Sunday, June 26, 2011

Commentary on Scripture: Romans 11

I say then, God has not rejected his people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

Romans 11:1 ~~ Continuing from the previous chapter, Paul asks: if hearing leads to faith (cf. 10:17), and Israel has heard yet has no evident faith, does that mean God has rejected Israel?

Romans 11:1-5 ~~ God has not forsaken the people of the covenant, the children of Israel whom he foreknew. Rather, despite their disobedience to the gospel, God has preserved a remnant of their number.

Romans 11:5-6 ~~ The remnant of Israel is preserved no longer on the basis of works, but by grace.

Romans 11:7-10 ~~ "What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened." This initially seems to point to a strict predestination along the lines of Calvinism. On the other hand, the verses quotes immediately thereafter refer to God giving them "a spirit of stupor" (from Isaiah 29:10) and "eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day" (from Deuteronomy 29:4). The next quote, pulled from Psalms 69:22-23, speaks of the "table" becoming "a snare and a trap." This seems to be a reference to Paul's earlier reference to Israel's pursuit of righteousness by works (Romans 9:31-33). Thus it seems clear that God's involvement in their "stupor" and blindness was in providing an opportunity for their disability to be demonstrated (see my Commentary on Romans 7, in particular 7:7-13). The commandments of the law became their snare, and their over-reliance on works became their stupor.

Romans 11:11-15 ~~ Israel's rejection of the Messiah (which resulted in His Passion and Death) produced riches for the world and specifically for the Gentiles. Paul asks, as if to himself, what greater grace would come when the Jews (the chosen people of God, according to the covenant) accept the Messiah? "If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" How much greater blessings will come by their faithfulness, when so much good was wrought by their infidelity? In a sense these verses are paralleled by the ending of C.S. Lewis' science-fiction novel Perelandra, which depicts a counter-historical Garden of Eden in which the woman Eve does not succumb to temptation. Even though we speak of the "blessed fault" (for the entry of sin into this world led to the mystery of the Incarnation), we cannot know what greater blessings would have come had our Parents remained faithful to God.

Romans 11:16-18 ~~ Paul warns that the Gentiles who are grafted like branches onto the root (which is Christ) ought not take pride their new station and elevation over the unbelieving Jews.

Romans 11:19-24 ~~ For all his protestations of "neither Jew nor Greek" (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Romans 3:29), Paul writes at length about the subtle distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, or between the "natural" and the "wild" branches of the vine.

Romans 11:25 ~~ "I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery -- so that you will not be wise in your own estimation." This verse reminds me of that famous (and probably apocryphal) quote by Socrates, when he was told by the Delphic Oracle that he was the wisest man in Athens: "I cannot be the wisest, for I know nothing!" Yet he soon realized that was precisely why he was wise: he recognized his own ignorance.

Romans 11:25-27 ~~ Paul speaks of a partial hardening of the Jews "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in," at which point there will be a full conversion of Israel as prophesied.

Romans 11:28~~ "From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake" -- that is, in practical terms, they persecute you and are your enemies. However, "from the standpoint of God's choice, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers" -- that is, in objective and ontological terms, they are the children of the covenant.

Romans 11:29 ~~ Great verse: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."

Romans 11:30-32 ~~ This passage is pretty involved and rather confusing. 1) "You once were disobedient" but "shown mercy because of their disobedience." 2) "These also now have been disobedient" that they might share in the mercy granted to you! The second part is particularly complicated, as the referent for "these" is unclear and the later syntax doesn't seem to clarify the statement's meaning.

Romans 11:33-36 ~~ Paul rocks. This is another impromptu doxology, this time focused on the mysteries and mysterious ways of God, who abounds in mercy even in our disobedience and rebellion.

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