With the help of Augustine, Jerome, and Aquinas, we sum up Paul’s discussion on predestination. God has hardened the Jews to bring in the full number of elect gentiles, which in turns makes the Jews jealous. The result of this is that the full number of elect Jews come to Christ. The full number of Jews + the full number of Gentiles = the entire Israel of God. Hence, all of Israel shall be saved saved.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
11:1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Has God backed out from His promise to Abraham? Of course not, for to this day God has retained a remnant of biological children of Abraham, just as he retained 7,000 (a small number in a nation of over 1,000,000 people) during Elijah’s time. In verse four where it says of God “I have kept,” this is a reference to God’s predestinating grace. The men did not keep themselves faithful, rather God kept them for He reserved them for His name’s sake.
Just as Aaron’s benediction says:
The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace (Num 6:24-26).
The prayer is meaningless if God has no real means at His disposal to keep us due to our own free will. Instead, God can assuredly keep a man in spite of the existence of free will.
5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
The remnant exists because God chose them. The choice is not predicated upon the basis of works that God foresaw we would do in the past (as Origen speculated) otherwise grace is no longer grace.
So, too, at the present time, in which a multitude of people seems to have gone astray, there is a remnant chosen by grace, saved according to the choice of God’s grace: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (Jn 15:16).
7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”
Two things can be surmised from the preceding: First, those not given grace are “hardened.” Second, hardening constitutes an active process that God directs so that it would be accurate to say that it is His will that as punishment for rejecting Him He gives “them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not.” This is why David can pray to God that his enemies as retribution have their eyes darkened so that they not see and repent. Indeed, God desires that all repent (2 Peter 3:9), but He is also just and desires that sinners be punished (Rev 16:5-6).
So, God is just in taking men who deserve punishment and assuring that as punishment, they are given over blindness. Remember, such men don’t want to see the truth, they are liars and they prefer the lie. The Scripture says that such men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18).
Augustine understood this:
Here is mercy and judgment,— mercy towards the election which has obtained the righteousness of God, but judgment to the rest which have been blinded. And yet the former, because they willed, believed; the latter, because they did not will believed not. Therefore mercy and judgment were manifested in the very wills themselves…But to the rest who were blinded, as is there plainly declared, it was done in recompense. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth. But His ways are unsearchable. Therefore the mercy by which He freely delivers, and the truth by which He righteously judges, are equally unsearchable (On the Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 11).
11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.
The Jews did not stumble to the point where there are not any Jewish Christians whatsoever. Paul was one. I am one today. However, the Jews have stumbled enough that it has given an opportunity for the gentiles to enter the fold.
When Paul says, “…how much more will their fulfillment be,” he is not alluding to a time where all of ethnic Israel will be saved, because not all of Israel is really Israel. Instead, he is speaking of how when the fullness of gentiles are brought into the church, that this will provoke ethnic Israel to jealousy so the fullness of ethnic Israel will be brought in. Then, when this is complete, all of Israel will be saved.
15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
Paul essentially gives a summary of his olive branch discussion which follows these verses. In short, if Israelites of old were great men of faith, by virtue of their storied history in God’s plan for redemption, those faithful Israelites brought back into the fold should fit in perfectly. These days we think of Christianity as a gentiles’ religion and the Jews are the odd ones. In reality, it is a Jewish religion and the gentiles are the red-headed step children.
While the gentiles become children of Abraham by faith, they do not have an appreciation of the Law like a Jew. A Jew, once under the Law and then under grace must experience a greater appreciation of that grace, for he had a greater appreciation of the curse of the Law! Their resurrection from spiritual death is thereby special.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
Obviously, the gentiles have grown arrogant. They feel that it is as if they support the Jews. Paul says this is not the case. We are the children of Abraham. As Chrysostom points out, it is the following who have supported the present day faithful: “Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, the prophets, the patriarchs, all who were of note in the Old Testament; and the branches, those from them who believed.” All Jews, obviously.
So, gentiles are wild olive branches that by God’s grace, have been grafted in the place of broken-off olive branches that once were faithless Israelites. They belong in the gentiles’ place, but God shows mercy to whom He pleases and hardens whom He pleases. They were hardened for the gentile’s sake. Do not boast you gentiles, for God could easily harden the gentiles for their sake.
Breaking with the format that we have followed thus far in the commentary, let’s look at two verses from the preceding in a little more detail:
20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear;
These plain words teach us one thing: we don’t maintain our salvation with works or outward sacraments. We stand by faith and faith alone.
As Ambrosiaster writes in his commentary on Romans:
Obviously they are blessed whose iniquities are forgiven without labor or work of any kind and whose sins are covered without any work of penitence being required of them, as long as they believe. How can these words apply to a penitent, when we know that penitents obtain the forgiveness of sin with much struggle and groaning?…[T]heir sins are forgiven, covered and not reckoned to them, and this without labor or work of any kind (quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture, New Testament VI, p. 113).
As we already covered earlier, Catholic writers predating Luther used the term “faith alone” to speak of how Christians are saved (see Chrysostom on Gal 3 and Aquinas on Rom 4). Some Roman Catholic apologists respond that we are justified initially by faith, but that Christians are continually justified with their faith and works both playing a role.
While Protestants will not disagree over the necessity of works (“faith, if it has no works, is dead,” James 2:17), they argue that faith is synonymous with works. In the words of Clement:
But in what way shall we confess Him? By doing what He says, and not transgressing His commandments, and by honouring Him not with our lips only, but with all our heart and all our mind (2 Clem 3).
This means that faith actually saves but the works are the fruit of faith. No serious Protestant is saying one can have faith alone and then live a life of blatant sin, as that would not be faithful living at all!
So, the real disagreement is not over works, but over the role of sacraments. Most Protestants, aside from Baptists and their offshoots, believe that God has given to the Church sacraments as a means of dispensing additional grace to believers.
God gives all sorts of grace. For example, God gives grace to both the wicked and righteous by giving them food. Further, He gives the grace of belief. To those same believers, He gives grace upon grace so that they grow in faith and good works. In this context, the sacraments are a means of greater grace, though not of greater salvation.
We may glean this from how Cyril of Jerusalem writes of Rom 11:20 in light of baptism:
If you stand in faith, blessed are you; if you have fallen in unbelief, from this day forward cast away your unbelief, and receive full assurance…For He is present in readiness to seal your soul, and He shall give you that Seal at which evil spirits tremble, a heavenly and sacred seal, as also it is written, In whom also ye believed, and were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Yet He tries the soul. He casts not His pearls before swine; if you play the hypocrite, though men baptize you now, the Holy Spirit will not baptize you. But if you approach with faith, though men minister in what is seen, the Holy Ghost bestows that which is unseen (Catechetical Lecture 17, Chapters 35 and 36).
As we already discussed earlier, the historical teaching of the Church has been that if one dies before receiving baptism, that one is baptized (i.e. “surrounded”) by the Holy Spirit through faith. This is because faith alone saves a man from his sins, not merely water that cleans the outside of one’s body (1 Pet 3:21).
Cyril writes that because we stand by faith, the sacrament apart from faith is void of the Spirit and powerless. Some argue that “baptism now saves you,” but as we have already shown, Titus 3:5 is talking specifically about baptism by the Holy Spirit (accompanied by water, blood, or chiefly desire). This is because the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the true baptism and this as Cyril points out comes about only by faith. We signify this baptism with water. The “seal” of the Holy Spirit which is given to believers by baptism guarantees salvation (2 Cor 1:22, Eph 4:30).
Why this long discussion on sacraments? Because when some Roman Catholics (or Eastern Orthodox, among others) invoke James 2:24 and say that we are “saved by works and not by faith alone.” However, they are not think of good works in general. What they have in view is that the sacraments are needed for salvation.
So, while faith initially justifies a man, it merely is his initiation into the salvation club (i.e. the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, etc.) In order to maintain that salvation and stay in the club, God has given sacraments as means of grace and they can only be meted out through the Church (i.e. the RCC, EO, etc.) Therefore, faith alone really does not save, because sacraments are needed too.
However, how does this make sense with Rom 11:20? “[T]hey were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith.” In the sacradotal view, we don’t stand by faith but by performing sacraments.
This is not a gross generalization. Augustine taught that without faith an infant is saved by virtue of the sacrament of baptism…that very same sacrament which according to Cyril is powerless unless faith exists!
Perhaps it is not coincidental that Cyril, who wrote more on baptism than any other Church Father, never once mentioned infant baptism in his writings. If he did, it would contradict his view of the sacraments!
Hence, any view that sacraments save men, is at best radically inconsistent. Case in point: Apologists that argue sacraments are performed by faith will, at the same time, argue that baptism can save unbelieving infants. How can the sacrament of baptism, under this faithless circumstance, be a faithful sacrament?
Therefore, it is clear that faith alone both saves a man and maintains that saved state. Jews were broken off for their unbelief, but Christians stand by faith. Sacraments may be a means of additional grace to the faithful, but they in of themselves are void and do nothing to save a man.
If someone trusts in Christ like the thief on the cross and dies before receiving any sacraments, he is still saved. However, if one trusts in Christ and like most others lives for a time, will he seek baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Of course. No true believer, guided by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of the Scriptures, will desire not to do something that the Holy Spirit commands in the Scripture. So, sacraments do not save, nor do they make us stand as it is faith that does. But, faith will encourage the believer to receive sacraments from the Church.
21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.
Some take verse 21 as proof that individual believers could come to faith in Christ, but then lose their salvation. Augustine taught against this, as we have already covered (Chapter 23, On Rebuke and Grace). This does not mean that Christians mustn’t “work out their salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), because they have to constantly examine themselves by their works to see if they really are faithful. However, our confidence in our salvation comes from the knowledge that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). The works are visual confirmation of God’s work by the Holy Spirit.
There is nothing wrong with having confidence in one’s salvation. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he knew “that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (2 Cor 4:14). Elsewhere he writes to the Philippians, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). How can Paul know such a thing? To the Ephesians he writes that it is in Christ that “we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him” (Eph 3:12). If we know we have faith in Christ, and we have the works to show that this faith is not imaginary, then there is grounds for such confidence.
Then, what do we do with Rom 11:21? Paul is not saying those of you specifically grafted into the tree will be cut off. He is speaking of “you” as a general term for the gentiles that are in the process of being grafted in. God is under no obligation to take a wild olive shoot and graft it in the place where a cultivated olive branch once stood. As Paul makes clear in verse 23, God can just as easily bring back the old cultivated branch back to its old place, and toss the wild olive shoot aside. Standing by grace, through faith, do not boast. God grafts one in and tears one out, He has mercy on whom He pleases and He hardens whom He pleases.
25 For I do not want you, brethren, 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; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
Paul now cuts to the chase summing up the discussion starting from Rom 8:28 to now: God is working all things for good, even the hardening of Israel so that while many will deny the faith, this as a result brings in gentiles that were predestined for salvation. So, as a result, everyone who is truly a child of Abraham by faith is thereby brought into the fold–this is what it means that all Israel will be saved.
Obviously, the context does not allow faithless Jews to be saved. As John the Baptist warned, “[D]o not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt 3:9). All of those with the faith of Abraham are children of Abraham, and thereby are saved children of the promise.
This is all done by the Deliver (that is, Christ) which came from Zion (that is, Israel.) He removed ungodliness from Jacob (that is, the Israel of God) by taking away their sins (that is, by bearing the iniquities of those who have faith in Christ).
28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers;
Paul here iterates an idea we spoke of before: the Jews possess a particular spot of honor in God’s redemptive plan. While even up to the present time Jews convert to Christianity in extremely small numbers, so that they may be accounted as enemies, God takes special pleasure in redeeming Abraham’s literal wayward sons.
Augustine also observed that from this verse we may infer God’s complete sovereignty over even the sinfulness of man:
For what could be said more plainly than what is actually said, “As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sakes?” [Rom 11:28] It is, therefore, in the power of the wicked to sin; but that in sinning they should do this or that by that wickedness is not in their power, but in God’s, who divides the darkness and regulates it; so that hence even what they do contrary to God’s will is not fulfilled except it be God’s will (On Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 33).
This is consistently found throughout the Scripture. For example, Joseph was sold into bondage by his brothers and endured much suffering but his observation was as follows: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20).
29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
God will always redeem men from the seed of Abraham because He has promised that He will do so in the Old Testament.
30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience,
Paul now explains how what the Jews meant for evil, in their rejection of Christ, God intends to work for good. The Jews’ disobedience to God in rejecting the Gospel has led to its preaching among the gentiles. Now, they have been shown God’s mercy as a result of Israel’s hardness of heart. It is obvious, that in retrospect, God’s hardening of Israel has resulted in greater good. This all connects back to the discussion of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Rom 9. God endures with patience vessels of wrath so mercy may be shown, and apparent to, the vessels of mercy.
31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.
Paul explains that the Jews’ continued disobedience in light of the obedience of gentiles will lead to greater obedience to some of their number. This leads to the full number of predestined Jews becoming Christians. When the whole number of predestined Jews and gentiles come to Christ, then the entirety of the Israel of God is saved.
32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
Paul now connects all the dots. God hardened the gentiles and the Jews so that in their increased disobedience, they may see the need for His mercy. God “may” show mercy to all, because not every man seeks God or His mercy. All are shut up in disobedience, because there is “none who seeks after God” (Rom 3:11) and “[t]here is no one who calls on Your name” (Is 64:7). Therefore, all are in need of mercy and God’s hardening is employed to make this increasingly apparent, henceforth increasing His graciousness.
This verse may also be recognized as one in many that speaks of the universal sinfulness of men. There isn’t a man that is obedient enough to go to heaven, because all are disobedient. Jerome recognized this when in his letter to Ctesiphon he wrote as follows:
I need not go through the lives of the saints or call attention to the moles and spots which mark the fairest skins…What says the chosen vessel[, that is, Paul]? God had concluded all in unbelief that he might have mercy upon all; Romans 11:32 and in another place, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 The preacher also who is the mouthpiece of the Divine Wisdom freely protests and says: there is not a just man upon earth, that does good and sins not: Ecclesiastes 7:20 and again, if your people sin against you, for there is no man that sins not: 1 Kings 8:46 and who can say, I have made my heart clean? Proverbs 20:9 and none is clean from stain, not even if his life on earth has been but for one day. David insists on the same thing when he says: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me; and in another psalm, in your sight shall no man living be justified…For man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 (Chapter 2).
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
This verse follows the discussion on the hardening of Israel, because obviously it is hard to swallow the ramifications of Paul’s teaching. God hardens hearts so that they will not repent and takes unrepentant hearts and shows them mercy, all for the sake of His glory. How can this be “fair?”Paul just points us to the depths of God’s wisdom. The knowledge is so “deep” it is unsearchable and unfathomable to us.
34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?
Here Paul quotes Isaiah with the obvious intention of telling his readers that God is righteous in the hardening of Israel and that He should not be questioned. As said by Isaiah:
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales…
All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless (Is 40:13-15, 17).
The nations are less than nothing to God, with them He can do as He pleases. If this sounds “wrong,” who does God have to consult to know right and wrong? Who does He need to teach Him in the path of justice? These are rhetorical questions that do not expect an answer. God cannot be questioned in these.
35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?
Paul appears to be quoting Job 41:11 that says, “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” In Job, God says this in His own defense against those that may question Him in His creation and control over Leviathan (i.e. Satan). So, Paul is saying in the strongest possible terms that God does not owe anyone anything that He is compelled to pay them back as if they merit it. God can dispose with them as He knows best.
36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Verse 36 explains why verse 35 is true. All things come from God, are sustained from Him, and are made for Him. Therefore, the greatest possible end God may achieve is His own glory, which we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” To Him be the glory, and not us. Amen.