(Rom. 11:26-27 ESV) 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
As tempting as it is to skip Paul’s OT quotations, by now we’ve learned that we must consider his references in their own context to understand Paul’s meaning most fully. He quotes a portion of a passage to refer to its larger context.
(Isa. 59:18-21 ESV) 18 According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. 19 So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives. 20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD.
21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
The Tyndale commentary explains,
Thirdly (20), this new world is Zion-centred. From his victory over their foes worldwide, the great Next-of-Kin [Redeemer] who has taken upon himself all their needs comes as victor to Zion [the location of Jerusalem] (40:9–11; 52:7–10). But in Zion too there is a sifting. Not all who claim to be of Zion will be saved in Zion: only the penitents (1:27–28; 57:18–19; Heb. 12:22–23; Rev. 21:27). The Lord is as holy in redemption as in vengeance.
J. Alex Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OTC 20; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 418.
What an odd verse to cite if Paul means that every ethnic Jew will be saved! Notice how the Isaiah passage seems to refer to Jesus and NT times, not the Second Coming. For example, the Spirit was given at Pentecost, not the Parousia. The “new covenant” came into effect at the Last Supper (compare Jer 31:31 ff with the Synoptic accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper). Therefore, Paul is referring to the salvation that came at the beginning of the Christian age, not to some distant Post- or Pre-millennial change in God’s salvation.
Even a glance at the contexts of the passages Paul actually quotes–which is usually, as we have seen, an excellent guide to his meaning–will show that he intends these biblical quotations to describe once more the same process of God’s dealing with Israel’s (and the world’s) sins that he has already described in 9:24–6 and especially 10:6–13, with 2:25–29 and 8:1–11 in the immediate background. These texts, read from the point of view of a Second Temple Jew like Paul, speak of the same events, of exile being undone and sins forgiven, of covenant renewed and the word of faith put in the heart by the Spirit.
The backbone of the scriptural citation comes from Isa 59:20–21. Isaiah 59 opens with a lament for Israel’s continuing sinfulness; this includes vv. 7–8, which Paul has quoted as part of his indictment in 3:15–17. Then we read of YHWH himself intervening, wearing righteousness as a breastplate and salvation as a helmet (v. 17). YHWH will bring terrible judgment, so as to be feared by the nations of the earth, from east to west (vv. 18–19). In that context, “a deliverer will come to Zion [or: he will come to Zion as deliverer], and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” At least, that is the meaning of the [Masoretic Text].
The LXX has already altered this to mean “the deliverer will come on behalf of Zion, and will turn ungodliness away from Jacob.” Paul has altered this again; the deliverer, he says, shall come out of Zion (ἥξει ἐκ Σιὼν ὁ ῥυόμενος hēxei ek Siōn ho rhyomenos). Perhaps he still has Deuteronomy in mind as well, because in [Deu] 33:2, the beginning of the blessing of Moses, which ends with the salvation of Israel (33:28–29), we find “The Lord comes from Sinai” (Κύριος ἐκ Σινα ἥκει Kyrios ek Sina hēkei).
So far from pulling the text toward the parousia, he seems rather to be emphasizing the opposite: the redeemer, by whom he must mean Jesus the Messiah, “comes” from Zion into all the world, like YHWH “coming” from Sinai to establish the covenant and give Israel its inheritance. As the Messiah does so, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob. Once again texts that were unambiguously about YHWH in the Scriptures are taken by Paul to refer to Jesus. And once again texts that looked forward to a future event are taken by Paul, not indeed to exclude the many still-future elements of his gospel (see Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15), but to highlight the significance of what is already happening through the gospel.
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians (vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 691-692.
At long last, we return from our wanderings to where we began — the very passage cited by the Vatican as unquestionably declaring the Jews saved even if they don’t believe in
(Rom. 11:28-29 ESV) 28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Well, by now, the Vatican’s interpretation is obviously absurd — more a product of Postmodern desires to tolerate diversity or by guilt over the Catholic Church’s silence during the Holocaust. But their “exegesis” has nothing to do with the text of scriptures — which is why they spend so little time in actual scriptural interpretation.
So what does Paul actually mean? It’s obviously a challenging text. Paul is calling the unbelieving Jews “enemies” of God for the sake of the Gentiles (not the sort of language one uses of saved people!).
That zealous Israelites thereby make themselves into God’s “enemies” by warring against the gospel and its proclaimers requires an active rather than a passive definition of ἐχθροί [echthroi] (“enemies”). This reference to enmity against God is consistent with 5:10 and 8:7, and, as Schmidt points out, there are no NT allusions to “enemies” as hated by God …
Robert K. Jewett and Roy D. Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary on the Book of Romans (Hermeneia 66; ed. Eldon J. Epp; Accordance electronic ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 707.
What Paul maintains in 11:28 is that this love for the patriarchs continues for their descendants, the Israel of the present time. As he goes on to say in the next verse, this choice is “without regret”; it stands firm no matter what enmity Israel currently expresses against God’s Messiah and his people.
Robert K. Jewett and Roy D. Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary on the Book of Romans (Hermeneia 66; ed. Eldon J. Epp; Accordance electronic ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 708.
God loves even the unfaithful Jews because of his covenant promises. It’s that simple. But God’s love does not mean that they are saved without faith. There’s over 2,000 years of history at the time of Paul showing that many a beloved Israelite was lost because of his unbelief or rebellion against God. Being loved and being saved aren’t the same thing.
But the gospel has always been to the Jew first and then to the Greek. The gospel was preached first to the Jews. The gospel was first promised to the Jews. And God’s steadfast desire remains that the Jews find salvation — because he loves them. But salvation still requires faith in Jesus. Paul is not repealing Rom 3, 4, and 5.