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Q42 : Romans 9:6 - For they are not all Israel who are of Israel

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Q42 : Romans 9:6 - For they are not all Israel who are of Israel

Thank you so much for helping me to see so clearly Romans 9:6 especially with the help of your diagramsa.

I have been confronted with the interpretation of this verse. I am told it should be interpreted "spiritually" ( which maybe comes from Covenant theology) whilst I have been taught to interpret "literally."

This surely will lead me to say that "the church has replaced Israel."

I would greatly appreciate your advise or comment to counter this approach — if it is incorrect.


A42 : by Tony Garland

I am thankful that our teaching on Romans 9:6a has been helpful as you seek to understand this very important and misunderstood passage in God's Word:

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel. (NKJV)

The Greek behind the last phrase could be more literally rendered: "for not all the [ones] from Israel these [are] Israel." There are several keys to interpreting this phrase:

  1. Determining the meaning of words by the immediate context of the passage.
  2. Applying strict logic to Paul's statement.
  3. Proper identification of the superset: all the ones from Israel.

Let's take each of these in reverse order.

All the Ones from Israel

The term "from" or "of" (NKJV) is derived from the Greek word ex. The preposition can have a variety of meanings, including out of or away from. In other words, it denotes the source from which the ones came from. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD) lists the meaning of ex in this verse as being substantive for literal Israel. The phrase denotes all those who literally descended from the man Israel (also called Jacob). These are the sons of Israel.

Note that believers are never referred to as the seed of Israel, but of Abraham (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:29). While this may seem like a subtle distinction it is quite important because it underscores the fact that the Gentiles are justified before God through unity with Jesus (Eph. 2:12-17) by means of the New Covenant which is rooted in Abraham, not Israel (who is Jacob). Notice too, that Gentile believers and Jews are joined together by means of the New Covenant into one new man — the church does not "join," "become" or "replace" Israel.

Paul's Logic

Another important aspect to consider when interpreting this phrase is Paul's logic. He describes a superset and a subset. There is a strict relationship between the subset and the superset: the subset is entirely contained within the superset. Using a Venn Diagramb, the relationship can be drawn as follows:

Not all Israel

[Editor’s note: a more recent diagram concerning this topic may be seen in the response to question #174c.]

We notice several relationships:

  • The superset (outermost circle) includes those who are of or from Israel. As we saw above, this describes all the physical descendents of the man Israel.
  • From among the superset, a subset is said to be "not Israel". In other words, among all the physical descendents of Israel there are some who Paul does not consider to be true Jews. Why? Because they lack the faith of father Abraham and deny Jesus as Messiah. These are represented by the unshaded area within the outermost circle.
  • Having defined a superset as physical Israel, and a subset as nonbelieving Israel, we are necessarily left with another implied subset (the shaded circle): physical descendents of the man Israel who also exercise faith in Messiah Jesus. These are "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16), the believing elect Jewish remnant which is the subject of much of what Paul has to say in the remainder of the passage (e.g., Rom. 11:5-7).
  • It will simply not do to get "noodle-headed" when looking at this important phrase. The rules of logic do not allow reaching outside the superset to identify either of the explicit or implicit subsets. If the superset includes all the physical descendents of the man Israel, there is not one Gentile to be found in this verse! Replacement Theology wants to make "not of Israel" be the physical descendents and then somehow shoehorn believing Gentiles into the implicit subset (those who are true Israelites), but the logic of the grammer does not allow us to exceed the superset which consists entirely of Jews.

Context

Lastly, we can consider the context of Paul's statement. In particular, what latitude is allowed for understanding the term Israel as used by Paul here? Once again, we see that Paul uses the term exclusively to refer to physical descendants of the man Israel.

Immediately prior to the verse in question, Paul identifies the group of people for whom he grieves: " my countrymen [or relatives] according to the flesh." He equates these with those, "who are Israelites" One wonders how much more specific Paul and the Holy Spirit could be? In case any doubt remains, Paul goes on to list 8 things which were uniquely the Jews: (1) the adoption (the chosen nation); (2) the glory (God's shekinah presence); (3) the giving of the law; (4) the covenants (plural); (5) the service of God (temple worship); (6) the promises (plural); (7) the source of the fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob); (8) the source of Christ, according to the flesh (Jesus was born of Mary, a Jewess). Clearly, what Paul means by Israel is the Jews, the chosen nation.

When we consider what motivates Paul to raise the thorny question of Romans 9:6, "But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect . . . ", we understand that it is because he has physical Israel in view that the question arises. The question is this: If God made so many promises to the physical descendants of Jacob, but many of the Jews rejected Jesus, has God's Word failed? This question would not even be a consideration if Paul had in mind that Israel here (and throughout the Scriptures) should be reinterpreted to mean "spiritual Israel." By its definition, although unbiblical, the phrase "spiritual Israel" denotes believers which Paul rejoices over.

What Paul is saying is that although many of Jacob's physical descendents rejected their Messiah, not all did! Thus, there is a believing subset from among the physical nation. These are the true Israel, the "Israel of God" which Paul also refers to as the remnant (Rom. 11:7), of which Paul was one in his day (Rom. 11:1).

When Paul refers to unbelieving Jews as "not [true] Israel," we understand these to be members of the "synagogue of Satan" whom Jesus elsewhere describes as "those who say they are Jews, but are not" (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). In other words, physical Israel is made up of both true Israel/true Jews (believing Jews) and not Israel (unbelieving Jews who, although they say they are Jews, are not exercising the faith of their father Abraham).

Conclusion

When all the factors above are considered, they speak in concert concerning the meaning of the term Israel in this verse — there is not a single Gentile to be found, believer or otherwise, in Romans 9:6.


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