What is the Righteous Remnant? Romans 11:1-10

In 11:1-10, Paul picks up on a common theme in the Hebrew Bible: there always a remnant of righteous within the unbelieving Israel. At the time of Elijah there was a remnant of faithful Jews who refused to worship Baal. When Isaiah is called to announce the coming exile he was told there will always be a “root in the stump of Jesse” which remains faithful. This remnant does not deserve to be preserved since they are as guilty of rejection as the rest of Israel, but they receive God’s grace nevertheless.

Paul says something like this on Cyprus, in Acts 13, when he blinds the Jewish sorcerer Elymas (blindness lasts for a short time)  The belief that there is a righteous remnant within Israel must have been an encouragement for Paul to continue his preaching to the Jews even until Acts 28.

Olive TreeIsrael’s stumbling is salvation for the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-24). Salvation came to the Gentiles in order to make Israel jealous and their sin makes possible riches for the Gentiles. The Gentiles therefore have no right to boast to the Jews because they are like branches grafted into a tree. If God did not spare the natural branches (Israel) he will certainly not spare the grafted-in branches (the Gentiles).

The falling away of Israel and the subsequent offer of salvation to the Gentiles demonstrates two attributes of God that might be thought of as contradictory, justice and mercy. By judging his people he has made room for the Gentiles, who by the mercy of God are allowed to participate in God’s grace through faith.

But Paul also indicates Israel will yet be saved in the future (11:25-32). Paul calls this future restoration of Israel a “mystery,” something not previously revealed. The specific content of the mystery is that Israel is experiencing hardening until the full number of Gentiles has come in. (11:25-27). How this salvation happens is a dividing point between premillenialists, who anticipate some kind of real restoration of Israel, and amillenialists, who would see the restoration only through the Church.

The reason for this restoration is that God’s promise to them is irrevocable (11:28-32).  The Promise made to Abraham was unconditional, God was going to make a people for himself, and no amount of unfaithfulness on the part of the nation of Israel would prevent that plan from happening.

The main point of all of this for Paul is God’s glory. (11:33-36). Paul say God will receive all the praise and glory for restoring his people Israel, despite their rejection of the Covenant and the Messiah.

13 thoughts on “What is the Righteous Remnant? Romans 11:1-10

  1. Phillip, have you written much, if anything on the concept of “righteous remnant” throughout the Bible? I’ve not been reading OT theology or commentary much for a long time, but years ago, while still an Evangelical, it seemed that the concept was pretty crucial. And so it would be, logically, for not only evangelicalism, but X’n orthodoxy more broadly.

    I didn’t think it through much back then, even at Talbot Seminary, but since I have had to question: “What WAS the ‘righteousness’ that the remnant held to? A closer look at the OT and its development, within the general outline of Israel’s history (all we can glean from biblical and extra-biblical sources), would suggest that in both beliefs and practices, there were gradual but continual updatings. And perhaps periods in which any “righteous remnant” could only be discerned AFTER the fact, as a sort of literary invention. At the time of Jesus, it certainly seems there was NO agreement as to who the Messiah would be, for example, how to recognize him if he appeared, etc.

    My view, btw, following many scholars, is that most of “messianic prophecies” were found and applied TO Jesus well after his life, and were not/are not clear or compelling “prophetic fulfillment”. This is one of the main reasons the big majority of Jews, even after whatever resurrection appearances happened (and I believe Jesus probably appeared in some manner to several or many, similarly as to Paul, as he states), did not consider Jesus to have been their long-awaited Messiah. Only a general and broadened interpretation allows for this… a legitimate one if taken carefully in a non-literal sense, as I do with many of my progressive brethren. This may seem to have drifted but I think is still tied into the “righteous remnant” idea as used by my former teachers and colleagues.

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    • Let me take a stab at this part: “What WAS the ‘righteousness’ that the remnant held to?” In the OT, this would refer to those who responded to God’s graciousness by making a good faith effort at keeping the Law, including the “acts of righteousness” such as care for the poor and underclass. This would also include believing that God would forgive them as they participated in worship. I am thinking there of Amos 5 especially, where worship appears to be properly done, but the people are not doing justice toward the poor and fatherless. Micah 6:1-8 is similar text, and there are many others.

      At any given time in Israel’s history, even the darkest moments in that history, there were some who responded to God’s grace in faith: Daniel and his friends, Nehemiah, Mordecai perhaps I think this is why books like Tobit or Judith were written, to show that there are faithful Jews even in the diaspora.

      As for the second part, “…most of “messianic prophecies” were found and applied TO Jesus well after his life, and were not/are not clear or compelling “prophetic fulfillment”.” It is certainly true that the books we read these things in were written some time after Jesus’ life, but some (many?) of these prophecies were thought to refer to the messiah by Jews prior to Jesus. There was some lively discussion of who the Servant of Isaiah 53 was, whether it was Israel or an individual. It is at least plausible Jesus himself thought he was enacting the role of the servant in his mission and death. If we can argue the triumphal entry is historical (it is a part of the temple action, an event that seems generally accepted as historical), then there is a prophecy (Zech 9:9, which may allude to Solomon’s coronation in 1 Kings) that Jesus knew and intentionally evoked by going out of his way to ride across the Kidron on a donkey.

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      • Thanks… I like your explanation (in the sense that it seems to fit evidence in the Bible and also what we know of religions and their development within societies… I don’t treat Judaism as “uniquely unique” though I think God was using it). I don’t presume you take this tack, but I think part of my “issue” re. the phrase is that many teachers seem to overlay certain assumptions onto “righteous remnant”. Things like thinking the “righteous” always received and maintained the same view of God, Torah, etc. And they often leave out what you included… that only compassion and “social justice” being included can qualify a person or group as “righteous”.

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  2. The unbelieving Israel will always have a remnant that will remain righteous. The righteous remnant is the Jews that refuse to stray away from God and remain faithful to Him. These people are there because of God’s covenant with Israel. God choose the people of Israel to be His people, and nothing can break this covenant relationship. In Moo, he highlights the idea that God did not reject his people by explaining Paul’s point in verses 11:1-2. God did not forget Israel that he foreknew (Moo, 151). God made a people for Himself in order to bring honor and glory to Him. Even though the people of Israel rejected the Messiah, God will restore them so He may bring Himself glory. In verse 11:36 it says, “For him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.” Everything God does brings Him glory, which includes extending mercy to the people of Israel.

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  3. Douglass Moo explains that God’s promises to Israel never included all the biological descendants of Abraham. His blessing was always given to those he chose to bless (Moo). So God’s faithfulness should not be in question.There will always be a remnant though, and not everyone has turned away from God. It reminds me of Noah and how God chose to spare him and his family because he was righteous, though he was the only one. That just shows how merciful God is. We tend to forget about his mercy and instead see just his wrath. Romans 11:2 uses the word “fullness”, referring to the full experience of blessing that the Jews will one day experience (Moo). It can be confusing sometimes why God has destroyed so many people, but he also cannot allow sin to go unpunished, and he is a God of justice. However he is also abundantly full of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

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  4. I lean with the premillenialists on this matter. God made a promise with Abraham a long time ago that through His offspring, all the nations of the world would be blessed. God chose Abraham’s descendants, the Jews, to be His “chosen people,” and in Isaiah 10:20-22 mentioned how although “Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant of them will return.”These things point to the fact that a physical remnant, not just a spiritual Israel, will be restored and accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven. Moo mentioned in chapter 12 of his book, Encountering Romans, about the spiritual Israel and the Christians adopted by God make up the believers that would be saved at the end. Although the Christians adopted in would be considered part of the spiritual Israel, Paul’s concern seemed to be about his fellow ethnically Jewish members of Israel as much as he was concerned for the Gentiles. Isaiah would have been talking about a physical Israel in his prophecy concerning the remnant. I say that because of the section I quoted from Isaiah earlier, and because as was mentioned in Long’s article, members such as Noah, Judith, and Daniel plus his friends, were all examples of how even the smallest number of faithful Jews were seen as righteous in the eyes of God, and a remnant from the Israelites or Jews was always saved in each of their cases. All of this explains why although Christ is the new way of salvation for everyone, that does not mean that Jews who were living faithfully to God’s will in that remnant would not restored. This is why I think a physical Israel will predominantly make up the remnant, not just the Church who are now members of the spiritual Israel.

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  5. God made a promise to Abraham, and to not fulfill that promise would be counter to his nature. Moo suggests Paul means that only a certain amount of Jews will be saved at the time Christ returns, not the whole nation (Moo 153). God would still be keeping his promise. Paul addresses the nation of Israel as a whole, having fallen. He then asks if they have fallen beyond recovery. These questions help reveal how God plans to bring the whole world into his covenant. The OT Israel turned their back on God and he allowed them to be conquered. Eventually, God would send a judge to set them free. Could it be that this similar principle is happening in the NT? Israel has rejected Jesus the Son on God, and because of that God has turned away from then for the time being. This allows others to come into the light of grace, while Israel is under the power of sin due to the rejection of the gospel. This may not be likely, however, there does seem to be a recognizable pattern between the OT and NT.

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  6. This entire concept, the idea that Israel will have a future is a pretty new idea to me as the Christian circle in which I grew up never talked about any of this. I feel mostly uneducated about the different ideas that people have as to when and how this will happen. Reading through it was interesting and it helps to have a deeper understanding that I never really had. Why does it have to be a divisive issue among Christians? I’m not sure I understand specifically how it affects us (as Gentiles) and why we should let it divide, especially as Paul refers to it as a mystery. If it is a mystery, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with us, why should we let it divide us? I like your last point that God will honor His promises towards Israel and will restore their glory! I just think it is pointless to debate on how that will happen.

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  7. The comment you made in the post above that stated “Israel’s stumbling is salvation for the Gentiles…The Gentiles have no right to boast to the Jews because they are like branches grafted into a tree.” This goes back to the idea that no one should be arrogant or boast about being superior or better than another, because we are all saved by grace through faith. The Jews were no better than the Gentiles since they had the law, and the Gentiles were no better than the Jews since they were given God’s grace. It seems like through this point in Romans, Paul has had to point out their attitudes about superiority over each other. Although the Jews have not accepted God’s grace like the Gentiles have, that does not mean they are forgotten or doomed. Moo gives a good point that we tend to forget and overlook sometimes. “…Paul is thoroughly Jewish-a point we tend to forget-and yet also a Christian. God cannot have rejected his people, then, as Jewish believers like Paul prove” (Moo, 165). Paul makes an amazing example to the Jews because he can show them that there is hope for the people, they just have to be faithful and put their zealous attitude towards faith in Christ.

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  8. For me it is so hard for me to grasp just how faithful God is. To see how disobedient and ungrateful the nation of Israel was/is to God and how he still holds his promises to them is unlike anything. Personally, if I was God (which is a good thing i’m not) I would break some promises I had made to Israel for being ungrateful brats. I cannot seem to fathom how faithful God is and how much more He is in my life based on how He interacts and longs for Israel to obey their calling.
    A spin off one could take is to note that since God is omnipotent, omniscience, and omnipresent, He knew how Israel would respond. Whether this is the case or not, God still chose to be faithful and remain faithful because of His love for us and ultimately His character. As written in the last statement, God is ultimately glorified by this.
    Why is it that we forget God’s faithfulness when it is so clearly displayed throughout scripture and history?

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  9. Through Israel’s consistent pattern of disobedience, God showed unconditional mercy. Time and time again, the remnant, those who are the elect, received God’s mercy. Verse 24 speaks to God’s faithfulness and mercy towards the Jews who strayed away. Many believers today will consider themselves a lost cause because of a certain sin they are struggling with constantly, or a situation that seems to big for God to handle. Because of God’s mercy, He desires us to be “grafted in”. We Americans, gentiles if you will, were originally not supposed to be grafted in. However, the Apostle Paul does warn Gentile believers to “continue in His kindness”. (11:22) According to Schreiner, the Apostle Paul’s use of the previous phrase means that the Gentiles “must persevere in faith.” (Schreiner, 2177) The punishment for non-Christians will fall upon them if they do not. God’s justice must punish the unbelievers harshly yet fairly. (11:22) To those who believe, however, God showers them with grace. Let us continue to believe, thus experiencing this overwhelming kindness we read about.

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  10. Because of John 14:6, I believe the remnant will be those Jews who accept Jesus as their messiah. Jesus did not leave another way for them to be saved.

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