Having given something of an overview of the privileges of Paul’s kinsmen in Romans 9:4-5, I’d like to look at these privileges again, but more narrowly.
In the first privilege that Paul mentions (οἵτινές εἰσιν Ἰσραηλῖται, “Who are Israelites…”) it is of utmost importance to see that the antecedent of οἵτινές (who) is Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh who are anathema, separated from Christ (9:3) and that this group of unbelievers are even now called Israelites (εἰσιν = present active indicative 3rd person plural). The tense of the verb in 9:4a as well as the relationship between 9:1-5 and 9:6a resists every effort to relegate the prerogatives of Israel to the past. Furthermore, Paul’s bold assertion that the glorious privileges of Israel belong to unbelieving Israel (which is the antecedent of οἵτινές) resist the effort of some commentators to argue from 9:6b (“not all of those from Israel are Israel”) that the promises refer to eschatological Israel (the Church, without any regard for ethnic origins) rather than historical Israel. Whether the second “Israel” in 9:6b is the Church or the believing portion of historical Israel, the point there is this: the privileges given to Israel can never be construed to guarantee the salvation of any individual Jew or synagogue of Jews, and therefore the unbelief of Paul’s kinsmen cannot immediately be constructed to mean that God’s word of promise has fallen.
In view of Paul’s argument in Romans 11 that “all Israel” will someday be saved (precisely because of the “fathers”; cf. 11:28 and 9:5a), we should allow the privileges of 9:4-5 to apply, as their wording suggests, to Paul’s (now) unbelieving kinsmen “according to the flesh”––which is not to say that they apply to every individual Jew, but as 9:6b says, to the elect among them, and as is suggested in 11:25ff., to that part of the historical people in existence at the end of the age.
The first privilege of Paul’s kinsmen is that they are “Israelites.” The word is evocative of a blessed antiquity and an illustrious future. It sums up all of the other privileges in its richness. Its promissory magnitude is conspicuous from Paul’s use of it in Romans 11:1: “I say, therefore, has God rejected his people? No indeed! For I myself am an Israelite, from the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” To be an Israelite is to be among the people of God, and God does not reject his people. What could be more encouraging that to be called an Israelite!