Romans 11:13-15,29-32


At the beginning of chapter 11 Paul asks the question: "Has God rejected His people?"  His answer is immediate: "Certainly not!" He grants, of course, that the minds of the unbelieving among the Jews were hardened. But he also states that the elect among the Jews attained salvation.

He asks a second question: "Did they stumble to be lost altogether?" And another "Certainly not!"  Did God foreordain the Jews to eternal perdition? By no means. But God used the rejection of the Jews as the occasion of having the Gospel preached to the Gentiles. This would cause some of the Jews to become jealous and to turn to the Lord. This would show forth the mercy of the Lord because He can make the dead live.

Furthermore, Paul reminds the Gentiles not to be proud of themselves. Many of the Jews were like branches which God removed because they rejected God. God grafted the wild branches, the Gentiles, onto the tree. But the wild branches should take care. If they become proud God can easily remove these wild branches and graft the original branches onto the tree.

In the final analysis "All Israel will be saved." All the elect from among the Jews and the Gentiles will be saved. Nowhere else in his epistles does Paul use the expression "all Israel."  And in its context this expression must mean the total number of the elect from among Gentiles and Jews.

At the time of Paul the Jews despised the Gentiles. Furthermore they hated Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, for becoming a Christian and for preaching the Gospel. Many of those Jews hardened themselves and thus lost their souls. But the sinful nature of the believing Gentiles responded with a self-righteous attitude. Paul warns the self-righteous Gentiles. If he could not get at the Jews himself he would do it through the Gentiles. The preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles would cause the Jews to become jealous. In this way the elect among the Jews would be sought out. By the mercy of the Lord the elect among the Jews would be brought to faith. We need to hear this same message today.

Romans 11:13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry

Paul had just stated (verses 11-12) that the fall of the Jews was not ordained of God but that God used this occasion for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles. This would cause the Jew to become jealous. The elect among the Jews would thus be brought in.

The NIV above is a typical translation of this verse. Compare this with the KJV: "For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my office." If a period is placed after "Gentiles" Paul is stressing the fact that he is addressing Gentiles only (in the remainder of this chapter.) If no period is placed after "Gentiles" Paul is giving the reason for which he addresses Gentiles in particular.

Paul is distinguishing his apostleship to the Gentiles from that of the Jews. His was a special ministry.  "Make much of" must be understood contextually. It is variously rendered here as "magnify, glorify, give all honour to, take pride in, make much of." 

Paul is warning the Gentiles. Since many Jews had fallen (verse 11) the Gentiles might despise them and take pride in the fact that Paul, their Apostle, though a Jew, is assigned to the Gentiles as Apostle. But Paul makes much of his ministry. How that is done is stated in verse 14.

Kretzmann: The Gentile Christians should know that the apostle, in the midst of his earnest work in their behalf, always feels responsibility for the Jews also.
Bengel: The reason is not that you may be elated, but that the Jews may be invited.
Franzmann: Paul cannot reach his fellow Jews directly; they break into anathemas at the sight of him. He must seek them roundabout, through the Gentiles; the Gentile Christians ARE Paul's mission to the Jews. Therefore, Paul 'magnifies' his ministry; he boasts of the new Israel gathered by his Gospel.

Franzmann punctuates according to Nestle's Greek text. Thus Paul magnifies his ministry by reaching Jew through Gentile. But Arndt punctuates as does the AV. That causes him to remark:

Arndt: Paul says that he glorifies his ministry, that is, he does the work faithfully. He preaches the Gospel to as many Gentiles as possible and brings as many of them to Christ as he can.

If one places a period after  "Gentiles" the last four words of verse 13 go with verse 14. Thus Franzmann. If one does not place a period there, the stress is on the words which precede the last four words. We must consider verse 14 before deciding on this issue.

Romans 11:14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.

NIV:  "I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy etc."  Note that his aim is to save "some of them."  He is speaking of the elect among the Jews.

Franzmann: He does not quarrel with the ways of God but goes his way in meekness, just as Jesus did (Matthew 11:29; 21:5), grateful for the men God gave Him for His own (Matthew 11:25).

As noted above Arndt does not place a period after "Gentiles" in verse 13. Thus verse 14 becomes a second reason for preaching the Gospel.

Arndt: At the same time, so he says, he has this end in view, to provoke his fellow-Israelites to emulation so that they will follow the example of the Gentile Christians.

If one places a period after "Gentiles" in verse 13 the stress lies in verse 14. It is not easy to make a decision on this matter. Nor will it affect the intended sense.

Stoeckhardt: These few, who will be converted through the ministry of Paul and further through the witness and example of the believing Gentiles, form with the remnants of previous times the fullness of Israel.
Lenski: The more Gentiles Paul converts, the more of this jealousy he creates, resulting in Jewish conversions. And these Jewish conversions constitute the real crown of Paul's Gentile ministry.

Romans 11:15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

This is a fact condition. It really happened. Therefore to understand this condition correctly, add "as is the case" to the protasis.  "Rejection" and  "acceptance" are antonyms. The Jews cause their own rejection. Therefore "acceptance" is caused alone by the grace of God. These two words need careful treatment.

Kretzmann: The reconciliation could be made known and thus realized in the wider circles of the whole world. The Gospel of the reconciliation of God with man, as accomplished in Christ, was carried out into the heathen world as a result of the rejection of the Jews.

Millennialism, a false teaching of some, might come out here. Some have written: "The conversion of the whole human race or the world will accompany Israel's conversion." That is not true. The verse does not say that. Here are two schools of thought.

Arndt: [On the one hand] 'Receiving' must mean the conversion of the elected Jews. The apostle here too is speaking of the final result. He might have said: 'How much more blissful will the completion of the full number of the elect be!' . . . What will it mean? Life from dead, that is, then the last day will come and the resurrection of the dead; then the eternal life begins in the real sense of the word; then the kingdom of God has been completed.
Franzmann: [On the other hand] What shall come to be when God receives into His new people these 'some' these Israelites whom Paul will convert and save through his work among the Gentiles---what will that act of God be called? This will be the miracle of the dry bones restored to life, revived by the Spirit of God, of which Ezekiel wrote (Ezekiel 37:1-l4).

Arndt and Franzmann are representative of the two schools of thought on this expression. In any case the text is saying that the in gathering of the elect among the Jews is a mighty act of God Who alone can bring life out of death. By saying this we favor Franzmann's exegesis. We pass now to verse 29.

(The following verses are not included in the study) Romans 11:16 If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. Romans 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, Romans 11:18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:19 You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Romans 11:20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. Romans 11:21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Romans 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. Romans 11:23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. Romans 11:24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! Romans 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. Romans 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. Romans 11:27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins."  Romans 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,

Romans 11:29 for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

"God's gifts" is placed forward for the sake of emphasis.  "Irrevocable" literally means "unrepented."  Its contextual meaning is "irrevocable." 

Stoeckhardt: Paul says that the actions of God are unregretted, unrepented of, that is, firm, unchangeable.

Verse 29 explains verse 28. What God promised to the patriarchs He will bring to pass. His promises are summarized. The former is gifts in general and the latter their call in particular. Though the elect Jews of his time are still steeped in unbelief, because of election God's gifts and calling for the individual Jews will take place. The point is that they are not to be despised by the Gentiles.

Franzmann: God is God and not a man. His gifts and His call have their cause and origin in Him alone; they are not generated by the goodness of man, and they do not evaporate before the badness of man.

Romans 11:30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience,

The verse, and the next, call attention to a comparison. Verses 30-31 explain verses 29-30. Things are not always what they appear to be. Furthermore, God's will and purposes cannot be thwarted. At one time Paul's Gentile hearers were disobedient to God, dead in their trespasses and sins. But because of the disobedience of these (Jews) the Gentiles were treated mercifully by God. The unbelief of the Jews caused the Gospel to move to the Gentiles so that God could be merciful to the Gentiles.

Romans 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.

Likewise these Jews have become disobedient because of the mercy shown to the Gentiles in order that God may have mercy on them.

This verse reminds us of verse 14. When Paul began preaching to the Gentiles the Jews became jealous. As a result some of them were mercifully brought to faith in Jesus Christ. The initial unbelief of these Jews was the same as that of the Gentiles. And the merciful treatment of God toward these Jews was the same as that of the Gentiles.

Franzmann: The history of man is a history of his disobedience to God. Paul once more puts down the pride of the Gentile Christians. . . . The disobedience of the Jew was the occasion of the mercy shown to them (the Gentiles), but they did not, on their part, merit mercy by any previous obedience of their own.
Arndt: So they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy.

We must keep in mind that Paul is speaking only of those unbelieving Gentiles and Jews who came (or would come) to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is not speaking of the obdurate, hardened Gentiles and Jews.

Romans 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Another explanatory verse. Stoeckhardt, Arndt, Lenski, Franzmann and Kretzmann are agreed that this verse speaks only of the elect Jews and Gentiles. God has consigned all elect Jews and Gentiles to unbelief in order that He might have mercy on all. None of these Jews or Gentiles could plead special prerogatives. All had to admit that they had sinned and had come short of the glory of God. Compare what Paul says in Galatians 3:22. This verse clearly explains verse 26 which we have chosen as our theme: "All Israel will be saved." 

Stoeckhardt: We should not regard all unbelievers, with whom we are in contact, as hopelessly lost men, but consider that God's mercy is inexhaustible and can also do unto others what it has done unto us. . . . In the historical discussion, chapters 9-11, the apostle had begun with the lament over Israel's rejection. Israel, whose prerogatives were so great, is accursed from Christ. . . . And obduracy is the first step towards damnation. But not all Israelites are hardened and lost. God from eternity elected a people out of Israel, which he did not reject. From ages back He kept a remnant in Israel at all times. Now, during the time of the New Covenant a great number of Israelites have entered the Christian Church. . . . Many souls will yet be won for Christ at all times until the end of the world. And so finally all Israel, whom God chose for Himself, will be saved.
Lenski: God has placed all the Jews and the Gentiles of whom Paul is here speaking on the same level, in order to save all of them by the same means, namely his mercy. . . . In Rome Jewish and Gentile Christians were found together in one church. . . . Instead of either being supercilious toward the other, they had only one thing to do, embrace each other and sing thank giving to the one Mercy that brought them together in this, God's own wonderful way.

The text summarized in statements:

  1. God has note rejected His people, the Jews, verse 1. In chapters 9-11 Paul mentions the obdurate Jews. They rejected God. But that does not mean that God has rejected His people.

  2. Despite the fact that His people, the Jews, rejected Christ, the elect were found among them in Paul's day and are still found among them today. Their rejection of Christ led to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles. This caused the Jews to be envious. It led to their conversion, likened unto "life from the dead," verse 15.

  3. The conversion of the elect Jews is like unto the conversion of elect Gentiles, verses 30-31.

  4. God imprisoned both elect Jews and elect Gentiles in unbelief to humble them and make them see their great need for mercy, verse 31. This was and is followed by their being converted by the mercy of the Lord.

  5. To despise anyone, to consider one's self better than someone else is a very dangerous thing. No matter how despicable or hopeless an individual Jew or Gentile may be, how do we know that such a person may not become a child of God? That is why Paul breaks into a hymn of praise in verses 33-36.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 51-54. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index