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SOME THOUGHTS ON ROMANS 11

SOME THOUGHTS ON ROMANS 11

I believe that the good olive tree of Romans 11 is a metaphor for the nation of Israel

I also believe that the mystery of Romans 11:25 is not the mystery that had been hid in God, and that the term “fulness of the Gentiles” refers to the Gentiles of the end times.

I will quote the entire passage concerning the olive tree, from verses 13-24, and will discuss the statements made above in the remainder of this paper. 13) “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office; 14) if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. 15) For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead? 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 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?”

THE OLIVE TREE OF ROMANS 11 IS A METAPHOR FOR THE NATION OF ISRAEL

DEFINITION OF THE WORD “HOLY”

We read in verse 16 of Romans 11 the following, “if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches”.  In order to correctly understand what this verse is teaching, we must understand the Scriptural meaning of the word “holy”.

Let us not make the common mistake of beginning our study of the meaning of “holy” with the New Testament. The New Testament did not appear out of a vacuum. First century believers would have had a very clear idea of the meaning of the word “holy” from their knowledge of the Old Testament. So we will begin our study with the Old Testament study of the Hebrew word translated “holy”.

The Hebrew word translated “holy” is “kodesh”. The first occurrence is in Ex. 3:5, “the place wherein thou standest is holy“. This obviously means “set apart” as special. That is to say, the place is set apart as special because it was at that place that Moses spoke with God.

The second occurrence carries the same meaning. We read in Ex. 12:16 of  “the first day there shall be an holy convocation to you”. The convocation was  set apart as a special one unto the Lord.

Ex. 16:23 speaks of the “holy sabbath”, a day set apart.

Ex. 29:6 speaks of the “holy crown”.

Verse 29 of that same chapter speaks of the “holy garments of Aaron”. All these occurrences speak of things that are set apart unto God.

It is clear that the Hebrew word “kodesh”   means “set apart” as special unto the Lord. Let us continue with the New Testament study of the Greek word translated “holy”. But, again, we must bear in mind that the Hebrews, to whom the apostles addressed their comments, would certainly have understood “holy” to mean “set apart” unto God.

The Greek word is “hagios”. It is used in the term “Holy Ghost”. The word tells us that the Spirit of God is set apart in His specialness from all other spirits.

In Matt. 4:5 we read of the “holy city”, i.e. Jerusalem. That city has been set apart unto God as the city of David.

In Acts 4:27 the word is used of Jesus, “the holy child”.  He was a child set apart from all others, unto God.

The word is translated “saints”. We know that “saints” are saved, but that is not what the Greek (or Hebrew) word tells us about these people. It tells us that they had been set apart unto God.

There are two passage in the Old Testament which speak of Christ as the “Root”. Those two passages are Is. 11:10 and Is. 53:2.

Is. 11:10 reads, “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and His rest shall be glorious”.

Is. 53:2, “And He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground, He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him”.

The question is: does the “root” represent Christ or does it represent the nation of Israel? We can answer that question by determining from the context, what the good olive tree represents.

WHAT DOES THE METAPHOR OF THE OLIVE TREE REPRESENT?

The good olive tree has both believers and unbelievers. How do we know that the good olive tree had unbelievers? We read in verse 17 of the good olive tree, “And if some of the branches be broken off….”. These branches were broken off because of unbelief (vs. 23). That tells us that originally, the good olive tree had unbelievers who were eventually broken off. Also, we read in Rom. 11:23, “for God is able to graff them in again“. These unbelievers must have been in the good olive tree at one time or Paul could not have written that they would be graffed in again. In other words, some of the natural branches were part of the good olive tree, then cut off because of unbelief, but if they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be “graffed in again“. That tells us that unbelieving, as well as believing Israelites were part of the good olive tree. In other words, the entire nation of Israel is represented by the good olive tree, but the unbelievers will be cut off from that nation.

Consider also, verse 24 reads, “….how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree“. The natural branches were, of course, Israelites. How do we know that the natural branches were Israelites? We read in verse 13 that Paul was speaking to Gentiles, “For I speak to you Gentiles….”. Then in verse 17 we read, “….and thou (Gentiles) being a wild olive tree….”. If the Gentiles were the “wild olive tree“, obviously Israel was the good olive tree. Therefore, this passage could not be more clear; the good olive tree is Israel.

THE ROOT

Let us begin by defining the word “root”. Webster’s definition of “root” that best fits the context of Rom. 11 reads, “And ancestor, hence an early race”. With that in mind let us consider to what the root of this passage refers.

As shown above, the good live tree of Romans 11 represents Israel. We cannot say that Romans 11 teaches that Christ was the root of Israel because at least at some point, the good olive tree included unbelievers. I do not believe that Christ is the root of unbelievers.

What then does the root represent? Let us consider verse 16 which reads, ““For if the firstfruits be holy the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches”. This verse speaks of four holy things, i.e. the firstfruits, the lump, the branches and the root. I believe the “lump” means the tree trunk, as that is the only part of a tree that is not accounted for in this verse. So we learn from this verse that because the lump is holy, so too are the firstfruits holy.  And if the root is holy so too are the branches holy.

What do the firstfruits, the lump, the root and the branches represent? Because the good olive tree is not spoken of in any other passage as it relates to Gentiles (please see the paper on the trees in the Old Testament) I will suggest the following on the basis of logic. I am quite aware, however, that logic is not equal to Scriptural evidence. I will therefore leave it to the reader to determine whether this suggestion is indeed true.

I suggest that the firstfruits represent the individual believers of Israel in the Acts period: that the lump (i.e. the tree trunk) represents the nation (as opposed to individuals) of Israel of the Acts period:  the root represents the nation of Israel throughout its history: and the branches represent the individuals, believers as well as unbelievers of Israel of the Acts period. Let us consider this suggestion.

Bearing in mind that the word “holy” means” to be separated unto God”, let us consider the good olive tree from the bottom up to see if this suggestion makes sense. As stated above, I believe that the root is the nation of Israel throughout its history. Rom. 11:16 tells us that because the root is holy (separated unto God) so too is the lump i.e. the tree trunk. That makes sense, i.e. the tree trunk can be holy  only if the root is holy. And the branches which, in my opinion, represent all the individuals of Acts period Israel can be holy (separated unto God) only if the tree trunk is holy.  And, because there is a distinction between the branches and the firstfruits, I believe that the firstfruits represent the believers of Acts period Israel.

I realize, of course, that many believe that the root of the good olive tree represents Christ.  But as proved in the section above, the branches that were cut off represent the unbelievers of Israel. Again, Christ is not the root of unbelievers.  To suggest that He is, goes against what the Bible teaches in regard to Who God is.

WHAT DOES THE CUTTING OFF OF THE BRANCHES REPRESENT?

Because the branches are not literal branches, the cutting off is also not literal. But again, the New Testament did not come out of a vacuum, it came from the Old Testament, and any first century Hebrew would have understood the phrase “cut off” because it is often used in the Old Testament in regard to Israelites being cut off from their Land and/or being cut off from their nation. .

Proverbs 2:21-22 reads, “For the upright will live in the land and the blameless will remain in it. But the wicked will be cut off from the land and the unfaithful will be torn from it”.

Psalms 101:8, “Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evil doer from the city of the Lord“.

Psalms 37:9-11, “For the evildoers shall be cut off. But those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; Yea, thou shall diligently consider his place and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”

Verse 22 of this Psalm speaks of the same contrast, “For such as be blessed of Him shall inherit the earth (should be land); and they that be cursed of Him shall be cut off“.

Verse 34 makes the same point. “Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off thou shalt see it”.

Numbers 19:13.  “That person must be cut off from Israel“.  In the next sentence we are told that his “uncleanness remains on him“.  Obviously, he must remain alive if his uncleanness remains on him.

Ex. 12:15, “….whoever eats anything with yeast in it….must be cut off from Israel.”

Ex. 30:33, “whosoever compoundeth any like it (holy ointment –verse 25) to smell thereunto, shall even be cut off from his people”.

Ex. 30:38, “Whosoever shall make like unto that (perfume of verse 35) to smell thereunto shall even be cut off from his people”.

Lev. 7:20, “…the soul that eateth of the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering….. having his uncleanness upon him, even that soul shall be cut off from his people”.

First century Israelites understood that to be cut off from the nation would mean to be cut off from millennial blessings.

This is yet another reason that we cannot see the good olive tree of Rom. 11 as the church of the dispensation of the mystery. That is to say, nowhere in the Word of God do we ever read of any member of the church being cut off from the church for any reason.

FURTHER THOUGHTS ON VERSES 12 AND 15

We have seen that the good olive tree represents Israel, and that believing Gentiles were grafted into that good olive tree. We have also seen that the Gentiles were being graffed in to the olive tree so that they too might partake of the millennial blessing in the land of Israel along with believing Israel.

With that said, let us consider Rom. 11:12 and 15. The passage from verse 12 through verse 15 reads, 12) “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? 13) For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office; 14) if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. 15) For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?”

There are several questions that come out of this passage. For example, we have seen in the sections above that Israel had not been set aside at the time of the writing of Romans, for Gentiles were graffed in so that they might partake in the millennial blessings of Israel. If Israel had been set aside those millennial blessings would have been put in abeyance and Gentiles would have had the hope of heavenly places. So what did Paul mean by the phrase in verse 12, “the fall of them”? And what did he mean in verse 15 by the phrase, “casting away of them”?

The first thing we must recognize about this passage is that verses 13 and 14 are parenthetical. That is to say, verses 12 and 15 deal with the same subjects whereas the two middle verses do not. Note, for example, verse 12 speaks of the “fall” of Israel and in verse 15 the KJV uses the phrase “casing away”. And verse 12 speaks of the result of the “fall” as “the riches of the world” and verse 15 speaks of the result of being cast away as the “reconciling of the world“. And verse 12 speaks of “how much more” and verse 15 speaks of “life from the dead“. For those reasons, I believe that verses 13-14 are parenthetical. Having said that, let us see what we can learn by comparing the two outer verses of this passage, i.e. verses 12 and 15.

But before we can compare the two outer verses we must understand the meaning of some of the Greek words Paul used in these verses. Let us begin with the Greek word translated “fall” in the phrase, “the fall of them” in verse 12. That Greek word is “paraptoma”. Of the 23 times it is used in the New Testament it is translated “trespass”, “offence”.”fault. or “sin” 21 times and “fall’ only the two times in Romans, i.e. 11:11 and 12. Surely, the basic meaning of the Greek word is “offence” and/or “trespass”. So Rom. 11:12 should read, “Now if the offence of them” or, because the phrase “of them” indicates possessive case, “Now if their offence…..”.

The question one must ask is, to what offence is Paul referring? A clue is found in this verse, it is the offence that led to “the riches of the world”. What offence did Israel commit that led to the riches of the world? If we take the answer from the context I believe we may conclude that because of unbelief on the part of some Israelites, they were cut off from their national blessings and Gentile believers were grafted into the good olive tree in their place. So because of Israel’s offence, believing Gentiles were made rich by sharing in Israel’s national blessings. .

Let us go on with the phrase in verse 12, “the diminishing of them, the riches of the Gentiles”. The Greek word translated “diminishing” is “heeteema”. It is used only in Rom. 11:12 and I Cor. 6:7 where it is translated “fault”. That verse reads, “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another….”. I believe “fault” to be a better translation for two reasons: 1) the phrase “the diminishing of them” is a parallel to the first phrase of this verse, “now if their offence be the riches of the world”. “Fault” is a parallel thought to “offence”, but “diminish” is not. 2) Rom. 11:12 could be understood “if their fault“, but I Cor. 6:7 cannot be understood to mean “there is a diminishing among you”. In short, I believe the second half of Rom. 11:12 should read, “Their (Israel’s) fault, the riches of the Gentiles”. What was Israel’s “fault” that led to the riches of the Gentiles? It was the same as their offence of the first phrase of this verse, i.e. they refused to believe in their risen Messiah.

Now let us consider verse 15 of Rom. 11. That verse reads, “ For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?”. As mentioned above, I believe that the phrase of verse 12 which should read, “their (Israel’s) offence” corresponds with the phrase in verse 15 “for if the casting away of them”. Let us consider these two phrases together and I believe the reader will agree they explain each other.

As mentioned above, I believe that the offence of Israel was their unbelief. How does Israel’s offence correspond with the phrase in verse 15, “if the casting away of them”? Again, the phrase “of them” makes this possessive case. That is to say, it is Israel’s offence and it is Israel’s casting away. As it reads in the KJV however, one is left with the sense that Christ had cast Israel away. But we know that cannot be correct because, as proved in the section above, Israel had not been cast away. Also, the thought of Israel being cast away does not correlate with verse 12. I am suggesting therefore, that Paul is speaking in verse 15 of Israel’s casting away of Her risen Messiah. This is a) in keeping with the possessive case and b) it correlates with verse 12 and c) it does not contradict the context.

Let us go on with the phrase in verse 15 which reads, “the reconciling of the world”. God’s casting away of Israel did not reconcile the world, that was done at the cross. We read in II Cor. 5:20 ” God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself”. But if we consider this in context, it tells us the same thing as does the phrase in verse 12, “the riches of the world”. As stated above, the riches of the world refers to the fact that Gentiles were grafted into the good olive tree in the place of unbelieving Jews who were cut off. So too in verse 15, the “reconciling of the world” refers to the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in the good olive tree. In other words, as unbelieving Israelites rejected Christ and were consequently cut off from the good olive tree, believing Gentiles were grafted into the good olive tree and resulted in a reconciliation between Israelites and the believers of the world.

Now let us compare the phrase in verse 15 which reads, “what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead” with the phrase in verse 12 which should read, “their (Israel’s) fault, the riches of the Gentiles”. Again, the phrase in verse 15 “of them” tells us that this is the possessive case and could be translated, “what shall their receiving be”. I believe a better translation would add an ellipsis taken from the context and would read, “If Israel’s rejection {of Christ) be the reconciling of the world, what shall their acceptance (of Christ) be but life from the dead”. I believe that to be a better translation for the following reasons: a) it corresponds with verse 12 which is the corresponding verse, and b) because God had not at this point rejected Israel, there would be no discussion of Him receiving them, and c) God’s receiving Israel does not mean life from the dead.

Let us consider the phrase in verse 15 ” what shall their acceptance (of Christ) be but life from the dead”. This is in perfect agreement with what we read in the phrase of verse 12, “how much more their fulness”. That is to say, just as Israel’s fault, i.e. the unbelief of some of Israel, led to the full millennial blessings of the Gentiles when they were grafted into the good olive tree, so too if Israel had accepted their risen Messiah, Christ would have returned and there would have been “life from the dead”. This is well documented as we consider Acts 3.

We read in Acts 3:19 part of Peter’s message to Israel. He said that if they were to repent Christ would return. When Christ returns there will be life from the dead through resurrection. If Israel would have repented Christ would return and set up “the times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19) and the resurrection at His coming would be “life from the dead”.

THE MYSTERY OF ROMANS 11:25

“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 fullness of the Gentiles be come in“. There is no doubt as to what this mystery is, as Paul explains exactly what it is: “that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in”. But are these Gentiles those of the dispensation of the mystery?

Two things should be noted about this mystery. One is that Paul says, “blindness in part has happened to Israel”. This, together with Romans 11:1 where we read, “Hath God cast away His people? God forbid“, tells us that, as of the writing of Romans, Israel was still God’s people. That tells us that these Gentiles are not of the dispensation of the mystery because the dispensation of the mystery could not have started until Israel had been divorced at Acts 28. (Please see the paper on this web-site, What Exactly Is The Mystery That Had Been Hid In God? for the Scriptural evidence of that statement.)

The second phrase of this mystery is also worthy of note, “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in”. Some students of the Bible believe that Gentiles in the dispensation of the mystery are included in the phrase “fullness of the Gentiles”. That is to say, that the fullness of the Gentiles includes the Gentiles who accept Christ in the dispensation of the mystery. I respectfully disagree with that view and I offer the following reasons for that disagreement .

In order to determine if the Gentile believers of the present dispensation are included in the phrase “fulness of the Gentiles” we must consider the context. Verse 26 begins, “And so”. That tells us that verse 26 is the point of the preceding verse. In other words, verse 25 brings us to the point of verse 26 which begins, “and so”. What is the point of verse 26 that verse 25 has led us to?

Verse 26 reads, “And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob”. The phrase “as it is written” tells us that the proof that “all Israel shall be saved” is in the verse that is quoted. In other words, the coming of the Deliverer will save “all Israel”. This verse is quoted from Is. 59:20. If we are to be faithful students of the Word of God we must consider the context from which this verse is quoted

We read in Is. 59:20, “and the Redeemer shall come to Zion and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord”. The fact that the Redeemer shall come “unto them that turn from transgression” tells us that it not unbelieving Israel that shall be saved. The Redeemer shall come to believing Israel, i.e. those who have turned from transgression. We must bear in mind that “they are not all Israel that are of Israel”.

The phrase “the Redeemer shall come” obviously points to the end times when Christ, the “Redeemer” of Isaiah 59 and the “Deliverer” of Rom. 11, shall return. Let us consider other verses in the context of Is. 59 which speak of the end times.

We read in verse 17b-18, “He put on the garment of vengeance for clothing…. .according to their deeds, accordingly He will repay, fury to His adversariesrecompense to His enemies; to the islands He will repay recompense”. The phrase “the islands” obviously refers to Gentile nations, as Israel is not an island. Let us go on with verse 19 of Is. 59, “so shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against Him and the Redeemer shall come to Zion….”. “His glory from the rising of the sun” obviously refers to the end times’ millennial reign of Christ. Surely it is obvious that the vengeance and fury referred to in this context is that which will be seen in the end times, i.e. in the day of God’s vengeance. The vengeance of the end times is the time of God’s wrath. Believers will be saved from God’s wrath by the rapture, another end times event.

Having given the Scriptural evidence that sets Rom. 11:25-26 at the end times, we are now ready to consider the term, “shall be come in”. That is to say, the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in to what? Given the context of Is. 59, we must, in my opinion, conclude that they shall come in to the blessings of the end times, i.e. the millennial reign of Christ. Or taking the entire chapter 11 into account, the phrase “shall be come in” tells us that the Gentiles will come in to the blessings of Israel as depicted by the olive tree. This conclusion is in keeping with the the context of Rom 11:26b which reads, “and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” which is of course, a reference to the millennial reign of Christ. Consider also the next verse, “For this is My covenant unto them….”. The new covenant will be put into effect in the millennium.

The mystery of Rom. 11:25 is that blindness in part had happened to Israel until all Gentile believers shall be come in to the end times’ millennial blessings. The Gentiles of the dispensation of the mystery have nothing to do with millennial blessings, their calling is to heaven where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Therefore, the mystery of Roman 11:25 has nothing to do with Gentiles of the dispensation of the mystery, it has to do with the Gentile believers of the end times.

This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: janjoyce@aol.com