My JBL Article on “All Israel will be saved” in Rom 11:25-27 is Now Available

My JBL Article on “All Israel will be saved” in Rom 11:25-27 is Now Available

I am pleased to report that my article, “What Do the Gentiles Have to Do with ‘All Israel’? A Fresh Look at Rom 11:25–27” has (finally!) been published in the summer edition of the Journal of Biblical Literature. This article is a piece of a project that began in the spring of 2003 and is continuing in my dissertation, “Paul, the Gentiles, and the Restoration of Israel.” My article reexamines that difficult passage that sums up Paul’s grand theological argument in Romans:

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery (lest you become high-minded yourselves) that a hardening has come upon a part of Israel until the fullness of the nations (τὸ πλήρωμα τῶν ἐθνῶν) has come in—and thus (καἰ οὕτως) all Israel will be saved, just as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

The central point of the article involves an exploration of what Paul means by “the fullness of the nations” and how that relates to “all Israel,” a term that refers to a larger group than just Jews/Judaeans and is especially important in light of Jewish apocalyptic hopes of the restoration of (all twelve tribes) of Israel, as the prophets had promised. Essentially, Paul is arguing that Gentile inclusion in the church (קהל ישראל) is inseparable from the promises made to Israel and ultimately to Abraham. For those who don’t have access to JBL, I’ve uploaded an archive copy here.

8 Comments
  • Mark Letteney
    Posted at 00:58h, 01 July Reply

    Its about time! Congrats, brother!

  • Stephen C. Carlson
    Posted at 08:40h, 01 July Reply

    Great to see it in print! It took long enough.

  • Mark Goodacre
    Posted at 09:17h, 13 July Reply

    Congratulations on the publication, Jason. I look forward to reading it. Nice to be in the same volume of JBL with you!

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 23:11h, 24 July Reply

      Thank you, Mark. I was pleased to see that I was sharing a volume with you as well. I just read your piece, which has the advantage of being quite right. Well done, as usual.

  • Gene Shlomovich
    Posted at 09:54h, 03 May Reply

    Jason… I’ve read parts of your article and your concluding thoughts. The conclusion that I come away with is that you seem to hold to a version of a Two House theology (without calling it that), which supposes that the Church is in fact the regathered “Ephraim” (term from your paper), i.e. the “lost” ten Northern Tribes of Israel. This theology is nothing new, of course, as you may know, since it’s a slightly modernized derivative of British Israelism.

    What say you?

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 10:41h, 03 May Reply

      I must confess that I just had to look up “two house theology,” as I’m not familiar with that term or movement. I’m somewhat more familiar with (and repudiate) “British Israelitism,” which seems to be a Western European attempt at establishing racial superiority.

      My argument is a historical/exegetical one, starting with the expectation of a full (twelve-tribe) Israelite restoration in Second Temple Judaism and then trying to make sense of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles in that context. My conclusion is that Paul takes Hosea’s “not my people” very seriously, believing that much of the house of Israel had become ethnically indistinct from the nations/Gentiles by being assimilated through intermarriage, so the incorporation of Gentiles is actually necessary for the full restoration of Israel (becoming “my people” again). I suppose my work is somewhat similar to “two house theology” in that it rests on drawing a historical distinction between the northern and southern houses of Israel (as the ancient sources from the period seem to do), but from what I can tell from the quick glance I just took, modern “two house theology” has typically assumed the Israelites migrated to Europe (or the Americas) and includes a racial component foreign to Paul and his day and/or argues for a return to external Torah-keeping for those convinced of their genetic Israelite heritage, etc.

      In contrast, I think for Paul the key is that Israel has become “not my people,” so “not my people” have to be brought in for Israel to be complete, and only those who receive the Spirit become Israelites. That seems different to me from what I found when I looked up “two house theology,” though I certainly share one of the foundational assumptions of that particular theology: the historical fact of the division between the two houses of Israel, two exiles (each in stages), and the later theological expectation of a full restoration of both houses.

      One other thing: I don’t say the Church is Ephraim. Rather, I think Paul envisions the Church, the “ekklesia,” as the full assembly of Israel, composed of both Jews and Gentiles (=restored Israel from the Gentiles).

  • Gene Shlomovich
    Posted at 00:15h, 09 May Reply

    “My argument is a historical/exegetical one, starting with the expectation of a full (twelve-tribe) Israelite restoration in Second Temple Judaism and then trying to make sense of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles in that context.”

    Jason, if that were the case, why would not Paul speak of the restoration of Israel by identifying the Gentiles as the long-lost tribes of Israelites? If he indeed believed this, logic dictates that he should have used this “historical/exegetical” argument to prove to his fellow Jews that this is the one of the reasons they should accept the Gentiles as their fellow “lost” Israelites coming back into the fold…but he never does.

    Paul also missed his chance to use that argument at the “Council of Jerusalem” (in fact, it may have worked against him if he did – after all, if one is an Israelite, is it not breaking of Torah to not circumcise him?). Or, what about when he chided Peter for avoiding being seen eating with non-Jews? Would not showing Peter that he’s been avoiding not foreigners, but fellow Israelites be a good way to reinforce the message of “all Israel”. The circumcision party too has missed their chance to use this argument of “Gentiles are lost Israelites” to justify their push for circumcision. Instead, it seems that it has crossed neither Paul’s mind nor those any of the apostles.

    It just doesn’t add up that they viewed bringing in Gentiles to faith as the restoration of “all Israel” or as creating of some sort of “spiritual Israel” where the only thing that matters is “having the Spirit”. It’s a forced argument that sounds a lot like the same old Supersessionism.

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 01:02h, 09 May Reply

      Thanks for the reply, Gene. My argument is that Paul did speak of the restoration of Israel by identifying the faithful Gentiles as Israelites. That’s the essence of my argument. From what I gathered from your first post, you read “parts” of my article but not all of it. The middle section addresses this part of your question, although I had to leave quite a bit out that will be in my dissertation.

      The entire dispute about circumcision is nonsense unless one of the parties was claiming that the Gentiles had full Israelite status without physical circumcision. “Righteous Gentiles” had been a standard feature within Judaism and ancient Israelite theology for centuries, with textual precedent as far back as the Exodus narrative. These Gentiles never needed to be circumcised unless they wanted full Israelite privilege, unless they wanted to be “grafted into” the assembly of Israel, in which case they needed to be circumcised. (That word “assembly” is another key, as it denotes the full body of Israel in the LXX and is used for the Christian community in the NT.) Paul’s claim was that physical circumcision was no longer necessary for Israelite status, since the Spirit had produced a circumcision of the heart that had already marked them out as members of the New Covenant and therefore members of Israel.

      As far as the Jerusalem Council, we only have Acts’ version of what was said in that meeting, and even in Acts’ version, they apply scripture about the restoration of a full twelve-tribe Israel to the Gentiles. Take from that what you will.

      If Paul does not see the Gentiles coming to faith as a necessary component of the restoration of “all Israel,” Romans 9–11 (11:25–27 in particular) is incoherent, as is the central portion of Romans 2. Likewise Paul’s claim that he is a “minister of the new covenant,” which is a covenant with Israel and Judah but not Gentiles. So, Paul regularly cites scripture about the north with reference to Gentile converts, claims his apostleship “to the Gentiles” is the fulfillment of “the new covenant” (a covenant with Israel and Judah but not the Gentiles), has to defend his claim that these Gentiles are full members of the “assembly” (a term typically used for the full body of Israel in the LXX) without circumcision (which would not be a controversial issue without a claim to Israelite status), and makes the “circumcision of the heart” by means of the Spirit the centerpiece of his defense. Add that data up, and it points rather clearly to Paul believing faithful Gentiles were Israelites and that their ingathering was necessary for God to keep his promise to “all Israel.”

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