Romans 11:16
For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
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(16) And we have the strongest reason for believing in this reconversion of the Jews. Their forefathers were the first recipients of the promise, and what they were it is only natural to hope that their descendants will be. When a piece of dough is taken from the lump to make a consecrated cake, the consecration of the part extends over the whole; and the character which is inherent in the root of a tree shows itself also in the branches. So we may believe that the latter end of Israel will be like its beginning. The consecration that was imparted to it in the founders of the race we may expect to see resumed by their descendants, even though it is for a time interrupted.

The firstfruit . . . the lump.—The allusion here is to the custom, described in Numbers 15:19-21, of dedicating a portion of the dough to God. The portion thus taken was to be a “heave-offering”—i.e., it was to be “waved,” or “heaved,” before the Lord, and was then given to the priest.

Romans 11:16-17. And their conversion will surely be effected, For if the first- fruit of them, the patriarchs, be holy — He alludes to the waved sheaf, which was said to be holy, because it was accepted of God, in token of his giving the appointed weeks of the harvest: and by the first-fruit, he either means the patriarchs, who were called and separated to the service of God from all the people of the earth; or, as many commentators understand him, the first converts to Christianity from among the Jews, teaching that they were most acceptable to God, as being the first members of the newly- erected Christian church. The lump is also holy — The lump, φυραμα, (which was the meal tempered with water, and kneaded for baking,) here denotes the mass of which the two wave-loaves were made, mentioned Leviticus 23:17. And as these were offered at the conclusion of the harvest, seven weeks after the offering of the first-fruits, they represented the whole fruits of the earth newly gathered in, as sanctified through that offering for the people’s use, during the following year. By this latter similitude, therefore, the apostle intends the whole mass, or body of the nation, to be hereafter converted, and rendered acceptable to God, as members of his true church. And if the root of them, namely, Abraham, was holy and beloved of God, so are the branches still beloved for the father’s sake, and so will be once more, in his good time, admitted to his favour. There seems here to be an allusion to Jeremiah 2:16, where the Jewish nation, made the visible church of God by virtue of the covenant at Sinai, are represented under the figure of a green olive-tree, of which Abraham was the root, and his descendants by Isaac the branches. Hence the thrusting the Jews out of the covenant of God, is here represented by the breaking off of the branches; and the admission of the Gentiles into that covenant, so as to make them members of God’s church, is set forth under the idea of their being ingrafted into the stock of the green olive-tree; and the advantages which they enjoyed thereby, are expressed by their partaking of the root and fatness of the olive-tree. The expression, a wild olive-tree, means here, a branch of a wild olive-tree, for branches only are ingrafted. The Gentiles are called a wild olive, because God had not cultivated them as he did the Jews, who on that account were called, Romans 11:24, the good or garden olive.

11:11-21 The gospel is the greatest riches of every place where it is. As therefore the righteous rejection of the unbelieving Jews, was the occasion of so large a multitude of the Gentiles being reconciled to God, and at peace with him; the future receiving of the Jews into the church would be such a change, as would resemble a general resurrection of the dead in sin to a life of righteousness. Abraham was as the root of the church. The Jews continued branches of this tree till, as a nation, they rejected the Messiah; after that, their relation to Abraham and to God was, as it were, cut off. The Gentiles were grafted into this tree in their room; being admitted into the church of God. Multitudes were made heirs of Abraham's faith, holiness and blessedness. It is the natural state of every one of us, to be wild by nature. Conversion is as the grafting in of wild branches into the good olive. The wild olive was often ingrafted into the fruitful one when it began to decay, and this not only brought forth fruit, but caused the decaying olive to revive and flourish. The Gentiles, of free grace, had been grafted in to share advantages. They ought therefore to beware of self-confidence, and every kind of pride or ambition; lest, having only a dead faith, and an empty profession, they should turn from God, and forfeit their privileges. If we stand at all, it is by faith; we are guilty and helpless in ourselves, and are to be humble, watchful, afraid of self-deception, or of being overcome by temptation. Not only are we at first justified by faith, but kept to the end in that justified state by faith only; yet, by a faith which is not alone, but which worketh by love to God and man.For if the first-fruit be holy - The word "first-fruit" ἀπαρχή aparchē used here denotes the firstling of fruit or grain which was separated from the mass and presented as an offering to God. The Jews were required to present such a portion of their harvest to God, as an expression of gratitude and of their sense of dependence; Numbers 15:19-21. Until this was done, it was not lawful to partake of the harvest. The offering of this was regarded as rendering the mass holy, that is, it was lawful then to partake of it. The first-fruits were regarded as among the best portions of the harvest; and it was their duty to devote to God that which would be the best expression of their thanksgiving. This was the general practice in relation to all that the land produced. The expression here, however, has reference to the small portion of dough or kneaded meal that was offered to God; and then the mass or lump φύραμα phurama was left for the use of him who made the offering; Numbers 15:20.

Be holy - Be set apart, or consecrated to God, as he commanded.

The lump - The mass. It refers here properly to the dough of which a part had been offered. The same was true also in relation to the harvest, after the waive-sheaf had been offered; of the flock, after the first male had been offered, etc.

Is also holy - It is lawful then for the owner to partake of it. The offering of a part has consecrated the whole. By this illustration Paul doubtless means to say that the Jewish nation, as a people, were set apart to the service of God, and were so regarded by him. Some have supposed that by the first-fruit here the apostle intends to refer to the early converts, made to the Christian faith in the first preaching of the gospel. But it is more probable that he refers to the patriarchs, the pious people of old, as the first-fruits of the Jewish nation; see Romans 11:28. By their piety the nation was, in a manner, sanctified, or set apart to the service of God; implying that yet the great mass of them would be reclaimed and saved.

If the root be holy - This figure expresses the same thing as is denoted in the first part of the verse. The root of a tree is the source of nutritious juices necessary for its growth, and gives its character to the tree. If that be sound, pure, vigorous, we expect the same of the branches. A root bears a similar relation to the tree that the first-fruit does to the mass of bread. Perhaps there is allusion here to Jeremiah 11:16, where the Jewish nation is represented under the image of "a green olivetree, fair, and of goodly fruit." In this place the reference is doubtless to Abraham and the patriarchs, as the root or founders of the Jewish nation. If they were holy, it is to be expected that the distant branches, or descendants, would also be so regarded. The mention of the root and branches of a tree gives the apostle occasion for an illustration of the relation at that time of the Jews and Gentiles to the church of Christ.

16. For—"But"

if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root … so the branches—The Israelites were required to offer to God the first-fruits of the earth—both in their raw state, in a sheaf of newly reaped grain (Le 23:10, 11), and in their prepared state, made into cakes of dough (Nu 15:19-21)—by which the whole produce of that season was regarded as hallowed. It is probable that the latter of these offerings is here intended, as to it the word "lump" best applies; and the argument of the apostle is, that as the separation unto God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the rest of mankind, as the parent stem of their race, was as real an offering of first-fruits as that which hallowed the produce of the earth, so, in the divine estimation, it was as real a separation of the mass or "lump" of that nation in all time to God. The figure of the "root" and its "branches" is of like import—the consecration of the one of them extending to the other.

Here is another argument to prove the Jews are not finally rejected, because of the covenant made with their fathers.

If the first-fruit be holy: some make a difference between the first-fruit, and the root, in the latter part of the verse. By the first-fruit they understand the apostles and other godly Jews, that were at first converted to the Christian faith; and by the root they understand Abraham and the patriarchs. Others take them for the same, and understand Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with the rest of the patriarchs, to be both the first-fruit and the root.

The lump is also holy; by lump, and branches, he means the people of the Jews that descended of these holy patriarchs, and spring from them, as branches from a root. The great question is, In what sense they are said to be holy? Or of what holiness doth he speak? It is not meant of inherent, but of federal, or covenant holiness; all in all outward and visible covenant with God, were called holy: see Exodus 9:6 Daniel 8:24. Many common things are called holy in Scripture, because dedicated to God and to his service; yea, Jerusalem, though a place of great wickedness, is called a holy city, Matthew 27:53. In such a sense as this, the Jews are still a holy people; they have an hereditary kind of dedication to God; they have a federal holiness, and relation to God, as being for ever separated to him, in the loins of their progenitors; this can never be wholly forfeited, as being granted to all the posterity of the holy patriarchs: therefore they are called the children of the covenant, which God made with their fathers, Acts 3:25: see Acts 2:39. So then God will remember in his own time, his covenant with the Jews, the posterity of Abraham, &c., who are beloved for the fathers’ sakes, Romans 11:28. Therefore, in the mean time, they should not look on themselves with desperation; nor should the Gentiles look on them with disdain, as it follows in the next words.

For if the firstfruit be holy,.... Some by "the firstfruit" and "root" understand Christ, who is sometimes called, "the firstfruits of them that slept", 1 Corinthians 15:20, and "the root of Jesse and David", Isaiah 11:10, and indeed of all the righteous; and certain it is, that since he is holy, has all the holiness of his people in him, and is sanctification unto them, they shall be holy likewise; have it imparted to them in this life, and perfected in them in another: but this does not seem to agree with the apostle's argument. Others think that by them are meant the Jewish ancestors, and particularly Abraham, and dream of a holiness derived from him to his natural seed; but if no such holiness was derived from him to his immediate offspring, Ishmael, it can hardly be thought any should be communicated by him to his remote posterity; and to these here designed, at the distance of four or five thousand years from him: but by them are intended the first converts among the Jews, under the Gospel dispensation; it being usual with the apostle to call those persons, that were first converted in any place, the firstfruits of it; see Romans 16:5; These were they who received the firstfruits of the Spirit in Judea, and who first among the Jews hoped and believed in Christ; these were but few in number, as the "firstfruit" is but small in comparison of "the lump", and mean, abject, and despicable, as the "root" under, and in a dry ground is; but yet were pledges and presages of a larger number of souls among that people, to be converted in the latter day: now the apostle's argument is, "if the firstfruit be holy",

the lump is also holy, and if the root be holy, so are the branches; that is, that whereas those persons who were converted among the Jews, however few in number, and despicable in appearance they might be, yet were truly sanctified by the Spirit of God; and as they were, so should the whole body of that people be in the last days, "when holiness shall be upon the horses' bells, and every pot in Judah and Jerusalem shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts", Zechariah 14:20, by which metaphorical expressions is meant, that holiness should be common to the whole nation, and all the inhabitants of it, of which the call of some few among them was a pledge and presage. The allusion in the former clause is to the holy offerings of firstfruits to the Lord, the two wave loaves, Leviticus 23:14, whereby the whole lump was sanctified, for after use throughout the year following; and that in the latter clause, to the holiness of trees; that is, to trees devoted to sacred use or that were planted in a field appropriated thereunto: hence we read (t), that the men of Jericho permitted, or as other exemplars read it, cut down , "branches of holiness", or "holy branches"; and eat fallen fruit on the sabbath day. (u) Bartenora explains these branches, of such that grow upon a tree devoted to holy uses; and Maimonides (w), observes, that they thought it lawful to eat what grew in a holy field.

(t) Misn. Pesachim, c. 4. sect. 8. (u) In Misn. Pesachim. c. 4. sect. 8. (w) In ib.

{9} For if the {o} firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root {p} be holy, so are the branches.

(9) The nation of the Jews being considered in their head and root, that is, in Abraham, is holy, although many of the branches are cut off. Therefore in judging of our brethren, we must not dwell on their unworthiness, to think that they are at once all cast off, but we ought to consider the root of the covenant, and rather go back to their ancestors who were faithful, that we may know that the blessing of the covenant rests in some of their posterity, as we also find proof here in ourselves.

(o) He alludes to the first fruits of those loaves, by the offering of which the whole crop of corn was sanctified, and they might use the rest of the crop for that year with good conscience.

(p) Abraham.

Romans 11:16. Δέ] continuative; but this πρόσληψις, how well it corresponds to the character of holiness, which has been associated with the people of Israel from its origin till now! The two figures are parallel, and set forth the same thought.

ἀπαρχή] obtains the genitival definition to be mentally supplied with it through τὸ φύραμα, just as in the second clause ἡ ῥίζα is the root of the κλάδοι. The ἀπαρχὴ τοῦ φυράματος is known from Numbers 15:19-21 to be a designation of the first of the dough; that is, from every baking, when the dough was kneaded, a portion was to be set aside and a cake to be baked therefrom for the priests. See Philo, de sac. hon. II. p. 232; Josephus, Antt. iv. 4. 4; Saalschutz, M. R. p. 347; Keil, Archäol. I. § 71; and the Rabbinical prescriptions in Mischn. Surenh. p. 289 ff. This ἀπαρχή, as the first portion devoted to Jehovah from the whole, was designed to impart the character of its consecration to the remainder of the lump. The article with φύραμα denotes the lump of dough concerned, from which the ἀπαρχή is separated; hence ὅλον did not require to be expressed (in opposition to Hofmann’s objection). Grotius and Rosenmüller take τ. φύρ. to be the corn destined for the baking, and ἀπαρχή to be the first-fruits. But (Romans 9:21) φύραμα always denotes a mass mixed (with moisture or otherwise), particularly a kneaded one, and is in the LXX. (Exodus 12:34) and in Paul (1 Corinthians 5:6-7; Galatians 5:9) the standing expression for dough. Estius, Koppe, Köllner, Olshausen, Krehl rightly take it so, but nevertheless understand by ἀπαρχή the sacred first-fruits (comp. Exodus 23:10) which were employed for φύραμα. But in that case ἀπαρχή obtains a genitival definition not presented by the text; and this can the less be approved, since ἀπαρχὴ φυράματος, in fact, was the stated expression from Num. l.c. This applies also against Hofmann, who likewise explains the ἀπαρχή as the firstling-sheaf, but considers the φύραμα to be the dough worked up from the harvest-fruit generally.

The figure is correctly interpreted, when by ἡ ἀπαρχή we understand the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and by τὸ φύρ. the whole body of the people, to whom the character of holiness—of consecration in property to God—passed over from the former. With the holiness of the πατέρες, Romans 9:4-13 (in accordance with which we are not here to think of Abraham alone), is given also the holiness of the theocratic people, their posterity, according to the divine right of covenant and promise. Comp. Romans 9:4-5. But this holiness, which Paul looks upon, as respects the national whole, in the light of a character indelebilis, is not the inner moral, but (comp. 1 Corinthians 7:14) the theocratic legal holiness (“quod juribus ecclesiae et promissis Dei frui possint,” Calovius). The expression is taken of the patriarchs by Chrysostom, Oecumenius, Erasmus, Beza, Calvin, Estius, Grotius, Calovius, Bengel, and others, including Koppe, Tholuck, Köllner, Olshausen, Fritzsche, Philippi, Maier, de Wette, Krehl, Umbreit, Ewald, Reithmayr, Hofmann (though the latter thinks only of Abraham). This is correct, because the second figure (εἰ δὲ ῥίζα κ.τ.λ.) is capable of no other interpretation (see below); but to explain the two figures differently, as Toletus and Stolz, Reiche and Rückert, Glöckler, Stengel, Bisping, van Hengel, after Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret, have in manifold ways arbitrarily done, is simply a violation of the parallelism. This holds also against the interpretation of the Jews who have become believing, and of the remaining mass of the people (Ambrosiaster, Pelagius, Anselm, Toletus, Rosenmüller, Stolz, Reiche, Rückert, Bisping).

ἡ ῥίζα and οἱ κλάδοι are the patriarchs and their theocratic bodily descendants, the Jews. As the ἀπαρχή is related to the φύραμα, so is the ῥίζα to the κλάδοι; comp. on the latter, Menander, 711: ἄκαρπός ἐστιν οὗτος ἀπὸ ῥίζης κλάδος. The divergent interpretation, which may deserve to be considered in opposition to this usual one, is, that the ῥίζα is the first primitive or mother church consisting of the believing Jews, and that the κλάδοι are the Jews, in so far as they in virtue of their national position were primarily called thereto. This exposition (substantially in Cornelius a Lapide, Carpzov, Schoettgen; Semler and Ammon suppose οἱ κλάδοι to be the Gentile Christians) is still considered possible by de Wette. It is, however, unsuitable; for the (natural) κλάδοι must have proceeded from the ῥίζα, must have their origin from it (comp. Sir 23:25; Sir 40:15), and the broken-off branches (Romans 11:17) must have earlier belonged to the ῥίζα,—which is not the case, if ῥίζα is the Christian mother-church of which they were never κλάδοι. The true theocracy (the olive tree, comp. Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:7; Zechariah 4:11; Nehemiah 8:15) did not begin in the Christian mother-church (as its root), but in the patriarchs, and Christ Himself was κατὰ σάρκα from this sacred root, Matthew 1:1 f. In this view it is clear that the unbelieving Jews, in so far as they rejected Christ, ceased thereby to belong to the true people of God, and fell away from their root. They were now—after the light, and with it judgment, had come into the world (John 3:19)—broken-off branches, apostate children of Abraham (John 8:37; John 8:39-40), children of the kingdom who were to be cast out (Matthew 8:12). Comp. the figure of the vine in John 15. See also Romans 9:6 ff.

16. For] Lit., and much better, But, or Now. The word marks transition to a new fact in connexion with the “receiving” of Israel; the fact of the peculiar position of Jews with regard to the Divine Promise. The main effect of the following passage, to Romans 11:24, is to prove that the restoration of Jews to the Church of Messiah, so far from being unlikely, is in the nature of the case likely. Their peculiar connexion, by lineal descent, with the Fathers, makes it certain that their return will be as abundantly welcome to their God as the admission of the Gentiles. We might say more welcome, but for the fact that no welcome can be fuller than that which awaits the true believer of whatever nation. But St Paul wishes to meet the rising prejudice (so strong and stubborn in after ages) of Gentile against Jewish believers, by emphasizing the grand fact that the whole Church springs, so to speak, from a Jewish root; and that thus nothing could be, in a certain sense, more natural than the restoration of Jews to the Church. He has also to announce that there is reserved for Israel, in the future, not merely restoration to the Church, but a work of special importance and glory in it for the world.

the firstfruit] The Jewish Patriarchs, but perhaps specially Abraham, who was eminently “holy” in the sense of consecration to the purposes of God.—For the figure here cp. Numbers 15:21; “Of the first of your dough ye shall offer unto the Lord an heave-offering.” The words just below here point to the idea of “firstfruits” not of grain but of bread.

holy] In the sense indicated in the last note. The Patriarchs were, by the Divine purpose, separated to be special recipients of Divine light, in trust for their descendants and the world. In a sense somewhat similar their descendants, viewed as a nation, are still separated in the Divine purpose to a special work connected with Divine mercy. The reference is not, of course, to a supposed superior personal sanctity of individual Jews as such, (which would be to contradict the whole reasoning of cch. 2, 3, 4,) but to the special purpose towards Israel as a nation, in view of which they are reserved (scattered but never vanishing) for a time of grace.

the root] Here again the figure points to the Patriarchs, and especially to Abraham. (Cp. Isaiah 51:1-2, for yet another figure, that of the Quarry, with the same reference.) The “root” and “branches” are here brought in to form the main illustration of the passage following as far as Romans 11:25. The passage is one of much importance and some difficulty, and calls for a few preliminary remarks.

Romans 11:16. Ἡ ἀπαρχὴ, the first fruits) The patriarchs.—ἁγία, holy) appropriated and acceptable to God.—Comp. Romans 11:15, with 1 Timothy 4:4-5.—φύραμα, a lump) Numbers 15:20-21, ἀπαρχὴ φυράματος.—ἡ ῥίζα, the root) the patriarchal stock, considered naturally, as also being regarded as in possession of circumcision and of the promise. In the opinion of Weller, after Orige[122], Christ is the root, the patriarchs also are the branches, from whom the first fruits were derived.

[122] rigen (born about 186 A.D., died 253 A.D., a Greek father: two-thirds of the N. Test. are quoted in his writings). Ed. Vinc. Delarue, Paris. 1733, 1740, 1759.

Verse 16. - And if the firstfruit be holy, so also is the lump; and if the root be holy, so also are the branches. By the firstfruit and the root is signified the original stock of Israel, the patriarchs; by the lump and the branches, the subsequent nation through all time. The word ἀπαρχή, being here connected with φύραμα, may be understood as referring to Numbers 15:19-22. The people are there enjoined to take of the first dough (φύραμα) kneaded after harvest a cake for a heave offering, called ἀπαρχή φυράματος (LXX.). This consecrated ἀπαρχή sanctified the whole φύραμα. Romans 11:16For (δὲ)

Better but, or now. A new paragraph begins.

The first-fruit - holy

See on James 1:18, see on Acts 26:10. Referring to the patriarchs.


See on Romans 9:21. The whole body of the people. The apparent confusion of metaphor, first-fruit, lump, is resolved by the fact that first-fruit does not apply exclusively to harvest, but is the general term for the first portion of every thing which was offered to God. The reference here is to Numbers 15:18-21; according to which the Israelites were to set apart a portion of the dough of each baking of bread for a cake for the priests. This was called ἀπαρχή, first-fruits.

Root - branches

The same thought under another figure. The second figure is more comprehensive, since it admits an application to the conversion of the Gentiles. The thought of both figures centres in holy. Both the first-fruits and the root represent the patriarchs (or Abraham singly, compare Romans 11:28). The holiness by call and destination of the nation as represented by its fathers (first-fruits, root) implies their future restoration, the holiness of the lump and branches.

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