Christianity 201

May 1, 2012

What Theologians Talk About: Grafted In

So when theologians and seminary academics get together, I somehow doubt they turn on the television to watch 30 Rock or The Voice.  And definitely not The Simpsons. Chances are it’s more like the item we chose to post here today.  Actually, this one is too long to post in full, even with a page break, so you must link; but even if you only get halfway through, it’s important to know that:

  1. There is still not consensus about the interpretation of every single Bible passage, even among Evangelicals,  however…
  2. We can learn a lot in the discovery process of looking at the Biblical evidence that supports different positions, and hearing the heart behind each commentary.
  3. We presently see through a glass darkly; we’re not all theologians…

For example, consider this passage in Romans:

NIV 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off,  and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others  and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 

and this, earlier in Romans:

NIV9:6 It is not as though God’s word  had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.( Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children,  but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Questions arise

  • Are we grafted in to the promises given to Abraham and Old Testament Israel or are we grafted in to the church?
  • Is Israel the ethnic, national Israel or does it refer to a spiritual Israel?
  • Is there a relationship between the olive tree in Romans and John’s vine and branches narrative?
  • Biblically speaking, is every Jew an Israelite?
  • If Israel is in unbelief, how can we be grafted in to that?

Hey, I didn’t say this was easy.

Calvin L. Smith of King’s Evangelical Divinity School in the UK attempts to answer this. He posted his answers on February 12th.  He begins:

In Romans 11:17-24 the Apostle Paul likens Gentile believers to a wild olive shoot grafted into a cultivated olive tree.  The obvious question is, what is it that Gentiles are grafted into? Less obvious, it would appear from the widely differing interpretations, is the answer. Consequently there is considerable division among Christians over the relationship between the Church and Israel. This post explores this issue. It is rather lengthy (I do, eventually, get to an answer), but that’s because I’m often asked about this so it makes sense to post something with a little detail I can people them to…

Continue reading here…  Even if you only scan this or only dig deep into three or four paragraphs, there is value to this, because God’s word is living and active… and sometimes challenging.

HT: Living Journey