Chapter Eleven

Verses 1-5

1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, 3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. 5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

    Continuing a general discussion of the spiritual condition of the Jews, having noted sufficiently in the previous two chapters the need of salvation for the Jews, having noted the use of certain ones through the ages to bring about the way of salvation, and having noted how the Jews had rejected the way God provided, Paul now asks, "Hath God cast away his people?" In other words, Paul is asking if God had gone back on His promise, now refusing to save the Jews. Is the alienation between God and the Jews the fault of God? Does God really want the Jews to be saved? Is there no way for reconciliation to be made between God and the people that were once His chosen?
    Once again, we read this strong apostolic and habitually used negative, "God forbid." Never could one properly think God is the fault for the Jews being estranged from the God they formerly served. Never are we to conclude that God went back on His promise. Never are we to believe that God did not want the Jews to be saved, or that He does not want them saved now. Yes, there is a way of reconciliation between God and the Jews. But the fact of the matter is that the Jews failed to receive Christ. Already Paul has noted that, even though the Jews as a nation had rejected the Christ, some of that nation had accepted Him. Those who had accepted Christ were acceptable to God. Paul cites himself as one example. Paul was a Jew, the seed of Abraham, specifically of the tribe of Benjamin. He was not a castaway. To be sure, some of the Jews were not God's children, but this was because they had chosen to reject the plan of salvation God had devised. But it was not God's fault, nor was there any reluctance on God's part to receive them. He did receive all who would respond to the system of faith.
    Paul reminds the reader of the time in Israelite history when Elijah addressed certain words to God about the Israel of his day. It was a time when it seemed to Elijah that just about everybody of the nation of Israel had turned against God except Elijah. This has specific reference to the time following the great contest on Mount Carmel that is recorded in the Old Testament, First Kings, chapter nineteen. Elijah accused the Israelite nation of making all sorts of offenses against God, and he alone had remained faithful. But contrary to what Elijah thought, God told him that many had not "bowed unto Baal." So Paul is stating, that while he does not minimize the overall and general truth that most Jews had rejected God by rejecting Christ, not all had done so. Nor was it God's fault that any had done so. There was a remnant that was among the elect; that is, among those who had partaken of the benefits of the grace of God, because they had accepted the scheme God devised for their salvation.
    In this is a powerful lesson for us today when we get discouraged as we are forced to realize the abundance of sin, and the influence of wickedness in the world. We may get disheartened concerning the inroads of error and digression that are often made even among the ranks of the Lord's church. We may be inclined to despair by thinking everyone has gone the way of departure. But most likely the truth is, even though many do go astray, possibly even most as did Israel in Elijah's day, and as the Jews were doing in Paul's day, there is surely a remnant that remains loyal and faithful, and pursues the course in life according to the directions of the Lord given in His Word. We just need to be sure we are among that remnant, and do all we can to enlarge the number of that remnant.

Verses 6, 7

6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. 7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded

    In the preceding verse Paul mentioned the election of grace, having reference to the system of grace, and those elected to salvation through that system. Having mentioned grace, he says something more about grace and works. Whenever we study works as given in the Bible we must understand that there are different kinds of works discussed. There are works of our own merit by which one might think he could obligate God to bless him in some fashion. The Scriptures make it plain that man cannot be saved by such works as these. Ephesians 2:8,9 teaches us we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works of which we can boast. Titus 3:5 teaches the same lesson. At the same time, there are works of obedience, such as is described in James, chapter two, and other places. Whenever man does something God directs him to do, he is working. But such are not works of merit, nor works like were performed under the old Mosaic law. There are works of obedience to God. Obedience is necessary to salvation (Hebrews 5:9; Matthew 7:21; Second Thessalonians 1:7-9). The works under discussion in our passage here have reference to works of merit, the kind by which we cannot accomplish nor earn salvation. We can never do enough good to erase even one sin whereupon God would owe us anything. Remember that the law of Moses was also a law of works because one would have to live perfectly under that law in order to be saved, and this none could do.
    Election, or belonging to the company of the saved, was declared to be by grace. The system whereby man can be saved is in existence because of the unmerited favor God has bestowed on undeserving mankind. It is a system that relies upon the mercy of God rather than upon the goodness or perfection of man, which is non-existent. Since salvation is by grace, it is not of meritorious works. If it were of works then God could be placed in a situation of owing man salvation, and salvation then would not be the result of God's grace and mercy. If it were possible that salvation could be attained by works of merit, then it could not be a system of grace. Even works of obedience have significance only because God has graciously declared that they have significance.
    The works of obedience which are included in the system of grace have no righteousness of themselves, but only as God's grace has announced their worth. So, if salvation were by meritorious works, the works of obedience would cease to be important because they are not works of merit. "Otherwise," or if it was any other way, works of obedience do not count for anything. But they do count, and God expects man to obey whatever He commands.
    There are certain conditions man must meet in order to benefit from the grace of God, but even meeting these conditions does not constitute meriting salvation. Meeting certain conditions is simply the procedure God has devised whereby man comes to partake of the mercy of God. There is a clear distinction between meeting God's conditions by being obedient and earning what you receive. We can never earn salvation, but we must meet the conditions God has specified. Salvation is by grace which includes works of obedience even as it excludes works of merit.
    What does all this mean in relation to the spiritual condition of the Israelites? Israel did not obtain that which they sought, which was salvation. Obviously, it was because they followed another system other than the system of grace through faith. However, those who are of the elect did obtain the desired salvation through forgiveness, and have established fellowship with God because they came the way of salvation that God provided through Christ. In a sense, Israel was, and continues to be, blinded. They are blinded by their own refusal to comply with the provisions God has made. For the most part, they have remained blinded even as they were at the time Paul wrote Romans. They remain blinded because of an allegiance to a system of works by which none can be justified, and under which they no longer live even though they once lived subject to it. (See other passages on this point in Romans 3:20,26; Galatians 2:16; 3:11). Paul follows this with two Old Testament references showing how this blindness was prophesied.

Verses 8-10

8 (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. 9 And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense unto them: 10 Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.

    Paul refers to a writing by Isaiah (Isaiah 29:10), and how God had allowed the Jew to possess ("given them") a spirit of slumber, sometimes rendered more emphatically as stupor. By their own choosing they had closed their eyes, shut their ears to anything contrary to what they were determined to follow.
    Paul also refers to words of David (Psalm 69:22) to show how "their table," (that upon which they fed), was a snare and trap, a stumbling-block, because they allowed that system under which God had formerly ruled them to block them from accepting the system God had brought into being through the Israelites themselves.

Verse 11

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.

    The question is asked, "Have they (Israel, JWB) stumbled that they should fall?" Was it the design and intent that Israel should behave in this disobedient fashion? Again, Paul uses the strong negative, "God forbid." Never did God hope Israel would reject the very scheme He was providing. Such would have made the work of John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles, even the work of the old prophets be nothing but mockery. The scheme was being provided through God's use of the Jews, and they were to have first opportunity to receive it. They had more advantages than anyone to seize it with gladness, but they refused to do so. But since the Jews did reject Christ, God used that rejection to appeal to the Gentiles, and also used the acceptance of the Gentiles to once again appeal to the Jews. Possibly, when the Jews realized that even Gentiles were becoming children of God, and that God's way of making children through Christ was true, they would be provoked to desire this family relationship with God also. Keep in mind, Christ, John the Baptist, and the apostles had made it plain by this time that physical ancestry would not make anyone a child of God anymore. Being a descendant of Abraham did not make the difference it once did. Now God's children are spiritual children, and "children of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7) are those who belong to God because they have come to God through the system God has provided through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is a system of grace, mercy, blood, faith, law, and obedience to the law of Christ.

Verse 12

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?

    Paul once again is very logical in his presentation. He notes how the fall of the Jews had, in a measure, brought opportunity for salvation to all mankind. As far as the Jew was concerned, the idea of the termination of the law of Moses would be a fall. Remember, however, that God had always intended and planned that salvation be universally offered. But the Jewish rejection of Christ hastened that opportunity being extended to the Gentiles. Seeing how the call of the Jews brought opportunity to others, how much more good could be accomplished if the Jews favorably responded to the gospel! Jewish influence for truth would have been a powerful benefit to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

Verses 13-15

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. 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?

    Paul makes an appeal to Gentiles to assist in bringing the Jews into the fold. He reminds them that he was an apostle especially sent to Gentiles, and his work was not a minor one, but a great one. Yet, he was searching for some means to provoke the people of his own flesh, the Jews, to be saved. He notes that if the rejection of the Jews by the Lord because of their rejection of Christ had brought a hastened opportunity to the rest of the world to be reconciled to God, then if the Jews would obey, and they would also be received of God, it would be like a resurrection from the dead. Paul was hoping to find a way to provoke the Jews to obey as the Gentiles had done. He was seeking help from the Gentiles to this end.

Verses 16-17

16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

    In this passage we have a very precise use of the word "holy." Certainly, all the Jewish people were not "holy" in the sense of being free from sin, or cleansed by the blood of Christ. Nor were they "holy" because they were so righteous in themselves. But the term "holy" has reference to them like the term was used with regard to certain offerings that were made of the firstfruits of crops that were harvested. By the acceptance of the firstfruits, God showed that the entire harvest could be usable and acceptable.
    Inasmuch as many Jews were converted to Christ at the beginning of the Christian age at Pentecost, there is the demonstration of the desire for all Jews to be saved. In fact, those on Pentecost who were converted were all Jews. So it was obvious that the firstfruits were acceptable. That being true, all would be acceptable who would come to God through Christ. Because some Jews were saved, it was evident that God wanted all Jews to be saved. The acceptance of the "root" shows God's willingness to accept the "branches." Here is the answer to the question of verse one, "Hath God cast away his people?" The answer is, "No." Unfortunately, many of the "branches" were cast away, but it was because of their own rejection of Christ.
    Paul now refers to the Gentile Christians as a "wild olive tree," in distinction from the Jew who was a natural branch. Some wild branches, having reference to Gentiles, had been grafted in because they had accepted Christ. These granted branches were enjoying unity with God as much as the natural branches (Jewish converts). Therefore, the Jews and Gentiles in Christ were enjoying a common salvation. Paul is showing that the Jews who rejected Christ were as those branches that were broken off, and the Gentiles who had accepted Christ were branches grafted in. Again, we have presented the theme aforementioned in this epistle, that the salvation God offers was for every man without regard to race or nationality. All may be saved because all need to be saved. All that are saved will be saved the same way. God wants all men, Jew and Gentile, to be saved.
    The precise terms used in these verses pose somewhat of a problem to get a "word by word" understanding of Paul's message. But the general thrust of his words can be grasped, and has been so explained.

Verses 18-21

18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. 19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

    Continuing some comments to the Gentiles, Paul issues a warning that they do not become boastful that they belong to God rather than the Jews. True, they were in spiritual fellowship with God, and with converted Jews that may once have excluded Gentiles. But to now brag that one is saved while the other is rejected would be totally out of character for a Christian. The Christian, like Christ, wants all men to come to repentance. But the burden of the warning is that Paul shows the possibility that the Gentile Christian could also fall away, and be rejected. Indeed, they would be rejected if they did not remain firmly united to their Jewish brethren in Christ, and faithful to the will of God given through Christ. Paul is admonishing the Gentiles not to commit the same error some Jews had committed, that of thinking themselves more righteous or possessing such a superior feeling toward others. They were to remember they were borne out of the root. They came to Christ after the early Jewish converts, and after the system had been delivered through the Jews. They were not the natural branches, but grafted branches. Because of unbelief, natural branches were broken off (referring to Jews who rejected Christ). If the natural branches were broken off because of unbelief, surely grafted branches would and could be broken off if the same unbelief overcame them. It is a strong warning not to be highminded and superior in their attitudes toward the Jews, but humbly grateful for salvation.
    There is also the undeniable significance that apostasy is a possibility among Christians. But there is a significance beyond even that. Thus far we have learned all men need salvation, and God offers salvation to all men, and all men must and will be saved the same way, through the system of faith given through Christ. What will cause one man to be broken off will cause the next man to be broken off also. In this we again see demonstrated how God is no respecter of persons.

Verse 22

22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

    Two very contrasting characteristics of God are mentioned. They are in contrast, but not contradictory. Paul mentions the goodness of God, and also His severity. This first trait we like to consider because we like to believe we are the beneficiaries and recipients of blessings because of this quality of God. It is certainly true we are blessed because God is good, and good toward us. The other trait causes us to have fear and trembling because it means if we rebel and disobey we shall be the recipients of the wrath of a just God. His wrath has already been made very evident toward sin in this book, and it was because of this just wrath of God that the penalty for sin has to be paid by the death of Christ on the cross. By unbelief, we deprive ourselves of God's mercy, and become the targets of the wrath of God that justice demands.
    God's severity is meted out on those who fall from Him. His goodness is manifested to those who come to Him. In verse twenty-two, Paul explained not only the possibility of falling away, but shows that we must continue in the goodness of God lest we be cut off. How can any read such passages and ever believe the false doctrine of "once saved, always saved," as is generally taught by some denominationalists? If God just ignored the sins committed by unfaithful children, He would thereby nullify any claim to justice, one of the qualities that made the sacrifice of Christ necessary.
    It was the goodness of God that allowed the Jews and Gentiles opportunity to salvation. It was the severity of God that caused the disobedient "natural branches" of verses nineteen and twenty to be broken off. Also, his severity would cause the unfaithful Gentiles (the grafted branches) to be broken off again, if they became unfaithful.

Verses 23-24

23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

    If those who rejected Christ because of unbelief, particularly the Jews, would abandon that position of unbelief, God would restore them into His favor. If God can take the Gentiles, who were not His chosen people, and make them His people, surely God could take the Jews, who had been His chosen people, but who for a time rejected Him, and make them His people again should they return to Him through Christ. If God could save the Gentiles, He could also save the Jews. But the terms for both were the same.

Verses 25-27

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: 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.

    Paul more or less repeats much of what has already been taught. This seems to be a statement of emphasis to the Gentiles that they not fall guilty of conceit and a feeling of superiority. While it is true the Israelites were blinded as already discussed, they still could come to God. Notice Paul said that blindness "in part" is happened to Israel, which means that some of the Israelites had not been blinded, but had accepted the truth of Christ.
    From what I have been able to learn, the phrase, "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in," has been a subject provoking much comment and speculation about the salvation of the Jews in some kind of sudden, miraculous, and national form or manner sometime in the future. There is one point in studying the Bible we need to remember, and that is that there may well be passages, the meaning of which, we cannot know for certain, but we can know what it does not mean. When we come to some passages, and conclude that it teaches something that we know cannot be true because it would contradict other teaching that is clear and easily grasped, then we can be sure we have placed the wrong conclusion on the difficult passage in question. Such is the case here. If it be true that there is to be a sudden, miraculous, and national salvation of the Jewish people sometime in the future as some teach, then all we have been learning this far in the book of Romans is contradicted. How many words have we read that teach us that the Jews and Gentiles shall be saved the same way, by the same system, on the same terms? But all this would be nullified, and we would have a genuine contradiction in God's Word should we look for a sudden, miraculous, and national salvation of the Jewish people. I reject the idea that this passage has any reference to some kind of sudden and total national salvation of Jewish people, or some Jewish colony or nation. This would be against everything Paul has been declaring to be true up to this point. Men ought not array God against God because of some theory they hold, like premillennialism in this instance.
    Verse twenty-six mentions, "And so all Israel shall be saved." It does not say all Israel will be saved. It says, "And so...," the word "so" referring to the manner by which Israel shall be saved. What is the manner by which Israel shall be saved? The previous verses, twenty-three and twenty-four, teach us that the abandonment of unbelief, which means coming to belief, would cause the broken off branches (the Jews who had thus far rejected Christ) to be grafted in again. The manner of salvation for the Jew was the system of obedient faith provided by God's grace. This is the same manner of salvation for the Gentiles.
    That the Jews might be saved has been God's intent and desire as noted from the word of prophecy from Psalms and Isaiah. This was God's covenant with them, and God intended and wants, even yet, to take away their sins. However, there is a role the Jew himself must play, and that is to obey the law of faith which are the conditions that must be met to enable him to enjoy the promises of God.
    Let us go back for a moment to the phrase, "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." This does not necessarily state a specific time reference when certain events will take place. It could well mean that the Jews would remain hardened against the system of faith that embraces all men until almost nobody except Gentiles would be among the saved. In other words, what appears to be a time element refers more to a condition rather than some point in time. Even if that condition or circumstance did occur, (and historically and actually it is just about that way even now with almost only Gentiles accepting Christ), the Jews still could be saved, but only if they abandoned their unbelief, and complied to the method of salvation God devised through Jesus Christ.
    Again, the passage may well mean that Jews would refuse to accept God's grace through Christ until all realized that the Gentiles as well as Jews could be saved the same way. This explanation has real merit.

Verse 28

28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.

    Paul is again referring to the spiritual condition of the Jews at the time he was writing. Having rejected the gospel, they were enemies, enemies of God and enemies of those who had accepted the gospel. This runs true to the principle that one is either for the Lord or against Him, there being no middle ground. The Jews were against the Lord when they, through unbelief, refused to follow the Christ. Nonetheless, as far as the possibility of them being saved, and as far as God's attitude toward them, and His desire to save them was concerned, that had not and would not change. God still wanted them, the Jews, as well as Gentiles, to be saved.
    In this we see a principle that must always be considered when discussing the love God has for man. God loves man whether man accepts or rejects God. But God does not always approve of man. He approves only those who obey Him. We should not confuse love with approval for the two are not the same. God loved the obedient Gentiles and approved the obedient Gentiles. But God also loved the Jews even as He disapproved of the Jews in unbelief.

Verse 29

29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

    The offer of salvation, the blessing of a spiritual nature that can belong to a man through Christ, is "without repentance." This does not mean a man can obtain God's blessings without repenting of his sins, but that God does not repent, change His mind, with respect to His offer to save. Nor will He change His plan to save.

Verse 30-31

30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: 31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

    The Gentiles in times past did not believe God, as amply noted in Romans, chapter one. Yet, now having come to Christ, they have obtained mercy. The Jews disbelieved and hastened the opportunity for the Gentiles to believe. The Gentiles did believe, and thereby obtained mercy. On the other hand, as things stood at the time of Paul's writing of Romans, and as they still stand for the most part regarding Jews, the Jews disbelieved. Yet, it was the hope that through the belief of the Gentiles the Jews might be provoked to believe for themselves.

Verse 32

32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

    Paul emphasizes the universal need of forgiveness, and the universal offer of forgiveness. Once again Paul is showing that there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles as to how to be saved. Neither is there any difference between them once they are saved. The difference exists between the saved and the lost, not between the saved Jews and saved Gentiles, lost Jews and lost Gentiles. All were once in unbelief. But God has offered mercy to all because all needed it, and now, all have been exposed to it.

Verses 33 - 36

33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! 34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? 35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

    These verses are words of praise toward God for the great and matchless qualities He possesses. It seems rather obvious that the provocation to enter into words of praise at this point was the summary of God's plan for saving Jew and Gentile alike. What a glorious system! What a glorious plan! What justice and mercy combined! What a great God that devised such a system! What a Savior that carried out the system that paid for man's sins! So marvelous is the wisdom and knowledge of God! So beyond full comprehension by the finite human mind, is God!
    The plan of salvation is the great expression of the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). None can give advice to God. None can be His counsellor. None can fathom the depth of His mind. None can make any real contribution that would improve on God, or the ways of God that He has devised. None can ever place God in their debt, or be such that God would owe them anything. It is the other way. Man owes everything to God. God is the source of all, the glory of all, now and forever!
    These are words praising the author of the scheme of redemption, the system of salvation. Whereas the human mind could not devise a system so perfect in every respect, nor can the human mind fathom the reaches of the wisdom of God, the human mind can comprehend sufficiently in order to recognize the greatness of the plan, and the greatness of the source of that plan. Such praise as given here is the prime theme of the words of Paul in these closing passages of chapter eleven.

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