by A.E. Knoch

QUESTION: In applying Romans 11:32 to the universe, are we not handling the Word of God deceitfully, by enlarging the scope beyond the context? The passage reads "For God hath included them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon them all." The only "all" under discussion here is "all Israel." "The all" are only good things, while "all" includes the bad.

This translation is new to me. The Authorized Version, which is nearest to it, has no them before the last all. The Revisers have taken it out before the first as well. It is evident that they considered it wrong. I have found no version which translates it thus. The Greek is TOGETHER-LOCKS for THE GOD THE ALL INTO UN-PERSUADableness THAT THE ALL HE-SHOULD-BE-BEING-MERCIFUL-to. The words THE ALL are tous pantas. But them all would be autous pantas, with au- prefixed to the tous, changing THE into SAME or them, as in Matthew 12:15, "He cures them all." Does it not look as if this new rendering was influenced by the interpretation alone?

I am heartily in favor of limiting the scope of every term by its context, and especially the word all. But this new principle, that an adjective is limited to the scope of its previous occurrence in a different context seems just as unfounded as the suggested translation. Let us see what the apostle says in between these two occurrences of the Word all. After showing that all Israel shall be saved (Rom.11:26), our attention is called to a much broader theme, in which Israel plays only a part: The graces and callings of God is the scope of the paragraph in which the word all occurs. These are not limited to Israel. The nations were once stubborn, yet now are shown mercy. Israel is now stubborn, yet will be shown mercy. For is a conjunction which is followed by the logical cause for that which has just been said. As both the nations and Israel have their seasons of stubbornness and mercy, "God locks all up together in stubbornness, that He may be merciful to all" (Rom.11:29-32).

Although the Word of God frowns upon human reasoning, it expects us to follow the divine. When it lays down a major premise such as this, that God locks up all in stubbornness, it should be evident that this cannot be limited to Israel as a nation, as previously discussed, for now callousness has come on Israel only in part (Rom.11:25), not all. There was an election. Not all the branches were hewn out of the olive tree. Neither is He merciful to all except at a particular crisis in Israel, yet future. This major premise is much broader than His dealings with Israel alone or the nations alone, but includes both. That is the force of the word all. If we limit it to Israel then we are not only appending the word them to the text, but we also eliminate the word all, a course which we should all seek to avoid.

May I suggest for your consideration a rule which seems far more logical? After the conjunction for gar the scope is usually much wider than in the preceding statement, for it often introduces the broad basis, or general principle for the special application. Take for example, the close of the preceding section (Rom.8:38). "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor messengers, nor sovereignties, nor the present, nor the future, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Is not this broader in scope than all that came before in the epistle? Is it not intended to cover all that may have been passed by in the previous discussion? Why limit it by the previous presentation? And yet it does not even contain the word all!

This glorious truth that God does the locking in stubbornness finds its fit application to all whether in Israel or the nations, whether the apostles, or Paul, whether Jew or gentile. God locks all up in stubbornness, and has mercy on all the single units which make up the nations of the earth. His wisdom is apparent in the time and manner in which He does this. He might have locked up all Israel and withheld His mercy from all until the next eon. But His wisdom decreed that only a part, a remnant shall enjoy His mercy now, all who are in the kingdom when it is set up, and the rest when all are made alive. So with the nations. There have always been a few crumbs for them. Now many units revel in His grace. All are included at the consummation. The all cannot apply to any one era in the eonian times. It is the basic fact, on which God founds His dealings with Israel and the nations during the course of the eons.

In this part of Romans the term "Israel" is not limited to the spiritual part of the nation. How could "what Israel is seeking for, this she has not encountered, yet the chosen encountered it" (Rom.11:7) be understood if "Israel" did not here include the calloused? "Israel, in part, has become calloused," can only refer to those who are not children of the promise (Rom.9:8). Consequently "all Israel" speaks of the nation when there will not be two classes, when none will be calloused, but all will know Jehovah, hence all will be saved. That this will be the case in the kingdom the prophets give ample proof. But this is limited to that time by the context. All Israel is not saved now, nor was it in the past. All the nations will not be saved then.

What is the force of all in the phrase "all Israel" (Rom.11:25)? Is it not in contrast to the preceding sentence, "Israel in part?" Literally it is "EVERY Israel." But there is only one nation, so it is a pregnant construction for every-[part of] Israel, into whatever units we may divide it, whether tribes, or families or persons. It is frequently used thus in the Septuagint, as "men out of all Israel" (Ex.18:25), "Moses spake to all Israel" (Deut.1:1; 5:1). Negatively, the word all insists that there are no exceptions. We can give the sense without the word all. We could say that, in the Lord's presence, Israel will be saved, and no one could leave out a single child if he believed our word. But when the all is added it is naturally emphatic, for it repeats and confirms what is stated without it.

Is it not illogical to limit the basic principle of God's dealings at all times, given at the close of a discussion to explain His actions with Israel and the nations, to their special application? Let us mistakenly limit it to Israel. Then God has locked them all up in stubbornness [except the apostles, Paul and others], and He will be merciful to all [except the apostles, Paul and others]. The all who are stubborn are the all who will get mercy, for the mercy is dependent on the stubbornness. As units, all, including the apostles, Paul, and all believers, are stubborn before they believe, but as nations this cannot be predicated of any. Even in the nations in the past there were a few like Job. God goes outside the scope of this section at its close in order to explain the underlying foundation on which it is based.

The statement that Israel will be saved is in the future tense, WILL-BE-BEING-SAVED sootheesetai. The statement that God "should be merciful" is also in the future tense, He-SHOULD-BE-beING-MERCIFUL-to eleeeseeo. But the statement that He locks all together in stubbornness is in the aorist or indefinite, TOGETHER-LOCKS sunekleisen. The time is not given. To us it is past, present, and future - simply a fact which must be located in time by other Scriptures. Yet one point is abundantly evident from this passage, and that is this: In the future the locking must be annulled, for God will be merciful to the same all in the future which He once locked up in stubbornness. The stubbornness cannot persist when the mercy takes its place. But, in the kingdom, when all Israel will be saved, by no means all who had been made stubborn will be shown mercy, for they come mostly in the resurrection of judgment, so cannot partake of that mercy.

The mercy to the stubborn of the nations was still future in Paul's day, so it could not consist in the riches and conciliation which came with the casting away of Israel, for then it would have been present. It is in the same tense as the salvation of Israel, which will not take place in this administration at all. Every point in the grammar of this passage prohibits us from making it a mere summary of what the apostle has been setting forth. It agrees with the introductory conjunction, for, and shows that here we have God in His supreme deity disposing of His creatures according to His intention, for His own glory and their good. The scope is not limited by the previous context.


You attempt to make "the all" refer to good things and "all" (without the) to both good and bad. Yet, at the same time, you insist that "the all" refers to that all which was last mentioned. Let us see how it operates in a passage in which we are actually told what is good and what is bad. In Romans 8:28-32 we read that God is working all [good and bad] for the good of those who are loving God. Then we are assured that He Who spares not His own Son, but gives Him up for us all, how shall He not together with Him also, be graciously granting us the all? According to one rule this refers to good things only. According to the other it refers to the previous all and includes bad things also. According to the plain text it includes all without exception and these are wrought together into good. The two rules are incompatible. The article the has no moral force in any language. It cannot convert the bad into good.

Does God lock up the good only in stubbornness [the, all, Rom.11:32]? Is He merciful to the good alone [the all]? Is it not clear that such distinctions are entirely out of place? "The all" here refers, not to the good only but exclusively to the bad, for all are evil, and mercy cannot be shown to anyone else. In 1 Corinthians 15:27 we read: For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all has been subjected, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects [the] all to Him. Now, whenever [the] all may be subject to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subject to Him Who subjects [the] all to Him, that God may be All in all. Is it not clear here that the scope of all is not affected by the article? Or shall we insist that the good (not the evil) has been subjected by the Son in order that God may be All in the evil as well as the good?

If the all means all Israel here, there is no escape from the conclusion that it means the same in the next paragraph, so that we should read there that all Israel is out of Him and through Him and for Him [but the nations are, not]. Yet the wondering worship of the apostle is not generated by the dealings of God with Israel alone, but with the reciprocal action between them and the nations, in which He plays one against the other for their mutual benefit. We feel deeply that such an interpretation would produce a partial eclipse of God's highest glory, so that its brightness is more than half hidden from our gaze. May it not come to that! It is God's dealings with the nations and Israel, the wisdom with which He uses the evil of one for the blessing of the other and ultimately of both - this is the marvel which makes us worship and adore.

Perhaps our greatest wonder is aroused by the part played by evil in this interplay of forces. We would like to think that Satan locks all up in stubbornness that God may be merciful to all. And, no doubt, he is an agent in this phase. But here God says that He is the One Who does this. Can a worse evil come to any creature than to be locked up in stubbornness? This is a part of "the" all which sums up this section. If the interplay of good and evil, of callousness and faith, of stubbornness and mercy, which brings about such a marvelous result, is due to the combined efforts of Satan and God, why not give the Adversary credit for his part, even if it was that of an opponent? But the marvel is that his opposition is also "of God." The evil that he fosters, and the stubbornness of man, is the necessary prelude to the mercy, and is just as much of God as His grace.


We are asked to believe that God merely "overrules" the evil. This word usually denotes set aside, but in theology has the special sense of reversing the effects of evil. I confess with shame that I once used this term as a pillar in my philosophy and honestly imagined that it was scriptural. But where is such a term to be found? No version seems to have it. I have sought for the nearest equivalent for all the words in the original and have never felt the need of any such term. Let us purge it from the vocabulary of truth! It really means little more than "repair." When things go wrong God is able to make the best of a bad matter. Away with such a deity-destroying thought! God does not need to over-rule, for He never loses control of His creation. He brings on the evil. He locks, not overrules. Evil is not an accident that has caught Him napping. It is His means of humbling His creatures and exalting Himself. This is really "fundamental." Is He God or not?


I have wondered whether my rendering "lock up together" was really warranted by the usage of the word TOGETHER-LOCK sugkleioo. So I have turned to it in a standard Greek lexicon, and find that, in profane Greek, it has the sense of imprison. The best German versions confirm my rendering. It is used often in the Septuagint for sgr, CLOSE, lock, latch (Ex.14:3; Joshua 6:1; 20:5, etc.). Pharaoh said "the wilderness hath shut them in" (Ex.14:3, AV). He thought they could not get out. It is also used for otzr, RESTRAIN. In fact, the Latin word conclude has this sense also, and this was probably the meaning of conclude when the Authorized Version was made. Recognizing the fact that it no longer has this significance, the Revisers altered it to read "shut up," so that "conclude" must be classed under the unsound words which we should shun.


There are only a few passages in God's Word which deal with the universal scope of God's operations. I suppose all believers would admit that, in creation, God's work is limited only by creation itself. If we say that He created all, there is acceptance, in general, and the word all is given its natural and only meaning, which the Oxford Dictionary well defines as the greatest possible. Yet if we press for particulars, we will soon find that Christendom limits this all to good things. It would be embarrassing to ask whether the poisonous reptiles, or the rapacious birds, or the ravenous beasts come from His hand. And nearly all would resent the idea that He created the waster to destroy, the Adversary himself, or the evil that is in the world. Hence they do not believe that God created all. It would be cruel to ask who created the evil. It "just growed."

It is not easy to escape this delusion, and we should have the utmost sympathy for all who are snared in it, as we all were in our time. Yet may we earnestly exhort all who read and teach the Scriptures to allow God's Word to speak to us, and not add to it or take from it or force upon it limitations from remote and irrelevant contexts, merely in order to relieve God of His deity and shield Him from contact with evil. If anything exists which He did not create, then He is not the Deity, and we must enlarge the Trinity to include Satan. It is hard for us to believe that God is God, and that He created all. He has told us this very plainly, but we simply refuse His Word and hide our unbelief under the guise of contextual limitations.

Certainly, the word all is limited! It denotes only the greatest possible number. In this text it is confined to those objects in creation who can be stubborn in relation to Himself. It is not limited by other occurrences of the word all elsewhere. That such a principle should be suggested ought to show how desperate is the case of unbelief. How would it be possible, indeed, for God to reveal His deity if such marvelous passages as that which closes this section were so miserably mutilated? All is out of Him! How simple, if there is no other God beside Him! How false if Satan originated evil! How practical, for then, like Job, we may take all from His hand! How glorious! We exult in it! For this we will gladly suffer! For this we would even die! Who would not gladly go to the pillory and the stake to bear witness to the sublime truth that He alone is God, and there is no other beside Him?

Our heart aches for those who cannot or will not recognize Him as the only Deity. Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! The god of this eon has blinded their minds. In persecuting us they think they are doing Thee service. They wish to keep Thy ark from falling into the dust. They cannot see that, when they deny that all is out of Thee, or through Thee, or for Thee, it robs Thee of Thy deity, and makes Thee like the gods of the nations who can do no evil. They do not realize that they put other gods beside Thee. Yet they surmise that there are depths which they do not grasp. Their minds are too dark and devious to discern Thy glory. Give them faith to believe where they cannot understand. We bless Thy name that Thou hast opened our hearts to see Thy glory, that Thou alone art the Deity, out of Whom and through Whom and for Whom all is, whether it be great or small, high or low, good or evil. We know no other God beside Thee!

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