David Q. Santos
Romans 11:11–21 (NKJV) 11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.The book of Romans is arguably the most profound and theologically rich book of the Bible. It is the closest document the New Testament offers as a systematic theology. It is also an apologetic letter to the Church of Rome from the Apostle Paul; its thesis being “the just will live by faith.” In chapters 1-8 of the book of Romans Paul argues 1) the reality of universal guilt and separation from God. 2) Justification and the freedom that comes with it through faith in Jesus Christ. 3) Power for living a sanctified life free from sin. 4) And the promise of eternal glorification without condemnation.
Throughout this epistle Paul has been dealing with potential objections that his arguments might produce. Paul, in chapters 9-11, deals with a potential objection that could have come up; and ironically, has become one of the longest running theological debates in Christendom. Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum described the importance of Romans 9-11 when he wrote, “Crucial to any study of Israelology are chapters 9 through 11 of Paul’s epistle to the Romans where the apostle details God’s relationship to Israel in light of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. These three chapters touch on both Israel past and Israel future, but most of it deals with Israel present.” It is in these three chapters that the Bible student will find conclusive evidence for the future of national Israel.
That debate is whether or not God still has a future for Israel as a nation. The covenant view is that the church is the new Israel and has absorbed and replaced national Israel. In opposition to that view stands dispensational theology which holds that God still has a future for national Israel which is a distinct entity from the church. Fruchtenbaum summarized this when he wrote, “If it is possible to summarize Covenant Postmillennialism on this issue, it would be; the Jews have been cast off, and the Church, the New Israel, is now the people of God.”
Millard Erickson wrote, “the church is the new Israel. It occupies the place in the new covenant that Israel occupied in the old.” And Louis Berkhof wrote, “In essence Israel constituted the Church of God in the Old Testament” It can be seen through these examples that the future of Israel is a sticking point in theology. Charles Ryrie noted that the central point of this debate in his book Dispensationalsim. He wrote,
This [the distinction between the Church and Israel] is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is dispensationalist, and is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive. The one who fails to distinguish Israel and the Church consistently will inevitably not hold to dispensational distinctions; and one who does will.This critical passage begins with a question; “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?” (Rom. 11:1) Paul then exclaims that God has not cast away Israel using himself as an example to illustrate that for the time being there is a spiritual remnant of believing Israel that has seen Jesus for who he is and come into the church. Paul enhanced this illustration with the Biblical example of Elijah whom God had to remind that there was a remnant that had been set aside and preserved. Paul concluded that thought with the clear statement that “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (Rom. 11:1-5)
Paul using himself and Elijah as the examples explained that there is a spiritual remnant of Israel in the church. The rest of Israel was blinded by God. (Rom. 11:7-10) In verse eleven Paul asks if they have stumbled that they should fall; which has a strong negation rendered “Certainly not!” In the next four verses Paul explains that through the fall of Israel, the Gospel has gone to the Gentiles with the purpose of making Israel (ethnic Jews) jealous.
In verse twelve Paul makes an important statement, “12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” The “their” (αὐτός), used three times in this verse, has the antecedent of the fallen in verse eleven which is national Israel who rejected Jesus; which is the reason for the fall. When national Israel is restored to its fullness the Gentiles and the world will both be blessed even more than they are now as the Gospel goes out to the Gentile world. Walvoord explains the comparison that Paul uses between the “fall” and the “fullness” of Israel. It states,
He then goes on to compare their fall with their fullness: “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?” (Rom 11:12). In other words, if the blindness which has fallen upon Israel nationally during this present age was the occasion for great blessing for the Gentiles, the “fullness” of Israel will bring a richness of blessing which will be “much more.” Now, obviously, there can be no fullness of Israel if they have no future. Their fullness will come when the present condition of blindness is lifted.The contrast that Paul uses between Israel’s fall and their future fullness provides rich ground to work with when considering the reality of Israel’s future. And when compared to the entirety of Scripture there should be no question that God is not finished with national Israel yet. Even A.W. Pink stated, “That Israel as a nation will be actually and literally restored is declared again and again in the Word of God.” Paul describes the removal of Israel’s blindness as a mystery in Romans eleven verses twenty-five to twenty-seven. Dr. Walvoord was a prolific writer on this subject. In his 1944 article Eschatological Problems V:Is the Church the Israel of God he wrote about the very passage and problem here.
The classic passage found in Romans eleven deals specifically with the problem before us. Has God no program for Israel as such? Paul raises the question himself: “I say then, Hath God cast away his people?” (Rom 11:1). He goes on to answer in the negative, indicating that at the time of the writing of Romans there was a remnant out of Israel saved by grace who had their part in the church. Unbelieving Israel is declared to have been blinded: “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom 11:7). He speaks of this blinding as their “fall,” which, because of the present privilege of Gentiles to receive the Gospel and salvation on the same terms as Israel, becomes “the riches of the Gentiles” (Rom 11:12).The restoration of Israel takes place only when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Rom. 11:25) At that point all of Israel will be saved. (Rom. 11:26) This passage can only be describing a future even for national ethnic Israel. It is national Israel that Paul was describing in 11:7-9 as being given a spirit of stupor and eyes that should not see. It should be pointed out rather emphatically that Paul does not blur the lines between Gentiles and Israel. Nor does he ever blur the lines between Israel and the church; in fact he maintains that the church is a new creation apart from Jews and Gentiles yet in existence simultaneously with both.
That Israel’s restoration results in great blessing to the whole world may be seen from the following quotations—“And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men” (Mic. 5:7). “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6). Continuing through Paul’s explanation, Paul uses another example to make his point. In verse sixteen he describes a lump of dough. The principal is that “because the firstfruit offering represented the entire portion, the entire piece of dough could be said to be holy, set apart to God.” Paul’s point is that Israel is the first fruit is holy therefore the whole thing is holy. Israel is the firstfruit that has not been cast off forever. Fruchtenbaum elaborates,
Paul begins by giving the illustration and the principle (Romans 11:16). The connecting for, if, or now provides the reason for believing in a future national restoration. The illustration is that of the firstfruit and the root which refer to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Abrahamic Covenant. They are holy because God separated and consecrated them for a divine purpose. Israel as a nation is the lump and the branches. The final section to be discussed here is verses seventeen through twenty-one. Paul uses the illustration of the olive tree which represents the covenantal promises made to Israel. Some of the natural branches have been broken off of this tree; which describes the blinding in part of Israel. It also explains how some wild branches were grafted into these promises; which describes Gentiles being added to the blessings of the covenants. But the final division is a warning to Gentiles against becoming prideful over this grafting in. The warning is that these unnatural wild branches can still be removed.
It seems that covenant theology has become prideful of its position in Christ; scoffing and mocking the promises of God and denying the future that the wife of Yahweh holds in her destiny. It is not for the clay to instruct the potter on what the creation is going to be made into. Believers must remember that God is the potter and they are the clay.
Berkhof, L., Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938)
Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998).
Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G., Israelology Part 3 of 6, Chafer Theological Seminary Journal Volume 5, 4 (Fountain Valley, CA: Chafer Theological Seminary, 1999).
__________ Israelology : The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, Calif.: Ariel Ministries, 1994).
Ryrie, Charles, Caldwell. Dispensationalism. (Chicago, IL. Moody Bible Institute. 2007).
Pink, Arthur Walkington, The Redeemer's Return (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2005).
Walvoord, John, Eschatological Problems V:Is the Church the Israel of God?, Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 101, 404 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1944).
John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible. (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1997).
 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology : The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, Calif.: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 71.
 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology : The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, Calif.: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 43.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 1053.
 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 572.
 Charles Ryrie, Caldwell. Dispensationalism. (Chicago, IL. Moody Bible Institute. 2007). 46.
 αὐτός is personal pronoun in its third person genitive plural masculine form αὐτῶν
 John Walvoord, Eschatological Problems V:Is the Church the Israel of God?, Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 101, 404 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1944), 409-10.
 Arthur Walkington Pink, The Redeemer's Return (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2005).
 John Walvoord, Eschatological Problems V:Is the Church the Israel of God?, Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 101, 404 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1944), 409.
 Arthur Walkington Pink, The Redeemer's Return (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2005).
 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible. (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1714.
 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology Part 3 of 6, Chafer Theological Seminary Journal Volume 5, 4 (Fountain Valley, CA: Chafer Theological Seminary, 1999), 45.