A Review of Scott Hahn’s Essay, All Israel Will Be Saved: The Restoration of the Twelve Tribes in Romans 9–11

Hahn, Scott W. “All Israel Will Be Saved”: The Restoration of the Twelve Tribes in Romans 9–11, Letter & Spirit Vol. 10 (2015): 65–108.

Bryan E. Lewis
Amridge University
Montgomery, AL

Drs. Michael Barber and Scott Hahn were exceptionally gracious to send me a copy of Letter & Spirit Vol. 10, which contains among others, an essay by Hahn entitled, “All Israel Will Be Saved: The Restoration of the Twelve Tribes in Romans 9–11.” I am slightly embarrassed that I did not interact with or reference this article in my recently published work on the subject: Jew and Gentile Reconciled: An Exploration of the Ten Northern Tribes in Pauline Literature (Wilmore, KY: GlossaHouse, 2016). However, my book was initially completed as a thesis by Feb.–Mar. 2015; and Hahn’s essay wasn’t published in Letter & Spirit until sometime during 2015.[1] Though I should have probably discovered his essay during the year of subsequent edits on my book, it is possible that there is some justification for my oversight.

Hahn begins his article by acknowledging the three most prominent positions concerning the identity of “all Israel” in Rom 11:26a. He defines them as follows: (a) “Ethnic Israelism,” which describes all Israel as “biological descendants of Jacob/Israel” (65). (b) “Ecclesial Israelism,” which identifies, “all Israel as the church composed of both Jews and Gentiles” (65). (c) “Elect Israelism,” which construes “all Israel” as “a remnant of the descendants of Israel chosen by God” (65). Subsequently, Hahn points out that there are two dominate views concerning the questions: “how” and “when” will all Israel be saved? (a) The position that he defines as “progressivism,” which posits that the salvation of Israel has been ongoing throughout history via the mission of the church” (65). (b) “Futurism,” which posits a mass conversion of Israel will take place at or just before the Parousia of Christ” sometime in the future (65).

In subsequent order, N. T. Wright, who holds to a combination of “Ecclesial Israelism” and “progressivism” is engaged. Hahn writes: “he [Wright] frames the discussion in such a way as to imply that the only alternative to his own interpretation (Ecclesial Israelism) is a form of Ethnic Israelism involving a Sonderweg or a supernatural eschatological intervention to save the Jews” (68). However, as Hahn points out, there is another interpretation that can be somewhat ethnic in nature, while also deficient of the typical two-salvation scenario, as well as, progressivism and futurism. Failure to consider this option lies in the tendency of Wright to identify “all Israel” with “the church.” While Wright argues that such an understanding fits the overall “context” and “continuity” of Romans, Hahn argues that “it involves taking ‘Israel’ in Romans 11:26a in a sense that it does not bear immediately preceding or immediately following, in all of Romans 9–11, or for that matter, in all of Romans” (68). In other words, both preceding and following verses refer to ethnic Israel. Furthermore, in contrast to Wright—who argues that Rom 9:6 is proof that St. Paul is interpreting Israel in a non-ethnic sense—Hahn contends that St. Paul is merely distinguishing between those Israelites who are Israel by physical decent “and those who are [Israel] of physical decent and elect and faithful” (69). It is my position that Hahn is unquestionably correct. What Hahn calls “Ecclesial Israelism” is dealt with in my book in the sections on Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. Whereas dispensational schemes see the church as a “new,” “replacement,” or distinct entity from Israel, Covenant Theology posits that Israel’s promises are fulfilled in the Gentile inclusion into the church. Likewise, New Covenant Theology argues that “true Israel” consists of all those Jews or Gentiles who put their faith in Christ. This interpretation is almost identical to the typical “Ecclesial Israelism” scenario. It is my opinion that neither of these positions fully flushes out St. Paul’s definition of Israel. It appears that Hahn would agree with me, since he also recognizes that such an interpretation is lacking.

Hahn follows by engaging James M. Scott, who holds to a combination of “Ethnic Israelism” and “futurism.” Hahn notes that for Scott, “all Israel” means “all twelve tribes of Israel”—a position he reaches by remaining consistent with the term’s use in both the Old Testament and Second Temple Literature. Hahn expresses his agreement with Scott’s conclusion that πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ (“all Israel”) is a “Hebraism” or “Greek reflection” of the Hebrew term כלישראל (“all Israel”), which always meant “(1) the entire nation of Israel composed of (all) the twelve tribes or (2) a body representative of the entire nation, such as a sacred assembly (1 Kings 8:65) or the army (1 Sam. 4:5)” (70). Concerning timing, Hahn is in disagreement with Scott, positing that there is a third way that is absent of typical futurism.

In the next section, Hahn moves to supplement Scott’s conclusions with some arguments of his own by nuancing his own position. He begins by suggesting that it is an error to homogeneously equate the terms “Jew” and “Israelite.” In other words, the terms “Israel” or “Israelite” are NOT to be taken as synonyms for the term “Jew.” Hahn comments: “the ethno-geographic terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Israelite’ and the parent terms ‘Judah’ and ‘Israel’ are not equivalent expressions anywhere in the Old Testament or in Second Temple literature. In sum, not all Israelites are Jews” (72). Here, I am in complete agreement with Hahn; and I argued for such in my own work on the matter. One shortcoming of biblical scholarship has been a failure to demonstrate terminological meticulousness in the matter of exilic history. At the end of the day, the term Ἰουδαῖος (“Jew”) did not exist until the southern kingdom’s Babylonian captivity. Thus, the term is a designation for members of the tribe of Judah (as well as, parts of Levi and Benjamin) and not the ten northern tribes of Israel. Moreover, the term “Jew” was not applied generally to Israelite people after the exile, as some (e.g., Douglas Moo) suggest. Instead, there is much evidence that indicates a distinction between Israelites and Jews in post-exilic times (For more on this matter, see: Hahn, Barber, Pitre, Staples, Cohen, Lemche, Gadenz, and myself).

Secondly, Hahn points out that “Romans 9–11 contains the highest concentration of Old Testament citations for any part of St. Paul’s writings—indeed, for any New Testament book” (75). Thus, in agreement with James Aageson, Hahn contends that this alone provides a context to St. Paul’s theology, and thus “St. Paul’s extensive quotation of Scripture is not superficial proof-texting for his theological points, but part of the very fabric of his argumentation” (75). It is my opinion that Hahn’s hermeneutical statement is undeniably correct. Similarly, in my own work, I argued that St. Paul used Israel’s Scripture in harmony with their original intent—i.e., St. Paul’s appropriation of Hos 1:9–10 and 2:23 in Rom 9:24–26 is not the result of whimsical proof-texting. Equally, it is not a: “revisionary rereading,” a “creative retelling,” a “hermeneutical coup,” a “potential scandal,” a “radical misreading,” or a “figural correspondence” as others have suggested (i.e., see Wagner, Hays, and Wright). However, it is important to add that I do think there is still ample room for future work to be done on this hermeneutical matter, since many scholars (e.g., Hays) believe it is a hermeneutical blunder to read Israel’s Scripture as deliberately predicting NT events. Thus, arguments for narrative and theological coherence not only in St. Paul’s thought, but also across all the OT and NT writers are frequently considered to be naive. Still yet, when it comes to the matter of “original intent” or “authorial intent,” there are a number of opposing positions. For example, Donald Juel saw no OT original intent in the NT, C. H. Dodd did, and Pete Enns says, “sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t” [see, Peter Enns. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2014)]. Additionally, though many of us enjoy using Richard B. Hays’s 1989 metaleptic proposal and intertextuality—wherein the larger OT context (both historical and literary) contributes to the NT meaning—many scholars do not consider it to be a clear case of predictive prophecy. Thus, the question still remains: Were the NT writers claiming—by way of OT citations—the fulfillment of Israel’s promises (consciously or not)? My point is that the role of Scripture in St. Paul’s theology and writings is still hotly debated [e.g., see Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Stanley, eds. As It Is Written: Studying Paul’s Use of Scripture (Symposium Series, 50; Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2008)]; and in my opinion, this issue demands additional very careful work in order to fully flush it out. Either way, for Hahn, the “Old Testament forms the privileged hermeneutical context for understanding St. Paul’s argument and terminology” (76). Simply put, I concur.

Thirdly, Hahn points out that “the Hope of the restoration of all twelve tribes of Israel is pervasive in the Old testament, the Second Temple Literature, and the New Testament itself” (77) Several examples are given (a partial list): In the OT: Isa 11:10, Jer 23:5, Ezek 37:19, Hos 1:10. In Second Temple literature: T Simeon 7:1–3, T Naph 5:8, T Asher 7:2–7, T Benjamin 9:2, T Benjamin 10:8–11, 2 Bar 78:1–6, 4 Ezra 13:39, Pss. Sol. 17:21. In DSS: 1QSa, 1QM, 11QT. Several examples are also noted from the NT: Matt: 10:1, 10:5, 19:28; Rev 7:4, 12:1, 21:10. Hahn’s point is simple. St. Paul’s theology must be interpreted in light of the expectation of restoration of all twelve tribes of Israel. As it concerns Rom 9–11, the fact that Paul is actually “talking about “the restoration of (northern) Israel and (southern) Judah” (97) best makes sense of the data. Once again, it is my opinion that Hahn is correct. In all cases—in both Israel’s Scriptures and Second Temple Jewish literature—it is both houses of Israel, which were to be restored. Moreover, this restoration was to be coterminous with the promised end of Israel’s exile, which also always anticipated the return of both houses of Israel and assumed that as long as parts of Israel’s twelve tribes remained scattered, then the promise remained unfulfilled. This early restoration expectation likely influenced St. Paul’s theological reflection in Rom 9–11. And thus, “all Israel” is simply a reference to the restoration of all twelve tribes of Israel—not every individual, but an elect remnant from each tribe. Therefore, St. Paul understood his mission to the Gentiles to also be a means of rescuing the northern ten tribes from exile, thus bringing it to an end. That is, for St. Paul, the Gentile nations coming to salvation was one and the same with the restoration of the northern tribes back into the land; thus joining the southern tribes who were already present.

Hahn seems to share a lot of agreement with what I have argued for in my own work on the matter. The thesis of my study was simple: “St. Paul was not attempting to appropriate Hosea’s message as something anachronistic to his own audience. Instead, he was expressing a dual concern for the still-in-exile northern tribes of Israel, who were not, in fact, completely destroyed by the Assyrians in the eighth century BCE and thus lost to time, but had acculturated with heathen non-Israelites, thereby losing their identity and effectively becoming “not my people,” or Gentiles.” Hahn refers to this as “Gentilization,” as he notes, “the scattered ‘Gentilized’ tribes of Israel are saved as they return with the Gentiles as well” (105).

Finally, Hahn’s essay deserves to be widely read. I have not yet taken time to read the other essays in Letter & Spirit Vol. 10, but I am sure the same applies. Notwithstanding, Pauline Scholars and Theologians alike will be well served by the development and nuances of Hahn’s argument.

[1] An earlier version of Hahn’s essay was presented at the International Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Rome in 2001.

3 Comments on "A Review of Scott Hahn’s Essay, All Israel Will Be Saved: The Restoration of the Twelve Tribes in Romans 9–11"

  1. I came across your A Review of Scott Hahns Essay, All Israel Will Be Saved: The Restoration of the Twelve Tribes in Romans 9–11 – would like to connect with you about including it in our upcoming journal.


  2. Awe, this is something that jumped off the bible pages for me, when I read it. And in my heart I had a relief as to God’s Chosen people.
    And I love it when scholas write it out, kind of a confirmation for me.


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