Who is the “All Israel” of Romans 11:26?

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

Note:  This study serves as an addendum to my commentary on Romans 11:

Romans 11:25-32
25 For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in;
26 and so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
27 And this is my covenant unto them, When I shall take away their sins.
28 As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake.
29 For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.
30 For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience,
31 even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy.
32 For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

“so all Israel shall be saved”

Who is “all Israel” in this verse? In other words, is Paul referring to ethnic, national Israel, or is he referring to true, spiritual Israel – the Church? I don’t believe Paul is referring to ethnic Israel for the following reasons:

1. Paul already told us in Ro 9:27 that it’s only “the remnant” of ethnic, national Israel that “shall be saved”:

27 And Isaiah crieth concerning Israel, If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that shall be saved: (Is 10:22)

Romans chapters 9, 10, and 11 must be viewed as a single unit. In the beginning of chapter 9, verses 1-8, Paul sets the tone and focus for all three chapters. From the very beginning Paul identifies true Israel. He makes it clear that it’s not the physical seed of Abraham who are the children of God, but implies that it’s the spiritual seed of Abraham, the “children of promise” through Isaac, who make up true Israel (Ro 9:7-8), or spiritual Israel. In Ro 9:30 (and Ro 10), Paul also reveals that it’s through “faith” that people become “children of promise.”

Taken as a whole (all three chapters), it would be inconsistent to suggest that Paul was only talking about only the “remnant” of his day. How could he possibly pinpoint it to his day only? Nor can he be talking about an “elect remnant” upon the return of Christ. As I discuss below, that would require a Calvinist position on election. I think it’s obvious that the believing remnant of Israel extends throughout history up to the return of Christ, and the Church is complete.  Ethnic Israel has its fulfillment in Christ and the Church; it continues as a spiritual nation. God’s program for Israel is complete in Christ and the Church. There is no separate or  additional plan for Israel. The idea that God will yet save “all” the people of ethnic, national Israel must be assumed, based on an Old Testament understanding that excludes the teaching of the New Testament — because the NT doesn’t teach it. The OT must be interpreted according to our understanding of the NT. That God will yet save all ethnic Jews – even in the general sense – doesn’t fit the overall context of what Paul reveals in these three chapters, nor does it harmonize with what he teaches in many other places throughout his writings. To insert the idea of a separate plan for national Israel, is to do so based on a positional bias, because again, that idea doesn’t fit the context of these chapters, nor the overall teaching of the New Testament.

Therefore, “all Israel” cannot refer to the whole nation of Israel, when Paul makes it clear that only a “remnant” will be saved. The believing remnant of Israel combine with believing Gentiles to form true Israel in Christ, which is the Church. Thus, “all Israel” must be referring to spiritual Israel, not ethnic, national Israel.

For Paul to reveal out of the blue and out of context that God still has a separate plan for the nation of Israel (vs. 26), would be senseless. It’s out of harmony with the flow of discussion. God’s plan for Israel is complete in Christ and the Church. That’s it. That’s all. As it concerns the people of Israel, it’s now fully a matter of individual faith. Throughout Romans 11, Paul reveals New Testament Israel to be a spiritual nation that consists of believing Jews and believing Gentiles. The Apostle Peter taught the same thing in 1 Pet 2:4-10:

4 unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, 5 ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame. 7 For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; 8 and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 9 But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

So again, God’s plan for Israel is now complete, complete in Christ. Israel continues as a “spiritual,” “holy nation,” which is the Church. If Israel continues in Christ, and is complete in Christ, how can there still be a further plan for national Israel? God’s plan for Israel has already been fulfilled in Christ and the Church.

2. If one believes that Paul is referring to ethnic, national Israel in this verse (11:26), that raises several questions:

Is Paul referring to every Jewish individual throughout history? Or is he referring to every Jew that happens to be alive at the time that “all Israel” is saved (just prior to the return of Christ)? Or is Paul referring to the nation in general, where its leaders and people generally recognize Christ as their Messiah?

Any of these ideas have serious theological problems. However one views “all Israel” among these choices, one would have to accept Calvinism’s position of unconditional election. However, Paul himself reveals that position to be completely false, as I pointed out in my commentary on that chapter. Any of these three ideas would require God to selectively and unconditionally choose each of those Jews for salvation, for it would require God to choose each of them just at the right time. The idea that “all ethnic Israel” will be saved at some point, means that God would have to save in a manner contrary to how He is saving individual Jews now (and all other sinners), which is through spiritual enlightenment as the Holy Spirit convicts and reveals truth and draws people to Christ — but not irresistibly so, as Calvinism teaches. The idea that God will someday save “all” ethnic Israel would require God to change the way He draws people to His Son — from resistible to irresistible. I don’t believe you can come to any other conclusion.

Therefore, if one embraces the Arminian position of conditional election, the “all ethnic, national Israel” interpretation must be rejected.

As for the interpretation that “all Israel” refers to all Jews throughout history, only universalists would accept such an idea.

Furthermore, if it’s only the small group of “elect” Jews in the end that get saved, out of all the millions of Jews throughout history, how can it be true that “all Israel” gets saved? That doesn’t sound like all Israel to me. It seems senseless to me that a small group of end time believing Jews qualifies as an all Israel definition.

If one accepts the interpretation that “all Israel” refers to the establishment of Israel, that the leadership and the nation of Israel in general, finally recognize Jesus as their Messiah, how is it that they suddenly come to that conclusion? That would require a major event of some sort, where they all together at the same time embrace Jesus as their Messiah, and be “saved.” What would that event be? Whatever prophetic ideas one may have about that, I suggest that the event of the cross is enough to turn the Jewish community to Jesus today — but not wholesale….only as individuals, as it is today. No other event is needed. The gospel of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is fully sufficient to lead the people of Israel to the truth in Christ as it is. But again, salvation is an individual matter. Any or all of the Jewish leaders have the opportunity to come to faith in Jesus now. But if a large number of them turn to Jesus, that still doesn’t mean that the rest of Israel will follow in like faith. Salvation is and always has been and always will be a matter of the individual heart.

So to be clear, if some event does result in a worldwide turning of Jews to Jesus, it would require that God do something for each individual that He is not doing for them now. It would require Him to draw them to faith in Christ in an irresistible manner. I don’t believe such a worldwide turning to Jesus (of the Jewish community) can be reasonably explained any other way.

3. Judaism is a religion, just like Islam is a religion, just like Mormonism is a religion, just like Hinduism and Buddhism are religions. Not every person of any religion is going to come to faith in Christ.

My point is, salvation is an individual matter. Religions are made up of individuals with individual hearts. The hearts of people are not connected. They are not one. Therefore, no group of people or full membership of any religion is ever going to come to faith in Christ as one people at one time. That goes for the religion of Judaism. As I explained in my commentary on Romans 11, whatever is involved in the “hardening of Israel” (Ro 11:7-10), it doesn’t prevent an individual Jew from seeing and embracing the truth in Christ. Furthermore, there is no suggestion in the New Testament that this hardening will ever be removed (except as many view verses 25-26), except as the Holy Spirit draws individuals to faith in Christ, as Paul himself makes clear:

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,  13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.  14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.  15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  (ESV – 2 Cor 3:12-16)

Here Paul reveals that this “veil,” this “hardening,” is an individual matter, that its removal is on an individual basis. Only individuals come to faith in Christ, and only as the Holy Spirit enlightens and draws, only as He works on the heart to prepare and soften, only as He opens the eyes of the blind. Through Christ the “veil is taken away,” and only as “one turns to the Lord.” The mention of “one,” reveals that Paul understands that salvation will not come to Israel corporately, but only as each person places their faith in Christ.

This same Paul who wrote this passage in 2 Corinthians, who understands this “hardening” in regard to Israel, is the same Paul who wrote about this hardening in Romans 11. He’s the same Paul who said that “all Israel shall be saved” (Ro 11:26). In view of what he reveals about this hardening in 2 Corinthians, he can’t possibly be referring to a universal salvation of ethnic, national Israel in Ro 11:26. The individual hearts of the ethnic Jews are not united. They are not one. They are not connected. They don’t function as one. Therefore, there will always be the religion of Judaism. This “hardening” will always be over the nation of Israel and its religion. Even if many of the leaders of Judaism come to faith in Jesus, that doesn’t mean the rest will follow. Even in Paul’s day, many religious leaders came to faith in Jesus, but not all of them. That will never change, because salvation is an individual matter of the individual heart. And again, the Holy Spirit will never draw one to Jesus in an irresistible, unconditional manner, and that is what we’re talking about here if we accept that Paul is referring to a universal salvation of ethnic, national Israel.  

4. It was a common belief of Israel (about themselves) that since they were the chosen people of God (physical seed of Abraham), and thus the children of God, that they would all be saved. Paul addressed that belief in Romans 9:1-8 (also Jesus in John 8:19-59). He’s addressing that same belief in Romans 11:26.

Paul goes out of his way to describe the true Israel of God under the New Covenant in many of his writings. One of those places is in Ro 11:16-24, with the description of this tree of salvation, or tree of election or tree of faith (can be viewed in any of those ways). What he describes in that passage is true, spiritual Israel, which is the Church, composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles. We can’t lose sight of that. We have to apply this understanding about true Israel to verse 26.

Paul is fully aware of the belief that Jews have about themselves, that they are the chosen people of God, and that as God’s chosen they will all be saved – being “children of God” (Ro 9:8). They believe, as Paul addressed in Ro 9:6-8, that since they are the physical seed of Abraham, they will all be saved. Paul refutes that idea in that same passage. So when Paul gets to Ro 11:26, he’s addressing that same common belief that all ethnic Jews, or national Israel will be saved. He’s saying, in effect, “yes, all Israel will be saved,” but it’s “all spiritual Israel that will be saved, not ethnic, national Israel.” It’s true Israel in Christ and the Church that will be saved, not national Israel of Judaism. There will never be more than a “remnant” of the physical seed of Abraham that come to faith in Jesus (Ro 9:27; 11:5,14). Let’s take a closer look Ro 11:25-28 (NRSV):

25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

“This mystery” is not simply the “hardening” upon “part of Israel,” but is everything Paul says from verse 25 through verse 32. He has already talked about this hardening in chapter 9 and in verses 7-10 of this chapter. Nor is he talking about when this hardening will end, as though it’s suppose to, as many Christians believe.

Throughout this chapter (esp. from verse 11 on) Paul has been talking about the relationship between the Jews and Gentiles. One group cannot “boast” over the other, because we are all on equal ground. We are all disobedient sinners (verses 30-32) in need of Christ. Christ died for all. Salvation is available to all. Thus the gospel is for everyone to be received by faith. That’s part of the mystery, that we are all on equal ground, so no one can boast over the other. Just as the Jews are hardened and blind to the truth, so are the Gentiles. Only in Christ is this hardening and blindness taken away (2 Cor 3:12-16). The focus of the gospel is on the whole world of sinners. I believe this “mystery” is the same “mystery” that Paul  talks about in Ephesians 3:1-6 (continuation of Eph 2:11-22):

1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles– 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  (ESV)

The above passage is a continuation of Paul’s discussion in Eph 2:11-22, and what we see in this passage of Romans 11:11-32 is a variation of the same discussion in Ephesians. Where Paul refers to the “members of the same body” of Eph 3:6, this is the same “body” that he describes in Ro 11:11-32, which is the Church, who is true Israel in Christ — composed of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Paul says in Eph 2:18 that “through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.”

So again, the “mystery” is, in part, that we are all on equal ground as sinners in need of Christ, who provided salvation for all (Ro 11:30-32). Both Jews and Gentiles have the same spiritual problem, and both are “reconciled” to God the same way (Eph 2:14-16). Together, as believers, we are “one body” in Christ (Eph 2:16). This one body is spiritual Israel, and that too is part of the mystery, that Israel continues as a spiritual nation in Christ and the Church.

So then, since Jews and Gentiles are on equal ground – having the same spiritual problem and and same spiritual need – neither can boast over the other. Neither can be conceited in their attitude toward the other. Neither should “claim to be wiser than they are.”  In context, Paul is referring to the Gentiles, but the same is true of the Jews, as well.

“a hardening has come upon [only] part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”  (“only” added by me)

This statement is part of the mystery, but it’s not the sole mystery, as one might assume. To be clear, as we already discussed, the mystery is both the equal spiritual ground that Jews and Gentiles share, and the the fact that Israel is a spiritual nation in Christ. That’s what Paul reveals in these verses.

Explaining Paul’s statement:
Let’s take the first part of his statement: “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” — with an emphasis on the word “part.” When you place the emphasis on that word, it then becomes only part of,” which is why I added the word “only.” I believe that is the point Paul is actually making. Lest the Gentiles think otherwise in their conceit or false wisdom, God has not rejected Israel (Ro 11:1). It’s not all of Israel that will remain hardened to the gospel of Christ, but “only” part of Israel that will remain in their unbelief — that is, unbelieving Jews. That point is obvious; what’s not quite so obvious is that there is another part that Paul implies here, and that is believing Jews. One implies the other. We can be so focused on the hardened part of Israel, that we fail to consider the significance of the believing part of Israel in this statement — which I will address in a moment.

Now let’s look at the second part of Paul’s statement:  “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” Just like the first part of Paul’s statement, we have two groups of people in view here. One group is believing Gentiles. The other group is unbelieving Gentiles. In making this statement, the believing part of Israel is implied and in view (included). Here is where I believe so many people are missing it.

Therefore, what Paul is saying in this verse, is that there will always be “hardened,” unbelieving Jews. That will never cease to be. But he’s saying more than that. His statement implies another part, or the other part. He’s saying that there is also a believing remnant of Israel that is not hardened, which refers to all believing Jews throughout history. Both parts will be present when Christ returns. So when you combine the believing part of Israel (implied) with believing Gentiles (implied), they make up the Church…..and in the end, they complete the Church, which is spiritual Israel in Christ, and so “all Israel will be saved.” That Israel continues in Christ and the Church as a spiritual nation, is part of the “mystery.”

Summary: Only part of Israel will remain hardened to Jesus, not all. So when the full number of believing Gentiles come in (just prior to the return of Christ), the  believing remnant  of ethnic Israel (the other part) will be right there with the believing Gentiles to complete the Church (spiritual Israel), and thus “all Israel will be saved.”

By way of paraphrase and expansion, I believe Paul is saying:

“It’s not all Israel, but only part of Israel that is hardened, and will remain hardened to the very end when the full number of believing Gentiles come in — just prior to the return of Christ. At that point, both believing Jews (the part not hardened: the remnant) and believing Gentiles will complete the Church, and thus all Israel will be saved.”

Many make the mistake in assuming that Paul is teaching that as soon as the “full number of Gentiles come in,” then the hardening of ethnic Israel will end, and that the nation of Israel will recognize Jesus as their Messiah, and thus be saved. But that’s not what Paul is saying. On the contrary, he’s making the point that there will always be a hardening of Israel, that it will remain to the very end:

James Coffman:
Until the fullness, etc. … This is sincerely thought by many to mean that the hardness will cease at whatever time is indicated by “until”; and, in all fairness, the word could mean that, and often does, as, for example, when it was written that Joseph knew not his wife Mary “until” she brought forth her firstborn son and laid him in the manger (Matthew 1:25). The problem lies in the utter lack of authority in any man to affirm that a particular meaning must be understood here. The other frequent meaning of “until” leaves all thought of termination out of sight. R. L. Whiteside called attention to this, thus:
And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month” (Genesis 8:5). That does not indicate any change after the tenth month: the record shows that the waters continued to decrease. “Thy servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth even until now” (Genesis 46:32). This does not mean that they were then going out of the cattle business. “My Father worketh even until now” (John 5:17). And, of course, God kept on working as he always has. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth until now” (Romans 8:22). Nor did Paul mean that the creation quit groaning upon the publication of Romans.”

So then, what Paul is actually teaching, is that this “hardening” upon “part of Israel” will always be. It doesn’t mean that it will one day cease, and the nation of Israel will turn to Jesus and be saved. In other words, there will always be the religion of Judaism, there will always be unbelievers among ethnic Jews, for they represent the part of Israel who are “hardened.” This hardening will continue all the way to the end when the last Gentile (Jewish believers are implied) enters the Church through faith in Christ. The fact that not all Gentiles come to faith in Christ, reveals that they too are hardened and blind, just as Israelites are. Again, we are all on equal ground spiritually, as Paul makes clear in verses 30-32.

26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

The “ungodliness of Jacob” is banished in Christ, the “Deliverer.” Jesus fulfilled the promises to Israel (Gal 3:16). Essentially, He is the fulfillment of all things Israel. He Himself is true Israel. Christ is central, not the nation of Israel. Therefore, when Paul says that “all Israel will be saved,” and when he says that He will “take away their sins,” he is saying that this is accomplished in Christ, who is the Head of the Church (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). “All Israel” is not ethnic, national Israel, but spiritual Israel, those who are in Christ and the Church. It’s not that every Jew (or the Jews in general) or that the nation of Israel be saved in the end, but that everyone who is in the Church (spiritual Israel), will be saved. Thus, again, part of the “mystery” Paul refers to, is that Israel continues as a spiritual nation.

Note:  Even if verse 26 is to be viewed strictly as a prophecy of what will occur prior to the return of Christ (for example, a revival breakout of faith among the Jews worldwide), the idea that Paul is referring to ethnic, national Israel, doesn’t fit the overall context of his discussion. I believe the NT is clear that God’s plan for the nation of Israel is now complete in Christ and the Church. It’s done.

I will repeat what I talked about in the beginning: I believe in order for there to be a worldwide turning to Jesus among the Jews, where the nation of Israel finally recognizes Him as their Messiah, I believe it would require God to draw them in an unconditional, irresistible way. Because why would that not occur at any other point throughout the Church era? Why at a specific point before the return of Christ, at the very end of time and history? Why not now? Why not at some other point? The fact that it hasn’t happened, and the idea that it will happen in the end, strongly suggests that it would require God to do something in the heart and lives of the Jews that He is not currently doing. That suggests a Calvinistic position on the doctrine of election. Again, I encourage you to read my commentary on this chapter, as it refutes unconditional election. Thus Paul has already removed that option before he gets to verses 25-26.

28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors;
NET – 28 In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers.

“In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake,”

“They,” refers to ethnic, national Israel — specifically, the unbelieving part of Israel. Their rejection of Christ resulted in the gospel message going out to all the world (see Ro 11:12). The focus changed from the nation of Israel to the entire world.

The fact that Paul is referring to spiritual Israel in verse 26 (“all Israel shall be saved”), in no way prevents Paul from referring to national Israel in this verse, because quite obviously, Israel is the subject of Paul’s discussion. The key is recognizing which aspect of Israel he’s referring to. If you’ve been following along in this study, I believe we’ve done that. There is a harmony with the interpretations presented here. There is no break in the flow. Israel is obviously the focus of attention, but in discussing Israel, Paul must distinguish between ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. He must also distinguish between the believing part of Israel and the unbelieving part. Therefore, in order to correctly interpret the particulars, we must pay attention to the overall message that Paul is conveying. Again, I believe we’ve done that.  

“but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers.”

God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the founding fathers of both national (ethnic) and spiritual Israel – both corporately chosen, with Christ in view. God made promises to these fathers regarding both, and that’s what Paul is referring to. Also, nowhere is God’s love for unbelieving Israel expressed in a more tender way than the way Jesus expresses it here:

Matthew 23:37 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  ESV

The nation of Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah. But the opportunity for individual Jews to become members of the Elect Church (true Israel) was and is still available, as they “share the faith of Abraham,” their father – and “the father of us all” (Ro 4:16).

29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,
31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.
32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.  (NRSV)

As Paul reveals in these verses, and as we discussed in verse 25, part of the mystery is that Jews and Gentiles are all on equal ground spiritually, and so there is no room for “boasting” or thinking themselves “wiser” than they ought. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We all have the same spiritual need. Thus, salvation is available to everyone. We are all hardened and blind, and only in Christ is that removed. Therefore, there is no room for a conceited attitude on either the part of the Jews or Gentiles. Furthermore, in Christ, we are all one brand new entity, a brand new creation (Eph 2:11-22; Eph 3:1-6).

The spiritual need we share, and the oneness that we have in Christ as Jews and Gentiles, is the mystery that Paul has been talking about in this passage. But, as we’ve learned, the mystery is also that Israel is more than an ethnic nation, but is a spiritual nation in Christ — the Church.