A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 11:25-32. c). The divine mystery (continued).
The third word is *saved*. What kind of salvation is in view? The scriptural foundation, which Paul now supplies, will help us to answer this question. It is a potpourri of three texts about salvation of God’s people.
26b. ‘The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27. And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.’
These verses together make three affirmations. First. *the deliverer will come from Zion* (Is.59:20). This was, in Isaiah’s original, a reference to Christ’s first coming. Secondly, what he would do when he came was described in moral terms: he would ‘*turn godlessness away from Jacob*’. This seems to be an allusion to Isaiah 27:9, where Jacob’s guilt would be atoned for and removed. Thirdly, the deliverer would establish God’s covenant, which promised the forgiveness of sins (Je.31:33f.). Putting these truths together, the deliverer would come to bring his people to repentance and so to forgiveness, according to God’s covenant promise. It is clear from this that the ‘salvation’ of Israel for which Paul has prayed (10:1), to which he will lead his own people by arousing their envy (11:14), which has also come to the Gentiles (11:11; cf. 1:16), and which one day ‘all Israel’ will experience (11:26), is salvation from sin through faith in Christ. It is not a national salvation, for nothing is said about either a political entity or a return to the land. Nor is there any hint of a special way of salvation for the Jews which dispenses with faith in Christ.
It is understandable that since the holocaust Jews have demanded an end to Christian missionary activity among them, and that many Christians have felt embarrassed about continuing it. It is even mooted that Jewish evangelism is an unacceptable form of anti-Semitism. So some Christians have attempted to develop a theological basis for leaving Jews alone in their Judaism. Reminding us that God’s covenant with Abraham was an ‘everlasting covenant’, they maintain that it is still in force, and that therefore God saves Jewish people through their own covenant, without any necessity for them to believe in Jesus. This proposal is usually called a ‘two-covenant theology’. Bishop Krister Stendahl was one of the first scholars to argue for it, namely that there are two different salvation ‘tracks’ – the Christian track for the believing remnant and the believing Gentiles, and the track for historical Israel which relies on God’s covenant with them. Professor Dunn is surely right to reject this as ‘a false and quite unnecessary antithesis’.
Romans 11 stands in clear opposition to this trend because of its insistence on the fact that there is only one olive tree, to which Jewish and Gentile believers both belong. Jewish people ‘will be grafted in’ again ‘if they do not persist in unbelief’ (23). So faith in Jesus is essential for them. Whether or not Dr. Tom Wright is correct in rejecting the notion of ‘a large-scale, last-minute salvation of ethnic Jews’, his emphasis on present evangelism (‘now’, three times in verses 30 and 31) is healthy: ‘Paul is envisaging a steady flow of Jews into the church, by grace through faith.’ The two-covenant theology also has the disastrous effect of perpetuating the distinction between Jews and Gentiles which Jesus Christ has abolished. ‘The irony of this’, writes Tom Wright, ‘is that the late twentieth century, in order to avoid anti-Semitism, has advocated a position (the non-evangelization of the Jews) *which Paul regards precisely as anti-Semitic’*. ‘It would be quite intolerable to imagine a church at any period which was simply a Gentile phenomenon’ or ‘consisted only of Jews’.
Tomorrow: Romans 11:25-32 c). The divine mystery (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.