Seeing the Big Picture of Romans 9-11

Hi Dojo readers,

This is a particularly Bible-geekish post. So be warned beforehand.

I recently had a friend ask me for help, as she was preparing to teach Romans chapter 9 in her adult Sunday School class. I shared with her a few suggestions about Romans chs. 9-11, one of which came from my re-reading N.T. Wright’s chapter on Romans 9-11 in his MASSIVE magnum opus “Paul and the Faithfulness of God“. [Seriously, it’s so large that Ben Witherington has written a 93-part review of it. No…I’m not making that up!]

Wright spends around 200 pages just on these three chapters of Romans…but given the amount of ink that has been spilled over the past 2,000 years on that section of the book, his treatment is well worth reading and engaging with overall. But what initially piqued my interest, and has become more convincing the more I read and reread Romans 9-11, is Wright’s suggestion that the entire section is structured chiastically. [For those who are unfamiliar with what a “chiasm” is, you can read a quick intro summary to the concept HERE.]

I wanted to share it with Disciple Dojo readers in a way that visually helps them see Wright’s proposed structure…and thus a potential way to make sense of the overall flow of this most dense (and often confusing!) section of the book. So using the Bible study approach I suggested in a previous Dojo blog post (which I still believe to be the single most effective way of studying overall books of the Bible in the modern age!), I copied and pasted Romans 9-11 into a Word doc and formatted it according to Wright’s suggested structure…using his “Kingdom New Testament” which I have on my Kindle reader. (I thought that was only fitting!)  I’ve color-coded the corresponding sections of the chiasm and indented them as well. I also put all OT quotations in italics. Here it is below for those who are curious. You can judge for yourself whether or not you find it persuasive or a helpful way to read this section of Scripture.


Romans 9-11’s Chiastic structure based on

N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, ch.11

(Kingdom New Testament translation)


9:1 I’m speaking the truth in the Messiah; I’m not lying. I call my conscience as witness, in the holy spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and endless pain in my heart. 3 Left to my own self, I am half-inclined to pray that I would be accursed, cut off from the Messiah, on behalf of my own family, my own flesh-and-blood relatives. 4 They are Israelites; the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises all belong to them. 5 The patriarchs are their ancestors; and it is from them, according to the flesh, that the Messiah has come— who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen!

6 But it can’t be the case that God’s word has failed! Not all who are from Israel, you see, are in fact Israel. 7 Nor is it the case that all the children count as “seed of Abraham.” No: in Isaac shall your seed be named.” 8 That means that it isn’t the flesh-and-blood children who are God’s children; rather, it is the children of the promise who will be calculated as “seed.” 9 This was what the promise said, you see: Around this time I shall return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And that’s not all. The same thing happened when Rebecca conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac. 11 When they had not yet been born, and had done nothing either good or bad— so that what God had in mind in making his choice might come to pass, 12 not because of works but because of the one who calls— it was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger.” 13 As the Bible says, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.” 14 So what are we going to say? Is God unjust? Certainly not! 15 He says to Moses, you see, I will have mercy on those on whom I will have mercy, and I will pity those I will pity.” 16 So, then, it doesn’t depend on human willing, or on human effort; it depends on God who shows mercy. 17 For the Bible says to Pharaoh: This is why I have raised you up, to show my power in you, and so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So, then, he has mercy on the one he wants, and he hardens the one he wants. 19 You will say to me, then, “So why does he still blame people? Who can stand against his purpose?” 20 Are you, a mere human being, going to answer God back? “Surely the clay won’t say to the potter, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21 Doesn’t the potter have authority over the clay, so that he can make from the same lump one vessel for honor, and another for dishonor? 22 Supposing God wanted to demonstrate his anger and make known his power, and for that reason put up very patiently with the vessels of anger created for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, the ones he prepared in advance for glory— 24 including us, whom he called not only from among the Jews but also from among the Gentiles? 25 This is what he says in Hosea, I will call “not my people” “my people”; And “not beloved” I will call “beloved.” 26 And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” There they will be called “sons of the living God.” 27 Isaiah cries out, concerning Israel, Even if the number of Israel’s sons are like the sand by the sea, Only a remnant shall be saved; 28 For the Lord will bring judgment on the earth, Complete and decisive. 29 As Isaiah said in an earlier passage, If the Lord of hosts had not left us seed, We would have become like Sodom, and been made like Gomorrah

30 What then shall we say? That the nations, who were not aspiring toward covenant membership, have obtained covenant membership, but it is a covenant membership based on faith. 31 Israel, meanwhile, though eager for the law which defined the covenant, did not attain to the law. 32 Why not? Because they did not pursue it on the basis of faith, but as though it was on the basis of works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as the Bible says: Look: I am placing in Zion A stone that will make people stumble, A rock that will trip people up; And the one who believes in him Will never be put to shame.

10:1 My dear family, the longing of my heart, and my prayer to God on their behalf, is for their salvation. 2 I can testify on their behalf that they have a zeal for God; but it is not based on knowledge. 3 They were ignorant, you see, of God’s covenant faithfulness, and they were trying to establish a covenant status of their own; so they didn’t submit to God’s faithfulness. 4 The Messiah, you see, is the goal of the law, so that covenant membership may be available for all who believe.

5 Moses writes, you see, about the covenant membership defined by the law, that “the person who performs the law’s commands shall live in them.” 6 But the faith-based covenant membership puts it like this: Don’t say in your heart, Who shall go up to heaven? (in other words, to bring the Messiah down), 7 “or, Who shall go down into the depths?(in other words, to bring the Messiah up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we proclaim);

9 because if you profess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10 Why? Because the way to covenant membership is by believing with the heart, and the way to salvation is by professing with the mouth. 11 The Bible says, you see, Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich toward all who call upon him. 13 All who call upon the name of the Lord,” you see, will be saved.”

14 So how are they to call on someone when they haven’t believed in him? And how are they to believe if they don’t hear? And how will they hear without someone announcing it to them? 15 And how will people make that announcement unless they are sent? As the Bible says, How beautiful are the feet of the ones who bring good news of good things.” 16 But not all obeyed the good news. Isaiah asks, you see, Lord, who has believed our report? 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes from the word of the Messiah.

18 This might make us ask, Did they not hear? But they certainly did: Their sound went out into all the world, And their words to the ends of the earth. 19 But I ask, did Israel not know? To begin with, Moses says, I will make you jealous with a non-nation; And stir you to anger with a foolish people. 20 Then Isaiah, greatly daring, puts it like this: I was found by those who were not looking for me; I became visible to those who were not asking for me. 21 But in respect of Israel he says, All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disbelieving and disagreeable people.

11:1 So I ask, has God abandoned his people? Certainly not! I myself am an Israelite, from the seed of Abraham and the tribe of Benjamin. 2 “God has not abandoned his people,” the ones he chose in advance. Don’t you know what the Bible says in the passage about Elijah, describing how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 Lord,” he says, they have killed your prophets, they have thrown down your altars; I’m the only one left, and they are trying to kill me! 4 But what is the reply from the divine word? I have left for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 In the same way, at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Did Israel not obtain what it was looking for? Well, the chosen ones obtained it— but the rest were hardened, 8 as the Bible says: God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that wouldn’t see, and ears that wouldn’t hear, Right down to this present day. 9 And David says, Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a punishment for them; 10 Let their eyes be darkened so that they can’t see, And make their backs bend low forever. 11 So I ask, then: Have they tripped up in such a way as to fall completely? Certainly not! Rather, by their trespass, salvation has come to the nations, in order to make them jealous. 12 If their trespass means riches for the world, and their impoverishment means riches for the nations, how much more will their fullness mean! 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Insofar as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I celebrate my particular ministry, 14 so that, if possible, I can make my “flesh” jealous, and save some of them. 15 If their casting away, you see, means reconciliation for the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 Take another illustration: if the first fruits are holy, so is the whole lump. And another: if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you— a wild olive tree!— were grafted in among them, and came to share in the root of the olive with its rich sap, 18 don’t boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember this: it isn’t you that supports the root, but the root that supports you. 19 I know what you’ll say next: “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 That’s all very well. They were broken off because of unbelief— but you stand firm by faith. Don’t get big ideas about it; instead, be afraid. 21 After all, if God didn’t spare the natural branches, there’s a strong possibility he won’t spare you. 22 Note carefully, then, that God is both kind and severe. He is severe to those who have fallen, but he is kind to you, provided you continue in his kindness— otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And they, too, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted back in. God is able, you see, to graft them back in. 24 For if you were cut out of what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will they, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. 25 My dear brothers and sisters, you mustn’t get the wrong idea and think too much of yourselves. That is why I don’t want you to remain in ignorance of this mystery: a hardening has come for a time upon Israel, until the fullness of the nations comes in. 26 That is how “all Israel shall be saved,” as the Bible says: The Deliverer will come from Zion, And will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. 27 And this will be my covenant with them, Whenever I take away their sins. 28 As regards the good news, they are enemies— for your sake! But as regards God’s choice they are beloved because of the patriarchs. 29 God’s gifts and God’s call, you see, cannot be undone. 30 For just as you were once disobedient to God, but now have received mercy through their disobedience, 31 so they have now disbelieved as well, in order that, through the mercy which has come your way, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has shut up all people in disobedience, so that he may have mercy upon all.

33 O, the depth of the riches And the wisdom and knowledge of God! We cannot search his judgments; We cannot fathom his ways. 34 For Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has given him counsel? 35 Who has given a gift to him Which needs to be repaid?36 For from him, through him, and to him are all things. Glory to him forever! Amen.