We’re going to do something different today and have some burn-in-hell, bible-pounding fun! Around the time of last week’s polling exercise on Rom 11:26, I listened to a startling sermon on Romans 11 by Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church. It’s not often we engage fundamentalists on the biblioblogs — even evangelicals tend to consider them beneath notice — but this guy is something else, and already a blog legend for his “Piss Against the Wall” Sermon. (No, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke, I promise.) Let’s see how Anderson’s approach to the theological climax of Romans squares with our poll analysis last week, especially in light of his fervent belief that Judaism is a false religion, and that Jews worship in “Synagogues of Satan”. The news will be good and bad.
You can listen to the sermon here, though be warned that parts of it are pretty offensive. (After the psalmist’s curse in Rom 11:9, Anderson gets sidetracked into one of the nastiest diatribes against gays I’ve ever heard.) It’s about 45 minutes long, and I’ve duplicated the transcript below in green, with my commentary in white.
Note: Most biblical citations are from the King James Version, as Anderson’s church tolerates no other.
Pastor Steven Anderson’s Sermon on Romans 11 (8/22/07)
“In order to understand chapter 11, you have to understand a few statements that are made in chapter 9. We’ll get to that as we go along. But let’s look at chapter 11, verse 1. ‘Hath God cast away his people?’ Now, the reason that he’s asking this question is because he just explained in chapter 10 how the Jews rejected God… So it leaves the obvious question when we get into chapter 11, ‘Has God cast away his people?’ Has God just cast away the nation of Israel? Is he through with them? Has he cast them off? Are they no longer his people? Are the Jews still God’s people?
“Now look what he says here: ‘God forbid.’ Now if we stop reading right there, we think, ‘Oh, the Jews are still God’s chosen people; he hasn’t cast them off.’ Well no, let’s keep reading. ‘For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.’ You see, the man who’s writing here, Paul, he is also a Jew. He was a physical born Israelite. Was he saved? Yes. Is he one of God’s people? Yes. And so it says here, ‘God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? How he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying’ — so he’s praying to God against Israel — ‘”Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.” But what saith the answer of God unto him? “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.”‘ And then look what it says: ‘Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.’
“So, we understand from verses 1-5 that God did not cast away his people only in the sense that some of the Israelites were believers. Is he saying in verses 1-5 that unbelieving Israel is still God’s people? No. That would contradict what he just taught us in chapter 9, when he said, ‘They are not all Israel, which are of Israel.’ [Rom 9:6] He made it very clear, he said, ‘They which are the children of the flesh,’ — the physical children of Israel — ‘these are not the children of God. But the children of the promise are counted for the seed.’ [Rom 9:8] And he explains that those who are saved by grace through faith are God’s people. ‘God has not cast away his people’ only in the sense that some Jews are saved: they do believe on Jesus Christ, and they are part of God’s chosen people.”
Anderson says that if ethnic Israel were still God’s people, that would contradict Rom 9:6-8. But that passage — “Not all Israelites truly belong to Israel” — is a lapse on Paul’s part, echoing his earlier argument in Galatians (Gal 6:16) about a spiritual Israel. Aside from this lapse (which comes close to implying that the Christian body is a new spiritual Israel, but doesn’t quite go there), Paul’s use of “Israel” throughout Romans 9-11 applies consistently to the ethnic nation, the Jews. As we saw last week, Paul is trying to shed his supersessionism as best he can, having come to believe that his kinsmen will be saved after all. Rom 9:6-8 simply means that “not all Israelites are presently faithful”, and Rom 11:1-5 explains that Israel is just being true to form — no more or less obtuse she was than in the past (I Kings 19:10-18).
Anderson is right that God’s faithfulness to Israel is extremely limited at this point. That God has preserved only a remnant of faithful Jews (cf. Rom 9:27) vastly outnumbered by the Gentiles doesn’t exactly paint the nation in favor with God. But the situation is temporary. Paul will begin to develop an entirely new scenario in verse 11 which extends hope for the bulk of “Jewish rejects” who have been hardened against God. But for now, let’s continue with the sermon.
“Now flip back in your Bible, if you would, to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 31, verse 35. ‘Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; the Lord of hosts is his name.’ Here God is describing how he’s the one who makes the sun rise and set, he’s the one who makes the stars move in their courses, he’s the one who makes the waves crash and the tide come in. God is the one who controls nature. And it’s a pretty big thing that he’s controlling, a pretty major interreaction of all the different systems and the weather, and the universe, and the atoms, and the cells, and the molecules… God is controlling it all.
“Now, people have taken this passage I’m showing you right here to try to prove wrong what I’ve preached, saying that unbelieving Jews, unbelieving Israel, the nation of Israel in 2007 — I’m talking about the country that’s over there, right now in Palestine. It’s called Israel. I’m talking about the city of Jerusalem. I said that city is not God’s city, and those people are not God’s people. Period. And we saw — What’s that city called? What’s that city of Jerusalem called according to God in Revelation 11? It’s spiritually called Sodom. That’s what it’s called. Now it’s physically called on the map Jerusalem. What does God think it’s called? God says, ‘I have a name for it: Sodom.’ He said, ‘I have a name for it: Hagar’, we saw Galatians chapter 4. It represents false religion through the city of Jerusalem. The false religion of Islam is based there. The false religion of Judaism is based there. And the false works-salvation Christianity charismatic movement, they look to Jerusalem as a holy city. We look to the heavenly Jerusalem, that cometh down from God out of heaven. Totally different place, and the Bible makes that clear in Galatians 4.”
This is a curious aside: an indictment of today’s “false religions” associated with the city of Jerusalem — Islam, Judaism, and certain Christian movements. And in other sermons Anderson has scorned Christian Zionists.
Bigotry aside, one must agree with Anderson that Paul lends no support whatever to Christian Zionism. In Galatians he says that God’s promises were made to Abraham and his singular offspring (Christ) (Gal 3:16), rather than to many offspring (the Jews). In Romans the argument is less radical but still anti-Zionist: God’s promises were made to Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Rom 4:16-17). So the seed is either Christ (Galatians) or Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Romans), but in either case, “Christian Zionists who support the Israeli state because they consider it the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and his seed publicly and officiously deny what Paul says. One wonders how they understand the basis for their Christian allegiances.” (Bruce Malina and John Pilch, Social Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, pp 205-206). But that’s a sidebar to the discussion.
“But they show me this verse, and they say, ‘SEE! This verse proves that God would not take the kingdom of God away from them as he said he would in Matthew 21. Well let’s read it. ‘”If these ordinances depart from before me,” saith the Lord, “then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus saith the Lord’ — watch this — ‘”If heaven above can be measured”‘ — and we know that heaven cannot be measured; nobody knows how big the universe it and no scientist; they tell you it’s infinite — ‘”and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath”‘ — has anybody ever been to the center of the earth? never; nobody knows what’s down there — ‘”I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done,” saith the Lord.’ SEE! God says NEVER will he cast off the seed of Israel, even if the — you know, until they can measure the heavens, and until the sun and moon stop shining.’
“That’s not what it says. There’s a word that they forgot there. The key word, have you spotted it, in verse 37? He says, ‘I will also cast off ALL the seed of Israel.’ See, God only promised not to cast off ALL the seed of Israel. Did he cast off all the seed of Israel? ‘God forbid, for I am also an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.’ Remember, that’s what Paul said. So Paul is kind of alluding back to this. Did God — Basically what Paul is saying in Romans 11 verse 1, when he says, ‘I say then, hath God cast away his people?’ He’s saying, ‘Did God break his promise from Jeremiah 31:37?’ And the answer is a renownding and resounding no, because ‘even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.’ Now, the election means ‘chosen’. Like you choose the president; you elect him. Are the election and the Jews the same thing? No, because look at verse 7: ‘What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it.’ Two different groups, okay?”
So we have a fundamentalist proof that Rom 11:1-5 doesn’t contradict the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:35-37. I suppose this is as persuasive as Paul’s citation of I Kings 19:10-18. Remnant theology is always convincing to those of the remnant, but not to the majority outside.
“Now look at verse 6, and I love verse 6. I mean, you want to talk about being redundant? You want to talk about being repetitive? Listen to this: ‘And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.’ Now that’s kind of like a little tongue-twister, like a poem. But what’s God trying to say? You can’t mix the two. It’s not faith and works. He’s saying if it’s works, it’s not grace… So we see in verse 6, unequivocly, God is just trying to drive home that you can’t mix faith and works. It’s either all grace or it’s all works.”
This commentary is (unfortunately) accurate. The New Perspective notwithstanding, Paul believed indeed that “it’s all grace” insofar as salvation was concerned. The alternative between grace and works is “stark”, as Philip Esler says, allowing for “no mediating position between the two” (Conflict and Identity in Romans, p 294). Paul believed in reward according to works (Rom 2; II Cor 5:10), but being saved wasn’t dependent in any way on how one followed moral imperatives. Christians were liberated from the law, fulfilling it by an entirely different route — the spirit. Furthermore, Paul believed that God would judge only the wicked. Those saved by grace would simply give an account of themselves at the judgment, and then be waived through after receiving their reward.
“Look at verse number 8 — or actually look at verse 7: ‘…and the rest were blinded, according as it is written, “God hath given them the spirit of slumber.”‘ Now that’s kind of strange, isn’t it? Who gave them the spirit of slumber? God did. ‘”Eyes that they should not see.”‘ Who gave them eyes that they should not see? God did. ‘”And ears that they should not hear”‘. Who gave them the ears that they should not hear? God did. ‘Unto this day.’ Now let’s think for a second. Do we believe that God chooses who goes to heaven and hell? Absolutely not. God’s not willing that any should perish. God wants everyone to be saved. Jesus died for everybody. Okay? Clearly, unequivocly.”
Anderson gives Romans 5 its due and commendably rejects Calvinist predestination here and elsewhere (especially in his sermon on Romans 9). His church is of the mind that people make their own choices, until God finally gets fed up with those who repeatedly “harden their hearts” against him, at which point he hardens their hearts for them permanently. Anderson explains further:
“Now, did God make these people — Well, flip back to John chapter 12, if you would. Flip back to John chapter 12, and look at verse number 37. I remember one of my relatives called me on the phone one time, they were reading this and they called, and said, ‘I cannot understand this.’ And they said, ‘Can you explain this to me?’ And I explained it to him. It says in John 12:37, ‘But though he had done so many miracles before them’ — Jesus — ‘yet they believed not on him.’ So we’re seeing a group of people here, the Pharisees, and really, the house of Israel — not just the Pharisees but a lot of the people of the house of Israel — they saw many, many miracles according to the Bible. I mean they heard all kinds of preaching, they heard it again and again, they saw the miracles again and again, yet they believed not on him! Now look, is that God’s fault? Was that God’s choice that they did not believe on him? No, that was their choice to refuse to believe all the miracles and all the preaching that they were seeing. That wasn’t God’s choice. God wished that they would have gotten saved. That’s their problem. ‘That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Look at verse 39: ‘Therefore they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again, “He hath blinded their eyes”‘ — who blinded their eyes? God — ‘”and hardened their heart”‘ — who hardened their heart? God — ‘”that they should not see with their eyes, not understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” These things said Isaiah when he saw his glory and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.’
“Now we see throughout the Bible — Pharoah, on and on — we see people making their own choice to reject God. Pharoah hardened his own heart. But later, God hardened Pharoah’s heart as a result. We saw that in Romans chapter 9. Same thing here. The children of Israel, Jesus came into his own, and his own received him not. They rejected him of their own volition. That wasn’t God’s fault. Now, when they rejected God, do you remember what they said? When he was going to be killed on the cross? And Pilate said, ‘I’m free from the blood of this just person.’ Remember, he washed his hands, Pontius Pilate, and said, ‘I am free from the blood of this just person.’ And what did they say? ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’ Boy, I get chills up and down my spine every time I read that. How can anyone say that? ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’
“Okay, now people can push things too far with God. And they can never believe anymore, because they’ve pushed it too far. They had many chances, and God said, ‘I am through with you.’ And it’s just like where we started in Romans chapter 1: he gives them up, gives them over to a reprobate mind. And he pushes them off and says, ‘I’m through with you.’ ‘To hell with you,’ is basically what he’s saying. ‘You’ve pushed it too far, and you are damned eternally, condemned, and you cannot be saved, you cannot believe. I will harden your heart, I will blind your eyes, I’ll give you ears that you can’t hear.’
“So don’t let that bother you. It’s not that God’s choosing who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It’s people make their own choice, and then God stops giving them a choice eventually. Eventually God decides he’s had enough. He’s had enough!”
So there’s a fundamentalist rejection of Calvinism.
“Now look if you would at the next verse. This is a little bit shocking. Look at verse number 9. ‘And David saith, “Let their table be made a snare.”‘ Now this is David praying. He’s praying about these people who God has rejected, who pushed it too far with God. David said, ‘”Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block and a recompense unto them. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.”‘
“Now, have you ever noticed — If you’re a student of the Bible, and if you’ve spent time reading the book of Psalms as you should — Boy, the book of Psalms is one of the greatest books in the Bible. The most doctrinal, fantastical. I love the book of Psalms. If you notice that David will sometimes pray destruction upon people. He’ll actually pray for people to fall, and pray for people to be killed, and pray for people to be destroyed by God. And he’ll tell God, ‘Forgive not their sin’. He tells God to damn them to hell. Okay, you may not have read that; you need to increase your Bible reading, okay? You need to read the book of Psalms a lot more. Theologians call these psalms the imprecatory psalms. ‘Imprecate’ means to curse. Okay? And they’re basically a curse like this: ‘Let their table be made a snare.’
Paul is citing Psalm 69, possibly the nastiest of the imprecatory psalms (of which there are about 20; see here and here for others). I suppose it says a lot about Anderson that he adores a part of the bible for the way it wishes destruction on people. In fact it says plenty about him, as we’re about to see. But he’s accentuating the curse well beyond Paul’s application. Paul didn’t think Israel was eternally damned, only temporarily blind.
“Now is he just praying that on anybody he doesn’t like? Absolutely not. The Bible says that we’re to love our enemies. And to do good to them that hate us. And to pray for them which spitefully abuse us and persecute us. We’re not to pray bad things on our enemies. We’re supposed to pray good things on our enemies. We’re supposed to bless our enemies. But there are people who are the enemies of God. Okay, the people like we just read about before the service. Before the sermon, where I read to you that news story about Farmington, New Mexico [about the gay pastor]. Those kind of people are the bad guys. Okay, those are the ones that are evildoers, that God said he hates. And on and on.”
For centuries theologians have struggled to reconcile the imprecatory psalms with other biblical injunctions to love enemies. Anderson does this by distinguishing between personal enemies (who deserve to be loved and blessed) and “enemies of God” (who deserve to be hated and cursed). Jews fall into the latter category for him — as do homosexual people, who are suddenly and bizarrely brought into the discussion. Anderson gets sidetracked into an astounding diatribe against modern gays, as he prays for another 9/11 on the city of San Francisco. Get a load of the next few paragraphs:
“And so that’s what that’s talking about here. That’s what David’s praying about. You know, I was thinking about this. This verse in Jeremiah, where God says pray not for this people. He’s talking about the land of Judah. It’s gone too far. It’s too late for them. They will go into captivity. They will be destroyed. Now because of some good kings like Josiah, the Bible says that God withheld his judgment for a little while. Even Daniel said to Nebuchednezzar, he said, ‘Babylon is going to be judged.’ But he said, ‘If you will be righteous and do this and do that,’ he said, ‘you can have a lengthening of your tranquility.’ Hezekiah did right before God, and God said ‘I’m not going to destroy the nation until after you’re already dead and gone, because I’m going to respect you.’
“Okay, so God gets to a point sometimes where he says, ‘I’m through with you.’ Now I’m going to tell you something. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And when I preached that sermon on Sunday night [about the gay pastor], I mean those facts that I was reading for you, I didn’t even know that information until I studied for that sermon. See, I live in a bubble. See, Pastor Anderson lives in a little bubble [laughter], because Pastor Anderson doesn’t watch TV, so he’s not really exposed to everything that’s going on out in the world. Okay? So I just live in my own little happy land, where I don’t really know what’s going on about certain things. You know I try to know what’s going on.
“You know, I had no clue that gays were allowed to adopt children in America? Until like a few months ago? You know, I didn’t even know that? I mean, I thought that would surely be illegal. Surely we haven’t come to that point. And then I was as shocked when I found out they had been doing it for years. I think it’s been going on for what, five years or something. I didn’t even know about it, I didn’t even know it was going on. I couldn’t even believe that we were to that point yet. And then I read that statistic on Sunday night where six million — in excess of six million children — are living with at least one gay parent right now in America. Six million. And now only one state in America has a law against it: Florida; the law goes back to 1977, it’s probably going to change.
“And I’m going to tell you something. I’m going to tell you something. I told somebody — and I’m going to stand by my word on this — I told somebody four years ago, I said, ‘If it ever gets to the point where the gays are adopting children in this country –‘ And you know what, you go ahead and stand in judgment of me, go ahead and think whatever you want about Pastor Anderson. You go ahead, you go right ahead. Because I stand before God, that’s my master, that’s who I answer to, not you. But I think it was about four years ago, I used to spend on Saturdays, I used to spend one hour every Saturday, and I’d go down in the basement of my house for one hour on Saturdays and I would pray for America. And I’d spend one hour a day — I’m sorry, one hour on Saturdays that is — and one hour I would spend just praying that God would bless America. Praying that God would bless America and turn this thing around and bring a revival and bring righteousness and save America, bless America — ‘Oh God, would you bless us and help us, our country’s in bad shape’. But I’m going to tell you something. I told my friend at the time, Brother Reggie, a good friend of mine, he’s still a good friend of mine, I told him, I said, ‘If it ever gets to the point where the gays are adopting children in this country, I will never pray for America again.’
“You go ahead and judge me all you want. I said, ‘I’ll never pray for America again.’ I said, ‘You know what I’ll pray? I’ll pray that God destroys America; that’s what I’ll pray.’ That’s what I said that I’d pray. And you know what? I’m going to tell you something. Do you think I want this country to continue to exist? The way it is right now, when six million kids are living with molesters and freakos? No. My attitude right now is, ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus.’ Okay? That’s what I’m thinking about right now, because it’s getting so horrible. And you know, I know that your life is so nice, and my life is really nice, and my kids and my family are nice, and I don’t want my family to endure any kind of pain, and I don’t want to endure any kind of pain. But what about the PAIN of the people in this country that are being abused and attacked by these people? What about the PAIN of six million kids who are growing up in a hell! That’s what they’re growing up in.
“You see, I don’t think that this country — I don’t think that this country is God’s people. I don’t think that America is a Christian nation. I think that America is a bad place. And I’m going to tell you something — and you stand in judgment of me or not — but I was driving down the road in San Francisco this week, and I saw a big sign on a construction sign, and you know what it said? It said, ‘The Bay Bridge will be closed on Labor Day weekend’. And when I saw that sign that said ‘the Bay Bridge’ — that’s the main bridge in and out of San Fransisco — I decided that I’m going to spend one hour — and you stand in judgment of me all you want, but you get a Bible and read it sometime — I’m going to spend one hour on my knees praying that God destroys San Francisco on Labor Day weekend. I’m going to pray that God destroys San Francisco on Labor Day weekend. You say, ‘Is it going to happen?’ Well, I’m going to pray for it to happen. I’m going to pray that God brings judgment on this country. I’m going to pray down the judgment of God on the filthy animals that are taking over our country. I’m going to pray down — And you say, ‘I don’t like that, it doesn’t make me feel good’. Okay, well, you’ll start feeling good one of these days when you get to heaven. And you know what? You’ll feel good if you go home and read your Bible. I felt good today when I read my Bible. I memorized the Bible today on the airplane, and I felt pretty good. But you know, I’m going to feel pretty good when I get off my knees after praying for an hour for God to destroy that filthy, abominable city of San Francisco I spent the last two days in — that abominable Sodom and Gomorrah that it is, that filth-hole, that sickening, disgusting cesspool of sin and iniquity. I’m going to GET ON MY KNEES and beg God to destroy that city for one hour.
“No, I will not pray for God to bless America. I’m sorry. But let’s get back to the lesson here.”
So Anderson wants calamity to fall on San Francisco (even though he has relatives in the city). His diatribe is hateful, ignorant, and silly all at once, but it’s curious that it comes in a sermon on Romans 11 which is so exceptional in extending hope for those understood to have rejected (and been rejected by) God. It’s the most Jewish-friendly chapter in the New Testament, let alone Paul’s letters. The diatribe would have been more fitting (from a fundamentalist view, anyway; it’s inexcusable by any other standard) in the context of Romans 1 (which Anderson does take the opportunity to do here). But chapter 11 ultimately argues that the bulk of “Jewish rejects” will be saved. The Jewish remnant in verses 1-10 is only half the story. Verses 11-32 go on to paint an optimistic picture for those cursed by the psalmist. Eternal destruction isn’t their fate. But let’s see how Anderson deals with these verses.
“It says in verse number 11 — I’m sorry, I just have some things to get off my chest tonight. This is like therapy for me, okay? [laughter] I just spent two days In San Francisco, can you give me a break? [laughter] I just read a newspaper article about people getting raped and molested, one couple like one mile from my sister’s house. Where my nieces and nephews live. And one of them was an independent fundamental Baptist pastor that was doing the molesting. That makes me kind of sick, I’m sorry. Sorry if I’m in a bad mood tonight — I’m not in a bad mood tonight. I’m just telling you what I’m going to do. I’m just telling you what I’m going to pray. I’m just telling you what’s on my prayer list!
Oh. So that explains it. 😉
“But in verse number 11 it says, ‘I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?’ He’s talking about the Jews. ‘God forbid. But rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.’ Now what’s God saying here? What he’s saying is that through the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, the gospel went to the Gentiles. Now, is he saying before the Gentiles could not be saved? That’s not what he’s saying. What he’s saying is because the Jews rejected the gospel, it caused people like Paul — If you remember in Acts chapter 28, flip back there if you would. Paul here is preaching to the Jews in Rome, and he’s preaching the gospel to them, and when he finishes preaching to them, the Bible says in verse number 24 that ‘some believed the things which were spoken and some believed not.’ So a pretty typical reaction. He preaches salvation, some believe, some don’t believe. ‘And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, saying “Go unto this people and say, ‘Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.’ Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”‘
“Okay, so what’s going on is Paul is frustrated. Because he’s preaching to the Jews, they would not receive it, he says, it’s going to the Gentiles. And then earlier in the book of Acts he also said, ‘From henceforth, I’m going to the Gentiles.’ That’s who wants to hear it; that’s who we’re going to give it to. So God’s saying here, in chapter 11 verse 11, because the Jews rejected it, it really helped the Gentiles because now all these apostles and preachers and prophets — they went out to the people who wanted to hear it. Out to the Gentiles. Out into all the world. That’s why the Bible says in verse number 12, ‘Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the richness of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.’ What’s he saying? He’s saying, ‘I’m glad that the Gentiles have gotten the opportunity to hear the gospel throughout the world because the Jews rejected the gospel.’ But he said, ‘Now what I’d like to see is for us as Gentiles to reach the Jews.’ You know, to win them to Christ. He said personally, ‘Because I am a Hebrew.’ He says, ‘I’m the apostle to the Gentiles, I preach to gentiles.’ But he said, ‘My goal is to provoke’, in verse 14, ‘to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.'”
This is basically correct: Paul (and others) had begun preaching to Gentiles partly as a response to their failure to win Jews. Anderson is right about the Jewish “no” leading to the Gentile “yes”. But he misses the second half of the flowchart — the part which is most important to Paul: the Gentile “yes” may in turn provoke the hardened Jews to reconsider their previous “no” and say “yes” after all. Those “Jewish rejects” whom Anderson thinks it’s okay to pray destruction on (as he prays on modern gays in analogy) actually have a second chance. Anderson seems entirely oblivious to the fact that the Jews Paul wants to provoke to jealousy and thus save are exactly those whom David cursed in verse 9. (The curse was only temporary.) They’re not Jews who have been unexposed to the gospel and for the first time have a chance to join the faithful remnant. They are precisely the ones who have already stumbled (verses 11-12) (= “fallen” in verse 22), but have another chance to accept Christ and be regrafted back into the olive tree (verses 23-24).
“He says, ‘I wish I could just get some of the Jews saved, because they’re my relatives and my family.’ Now what does it mean to ‘provoke to emulation’? Big words, right? What does ’emulation’ mean? ‘Emulation’ means you’re copying somebody. Okay? Have you ever heard of ‘he emulates so-and-so’, something like that. Who knows the word ’emulate’? Slip up your hand. ‘Emulate’: it means to copy someone, to be like someone. So he’s saying, ‘My goal, the way I live my life, is to provoke some of my relatives and my flesh to emulate me. To be like me, so I can save some of them.’
“Is that the kind of life that you live? Do you live the kind of life where people look at you and say, ‘There’s somebody I want to copy.’ I mean do your nieces and nephews, do your children, do your brothers and sisters, do your family members, do the people at your work say ‘I’d like to be just like so-and-so? I want to emulate them. I want to be like them. They’re my hero.’ Well, how about this? Would you want somebody to emulate you? Would that be a good thing? Well, that depends on how you’re living, doesn’t it? That makes you think, doesn’t it? Do you want your children to grow up and be just like you? Do you want them to be just like you? Well you ought to. You ought to be someone that’s worth emulating, is what Paul is saying here. You know, I should be to the point in my life where I can say to my kids, ‘Do like I do.’ And not have to say to them, ‘Do as I say, and not as I do.’ You know, we’ve all heard that before. ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ Okay, we ought to be able to say, ‘Follow me as I follow Christ. Do like I do. Be like I am, son. Dress like I dress, son. Talk like I talk! Act like I act! Read the Bible like I read the Bible!’ ‘How much do I read the Bible, Dad?’ ‘Read it as much as I do.’ ‘How much do I pray?’ ‘Pray as much as I do.’ ‘How much do I go soul-winning?’ ‘Go soul winning like I go soul winning.’ You know, I’m not saying everyone has to be exactly the same. Everybody’s an individual. But you ought to be worth emulating. There are people I’ve emulated in my life. Boy, the first few times out soul-winning, I was emulating the people who taught me soul winning. My first few times preaching, I was emulating preachers that I’ve heard. I hope that they were worth emulating. I hope I’m worth emulating. You ought to strive to be worth emulating, where your family members can have you to look to as a role model. You say, ‘Well, I’m a woman.’ Hey, there are people in your family who need a female role model to look at and say, ‘I’m going to be like you.’ ‘I’m going to be like Aunt so-and-so.’ ‘I’m going to be like my big sister.’ ‘I’m going to be like Grandma.’ ‘I want to be like Ma.’ I thank God that growing up I had a some people that I was looking to as a role model — some people as a target and say, ‘I want to be like so-and-so.’ That’s the kind of person you ought to be. And you know, no matter who you are, somebody’s looking to you, I promise you.
“You say, well, ‘Nobody’s looking to me, I’m not a leader.’ I’m telling you: somebody’s following you; somebody’s looking at you. And maybe nobody’s looking at you, but you can get somebody to look at you if you get their attention, if you provoke their emulation. I don’t care whether you’re the daughter, maybe you’re a child, maybe you’re the son, and maybe you’re the brother, maybe you’re the sister, or maybe you’re the aunt or maybe you’re the uncle. Why don’t you be the person in your family that’s leads the way spiritually. And I’m not talking about telling people what to do. I’m talking about leading by example. I’m talking about if people look up to you and say, ‘There’s a person who’s a great godly Christian; there’s a real soul winner; there’s somebody who’s consistent to church.’ When you’re in church you send a message to people that are emulating you. When you don’t read the Bible like you should, you’re sending a message. When they see you with a beer in your hand — ‘Oh, it’s just once!’ — you send a real strong message to that person who’s looking up to you. When you have that beer in your hand. When you turn on that DVD, you’re sending a message to little kids that are there — boys, girls, friends, emulating what you are like. You ought to be a person people can role model and pattern their lives on. You need to set the pattern. I want to set the right pattern as a preacher. I want to set the right pattern as a father. You ought to set the right pattern as an employee. You ought to set the right pattern as a church member. Set the right pattern for the people who are looking to you, provoke them to emulation. Why? So that you can save some of them. Why? So they can get people saved.
“And by the way, who’s doing the saving in this verse? Paul said ‘I’m saving someone.’ A lot of people aren’t comfortable with that, but I’m perfectly comfortable with the Bible. He says that ‘I might save some of them.’ Paul said, ‘I become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.’ [I Cor 9:22] Again, who’s the subject?. ‘I might save some.’ That’s the apostle Paul. How about this? Jude 22: ‘And of some having compassion, making a difference, and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.’ You say, who’s the savior? Jesus Christ. But if I point someone to the savior, I’m saving them. Okay? If I throw someone a lifebed, the lifebed saved them, but you know what? I’m the one who pointed them to the lifebed; I saved them as well. And so salvation is through Jesus Christ — he is the only savior, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take away any of the glory of salvation — but you know what, we work together with Jesus. We put on the yoke with Jesus. We work together to get people saved. And that was Paul’s goal here.”
This is a tediously long personalization of Paul’s argument, and irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Which is curious, since Anderson goes on to rightly insist that the olive tree metaphor is about nations of people rather than individuals.
“I’m going to skip a lot of this, where he basically goes on about the same things, just for sake of time. It’s important, but I’m going to blow past some of it. But he describes here how — There’s a parable that he uses here of an olive tree. And this is very fascinating. I remember when I learned about this as a child, I was fascinated. I couldn’t believe that this is actually done. But that they would actually graft — And our word is ‘graft’. G-R-A-F-T. But in the Bible here in the 17th century, the word was ‘graff’. G-R-A-F-F. Okay, that changed over time into the word ‘graft’. This is what they do. They take like an apple tree. And I’m probably using the wrong trees, but they take like an apple tree, and they cut out a branch of the apple tree. And then they will take a branch that they cut out of like an orange tree, and they will graft it into that trunk of the apple tree. And then you’ll have a tree that’s growing apples on this branch, and oranges on this branch. Isn’t that unbelievable? Who’s never heard of that? Put up your hand. Is that weird? Okay, but they actually do that. There are certain trees that are much more productive if you take a branch from this one and put it on the trunk of that one.
“Now it’s not apples and oranges, and I’m messing up the whole thing [laughter], but literally you can have a tree bearing more than one kind of fruit. Okay, because you have these branches from another tree graft into it. Or you can take a tree of the same kind, okay, and you can take branches out of an apple tree, take out a bad branch and put in a good branch. Unbelievable, it’s strange. And they even have the technology — I mean they were doing it 2000 years ago, isn’t that something?
“And so that’s what God’s talking about, and so he uses this parable of an olive tree. And he said basically that there’s a wild olive tree over here, and there’s the cultivated olive tree that you would have in your garden. And what he’s saying is, that olive tree represented God’s people; the kingdom of God. And the Jews were the natural inheritors of that kingdom. They were broken off. Because of unbelief, the Bible says. Branches were broken off and removed from the olive tree. And God took the Gentile nations and graffed them in instead as his people. So now you have an olive tree that has Jews and Gentiles graffed into the same olive tree, and the one people of God. And that’s what he’s talking about here.”
Anderson ignores the crucial part of the olive tree metaphor: the natural branches (the Jews) which were “broken off” (cursed back in verse 9) can be grafted back in again (verses 23-24) and be saved.
It’s important to realize something else about this “wonderful” metaphor so admired by our Gentile pastor. It’s actually insulting to Gentiles. Normal grafting practices in antiquity involved taking a wild olive tree and grafting on cultivated (productive) branches. Paul portrays the inverse: taking a cultivated olive tree and grafting on wild (unproductive) branches. The Gentiles are thus unproductive branches who should “stand in awe” of the Jewish root that supports them (verse 20). By inverting the standard horticultural practice, Paul was painting an image most unflattering to the Gentiles in Rome, and respectful of the nation Israel. That’s lost on too many readers of Romans 11.
“And he says here — And I’ve heard a lot of people, I’ve had people turn to this passage and prove that you can lose your salvation from this passage. But when the other 1188 chapters tell you that it’s eternal and everlasting, and you can’t lose it, maybe you’re a little confused if you’re trying to say that this is saying you can lose it. Now, all it’s saying is — Because it says here that ‘if you don’t abide in believing, you’ll be broken off as well’. He’s talking the nations here. We’re not talking about personal salvation. He’s saying, just as much as the Jews were cast away by and large (there was still a righteous remnant), he’s saying the United States can be cast away because of unbelief. The United States can be cast away because of wickedness. And he’s saying those Jews who do believe on Jesus Christ, they’ll be graffed in. They’ll be added back to that olive tree. That’s all he’s describing here. He’s describing that God is not loyal to races or nations of people. It’s believers on Jesus Christ that will be graffed into the olive tree. He’s not saying that a person personally can lose their salvation. He’s saying that a nation can be broken off from being blessed by God. That’s what he’s talking about. Same thing in Romans 9, where he’s talking about the nation of Israel versus the Gentiles. He’s not talking about personal salvation.”
That’s true, but Anderson again misses the second part of Paul’s argument: that just as the nation of Israel can fall out of favor with God (as it did in Rom 9:6-11:10), so too it can (and will) regain that favor and be “fully included” (verse 12) in God’s people: “even Israelites who do not persist in unbelief will be grafted back in again” (verses 23-24), and indeed in the end “all Israel” — most of the Jewish people — will be saved (verse 26). But we don’t even get to this climax in the sermon. Behold:
“And so that’s what’s going on with that, and you can read more of that another time. I’ve got to hurry for sake of time. But the Bible says in verse number 30 –“
Anderson skips over verses 25-29 — of all the verses to skip in Romans 11! — for sake of time? Well, that’s no surprise, since he plainly doesn’t accept Paul’s view that “all Israel will be saved”. Or rather, he thinks “all Israel” refers to the spiritual Israel of Gal 6:16. But as we saw last week, “all Israel” in verse 26 can only refer to the Jewish people as a whole. Paul has given up the spiritual Israel of Gal 6:16 for sake of a deeper “mystery” (verse 25): that ethnic Israel will always be God’s chosen people, because “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (verse 29).
So Paul’s argument in Romans 11:1-32 can be summarized as follows: The word of God hasn’t failed, for there is a remnant of faithful Jews as there always was in the darkest pages of Israel’s history. But 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. Jewish unbelievers who were cursed and “broken off” from God — i.e. not part of the faithful remnant — may still be provoked to reacquire what is rightfully theirs. The remnant of Israel (verses 1-10) + the hardened of Israel (verses 11-25) = all of Israel (verse 26). Thus will the vast majority of the Jewish people be saved as Christians, according to Paul.
The rest of the sermon is a personalized homily of verses 30-36 which I, in turn, will skip over…
What’s the lesson here? The news is good and bad. On the one hand, Steven Anderson is astoundingly blind to the positive estimation of ethnic Israel in Romans 11. He essentially ignores the argument of verses 11-32 and treats them as a redundant restatement of verses 1-10: that faithful Israel will never amount to anything more than a small remnant, that “all Israel being saved” refers to a new spiritual Israel (as in Gal 6:16) dominated by Gentile believers. That’s just not Paul’s idea.
On the other hand, one can hardly fault Anderson too much, because from a fundamentalist point of view all scripture is supposed to be consistent even if Paul wasn’t. Paul spiritualized away the benefits of the Jewish people and only in Romans pulled back by acknowledging them as having “adoption”, “the covenant”, “worship”, “the promises”, and “the patriarchs” (Rom 9:4-5). That’s rather empty credit in view of everything else: that real adoption came from being liberated from the law (Gal 4:5) and led by the spirit (Rom 8:14-15); that a new covenant (and a metaphorical one at that) completely superseded the old (II Cor 3:6-14); that real worship took place in Christ (the temple of one’s body) rather than the Jerusalem temple (I Cor 3:16-17) — for the real Jerusalem was from heaven above (and the earthly Jerusalem infidel) (Gal 4:22-31); that the real heirs to God’s promises — the real Israel — was a spiritual Israel consisting of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Gal 6:16); that the only patriarch who meant anything was a revisionist Abraham, the father of those who have faith regardless of their ethnicity (Gal 3:6-9; Rom 4:1-17). Romans 11 is forever destined to be interpreted in light of all this, especially by a fundamentalist.
Did Paul have a genuine change of heart or was he just being patronizing? Mark Given thinks the latter (Paul’s True Rhetoric, pp 159-168), that in Romans Paul was sugarcoating what he really thought about the law and Israel. In my review of Given’s book, I acknowledged the point. Paul was deceptive about a lot of things. But that’s not necessarily at odds with a man troubled and really changing his mind. It’s difficult for me to ascribe the passionate arguments of Rom 7:7-25 and 11:11-32 to pure deception. Paul was human enough to deceive, but also human enough to care. He worried about the monster he’d created.
Perhaps Paul wanted to have it both ways: to improve his theology without admitting that he was doing so, or that he was ever wrong. In that sense he was a self-deceiver. With that disclaimer in mind, I would still like to think Romans 11 ended up representing the apostle’s “real” view of the matter.