FULNESS OF THE GENTILES
T. Pierce Brown
Modesty might dictate that one not make any serious comments on a passage that has given rise to many diverse and contradictory views. But if one allowed such modesty to dictate his responses, then it is doubtful if he could write or preach anything, especially the truth of God’s gospel. We are concerned today with an examination of the expression of Romans 11:25, which says, “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.”
David Lipscomb was humble enough to say regarding the expression, “fullness of the Gentiles,” “It is a difficult question to answer. — For a time I thought they would accept the truth, and that `the fullness’ meant when they all came to accept Christ. I now think it probable that they will reject Christ as the Jews did.” The following quotations from a few commentators will give you an idea of what the majority of commentators think about it.
Bell, R.C., Studies in Romans, p.139, “Surely, this prophecy means that now, while Israel is broken off, God’s field of operation is in particular with Gentiles until his work among them is done; at which time the generation of Jews then living will be ready to choose the Christ –.”
Newell, W. R., Romans Verse by Verse, p. 432, “There is a definite fullness of Gentiles — the very number of which God knoweth — to `come in’, that is, to be saved: for this word `fullness’ is not spoken as to privilege, but as to election.”
De Welt, Don, Romans Realized, p. 188. “This would seem to mean that there are a certain number of persons in that multitude, and what that number has been reached then will come to pass the fulfillment of the promise.”
Nigerian, Anders, Commentary on Romans, p. 404, “Hardening has come upon part ofIsraelfor the present, and it will continue till the full number of the Gentiles comes in.”
West, Kenneth S., Romans in the Greek New Testament, p. 199. “The hardening ofIsraelextends to the time when the last sinner elected to salvation for this Age of Grace, by his introduction into the Body of Christ, completes that Body. The Rapture occurs, the Seventieth Week of Daniel comes some time after this event, and at the second Advent, the salvation ofIsrael.”
Whiteside, R. L. Commentary on Romans, p. 240. “Hardness among the Jews increased until the church became almost, if not entirely, Gentile in membership — until the fullness of the Gentiles came in — .”
Lard, Moses E. Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 370. “The word denotes that portion or large number of Gentiles that are to enter the church before the conversion of the Jews takes place. — When the full sum has come in, the hardness will be at an end. Then will be the time ofIsrael’s conversion to Christ.”
Burn, J. W. The Biblical Illustrator, p. 422. “The fullness of the Gentiles will be a full Christianization of the Gentiles. The time will come when both in name and reality all tribes and kingdoms and tongues will become Christians.”
Most commentators seem to think that “fullness” has to do with the number, although nothing in the Bible indicates that. It would take more time and space than we have available to give a critical analysis of what I consider to be grave errors in most of those conclusions, so I think it more fitting to simply give what I think to be a simple Biblical answer, and my reasons for so concluding.
The whole passage has to do with the “mystery of God.” That is, what was hidden in the mind of God and in prophetic references until God revealed it through the Apostles. Paul explains it most clearly in Ephesians 3:3 when he says it is, ” — that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
This is also basically his point here. Hardness in part of the Israelites would be the occasion for the gospel to be preached to the Gentiles. Revelation and history are the two best interpreters of any prophecy. As we look at Acts18:28, we see it being revealed as fulfilled. “Be it known therefore unto you that this salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles: they will also hear.”
If one wants to know what “fullness” means, he might begin by looking at Romans11:12, “Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness.” Can anyone doubt that the “fullness” of the Jews here means the opposite of their “loss” and “fall” — that is, their reception of the gospel rather than the rejection of it?
That should not be hard to grasp for any person who reads with care such passages as Ephesians 1:22-23, “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” When one accepts the gospel, is thus added to the church of the Lord, he has answered the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:19, “That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” If a Gentile, or any person is “filled with all the fullness of God” by becoming a member of the body of Christ, then certainly his “fullness is come in.”
He had prayed in Romans 10:1 thatIsraelmight be saved. He rejoiced in the fact that his ministry to the Gentiles might be the means of accomplishing that with many of them (vss. 11,14), and that their “fullness” would even be more riches to the Gentiles than their rejection of Christ had been. It surely should be clear that their “fullness” was opposite to their rejection of Christ and their consequent fall.
Then, perhaps a paraphrasis and summary of his point in Romans 11:25-26 would be appropriate. “God had hidden in many prophetic references that a part of Israel would be hardened and would reject Christ, and that He would therefore turn and offer salvation to the Gentiles, so they, too could be `filled with all the fullness of God’, and be fellow-heirs and fellow partakers of the promise of the gospel. When the Gentiles accepted the gospel and obeyed it, their fullness had come in. That is the exact way that allIsraelthat is saved will be saved.”
If one objects and says, “Paul says `All Israel will be saved’,” I must reply, “He does not!” Since “so” is an adverb of manner, what he says is, “This is the way (by accepting the gospel of Christ and becoming a member of thekingdomofGodby being born of water and the Spirit) that allIsraelwill be saved.” If a person says, “When I was born again I became a Christian,” and I reply, “That is the way everybody becomes a Christian,” I do not mean by that to suggest that everybody in the world becomes a Christian. What the phrase means is, “That is the way everybody that becomes a Christian does so.” In Luke 3:21, when we find “Now when all the people were baptized” we are not to assume that he means that every individual person was baptized.
If you should say, “I got my income tax forms through the mail,” and one should reply, “That is the way everybody gets his forms,” it would not mean that everybody in the world gets income tax forms, but everybody who gets his forms gets them that way.
Surely no one who reads the Bible carefully can assume that either all of Israel or all the Gentiles will be saved, but Paul explains how those who are saved will be saved in verses 26 and 27, “There shall come out of Zion a Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: and this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” The new covenant with the House of Israel included the Gentiles also (Hebrews 8:8), and they were fellow-heirs of the promise (Ephesians 3:3) and Abraham’s seed if they, by faith had been baptized into Christ (Galatians3:25-27) and received his fullness. So, if they continue not in unbelief, they will be grafted in again (v. 23), and they can have fullness as well as the Gentiles.
Are you not glad that the “fullness of God” can be your fullness whether you are Jew or Gentile, and you do not have to wait until a certain number of others do or do not obey the gospel?