As we begin the fourth main section of Romans, we enter an entirely new conversation; there is not connection or transition between 8:31-39 and this unit and the abruptness of Paul’s change of subject is stark to say the least. Most scholars consider this section to be one of the most difficult in the New Testament and as you might imagine, the views and teachings about this section are widely varied. It seems to me that the larger part of this difficulty is caused by the fact that Paul never makes his purpose in writing clear, or at least it isn’t as clear as He usually makes it in his writings. It is almost as though it was a given, so obvious that it didn’t need to be stated. At the time of his writing, that may have been the case, but all of these centuries later, it’s not easy to nail down.
Clearly though, he is writing about the problem of Israel.
The problem of Israel is this: Israel was God’s Nation; a Nation made up of God’s chosen people, the only people on earth who as a Nation had a special relationship with God. They had been entrusted with His Word, and it was to Israel that God had promised the Messiah who would come to redeem them and through whom all of the nations of the earth would be blessed. Yet, when Messiah came, Israel by and large rejected Him, for He was not the kind of Messiah they wanted. What they wanted was a Messiah who would drive out the occupying Romans and restore Israel to greatness as a Nation of this world, for they wanted their earthly enemies crushed. God however, had a different plan, and He sent His Son to redeem all Mankind and establish an entirely different kind of Kingdom; one that is not of this world. This raises a very hard question: Does the rejection of most Jews mean that Jesus failed in His mission?
This is a question that we still debate today, for many Christians believe that Jesus did fail to establish His Kingdom, that the church as His Kingdom is what their rejection forced God to accept, and that when Jesus returns He will establish His Kingdom by force on the earth right after the remaining Jews accept Him, and that there will be a whole new age on the earth before the final judgment. Other Christians believe that the church as His Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom not of this world was the plan from the beginning, that Jesus was successful, and that when He returns He will return for the Judgment; oh yes, this is a tough section.
Romans 9-11 has 5 sections; Paul makes 5 arguments in these chapters. The simple outline looks like this:
- The problem posed by Israel (9:1-5)
- The distinction between ethnic and spiritual Israel (9:6-29)
- Israel has chosen law over grace (9:30-10:21)
- God’s salvation of the true Israel (11:1-32)
- God’s way is the right way (11:33-36)
In order for us to study these three chapters in a sensible and meaningful way, and in order to be fair to the various views that are out there, I would like to propose a working theory regarding Paul’s purpose in writing this section. My working theory is in the form of this proposition:
God is faithful in his dealings with Israel.
As we study this section, I will assume that this working theory is correct, and by the time we have finished, we should clearly see whether or not our working theory is correct. If it is, great. If it isn’t, we will no doubt have identified what is correct, and we’ll replace our working theory with a new theory and test it in the hope that we will come to a conclusion about Paul’s message, a conclusion that is reliable, understandable and in harmony with Paul’s other writings and the New Testament generally.