Romans 11: Reassurance to the Jews and a Warning to the Gentiles


Key Verses:

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
— Romans 11:1–2
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.
— Romans 11:11
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
— Romans 11:17–21
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.
— Romans 11:25–26

Daily Message

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?