ROMANS 11 – COME ON PAUL…

OR IS HE??

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11 I say then, (the Jews) did not stumble so as to fall, did they? Far from it! For by their wrongdoing salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their wrongdoing proves to be riches for the world, and their failure, riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their re-admittance be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Therefore, insofar as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 if somehow I may move my own people to jealousy and save some of them. 15 For if the Jews’ rejection proves to be the reconciliation of the world, what will their reception be but life from the dead?  (Rom11:11-15)

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What Paul is disclosing in Romans 11 is arguably the focal point of the mystery these posts and my book** have been expounding, namely God’s secret plan concerning the Gentiles’ unforetold spiritual inheritance. Not just the plan itself (which some Christians understand and acknowledge) but its wondrous implications to broader providence, which appears to have eluded everyone for reasons I explain below.

The key verses are 11,12,15 and 30 (next post). Paul would appear to be saying here that salvation was made available to the Gentiles as a result of Jewish erring and unbelief. In other words, such salvation would not have been made available to the rest of the world in the current age if the Jews had accepted their Messiah for what He actually was and subsequently received the apostles message concerning Him (cf. Acts13:46). What I am saying is that that is precisely what Paul meant to say and write. There is no controversy concerning the translation from the Greek, on this occasion at least it is unambiguous. Nor does it make any sense when one takes verses 11,12,15 and 30 together to explain it merely in terms of protocol or order – i.e.  the Gospel was to be preached to the Jews first before moving on to the Gentiles. The apostles moved on to the Gentiles because of the Jews’ rejection (the verses in Rom11 explicitly state as much). And it is why Saul of Tarsus was called “out of due time” to be the thirteenth faithful apostle (remembering Matthias had replaced Judas) much to the detriment of earlier symbolic symmetry (cf. Mt19:28). For it was never the expectation of Old Testament scripture nor indeed the teaching of any earlier prophet (and I mean any earlier Prophet – cf. Mt10:5-6; Mt10:23; Mt15:23-24; Acts1:7) that the Gentiles would go on to receive an identical gift of salvation to that promised for the Jews, “a repentance that would result in eternal life (Acts11:17-18) [note 2]. What the Old Testament had indicated was that the Gentiles were to be enlightened by Israel – intended to be “a holy nation and a kingdom of priests” for the rest of the world (Ex19:6) such that “the Gentiles would come to Israel’s light and their kings to the brightness of her rising (Is60:3). But it was never foretold that members of the Gentile nations should be incorporated into a fellowship that itself would become “a royal priesthood” (1Pet2:9). As Paul went on to describe this development later in the chapter (v24), it was as if wild and unnatural branches had been grafted into the good olive tree that was the Jewish nation.

So why has Paul’s teaching in Romans 11 not been taken seriously, by which I mean literally? It is for the reason I referred to in the previous post – that Christians have understood biblical “salvation” to be referring to deliverance from perdition rather than what it actually is – the calling, cleansing and sanctifying of a people who need to be made ready for a glorious marital-like association with Christ in the ages to come (Rev19:7). Traditional Western theology cannot conceive of the idea that the Gentile nations have only obtained “salvation” (as they understand it) as a result of Jewish unfaithfulness. But yes indeed, Paul is being serious – that is exactly what he means to say; although as he also written, it was God the Father’s secret intention all along (see below).

What this means in terms of salvation history is that the current age is not what the Old Testament foretold it to be. Paul effectively affirms as much in the extraordinary personal résumé he provides in Ephesians 3:

It was by revelation that there was made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are to be  fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christand to bring to light the dispensation [note 1] pertaining to the secret (plan) which in earlier ages was hidden in God (the Father) who created all things by Jesus Christ (Eph3:3-9)

In broader human terms, the current dispensation is the age of discovery for the whole human race (which is why we are waiting so long for Christ’s return). It is the period when humanity has engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, gained an understanding of science and the universe, discovered new medicines and developed ever more sophisticated means of transport and communication; knowledge and innovation that has progressed exponentially in the last century. This has all been working towards an end, which is not to prepare for global annihilation and a spiritualized eternity but for renaissance and the regeneration of creation that Paul referred to in Romans 8 (vv20-23; cf. Acts3:21). But in terms of salvation history, this is the age in which elect Gentiles from every generation and nation are being fashioned for adoption into the bosom of God’s family (Rom8:23). So I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And if the Jews’ rejection has proved to be the reconciliation of the world, what will their subsequent reception be but life from the dead? 

NOTES

[1] There is a textual variant in Eph3:9:  οἰκονομία= dispensation or administration (utilized for example by the NASB, ASV) as opposed to  κοινωνία = fellowship (utilized for example by the KJV) and in the title of my first book “The Fellowship of the Secret” 

[2] Jesus intimated later in His ministry that Gentiles would sit alongside the likes of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the coming Kingdom whilst many of the intended “children of the kingdom” would be rejected (Mt8:11-12) but clearly the original twelve had little inkling of the matter. Even Peter required a radical vision (Acts10) before he grasped that Gentiles could even be socialized with, let alone go on to “receive an inheritance with the sanctified” (Acts26:18)

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