Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The eleventh chapter may be divided into three sections; still dealing with the rejection of Israel, and containing (1) Romans 11:1-10, limitations and qualifications to this; (2) Romans 11:11-24, compensations; (3) Romans 11:25-32, consolations; the whole being closed with a doxology.
I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.(1) I say then.—Are we to infer from the language of Isaiah just quoted that God has cast away his people? Far be the thought. The Apostle is himself too closely identified with his countrymen to look upon it with anything but horror.
I also.—This appeal to his own descent from Abraham seems to be called forth by the Apostle’s patriotic sympathy with his people, and not merely by the thought that he would be included in their rejection. This last explanation, which is that usually given, is less accordant with the generous chivalry of his nature, and does not agree so well with Romans 9:3.
Of the tribe of Benjamin.—And therefore of the purest blood, because the tribes of Judah and Benjamin alone kept up the theocratic continuity of the race after the Exile. (Comp. Philippians 3:5.)
God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying,(2) Which he foreknew.—This must not be pressed too far, as implying an absolute indefectibility of the divine favour. God, having in His eternal counsels set His choice upon Israel as His peculiar people, will not readily disown them. Nor is their case really so bad as it may seem. Now, as in the days of Elijah, there are a select few who have not shared in the general depravity.
Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.(3) I am left alone—i.e., of the prophets.
But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.(4) To the image of Baal.—The name “Baal” is here, as frequently in the LXX., in the feminine gender, and it is to account for this that our translators have inserted the word “image.” How the feminine really came to be used is uncertain. Some have thought that the deity was androgynous, others have conjectured that the feminine is used contemptuously. Baal was originally the sun-god. The sun, it may be remembered, is feminine in German and some other languages.
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.(5, 6) As there was a remnant then, so also is there a remnant now. That there should be so is due not to any human merit on the part of those exempted from the fate of their nation, but to the spontaneous act of the divine grace selecting them from the rest. These two things,” grace” and “works,” really exclude each other.
The Apostle reverts somewhat parenthetically, and because his mind is full of the thought, to his idea of Romans 9:11-16. We have here also a break in the train of argument. After establishing the fact that there is this remnant, the Apostle inquires how there came to be one. The reason was because the mass of the people trusted to their own works instead of relying upon grace; therefore grace deserted them, and they were left to a judicial blindness.
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.(6) And if by grace.—The true text of this verse differs considerably from that which is translated in the Authorised version, “But if by grace, then is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more seen to be grace.”
The preservation of the remnant cannot be due to grace and works at the same time; it must be due to one or the other.
What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded(7) What is the result? Not only did Israel fail to obtain the salvation which it sought, and which the select few succeeded in obtaining, but it was consigned to a state of complete spiritual apathy and torpor, and its very blessings became a curse and a snare.
Were blinded.—An erroneous translation, arising from a confusion of two similar words. The correct rendering, “were hardened,” is given in the margin. So, too, “were blinded,” in 2Corinthians 3:14, and “blindness,” in Romans 11:25 of this chapter and Ephesians 4:18, should be changed to “were hardened,” “hardness.” The corresponding words in the Gospels are rightly translated. The term is one used in medicine for the forming of chalkstone, &c.
(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.(8) The spirit of slumber.—This phrase, again, has a curious history. Etymologically, the word translated “slumber” would seem to agree better with the marginal rendering, “remorse.” It comes from a root meaning to “prick or cut with a sharp instrument.” There happens to be another root somewhat similar, but certainly not connected, which means “drowsiness,” “slumber.” Hence, where the word in the text has been used to render the Hebrew word for “slumber,” it has been thought that there was a confusion between the two. It appears, however, from the LXX. usage, that the sense of “slumber” had certainly come to attach to the word here used by St. Paul. From the notion of a sharp wound or blow came to be derived that of the bewilderment or stupefaction consequent upon such a blow, and hence it came to signify stupor in general.
And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:(9) And David saith.—It appears highly improbable that this Psalm was really written by David. Nor can the Davidic authorship be argued strongly from this passage, as “David” merely seems to stand for the Book of Psalms, with which his name was traditionally connected.
St. Paul is quoting freely from the LXX. In the original of Psalms 69 these verses refer to the fate invoked by the psalmist upon his persecutors; here they are applied by St. Paul to the fiat of the Almighty which had been pronounced against the unbelieving people of Israel.
Let their table . . .—In the very moment of their feasting, let them be caught in a stratagem of their enemies.
And a trap.—These words are not found either in the Hebrew or in the LXX., and appear to be added by St. Paul. Translate rather, Let them be for a chase—i.e., instead of feasting, let them be hunted and persecuted.
And a recompence unto them.—Similarly the LXX. The Hebrew is, “When they are in peace, let it be a trap” (“that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap”—A.V.)—i.e., when they are eating and drinking securely, let them be caught as in a trap; let their security itself deceive them. By “recompence unto them” the Apostle means, Let their prosperity bring upon them retaliation for what they have done—namely, for their rejection of Christ.
Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.(10) Let their eyes be darkened.—In the Apostle’s sense, “Let them be spiritually blinded, incapable of discerning or receiving the truth, and let their backs be bowed with the yoke of spiritual thraldom!” The Hebrew is, “Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not, and make their loins continually to shake.” On which Perowne remarks: “The darkening of the eyes denotes weakness and perplexity, as the enlightening of the eyes denotes renewed vigour and strength. Similarly, the shaking of the loins is expressive of terror and dismay and feebleness.”
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.(11-24) In this section the Apostle goes on to consider further the bearings of the rejection, and here, first (Romans 11:11-16), he considers the more hopeful side of it as regards the Jews themselves; their fall was not to be final, and there was every reason to think that their reconversion would more than make up for their fall; secondly (Romans 11:17-24), he turns to the Gentiles and bids them remember how it was that they came to be inserted like a graft in the true theocratic stem, and warns them not to make use of their new privilege to boast against those who were refused to make way for them.
(11) The Jews did, indeed, stumble at the stumbling-block mentioned in Romans 9:32-33. Many were offended at Christ. But did their stumbling involve their utter and final ruin? It had a far more beneficent purpose than that. It brought salvation to the Gentiles, and it did this only to react as an incentive upon the Jews.
For to provoke them to jealousy.—The reason why salvation had been extended to the Gentiles was to stir up them (the Jews) to emulation. Their privileges had made them negligent and apathetic. The sight of others stepping into those privileges was to rouse them from their apathy
Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?(12) And if the fall of the Jews had such good results, much more might be expected from their reinstatement.
Diminishing . . . fulness.—It is, perhaps, difficult to suggest a better translation. The Apostle seems to have in view not only the supersession of the Jews by the Gentiles, but also, under the figure of a defeat in battle, the reduction of their numbers to a small remnant. And, on the other hand, he looks forward to their full and complete restoration, when every Jew shall be a member of the Messianic kingdom, and there shall not be one missing. The full “complement,” as it were, of the nation is what is meant by “fulness;” its temporary reduction and degradation is expressed by “diminishing.”
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:(13-16) In this I am speaking to you Gentiles. It is you who will benefit by the restoration of the Jews. And this is the real reason why, as Apostle of the Gentiles, I make the most of my office. I do it in order to incite to emulation my own countrymen, knowing that the effects of their rejection lead us to infer the very happiest effects from their readmission. For their end will be as their beginning was. They began their career as the chosen people of God, and the conclusion of it will be still more glorious.
(13) For I speak to you Gentiles.—The connecting particles in this verse must be altered according to an amended reading. “For” should be omitted, a full stop placed after “Gentiles,” and “then” inserted after “inasmuch.” “I speak to you Gentiles”—spoken with something of a pause. “Inasmuch then” (or, in so far then) “as I am the Apostle of the Gentiles, I seek to do honour to my office. But not without an arrière-pensée. My motive is at least partly to win over my own countrymen.”
For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?(15) Reconciling of the world.—The gospel could not be preached to the Gentiles until it had first been offered to and rejected by the Jews. Hence the casting away of the Jews might be said to have caused the reconciling of the rest of the world.
Life from the dead.—The reconversion of the Jews will be a signal to inaugurate that reign of eternal life which will be ushered in by the resurrection from the dead.
For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.(16) And we have the strongest reason for believing in this reconversion of the Jews. Their forefathers were the first recipients of the promise, and what they were it is only natural to hope that their descendants will be. When a piece of dough is taken from the lump to make a consecrated cake, the consecration of the part extends over the whole; and the character which is inherent in the root of a tree shows itself also in the branches. So we may believe that the latter end of Israel will be like its beginning. The consecration that was imparted to it in the founders of the race we may expect to see resumed by their descendants, even though it is for a time interrupted.
The firstfruit . . . the lump.—The allusion here is to the custom, described in Numbers 15:19-21, of dedicating a portion of the dough to God. The portion thus taken was to be a “heave-offering”—i.e., it was to be “waved,” or “heaved,” before the Lord, and was then given to the priest.
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;(17-24) The admission of the Gentile to the privileges of the Jew is no ground for boasting on his part. It is merely an admission. The Gentile is, as it were, a branch grafted into a stem that was none of his planting. Nor is his position absolutely secured to him. It is held conditionally on the tenure of faith. He ought, therefore, anxiously to guard against any failure in faith. For the moment God has turned towards him the gracious side of His providence, as towards the Jew He has turned the severe side. But this relation may easily be reversed, and the Jew received back into the favour which he once enjoyed.
(17) And.—Rather, but.
Among them—i.e., among the branches of the olive-tree generally, both those which are broken off and those which are suffered to remain. This seems on the whole the more probable view; it would be possible to translate the words, in place of them (the branches broken off).
Partakest of the root and fatness.—The meaning of this is sufficiently obvious as it stands. If, as perhaps is probable, we ought to drop the second “and,” reading, “of the root of the fatness,” the sense is that the rich flow of sap in which the wild olive par-takes does not belong to the wild olive itself, but is all drawn from the root.
The evidence for the omission of the second “and” is that of the Vatican, Sinaitic, and rescript Paris manuscript—a strong combination.
Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.(18) Thou bearest not the root.—There can be no boasting, for the privileges which the Gentiles possess are derived, and not original.
Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.(19, 20) It might be possible for the Gentile to claim a special providence in his substitution for the Jew. He should rather be reminded that there is a condition—faith—which is attached to this substitution; this he must be careful to observe, or else he will lose all that he has gained.
For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.(21) Take heed lest . . .—The better reading seems to be to omit these words, neither will He spare thee.
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.(22) As Providence had been appealed to, the Apostle states the true Providential aspect of God’s rejection of Israel. It had a double side—one of goodness towards the Gentile, one of deserved severity towards the Jew. But, at the same time, the fact that the covenant was made originally with the Jew, and that he was the natural heir to the promises which it contained, is a guarantee for his restoration if he would only dismiss his unbelief.
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.(25-32) There was a deep meaning underlying the temporary rejection of Israel, of which he has been speaking—a meaning which has hitherto been kept secret, but now to be revealed as a corrective to any possible pride on the part of the Gentiles.
(25) Mystery.—The word always means throughout St. Paul’s writings something which, though not to be known or fully comprehended by unassisted human reason, has been made known by direct divine revelation. It is therefore not to be taken in this passage in its usual sense, of something hidden and concealed from all except a few, but rather of all such truths as though previously hidden, had been made manifest by the gospel.
It is thus applied to the whole or any part of the Christian system. To the whole, as in Romans 16:25; 1Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 1:26-27; Colossians 2:2; 1Timothy 3:9; 1Timothy 3:16. To any part, as (a) the admission of the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:3 et seq., and partly here; (b) the mystical union of Christ and His Church which is typified in marriage, Ephesians 5:32; (c) the transformation of the “quick” at the resurrection, 1Corinthians 15:51; and (d) the opposition of Antichrist to the gospel, 2Thessalonians 2:7.
Here the reference is to the whole of the divine purpose as shown in the dealings with Jew and Gentile, and especially in the present exclusion and future re-admission of the former. This last point the Apostle goes on to prove.
Blindness.—Rather, as in the margin, hardness, a hardening of the heart so that the gospel could not find entrance into it.
In part.—These words qualify “Israel.” The hardness extends over some, but not over all. There were Jewish as well as Gentile converts in Rome itself.
The fulness of the Gentiles.—As above, the complete number; the full complement of the Gentiles.
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:(26) When this ingathering of the Gentiles is complete, then the turn of Israel will come round again, and the prophecies of their conversion will be fulfilled.
There shall come . . .—This prophecy is peculiarly appropriate, as it refers to the exiles who had apostatised in Babylon. Then, as now, a part of the nation had remained true, and those who had not would come back to their obedience.
Out of Sion.—There is a curious variation here from the original, which is rather, to Sion. The LXX. has “for Sion”—i.e., in the cause of Sion. The Apostle appears to be quoting from memory, and is influenced by a reminiscence of other passages. Zion is the centre and capital of the theocracy, but the Messiah must first take up His abode there before He can issue from it.
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.(27) The second part of the quotation, “For (rather, and), this is my covenant with them,” &c., appears to be taken from the LXX. version of Isaiah 27:9. The connecting-links between the two are the removing of transgression from Jacob, and the form of the phrase, “This is my covenant with them.” (“This is his blessing,” Isaiah 27:9, LXX.)
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.(28) The real position of the Jews is this: They have been suffered to fall into a state of estrangement in order to make room for the Gentiles. But this does not abrogate God’s original choice of them. They are still His beloved people, for the sake of their forefathers, the patriarchs, if not for their own.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.(29) Without repentance.—Not to be revoked or withdrawn, not even to he regretted.
For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:(30, 31) Have not believed . . . unbelief . . . not believed . . .—Rather, disobeyed . . . disobedience . . . disobeyed.
Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.(31) Through your mercy—i.e., through the mercy vouchsafed to you. The sight of the admission of the Gentiles is to act as a stimulus upon the Jews, and so lead to a renewal of their faith and obedience.
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.(32) Unhappy as the fate of the world might seem, first the Gentiles and then the Jews being consigned to a state of disobedience, this has really had a merciful object in the end. It will lead to a happy and complete reunion, “one flock under one shepherd.”
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief.—A weighty sentence embracing the whole course of human history, and summing up the divine philosophy of the whole matter. We might almost take these profound words of St. Paul as a motto for the theological side of the theory of evolution. Severe and rigorous as that doctrine may seem, its goal is perfection, the absolute harmony of all things working in accordance with the divine will. And if an objection is taken on the ground of the waste of individual life, this may be subject to we know not what beneficent rectifications in a sphere removed from that of the senses. We are able to see only a “part of God’s ways,” and the drift and tendency of visible things makes it not difficult for us to believe that “all things work together for good,” even where the process by which they do so is not to be traced by the human eye.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!(33-36) This grand and comprehensive view of the divine purposes makes so deep an impression upon the Apostle that he breaks out into an impassioned ascription of praise, with which the first (doctrinal) portion of the Epistle is brought to a close.
(33) Riches.—The two substantives which follow may be taken as dependent upon “riches.” This is the construction adopted in the Authorised version, and is expressed by the use of the word “both.” Or all three substantives may be independent, O the depth of the riches, and of the wisdom and knowledge of God! In either case, “riches” means “inexhaustible resources,” implying either that the wisdom and knowledge of God are inexhaustible, or that the materials at their command are inexhaustible. By means of these infinite resources God is able to bring good even out of evil.
Judgments.—Decisions, such as that by which Israel was excluded and the Gentiles admitted.
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counseller?(34) For who hath known the mind of the Lord?—The two clauses in this verse are illustrative of the wisdom and knowledge of God, just as the next verse is illustrative of His “riches.”
Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?(35) The depth of God’s knowledge none can penetrate, and the counsels of His wisdom admit of no assessor. The means by which God works are not supplied to Him from without, but proceed from the boundless stores of His omnipotence.
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.(36) Of him, and through him, and to him.—All things proceed from God, all things are made or wrought by Him, and all things exist for His glory, and to carry out His ends. It is a mistake to see in this, as some of the older commentators have done, an allusion to the Trinity. This can hardly be. The subject of the whole verse appears to be God the Father, and the prominent idea is rather the unity of creation corresponding to the unity of the Godhead. The whole system of things issues from and returns to Him, accomplishing in its course His beneficent designs. It is true, however, that the use of the prepositions is such as in more analytical passages would be taken to express the threefold relation (origination, mediate causation, and retrocession) which the doctrine of the Trinity embodies.