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ΖΩΗ ΕΚ ΝΕΚΡΩΝ (Romans 11:15)

In Rom 11:15, Paul’s reference to ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν (life from the dead) may refer to bodily resurrection, but it may also be read as metaphorically referring to the restoration of the then hardened portion of Israel into participation in the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant that Paul regards as having come to fruition in Jesus:

I am the apostle to you Gentiles, [Paul] says (11.13); and I make a big fuss of this task to which I’ve been assigned, because, in line with what Deuteronomy said about Israel being made jealous by non-Jewish people coming in to share their privileges, my aim is to make my fellow Jews jealous, and so save some of them (11.13–14). Actually, the word [Paul] uses for ‘my fellow Jews’ is, more literally, ‘my flesh’, in other words ‘my kinsmen according to the flesh’, as in 9.3; but the idea of making the ‘flesh’ jealous, and so saving it, presents to his mind the entire sweep of what he had already said in Romans 5–8 about what God does in the ‘flesh’, about the ultimate importance of no longer being ‘in the flesh’, defined by flesh, but of being in the Spirit and thereby being given resurrection life. This enables him to speak of the restoration of ethnic Jews to membership in the renewed covenant, using the metaphorical language traceable at least as far back as [the valley of dry bones vision in] Ezekiel 37:

For if their casting away means reconciliation for the world, what will their receiving back again be if not life from the dead [Rom 11:15]?

Many have argued that zoe ek nekron here means literal resurrection, suggesting that the restoration of Jews to membership will come all in a rush on the last day, when they will all be raised to life. I am persuaded, however, that Paul does indeed mean it metaphorically, and that what he has in mind here and throughout the passage, is ethnic Jews abandoning their unbelief in the gospel (11.22) and coming to membership in the polemically redefined ‘all Israel’ (Wright 262).

Though apparently unique to this text in Paul among early Christian writings (Wright 263), understanding Ezek 37 as a subtext for Paul’s declaration that the unbelieving Israelites’ restoration would mean ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν (life from the dead) would itself also put the one whom Paul recognized as the new, Davidic shepherd (cf. Rom 1:3; 8:31–39) into the place of the Davidic ruler whom Ezekiel had expected (Ezek 37:24–28).


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N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright

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About David Stark

Associate Professor

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This site and its content are licensed by J. David Stark under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person(s) or institution(s).
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