Phusis, Romans 11:16ff
In Romans 11:16ff Paul uses a metaphor of grafting olive trees, which
sheds more light on his use of the term _phusis_:
Ei gar ho theos tOn kata phusin kladOn ouk epheisato, oude sou pheisetai.
"For if God spared not the branches according to _phusis_, neither will
he spare you. ..." .....
v. 24 ...
Ei gar su ek tEs kata phusin eksekopEs agrielaiou kai para phusin
enekentisthEs eis kallielaion, posOi mallon houtoi hoi kata phusin
egkentristhEsontai tEi idiai elaiai?
"... For if you were cut out of the according-to-phusis wild-olive-tree,
and were grafted contrary to phusis into the cultivated-olive-tree, how much
more [easily] will these be grafted according to phusis into their own
Here God is shown, according to the usual English translations,
acting "against nature" to bring Gentiles into the salvation prepared for
Jews. This is a usage of "against nature" which works contrary to the
sense of nature as God's ordained plan, or what is morally correct, since
God could not possibly be violating his own plan or acting immorally.
Richard Hays (1986) described this passage as a deliberate
metaphorical reversal of the pejorative sense of _para phusin_ in Romans
1, a "stunning manifestation of the offensive paradox of grace, a
scandalous but gracious act of righteousness by the God who 'justifies
the ungodly' (cf. Rom. 4:5)'" (199).
One tends to see logical desperation when paradoxes are resorted
to. Wouldn't it be much easier to read _phusis_ here as outward
characteristics? Then God would not be violating any (English) sense
of "nature" but merely grafting an unlike branch into a dissimilar tree.
As far as I have been able to discover, grafting wild olive branches into
cultivated olive trees was not a violation of Jewish laws against
hyrbidization (Lev. 19:19 I think). It is unlikely that any contemporary
farmers would have considered the grafting process described here as
unnatural or immoral in any way. The only incongruity is one of
appearance. In terms of the metaphor, uncircumcised Gentiles
(wild-looking branches) have derived sap (Holy Spirit/whatever) from the
root (Jewish religion) in place of the non-Christian Jews
(cultivated-looking branches, i.e. circumcised/whatever) who have
rejected the Messiah (been broken off).