All Israel Shall Be Saved
All Israel

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 56b of 83

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26  And so all Israel shall be saved…” (Romans 11:25-32).

[We noted in the first part of our study that when Paul says: “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,” he is simply saying is that: as long as God is saving the Gentile, the nation of Israel will be blinded in part, but not necessarily that God will deal with Israel as a whole after that. In this second instalment, we will study what he means by “all Israel shall be saved.” -JJL]

2.  All Israel Shall be Saved

Paul says:

26 And so all Israel shall be saved…

What does he mean? Well this phrase is so controversial that there are four major views on it.

The first view, which is the most literal one, is that “all Israel” means “every single ethnic Israelite” who ever lived. According to this view, in a mysterious way, every single Israelite who ever lived will be saved. But this view can only be held by liberal universalists! For it runs contrary to all that Paul is teaching up till now that Jews and Gentiles alike are “all under sin” (Rom 3:9). All will face condemnation unless justified by Christ through personal union with Him. The Jews are not excepted. 

The second view is that “all Israel” refers to “all if not the majority of the mass of ethnic Jews living on earth at the end time after all the elect Gentiles have been converted.” Dispensationalists, for example, speak of all the Jews who will be alive being converted en masse during the seven-year tribulation period, after the Church has been raptured.

But Dispensationalist are not the only ones who hold to this view. A very large number of evangelical and Reformed scholars hold to this view, but without the Dispensational embellishments of the 7-year tribulation period. These include the Early Church Fathers such as Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose, most of the English Puritans, Martin Luther, Charles Hodge, John Murray, Robert Haldane, etc.

But the problem with this view is that it is based on a common reading or should we say, misreading of verse 26!

This is how it is read:

“…blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.  And THEN all Israel shall be saved…”

Do you notice what is wrong with this reading? Do you notice that the word ‘so’ has been replaced by the word ‘then’? This second view requires verse 26 to be read as “and then all Israel shall be saved.” But this is impossible!

The Greek (καὶ οὕτως, kai outōs) cannot possibly be taken to mean “and then” as would be required in this view. The Greek word οὕτως (outōs) does not carry any connotation of chronology. It means ‘thus’ or ‘in this manner.’ Our translators have rendered it correctly, as ‘so’.

With this in mind, it would be illogical for “all Israel” in verse 26 to mean “all or most of the Jews alive,” for verse 25 is talking about the salvation of the Gentiles!

Let me put it this way: Does it make sense if I say: “I am counting the oranges in order that the basket may be full of apples.” That does not make sense does it?

Well, to read verse 26 as “And then all Israel shall be saved” is like saying: “the Gentiles are being brought into the kingdom while the Jews are partially blinded in order that every Jews alive will be saved” (which does not make sense!).

For this reason, the 2nd view that “all Israel” means most if not all the Israelites living at the final days can be correct.

For this reason, a third view has emerged.

The third view is that “all Israel” means “the total number of elect Jews, or the sum of Israel’s elect remnant.” This view is held with some variations by most Dutch commentators.

But the problem with this view is that again it does not fit into the context!

Verse 25 is talking about the conversion of the Gentiles and the blindness of the Jews. It appears rather strange to me that verse 26 should speak abruptly about the salvation of the sum total of the elect Jews.

What then?

Well, I believe that the fourth view, which is the view held by John Calvin is the correct one. According to this view, “all Israel” refers to all the elect, including Jews and Gentiles.

This is the only interpretation, which, I believe, is exegetically defensible and fits the context.

Paul is talking about the conversion of the Gentiles in verse 25. He is talking about their coming in to Israel to be fellowheirs in the same body, the olive tree, and to be partakers of God’s promise in Christ. Now in verse 26, he says: “In this way… all Israel will be saved.”

It is true that when Paul uses the term ‘Israel,’ most times, he is referring to national Israel. But here he is speaking about “all Israel.” It is just like in Galatians 6:16, he speaks about the “Israel of God”, and not just Israel. When he says Israel by itself, he is probably referring to nation of Israel. But when he says “all Israel” or “the Israel of God”, it is clear that he is speaking about God’s true covenant people which comprises both elect Jews and Gentiles.

Paul has just proven, —with the olive tree metaphor, — that the Gentiles are included in Israel since they are grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree. Now he is saying: “by way of the partial blindness of the Jews, the Gentiles are being brought in (which would provoke the Jews to seek too). In this way, all the elect of God: Jews and Gentiles, will be saved.”

This interpretation agrees also with Paul’s paraphrases from the Old Testament to prove his point. He says (v. 26)—

…as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

Where do these words come from? They are a conflation of a number of Old Testament passages, namely Isaiah 59:20-21; Isaiah 27:9 as well as Jeremiah 31:33-34.

Now, if you study the context in Isaiah, you will see that the prophecy about the coming of the deliverer out of Zion, is about the first coming rather than the second coming of Christ.

What about Jeremiah 31:33-34? That is the prophecy about the New Covenant that God would make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

But when did the New Covenant begin? Well, the writer of Hebrews makes it very clear in Hebrews 8 and 10 that it begun with the first coming of Christ. The house of Israel and the house of Judah is simply the church, the covenant people of God.

And remember the words of the Lord in institution of the Lord’s Supper? “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Lk 22:20). Now the Greek word rendered ‘testament’ in our version is exactly the same word for ‘covenant’ (διαθήκη, diathēkē).  Our Lord is saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.”

All this makes it very clear, does it not? The apostle Paul is not talking about the conversion of ethnic Israelites in the end times, but about the conversion of all Israel comprising of Jews and Gentiles throughout the dispensation of the New Covenant.

Paul is not expecting that every ethnic Israelite would be saved. His theology would not allow it. He knew that only the elect Jews would be saved.

This is what he is saying in verse 28—

 28 As concerning the gospel, they [the Israelites] are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. 29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

What is he saying? He is saying: As far the Gospel is concerned, the Israelites are enemies, but as far as the elect remnant, is concerned, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.

The word ‘election’ is the same word used in verse 7. Paul is not speaking about national election, or the election of the nation as a whole as some suggest. Nowhere does Paul speak about national election. Election is always individual. Paul is speaking about the elect remnant. These are, in a way, elect for the fathers’ sake. Therefore, these are beloved for the father’s sake.

These will be saved for “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (v. 29). Whom God elects, He will save! For the sake of the fathers, there will be an elect remnant for the promise is not only to the fathers but to their children. Therefore, there will always be elect Jews. These will be saved together with all elect Gentiles.

But how would they be saved? Well, in God’s plan, the elect Jews will be saved not in the tradition of faith but in the context of unbelief.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim