im; and he made him king over Gilead and the Ash'urites and Jezreel and E'phraim and Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-bo'sheth, Saul's son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David”

2 Samuel 5:3, 5: So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel… At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years

2 Samuel 19:11: And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abi'athar the priests, "Say to the elders of Judah, 'Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king?”

1 Chronicles 21:5: And Jo'ab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and in Judah four hundred and seventy thousand who drew the sword.

1 Kings 4:7: Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household; each man had to make provision for one month in the year.

In eschatological contexts, the term is especially focused on the restoration of the northern tribes with the southern house of Judah. Thus, "all Israel" means "all the tribes" of Israel--even the so-called "lost tribes". This is probably most clear in Testament of Benjamin 10:11:

4Q521 2 iii 1-5: and the law of your favor. And I will free them with [...] 2 its is su[re:] 'The fathers will return to the sons' (Mal 3:24). [...] 3 which the blessing of the Lord in his goodwill [...] 4 May the [ea]rth rejoice in all the pla[ces] 5 fo[r] all Israel in the rejoicing [...]. [NOTE: compare with Sir 48:10 where Mal 3:24 is used to describe the restoration of the tribes of Israel]

4Q164 1:1-8: [he will mak]e all Israel like eye-paint around the eye. 'And I will found you in sapphi[res' (Isa 54:11). Its interpretation:] 2 They will found the council of the community, [the] priests and the peo[ple...] 3 the assembly of their elect, like a sapphire stone in the midst of the stones. 'I will make] 4 all your battlements [of rubies]' (Isa 54:12). Its interpretation comes the twelve [chiefs of the the priests who] 5 illuminate with the judgments of the Urim and the Thummim [...without] 6 any from among them missing, like the sun in all its light. 'And a[ll your gates of glittering stones' (Isa 54:12).] 7 Its interpretation concerns the chiefs of the tribes of
Israel in the l[ast days... of] 8 its lost, their posts.

T. Ben. 10:11: Therefore, my children, if you live in holiness, in accord with the Lord's commands, you shall again dwell with me in hope; all Israel will be gathered to the Lord."

For a detailed survey see James Scott's article (especially 500-514).

The upshot of the analysis is that the term was related to Israel's tribal configuration. Scott states in his conclusion of the survey of Old Testament texts: "Although the term 'all Israel' can be used to denote a representative selection from the full complement of the tribes, it is never used to refer specifically to all individuals within the nation" (507).

Likewise, after looking at the texts from the Second Temple period, he concludes:
"The expression occurs most frequently in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and in the (sectarian) writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. "All Israel" is used less frequently with reference to historical Israel (cf. T. Jos. 20:5; Ps-Philo, Bib. Ant. 22:1; 23:1; CD 3, 14), unless the emphasis is on the continuity of Israel through the ages to the present and beyond. Otherwise, the term is used to stress either the (often idealized) present reality or the future hope. As in the OT usage, 'all Israel' does not denote each and every individual, but rather a collective whole or some subset of the whole. The expression normally preserves an element of the twelve-tribe system of ancient Israel, and thus can be understood as deliberate archaism or
restorationism when it is used of the post-Monarchic situation. This tendency is particularly clear in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs" (515).
So now let's return to Romans 11:225-26. When Paul speaks about the salvation of "all Israel" what is he referring to?

It seems Paul is speaking of the pan-Israelite restoration hope. In fact, as Hahn pointed out in his SBL paper, a close look at Romans 9-11 reveals that, whereas up to now Paul has spoken about the "Jew" (Ἰουδαῖος), in these chapters there is a subtle shift in focus to "Israel". Moreover, Hahn showed many of Paul's Old Testament citations throughout this section are drawn from passages which speak of the northern tribes. For example, in Romans 9:25 Paul cites Hosea:
“'Those who were not my people
I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved
I will call ‘my beloved’ [cf. Hos 2:23].
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’ [Hos. 1:10].”

These words are spoken to the northern tribes. In chapter 1 Hosea explains that in sending these tribes into exile God is punishing them for the infidelity--he will say, "You are not my people" (cf. Hos 1:10). This is clear if one reads the prophecy in context:
Hos 1:10-11: 10 Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Sons of the living God.” 11 And the people of Judah and the people of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head; and they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
The northern Israelites were sent into exile but they were not forgotten. Though they were dissolved into the nations through intermarriage God did not forget about them--he still knew where they were, much like God told Elijah he knew where the faithful remnant of his people was in his day (cf. Rom 11:2-6).

Paul thus sees his Gentile mission in terms of the pan-Israelite hope. The northern tribes must be restored to fulfill the promises made by the Lord through the prophets. Where are they? Among the Gentiles. To bring Israel home means to bring in the Gentiles. This is the mystery. God allowed Israel to be exiled so that he could use them to eventually bring the nations home as well--as their relatives.

Paul's opponents accuse him of rejecting his people. Paul doesn't see it that way. By neglecting the Gentiles--where the northern tribes were sent--his opponents are the ones who have rejected Israel.

Thus: "Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, 26 and so all Israel [πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ] will be saved..." (Rom 11:25-26).

For more see the treatment in Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Romans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003).

In the com-box I got a great question from t.c. williams. Speaking of my conclusion, he writes,
"You have provide Scripture for all your other conclusion but not for this one. Why? This seems like quite a hermeneutical leap. Where in Paul are Gentiles understood as the lost Northern tribes?"

Thanks for the question. I'm sorry I added didn't make the conclusion more exegetical. I was just trying to save time by summing it up. Let me be a little more clear here.

First, go back again and look at the logic in Hosea. The Israelites are sent off into exile and become "not my people". But God will restore them again, and, on that day, they "will be called sons of the living God" (cf. Rom 9:26).

With that in mind, let's return to Paul. Let's look at Paul's logic in 9:22ff:
"What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?"
Paul then applies the Hosea passage to those called from the Gentiles! Look at the next verse:
"As indeed he says in Hosea, 'Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'my beloved.' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people', they will be called
'sons of the living God'" (cf. Romans 9:25-26; Hos 2:23; 1:10).
Is Paul wrenching this passage from Hosea out of context? Some think so. Some think Paul is randomly applying this passage which originally spoke of the northern tribes to the Gentiles in a kind of "replacement" theology. For example, see E. Elizabeth Johnson, The Function of Apocalyptic and Wisdom Traditions in Romans 9-11 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 150: “Paul appears to wrench Hos 2:25 and 2:1 from their historical contexts to apply them to Gentiles rather than to Israel..."

I think that misunderstands Paul. As Richard Hays and others have shown, to understand Paul one must see how the contexts of the passages he cites forms part of his argument. For example, consider the argument above in Romans 9:6ff. There Paul's point is that biological descent from Abraham does not secure salvation. He writes,
"For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are
children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but 'Through Isaac shall
your descendants be named'" (Romans 9:6-7).
He Paul cites Genesis 21:12, which contains the word spoken by the Lord to Abraham. The context of this passage is hugely signficant for Paul's argument. In Genesis 21 Abraham is told that his descendants will be named through Isaac--and not Ishmael. Paul's point is simple: If Jews are going to assert that biological descent from Abraham secures salvation, ask them about Ishmael. The same kind of narrowing of the promised line occurs in the selection of Jacob over Esau--which, of course, is the point of the following verses (cf. Rom 9:10-13).

Now let's return to Paul's use of the Hosea passage in 9:25-26. Paul knows what Hosea prophesied--the Israelites who had been sent to Gentiles, who became "not my people" would one day be restored. On that day their status as God's people would be restored--"they will be called 'sons of the living God.'" That is how Paul can use this passage in reference to the Gentiles. He is NOT wrenching Hosea out of context.

I would also refer you to Acts, which I think is aware of Paul's program to bring the lost tribes home.

Why is Paul arrested in the Temple? It is clearly because of his association with the Gentiles (cf. Acts 26:28). Before King Agrippa Paul even explains his mission as a mission to the Gentiles. Relating his vision of the Lord, he explains:
"The Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles—to whom I send you" (Acts 26:15-17).

At the end of the book we read Paul preaching: "Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28).

But here's what's fascinating. Paul's also understands his mission in terms of the pan-Israelite restoration. Note what Paul says to Agrippa in Acts 26:6-7:
"And now I stand here on trial for hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!"

Note: Paul's arrest for his Gentile association is ultimately wrapped up in his ministry to the twelve tribes. Wow! Also see Acts 9:15, where Paul's ministry is described in this way: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel..." Paul is going to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel.

So much more could be said. Paul goes on to talk about the fact that he has been arrested because of his belief in the resurrection. Clearly this is a reference to Jesus' resurrection. But do not forget that for ancient Jews resurrection was also an image frequently used to describe the restoration of the twelve tribes (e.g., cf. Ezek 37:1-14; Hos 6:1-2). In fact, as James Scott observes, in the ancient literature, the Greek term diaspora was not first used as a reference to "scattered" Israel. It primarily has the meaning of "decomposition" of a body after death. [See James Scott, “Exile and the Self-Understanding of Diaspora Jews,” in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Conceptions (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 178-179. So Jesus' resurrection would likely have carried the further restoration implications.

Wish I had more time, but I've got to get back to the dissertation.


DimBulb said...

Wouldn't this also have implications for responding to some of the theories about Israel being bandied about by the "Left Behind" crowd? I'm referring to this idea proposed by adherents to John Nelson Darby's views:

(T)he Church was not God's primary plan of redemption, but a parenthetical time-dubbed the "Church age"-that would eventually give way to God's PRIMARY plan: a corporeal reign of the Messiah over the Jews. Jews how came to God in the Millennium would never become a part of the Church. They would be a part of redeemed Israel, which would remain forever distinct from Christ's bride. (Rapture y David Currie, pg. 15)

Michael Barber said...


That's only one problem with the idea of the "great parenthesis", but yes, I agree with you.

Jeremy Priest said...


I'm trying to put Rom. 9-11 in the overall schema of the letter and here's what I came up with. [I posted this comment over at Chrisendom as well.] Thoughts?

I think Paul's argument in Rom. 9-11 illustrates a point he makes to the Romans in 8:39 : nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." In context: if the Romans were having difficulty because the Jews were rejecting the Gospel (cf. their expulsion from Rome over "Chrestus" in AD 49), how much more does Paul (a Jew) have "sorrow and unceasing anguish" in his heart (9:2) because "all Israel" has not yet been gathered together. Granted, Israel had the same problems as the Jews, basing their righteousness on the law (cf. 9:31). Yet, if we've seen God overcome that for the Jews in Jesus Christ, how much more will we see God reconcile "all Israel" in Jesus' Davidic kingdom (cf. 1:3-4).

Flowing from 8:39, Paul is saying, "Don't lose heart, don't give up on the Jews--God is faithful to his word (cf. 9:6). God's love is so powerful--he's not only going to bring the Jews and Gentiles in, he's going to bring all Twelve Tribes back into the fold! Don't think you know everything (cf. 11:25, 12:3, 1:21): don't harden your heart towards the Jews, but renew your minds (cf. 12:2) because neither God's promise to you Gentiles in Christ, nor God's promises to Israel through the patriarchs will be thrwarted--God's justice/wrath and mercy (cf. 9:19-29) combine to accomplish the same goal in Christ."

On a related Twelve Tribes note:
I think Paul's branch theory (11:13-24) might point in this direction: the many Gentiles represent a single "wild olive shoot" (11:18) and they are spoken of in the second person singular throughout, while Israel is spoken of in the plural and represented by a plurality of branches that "will be grafted in" (11:23). So, we might picture the many branches as 12+1 branches on the Olive tree (cf. Acts 2:8-10).

Jay said...

Where might I obtain a copy of Dr. Hahn's paper?

tc robinson said...

Paul thus sees his Gentile mission in terms of the pan-Israelite hope. The northern tribes must be restored to fulfill the promises made by the Lord through the prophets. Where are they? Among the Gentiles. To bring Israel home means to bring in the Gentiles. This is the mystery. God allowed Israel to be exiled so that he could use them to eventually bring the nations home as well--as their relatives.

Paul's opponents accuse him of rejecting his people. Paul doesn't see it that way. By neglecting the Gentiles--where the northern tribes were sent--his opponents are the ones who have rejected Israel.

You have provide Scripture for all your other conclusion but not for this one. Why? This seems like quite a hermeneutical leap. Where in Paul are Gentiles understood as the lost Northern tribes?

Jeremy Priest said...

I think this "hermeneutical leap" is to be found in Paul's contextual use of Scripture, especially the quotation from Hosea in Rom. 9:25. The Northern Tribes have been scattered to the four winds and have essentially become Gentiles: "not my people." The only way to gather them together is to go to the Gentiles.
Another clue to this is in Paul's exponential increase of the word "Israel" in these three chapters. "All Israel" had become so intertwined with the nations that we speak of them as the "lost tribes."
Paul doesn't come right out and say this explicitly, but I think it's there in many places, especially in the context of quotations and allusions. A question might be asked, why doesn't he come right out and say this?

Michael Barber said...


I've updated the post to answer your question.


In terms of the flow of the letter--wow, that's a whole new post! I do think it is significant that Paul moves from the discussion in Romans 8, which links sonship to suffering, to a discussion of the exile--the suffering of God's firstborn son, Israel (Exod 4:22). But there's much more...

Chris Tilling said...

"Wish I had more time, but I've got to get back to the dissertation."

I wish you had more time, too! Thanks so much for these fascinating thoughts. Having been largely convinced by Brant's treatment of the lost northern tribes in terms of Jesus, when I read your post I immediately realised the potential for that in terms of Paul in Rom 9-11. Superb and exciting!

Thanks, again. I will have to ponder your suggestions for a while, and it will certainly send me back to Rom 9-11.

That was blogging at its best.

Danny Garland Jr. said...

Another place besides Hosea that we see foretold that the Gentiles will bring in the lost tribes of Israel is Isaiah 66:18-21. There is no hermeneutical leap going on. Paul is simply showing a proper understanding and interpretation of the prophets!

tc robinson said...

Thanks for the updating, Michael. Did Matthew wrench Judges 13:5 out of context?

Acts 9:15, ""Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel." The Gentiles are kept separate from the Jews. Paul is careful to maintain that Jew and Gentile distinctive in his writings (Rom 1:16 and so on).

Paul in Romans 9:6ff is only speaking of spiritual Israel within ethnic Israel. Later he goes on to speak of the Gentiles as distinctive from the Jews.

Besides, the seed of Isaac eventually would be the 12 tribes, not the Gentiles.

By the way, Who in church history has ever proposed this postion?

kentuckyliz said...

Gentiles are not utterly distinct from the ten lost tribes, because the lost tribes are dispersed, intermingled, intermarried, and disappeared among the Gentiles (since the Assyrian deportation several centuries earlier). God saves the Gentiles for the sake of the lost tribes of Israel. Or as Jesus puts it, the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This goy girl, a northern Celtic Viking barbarian, rejoices.

Ammi! Ruhama! He has taken the names of the Ba'als from my mouth!

kentuckyliz said...

BTW my last comment refers to the restoration beginning right where the dispersion began--Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in Jn 4.

David Cox said...

That is exciting. I have heard the collective vs. distributive sense for "all" applied to Rom 3:23 before, but not to Rom. 11.

Is it necessary to provide scripture in order to show that Paul preaching to the Gentiles means that he is actually preaching to the Northern Tribes, or can it be assumed since the tribes had been in exile for so long that there was no way to effectively "restore Israel" without bringing the Gentiles in as well?

Gary said...

Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God's covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was "cut off" from God's promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

"Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

"And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

This covenant wasn't just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a "decision for God" when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time "decision for God" upon reaching an "Age of Accountability" in order to be saved.

Therefore Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being "cut off" from God's promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

Christ said, "He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned."

It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.

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