Below we present fragments of the transcript of the teaching of fr. Peter Hocken on Romans which took place on 9th November 2013 in Hainburg, Austria as a part of the Bible Teaching series. Presented below is the part which refers to chapters 9-11.
In Romans 9 Paul begins to speak directly about Israel, the Jewish people. Is this a complete change of subject from chapter 8, like some people have imagined? I think not, because in chapter 8 Paul is talking about the salvation of Jew and Gentile—of all—saying that God’s plan of salvation will not be frustrated. At the end of chapter 8 we read: “…nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39b). But obviously for the first Christians, it was a big surprise that a lot of the Jews who believed in the coming of the Messiah had not accepted Jesus. I think with chapter 8 Paul is saying that God will bring everything to completion. But now the question is raised: What about Israel, what about the unbelief of Israel? I don’t think this is a complete change of subject. Paul speaks of the great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart (Rom 9:2) because so many Jews were not accepting Jesus: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh” (9:3). Then in verses 4-5 he lists all the advantages of Israel, all the blessings given to her: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises….” Notice that Paul says belong in the present tense. These things belong to the Jews; he doesn’t say they did belong. And this raises the question in verse 6. God had made promises to Israel so some could think that His promises had failed if the Jews didn’t believe. But Paul says: “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Rom 9:6).
There isn’t time to go into all the arguments in chapters 9 and 10. Chapter 9 was one of the passages used to teach the doctrine of double predestination by strict Calvinists. Double predestination means that God created some people to be predestined to glory and some to be predestined to hell. I think the problem with the way this was used by Calvin and others in the XVI century is that they didn’t understand that these verses are about the election of Israel. The whole argument is in the framework of God’s choosing Israel. It’s not about the destiny of millions of individuals, but about the election of Israel. Paul is also insisting that God is sovereign—an important part of his argument. He is not saying that God has created part of Israel to be lost. We can see this in Rom.10:1: “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Chapter 10 ends with the words: “But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (10:21). This isn’t asserting that God has rejected them. Rather, it speaks of their stubbornness, while God is continuing to stretch out his hand to them.
This leads to the question in chapter 11:1: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” because they’ve been so disobedient. But again Paul answers: “By no means!” Again this strong NO. “I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” One of the signs that God has not rejected Israel is the fact that some of them did believe in Jesus, including Paul, and in verse 5 he calls the Jews who have believed in Jesus the “remnant, chosen by grace.” He continues in verse 7: “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” So some believed and some were hardened. The next question, in verse 11, is about the Jews who have been hardened, who haven’t believed—“have they stumbled so as to fall” through their unbelief and rebellion? Here Paul is asking if it is impossible for them to be restored. No, absolutely not! “By no means! But through their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous” (11:11b). Here is another example of the kal ve-chomer argument.
The Jewish argument in verse 12 goes like this: “Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” The unbelief of the Jews in Jesus’ day opened the door for the Gospel to go to Gentiles. It has been riches for the world. And Paul adds how much greater a blessing it will be when the Jews do enter in, when they do accept. In fact, this is prophecy that they will! Here we have a very important argument. We saw in chapter 1 how Paul spoke of being called to bring nations to the obedience of faith, and now Paul is saying that this has been made possible through the unbelief of the Jews. In verse 25 he uses the word “mystery” to describe this. By using the word “mystery,” Paul is saying that this is God’s plan. Then in verse 33, after more similar explanation, he finishes with: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Paul is realizing that this unbelief of the majority of Jews, which takes the Gospel to the nations, is part of the wisdom of God.
Though we can’t go through all the rest of this chapter, there are very important elements here. For instance, here Paul speaks of the olive tree and the Gentiles being like branches of a wild olive tree who are grafted into a cultivated olive tree. You see, some olive trees are cultivated, pruned and shaped to bring the maximum of fruits. And some olive trees are just wild, growing off somewhere, and nobody has tried to train or cultivate them. This is the picture of Israel and the Nations. God has been cultivating Israel for 2000 years to bring forth fruit, and he has become frustrated. So now he begins grafting in branches from wild olive trees not cultivated through the Law and Prophets, but they will draw life from the sap of the natural olive. The Gentiles will draw life and nourishment from the roots of Israel. Then as we’ve seen already, Paul states that the Gospel goes to the Nations because of the disobedience and unbelief of Israel. And in verses 30-32 he says that all were disobedient so that God may be merciful to all. However, in verse 29 he asserts: “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” The election of Israel is still valid. God keeps his promises.