‘The Root’ In Paul’s Olive Tree Metaphor (Romans 11:16-24) -- By: Svetlana Khobnya

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 64:2 (NA 2013)
Article: ‘The Root’ In Paul’s Olive Tree Metaphor (Romans 11:16-24)
Author: Svetlana Khobnya


‘The Root’ In Paul’s Olive Tree Metaphor (Romans 11:16-24)

Svetlana Khobnya

Summary

In Romans 11:16-24 Paul addresses the subject of the Jewish and Gentile inclusion in the people of God using the illustration of the olive tree. How this description fits Paul’s argument in Romans or what precisely Paul communicates by this comparison remains unclear. This essay suggests that Paul’s awareness of living in the time when scripture is being fulfilled in Christ determines how we should read the olive tree metaphor. It proposes that the olive tree and the whole process of its rejuvenation pictures the restoration of Israel and the addition of the Gentiles into God’s people on the basis of the fulfilment of God’s promises in Christ, the very root of the tree. In this light the olive tree metaphor becomes lucid and fits Paul’s overall discussion in Romans.

1. Introduction

Fundamental to Paul’s defence of God’s faithfulness is his contention in Romans 11:1-10 that God has not abandoned his historic people. God has saved a remnant according to the election of grace, and the present rejection of most of Israel, described as the branches broken off the cultivated olive tree, is not permanent (11:11-24). God has the power to graft his people back again (11:23). Finally, Paul asserts that all Israel will be saved (11:26). In the meantime, the Gentile believers should not feel themselves superior to unbelieving Jews. It is through the unbelief of Israel that the Gentiles (the ‘wild olive shoot’) are grafted in the tree.

Scholars struggle to provide a satisfactory explanation of Paul’s olive tree metaphor because it is ‘as cryptic as the mystery’,1 ‘as puzzling as it is popular’.2 Campbell argues that the metaphor is a part of ‘a sustained engagement with the question of Jewish salvation in relation to Christ’.3 Paul’s pastoral concern is to discourage ‘any pagan anti-Jewishness’ that could be ‘a latent possibility’.4 This issue could be connected with the friction between the weak and the strong (ch. 14). If so, then Paul tries ‘to ensure that his earlier arguments do not devolve into insensitive behaviour toward either Jews (so 11:17-32)You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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