There is one final chapter that should be examined, the second “go to” portion of scripture usually used to defend the viewpoint of Israel being the olive tree: Ephesians 2.
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called the “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” in the flesh by human hands, were at that time apart from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. vv.11 – 13
Let’s begin with the main portion that is used in regards to Romans 11. Here we see that the Gentiles were “alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise.” However, now “you who were formerly far away have been brought near.” Then, you take a look at verse 19:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
With that it would seem “you are no longer strangers and foreigners” but rather the Gentiles have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Israel, right? I would completely disagree, and I believe Ephesians 2 is quite clear in what it’s trying to say. Context is key, and so I want to start from the start of the chapter:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among them we all also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. vv.1 -3
The first half of chapter 2 has a very specific topic. We are all sinners, dead in our trespasses, children of wrath who only desired to do what was in our lustful hearts.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and He raised us up and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. vv.4 – 7
Then comes along our merciful God who loved us, and made us alive with Christ. He brings about all these blessings, grace, and kindness in Christ. Paul then explains in verses 8 – 10 how this salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of works. Now (“therefore”, i.e. based off of these contrasts) we once again reach verses 11 – 13 which I see completely differently. Yes, the Gentiles have the following characteristics:
were in the flesh – the Gentiles were of the world. They did not know God nor his commandments and so lived according to their flesh.
called the uncircumcision – Unlike the Jews, the Gentiles did not circumcise themselves.
were apart from Christ – again, they did not know God
were alienated from the citizenship of Israel – Israel was a nation set apart, chosen for God. Every other nation (Gentile) would therefore be alienated from the citizenship of that holy nation.
were strangers to the covenants of promise – since they were not of Israel, the Gentiles did not have any “fathers” with which God had made any sort of covenants with like the Jews did with Abraham.
were without hope and God – with no promises, no God, and seemingly no way to escape their sinful ways, the Gentiles had no hope of salvation…
…that is, until Christ provided a way. Now in Christ the Gentiles have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The key here, however, is that the Gentiles are brought near to Christ, not Israel.
The Gentiles were dead but now are made alive, with Christ
They walked according to the world but will now be seated in the heavenly places, in Christ
They were without hope but will now be shown the riches of his grace and kindness, in Christ
They were formerly far away from Christ, but now through His blood are brought near to Him.
Is the pattern not sufficiently clear? Continuing on from verse 19:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the entire building, tightly framed together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God through the Spirit. vv.19 – 22
It’s almost amusing how, though now a more architecturally oriented vocabulary, the image here is almost exactly like that of Romans. We have this building (tree), where the Gentiles and Jews (branches) are being built together (Gentiles are now “also” being built together with them, similar to grafting) and we have a foundation (which, if we accept the theory previously, can be somewhat likened to the covenant with Abraham) which all ultimately is centered on the chief cornerstone (or root), Jesus Christ.
There are a ton of rabbit trails that we can go down on with this study. For example, although I think Ephesians 2:14 – 18 add even more to the “not Israel, but one in Christ” idea, it also leads down to a whole different subject. We could dive more into that “true” Israel, into Abraham’s promises, etc. There’s the whole “Replacement Theology” idea which I will not touch (but will say I disagree with completely, and feel Romans 11 shows sufficiently that there is a plan for the rest of Israel after he’s done his work with all the branches). However, I think I’ve concisely summed up the very specific topic at hand: who or what are the Gentiles grafted into. My conclusion is Christ, not Israel the nation, not true/spiritual Israel, just Christ himself. If that were not the case, then I would ask:
Can we derive life/sustenance from anything or anyone but Christ?
Why is it automatically assumed that the “saints and members of the household of God” are Israel when “household of God” is never used to describe Israel and Paul always uses “saints” (hagios) to simply describe believers? Why can’t it simply be “a body of believers” (which Israel could be, but is not the sole or whole of it)?
If physical Israel is clearly not the root, why assume the “true” or “spiritual” Israel is, when they too are simply branches? How can wild branches be grafted onto other branches?
Is it against Scripture to believe that God doesn’t see us as Jew, Gentile, Greek, slave, free, or any sort of “kind” besides that of one who believes in His Son and one who doesn’t?
Why can’t we be “one in Christ”? Why do we have to be one in “Israel”?
If 1 Corinthians 12 says we were “baptized by one Spirit into one body,” and Ephesians 1 says “…the church, which is his body,” wouldn’t that mean the collection of believers (Jews/Gentiles) mentioned later on in chapter 2, those who are one in Christ, be the church? I constantly see mention of the church/body of Christ as the group of believers, when is “Israel” used (post-Christ) in reference to the joined group of believing Gentiles and Jews?
Is “true/spiritual” Israel something more than the believing “subset” of physical Israel and how would you prove that?
Those are just a few of the things I would need absolutely clear understanding of (with Scripture to back it up, of course) if I were to even consider the idea that we are not grafted into Christ, but I feel I’ve provided enough evidence to at least show a solid, Biblical basis for where I stand.