Mustērion


8. THE MYSTERY OF THE JEWS.

ROMANS 11.


The ‘mystery of marriage’, then, is a mystery still; like our previous two mysteries, the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ and the mystery of the resurrection body, it has been foretold in prophecy and foreshadowed in history, but not yet been fulfilled in our own time and in our own experience. There is one final mystery mentioned by Paul that follows the same pattern: the mystery of the Jews. For this, we need to get to grips with Romans 11, perhaps the least preached-on chapter of this great epistle. Paul begins chapter 10 by expressing his longing for the salvation of the Jews (v.1), and ends it by quoting two consecutive but contrasting verses from Isaiah 65: “I was found by those who were not seeking me, I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me” - that is, the gentiles (v.1); but to Israel, “I stretched out my hand all day long to a disobedient and rebellious people” (v.2). In chapter 11, Paul develops this antithesis, that the Jews, God’s own people, have rejected him, but the gentiles have found God by accepting the gospel and turning to Christ. He begins by asking the question: “Does the fact that Israel has rejected God mean that God has rejected Israel?” (v.1). We will look at his answer to this question in more detail in a moment, but in general his answer is that the Jews are still God’s ‘chosen people’, and still very much part of his plan, and that one day they will, as a nation, turn to Christ their Messiah, and so be saved. There is no place, and there are no grounds, for anti-Semitism in the church, at Rome or anywhere else; “for, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, so that you do not become proud of your own wisdom: Israel’s hardening against the gospel is only partial, and is not permanent - it will last only until the full number of the gentiles have entered God’s kingdom; then all Israel will be saved” (vv.25-6).

The mystery of the Jews in context with the other mysteries

Before we try to find our way through the labyrinth of chapter 11 - clinging gratefully to the helpful thread provided by John Stott’s magisterial commentary - it might be helpful to set ‘the mystery of the Jews’ in context with the other mysteries Paul mentions that we have already looked at. But we will start with one that is coming later: in Ephesians 3 Paul uses ‘musterion’ twice in quick succession (vv. 3 & 4); these refer to the mystery of the gospel in general, but in particular to the revelation that “the gentiles are fellow-heirs of God’s promises, full members of his body and fully share in the blessings of the gospel” (v.6). Romans 11 presents us with the important complementary truth that the gospel is also for the Jews, and that the gentiles have not now monopolised God’s blessings. The three words referring to the gentiles in this verse (6) all begin with the prefix ‘sun-’, meaning ‘with’: Paul is emphasising with this weighty threefold alliteration the fact that Jews and gentiles belong ‘with’ each other in God’s family and Christ’s kingdom. The ‘mystery of the Jews’ is also a counterbalance to our previous mystery, the ‘mystery of marriage’. During our study of that mystery, the Jews came in for quite a hammering, in the OT for their unfaithfulness to God and ‘prostitution’ to heathen religions, and in the NT from Jesus himself, notably in the parable of the wedding banquet, where “those who had been invited” - the Jews - “were not worthy” (Matt. 22.8). It is important now to understand (“not to be ignorant”), as this chapter shows us, that although the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected their Messiah, and mostly have ever since, God has not rejected his chosen people, but still plans to restore them to favour - when they turn to him in repentance and faith. This mystery also provides us with a welcome contrast to ‘the mystery of lawlessness’. In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul warns us, echoing Jesus’ warnings in the ‘synoptic apocalypse’, that before the return (‘parousia’) of Christ, there must be another ‘parousia’, the coming of ‘the man of lawlessness’, leading to a general ‘apostasy’. Here, by contrast, Paul tells us that we can look forward to a time when “all Israel will be saved”, which, in turn, will bring “riches to the world” (v.12). These two mysteries are complementary in another way as well, showing us that both the legalism of the Jew and the lawlessness of the antichrist are equally rejections of the gospel of grace, and of the righteousness which God both demands through his commandments and offers freely in Christ. Finally, we will see that there are interesting similarities in the way Paul argues his case in this chapter expounding the mystery of the Jews and in the way he answers the question about the mystery of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15.

Romans 11: an outline

The thread which John Stott provides to navigate us through this chapter has 4 links, so that it is really more of a chain. Paul identifies a sequence of 4 events, each one triggering the next: a chain reaction! Moreover, this 4-link chain is stated, in different language and imagery, 4 times in this chapter, as Paul repeats himself to make his meaning absolutely clear. The 4 links in the chain consist of two parallel pairs, as follows (quotations from NIV throughout):
[1] (a) The Jews were ‘hardened’ (v.7), they ‘stumbled’ (v.11), they ‘transgressed’ (v.12);
(b) they were ‘rejected’, temporarily (v.15);
(c) they were branches ‘broken off’ the olive-tree (vv. 17, 19, 20);
(d) they were ‘disobedient’ (v.31).
[2] Because of this, (a) “salvation has come to the gentiles” (v.11) - “riches for the gentiles” (v.12), for
(b) the world has been reconciled to God (v.15), which means that
(c) “you [gentiles], though shoots of a wild olive-tree, have been grafted into [God’s] cultivated
olive-tree” (vv. 17ff.), and
(d) that “you [gentiles] now receive mercy” (v.31).
This period continues “until the full number of the gentiles has come in” (v. 25). It is possible that Paul here is echoing Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21.24 (part of the ‘synoptic apocalypse’) that “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the gentiles until the times of the gentiles are fully completed”. Then
[3] comes (a) “the fullness” of the Jews (v.12), as they are ‘provoked into envy’ by the joyous freedom in Christ
experienced by the gentiles, and so
(b) find ‘acceptance’ with God again (v.15), and
(c) are “grafted into their own olive-tree” once more (v.24),
(d) receiving God’s ‘mercy’ as a result of his mercy to the gentiles (31).
[4] When “all Israel will be saved” (v.16),
(a) the gentiles will enjoy even ‘greater riches’ (v.12), so much so that
(b) it will be like “life from the dead” (v.15). This final link in the chain is only expressed twice, though
it is implicit both in the olive-tree image of vv. 17-24, and in Paul’s summary of the whole sequence
of events in vv. 30-32.

‘mē genoito’

Twice in this chapter Paul poses much the same question: has God rejected the Jews? (v.1), and have the Jews fallen irrevocably out of God’s plan for them (v.11)? Each question he answers with his characteristic negative: “no way!” This Greek expression deserves a brief study of its own, since it is a key feature of Paul’s argumentative style. The two Greek words he uses are ‘mē genoito’: ‘mē’ is the less common of Greek’s two negatives, simply meaning ‘not’, used mainly when the verb is subjunctive or, as here, optative. This mood of the verb is common in Classical Greek, but obsolescent in the NT - and unknown to my computer software! It is most often used in the NT, as here, and as its name suggests, to express a wish for the future, so that ‘mē genoito’ literally means 'may it not happen'. Paul uses this two-word sentence 10 times in Romans and twice more in Galatians, these being the epistles in which Paul is at his most argumentative. There is one further Pauline instance in 1 Corinthians, and a (perhaps inevitable) 14th is found, surprisingly, in Luke’s gospel, and is surprisingly relevant to ‘the mystery of the Jews’. Translations of this expression are many and varied, though AV unvaryingly renders it “God forbid!”, consistency at the cost, occasionally, of credibility: “Hath God cast away his people ? God forbid!” is, surely, a nonsense (v.1). NEB echoes “God forbid!” in Luke, where, as we shall see, it is particularly appropriate, but uses 8 other expressions in the course of the 13 Pauline uses (‘certainly not!, ‘by no means!’, ‘no, no!’, ‘of course not!’, ‘I can’t believe it!’ - variety here at the cost of credibility - ‘far from it!’, ‘never!’ and ‘no, never!’). NIV gets closest to the literal in Luke with ‘may this never be!’; the Galatians translations are consistent, with ‘absolutely not!’ both times, but the 10 instances in Romans ring the changes between ‘certainly not!’, ‘not at all!’ and ‘by no means!’. I have opted for a monosyllabic and (fairly) contemporary ‘no way!’

‘mē genoito’ in Pauline argument
Romans 3.3-4, 5-6

The 12 uses of ‘mē genoito’ in Romans and Galatians are all part of much the same argumentative pattern - once again, as it happens, a 4-part pattern: (1) statement of a truth, based either on an OT scripture or on Paul’s own exposition of the gospel; (2) a false inference drawn from this truth, usually introduced by ‘therefore’ and posed as a question; (3) emphatic rejection of this inference - ‘mē genoito’; (4) statement of a counterbalancing truth which shows the falseness of the inference. It could be said, then, that ‘mē genoito’ is the barrier, or brick wall, which Paul puts up to prevent his readers from jumping to a false conclusion: as some wit has nicely put it, jumping to conclusions is the only intellectual exercise some people ever take! To work through all the examples in detail to demonstrate this pattern would be unnecessarily tedious and repetitive, but the first two instances, both in Romans 3, should make the point - and the first of them, in verses 2-4, is relevant to the Jews in chapter 11. In verses 2-3, Paul uses 4 words all derived from the ‘pist-’ stem: ‘pisteuō’, to ‘trust’, or here, to ‘entrust’; ‘apistō’, to ‘be untrustworthy’ or ‘unfaithful’, and its connected noun ‘apistia’, ‘untrustworthiness’ or ‘faithlessness’; and the basic noun ‘pistis’, ‘faith’ or ‘faithfulness’. I have used the English ‘trust’ stem in all 4 instances to make Paul’s point, despite the awkwardness involved. (1) The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God, his Law, but some proved untrustworthy; (2) does that mean that their untrustworthiness will bring to nothing the trustworthiness of God? (3) No way! (4) Though every mortal man may be a liar, let God remain true [to his word]. Here, Paul uses the verb ‘ginomai’, from which ‘genoito’ comes, twice in succession, the second time in the present imperative, the difference in tense being significant: “May this not happen !” - a single event; rather, “may God always be[come] true” - present continuous. He then supports his confidence in God’s continuing faithfulness with a quotation from Psalm 51.4: “so that you may be proved right when you speak, and prevail when you judge”. This then forms the basis for the truth which launches the next example of this pattern (vv. 5-6): (1) Our unrighteousness makes God’s righteousness shine all the more brightly; (2) What will we infer from this? That God is unjust if he brings his wrath to bear on us in judgement for doing what promotes his own glory? (3) NO WAY! (4) We know that God is going to judge the world, which he could not do if this inference is valid.

‘mē genoito’ in Romans 11

We will skip over the other instances of ‘mē genoito’ in Romans (3.31, 6.2, 15, 7.7, 13 and 9.14), and come at once to the two in chapter 11, where Paul is talking, as we have seen, about the future of the people of Israel. In fact the first instance begins with the last verse of chapter 10 (v.21): (1) God says, through his prophet Isaiah (65.2), that his people are “disobedient and rebellious”; (2) does that mean, therefore (‘oun’), that God has rejected his people? (3) No way! (4) God has known and chosen his people from of old, and has not rejected them (vv. 1-2). A few verses later, the same pattern, more or less, is repeated: (1) Scripture says (Isaiah 29.10, Psalm 69. 22-3) that the people of Israel are spiritually blind and deaf (vv. 8-10); (2) Does that, then (‘oun’ again), mean that they have stumbled so as to fall irrevocably from God’s grace? (3) No way! (4) Rather, their stumbling is salvation for the gentiles, which will in turn provoke the Jews to envy, leading eventually to their salvation.

‘parazēlō’, ‘zēlō’, ‘zēlos’
Ex 20.4, 1 Kings 14.22, Deut.32.21
'ethnos', 'laos'

In order to understand Paul’s thinking here, we need to interpose another, brief, word-study, before going on to complete our current study of ‘mē genoito’. The word translated ‘provoke to envy’ (‘make envious’, ‘arouse to envy’, NIV, ‘provoke to jealousy’, provoke to emulation’, AV) is ‘parazēlō’; this is a compound of the verb ‘zēlō’, which gives us ‘zealous’ and ‘zealot’, someone who is passionately keen on his cause or purpose. This word easily elides into ‘jealous’ and ‘jealousy’, which, from “Othello” onwards, we regard as a fatal sin; but in Exodus 20.4, God describes himself as “a jealous God”, passionate that his people should have no other gods but him, because he knows that this is the path to their fulfilment and prosperity. This, as we saw in the previous section, is the essence of the ‘mystery of marriage’ between God and his people, Jesus and his church. The compound verb ‘parazēlō’ is used only 4 times in the NT, all by Paul, and 3 of them in this passage (10.19 onwards). The fourth is in 1Corinthians 10.22, where he clearly has Exodus 20.4 in mind when he warns his readers that to eat and drink food and wine that has been offered to idols is to “provoke God to jealousy” - the jealousy of a loving husband who does not want his bride to be seduced away from him. It is used in this sense, though with a greater emphasis on God’s wrath than on his love, in 1 Kings 14.22, where, in the reign of the evil king Rehoboam, Judah “‘stirred up God’s jealous anger’ more than their fathers had done”. In fact, ‘parazēlō’ seems to be a coinage of the LXX translators, for it is not found in Classical Greek. The passage to which Paul specifically refers at the end of chapter 10 (v.19) is Deuteronomy 32, the great valedictory ‘Song of Moses’. In verse 19 of this chapter the LXX uses the simple verb ‘zēlō’ to describe God’s ‘jealousy’ when his people started to sacrifice to false gods. Then, in verse 21, the verse which Paul quotes, Moses (in the LXX) uses ‘parazēlō’ twice: “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God, and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people” (AV - NIV blurs this sharp antithesis by changing from “made jealous” to “made envious”). The word for ‘people’ used in the LXX and quoted by Paul, is ‘ethnos’ (whence, of course, English ‘ethnic’), whose plural is regularly used to mean the ‘gentiles’. Paul, guided doubtless by the Holy Spirit, sees this prophecy of scripture as fulfilled by his own ministry of the gospel to the gentiles. On all his missionary journeys, as recorded in Acts, his custom was, in each city he came to, to go first to the Jewish community gathered in the synagogue on the Sabbath: Antioch in Pisidia (13.4), Iconium (14.1), Thessalonica (17.2 - “as his custom was”), Corinth (18.4) and Ephesus (19.8). In each of these cities, however, the majority of the Jews rejected the gospel, so that Paul then turned his attention to preaching to the gentiles (13.45-7, 18.6, 19.9). Ironically, we read that in both Iconium and Thessalonica the Jews were “filled with envy” (‘zēlos’) and were “jealous” (‘zēlō’) of the enthusiastic response to Paul’s preaching (13.45, 17.5). These events are the beginning of the ‘chain reaction’ which Paul sees in the ‘mystery of the Jews’: their jealousy leads to their rejection of the gospel, so that Paul turns to the gentiles, who respond and joyfully discover the riches of God’s grace. Thus they fulfil Moses’ prophecy that God would make them jealous by means of a ‘people’ who were not ‘God’s people’ (‘ethnos’, not ‘laos’, the normal word for God’s people, the Jewish people). It is here that the Spirit-inspired twist redirects Paul’s interpretation of this verse: God’s ultimate, loving purpose for his people (‘laos’, 11.1) is that eventually the joyful freedom of the gentiles in the grace of the gospel should cause the envy of the Jews, not negatively, as in Pisidian Antioch and Thessalonica, but positively, attracting them to covet the blessings they see the gentiles enjoying. Paul’s divinely appointed ministry, right from his conversion (Acts 9.13), has been his apostleship to the gentiles, but here in Romans he seizes on this rare word ‘parazēlō’ to show that the aim of his ministry is also to reach his own people, the Jews: “In so far as I am an apostle to the gentiles, I glorify my ministry still more if somehow I may provoke to envy the Jews, my own flesh and blood, and so save some of them” (11.13-14). It is sad to record that its shameful treatment of the Jews down the ages has been one of the darkest stains on the history of the church that Paul did so much to found. Instead of ‘provoking the Jews to envy’ by modelling to them the love of Christ, their Messiah, and the glory of the gospel of grace, all too often Christians have merely mirrored back to them their own hostility, provoking them not to envy but to deeper antagonism. We have let Paul down, and his people.

‘mē genoito’ (contd.)
Galatians 2.17-18, 3.21, Luke 20.16

There are 4 more instances of ‘mē genoito’ to look at. First, a brief mention of the 3 remaining Pauline uses. The two examples in Galatians are, as in Romans, part of a theological argument, and so conform, more or less, to the fourfold pattern we have previously noted. Does the gospel of grace mean that “Christ is an abettor of sin”? “No way!” (Gal. 2.17-18 - ‘difficult verses’, according to Stott, q.v.: enough said!). Does the gospel of grace mean that “therefore the law is contrary to the promise of God”? “No way!” (3.21). The one remaining Pauline example (1 Cor. 6.15) is different, not part of a theological argument, but of an ethical exhortation, so that the question he asks is purely rhetorical, rather than a supposed false inference: “Do you not know that your bodies are parts of Christ’s body ? Shall I then take the parts of Christ’s body and make them parts of a prostitute’s body? No way!” The real surprise in this study - and perhaps the main point - is that the 14th. instance is in Luke’s gospel - and so, in fact, the first instance. It is therefore another example of the shared language of the great gospel-writer and the great letter-writer. Which one was more influenced by the language of the other? Had Luke heard Paul say ‘mē genoito’ so many times in his disputations with the Jews that the idiom naturally slipped into his narrative? Or was it Paul who learned to use the obsolescent optative mood of the verb from his more classically educated travelling-companion? Idle speculation! Back, then, to more solid ground: biblical exposition. Luke’s use of ‘mē genoito’ occurs at the end of his version of the parable of the vineyard and its tenants. In all three synoptic versions, this parable follows on from the attempt of the religious leaders to trip Jesus up with their question about his authority. Matthew and Mark imply that the parable is addressed to these leaders during the same confrontation. Luke, however, significantly records that “Jesus began to speak this parable to the people” (20.9) - “the people of Israel”, the ‘laos’, not the ‘ethnos’. Many times the gospels state that Jesus’ teaching was addressed to the crowd (‘ochlos’ in Greek). But this is a parable about ‘God’s chosen people’, the tenants of God’s lovingly prepared vineyard, echoing Isaiah’s use of this image in chapter 5 verses 1-2; this, perhaps, is why Luke specifically states that Jesus was teaching the ‘laos’. The parable images the apostasy of God’s ‘people’, and in particular of its religious leaders - as they themselves recognise (20.19). The parable tells how the tenants rejected the vineyard-owner’s servants, and finally killed his son. “What then will the lord of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these tenants and give the vineyard to others”. Luke then expresses the reaction of the ‘people’, the people of Israel whose destruction Jesus is clearly prophesying: “God forbid! - mē genoito!” (vv. 15-16). This, of course, is exactly the same context, though the pattern is different, as Paul’s usages of ‘mē genoito’ in Romans 11: will the Jewish nation be destroyed by God, “the Lord of the vineyard”? “No way!" Is Paul consciously echoing Luke’s version of the parable here? Mere speculation!

(1) A parable: the olive-tree
[a]. Jeremiah - judgement
‘ekklaō’, ‘klaō’, ‘klasma’, ‘klados’.
Jer 11.11-16, Matthew 13.32, 21.8, 24.32

I said in my introduction to ‘the mystery of the Jews’ that there were parallels in this chapter, Romans 11, with 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul answers the question about the resurrection body. In that chapter, I suggested, Paul’s answer is based on a parable (the ‘grain of wheat’), a promise (‘aparchē’, the ‘first-fruits’), and a picture, the ‘eikōn’ of Jesus’ own resurrection body. In Romans 11 Paul’s argument is based, I hope to show, without too much twisting of the text, on the precedent, or foreshadowing, of the faithful remnant, the parable of the olive-tree, and the promises and prophecies of God’s election of Israel. We will begin with the olive-tree, since that, like the vineyard in Isaiah 5, is an OT image of the people of Israel. This image occurs twice in the OT, and it is significant, as we shall see, that the two references are antithetical, and so complementary: the olive-tree is used as an image both of God’s judgement and of his mercy. As we might, perhaps, expect, it is Jeremiah who is the prophet of judgement, and Hosea the prophet of mercy. First, judgement: “The Lord called you a thriving olive-tree, with fruit beautiful in form; but with the roar of a mighty storm he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken” - God’s judgement on his people for “burning incense to Baal” (Jeremiah 11. 16-17). Paul does not quote these verses directly, but the image of the “broken branches” features prominently in his olive-tree analogy, or parable. Three times he uses the verb ‘ekklaō’ in this chapter (vv.17,19 and 20), a word found nowhere else in the NT. This verb is a compound of the simple ‘klaō, to ‘break’, so that ‘ekklaō’ means to ‘break off’. ‘klaō’ occurs 15 times in the NT, always referring to the ‘breaking’ of bread, whether at the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt. 14.19, Mark 8.6), or at the last supper (Matt. 26.26, Mark 14.22, Luke 22.19, 1 Cor. 11.24), and a few other such occasions as well. The verb produces two nouns, ‘klasma’, a ‘fragment’, used 9 times, all of the ‘fragments’ of the loaves (and fish?) left over after the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000; and, more relevant to us, ‘klados’, originally of a branch ‘broken off’ for grafting on another tree, what we might call a ‘cutting’, and then more generally of any branch - of a mustard-tree (Matt. 13.32, Mark 4.32, Luke 13.19), or of a palm-branch (Matt. 21.8) or a fig-tree (Matt. 24.32, Mark 13.28). The remaining 5 uses are all in Romans 11, of the olive branches. Paul, then, is using this rare verb to emphasise his point by a kind of word-play (we have seen other examples of this elsewhere), wordplay which is hard to reproduce in translation; the best I can suggest is “if some of the branches have been de-branched ---”. As so often, it works better in Greek!


[b]. Hosea - mercy
Hos 14.6-7, 10

The other OT reference to the olive-tree is in Hosea. We saw in the previous section on ‘the mystery of marriage’ how Hosea bought back his unfaithful wife, an image of God’s redeeming love for his people, so that, again, it is no surprise to find that here, too, he is the prophet of mercy rather than of judgement. Once again, Paul does not quote this passage, but there is strong evidence that he has it specifically in mind, as we shall see. At the very end of his prophecy (14.1), he urges Israel to “return to the Lord your God”; then, God says, “I will be like dew to Israel --- his branches (‘klados’, LXX) will spread and he will be like a fruitful olive-tree” (vv.6-7). Just as in Hosea’s day, Paul is arguing, Israel’s apostasy was not terminal, so now, too, Israel is still part of God’s eternal purpose; repentance will lead to mercy, and the apostate branches of the olive-tree will be grafted in again (v.24). How this will come about is a mystery, testimony that God’s “wisdom is unsearchable and his ways beyond our powers of working out, for ‘who knows the mind of the Lord, or who became his counsellor?’” (vv.33-4, quoting Is. 40.13). Paul thus ends his chapter as Hosea ends his prophecy, with an expression of wonder at God’s unknowable wisdom: “Who is wise and will understand this? Or intelligent, and will know it?” (Hosea 14.10, LXX). God’s eternal purpose for his people is beyond our finite understanding; Paul makes the same point, though he quotes other OT sources to make it.

Judgement and mercy
1 John 1.5, 4.8

We have seen how these two OT references to Israel as an olive-tree are antithetical yet complementary, expressing the two sides of God’s character: his judgement in response to the apostasy of his people and his mercy in response to their repentance. God is light, as John says (1 John 1.5), utterly sinless and holy; but John also says (1 John 4.8) that God is love. Paul expresses these complementary truths even more pithily in verse 26, providing further evidence that he has in mind the two OT references we have looked at. Paul’s discourse on the future of the Jews may seem to have little practical application to the present state of his gentile readers in Rome, but Paul nevertheless, ever the teacher and pastor, finds one, warning them not to become complacent or arrogant in their new-found freedom in Christ; they should learn from the history of the Jews a lesson about their relationship with God: “Consider the goodness and sternness of God - his sternness on the Jews who have fallen, and his goodness towards you, if you remain in his goodness, since, if you do not, you too will be ‘cut off’ as they were” (v.22, expanded a little at the end to emphasise Paul’s point). Moreover, Paul sharpens his point by using the second person singular here, as though addressing each of his readers personally. And, indeed, each of us needs to preserve this crucial balance in our understanding of God’s character and of our relationship with him in Christ. It is all too easy - and often smugly satisfying - to sensationalise God’s judgement with graphic imagery of the horrors of hell, as seems to have been common in the Victorian age; and in our own age it is probably even easier to sentimentalise God’s mercy, so that the gospel message is all hearts and flowers, with little emphasis on the sackcloth and ashes of repentance. Both in our thinking and in our teaching these two great truths must be given equal weight: this balance is, truly, ‘crucial’, because the cross, properly understood, reveals both “the goodness and the sternness of God”.

[a] ‘apotomia’
2 Corinthians 13.10, Titus 1.13

The two nouns Paul uses here deserve a brief look. ‘Sternness’ is ‘apotomia’, a noun found in the NT only in this verse (22), where it occurs twice. The adjective from which it is derived, ‘apotomos’, is quite common in Classical Greek; its literal meaning comes from the verb from which it itself is derived, ‘apotemnō’, to ‘cut off’, so that ‘apotomos’ means ‘cut off’, or ‘precipitous’, like a piece of land that is ‘cut off’ and so becomes a sheer drop. From there it came to describe a person who was not gently sloping, inclined to be co-operative, but starkly uncompromising, and so ‘stern’ or ‘strict’; this, as we have seen, leads to the meaning of the noun, ‘sternness’ or ‘severity’. The adjective does not appear in the NT, but its adverb (‘apotomōs’) occurs twice. Paul writes a letter of rebuke to the Corinthians so that when he visits them in person he does not have to “behave with severity” (2 Cor. 13.10); and he urges Titus to “rebuke the Cretans severely so that they may be healthy in the faith” (1.13). Why, then, does Paul use this unusual noun in this context? Perhaps he remembers its origins, the verb ‘apotemnō’, to ‘cut off’: the verse ends, as we saw, with the warning that the gentile believers, too, will be ‘cut off’ (‘ekkoptō’, not ‘ekklaō’ here but its synonym) unless they remain faithful. Perhaps Paul is implying that ‘sternness’ is part of the character of a God who, ultimately, ‘cuts off’ those who reject him.

[b] 'chrēstotēs', 'chrēstos'
1 Peter 2.3, Ephesians 4.32, Col 3.12, Is 53.8

The word for ‘goodness’, ‘chrēstotēs’, along with its adjective ‘chrēstos’, is much more common. The noun occurs 10 times in the NT, 5 of them in Romans and 3 in this chapter, while the adjective is another instance of a word used 7 times in the NT. This adjective is particularly interesting because of its similarity to ‘christos’. In Classical Greek, the long ‘e’ (eta) of ‘chrēstos’ and the ‘i’ of ‘christos’ would have sounded quite different, but in modern Greek they sound identical (the ‘e’ sound as in ‘squeak’), and it is possible that this assimilation was well under way in NT times. Peter is surely playing on this similarity when he tells his readers (1 Peter 2.3) “like new-born babies, desire the pure milk of the word - if you have heard that the Lord is good”; in Greek, the last three words are “chrēstos ho kurios”, which would have sounded just the same as the basic Christian creed, a phrase familiar to all, “Christ is Lord”. ‘chrēstos’ is not, in fact, an easy word to translate; ‘good’ ‘kind’, ‘excellent’ are all on the mark, but ‘Christlike’ is perhaps best of all. So Paul’s urging of the Ephesians to “be good to each other” (4.32) means that they should treat their fellow Christians as Christ himself would; and when he tells the Colossians to “put on ‘chrēstotēs’” (3.12), he is telling them to “put on Christlikeness”, just as he tells the Romans (13.14) to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”. Here, then, in chapter 11, we could translate verse 22 “consider the Christlikeness of God”. Jesus had a lot to say about judgement - his teaching was certainly not all hearts and flowers - but supremely he revealed the love and mercy of God: for our sakes, he was “cut off” (Isaiah 53.8) from the presence of his Father for three hours on the cross so that we might never be cut off from God throughout all eternity.

(2) A precedent: the faithful remnant
‘hupoleipō’, ‘kataleipō’, ‘leimma’

Paul’s first answer to the question “has God rejected the Jews?", after his initial ‘mē genoito’, is to cite the precedent of Elijah. Elijah was prone to mood-swings, and after his triumph over the prophets of Baal he experienced a deep depression, and fled into the wilderness - an appropriate metaphor of his emotional and spiritual state. “Do you not know what the scripture says about Elijah?” he asks his readers. Is he addressing his Jewish readers among the Roman church, who should certainly know the story of Elijah; or does he expect the gentile Christians at Rome, too, to be familiar with the OT scriptures? Certainly, the more familiar we are with the whole of God’s word, the more of our questions will be answered - though some will remain ‘mysteries’ still. Paul then quotes - in fact, slightly misquotes - the LXX version of 1 Kings 19.10 (repeated in v.14): “I alone am left, and they seek my life also”. “Alone” here is ‘monos’ in Greek (the word which gives us all those ‘mono-’ words in English); this is an absolute term, for, strictly speaking, one cannot be ‘more alone’ or ‘most alone’; but the LXX translators here use the superlative form of ‘monos’ (‘monōtatos’) to emphasise Elijah’s sense of isolation. But even in this chapter, where Paul uses so many words which occur only here in the NT (10, in fact), he just uses the simple, and more logical (if less expressive) ‘monos’. Perhaps the MSS have let him down, some early copyist, ignorant of the LXX original, ‘correcting’ Paul’s apparent solecism, just as pedants today (including me!) try to correct the similar solecism ‘very unique’. The key word in this quotation, however, is “I am left”, just one word in Greek, the compound verb ‘hupoleipō’; it is immediately followed by another compound of the same basic verb, ‘leipo’, to ‘leave’, in God’s reply to Elijah’s ‘cry of dereliction’. God tells him that he is by no means ‘alone’, and certainly not ‘very alone’, because “I have left over for myself 7,000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (v.4, = 1 Kings 19.18). The verb here is ‘kataleipō’, and between them these two verbs constitute the doctrine of the ‘remnant’, the faithful few in Israel whom God promises to preserve and ultimately to restore. Quite often in the LXX the ‘remnant’ are expressed by a passive participle of one of these verbs - ‘those who are left behind’; but there are also nouns derived from them, ‘kataleimma’ and ‘hupoleimma’. The latter is found (its only occurrence in the NT) in a verse from Isaiah that Paul has quoted in chapter 9: “Even if the number of the sons of Israel is as the sand on the sea-shore, the remnant will be saved” (v.27, = Isaiah 10.22). Though both these nouns are available to him in chapter 11, perhaps because he is not directly quoting scripture, Paul once again uses a word found nowhere else in the NT, the uncompounded noun ‘leimma’. Having cited the precedent of Elijah, he goes on: “So also, therefore, in the present time a remnant has come into being, a people chosen by God through his grace rather than because of their obedience to the Law - since grace is only grace when it is undeserved” (vv. 5-6, the latter rather freely paraphrased). As early in the church’s life as Acts 4.4, Luke tells us that there were 5,000 believers, almost entirely Jews, presumably; and by the time we reach Acts 21.20, the number has, it seems, increased considerably, since Paul is told by the Christians in Jerusalem: “You can see how many tens-of-thousands of believing Jews there are”. The Greek number used here is ‘murias’, a ‘myriad’, strictly meaning ‘10,000’, but then more loosely used of any undefined large number. In any event, it seems that the ‘remnant’ in Paul’s day was at least as big as it had been in Elijah’s day, and it is, partly, on the basis of this precedent that Paul can so confidently refute the suggestion that “God has rejected his people”: “No way!”

(3) A Promise
'agapētos', echthros'

Ultimately, though, Paul’s confidence in ‘the mystery of the Jews’ rests, as our confidence in any spiritual truth can only do, on the promises of God in scripture. This chapter is framed by two OT prophecies each making such a promise. One of these we have already looked at, and the other we will come to shortly. In between, Paul refers to three ways in which the promise of God’s faithfulness to Israel is implicit in its history and its scripture. I said above that in Romans 11 Paul argues his case in much the same way as he answers the question about the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15; there is also a more specific link, since in both chapters Paul uses ‘the first-fruits’ (‘aparchē’) as a symbol, or picture, of God’s promise. When he writes that Christ is “the first-fruits of those that sleep the sleep of death” (v.20), he is arguing that Jesus’ resurrection body is a promise that all who are raised to new life in him will have resurrection bodies like his. So here, in verse 16, he argues that “if the first-fruits are holy, the whole lump of dough will be holy”. ‘Holy’ here seems to mean not ‘like God’, i.e. ‘sanctified’, as it more normally does when referring to people, but rather ‘belonging to God’. It is likely that Paul has in mind here the faithfulness of Abraham, the founder of the nation of Israel and the earthly father of God’s family. He is Paul’s OT hero; he gets 9 mentions in Romans (one in the first verse of this chapter), and 9 more in Galatians, and a 19th in 2 Corinthians. Moses, by contrast, the hero of Hebrews, only gets 10 mentions in Paul. This suggestion is borne out by the accompanying analogy Paul uses: “If the root is holy, so are the branches” (v.16). It seems to have been this image which sparked off the ‘wild-olive’parable of verses 17-24. By the time we get to verse 28, it becomes clear that the ‘first-fruits’ and the ‘root’ refer not just to Abraham but to all three “patriarchs”, and this verse re-introduces us to a key word, the word at the heart of God’s promises to Israel: ‘election’, in Greek ‘eklogē’, the word we first met in verse 5, where it referred to “the remnant by election of God’s grace”. It is worth looking closely at the structure of verse 28, which is a carefully worked antithesis - a 4-part antithesis; and here structure is the key to meaning. Paul signals the antithesis by using the complementary pair of Greek particles, ‘men’ and ‘de’, ‘on the one hand’ and ‘on the other hand’ being the rather wordier English equivalent. This pairing is ubiquitous in Classical Greek, but used rather more sparingly in the NT. I will translate the verse numbering the 4 contrasted elements in each half of the sentence, to show what is contrasted with what: “(1) On the one hand, (2) as far as the gospel is concerned, (3) the Jews are hateful to God (4) because of you (i.e. so that you may become his chosen people); (1) on the other hand, (2) as far as their election (‘eklogē’) is concerned, (3) the Jews are loved by God (4) because of the patriarchs”. This structure strongly suggests that ‘hateful’ (‘echthros’) and ‘loved’ (‘agapētos’) are antithetical. ‘echthros’ can have either an active or a passive meaning (‘hostile to’ or ‘hated by’), but since ‘agapētos’ is clearly passive (‘beloved’), so must ‘echthros’ be. And since Paul’s whole point is that Israel is still loved by God , so ‘echthros’ too must mean ‘hated by’ or ‘hateful to’ God, a part of this careful antithesis brought out by neither AV or NIV. This could, in fact, be seen as a one-verse compression of the first three stages of the four-stage argument identified by John Stott and set out at the beginning of our study of Romans 11: (1) the Jews, by their opposition to the gospel, have become hateful to God, (2) for your sakes, so that you might hear the gospel; but (3) the Jews are still loved by God because his covenant with the patriarchs shows that they are still his chosen people.

‘eklogē’, ‘ametamelētos’

Acts 13.17, Matthew 21.29-32, 27.3, 2 Corinthians 7.8-10, Hebrews7.21

The word Paul uses in this verse, and in verses 5 and 7, for ‘election’ is ‘eklogē’, the noun derived from the verb ‘eklegomai’, from which we get ‘eclectic’ (‘picking out’), and, via Latin, ‘election’ and ‘elect’. This verb, as its ending shows, is in the middle voice, a rather elusive Greek usage which tends to suggest that the action taken is for one’s own advantage, so that a full translation would be to ‘choose’ or ‘select’ for oneself, not a casual, spur-of the -moment, heads-or-tails sort of choice, but the carefully considered choice of something, or someone, that will be an important part of one’s life. So it is that, of the word’s 22 occurrences in the NT, 6 refer to Jesus’ choosing of his 12 disciples (Luke 6.13, John 6.70, 13.18, 15.16 and 19, Acts 1.2), and another one each to the choosing of Matthias to succeed Judas (Acts 1.24) and the choosing of the 7 deacons (Acts 6.5). All these, perhaps, could be regarded as the ‘patriarchs’ of God’s new people in Christ. But there is one other significant usage in Acts, in Paul’s sermon in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (13.17): “The God of this people of Israel chose our forefathers, the patriarchs ---”. In Paul’s theology, although God is in the process of calling out and choosing a new people in Christ, the inheritors of God’s promise to Abraham, yet he is still faithful in his calling of his ‘first-choice’ people, the people of Israel. For he goes on to say that “God’s gifts of grace” (‘charismata’) and his ‘calling’ (‘klēsis’, the noun from ‘kalō’) are irrevocable: God will never ‘change his mind’, or ‘have second thoughts’ about his choice; that is the implication of the great word Paul uses here, ‘ametamelētos’. This long word can be broken down (rather like Romans 11 itself!) into 4 parts: the initial alpha is the negative prefix (the difference, in English, between ‘theism’ and ‘atheism’), and the final ‘-etos’, as in ‘agapētos’ (only 4 words earlier in the Greek text) indicates that the word is the passive adjective of a verb. This verb itself is a compound: ‘meta’ means ‘after’ and ‘melomai’ (not found in the NT) means to ‘be concerned for’, so that the whole verb means to ‘be concerned about something afterwards’, or, more simply, to ‘regret’ a decision, or ‘have second thoughts’ about it. In this respect, it is a near-synonym with ‘metanoō’, to ‘change one’s mind’ (‘nous’ being Greek - and English - for ‘mind’), which is the standard NT word for to ‘repent’; but whereas repentance, as has often been said, is ‘a change of mind leading to a change of heart’, ‘metamelomai’ only refers to a change of mind, and should not, in my view, be translated ‘repent’, though AV regularly does, and NIV occasionally. The verb occurs 6 times in the NT. Two of these occurrences are in Matthew 21, in and after Jesus’ parable of the two sons: the first son, when told by his father to work in his vineyard, replied “I don’t want to” - but later “had second thoughts” and went. The other son said yes, but didn’t go. Jesus then likens this disobedience to the Jewish leaders’ refusal to believe John the Baptist’s preaching, unlike the “tax-collectors and prostitutes" who believed; but you when you saw him did not ‘change your minds’ and believe him” (vv. 29-33). The next instance is also in Matthew, and provides us with a helpful distinction between ‘repentance’ and ‘remorse’. In chapter 27, Judas “seeing that Jesus had been condemned ‘had an attack of remorse’ (‘metamelomai’), and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying ‘I have sinned’” (vv.3-4). At this point, Judas’s reaction could be interpreted as ‘repentance’: like the tax-collector in Jesus’ parable, who was ‘justified’ (Luke 18.14), he confesses his sin, and like Zacchaeus, who, Jesus said, found ‘salvation’ that day, he gives back his ill-gotten gains. But true repentance leads to salvation and new life; Judas may have ‘changed his mind’, but his heart was unrepentant, as is shown by the next verse (5): “he went away and hanged himself”. Paul makes this distinction between ‘repentance’ (‘metanoia’) and regret even clearer in 2 Corinthians 7.8-10. He had sent the church a stern letter calling on them to put right a serious problem in the church; now he hears from Titus that this painful letter has had the desired effect: “Even if I grieved you in my letter, I do not regret it - even though I did regret it, for I saw that that letter did cause you pain, even if only for a while. Now I rejoice, not because of the pain I caused you, but because that pain led to repentance (‘metanoia’). --- For the sort of pain which comes as God works on our consciences produces repentance which brings no regrets with it”. This last clause is my translation of the only other occurrence of ‘ametamelētos’ in the NT. But it is the final instance of the verb that brings us nearest to our original verse. This, in turn, is a quotation from Psalm 110.4 (in the LXX version), part of the lengthy excursus in Hebrews likening Jesus to Melchizedek: “God has sworn an oath, and he will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever’ (Heb. 7.21). Paul is making the same point here: when God makes a promise, he does not change his mind. Has God rejected the Jews? Of course not! They are his chosen people, and God’s choice is irrevocable.

‘ruomai’
Matthew 6.13, 2 Peter 2.9, Col 1.13, 1 Thess 1.10

Of the two prophecies that frame these verses, the first we have already looked at; it occurs at the end of chapter 10 (v.19), quoting Deuteronomy 32.21, in which God says to Israel that he “will provoke you to envy” over a ‘non-people’ - the gentiles. And at the end of chapter 11 (vv.26-7) he quotes Isaiah 59.20-21: “There will come from Sion the one who delivers, he will turn ungodliness away from Jacob; and this will be (or “is” - there is no verb in the Greek) my covenant with them, when I take away their sins” - this last clause Paul introduces from another part of Isaiah, 27.9. Both AV and NIV translate this lovely title of God, reasonably enough, as ‘the deliverer’; it is the present participle of the verb ‘ruomai’, to ‘deliver’, preceded by the definite article, ‘ho’, ‘the’. This is a very common construction in Greek, and is usually best translated as a relative clause, ‘the one who ---’. I like this translation, “the one who delivers”, partly because it does justice to the ‘present continuous’ tense of the participle, and so brings out the truth that God is the one who is constantly delivering his people, and also because of its more colloquial and contemporary sense, particularly appropriate in this context - God is the one who always delivers on his promises. This translation, therefore, nicely fits into Paul’s argument about God’s faithfulness to the Jews - though I doubt this is what he actually had in mind when he quoted Isaiah! This verb occurs 18 times in the NT, two of them in its most famous context, the Lord’s prayer: “Deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6.13, Luke 11.4). Peter in his second letter (2.9) seems to echo this, combining two separate petitions in that prayer when he says “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly from temptation”. In both these contexts, it is worth pointing out, the Greek word translated ‘temptation’, ‘peirasmos’, can also mean ‘testing’, though we tend to use the latter to refer to the pressures of the external world, and ‘temptation’ for the internal assaults of the flesh and the devil. Perhaps Peter has both senses in mind here, since his statement is preceded by the example of Lot, whom God ‘delivered’ from both the corruption and the destruction of Sodom (v.7). Of the remaining instances, 12 are Pauline. Two of these refer to the deliverance from sin and judgement achieved by the gospel: “God has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1.13 - the greatest free transfer in history!); and Jesus is “the one who delivers us (article + participle again) from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1.10). The others are personal, either prayers of thanksgiving for past deliverances (2 Cor. 1.10 - three instances in one verse!), or prayers for future deliverance (Romans 7.34, 15.31, 2 Thess. 3.2). For Paul personally, for the Jews prophetically, and for all Christians daily, God is indeed “the one who delivers”.

*************


We can see, then, that ‘the mystery of the Jews’ conforms with the definition of ‘mystery’ in Paul’s thinking that we saw in our previous studies of ‘the mystery of lawlessness’, ‘the mystery of the resurrection body’, and the mystery of marriage’: like them, ‘the mystery of the Jews’ has been foretold in prophecy, the prophecies from Deuteronomy and Isaiah that Paul quotes in chapters 10 and 11; it has been foreshadowed by precedent in OT history, the account of Elijah and ‘the remnant’; but it has not yet been fulfilled. Its fulfilment lies still in the future, and the future is always a mystery to us; even when it is a ‘mystery’ in the Pauline sense, we may know that something will happen because God has told us that it will, and on God’s promises we can rely with confidence, because they are ‘irrevocable’ (‘ametamelētos’); but we do not know exactly when it will happen or exactly how. Future history remains a mystery!

Next->the mystery of the fullness of time