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But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
Romans 11:17‭-‬18 NASB

My understanding was that root is Jesus Christ because he claimed himself the true vine, but in many of the commentaries the root is Abraham and the covenant. If it is so, what is the rationale behind it?

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The grafted in olive branches, partaking of the same "root and fatness" (KJV) is a similar analogy to the Temple with the same foundation, whose chief cornerstone is Christ. Speaking to Gentiles in Ephesians 2,...

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)

Similarities include

  • addressing Gentiles about their place in the Church
  • the unity of Gentile and Jew in the same "body": in Ephesians, it is a Temple and in Romans, it is an Olive Tree
  • The humility of the Gentile toward the Jews for being added after the Jew: Eph 2:11-13 and Rom 11:17-21
  • Having the same "base": In Ephesians, it is the foundation and in Romans, it is the root
  • Emphasis on the singular: Foundation vs Root
  • being added by Faith (Eph 2:8) and (Rom 11:20)

In the Analogy of the Temple:

And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; (Eph 2:20)

I think the root would be the something similar, the root of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ being the Chief Root.

Some additional comments:

  • It is interesting to note that all the Apostles and Prophets where distinctly Jewish (Rom 3:2) including Jesus.
  • Another question arises: what is the "fatness"?

Alternatively, the Interpretation of Abraham being the root could stem from the analogy of the Seed of Abraham

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. (Gal 3:6-9)

That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Gal 3:14-16)

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:26-29)

This time the Analogy (or maybe allegory) is Family.

The same similarities are also included:

  • Addressing Gentiles
  • Including Gentiles in the same body: Family vs Olive Tree
  • Sharing a common source: Father Abraham vs Root
  • the Emphasis on the singular: Seed and Root
  • Being added by Faith

In this sense, Abraham the Patriarch certainly is a candidate, but it does not square well with the Temple Analogy, although there too the Household of God is mentioned). I think it is the Gospel (Gal 3:8) preached to Abraham, the Word of God (the foundation of Apostles and Prophets), the singular Seed which is Christ, the actual Promise given to Abraham for He is the "Greater than Abraham".

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In this case, the "root" of the olive tree is Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant through which Israel and the gentiles will be blessed.

Israel is the Olive Tree, with Abraham - the father of the faith - as the root.

Throughout the Old Testament, a metaphor is used of Israel as an Olive Tree.

In Isaiah 11, Jesse (Davids father) is described as a "stump" out of which a "shoot" will arise who will eventually be called the Messiah:

A shoot (חֹ֖טֶר) will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots, a Branch (וְנֵ֖צֶר) will bear fruit.

According to Nogah Hareuveni, Tree and Shrub in our Biblical Heritage, both "shoot" (hoter) and Branch (netzer) are images of the Olive Tree.

In Jeremiah 11:16, God refers to Israel directly as an Olive Tree. At one point the Olive Tree was "with fruit" and "beautiful in form," but then they began to sin:

The Lord called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form. But with the roar of a mighty storm, he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken.

Finally, in Hosea 14:6, the Bible describes Israel as an olive tree when they return to God with their sins forgiven:

his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree

In Mediterranean olive tree cultivation, wild olive trees do not produce fine fruit. It is the cultivated trees with the best fruit. Hence, if Christians attempt to stand alone (particularly the new gentile Christians) without any background of the Old Testament, Israel, and the covenant with Abraham, they will not be able to produce fruit (metaphorically).

They must be connected to the root - Abraham and his covenant - in order to partake full of the blessings.

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The symbol here is olive tree, not a grape vine. One needs to be more precise and careful.

Romans 11:17‭-‬18 alludes to Genesis 12:3

I will bless those who bless you [Abram], and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

We gentiles were grafted in the olive tree as a fulfillment of the above. The olive tree symbolizes God's blessing, God's favor, and God's chosen and elect. The root of it started with Abram in Genesis 12. This explain the root of the olive tree.

What about the covenant?

God initially blessed the Jewish people through Abrahamic covenant. A covenant is necessary to bind God and people legally. Paul in Romans 11:17‭-‬18 is saying that through Jesus, Gentiles are now receiving the blessings of God by a new covenant which traces its origin all the way to Abrahamic covenant.

Think of the olive tree as the way God distributes his blessings by the covenants to his chosen and elected people through the ages beginning with Abram.

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Who is the root and the tree in Romans 11?

The root is God the "Holy One of Israel " Isaiah 10:20

Romans 11:16-18

New American Standard Bible

16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the [a]rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

In the above Paul compares the Abrahamic covenant to an olive tree. In verse sixteen Paul says that the root is holy, “the Holy One of Israel” is God "the root" that gives life to the spiritual Israel(Isaiah 10:20), and the primary seed of Abraham's offspring is Jesus, the trunk of the tree.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Vs 17a "But if some of the branches were broken off, "refers to the natural Jews who rejected Jesus and were themselves broken off and discarded. Initially, the Abrahamic covenant gave only the natural Jews the opportunity to be part of the covenant,

The Gentiles or non-Jews were likened to a wild olive tree, God opened the way for non-Jews to become part of Abraham's offspring as spiritual Jews by figuratively grafting them into the cultivated olive tree. Cornelius was the firstfruits( 1 Cor. 15:20-23) of the uncircumcised Jews to become a Christian.Acts 10: 34-35

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