Text in red, if any, are my additions
THE REJECTION OF ISRAEL IS AFTER ALL ONLY PARTIAL
A Summary of Romans 11:1-10
Having shown in the preceding chapter that the rejection of the Jews was due to their own persistent disobedience and obstinacy to the will of God and the divine overtures, St. Paul now is at pains to observe that God, notwithstanding, has by no means ceased to be merciful to His chosen people. For their rejection is not complete; a good number have been converted, although the others have been hardened.
Rom 11:1. 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.
After all the Apostle has said about the culpability and responsibility of the Jews (Rom 9:30-10:21), one would be inclined to think that Israel had been entirely rejected and had ceased to be the people of God. But even before this, when speaking of the absolute right of God to choose or to reject whom He will (Rom 9:6-26), the Apostle had insinuated, in a passing way, that there was still, as in former times of apostasy, a faithful remnant in whom the mercy of God was manifest. Here, borrowing the words of Psalm 94:14, he asks the question plainly whether God hath cast away his people. The answer must be negative, first because the Apostle’s teaching cannot be contrary to the promise of the inspired Psalmist. In the second place, he refers to himself, who was an Israelite of the seed of Abraham, i.e., a carnal descendant of the father of the Jewish race, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin which, with the tribes of Juda and Levi, had, in the past, remained faithful to the Lord (2 Cor. 11:22; Philip, 3:5). Finally, if God had entirely rejected the Jews, He would not have selected from among them “the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of his mysteries” (1 Cor. 4:1), and sent them out to preach the faith to the Gentiles (Rom 1:5). So much for an indirect reply to the question proposed
Rom 11:2. God hath not cast away his people, which he foreknew. Know you not what the scripture saith of Elias; how he calleth on God against Israel?
St. Paul now responds directly to the above question. It is impossible that God should reject entirely and definitely all the Jews, because God does not thus change His eternal decrees (see Rom 11:28-29).
Which he foreknew, i.e., which he formerly recognized and willingly approved as His own people. There is no question here of those who God foreknew would be faithful to Him, or of the predestined (Cornely), but of the Jewish people as a whole, who would not be finally cast off by God.
Know you not, etc. The Apostle draws an example from the history of Elijah (1 Kings 19:10) to illustrate the designs of God in the present instance. It seemed to Elijah that the whole people had fallen into idolatry and had been rejected by God; but God revealed to the Prophet that a remnant had been preserved. So it is now. While it seems that all Israel has been rejected, there is no doubt that some will be saved.
The scripture, i.e., that section of the Old Testament which deals with Elijah (cf. Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37
Against Israel, i.e., accusing Israel.
Rom 11:3. Lord, they have slain thy prophets, they have dug down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
The words of Elijah and the reply of God (1 Kings 19:10, 14, 18) are here abbreviated and cited according to the LXX. They have slain, i.e., the Israelites, at the command of the impious Jezabel, killed the Prophets (2 Kings 18:4).
They have dug down, etc., likely refers to private altars erected by pious Israelites on high places for good purposes, although contrary to the Law (Deut. 12:4 ff.). Living under an idolatrous king these Israelites were not able to adore God in Jerusalem (1 Kings 18:30), and so felt justified in building private altars. At any rate, to destroy these altars, as was done, out of hatred toward God, was very impious.
Alone, of the faithful who adored the true God; or of those faithful who were able to act for God, that is, of the Prophets (Lagrange, Beelen).
Rom 11:4. But what saith the divine answer to him? I have left me seven thousand men, that have not bowed their knees to Baal.
Answer. The word χρηματισμός (= chrēmatismos) here has the sense of an oracle; but it may also have the meaning of answer or reply, because generally the oracles responded to questions proposed. In reality there was an interrogation at the bottom of Elijah’s words to God: he was imploring God to intervene. To this God replied: I have left me, etc. In 1 Kings 19:18 we have the future: “I will leave me,” etc. The fact remains that seven thousand were preserved from idolatry. The divine reply makes manifest the power of God’s grace. In spite of the extraordinary persecution instituted by Ahab and Jezebel, under which it seemed that all Israel had suffered defection, the grace of God was able to preserve from idolatry and hold fast in the worship of the true God seven thousand men, i.e., an indeterminate but very great number (cf. Gen. 4:15; Lev. 26:18, 24, etc.).
Baal was the chief God of all the Canaanite tribes. Baal or Bel means the Lord, and especially the husband. We have here the feminine article with the masculine name, τη βααλ (= ho Baal), most probably because the Hellenist Jews wished to avoid the utterance of the idol’s name, and substituted in the reading, the shame, just as the name YHWH was written with the pointing of Adonai. Likely the LXX MS. which Paul was using had the reading τη βααλ (= ho Baal).
Rom 11:5. Even so then at this present time also, there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace.
Applying to his purpose the lesson of the preceding verses St. Paul says that, as in the time of Elias a number were preserved faithful, so now there is a remnant of the Jews saved, i.e., brought to Christianity.
According to the election of grace, i.e., in virtue of an election altogether gratuitous, and independent of merit on the part of the saved. The grace of justification can never be merited (Cone. Trid., Sess. VI, cap. 8).
St. Paul leaves all indeterminate the number of Jews that were actually converted to the faith. He is satisfied to note, (a) that the designs of God were not frustrated, because a remnant has been saved, which is a pledge of future restoration; and (b) that grace is the sole principle of one’s call.
In the Vulgate salvae should be omitted, and factae sunt should be fuerunt (Lagrange).
Rom 11:6. And if by grace, it is not now by works: otherwise grace is no more grace.
Having spoken of grace the Apostle takes occasion again to insist that grace and works are two opposing principles. What is of grace is entirely gratuitous; that which is from works is due as a recompense. The Council of Trent (1. c.) says: Nihil eorum, quae justificationem praecedunt, neque fidem neque opera, ipsam justifications gratiam promereri.
While St. Paul is speaking here of the call of God to Christianity, the principle he lays down is absolute. Both the call to justification and to eternal glory are equally gratuitous; but when one is already justified and living the life of grace there is no opposition between the works he performs, proceeding from grace, and grace itself. Therefore, works performed under the influence of grace are meritorious of life eternal. Of these latter works, however, there is no question in the present verse. Some of the Greek MSS. and a Syriac version add here: “But if of works, it is no longer grace: otherwise the work is no longer a work.” The addition contributes nothing to the sense already expressed.
Rom 11:7. What then? That which Israel sought, he hath not obtained: but the election hath obtained it; and the rest have been blinded.
This verse concludes what precedes in the present chapter.
What then, i.e., what should we say of Israel? As a nation the great majority of the Jews have not attained that which they sought; namely justification, because they sought it through works without the aid of faith and grace.
But the election, i.e., those who were chosen by God have obtained justification through faith and the grace of their divine election.
The rest have been blinded, hardened (επωρωθησαν = eporothesan), so that they have not recognized the Messiah and the true way of salvation.
That which Israel sought should be “that which Israel is seeking”; and hence also the quaerebat of the Vulgate ought to be present, quaerit, to correspond with the Greek.
Rom 11:8. As it is written: God hath given them the spirit of insensibility; eyes that they should not see; and ears that they should not hear, until this present day
The blindness of the Jews had already been foretold. St. Paul is citing freely, according to the LXX, and combining two texts,—the first from Isa. 29:10, the second from Deut. 29:3.
God hath given them, etc., i.e., on account of their own perversity and infidelity God withdrew His grace from the Jews, thus permitting them to have a spirit of insensibility, or moral torpor which made them incapable of seeing, hearing or understanding the truth, although it was in their very midst. The term κατανυξεως (= katanyexeos) (Vulg., compunctio) properly means a violent puncture (from κατάνυξις = katanuxis), and therefore great, numbing pain; but in its figurative sense, as used here by St. Paul and in the LXX (Isa 29:10; Ps. 60:5), it signifies torpor, profound sleep, deafness, etc. By reason of their blindness and deafness the Jews failed utterly to recognize Christ and His preaching, or the Apostles and their preaching, in spite of all the miracles that were worked in their presence in confirmation of that preaching.
Until this present day. These words show the persistence of the divine plan, and that the Jews of the time of Moses and Isaias were a type of the Jews in the time of our Lord (Matt 23:32).
Rom 11:9. And David saith: Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them.
Rom 11:10. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see: and bow down their back always.
The better to point out the blindness of the Jews, St. Paul now cites the testimony of the Psalmist (Ps. 69:23-24), whose imprecated curses on the Jews of his own time were typical of the punishment that had justly fallen on those of the Apostle’s time. The Jews, says the Apostle, have come to regard as advantageous for themselves that which is their ruin.
Let their table be made a snare, etc., i.e., let their table be like a bait which draws the bird to the trap (Cornely); or let their table be set with poisoned dishes destined for certain guests who, nevertheless, will oblige the hosts themselves to consume those dishes (Lagrange). The term “table” principally means the Sacred Scriptures, which were spread out before the Jews as spiritual nourishment, but which were converted by them into sources of error and mischief, and were turned by the Christians against them (MacEvilly).
Let their eyes be darkened, etc. What the Psalmist imprecates for his enemies, who were also his own people, St. Paul applies to the Jews. The Law, which was intended to be a help and a guide for the Jews, and to lead them to Christ, on account of their willful perversity became a grievous yoke and burden that bowed them down to earthly things.
According to St. Paul the hardening of the Jews was the chastisement of a first fault (Rom 1:26). It was, therefore, voluntary (Rom 10), but was not directly relative to life eternal. It prevented the Jews from recognizing the Messiah; but, being only temporary, it can always be changed for the nation as a whole, to say nothing of individuals, for whose conversion the Apostle was ever solicitous (Lagrange).
THE REJECTION OF ISRAEL IS NOT FINAL, AND SERVES MEANWHILE FOR THE CONVERSION OF THE GENTILES
A Summary of Romans 11:11-24~The rejection of the majority of the Jews is a source of great mystery and profound sorrow. And yet there is reason for consolation, because, in the first place, a few have been saved already, and then, the rejection of the nation as a whole is only a temporary evil which, in the designs of God, is made to serve for the conversion of the Gentiles.
Rom 11:11. I say then, have they so stumbled, that they should fall? God forbid. But by their offence, salvation is come to the Gentiles, that they may be emulous of them.
Have they so stumbled, that, etc. Comely and others give to “that” (ινα) the sense of finality, as if St. Paul wished to ask if God, by justly withdrawing His graces from the Jews, blinded their greater number and permitted them to stumble for the purpose of making them fall without any hope of reparation. In this opinion, there is question here, not of the gravity, but of the purpose or end of the Jews’ fall. But St. Chrysostom, Lagrange, etc., hold that ινα has not a final meaning here, and that the sense is rather, whether the fall of the Jews is so great as to admit of no cure or remedy. At any rate, the stumbling of the Jews was not just that they might fall, nor that their fall should be irremediable, as the Apostle’s reply, vigorously negative, plainly shows, and as is clear from what follows in the verse. St. Paul then goes on to explain the designs of God in permitting the Jews to go astray.
By their offence, etc., i.e., through the blindness of the Jews in not recognizing the Messiah and their unwillingness to accept the Apostle’s preaching (Acts 13:45-48) the Gospel was carried to the Gentiles, and the error of the Jews became the occasion of the salvation of the pagans. This is the first and immediate result of the fall of the Jews. The second result is the salvation of the Jews themselves; for the salvation given to the Gentiles will finally rouse Israel to competition and emulation (παραζηλωσαι αυτους). The Jews will at length understand that their God has become the God of the Gentiles, that the Scriptures given to them have passed to others, and that God has withdrawn His blessings from His chosen people and bestowed them upon their pagan neighbors. When this takes place, the anger and jealousy of the Jews will have reached their climax and will be the occasion of a reaction against past errors, and a consequent return to the God of their forefathers. Thus, the hardening of Israel permitted by God was ordained to the salvation of the Gentiles, and the salvation of the Gentiles is ordained in turn to that of the Jews themselves (cf.
Lagrange, h. 1.).
Rom 11:12. Now if the offence of them be the riches of the world, and the diminution of them, the riches of the Gentiles; how much more the fulness of them?
If the failure of Israel has brought such great benefits to the world, how enormous will be the benefit of the final conversion of all the Jews!
If the offence (παραπτωμα) of them (αυτων), i.e., of those hardened, be the riches of the world, i.e., be the occasion of the conversion of the Gentiles to the faith, and the diminution (ηττημα) of them (αυτων), i.e., the defeat, the loss of those hardened, be the means of inestimable blessings to the pagans, how much more the fulness (πληρωμα) of them (αυτων), i.e., how much greater blessings will come to the world from the total conversion to the faith of all the Jews!
In this interpretation, following Lagrange, we have given to the first and second αυτων (“them”) the meaning of those hardened, and to the third, the meaning of all the Jews. We have understood ηττημα (“diminution”) here to mean, not the remnant, a small number; but defeat, loss. πληρωμα (“fulness”) means the completing of Israel, i.e., the adding of the hardened (who will cease to be such) to the faithful Jews.
Rom 11:13. For I say to you, Gentiles : as long indeed as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I will honour my ministry,
Rom 11:14. If, by any means, I may provoke to emulation them who are my flesh, and may save some of them.
I say to you, Gentiles. Continuing the theme of verses 11, 12 St. Paul openly speaks to the Gentiles, showing that the community to which he was writing was chiefly composed of them. He tells them that as long as, i.e., inasmuch as (εφ οσον not followed by χρóνον) he is the apostle of the Gentiles he honors his ministry, by consecrating himself entirely to it, with the ulterior purpose of exciting the jealousy of his fellow-Jews and moving them to emulate the faithful Gentiles, thus saving some of them now, and all in the end (verse 25). In St. Paul’s mind there is question of the design of God which cannot be fully accomplished, even to the profit of the Gentiles, if the ultimate salvation of the Jews is not first assured. His zeal for the one would work also the profit of the other, and the profit of the latter would in turn add to and complete that of the former (Lagrange).
I will honour should be “I do honour” (δοξαζω) my ministry, by devoting myself entirely to the services of the Gentiles, but not for their profit alone, as explained above.
In the Vulgate quamdiu would better be quatenus, and honorificabo should be honorifico, to agree with the Greek.
Rom 11:15. For if the loss of them be the reconciliation of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
The thought of verse 12 is taken up here and developed more vividly. If the loss, etc., i.e., if the rejection of the Jews from the Messianic kingdom be the reconciliation, etc., i.e., be the occasion of bringing the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, what great joy and spiritual benefits will result to Christ’s kingdom from the receiving of them in mass into the Church.
But life from the dead, ει μη ζωη εκ νεκρων. These words have been variously interpreted. Some say they refer to the final consummation before the Second Coming of Christ, and consequently to the general resurrection of the dead, of which the conversion in mass of the Jews will be the signal (Origen, St. Chrysostom, St. Thomas, Lagrange, etc.). But as the terms here used are not very precise, one cannot well conjecture what relation of time there will be between the final conversion of the Jews and the general resurrection of the dead (Lagrange). Others think there is reference in the above words to an increase of spiritual life, among the Christians already converted, that will come from the final conversion of the Jews (MacEvilly). Cornely rejects this last explanation. He disapproves of the first one also, because he says that St. Paul, when speaking of the general resurrection uses a different phrase, η αναστασις or εκ νεκρων. He therefore believes the Apostle is speaking indeterminately here, as in verse 12, of some wonderful benefit and happiness that are to result from the final and total conversion of the Jews; or that this final restoration of the Jews will be a good so great, as to be comparable to the resurrection of the dead.
Rom 11: 16. For if the firstfruit be holy, so is the lump also: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
Although the Law has been abrogated and the mass of the Jews have been rejected, still, St. Paul reminds his Roman readers, the designs of God regarding His people have not failed, nor has the Jewish race ceased to belong, in a certain sense, to God, and to be consecrated to Him. This the Apostle proves by two comparisons.
The firstfruit and the root mean the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., who were holy men and faithful servants of God.
The lump and the branches are the Jewish people, the descendants of the Patriarchs. When the Jews made bread they were accustomed to put aside a piece of the dough which they baked into a small cake to be offered to God and burnt, or given to the priest (Num. 15:19-21). The whole mass was considered to have a part in the consecration of this portion that was offered to God. Thus the Jews, by reason of their natural connection with their ancestors, the Patriarchs, who were holy men consecrated to God, have also a kind of holiness and consecration to God, even though it be only an external relation like that of the lump and the branches.
Rom 11:17. And if some of the branches be broken, and thou, being a wild olive, art ingrafted in them, and art made partaker of the root and of the fatness of the olive tree,
Rom 11:18. Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
Lest any of the Romans should feel puffed up and boastful over their call to the faith, and should therefore be inclined to despise the rejected Jews, St. Paul reminds them that they owe their inclusion in the stock of Israel only to that mercy of God which first looked with favor on the chosen people, and that if they guard not with fidelity the gratuitous gift they have received, they too will come short of their destined prizes (see Rom 11:20). No Gentile, therefore, should boast of his own condition or rejoice at that of the fallen Jew, but should rather fear for himself, while hoping for mercy toward the Jews.
The broken branches are the rejected Jews.
The wild olive represents the Gentile whom St. Paul has in mind, and who, like all the converted Gentiles, has, by the mercy of God and without any merit of his own, been ingrafted in them, i.e., has been ingrafted among (Cornely) the converted Jews and become partaker of the root, etc., i.e., of the blessings which were the Jews’ by right of inheritance.
Boast not, etc., because you remember that once you were a stranger to the covenant with God, without hope or promise in this world (Eph. 2:11-12), and that you were liberated from your misery only by being grafted on the true stock. The Gentile has nothing, then, whereof to boast, because salvation is from the Jews to the Gentiles (John 4:22), and not from the Gentiles to the Jews.
The branches (verse 18) refers to all the Jews (St. Thomas). The verbs “be broken” and “art ingrafted” should be in the past tense, according to the Greek.
St. Paul here speaks of the wild olive being grafted upon the cultivated variety. This causes some difficulty, inasmuch as the ordinary process of grafting was to graft a domestic shoot on a stock of the same kind, after cutting away all the original branches. But Prof. Fischer (Ramsay, Pauline Studies, p. 223 ff.) relates an exceptional process which was employed to invigorate an old olive tree that was failing; the branches of the old tree having been cut away, a shoot of the wild olive was grafted on the domestic stock to invigorate and render fertile the old tree. This process of grafting is witnessed to by two Roman writers, Columella, De re rustica, V. 9, and Palladius, De incisione, XIV. 53, and, according to Prof. Fischer, is in practice in Palestine at the present day.
Rom 11:19. Thou wilt say then : The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
The Gentile is here represented as justifying his triumph by the fact that his inclusion was the purpose of the Jews’ rejection. As the gardener cuts away the branches in order to insert the new shoot, so the Jews were rejected in order that the Gentiles might be brought in. The role of the Jews, therefore, like that of the Law, was only preparatory; in the designs of God they have been replaced by the Gentiles (Lagr.).
Rom 11:20. Well: because of unbelief they were broken off. But thou standest by faith: be not highminded, but fear.
There was something of truth in the above argument of the supposed boastful Gentile, and St. Paul replies, not without irony, καλως, well. But he at once observes that the Jews were cut off and rejected for the precise reason that they did not believe, they had not sufficient humility to accept on faith the Gospel teaching; whereas the Gentiles, by believing, have come into the inheritance which was primarily intended for the Jews. It was, then, the faith, the humility, the obedience and submission of the Gentiles that made possible for them the bestowal of God’s gratuitous gift of faith. But this gift can be retained only by profound humility and fidelity, and hence the necessity of eschewing all pride and high-mindedness, and of cultivating the fear of God.
Because of unbelief should rather be “by unbelief” τη απιστια, corresponding to “by faith.” τη πιστει,—datives of cause or occasion (Cornely).
In the Vulgate propter incredulitatem should be incredulitate.
Rom 11:21. For if God hath not spared the natural branches, fear lest perhaps he also spare not thee.
St. Paul admonishes the Gentile whom he has before his mind to give up all high thoughts of self and to school himself in humility and fear, lest what happened to the Jews happen to him also. The Apostle is not saying here that the Gentile is going to be cut off, nor that he could be rejected more easily than the Jews were rejected (Lagr.).
Rom 11:22. See then the goodness and the severity of God: towards them indeed that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
In order still more to inculcate salutary sentiments of humility and fear, St. Paul draws the Gentile’s attention to God’s actions toward the Jews and Gentiles respectively. Toward the Jews, in punishment of their unbelief, God has shown severity; but to the Gentiles, for contrary reasons, He has exhibited goodness and mercy by calling them gratuitously to the faith.
If thou abide, etc., i.e., if the Gentile perseveres in the faith received, and continues to live under the divine influence of the Goodness that blessed him with faith, God will also continue to manifest His mercy toward him.
Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off, because the just man can fall from the state of grace and justice, and no one, apart from special revelation, can be infallibly certain of his own perseverance
(Conc. Trid., Sess. VI. cap. 16, 23).
Canon 16 of Trent reads; If anyone says that a man who is born again and justified is bound ex fide to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined, let him be anathema.
Canon 23: If anyone says that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or on the contrary, that he can during his whole life avoid all sins, even those that are venial, except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin, let him be anathema. (source). On may also consult chapters 13 & 14 of the decree here.
Rom 11:23. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
If the Jews will give up their unbelief, they also will be grafted on the faithful stock; the obstacle comes from them, because they refuse to believe in Jesus Christ. But God is able to triumph over their unbelief, since His power is infinite. St. Paul’s hope for Israel, hinted in Rom 11:12, is here explicitly declared.
Rom 11:24. For if thou wert cut out of the wild olive tree, which is natural to thee; and, contrary to nature, were grafted into the good olive tree; how much more shall they that are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
It is more natural, and therefore easier to graft on a tree a homogeneous than a heterogeneous shoot. In fact, for successful grafting there must be some affinity of nature between the subject and the shoot; one can only use for grafting, therefore, varieties of the same species, or at least of the same genus. If the Gentiles, who were like the wild olive, have been grafted on the domestic tree of Israel, how much more natural, and how much easier, to our way of thinking, will it be to graft the Israelites, who are the natural branches, into their own olive tree.
Contrary to nature, i.e., beside the natural course of nature, praeter naturam.
The natural branches. The Jews were the natural descendants of Abraham and the Patriarchs, and as such, the natural heirs of the Messianic promises and blessings.
THE CONVERSION OF THE GENTILES WILL BE FOLLOWED BY THAT OF THE JEWS
A Summary of Romans 11:25-32~God’s final purpose is to save both Gentiles and Jews. They both have sinned and have been made to feel the wrath of God (1:18-2:29), but infinite mercy outstretches man’s wickedness and in the end will triumph over all; God’s designs do not change, nor does His will go unfulfilled. The salvation of all Israel is closely connected with the conversion of the Gentiles, as was foretold by the Prophets. It is according to the divine plan that Israel and the pagans should mutually help each other, and that both in the end should be objects of the divine mercy.
Rom 11:25. For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in.
I would not have you ignorant, brethren. This is a favorite phrase of St. Paul’s when he wishes to speak confidentially and announce some matter of great importance (Rom 1:13; 1 Cor 10:1; 12:1; 2 Cor 1:8; 1 Thess 4:13). He is speaking to the Gentile Christians, and he wishes to remind them of doctrines already familiar to the Church in general, namely, that the Jews were to be hardened (Matt 12:38-48; 13:11-16; 23:29-36), that the failure of Israel would bring in the Gentiles (Matt 20:1-16; 24:14), and that the Jews themselves would at last turn to Christ (Matt 23:39; Luke 13:35).
This mystery, i.e., the final conversion of Israel to Christianity, which will take place after the conversion of the Gentiles, but before the end of the world. St. Paul calls this great truth a mystery, because it could not be known short of revelation, and was in fact revealed to him by God along with the other truths of the Gospel of Christ (Gal 1:12, 16; Eph 2:11-22; 3:1-13).
Lest you be wise, etc. The quotation is from Prov 3:7. The Apostle is admonishing the Gentiles to guard against self-conceit, as if they had merited their call to the faith, and also against despising the rejected Jews.
Blindness in part, etc. While the Jews as a people had failed to accept the Gospel, a number of them had been converted. And the blindness or obduracy of the majority is not to last forever; but until the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, i.e., until the other nations of the world have accepted the Gospel and entered the Church of Christ. It is to be noted that this fulness of the Gentiles relates to peoples, not to individuals: all the nations or peoples of the earth will be converted to Christ before the end of the world, but not all the individuals of each nation (St. Thomas, Cornely, Lagrange, etc.).
God, therefore, in His all-wise designs has called a few of the Jews to the faith already. He has made the incredulity of the majority the occasion of the conversion of the Gentiles, and this latter He will make in turn the occasion for the final call to the faith of all the Jews. We have no sign, however, that this general conversion of the world will be soon. Here it may be useful to recall what Origen said on this subject: “God only knows, and His Only-begotten Son, and any friends that may be privy to His secrets, what is all Israel that is to be saved, and what is the fulness of the Gentiles that is to come in.”
Rom 11:26. And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
All Israel does not mean the predestined (St. Augustine), nor all the Jews taken individually (St. Thomas), but the mass of the people, as opposed to individuals who are converted during the time that intervenes before the last days come. Israel then as a nation, like the other nations of the world, will finally embrace the faith; but it will not be until after all those others have been gathered in that she shall enter the fold of Christ. What fate has overtaken or awaits those Jews who have been hardened meanwhile, St. Paul does not anywhere tell us.
As it is written. The Apostle has been speaking of a mystery which he has learned through revelation, and he confirms the truth of it by showing that it was already more or less clearly foretold in the Old Test. (Isa 59:20). The citation is fairly literal from the LXX, which faithfully follows the Hebrew with the exception that where the latter has “out of Sion,” the LXX has “for Sion’s sake.” In the best MSS. the quotation is read as follows: “There shall come out of Sion the deliverer: he shall turn away impieties from Jacob.” St. Paul seems to make the citation refer in a general way to the Second Coming of Christ, although the conversion of the Jews will just precede that Second Coming, and will be a consequence of the first advent of the Saviour.
Rom 11:27. And this is to them my covenant: when I shall take away their sins.
The first part of this verse is from Isa 59:21, and the second from Isa 27:9. God promises to make a new alliance with the people of Israel, when He will take away their sins and confer upon them forever His spirit and His doctrine.
In verses 25-27 we have the following unfulfilled prophecies: (a) Before the end of the world all Gentile nations shall be converted to Christianity, that is, the greater part of all nations, not all the individuals of each nation (St. Thomas); (b) after the conversion of the Gentiles, but before the end of the world, the Jews as a people will embrace Christianity. The fulfillment of these prophecies, and therefore the end of all things seem yet far off.
Rom 11:28. As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are most dear for the sake of the fathers.
The present incredulity of the Jews will not hinder the final realization of God’s promises to them. God still loves them in their faithful ancestors.
As concerning the gospel, i.e., inasmuch as they have wilfully rejected the Gospel, the only means of salvation, they are enemies (εχθροι, odiosi), i.e., hateful to God (St. Thomas, Lagrange, etc.), and so have been excluded by God from their Messianic inheritance. This has happened to them, in the designs of God, for your sake, i.e., for the benefit of you Gentiles, because their unfaithfulness has been the occasion of your call to the Gospel (Rom 11:11, 12, 15).
But as touching the election, i.e., as regards their election from among all other peoples, by which they were made God’s chosen people and the depositories and custodians of God’s special revelation and divine promises, they are most dear to God for the sake of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— God’s special friends and faithful servants.
Rom 11:29. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.
God will not forsake His people forever, because His special gifts and calling are without repentance, and are consequently not subject to change (cf. 2 Cor 7:10). The Apostle is not speaking here of an invariable rule of Providence as regards creatures, but only of the great designs of God, such as respected the gifts and privileges of Israel and the latter’s call to be the adopted people of the Most High. As regards these privileges God will never change, or repent of having conceded them, because He pledged them to the Patriarchs with an oath (Deut 7:6-11). Despite, therefore, the unfaithfulness of the Jews, God will be true to His promises and will one day convert them as a whole to the faith. The call still holds if Israel will hear.
We read in 1 Kings 15:11 that God repented that He had chosen Saul; but the rejection of this king was only an episode, comparable to the temporary hardening of the Jews (Lagrange).
Rom 11:30. For as you also in times past did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy, through their unbelief;
Rom 11:31. So these also now have not believed, for your mercy, that they also may obtain mercy.
As mercy has found the Gentiles and led them to the faith, so at last it will seek out the Jews and bring them to Christianity.
As you Gentiles in times past were rebellious to the call of God and thus became an object of mercy, thanks to the obstinacy of the Jews, which has facilitated your conversion; so the Jews, now hardened, will become obedient to the Gospel on account of the mercy which you have experienced (Cornely, Lipsius, Julicher, etc.). In this interpretation the mercy shown to the Gentiles will be the occasion of showing mercy to the Jews, because it will excite the latter to jealous emulation. But since St. Paul has insisted on this thought several times before, and since it does not so well fit in with verse 32, it would seem that the Apostle is here rather drawing out a general idea, namely, that it is the purpose of God to permit all to fall into disobedience, so as to give play to the exercise of mercy. The ancient disobedience of the Gentiles has been followed by mercy, and likewise the disobedience of the Jews will finally issue in a display of mercy (Lagr., Kuhl, S. H., etc.).
Modern interpreters generally suppose ηπειθησαν to signify to be disobedient, and απειθειαν to mean disobedience.
Rom 11:32. For God hath concluded all in unbelief, that he may have mercy on all.
Hath concluded (συνεκλεισεν) , has enslaved.
All (τους παντας) refers not to the hardened Jews only, nor to individuals among the Gentiles and Jews, but to all classes, as explained above.
In unbelief (απειθειαν), i.e., in disobedience. All, therefore,—Jews and Gentiles, have sinned and need justification, which only the mercy of God can procure; the sinful Gentiles have already been touched by God’s mercy, and the wayward Jews shall later yield to the same merciful Providence.
The omnia of the Vulgate should be omnes here, to agree with the Greek. In incredulitate should be in inobedientiam.
A HYMN OF PRAISE TO THE INFINITE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
A Summary of Romans 11:33-36~These verses conclude the Dogmatic Part of the Epistle, but they are suited in a special manner to terminate chapters 9-11. In these chapters something has been said of the purposes and ways of God in dealing with humanity. Enough has been shown to confirm our faith and hope in God, the veil has been drawn aside sufficiently to give us dim glimpses of the great realities that lie behind; but with and around it all, as the Apostle now says, deep clouds of mystery hang: the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God, His inscrutable judgments and far-off deep counsels are not only but faintly reached, but are of their very nature so far beyond our utmost human capacities of comprehension that we can only bow our heads in faith and humble obedience, ever trusting, in the dire problems and experiences of life, to God’s infinite goodness, wisdom and mercy for the solution of all our difficulties.
Rom 11:33. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways
O the depth. All the Greek MSS. and the Fathers read: “O depth of riches and of wisdom and of knowledge of God.” “Depth” may signify height, as well as profundity; here it means the immensity of God’s riches, wisdom, etc.
Riches represents the treasures of God’s goodness and mercy (Rom 10:12; Eph 3:8, etc.).
Wisdom indicates the divine prudence with which God governs all creatures and leads them to their ends which have been ordained from all eternity.
Knowledge means the science with which God penetrates all things, knowing and choosing the means most fitted to their ends. The end here in question is the salvation of souls, to which God has ordered faith in Christ as a means.
How incomprehensible, etc. The reasons which underlie God’s judgments in showing mercy to some rather than to others are altogether inscrutable to the mind of man.
How unsearchable, etc. The ways which God takes and the means He employs in executing the decrees of His infinite knowledge are beyond the power of any creature to trace.
In the Vulgate et should precede sapientiae.
Rom 11:34. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor?
Rom 11:35. Or who hath first given to him, and recompense shall be made him?
St. Paul confirms the profundity of God’s divine attributes by three citations from the Old Testament, the first two of which are almost literally from the LXX of Isaiah 40:13, 14, and the third from the Hebrew text of Job 41:3. God reveals to some extent, but His mind is open to no one, because none can penetrate the divine thoughts; He draws His counsels from no one, for He has no need of counselors; to none is He indebted, since He is the source and ruler and end of all.
Rom 11:36. For of him, and by him, and in him, are all things: to him be glory for ever. Amen.
We can neither penetrate the knowledge of God, nor aid Him with our counsels, nor help Him with our resources, because all things are of him, i.e., they depend upon Him as upon their cause and creator; all things are by him, i.e., they are sustained by Him; all things are in him, or unto him (εις αυτον), i.e., they tend to Him as to their last end (Comely, Lagr., Zahn). Origen, St. Aug. and others have seen an allusion to the Trinity in the three expressions of him, by him, and in him; but there is no good reason for this opinion (Cornely, Lagr.).
To him be glory, etc. Thus, by calling on all creatures to give glory to God, does the Apostle terminate the Dogmatic Portion of this great Epistle.