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There is no shortage of biblical scholarship pertaining to the destiny of Israel in Romans 11. Amillennialists and premillennialists alike have posited heavily researched articles and books that attempt to place Romans 11 in the context of the Apostle Paul’s letter. Both have also tediously endeavored to correctly analyze the grammar and syntax of this controversial yet important chapter in God’s Word. Despite such painstaking efforts, it is doubtful that simply the exegetical arguments presented by the amillennialist will convince the premillennialist, and vice versa. The reason being has virtually nothing to do with intelligence or close-mindedness, but rather with one’s theological method. Therefore, in this research, the views espoused within amillennialism and premillennialism must be first considered as stated by their proponents. Subsequently, several exegetical observations will be addressed to identify where the differences are between amillennialism and premillennialism, but most specifically in regards to the destiny of Israel, namely, whether or not a mass conversion awaits national Israel in the future. Based on a comparison between the views, it will be contended that the premillennial perspective provides the most natural and normal interpretation of the data, which is based on a literal hermeneutic that seeks to understand the text of Scripture without basing assertions largely on theological presuppositions.
Amillennial Views of the Destiny of Israel in Romans 11
John Calvin is a Christian thinker heavily respected by men and women who adhere to both amillennial and premillennial positions of eschatology. While Calvin’s soteriology might be more broadly shared between the two views, his eschatology favors the amillennial view. According to Calvin, “The Israel of God is what [the Apostle Paul] calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles.” Therefore, when Romans 11:26 speaks of how “all Israel will be saved,” Calvin’s interpretation, which is shared by many amillennialists, would indicate that Israel has no ethnic purpose in this context, but is equated with the universal Church. The amount of diversity in opinion from amillennialists alone, however, is notable. Charles Hodge has explained the opposite opinion of Calvin in regards to the ethnic ramifications of Romans 11: “Israel, here, from the context, must mean the Jewish people, and all Israel, the whole nation. The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored. As their rejection, although national, did not include the rejection of every individual; so their restoration, although in like manner national, need not be assumed to include the salvation of every individual Jew.” Calvin and Hodge are two renowned Reformed thinkers who would share similar beliefs about eschatology, but Romans 11 is a passage that can divide amillennialists.
One of the reasons why amillennialists have trouble finding common ground with fellow proponents of their eschatological system is the interpretive question of how to understand the time length involved in “Israel’s” salvation. Some believe that the timeframe is “synchronic,” which refers only to “Israel” at the end of the time of the “fullness of the Gentiles,” while others take the “diachronic” view, which requires “all Israel” to be referring to ethnic Jews, and specifically to believing Jews of all times. There are amillennialists who take the synchronic view that would only consider “all Israel” as referring to the elect believers who are ethnically Jewish, and that number could be quite minimal. Charles M. Horne argues, “[W]hen Paul states that ‘all Israel shall be saved’ he means to refer to the full number of elect Jews whom it pleases God to bring into his kingdom throughout the ages until the very day when the full number of the Gentiles also shall have been brought in. In keeping with the context, ‘all Israel’ means ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’ (11:5), not the nation in its entirety.” There are even some amillennialists who think that there will be some type of mass conversion prior to the return of Christ. But Horne has adamantly insisted, “If Paul is speaking in 11:26 of a future mass conversion of the nation of Israel, then he is destroying the entire development of his argument in chaps. 9-11.” Thus, the synchronic view of the timeframe noted in Romans 11 is an open discussion within amillennialism.
The diachronic view is also a thoroughly defended theory within amillennialism that must be evaluated. Regarding the timeframe of the fullness of the Gentiles and the relevancy of “Israel” being saved, Ben Merkle has written, “This phrase is essentially terminative in its significance, implying the end of something. Yet, only the context can determine where the emphasis lies after the termination. Often the phrase is used in an eschatological context, where the termination envisioned contains a finalization aspect that makes questions concerning the reversal of the circumstance irrelevant.” Merkle compared the construction of ἄχρι οὗ (translated “until”) with First Corinthians 11:16, referring to partaking of the Lord’s Super “until” he comes. N.T. Wright holds a similar view as Merkle, viewing Jews who are saved in the present age as composing “Israel,” that is, elect believers within the Jewish nation. All of these amillennial views are theoretically plausible, as interpreters have found ways to fit the texts of Romans 11 into a particular conclusion, even though the different views within amillennialism cannot coexist. The question is whether or not the theological method instituted to arrive at such conclusions is most preferable.
Premillennial Views of the Destiny of Israel in Romans 11
Premillennialists likewise have plenty of flexibility among themselves in terms of opinions on matters related to eschatology. Whereas covenant premillennialists consider only one people of God throughout history, dispensational premillennialists distinguish between Israel, which includes saved and unsaved people throughout history, and the Church, which only includes believers, both Jew and Gentile, in the present age. Nevertheless, premillennialists can find some common ground in the meaning of Romans 11. Michael G. Vanlaningham has argued:
Currently beset by a partial spiritual hardening toward God, a significant group of Jews will experience a future repentance and salvation. This will come at some future point in the church, perhaps as one of the series events that will compose Christ’s second coming. Paul adduces proof of this salvation with two quotations from Isaiah. Through this significant passage God’s future program for Israel becomes clearer than before.
Meanwhile, John F. Walvoord, a stalwart defender of dispensational premillennialism would not view the timing of Romans 11 as being during the church age, but during the end of the Tribulation, and preceding the Second Coming of Christ. Walvoord has said, “The contrast throughout the passage is not between the believer and unbeliever, but between Gentiles as such and Israel as a nation. In Romans 11:25, the issue is brought to a head with the revelation that Israel’s present blindness and unbelief will be concluded at the same time that the present Gentile opportunity is ended.” Thereafter, “all Israel” will be saved.
In recent years, premillennial scholars have put forward interpretations of many different aspects of Israel’s future in regards to Romans 11. Four of them are worth considering in this discussion, though more exist. First, while many often attack the discontinuity approach from a premillennial perspective in the understanding of history, Samuel A. Dawson sees both continuity and discontinuity in the plan of God throughout the ages. He has explained:
To forcefully drive this point home Paul uses an olive tree analogy to establish the continuity and discontinuity of God’s plan in dispensing his mercy. And although Paul begins this analogy by emphasizing the one historical root from which God dispenses his mercy to both Jew and Gentile (continuity), he mainly emphasizes the diverse way in which God dispenses his mercy throughout history (discontinuity), which opens up a future salvation for Israel that is in harmony with Old Testament prophecies.
A second important contribution to premillennialism comes from Jim R. Sibley in his work on Romans 11:15. This verse reads in the Greek as follows: “εἰ γὰρ ἡ ἀποβολὴ αὐτῶν καταλλαγὴ κόσμου, τίς ἡ πρόσλημψις εἰ μὴ ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν;” The issue here is whether or not Paul’s question of Israel’s “rejection” is to be rendered as an objective genitive or a subjective. Especially since Paul just insisted that God would never reject His people of Israel, and for a variety of other reasons, Sibley affirms that the phrasing of Romans 11:15 should be understood as Israel rejecting salvation in the present age, not as God rejecting Israel.
David Q. Santos has provided yet another interpretation worth evaluating. His research focused on Romans 11:19-24, though in his article he provided a thorough background of the epistle as a whole. His thesis might be summarized as follows: “Paul’s conclusion regarding Israel is that, while it may be a mystery, Israel does have a future in God’s plan. There will be a time when the blinders will be removed from the nation and Israel will no longer live in unbelief. At that point, those natural branches will be regrafted and all Israel will be saved.” Finally, Matt Waymeyer’s analysis of Romans 11:28 requires some attention:
Romans 11:28 is an often neglected verse that helps in determining which of the views is correct, because the pronoun “they” in v. 28 refers to the same people as the “all Israel” of v. 26. Since context requires that the pronoun “you” in v. 28 refers to Gentiles, the “enemies” and the “they” of v. 28 must be ethnic Jews, thereby eliminating the possibility of “all Israel” being the church. The two clauses in v. 28 describe what is true of ethnic Israel at the same time, not on condition prior to Israel’s salvation and another subsequent to that salvation. That eliminates the view that “all Israel” depicts an elect remnant of believing Jews, because they could hardly be enemies according to the gospel after becoming believers. The view that “all Israel” is the ethnic nation of Israel has v. 28 speaking of Israel’s dual status: simultaneously they are enemies according to the gospel and beloved because of the fathers.
Both amillennialists and premillennialists have put forth countless hours of research to prove that one view is superior to the other in terms of understanding the context of Romans, grammatical observations, and general theological principles. Thus, a conscientious awareness of where the differences are is urgent, requiring a closer look at some exegetical observations from Romans 11.
Exegetical Observations in Romans 11
The first exegetical point requiring focus is the identity of Israel in Romans 11. According to Walvoord, “[T]here is not a single reference in the New Testament to Israel which cannot be taken in its plain meaning. Not a single instance requires the term to include Gentiles.” Amillennialists would surely have a problem with Walvoord’s assertion. The first clause might be challenged in reference to Romans 9:6, which says, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (οὐ γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἐξ Ἰσραήλ, οὗτοι Ἰσραήλ). The NASB added the phrase “descended from,” so the verse could read: “For not all of Israel are Israel.” In the context of Romans 9, it can be readily deduced that Paul is referring to the fact that not all people within the nation of Israel are truly “Israel,” which is to distinguish the “children of the flesh” (national Israelites, but unbelievers) from the “children of the promise” (national Israelites, but believers). Walvoord’s second clause, however, places much more of a burden of proof on amillennialists. In Romans, Paul speaks quite frequently of Israel, and he does distinguish, as Romans 9 indicates, between believing and unbelieving Israelites. However, a literal interpretation of the data requires one to restrict “Israel” to only include Jews, but never Gentiles. In chapter 11, Paul includes the title “Israel” in verses 2, 7, 25, and 26. Clearly, he is referring to national Israel in verses 2 and 7, and there is no indication whatsoever of a change in meaning in verses 25 and 26. Jews and Gentiles share equal privileges in the Church, but in Romans 11 and elsewhere in the epistle, the amillennialist relies on a presupposition that “Israel” can include Gentiles. A much more natural reading of the text would restrict “Israel” to simply Jews, and the context would determine whether or not Paul is speaking of believing or unbelieving Jews.
A second exegetical observation necessitating comment is the meaning of the “fullness of the Gentiles.” Similarly to how Paul had already identified Israel in this context prior to verses 25 and 26, so also has he spoken about Gentiles (verses 11-13). The most natural way to interpret “Gentiles” is to conclude their identity as being non-Israelites. Therefore, when verse 25 speaks of the “fullness of the Gentiles,” the people being identified can be contrasted with national Israelites. Most believers in the present age are indeed Gentiles, but there will be a future moment in which the last Gentile will be redeemed. Furthermore, the Old Testament quotations of Isaiah 27:9 and Jeremiah 31:33-34 are massively significant. Ungodliness will be removed from “Jacob,” which can be understood as Israel since the patriarch, Jacob, had his name changed to Israel, and he is the progenitor from which the twelve tribes of Israel arose. The second passage refers to the New Covenant, which again originally referred to the nation of Israel, but in Jeremiah 31. Although Paul did not include the first clause from Jeremiah 31:34, surely he would not have disregarded its importance, where it says, “‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” Jeremiah 31 speaks comprehensively of Israel, which fits the context of Paul’s argument in Romans 11, “and so all Israel will be saved.” The partial hardening will not last forever over the people of Israel, but the fullness of the Gentiles must first come to a completion.
There are a variety of opinions on the meaning of Romans 11 and the destiny of Israel. However, Paul gives no clear signs that he means something different regarding the identity (and thus, the destiny) of Israel in verse 2 compared to verse 26. The fullness of the Gentiles indicates a time in which, according to both the Old and New Testament, all of Israel will be saved. This usage of “Israel” is no different than the Israel Elijah accused of killing God’s prophets and tearing down His altars (Romans 11:3). What is distinct is not the identity of Israel as being composed of something other than Jews, but that the fullness of the Gentiles will have to accomplish its purpose in provoking Jews at the end of their “partial hardening.” Walvoord summarized it well many decades ago, “During the present age a remnant of Israel is saved through the Gospel. The hardening or blindness is ‘in part.’ When Christ returns, the situation will be changed. Instead of a remnant, instead of a small part, Israel as a whole will be saved. It will be a national deliverance.” Marvin Richardson Vincent has rendered “πώρωσις ἀπὸ μέρους” (Romans 11:25) as “Not partial hardening, but hardening extending over a part.” Indeed, a large part of Israel is spiritually blinded from the true Messiah, while there is a remnant composed of believing Jews. The destiny of Israel is based off of the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31. Paul, in Romans 11, differs in no way in describing that future glory, but until the fullness of the Gentiles is completed, Israel remains composed of a remnant of believers and a large portion of unbelievers.
 John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprinted 1993), 437.
 Quoted in John F. Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” Bibliothecha Sacra 102:408 (October 1945), 411. Italics original.
 Ben Merkle, “Romans 11 and the Future of Ethnic Israel,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:4 (December 2000), 711.
 Charles M. Horne, “The Meaning of the Phrase ‘And Thus All Israel Will Be Saved’ (Romans 11:26),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21:4 (December 1978), 334.
 For this discussion, see Lee Irons, “Paul’s Theology of Israel’s Future: A Nonmillennial Interpretation of Romans 11,” Reformation and Revival 6:2 (Spring 1997), 104.
 Horne, “The Meaning of the Phrase ‘And Thus All Israel Will Be Saved’ (Romans 11:26),” 333.
 Ben Merkle, “Romans 11 and the Future of Ethnic Israel,” 715.
 For a critical essay of Wright’s view, see Michael G. Vanlaningham, “An Evaluation of N. T. Wright’s View of Israel in Romans 11,” Bibliothecha Sacra 170:678 (April 2013), 189. Vanlaningham says Wright’s “weakest” part of his argument concerns a lack of explanation of ἄχρι οὗ. However, taken under the umbrella of Merkle’s explanation, Wright’s view would likely be little or no different.
 Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Romans 11:25-27 and the Future of Israel in Paul’s Thought,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 3:2 (Fall 1992), 141.
 Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 405.
 Samuel A. Dawson, “The Historical Outworking of God’s Plan to Dispense His Mercy Illustrated in the Olive Tree of Romans 11:16-24,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 21 (2016), 107. Italics original.
 See especially Jim R. Sibley, “Has the Church Put Israel on the Shelf? The Evidence from Romans 11:15,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58:3 (September 2015), 576-580.
 David Q. Santos, “Israel and Her Future: An Exegesis of Romans 11:19-24,” Journal of Dispensational Theology 19:56 (Spring 2015), 84.
 Matt Waymeyer, “The Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 16:1 (Spring 2005), 57.
 Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 409.
 All English translations are from the New American Standard Bible.
 Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 410.
 Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 130.