“Paul regards the remnant idea not so much from its eschatological aspect, but rather as an entity which is now present and comes to light in the way in which God deals with the church in relation to its Jewish members: ‘So, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace’ (Rom. 11:5). But in the meantime the fullness (Greek: pleroma) of the Gentiles is complete, and in this way (Greek: houtos) ‘all Israel’ will be saved. L.A. De Caro has well pointed out that the biblical use of the word ‘until’ does not always mean a later reversal of a given situation (see Ps. 110:1; 1 Chron. 28:20; Isa. 6:9-13). In other words, THE APOSTLE’S EMPHASIS IS NOT UPON SOME LATER POINT IN TIME WHEN THERE WILL BE A REVERSAL IN THE HARDENING IN PART OF THE JEWS. Rather, THE emphasis is upon the word ‘so’ or ‘thus,’ ‘in this way.’ ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED IN THE WAY OF THE BRINGING IN OF THE FULLNESS OF THE GENTILES” (Marten H. Woudstra, “Israel and the Church: A Case for Continuity,” from “Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments” by John S. Feinberg, ed. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1988, page 236).
I’m the kind of person that loves to examine arguments. Coming to seminary and reading theology has taught me to assess arguments. Most theologians often give scriptural proof-texts as a way to convince people that their take on a given issue is correct; however, upon assessing that Scripture, one can either see the truth or find that the given theologian’s view is in error.
And after reading Marten Woudstra’s chapter on “Israel and the Church: A Case for Continuity,” I found just the error: he stumbled over the distinguished Israel of Romans 11.
Regarding the above quote, Woudstra states that, according to his own research (L.A. De Caro), the word “until” does not always indicate a reversal of a situation, then providing prooftexts to show why this statement is true. However, while “until” may not always indicate a REVERSAL of a situation, it does indicate a CHANGE in situation. Look at Psalm 110:1, one of the verses Woudstra cites above as proof of his take of the word “until.” The verse reads (NKJV), “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” The word “till” (until) indicates a change in situation: UNTIL the Lord subdues His enemies, the Son is to sit at the right hand. But what happens after the enemies are subdued? God will reign supreme!
The writer to the Hebrews comments on Psalm 110:1---
“But to which of the angels has He ever said: ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’?” (Heb. 1:13, NKJV)
In other words, God never said the words of Psalm 110:1 to an angel; no---the statement is made to Christ, who is the person of God the Son. There will come a time when the Son will not just sit at the right hand and “wait” for His enemies to be subdued...the enemies of God WILL be subdued! When that time comes, God will then reign over all things, since all things will be reconciled to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Although the reconciliation of all things is not yet, such as death (1 Cor. 15:26), one day, this will change; all things will be reconciled to God. So the word “until” signals a time when the existing world conditions will change completely.
Having said this, let’s take a look at Woudstra’s quote once more. Of the above quote, the most telling portion would be:
“...L.A. De Caro has well pointed out that the biblical use of the word ‘until’ does not always mean a later reversal of a given situation (see Ps. 110:1; 1 Chron. 28:20; Isa. 6:9-13). In other words, THE APOSTLE’S EMPHASIS IS NOT UPON SOME LATER POINT IN TIME WHEN THERE WILL BE A REVERSAL IN THE HARDENING IN PART OF THE JEWS. Rather, THE emphasis is upon the word ‘so’ or ‘thus,’ ‘in this way.’ ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED IN THE WAY OF THE BRINGING IN OF THE FULLNESS OF THE GENTILES.”
To see if Woudstra’s conclusions are correct, we will have to get a sweeping context of Romans 9-11. Although Woudstra states that the emphasis is on the Gentiles “completing” spiritual Israel, I think he has smeared his argument. In chapter 9, Paul’s concern is over “my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). “According to the flesh” refers to the physical Jewish descent. “My countrymen” tells it all---Paul is referring to physical Jews, fellow Israelites, the people of the national Israel. There is nothing here about spiritual Israel or the church.
In chapter 10:1, Paul writes, “brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel IS THAT THEY MAY BE SAVED” (10:1). This is an unsaved Israel Paul is referring to here; if not, why would he pray for the saved to be saved again? Therefore, Paul continues his discussion in chapter 10 of unbelieving Israel’s salvation (the salvation of the nation).
In chapter 11:1, Paul asks the question, “has God cast away HIS PEOPLE? Certainly not! FOR I ALSO AM AN ISRAELITE, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (11:1). Who are God’s people referred to here? National Israel. This is why Paul goes on to say, “I also am an Israelite...” Paul is referring to the unbelieving nation of Israel.
In verse 5 of the Romans 11, Paul says, “Even so, then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Who is the remnant being discussed here? The remnant here refers to the Jews. Remember, back in chapter 9, Paul quotes from Isaiah 1:9 about the Jewish remnant (9:29). This remnant, however, will experience a fullness: “Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” (11:12) Paul cannot be in a discussion of the church comprised of Jews and Gentiles here, for he is contrasting a certain group apart from the Gentiles, whom he explicitly mentions in verse 12. In verses 13-14, Paul writes, “I speak to you Gentiles...if by any means I may provoke to jealousy THOSE WHO ARE MY FLESH AND SAVE SOME OF THEM.” With the words, “those who are my flesh” and “some of them,” we see that Paul is referring to Jews of physical descent (“my flesh”) and the unbelieving nation (“save some of them”). Paul cannot refer here to the believing remnant of Israel, nor can he refer to the Gentiles. Gentiles are not physical descendants of the Jews.
Verse 15 does what verse 12 does: it reveals the “lesser-to-greater” argument. In verse 12 Paul talks about “their fall,” the fall of the Jews, with “their fullness,” while in verse 15, Paul discusses “their being cast away” with “their acceptance.” In verse 15, the Jews have been “cast away,” but not finally or completely; this is why the end of verse 15 discusses “their acceptance.” So, contrary to Woudstra’s argument, there is a discussion regarding change in Israel’s situation: while she is currently cast away, in the future, she will be accepted once more.
In verse 17, we find that only “some of the branches” of the olive tree were broken off. The Gentiles are a “wild olive tree” (v.17) whose branches “were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree” (v.24). So “some of the branches” of the olive tree must be the branches of the Jews, some of the Jewish tribes of national Israel.
Now, the question becomes, “Which group of Israelites are the branches that have been broken off?” We are given the answer to this in verse 20: “BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF THEY WERE BROKEN OFF, and you stand by faith.” So the branches are unbelieving branches. If the branches refer to Israel (which I have already established), and the branches are broken, then the broken branches represent unbelieving national Israel. Verse 23 confirms that there is hope for Israel, since “God is able to graft them in again” only if they believe (v.23). Contra Woudstra, God has not given up on the nation itself. The passage then, is not about “spiritual” Israel, but national Israel, the nation of Jewish descendants.
I will continue with verses 25ff and what they have to say about national Israel (against Woudstra’s argument) in my next post.