The Permanence of the Promise
The great importance of Romans 9, 10, and 11
Listen to Chris Katulka’s interview with Mike Stallard about this article (begins @ 12:20).
The high-water mark of the Bible may be the inspiring three chapters of Romans 9—11, located within one of the most profound and doctrinally signicant books in the entire Word of God. These three chapters describe the permanence of God’s promises to Israel and the faithfulness of His righteous character.
Romans 9 explains that God specially chose Israel (vv. 1–5) but that the Jewish people failed to attain God’s righteousness because they sought it by the works of the Law, rather than by faith (vv. 30–33; cf. 10:1–3).
Chapter 10 highlights the fact that both Jews and Gentiles are saved through faith in Christ (vv. 4–17), and chapter 11 asserts that God loves Israel and has not cast away His people forever. In fact, one day “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26).
At first, one might be surprised the apostle Paul placed these chapters directly after the doctrinal pronouncements about the condemnation of all sinners (chaps. 1—3), justification by faith (chaps. 4—5), and sanctification of individual believers (chaps. 6—8).
Some people maintain Romans 9—11 is a digression. However, as Bible scholar Thomas R. Schreiner noted, “The idea that these chapters disrupt the argument of the epistle has all but vanished today, and rightly so, for they form an integral part of the letter and have even been called the ‘climax’ of Paul’s argument.”1
Chapters 9—11 do not form an interlude or parenthesis between the doctrinal portion of chapters 1—8 and the practical applications of chapters 12—16. Instead, they constitute the crowning instruction of the lengthy doctrinal section of the book of Romans.
Why did Paul begin an eloquent discourse on Israel at this juncture? Rather than seek a single, simplistic reason, it is best to see four streams of thought that converge:
First, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, probably felt compelled to assure the Jewish people in Rome that God still had a future for Israel, despite the fact that the majority of the nation rejected Christ. Scripture commentator Woodrow Kroll wrote, “Paul may have been accused of being so dedicated as the apostle to the Gentiles that he had completely forgotten about his Jewish kith and kin. He therefore addresses the question of Israel and its future before proceeding to the practical section of this epistle.”2
Paul’s emotional opening in Romans 9 almost singlehandedly snuffs out all doubt concerning Paul’s love for his own people: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (vv. 1–3).
Second, Paul probably wanted to explain how his teaching on Israel’s future coincided with his assertion that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek [Gentile]” (10:12). Commenting on the current setting aside of national Israel during the Church Age, theologian William Newell asked, “How [do we] reconcile all this with such a by faith ‘no difference’ message as Paul has been preaching to us—in the first eight chapters?”3
Scripture teaches that, during this Church Age, all people everywhere— Jewish and Gentile— become God’s children through faith in the Messiah. But Israel as a nation has failed to recognize its Messiah and has been pushed to the side due to unbelief (Rom. 11:1, 13–15). Many in Rome at the time of Paul’s writing were concerned that Israel had been permanently discarded, even though the Roman armies had not yet destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. That event would happen 12 or 13 years later, in AD 70. Paul reassured them Israel’s blindness was merely temporary (v.25).[pullquote type=”right” style=”font-family: Arbutus slab; color:#993300; padding-left: 30px; font-size: 24px;”]”How can Christians have assurance of their security in God’s promises if God has cast away Israel and annulled similar promises He made to that nation in the Old Testament?”[/pullquote]
Third, chapters 9—11 explain more thoroughly earlier themes in Romans. Bible scholar C. E. B. Cranfield correctly highlighted some of these themes: the scope of Paul’s apostleship (1:5), the idea of those who are called (v. 6) or elect (8:33), and the promises of God (4:1–25).4
The main theme, however, of Paul’s entire epistle to the Romans is the gospel as humanity’s only means to righteousness (right standing before God by faith). Paul introduced this theme in Romans 1:16–17:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Paul applied this theme to his discussion about Israel. In Romans 9:30–32, he spoke of attaining righteousness by faith. In Romans 10:1–17, he continued this train of thought, showing that the Jewish people had sought righteousness by good deeds and not by faith. In Romans 11, he explained that mercy comes by belief, not by the works of the law.
The twin themes of grace and mercy dominate the discussion in Romans 9—11, much as they do in the earlier portions of Romans (cf. 3:21–26; 4:1–5, 13–16; 5:1–2, 18; etc.). Paul used Romans 9—11 as an exclamation point in the presentation of salvation.
The fourth and, perhaps, the strongest reason for these three chapters on Israel is that Paul needed to answer an important objection. At the end of Romans 8, he affirmed the believer’s great security in Christ through the Spirit of God. God has promised that what He has started in the Christian’s life, He will finish (vv. 28–39). Cranfield referred to verses 29–30 as the “golden chain”:5
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son….Whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
But what about Israel? The possible objection to such a promise involves the setting-aside of Israel.
If Israel has been separated from God, how could Paul teach that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39)? If God’s purpose for Israel has been frustrated, then where is the unshakable basis for Christian hope?6
In short, how can Christians have assurance of their security in God’s promises if God has cast away Israel and annulled similar promises He made to that nation in the Old Testament? Romans 9—11 answers these questions. God has not cast away Israel. He will remain faithful to His promises to that nation forever: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29).
As theologian Robert Haldane has said, “The nation of Israel cannot be deprived of what he [God] engaged to do for them.”7 God always keeps His promises because of the faithfulness of His righteous character.
- Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 6:469.
- Woodrow Kroll, The Book of Romans, Twenty-First Century Biblical Commentary Series (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 153.
- William R. Newell, Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1938), 352.
- C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979), 2:445.
- Ibid., 447.
- Robert Haldane, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1878), 558.