William Campbell’s Romans– The Dialogue Part Eight

William Campbell’s Romans– The Dialogue Part Eight May 29, 2023

Q. Certainly second and third Isaiah were crucial texts for Paul in the way he not only conceived himself but also the way he conceived Christ, and that includes the reference to Rom. 11 where he says the Redeemer will return from Zion (in this case heavenly Zion, see the reference to the heavenly Jerusalem in Gal. 4.26—the Jerusalem that is from above) and turn away the impiety of Jacob. This surely must be a reference to the second coming of Christ, with the result that ‘all Israel will be saved’ in like manner to the Gentiles— due to God’s mercy. In other words, Paul does a Christological reading of Isaiah in various places in his letters, including here and sometimes even an apostolic reading of it (with Paul as the suffering servant of God). How do you view Paul’s use of Isaiah?

A. That Paul uses Isaiah sometimes christologically is not disputed. However, I do not see Galatians 4.26 as relevant for the interpretation of Romans 11.  The main point that Paul makes in Romans 9-11 is that contrary to traditional Jewish expectations of the time, the incoming of the gentiles was happening prior to the restoration of Israel, and this requires an explanation. Paul knows in advance of writing Romans that all Israel will be restored, and the debate in Romans 10-11 is why this has not happened prior to the incoming of the gentiles. So Paul asks two rhetorical questions in 10.18-19, the first being ‘But do I really say that they did not hear’ and cites the scripture that the message has already gone to the ends of the earth. The implication is that Israel must have heard already, and Paul then asks ‘but do I really say that Israel did not come to understand first’ (10.19). I attach the word ‘first’ to the previous sentence in that it makes no sense to say ‘first Moses says’ since there is no second. Paul implies that though Israel has heard the message she has not fully understood. Significantly this is due to God’s purpose for the gentiles, whom Paul sees as having a function to provoke Israel with the reality of their incoming as gentiles. In addition, the so-called hardening of Israel has the function of giving gentiles time and space to respond to the gospel. So it is out of God’s grace for gentiles that Israel is delayed in seeing what Paul had hoped they would see already now. This is suggested by the image of the runner in the race who trips but recovers in time to continue in the race though delayed (Commentary, 267-71).

The redeemer from Zion certainly is key to the redemption of all Israel, and some interpreters take this as you do to refer to Christ. However, I am more convinced by the arguments of e.g. Michael Wolter who notes that the one who comes from Zion is always God in Jewish tradition. Thus the redemption of all Israel is in God’s hands, whether through Christ or not, but certainly not through the church in that Paul does not say that Israel needs to join the church to be restored. Paul may wish to say that their redemption is through Christ, but he stops short of doing so, leaving this issue open to God. As noted already there is a parallel here with Paul’s use of rhetorical questions. In 10.18-19 , though Paul may hint the direction of his argument, he asks questions at important points rather than making conceptual statements, leaving the answer open. Paul does and can make strong statements about God’s purpose but he does not claim to have specific knowledge of ultimate things. Thus while he is sure that Israel will be restored, he does not claim to know precisely when and how. This is entirely God’s doing.


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