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Unexpected Mercy: Echoes of a Biblical Motif in Romans 9–11

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

Frank Thielman
Beeson Divinity School Samford University Birmingham, Alabama 35229


Of the many problems which trouble interpreters of Romans 9–11, none rises more massively from its pages or casts a more impenetrable shadow than the relationship between Paul's argument in 9:6–13 and his argument in 11:25–31. The issue in both passages is whether God's biblical promises to save Israel have failed (9:6, 11:29), exposing the God of Paul's gospel as untruthful (15:8) and unrighteous (3:5, 10:3). In 9:6–13 Paul denies the charge by defining Israel on the basis of God's choice rather than on the basis of national affiliation. In 11:25–32, however, he denies the charge by pointing forward to a time in which God will fulfill his promises and secure the salvation of all Israel. The problem is that these two defenses of God's faithfulness seem to contradict one another, and the defense in chapter eleven seems not only to contradict the one in chapter nine but to oppose Paul's frequent and emphatic denial in several letters, and especially in Romans, that national Israel has any soteriological advantage over the Gentiles.

Research Article
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 1994

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11 Recent notes of caution about considering Romans a letter to Jerusalem rather than to Rome are appropriate; but 15:30–32 demonstrates that it is not a flight of fancy to suggest that Paul's thoughts about Jerusalem have some bearing on the rest of Romans. In 15:30 Paul urges the Romans to ‘strive together with’ him in prayer for the success of his visit to Jerusalem. Although the term sunagonisasthai can mean merely ‘to agree with’ (as injosephus Ant. 12.18) it frequently means, especially in the papyri, ‘to fight alongside in battle’. The use of such a strong term demonstrates how worried Paul was by the prospect of meeting with disapproval and even violence (15:30) in the Holy City.

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19 Goldin, ‘The Youngest Son’ 37, points out that despite Reuben's status as eldest son and his upright character, Jacob preferred Joseph.

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