Romans Part 12: The Gospel and the Jews

April 7, 2007

Having completed his description of the Gospel of righteousness through faith, Paul turned to the plight of the Jews. The Jews reading this letter may have misconstrued Paul’s point, and concluded that the Jews had been rejected and were without hope. Paul anticipated that confusion and corrected it in chapters 9-11.

Chapters 9-11 contain some particularly difficult concepts and have spawned many controversies. In the following explanation I will attempt to avoid the deepest pits of controversy and present the essence of what Paul was saying.

The main question being addressed in this section is, “What about God’s promises to Abraham regarding his descendents?” To answer that question, Paul clarified the promises and explained that the Jews are not excluded from the Gospel. In fact he explains that there is great hope for the Jews to turn to Jesus. Paul’s argument can be divided into five parts:

1) Not all descendents of Abraham were to receive the promise.
2) God has the right to choose whom he will bless.
3) The relationship of the Gospel to the Jew
4) The relationship of the Gospel to the Gentile
5) The salvation of Israel

Let’s look at these five parts to Paul’s argument:

1) Not all descendents of Abraham were to receive the promise. From the time of Abraham on, it has been clear that not all the descendents of Abraham were to receive the promise. Clearly the promise did not apply to Ishmael, for example. Nor did it apply to all the descendents of Isaac (consider Esau). God chose to deliver the promise through Isaac, and through Jacob, for his own reasons. (Rom 9:1-13)

A key verse in understanding Rom 9-11 is

Rom 9:6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

This verse states the basic truth which Paul proceeds to prove in the remainder of chapters 9-11. God’s promises to Abraham will not fail through the Gospel. The key to understanding that is the statement that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

2) God has the right to choose whom he will bless. As the creator, God has the right to choose Isaac rather than Ishmael, and Jacob rather than Esau. Neither choice was based on righteousness of one versus the other. It was simply a choice God had the right to make.

Paul illustrates with the example of Pharaoh.

Rom 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Rom 9:18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Note that God was not unjust in choosing to harden Pharaoh. Pharaoh was not innocent in the matter. He was stubborn from the beginning (Ex 3:19). He had an unyielding heart (Ex 7:14). Three times it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15, 8:32, 9:34). So Pharaoh was guilty, and God was justified in what he did.

3) The relationship of the Gospel to the Jew. In Romans 10 Paul turned his attention to the salvation of the Jew, and the obstacles the Jew must overcome. In verses 5-13 he contrasted the Law with the Gospel. The law required obedience: “The man who does these things will live by them.”

Under Law, it was in the hands of man to achieve righteousness (and of course man failed). But under the Gospel, God did things we could not do for ourselves. We could not ascend into heaven to bring Christ down. We could not descend into the grave to raise Christ from the dead. Instead, the requirements on us are things that we can do. We must confess Jesus as Lord, and believe that God raised him from the dead. Those are things we can do. In the Gospel, God placed salvation within our reach. Note, Paul did not enumerate every requirement for salvation here–just the fundamental ones that lead to the others. Believing and making Jesus Lord result in repentance and a life of obedience (including the initial obedience to being baptized.) Still, like the items Paul did name, the other items are all within our reach.

But was the Gospel really within the reach of the Jew? The Jews could not protest that they had not heard, that no one preached to them, or that God did not send a messenger to them. Quite clearly God had placed the gospel within their reach also.

However, a Jew might have protested that they did not understand the message. But that just puts them on the same level as the Gentiles, who had not understood about God since the creation of the world (Rom 1:18-32). So at the present time, God has not forgotten about the Jews, any more than he had forgotten about the Gentiles in the previous era.

Note that the Gospel was first preached to the Jews, and that the first converts were Jewish. However, that was a small minority of Jews. By the time Paul was writing, it appeared that the church was becoming dominated by Gentiles, even in Rome. As Paul continued, he warned the Gentiles not to become overconfident as a result. The disadvantage of the Jew was not intended to be a permanent situation.

4) The relationship of the Gospel to the Gentile. The Gentile Christians were being grafted into a Jewish olive tree–a tree from which most of the Jewish branches had been cut off. Paul warned these Gentiles not to boast over the branches that had been cut off. If the Gentiles did not remain humble, they could easily be cut off as well. The Gentiles had every bit as much need of forgiveness as the Jews. God grafted them in as an act of kindness, because of their belief. They could just as easily be cut off again, if they do not remain in the kindness of God.

God also loves the Jews, and has not given up on them. They are being disciplined for a time, to entice them to turn to Christ. The Gentiles must be careful not to take pleasure in the discipline of the Jews. God does not approve when we gloat over those whom he is disciplining.

5) The salvation of Israel. Paul explained that the Gentiles now hold the advantage for a time, in order to entice the Jews to believe.

Rom 11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
Rom 11:26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
Rom 11:27 And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
Rom 11:28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,
Rom 11:29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Rom 11:30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience,
Rom 11:31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
Rom 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Just as not all Gentiles who ever lived are saved, not all Jews are saved either. But in the end, the whole olive tree will be saved. God is delaying that day so that as many as possible may be grafted in, both Jews and Gentiles.

Rom 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Rom 11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
Rom 11:35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
Rom 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Next time: What does all this mean for the life of the Christian?


  1. This article and many others just like it fail to understand even the basic elemen ts of the Jewish faith.COnsider that G-d gave the Torah to the Jews. G-d also gave very specific instructions on how to identify the promised Messiah, and mission of the Messiah.None of this material was in any way associated with a man named Jesus. Jews we some of the most educated people in the Middle-East at that time. They understood their religious texts.When Jesus, or his few followers tried to establish Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Jews went right to the texts provided by G-d. There was absolutely nothing in them that identified the person named Jesus. That is the reason why Jews rejected the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. Who would know this better than the Jews? Certainly not the Greeks, or the Romans or the gentiles!Christians need to take a honest look at the reasons Jews rejected Jesus and evaluate their reasons for doinf=g so. Then you will understand that God gae the Jews the proper information, and it did not apply to Jesus.

  2. Jeffrey,This series of articles is a study of Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome. In that letter, Paul did not attempt to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, so that is not the topic of these articles. However Paul was a highly educated Jew and he certainly was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah based on the Old Testament prophesies. If you want to discuss this by email I would be glad to do so. I’d rather keep these comments on topic so let’s not try to discuss this topic here.

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