More than a few people have challenged my view of Romans 11:22. Whenever I include it in a blog, some very fine people who love Yeshua point out that I am mistaken. Thus, I thought it would be fun and hopefully enlightening to do a blog just on that one verse.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
I believe that Paul is telling the Romans that “continuing in His kindness” has to do with how they would treat Israel. Others believe it simply means continuing in the faith or proper behavior in general with no reference to Israel. “They were broken off because unbelief and you stand by faith.” (v. 20) I certainly respect those who see it that way. But let’s take a deeper look.
The view of “kindness to Israel,” was not embraced by many top commentators in centuries past. So many of the former commentators were tainted by the awful stand that Paul warns against in Romans 11—a belief that the Jews as a whole are under judgment and only left on earth as a sign of God’s wrath.[i]
For instance, Calvinist theologian John Gill had some frighteningly close to anti-Semitic views of Romans 11:22:
On [Israel] which fell, [came] severity [as in judgment]: the Jews who stumbled at Christ and his Gospel, and fell by unbelief, God in strict justice and righteous judgment not only destroyed, as afterwards their nation, city, and temple, and scattered them abroad in the world to be a reproach, a proverb, a taunt, and a curse in all places; but cast them off as his people, broke his covenant with them, took away his Gospel from them, left them out of a Gospel church state, except a few, and gave up the generality of them to blindness and hardness of heart; so that wrath is come upon them to the uttermost, both with respect to things civil and religious, and they continue as living standing monuments of God’s severity and justice, to be beheld by us Gentiles with pity and concern, and to excite in us the fear of God, and caution as to our conduct and behaviour in the world, and in the church: [ii]
Wow! At least he thought we were worthy of “pity and concern.”[iii]
Let me humbly present four points regarding this Scripture.
1. Understanding the Pretext!
Without understanding why Romans was written, you can’t understand Romans. The pretext of Romans 11 is the way the Roman believers were acting towards the Jewish believers. It is believed that after Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome (Acts 18:1), the young church of Rome—without its Jewish founders or a Bible of any kind (as the Jews took their scrolls with them)—developed a belief that God was judging the Jews or/and they had replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people. This is the concern to which Paul is responding.
The Jews had returned (when Claudius died) and were being treated like second class believers. It was a period of roughly five years in which the Jews were gone. There was a new Gentile leadership and new Gentile believers who had not known their Jewish fathers in the faith before they we expulsed. Paul probably got word from his friends Pricilla and Aquila about the situation—but he was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a gift to the believers there. Instead he wrote to the Romans. So, as David Pawson points out in his commentary on Romans there were four stages of the Roman congregation.
- Totally Jewish at its birth[iv]
- Jewish/Gentile as Gentiles came into the Kingdom
- Gentile only after the Jews were expulsed
- And finally Gentile/Jewish when they returned
Much of Romans (1:16, 9:1-5, 10:1, 15:25-27, all of 11 and many other verses) is to convince the Romans that even in unbelief the Jews are still called (11:29) and they can be regrafted into the body (v. 23) and they are still dearly loved by the Lord (9:1-5) and there will be an end-time ingathering that will lead to world revival (11:12, 15, 26). If you understand the background, then you can see why Paul is so strong on Israel in way that he is not in his other letters.
2. Do Not Boast
The sin Paul is addressing here is a boastful pride that the Romans were projecting toward the Jews. He tells them in v. 11 that they are to provoke Jews to jealousy (that would be, we assume, through showing kindness). The idea is that “The Lord has been kind to you; now you, be kind to the Jews.” It is not unlike the parable about the man who is forgiven a great debt but then doesn’t forgive (Matt. 18)—he too is “cut off” (Rom. 11:22). Why? Because he didn’t show the same grace to other people as he received from the King.
In same way, God is telling the Romans, you, who have freely received grace and kindness, must show grace and kindness to Israel—who brought you the Gospel (Rom. 1:16 says the Gospel is to the Jew first and John 4:22 states that salvation is from the Jews).
3. History Confirms It!
History bears witness that the interpretation of kindness towards the Jews is correct. To whom is he speaking? The Roman Church. Did they listen? No. Rome became the primary persecutor of the Jews—particularly after Rome embraced Christianity. “Christian” Rome was more lethal to Israel than Pagan Rome! They were viscous, some of their preachers claiming that God hates the Jews and Constantine himself, the man who turned Rome to Christianity, was a rabid anti-Semite.
So what happened? Christian Rome judges the Jews harshly and, as Paul warned in Romans 2:1, in what is know as The Law of Judgment, they became what they judged. Catholicism became just like Pharisaical Judaism—a works-based religion, where tradition trumps the word of God.
4. There is No ‘His’ There
The passage is not translated correctly. It does not actually urge them to “continue in His kindness.” The word His is not in the Greek text and I cannot tell you why it was added. But this changes a lot. “His kindness” (chréstotés in Greek) could be interpreted as continuing in the way of the faith—His way. However it merely says “continue in kindness” and in the context of the unkindness the Romans were showing their Jewish brothers, the fathers of the Roman congregation, who had returned from exile, which provoked a strong response from Paul against such behavior (v. 1, 18), we can assume just a few verses later he is still referring to the spiritual principle of Gentiles who have been freely grafted into Yeshua honoring, loving and seeking to win back their older brother who had in part, fallen away.
Therefore, I submit that when Paul urges the Romans to “continue in kindness” or risk being cut off, he is referring to their boasting over the natural branches—Israel. This is consistent with God’s words regarding blessing those who bless Abraham and cursing those who curse him (Gen. 12:3) as well the injunction to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” with the promise, “May those who love you (Jerusalem) be secure.”
God has created the One New Man made up of Jews and those of the nations and when we walk with proper love and respect for one another, we will all be blessed. I welcome your comments—but as always, let’s keep it civil, showing mutual love and respect.
[i] “Jews deserved death but were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of the Church over the synagogue.”
[ii] If you read the whole comment, it is as if Gil is warning against haughtiness and pride in judging Israel, but adding the caveat, that it is so tempting because they are such a wretched people under God’s wrath.
[iii] To his credit, unlike most Calvinists, Gill sees verses 12, 15 and 26 as referring to a future Jewish revival.
[iv] The congregation was birthed either by disciples of Paul or Jews who came back from Jerusalem at the Shavuot outpouring, where they came to faith.