NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXVII) – 05/29/18
Verse 23: Now, if the Jews stop doubting, they will be grafted back into the good olive tree because God is able to restore them to their rightful place.
Paul did not want to leave his fellow Jews forsaken without having any hope. After all, if God would be willing to graft in the believing Gentile branches of the wild olive trees, how much more would He be willing to graft back in the believing branches of the Jews. After all, did not God tell Zechariah that when the right time came He would pour out His spirit of grace on those who saw the One who was pierced so they would be overcome with guilt?1 And this guilt would not cause them to turn away from God but turn toward Him and asking forgiveness. Even though His crucifixion took place a long time ago, in Paul’s mind turning away from Christ after the truth is revealed was the same as crucifying Him all over again in their hearts.2
On this subject, early church scholar Pelagius warns that if any believers go back on their commitment to Christ, they too will experience God’s severity even as the Jews will one day receive kindness.3 Humanly speaking, it is impossible to restore branches that have been cut off and already withered, but with God all things are possible4.5 It cannot be clearer: believers who become lackadaisical and unproductive are in danger of withering and dropping off the vine. This is substantiated both by what happened to the children of Israel who turned away from a saving God to a gold covered calf and were denied entering the Promised Land, and what Jesus warned of when He spoke of being the true vine and those who believe in Him being branches. He stated clearly: “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one abiding in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit. For apart from Me you are able to do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown out like the branch and is dried up, and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and it is burned.”6
John Calvin believes that Paul appreciated the fact that everyone understood that God’s punishment for the unbelief of His people was done so they would not forget His mercy. Many times we see where God brought punishment upon His people before He restored them to His good graces. Now Paul shows how much easier it would be to reverse that process for the Jews in their present state of unbelief in the Messiah. It would be much easier to graft the natural branches back in so they could take their place from which they had been cut off, to draw substance from their own root, than for the wild and the unfruitful branches, from a foreign stock to be grafted in.7
In other words, God’s plans for the children of Israel are not finished, they are only on hiatus until the fullness of time comes when they will be permanently restored to their rightful place. Not as Jews or Israelites, but as “Messianic Christians.” Daniel Whitby joins Calvin by saying that God would not have promised such restoration if He did not have the power and will to make it happen.8
John Bengel then asks, how will the Jews be converted, who for so many ages have eagerly withdrawn themselves from the faith, distorted the First Covenant revelations from the true Messiah, and caused some of their fellow Jews to recant their faith in Christ Jesus? Bengel believes it will be done as Paul says, when God demonstrates the glory of His power which no Jew can resist.9 It will be seen as a miracle, because it will not involve a small number of Jews, but a great number, equal to the time when they as a nation were known as God’s people.10 All Paul has to do now is offer evidence for what he is proposing.
Adam Clarke expresses hope that God will follow through with His desire to bring the children of Israel back into His loving arms. The way Clarke expressed it, as fallen and as far away from being what God wants them to be, in His time and by His good will and mercy He will restore all their forfeited privileges back to them. And this will surely happen if they no longer live in unbelief. This would imply that God will have furnished them with all the power and means necessary for faith and that they may believe on the Lord Jesus. Even though a veil continues to blind them, it is not a veil which God has placed over their eyes, but a veil brought on by their own voluntary and obstinate unbelief. Once they turn to the Lord Jesus, He will remove that veil for them to see that He is truly their Messiah.11 But this will not be done by force or against someone’s will. It will be offered as a gift in the last days just as it was when Jesus came the first time. It will still require that whosoever believes in Him will be saved.
Robert Haldane comments on Paul’s insistence that if any Jews turn toward the Messiah and accept Him, they too will be grafted back into the true olive tree. That’s why the Apostle has from the beginning of the 17th verse, pressed upon the believing Gentiles the necessity of humility. But now he goes back to the subject of the future conversion of the Jews. In order to furnish a new proof of this great event, he introduces a fourth argument taken from the restoration power of God. According to the figure which the Apostle Paul had employed respecting the casting off and the restoration of that part of the Jewish nation that was blinded, comparing them to branches broken off, there might seem to be no probability that they could be restored.
When branches are pruned from a tree, they wither and cannot be replaced. But through the restoration power of God, what is not done in nature, and cannot be effected by the power of mankind, will be done by God, with whom all things are possible. He is able to make the dry bones live,12 and to restore the severed branches of the Jewish nation. Some argue that, because the grafting of the Jews into the good olive tree spoken of here is conditional, it is not a declaration. But the Apostle’s design is evidently, even in this verse, to excite hopes by showing its possibility. There is nothing else keeping them away from such a miracle but unbelief. If that sin were to be subdued, they would be received. God is able to graft them back in if they believe, and He is able also to give them faith.13
Albert Barnes echoes the same theme. He points out that the only condition that needs to be met on the part of the Jews for this restoration to happen is to stop doubting that Jesus was the Messiah. Once they are willing to take that step of faith then there is nothing preventing God from restoring them to their rightful place. Clarke says that Paul was able to forecast such a miracle because God alone has the power to restore them, to bring them back and reinstitute them to His favor. Also, God has not sworn that He will never accept them because they are forever excluded from His favor. In this way the Apostle reaches his goal which was to show them that God is not through with them as His people. That God has this power, and in the next verse Paul will explain why this is possible and even probable.14
Henry Alford believes there are two ways to understand what Paul says here about the return of the Jews to the holy olive tree by way of grafting. First, that God’s power to graft them in again has always been the same, but has waited for their change of mind to act. Secondly, that the Apostle uses the term “grafting” with the hidden meaning that it refers to the removal of their unbelief and the awakening of faith. Bengel believes that this second understanding is preferable because Paul is looking at this from God’s point of view in that He would not use His power to restore if their unbelief had not been removed.15 This certainly gives us something to think about because if God reinstated the Jews into His Kingdom with no change of heart, it would accomplish little in assuring them of their salvation and everlasting life.
Charles Hodge believes that this same concept can be applied both ways. The principle which the Apostle uses is applicable to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Neither one nor the other, simply because Jew or Gentile, is either retained in the church or excluded from it. As the one continues in this relationship with God on condition of belief in Christ, the other is estranged from God because of unbelief in Christ. Nothing but unbelief prevents the Jews from being brought back. That is, not only does God have the power to accomplish this result, but anything that might keep it from happening is not due to Him, but solely to the Jews. There is no impossible promise in the Divine mind, nor any insurmountable obstacle in the circumstances of the case which forbids their restoration. On the contrary, the event is, in itself, considered far more probable than the calling of the Gentiles was.16 It is noteworthy that Paul does not spend any time guaranteeing the Gentiles that they to would be restored if they fell away in unbelief. Instead, they were encouraged to hold on until the end.
Frédéric Godet sees another principle in what Paul is saying here. God’s being strict with the Jews was also a warning to the Gentiles. At the same time, God’s goodness displayed to the Gentiles as a pledge could also be taken as a sign of mercy to the Jews. However, they must give up persisting in their unbelief. When they observe their persistent doubting contrasted with the non-persistence faith of the Gentiles, they can see that on this one condition the power of God will restore them to their place in His kingdom. It will graft them into Christ, who will become their life-giving stem, as well as to the Gentiles. And this transplantation can be done more effectively and easily in their case than it was in the case of the Gentiles.17
1 Zechariah 12:10
2 See Hebrews 6:4
3 See 2 Chronicles 7:14
4 See Matthew 19:26
5 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 John 15:5-6 – Berean Literal Bible
7 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Daniel Whitby: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 65
9 Cf. Romans 14:5
10 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 333
11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6-18)
12 Ezekiel 37:9-10
13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 540
14 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 104
16 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 575
17 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.