Monday, June 30, 2008

Romans 11:26

In Rom 11:26-27, Paul writes, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers, a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved."

Some, perhaps many, seem to read this passage in this fashion: The Jews are being hardened now (that is, very few Jews are being saved), but once all of the elect Gentiles have been saved, then the hardening will be taken away from the Jews, and Jews will be converted in very large numbers." However, in the context, that is not what the passage says. Paul is writing about his present situation. That is, the Jews were cut off because of unbelief (vs 20), and the gospel has gone out not to Jews only, but to Gentiles as well. However, that hardening of the Jews was not total but partial (that is, it is not the case that no more Jews are elect). Paul, recognizing that fact (the mystery that though the Jews as a nation had rejected their Messiah, God nonetheless did not cut them all off) works to see both Jew and Gentile saved.

Thus, this partial hardening (that is, some Jews are hardened, others are elect) will continue until all the Gentiles have been brought in as well. Then all Israel (that is , the church, made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers) will be saved.

The reader needs to recognize that Paul does not use "Israel" in the same sense throughout the entire passage (chs 9-11). Note, for example, 9:6, where Paul says, for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel; or, as a more literal rendering puts is, for they are not all Israel that are of Israel. So Paul sometimes uses "Israel" to refer to the physical descendants of Abraham, and sometimes to refer to the descendants of Abraham by faith, that is the church.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Are we to expect a future mass conversion of Jews?

Many Christians, in their discussions of eschatology, hold that there will be, near the time of Jesus’ return, the conversion of notably large numbers of ethnic/national Israel.

First, I am uncomfortable with the terms "ethnic" or "national" Israel. "Ethnic," as it is commonly used, implies a racial/genetic connection. Modern Jews have only the most tenuous racial/genetic connections with Israel as it existed in the first century AD. It is true that there are distinctive genetic markers that those named Cohen (or some variation thereof) share, but that is limited to that particular line. As far as I am aware, there is no indication of other genetic markers that would indicate that someone is “ethnically” a Jew. Likewise, “nation" generally implies a political entity. Modern Judaism is neither ethnic nor national in those senses. I prefer to use the terms Jew, Jews, and Judaism, because Judaism is a religious entity made up of many ethnic groups from many nations.

I do believe that many, many Jews will be converted to Christianity, and that many, many Jews have been and are being converted to Christianity. However, I do not expect that there will be some "mass conversion" of Jews that will occur shortly prior to Jesus' return, and I do not think that Paul teaches that. I also do not find that view to be out of accord with the Westminster Larger Catechism Question 191, which says in part “we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called.” I do pray that the Jews will be called. I just don't have the expectations regarding that calling that my pre- and postmil brothers seem to have.