Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
These verses continue Paul’s opposition to Gentile prejudice against Jews. Paul hoped that Gentile Christians would desire the conversion of Jews. Neither group would lose by the conversion of the other. Salvation in both groups would bring joy to all.
Paul stresses the unique position held by Jews. They should not be disdained. His argument centers in an illustration from the world of horticulture. He will speak of grafting, which is inserting a branch from one plant into the stem of another plant.
This is a common, and very beneficial, practice. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century, a terrible disease, phylloxera, destroyed almost all the grapevine roots in France. The vineyards were ultimately saved only because there was a strain of California vines whose roots were immune to phylloxera. The California roots were imported and the French vines were grafted onto them. Hardly a grapevine in France is not “descended” from a California root (a fact the French hate to admit).
Even as gardeners use grafting for good, God Himself does, too, as we will see in these following verses.
ROMANS 11:16 “FOR IF THE FIRST FRUIT BE HOLY, THE LUMP IS ALSO HOLY, AND IF THE ROOT BE HOLY, SO ARE THE BRANCHES.”
A principle permeated the offerings of Judaism: giving the first portion signified giving the whole. The example cited is taken from Numbers 15:20. To symbolize that all their bread products were from the Lord, Jews offered to Him the first cake made from a new grain crop. Giving the first portion consecrated all.
Paul applies this principle to Israel. The root, or “first portion,” of Israel was the patriarchs. “Branches” were the nation as a whole. God set apart the patriarchs as holy unto Himself to picture His desire for all Israelites to be holy.
Israel was set apart by YHWH to live for Him. Most Israelites failed in fulfilling their destiny, but that did not negate the fact God desired them to live for Him. God still wants them to serve Him. Therefore, we must also desire their salvation.
ROMANS 11:17 “AND IF SOME OF THE BRANCHES BE BROKEN OFF, AND THOU, BEING A WILD OLIVE TREE, WERT GRAFTED IN AMONG THEM, AND WITH THEM PARTAKEST OF THE ROOT AND FATNESS OF THE OLIVE TREE;. . .”
From the patriarchal “root,” God developed a cultivated olive tree. It was beautiful and beloved. Sadly, it became primarily unresponsive to the Gardener’s touch. This cultivated olive, which represents the nation of Israel, began to grow weak. Branches had to be lopped off.
These cut-off branches were those which refused to respond in faith to Jesus. Of course, those olive branches were still olive wood. Every Jew can honestly claim the privilege of physical descent from Abraham. However, Abraham had a spiritual life in addition to his physical one. The greatest benefits of God, including salvation, flow to those who share this inner spiritual life that Abraham enjoyed. A Jew who does not share the spiritual life of Abraham is a “branch removed.”
While the cultivated tree was being nurtured, wild olives were growing out in the wilderness, among the thorns and briars of life. These wild olives, which picture the Gentiles, produced poor fruit and little oil. Essentially, they were useless.
However, God in grace allowed certain wild olive branches, Gentile believers, to be engrafted into the root of the cultivated olive tree. Saved Gentiles are grafted into the spiritual blessings promised to Abraham. Paul wanted prejudiced Gentile believers to know their spiritual family tree had Jewish roots.
An engrafted branch has no vitality of its own. Its vigor is derived from the root. Every saved Gentile draws support and nourishment from the root system of Israel’s national heritage.
The Jewish root is still with us. The new testament is built upon the old. An old covenant undergirds the new. God could have cut down every branch of His cultivated olive tree. He could have uprooted it entirely. However, he chose not to do that. Jewish believers are allowed to remain as branches, and the root still sends forth nourishment. God chose to retain the heritage transmitted from the likes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Elijah.
ROMANS 11:18 “BOAST NOT AGAINST THE BRANCHES. BUT IF THOU BOAST, THOU BEAREST NOT THE ROOT, BUT THE ROOT THEE.”
Paul dealt straightforwardly with the arrogance evidently manifesting itself among Gentile believers. He wanted them to acknowledge their spiritual roots. They were in debt to Jews.
Were not Peter and Paul Jews? Was not Jesus the Christ a Jew? The Lord had even said, “Salvation is of the Jews” (JN 4:22). It is not any Gentile’s place to lord it over the Jews.
In fact, it is never anyone’s place to lord it over anyone else. Salvation by grace excludes all boasting. Grace should humble us, not make us proud. In the eyes of God, no nationality or ethnic group has any advantage. All are equally sinners. Every group has mountains of dirt attached to its reputation.
Nevertheless, our prejudices refuse to die. In many cases, the church has become the very thing Paul deplored. We are often haughty toward those who are “different.” May God burn within us the meaning of Jesus’ words, “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer” (MK 11:17).