Thesis:Because there are two kinds of "holiness" in Paul's teachings, "holy" branches can be broken off of the tree which has the "holy" root.
Introduction:In our study last week I put forth the idea that the doctrine of election is the application of a certain level of determinism in the indeterminate universe of persons. There is a determinate universe of impersonal entities wherein lock-step cause-and-effect is the rule and "miracles" are aberrations from that rule. But there is also an indeterminate universe of personal entities wherein the complex of Love/Faith/Choice/Action is the rule and "election" is God's interference with the vagaries of Sin's corruption of the human heart and mind.
Having made that argument, I made the claim that Paul's use of the metaphor of pruning and grafting was the use of an illustration from the determinate universe for our greater understanding of the indeterminate universe in which we function as persons.
But, at the end of the study, there was some confusion. For that cause we are going to spend some time this evening pressing Paul's argument a bit further in order for us to gain some clarity.
In a nutshell, the problem for us is Paul's declarations that, on the one hand, a "holy root" produces "holy branches" and that, on the other hand, some of the "holy branches" were broken off so that "unholy branches" from an "unholy root" might be grafted into the olive tree. What do we make of this, and what is Paul's "point"?
I. A Review of the Answer to the Latter Part of the Question.
A. It is clear from 11:18 that one of the elements of Paul's argument is that the Gentiles need to be very careful that they do not do as Israel did and begin to "boast against" those whom God has broken off of the tree because such boasting implies an "I am the root" attitude that undercuts God's method of saving people.
B. There is greater clarity in 11:20-21 because another element of Paul's argument is that "highmindedness" will lead to a divine reaction wherein He "spares not".
C. From these parts of Paul's argument we can see that his "point" is that there is no tolerance on God's part for "pride" and Paul wishes to guard the Gentiles from going there.
II. An Answer to the Former Part of the Question.
A. There is a strong appearance of a breakdown in Paul's reasoning in his claim that holy roots produce holy branches but that those branches can be broken off.
B. The key word in that statement is the word "appearance".
1. When strong appearances of contrary logic show up in the writings of men, we, knowing that men have a strong predisposition for illogic, do not typically have any problem rejecting their "logic".
2. The problem for us in the writings of Paul is that he claims, and we believe, that he is a legitimate apostle and that, ipso facto, means he cannot be "illogical".
C. Thus, it is our problem to investigate Paul's argument until we can see our way clear to embrace the truth he declares.
1. It seems to me that the crucial issue is Paul's declaration of the "holiness" of the root and its extension of that "holiness" to the branches.
a. No one thinks that God goes around breaking branches off of a "holy tree" if there is no problem with those branches.
b. Thus, we have to deal with how branches that are declared to be "holy" can be broken off.
1) At one level, this is declared by Paul: they were broken off because of their unbelief (11:20).
2) The problem is the question of how a branch that is "unbelieving" can be called "holy" in any sense.
2. Therefore, we must consider Paul's teachings about "holiness" in order to find a niche in which to place this teaching.
a. To my knowledge, there is only one clear context in Paul's writings that will enable us to locate this niche: 1 Corinthians 7:14.
1) In this context, Paul argues for the continuance of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever where the unbeliever is "content to dwell with" the believing spouse.
2) A significant element in his argument is that the unbelieving spouse is "sanctified" (the verb form of Paul's word for "holy") by the believing spouse and that the children of such a union are "holy" as long as the believing parent is a part of the marriage.
3) Paul goes on to say that if there is no believing spouse in a marriage, the children are "unclean".
4) This means that Paul believed in, and taught, a certain "kind" of "sanctification" or "holiness" that is not the result of the personal faith of the "sanctified".
a) This means we need to clearly understand the impact of "holiness" or "sanctification".
b) The bottom line of this "impact" issue is this: God decides how He will relate to a person's life experiences on the basis of whether that person is "holy" or not.
c) But, since Paul is teaching two different kinds of "holiness" in this text, we need to understand that God's decisions are contingent upon the presence of "faith".
i. One "kind" of "holiness" that gets God to be less "judicial" in His dealings is the kind that is "other-dependent" (a clear illustration of this is Abraham's quest to get God to be less "judicial" toward Sodom based upon how many "holy" people lived there).
ii. The other "kind" of "holiness" that gets God to be less "judicial" in His dealings is the kind that is "personal-faith-dependent" (the bottom line here is that this kind is independent of any "others" besides God).
b. The application of Paul's concepts of "holiness" actually fits his olive tree metaphor very well.
1) If the "holy branches" are only holy because of the holiness of the root, and not holy because of their own personal involvement with God, they can be broken off because they have refused to move from "other-dependent-holiness" into "personal-faith-holiness" (this is what happens with "holy children" in a mixed marriage).
2) By the same token, "unholy branches" by reason of no connection to the "holy root" can be grafted into the olive tree if they take personal responsibility for the need for holiness and "believe" in the promise of God.