16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Chapter 11 depends on chapter 9. Abraham was a Gentile who became the first Jew by regeneration. He became a Jew because he was born again (9:6-14). He had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was born again by faith; Ishmael rejected the promises and was unregenerate. The foundation of the nation Israel came into being by faith in the covenant God made with Abraham (Ge 12-15).
Romans 11:16 shows the difference between Jewish believers in Israel and Jewish believers in the church. True Jewish believers in the New Testament accepted Jesus the Messiah and His principle of grace (vv. 5-6).
John 1: 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. …1:16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Paul presented Israel’s temporary rejection by God and the certainty of her restoration through two examples. With this verse Paul also introduced two illustrations of how Gentiles came to Christ:
An illustration from the firstfruit in the Old Testament (Nu 15 17-21)
An illustration from an olive tree
Both of these illustrations assert the same point—the first entity adds what is connected to it. The flour from the cake is made from the ground meal, and the branches come from the root of the tree.
16 For [now]
Verse 16 transitions between verses 11 to 15 and verses 17 to 24. Because the nation Israel’s stumbling was temporary and not permanent, God will restore her one day in His good graces.
if [since] the firstfruit is holy [set apart],
The “firstfruit” celebration in the Old Testament had to do with a meal from the wheat harvest presented as an offering set apart to God after the Jews entered the Promised Land. This sacrifice was “holy” because it was presented to God in worship.
The firstfruit was offered to God while the remainder of the food was for general use (Nu 15:17-21). The offering of the firstfruit made the remainder of the harvest holy as well. The firstfruit was the pledge of more to come.
The Israelites offered God the firstfruit of grain as holy after which they regarded all the harvest of that season as set apart unto God. The firstfruit is the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham was the depository of God’s promises and blessing for all truly regenerate Israel. The lump of the nation Israel came out of that blessing.
the lump is also holy;
Paul argued that, because the firstfruit was holy, it also consecrated the remainder of the batch of food. If the part of the dough offered as firstfruit was holy, then the entire batch of dough was holy or set apart. The process set apart the entire harvest of regenerate Jews.
The “lump” here refers to true Israel; that is, to those who believed in the Abrahamic Covenant. This lump is truly regenerate Israel.
and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
The olive tree illustrates the relationship between Jew and Gentile in the present program of God. Because the branches come from the root of the tree, both are connected to each other.
The “root” is the source of water and nourishment for the branches. The promise of the Abrahamic Covenant is the root or the basis for regenerate Israel.
Both the firstfruit and root illustrations represent God’s Covenant with Israel. The lump and branches represent regenerate Israel. God set apart the nation Israel to Himself. Since this is true, Israel’s stumbling was temporary. God has a future for Israel.
The point of this illustration of firstfruit is that God set apart Israel as a nation and His promise to them still stands, although they are currently in a state of apostasy. He will restore the nation one day so that they fully receive His promises.
The word “holy” in this verse means that God set apart the regenerate in Israel and the church unto God. Holy here does not mean to live a godly life but to set apart something as God’s own.
If God accepts the part, He will accept the whole.
Both the part and the whole are holy or set apart unto God. Verse 16 is not about personal holiness but regards status with God. Israel transmitted God’s promises and covenants regardless of her personal holiness. Israel belonged to a chosen race. God began this chosen people with Abraham.
There is solidarity in the way God deals in salvation. A holy or set-apart beginning will result in a set-apart end. Believers in the Old Testament became believers through grace (Abrahamic Covenant) by faith (Ge 15:6). Jews of a later day would be saved as those saved originally (the “root”)—by grace through faith. Faith in God’s promise of salvation through the Messiah would result in a state of being set apart as God’s own. The same is true with believers in the New Testament.
God’s chosen people Israel will always be distinct and special. That is why one day God will restore Israel to the land and set up the kingdom ruled by Jesus.