The Remnant of Israel: Romans 11:16-20-Paul Uses Two Metaphors to Demonstrate that God Has Not Rejected the Nation of Israel Lesson # 11
The apostle Paul in Romans 11:16 employs two metaphors to illustrate his assertion in Romans 11:2 that God has by no means rejected Israel forever and his assertion in Romans 11:11-15 that there will be a future national regeneration of Israel.
Romans 11:16 Now, if, and let us assume that it is true for the sake of argument that the first portion is holy and of course, we agree it is because it is taught in the Scriptures, then the lump is also. Furthermore, if, and let us assume that it is true for the sake of argument that the root is holy and of course, we agree it is because it is taught in the Scriptures, then the branches are also. (My translation)
The first metaphor, the first piece of dough and the lump is taken from Numbers 15:17-21.
The first piece of dough is analogous to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were the progenitors of the nation of Israel because they accepted by faith the promises that God made to them.
The second metaphor, the root and the branches parallels the first.
The root parallels the first piece of dough in that it is analogous to the patriarchs whereas the branches are analogous to the lump in that they are analogous to the saved biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.
In Romans 11:16, Paul takes the principle taught in Numbers 15:17-25 to teach that if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are holy, then their descendants who compose the nation of Israel and had faith in the Lord like Abraham are sanctified as well.
If God had accepted the progenitors of the nation of Israel, especially, Abraham, He has then sanctified or set apart those descendants of his who had faith in the Lord like him.
The first piece of dough and the root parallel each other and are analogous to the patriarchs and in particular Abraham.
The lump and the branches also parallel each other and are analogous to the saved biological descendants of Abraham through Sarah.
In Romans 11:17, Paul presents the protasis of a first class conditional statement in order to remind his Gentile Christian readers that branches were broken off, i.e. unsaved Israelites and they as a wild olive tree have been grafted in among the branches, i.e. born-again Israelites.
He also reminds them in this protasis that they have become partakers of the rich root of the olive tree, Abraham and in particular the divine promises given to him contained in the “Abrahamic covenant.”
Romans 11:17 However, if, and let us assume that it is true for the sake of argument that some, which are a part of the branches were broken off but because you are a wild olive, you were grafted in among them so that you became joint-partakers of the olive tree’s root, which produces abundant oil and of course, we agree that this is a fact of history. (My translation)
“You” refers to Gentiles who trusted in Christ but with emphasis upon their racial background as indicated by the statement to follow, “being a wild olive (tree) were grafted in among them and became a partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.”
“A wild olive” refers to the Gentiles in contrast to the “olive tree,” which in the Old Testament was used metaphorically of Israel (Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6) and “were grafted in” is used in a metaphorical sense of Paul’s Gentile Christian readers being united with Jewish Christians.
Now the usual procedure was to insert a shoot or slip of a cultivated tree into a wild one, however, in Romans 11:24 Paul makes clear that the metaphor he is using is “contrary to nature” of grafting a wild olive branch (a Gentile) into a cultivated olive tree.
Such a procedure was unnatural and would be unfruitful, which is precisely Paul’s point with his Gentile Christian readers.
He wishes to underscore the miraculous nature of their new relationship with God and other Jewish Christians.
The normal procedure was to take a shoot from an olive tree that bears good fruit and graft it onto a wild olive stock whose fruit is poor and the result is a tree with vigorous growth, which bears good olives.
However, Paul reverses the procedure and speaks of grafting a wild olive onto the stock of a good olive tree and then later he speaks of grafting back some of the good olive branches that have been cut out.
So a procedure of grafting a wild olive onto a good olive was not the normal process, which is why Paul reverses the normal procedure in order to humble those Gentile Christians who might become arrogant towards Jewish Christians and unsaved Jews.
He rebukes those Gentile Christians who might be arrogant towards the Jews, saved and unsaved because their spiritual heritage is from the Jews, salvation is of the Jews (John 4:23).
In Romans 11:17-24, “the branches” are connected to an “olive tree,” which in the Old Testament was a figure for the nation of Israel (See Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6).
Thus, “the branches” of the “olive tree” is a reference to born-again Jews since the latter is used in Jeremiah 11:16-17 and Hosea 14:4-6 as a figure for Israel and unbelieving Jews are broken off.
Romans 11:18 Do not assume arrogant superiority over the branches. However, if, and let us assume that it is true for the sake of argument that you are assuming arrogant superiority then remember that you by no means sustain the root. But rather on the contrary, the root sustains you. (My translation)
The prohibition “Do not assume arrogant superiority over the branches” is addressing the Gentile Christians’ attitude towards both saved and unsaved Jews.
This is indicated in that he reminds his readers in the apodosis of the first class condition in Romans 11:18, that the root, Abraham supports them, implying that these branches are referring to saved Jews since saved Jews are on the olive tree due to their faith in Christ and are thus connected to the root.
That this prohibition is also to prevent arrogance towards unsaved Jews is indicated by Paul’s statements in Romans 11:19-20 where he reminds his readers that these branches were broken off because of their unbelief and that Gentile Christians are grafted in because of their faith in Christ.
The reason why Paul does not want his Gentile Christian readers to assume arrogant superiority over the saved Jews is that they are on equal footing with the saved Jews since both are on the olive tree and connected to the root because of their faith, which is non-meritorious.
They are both in union with Christ because of the grace of God and the merits of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary spiritual and physical deaths.
Thus, with regards to salvation there are no racial distinctions (Galatians 3:26-28).
So this prohibition is designed to maintain and build unity among Jew and Gentile Christians in Rome.
“Then remember that you by no means sustain the root. But rather on the contrary, the root sustains you” contains the apodosis and is a reminder to Paul’s Gentile Christian readers in Rome that they by no means sustain the root, Abraham but rather Abraham sustains them.
He sustains them in the sense that through your faith in Christ you have become joint-partakers with Jewish Christians of the promises, blessings, privileges and responsibilities of the Abrahamic covenant.
The Abrahamic covenant reveals that God planned to save Gentiles through Abraham’s descendants, the Jews and in particular his greatest descendant, Jesus Christ.
Therefore, there is no place Paul says for Gentile Christians to assume arrogant superiority over the Jews whether saved or unsaved.
Next, in Romans 11:19, Paul once again employs a diatribe style by presenting an argument of a hypothetical Gentile Christian who seeks to justify assuming arrogant superiority over both saved and unsaved Jews.
Romans 11:19 Therefore, you will contend, Branches were broken off in order that I myself could be grafted in.” (My translation)
“Branches were broken off” describes God’s rejection of those Jews who rejected His Son Jesus Christ as their Savior by not exercising faith in Him.
“So that I might be grafted in” refers to the perspective of a hypothetical Gentile Christian and emphasizes that they arrogantly assume that God’s purpose in rejecting the Jews was to graft Gentiles in, with the implication that God prefers the Gentiles to the Jews, which is false.
In Romans 11:20, Paul answers the argument of his hypothetical Gentile Christian by first acknowledging the fact that unsaved Jews were rejected by God for their unbelief in His Son Jesus Christ.
However, he then reminds this hypothetical Gentile Christian that he stands by his faith in Christ.
Also, in this passage, Paul issues a prohibition to those Gentile Christians who might think they are superior to the Jews to stop thinking arrogantly about themselves but to have reverence for God.
Romans 11:20 Absolutely! They were broken off because of their unbelief but you are inserted because of your faith. Do not think arrogantly but rather make it a habit to reverence God the Father. (My translation)
“They were broken off because of their unbelief” indicates that the nation of Israel was rejected by God because of unbelief or in other words failure to accept by faith Jesus Christ as their Savior.
“But you are inserted because of your faith” presents a contrast between the Jews rejection by God because of their unbelief and the Gentiles’ acceptance by God because of their faith in Christ and indicates that Gentile Christians were accepted by God because of their faith in Jesus Christ.