Herman Ridderbos and Romans 11 – Two New Translations

Guy Prentiss Waters, with Richard B. Gaffin Jr.

Forthcoming from Reformed Theological Review and published here with the kind permission of its editors.

Introduction

Guy Prentiss Waters

Herman Nicolaas Ridderbos (1909-2007) was one of the premier Reformed New Testament scholars of the twentieth century. For most of his professional life (1943-1978), he served as Professor of New Testament at the Theological School of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in Kampen.[1] Ridderbos’s influence within the international Reformed church has come largely through his publications. His monographs on the Kingdom of God and the theology of Paul have served as the primary means by which English-speaking Reformed students, pastors, and scholars have gained an introduction to Ridderbos and his thought.[2] Ridderbos is best known for articulating a specifically Reformed redemptive-historical interpretation of the New Testament, particularly of the Synoptic Gospels and of the Pauline epistles. In this respect, he served as a vital counterpoint to the Bultmannian exegesis of the New Testament that dominated mid-century New Testament scholarship. Despite their age, his publications remain a valuable resource for equipping readers to engage contemporary currents of Pauline interpretation.[3]

The bulk, if not the majority, of Ridderbos’s books are commentaries. English-speaking readers are familiar with his commentaries on Galatians, Matthew, and John.[4] Ridderbos has also authored commentaries on Romans, Colossians, and the Pastoral Epistles.[5] None of these latter three commentaries, however, has ever been translated into English.[6] Regrettably, the extended exegesis within these commentaries that undergirds the necessarily more compact and concise handling of particular texts within Ridderbos’s Paul: An Outline of His Theology is inaccessible to individuals who are unable to read Dutch.

One such example of this phenomenon is Ridderbos’s exegesis of Romans 11. In Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Ridderbos offers, in brief compass, an interpretation of Rom 11:11-32 and the place of Israel within the scope of Paul’s argument in those verses.[7] But it is in his commentary on Romans that he offers a fuller and more extensively exegetical presentation of that argument. Below is offered, for the first time in English, a translation of Ridderbos’s exposition of Rom 11:12, 25-32 from his Aan de Romeinen. English-speaking readers will now be able to compare this exposition with the corresponding and complementary discussion in Ridderbos’s Paul.

Four years prior to the release of Aan de Romeinen, Ridderbos published an essay within which he sketches an interpretation of Rom 9-11.[8] Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. has prepared a translation of the portions of that essay pertinent to Rom 11:25-32, and is pleased to have it included in this article.[9] It provides a fine complement to Ridderbos’s exposition of Romans 11. Like the translation from Aan de Romeinen, the translated excerpt from Ridderbos’s essay is presented for the first time in English translation.

To introduce these two pieces and to place them in context, it is helpful to survey three leading interpretations among Reformed interpreters of “all Israel” in Rom 11:26 (“And in this way all Israel will be saved”).[10] First, Calvin, like Augustine before him, understood “all Israel” to consist of the entirety of the people of God, Jew and gentile, at the consummation.[11] Second, many Reformed interpreters understand Paul to be speaking of a mass conversion of Jewish persons who happen to be living immediately before the return of Christ at the end of the age.[12] Third, other Reformed interpreters read Paul to be speaking of the totality of elect Jews throughout history, viewed from the perspective of the consummation.[13]

It is this third view for which Ridderbos vigorously contends. Ridderbos acknowledges in his 1955 essay on Romans 9-11, authored four years before he published Aan de Romeinen, that, in his day and context, “the great majority of recent exegetes” understand Rom 11:26 to refer to “a great religious revolution … consisting of the conversion of Israel as a whole at the end of the days.” He confesses that “under the influence of the current exegesis, initially I too was of this opinion,” but that he has subsequently come to reject it. He maintains that neither Rom 9-11 as a whole nor Rom 11:25-26a particularly affords any exegetical basis for the “conversion of all Israel after the fulness of the gentiles has entered,” that is “in post-history.” “All Israel,” rather, “is the full number of those who in the course of history, in conformity and together with the true Israel of the old day, have repented before God, have believed in Christ, and have understood and accepted the true nature of Israel’s election: not by works but on account of the righteousness which is given by God.”

It is in Aan de Romeinen that Ridderbos develops this line of interpretation of Romans 11:11-32 in more exegetical depth. We will briefly summarize Ridderbos’s exposition of Rom 11:25-26a, and explore how his exposition of verses surrounding that text both complements and enhances his reading of Rom 11:25-26a. Critical, for Ridderbos, is the identity of the “mystery” of Rom 11:25. The word “mystery” does not denote an arcane secret but the purpose of God manifested in redemptive history. Ridderbos insists that the “mystery” in view in Rom 11:25 is not reserved entirely for Paul’s future but is presently being unveiled – historically and revelationally – in the course of Paul’s ministry. That “mystery” consists in the fact that there is a partial hardening upon Israel, but a hardening that is not permanent. That hardening, Ridderbos says in his comment on Rom 11:25, “exists under an ‘until’” – that is, the entrance of the fulness of the gentiles.

The mystery, however, does not extend into Rom 11:26a (“and so all Israel shall be saved”). This statement of Israel’s salvation is neither an “addition” to nor an “explanation” of the mystery. The mystery concerns the “manner whereby and the way wherein all Israel shall be saved,” namely through Israel’s partial hardening and the subsequent entrance of the gentiles into the people of God. What, then, is the force of Paul’s introductory phrase, “and so” (kai houtōs)? Ridderbos does not deny a temporal element to this expression, but stresses that Paul is not speaking of a third and final stage subsequent to Israel’s hardening and the entrance of the gentiles. Paul’s point is simply that Israel’s salvation is “substantively dependent” upon the entrance of the “fulness of the Gentiles” (11:25). The way in which God will bring “all Israel” to salvation will be through bringing gentiles to faith in Christ.

To whom, then, does Paul refer when he speaks of “all Israel” in Rom 11:26? Specifically, how does that expression “relate to the presently visible, empirical Israel”? Ridderbos is insistent that this phrase gives no quarter to Barthian universalism – such a doctrine runs against the whole tenor of Paul’s argument in Rom 9-11, particularly, and the Epistle to the Romans, generally. Ridderbos also rejects Calvin’s view, that “Israel” refers to the whole people of God, Jew and gentile, for the simple reason that it would require an improbable textual “switch over from Israel to the church.” Neither, Ridderbos argues, is “all Israel” referring to the generation of Jews alive at the return of Christ. For one thing, this would implausibly identify a single generation with the whole nation. Moreover, it would situate Paul’s statement not in “history” but in “post-history.”

While the phrase “all Israel” does carry the sense of “a quantitatively full number,” Ridderbos contends, it is no less qualitative in denotation. Specifically, “all Israel” stands in contrast with the “remnant” of Rom 11:5, and is the equivalent of the “fulness” of Israel that Paul has mentioned in Rom 11:12. The term “fulness” carries the sense, Ridderbos comments on Rom 11:12, not of “all Israelites (and all gentiles) head for head.” It is, rather, a “full number fixed by God,” and an “eschatological, not … a national concept.” But the term, in this respect, carries also “a qualitative meaning” in that it conveys “God’s purpose of salvation for Israel (and gentiles).” It expresses the divinely-intended outcome of God’s ongoing grafting of Israelites back “into their own tree” (Rom 11:23).

The salvation of “all Israel” is therefore not a sudden conversion en masse at the end of history. When Paul says that “all Israel will be saved,” he is speaking, rather, to Israel “sharing in the eschatological salvation,” in keeping with the jealousy that Paul has earlier mentioned in Rom 11:11,14. This interpretation of Rom 11:26a is confirmed, Ridderbos argues, by what Paul says in the verses that follow. The Isaianic citations in Rom 11:26b-27 describe God’s work of redemption in Christ, particularly for Israel. Because God has pledged to fulfill his covenanted promises of salvation to Israel, there is hope of “salvation in the future for rebellious Israel.” Israel’s present hardening, in other words, is not God’s last word for Israel. The dual perspective that the church is to adopt towards Israel, articulated in Rom 11:28, confirms that “God’s grace remains open for [Israel and] his message of salvation continues going out to them.” In Rom 11:30-32, Paul argues for an “interdependence” of gentile and Jew in salvation that will extend throughout redemptive history – “Israel by its disobedience brought the gentiles to salvation; reciprocally, by the mercy bestowed upon them, the gentiles attract Israel. That is the secret of God’s economy of salvation.” The mercy of God to Israel, described in Rom 11:26a, is a present reality, according to these verses – “In this way already now Israel, despite its partial hardening, finds the granting of grace and it will be saved in its one-day fulness or wholeness.” But “down to the end the motifs of [Rom] 9:23 continue to resonate.” It is in Rom 11:32 that Paul articulates the “fruit and goal of the divine work,” namely mercy to all.

In conclusion, Ridderbos argues that the “mystery” of Rom 11:25 is the divinely-ordained interplay between partially-hardened Israel, on the one hand, and gentiles who are coming to faith in Christ, on the other. The latter provokes the former to jealousy and therefore prompts Jewish persons to believe in Christ and thus be engrafted into their own tree (Rom 11:23). This process is one that Paul describes as spanning the duration of redemptive history (Rom 11:30-32). The outcome of this dynamic will be the “fullness” of the Jews (11:12) and the “fullness of the Gentiles” (11:25) – “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (11:32). It is after this fashion, Paul reasons, that “all Israel will be saved.” “All Israel” (11:26), synonymous with the “fulness” of Rom 11:12, refers to the whole number of Jewish elect persons spanning redemptive history. They will be “saved” not in a sudden, end-time, mass conversion but precisely through the dynamics that Paul has outlined in Rom 11:11-32. It is this conviction about the depth and breadth of the grace of God that prompts Paul to lead his readers in the ascription of glory to God alone in Rom 11:33-36.

Herman Ridderbos, Aan de Romeinen (Commentaar op het Nieuwe Testament; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1959), pp. 261-9, 253-5 (Romans 11:25-32, 11:12)

Translated by Guy Prentiss Waters, James M. Baird, Jr. Professor of New Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson

Translator’s Note: I am indebted to the keen editorial eye of Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., who has improved the translation in more ways than I can mention. All footnotes are the translator’s. Reference has been made in the footnotes to sources that Ridderbos references in the course of his commentary (and, where available, to English translations of those sources).

The divine mystery in the entrance of the gentiles and the salvation of Israel

In this following section of his argument Paul comes to a conclusion. Closely connected with what he has said in verses 22-24 about the grace, severity, and power of God, he now indicates the content of the mystery of God in redemptive-history, that the marvelous interdependence, in which God deals with Israel and the gentiles, ultimately also entails the fulfillment of God’s promises for Israel.

11:25   In verse 24, the apostle has spoken with great emphasis about the re-ingrafting of the now still unbelieving Israel (the broken branches) into their own olive tree. With a new and emphatic beginning (“For I do not want, brothers, etc.”), he now develops this thought further as the contents of a mystery to be made known to them by him. Here too the purpose of this disclosure is to keep Christians from among the gentiles from relying on their own wisdom instead of paying attention to the manifestation of the saving counsel of God.

By the “mystery” that the apostle now makes known is not to be understood in general a kind of secret teaching but, as also appears from the use of the word elsewhere, the hidden counsel of God as this, realized gradually in redemptive history, “is revealed” (cf. 16:25; Col 1:26, 27, et al). One can pose the question whether the apostle, who with his prophetic-kerygmatic preaching accompanies and shows as it were the mysteries of God revealed in Christ (cf., e.g., Eph 3:3-7; 1:9-10; 1 Cor 2:7 ff.; Col 1:25 ff.), speaks here of a mystery that has already been revealed in the progress of God’s work of  salvation, or whether this mystery still awaits this revelation but for him, as an apostle prophetically gifted by the Spirit (cf. Eph 3:5), has already been disclosed (cf. 1 Cor 15:51). The answer is connected with the interpretation of the content of the mystery. It consists first of all in this, that “a partial hardening has come about for Israel, until the fulness of the gentiles shall have come in.” This is the hidden way of God, as this begins to be delineated before the illumined eyes of the apostle; it is the connection that appears to exist between the unbelief of Israel and the ingathering of the gentiles. A connection, to which he also in the preceding verses has already repeatedly pointed out and around which his thoughts continue to move as a marvelous motif in the divine economy of salvation, compare verses 30-32. To this extent one can thus say that the mystery not only has reference to the future but is already being actively realized. On the other hand, the apostle also goes still further than the present. For he also indicates here the duration of Israel’s partial hardening, namely as extending until the fulness of the gentiles shall be ingathered. With these last words is intended the point in time wherein the full number fixed by God (compare at verse 12) of the gentiles shall have come to the eschatological state of salvation. The way which God deals with his people and in which He makes known to others “the riches of his majesty,” 9:23, does not mean, therefore, the end of Israel as the people of God. The hardening of God exists under an “until.” And this “until” not only includes that with the end of the present dispensation and the entrance of the redeemed in the future, the punishment of God in the present dispensation concerning a portion of Israel automatically finds its end but that this, as also appears unmistakably from what follows, shall make room for the salvation of “all Israel,” verse 26a.

gar: “enkenthristhēsontai” of verse 24 is now further explained. Ou … thelō hymas agnoein, compare 1:13; 1 Cor 10:1; 12:1; 2 Cor 1:8; 1 Thess 4:13. In all these places with the vocative “adelphoi.” The whole expression announces an important transition in the argument; the reasoning demonstration goes over into a prophetic pronouncement, compare 1 Cor 15:51. See for the definition of the concept mysterion in Paul also my Paulus en Jesus (1952), p. 61.[14] For a similar view of divine “mysteries” in the Qumran texts, see, e.g., J. van der Ploeg, Vondsten in de woestijn van Juda (1957), p. 110, 190.[15] Touto has in view what follows. In place of en heautois (A, B), א, C, D, and others read par’ heautois, and P46, Y, G, et al., heautois. The reading with par’ has a parallel in 12:16. Following Bl.-Debr. §188, 2*, both en and para are connected in certain places in the LXX.[16] The single dative should be understood as a dative of advantage. However, whether one reads  “for yourself,” “in yourself,” or “by yourself” (the choice is difficult), in it there is still the element of self-conceit, to have enough of which one himself already thinks he knows. For pōrōsis, see on verse 7. Some Latin MSS have “caecitas,” that can point to the reading, pērōsis.

When the apostle now speaks of pōrōsis apo merous … achri hou, etc., he does not wish to say that the present (in his days) hardened part (hoi loipoi, v.7) should all remain in this hardening, until the fulness of the gentiles has come in. After all, he speaks himself of “to provoke to jealousy,” “not to remain in their unbelief,” verses 11, 14, 23, which, as appears from verse 14, looks on their conversion in the present time, compare also the “now” in verse 31b. There will indeed remain, therefore, a partial hardening, but this does not take away from the possibility of conversion in the present time (see the exposition). See for to plērōma my comments on verse 12. J. Munck, Christus und Israël, Eine Auslegung von Röm 9-11 (1956), p.100, wants here to understand plērōma as the conclusion of the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles, 2 Tim 4:17.[17] However, here the plēroma of Paul’s ministry or of the preaching of the gospel is not spoken of, compare 15:19, Col 1:25, 2 Tim 4:17 (places to which Munck appeals). However, to want to understand it in this sense appears to us an evasion of the obvious meaning. Also one must understand the eiselthē in a temporal sense, which the word, contrary to Munck’s appeal (in my opinion, incorrectly) to Bauer and Liddel-Scott, nowhere appears to have. Incidentally, the word eiselthē is differently understood. Some supplement: “to the faith” (Lietzmann) or “to the church” (Kühl).[18] Lagrange even thinks of a metaphorical use that recalls the image of the “entrance” in the preceding discussion.[19] However, this last is certainly artificial. We will have to do here with an eschatological term: to enter into the Kingdom of God or something like that. Thus the word in the Synoptics is used repeatedly, Matt 5:20, 7:21, et al.; also in the  absolute sense used here, Matt 7:13; 23:13; Luke 13:24. See also Heb 3:1 ff.; 4:1 ff. Nowhere else in Paul do we find this word in this sense.

11:26a   In close connection to verse 25 then follows: “and so shall all Israel be saved.”

With this we stand, first of all, before the question, to what extent these words still belong to the content of the mystery. Although one could conclude from the construction of the sentence that these words are merely to be understood as a further addition or explanation of the mystery described in v.25b, the opening words of verse 26 (“and so,” etc.)  are connected with the saving significance of the “until” such that at least the manner in which Israel shall be saved also forms the content of the divine mystery. Indeed, one can ask to what extent for the apostle the future salvation of “all Israel” is itself made known as the content of a mystery that is to be understood only now. After all, for this he appeals not to a revelation or to the presently perceptible realization of the hidden purpose of God’s saving decree, but to the firm promise and to the irrevocability of his gifts of grace and calling (vs. 26 ff.). Therefore, it is expressly the manner whereby and the way wherein all Israel shall be saved that represents the mystery of God: so, as is described in what precedes, after first the partial hardening has occurred, and by its fall the riches of the gentiles have taken place, all Israel shall be saved.

The question remains then, what one is to understand by the salvation of all Israel and in what sense the apostle can speak about this with such great certainty. In our opinion, he intends to express, both with the “until” and with the “all Israel shall be saved,” that the present partial hardening of Israel will not annul the final salvation of all Israel. And with “all Israel” he means the same thing as what in verse 12 he has called  “the fulness” (as in this context he also speaks of the “fulness of the gentiles”): the whole number of Israel, determined by God, that is once saved by God from all sin and destruction and in which God’s promises to Israel are fulfilled. The mystery of God consists in the unforeseen way, tied to the entrance of the gentiles, in which God brings about the promised salvation of “all Israel.”

One can ask finally how this “all Israel” is related to the presently visible, empirical Israel. On the one hand, here one must beware of a universalistic interpretation. The eschatological character of the terms “all Israel,” “the fullness of Israel” described above is  already opposed to such a view. Here the concern is not with a wholeness or fulness established on the basis of empirical research, but with a measure that is determined by God (see the comments above on verse 12). Such a universalism, moreover, would be completely in conflict with the whole tenor of Paul’s gospel, with the main theme of our letter, namely, that the righteous shall live by faith, as well as with the wrestling argument of Rom 9-11, wrestling, namely, to maintain both the mercy and the severity of God, both the omnipotence and the faithfulness of God with respect to Israel. On the other hand, there is in “all Israel” and in “its fulness” not only the indication of a quantitatively full number – how small or large it may be – but of such a wholeness or fulness, which qualitatively in fact can represent the wholeness or fulness of Israel. Insofar is “all Israel” not only quantitatively but also qualitatively something other than “the remnant” of Israel (verse 5); “all Israel” says precisely that this Israel shall no longer be “remnant-Israel.” This is so, as also appears from the foregoing, also concerning those who, although now unbelieving, will not remain in their unbelief, verse 23, and by the power of God will still be engrafted into their own tree. That such a conversion would take place after the entrance of the gentiles and so would also belong to the contents of the mystery, the apostle does not say and can, in my opinion, in no way be derived from the text. The expression “shall be saved” does not speak of conversion, but of sharing in the eschatological salvation, and is, in my opinion, only to be understood as the divine answer to the faith, the jealousy to which Israel must now be brought, verses 11, 14. Indeed it appears from the certainty with which Paul speaks both in verse 26b and in verse 24, that from unbelieving Israel he expects such a conversion, that in fact “all Israel,” the “fulness” of Israel shall be saved in the sense indicated. Therefore, one will have to place the emphasis upon the fragmentary character of the continuing hardening indicated by the apostle in verse 25. The words, and so, etc. say, then, that in fact the partial hardening ordained by God is not removed, but, on the other hand, that this does not stand in the way of the salvation of “all Israel.” For as this hardening serves the ingathering of the gentiles, so shall Israel be provoked to jealousy by the salvation extending further and further to the gentiles, verse 31. It is this interdependence, continuing to the end, between the salvation of the gentiles and that of Israel, which appears to be the actual content of the divine mystery, compare verses 31 and 32.

kai houtōs receives all the emphasis, because in the modus quo of Israel’s salvation lies the mystery. The words (of course) also have a temporal connotation: and then. However “kai houtōs” is not synonymous with “kai tote.” The “then” is already included in “achri hou.” The “so” does not simply say that all Israel’s being saved waits for the entrance of the gentiles, but above all that the former is connected with the latter, therefore is not only temporally but also substantively dependent, compare verse 31b, verse 12. pas Israēl: “Hebraizing: … ‘the whole Israel’,” Bl.-Debr., §275.4, compare §262.3: “the article is lacking in Hebraizing formulae.” Several times this formula is used in another connection in order to indicate the whole people of Israel in a historical sense, compare 1 Kings 12:1; Dan 9:11. In the Mishnah there is a statement, in which all Israel is spoken of in this historical-empirical sense, that it shall have a share in the future world, compare Strack-Billerbeck [op. cit.] Volume 3, p. 293.[20] Paul has rejected such a conception of Israel as a redemptive-historical designation, 9:6.

pas Israēl can, in my opinion, only be understood as the plērōma, representing the whole people, in the above-described eschatological sense of the word. See, for the view of Matter, above on verse 11, note. The view of Calvin (compare also that of Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II [1942], p. 330), that here the whole people of God is spoken of, both from the Jews and the gentiles (whereby at the same time he also thinks of an eschatological conversion of Israel: “when the Gentiles have come in, the Jews will at the same time return from their defection to the obedience of faith”) is, in my opinion, in conflict with the whole course of Rom 9-11.[21] One cannot suddenly switch over here from Israel to the church. For the universalistic view, see above. Others understand that here the whole empirical Israel is spoken of, as that shall exist after the entrance of the fulness of the gentiles, but then “as a whole, apart from the question of individual persons” (so, e.g., Greijdanus [op. cit.] II, p.516).[22] However, it can’t be shown how the (national) Israel-of-the-last-days could be identified with this understanding of the whole people of Israel. Can one say that Israel as a whole nation is saved, when by that must be understood a fraction of the people that eventually reaches the terminus of history? Moreover, then the conversion of this “all Israel” is shifted from history to post-history, and then “shall be saved” must in the first place be understood as “come to conversion.” Neither for the one nor for the other is there ground in the text. See furthermore also my Israel (1955), pp. 58-64.[23] I think that I am able to uphold in the main the interpretation of Rom 11:26 offered there. Only in the explanation given above more emphasis has been placed on the expectation of the apostle of a much more extensive and adequate representation of Israel than can be brought to expression by the qualification “remnant.”

11:26b-27   The place to which the apostle appeals for his previous statement is Isa 59:20,21, mainly according to LXX, while verse 27b contains words from Isa 27:9 (also according to LXX). In the form in which these biblical passages are rendered here, mention is made of the future Redeemer – in Isa 59, the Lord Himself – who shall come out of Zion, cf. Psa 14:7. Zion , then, is  conceived of here as the place where the Lord dwells and from which also the salvation sent by him goes out. Even if one assumes that Paul thinks of Christ as the Redeemer, one need not refer this particular Old Testament expression to the appearance of Christ. The thought, then, is more general, that in the coming of Christ the announced “redemptive” coming of God Himself is fulfilled. The redemption consists in this, that He will take away the iniquities of Jacob, that is to say, will forgive and remove the guilt and, with that, the accompanying punishment. In all this, what in verse 27 is still called with other words God’s forgiveness of their sins, God’s covenant shall come to light in their favor, that is, God’s promise once made to Israel to be their God and to give them his salvation. The apostle chooses and arranges the words from the Old Testament such that all the emphasis comes to be placed on what God will do in order to fulfill for rebellious Israel what he has promised it as his people once and again and again. It is this promise repeated in the Old Testament in all kinds of ways to the true Israel, which here forms the basis to hope also for deliverance and salvation in the future for rebellious Israel.

The MT of Isa 59:19 has, as the equivalent of verse 26b: “As Redeemer He will come for Zion and for those who in Jacob turn from their apostasy.” Paul’s quotation agrees with the LXX, except for the words ek Siōn (LXX heneken Siōn). Ek Siōn is understood by some here of the heavenly kingdom, with an appeal to Gal 4:26 (so Michel, compare also Schlatter).[24] It may, however, be asked whether Paul has wished to apply this citation of Isa 59 in this elaborated sense to the Messiah – see the exposition.

Verse 27 is more difficult to identify. The initial words are in literal agreement with Isa 59:20 (LXX). There is, however, no mention of the forgiveness of sins in the context of Isa 59:20. The words, hotan aphelōmai autou tēn hamartian, do occur in Isa 27:9 (LXX); here, however, without mention of the Covenant. In substance one may also think of Jer 31:33 ff. (LXX 38:31 ff.). There it is first said hoti autē hē diathēkē and in what follows mention is also made of the forgiveness of sins, though with other words (hoti hileōs esomai tais adikiais autōn kai tōn hamariōn autōn ou mē mnēsthō eti). The apostle appeals in this citation in verse 27 to a central thought in the Old Testament (the connection between Covenant and the forgiveness of sins) and for that purpose, as far as we can ascertain, connects in a free manner expressions from various sources with one another. The construction of the sentence in Isa 59:21 beginning with kai hautē is thereby lost. In the context of our text one can ask with what kai hautē corresponds, with what goes before or with what follows. Grammatically the sentence with hotan does not fit as the content of kai hautē, although kai hautē in Isa 59 points forward. However, it is evidently the intention of the apostle, by speaking anew in verse 27b of the forgiveness of sins, to indicate this particularly as the contents of the Covenant of God. hē par’ emou diathēkē: the determination of grace proceeding from God and realized by God himself.

11:28   Verse 28 gives a still  further explanation from both sides of the mystery disclosed in verse 25. Of unbelieving Israel it is said that as far as concerns the gospel (that is to say, seen in the light of God’s work of salvation revealed in Christ) they are enemies, rejected by God. The apostle adds to this, for your sake, compare verses 12, 15, 30. This is one of the central thoughts. God has turned against Israel in order to maintain the gracious character of his work of salvation, and thus also to open the door for the gentiles. Therefore God’s aversion toward Israel is for the sake of the gentiles. This, however, does not remove the fact that the same unbelieving Israel still appears in another way in the divine counsel of salvation: as far as concerns election (that is to say, seen in the light of the fact that they constitute a portion of the people chosen by God out of all the peoples), by God beloved for the sake of the fathers. Because of God’s promise of salvation to Israel’s patriarchs, they continue to share in the favor of God towards Israel. This being beloved does not automatically imply their salvation, nor does God’s enmity against them include their destruction. God’s grace remains open for them, his message of salvation continues going out to them.

Kata indicates here in both instances not so much the standard by which something is measured, but the point of view under which, the light in which something must be seen: with respect to, in relation to, compare Bauer (op. cit.), p.739, s.v. kata #6.[25]  Echthroi (cf. 5:10) here, as the antithesis of agapētoi and in view of the overall context, certainly has a passive meaning. The reference of the expression is not so much to the hostile disposition of God towards Israel, as in fact to the alienated condition from God in which they exist, their rejection by him (cf. v. 15). Di’ hymas stands over against dia tous pateras; the first dia has more of a final meaning, the second, a causal meaning. eklogē here has in view not the personal election to salvation of all the presently still unbelieving Israelites, but, according to dia tous pateras, the election of Israel as the people of God, see the exposition. For the thought, see v. 16.

11:29   In verse 29 this message of salvation is more closely developed and defended. God’s love towards Israel is specified here as the gracious gifts and calling of God. Both terms are to be understood in close connection with one another. The first brings to mind what is summarized in 9:4 (cf.  3:1 ff.); “calling,” the way in which God, by thus displaying his grace, has drawn to himself and placed Israel on his side. Of this display of grace and this calling, it now holds that they are without repentance. They cannot be undone, God does not abandon Israel as his people. This does not mean that Israel’s own responsibility, in this case its antipathy toward God would not be operative. Even in God’s display of grace and the calling of Israel in history, Israel has always been called to accountability, faith, and obedience. And this continues even at present to apply to them (cf. vs. 23). However, it also belongs to these perspectives, which are comprehended in God’s Covenant and calling, that He makes his people willing for faith and conversion (cf. Jer 31:31-34). Although the apostle does not reflect on this connection here, the force of the “impenitence” asserted here is however also included. And what is most profound about this is that in the end Israel will turn out to attain to its fulness.

Ametamelēta: in fact in the OT God’s repentance is also spoken of repeatedly, Gen 6:6; 1 Sam 15:11, 35; Psa 106:45; Jer 18:8, 10; 26:3,19; 42:10; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2, while, on the other hand, the idea is rightly rejected that God, like a man, would have regretted his intentions or deeds, Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29. The assertion of the apostle does not contain abstract considerations concerning the immutability of God, but puts the reliability of divine speaking and promising beyond doubt (cf. 3:3 ff.).

11:30, 31   How much the grace of God for Israel continues to be to be in force, the apostle finally expresses yet once more by pointing anew to the marvelous interdependence of the ways in which God grants grace first to the gentiles, then to Israel. On the one hand, because of that procedure, all reasons for pride and self-sufficiency for the gentiles are removed; on the other hand, the prospect for granting grace to Israel is opened. Verse 30 repeats in substance what has already been said in verses 12, 15, and 28 concerning the connection between the granting of grace to the gentiles and the disobedience of Israel; verse 31 adds to this that unbelieving Israel has now fallen into disobedience – in which the present-day Christians from among the gentiles had once lived – so that, according to God’s marvelous ordinance, it (that is, Israel) now in its turn would, with the gentile Christians, share in God’s mercy; this time, however, not through the disobedience but through the granting of grace to the gentiles. With this last consideration is meant the jealousy-provoking influence that must go out upon Israel from the granting of grace to the gentiles. Israel by its disobedience brought the gentiles to salvation; reciprocally, by the mercy bestowed upon them the gentiles attract Israel. That is the secret of God’s economy of salvation. Of particular importance in this regard is the fact that the apostle contrasts up to three times the once of the disobedience of the gentiles to the now: namely, of  God’s granting of mercy to the gentiles, of the disobedience of Israel, and of God’s granting of mercy to disobedient Israel. The last of these three is thus not only a matter of the future of which verse 26a speaks; it already takes place now in the power that goes out to Israel from the salvation given to the gentiles. In this way, already now Israel, despite its partial hardening, finds the granting of grace and one day it will be saved in its fulness or wholeness. Here is the confirmation of our explanation of verses 25 and 26.

Apeithēsate … ēlēthēte: here and in verse 31 again and again set over against human disobedience is not their subsequent obedience but God’s mercy. Here is the proper explanation of the change. Tē toutōn apeitheia: for the causal explanation of this disobedience see the  exposition, vs. 12 – tō hymeterō eleei belongs not to the preceding apethēsan (where it does not give the right sense), but, completely according to the substance of the parallelism of this statement, to what follows: so that through the mercy shown to you, etc. See for this connection also the detailed and, in my opinion, decisive argument of Greidanus (op. cit.) II, p. 521, 522; cf. for the grammatical construction, e.g., 2 Cor 2:4; see Bl.-Debr. § 475.1.[26] This work points further to “the postpositive hina” in places such as 1 Cor 9:15 (2 Cor 12:7); Gal 2:10; Col 4:16, §475.1. Especially in Paul this construction appears frequently. In some MSS hysteron stands in place of nun after autoi, in others nun is missing. However, it should certainly be original and because it seemed unnecessary or was found to be strange, it was omitted or altered. Michel believes that here Paul does not think about the present but about the near future in which the destiny of Israel will turn; and he calls it an enigma that pote does not stand in place of nun, so that the symmetry pote … nun … nun … pote in verses 30-31 would be complete. However, this stems from a mistaken view of the nun. At issue here is precisely the present as the time of the decision for or against Christ, cf. also Stählin, TWB IV, p. 1106, s.v. nun.[27] For the importance of this view for the understanding of this pericope, see the exposition.

11:32   Verse 32 recapitulates all this still one more time as the fruit and goal of the divine work, and reduces it, as it were, to its simplest formulation. God has handed over all – gentiles and Jews – to disobedience so that he could have mercy on all. Disobedience is not the work of God, but the punishment of being enclosed in, imprisoned in, devoted to disobedience. Into that condition of powerlessness and hopelessness God has first brought all, first the gentiles, now also Israel. However, not to leave them in that condition, but to show and to magnify his mercy to all. Down to the end the motifs of 9:23 continue to resonate. The emphasis is on what is repeated: all. God has not rejected Israel in its disobedience less than he first did the gentiles, but his saving will with reference to Israel is also no less than that he has shown to the gentiles. The end of God’s ways demonstrates how comprehensive his counsel has been, both concerning Jews and gentiles, both in righteousness and mercy.

Synekleisen: to shut up in, to transfer: to hand over (e.g. eis rhomphaian, Psa 78:62 LXX), compare Gal 3:22. Tous pantas has in view the totalities, all classes of men, here especially the Jews and the gentiles as collective entities. The identification of the pantes with Jews and gentiles causes to appear afresh that the apostle conceives pas Israel in verses 26 as nothing other than the plērōma tōn ethnōn in verse 25 and that the scope of Israel’s being given grace must be determined by no other criteria than those of the gentiles. eleēsē: the repeated speaking of eleos, etc. recalls 9:23, as the overall thought of chapter 9 also continues to speak in this entire context, see the exposition.

11:12   Starting from this interdependence of the divine economy of salvation with the gentiles and unbelieving Israel, the apostle now goes on further to highlight the purposed importance involved of Israel’s return to and reacceptance by God. In this he follows an a minori ad maius reasoning. First he posits: their fall and, coupled with it, their setback in relation to the gentiles means riches for the nations of the world and the gentiles, see on verse 11. Clear here again, down to the terminology, is the motif of 9:23. If, however, from the setting aside of unbelieving Israel such a salvation is already “set free,” what then may one not expect when it (Israel) comes to its fulness? With this last observation an eschatological state of salvation is meant, in which presently unbelieving Israel may display quantitatively and qualitatively the picture of God’s fulfilling and perfecting dealings with them. In no way, then, in his vision of Israel does the apostle acquiesce in its presently occurring desolate condition, but he focusses all attention, even of his gentile readers, verse 13, on the possibilities that are implied in the “provoking to jealousy” of unbelieving Israel. At the same time he maintains in the “if … how much more” the connection between the salvation of the world and Israel. For it is the salvation promised to Israel in which all generations are blessed. If this salvation already appears in the punishment of Israel, how much more will it appear when Israel itself may be the object of God’s fulfilling work of salvation?

Hēttēma occurs infrequently; in Isa 31:8 (LXX) in the sense of defeat, debacle. In Paul elsewhere in 1 Cor 6:7 as: to get the worst of it, to lose the battle. Here also to be understood as a denotation of Israel’s lost position: setback, cf. also Delling, TWB VI, p. 303: “hēttēma = hēttasthai to give place to (the Gentiles).”[28] Others want to understand it quantitatively: reduction in number, in contrast with plērōma. However, the word has more of a qualitative meaning, just as ploutos has in view not the great number of but the grace given to the gentiles, see also Leenhardt (op. cit., p.160).[29] To plērōma autōn can mean both quantitatively “their full number” and as well as “their fulness” in the sense of the full measure of the salvation bestowed on them. In my opinion here one must think, at least in the first instance, of the first option. In verse 25 the apostle speaks in a similar way of the plērōma tōn ethnōn. The meaning there cannot be: “all Israelites (and all gentiles) head for head” Such a universalism is in conflict with the whole scope of Paul’s preaching, cf. esp. 1 Cor 16:22. The size of the plērōma must therefore not be sought in the numbers of empirical Israel or of the gentile peoples (in Paul’s day), but in the size set previously by God. Plērōma must therefore be understood as an eschatological, not as a national concept, just as in Gal 4:4 it indicates a fulness not to be ascertained empirically but determined by God. In the same way in Rev 6:11 the “becoming full of (the number of) their fellow servants” is also spoken of and in 4 Ezra 4:36 of the coming of the end, “when the number of your peers (the justified) is full,” cf. also Apoc. Baruch 23:4,5. Indeed it warrants adding here that the plērōma, thus understood, indicates not only a quantitative limit but also has a qualitative significance: it speaks of Israel’s (and the gentiles’) fulness as that which represents in an adequate way God’s purpose of salvation for Israel (and the gentiles). In this respect, one may perhaps set it over against leimma, verse 5 (e.g. with Delling, TWB VI, p.303; Schrenk, TWB IV, p.218).[30]  This leimma, too, is the result of God’s special involvement with Israel. However, it does not constitute the final goal thereof but rather sets the ultimate limit for Israel’s fall as the people of God.

Herman Ridderbos, “Israel in het Nieuwe Testament, in het bijzonder volgens Romans 9-11,” Israel (den Haag: Van Keulen, 1955), pp. 57-64

Translated by Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Emeritus Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary

§ 13. Romans 11:25. The Mystery. [to mystērion touto]

So, then, the apostle comes to the statements of verses 25ff., verses that have been the source of so much debate. He speaks of a mystery about which he does not want the gentiles to remain ignorant, so that they may not be conceited.

The immediate question is what the apostle intends by bringing “this mystery” into the discussion. Is here at last a special secret disclosed, which the apostle has kept back until the end as the high point of his entire argumentation, a special revelation granted to him, which he now produces to conclude the whole discussion? Or should we say that here what is already demonstrated in the preceding verses is surveyed once again and shown to be that way of God with his people which was previously hidden but now has come to light?

In our opinion, for the most part one will have to discover the key to the problem in the latter possibility. This also agrees with what in general the term “mystery” means for Paul. It is not in the first place a noetic but a historical category, not a secret teaching or a secret revelation for initiates. Rather it is the realization of the divine economy of salvation, which up to now was not visible because it not yet was, but which has come to light with the revelation of Christ and thus has been disclosed, is revealed.[31]

This all-embracing revelation of the Christ-mystery has all sorts of facets, among others the entirely new relationship of Jews and gentiles, as that is expressed in Ephesians 3:3ff, especially. What Paul now says about the mystery in Romans 11:25 will also have to be understood in this sense. Paul is not appealing to a divine revelation accorded only to him, but he refers here to God’s way with Israel as this is presently being realized. Accordingly, on the one hand he brings into consideration the historical fact of the hardening of a part of Israel, the irrevocability of God’s gifts and calling on the other. The combination of these two forms God’s mystērion. And he directs it once more against the possible pride and conceit of gentile Christians. This is the mystery, the way of God presently being disclosed and evoking worship: hardening has partially come upon Israel until the fullness of the gentiles will have come in; and so all Israel will be saved.

Thus this statement first of all confirms that there is an irrevocable correlation between the partial hardening of Israel and the bringing in of the gentiles. Only what in this respect has already been said in the preceding verses is now given its most pointed formulation.

Israel cannot be blessed – this is the presupposition – without the gentiles. Now, however, it becomes apparent that Israel’s unbelief and its partial hardening is the way in which salvation comes to the gentiles. The stream that was blocked up by the dam of Israel’s unbelief has spread over the entire earth and must now produce its total effect, until the fullness of the gentiles has come in. The latter cannot refer to anything else than the entrance of the full number of the gentiles into the kingdom of God or into eternal life.[32] What then is the mystery? In my opinion, not that hardening has come upon Israel only in part. As the content of the mystery one will also have to do full justice to the second part of Paul’s statement. The mystery lies in the fact that Israel must wait for the fullness of the gentiles. That is the revelation of God’s severity upon Israel’s unbelief on the one hand, the way or the “chance” of the gentiles to enter on the other. Israel cannot be revealed in its unity as the people of God and as the people of the promise before the gentiles also have entered. Only then can the life from the dead (cf. vs. 15), beginning with Israel’s acceptance, dawn. Consequently, there is no reason for the gentiles to be proud. They eat from Israel’s table. They are, humanly speaking, those who profit from the opportunity that Israel let slip by. The hardening of Israel works out for their good. However, Israel is not finished as the people of God. As a people divided within itself and apparently abandoned by God, the picture Israel projects may now be unrecognizable. That picture, however, is only temporary; it is only in force until a specified time, namely, until the fullness of the gentiles has come in.

§ 14 Romans 11:26-32. The Salvation of All Israel.

To that then follow the much discussed words, “and so all Israel will be saved” [kai houtõs pas Israēl sōthēsetai]

The first question is whether these words still belong to the content of the mystery. Certainly they may not be detached from it. But at the same time they do not form the mystery proper, its core, as is usually supposed. The mystery proper has already been stated in verse 25b. The words – and so all Israel will be saved – form its direct consequence, as also appears from the construction of the sentence; the modus quo of Israel’s salvation is stipulated by what precedes. Only when the preceding has come to pass is the way free for Israel.

However, what do those apparently mysterious words mean?  As is well known, Calvin thought that spiritual Israel, made up of both Jews and gentiles, is spoken of here.[33]

We have already seen that Paul’s usage in general argues more against than for that understanding. But also, in my opinion, the entire course of the argument is decisively against this view. Surely Romans 9-11 in their entirety are concerned expressly with the place and future of the original Israel. Therefore, in Romans 11:26 Israel cannot suddenly be understood as the church.

Must we assume then with the great majority of recent exegetes[34] that a great religious revolution is spoken of here, consisting of the conversion of Israel as a whole at the end of days?  Although, under the influence of current exegesis, initially I too was of this opinion, after further careful consideration of Romans 9-11 such an eschatological conversion of Israel seems to me not only not mentioned but also not intended by the apostle. The important and, in my opinion, decisive difficulties, both of a linguistic as well as of a material kind, with which this view is burdened, can be seen in what follows:

1) To begin with, it must be considered exceedingly strange that the apostle here discloses a major eschatological event in five words without going into it further with a single word or ever alluding to it elsewhere. Instead, it should be noted that in the verses that follow he simply continues the thread of his argument concerning what is happening to Israel in the present. If we have to do here with a particular, incidental revelation, as many think, is it conceivable then that Paul has it appear in his argument in a single flash, as it were, without ever alluding to it elsewhere in his letters?

2) The complete conversion of Israel at the end of days, as some find this announced here, is in an eschatological respect entirely incomprehensible, does not fit any one eschatological scheme, and also is not at all made clear by a single exegete. One must not forget that this general conversion must take place after the fullness of the gentiles has “come into” the kingdom of heaven. This leads to the notion, in my opinion completely unacceptable, that after the entrance of the gentiles into the glorified reality of God, there will still be place and time in the present dispensation for Israel to come to its senses and be converted. Where, however, is this place and time? Is there still to be an interim between the entrance of one-half of mankind into the kingdom of God and the final end of this world? Neither in the Pauline descriptions of the end nor in the New Testament eschatology in general is there, as far as I can see, any place or occasion for such an idea. Bavinck writes correctly that the entrance of the fullness of the gentiles may not be thought of as temporally prior to the salvation of Israel, but that these two must unfold in a completely parallel fashion.[35] Better yet, I would say that they must meet and coincide at one point.

3) Closely connected to this is a no less important consideration. Not one word is said about the conversion of all Israel after the fullness of the gentiles has entered. Paul does not say, afterward all Israel will be converted, but: and so, in this way, all Israel will be saved. If houtōs is not translated with a modal but a temporal force, then one must read, and then, that is, when the fullness of the gentiles enters. So then, it is not a matter of a national conversion still to take place at some time in the future; no, then, when the fullness of the gentiles enters, then all Israel also will be saved. In the light of what Paul has described as the mystery, this then means in effect, then will all Israel also be saved, or, expressed still more pregnantly, only then will all Israel be saved. This, namely, is the mystery, as we saw, that Israel as it were must wait on the gentiles; it can enter the blessedness promised to it only then when the gentiles also have found a place in Israel’s inheritance, when they share with Israel in the salvation of the Lord. Houtōs, thus, then, then also and only then will all Israel be saved.

4) In Romans 9-11 Paul undoubtedly speaks again and again of Israel’s conversion as the condition of Israel’s salvation. By that he means solely a conversion of Israel in history, not in post-history. Israel must be provoked to jealousy now. In 11:14 Paul says that this in part is the purpose of his ministry. He expresses himself forcefully, … “that, if possible, I might provoke the jealously of my flesh (and blood) and save some of them.” All this zeal, this intense longing to save even if it were only a few through his work is difficult to understand if at the same time the apostle expected over the short or long term the conversion of all Israel as the fruit of one great eschatological event. Rather it appears that the apostle sees no other way for Israel’s conversion than through the preaching of the gospel in history. He speaks of that in 10:14ff. And no differently, when he says in 11:23 that also the broken-off branches of Israel, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in again. There is not a single ground in the context for giving this conditional clause merely a logical sense and not a genuine, historical sense, as if this “not continuing in their unbelief” is already fixed in advance. In view here too is conversion as the fruit of preaching in the historical present, not as a certainty in post-history. No less important is the fact that in verse 31, thus after his statement about the mystery, the apostle says that they (the apostate Israelites) have been disobedient now in order that through the mercy shown to you (the gentiles) they too might receive mercy now. “Now” is there expressly and not, as one would expect according to the current view of verses 25‒26: “one day” or “then.” Israel’s conversion is in Paul’s argument quite clearly a matter of history and not of post-history.

5) On closer examination, the whole notion of a national conversion of Israel in the end time makes the overall thrust of Romans 9-11 nonsensical and completely strange. One assumes that only in this way can Paul see the promise of God to Israel coming to fulfillment. But the question cannot be suppressed whether then this national Israel-of-the-last-days is the people Israel. Is that then “all Israel”? What then are we to think of the millions of Israelites who live before the last days? Do they not belong to all Israel? Can one say that Israel as a nation is completely saved, if one must understand by that a fraction of the nation, the small part of this nation that finally reaches the finish line of history? One can suppose that Paul did not foresee this centuries-long development and reckoned on a speedy reversal. But apart from the fact that one must then wonder what significance this word can still have as the time of the world goes on, the problem still remains what we are to think of all the unbelieving and disobedient members of the nation of Israel who have lived before the coming of Christ and who because of this unbelief are so often threatened with punishment and destruction, also in the divine pronouncements cited by Paul. If, however, these do not belong to “all Israel,” how then can one by “all Israel” still understand national Israel? Unless one chooses to adopt a universalistic standpoint and would accept that finally all Israelites, head for head, will still prove to be saved  – an assumption opposed by the witness of both Old and New Testaments – one is placed before the necessity, in maintaining the national conception of “all Israel,” of limiting this national restoration to that part of the Jewish nation that will still be found to exist at the end of time. But then on this basis can Paul or anyone else maintain that God is keeping his promise to (national) Israel?

6) The national conception of “all Israel,” however much then it is true that it is not taken in a universalistic sense by most interpreters, is in conflict with what Paul has just demonstrated in Romans 9, namely, that not all are Israel who are descended from Israel. Paul thus challenges just such a national conception of Israel as God’s elect people. His entire argument is directed toward demonstrating that the true Israel is hidden in the national Israel as the kernel in the shell, that one may not identify the one with the other, and that so, too, although national Israel has not accepted the Christ, nevertheless Israel is not rejected as the people of God. It would certainly be very strange if the apostle would subsequently reconsider this view and would present the matter as if God’s promise to Israel would only be fulfilled if what is left of the nation at the end of  time will in its entirety repent and be saved.

For all these reasons it is impossible, in my opinion, to maintain the view of pas Israēl as a description of national Israel in the last days. “All Israel” in Romans 11:26 cannot mean anything else than those in Israel who will repent and will be brought to the Lord by the preaching of the gospel in history, that is, the elect part (hē eklogē) of Romans 11:7, now already visible, in addition to those who will repent from the hardening that has come upon Israel and will come to faith in Christ.

The expression “all Israel” comprises the same thing quantitatively as what already in verse 12 is called “the fullness” of Israel, just as “the fullness” of the gentiles spoken of in verse 25 can also be expressed, in the light of verse 32, by all gentiles or the whole of heathendom.

All Israel, therefore, is the full number of those who in the course of history, in conformity and together with the true Israel of the old day, have repented before God, have believed in Christ, and have understood and accepted the true nature of Israel’s election: not by works but on account of the righteousness which is given by God. That is also the Israel (Jacob) spoken of in prophecy, which the apostle has already cited repeatedly and which here also confirms his statement, verses 26 and 27. In what has preceded we have already seen ample evidence that Paul does not understand these prophecies as universalistic, in the sense of all Israelites individually. It is just the remnant that the Lord will save in his grace and in his severity, 9:28, 29.

Now the question can be asked whether, when Paul speaks here first of a hardening upon a part of Israel, which will continue until the fullness of the gentiles has entered, and then of the salvation of all Israel, one is not after all compelled to see this beatitude of all Israel in contrast to the hardening of a part of Israel and so both times to understand “Israel” in a national, empirical sense.[36]

Likewise whether, when the apostle goes on to say in 11:28ff .– what concerns the gospel, they are enemies for your sake, what concerns election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable – he does not then after all allude to Israel as it manifests itself empirically in history to him and to the gentiles, and not to the remnant to be saved out of it; and whether then it does not turn out again that in verse 26, too, the apostle speaks of this national, empirical Israel.

In our opinion, these counter arguments, however strong they may appear at first glance, are still beside the point. For besides ignoring the above mentioned, in our opinion, insuperable objections against this national conception, one thus misses the real thrust of Paul’s statement in verses 25ff. When the apostle speaks here about the future salvation of all Israel, this undoubtedly contrasts with the picture that Israel now presents to the eye of converted gentiles. He wishes to prevent them from drawing wrong conclusions from that picture, as if God has now rejected Israel for good as his people and put them (the gentiles) in its place. Rather it is the case that a partial hardening has come upon Israel which holds back the final acceptance of Israel and the conclusion of the history of redemption and consequently gives the gentiles opportunity to enter. Accordingly, the picture of Israel at present is confused, no longer recognizable. One can suppose superficially that God has rejected Israel. Still this is only a temporary picture. One day, in accordance with what has been constantly promised, the day of salvation will also dawn for Israel. That is not to say that all who (will) have been hardened in the past or present or future will still be accepted after all or will still be converted. This would be in conflict with all the threats of the prophets against the impenitence of the nation Israel as well as with Paul’s own statements about the severity of God. But it does mean that then, only then but also certainly then, Israel will be revealed in its true character and destiny, namely as the people of the promises. And then as all Israel, that is to say, no longer as individuals and exceptions in the midst of all the disobedient and obstinate, but in its unity as the eschatological Israel, about which prophecy has constantly spoken, as the undivided multitude of those who from of old have turned to the Lord in repentance, who at the present time have already received Christ, and who in the future will be provoked to jealousy and will shake off the hardening. Then the picture of Israel, now confused, unrecognizable, will again be plain, then Israel will be revealed in its true nature and will be received by God as his people and the fullness of Israel will join with the fullness of the gentiles and the life from the dead will begin.

This prospect, therefore, must also determine the gentiles’ outlook on Israel at present.  Certainly they are enemies of God so far as the gospel is concerned (and that for the sake of the gentiles), but so far as their election is concerned they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For God’s promises are irrevocable, verses 28, 29. Again, that is not therefore to say that all who are now hardened will still be saved some day or that at the end the last generation of Israel will turn en bloc to God in repentance; but it is to say that this same Israel that is God’s enemy is also still God’s beloved, that from of old God has bound himself to this nation, and that therefore the people of God will nevertheless be preserved out of this rebellious people and will emerge at the last day as the true Israel, the seed of Abraham, the Israel of the promises. In this respect, namely by being accepted by God and sharing in his mercy, Israel will not be at a disadvantage compared with the gentiles who are likewise so much in rebellion against God, verses 30ff. Indeed, the motion of the wave that has turned from Israel to the gentiles also reverses. As the gentiles, once disobedient, have now received mercy through Israel’s disobedience (that is to say, because salvation turned from Israel to them), so also Israel has now become disobedient so that through the mercy given to the gentiles it might yet again come to repentance and to grace. For all – so the apostle concludes, verse 32 – Jews and gentiles, are enclosed by God in disobedience so that he might have mercy on all. These last words confirm our view as a whole. When Paul speaks about all, he is thinking neither in a national-collectivistic sense nor individualistically; he is thinking in pleromas, that is to say, in the full numbers of those in whom God will glorify himself out of every nation and who represent the entire nation. In that sense now, namely of the pleroma representing the entire nation, all Israel also will be saved.

[1] No comprehensive biography of Ridderbos has been authored. See, however, the brief but useful sketch of Riemer Roukema, “Herman Ridderbos’s Redemptive-Historical Exegesis of the New Testament” WTJ 66 (2004) 259-62, and that of B. Jan Aalbers and Heinrich Baarlink, Herman Ridderbos: Nuchter en bewogen (Kamper Miniaturen 9; Kampen: Vereniging van Oud-Studenten van de Theologische Universiteit Kampen, 2002).

[2] The Coming of the Kingdom (ed. Raymond O. Zorn, transl. H. de Jongste; Philadelphia: P&R, 1962); Paul: An Outline of His Theology (transl. J. R. De Witt; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1975). The Dutch originals were published in 1950 and in 1966, respectively. To these works we may add the essays printed in Herman N. Ridderbos, When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).

[3] Although space precludes elaboration, we note how Ridderbos’s exegetical presentation and defense of such lines of Pauline teachings as union with Christ, justification by faith alone, and the law of God are profoundly useful in facilitating an informed response to both the New Perspective on Paul and post-New Perspective readings of Paul.

[4] Herman N. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches in Galatia (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953); Ridderbos, Matthew (BSC; trans. Ray Togtman; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987); Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary (trans. John Vriend; Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1997). Ridderbos’s commentary on Matthew initially appeared in Dutch in two volumes, the first in 1941 and the second in 1946. His commentary on John also initially appeared in Dutch in two volumes, the first in 1987 and the second in 1992.

[5] Herman N. Ridderbos, Aan de Romeinen (Commentaar op het Nieuwe Testament; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1959); F. W. Grosheide and Herman N. Ridderbos, Aan de Efeziërs. Aan de Colossenzen (Commentaar op het Nieuwe Testament; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1960) [F. W. Grosheide authored the commentary on Ephesians; Ridderbos, on Colossians]; Ridderbos, De Pastorale brieven (Commentaar op het Nieuwe Testament; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1967).

[6] Ridderbos’s commentary on Rom 7:14-25 in Aan de Romeinen has been translated by Henk Bruinsma and exists in typescript, but has never been published.

[7] Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 354-61.

[8] Herman Ridderbos, “Israël in het Nieuwe Testament, in het bijzonder volgens Rom. 9-11,” in G. Ch. Aalders and H. Ridderbos, Israël (Exegetica. Oud- en nieuw-testamentische studiën II, 2; Den Haag: Van Keulen, 1955), 23-73.

[9] Gaffin’s translation covers pp. 57-64 of the original essay.

[10] In addition to the commentaries, see the surveys of Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans / Carlisle: Paternoster, 1979), 139-47, esp. 139-41; Cornelis P. Venema, “‘In This Way All Israel Will Be Saved’: A Study of Romans 11:26” MAJT 22 (2011): 19-40, esp. 28-29; and O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 183.

[11] John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians (trans. R. Mackenzie; Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1960), 255. For Augustine’s interpretation of this passage, see Letter 149, FC 20:253, as cited at Gerald Bray, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VI – Romans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 298.

[12] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (rev. ed.; New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1896), 589; S. Greijdanus, De brief van den apostel Paulus aan de gemeente te Rome, Vol. 2 (Amsterdam: H. A. Van Bottenburg, 1933), 515-7; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (2 vols.; NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959, 1965), 2:91-103, esp. 98; Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (1930; repr. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), 87-91; Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (2d ed.; BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 599-601; Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 738. This position must be distinguished from the formally similar position espoused by many dispensational premillennial interpreters, on which see Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 140, and Venema, “In This Way,” 28.

[13] In addition to Hoekema, who argues for this view, see William Hendriksen, Israel and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), 34-52; Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938), 698-700; and Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 668-72.

[14] Herman N. Ridderbos, Paulus en Jezus: Oorsprong en algemeen karakter van Paulus’ Christus-prediking (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1952); ET, Paul and Jesus: Origin and General Character of Paul’s Preaching of Christ, trans. David H. Freeman (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1958).

[15] J. van der Ploeg, O.P., Vondsten in de woestijn van Juda: De rollen der Dode Zee (Utrecht: Prisma, 1957); ET, The Excavations at Qumran, trans. Kevin Smyth, S.J., (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1958).

[16] ET, Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago and London: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1961).

[17] Johannes Munck, Christus und Israël, Eine Auslegung von Röm 9-11 (Aarhus: Universitetsforlaget, 1956); ET, Christ & Israel: An Interpretation of Romans 9-11, trans. I. Nixon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967).

[18] H. Lietzmann, An die Römer, 4th ed. (HNT 8; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1933); Ernst Kühl, Der Brief des Paulus an die Römer (Leipzig: Verlag von Quelle & Meyer, 1913).

[19] Marie-Joseph Lagrange, Saint Paul Épîitre aux Romains, 4th ed. (Études Bibliques; Paris: Librairie Lecoffre, 1930).

[20] Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, 4 vols. (München: Beck, 1922-6); ET, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash, 3 vols. trans. Joseph Longarino, Jacob N. Cerone, Andrew Bowden (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2021-23).

[21] John Calvin, trans. R. Mackenzie, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1960), 255. The title of Barth that Ridderbos cites is Die Kirchliche Dogmatik II/2: Die Lehre von Gott. Teilband 2 (Zollikon-Zürich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1942); ET, The Church Dogmatics II/2: The Doctrine of God, trans. Geoffrey William Bromiley et al. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957).

[22] S. Greijdanus, De brief van den apostel Paulus aan de gemeente te Rome, Vol. 2 (Amsterdam: H. A. Van Bottenburg, 1933).

[23] Herman Ridderbos, “Israël in het Nieuwe Testament, in het bijzonder volgens Rom. 9-11,” in G. Ch. Aalders and H. Ridderbos, Israël (Exegetica. Oud- en nieuw-testamentische studiën II, 2; Den Haag: Van Keulen, 1955), 23-73. For the English translation of the excerpt that Ridderbos mentions above, see Gaffin’s translation that follows in this article.

[24] Otto Michel, Der Brief an die Römer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955); Adolf Schlatter, Gottes Gerechtigkeit: ein Kommentar zum Römerbrief, 2d ed. (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1952); ET, Romans: The Righteousness of God, trans. Siegfried S. Schatzmann (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995).

[25] Walter Bauer, Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th rev. ed. (1952); ET, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957).

[26] See Greijdanus, De brief, and Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar, cited above.

[27] G. Stählin, “Nun,” eds. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-76), IV:1106-23.

[28] Gerhard Delling, “Plērōma,” TDNT VI:305n.56.

[29] F. J. Leenhardt, L’Épître de St. Paul aux Romains (Commentaires du Nouveau Testament 6; 1957); ET, The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke, 1961).

[30] Gerhard Delling, “Plērōma,” TDNT VI:305; G. Schrenk, “Leimma,” TDNT IV:211-2.

[31] See, e.g., G. Bornkamm, TDNT, IV, 819ff.; also my Paul and Jesus (Philadelphia: P&R, 1958), p. 58. [translator’s note – the numbering of the footnotes in this translation corresponds to the numbering of the footnotes in the Dutch original]

[32] Some amplify: to faith (Leitzmann) or into the church (Kühl). However this is not in agreement with New Testament usage (cf. Arndt-Gingrich, Lexicon and Schneider in TDNT). We have to do here with an eschatological event in the definitive sense of the word. Therefore, it is not an entrance “into the kingdom of God, that is to say, becoming… believers” (Greijdanus).

[33] …“But I extend the word Israel to include all the people of God, in this sense, ‘When the Gentiles have come in, the Jews will at the same time return from their defection to the obedience of faith. The salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be drawn from both, will thus be completed, and yet in such a way that the Jews, as the first born in the family of God, may obtain the first place.’” (The Epistles of Paul The Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, trans. Ross Mackenzie [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960], p. 255). Thus Calvin does assume an eschatological conversion of the Jews.

[34] I mention only the names of B. Weiss, Zahn, Feine, Leitzmann, K.L. Schmidt, Stauffer, Billerbeck, Dodd, Greijdanus, Schrenk, Lagrange, Kuss, Meinertz, Sanday-Headlam, Kühl, Schlatter, Nygren.

[35] H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. J. Vriend, 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 670. In my opinion, his entire discussion of Romans 11:25, 26 (668‒672) is still of great importance.

[36] Cf., e.g., the reasoning of Greijdanus versus the view of Bavinck (Romeinen, II, p. 515).