Q383 : Does the Fullness of the Gentiles refer to the Return of the Tribe of Ephraim?

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Q383 : Does the Fullness of the Gentiles refer to the Return of the Tribe of Ephraim?

Thank you for the good work you and your team continue to do on your website and thank you for always being available to answer my numerous questions.

I have a question regarding Paul’s statement in Romans 11:25 “. . . until the fulness of the Gentiles . . .”

I recently heard a brother say that Paul was here referring to Jacob’s prophecy concerning Ephraim in Genesis 48:19 that “his seed shall become the fullness of the nations.”

According to the brother, because Ephraim or the Northern Kingdom got assimilated into the Gentile nations they were exiled to, their return to be reunited with the house of Judah is what Paul is hinting at in Romans 11:25.

I believe this is very far from the truth and given that this teaching rests in part on the spurious lost-tribes doctrine, I would not give it any credence. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on this matter.

Does the “and so” which begin the sentence in Romans 11:26 mean “and then”, a sequential statement, or does it mean “in this way”? I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Thank you once again. May the Lord continue to bless you and your team.

A383 : by Tony Garland

Lost Tribes?

I agree with your view that the phrase "the fullness of the Gentiles" (Romans 11:25) has no connection to Ephraim's descendants becoming "a multitude of nations" in Genesis 48:19 — "a populous nation" (HCSB). Also, as you point out, the view that ten of the Jewish tribes were "lost" is a myth. I discuss this in some detail in my Revelation Commentarya, where I summarize the strong Scriptural evidence against this idea.

Use of Gentiles vs. Jews/Israel in Romans 9-11

Another clue that Paul’s use of the phrase “the fullness of the Gentiles” does not have the tribe of Ephraim in view is the consistent distinction which Paul makes in his use of the terms Gentile, Israel, and Jew.

  • The terms Gentiles and Jews are mutually-exclusive in Romans 9:24
  • The terms Gentiles and Israel are mutually-exclusive in Romans 9:30-31 and Romans 11:11-13
From this consistent use of the terms by Paul we can conclude that Gentiles in Romans 11:25-26 refers to non-Jews—and cannot refer to one of the tribes (lost or otherwise).

“And so . . .”

The "and so" in Romans 11:26 is the Greek phrase, και οὕτως [kai houtōs] which can be rendered in English by either "and so" (NKJV, KJV, NASB95, NIV, NET) or "and in this way" (ESV, HCSB). Although the phrase και οὕτως [kai houtōs] can denote sequence, the word οὕτως [houtōs] often conveys the concept, "thus," "in this manner," or "likewise."

In this passage, it would seem to denote the manner, or as you put it: "in this way." This is how it appears to be used in the context.

Paul has just stated that unbelieving Israel, although blinded in part (v. 25) is able to be grafted by God back into the olive tree (the promises to the fathersb, v. 25). The end of verse 26 goes on to explain the manner in which this will take place: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob..."

So one could render the verses in this way: . . . blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way (manner) all Israel will be saved . . . [what way?] . . . As it is written . . . Then follows the explanation of the manner in which the blindness will be removed: The Deliverer will turn away ungodliness.

In my view, the passage conveys both sequence (the blindness continues until) and manner (so, in this way).

A similar use of οὕτως [houtōs]

A similar use of οὕτως [houtōs], denoting manner, occurs in the most famous passage in the Bible, 16 God so (οὕτως [houtōs]) loved the world . . . (John 3:16).

This meaning is clear from the preceding context, 14 “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so (οὕτως [houtōs], in like manner) must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14).

Although the majority of commentaries and devotionals assume the “so” in John 3:16 is speaking of the degree of God’s love, the context argues for a meaning of manner. I believe the HCSB (“For God loved the world in this way...”) and the NET (“For this is the way God loved the world”) have the preferred rendering.

Since the English word “so” can convey either meaning, it is an accurate rendering too—even if most readers assume it must convey degree.

I believe the central idea is “this is the way in which God [demonstrated] His love . . . He gave ...”

Some might argue that this is splitting hairs, but I think the distinction is highly significant: God’s love is not primarily emotive, but demonstrative. This speaks volumes for how we should love: through demonstrated action rather than mere verbal expression.

When rightly understood, this emphasis does not reduce the intensity of God's love, but the interpreter arrives there by a slightly different path: 1) God loved the world; 2) how did He love the world? 3) He demonstrated His love by giving His most valuable gift—His only begotten Son; therefore 4) God loved the world immensely (to a high degree) as measured by the cost of what He gave.

In closing, I would observe that a frequent mistake one encounters is pouring too much emphasis into subtleties of the original language of a passage while failing to consider the contribution the context of the surrounding verses make toward the range of meaning a particular word or phrase might have. Too often, conclusions are drawn, based on grammar or the meaning of the same word in other passages, which are contradicted by the immediate context of the passage. As I like to say, “context is king”—has primacy in determining the author’s meaning—when interpreting a passage.

Blessings - Tony

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