By Charles H. Welch
Perhaps no one book in the whole of the Scriptures may be considered to have a greater claim upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, than the epistle to the Romans. Where all exhibit the hall-mark of inspiration, comparisons are odious, but inasmuch as a building needs foundations as well as top stones, so we may speak of the epistle to the Romans as essentially fundamental in character.
In this epistle, Israel as well as Gentile, both in their sin and their salvation, are placed in their true relation to the purpose of God. Here sin receives its fullest exposure, and here justification by faith its grandest exposition. Doctrinal, practical and dispensational truth receive equal attention, and the whole argument is conducted upon a calmer level than was possible when dealing with matters as personal as those which prompted the epistles to the Galatians or to the Corinthians.
To those who are vitally concerned with the teaching of Ephesians, Romans 5:12 to 8:39 is of supreme importance, for Ephesians 2:1 proceeds upon the assumption that Romans 6 is practical truth. Philippians, too, does not teach, but assumes knowledge of justification by faith (Phil. 3:9).
The primary purpose of the epistle may well have been the dispensational problem covered by chapters 9 to 11, for this touches upon the sore point of Israel’s rejection. This would necessitate not only a reference to Sinai and to the covenant made before with Abraham, but in virtue of Paul’s apostleship to the Gentiles, would demand a statement that carried things as far back as Adam. This is indeed what we find. To the apostle Paul we must look for information concerning the relation of Adam and the race, and to this epistle in particular for its fullest exposition.
Inner and Outer Teaching
The epistle to the Romans, while it must be read through as one would an ordinary letter, must be studied along the lines of its divisions, and the first division of importance is that which we call, for clearness’ sake, the outer and the inner. The outer occupies 1:1 to 5:11 and 9:1 to 16:24. The inner occupies 5:12 to 8:39 with 16:25-27 as a final note. The dominant figure (speaking of men) in 1:1 to 5:11 is Abraham, whereas the dominant figure in 5:12 to 8:39 is Adam. The background of Romans 1 is Babel; the background of 5:12 is Eden. ‘Sins’ are the concern of the outer portion; ‘sin’ the concern of the inner.
The reader will observe that the concluding verses of Romans 16 are
considered as an integral part of, or an expansion of, the inner teaching of
Romans. This we must study in its place, but we will here say that we do not
believe that the Mystery of Ephesians is in view in Romans 16. Let us now
compare the opening and closing words of the epistle.
The outer section contains the great dispensational portion which
occupies chapters 9 to 11. The general disposition of subject matter is as
As our present concern is the dispensational aspect of truth, we turn
at once to Romans 9 to 11 which deals with this particular feature.
From Sorrow to Song
This theme, which, as Romans 9:1-3 and 10:1 show, was very near to the apostle’s heart, had already been touched upon in the opening chapters, but there it is glanced at momentarily, to be put aside until in these chapters it can be given the consideration it deserves. We refer to the opening verses of chapter 3 where the apostle realizes that the levelling doctrine of justification by faith appears to do away with the dispensational advantages of the Jew, and may even lead some to think that Israel’s unbelief makes the faithfulness of God of none effect. In chapter 3 the apostle is content to express his repudiation of such a charge, basing his argument mainly on the fact that God would cease to be the Judge of the world if His righteousness could possibly be impugned. As soon, however, as he has carried his doctrine to its glorious goal, he returns to this tremendous theme.
He now establishes fully the ‘advantage’ and ‘profit’ of being one of the circumcision (Rom. 9:4,5) and emphasizes the fact that the true Israel of promise were called ‘in Isaac’, and in accord with ‘the purpose of God according to election’ (9:6-13). The question of Romans 3:5 ‘Is God unrighteous Who taketh vengeance?’ is repeated in Romans 9 in connection with God’s sovereign choice of Israel and rejection of Esau: ‘Is there unrighteousness with God?’ (Rom. 9:14). The sovereignty of God is further discussed and emphasized by bringing forward two very different examples. The Lord’s words to Moses: ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy’, and the raising up of Pharaoh (9:14-18). In Romans 9:27 a remnant only is ‘saved’, but in Romans 11:26 it is ‘all Israel’. The section opens with sorrow (Rom. 9:1-3), but it closes with song (Rom. 11:33-36). Before we can do much more, it will be necessary to obtain a view of the scope of Romans 9 to 11 as a whole. We have already seen that the section opens with ‘sorrow’, and closes with ‘song’, and that while only a remnant is ‘saved’ at the beginning, it is ‘all Israel’ at the close. These features give us the first great division of the section, which we must note. We observe, moreover, that immediately following the list of Israel’s advantages (Rom. 9:4,5) the apostle breaks into a doxology. In this, where it is a question of the Lord being ‘over’ all, panton is used for ‘all’, but in the concluding doxology of Romans 11, where it is a question of origin and goal, ta panta is used. (See All and All Things).
In the central section we find the expression ‘Lord of all’. Here the context indicates that a wide range is intended, for ‘there is no difference,’ says the apostle, ‘He is rich unto all that call upon Him’ (Rom. 10:12). The ‘all’, clearly, is co-extensive with ‘those that call’. This great section of Romans, therefore, is bounded at either end by the tremendous thought that ‘God is over all’, and at the centre the same note is struck. We will not attempt, at the moment, a full structural analysis of these chapters. Let us be content at the beginning with the barest outline. We can fill in the detail as we learn more.
Israel's privileges are given in detail in Romans 9:3-5:
With this emphasis on the privileges of Israel, the case of the Gentiles should be compared, as set forth in Ephesians.
With the opening of Romans 11 the apostle begins to draw his conclusions. Stated briefly, they are as follows:
Those who form this ‘remnant’ have believed in the Lord, and are justified. Their standing is in grace, and not in works. Israel as a nation has entered into a period of darkness and blindness, but the salvation of ‘the election’ foreknown by God, is in perfect harmony with God’s sovereignty as discussed at length in Romans 9. No Israelite was coerced into believing; no Israelite was prevented from believing. God’s foreknowledge covers the whole problem, without doing violence either to the principles of morality, or to Divine sovereignty.
The quotation from Psalm 69 with which the apostle concludes his argument is suggestive. The Psalm is Messianic, and contains the verse (25) quoted by Peter concerning Judas: ‘Let their (his) habitation be desolate’ (Acts 1:20).
Israel had betrayed the Lord. Their self-righteousness had blinded their eyes, and the great fact that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth became a stumbling block and an offence to them.
Only a remnant believed, and that elect company was not exclusively Jewish, but included those who walked in the steps of Abraham’s faith. There was no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for ‘the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him’.
Towards the close of Romans 10 the apostle quotes the statement of Moses, that the Lord would provoke Israel to jealousy ‘by them that are no people’. This he now unfolds in connection with the great subject of the reconciling of the world, which is dealt with in Romans 11:11-36. This, however, we must leave for the moment.
The subject-matter of Romans 9 to 11, the peculiar style of the
apostle’s argument, the many quotations and analogies from Old Testament
Scriptures, make the study of these chapters difficult, and perhaps a
weariness to the flesh. The extreme importance, however, of the great theme
of justification by faith demands that it shall be considered in all its
bearings, whether in connection with the law of Moses, the call of Abraham,
the headship of Adam, or, as in the passage before us, the failure of Israel,
and the election of the Gentiles. Principles are brought to the light in
these passages that are of vital importance to every believer who desires to
understand the ways of God with men.
The Olive Tree and Israel’s National Position (11:11-32)
In the earlier verses of Romans 11, the apostle shows that the failure of the bulk of the nation of Israel in no way invalidates God’s purpose or His faithfulness. We have seen that the prophets foretold ‘a remnant according to the election of grace’, and we also learn that the defection of Israel has been overruled to bring about the reconciliation of the Gentile world. Looking on to the close of the chapter, we find that ‘all Israel’ shall be saved, because ‘the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’. The words ‘all Israel’, ‘Jacob’, and ‘Zion’, together with the prophecy alluded to, preclude our making any deduction from these verses but one -- namely, that there will be a national restoration and blessing of Israel according to the terms of the New Covenant. Quite a number of questions suggest themselves as we read this section, but it is evident that the apostle, when he wrote about the olive tree, had no intention of introducing a theological argument at this point. He had one and only one purpose before him -- to seek to show, by the figure of the olive tree, how the Lord had used Gentile believers, in order, if it were possible, to ‘provoke’ the nation of Israel ‘to emulation’. This, and this only, is the reason for introducing the figure, and the recognition of this will save us from almost endless argument as to the ultimate destiny of the branches that remained.
Before attempting any exposition of these verses, it will be wise to see what particular parts of the passage are emphasized by the structure, which we set out below.
It is evident that the apostle is speaking here of the dispensational aspect of truth, for no Gentile could be justified by being placed in the position forfeited by one of the natural branches of Israel’s olive tree.
And moreover, no believer, who is justified by faith, can ever be separated
from the love of God, or can be condemned (Rom. 8), so that the threat of excision in Romans 11:22 must refer to the ‘dispensational’ position which
then obtained, and must not be misused to invalidate Romans 8:31-39.
A 11-25. Israel’s fall occasions Gentile reconciliation.
A 26-32. Mercy to Gentiles occasions Israel’s reconciliation.
The Olive Tree Explained
In endeavouring to understand the various factors in this presentation of truth, let us first seek an answer to the question: ‘What does the olive tree represent?’ In attempting to answer this question we do not propose to quote the parable of Jotham given in Judges 9:1-15. Jotham’s purpose in the parable is simple and evident, and it would seem to be a distortion of the context to make the olive, the fig and the vine in that parable stand for different aspects of Israel’s privileges. The Old Testament passages with which we are most concerned are to be found in Jeremiah. In chapter 11 we read:
Not only does Paul take the figure of the olive tree, and its broken branches, from Jeremiah, but he also refers to Jeremiah 31:31 in Romans 11:27, where the olive tree is once more complete. There are some who have sought to show that the olive tree of Romans 11 is to be found in Christendom today, but such teaching is contrary to Jeremiah 11 and 31 and Romans 11 alike. The Book of Jeremiah consists of fifty-one prophecies, each introduced by some phrase as, ‘The word of the Lord came’. The opening prophecy is indicative of all the rest:
The subjects of this prophecy are clearly ‘nations’ and ‘kingdoms’, not churches, either real or professing. Also the prophecy is two-fold: first, judgment in the form of ‘rooting out’, and then, restoration in the form of ‘planting’.?The second prophecy in Jeremiah occupies only two verses, which we give in full:
The word for ‘almond tree’ is shaked, and the word for ‘hasten’ is shoked, the almond being called the ‘watcher’ or ‘early waker’. When the time comes for the people of Israel to be restored, the same word is again used:
Moreover, in verses 36 and 37 Israel are assured that they shall not be cast off on account of their misdeeds -- a passage which finds an echo in the words of Romans 11:29 ‘For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’. Returning to the prophecy of Jeremiah, we observe that where the green olive tree with the broken branches is spoken of, the prophet interprets the symbol as referring to Israel:
If we examine the context of Romans 11, we shall find that there also, Israel is portrayed as an olive tree:
There can be no misunderstanding these references that stand on either side of the passage which refers to the olive tree. It is not a church that is in view, but Israel as a nation. The ‘they’ that ‘stumbled’ are Israel (11:11); ‘my flesh’ (11:14) refers to Israel; and those who were ‘cast away’, and who are yet to be ‘received’, are Israel (11:15).
We have next to consider the ‘branches’ of the olive tree:
The branches that were broken off were the unbelieving among Israel, the remaining branches constituting a remnant. Into the place from which the unbelieving of Israel had been broken off, the Gentile believer had been grafted, ‘contrary to nature’.
Why does the apostle use the expression ‘contrary to nature’? The root
and fatness of the olive tree belonged to Israel, and if Israel had repented, and had been restored at that time, no Gentile would ever have shared it with
them, even temporarily. It was something exceptional that was in view. It
is clear that Paul cannot be referring to the great promise of justification
by faith, for two reasons. In the first place, he warns the believing
Gentile that he might be ‘cut off’ -- a warning that cannot refer to
justification by faith, for Romans 8 makes separation for ever impossible;
and secondly, Abraham himself was an uncircumcised Gentile when he was
justified by faith, and so can be the father of all who believe, whether Jews
or Gentiles, without any necessity for a grafting in ‘contrary to nature’.
So far as justification was concerned, the oneness of all believers, whether
Jews or Gentiles, was so close, that many have taken the words of Galatians
3:27-29 as though they were written in Ephesians. ‘Contrary to nature’
cannot, therefore, be used of the great doctrine of Romans 1 to 8, it can
only apply to the dispensational teaching of Romans 9 to 11. The doctrinaltruth remains; the dispensational aspects change, and pass away. We have now
seen enough, we trust, to convince us that ‘Church’ truth is not in view in
Romans 11. Before passing on to the great conclusion, however, we must
examine more carefully the apostle’s figure of the olive tree, and discover
why he speaks of the process of engrafting into the olive tree, branches of
the wild olive, contrary to nature.
To Provoke Unto Jealousy
If the reader will glance back at the structure of Romans 11:11-32, he will see that the word ‘provoke’ is given three times. Two of these references actually occur (in verses 11 and 14), while in verses 17 to 24 instead of stating the fact for the third time, we find that the apostle uses the figure of the olive tree. It is the usual custom in grafting to take a slip of the choice variety, whether it be apple, or pear, or rose, and graft it into the stock of some stronger, though not so choice a variety. For example, in the case of the standard rose, the tall stem is the briar, and upon this is budded the more fragile flower. Paul appears to reverse all this, and there are many who bluntly say that he did not know anything about the culture of trees, and must not be taken literally. This, however, cannot be. He hangs the whole argument of Romans 11 upon this figure, and if he is wrong in this, he may be wrong altogether.
Paul himself recognizes that the process is ‘contrary to nature’, but those who criticize and suggest that he is using a far-fetched illustration, are themselves in error. While the engrafting of a wild olive into the true was ‘contrary to nature’, it was by no means contrary to practice. Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, a Latin writer on Agriculture, Gardening and Trees, deals with the cultivation of the olive tree, and speaks of the very practice under consideration. It was found that when an olive tree began to cease fruit-bearing, the insertion of a wild graft had the same effect upon the tree that Paul hoped the insertion of the Gentile would have had on Israel; it ‘provoked’ the flagging olive tree to ‘emulation’. The practice has been revived in our own day to provoke certain shy-bearing pear trees to fruitfulness and came under the present writer’s notice while studying for his qualifications to use the letters F.R.H.S. Columella flourished about a.d. 40, so that Paul was not speaking ‘without the book’.
The fact that the Gentiles who believed had received ‘the blessing of Abraham’ in the form of the promised ‘spirit’ (Gal. 3:14), and that they possessed the gifts associated with Pentecost (1 Cor. 14:21), was intended to provoke Israel to wake up to the fact that their unique position was going.
The whole point of the olive tree in Romans 11 lies in the purpose with which the wild olive was grafted in -- namely, to provoke the flagging tree?(Israel) to jealousy. Gentile nations are not in view in Romans 11, for such cannot be addressed as ‘brethren’, neither do they stand ‘by faith’. If we teach that the ‘olive tree’ position still continues after Acts 28, let us see what the apostle’s words imply. Into that same olive tree from which some of the branches had been broken out, God assures us that He will graft them again. We shall see by the references yet to be adduced that when this takes place, Israel as a nation will be restored. How is it possible for Israel to be restored as a nation by having any number of branches grafted into any existing Christian community? There is but one answer. Only while Israel existed as ‘a people’ was it possible for believing Gentiles to be grafted in among the other believing branches, and so become linked with the blessing of Abraham, and partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree. We are preserved from any attempt at spiritualizing the expression ‘All Israel shall be saved’, by the fact that the apostle quotes Isaiah 59:20, where the Deliverer Who comes out of Zion shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. We have never met anyone who would teach that ‘Jacob’ can mean anything but the literal people of Israel.
Moreover, all this is in fulfilment of the New Covenant:
Under the terms of the New Covenant, the forgiveness of sins leads to the restoration of the Nation (Jer. 31:31-37), and in verse 37 we read:
With the knowledge of this promise under the New Covenant, the apostle writes:
Before the quotation of Isaiah 6:9 in Matthew 13, we have a series of
events leading up to this critical point:
At the close of the Acts we find a repetition of this crisis, but on a larger scale. This time Israel are set aside, but no command is given to make a fresh proclamation, as in Acts 1. The quotation of Isaiah 6:9 is followed by the dispensation of the Mystery, in which the olive tree and its branches, as such, have no place.
Between Matthew 13 and Acts 28 there were several excisions of the branches because of unbelief, of which two may be noted, at Antioch and Corinth. That neither of these was final, or intended to set aside the nation, Paul’s own action towards Israel makes clear. After Antioch he still preached in the synagogues; and after Corinth, he still gave Israel and Israel’s hope first place (Acts 28:17,20).
It is a difficulty with some students that the apostle does not actually speak of the cutting down of the olive tree in Romans 11, but only of ‘some of the branches’ having been broken off. The answer is that the epistle to the Romans was written before Acts 28, and still expressed the hope that, even at the eleventh hour, Israel would be provoked unto emulation, and be saved. No indication is given that the ‘fulness of the Gentiles’ would not be attained until nearly two thousand years had elapsed.
We have only to turn to Romans 15:12,13, to see that Paul and the Church were
still expecting the fulfilment of Isaiah 11 as well as Jeremiah 31. The
‘hope of Israel’ was still the one hope before them all. It suffices for the
apostle in Romans 11 that ‘some of the branches’ had been broken off, and, to
provoke the olive tree to emulation, some wild branches had been grafted in.
What would happen to the olive tree if that effort failed is not revealed in
Romans 11, and in the nature of things could not be. Now that we have the
light of all Scripture, we know that Israel were to be ‘plucked up’ and
‘scattered’, and to enter into a ‘Lo-ammi’ condition, while a new
dispensation was introduced. But though all this is true, it was not
revealed in Romans.
If the olive tree survived the crisis of Acts 28, where is it? It
cannot be the scattered nation of Israel, for they are manifestly lo-ammi.
It cannot be any of the denominations of Christendom, for if this were true
it would follow that the denomination concerned would eventually receive back
the broken-off branches of Israel, and resolve itself into the restored
nation of Israel -- which is quite impossible, for the restored Israel will
be made up of the very nation that is now scattered. If we will but
distinguish between the doctrinal position of Romans 1 to 8 that has no
reference to the olive tree, and the dispensational position of Romans 9 to
11, we shall see that it is quite in harmony with the teaching of Scripture
for justification by faith to be enjoyed, whether Israel remained as a nation
or not. The fact that the ‘believing’ branches are called ‘firstfruits’, no
more argues for the unbroken perpetuation of the olive tree up to the present
time, than the fact that Christ is said to be the ‘firstfruits of them that
slept’ proves that, ever since, in unbroken sequence, they that have fallen
asleep in Christ have passed straight into glory. The firstfruits were the
pledge of a future harvest, and in the type, the harvest naturally followed
without a long break. In the antitype, however, the harvest is the end of
the age, and the interval between the first Pentecost and the present moment
is some nineteen hundred years.
The Believing Remnant
A very real difficulty that some feel in connection with this passage is the fate of the believing section. If the whole tree is cut down by the roots at the end of the Acts, then believer and unbeliever are treated alike.
Yet the believing remnant constitute a firstfruit, and are holy. We must be very certain of all our terms here. If the olive tree represents the nation and its national standing, then whatever the problem may be, it is clear that, as Israel as a nation before God does not exist, the olive tree has been cut down. The believing branches, therefore, must have some other ground of blessing. If we change the figure from the olive tree to that of a divorced wife, as in Jeremiah 3:1 and 11:15,16, we may perhaps see more clearly that the believing remnant lost nothing when the national position of Israel was altered at Acts 28. Israel as a restored nation is represented as a divorced wife received back by the Lord (Jer. 3:1), but the believing remnant is spoken of as the ‘bride of the Lamb’ (Rev. 21:9). The ‘divorced wife’ is restored to the land, but the ‘bride’ is associated with the heavenly Jerusalem. There is, therefore, a great difference between the destinies of the believing and the unbelieving branches. In some cases the change was even greater.
Paul himself lost his national association with Israel when the nation was set aside, but he entered into a sphere of blessing so great as to enable him to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. Others would find their sphere of blessing set forth in John 14 to 17, and learn that though they were no longer branches in the olive tree of Israel, they were branches in Christ as the True Vine, and so had lost nothing. If we recognize that dispensational standing may change to our advantage, as it manifestly did in the case of Timothy, Luke and Paul, our difficulty about the believing branches of the olive tree will be resolved. Doctrinal standing is not in view in Romans 11. The grafting in of the unbelieving branches into their own olive tree at the end, represents the restoration of Israel’s national position ‘in that day’. Neither in Paul’s epistles of the Mystery, nor in John’s gospel for the ‘world’, can the olive tree be discovered. The New Covenant, and the hope of Israel, are in abeyance, and not until God’s good time will they be put into operation.
Hosea, speaking of the day of Israel’s restoration, uses the same
figures as we have been considering -- the restoration of the separated wife
(Hos. 3:3-5), and the spreading branches of the olive (Hos. 14:6).
Fulness, Reconciliation and Doxology (11:11-36)
We have seen that the grafting in of the wild olive was with the intention of provoking the flagging tree to new fruitfulness. The salvation and blessing of the Gentiles during the Acts, before the nation of Israel were saved and ready for their great mission to the families of the earth, were ‘contrary to nature’, and intended to ‘provoke Israel to jealousy’. We must now return to the opening verses of this section to give a little closer attention to the blessings that accrued to the Gentiles as a result of Israel’s lapse. The apostle here uses an argument which may be described as a minori ad majus (from the smaller to the greater):
The failure of Israel is expressed in the following terms:
In these eight terms, we behold the ‘severity’ of God (verse 22).
The ‘fall’ of Israel is likened to the ‘offence’ of Adam, the word paraptoma being translated ‘offence’ in Romans 5:15,16,18 and 20. The word literally means ‘to fall aside’. Israel follow very much in the steps of Adam. Both fail of their high purpose, and are set aside; and both will realize their destiny only when ‘in Christ’. Just as in Romans 5:20 the abounding ‘offence’ was overruled by God unto much more abounding grace, so in Romans 11:12,15, we discover something of the same argument -- an argument which, approached from the wrong angle, has been resolutely set aside in Romans 3:7, for no amount of overruling grace can minimize the positive wickedness of individual sin, however much good may result by the intervention of grace.
In Deuteronomy 27 and 28 Moses gives the people the solemn words that were to be pronounced from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Among the blessings we find:
This high position Israel forfeited because of unbelief, but a day is coming when the Redeemer shall come to Zion (Isa. 59:20), and Israel shall be restored, and enter into their high glory:
With this high destiny in mind, coupled with Israel’s terrible fall,
the apostle uses the word ‘diminish’. The primary meaning of hettaomai is to
be overcome as in battle or in a law-suit (2 Pet. 2:19,20), and so to be
inferior (2 Cor. 12:13). Israel, by their unbelief and failure to repent,
were losing their high prerogatives, set out so fully in Romans 9:4,5. This
high position, now in danger of being forfeited, was not, of course, given to
them on account of any intrinsic worth in themselves, but rather because of
their place in the scheme of blessing. And so, when they fail, the apostle
speaks of them as being ‘cast away’ -- as the blind man is said to have cast
away his garment, that apparently encumbered him, or as the ship that was
wrecked was ‘a loss’ (Acts 27:22). Israel had made shipwreck of their
calling; they had fallen aside; they were becoming inferior; they were ‘a
loss’. And so through all the terms used by the apostle to explain their
The failure of Israel has been overruled by God to the blessing of the Gentiles, and has resulted in their ‘reconciliation’, and their ‘riches’. These ‘riches’ find an exposition in the epistle to the Romans itself, as well as in the other epistles of the period:
With these passages we must also read Romans 10:12:
When dealing with the structure of Romans 9 to 11, we noticed that the whole passage is bounded by the conception that God is ‘over all’.
This is assurance indeed that the purpose of God shall be achieved, whatever the failure of His instruments, and however dark at times the prospect may appear. The reconciling of the world, contingent upon the failure of Israel, is a most important part of Paul’s ministry. The apostle was not commissioned on the day of Pentecost. Israel had the opportunity of hearing the Word, with signs following, for a considerable period before the apostle to the Gentiles received his commission. Immediately after Acts 9 and the commission of Paul, comes Acts 10 and the indication to Peter that the unique and separate position of the Jew was passing. In Acts 13 and 14 the door of faith opens to the Gentiles, and Israel are warned lest that ‘come upon them, that was spoken by the prophets’ (Acts 13:40,41). The very call of Israel was associated historically with the failure and apostasy of the Gentile world, for Abraham’s call in Genesis 12 follows the failure at Babel in Genesis 11. From the call of Abraham up to the time of the Acts of the apostles, God had concentrated His attention upon that one people:
But Now All Men
The apostle speaks of this period of Israel’s ascendancy, and the corresponding Gentile darkness, when addressing the philosophers on Mars Hill, but he also indicates that a change had come:
Israel lost their high position of favour, and the far-off Gentiles, through the instrumentality of the apostle’s, ministry, are brought in:
The ‘reconciliation of the world’ is dispensational. It does not mean that the world was saved, justified or glorified, but simply that the barrier that kept the nations at a distance and in darkness has been removed, and ‘all men everywhere’ take the place of ‘Jews only’ (Acts 11:19). The reconciliation which is individual and doctrinal is found in Romans 5:1-11. (See Reconciliation, page 1).
The apostle not only draws attention to the riches that have come to
the Gentile world through the fall and diminishing of Israel, but goes
further, saying: ‘How much more their fulness?’ A reference to the structure
of Romans 11:11-32 will show that the ‘fulness of Israel’ is balanced by the
‘fulness of the Gentiles’, and we must therefore study them together.
‘The fulness of Israel’, spoken of in verse 12, is most obviously restated in verse 15 as the ‘receiving’ of them back again into favour, and the ambiguous ‘How much more?’ of verse 12 is expanded as ‘life from the dead’. The ‘fulness of Israel’ would include their priestly office, the elevation of Jerusalem as the ‘joy of the whole earth’, the blessing of the ‘land of promise’, and the fulfilment of all those wonderful prophecies, that, with restored Israel as a centre, describe the earth as filled with blessings until it appears like another Eden.
The ‘fulness of the Gentiles’ is set in another context:
If the ‘fulness of Israel’ means their restoration to privilege, glory and blessing, so also does the ‘fulness of the Gentiles’. The failure of the nations took place before a single Israelite existed, and in the covenant made with Abraham, the blessing of the Gentile is implied:
The salvation and justification of the Gentiles by faith, therefore, instead of causing doubts or murmurings among the Jews, should have caused them to rejoice, and the apostle himself does rejoice as he beholds the wisdom of God working all things after the counsel of His own will.
In Isaiah 6, where the fateful passage that speaks of Israel’s blindness is found, we read that ‘His glory is the fulness of the whole earth’ (Isa. 6:3, margin) -- so that the same passage that speaks of the failure of Israel prophetically, implies also the inclusion of the Gentiles. We must remember also the remarkable words of John the Baptist to those who were relying on the fact that Abraham was their father:
and the Lord’s own words concerning the great faith of the centurion:
The first occurrence of pleroma (‘fulness’) is found in Matthew 9:16 where it is translated ‘to fill up’, indicating a patch in a torn garment.
This is evidently the apostle’s intention in Romans 11:25. The failure and diminishing of Israel had, as it were, caused a ‘rent’ in the purpose of God, and the ‘fulness’ -- ‘that which fills up’ -- is supplied by the believing Gentiles (see the article and chart on the Pleroma).
The completion of the period of Israel’s blindness synchronizes with the Coming of the Lord, when they shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced, and so ‘all Israel shall be saved’. We must remember here that the term ‘Israel’ has already been defined. In Romans 9:4 the Israelites were those to whom the covenants and glory pertained, and we must remember that while every Israelite must be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, every descendant of these patriarchs is not necessarily an Israelite in the true meaning of the term:
Every true Israelite is a child of promise, an elect person, and it is not, therefore, true to say that the ‘all Israel’ of Romans 11:26 must necessarily include every descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who has lived in the past, or who shall be living at the time of the end. God alone knows whom He has chosen, and these must be saved. Just as we discover that the sovereign choice of Jacob has no reference to his having ‘done good’, and the rejection of Esau has no reference to his having ‘done evil’ (Rom. 9:11), so we find that the purpose of God according to election stands, even though many true Israelites were ‘enemies’ because of the gospel. The election of God stands firm, for ‘the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’.
With the contemplation of God’s great overruling, using the blindness of Israel for Gentile blessing, and Gentile mercy for Israel’s ultimate salvation, the apostle brings his reasoning to a close and breaks into a doxology:
At the close of the great doctrinal section of Romans, we have the glorious ‘persuasion’ that nothing can separate from the love of God (8:38,39). At the close of the dispensational section, we have the doxology quoted above. And at the close of the epistle itself there is a further ascription of praise: ‘To the only wise God’ (16:25-27).
In a blaze that robs the eye of its natural vision, we perceive
something of the glory of Jehovah, the One ‘Who was, Who is, and Who is to
The All Things
‘All things’ here is ta panta, a form to be distinguished carefully from panta, without the article (see All and All Things).
And so, with every acknowledgement of the immensity of our theme, and
of our own incapacity to plumb its depths, we leave this great dispensational
section of a mighty epistle, glad at the close to have come to the silencing
of all argument, not because of the challenge, ‘Who art thou, O man, that
repliest against God?’ but because worship has taken the place of argument,
and adoration fills our hearts with song.
The Mystery that had been Silenced (16:25-27)
We now come to the closing section of the epistle to the Romans, a section that is of the utmost importance to understand, and about which a great deal of discussion has arisen. The genuineness of the doxology has been disputed, (1) on the ground that its position is unsuitable either at the end of chapter 14:23, where it stands in 190 manuscripts, or at the close of chapter 16; (2) on the ground of its ‘un-Pauline’ lack of simplicity. The doxology is unusually elaborate for Paul’s epistles, but there is of course no rule governing such a matter, and the nature of the subject in the case in point fully accounts for any complexity in its composition.
As this mystery and closing doxology has been given an exhaustive examination earlier in the Analysis, we refer the reader to the article entitled Mystery, where its purpose and relation to the remainder of the epistle to the Romans is exhibited.