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Romans 11:11 (NASB)

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

What is the difference between stumbling and falling here? How would Israel stumble but not fall? How does that understanding relate to verse 22 where Paul talks about those who fall and are no longer in God’s kindness?

Beholder than the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

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So I ask, did they stumble [πταίω - stumble, trip] in order that they might fall [πίπτω - fall]? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Rom. 11:11, ESV)

Did they stumble that they might fall? (μη ἐπταισαν ἱνα πεσωσιν; [mē eptaisan hina pesōsin?]). Negative answer expected by μη [mē] as in verse 1. First aorist active indicative of πταιω [ptaiō], old verb, to stumble, only here in Paul (see James 3:2), suggested perhaps by σκανδαλον [skandalon] in verse 9. If ἱνα [hina] is final, then we must add “merely” to the idea, “merely that they might fall” or make a sharp distinction between πταιω [ptaiō], to stumble, and πιπτω [piptō], to fall, and take πεσωσιν [pesōsin] as effective aorist active subjunctive to fall completely and for good. ἱνα [Hina], as we know, can be either final, sub-final, or even result. See 1 Thess. 5:4; 1 Cor. 7:29; Gal. 5:17. Paul rejects this query in verse 11 as vehemently as he did that in verse 1. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ro 11:11). Broadman Press.

Paul is saying the purpose of the stumbling stone isn't for the Jews to fall away, but of the Gentiles to be salved, in order that jealousy will bring them back.

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

              “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; 
  and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 
                          (Rom. 9:30–33, ESV)

Not all who stumbled/tripped fell. A remnant was saved.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Rom. 11:1–6, ESV)

The symbolic nature of πταίω and πίπτω is πταίω is to sin and πίπτω is to be lost. Paul stumbled big time with respect to the Gentiles until the road to Damascus, when God caught him after his stumbling so that he did not fall.

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  • Excellent and concise answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Feb 13 at 9:49
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Perhaps focusing on semantic differences between πταίω (stumbled) and πίπτω (fall) can overshadow a deeper meaning and end up missing some (if not most) of the real significance of what is written if the similarity between them is set aside. In other words, I think that first and foremost, both of these words plainly communicate a failure in Israel's ability to walk before God.

Proverbs 3:23

Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.

Psalms 18:33

He maketh my feet like hinds' feet: and setteth me upon my high places.

Whether it is stumbling or falling, each depict a transgression and separation from God, and it is this similitude between them that should draw our attention here in Romans 11:11, even as it does elsewhere in scripture where it appears to "double up" on what is being said. (Same as when we say the same thing twice, but in a slightly different way to try to emphasis the importance of it.)

Proverbs 24:17

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:

Romans 14:13b

...that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way

When viewed like this, the rhetorical question turns our focus entirely towards what God's greater purpose is (or might be) in Israel's horrific failure rather than it being a mere question of qualifying how bad or what depth of sin Israel's transgression is. Stumble or fall... they're basically one and the same. Both are bad, and have resulted in their being broken off from the root and fatness of the olive tree (i.e., separated from the richness of the believing that stems from Abraham), and the Gentiles (see verse 13) being grafted in.

Romans 11

[13] For I speak to you Gentiles... [17] And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

Even if or when "stumbling and falling" are regarded as being nearly synonymous in this verse, there is enough written in the immediate context of Romans - as well as elsewhere - that it becomes clear that this stumble & fall is not forever. In fact, E.W. Bullinger suggests that the omission of "forever" at the end of the rhetorical question is a figure of speech called ellipsis. (see Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, E.W.Bullinger,D.D., p.23)

Romans 11:23

And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.

Bullinger also refers to another figure of speech in this verse called prolepsis, and suggests that the question might be seen as, "Their falling away was not the object (or purpose) of their stumbling, was it? (ibid, p.980) This aligns with my perspective that in effect, these two words "stumbling and falling" should be thought of as being virtually synonymous.


Furthermore, this fall of Israel in verse 11 is focused on one failure, and one failure alone... their rejection of Jesus Christ. Not coincidentally, he is referred to as both a "stone of stumbling" and a "rock of offense" in 1Pet.2:8. After Christ's resurrection (aka, "the sign of the prophet Jonas"), the culmination of Israel's rejection is quite plainly evidenced in the council's stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:57,58. This inextricable binding together of Israel's stumble (their rejection of Christ) with Israel's fall (being broken off from the olive tree) can only be remedied with Israel's (i.e., what all remains of it) recognition and believing of Jesus the Son of God.

John 15:5

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

As for Romans 11:22, the severity to the fallen (i.e., Israel) has no distinct difference from those who stumbled (which again, simply refers to Israel.) From a historical perspective, whether thought of as a stumble or a fall, it appears that Israel as a nation was indeed dealt with severely. Perhaps the "kindness" in this verse 22 is a bit of a reflection of the kindness towards Abraham spoken of in Genesis 24:12-14. Whether that is true or not, the severity of God is directly associated with Israel (as a nation) being broken off because of unbelief. And likewise, Gentiles (as a nation) can (and will) be cut off because of unbelief once the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, and Israel grafted back in.

Romans 11

[23] And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. [24] For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? [25] 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 is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

It is the goodness (or kindness) of God that leads anyone to repentance, although Israel (as a nation) is evidently temporarily blind to it.

Romans 2:4

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

When Rom.11: 22 speaks of continuing in his goodness, perhaps it is perceived as a reference to anyone (Gentiles, namely) continuing to be led by His goodness to salvation. However, when the fullness of the Gentiles "be come in," said continuance will end. Hence, the remaining Gentiles (as a whole) will be "cut off" (as there are none continuing in, or led by, his goodness.)

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The Greek word translated “fall” here is “PIPTO,” signifying “a complete irrevocable fall” (Rienecker). Paul was saying, “Is this rejection of Jesus by the Jews irrevocable?” The answer is no.

The Amplified Bible reads, “So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall [to their utter spiritual ruin, irretrievably]? By no means!” The New International Version reads, “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!”

Paul then began to relate how the Jews can still be saved during this “church age,” and he cited Old Testament scriptures to declare a future time when the whole nation of Israel will once again come back into God’s fold (Romans 11:26-27).

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