Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 11:13-15, 25-36

This post contains comments on Romans 11:13-15 and 25-36. It also contains brief summaries of 11:11-24, 11:25-32, and 11:33-36.

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.

13. For I say to you, Gentiles : as long indeed as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I will honour my ministry,
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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

27. And this is to them my covenant: when I shall take away their sins.

The first part of this verse is from chapter 59:21, and the second from chapter 27:9 of the Prophet Isaias. 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.

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 (verses 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.

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).

30. For as you also in times past did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy, through their unbelief;
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.

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.

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.

34. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor?
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.

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.

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 11:13-15, 25-36

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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