Romans 11:20, referring to Israel, says:

"Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble." (NIV)

Romans 11:22, referring to Gentiles, says:

"Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off." (NIV)

What do the terms 'broken off' and 'cut off' mean in these two verses in context? It sounds as though Israel was once a saved nation, but everyone ended up lost due to their unbelief. But this can't be true because there were still faithful Jews around the time of Jesus' incarnation, e.g. Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and her husband. At Pentecost thousands of Jews put their faith in Jesus and later Saul (the apostle Paul) came to faith in Jesus.

This chapter can't therefore refer to individual Jews being cut off and never being able to find salvation in the Messiah. So who was 'broken off' in verse 20? And what were they broken off from? They couldn't have been cut off from Jesus because He wasn't incarnated in the Old Testament days, so they couldn't have been grafted into Him, could they?

And whatever 'broken off' means, this presumably explains the meaning of the possibility of gentiles being 'cut off' in verse 22?

  • @susan Just wondering why Susan's name appears as editor of this question when I (Marisa) edited Daniel's original? :-)
    – Marisa
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:15
  • @Marisa: You did indeed edit the original, and if you review the editing history, it captures your edit, but Susan edited it later by editing the tag. Hence, her name will appear as she was the last one to edit.
    – user862
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 15:06
  • Thanks. No problem. It just had me baffled. I'm not sure where the editing history tab is, I'll navigate around and I'm sure to find it.
    – Marisa
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:05
  • - daniel275Ens - I know this is insufficient - but A.): "cut off, כרת" is incredibly significant in Judaism, and idiomatic. B.) There are several ways a person could be "cut off" from Israel. C.) More literally, it means "to put down, or take down" - like when initiating a covenant, you "take it down"; D.) The term becomes relevant in Romans - in the context of the Passover, (from Exodus 12:15 & 19) - where God, very explicitly, says they would be cut off - if they did not properly remember and observe the Passover. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:55
  • @Marisa If you click on the "edited 12 hours ago" text above my name, you will see the edit history.
    – Susan
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 0:23

6 Answers 6


Paul says:

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
-- Romans 9:6

He has come to this conclusion based on passages such as this:

Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.

And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day; And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standardbearer fainteth. And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God. For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.
-- Isaiah 10:16-23 (KJV)

Isaiah here refers to, his fat ones that shall suffer leanness, and his thorns and briars that shall be burned with fire, and the glory of his forest that shall be consumed.

These are the ones of whom Paul says, "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.", and are the branches he says are being "broken off" and "cut off" from the olive tree because they are blighted. They either produce no fruit at all, or they produce defective fruit, so pruning them out is the best option for the husbandman.

But, continuing with Isaiah's analogy, his forest shall not be consumed entirely. So, Yahweh will preserve a remnant - the remnant of Israel and the remnant of Jacob, the number of whom would not be beyond a child to write down.

These are the branches that remain on Paul's olive tree, because they are producing fruit. They will be joined, as he is arguing in Romans 11, by the wild olive branches that will be grafted into the tree by the husbandman.

The expectation is still that the branches bear fruit, and any wild olive branches that do not do so, can be pruned out just as the natural branches have been.


The following overview is only a general tentative inductive analysis, without which an answer would be otherwise very difficult to provide. The answer to the OP question appears in bolded font in the last paragraph. The discussion provides the background to understand the context for the answer. Any kind feedback is welcome.

The Day of Pentecost was the formal announcement and presentation of the New Covenant to Israel. According to Jewish oral tradition, on the same Day of Pentecost, Moses had received the Law from heaven on Mount Sinai. Thus the Old Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant had their formal day of presentation on the same Day of Pentecost.

Shortly after the Day of Pentecost, the Jewish Sanhedrin of the First Century rejected this New Covenant as announced by the disciples and now apostles of Jesus of Nazareth. Subsequent to this rejection by the national leaders of Israel, the Roman Centurion and Gentile Cornelius was the first to receive entrance into the New Covenant without any direct intervention and intercession of the Jewish apostles such as the laying of hands to receive the Holy Spirit. In other words, Peter was surprised when Cornelius and his friends and family had received the Holy Spirit, since they were not Jews (to whom the New Covenant was given), but Gentiles. Gentiles were now becoming partakers of the New Covenant and they were receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit through nothing more than believing the audible presentation of the Gospel message. The laying of hands was no longer necessary, which appeared to have been required for conversions before Cornelius.

Confusion then resulted for Christians, who at the time were only comprised of Jews, who observed that unqualified Gentiles were now appearing to enter into the New Covenant through nothing more than an oral presentation of the Gospel message. The Apostle Paul then dispelled confusion based on divine revelation received only by him. He mentioned that the "mystery" was in effect. (Its beginning point and its end point were never known or revealed, and therefore the mystery.) What Paul meant was that an indefinite intercalary period began shortly after Pentecost (apparently with Cornelius), which now provided direct ontological union into the Body of Christ for anyone (Jew or Gentile), which results in one single identity in Christ Jesus. The New Covenant therefore is now "opened" to anyone in the world willing to believe the Gospel message. This union with the Body of the Christ (Messiah) was never an explicit description of the New Covenant, which is also part of the mystery.

However, at some indefinite period in the future, the mystery will end (the rapture, which is part of the mystery), and Gentiles will no longer have this direct access and entrée into the New Covenant. (At this precise point is when Gentiles will be broken or cut off.) The New Covenant will then resort to become again the exclusive province of Jews who are Christians, whose direct intervention and intercession (such as the laying of hands) will be necessary for Gentiles to enter into the New Covenant. These Christians (Jews and Gentiles) will be Christians, but they will only enter into ontological union with the Body of Christ at a later time, which will be the wedding supper of the Lamb, when all believers of all ages become one ontological Body of Christ.

  • ''At this precise point is when Gentiles will be broken or cut off,'' This idea isn't scriptural because only a number of gentiles are grafted in, period! Nobody can be ''cut off'' who was never part of the covenant to start with, and no gentile nations were a part of that covenant. They simply come in and can go out if they wish. Not so for Israelite. Cut-off is for those that were His servants in any capacity.
    – Ted O
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 0:31
  • @TedO - Access into Israel's New Covenant today comes through direct ontological union into the Body of Christ. At the Last Supper, Jesus described his body and blood through the terms of the New Covenant. This direct access today allows Gentiles to avoid having to rely on intermediary believing Jews, who would otherwise have to mediate access to Israel's New Covenant for Gentiles.
    – Joseph
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 1:16
  • I agree with the way gentiles come into Israel's covenant with God. However Messiah's covenant isn't entered into until one PRACTICES His ways. These 'ways' are the ''blood that saves.'' Blood signifies lifestyles (ref: Ezekiel 16:6), and by which men are damned, that is cut-off , or by which men are saved, that is ''gathered to their people,''( Genesis 25:17). All men by nature are born 'cut -offs' until they 'wash in the blood of the Lamb,' that is, until they PRACTICE words of Messiah. That's why I found your notion of 'cut -off' not clear.
    – Ted O
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 1:40

I think including the previous verse might help the understanding:

You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”

Not "all branches", but "branches".

As you suggest, not all Jews were unbelievers, but those who remained unbelievers were broken off. It is true that thousands of Jews were added to the Church, but a key backdrop of the Book of Acts was the rejection of Christ and persecution of His followers by Jews who did not believe.

Verse 22 is essentially an admonition not to be smug. Yes, it is true that some branches were broken off for your sake (v.19), but do not think that you, too, will not be cut off if you do not continue in [His] kindness.


The meaning of "broken" off and "cut off" refers to Israel’s unbelief in Jesus as Lord and Savior as outlined in Romans 11:20. This cutting off is a result of Israel’s own spiritual blindness(Romans 11:25). Israel, in all actuality, had cut themselves off through their own unbelief and spiritual hardening of heart.(Psalm 81:12) Through this cutting off dispensation, a remnant of Israel was preserved so that not all of Israel was cut off. (Romans 11:5) This preservation of the remnant of believers was in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham to preserve his seed through faith.(Genesis 17:7);(Galatians 3:29). Not until the dispensation of “the fullness of the Gentiles have come in,” then will God heal Israel’s spiritual blindness (which they bought upon themselves) and will give them a new heart.(Romans 11:25)(Hosea 14:4) This too is in keeping with God’s promise in that he would gather the lost sheep of Israel from the four corners of the earth and restore them not only to their homeland but will restore them in the faith through his son Jesus .(Isaiah 11:12);(Jeremiah 29:14). God has promised to never “entirely” cut off Israel. It is written: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace(Roman’s 11:5).


In God vs. Cast off from God

Undoutedly, St. Paul is saying that a certain number (not necessarily all) of the Jews were "cut off" because of their unbelief.

What is it to be 'cut off'

"Cut off" can be a Hebraism for literally killed, or cast off from something you possess or are to be the recipient of.

Here, it means the heavenly inheritance (ultimate salvation and the promises to those who are to recieve it) as "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16):

The natural branches refers to those grafted into God 'originally,' i.e. the Jews. 'You' here refers to the Gentiles, to whom he writes.

Since the natural branches did not accept the Christ, they are "not..[spared]." Thus, St. Paul warns those who have newly accepted Christ and been grafted in 'unnaturally' (that is, not being Israel literally, but spiritually, grafted in on account of Christ and being His Body, and on His account recieving the promises) not to fall into the same unbelieve, otherwise they too will be "cut off." There is no way around this, it means you can lose your salvation or be 'ungrafted' off from the branch just as easily as you were grafted in—if it can happen to the natural branches, much more so us, the 'unnatural' branches:

Romans 11:19-24

Thou wilt say then: The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. [You say] well: because of unbelief they were broken off. But thou standest by faith: be not highminded, but fear. For if God hath not spared the natural branches, fear lest perhaps he also spare not thee. See then the goodness and the severity of God: towards them indeed that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the wild olive tree, which is natural to thee; and, contrary to nature, were grafted into the good olive tree; how much more shall they that are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

St. Paul clearly teaches that the Jews became "cut off" (meaning they were once part of the original 'vine') and that we must be fearful lest the same happen to us.

Jesus teaches precisely this in His parable (one of the more explicit ones) about Him being the Vine into which we are actually grafted:

John 15:1-10

I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If any one abide* not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you. In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father's commandments, and do abide in his love.

* An older way of saying 'remain': Greek μενη—'does remain'


The TL;DR. Pretext and Context

Pretext - Christ came for the Lost Sheep of Israel [Northern Israel cursed into Gentiles] To restore the house of David = Ephraim & Judah Matthew 15, Acts 15 - we read

And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.’ 17“Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. - Ezekiel 37

Who was broken off? The Northern Kingdom was cut off from Israel. [Broken off] - we read:

And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. - Jeremiah 3:8

According to the Law - One cannot REmarry unless the spouse died. - we read:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. - Romans 7, Deut 24

The only way the lost House of Israel can be re-married is if their husband dies.

Which was Christ [taking upon the sin of the Nation of Israel]

Now that Christ resurrected with a new body the restoration of Israel can happen...thus in-grafting the lost sheep into the tree of Israel. Acts 15 - 24 - All of Galatians all of Ephesians.

Context - The problem in Romans 11 they [Judah] had the same feeling [Jealousy] as the older son in the Prodigal Son parable:

But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; - Luke 15

So Paul is letting [Judah] know it is in the plan of the Most High to restore those from the gentiles into the House of Israel; stop boasting about your "religion" but use your position to do good - As it continues in Romans 12

http://biblehub.com/bsb/acts/15.htm http://biblehub.com/nasb/deuteronomy/24.htm

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