Good morning! Today in Romans 9-11, Paul tackles head-on the problem of historical specificity. If salvation comes to the world through the God of the Jews, and through Christ the Jew, why is it that some Jews are not open to this path of salvation in Christ? Furthermore, how do Gentiles fit in what once was a Jews-only club? Paul spiritualizes what it means to belong to Abraham, contends that some Jews are fated by God to fall away (at least temporarily), and uses the horticultural method of grafting as a metaphor for how Gentiles connect to the taproot of Jewish faith.
Out of the gate in Romans 9, Paul denies the idea that everyone born from Abraham is a child of the Abrahamic faith. Rather, only some Jews are “elected” by God for salvation, while others receive only a hardened heart from God. Paul asserts that salvation is out of human control and recognizes that God’s choices might seem capricious, but whatever God chooses is right. God has free choice in who to favor and who to foreswear. He reasserts that faith and not behavior is salvific, giving a description of salvation that has been widely used as a formula in evangelical circles: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9). This accomplishes several things for Paul: it opens the door for believers to be Gentiles and not Jews, while it also relativizes the idea of a Chosen People to the exclusion of all others. Divine election comes not through biological or racial connection to Abraham, but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul goes further to describe the nature of Jews and Gentiles in the order of salvation. A stalwart Jew himself, Paul does not forswear Judaism as a path to salvation. Rather, he suggests that Gentiles are included as “wild stock” grafted into the tree of divine favor. Over the course of time, the grafted limbs grow as though they are part of the tree from the beginning, but their origin is from elsewhere. Some (native) Jews meanwhile are falling away, broken branches from the tree, but the prophets suggested this might happen. The Gentiles who come into the fold may well arouse envy in Hebrews and may lead some to salvation. Indeed, Paul imagines God’s eventual salvation of all Israel, because the covenant through Abraham and his descendants is divinely guaranteed, not revoked. While I have serious reservations about the idea of God electing anyone to suffer more greatly in life than others, or to risk being outside the fold of salvation, I’m grateful that Paul at least leaves open the possibility that God’s favor will envelop all in the end. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Romans 12-16. Thanks for reading!