What does the Bible mean when it says, “All Israel shall be saved”?

What does the Bible mean when it says, “All Israel shall be saved”?           By Jack Kettler

“And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Romans 11:26)

·         How has this passage been interpreted historically?

·         For example, is the apostle looking beyond the Old Testament typology of Israel to the larger Church made up of all of God’s elect consisting of both Jews and Gentiles? 

·         If Romans 11:26 is taken at face value, it seems to be saying that everyone in Israel literally will be saved.

·         If so, would this mean every Jewish person throughout all of history will be saved, or only at some specific time in history?

Points two and four or some variation with qualifications; are the two major viewpoints or interpretive approaches to the passage.

First, was Paul referencing other Old Testament Scriptures in Romans 11:26?

“But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.” (Isaiah 45:17)

“And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.” (Isaiah 59:20)

“At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)

The above three passages, reiterate the theme that is seen concerning Israel’s redemption throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.

For example:

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Genesis 17:7)

Paul most certainly had the above passages in mind when he penned Romans 11:26. These Old Testament passages affirm what is said in Romans 11:26; they do not answer the introductory questions about how many in Israel, what time period, and does Israel a type of a larger group of people to be saved.

It is always helpful to survey how Romans 11:26 has been interpreted in the past. There are several competing interpretations.     

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges describes some of the different approaches to interpreting this passage:
“26. And so all Israel shall be saved several interpretations of these words are in themselves legitimate. They may refer (A) to the natural Israel, the Jews; or (B) to the “Israel of God,” the true Church of Christ. Again, if the reference (A) is adopted, the prophecy may mean (a) that then all the elect of Israel shall at length be gathered in—the long process shall at length be complete; or (b) that every individual of the then generation of Jews shall be brought to Messiah’s grace; or (c) that “all” bears a less exact reference here, as so often in Scripture, and means “in general;”—“Israel in general, the Jews of that day as a great aggregate, on a scale unknown before, shall be saved.”

Of these various possibilities we prefer on the whole (A. c,) as the most in accord with the context, and with the analogy of Scripture. The explanation (B) is in itself entirely true: the final glory and triumph of the Gospel will surely be, not specially the salvation of the Jews, but that of the Universal Church—the immortal Bride of the King Eternal. And it is extremely important to remember the full recognition in Scripture of all its true members as the “seed of Abraham” (Galatians 3:29). But this is not the truth exactly in point here, where St Paul is dealing with the special prospect of a time when “blindness in part” will no longer characterize Jews as Jews. And the “Israel” of Romans 11:25 is probably the Israel of Romans 11:26, as no distinction is suggested in the interval.—Again, the reference marked (A. a), though perfectly true in itself, is less likely here because in Romans 11:15; Romans 11:25, we have had already a prediction of a restoration of Jews, en masse, to grace; whereas the process of gathering in the elect of all ages is continuous, and thus, on the whole, gradual.—Again, the reference marked (A. b), though the Divine Plan may, of course, intend no less, is far from analogous to the main teaching of Scripture as to the developements (even the largest) of grace in this world.—On the whole, then, we adopt the interpretation which explains the sentence as predicting the conversion of some generation or generations of Jews, a conversion so real and so vastly extensive that unbelief shall be the small exception at the most, and that Jews as such shall everywhere be recognized as true Christians, lights in the world, and salt on the earth.” (1)

In the next commentary selection, a view will be considered that “all Israel” refers to all of Israel at a specific point in history will be saved.

It will be helpful to consider Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Romans 11:26 for the first or the (A) entry viewpoint as noted by the Cambridge commentary:  “Here is a third and chief part of the aforementioned mystery, that in the end,

all Israel shall be saved. By Israel is not meant the whole church of God, consisting of Jews and Gentiles; so that word is used, Galatians 6:16, and elsewhere; for then, what he spake would have been no mystery at all: but by Israel here (as in the precedent verse) you must understand, the nation and people of the Jews. And by

all Israel is not meant every individual Israelite, but many, or (it may be) the greatest part of them. So all is to be taken in Scripture: see John 6:45 1 Timothy 2:6, and elsewhere. Look, as when he speaks of the conversion of the Gentiles, and the coming in of their fulness, there are many (too many of them) still unconverted; so, notwithstanding the general calling of the Jews, a great many of them may remain uncalled.

As it is written; the apostle had this by revelation, but he proves it also by Scripture. All are not agreed from whence these testimonies are taken; the former is found (with some little variation) in Isaiah 59:20: as for the latter, some think it is taken from Jeremiah 31:33. Others think, that he joineth two places in Isaiah together, (as he did before, Romans 11:8), and the last words are taken out of Isaiah 27:9. The Seventy have the very words used by the apostle. These prophecies and promises, though they were in part fulfilled when Christ came in the flesh, {see Acts 3:26} yet there will be a more full and complete accomplishment thereof upon the Jewish nation and people towards the end of the world.” (2)

 John Calvin represents a second view or (B) entry, as noted by the Cambridge commentary as a type for all of God’s elect people from the Jews and Gentiles.    

 It would be good to consider his line of reasoning from John Calvin on Romans 11:26:  “26. And so all Israel, etc. Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, — “When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.” This interpretation seems to me the most suitable, because Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Galatians 6:16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles; and he sets the people, thus collected from their dispersion, in opposition to the carnal children of Abraham, who had departed from his faith.

As it is written, etc. He does not confirm the whole passage by this testimony of Isaiah, (Isaiah 59:20,) but only one clause, — that the children of Abraham shall be partakers of redemption. But if one takes this view, — that Christ had been promised and offered to them, but that as they rejected him, they were deprived of his grace; yet the Prophet’s words express more, even this, — that there will be some remnant, who, having repented, shall enjoy the favor of deliverance.

Paul, however, does not quote what we read in Isaiah, word for word;

“Come,” he says, “shall a Redeemer to Sion, and to those who shall repent of iniquity in Jacob, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 59:20.)

But on this point we need not be very curious; only this is to be regarded, that the Apostles suitably apply to their purpose whatever proofs they adduce from the Old Testament; for their object was to point but passages, as it were by the finger, that readers might be directed to the fountain itself.

But though in this prophecy deliverance to the spiritual people of God is promised, among whom even Gentiles are included; yet as the Jews are the first-born, what the Prophet declares must be fulfilled, especially in them: for that Scripture calls all the people of God Israelites, is to be ascribed to the pre-eminence of that nation, whom God had preferred to all other nations. And then, from a regard to the ancient covenant, he says expressly, that a Redeemer shall come to Sion; and he adds, that he will redeem those in Jacob who shall return from their transgression. By these words God distinctly claims for himself a certain seed, so that his redemption may be effectual in his elect and peculiar nation. And though fitter for his purpose would have been the expression used by the Prophet, “shall come to Sion;” yet Paul made no scruple to follow the commonly received translation, which reads, “The Redeemer shall come forth from Mount Sion.” And similar is the case as to the second part, “He shall turn away iniquities from Jacob:” for Paul thought it enough to regard this point only, — that as it is Christ’s peculiar office to reconcile to God an apostate and faithless people, some change was surely to be looked for, lest they should all perish together.” (3)

 The following summary of the three most prominent views by Simon J. Kistemaker is constructive:Three Interpretations

A. “The Most Popular Theory

“All Israel” indicates the mass of Jews living on earth in the end-time. The full number of elect Gentiles will be gathered in. After that the mass of the Jews—Israel on a large scale—will be saved. This will happen just previous to, or at the very moment of, Christ’s Return.

 For the names of some of the advocates of this theory, see p. 307.

Evaluation

a. The Greek word οὕτως does not mean then or after that. The rendering “Then all Israel will be saved” is wrong. In none of the other occurrences of this word in Romans, or anywhere else in the New Testament, does this word have that meaning. It means so, in this manner, thus.

  b. This theory also fails to do justice to the word all in “all Israel.” Does not “all Israel” sound very strange as a description of the (comparatively) tiny fraction of Jews who will still be living on earth just before, or at the moment of, Christ’s Return?

  c. The context clearly indicates that in writing about the salvation of Israelites and Gentiles Paul is not limiting his thoughts to what will take place in the future. He very definitely includes what is happening now. See especially verses 30, 31.

  d. Would it not be strange for God to single out for a very special favor—nothing less than salvation full and free—exactly that generation of Jews which will have hardened its heart against the testimony of the longest train of Christian witnesses, a train extending all the way from the days of Christ’s sojourn on earth—in fact, in a sense, all the way from Abraham—to the close of the new dispensation?

  e. The reader has not been prepared for the idea of a mass conversion of Israelites. All along Paul stresses the very opposite, namely, the salvation, in any age (past, present, future) of a remnant. See the passages listed under 11:5, p. 363. If Rom. 11:26 actually teaches a mass conversion of Jews, would it not seem as if Paul is saying, “Forget what I told you previously”?

  f. If Paul is here predicting such a future mass conversion of Jews, is he not, contradicting, if not the letter, at least the spirit, of his earlier statement found in 1 Thess. 2:14b–16:

  “… the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and do not please God, and are hostile to all men, in that they try to prevent us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But upon them the wrath [of God] has come to the uttermost”?

  g. The immediately following context (11:26b, 27) refers to a coming of “the Deliverer” who will turn away godlessness and remove sin from Jacob. Was not that the purpose of Christ’s first coming? But the popular interpretation of Rom. 11:26 predicts a mass conversion of Jews in connection with Christ’s second coming. That theory is, accordingly, not in harmony with the context.

  For these several reasons Interpretation A. should be rejected.

 B. John Calvin’s Theory

“All Israel” refers to the total number of the elect throughout history, all those who are ultimately saved both Jews and Gentiles. In his Commentary on his passage Calvin expresses himself as follows:

  “I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning: when the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also will return from their defection to the obedience of faith, and thus will be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both …”

  The same view is defended by J. A. C. Van Leeuwen and D. Jacobs, op. cit., p. 227; and, in a sense, by Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief, Zürich, 1954, p. 401; English tr., p. 416.

Evaluation

In as far as Calvin interprets the term Israel spiritually—“Israel” refers to the elect—his theory must be considered correct. Cf. Rom. 9:6. Also his claim that the section, verses 25–32 (considered as a unit), describes the one people of God cannot be successfully refuted. On the other hand, Calvin’s application of the term “Israel,” in verse 26, to all the people of God, both Jews and Gentiles, is wrong. In the preceding context the words Israel, Isrealites (s) occur no less than eleven times: 9:4; 9:6 (twice); 9:27; 9:31; 10:19; 10:21; 11:1; 11:2; 11:7; and 11:25. In each case the reference is clearly to Jews, never to Gentiles. What compelling reason can there be, therefore, to adopt a different meaning for the term Israel as used here in 11:26? To be sure, at the close of verse 25 the apostle makes mention of the Gentiles, but only in order to indicate that the partial hardening of the Jews will not cease until every elect Gentile will have been brought into the kingdom. Accordingly, Paul is still talking about the Jews. He does so also in verse 26b. Even verse 28 contains a clear reference to Jews. Not until verses 30–32 are reached does the apostle cause the entire body of the elect, both Jews and Gentiles, to pass in review together.

  Therefore, while appreciating the good elements in Calvin’s explanation, we cannot agree with him in interpreting the term “all Israel” in 11:26 as referring to all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles. A passage should be interpreted in light of its context. In the present case the context points to Jews, not to Gentiles, nor in verses 26–29 to a combination of Jews and Gentiles.

 C. A Third Theory

The term “All Israel” means the total number of elect Jews, the sum of all Israel’s “remnants.” “All Israel” parallels “the fulness of the Gentiles.” Verses 25. 26 make it very clear that God is dealing with both groups, has been saving them, is saving them, and is going to save them. And if “All Israel” indicates, as it does, that not a single elect Israelite will be lacking “when the roll is called up yonder,” then “the fulness of the Gentiles” similarly shows that when the attendance is checked every elect Gentile will answer “Present.”

  For the meaning of “will be saved” see on 1:16, p. 60. For Jew and Gentile the way of salvation is the same. In fact, their paths run side by side. Opportunity to be saved will have ended for both when Christ returns. As indicated previously, the two—“the fulness of the Gentiles” and “All Israel”—constitute one organism, symbolized by a single olive tree. It should be clear that if, in the present connection, fulness must be interpreted in its unlimited sense, the same holds for all in “All Israel.”

  The words “And so” are explained by Paul himself. They indicate, “In such a marvelous manner,” a manner no one could have guessed. If God had not revealed this “mystery” to Paul, he would not have known it. It was, in fact, astonishing. The very rejection of the majority of Israelites, throughout history recurring again and again, was, is, and will be, a link in the effectuation of Israel’s salvation. For details, see above, p. 366, 367, 377, 378 (Rom. 11:11, 12, 25).

    Although, to be sure, this interpretation is not nearly as popular as is theory A, among its defenders are men of recognized scholarship (as holds also, of course, for theories A and B). Let me mention but a few.

  One of the propositions successfully defended by S. Volbeda, when he received his summa cum laude doctor of theology degree from the Free University of Amsterdam was: “The term ‘all Israel’ in Rom. 11:26a must be understood as indicating the collective elect out of Israel.”

  H. Bavinck, author of the four-volume work Gereformeerde Dogmatiek [Reformed Dogmatics], states, “ ‘All Israel’ in 11:26, is not the people of Israel, destined lo be converted collectively, neither is it the church consisting of united Jews and Gentiles; but it is the full number which during the course of the centuries is gathered out of Israel.” Cf. H. Hoeksema, God’s Eternal Good Pleasure, Grand Rapids, 1950, p. 465.

  And L. Berkhof states, “‘All Israel’ is to be understood as a designation not of the whole nation but of the whole number of the elect out of the ancient covenant people … and the adverb οὕτως cannot mean ‘after that,’ but only ‘in this manner.’ ”

  For a similar interpretation, see H. Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 263.

  Not only scholars of Reformed persuasion and Dutch nationality or lineage have adopted this interpretation, but so have many others, as is clear from a glance at Lenski’s commentary on Romans, pp. 714, 726, 727. See also O. Palmer Robertson, “Is There a Distinctive Future for Ethnic Israel in Romans II?,” in Perspectives on Evangelical Theology, Grand Rapids, 1979, pp. 81–94. These interpreters are convinced that this is the only interpretation that suits the text and context.” (4)

 A fourth theory: A partial preterist assessment of Romans 11:26:

 All Israel will be saved: Notes on Romans 11:26 by Gary DeMar:  “As with most theological positions, there are a variety of interpretations of this passage: (1) The salvation of every racial/ethnic Jew. This is an impossible interpretation. Why preach the gospel to the Jews if they’re all going to be saved?”[1] (2) the salvation of believers–racial and spiritual Jews–throughout history. This position changes the meaning of Israel, going from literal (Rom. 11:1) to spiritual (11:26). While it’s possible; it’s unlikely; (3) the salvation of a remnant of Jews at the end of history. This is the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Q. 191 LC). Two-thousand years have passed since Romans was written. The Jews have had plenty of time to be “jealous” (Rom. 11:11). The Jews in Paul’s day were jealous. That’s why Jews were persecuting the church; (4) salvation of those Jews who survive the Great Tribulation. This becomes a debate over when the GT took/takes place. A remnant of Jews was saved prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, therefore, the GT is a past event; (5) the remnant of Jews living during the period of covenant transition until the time Jerusalem was judged and the temple destroyed. This interpretation makes the most sense given the time indicators in the passage.

“I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1).1. Paul is describing the remnant in his day (11:5) in the same way that Elijah was describing the remnant in his own day (1 Kings 19:10).

·         The remnant is alive “at the present time” (11:5), that is, in Paul’s day. It’s this remnant that Paul hopes to save through the preaching of the gospel, many of whom have already been saved (cf. Acts 2:5–12, 37–41).

2. There is no mention of a future tribulation or an “after the rapture” period in Romans 9–11.

3. Paul wants to save “some” of his “fellow-countrymen” (11:14).

·         He is speaking of the present.

·         What help is Paul’s “ministry” (11:13) going to be more than 2000 years in the future?: “So these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy” (11:31).

4. Save them from what? Save them from the coming judgment upon Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70.

Endnotes:[1] “Some see [‘all Israel’] in a diachronic sense, namely, that ‘all Israel’ refers to the nation as it has existed throughout history and that will have a share in the world to come (Sanhedrin 10:1) after the resurrection. Others take it in a synchronic sense where ‘all Israel’ refers to the nation only as it exists at a moment in history, particularly at the end of time as a part of the eschatological program. The second alternative is preferred. Moo states, ‘No occurrence of the phrase “all Israel” has a clearly diachronic meaning.’ Furthermore, the context speaks of Israel’s rejection of Messiah and her hardening, which was to continue until the time when the fullness of Gentiles should come in. Then, in sharp contrast, at a particular moment in history, ‘all Israel’ will experience salvation” (Harold W. Hoehner, “Israel in Romans 9–11,” Israel: The Land and the People–An Evangelical Affirmation of God’s Promises, ed. H. Wayne House [Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1998], 156).” (6)

 In closing:

 Romans 11:26 is a challenging passage to interpret. In the viewpoints surveyed, all have elements of truth. Thankfully, salvation does not hinge on a perfect interpretation of this passage.

 This writer agrees with the Cambridge commentary that:  “Of these various possibilities we prefer on the whole (A. c,) as the most in accord with the context, and with the analogy of Scripture. The explanation (B) is in itself entirely true: the final glory and triumph of the Gospel will surely be, not specially the salvation of the Jews, but that of the Universal Church—the immortal Bride of the King Eternal.”

 “To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

 Notes:

 1.      The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, H. C. G. Moule, Romans, (Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1892), p. 199-200.

2.      Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Matthew, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 519-520.

3.      John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Romans, Volume XIX, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp. 437-439.

4.      Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Romans, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1982), pp. 379-382.

5.      Gary DeMar, American Vision, All Israel will be saved: Notes on Romans 11:26, (online, 2004)

 Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

THE DUAL STATUS OF ISRAEL IN ROMANS 11:28, 3 three views by Matt Waymeyer https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj16c.pdf

 And so all Israel will be saved’: Competing Interpretations of Romans 11.26 in Pauline Scholarship by Christopher Zoccali https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0142064X07088405

 Commentators on Romans 11:26, “All Israel will be Saved” Collected and analyzed by Eli Brayley http://www.timothyministry.com/2015/08/commentators-on-romans-1126-all-israel.html

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