Repost from Fragmenta, May 25, 2004:
Wow. I just reread N.T. Wright’s commentary on Romans 11, and it’s just not any good. He needs to read John Murray.
There’s this little word “until” in verse 25: “until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.” Murray has a magisterial foonote on it. Amillenialists and Wright twist themselves into knots to get around the clear import of this word. Hoekema, for instance, goes off for half a page on how postmils translate “in this way all Israel shall be saved” as “AND THEN all Israel shall be saved,” accusing them of misreading, while all the time he takes “until” as though it could indicate two simultaneous processes.
Jordan’s solution is to locate “the fullness of the Gentiles” in the past, prior to A.D. 70.
Wright knows Greek too well to do what Hoekema does. He knows quite well how “until” works. So his solution is to claim that “hardening” always results in destruction, so that when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, that’ll be the signal, not for the salvation of Israel, but for their punishment. But this is a very odd way for “the deliverer” to “turn godlessness away from Jacob” and “take away their sins” (v. 26-7).
Murray also does a beautiful job of showing — pace Jordan, Wright, and amils — that the context of Romans 11 is eminently concerned with the salvation of the mass of unbelieving Israel, and not with a remnant, whether that remnant is posited before A.D. 70 (Jordan), or as a trickle throughout history (Hoekema). The theology of “first fruits” alone would prove this (15-16), but there is also the clear shift away from discussing the remnant, in verse 7: “What Israel (as a whole) sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect (remnant) did. The rest (the mass) were hardened…Again I ask: Did they (the mass) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?…But if their (the mass’s) transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!”
A sufficient familiarity with the resonances of Greek would prevent Amil exegetes from taking “all Israel” (11:26) as though it could possible refer to the Church. Those who do so have long had to deal with the objection that it does not mean “the Church” in any of the other surrounding verses. But that has not carried enough weight, I suppose. A further consideration is that as soon as a Greek-speaking listener hears “a hardening in part” (apo merous), he immediately wonders, “but what about the whole?” Since “in part” was referring to the Jews, all (pas) would be expected to be too.
It is sometimes objected — again, by Hoekema and Wright — that as an answer to doubts about God’s faithfulness, the conversion of the mass of Israel at some future date would not be good enough to “get God off the hook” for the intervening years of Israel’s unbelief. But this objection ignores the way Paul says God has handled the Gentiles. He says that “salvation has come to the Gentiles” and looks forward to a time when the Gentiles’ “fuilness” will have come in. Remember, there had been thousands of years of unbelief and demon-worship among Gentiles, with millions of them being lost. Yet this does not stop Paul from speaking of God “grafting them in” and bringing in their “fullness.” So too, the fact that for thousands of years, generations of the mass of unbelieving Israel has died in its sins is no reason why Paul cannot talk of “grafting them in” and bringing in “their fullness.”