Thursday, December 2, 2010

"All Israel" and Paul's Mission

I recently got the brand new commentary on 1 Corinthians by Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner.  It is an excellent commentary for both layperson and scholar alike and I have found every page refreshing and enjoyable thus far.  Almost (but not quite) worth the price of the book is the excellent section in the introduction that sketches Paul’s socio-cultural and theological framework.  In it the authors note the ubiquitous OT theme of God’s glory and worship: “To glorify someone is to recognize their intrinsic worth and beauty, and to speak of that feature in a public way. To glorify God is to praise or to speak of Him openly and truthfully.” Parallel to this is the theme of the Gentiles turning from idolatry and drawn to come alongside Israel and worship God.  This reaches clearest expression in Isaiah and strikingly so at the end of the book, 66:18-24:

      18 “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.  19 I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations – to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. 20 And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD – on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temples of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.
      22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure.  23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all people will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.
      24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to the whole human race.”

Verses 18-21 in particular stand behind Romans 15:16-24 (especially v. 16) where we glean particular insight into the aims of Paul’s missionary activities, making these verses of particular importance to Paul.  I was amazed by some exegetically important features of this passage.

Vs. 18 – God declares that he himself will gather the multitudes of the nations to come a see his glory.
Vs. 19 – “them” and “those who survive” of the first and second clause respectively are formally ambiguous.  While the antecedent of “them” would naturally be the nations, “those who survive” makes no sense speaking of the nations but rather, in context of the book refers to the Jews.  So, God will send out some of the Jews who survive to the nations; even to “distant islands”.
Vv. 20, 21 – Now the next pronoun you’d think also refers to the Jews.  But it most certainly refers to Gentiles because 1) that “they will bring all your people (Heb. brothers)” when it is God speaking to the Jews suggests otherwise. If “they” are Jews, then we have “some of those who survive” who are sent by God to the nations and yet end up bringing fellow Israelites back as if that’s the focus and weight of the text. 2) V. 21 has God then choosing “some of them” to be “priests and Levites”.  If “them” at begin of v. 20 are Jews then likewise at v. 21 making v. 21 trite and of little significance or sense.  Priests and Levites were of an established lineage and would hardly require God’s choosing.

Rather, it seems best that the ingathering of the nations brings with them the “remaining” of the exiles of Israel who have been scattered to the nations by God’s judgment and these Gentiles will offer the returned exiles of Israel to God.  The offering of God’s exiled people to God by the Gentiles is likened to offering grain offerings, the fruit of labor, in ceremonially clean vessels – shocking category for Gentiles!  These Jews-returned-from-exile-by-Gentiles are a pleasing offering to God precisely by “ceremonially clean” Gentiles.

Vv. 22-24 – Moreover, God promises that the enduring of the “name and descendants” of Israel will be as that of the new creation itself; and no less this than that the endurance of their “name and descendants” is realized in all people worshipping the God of Israel.  The book ends (v. 24) on a note of perpetual judgment on those who rebel – who, elsewhere, did not listen to his word.  To affirm promise of enduring life of those who worship entails affirming enduring death for those who don’t.  Thank goodness for God’s active grace (v. 18).


After all this, I was struck by how much sense Romans 11 makes after reading this text, purported by Ciampa and Rosner as a central text for Paul, and the idea of “all Israel” being saved through the “fullness of the Gentiles”.  This wasn’t some special vision of the end times given to Paul.  Paul just read his bible and understood this oracle given more than 700 years prior; and he sees himself as one of “those who survive” (Isa. 66.19) sent out by God to the nations, saving Gentiles in order to save his fellow Jews.

Along other lines, the importance of this theme makes Romans chps 1, 11, and 15 have much more of a central place in the letter than traditionally understood.

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