What are Jewish/Hebrew Roots?
by Ariel Blumenthal, , Revive Israel
"Jewish Roots" or "Hebrew Roots" is a very popular subject today in the Body of Messiah, with many books, teaching ministries and blogs on the subject. After centuries of "Replacement Theology," and anti-Semitism from the historic church, we are witnessing a revival of Christian "philo-semitism" and positive interest in Israel. Today, millions of Christians around the world are receiving revelation and Scriptural understanding about the need to positively connect with Israel and the Jewish people. For many, this includes: Torah studies, observing Biblical Jewish feasts, understanding the "Hebraic" mindset, Holy Land tours, standing with Israel politically, etc.
Biblically, the main source for the "roots" teaching is found in Romans 11:16-24, Paul's teaching on the Olive Tree. In this article, we will take a fresh look at what this teaching meant in its original context, and how it might speak to us today.
What is the Root of the Olive Tree?
The Apostle Paul writes of an Olive Tree of God's people, its branches, and its root. The word "root" appears 4 times in Romans 11:16-18. The overall message of these verses is first a reminder to the Gentile, Roman believers (the "wild" branches) that they have been graciously and surprisingly "grafted into" this olive tree community of God's people - a tree which for many generations had only been "cultivated" among the Jewish people (the "natural," native, domesticated branches). The apostle then sternly warns the Romans to not become arrogant or boastful toward these native, Jewish branches, and to "remember that it is not you who supports the root but the root supports you" (verse 18). While the Apostle clearly identifies three kinds of branches (Jewish believer, Gentile believer, Jewish unbelievers - the "broken off" branches), he doesn't similarly define the root - nor does the Scripture explicitly label it as a "Jewish" or "Hebrew" root.
Throughout church history, Biblical interpreters have offered four possible definitions of the root:
1. Jesus Himself, the "root and offspring" of David (Revelation 22:16).
2. The patriarchs and/or the patriarchal (Abrahamic) covenant, based on Romans 11:28-29.
3. The Jewish people/nation of Israel.
4. The 1st century, Jewish believing community, especially represented by the Apostolic, Jerusalem church.
As we study these verses together, let's try not to "import" theology or ideas into the text. Imagine that you are a Gentile Roman Christian hearing this letter read publicly during a worship meeting. What would it have sounded like? Who, or what, is this mysterious root?
"And if the part of the dough offered as firstfruits be holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16).
There are two complementary, metaphors here - one about bread, and the other about trees. On the surface, the second metaphor of roots and branches looks similar to the first, but its emphasis is actually quite different: the dough and the rest of the batch are all of the same "stuff" with one piece just separated from the rest - but not so with roots and tree! A tree is an organic whole, and you can't pull out some roots to make an offering to the Lord on behalf of the whole tree! The roots precede the branches chronologically; and everything else in the tree grows out of, and is thus historically and organically supported by the roots. So, if this root is "holy," then the whole tree which grows out of it must also be "holy."
People Groups in Right Relationship
"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you" (Romans 11:17-18).
The Olive Tree is a metaphor. Everything Paul has to say about it, he is saying about groups of people. Three different kinds of branches are relationally defined: the Gentile Christians, the Messianic Jewish branches and the cut-off, unbelieving Jewish branches. Next, Paul reminds the Roman Christians that they are like branches from a "wild," uncultivated tree who have been "grafted in among them and become partakers with them of the rich root of the olive tree." Here is the wonderful root, but with no clear definition - only that the Jewish & Gentile branches of the tree are both partaking of its richness. But then Romans 11:18 establishes a clear proximity between the Jewish branches and the root - as arrogance towards the Jewish branches is equated with an arrogant misunderstanding of the nature and identity of the root which supports the whole tree.
The Gentile believers in Rome could interact with the Jewish "branches" - both those in the tree, and those broken off. That was part of their everyday experience living in the Roman metropolis which included a large number of Jews. But the Jerusalem "church"? The Apostles in the distant Holy Land? The covenanted nation of Israel? All of this probably seemed to them a very distant, impersonal reality. Think about it: the average Gentile believer in Rome came into the tree through the pure, simple Gospel of Grace and faith in Yeshua. It was (and still is!) possible for a Christian to be totally ignorant of the preceding, Jewish nature of the very tree that they have been grafted into (Romans 11:25). This "Jewishness of the Gospel" can be completely hidden from the Christian, like a root buried underground! This is why Paul speaks about it only as "root," and not "trunk:" you can't see it. You usually can't touch it, and you might not even know this root exists. This is why verses 17-18 establish an equivalency of the Jewish branches straight with the "root," skipping over the trunk: the Jewish believers represented an authentic, "organic" ongoing connection with the distant, hidden root - and it is from this root that rich, covenantal "sap" rises to nourish and support the whole tree.
In conclusion I suggest this definition of the root:
The faithful remnant of Israel, especially the Apostolic Jerusalem ekklesia, who carried the full deposit of God's holy covenants/promises to the rest of Israel, and who held a position in God's family (the olive tree) of precedence, in that they came first - before the Gentiles.
This article was previously published in two parts on March 29th and April 6th 2017 here and here on the Revive Israel website; and on April 5th and April 18th 2017 here and here on Kehila News Israel
What are Jewish/Hebrew Roots?
by Motti Cohen, , Revive Israel
In our congregation Tiferet Yeshua in Tel Aviv we recently began a new Foundations of Faith course. 'M' one of our recent students desires to be baptized at the end of the course. Now we want to share with you another testimony, the story of 'R'
'R' joined our congregation a few months ago, after she found us on the internet. She had led a difficult life and struggled with rejection. Eventually, she realized that she needed God, but she wasn't interested in religion. Then when she heard about Yeshua and started watching videos about Him - she simply fell in love. She knew that only He could help her, and that’s how she found us. Her first week in the congregation we invited her to join the course. She agreed and hasn't looked back since. She now actively volunteers in our many activities for the needy and poor in Tel Aviv, and we can clearly see how the Lord has given her a heart to serve.
If you'd like to learn more about Tiferet Yeshua congregation in Tel Aviv or want to hear more testimonies about what God is doing in Tel Aviv, please visit the website at www.tiferetyeshua.org
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