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Did Paul Really Think “All Israel Will Be Saved”? Guest Post by Jason Staples

One of the most thorough dissertations I’ve directed in recent years was by Jason Staples, called “Reconstituting Israel: Restoration Eschatology in Early Judaism and Paul’s Gentile Mission.”  It might be difficult for a lay person to figure out what it’s about from the title, but it was on a really significant topic that I think most any reader of the New Testament would see is important.  It involves the Apostle Paul’s views of Jews, Judaism, and the nation of Israel.

 

The goal of the dissertation was to explain what Paul meant when he said that in the end, “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11).  Huh?  What’s that mean exactly?   There are lots of options that have been proposed over the years, and none of them “obviously right.”   The question drove Jason to an even more basic question, which almost no one has thought to ask, let alone provide a comprehensive answer to: what does Paul mean by “Israel”?

 

Jason defended his dissertation at the end of 2016.   It was large!  The first half of it has been accepted to be published as a book by Cambridge University Press, with the title:  The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity (possibly to be out by the end of this year).  He will provide us with three posts dealing with some of the key aspects of the book.

 

Jason is an adjunct professor in the Department of Religious Studies at North Carolina State University.  He has agreed to respond to any comments/questions you might have.

 

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What Does Paul Mean By ‘All Israel Will All Israel Be Saved’?

 

A few questions have come in about the apostle Paul’s views on the ultimate fate of Israel, a subject he covers primarily in chapters 9–11 of Romans, where his argument climaxes with the following two verses:

“For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, lest you yourselves become high-minded, that an insensibility has come upon Israel for awhile until the fullness of the nations has entered—and thus all Israel will be saved, just as it is written….” (Rom 11:25–26a)

If you’ve found yourself puzzled when reading this section of Romans, you’re in good company—it’s among the most complex and difficult sections in the New Testament, and scholars have argued about these chapters for centuries. Third-century church father Origen got so exasperated with this passage that his commentary states, “Who the ‘all Israel’ are who will be saved … only God knows, along with his only begotten and perhaps any who are his friends.” A few modern scholars have simply given up the attempt to resolve the tension, concluding that Paul was simply inconsistent, giving different (ultimately contradictory) answers to different questions. That alone should tell you how deep the water is here—enter at your own risk!

The primary problem is that Paul—the self-proclaimed “apostle of gentiles”—has just spent the bulk of Romans arguing there is no distinction between Jews and gentiles with respect to salvation (e.g., Rom 3:21–30) and elsewhere proclaims that “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28). How can he claim that Jews and gentiles stand equal before God while simultaneously defending Israel’s special status? It all seems terribly contradictory. But it’s even worse than that: Paul not only claims both things but insists they’re tied together, arguing that “all Israel will be saved” only when “the fullness of the nations has entered [into what?!?].” The closer one looks, the more complex things seem. To figure out what Paul means here, at a minimum one has to answer four questions:

(1) What does “the fullness of the nations” mean? (Note: the Greek word for “nations” can also be translated “gentiles” or “non-Jews.”)

(2) What is the “fullness of the nations” entering?

(3) How is the ingathering of the “fullness of the nations” related to the the salvation of Israel? (Note: The Greek phrase underlying “and thus” represents a logical relationship between two things. For example, “He brought sandwiches, and thus they were able to eat.”)

(4) What does “all Israel” mean?

As early as the second century, some Christian interpreters cut this Gordian knot by claiming that the Christian church is the “true Israel.” One early second century writer, for example, argues that the Israelite covenant “is ours [Christians], but they [Jews] lost it forever” (Epistle of Barnabas 4:7). In this view, often called “replacement theology,” the “fullness of the nations” simply refers to all the gentiles who ultimately come into the church, which what Paul means by “all Israel.” This perspective is therefore able to answer all four questions, but it does so by radically redefining Israel. These things are therefore tied together because Paul isn’t really talking about the same Israel he was before.

Many modern scholars have found such a radical redefinition of Israel implausible, especially since all the other uses of “Israel” in Romans 9–11 refer to the historical ethnic group. The “replacement” model also seems to work against the whole point of this section of Romans. In these chapters, Paul is explaining how gentile inclusion does not threaten Israel’s salvation but actually proves God’s faithfulness to Israel. But how is that true if he concludes that historical Israel has simply been replaced by a new group by the same name? That would be like telling parents that they needn’t worry about their child’s safety because a substitute child with the same name can easily be provided. Such a conclusion would confirm exactly what Paul is trying to argue against!

Consequently, this “replacement” or “supersessionist” view is no longer as popular as it once was and is now only one of four major views held by scholars today. The other three options all agree that when Paul says “Israel,” he means the ethnic group historically referred to by that term. The differences between these views have to do with exactly who is included in that group—that is, what Paul means by ”all”—and the manner and timing of Israel’s salvation.

Some scholars argue that both the “all” and “Israel” must be taken at face value and therefore argue that Paul means every individual Jew throughout history will ultimately be saved by virtue of membership in the covenantal people of God. In this view, Jews do not need to receive the gospel or follow Jesus—that’s a separate path to salvation for gentiles, not Jews. The problem is that this “two-covenant” view has a very difficult time accounting for questions (2) and (3). What are the gentiles gathered into? And if Jews will be saved regardless of the gospel, why does Paul suggest that their salvation is somehow related to the ingathering of gentiles? It’s also hard to explain why Paul’s statements of grief about his fellow Jews who have rejected the gospel (such as at the beginning of chapter 9) if they’re going to be saved either way.

A few scholars have argued that “all Israel” refers not to all Jews throughout history but only to all elect Jews (that is, those Jews God chooses to save) throughout history, those who will be saved through Christ. This view can explain Paul’s grief, but it has its own problems, starting with the inability to explain why Paul says “all Israel” when he really means “some Jews.” Had Paul meant “elect Jews,” he could have saved his interpreters the trouble by simply saying that. This view also makes the climax of Paul’s argument into a mere truism, effectively, “God will save everyone God will save,” and it doesn’t have much better answers for (2) and (3) than the “two covenant” view does.

The fourth view is that Paul is envisioning the miraculous end-times salvation of all Jews alive at that time. After all the elect gentiles (“the fullness of the nations”) have been saved, all Jews alive at that time will be saved at once, presumably through a mass conversion to Christ. This view therefore answers (3) by reading “and thus” as denoting temporal sequence (“and then”). This is probably the most widely held view among critical scholars today, but it is not without its weaknesses. First of all, “all Israel” is limited to all Jews alive at the end, so most Jews throughout history aren’t included. Most interpreters explain this by observing that Paul expected this to happen in his own day and wasn’t anticipating centuries between himself and Christ’s return. The second problem is more significant, as this view has difficulty explaining question (2): what is the “fullness of the nations” entering? Paul doesn’t say “all Israel” will be saved after the salvation of the gentiles but after the gentiles have “come in.” Into what, exactly?

But it’s the third problem that is most serious for this view: even if Paul’s “Israel” refers to the ethnic group traditionally associated with that name, why should we assume “Israel” is synonymous with “the Jews”? At first this may seem like a strange question to ask. I mean, isn’t it obvious that Israel refers to the Jews? Actually, no. Our first hint that the two terms aren’t synonymous is provided by the fact that Paul suddenly switches to “Israel” terminology in Romans 9–11 after referring to “Jews” nine times in the earlier chapters of Romans. In fact, Paul doesn’t use the term “Israel” very often elsewhere; that term appears over twice as many times (13) in Romans 9–11 as it does elsewhere in the seven letters scholars agree he wrote (6 times). Everywhere else Paul talks about his contemporary kinspeople, he uses the word “Jew” (26 times). If Paul meant “Jews,” why did he switch terms? Clearly, something is going on here!

These questions are not only important for this passage; they’re central to understanding Paul’s larger message. If we can’t explain how he envisions Israel’s salvation, how can we understand what he means by salvation in general? In my next posts, we’ll take a closer look at why Paul switches terms and what that suggests about how we should interpret this difficult passage.

 


When Paul Says “Israel” Does He Mean “The Jews”? Guest Post by Jason Staples
Do Matthew and Paul Agree on the Matter Most Important to them Both?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Adam  July 24, 2020

    There is an interesting book coming out later this year on the related term “gentile”

    Gentile Christian Identity from Cornelius to Constantine

    https://www.eerdmans.com/Mobile/Products/7175/gentile-christian-identity-from-cornelius-to-constantine.aspx

  2. Avatar
    dankoh  July 24, 2020

    While I am eagerly awaiting your next post, I have a couple of questions now: Is it possible that bits of Romans got lost? From your descriptions, it certainly seems like these are incomplete sentences, possibly resulting from transcription errors.

    My second question has a more general cast: all of these arguments about Paul assume that he was being consistent (at lest within the same epistle) and coherent. Is that assumption really justified, since dropping it might help to explain some of the difficulties with his writing.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 24, 2020

      It’s certainly possible that parts of Romans were lost. Our earliest copies come from centuries after the original was penned. But I don’t think it’s especially likely that’s what happened. For one thing, Paul’s letters frequently have lines that break formal grammar (what grammarians call “anacoluthon”) as his stream of thought seems to get interrupted partway through a sentence. Sometimes this can be a stylistic or rhetorical choice, and it’s a pretty frequent occurrence in ordinary communication, though it’s typically less common in polished, formal prose (true both then and now). One classic anacoluthon appears in Rom 9:22–24, for example, where Paul starts an “if … then” statement and never actually provides the second half of the grammatical construction, instead just transitioning to a completely different thought.

      As for possible inconsistencies, some scholars (like Heikki Räisänen) have in fact concluded that Paul was in fact incoherent, and it’s not something that should be ruled out. But in general, I think it’s best to assume coherence until there are no other options but incoherence. For one thing, like all other negative propositions (e.g., there is no such thing as a black swan) incoherence is awfully difficult to prove definitively, and it’s always possible that something was overlooked to arrive at that conclusion.

      My own view is that Paul was being consistent and coherent but was also not an especially clear communicator.

  3. Avatar
    tricksandthings  July 24, 2020

    Looking forward to the next post because this has left me scratching my head! (Even more so than before)

  4. Robert
    Robert  July 24, 2020

    Welcome, Jason. I tracked down your dissertation a couple of years ago. Excellent work and very convincing. Brilliant insight.

    Now, how about resolving the objective/subjective genitive issue in the pistis xristou debate for us? Although one of my former Greek teachers, Jan Lambrecht, would excommunicate me for this view, I tend to think one has to see elements of both objective and subjective genitives here, but perhaps the subjective element predominates as part of a larger genitive of origin. One has faith in Christ, and participates in the crucified Christ by being faithful to his example of faithfulness, which reveals God’s own righteousness in his being faithful to his promises. Or something like that. What do you think about the pistis xristou debate?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 24, 2020

      Wow, talk about another hornet’s nest of a debate. For those reading the comments who unfamiliar with this debate, it’s a question of what Paul means when he says “faith of Christ,” which is often translated “faith in Christ,” which is a perfectly acceptable way of understanding that Greek construction, but could also mean “Christ’s faith” rather than Christ being the object of the faith.

      I actually fall pretty close to what you just said. I think attempts to differentiate between objective and subjective readings miss the point Paul is making by leaving it grammatically ambiguous. I think there’s good evidence that Paul delighted in wordplay and used ambiguity and double meanings frequently in his letters. For a good example of wordplay, in Romans 2:4, he says, “not knowing that the kindness of God leads to repentance.” The word for “kindness” is chrēstos, which in the first century was pronounced almost exactly like the word “Christos,” or Christ. He makes use of this pun more than once in Romans alone, and we see it reappear in Philemon also.

      Similarly, when he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to say “the just will live by faith,” he’s alters the wording of most Greek versions of that passage (“the just will live by my faith”) to make it more ambiguous. The Hebrew version that has survived, for what it’s worth, is similarly ambiguous (“the just will live by his faith”—whose faith? God’s or the just one’s?). The effect of removing either pronoun is to maximize the ambiguity of the statement.

      I think Paul’s doing the same thing with the pistis christou bit, using an ambiguous phrase to highlight the synergistic relationship between God’s fidelity in Christ, Christ’s fidelity, and the believer’s participation in Christ’s fidelity. It’s an elegant way to pack a big theological punch into one phrase.

      It’s also worth noting that Mark Given’s book Paul’s True Rhetoric: Ambiguity, Cunning, and Deception in Greece and Rome argues that Acts portrays Paul as exactly this kind of communicator: as a rhetorician who delighted in double entendres, ambiguities, and rhetorical misdirections in service of forcing his audience out of what he perceived as their ignorance.

      Thank you also for your kind words.

      • Robert
        Robert  July 25, 2020

        Yep, we’ll both be excommunicated by Jan Lambrecht, but at least I’ll be in good company. Thanks for the thorough response!

  5. Lev
    Lev  July 24, 2020

    I was going to complain that Bart left us hanging harder than the Gospel of Peter after his last post – but wow! I’m glad this gold was posted!

    I’m really impressed with how you’ve so clearly run through the arguments and counter-arguments. Also, I love the Orgien quote! Really looking forward to the following posts, Jason.

  6. Avatar
    PBS  July 24, 2020

    1. “All Israel will be saved” can mean “thus,” or “in this manner.”

    2. The “promises” apply only to the “remnant,” not every last Jewish person who ever lived.

    3. Israel has never been mono-ethnic. From the “mixed multitude” of the Exodus, Moses’ & Joseph’s non-Hebrew wives, Ruth, etc., joining & remaining in Israel was achieved via obeying the OT covenants (beginning w/ circumcision); it was never about ethnicity.

    4. When Paul (at 9:27) states “only a remnant of them will be saved,” the source of his quote is Isaiah 10:22 which (LXX) actually reads “return” instead of “saved.” Isaiah 10:21 says the “return” is “to the mighty God.” If the “Mighty God” is Jesus (Isa 9:6), then Paul’s intent can be said to be that the “remnant” at this point (all in Christ by faith) are returning to God via being saved by the Son.

    4. The NT agrees: Mt 3:9, Rom 2:28-9, 9:6-8 & 27; Phil 3:10 & Gal 3:29. Note the earthy “seed”/“sperma” language along with *VERY JEWISH OT TERMS* like “heirs,” “promise,” “circumcision,” etc. to clarify the ultimate meaning of being saved/“in Israel” is by being “in” the ultimate Israel/Christ by faith.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 24, 2020

      1) Yes, this is true. The phrase reflects logical progression. I tend to favor “in this manner” as the general sense here. Fortunately, the English word “thus” can function in that manner (thusly), so it works well as a translation here.

      2) Paul does seem to say as much. But that of course raises the question of who or what the “remnant” is.

      3) This is both a very important and true point and also somewhat misleading, as it’s more precise to say that Israelite ethnicity was never based solely on descent. But that doesn’t make it any less an ethnicity. Even today, ethnic boundaries are fluid to some degree and certainly involve more factors than descent from a common ancestor. Ethnicity is simply a modern term for the total package of language, food, and all sorts of cultural factors (including but neither limited to nor always requiring common descent). In this respect, it’s a little different from the concept of biological “race,” though the two terms are often used interchangeably and the concepts themselves often overlap.

      4) This is an excellent point. For Paul, salvation is the promised “return” promised by the prophets, including and requiring a complete moral transformation (return to YHWH).

  7. Avatar
    anthonygale  July 24, 2020

    What are your thoughts on the possibility that Paul was simply inconsistent with himself? I expect that believers are unlikely to take that approach, but perhaps it is the simplest solution. People contradict themselves all the time for various reasons, sometimes without realizing it.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 24, 2020

      It’s entirely possible (some scholars like Heikki Räisänen have argued it), but I think it’s important that we exhaust all other possibilities before drawing that conclusion. In this case, I think the problem is less that he was inconsistent and more that Paul wasn’t an especially clear communicator (he seems to have delighted in wordplay and fairly sophisticated rhetoric). I think a good case can be made that he was consistent but difficult and that our perceptions of his inconsistency have mostly been due to readers’ misunderstandings due to his lack of clarity rather than his inconsistency.

  8. Avatar
    JeffreyFavot  July 24, 2020

    Paul was very clear in Romans 9, that not all of Israel is of Israel. Meaning that it’s the spiritual seed of Israel and not the physical descendants. He shows this to be true by God’s election of Jacob and not Essau before either did right or wrong. God is sovereign over salvation. God did not fail or his promises. The Jews tried to obtain righteous by works of the law, the Gentiles obtained it by faith. All of Israel means all the spiritual seed of Abraham. Romans 9-12 flows. My favorite book in the NT. Incredibly deep. Paul’s best letter by far. Especially for a Calvinist like myself. This is why theology can’t be excluded when understanding the text of the NT.

  9. Avatar
    Christian David  July 24, 2020

    Interesting, but I just don’t see how these questions can be answered conclusively. The bottom line is that Paul does not specify, so I do not see the point in trying to search for answers that the text does not provide. Nevertheless, I know how vital these passages are for understanding Paul’s view regarding salvation, so I look forward to reading and learning more in these next coming posts.

  10. Avatar
    veritas  July 24, 2020

    Hello Jason and thanks for sharing your findings with us. I always thought of Paul as a, what many Christian denominations use today, Judeo-Christian. He fuses and mixes the two religions well. Being a high ranking Jew (Pharisee), Paul understood the value of self work involved in moral transcendence. When Jesus came along, the past belief still mattered but now faith in Christ supplemented the workload because he was beginning to understand that people could not remove/atone guilt/sin on their own. For Jews, the kingdom of God was more based on instructions on how to live and ultimately peace occurs to unite the world. For Christians, its when Jesus( 1st atoning for us) returns as a King and ruler and replaces the past. The two religions share a lot of commonalities and values and are very similar. The only difference, somebody once said, is Jesus. I agree with you that Paul is not a clear communicator, because his mind was preoccupied with the old belief(Judaism) and the new movement (transformation) that began for him as Saul on the road to Damascus. Jews would need to convert to Christianity at some point, or else John 14; 6 is dead.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 25, 2020

      I’d caution against the idea that Christianity was a distinct thing when Paul was writing. He certainly wouldn’t have regarded himself as having converted to a new religion! He believed he was following the messiah-king of Israel and had by no means ceased being a Jew.

      I’d also caution against the idea that Paul believed that the difference due to Jesus was the realization “that people could not remove/atone guilt/sin on their own.” Don’t forget that atonement and forgiveness is available through the Torah. Paul didn’t see forgiveness of sins or atonement as the core difference between what he was teaching and what he believed before he became a follower of Jesus. The difference was not forgiveness but rather moral transformation—what Paul calls “justification.”

      Paul argues that his opponents do not adequately obey the Torah because the power to obey the Torah is provided through the spirit, which comes through participation in Christ. So for Paul it’s not about giving up a perspective where the “kingdom of God was more based on instructions on how to live” for something else but rather about receiving the power to obey those instructions fully. That’s why he’s able to say “achieve your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works within you both to will and work in accordance with his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12–13). So for Paul, it’s still all about obedience to God. It’s just that he believes that perfect obedience comes through the spirit of Christ.

      I should also note that in Acts Paul’s name does not change from Saul to Paul as though that’s a matter of conversion; instead, in Acts, Paul has a Semitic name (Saul) and a Greek name (Paul).

      • Avatar
        jscheller  July 25, 2020

        Hi Jason. This is in regard to your 2nd paragraph. Due to word limits I can’t expound, but my understanding of Paul’s view on Christ and The Spirit would go something like this:
        1. Paul believed that no one could live up to the Torah’s requirements (e.g. Romans 2:13, 3:23, 7:18-19, Galatians 3:10-13)
        2. Through Christ, we had “Justification”, or right alignment with God and have a new relationship with God through the merit of Christ and not our own (e.g. Romans 3:28, 5:8, 5:18-19, Galatians 4:4-7). This justification is something more permanent and transcendent than anything gained through animal sacrifice.
        3. The salvific process continues through “Sanctification”, which is the transformative work of the Holy Spirit (God’s Spirit/Christ’s Spirit) in cooperation with us (Phil 2:12-13, Romans 8:9-14, Galatians 5:22-25). This transformation has the goal of the Image of Christ and is available because of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:2-6, 17-18)
        Thus, justification through Christ redeems us from our fallen nature, which seems to me to entail forgiveness, and so the more explicit statements concerning forgiveness through Christ, found in the disputed books of Ephesians and Colossians would, to my way of thinking, be representative of Paul’s view.

        • Avatar
          JasonStaples  August 6, 2020

          This isn’t the space for this full conversation, but I think this (unfortunately popular) view of Paul’s theology is pretty badly flawed.

          1) Paul never says that no one could live up to the Torah’s requirements. On the contrary, he claims to have done so himself: “as far as the righteousness by the law, I was blameless” (Phil 3:6).

          2) “Justification” for Paul does not refer to just coming into “right alignment with God” but rather to being transformed into a just person who fulfills the will of God, thereby fulfilling the prophets’ promises to make Israel righteous at the restoration (e.g., Jer 31:31–34, Ezek 36:24–27, etc.). This is why he refers in Rom 2 to the “circumcision of the heart” (cf. Deut 30:6; Jer 4:4) and talks about those who have received the spirit as “doing the things of the law by nature … revealing the work of the law written on the heart.” You’re right to say that for Paul “this justification is something more permanent and transcendent,” but the difference isn’t forgiveness, it’s the gift of internal righteousness (just-ness) such that the transformed, spirit-filled person does the will of God fully.

          3) This is a misunderstanding of “sanctification,” which simply means being “set apart” or “made holy.” Holiness is not a matter of sin or justice but a question of domain. For example, when Paul explains that the children of those in Christ are “holy,” he’s not saying that those children are born “righteous.” He’s saying that they’re born into the holy people of God; it’s the same idea as in Rabbinic Judaism, where a person born to a Jewish mother is born a Jew (that is, part of the holy people of God), while anyone not born to a Jewish mother is born outside the people of God and is therefore not holy. It’s a category error to mistake “holiness” for obedience or doing the will of God (as Paul himself well knew, since priests were by definition “holy” but weren’t necessarily all that pious or just).

          I’m not saying that forgiveness isn’t part of Paul’s gospel proclamation. It is. But it’s not central because forgiveness is not something new, having already been available via the prescriptions of the Torah. The central and distinguishing thing Paul proclaims is the gift of the spirit to make a person righteous as promised by the prophets. That’s why Paul repeatedly says that the Torah cannot make a person righteous, but the spirit can and does—and the person who walks by the spirit fulfills the just requirements of the Torah. But he never claims that the Torah didn’t provide access to forgiveness. Those are very different things.

  11. Avatar
    Hngerhman  July 25, 2020

    Hi Jason –

    Thanks so much for your post. Looking forward to the next few!

    One question, which connects bothPaul’s usage of “all Israel” and “the nations”: when Paul uses ‘pleroma’, what does he mean? All? Just all the relevant set?

    Thanks much in advance!

    NB – if one were looking to find an electronic copy of your dissertation, where would one best look?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 25, 2020

      This question on the pleroma should be better answered in the third post of this series. It would be premature to go there just yet.

      As for an electronic copy of the dissertation, nearly all academic libraries have access to it. Unfortunately, if you don’t have access through one of those, it might be difficult to get. But the two books will supersede that document anyway—they’re both going to have corrected a number of things from that and are also much easier to read (as Bart can attest, dissertations aren’t known for being especially readable).

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  July 25, 2020

        On pleroma, what’s the emoji for bated breath? Ha. Cheers.

        And thanks for the pointer on the dissertation and books. Looking forward to each

  12. Avatar
    toejam  July 25, 2020

    Oh my, this is VERY interesting indeed! Thanks for the guest post!

    Question: Given that in Romans 9-11 Paul appears to switch reference categories from “Jews” to “Israel”, and that some of the passages appear to contradict what is written earlier in the epistle, AND that Tertullian tells us that some unspecified “immense chasm” between 9:4-10:1 was found to be missing in Marcion’s edition of the epistles (and are unquoted by other Church Fathers whom quote Marcion’s text)*, what are your thoughts on the possibility that some of these passages are not from the hand of Paul at all? Seems to me that if this question remains a legitimately open one, any attempt to decipher ‘what Paul meant’ in chapters 9-11 becomes insurmountably difficult.

    *See Jason BeDuhn, “The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon”, p.302

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 25, 2020

      Great question. I think the switch in terms is native to Paul’s thought and that it’s most likely that these passages were in fact written by Paul but that Marcion deleted them in the view that they couldn’t have come from Paul since they assume that the God of Israel is the same as the God of Jesus.

      That section is simply too tightly integrated with the rest of the letter—including important contacts with the first chapters of the book—for me to believe it wasn’t from Paul. I think once they’re adequately understood, the rest of the letter makes even more sense. But I also think that many interpreters of Paul (including Marcion) have so poorly understood the fundamentals of Paul’s message that these chapters wind up at odds with those interpretations.

  13. Avatar
    Poohbear  July 25, 2020

    Paul understood the end was coming for Israel – he read what we read.
    Jews are no different than Gentiles, but they symbolize “God’s people” and to them was revealed God’s law. And as it says, “Judgment begins in the house of God.”
    Jesus said the Jews don’t know their time of visitation. They will go into exile, UNTIL the Gentile’s time is “fulfilled.” Meaning this exile is not permanent. The sign of “fulfillment” is Jerusalem back in Jewish hands.
    And Zechariah tells us the Jews WILL see their Messianic King, but they will mourn because it’s the lowly man they crucified. And on top of this we read of the apocalyptic wars Israel is yet to face where many will return to the God of their fathers.
    Although the Tanakh speaks of a “new covenant” which will encompass the Gentiles, there is still a place for the Jew. I suppose many will convert, but not all.
    Israel can be a nation, the Jewish people or those of the New Covenant – IMO Paul here is speaking of the children of Jacob, the Jewish people.

  14. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  July 25, 2020

    In esoteric tratidion (whether it is based on Judaism (which was later collected in Kabbalah) or Christianity – ie Gnosisism) “Israel” definitely has a very special meaning, like so many other names (like “New Jerusalem”, like “Nations” “as” Egypt “, as” Babylon “). In these terms, Israel is derived from “Yasher-El” (Israel) which some translate as “Straight to God”, or as one called it “Israel is he who strives to return to his root”. which is an inner state, or the divine spark that is placed within us.

    The ideas of these Jewish esoterics or Christian esoteric cosmologies are important for understanding their worldview which bases their understanding on a devolution and evolution of the soul (spiritual descent and then a spiritual ascension).

    These ideas were definitely around when the NT was written, as the Gnistics that had refined the theoretical basis, based on ideas from Babylonian / Hermeticism / Greek-Plato / Neo-Platonism, and not to forget Judaism, long before Jesus was born.
    And for Judaistic estorerics, they claims that these ideas were the basis of the entire OT/TaNac.

    I think Paul was familiar with these ideas, and that he may have been influenced by them when he expressed himself.

  15. Avatar
    jscheller  July 25, 2020

    Thanks for posting Jason. Could the answers center on the olive tree analogy?

    (1) The number of grafted in wild olive branches to the tree are the fullness of the Gentiles..

    (2)The “fullness of Gentiles” are entering into union with the olive tree.

    (3) The olive tree analogy infers that the olive tree is naturally an Israelite olive tree, but that some of the natural branches are broken off. Paul indicates that some branches are replaced with wild olive branches, which would be Gentiles. The fullness of the Gentiles would then be the amount of branches replaced by wild olive branches.

    (4) The natural branches are Israelite, some of the grafted in branches are Gentile, but the tree isn’t full until all the branches are grafted in that need to be grafted in. I infer that Paul is thinking that some “natural olive tree branches” that have come detached, will also be grafted back into the tree. Thus, “all Israel” in this context is the complete olive tree consisting of 1) original and none grafted olive branches (Israelites), grafted in wild olive branches (Gentiles), and natural olive branches that are grafted back into the tree (more Israelites).

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    PBS  July 25, 2020

    Thanks for all your thoughtful responses Jason. As for the meaning of “until” in the Bible, it does not always mean something has /ended/; it can also mean /until a certain or particular point in time is reached, with continued actions and/or the same process continuing on/ (e.g., Gen. 8:5, 26:13; Mt. 28:20; Rom. 5:14, 8:22). One e.g.: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Rom. 8:22) Even after the “until” point was reached in Paul’s day & time of writing, creation continues to “groan.”

  17. Avatar
    Hon Wai  July 25, 2020

    Are there textual variants of the crucial phrases such as “all Israel” and “fullness of the nations” which might go some way to resolving the conundrum?
    Your conclusion is that we have to understand what Paul meant by these two crucial phrases, in order to understand what Paul meant by salvation. Is it feasible to approach the problem in other direction – sort out from other less problematic passages what Paul meant by salvation, and then project this conception onto understanding “all Israel” and “fullness of the nations”?
    I hope you will write a post on Paul’s conception of salvation, and whether it is substantially different from the popular understanding in Christianity today (namely, whether someone will eventually enter into heaven).

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 26, 2020

      Great questions. The text of these verses is remarkably stable, especially given their difficulty. There aren’t any variants for those phrases in any significant manuscripts.

      It’s completely feasible to approach things from the “less problematic passages” and work forward, but many interpreters working that way wind up getting to these verses and discovering that their models don’t work here. So my proposal is to work backwards from the more difficult places where things don’t fit those models and see if there are other readings that can better account for all the data. Interpretation is always recursive anyway; you’ve got to read one direction and then another and continue interacting with a text, allowing it to challenge, alter, and refine the models you’re bringing to it each time through the process.

      I’ll probably write a post or two on Paul’s conception of salvation around the time my book on Paul comes out, which should be sometime next year. In brief, I do think Paul’s conception of salvation is radically different than the typical popular understanding of salvation in modern forms of Christianity. We just inhabit a very different conceptual world than Paul did.

  18. Avatar
    Eskil  July 25, 2020

    There has been at least two other Jewish sects defining them selves as “the true Israel”:
    – “The Essenes community of Qumran saw itself as the only true Israel”
    – “The Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel”
    Why wouldn’t the “redefinition of Israel” be the most plausible option in this context?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 26, 2020

      Neither of these is quite accurate.

      My book goes into much more detail on this, but the Dead Sea Scrolls sect did *not* present itself as “the only true Israel” but rather as *one part* of the true Israel. They did claim that many contemporary Jews were not in fact Israelites, but there’s no evidence in the DSS that they claimed to be the whole of Israel and lots of evidence that they didn’t.

      As for the Samaritans, they claimed to be the legitimate descendants of the tribes of Joseph (an important part of Israel), but they did not claim to be the only true Israel either.

      Since neither of these are examples of a “redefinition of Israel,” it’s more probable that Paul’s understanding is closer to what we see in these groups and others of his own day.

      • Avatar
        Eskil  July 26, 2020

        How do you understand “Israelites” as one of the four classes of Essenes described in 4Q279 / 4Q Four Lots? “[4Q279 ] fragment is one of three small scraps which have partly preserved the division of the Community into four lots or classes, already known from CD XIV, 5-6, viz. Priests, Levites, Israelites and Proselytes.“

        • Avatar
          JasonStaples  July 27, 2020

          That’s a pretty common division; you see the same (minus proselytes) in Ezra-Nehemiah, for example. The Scrolls attest to a group that believed that they were part of Israel (and their members Israelites), but they’re also clear that they’re not the whole of Israel. Note how they refer to themselves as the “repentant/returned [shuve] of Israel in CD 4:2, and they talk about disobedient in Israel as well (e.g., CD 4:13, 7:18). The War Scroll specifically refers to the rest of Israel still in the “wilderness of the peoples” that will join together with the sectarians at the final battle. It’s simply mistaken to suggest that the sectarians present themselves as “the true Israel” or the totality of Israel in any sense.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  July 28, 2020

            I understand you use “sectarians” to refer only the community living in the Qumran? Personally I think that Essenes referred their entire school as Israel, not on only the members living in Qumran.
            Josephus also wrote that Essenes lived all around. Maybe he did’t even knew about the Qumran community when he said:
            – “No one city is theirs, but they settle amply in each. And for those school-members who arrive from elsewhere, all that the community has is laid out for them in the same way as if they were their own things, and they go in and stay with those they have never even seen before as if they were the most intimate friends.”
            – “There is also a different order of Essenes. Though agreeing with the others about regimen and customs and legal matters, it has separated in its opinion about marriage.”
            The “remains of women and children” in Qumran cemetery could belong to the other Essenes, the none ‘monastic’ members, that lived in all the cities.
            Wouldn’t it be logical to refer the Essenes in the cities as “the rest of Israel still in the wilderness of the peoples”?

          • Avatar
            JasonStaples  July 28, 2020

            I use “sectarians” to refer to those in the larger community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. There’s evidence from the scrolls themselves that they weren’t all at Qumran—and we actually can’t be completely certain that any of them were based there, though I take the view that some probably were. We also can’t be certain that the sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls were Essenes. That’s one hypothesis, sure, but the scrolls themselves don’t use that terminology, and there are a few differences between what we find in the scrolls and Josephus’ description of the Essenes.

            And no, it wouldn’t be logical to refer to the other members of the sect as “the rest of Israel still in the wilderness of the peoples,” since 1) those people are still in the Land, not in the wilderness of the peoples (among the gentiles outside the land), and they’re also not separate from the sect itself—they’re members just like the core group.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  July 28, 2020

            Geza Vermes wrote in his book “The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English”:
            1. “it is clear from this literature that the sectaries regarded themselves as the true Israel, the repository of the authentic traditions of the religious body from which they had seceded. Accordingly, they organized their movement so that it corresponded faithfully to that of the Jewish people, dividing it into priests and laity (or Aaron and Israel), and the laity grouped after the biblical model into twelve tribes. This structure is described in the War Scroll’s account of reconstituted Temple worship as it was expected to be at the end of time”
            2. “A fourth group of proselytes is unique to the ‘towns’, but as has been observed these were Gentile slaves converted to Judaism.”
            3. “The Community Rule legislates for a group of ascetics living in a kind of ‘monastic’ society, the statutes of the Damascus Document for an ordinary lay existence”
            I don’t understand why some scholars like Bart think that all Essenes lived only in Qumran.

          • Avatar
            JasonStaples  July 28, 2020

            Vermeš is unfortunately wrong when he says “the sectarians regarded themselves as the true Israel.” He’s also wrong that Israel can be equated with “the Jewish people,” and there’s no indication that the sect divided itself into twelve tribes. Instead, the scrolls witness a group that regards all its members as having derived from only three of the twelve tribes. There’s been a lot of scholarship on all of this since Vermeš published that, and it’s now pretty well established that the sectarians did not in fact regard themselves as “the true Israel.”

            Where the sect (again, we can’t be certain they were Essenes) lived is immaterial to this point. What matters is the evidence from the scrolls themselves, and the evidence is very strong that, as E.P. Sanders puts it, the sect “refrained from simply calling [itself] Israel.” My forthcoming book has a chapter on this question, and I’d also recommend John Bergsma’s “Qumran Self-Identity: ‘Israel’ or ‘Judah,'” the section on the DSS in Shemaryahu Talmon’s “The Emergence of Jewish Sectarianism,” and Graham Harvey’s The True Israel as good places to start for better understanding this matter.

  19. tompicard
    tompicard  July 26, 2020

    Jason
    Thanks for the post. I see the verse in question just being reformulation of Jesus’ Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Paul’s “entering in” like Jesus overriding theme referring to the nations entering “Kingdom of Heaven”

    Jesus “the first” to enter the Kingdom most assuredly, in his view, should have been his fellow countrymen the Jews, but due to their “ignorance”, “hardness of heart”, “rejection of of the gospel”, however you want to put it they will wind up entering the Kingdom as the last .

    Both Matt 20:15 and Rom 11:25 indicating these 2 men’s views that God’s salvation is universal – though occurring over a possibly great period of time, when any particular individual accepts it is indeterminate.

    What Are there particular difficulties with this view?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 26, 2020

      One difficulty is that Jesus doesn’t say that all will enter the kingdom of heaven, with the only difference being a matter of when they enter. Instead, he suggests that some will wind up on the outside of that kingdom. Paul seems to suggest the same thing, though based on the end of Romans 11, he seems to hold out hope for a more universal conclusion.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  July 26, 2020

        > One difficulty is that Jesus doesn’t say that all will enter
        > the kingdom of heaven, with the only difference being
        > a matter of when they enter.

        I think Jesus’ “the first will be last [to enter the kingdom] ” does imply all . . .

        I mean he could as easily have said “the last shall be first, and the first shall be excluded”

        • Avatar
          JasonStaples  July 26, 2020

          That saying isn’t about entering the kingdom of heaven. It also isn’t in definite terms but rather “some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last.” It’s about social position and the reversals that come with justice—setting the world right-side-up, not about the time at which a person enters the kingdom.

          Jesus regularly speaks about people being excluded from the kingdom elsewhere, and it’s frequent enough in the tradition that I think the historical Jesus likely expected the final judgment to involve the exclusion of unjust people.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  July 27, 2020

            Jason, thanks yes I know the standard viewpoint is that
            Matt 20:15 is that it
            > about social position and the reversals that
            >come with justice
            > setting the world right-side-up,
            > not about the time at which a person
            > enters the kingdom.
            but I think it interesting to consider the opposite , the kingdom Jesus preached and the ministry he initiated is utterly egalitarian (no social firsts no social lasts there), as is the parable of the workers which precedes Matt 20:16, but the first and last in this parable are in fact related to something very temporal – their arrival in work and the receiving their pay

          • Avatar
            JasonStaples  July 27, 2020

            I don’t think I’d characterize the kingdom Jesus preached as utterly egalitarian. It is a monarchy, after all, and he tells his apostles that they will sit on thrones judging Israel. That doesn’t sound as if hierarchy is utterly dispensed with, nor does the idea that some who are last will be first—he doesn’t say those who are last or first will all wind up equal.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  July 27, 2020

            and of course universalism does not dispute that unjust people are excluded form the Kingdom, only that they are excluded until the time that they repent and change. I suppose this is what Paul also believed regarding “all Israel”

  20. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 26, 2020

    Jason: I always get a little dazed when people place so much emphasis on a word or two.in the Bible. Could it be that maybe Paul or a scribe or, who knows who, just made a mistake or wrote something confusing or “misspoke” or was just plain wrong or who knows what? Thanks, Ron

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 26, 2020

      Sure, any of those are definitely possible. And reconstructing the most likely possibility—whether it was one of those options or another—is one of the tasks of scholarship. It takes a lot of work to rule some of these out, and new data can always change things!

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