Chapter # 11 Paragraph # 5 Study # 4
September 29, 2009
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:
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 Doctrine of Partaking of the Root and Fatness of the Olive Tree.
- A. The identification of the parts of the tree.
- 1. The tree itself.
- a. At the beginning of this section (9:1-11:36) of Paul's presentation, Paul called "Israel" his kinsmen "according to the flesh" (9:3-4). This is the typical identity of "the Olive Tree": Israel as the physical descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Jeremiah 11:16). Paul said of himself that he was "an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin" (11:1).
- b. In our current text Paul addresses the Gentiles about their participation in the blessings they have by being included by God in "the election of grace". Since his warning is to these Gentiles about the attitude they may be tempted to take toward Israel, it has to go without saying that the "tree" is Israel.
- 2. The parts of the tree.
- a. The three kinds of branches: the broken off natural branch, the remaining natural branch, and the grafted branch from the wild olive.
- 1) In 9:6 Paul deliberately said that there were two "Israels", one within the other. This does not signal two "trees" but, rather, two "kinds of branches" on the one tree. In our current text, there are "branches that are broken off" because of unbelief and there are branches like Paul who remain because they have "believed". This closely parallels Paul's "two Israel" concept because there is "an Israel after the flesh" which is identified as an ignorantly zealous (10:2) and proud (10:21) group of "lost" (10:1) Israelites and there is "an Israel according to promise" which is identified as a group who have "believed" in the "promise". Because Paul's argument hinges upon the issue of "faith", these "two Israels" fit the scenario as branches and not separate trees.
- 2) Then, in our current text, there are branches off of another olive tree that are grafted onto the tree which dominates his thought. This "other" tree is identified as the source of the "Gentiles" to whom Paul is addressing his warning in 11:18 and 11:20. This is an all-encompassing "tree" of "Gentiles" without regard for any specific genetic lineage. In other words, this second tree is simply one which generates all who are not of Abraham's seed. Because these are "grafted" branches, they can never be viewed as "of Abraham's seed" in the specific, genetic sense. They, in that regard, can never be considered "Israel", but can be recipients of the "root and fatness" that has its origins in Abraham.
- b. The "root" of the tree is identified by Paul in 11:29 as "the fathers".
- 1) This is in harmony with the tree as an outcome of Abraham's genes, narrowed by the line of "Isaac" and "Jacob".
- 2) This makes the analogy possible because the "root" is fundamentally incapable of addressing the actual "fruit" of any given branch, especially the "grafted" branches.
- a) This is somewhat true in the natural realm. Trees can have good roots and still have unproductive branches and the entire point of "grafting" is to produce a kind of fruit that is different from the "natural" kind.
- b) But it becomes even more pronounced as the analogy develops out of the "determined" realm of divinely established creation order into the "indeterminate" realm of "personal" creation reality where Love/Faith/Choice/Action does not run in strict harmony with a "determined", lock-step, robotism.
- B. The issue of "participation" by the grafted branches with the original "root" and its subsequent "fatness".
- 1. Nowhere does Paul teach that this "participation" is a genetic "becoming" of the seed of the "fathers". He clearly accepts the reality of the "wild olive tree" and its alienation from the "fatness" of the root of the "Jewish olive tree".
- 2. But Paul does teach that a form of connection to Abraham is absolutely crucial to anyone's ability to obtain the "fatness" that was given to him by divine fiat as an all-encompassing determinative factor.
- a. Paul goes to some lengths in Galatians 3, particularly verse twenty-nine, to make his Gentile readers understand that there is no inheritance for anyone who does not have a legitimate link to Abraham.
- b. He does the same thing in Ephesians 2:12 by his declaration that being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel meant also being strangers to the covenants of the promise and that, in turn, meant being "without God".
- 3. These facts bring us to this realization: the "fatness" consisted of being able to possess the Promise in the sense of "the thing promised". This means that "the Promise", identified in a most unambiguous way by John in 1 John 2:25 as "Eternal Life" is the essence of the "fatness".
- a. The wild olive branches obtain a participation in the "fatness" of the domesticated olive tree. That "fatness" is the "Life" called "Eternal" and described as "joy" and it is obtained like all things "promised" are obtained: by faith in the promise.
- b. Thus, though there are many other considerations involved in the details of the divine program that address the distinctive elements of that Plan (Israel, the Church, Messiah's Kingdom, etc.), Paul's point is made: participation depends upon "faith" and "faith" cannot be a on-again, off-again commodity without making its impact upon the experience of the "fatness".
- 4. This raises the most crucial issues in Paul's "logic": the nature of "faith"; the issue of "whether" it is a product of the flesh or a fruit of the Spirit; and the issue of "when" it takes on the characteristic of confidence that results in the divine grant of justification.
- a. On one hand, "breaking off the unbelieving branches" can take place without regard for these "most crucial issues" regarding "faith" because, by definition, they are "unbelieving". However, there is this question: why does God even allow these branches to develop on the tree if they are "unbelieving" and what is the "point" at which He decides to "break them off"?
- 1) The only identifiable "issue" for this question is the one raised by Elijah's complaint: the bowing of the knee to Baal. This, clearly, is the issue of god-loyalty and the commitment to a false "god". This, in the context of a "tree of blessing", is the issue of apostasy in which the issue is a turning from the "God of the tree" to another "god". Since "apostasy", by definition, is a turning "from", there has to be some sense in which one is "involved" so that "turning from" is a possible and real act. Technically, a born-and-raised participant in Baalism cannot be accused of "apostasy" in regard to Yahweh because there was never any connection to Him. One cannot turn from something if one has never been in any kind of association with that something. So, because "Israel" is a selected seed that is born into an automatic association of some kind with Yahweh, any "Israelite" who begins to worship another "god" is an apostate. It is this issue of being "born-and-raised" within a theological culture that is involved in the question of why God allows branches to develop who are "unbelieving" and when He breaks them off of the tree. The issue is the nature of the "association". Clearly it is not one of "saving faith", but, just as clearly, it is not one that is bereft of certain "benefits" of "saving faith". When a child is born into a national structure that is dominated by Yahwehism, he/she comes into certain of the benefits of that culture without any "personal" decisions. They are simply "there" because of the cultural reality. But, no child grows to maturity without a host of "decisions", some of which will inevitably become "T"heological and have to do with "loyalty". At what time this person makes a definitive decision to reject the inherent Yahwehism, he/she is "broken off" of the tree.
- 2) Thus, the unbelieving branches come into being and exist on the tree because that is the nature of "communicated blessedness" as revealed by Paul in his argument in 1 Corinthians 7:14. Though there is no "personal salvation" involved, there is an element of protection from the wrath of God that Paul says "might" lead to that "personal" salvation (1 Corinthians 7:16). In addition, it is the "unbelieving branches" that become the "believing" branches at the point of "faith", so they must be on the tree long enough to come to that point of transition.
- b. On another hand, the "believing" branches, as well as those "grafted into the tree" because they have "believed" did not come to "faith" at an unconnected point in time. What I mean by that is that the language of evangelism often implies that "faith" is a "now you are unbelieving/now you are believing" phenomenon when the reality is that faith has to exist before "faith" can occur. What I mean, again, is that faith is a developing reality that at a specific point becomes "saving" faith. When God justifies a person because their "faith" has become of the quality that He responds to with justification, He is not dealing with a person who "did not believe" and then, suddenly, "did believe". Rather, He is dealing with a person whose "faith" was "in-process" and, at some point, reached a level of maturation that is acceptable to Him as a basis for justification. By way of illustration, let us just take the reality of a person's response to the facts of the Gospel. No one "believes" in Jesus unto justification "out of the blue". There are a host of "facts" that have to precede the "saving fact" and each of them must be "believed" before the "saving fact" is "believed". Thus, "faith" is a developing conviction that is subject to many encouragements and many obstacles and only becomes "saving" faith at the point when the conviction reaches the point of divine acceptance for justification. For Paul, that "point" was when Jesus identified Himself to Paul as Israel's Christ with a visibly brilliant light and an audible voice from heaven.