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.

Very old 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.

9 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. 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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  3. I found it so interesting that God used both the Jews and the Gentiles to allow salvation for each other. The Jews had the promise and broke it, but that allowed access for God to provide salvation for the Gentiles. Once the Gentiles had access to salvation, it allowed the Jews to realize and to receive their newfound salvation. To a new reader of Romans, this could seem a bit messy, but it worked out so perfectly to allow equal grace for all of them. This process also allowed them to not have any form of pride because there wasn’t anything that they could have done for that gift. This also shows that He never rejected His people (Romans 11:1-2). “These events involve God using Jews and gentiles to accomplish his plan of salvation” (Moo, 153). He used them for a new growth in a sense, just like Paul describes in the olive tree.They needed each other for the full potential that God had for them.

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  4. I found it so interesting that God used both the Jews and the Gentiles to allow salvation for each other. The Jews had the promise and broke it, but that allowed access for God to provide salvation for the Gentiles. Once the Gentiles had access to salvation, it allowed the Jews to realize and to receive their newfound salvation. To a new reader of Romans, this could seem a bit messy, but it worked out so perfectly to allow equal grace for all of them. This process also allowed them to not have any form of pride because there wasn’t anything that they could have done. This also shows that He never rejected His people (Romans 11:1-2). “These events involve God using Jews and gentiles to accomplish his plan of salvation” (Moo, 153). He used them for a new growth in a sense, just like Paul describes in the olive tree.They needed each other for the full potential that God had for them.

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  5. Paul makes a clear statement in Romans 11:1-10 regarding the remnant of Israel. According to his statements, its evidence that the church/Christian somehow does not replace the covenantal promise to Israel. The covenantal promise made through Abraham by God will indeed be fulfilled, but however, Paul’s see the future restoration of Israel as a ‘mystery’. Paul also argues that there was always a righteous remnant throughout the OT despite the majority of Israel’s disobedience to God and His promise. He illustrates this by the story of Elijah when the majority of Israel were convinced to worship Baal instead of Jehovah, and subsequently Elijah question God to the rebellious acts of Israel. God said, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” At this point, Paul then connects it with the present time in God’s reservation of the remnant of Israel. And the election of the remnant is through not by works or law but by grace alone, according to Paul in his passage. Lastly, we as a gentile are only a participant and beneficial of the promise and was made possible by Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. We as a gentile somehow believe in the Messiah and was granted salvation, but it does not mean the church has replaced the promise, God will indeed restore the Isrelaite to Himself as Paul mention.

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  6. We know that God’s original chosen people were the Israelites. They were given the chance to enter into the faith but they fell away from it instead. Because of this, God allowed gentiles to be saved by faith alone to show Israel that they messed up. Israel followed the law and stuck to works rather than faith. The mess up by Israel allowed gentiles to have a shot without adopting the over-sinful lifestyles of Israel. Your point that Israel’s stumbling is the salvation for the gentiles, is true. If Israel would have just believed in Christ and followed him, then their full restoration would have already come into fruition through Christ. I think if we interpret these books correctly, one could assume that justification by faith alone (for the gentiles) is actually a gift to Israel because they now know (still) that accepting Christ as king and Lord is the way for them to inherit their eternal promise in heaven.

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