[Solved] Romans 11:5 – What does “the remnant” refer to?
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A) a remnant of ancestral Israel
B) a remnant of the whole of mankind
And a short answer to why?
I think you’re asking “the right question” here. I think that Paul deliberately allows the reader to get to this point asking that very question!
Actually, he answers the question in the next couple of verses (revealing that it is Option “B” from your question) but to decode it you may need background. If not, go to the bit below the “background” section.
In the Book of Romans, Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles, and explaining how it is that Gentiles can be considered to be faithful without becoming Jewish.
In the chapters 9, 10 and 11, he is talking specifically about how it is that the Jews, who were God’s own people, are apparently being bypassed, sidelined, overtaken, or whatever you might say about it, while they remain the recipients of God’s covenantal promises. It takes three chapters to explain it. This is the deep scandal of the Gospel “of grace”…
So then, in this passage Paul invokes the memory of Elijah in the desert, who is convinced that he is the only remaining faithful one. God tells him that “a remnant” has been preserved – this “remnant” concept occurs in a number of places in the Bible to describe the very small core of truly faithful, among a larger group who are nominally faithful.
One other thing before going to the next couple of verses: when Paul says “works”, he does not (usually) mean “self-effort, as Luther incorrectly assumed. Paul means (almost always, and particularly here), “the works of the law”, which are circumcision, sabbath-keeping, and dietary laws, among other specifically Jewish things which are based in the Law of Moses. He is comparing the assumption of the Jews (“we are the elect people of God, and the works of the law prove it”), with the concept of God’s “grace”, by which God judges the heart (see Romans 2:29, for example), which is not restricted to Jews.
Now to the next two verses: “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” – Rom 11:5-6
… in other words, precisely what Paul has been saying throughout the book of Romans: the “remnant” consists of all who are “chosen by grace”, which can include Jews or gentiles – anyone “circumcised of heart”. In other words, anyone who has the faith of Abraham (See Romans 4:11-12). It is not “on the basis of works”, which would only include ancestral Israel and those who have converted to Judaism.
… this was the thing Paul kept getting bashed for:
“But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.” – Gal 5:11