The Conversion Of The Jews
Their Fulness

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 53b of 83

11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.…” (Romans 11:11-16).

[We are in a chapter of in Romans that is somewhat controversial. A majority of interpreters understand Paul to be suggesting that God has not permanently cast away Israel, and therefore he is expecting a massive conversion of the Jews in future. But as we saw, a careful study of the passage without prejudice and preconception indicates that Paul actually means to say that God has not cast away Israel completely, and therefore he is expecting some of the Jews to be converted even in his own days.

In this second instalment of our exposition of verses 11-16, we are considering what we may expect from such conversions. —JJL ]

2.  What Can We Expect from the Conversion of Ethnic Israelites?

Paul says:

 12 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 fulness? 

Now, as soon as we read this verse, then those who are looking forward to a national salvation of the Jews, would say, “See, Paul is expecting the nation of Israel to be converted fully, or as a whole.” He is saying, they suggest:

“If the fall of [Israel] be the riches of the world, and the [reduction of the numbers of believers] of them [be] the riches of the Gentiles; [then] how much more [when all of Israel is converted]?

Well, is this what Paul is saying? I am afraid not.  For the word rendered ‘diminishing’ (ἥττημα, hēttēma, v. 12) is not about numbers. It is about quality rather than quantity. This word occurs only twice in the New Testament and once in the Septuagint. In the other occurrences of the word in the New Testament, namely, 1 Corinthians 6:7, it is rendered, ‘fault.’ In the Septuagint of Isaiah 31:8, it is used to translate the Hebrew for ‘discomfited’ or ‘put under slavery.’  There is nothing about numbers.

So Paul is not speaking about the number of converts in Israel. He is not saying that when the full number of Israelites is converted, then we can expect great blessing. He is saying that if God brought blessings to the Gentiles even through the fall of the Jews, how much greater blessings we may expect when ANY Jew is converted.

This interpretation agrees with what Paul says immediately, verses 13-14—

13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: 14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

Paul is not expecting a national conversion of the Jews. He is hoping that by his ministry to the Gentiles, he might provoke to emulation some of the Jews.

The Jews knew the Law of God from their childhood. They had a rich heritage. Like Apollos, and indeed, Barnabas and Paul, they would be of great use in the Kingdom of Christ if they are full, that is, if they are converted, indwelt with the Spirit and know the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:26).

What a blessing it will be if more ethnic Jews come to a full knowledge of the Gospel!

But what about verse 15, which is clearly a parallel to verse 12? Does not verse 15 indicate that there will be a national conversion of Jews? Verse 15 reads—

15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

What does this mean? To those who think that Paul is expecting a national conversion of Israelites, it means that if the casting away of the Jews brought salvation to the world, then the restoration of the Jews as a nation must surely bring in a greater blessing, namely, the Resurrection! That is to say, the national conversion of the Jews would surely precede the Resurrection of the world!

But is this what Paul means? I am afraid not. In the first place, we have already established, —when we studied verse 1, previously, —that when Paul asks about the casting away of Israel, he is not asking whether God has cast away the nation permanently, but whether God has cast away the nation completely.

So here, when Paul speaks about the casting away of the nation, we know that he is not talking about the wholesale casting away of the nation, but of the partial casting away of the people. So likewise when he speaks of the receiving of Israel, he cannot be talking about the national conversion of Israel, but simply about the conversion of ANY Israelites.

 In the second place, the phrase “life from the dead” in verse 15 simply does not refer to the Resurrection! Nowhere in the Scripture is bodily resurrection described in these words. Had Paul wanted to speak about the Resurrection, we can be quite sure that he would have used the established and familiar word ἀνάστασις (anastasis), which he uses everywhere else.

What then is Paul saying in verse 15? He is saying something similar to what he has already said in verse 12, namely that we can expect great blessing from the conversion of the Jews than from the rejection of the Jews.

If their casting away brought reconciliation to the world, then the conversion of any ethnic Jew would bring glorious consequence to the world, —it would be as refreshing as life emerging after a long winter. It would be like receiving a beloved relative back to life from the dead!

Now, take note that as Paul is not saying that the casting away of the Jews brought reconciliation to everyone in the world, so he is not saying that the receiving of the Jews will bring glorious blessings to everyone in the world.

Paul is always concerned about the Church and the elect in the world. The conversion of Jews is in the interest of the Church. What a blessing and encouragement it will be to the Church of Christ whenever any of the Jews are converted.

What should we do then, but to pray for the conversion of the Jews?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim