In this section Paul brings up Elijah the prophet who cried out to HaShem that he alone was left (of the prophets) and they (Israel) sought to kill him as well. Even though Elijah felt he was the only one who walked in faithfulness to G-d, Paul quotes from I Kings 19,
“I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men which have not bowed the knee to Baal.” I Kings 19:18
This verse is pivotal in understanding the primary issue of our discussion, election. The matter that must be understood is the proper meaning of the verb which states that G-d “has reserved“. Reformed theology asserts that HaShem, in His sovereignty, caused seven thousand men to remain faithful. It is important to note that no one is saying that HaShem did not move and act in the lives of these seven thousand men. The question is whether these men had any chance of being like their fellow Jews and turning to Baal or did G-d mandate these seven thousand men and there was absolutely no possibility for any of these seven thousand to turn to idolatry?
It is not a coincidence that in the next verse Paul speaks about election.
“Therefore, thus also in the present time, a remnant, according to election of grace exists.” Romans 11:5
The word translated “election” is the Greek word ekloghn. The literal meaning of this word is “to speak out”. The word has a prefix “ek” meaning “out” and the Greek root is “legw” having to do with speaking. Hence the word translated “election” here is not some mystical term, but simply relates to “speaking forth”. The same prefix “ek” is used in the word “ekklhsia” which literally means “the one who was called out” which is normally translated with the word “Church”. In the Septuagint the same word is used to describe those who came out of Egypt by keeping the Passover. This group was composed of both Jews and Gentiles who all had one thing in common— they utilized the blood of the lamb as HaShem spoke and therefore were redeemed. It was no accident that Yeshua died on the 14th day of Nisan (Passover day) and was called the Lamb of G-d, as what occurred in Egypt helps one to understand the redeeming work of Yeshua on the cross.
It would be accurate to translate Romans 11:5 in the following manner,
“Therefore, thus also in the present time, a remnant, according to speaking forth of grace, exists.”
Hence, this mystical doctrine of “election”, which is rooted in the selection of certain individuals by G-d to be the absolutely compelled recipients of His grace, while others are predetermined to hell without any means to utilize G-d’s grace and be saved, is difficult to arrive at from the term “to speak forth”. To most the idea of speaking forth grace seems to be more closely united with the presentation of the Gospel, rather than a predetermined and mandated selection by G-d.
In the next verse Paul places the concept of grace in contrast to the performing of works as the basis of salvation. If the grace which is being referred to in Romans 11:5-6 is irresistible, and only limited to the “elect”, why is there any need for Paul to devote three chapters to the issue of Israel’s spiritual condition? He simply could say, most of the Jews were not chosen by G-d; yet this is not what Paul states at all. Rather, he never alludes to some sovereign plan of G-d to exclude a large majority of Jewish people, rather he states they were ignorant of G-d’s righteousness and sought to establish their own righteousness based in works (See Romans 10:3). This is what Paul continues to state now in Romans 11 which he strongly states is contrary to the message of the Gospel which is rooted in grace. It is vital that one pays careful attention to verse 7.
“Therefore, that which Israel seeks after, this he (Israel) did not obtain, but the speaker out (the elect) obtained; but the remaining ones were blinded.” Romans 11:7
Context demands that the reader conclude that Israel, for the most part, did not obtain the status of righteousness, i.e. redeemed, not because Israel was uninterested in it, but because Israel sought it incorrectly; that is, they did not utilize grace. Would it not be against the character of G-d to state that Israel sought righteousness, but did not obtain it simply because only “the elect” could obtain it? Is the proper interpretation of verse 7 that HaShem did not choose the vast majority of Jewish people and the rest He blinded? Obviously, no.
I translated the word which most Bibles render as “the elect” in the literal fashion by rendering it “the speaker out”. I have no problem with the term “the elect” as long as the reader realizes it has to do with those who have responded in faith to the grace that was spoken out by G-d and established by Messiah Yeshua. This is similar to the fact that I have no problem with the term “the Church” as long as people understand it has to do with those who were “called out” by G-d by means of the blood of the true Passover Lamb (Yeshua).
I strongly object to the notion that G-d elected a unique group of individuals based solely on His sovereignty and the rest He blinded. In fact, it is exegetically incorrect to assert that it was the ordained decision of G-d simply based on His sovereign will to blind most of Israel. The reason that it is exegetically invalid to assert that G-d alone blinded the majority of Israel is found in the examples that Paul offers the reader in verses 8-10. Paul uses Deuteronomy 29:3 in teaching about the blindness that has been brought upon Israel.
“Just as it has been written, G-d gave to them a spirit of dullness, eyes which were not to see and ears which were not to hear.”
The fact that Paul placed the verb “ἐπωρώθησαν” from verse 7 in the aorist passive clearly informs the reader that someone or something caused Israel to be made blind. The question that has to be answered is what or who caused this? Reformed theologians are quick to assert that is was the Sovereign G-d. However, when one pays close attention to the context in the two following verses, a different cause for the blindness is revealed. In the Deuteronomy passage Moses is not espousing that Israel did not know how G-d had moved in her history due to HaShem keeping her from knowing this by blinding her. The Hebrew word “to know” is an experiential word; what Moses is simply stating is that HaShem would not allow the Israelites to experience Him. Why was this? The answer is found in the content of Deuteronomy 28:15-69. These verses contain the curses Israel would receive if she did not listen / obey the voice of HaShem. In other words, G-d would not permit Israel to experience, i.e. to know Him because of her disobedience. Hence, it was not some mandated blindness that HaShem chose to sovereignly place upon Israel, but rather the outcome that He withheld because He does not bless with His presence disobedient people. This interpretation is supported by the next two verses where Paul quotes from King David.
“And David says, ‘Let their table be made into a snare and into a trap and into a stumbling block and into punishment unto them. Let their eyes be made dark (blind) that they cannot see; and the backs by means of all their bowing down.'” Romans 11:9-10
These two verses are from Psalm 69. In this Psalm David is speaking about his enemies who were persecuting him. Who were these enemies? David states later on in this same Psalm,
“They shall be erased from the book of life, and with the righteous ones they shall not be inscribed.” Psalm 69:29
These words have led some to rightly conclude that David is referring to some of his fellow Jews who were persecuting him. David was praying that HaShem move against them by making them unable to see. Why would G-d do this? The answer is not simply because they were persecuting David, rather as the verses clearly allude to, because they were worshipping contrary to the word of G-d. Most scholars understand the reference to “table” as pagan (the partaking of meat sacrificed to idols). Hence, Paul is revealing in this section that the reason that Israel has had her eyes blinded from responding to the Gospel is because of her own sin. A person’s sin does indeed cause him to fail in perceiving spiritual truth.
Therefore, the idea that G-d simply chose to blind Israel based upon the fact that He is the Sovereign G-d, is an improper conclusion based upon Paul’s choice of providing both Deuteronomy 29 and Psalm 69 as aids to assist the reader in understanding the meaning of his statement in verse seven. In light of this, a concept of Divine Election, which is grounded in an “unconditional election”, i.e. without any factor other than G-d choosing some and rejecting others apart from any other aspect, is without Scriptural foundation.
In the next section of chapter 11 Paul states firmly that although Israel has stumbled in regard to the Gospel, the Sovereign G-d has used this to accomplish what Israel’s call and existence was about— to bless the Gentiles. So, the will of G-d was not thwarted by Israel’s disobedience, but rather HaShem used Israel’s disobedience to accomplish His purpose of bringing salvation to the Gentiles (Nations). There are two important truths that must be stated at this time.
1. G-d did not desire, call, or influence Israel at all to disobey His word. It was Israel’s disobedience that resulted in her blindness.
2. Although G-d used Israel’s disobedience, i.e. sin for good, it would have been better had Israel not disobeyed. This is clearly seen in Paul’s statement that since Israel’s being temporarily cast away means the reconciling of much of the world, how much more will Israel being received back mean. Paul states that Israel getting right with G-d, which will take place at the end of the age, will result in “life from the dead” (See Romans 11:11-15). This phrase “life from the dead” is a clear reference to the resurrection which will precede the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom.
Paul is simply pointing out that G-d’s will to bring blessing, i.e. salvation upon the Gentiles was not blocked by Israel’s sin, but one should not ignore the fact that many Jews and Gentiles were lost because of this sin. It is vital that one understand an important distinction related to the will of G-d. G-d’s will mandates, that is demands, that a Kingdom be established; and although HaShem always knew who would be in this Kingdom and who would not, does not mean that G-d mandates every individual to either be the “elect” or the “reprobate”. Simply stated, a sovereign G-d does not need to eradicate free will from man. This point is nicely taught by Yeshua’s parable of the “Great Supper” (See Luke 14:16-24). In short, Yeshua taught that there was going to be a great supper, that is, this supper was going to take place. It was also mandated that the banquet hall was going to be full, but what was not mandated was who was going to be present. It is most significant that the stated purpose of this parable was to provide greater understanding of the Kingdom (See the end of verse 15 for the fact that the context for this parable was indeed the Kingdom of G-d). In other words, we learn from the parable that the Kingdom will be established, it will be full of humanity, but although G-d knows who from humanity will be in this Kingdom, each individual had to respond to the invitation.
In the closing section of Romans chapter 11 Paul makes his strongest claim for the future salvation of Israel. In verse 25 he speaks of a partial hardening and blindness that has happened to Israel (Partial because there were Jews who had responded to the Gospel in obedience throughout the Church age) and the Gentiles coming to faith as a result of this as a “mystery“. What the reader can be assured of is this: G-d is holy and righteous and is full of mercy. He does not sin nor does He influence others to commit sin. This is the G-d that Scripture reveals. This G-d has a plan to create a people, i.e. Israel to bring blessing into the world (Salvation). For this is the crux of the Abrahamic Covenant. It is ultimately Messiah Yeshua Who entered into this world through Israel Who is the only One who can mediate salvation to both the Jew and the Gentile. Although HaShem called Israel to be the ones who proclaim this message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel, Israel to a large part failed in this assignment. Why did Israel fail? The answer is sin and disobedience. This sin and disobedience caused Israel to grow hard and blind in regard to the Gospel. Yet the Sovereign G-d used this failure of Israel to nevertheless move among the Gentiles.
Paul states that when the fullness of the Gentiles has entered then HaShem will move once again to turn away the sin from Israel and “all of Israel shall be saved” (See Romans 11:25-27). Does this phrase, “all of Israel”, mean that every Jewish individual will be saved? Absolutely not; any more than the phrase “the fullness of the Gentiles” means every Gentile will be saved. The idea that is being expressed is that the Kingdom will be populated by a great number (which no man could count) of people from all nations, tribes, and languages. In other words, no one will be able to say that G-d loved one nation more than another nation; simply HaShem is not a respecter of persons. It will be most evident that the love of G-d and His desire that all men come to repentance and accept the Gospel by faith was intended for all people, regardless nationality, race, language or any other distinction. It will be furthermore evident that Israel was indeed the instrument that HaShem used in her obedience and even in her disobedience to bring this about. This point is strongly attested to by Romans 11:29.
“For unchangeable are the gifts and the calling of G-d.”
ἀμεταμέλητα γὰρ τὰ χαρίσματα καὶ ἡ κλῆσις τοῦ θεοῦ.
This verse makes it quite clear that HaShem in a sovereign manner equipped Israel (gifts) and called Israel to be used in a major way in the establishing of His Kingdom. The word “ἀμεταμέλητα” attests that nothing is going to change this. Perhaps Replacement theologians would be well advised to pay close attention to this verse and the meaning of this word “ἀμεταμέλητα”. This word also appears in Hebrews 6:17-18 speaking of that which is immutable. The context for this statement is the fact that G-d cannot lie. It is also very important to see the context for Paul’s use of this verse. For in the previous verse which until now I have ignored, Paul writes,
“According to the Gospel, enemies for your sake; but according to the election, beloved ones for the sake of the Patriarchs.” Romans 11:28
All scholars understand that the context demands this verse to be referring to Israel, i.e. the Jewish people, who by and large have not responded in faith to HaShem’s plan of salvation. Hence the Jewish people, in regard to the Gospel, are enemies. It is most disturbing that the English Standard Version renders the verse,
“As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.”
The phrase “of God” does not appear in the Greek and it is for this reason that it should not be included in any translation. If the source language does not have the phrase “of G-d“, then why would anyone render it into a translation? The answer is obvious; it serves the anti-Israel and largely anti-Semitic tendencies of some of those within the Church. Although John Piper speaks of (in his article entitled “Are There Two Wills in God” that I have responded frequently to in this paper) the importance of using “careful exegesis” in order to arrive at the proper message of a Biblical text (See page one of Piper’s article), Mr. Piper, when writing about Romans 11:28 uses the ESV and states,
“Because verse 28 says, for now “they are enemies.” Verse 28a: “As regards the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies of God for your sake.” In other words, they are rejecting their Messiah and thus putting themselves against God. This is what Jesus said to Israel in John 8:42….”
(From the sermon and article entitled Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East March 7 2004 which can be found on the website www.desiringgod.org)
Please notice how Mr. Piper takes a biased and errant translation, failing to do any exegetical examination of the text, and runs to the conclusion that Jewish individuals are the enemies of G-d. The passage from Romans 11:28 only asserts that Israel is an enemy of the Gospel. Furthermore, in regard to Piper’s use of John 8, he errs when he fails to point out that there were many Jews who believed upon Yeshua, (See John 8:30-31). The Jewish individuals who rejected Him in John 8 were a small group of religious leaders; hence, it is most improper to label the Jewish people as enemies of G-d, when the passage that you are using speaks of many Jewish individuals who believed upon Yeshua.
The fact that the phrase “of God” does not appear in the text is because this verse is not asserting that the Jewish people are somehow uniquely “enemies of G-d”, different from any other people who have not accepted Messiah. Rather, this verse simple means that Israel, i.e. the majority of Jewish individuals and Judaism stand in opposition to the message of the Gospel. Furthermore the verse reminds one that in spite of this fact, still G-d’s election of Israel stands. What does this phrase mean? Namely, that HaShem has in the past and will continue to use the Jewish people uniquely, based upon His sovereign choice of them. His election to use a specific people did not come in a vacuum. In returning to Romans chapter 9, the example that Paul gives is HaShem’s choice, based in His foreknowledge, that Jacob would desire and be moved to respond to the covenant to which Abraham and Isaac had also responded.
Once again, for Reformed theologians G-d’s foreknowledge is left out of the equation. The fact that one would choose to respond to divine revelation and the bidding of the Holy Spirit is a violation of Reformed theology’s view of grace and the depravity of man. In the next article we will look at the doctrines of Irresistible Grace and the Total Depravity of Man.
By Dr Baruch Korman