23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
1901 ASV Translation:
23 And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
24 For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
I. The Possibility of Grafting Natural Branches Back Into the Tree.
A. In Paul's warning against allowing "faith" to be twisted into "arrogance", he held out an odd possibility: that formerly pruned branches might be grafted back into the tree.
B. There may be an "individual" application of this concept (such as Paul himself who "did not continue in his unbelief"), but there is a definite "national" application in the sense of a final restoration of the tree with its "natural" branches intact (Paul claims a time is coming when "all Israel shall be saved" -- 11:26).
II. The Scenario of a Return by the Nation.
A. Because this is a critical element in the "Large Plan", Paul develops it in 11:25-32.
B. At this stage in his presentation (11:23-24) he simply puts forth the possibility.
1. In this stage of Paul's presentation he is more concerned with the "possible" (lest we say "probable") twisting of blessedness into pride. This shows up in three specific statements.
a. In 11:18 there is a direct demand that the Gentile believers "boast not against the branches that were pruned out of the tree.
b. In 11:20 there is a second direct demand that these believers "be not highminded, but fear".
c. In 11:25 Paul tells his readers that he is revealing these truths to them so that they will "not be wise in their own conceits".
2. Paul was apparently verymuch concerned about how "faith" is corrupted so that it cannot come to fruition. This raises a question: where is the safe doctrinal area between his concept of an inexorable election and the tragic dangers of false doctrine? If God's "election" is "a done deal", how dangerous is false doctrine? But if "false doctrine" is so dangerous, how do we understand "election"?
a. One thing stands clear: God accepts "faith in the truth" and grants justification to those who exercise it.
b. On the heels of this clear "thing" arises another: "faith in the truth" cannot exist apart from the definitive revelation of "truth".
c. And then a third clarity: a "definitive revelation of truth" has to involve the exposure and rejection of those claims which contradict it.
d. And yet another clarity: the human grasp of the revelation of truth is an "incipient process", not a comprehensive "zap" in a moment of time wherein the "zapped" understands everything. The human being was created to be a "learning" entity where ignorance is the initial state of affairs and "progress into ever-increasing understanding" is the "way" ("if ye continue ... ye shall know the Truth" -- John 8:31).
1) It is obvious from 3:27 that Paul has marshalled his arguments to topple "boasting" as a/the major "problem" in this universe.
2) It is just as obvious from 11:25 that "ignorance" is an almost knee-jerk, automatic producer of an evaluation of oneself as "wise" (the phrase is "wise to yourselves").
3) But the antithesis is likewise dangerous: 1 Corinthians 8:1 says "knowledge puffs up". This text dovetails into our text in this way: when one "thinks" he is knowledgeable, he is ignorant (1 Corinthians 8:2 and 10:12) and ignorance leads to a "self-wise" evaluation.
e. And still another: the biblical picture is of man with a corrupted "heart" and of a promise from God of a "new heart". The difficulty here is the reality that the promise of a new heart does not include an immediate, and totally effective, transformation consistent with the reality of a "new heart" except at the specific point in time wherein "this corruptible shall put on incorruption" (1 Corinthians 15:53). This leaves every "clarity" suspended in a kind of limbo in which the "old" heart competes with the "new" for dominion over the "person". The result is a "war" within and without.
f. Some "conclusions" within the fog.
1) The doctrine of an inexorable elective process is a doctrine of a final triumph of Truth.
2) The doctrine of a period of danger for those who "believe" is a doctrine of present conflict wherein those "believers" are compelled to deal with the process of ferreting out errors in understanding and nailing down precepts which will underpin all other growth in understanding.
3) It is this reality of a necessary "process" that creates the "tension". Without "process" inexorable determination is simply a divine fiat. But without "process" there is no creation of "persons" (not even God can create omniscience and without it there has to be "process"). However, without a doctrine of inexorable determination, there can be no progress in a process that involves an incipient "love" and "faith system" because the absence of inexorable determination leaves incipient learners without the ability to "believe in" anything except their own intelligence and wisdom. There has to be some point in which the human struggle is met with the divine consolation so that neither pride, nor despair, dominates.
4) Thus, the doctrine of inexorable determinism provides a kind of bottom line and the reality of a conflicted struggle provides the possibility of real growth in understanding. The individual must deal with both and any "success" reveals the divine involvement required. The plaintive cry of the insecure, "How can I be sure of my salvation?", has only one answer: "believe ... and thou shalt be saved". In other words, there is no security for those who simply want to "win the lottery". The only security is for those for whom security is no longer a big deal. Only love finally triumphs and it is far from loving to seek to be "safe" in a universe that calls for "sacrifice".