Romans 11: Reassurance to the Jews and a Warning to the Gentiles
Paul makes some very nuanced theological points in chapter 11 that can be misunderstood and may even seem contradictory if read out of context. He starts by reassuring the Israelites that God has not been abandoned or rejected them. He indicates that they have not stumbled beyond recovery. As he says in chapters 9 and 10, not all will be saved, and being saved is not a function of adherence to the law but rather through faith. This is how the Israelites will recover from their stumble.
He then goes on, in the elegant olive branch metaphor, to warn the Gentiles (the grafted branches) not to consider themselves superior to the Israelites (the natural branches), some of whom were broken off from the root (God) for their unbelief. If God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare the grafted branches, either.
Given the messages of chapters 9 and 10, it would be easy to be confused by the statement in verse 26 that says, “All Israel will be saved.” Given the context of the earlier chapters, Paul has very clearly indicated that not all Gentiles will be saved, and similarly not all Israelites will be saved. Here in chapter 11, the reference to “all Israel” is not to say literally that all will be saved. Rather, “all Israel” refers to the nation of Israel that encompasses Jews and Gentiles alike.
A Moment to Reflect
You may be wondering why I am dwelling on the details and nuances of the letter to the Romans. The reason is that it is the most theological of Paul’s letters and sets the stage for the more practical advice that is relevant to our own daily lives provided in Paul’s other letters. If you have ever puzzled over the apparent differences in the characterization of God in the Old Testament versus the New Testament (as I have), then Romans should go a long way to reconcile those differences and provide much more clarity and understanding. Do you understand God better after reading and studying Romans? How has your perception changed?