Two days of polling mirrors a scholarly stalemate. There’s no consensus on what Paul meant by “all Israel” being saved in Rom 11:26. Had I not voted, there would have been 8 votes a piece for (1) a spiritual Israel, (2) a remnant of faithful Judeans, and (3) the whole of Israel/Judean people. My vote broke the tie in favor of the last. Let’s see why it has to be right.
I was surprised that option (2) was as popular as the others. It makes little sense for Paul to state that there is currently a remnant of faithful Judeans (Rom 9:27, 11:1-10), and then switch gears to explain a peculiar “mystery” which is also unfolding and will result in the very same — a remnant of faithful Judeans being saved. That’s redundant and amounts to no “mystery” at all. (Mark Nanos notes this in The Mystery of Romans, p 256.) The Gentiles in Rome already know that Judean Christians are saved. The problem is that they are few in number, and so the real question after Rom 11:1-10 is how God will redeem the hardened part of Israel, the bulk of the Judean people. That’s what’s on Paul’s mind from the outset in Rom 9:1-5. Option (3) has to be correct.
Option (1) is also redundant but can’t be dismissed without a guilty conscience. It’s undeniable that Paul did once believe in a spiritual Israel composed primarily of Gentiles along with the Judean remnant (Gal 6:16). That’s hardly surprising, since he had a sectarian/millenarian outlook — a supersessionist one, in fact — in which fictive kin replaced the biological. And we hear echoes of this earlier view in Rom 9:6-8. But only echoes, for in Romans Paul doesn’t go so far as to call the Christian body Israel. He comes dangerously close to implying that in Rom 9:6-8 (he hasn’t shaken off Gal 6:16 entirely), but in the end can’t go there. “Not all Israelites truly belong to Israel” means only that “not all Israelites are currently faithful” (as Thomas Tobin and Philip Esler have argued) and no more. Nor does he refer to the olive tree in Rom 11:17-24 as a new Israel. He’s shedding his supersessionism as best he can (remember: Paul changed his mind about a lot of things), because he has become so troubled by the plight of his own people, the real Israel. And aside from the momentary lapse in Rom 9:6-8, it’s actually quite clear that “Israel” refers to the Judean people all the way through Rom 9-11.
For that’s what the climactic “mystery” (Rom 11:25) is about: the fate of unbelieving Israel. After claiming the word of God hasn’t failed because there is still a faithful remnant of Judeans (Rom 9:27, 11:1-10), Paul says even this isn’t the end of the story. Even the bulk of Israel, the hardened part, will turn to Christ out of jealousy for Paul’s success in converting Gentiles. Judean unbelievers who were “broken off” from God — i.e. not part of the saved remnant mentioned in Rom 11:1-10 — may be provoked to reacquire what is rightfully theirs (Rom 11:23-24).
That’s how the argument of Romans 11 goes, and to me it’s clear. The remnant of Israel (verses 1-10) + the hardened of Israel (verses 11-25) = all of Israel (verse 26). Thus will the Judean people be Christian. There’s just no way verse 26 can refer to the spiritual Israel of Gal 6:16 or the Judean remnant of Rom 11:1-10 and do justice to the argument of Rom 11:11-32.