Christianity 201

May 4, 2019

What Does Romans 11:29 Mean?

NIV.Rom.11.29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

We were discussing this verse this week, and the way that a mutual friend of our had mis-interpreted or mis-applied it.

Here’s some alternatives from BibleGateway.com

  • God doesn’t take back the gifts he has given or forget about the people he has chosen. (CEV)
  • God never changes his mind about the people he calls and the things he gives them (Expanded Bible; NCV)
  • God never changes his mind when he gives gifts or when he calls someone. (God’s Word)
  • For God does not change his mind about whom he chooses and blesses. (Good News/TEV)
  • For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (KJV)
  • For once they are made, God does not withdraw his gifts of his calling. (Phillips)
  • For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn; he will never go back on his promises. (Living Bible)
  • For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. (NLT)
  • And when God chooses someone and graciously imparts gifts to him, they are never rescinded. (Passion Translation)
  • You see, when God gives a grace gift and issues a call to a people, He does not change His mind and take it back. (The Voice)

Even in these translations, we see some variance as to the intent of this verse. Is it about gifts? Calling? Blessing? Election (choosing)? (We’ll come back to the translation challenge at the very end.)

In the meantime, here are four search-engine results answering today’s question, as to the meaning of this verse.

From BibleInOneYear.org :

…In Romans 11 Paul is answering the question, ‘Has God rejected his people?’ His answer is, ‘No, no, no’: ‘God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable’ (v.29). As The Message version puts it, ‘God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never cancelled, never rescinded’ (v.29, MSG).

Yet Paul still grapples with the apparent reality that most have not accepted Jesus. He speaks about them ‘stumbling’ (v.11) and experiencing a ‘hardening’ (v.25). They are now like olive branches that have been ‘broken off’ (v.17). In this passage he tries to explain how this can fit with the unbreakable promises that God has made to the Jews. He highlights three key points:

  • First, this hardening was only partial. There has always been a remnant, chosen by grace (vv.11–16).
  • Second, the hardening was fruitful, since it led to riches for the Gentiles: ‘When they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in’ (v.11, MSG).
  • Third, the hardening was temporary. ‘“Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No’ (v.11, MSG). ‘This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary’ (v.25, MSG). ‘Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!’ (v.12, MSG).

This last point is particularly important to Paul, who cares passionately about his people. He eagerly anticipates the full inclusion of the people of Israel (v.12). He goes on to say that ‘all Israel will be saved’ (v.26). He does not say ‘if’ this happens, but ‘when’ this happens. He uses an olive tree as a picture of the Jewish nation (vv.17,24). Christ came. The nation rejected him. The tree was chopped down but the roots were left. The gardener grafts in the Gentiles (v.17).

The time is coming when the Jewish branches will be grafted back (vv.23–24, MSG). Then the whole tree will be complete…

At the Bible Q&A Forum eBible.com (click the link to see the references as links):

Paul made this statement from Romans as part of a discussion concerning the salvation of the Jewish people.

Ever since God’s calling of Abraham in Genesis 12; God had chosen Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (also known as Israel) as the people from whom the Messiah — Whom God had promised immediately after mankind first fell into sin (Genesis 3:15) — would be descended.

God provided greater detail concerning this promise over time, indicating that the Messiah would be specifically descended from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and then from the lineage of David (Psalm 132:11 and Isaiah 9:7).

Although many centuries elapsed prior to Jesus’ birth, God’s promise was realized when Mary (who was descended from David through his son Nathan (Luke 3:23-38)) gave virgin birth to Jesus. (Although Mary’s husband Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he was also descended from David through the royal line of Solomon, as recorded in Matthew 1:1-17.)

Although Jesus and His original followers had all been Jewish, the Jewish people, for the most part, had not accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior. Starting in Acts 10; God opened the Christian church to the Gentiles, and, over time, the Christian church became an institution that was composed predominantly of Gentiles rather than Jews.

However (according to Paul in the passage being asked about), this does not mean that God’s calling of, and promises to, Abraham and his descendants have been nullified or superseded. The covenant that God made with them is, as Paul characterized it, “irrevocable”, or, as the questioner put it, “without repentance” on God’s part. As indicated by Paul in Romans 11:25, after all the Gentiles who will be saved will have come to Christ, God will show mercy on the descendants of Abraham, and they, too, will finally accept Christ and also receive the gift of salvation.

From a longer answer at BelieveTheSign.com (click also for footnotes, etc.)

The “call” of God clearly refers to the election according to which the Jews were God’s chosen race. The “gifts” may then be combined with “call” as one idea — “the benefits of God’s call” — or be taken as a distinct category — “the gifts and the call of God.” The relationship between this passage and Romans 9:1–5 suggests that Paul referred to the “gifts” as a summary of those privileges of Israel that he enumerated in Romans 9:4–5. God’s “call,” then, is probably to be seen as one of the most important of those gifts: “the gifts and especially, among those gifts, the call of God.” The rare word “irrevocable” emphasizes the point that Paul made at the beginning of his argument: “The word of God has not failed” (Romans 9:6a).

“Without repentance” is translated in newer versions as “irrevocable” but the basic meaning is “without regret,” as in 2 Cor. 7:10, the only other use place where this term is used in either the Old or New Testament: “repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret.” The meaning of this term is confirmed in the writings of Aesop (“but his coming was without regret” – τοῦ δὲ ἀμεταμελήτως ἐλθόντος, Fabulae 83.2.6) and Plato (“of a deed done without regret”).

Although God was free to withdraw the privileges extended to Israel (like humans often come to regret and then to renege on their gifts and commitments), God’s faithfulness remains firm. In the end, despite the current rejection of the divinely designated Messiah by a large portion of Israel, the divine gifts and calling will achieve their intended purpose of salvation.

What is very clear is that the passage does not refer to the gifts of the Spirit. It refers only to the nation of Israel.

From AnswersFromTheBook.net :

But what about all those promises the Lord made to the nation of Israel?  Has He now changed Him mind because of their unbelief?  No, He has not!  Romans 11:29 tells us, “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”  This means that the blessings and promises of the Lord are unchangeable.  What He has promised to Israel, He will perform.  There will come a day, when Israel is taken up once again as the chosen people of God.  During the seven-year Tribulation period, the Lord will once again raise up this nation and will bless them according to His promises.  As we read in Romans 9:26-27, “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.

There is also a wonderful and practical truth to Romans 11:29.  We can rest assured that when the Lord makes a promise to us, there is nothing that can change that promise.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Titus 1:1-2, “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.”  While the world is full of broken promises, we can rest assured that the Lord never breaks a promise that He makes to us.  We read in Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.)”  (133.4)

…Is it clearer for you now? I thought it was interesting after I previewed today’s article and then did a word search on it, that only one writer spoke in terms of covenant. It would seem that this word most clearly expresses God’s covenant to Israel.

Now then…if you took the time to read all four commentaries on the verse, go back and read the various translations at the beginning of today’s piece. Do you think the rendering of this verse by the various translation teams could have been done differently?

 

November 16, 2012

Defining ‘Israel’ in Amos

A friend once explained to me the complications that can arise when reading prophecy can be simplified if envision the prophet seeing the events in the distance as what happens when you skip a stone across the water. The stone touches down in various places, and we can think in terms of each skip as representing a time in which the prophecy sees fulfillment.

For example, the words spoken by Joel — that your sons and daughters will prophesy and your old men dream dreams — finds fulfillment both in the book of Acts at Pentecost and also in the ‘last days’ in which we are now living.

Acts 2:15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

There are various references in prophetic literature that find apparent fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem but also in the apocalypse described in the New Testament’s final book.

Time doesn’t permit a full examination of this — though if you submit one, we’ll use it — because I wanted to focus instead on what happens when the prophetic writing includes the use of a proper noun, such as Israel. Is this referring to modern-day Israel, or Israel at the time of writing, or even spiritual Israel?

Luke Wisely delved into this at the blog Secondum Scripturas, which some of you will want to explore further.  Here’s the link to today’s reading which is also what follows; and a link to the first of the three chapters under consideration, Amos 7.

WHO IS ISRAEL?: A PERSPECTIVE FROM AMOS 7-9

Defining who “Israel” is can prove to be a difficult task because of the ambiguity of the term. In the book of the Twelve, “Israel” can refer to the restored covenantal people (Amos 9:7-10), the Northern Kingdom (Amos 5:1-3), Southern Kingdom (Mal 2:11), or an idealised future community of faith (Zech. 12:1-14:21).[1] The ambiguity does not just occur in different books of the Hebrew Bible, but even occurs within books.

In Amos 7-9 there are multiple ways to refer to Israel: Jacob, my people Israel, Isaac, House of Jeroboam, House of Israel, Booth of David. The remainder of this essay will describe how Amos 7-9 presents Israel and how this may impact the identity of God’s people.

Beginning in the first two visions (Amos 7:1-3, 4-6) the term “Jacob” is used in conjunction with “small” echoing Gen. 27:15, 42 connoting the historic people of Israel.[2] Thus, Amos’ first two visions are concerned with the longevity of the historic, covenant people of Israel.

Amos’ third vision (Amos 7:7-9) moves beyond historical Israel (7:8) and progresses to the present day divided nation with Yahweh’s claim that he will rise against the house of Jeroboam–the Northern Kingdom (Amos 7:9).

In verses 10-17, the narrative of Amaziah and Amos shows the issue of the Northern Kingdom and the question of Israel. In this narrative, Amaziah distinguishes between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and makes the claim that the north is the rightful heir of the land and designates Amos, a “seer of Judah”only.[3] Amos’ reply is that his prophetic authority rests beyond the north and south and rests with all of Israel: “my people Israel (7:15).”[4]

After the vision that both the north and the south fill face judgment (8:1-3), Amos 9:11-15 asserts the restoration for all of Israel–the Booth of David. 9:7-8 deconstructs the idea of assuredness resting in election as Amaziah did. Anyone claiming to embody all of “Israel” as God’s people based on election and covenant will be subject to judgment[5] and will die by the sword (9:10). “Israel” as the restored people of God as presented in chapter 9 will be those who renew their vocation as God’s people.[6]

Amos presents “Israel” in its past, present, and future.   Thus, in Amos, “Israel” is presented in transition to identify with their past, their present split nation, and hope in a restored community of faith.[7] The description of “Israel” as found in Amos 7-9 may prove to describe that although “Israel” may represent a people’s historic roots through to a split kingdom, “Israel” as the eschatological people of God, will only be those who renew their calling as the people of God.

 


[1]          Heath A. Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,” in Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, ed. Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., (Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012).: 365.

[2]          J. Gordon McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,” in Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, ed. Brad E. and Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore, Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies 446 (New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006).: 139-143.

[3]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 145-146.

[4]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 147.

[5]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[6]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[7]          Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,”: 365-366. Thomas applies this to the presentation of “Israel” in the Twelve. It also addresses “Israel” within Amos 7-9.

 

Bibliography

McConville, J. Gordon. “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel.” In Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, edited by Brad E. and Moore Kelle, Megan Bishop, 132-151. New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006.

Thomas, Heath A. “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address.” In Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, edited by Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., 356-379. Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012.