GRAFT. A horticultural process by which the branches of the wild olive tree in eastern lands are cut back so that branches from a cultivated olive may be inserted and grafting take place. Paul makes use of this practice in reverse (Rom.11.17-Rom.11.24) where the opposite process is envisioned; i.e., the wild branches, the Gentiles, are thought of as “grafted in” to the good stock of the parent tree, the children of Israel. This deliberate inversion, certainly not a foolish mistake, heightens rather than diminishes the picturesque figure of speech conveying the eternal truth of the rejection of Israel and the status of the church.
, graft in
]). The usual procedure of inserting a slip of a cultivated tree into a common or wild one. In Romans 11:17-24
, however, the metaphor is used “contrary to nature” (v. 24
), of grafting a wild olive branch, the Gentiles, into the good olive tree, the place of blessing under the Abrahamic covenant. Such a process is unnatural, which is precisely the point. Normally, such a graft would be unfruitful. The branches refer fig. to being in the place of spiritual blessing and fruitfulness. “That unbelieving Jews (branches of the good tree) were broken off that Gentiles might be grafted in, afforded no occasion for glorying on the part of the latter. Jew and Gentile alike must enjoy the divine blessings by faith alone. So Jews who abide not in unbelief shall, as ‘the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree’” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(egkentrizo; the Revised Version (British and American) "graft"; the King James Version, "graff"): The word occurs 6 times in Ro 11. Paul assumed that those living about Rome were familiar with the process of grafting olive trees, for olive culture had been adopted by the Greeks and Romans in Paul’s time. The wild olive trees (Arabic colloquial, zeitun berri) are cut back, slits made on the freshly sawed branch ends, and two or three grafts from a cultivated olive (Arabic colloquial, zeitun jouwi) are inserted in such a way that the bark of the scion and of the branch coincide. The exposed ends are smeared with mud made from clay, and then bound with cloth or date straw, which is held by thongs made from the bark of young mulberry branches. The fruit thus obtained is good. Wild olives cannot be made cultivated olives by engrafting, as Paul implies (Ro 11:24), but a wild olive branch thus grafted would thrive. So Gentiles would flourish spiritually when grafted into the fullness of God’s mercy, first revealed to the world through Israel.
James A. Patch