|A71 : by Tony Garland |
Paul's teaching in Romans 11 needs to be seen within the context of the entire passage (Romans 9-11) as well as his teaching elsewhere in the New Testament. There are a number of reasons why Romans 11 does not teach that the Church "joins" Israel.
- The Root and the Branches - It is vitally important to carefully read the distinctions that Paul makes in Romans 11 between the root, natural branches, and wild olive tree.
And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. (Romans 11:17-18)
Notice especially that Paul makes a distinction between the root and the natural branches — they are not one and the same. He goes on to state that branches from the wild olive tree (representing the Gentiles) have been grafted in among the natural branches and "became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree." The branches that now partake of the root are both believing Jews (natural branches which have not been broken off) and believing Gentiles (from the wild olive tree). But what precisely is the root? Is it "Israel?" To this question, we must answer "no." Why? Because what constitutes Israel includes both the natural branches that remain and those that were broken off. Therefore Israel includes unbelieving Jews which are certainly not part of the root since they lack faith.
I believe the root refers to the promises made to the fathers: Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob — who is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Rom. 9:4; 11:28). These promises—which the faithful of all nations are participating in—started with Abraham and predate Israel itself (Gen. 12:2-3). This is why believers are called "sons of Abraham" by faith (Gal. 3:7-8,29 cf. Rom. 4:11-18) but never "sons of Jacob" or "sons of Israel" or even "Israel." Romans 11 is teaching that both believing Jews (natural branches) and believing Gentiles (branches grafted in from a wild olive tree) are sharing in and being sustained by the same root: the promises originating in Abraham.
Two types of branches remain without support from the root: (1) the natural branches which were broken off (unbelieving Jews, still a part of Israel) and, (2) unbelieving Gentiles (who remain in the wild olive tree having not come to faith). See the diagram below which illustrates these relationships.
- Who is Israel? - Another reason why the Church is not joined to Israel is that the Church is never called "Israel." As can be seen by Paul's consistent use of the term in the book of Romans (not to mention elsewhere in the New Testament), the term "Israel" always denotes those who are of physical descent from Jacob (who is Israel—the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham). For example, near the end of Romans 11, Paul states:
And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins. Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. (Rom. 11:26-28)
We notice several important points in this passage: (1) The term "Israel" is applied consistently to the offspring of Jacob—the Jews; (2) the term "Israel" is applied to "enemies" of the gospel—referring in this context to the non-believing portion of the Jews; (3) Israel is said to be beloved for the "sake of the fathers"—this is the root which supports the Church.
Clearly, the term "Israel" does not denote believing Gentiles and the Church is not joined to Israel (here called enemies of the gospel).
We elaborate on this distinction between Israel and the Church in the context of Romans 9 more fully in questions 42a and 48b.
- One New Man - In the book of Ephesians, Paul speaks about how the Gentiles were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Surely, if Paul were to teach that the Church now "joins" Israel, this would be the place! He has just said that the Gentiles were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, so perhaps now he will clearly state that the Church is now part of the commonwealth of Israel in the NT—or that perhaps the Church replaced Israelc and is the "New Israel" in the plan of God. Yet he says no such thing:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Eph. 2:13-16)
Notice important aspects of what Paul has just said: (1) Christ has joined believing Jews and Gentiles together; (2) what separated them was the law of commandments—the very thing which was uniquely Israel's and served to separate her from the Gentile nations; (3) the merger which has now resulted is said to be "one new man," also called "one body." This refers to the body of Christ—which is the Church—not Israel. Believing Gentiles are not joined to Israel and her law. Instead, both believing Jews and believing Gentiles are joined in a new spiritual formation: the body of Christ.
For a more in-depth treatment of these topics, see the detailed course on course on Romans 9-11d.
Wild and Natural Branches