Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wright on Israel in Rom 11

‘So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”’ (Rom 11:25-26)
Verse 26 in the Greek is: ‘kai. ou[twj pa/j VIsrah.l swqh,setai( kaqw.j ge,graptai\ h[xei evk Siw.n o` r`uo,menoj( avpostre,yei avsebei,aj avpo. VIakw,b’.

Of the ou[twj Tom Wright famously claims:

‘Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, the meaning of ou[twj is not ‘then’ but ‘thus’, ‘in this manner’. Paul’s meaning is not temporal sequence – first the Gentiles, then the Jews. Rather, it is the interpretation of a particular process as the salvation of ‘all Israel’. And in this context ‘all Israel’ cannot possibly mean ‘all Jews’. It is impermissible to argue that ‘Israel’ cannot change its referent within the space of two verses, so that ‘Israel’ in v.25 must mean the same as ‘Israel’ in v.26: Paul actually began the whole section (9:6) with just such a programmatic distinction of two ‘Israles’, and throughout the letter (e.g. 2.25-9) as well as elsewhere (Philippians 3.2-11) he has systematically transferred the privileges and attributes of ‘Israel’ to the Messiah and his people’ (The Climax of the Covenant, 250) – though to clarify I should point out that later Wright is clear to rule out a straightforward ‘replationist’ theology (253).

Speaking for him is that this interpretation helps 11:26 sit more comfortably in a otherwise problematic context. In fact, others have tried to resolve the apparent tension by proposing that 11:26 be understood a mere Pauline inconsistency, the outburst of an unthoughtout apocalyptic fantasy (Bultmann), while others explain it away as a later unPauline gloss. Not only that, Wright’s whole scheme in these chapters (Rom 9-11) helps one make sense of the relations between Rom 1-8 with 9-11 and even 12-16. Perhaps another good thing is that his interpretation flies in the face of Christian predictive Zionism that sometimes understands and reads the bible as if it were a script written by Nostrodamus, but admittedly that is hardly positive reason of itself. OK, maybe it is.

Do you think Wright is wrong or spot on?


At 8/25/2006 1:17 AM, Anonymous Rory Shiner said...

I tend to go more with Munck on Romans 9-11; a position which, if nothing else, thoroughly avoids the 'replationist' accusation Wright faces.

Broadly, I think the tensions Romans 9-11 raise for us are resolved neither by a future Zionist dream, nor by a equasion of 'Israel' and 'Church' (=People of the Messiah), but rather by seeing that the church of Acts 1-8, the Jewish Jerusalem church, is in fact the 'now mended tend of David'; the restored Israel which sends its light out to the nations and received the tribute of the nations in return (cf Paul's collection). Munck, Richardson, and especially D.W.B Robinson have helped me here.

Thus ends my brief trespass into the world of biblical studies.

At 8/25/2006 4:16 AM, Anonymous dan said...

Spot on.

At 8/25/2006 7:14 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

I think Wright's basic point about outws in the quote is very important. However, overall, I'm probably closer to the position Rory has outlined.

At 8/25/2006 7:15 AM, Anonymous Derek Brown said...

I think Wright nails it on the head here for precisely the reason you alluded to: "Wright’s whole scheme in these chapters (Rom 9-11) helps one make sense of the relations between Rom 1-8 with 9-11 and even 12-16." This is one of his big selling points for his interpretation, one that I buy without hesitation.

At 8/25/2006 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd tend to agree with Wright on this one, but I don't think his view leads to a replationist theology (which is surely just as untenable as the 2 covenant theology that some would argue for here).

The question surely has to be "who is Israel?" and I think it is almost another way of asking the question in Galatians 3 - "who are the children of Abraham?"

To me it seems fairly clear there that the children of Abraham are those who belong to Abraham's seed, which is the Messiah. The people of the Messiah do not "replace" ethnic Jews as Abraham's children, since Abraham's descendants are characterised by faith, and always have been.

Applied to Romans 9-11, it is then perfectly possible for "Israel" to mean the Church without accusations of replacement, since the church (those of faith and the Spirit) are those who are truly in continuity with Abraham and his seed.

There are probably problems with my viewpoint, but I don't think that replacement theology is necessarily a consequence of Wright's argument.

At 8/25/2006 2:16 PM, Anonymous James Mendelsohn said...

I'm with Rory and DWB Robinson. I think "Israel" in Rom.11 can only mean ethnic Israel. Aside from the wotd "outos", does not 11:25 have something significant to say? If there is "partial" hardening of Israel "until" the fulness of the Gentiles comes in, surely this points to a future time when Israel will be unhardened, and (the vast bulk of) a future generation of Jewish people will recognise Jesus as Messiah? This was the vision of many Puritans who were driven to pray and work for Jewish missions.

At 8/26/2006 12:22 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Rory,
I must admit, the 'tribute of the nations' = Paul's collection has never convinced me. And I don't think Wright must be understood as replationist either (As Steven points out below). That is a very subtle and flexible term, actually, and I think many use it too broadly to included anything that is not the two covenant approach!

Hi James M,
You’ve succinctly made some very good points that speak against Wright there. Interestingly, this ‘hardening until’ has been taken by those professing the two-covenant Sonderweg approach as justification for leaving the Jews alone, as God clearly has a different plan for them – no need to preach to them now, they say, as they are hardened ‘until’ all the Gentiles come in. It seems to me, they would be most consistent with this verse (as against the Puritans you mentioned – I have a copy of Muray’s The Puritan Hope), but surely contextual features would put a question mark next to this, and I think Wright’s is an attempt to take this on board. But I think your comments are difficult to dodge, none the less!

At 8/26/2006 3:46 PM, Anonymous boxthejack said...

I don't know Greek, and I had a late night. But I thought the use of "Israel" in v.25 was juxtaposed with the use of "all Israel" in v.26 as a literary way of making the point that God's redemptive plan hadn't changed since Gen 13, even though ethnic hubris had obscured the real point of it: "and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

I equated the softening of the part of old Israel with the eschatological 'softening' of the whole of creation. Whether this softening has soteriological implications is another matter!

Could someone tell me if I'm miles of here? I'm an interested layman.

At 8/27/2006 1:48 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Interesting points, boxthejack. I'm not sure the 'softening' works, however - I'll have to ponder your ideas.

Certainly Wright agrees that 'ethnic hubris', as you put it, is behind a lot of the text here

At 8/27/2006 4:15 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

I'll cast a yes vote for NTW here, though noting that we must be sure to emphasize that Paul does still care and hold beliefs/hope for salvation for a great many members of ethnic Israel. N. B. this is salvation through jesus, notthe US military.

Above all, thanks for doing some biblical that's good to see.


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