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  • What Do the Gentiles Have to Do with “All Israel”? A Fresh Look at Romans 11:25–27
  • Jason A. Staples

In Rom 11:25–27, Paul triumphantly concludes his discussion of Israel’s fate:

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery (lest you become highminded yourselves)1 that a hardening has come upon a part of Israel2 until the fullness of the nations [τὸ πλήρωμα τῶν ἐθνῶν] has come in—and thus [καὶοὕτως]3 all Israel will be saved, just as it is written: “The deliverer will come from [End Page 371] Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

Most commentators have found Paul’s confident assertion that “all Israel will be saved” impenetrable; ironically, Paul’s explanation has been found to be as cryptic as the mystery, his cure worse than the disease. Four major interpretations have been put forward: (1) the “ecclesiastical” interpretation, (2) the “total national elect” view, (3) the “two-covenant” perspective, and (4) the “eschatological miracle” position. 4

The “ecclesiastical” interpretation was the majority position in the patristic period.5 This view equates Israel and the church, arguing against defining Israel on ethnic grounds—based largely on Paul’s apparent redefinition of Israel in 9:6. This view has largely fallen out of favor, with most modern interpreters resisting such a radical redefinition of Israel.6 A “strong consensus” now insists that “Israel” must mean all “ethnic” or “empirical” Israel (i.e., all Jews), instead focusing the debate on what Paul means by “all” and on the timing and modality of the Jews’ salvation.7

The “total national elect” interpretation argues that “the complete number of elect from the historical/empirical nation” (i.e., all “elect” Jews) will be saved in the same manner as the Gentiles (i.e., through Christ).8 Though it retains coherence with Paul’s statements about salvation elsewhere, this view seems to make what appears to be a climax of Paul’s argument into a mere truism.9 [End Page 372]

A small contingent of scholars holding to a “two-covenant” perspective has argued that both the “all” and “Israel” should be taken at face value. In this view, every individual Jew will be saved by membership in the Jewish covenant—regardless of their reception of the Gospel.10 Thus, when Paul says, “all Israel will be saved,” he means all Jews will be saved throughout history, regardless of their response to the gospel proclamation and Gentile mission.11 Though appealing, this interpretation does not seem to cohere with Paul’s statements elsewhere (e.g., Rom 9:1–5; 11:17–24) and remains in the minority.12

The “eschatological miracle” interpretation, in which Paul envisions a future salvation of all Jews at or immediately prior to the eschaton, presently holds the majority.13 After the “fullness of the Gentiles” (11:25) has come in, the Jews will finally be saved all at once,14 probably through a mass conversion of all Jews to Christ, perhaps brought on by the jealousy sparked by the Gentile mission,15 though there is some debate as to whether “all Israel” means every individual Jew will be saved or idiomatically represents ethnic Israel as a collective. The majority of scholars hold the latter view.16 A minority advocate a larger, diachronic view of “all Israel” [End Page 373] in which all Jews throughout history will be miraculously redeemed at the eschaton. 17

It is therefore clear that to solve this passage one must satisfactorily answer three primary interpretive questions: (1) how Paul defines “all Israel,” (2) what Paul means by “the fullness of the nations,” and (3) how the salvation of “all Israel” is related to (οὕτως) the ingathering of “the fullness of the nations.” In short, the essential question can be framed as follows: What does the ingathering of “the fullness of the Gentiles” have to do with the salvation of “all Israel”? This article seeks to answer this question in a way that not only coheres with and illuminates Paul’s statements elsewhere but also confirms this passage as the climax of the central argument of Romans itself...


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