Sunday, June 05, 2011

Saving All Israel

Romans 11:26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob";

26 καὶ οὕτως πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ σωθήσεται, καθὼς γέγραπται· ἥξει ἐκ Σιὼν ὁ ῥυόμενος, ἀποστρέψει ἀσεβείας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβ.

I have found that this is one of the favorite proof-texts for Dispensationalists. One cannot escape the construction in Greek. It clearly reads that  πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ σωθήσεται. The verb is a future passive indicative. The phrase means all Israel. There is no other exegesis than to read this to mean that everyone who is part of Israel will be saved. This is further emphasized by the construction at the end where Ἰακώβ is used as a metaphor for Israel. Does this mean that everyone who has a genetic tie to Jacob and is circumcised will be saved?

This is why one must study hermeneutics and not stop with exegesis. Exegesis is vitally important to understand what a text reads, but it doesn't tell anyone what it means. There is a distinction.

Here we need to look back at the rest of Paul's argument. He established earlier that not all Israel is true Israel. In fact, earlier in this chapter he establishes that there is a remnant of ethnic Israel, but the existence of this point demonstrates that there is a distinction between natural ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel.

So who is Israel? In the greater context of Pauline theology, it is clear that believing Gentiles can be thought of as Israel to some degree. We can create a false distinction if we want, but the language in this chapter, Galatians 3, and Ephesians 2 is pretty stark. Christ created "one new man in place of the two," as we see in Ephesians 2:15. Galatians 3:7 tells us that "it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham," and this theme is repeated throughout the chapter. Therefore, we cannot take this verse in isolation, but as we read it in context with the rest of Paul we see that the term "Israel" goes beyond simply those with a genetic tie to Jacob.

But what does this mean for us? It means that God has expanded His salvation program. In the Old Testament it focused primarily on the Jews, though there were some believing Gentiles (i.e. Melchizedek). Now the focus is primarily on Gentiles since God hardened the hearts of the Jews. 

I do need to point out that there will clearly be an influx of believing Jews just before Christ returns. To deny that would be to deny the clear language of this chapter. God is not done with ethnic Israel.

All of this fits into the grand narrative of God saving a people to Himself. And just as the Jews were found like an abandoned baby in its blood, so also we are completely dependent on His grace for our salvation. Let us give thanks to Him as we consider that this Lord's Day.

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