Salvation 2.0: Part 3.15: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 8

grace5Has Paul prophesied that the Jews will eventually be saved?

The hard question is whether God has promised that the Jews will enter the Kingdom sometime  in the future. N.T. Wright says no —

It is at this point, of course, that many have tried to mount an exegetical argument to say that, while Paul has indeed explained the renewal of the covenant, the rethinking of election, as I have expounded it above, he here offers a different argument, supremely in 11:25–26, for thinking that God is also providing a special way of salvation, still reserved for Jews and Jews only. Indeed, not to mount such an argument is to run the risk of being accused of that current heresy, ‘supersessionism’, the mere mention of which is enough to drive otherwise clear-headed exegetes into abject apology and hasty backtracking. Has Paul really so redefined election around Messiah and Spirit that there is no room for anyone who clings to the original election while rejecting those two redefining poles? Is not Paul’s whole argument in chapter 11 that, despite their unbelief, the Jewish people are still ‘beloved because of the patriarchs’ (v. 28)?

Yes, but this does not mean what the revisionist argument tries to make it mean. As I have argued in considerable detail elsewhere, the promise Paul holds out for at present unbelieving Jews is not that they are actually all right as they are, but that they are not debarred, in virtue of their ethnic origin, from coming back into the family, their own family, that has been renewed in the gospel, and from which they are currently separated because it is marked out solely by faith, and they are currently in ‘unbelief’. Romans 10:1–13 remains, in fact, a crucial driver of the argument right through chapter 11, as the various links between the two passages (not often enough noted) indicate; in particular, when Paul says ‘all Israel shall be saved’ in 11:26 he is consciously echoing ‘all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ in 10:13, which is offered as the answer to the question of 10:1 about the salvation for presently unbelieving Jews. As he says in 11:23, they can be grafted in if they do not remain in unbelief. Had he held the views normally attributed to him, he could not have written that line.

N. T. Wright, Paul: Fresh Perspectives (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2005), 126–127.

(Rom 11:28-29 ESV) 28 As regards the gospel, they [the Jews] are enemies for your [the Gentiles’] sake. But as regards election, they [the Jews] are beloved for the sake of their forefathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Amazingly, Paul declares that the Jews remain elect of God because of God’s covenants made with their ancestors. However, of course, Lev 26 and Deu 27-29 plainly promise a loss of status and countless curses and separation from God for those Israelites who do not honor Torah. But Deu 30 promises restoration and the Holy Spirit (30:6) for those who return to God.

Paul’s point is that the promise of Deu 30 remains open — forever — for the Jews because God’s covenant is irrevocable. But the covenant itself promises damnation for those who do not obey. It’s not that the Jews were promised salvation unconditionally. They are loved unconditionally, elect unconditionally, and so eligible for the covenant promises — if they return to God.

This sounds a little odd to our ears, but Paul lived at a time when Israel’s opportunity for restoration had just been opened — with the promises of Deu 30 being fulfilled on the cross by Jesus. It was only natural to ask whether the promises of Deu 30 to restore a penitent Israel would remain open to the end of the age, or might God give up entirely on Israel?

(Deu 30:1-3 ESV) “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.”

Paul sums up —

(Rom 11:30-32 ESV) 30 For just as you [Gentiles] were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their [the Jews’] disobedience, 31 so they [the Jews] too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they [the Jews] also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

The Gentiles were disobedient and, by repentance, are now able to be saved. Just so, the Jews who are now disobedient may, by repentance, be saved as well.

It’s just not true that the Jews have always been saved. Rather, Jesus came to save them, and they may be saved by coming to faith in him. The Jews “may now receive mercy.” That is, the curses of the Torah should not be read as damning the Jews forever. Indeed, they may escape those curses just as the Gentile are escaping the curse of Gen 3 — through faith in Jesus.

However … while Wright does not see a promise that the Jews will in fact come to faith in Jesus and so be saved, only an offer from God that they may or may not accept, other scholars see things differently.

John Walton argues in Covenant that, while Jews who do not believe in Jesus are not part of the church/Kingdom, they are nonetheless a part of Israel.

Nevertheless, we cannot conclude that Israel has been rejected from being considered the people of God. It is just that in order to be part of that group, as it has been redefined, Israel must conform to the new definition. The people of God are now defined soteriologically, so any Israelite who wants to be a continuing part of the people of God must respond in faith to God’s provision of salvation through Christ. Paul makes all of this eminently clear in Romans 11. Early in the chapter he asserts that “God did not reject his people” (v. 2) and that they have not stumbled beyond recovery (v. 11). Finally, using the agricultural illustration of grafting, he contends that “if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (v. 23).

On the basis of the biblical description of “Israel” as “people of God” involving a national identity and the church as similarly “people of God” but formed from all nations, we have sought to show that these entities [Israel and the Kingdom] are not totally continuous. Rather, the Scriptures indicate that both have a place in God’s plan of salvation.

Walton, John H. (2010-06-29). Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan (Kindle Locations 1736-1745). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I agree entirely with the first paragraph, of course. But the second paragraph is not so obvious to me.

It is usually held that, in Romans 11, Paul predicts a large-scale entry of Jews into the Kingdom in fulfillment of the ancestral promise, after the Gentiles have been saved. There are, of course, numerous variations on this theme. Some see this sudden event as happening immediately before the Parousia, while others see it as concurrent. Some see it as involving actual conversion to Christ, while for others it is a salvation which takes place apart from Christ. Some see it as involving all Jews living at the time, others as including a large number but not all. Whatever the variation, this basic view always seems to fit very badly with Romans 9–10, where, following Galatians and Romans 1–8, Paul makes it abundantly clear that there is no covenant membership, and consequently no salvation, for those who simply rest on their ancestral privilege. [JFG: And John the Baptist shouts this point from the pages of the Gospels.] Wright considers the reference to Israel in verse twenty-six a redefinition, identifying the Israel of the prophecy as God’s newly defined elect, believers of all nations. He then translates, “That is how God is saving ‘all Israel.’”

Wright’s main argument is with those who contend that the ultimate salvation of Israel is taking place independent of the new definition of the people of God, i.e., that their salvation is still on the basis of ancestral privilege. While I agree with his rejecting that view, there is still the option of interpreting the passage as an expectation that there will be a massive acceptance of the new terms of the covenant and the new definition of the people of God by the
Jews
. …

It is God’s intention to bring natural Israel back to Himself by means of the Church of Christ. This way of saving many Jews from ethnic Israel for Christ is part of the marvelous “mystery” of God.

Walton, John H. (2010-06-29). Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan (Kindle Locations 1754-1769). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

But instead of continuing to say, as classical dispensationalism did, that there are two separate peoples (Israel and the church) with two separate programs (the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom of our Lord), this view stresses that there is one people (“the people of God”) with a number of discernable aspects within that one people (such as Israel and the church), and there is only one program of God (the “kingdom of God”) with numerous aspects under that single program.

Walton, John H. (2010-06-29). Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan (Kindle Locations 2061-2065). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

In short, based largely on the promises of the OT prophets, Walton argues that the Jews, within the larger Kingdom, continue to be promised the land of Palestine and a special role in salvation history, and so he expects the Jews to one day come to belief and be grafted back in.

And he may be right. This much I’m sure of —

* If God is going to do that, he doesn’t need our help. I’m not sure that a desire to help God out justifies pushing the United States to use its military power to help God accomplish his goals. God no more needs the US Department of Defense than he needed Gideon to have a 10,000-man army or Moses to raise up Israel in armed rebellion against Egypt. We don’t know God’s timing at all and have only an inkling of his purposes. We should not presume to know what treaties we should make or weapons we should deploy to bring about the salvation of the Jews.

* That doesn’t mean that the Christians should abandon the Jews. If God has a special concern for them, so should we. But God’s greatest concern for the Jews is that they should find Jesus, not that they should be a world military power. We should do what Christians know how to do — send missionaries.

* Obviously, we Christians should also be peacemakers. I’m not sure that God’s peace is made with an Abram’s tank. Perhaps we should be preaching gospel to the Palestinians and Syrians, too. I mean, that’s precisely Paul’s prescription found in Rom 10 — so often quoted in our “gospel preaching.”

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.15: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 8

  1. laymond says:

    Jay, please expound on your belief. Do you believe in individual salvation or group salvation ?
    I believe that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ , believes in his mission. If you don’t believe in Jesus, it is impossible to believe in a “New Covenant”. I am not saying that Jews cannot be saved under the law. I believe even Paul said it was possible, not easy but possible. I believe it is not possible for the rest of us who were never under the law, to be saved by obeying a law that does not apply to us. Yes the Jews who believe in Jesus are covered by the “new covenant” just as the rest of the disobedient, who have become obedient . but I can’t believe the Jews who obey the letter of the law will be lost. read what Jesus said about the prophets, and the law.

  2. Chris says:

    Jay, I do believe the nation of Israel will play a role in prophetic events. I do not believe the rebirth of that nation and the gathering of Jews from various nations back to their homeland is a mere coincidence. What other people have endured so much persecution and hatred down through the centuries, yet survived to this day to maintain their unique identity as a people? My prayer is that all Jews will come to salvation which is found only in Christ. What a rich heritage the Jews have and what a shame it is not to embrace the Messiah.

  3. Randy says:

    All Israel will be saved in this way.

    We know they were not all saved. Paul desired to be cut off to save them.
    They can be saved through Jesus. Twice Paul says in Romans there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in regard to salvation.

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