With reference to Paul’s olive tree metaphor in Romans 11, it’s common to hear that Gentiles who follow Jesus have been “grafted into Israel.” Based on this assertion, non-Jews are assumed to have become a part of Israel and, therefore, should follow the Torah commands given to God’s people at Sinai. Yet, this reading of Romans is imprecise. While it’s true that Paul describes the nations being “grafted in” to a metaphorical olive tree (11:11-24), this image does not suggest that non-Jews are now “Israel.” Paul proclaims that Gentiles share the blessings of God alongside Israel, but not as Israel.

In Romans 11, Paul describes an olive tree with different branches. Some of these branches are “natural” (φύσις; phúsis; Rom 11:21) and have been a part of the tree from the start. But Paul also mentions another kind of branch: a “wild olive shoot” (ἀγριέλαιος; agriélaios; 11:17) that has been grafted into the plant from elsewhere. The wild branch is an individualized metaphor for Gentiles who have put their faith in the Jewish Messiah; these non-Israelite Jesus followers are now in the same “olive tree” as the natural Jewish branches—grafted in “among them” (ἐν αὐτοῖς; en autois; 11:17). Paul’s rhetoric leads some readers to conclude that believing Gentiles have been transformed into members of Israel and, as such, this gives all Jesus followers license to observe every aspect of the Mosaic Law—including commands like circumcision and dietary stipulations, whose function had been to set apart Israel from the other nations. 

Though this reading of Romans may sound compelling, Paul does not assert that Gentiles have become part of Israel. Rather, Romans says that the wild olive shoot was grafted into the tree among the natural branches of Israel that had been there all along (11:17). Once the wild shoot has been grafted, however, it does not become “natural”—that is, Gentiles do not become “Israel.” Referring to some of the natural Jewish branches that have been “broken” (ἐκκλάω; ekkláo) due to unbelief, Paul tells Gentiles to consider their own position, saying, “If God did not spare the natural branches (φύσιν κλάδων; phúsin kládon), neither will he spare you” (11:21). In other words, it would be easier for God to break the olive tree’s wild, recently grafted Gentile branches than the natural branches of Israel. In this scenario, Paul calls Israelites the “natural branches” and distinguishes them from “you” (σοῦ; sou)—i.e., the representative Gentile whom he warns. Therefore, a distinction remains between those of Israel and those of the nations.

In fact, while the natural branches on the tree have been “broken” (ἐκκλάω; ekkláo), Paul warns that the unnaturally grafted Gentile branches will be “cut off” (ἐκκόπτω; ekkópto) if they aren’t careful (11:22). Though Jews and Gentiles in Jesus are all part of the same olive tree, some of its branches remain “natural,” while others have been grafted in “against nature” (κατὰ φύσιν; kata phúsin; 11:24). More, Paul has ethnic Jews in mind when he notes that the metaphorical plant is “their own olive tree” (τῇ ἰδίᾳ ἐλαίᾳ)—the tree belongs to Israel, and Gentiles have been fortunate enough to be grafted onto that tree through faith.  

But if Gentiles don’t become “Israel,” into what have they been grafted? Paul states that Gentile newcomers “share in the rich root (ῥίζα; rhíza) of the olive tree” (11:17). This “root” is not the nation of Israel, but rather Jesus himself. Near the end of Romans, Paul quotes from Isaiah 11:10 LXX to show that Jesus emerges from the house of David and governs all the nations: “The root (ῥίζα) of Jesse will come; he who arises to rule the Gentiles” (Rom 15:12). Thus, when Paul mentions the “root” of the olive tree, he’s talking about Yeshua. It is this messianic root that Gentiles now share with Israel, and Paul underscores this reality with a further quotation of Deuteronomy 32:43: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” (Rom 15:10). Jesus’ Gentile followers worship God with the people of Israel, but not as Israel. The nations are adopted into the family of God alongside the biological children, and Paul assures Gentiles that this adoption will instill them with “hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).

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161 COMMENTS

  1. Perspicacious as always Dr. Nick, thank you. As much as certain stipulations of Torah don’t apply to Gentile believers, particularly external markers; does this same principle apply to the blessings bestowed on Israel in Torah/Tanakh? In other words, are those grafted in legit recipients of all the blessings of Israel?
    • Thanks, Stanley. Yes, the ingrafted Gentiles receive all the same blessings. Per the article, "Paul proclaims that Gentiles share the blessings of God."
  2. I will tell you a funny story. Ones, years ago, I belonged to such a group - we believed that we were Israel and we also used this text from Romans 11 to prove it. One day, 30 years ago maybe - someone took a group photo of us. And guess what, years later it appeared that nearly everyone in the photo was-is really Jewish with real Jewish origin but we had no idea about it when we had started doing the law and it started with Shabbat and dietary law, then other holy days.
  3. I am comming to israel in the name of god to judge you finally, if you dont receive me, you are all doomed, NOW RETURN TO YOUR BOOKS AND SEE IF SUCH A PROPHESY WAS TOLD BY YOUR LORD JESUS...hmm
    • Please refer to Romans 11: 1. Even with the rejection of Christ by His contemporaries, and continuing until today via their offspring, God will never turn His back on Israel. Every Jew born will be salvaged from hell by God and Christ by their finally believing in Christ as Messiah.
  4. just yesterday I was discussing with my wife regarding the same verse, saying we are from the wild Olive tree but in HIS grace HE ingrafted us (as I am a Hindu convert and in HIS ministry for the past thirty-five years) as a branch but you have said correctly.
    • all the promises of God are realized in Christ Jesus. Either you are in Christ, Israel or gentile. That jew gentile thing is erased in Christ. There is no division in God. Jesus fulfilled that covenant that no jew has ever fulfilled....Jesus did it and that was always God's intent.

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  5. "Therefore, a distinction remains between those of Israel and those of the nations." Do those Jews from Isreal need to do anything more themselves to be sure they will be in Heaven with God forever?
  6. Dr. Schaser It seems to me you are giving your own imprecise assumptions. MOST GENTILE CRISTIANS ARE NOT INTERESTED IN OBSERVING EVERY ASPECT OF THE MOSAIC LAW! Most Christians believe…he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Rom 2:26-29). Paul, explained "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). Gentile converts did not need to be under the same commandments Jews agreed to under the Mosaic Covenant.
    • Joseph, Romans 2:26-29 does not refer to Gentiles being "inward" or "spiritual" Jews. Paul states that ethnic Jews must also be circumcised inwardly -- a concept he reiterates from earlier declarations to Israel (cf. Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4). However, these verses do not suggest that Gentile Christians become "Jews" on any level. Galatians 3:28 does not abrogate ethnic distinctions any more than it does gender or societal distinctions -- that is, for Paul "male and female" still very much exist in Christ. The same is true for Jews and Gentiles (cf. Gal 2:15; Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; 3:9). Paul means that there is no theological distinction between Jews and Greeks; in Christ, all are equal in God's eyes (see Rom 10:12).

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