The Future of Israel in Romans 9–11

In Romans 9–11, Paul expounds on the covenant-keeping righteousness of God in light of God’s setting aside of the nation of Israel. Considering God’s many blessings and promises given to the nation of Israel as a nation (Rom 9:4–5), the question arises: how can a righteous, covenant-keeping God reject his chosen people? (Romans 11:1 sums up the discussion of chapters 9-11 with the question: “Has God rejected His people?”). Paul begins his defense of God’s righteous actions in verse six by stating that “it is not as though the Word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

Romans 9–11 has led to countless disagreements and debates on a number of theological issues [1]. However, for the sake of this series, a slightly more focused discussion will be attempted. In answer to the question “has God rejected His people,” Paul answers “absolutely not!” However, does Paul mean to say that God will fulfill His promise literally to restore national Israel to live in peace in the land God gave them? Or does Paul mean to redefine the term “Israel” to refer to the Church as the “spiritual Israel?” [2]

Over the next several weeks, we are going to see that there is a sure future for national Israel as a restored, prominent people in the land promised them by God. Paul defends God’s righteousness by arguing that God has not, in fact, rejected His people Israel entirely, but is preserving a remnant of believing Jews who will receive the covenant blessings in the future. I believe a faithful, consistently plain-sense interpretation of the text will lead the honest student of the Bible to this conclusion.

Supersessionism [3] understands Romans 9 as teaching that the identification of “Israel” is no longer meant to be ethnic Jews. When Paul says that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” Paul is teaching that the Church (those saved through faith since the Cross [4]), has replaced national Israel in the plans and purposes of God, or at least that Paul specifically expands the reference of “Israel” to include Gentiles [5]. Thus, supersessionism holds that ethnic Israel has no future role in the Kingdom as a nation [6].

A Dispensational understanding of Romans 9 holds that Paul is speaking of ethnic Jews. Paul argues that although national Israel has been currently set aside in their having a primary role in the plan of God, He has not rejected Israel wholesale, in the sense that the promises will not be literally fulfilled to ethnic Jews. Rather, Israel will be restored to their former prominence and established in the Land by Christ upon His return, thus enjoying the blessings and the fulfillment of the promises [7] of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants [8].

Next time, we’ll look at the hermeneutical principles that must undergird our study of the Word of God, and then launch into an examination of Romans 9–11.

virtus et honos


Notes:

1] For example, Romans 9, specifically, is also a key proof text for the Calvinist view of Unconditional Election (e.g. John Piper, The Justification of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983. 89).

2] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), 123.

3] A term for the view commonly held most notably within Covenant theology that the Church has replaced Israel. The terms supersessionism and Covenant theology may be used interchangeably in the course of this series. When this is done, Covenant theology is not meant to refer to all that is included under that title, but rather simply refers to that system of theology which holds to the supersessionist view.

4] When the capitalized term, “Church,” is used in this series, it speaks collectively of all born-again believers in Christ of this dispensation—the New Covenant community; the “universal church,” as opposed to a local church.

5] Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010).

6] Representatively: C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957); C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1932); Herman N. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John R. Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

7] Though different scholars have different specific lists, the physical blessings irrevocably promised in the covenants which God gave to Israel, and which dispensationalists believe will be fulfilled literally to physical, ethnic Israel in the future, include: that Israel will be established as a nation forever (Gen 12:2; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:8; Jer 31:35-37); that the Jews as a people will never be annihilated (Gen 15:5; 2 Sam 7:12, 16; Jer 31:27, 36); that national Israel will be established permanently in the land of Palestine (Gen 15:18; Ex 20:12; 2 Sam 7:10; Jer 31:38, 40); that Israel will have a triumphant kingdom forever, the Messiah establishing peace and justice on all the earth (Gen 22:17; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:16; Ps. 2:8–10; Ps. 72:4; Isa. 2:2–4; Isa. 9:7; Isa. 65:21–22; Amos 9:11-12; Micah 4:3–4; cf. Luke 1:32-33).

8] Representatively: Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002); Harold W. Hoehner, “Israel in Romans 9-11,” in Israel: The Land and the People, ed. H. Wayne House (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998); H. Wayne. House, “The Future of National Israel,” BSac, 166:664; Steve Lewis, “’Some’ vs. ‘All’ — The Doctrine of the Remnant and the Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” CTJ 09:26; Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014); Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010); John F. Walvoord, “Millennial Series: Part 14: The Abrahamic Covenant and Premillennialism.” BSac. 1609:434.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 part 3 — on Israel]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Israel: We believe that the church is distinct from, and has not replaced or fulfilled [1], the nation Israel in the plan of God, but that God permanently selected Israel as His covenant nation, for which certain covenants would be fulfilled for the display of God’s glory and faithfulness. Israel is now dispersed and oppressed because of disobedience and the rejection of their Messiah, Jesus Christ, but will be regathered in their promised land, in peace, in the future kingdom of Christ to enjoy fully the blessings and promises of God’s covenants with ethnic, national Israel. According to a normative reading of Scripture, the nation of Israel has particular covenants of promise given to it (e.g. Abrahamic, Davidic, New) which have not all been fulfilled in every detail. Nevertheless, they must be fulfilled if the veracity of the promises of God is not to be called into question [2]. The hope of the literal fulfillment of these covenants is to those Israelites identified in Scripture as the Remnant. These are the true Jews in every dispensation — the Israel of God. [3]

(Genesis 12:1–3; 13:14–17; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalm 89:3–4; 20–37; 132:11; Jeremiah 23:5–6; 31:31–34; 32:37–41; 33:19–21; Ezekiel 11:17–21; 36:24–38; 37:21–28; Romans 9–11; Galatians 6:16)


Notes:

1] Many covenant theologians do not like the term “replacement theology,” preferring instead to view the church as being the fulfillment, or continuation, of Israel. Some, however, do explicitly teach that the church has replaced Israel, since the covenant promises given to Israel have now been transferred to the church (so they say). Sometimes it is said that the church began with Abraham, in which case “church” is equated with the called people of God, or something. Other times, “church” is used to refer to all saved people of all time (starting with Adam). Inconsistent and confusing — yes. This doctrinal statement rejects all such variations of Covenant Theology.

2] If we cannot trust the plain meaning of God’s language in his covenants, what of His Word can we trust? Notice that the glory and character of God is at stake. God Himself views His covenant-keeping character as one of the most essential aspects of His glory, so we dare not dismiss His covenant promises to the nation of Israel.

3] Notice that I have not used the term “dispensational” or “dispensationalism” in this statement, and yet clearly maintain a dispensational position. This is because some people just have an automatic visceral reaction to terms like “dispensationalism,” without even taking the time to see what dispensationalists have to say. So, for the sake of not turning people off immediately by the use of the term, I haven’t used it — even though anyone carefully reading this doctrinal statement will recognize that it is dispensational in it’s interpretation.