What Does "And All Israel Will Be Saved" Mean?
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved… Romans 11:25-26a
Understanding what Paul means when he says, “…all Israel will be saved,” is something that has divided Christian readers for a long time. Brilliant, godly men and women even within the same denominations and theological camps are often at odds on how to best interpret what this phrase means.
While there’s value in discussing which of these views is correct, it’s also helpful just to be clear on what the different interpretations are. Below are three of the most common understandings of “…all Israel will be saved.”
View #1 – The majority of ethnic Jews at some point in the future.
Those who understand the passage this way believe that once “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” God will at that point in time lift the partial hardening upon Israel. At that specific time, the world will witness a large number of Jews come to faith in Jesus. As F.F. Bruce explains: “‘All Israel’ is a recurring expression in Jewish literature… where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception’, but ‘Israel as a whole’.” So Paul is saying that the Christian minority among the Jews will one day become the Christian majority. While many believe that this transition will happen near the end of this age just prior to Jesus’ return, some believe it will be more gradual.
View #2 – The “Israel of God” consisting of all elect Jews and all elect Gentiles.
It wouldn’t be unusual for Paul to use the term “Israel” in this way. In Galatians 6:16, he refers to the church comprised of both Jews and Gentiles as “the Israel of God.” And in Galatians 3:27, Paul says that all who are united to Christ are “Abraham’s offspring.” Proponents of this viewpoint believe Paul is using “Israel” in that way here. John Calvin held this view, interpreting Paul as saying: “When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both…”
View #3 – All of the elect Jews throughout history.
This interpretation believes that Paul refers to all elect Jews, corresponding to his reference to all elect Gentiles in verse 25. Paul’s point in these verses is similar to what he said in verses 11-15: God is using Israel’s rejection of Jesus to bring salvation to the Gentiles, which will have the effect of causing elect Jews to long for Jesus and be saved. His goal in verses 25-26 then is to keep the Gentiles humble by reminding them of how God’s going to save Jews. In other words, since the Gentiles only have the gospel because Israel rejected it, and because God is going to use Gentile Christians to bring elect Jews to faith in Jesus, Gentiles shouldn’t feel superior to Jews but should feel an obligation to them.
All of these are orthodox views, and again, godly people disagree on this. Personally, I think the third view makes the most sense within the context of Romans 11. This was the position taken in our sermon on this text last Sunday. For further defense of this view and to dive more into the different viewpoints, listen to the sermon from August 30, "Has God Rejected Israel?"