Chapter # 11 Paragraph # 5 Study # 1
September 8, 2009
16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
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;
18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
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?
1901 ASV Translation:
16 And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree;
18 glory not over the branches: but if thou gloriest, it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
20 Well; by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by thy faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee.
22 Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, God's goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
23 And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
24 For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
- I. Paul's Caution Against Pride.
- A. The perennial problem in mankind is his knee-jerk use of any and every thing as a basis for self-exaltation. This is no surprise since the original Sinner was driven by this very commitment (Isaiah 14:13-14 -- "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God ... I will be like the Most High.")
- 1. Romans 3:27 highlights the problem as does Ephesians 2:9. Both of these texts indicate that the major problem between God and man is man's determined intention to exalt himself so that he can excuse himself from being a servant of others. For God, Who is profoundly servant minded as the expression of Love, this is simply unacceptable at any level. Both of these texts are deeply nestled in the very core of salvation truth and, for that reason, cannot be dismissed as some kind of superficial concern.
- 2. That Paul, in this context and in 11:18 particularly, feels constrained to caution the Gentiles regarding this knee-jerk penchant is also clear testimony to the fact that self-exaltation is a primal compulsion that simply must be addressed severely by anyone who would walk with God in the light.
- B. Paul's caution is against using God's expression of grace as such a basis.
- II. Paul's "Logic".
- A. If the firstfruit is "holy", then the "lump" is also.
- 1. The term "firstfruit" is used by Paul to indicate the initial part of a whole that is taken/used/ produced to some end. In 8:23 he used the term to spell out how we have the initial benefits of Eternal Life by having the Spirit of God dwelling in us. In 16:5 he referred to Epaenetus as "the firstfruit of Achaia unto Christ" so that his readers would understand that Epaenetus was among the first converts to Christ in Achaia. He was in the "initial" group of those who would be drawn to Christ by the Gospel. In our current text, the question is "to what/whom is he referring?". Who/what is in Paul's mind as the "firstfruit"? The answer seems to be "himself" but his logic is not easy. If Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, sees himself as among the "firstfruits" of Israel, the question is "in what sense?" The most likely answer is in two facts: first, he uses himself in 11:1 to prove that God has not "rejected" His people; and, second, his thinking is most likely that elect Israel was the "firstfruits" of those who believed in Jesus as the Christ. Thus, he himself and all the other Israelites of his generation who believed in Jesus were the "firstfruits" of the Gospel in its narrowed-down form where the issue is "Jesus" as the Christ.
- 2. But these "believers" came out of a "lump". This term is used by Paul in enough contexts to reveal his meaning. It signals the "group" out of which the "firstfruits" sprang. Since Paul and his kinsmen in the flesh who had believed in Jesus were what Paul would call the "true" Israel according to his teaching in 9:6-8, he and his contemporaries were the "firstfruits" and the "lump" was "elect Israel, children by promise".
- 3. Thus, if he and his fellow Jewish believers were the firstfruits of elect Israel where the issue of "fruit" was those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, they were "holy". And if they were, so also was the "lump" out of which they sprang.
- a. At this point there are two problems.
- 1) The first is Paul's argument that the character of the latter developments indicate a quality regarding the original. What, then, do we do with Satan? Of what "lump" was he the firstfruit?
- 2) The other problem is the meaning of "holy". Did Paul intend to argue for "holiness" in the rather typical sense of "sinlessness", or was his thought that of the root idea of "holiness"? The root idea of "holiness" is "dedicated", not "sinless".
- b. There seems to be some help in 11:28. The issue here is that "Israel" is, in one sense, "the enemy", but is, in another sense, "beloved". But this "beloved" status is related to "the election" which, in turn, is related to the promises made to the fathers. Here, again, Paul is making distinctions based upon an Israel within Israel because of election. If we understand the interplay between the Big Picture and the Details we can see that there were elect Israelites (like Paul and the other Jews who believed) and there were those who did not believe as a part of the Big Picture. My point is this: God has determined by promise and election that there will be an "Israel" surrounding Jerusalem during the reign of Christ over His kingdom. How that works out in respect to both individuals and temporal processes is a matter of the details, but those details are under God's dominion as much as the Big Picture. This addresses the two problems. On the one hand, "holy" is not a characterization of the individuals in terms of their practice of what is right but is, rather, a declaration of their status before an electing God Who "dedicates" them to the Plan. And on the other hand, Satan is of the "lump" of created persons who are permitted to pursue their own ideas even to the point of egregious rebellion without divine opposition except where those ideas and activities threaten The Plan.
- B. If the "root" is holy, so also are the "branches".
- 1. This is the same argument in reverse. Arguing that the firstfruit's holiness means that the lump out of which it came is holy is an argument from result back to cause (the firstfruit is the result and the lump is the cause). In reverse, arguing that the root's holiness leads to the holiness of the branches is arguing from the cause to the result.
- 2. But there is a fly in this ointment: some of the branches were not "holy" and were broken off. This Paul admits/declares. Is his admission a denial of his "logic"? It would appear so. How can he argue that if the root is holy, the branches must also be if, in fact, some of the branches are not? One can argue that if a result is good, the cause must have had that same goodness in it, but how does one admit that the goodness led to corruption in at least some of the branches without destroying the argument? Here we confront the origins of Paul's doctrine of "Israel". In 9:6-8 he argued that there are two "Israels". Both are "of Israel" in the genetic sense, but "Israel's Israel" is not the same as "God's Israel". Just as Ismael and Isaac were both Abraham's sons and Jacob and Esau were both Isaac's sons, all of those who descended from Jacob were an "Israel" of sorts (a genetically developed nation) but in the midst of these there developed another "Israel" (God's "elect" individuals within the genetically developed nation). In other words, Jacob had a diverse seed just as Abraham and Isaac before him. One was a seed that was genetic, but unbelieving; the other was a seed that was genetic and believing (4:12). Thus, though there was in "Israel", as the man Jacob, the "faith" that leads to "holiness", there was also in this same "Israel" the blight of "unbelief" that is passed on to his seed. Thus, the "root" is not "pure" and, because of that, the branches will show it. Some of them will be "holy" as is the holy aspect of the root, but others of them will be "unholy" because there is also an unholiness in the root. The problem with this is that Paul said the "root is holy".
- 3. That leads to this question: why did Paul even bring this up since there are serious difficulties for our understanding?
- a. Part of Paul's reasoning is the overall thesis: pride is dangerous. This means that we have in Paul's statements some indications of how pride is to be handled. The bottom line in this respect in terms of the firstfruit/lump, root/branch, is this: in both cases the "holiness" of the results, whether firstfruit or branch, is not attributable to those results. In other words, believers cannot boast of their holiness because they are not the cause of it.
- b. Another part of Paul's reasoning is in the particulars. Both the "holy lump" and the "holy root" exist by the "election of grace" and not by human accomplishment or invention. Thus, all credit and praise goes to the electing, gracious God and man's knee-jerk penchant for self-elevation is cut off below the knees.