Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fullness of the Gentiles

Olive Tree
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, 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)
Many have asked: What does "the fullness of the Gentiles" mean in Rom 11:25? There are several views:

1) The Covenantal view: The church has replaced the Jewish people as Israel and so the fullness of the Gentiles is the same as “all Israel shall be saved.” The chapter contradicts this view, for Paul’s distinguishes between Israel which are the unbelieving and broken off natural branches and the believing remnant and the wild believing branches, which are the Gentile believers. Paul’s hope is that the partial hardening to the broken off natural branches will be removed following the fullness of the Gentiles. So the national revival of Israel is an event that occurs subsequent to the fullness of the Gentiles and is not equated to it. That this view is held echoes Paul’s deep concern regarding the arrogance of the Gentiles branches (11:18).

2) The Dispensational view: when the last Gentile is saved, the rapture takes place. This final number of saved Gentiles is their fullness, marking when God will work among national Israel. This view assumes a Gentile Body of Messiah, and sadly like the above still demonstrates the residual effects of Paul’s concern (11:18). It fails to reflect the text in that the Jewish "remnant" is by God's gracious choice "at the present time." The Body of Messiah and the Olive Tree is made up of Jews and Gentiles together –and if indeed, as dispensationalism holds, the rapture does take place prior to the Tribulation, then who knows: the last person saved might be Jewish!

3) Mills-Barnhouse view: The fullness of the Gentiles equates to “the times of the Gentiles fulfilled” of Luke 21:24. This view is possible but but still does not fit with Paul’s teaching to the Gentiles in the chapter. In Luke the fullness relates to their judgment; here it relates to their obedience. He had been exhorting the Gentile believers to make Israel jealous (11:11-13), but this would make their ministry to Israel futile until their time was over!

4) The Gentile believers’ service or ministry is fulfilled. Gentile believers would follow Paul’s exhortation and be merciful to Israel, and sharing Messiah in a way that actually speaks to Jews, so that our people would be desirous of this faith and want Yeshua and re-grafting into their own olive tree. This is my view for several reasons.

--the use of fullness in the section. Though some translations (like the NIV) translate the phrase, “The full number of the Gentiles”, this is not correct. Translating the word pleroma as “full number” is contrary to it’s usage elsewhere through the Greek Bible, where it is consistently translated fullness (or fulfillment). And that if a numerical issue was intended by Paul there are other words used in the Greek New Covenant that would have been clearer (i.e., arithmos, Rev 7:4, etc). Though pleroma in LXX is used for melo in Hebrew (Ps 24:1; 50:12; 89:11; Ecc 4:6; Jer 8:16; 47:2). So in Romans 13:10 "the fulfillment of the law"; Gal 4:4 "the fullness of the time"; Eph 1:23 which is His body, the fullness (pleroma) of Him who fills (pleroo) all in all. Eph 3:19 "that you may be filled up (pleroo) to all the fullness (pleroma) of God." Col 1:19 "all the fullness to dwell in Him" Col 2:9 "in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form."

The word "fullness" is used twice in the same section of Paul’s teaching. The word (pleroma) is exactly the same as in both 11:12 and 11:25. These verses speak of Israel’s “fullness” (11:12), and the Gentiles’ “fullness” (11:25).

--order of respective “fullness"es, Paul says in 11:12 that if Israel’s trespass in the national rejection of Messiah meant riches for the nations, that Israel’s fullness when they nationally accept Messiah will mean even more to the nations –“life from the dead” (11:15)! So since it is better for the Gentiles once Israel is in their "fullness" (see 11:12, 15), thus "the fullness of the Gentiles" can’t mean all that there is for the Gentiles, since the best is yet to come following Israel's fullness or national restoration. So Israel’s fullness is therefore subsequent to the Gentiles’ fullness in the text.

--meaning, the "fullness" for both Israel and the Gentiles may have the same meaning since they are used the same in the section. As to Israel, "their fullness" is directly contrasted (in 11:12) to "their transgression" and "their failure" (of our national rejection of Messiah, 11:15). Furthermore, in 11:30, their transgression is also called "their disobedience" which is a moral failure for not accepting Messiah as a nation. So the opposite of their transgression and their failure (and their disobedience) is "their fullness" in 11:12.

The Gentiles' "fullness" is also the opposite of their transgression, failure and disobedience. What failure? Their failure is their not making Israel jealous by being "arrogant to the branches" (11:17-18). Therefore their "fullness" as with Israel is when they both obey and fulfill their respective callings: Gentile believers mercifully expressing their faith to communicate effectively to Jewish people so they’ll be desirous of Yeshua, and national Israel joining the remnant in accepting Yeshua and, thus all Israel will be saved, all to the glory of God. Israel will then under Messiah’s authority be the sheep of His hand, and likewise Gentile believers in Messiah’s kingdom will the sheep nations, and not goat nations (Mt 25:31-36).


Yahnatan Lasko said...

Dr. Nadler:

Here's another interpretation; I'm curious what you think of it?

When we were in parsha Va'Yechi, I noticed that Jacob employs the phrase m'lo ha-goyim in 48:19 to describe Ephraim. This is typically translated "a multitude of nations," though Darby and Young (perhaps unsurprisingly?) translated it "a fullness of nations."

I'm no Hebrew scholar, so I can't really weigh in on the feasibility of the minority translation (though m'lo definitely relates to fullness: "m'lo kol ha'aretz kvodo"). Since this phrase was connected by the patriarch Jacob to Ephraim in the Torah, is it possible that when Paul employs the phrase plērōma ethnos, he's using it as a signifier for the full return of the scattered nation of Israel from the diaspora?

A quick check of the Septuagint text would help here, so I did one. The word used in Gen 48:19 definitely looks related to Paul's phrase in Rom 11; but the word endings differ, and at that point I'm beyond the limitations of my knowledge of Greek.

(Of course Two Housers would particularly like this interpretation...but I don't think it actually supports their claims. Rather, it would demonstrate that Paul had a strong belief in the regathering of Israel from exile and connected this event to Messiah's ultimate deliverance.)

Judah Gabriel Himango said...

I agree with Yahnatan, the "fullness of the gentiles" which Jacob prophesied to his grandson Efrayim in the Torah may suggest that Paul also believed dispersed Israel would return to Israel, fulfilling prophecies like Ezekiel 37 during the Messianic reign.

mathetes1963 said...

Thanks for sharing this Sam! I look forward to more from you on this blog...

Matt said...

Indeed, thanks for sharing dad!


Interesting thought. I am not a scholar of languages either, though I see that melo (m'lo) can be fullness or multitude and hagoyim is the Nations, or the Gentiles. But its also true that the LXX of Genesis renders melo with a different Greek word to mean multitude (unlike Romans 11). So I did also get feedback from my dad before posting this, also curious what he thought. In Gen. 48, m'lo ha-goyim really connects and is informed by the parallel in 48:16, that "they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth (rov b'kerev ha'aretz)." Rather than it looking towards the exile, this suggests the opposite, that the m'lo hagoyim is pointing to their future successes in conquering the land (cf. Joshua). Regardless, this meaning - "multitude (of a tribe of Israel in the midst of) the Nations" - seems to contrast sharply and prove impossible to connect with plērōma ethnos, as the context doesn't give us any reason to insert the same parenthetical into it. I think that my dad's reading is on the right track.