The eleventh chapter of Romans clearly reveals the profound
continuity between Israel and the Church. In this passage, Paul crafts a
careful analogy of an olive tree. Unbelieving Jews were taken out of the olive
tree, while believing Jew remained. At the same time, believing Gentiles were
grafted into this tree. The Gentiles were then solemnly warned by the apostle
not to sin in the same way the Jews had sinned, or they would certainly receive
the same treatment. A central distinctive of dispensationalism is the wall of
separation between Israel in the Old Testament and the Church of the New. The
question which dispensationalism must, therefore, face is this- what is the olive tree?
What is the Olive Tree? Paul teaches (Romans 11) that the Olive
Tree represents the place or stream of blessing. Before developing this I need
to identify the elements composing the Olive Tree illustration: The root refers to the Abrahamic Covenant
which promised blessings to both Israel and Gentiles. The natural branches are national Israel, while the wild
Gentiles. Thus, the Olive Tree is neither Israel nor the Church but is the place of
privilege or blessing. Since the purpose of Romans 11 is to argue that God has
not cast away
His people- Israel (11:1), therefore, the Olive Tree illustration includes a
depiction of future blessing for national Israel.
Agreed, the root refers to the blessing promised to Abraham
in the Abrahamic Covenant. That blessing was the promise of Christ (John 8:56;
Heb. 11:8-10). This means that both Israel and the Church are constituent parts
of the one covenant of grace seen throughout redemptive history, which is the
heart of what covenant theology has stood for. If the root is the Abrahamic
Covenant, then the olive tree represents the place or stream of covenantal
blessing. In the olive tree, Israel and our fathers were in covenant relation
to Christ (1 Cor. 10:4, 9; Heb. 11:24-26; 1 Pet. 1:11). In the olive tree, the
Church stands in that same relation and must guard herself against the same
temptations (1 Cor. 10:6, 11; Heb. 4:1).
Yes, I agree, Scripture teaches that the Abrahamic Covenant
does include the same gracious soteriological provision for Jews and Gentiles
alike. However, Christ is only one element of the Abrahamic Covenant. Why do
you ignore and overlook the several other promises in multiple repeated
statements of the Abrahamic Covenant? Such biblical facts are why
dispensationalists emphasize discontinuities, not in salvation, but in other
aspects of the plan of God. On the other hand, covenant theology sees all
aspects of the plan of God through the reductionist lens of the Covenant of
Grace, which is never stated in Scripture. The two peoples of God are noted as
the natural branches (Israel) and the wild branches (Gentiles).
We have agreed that believing Jews and Gentiles are both
attached to the same root, and that the root is the Abrahamic Covenant. On
what exegetical basis, then, do you limit the covenantal blessings and promises
which will proceed from that root to the ingrafted branches? In contrast, Paul
says, " . . . 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 . . ." (v. 17)
In the illustration Paul gives, we see his express statement that whatever the
broken-off Jews used to have, believing Gentiles now have. He does not even hint that believing Gentiles
have access only to the soteriological sap.
The illustration does not establish which blessings flow from the root.
Thus, your misguided assumption that Gentiles takeover all of Israel' s blessings are not even hinted at in
the passage. Six other texts define the scope of Abraham' s Covenant (Gen.
12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 22:15-18) yielding fourteen provisions,
categorized into three areas: Abraham individually, the Seed (Israel), the
Gentiles. Abraham is the model of salvation in the NT so that Jews and
Gentiles alike are saved by grace through faith alone (Gal. 3- 4; Rom. 2- 4).
Romans 11 supports Paul' s thesis that God has not rejected Israel, though they
are temporarily set aside until a future time. Meanwhile, Israel (Rom. 15:27)
shares " their spiritual things" (i.e., soteriological, cf. 1 Cor. 9:11, 14)
In a tree, all blessings flow from the root. In a tree, all
the branches benefit fully from partaking of such blessings. Sap flows to all
branches. The illustration Paul uses is one of organic connection, and not
discontinuity. In order to make the point you desire, a different image is
required - say, the soil of the Abrahamic Covenant, supporting a Jewish olive
tree and Gentile peach tree. In Paul' s teaching here, believing Gentiles do
not takeover Israel' s blessings; they join with believing Israel in partaking
of the root and fatness of the tree. I agree this is not hinted at in the
passage; it is expressly stated, both here and elsewhere (Eph. 2:11-13).
The focus of the illustration is on the branches. Note the
sequence: natural branches removed, wild branches grafted in, and then natural
branches restored. This depicts discontinuity! This, combined with other
passages, supports a dispensational understanding. Once again, Paul' s thesis
is that God has not cast off His elect people- national Israel. You are arguing that He
has. There is soteriological unity, but the Church and Israel are distinct and
sequential programs. Currently individual Jews and Gentiles are joined in one
body- the Church (Eph. 2- 3). There are scores of OT passages that speak of a
restored Israel fulfilling her glorious reign with Christ. Paul pictures and
defends the same restoration in Romans 11.
Between verses 16 and 24, the root or olive tree is
mentioned expressly seven times, and branches are mentioned six times. What is
the basis of your assertion that the focus of the illustration is on the
branches? And even if we focus on the branches as you request nothing really
changes- natural branches are removed from the tree, wild branches grafted into
the same tree, alongside believing natural branches that were never removed
from the tree. The only discontinuity in this passage is that experienced by
the unbelieving rebellious Jews who were excommunicated from the Abrahamic
Covenant. But Paul gloriously prophecies that this is not permanentó they will
be grafted back in again. Agreed?
Romans 11 demonstrates that while Covenant Theologians may
have rejected national Israel, " God has not rejected His people." The branches
represent relationship to Abrahamic blessing and pass through three stages
(dispensations): First, rejection because of national Israel' s unbelief.
Second, Gentiles grafted in with the Jewish remnant during this age (church).
Third, a future graft of national Israel when " all Israel will be saved."
Discontinuity occurs between phase two and three, as with one and two,
conflicting with your understanding of the passage. Paul indicates that
current Gentile favor will be replaced by a return to Jewish branches,
conflicting with your notion that national Israel is finished and will be saved
during the current church age.
It is not enough to assert that discontinuity exists between
your phases; you must show this discontinuity using Paul' s figure of the olive
tree. Discontinuity does exist between the wild olive tree and the Gentiles
who were taken out of it to be grafted into the Abrahamic covenant. Discontinuity
does exist between the cultivated olive tree and the unbelieving Jews who were
taken out of that. But with regard to the Abrahamic covenant and all the
branches organically attached to it, how is there discontinuity?
Dispensationalism requires discontinuity between the connected branches of 10
B.C. and the connected branches of 40 A.D. That kind of discontinuity cannot
be found in Paul' s illustration and is contradicted by it.
You illustrate the classic error of Covenant Theology regarding
Romans 11. You rightly see past discontinuity between removal of some natural branches and
replacement by wild branches, which are co-equal in the church. However, you
consistently ignore future discontinuity planned by God. Since past discontinuity is
valid, so is the future one. This is not mere assertion, but textually
derived! Don' t forget, this illustration supports Paul' s argument for a future
national Israel. Your distorted characterization of dispensationalism
producing two trees aids in your misunderstanding. This illustration does not
deal with all issues relating to our discussion by proving or disproving the
dispensational view, but it supportively allows our view, which is clarified
through related passages.
Look. The only future discontinuity prophesied is between
unbelieving Israel and her unbelief. And of course there is a glorious future
for ethnic Israel when grafted back in again. Paul uses an a fortiori argument to show if God can graft in
wild branches, how much more will the former branches take to the tree again
(v. 24). By emphasizing discontinuity you show you are looking in the wrong
place, and missing the glory of the illustration. If I were to cut branches
off a tree, and we were looking at it, we would see continuity looking at the
tree, and discontinuity looking at branches on the ground. Why are you looking
at the ground?
I am looking at the passage. Paul' s use of the illustration
is controlled by the context. You separate the illustration from contextual
control by arguing from elements of a tree not featured in Romans 11. I would
discontinuity, except to show its inclusion in the illustration. It supports a
dispensational interpretation by teaching a future for, not just ethnic, but national Israel through future conversion.
National Israel was broken off; national Israel will be grafted into the tree
in the future. Paul' s Olive Tree illustration does allow a future, literal
fulfillment of all
Abrahamic promises for national Israel. Such a future fulfillment is denied
by you, even though this passage supports it.
You say I argue from " elements of a tree not featured in
Romans 11." Did you have an example of this in mind? And were the
first-century Jews who lived in Alexandria and Damascus part of national Israel
or ethnic Israel? And when national Israel is grafted back in again, where
will that leave the believing Jews who remain in Brooklyn? And even granting
your distinction between the two, when and where have I denied anything to a
future nation of Israel? Still, these questions are all peripheral. A central
issue you must address, given your scenario, is this. When national Israel is
grafted back, will believing Gentiles be in the tree with them simultaneously?
Example: suppositional statements. Israel will be
regathered to Jerusalem (Mt. 24:31; cf. Dt. 30:4; Isa. 11:12; Dan. 12:1).
Covenant Theology denies Israel a distinct national future. All blessing is Abrahamic, whether
Israel or church. " These three chapters emphatically forbid us to speak of the
Church as having once and for all taken the place of the Jewish people. . . .
But the assumption that the Church has simply replaced Israel as the people of
God is extremely common. . . . I confess with shame to having also myself used
in print on more than one occasion this language of the replacement of Israel
by the Church" (Cranfield ICC, Romans, II:448). Covenant Theology needs repentance!
Consider how Paul' s illustration would have to go in order
to match your position. " God established the Abrahamic root. From this root,
the branches of national Israel grew. God then cut off all these Jewish
branches, leaving a completely naked stump. Then He grafted in the believing
Gentiles, along with some believing Jews He had just cut out - so that they
could be in the tree, but not part of Israel. At some future date, the tree
will be completely shaved again, removing all the believing Gentiles to an
unspecified place. Then distinct national Israel will be grafted back in
again." This view has strengths, but being in Romans 11 is not one of them.