Friday, December 26, 2014

Disputed Questions About Paul Of Tarsus: A Dialogue (Part 4a)

The following series was originally written by Carlos A. Segovia (marked CAS below). It is here translated into English and features additional responses by Thomas W. Hudgins. Part 4 of this series deals with Paul and the salvation of Israel.

What role do chapters 9–11 play in Paul's letter to the Romans and what is Paul actually saying in them?

CAS: As far as I’m concerned, they are the climax of the letter. Paul does not say that God has rejected his people. In fact, he argues exactly the opposite. Nor does he say, if you look closely, that Jews should finally believe in Christ, even though they are criticized for not understanding the scope of the present moment that Christ has opened. His rebuke is quelled to the paradoxical observation that the divine plan is greater than anything. And, in the end, he says that all Israel will be saved. But what does Paul mean when he says in Romans 11:26 that "all Israel will be saved?" In my opinion, he means exactly that. All Israel will be saved. It is necessary, if you ask me, to interpret this statement in light of what Paul himself states just a few verses later concerning the "irrevocable" nature of the "election of Israel" (Rom. 11:29). Nor does Paul say here that God will maintain or renew his relationship only with those Jewish people who recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but simply that the "election of Israel" is "irrevocable."

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AP: I agree. These chapters are the climax of the whole letter. And, as you know, I also don’t believe that Paul argues in these chapters that God has rejected his people. Never! But if we look closely chapters 10 and 11 (especially 10:5-12), we see, in fact, that Paul does say the Jewish people must also believe in Christ. And we can’t forget about another very important passage, 2 Cor. 3:4-18. The idea that the Jewish people do not have to accept God’s/Israel’s Messiah does not fit with the overall thought of Paul. In preaching to the Gentiles, Paul is manifesting that Christ is both for them and for Israel, for the cosmos, and for history in general. Paul tells the Gentiles that the time has finally come when God will cause Israel to fulfill its mission within their relationship. Here’s the general idea: God, who is faithful to the covenant, considers the end of history to have finally arrived; it's time to send the Messiah into the world. Among other things the Messiah will bring about the fulfillment of the Promise and the inclusion of Gentiles into Israel on equal terms. But he will actually accomplish even more: he will manifest the justice of God, i.e., God's faithfulness to his covenant; therefore, he will bring all this about through his covenant with Israel, and he will ultimately bring the story to a close, etc. But he’s going to do all of this through his "son," the messiah of Israel! What God has done through the Messiah in the fullness of time is the final restoration—the original objectives of the exodus and exile, which were never met. These will be realized in the last days. Paul says that God has a new economy for this end time, and everything pertaining to that economy goes through their messiah and the reign of the Spirit, of God, and his Anointed. Then Israel also has to believe in the Christ.

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TWH: Let me share the words of Brian J. Abasciano:
"The vast majority of scholars today have rightly rejected the notion that Romans 9–11 is merely an appendix to Romans 1–8. The inherent connection to the rest of the letter is simply too great to ignore. Indeed, there is a strong consensus that it is an integral, necessary part of the letter. But we should go further and join with the many who now consider Romans 9–11 to be the climax of the theological argument (chs. 1–11). It is not that Romans 1–8 are merely preparatory for chs. 9–11. Nor is it that Romans 1–8 could not logically stand on their own with some sense of satisfaction. It is more that Romans 9–11 contain the height of what Paul wants to say. They contain the most relevant statement of his theology for his practical purposes with respect to the Roman Christians and his paraenesis to them" (Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis [New York: T and T Clark International, 2005], 34-35).
The logical flow of Paul's argument in Romans 1–8 flows right into Romans 12. Nevertheless, chapters 9–11 are integral. We would be terribly amiss if we ever undermined the significance of this section of Scripture. What makes Romans 9–11 so beautiful? The answer is simple: It reminds people of the covenant-keeping love of God and shows them just how far reaching that covenant-keeping love and faithfulness is. Having Paul's letter to the Romans minus chapters 9–11 is liken to having Philippians without Phil. 2:5–11. The purpose of Paul's letter is not Romans 9–11; nor is the purpose of Philippians chapter 2, verses 5–11, so far as its literary structure goes. Philippians 2:5–11 is the apex of the letter's positive examples (i.e., Jesus, Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus). But the flow of the letter could technically function minus this pericope. But can you imagine reading Philippians and not reading those verses? I sure can't. I need those verses badly! I need that example continually in my walk with the Lord. And think about the beautifully rich theology that is packed into so few verses. We see the giant stoop down that the Lord Jesus Christ took for our sakes. No one is greater, and no one has ever knelt lower.

Romans 9–11 is like that. These chapters are not inconsequential at all. They are the apex of Paul's exposition on the character of God in the plan to redeem the world to himself. They are packed with theology. How do they function in the letter though? Has Paul said everything prior to chapter 9 so that he can finally get to the point he is trying to make in chapters 9–11? Well, I'm not so sure about that per se. So why include them? Believers in Rome, a mixed congregation of Jewish and Gentile believers, must have had some misunderstandings concerning God's dealings with Israel. So before he moves into some of the more practical ways that Christians should live out their faith and glorify the Lord in their daily lives, he has to address the issue of whether or not God has forsaken his people.

Carlos and Antonio both dealt with Rom. 11:26, and so I want to make just two quick comments about what this verse means. "All Israel will be saved." First, Paul is speaking of a time when the entire population of Jewish people will experience the regeneration Paul has already described in the previous chapters. Second, no one in that group will experience that regeneration apart from confessing Jesus as their Lord and believing in their heart that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. The hope that is extended to the whole world is an exclusive hope. It is inclusive in its potential and reach; in other words, any one can be saved, no matter who they are or what they've done. But it is an exclusive hope. By that, I mean there is no other way by which people can be saved. Salvation is alone in Jesus Christ.

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