Thursday, April 26, 2012

Turning Away Iniquity from Jacob (ii)

That human beings can only be declared righteous by faith and because of Jesus Christ is emphatically reaffirmed in these chapters [Romans 9 to 11].  The righteousness of faith is for Jews and Gentiles alike, and only through it can they be saved (10:6-13).  The pathos and point of this section in Romans have their roots in that conviction – and in the observation that most Jews, to date, have rejected the gospel…  Paul can only pray for their salvation (10:1) and do whatever he can, however indirect (11:13-14), to promote it.  But the eventual salvation of “all Israel” – in which Paul fervently believes – will only take place when Israel as a whole abandons its unbelief (11:26-27 cannot be detached from vv. 23-24).
Paul affirms that Israel is the object of God’s election and will one day (necessarily through faith) find salvation (Romans 11:26-29).  That many Jews do not now believe does not mean that God’s purposes for his people have failed – and that for three reasons.  (a) Not every descendant of Abraham need belong to Israel whom God has elected: God’s call, not physical descent, is decisive (9:6-13).  (b) Moreover, the unbelief of the majority of Israel is a temporary thing: a divine hardening that serves divine purposes, but lasting only until the full complement of the Gentiles has believed.  (c) In the meantime there are Jews even now who believe, thus making up the present “remnant” that testifies to God’s continuing relations with his people (9:27-29; 11:1-6)…
Paul’s insistence that God calls his people by an act of grace without regard for their works (9:11-16; 11:5-6) coheres nicely with his insistence that righteousness is attained through faith, not works (9:30-32; 10:5-13; earlier 4:1-8).  His claim that the objects of salvation are the disobedient who find mercy (11:30-32) parallels what he says about the justification of sinners in the opening chapters of the epistle.  And his observation that Jews, failing to submit to the righteousness God offers, continue trying to establish their “own” (10:3), means that they are still attempting, by doing what they should, to gain recognition for “ordinary” righteousness rather than recognizing the need of all for God’s extraordinary gift.  They have not misconstrued the law in thinking that it demands works (cf. 10:5); they have, however, failed to see that the righteousness demanded by the law can only be attained by faith in Christ (9:30-32), whose coming marks the “end of the law” as a path to righteousness (10:4).
What, in the Pauline corpus, is new in Romans 9—11 is the insistence that Israel’s election and the commitments God made to the patriarchs will eventuate in the future salvation of (now unbelieving) Israel (11:25-32).  Elsewhere Paul typically appropriates Israel’s prerogatives for the church (e.g. Phil. 3:3); he confines the “seed” of Abraham to whom promises have been made to Christ and those who belong to him (Gal. 3:14, 29), or to those who show Christian faith (Rom. 4:11-16); or he insists that, though God has been good to Israel, the privileges they received carry with them no presumption of approval on the day when God judges all people without partiality (2:1-3:20).  The blessing invoked on the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 might conceivably be a harbinger of Romans 11:26; in the context of Galatians, however, it seems more likely to be another instance where the language of God’s people is applied to the church.  The notion that unbelieving Israel – as a whole, though not necessarily every individual Jew, and not without coming to faith in Christ – is, because of its election, destined for salvation is unique to these chapters…
That a covenant with Israel as such remains in force and will lead to that people’s salvation, its present unbelief notwithstanding, is a mystery that Paul discloses here to the Roman Christians (11:25-29).  Paul’s Gentile mission was not predicated all along on the conviction that Christ brought blessings to Gentiles already enjoyed – apart from Christ – by Jews under their “covenant.”  Rather, Paul was bringing to the Gentiles the same gospel that other apostles took to the Jews – because both needed to be saved (Gal. 2:7-9; cf. 1 Cor. 15:11).
~ Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul

No comments: