Romans 11:33-36 – Why is Paul So Full of Praise?

, posted by kingswoodhart

This is part of a series of posts on Romans. The main focus of this series will be chapters 9-11 of the letter. These chapters, particularly chapter 9, have been interpreted in various different ways. My aim is to demonstrate what I consider to be the correct interpretation. I will do this by considering the structure and context of the letter and then focusing in on these chapters, showing how the proposed interpretation fits with the context and structure of the letter, as well as being internally consistent within chapters 9-11. Click here for the contents page.

Having finished Paul’s explanation of how God has not rejected the ethnic Israelites, we now come to the last section of Romans 9-11. In the first section (9:1-5), we saw Paul’s intense sorrow and anguish due to the fact that many of his fellow ethnic Israelites are not currently trusting in Christ and are therefore not in a right-standing with God. The mood of this last section is distinctly different:

“[33] Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! [34] “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” [35] “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” [36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Paul spends this section in an outburst of praise to God. What is it that has brought Paul up from the despair of the first section (9:1-5)? It must be what he has been talking about between these two sections. We have seen that Romans 9-11 forms a chiastic structure, with sections forming matching pairs either side of the central section. Inside the outer pair of sections (9:1-5 and 11:33-36), Paul has explained in 9:6-29 and 11:1-32 that the situation of most ethnic Israelites currently rejecting Christ is not God’s fault. In the next inward pair of sections (9:30-10:3 and 10:14-21), he has explained that this situation is the fault of the unbelieving ethnic Israelites. In the central section (10:4-13), he has explained that God has made salvation possible, and that salvation is for all who believe and call on God, whether Jew or Gentile.

Paul has just ended the previous section (11:1-32) by explaining that it is still possible for his fellow ethnic Israelites (who are currently rejecting Christ, are non-elect and have been hardened) to be saved. He sets out his hope that the entry of many Gentiles into the family of believers will provoke at least some of these ethnic Israelites to envy so that they will turn to Christ and end their separation from God.

This great news causes Paul to rejoice in the final section (11:33-36). He praises the wisdom and knowledge of God because, remarkably, God is hardening the unbelieving ethnic Israelites with a view to more of them being saved! Their hardening is resulting in the grafting-in of more Gentiles to the “tree” of believers, and the grafting-in of these Gentiles is intended to result in the grafting-in of more of these hardened ethnic Israelites. Who else would have thought of such a plan?

Some may have looked at the hardened state of these non-elect ethnic Israelites and concluded that God had rejected them, but nothing could be further from the truth. God is in fact working out a plan to bring more of them to salvation, and this plan also involves the salvation of more Gentiles than would otherwise have been saved if these ethnic Israelites had not been hardened. God’s actions with each group are done with the aim of increasing the total number of people who are saved, both among the ethnic Israelites and the Gentiles.

This is what Paul has just been talking about in the verses before this section (see verses 30-32) and is the main reason for Paul’s outburst of praise. Paul has not forgotten his sorrow over the present situation of the unbelieving ethnic Israelites from the first section; instead his sorrow has turned to praise due to the fact that God has not rejected these people whom Paul cares about so dearly. It is still possible for them to be saved, and Paul sings praises to God for this.

To God be glory forever!

Here is a structure for this section. There are seven phrases, with the middle three being rhetorical questions:

structure-of-romans-11v33-36

Now we have an understanding of the rest of Romans 9-11, we are ready to use this to reach a true understanding of Romans 9:6-29. We’ll start this in the next post.

This was first published at the Predestination Station, where comments can be made.