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Monthly Archives: November 2008

Of Olive Trees and Unnatural Acts

In Romans 11:16b-24 Paul presents a word picture in which the branches of a cultivated olive tree have been broken off and a wild olive branch has been engrafted into the cultivated root.  The resulting image of a whole tree consisting of differentiated parts is particularly useful in the Roman church context where tensions have arisen between Christians of different ethnic identities.  But hidden within the metaphor is the repetition of two key phrases (according to nature/contrary to nature) that harken back to the argument put forth by Paul’s rhetorical spokesperson in Romans 1:18-32 and to the response that begins in chapter two.  The olive tree metaphor contributes to a larger rhetorical argument in which Paul deconstructs[1] [Instructor’s Comment:  ambitious] an earlier polemic presented in chapter one by describing accepted acts of both human and divine agency that are "contrary to nature."

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