Romans 9

This review of Romans 9 is provided by Aaron, an Evangelical Christian.

In an effort to make myself even more unpopular among some of the regular visitors of this blog I have offered to cover Romans 9. 🙂 Actually, it seemed like a providential opportunity, since on Reformation Sunday I preached a sermon on Romans 9:1-23 at a church in Santaquin, UT. I predict that what I will promote here is, for most of you, completely foreign to the worldview that you were brought up with. I only ask that you make a valiant effort at understanding the text itself before approaching the issues using traditional philosophy.

I also want you to know that I have an emotional and spiritual connection with this text, for a number of reasons. You see, Romans 9 and I have a history together. It was a source of controversy in my college days. It was something I originally vehemently disagreed with. It was something that, once it clicked, was hard for me to handle with maturity. But it was also something that, in the long-run, explosively enlarged my view of God and catapulted me forward with a confidence that God was far bigger than I ever imagined. A big reason why I am in Utah today (and not closer to family on the East Coast) is that I believe that the God of Romans 9 can effectively call people to himself, including Mormons.

My theology among evangelical Christianity: I am a 4.5 point Calvinist who maintains that God has a desire for all to be saved and that ethnic Israel still has a privileged future. Many Calvinists are confused over the former issue (or worse, are “hyper-Calvinistic”), and some Calvinists outright reject the latter claim. Calvinism (inasmuch as it refers to belief in unconditional election, etc.) has gone from being the dominant view in the Reformation to a minority position today in evangelicalism. See however a related book: http://amzn.to/JUc1t

Sources: I not only quote from the commentaries of Tom Schreiner and John Piper (Calvinists) on Romans (http://amzn.to/94JfkK, http://amzn.to/9fXhBT), I also loosely borrow phraseology at times without always including a citation.

Unity of chapters 9-11. Since an understanding of the unity of chapters 9-11 shapes how one interprets the particulars in chapter 9 itself, I will offer a quick summary:

God has hardened corporate Israel, giving them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see, and ears that would not hear (11:7-10). But he has not only effectively called to himself a remnant of believing ethnic Israelites, he has also effectively called to himself Gentiles (11:1-6; 9:24-29). He has done this all on the basis of his unconditional electing freedom (9:11, 16), and none of his promises to historical, ethnic Israel—which entail glorious salvific privileges for the future—have failed (11:26-27; 9:6). God has an open offer to save anyone, Jews and Gentiles included, who would find their righteousness by faith alone in the Jesus Christ who rose from the dead (9:30-10:13). The Israelites have sufficiently heard this message and have rejected it (10:14-21). Us latecomer Gentiles unnaturally grafted into the olive tree should not get cocky over the unbelieving Jews, lest we be cut off (11:17-22). In fact, God’s unconditional election, temporary hardening of the Jews, and salvation of Gentiles are part of a long-term mysterious plan to—when the fullness of the Gentiles come in—-save end-time ethnic Israel by making them jealous of and angry at Gentiles (10:19; 11:11, 23-27). And all the wisdom and mystery in this plan show that all things are from God, through God, and to God. All to his glory, forever. Amen (11:36).

Preliminary observations. Paul was garnering financial support for his trip to Spain and wanted spiritual encouragement (Romans 1:11-12; 15:24). He also said he felt eager and obligated to preach the gospel to both Jews and Greeks, including those in Rome (1:14-15). Why would Paul include 9:1-23 in such a gospel-oriented, fellowship-desiring, and missionary-minded letter? Paul did not shrink from addressing difficult matters along with things of prior epistemological importance . Also, let us observe from 3:1-8 that Paul anticipated early on dealing with the subject matter of Romans 9.

What follows is an edited version of my sermon notes from October 31, with added material on verses 24-29. I will defer discussion on verses 30 and beyond to Sarah, since the chapter break is so awkward.

1-3

  • Why did Paul feel the need to make such a strong appeal? In chapters 1-8 Paul has deflated Jewish pride. His loyalty to Israel is under suspicion.
  • That Paul uses the imperfect tense in verse 1 (translated, “I could wish”), and also considering the end of chapter 8, it is a wish impossible to fulfill. But it shows the salvific seriousness of the matter: individual Jews are accursed and cut off from Christ.
  • Think about the family we most love in our life. Your grandmother. Your grandfather. Your uncle. Your aunt. Your cousin. Your brother. Your sister. Your son. Your daughter. Your spouse. How do you feel about them? What kind of emotions do you have for them? What kind of heartache do you have for them? Paul’s anguish wasn’t over mere abstract concepts. It was a family matter.
  • I have family who are estranged from Christ, but I do not have unceasing anguish over them. It is a rhythm for me. Anguish over them comes and goes, ebbs and flows. I wish I was more like Paul.

4

  • The items can be put in three pairs, adoption and giving of the law (refers to Exodus events), glory and worship (temple and the tabernacle), covenants and promises (includes the removal of sins; cf. 11:26-29).

Tom Schreiner writes:

“The point is that the people upon whom God has lavished his favor in the past have also received saving promises with respect to the future. Thus the former gifts are not mere historical relics, for there is continuity between the past and the future. The God who chose Israel to be his children, gave them the law, manifested his glory among them, and to whom they had access in the cult promised them future salvation. Paul’s sorrow over his people, therefore, cannot be ascribed merely to a keen sense of ethnic identity with his people. He grieves because ethnic Israel has been the beneficiary of God’s goodness in the past and was promised a glorious future. These promises have not come to pass and thus they call into question God’s righteousness. To see these privileges as passed on to the church badly misconstrues Paul’s argument since his grief is due to the promises made to ethnic Israel… The present tense verb εἰσιν (eisin, they are) indicates that the Jews still ‘are’ Israelites and that all the blessings named still belong to them. It does not follow that all ethnic Jews without exception are saved because of the privileges itemized… Paul agonizes because many of his contemporaries are unsaved, even though God made saving promises to the nation as a whole.” (p. 485)

  • Romans 11 confirms that Paul did not view these blessings as merely external or historical, but also as salvific and yet to be fulfilled. Paul is not merely concerned with existing Jewish Christians having distinct privileges as Jews, but also with the salvation of Jews who thus far have, in majority, been broken off the natural olive tree. God isn’t in the business anymore of electing new ethnic-historical nations, and Paul isn’t merely interested in the historical election of corporate Israel. Paul is passionately concerned with the election and calling and adoption of ethnic Israelites as a fulfillment of those old promises to corporate Israel. Present-day Israelites look like they are rejectors of the Messiah, and his argument in Romans 9 is an explanation of God’s righteousness and faithfulness in the face of that.
  • Maintaining that ethnic Israel still has distinct privileges prompts us to qualify God’s impartiality. John Piper writes,

“Both Rom 3:22 and 10:12 define and limit the sense in which ‘there is no difference between Jew and Greek.’ In 3:22 there is no difference in the sense that “all have sinned and lack the glory of God” (3:23). In 10:12 there is no difference in the sense that “the same Lord is over all, rich to all who call upon him” (10:12; cf 3:290.) Therefore, Michel (Roemer, 105) on 3:22 and Kuss (Roemerbfief, III, 767) on 10:12 go beyond what the text implies when they claim these verses abolish the privileged place of Israel. Sanday and Headlam (Romans, 84) are more careful. On 3:22 they say, ‘The Jew has (in this respect) no real advantage over the Gentile; both alike need a righteousness which is not their own; and to both it is offered on the same terms.’ Also Heinrich Schlier (Roemerbfief, 314) on 10:12 says, “Between Jew and Gentile there is no difference in reference to salvation through faith and confession” (my emphasis). Therefore Rom 3:22 and 10:12 cannot be played off against the privilege of Israel. They limit and help define it, but do not exclude it.“

  • A willingness to qualify God’s impartiality using Paul’s explicit definitions also becomes important for taking the rest of Romans 9 seriously.

5

  • Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
    • In the context of guaranteeing future salvation of the presently rebellious Israel, Romans 11:28 reads, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.”
    • This does not mean the merits of the fathers benefit the descendants. Read the next verse: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Schreiner observes, “[T]he saving of the end-time generation of Israel is a fulfillment of the promise first made to the patriarchs.
    • The reference to the patriarchs/fathers reminds us of the promise of the future salvation that awaits Israel.
  • There are some scholarly arguments over whether this verse is basically saying, “Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.” or “Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever.”
    • If Jesus is directly being referred to as God here, at one level it wouldn’t be surprising. In Philippians 2:6 Jesus is said by Paul to be “in the form of God” and “equal to God.” In Colossians 1:15, he speaks of Jesus as the “image of the invisible God”, and then as Creator of all things visible and invisible. In Colossians 2:9, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Also, in Romans 10:13 and Philippians 2:10-11, Paul applies Christ to Old Testament texts that refer to “Yahweh.” In Titus 2:13 Paul speaks of the “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
    • But I’m not informed enough to give a good scholarly argument either way on the Greek grammar of this verse. It is at least clear that the “all” spoken of, whom Christ is over, includes Jew and Gentiles. And that, with all the other things Paul lists, gives us a sense of how ironic and surprising and shocking it is that Israel is estranged from Jesus Christ.

6

  • 6a is the theme of 9:1-23. The promises of God have not failed.
  • Salvation was never promised to every ethnic Israelite.
  • Who is the second Israel?
    • One could make a good argument for it referring to the inclusive Church, composed of both Gentiles and Jews—the “true circumcision” and the true family of Abraham that Paul elsewhere speaks of (Galatians 3:7,14,29, 6:16; Romans 2:28-29, 4:9-25; Philippians 3:3). Gentiles are even grafted into the olive tree in 11:17-24, and Old Testament texts on Israel are applied to believing Gentiles in 9:24-26.
    • However, the second use of “Israel” seems to refer to Christians who are ethnic Jews. The immediate issue that Paul is confronting is the fulfillment of promises to ethnic Israel, and the following verses appeal to a winnowing that has always happened within Israel.

7-8

  • Genealogical descent from Abraham does not guarantee that one is a child of God.
  • What does it mean for Paul to be a “child of God”? Paul is concerned here about the salvation of people. Being a child of God for Paul here wasn’t simply an external description of historical Israel. It goes deeper to the individual level. See Romans 8:14-17.

9-10

  • Some might object that Paul’s argument is unhelpful, because Jews didn’t really believe that Ishmael was of the line of God’s promises; his mom Hagar was an Egyptian! So Paul goes on to use a more conclusive example.
  • Jacob and Esau were not only from the same mother and father, they were twins.

11-13

  • What is the point of saying that God promised to bless Jacob before they were born, and had done anything good or bad? The point is that God’s purpose of election was both prior to and not based on any of their works. Neither good nor bad works were contemplated as the reason for inclusion or exclusion. God’s calling is effective and irrevocable. Not by the human who works, but by the God who calls. Not by human will or exertion, but by God’s mercy (9:16).
  • Notice that the difference is not between works and faith (a distinction made elsewhere in the book), but between works and God who calls. If Paul’s point here is to say that election comes by human willing to faith, he could have easily said so. Yes, justification is by faith, we learn that earlier from Paul, but that isn’t the point of the argument here. The point is that God’s promises are faithful because election is unconditional and ultimately based in the unstoppable purposes of God.
  • His call is effective and his promise is guaranteed. It secures the inevitability of what it desires. He names and identifies his own and secures salvation for them.
    • Compare the nature of the call in Romans 8:28-30, 9:24-25.
    • Ironically, in the context of speaking of Abraham who was trusting God to provide a son (Isaac) in spite of Sarah’s barren womb, Paul uses the same Greek word: God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17)
    • If I may detour from Paul’s literature for a moment, this reminds me of Jesus in John 10, speaking of the good shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” (3,14) He goes on to say, “[B]ut you [unbelieving pharisees] do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (26-28)
  • Follow the connection between verses 11, 12 and 13: Why did the older (Esau) serve the younger (Jacob)? “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue.” What was God’s unstoppable purpose of election here? Look at verse 13. To bless Jacob, and to curse Esau. What was the basis for Esau serving Jacob? God’s choosing of Jacob, and rejection of Esau. Where should one ultimately look to explain the electing love toward Jacob and the electing hatred toward Esau? The answer Paul gives is breathtaking: God and his purpose of election.
  • Now, let us look at verse 13 again. Be shocked with me at the strong language. Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated. As far as Paul’s usage and application goes in context, what kind of love is he thinking of? What kind of hatred is he thinking of? There are a few ways people try to soften the meaning of this passage.
    • One is to think of this as a mere literary device, a Semitic contrast that essentially reduces “hate” to “love less.” But turn to Malachi 1:2-5 to see if this kind of language really brings to mind such softness.
    • Another is to point out that Paul is employing Isaac, and Ishmael, and Jacob, and Easu typologically, as historical types, patterns, and models whose histories relate to God’s purposes. This is absolutely true here, but the argument usually goes further, to something like this: Since Paul is focused on explaining the condition of corporate Israel, Paul here is merely referring to groups and not to individuals. In other words, that Paul’s argument for unconditional election has entirely to do with descriptions of abstract groups and not at all also with individual people. Tom Schreiner writes,

“[S]uch a dichotomy is logically and exegetically flawed, for groups are always composed of individuals, and one cannot have the former without including the latter. At this juncture I should note that the selection of a remnant out of Israel implies the selection of some individuals out of a larger group. Moreover, the unity of Rom. 9-11 indicates that individual election cannot be eliminated. In chapter 10 believing in Jesus is an individual decision, even though large groups of Gentiles are doing so. The individual and corporate dimensions cannot be sundered [or split] from one another in chapter 10, and the same principle applies to chapter 9. Those who insist that corporate election alone is intended in chapters 9 and 11 are inconsistent when they revert to individual decisions of faith in chapter 10. The three chapters must be interpreted together, yielding the conclusion that both corporate and individual election are involved.” (498)

  • Another is to assume that it is only talking about the temporal and historical destinies of nations that the figures represent, and not at all talking about eternal, salvation-related destinies. But think about the context here. What is Paul so concerned with? Why is he so anguished? Why is he so willing to be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brethren? Why is he having to explain why some of the lineage of Abraham are not “children of the promise” or “children of God” (v. 8)? And why does he go on to appeal to God’s freedom in dispensing mercy, in being a Potter over clay, fashioning some vessels of mercy and some vessels of wrath?
  • Paul is indeed employing Isaac, and Ishmael, and Jacob, and Easu typologically, as historical types, patterns, and models. But how is he doing that here? He is relating their histories to God’s purposes in salvation. I mean, good grief, it’s hard for our Gentile jaws to drop at this, but they should. Paul is identifying the unbelieving Jews with Esau and Ishmael.Not only that, but consider also the wider usage of Paul’s language: works, calling, election, purpose, these are terms in Romans 9 that in Paul’s letters almost always refer to salvation.
  • Don’t domesticate the God of this text in order to exalt your preconceived notions of humanity. Sometimes you have to just let God… be God. To put your hand over your mouth, be still, and know that the Lord, he is God.

14

  • What about the previous verses prompts this kind of question? Why is it that Paul can so quickly anticipate the accusation that God is unjust? Paul just taught that God’s unstoppable purpose in election is not by works, but by Him who calls, without consideration of someone having anything good or bad as the reason for the election. That naturally prompts the accusation.
  • But Paul is adamant: there is zero injustice or unrighteousness on God’s part. The ground or the basis for this follows.

15

  • How does this function as a reason or explanation for God being just in light of what Paul has already taught? Let us visit Exodus 33:18-19: “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’” In the context of Exodus 33 this functions as a part of the revelation of the very name of God. Paul’s citation of Ex. 33:19 is of something that describes the nature  and identity of God. He is the God characteristically who shows his sovereign freedom in showing mercy and withholding it. Tom Schreiner puts it this way:“God is righteous because he is committed to proclaiming His name and advertising His glory by showing his goodness, race, and mercy to people as he freely chooses. The righteousness of God is defended, then, by appealing to his freedom and sovereignty as the Creator… [T]he stunning thing for Paul was not that God rejected Ishmael and Esau but that he chose Isaac and Jacob, for they did not deserve to be included in his merciful and gracious purposes. Human beings are apt to criticize God for excluding anyone, but this betrays a theology that views salvation as something God ‘ought’ to bestow on all equally.” (407)
  • What is fundamental about God’s righteousness is his commitment to reveal his glory and proclaim his name, and he does this by showing mercy and withholding it with sovereign freedom. What is fundamental about God’s righteousness, in other words, is God’s faithfulness to himself.

16

  • Not only is this an inference from verse 15, it is also a restatement of verses 11 and 12.
  • If there was any question of whether one could smuggle in human will or exertion into verses 11 and 12—thus making God’s election a response to the human will and not truly logically prior to any distinctives in people like Jacob or Esau—this verse clears it up. God’s unstoppable purpose of election is truly not based on anything good or bad in us, but rather in the calling of God, the sovereign freedom of God, and the grace of God. It ultimately depends on God who has mercy.
  • This verse should make us feel very needy, very dependent, and very desperate. We are at the mercy of God.

17-19

  • Look at the words, “raised you up.” Who is doing the raising, and who is being raised? God is the one who raised Pharaoh up. How did he do this? He did this by hardening his heart.
  • Again, what is fundamental about God’s righteousness is his commitment to reveal his glory and proclaim his name. Verse 17 is a continuation of the explanation for how God is righteous in light of unconditional election. Why did God raise Pharaoh up? That he might show his power in him, and that his name might be proclaimed in all the earth.This is also another place where some people try to domesticate the text by assuming the appeal to Pharaoh concerns only historical destiny of nations and not at all with individual salvation. But this is also an unnatural interpretation and unnecessary dichotomy. After quoting Exodus here on Pharaoh, Paul concludes, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” It seems unlikely here that the mercy spoken of is unrelated to salvation. Not only was Pharaoh himself an individual unbeliever, he is also an analogy for the hardening of unbelieving individual Israelites. Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? He practically did it so that he would be so stubborn that Israel’s exit from Egypt would be a dramatic spectacle. The end-result is a reputation of Yahweh as great and mighty and powerful and redemptive. Just think of how Pharaoh functions as an analogy in the Romans 9-11 unit. Later in chapter 11, Paul says he wants us to understand a mystery: “A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved” (25-26) Paul says in 11:11, “through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.”Imagine Moses telling Pharaoh, “Pharaoh, you are just like what my own people will be when the Messiah comes.” Unthinkable and tragic. But it’s part of a beautiful mystery. As the hardening of the individual Pharaoh was a part of God’s unstoppable electing purpose to show off his glory in judging Egypt and dramatically redeeming Israel, the hardening of Israelite individuals led to the dramatic inclusion of Gentile individuals into the gospel of grace (cf. Acts 13:46-48), which, when fully completed, will somehow make Jews jealous and lead to the corporate repentance and salvation of Israel.
  • To pile on some more evidence that Paul is not merely concerned with corporate entities, let us take notice of the singular forms of language Paul uses (Schreiner, 511). Look at back verse 15: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Look back at verse 16, using a more wooden translation from the Greek (which contains two singular genitives): “So then it depends not of him who wills or runs, but on God, who has mercy.” And then let’s look at verse 18 again, using NIV in this case: “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Good grief, that’s a lot of singular forms for a text supposedly so exclusively interested in corporate entities!
  • Back to Pharaoh. Another issue is the relationship between God’s hardening of Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s hardening of himself. If God’s hardening of Pharaoh is a response to Pharaoh’s self-hardening, then Paul’s use of the example seems misplaced. In the flow, Paul is defending the righteousness and sovereign freedom of God in unconditional election. It seems expected then that Paul would follow the previous claim, that God’s unstoppable purpose in election stands prior to and not based on anything good or bad a person does. Since God’s electing purpose and calling of Jacob and rejection of Esau wasn’t a response to anything good or bad they had done, Pharaoh would be an odd example to use here if God’s hardening of him was ultimately a response to something bad Pharaoh had done.There are a  number of reasons to believe that “God’s hardening of Pharaoh precedes and undergirds Pharaoh’s self-hardening.” (Schreiner, 510) I will list a few of the big reasons expressed by John Piper:“1) The purpose of exalting Yahweh’s right and power over all the earth is achieved not only in the plagues themselves (9:14) but also in the removal of the plagues. Not just the act of final deliverance or the plagues themselves are the means by which God declares his name and shows his power, but the whole complex of events from Ex 4 through 14.“2) In hardening his heart Pharaoh is said to sin… This prepares the way for the next question of Paul’s opponent in Rom 9:19, ‘Why then does God still find fault?’ The objector knew well that God did find fault with Pharaoh, because he finds fault with sin.3) In 9:35 we encounter for the last time (in these chapters) the phrase ‘as Yahweh had said.’ It has occurred six times since the predictions in 4:21 (‘I will harden his heart and he will not send the people away’) and in 7:3f (‘I will harden the heart of Pharaoh … and he will not listen to you’). The repeated reference back to these predictions has shown that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was understood by the narrator to be God’s work from the beginning. Thus behind the passive voice in 9:35 stands Yahweh, But since the hardening of 9:35 is parallel to the self-hardening in 9:34 we are shown again… that for the ancient writer these three events (self-hardening, being hardened, and God’s hardening) and not three, but one.”Piper later goes on:“After the eight plague (locusts) Pharaoh beseeches that his ‘sin be forgiven’ and that ‘this death’ be taken away (10:17). But when the locusts were gone, ‘Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not send away the children of Israel’ (10:20). After three days of darkness when Pharaoh was about to release the Israelites (10:24), ‘Yahweh hardened the heart of the Pharaoh and he was not willing to send them away’ (10:27). The final warning of the tenth plague (the death of all firstborn) is given by Moses in 11:4-8 and is followed by a word of God to Moses: ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you in order that I might multiply my miracles in the land of Egypt.’ And Moses and Aaron did all those miracles before Pharaoh, but Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not send away the children of Israel from his land’ (11:9,10). The purpose of the hardening is the same as in 10:1 (‘I have hardened his heart … so that I may set these signs of mine in their midst’). But note that not just the tenth plague is in view here; the text functions as a summary: ‘Moses and Aaron did all these miracles…’  Both the vocabulary and the content of 11:9,10 recall the predictions at the beginning of our story (4:21; 7:3f).”

19

  • What is it about the preceding verses that would lead one to believe that no one can resist his will? Paul has argued that God’s unstoppable purpose in election stands, and is prior to and independent of anything good or bad that a person does. It does not depend on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy. It does not depend on him who works but on God who calls. God’s righteousness is upheld by appeal to God’s relentless commitment to the revealing of his glory and declaration of his name by showing his sovereign freedom in having mercy on whomever he wills, and hardening whomever he wills. The cumulative argument lands hard. God’s will and purpose in election, including his sovereign freedom in softening and hardening whomever he wills, rightly seems unstoppable. Hence the anticipated objection.
  • Let us stop for a moment and ask ourselves, are we interpreting Romans 9 so as to prompt the same sort of questions that Paul himself anticipated? Or are we philosophically finessing it and gymnastically domesticating it such that the questions Paul anticipates aren’t even likely questions? Paul preached in such a way that he knew to expect these questions. Are we in good company with Paul, or are we in good company with the philosophers at the local university?
  • Notice as we proceed that Paul does not reject the premise of the question, that no one can ultimately resist God’s sovereign will. The premise sticks. What Paul goes after is not the premise, but the objector’s conclusion and attitude.

20-21

  • For those of you with genuine questions to difficult issues here, be comforted. Keep asking God humble questions. The Greek here indicates an attitude of disputation and resistance. Paul is responding to the attitude of an audacious and presumptuous objector.
  • Paul’s response to the arrogance of the objector is essentially—and excuse me as I translate Paul’s passion into vernacular: Who the hell do you think you are? What about God’s rights? God’s authority? God’s prerogatives? God’s freedom? God as Potter can do with the clay as he pleases. “Who do we think we are that we presume to call God to account and pass judgment on him?” (Schreiner)
  • Paul also rejects the objector’s implicit conclusion (that God cannot find fault). God can still find fault, even though no one can ultimately resist his sovereign will. God still blames human beings for their sins. Paul keeps the tension suspended in a state of mystery: God’s unstoppable purpose in election and ultimately irresistible will are compatible with meaningful decision-making and human responsibility. But Paul is far more interested in us submitting our hearts to the Potter than he is in us making philosophical sense out of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • The metaphor of God as Potter is found in other places in the Bible and in other literature of Paul’s day, but he adapts the metaphor to his own purposes. Jewish use of the metaphor is varied, so we are especially dependent on the flow of Paul’s argument to understand its meaning. The Potter has complete freedom and authority to do as he please with the clay. He can “raise up” a Pharaoh, he can harden a heart, and he can give mercy on whom he wills. It doesn’t depend on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy. It isn’t ultimately based on anything good or bad a person does, but on God’s purpose in election. It isn’t based on works, but on God who calls.
  • What these two vessels here correspond to is already made evident by the preceding context, but Paul makes sure to explain in the next verse.

22-23

  • Paul is not reversing his explanation, but continuing it and building upon it. 22 is “continuative” and not “adversative.” Note also that “vessel” is used twice in 21, and then used again both in 22 and 23.
  • Here we have a climatic, humbling statement of God’s ultimate purposes. This is one place where, if you haven’t been reading the actual text of the verses, you should do so closely. Schreiner summarizes:“God defers his immediate judgment of vessels of wrath so that he can unveil the full extent of his power and wrath on those who continually resist his offer of repentance… When the vessels of mercy perceive the fearsome wrath of God upon the disobedient and reflect on the fact that they deserve the same, then they appreciate in a deeper way the riches of God’s glory and the grace lavished upon them. The mercy of God is set forth in clarity against the backdrop of his wrath. Thereby God displays the full range of his attributes: both his powerful wrath and the sunshine of his mercy. The mercy of God would not be impressed on the consciousness of human beings apart from the exercise of God’s wrath, just as one delights more richly in the warmth, beauty, and tenderness of spring after one has experienced the cold blast of winter… God’s ultimate purpose is to display his glory to all people. His glory is exhibited through both wrath and mercy, but especially through mercy.” (Schreiner, 521, 523)

24-29

  • Those “called” (those vessels whom the Potter mercifully makes for honorable use) include both Jews and even Gentiles.
  • To support this idea, Paul uses two verses from Hosea that were originally addressed to the northern tribes of Israel, and applies them to Gentiles. The point is that “those who were originally considered to be outside the realm of God’s people will be called the children of the living God.” (Schreiner, 527) This kind of usage shows that Gentiles are included in the people of God, but this need not imply there is no future salvation for ethnic Israel, especially given the way Paul goes on to argue in chapter 11.
  • Paul also continues the theme of 6a by showing that God’s word has planned the situation all along. “The OT itself prepares us for the idea that God would show mercy to those who were least expected to receive it and would save only a remnant from Israel.” (Schreiner, 526)
  • Paul then roughly cites Isaiah 10:22-23 in a way conflated with Hosea 1:10, to emphasize that only a remnant minority of Israel is saved, and to emphasize that God is swift and thorough in carrying out his word.
  • Finally here, Paul cites Isaiah 1:9 to show that even the salvation of a small remnant of Israel is a gracious miracle and that such a preservation is the work of God. Left to itself, all of Israel would go down the path of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Conclusion

Relevance. You can trust God to keep his promises in your Gentile life because his promises, including those to Israel, have not failed and are still in effect. God is faithful and sovereign. Don’t dismiss Romans 9 as irrelevant to your life. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16) It can enlarge your view of God, plant your roots in Christ deeper, give you a long-term passion for spreading his name, and give you a sense of security when unexplainable suffering comes.

Sobering implications for your family. God has an unstoppable purpose of election in your family’s life. I don’t know what that is. It might be that the next three generations of your family tree are unbelieving, only to bring the fourth generation to a place of despair and desperation and then repentance. It might be that the next three generations of your family grow stronger, and stronger, and then stronger roots in Jesus, to then carry on a strong lineage of faithful believers until the return of Christ himself.

What I do know is that it ultimately has nothing to do with a human distinction. There is nothing so bad about you or a family member that would make you unsaveable. And there is nothing so good about you or a family member that would make you especially worthy of being saved. God didn’t elect ethnic-historical Israel and pledge her a special future because there was anything in her that positively distinguished her from the nations. And God doesn’t elect any of you individual believers because of anything in positively distinguishable in you.

Remember Paul’s emotions. Those who use Romans 9 to break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (to be a jerk to broken people), should emotionally respond to and spiritually internalize Romans 9-11 like the brokenhearted apostle does. Paul is hardcore in his defense of God as the Potter with rights over the clay, but remember:

  1. He begins chapter 9 in tears, with great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart over people he loves.
  2. He soars with great happiness in the gospel in Romans 10.
  3. He is overwhelmed with a sense of depth and mystery at the end of 11.
  4. And much like David in the Psalms, he ends his section with overflowing worship.
  5. This same Paul goes on in chapter 12 to teach, “Love one another with brotherly affection… Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality… Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight… If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Objectors. To those who simply disagree with me, I extend a warning and a challenge.

My warning is this: do not relegate the authority of God’s word under the wisdom of man’s philosophy. Here is a practical application. Before you use any books or articles on a controversial topic, first become basically familiar with the primary passages of scripture in question, and wrestle with them. Internalize the scriptures in question before you utilize commentary and philosophy. My point is this: If you spend hours upon hours debating, speculating, and philosophizing on an issue, but can’t even call to mind (in a general way) the primary relevant scriptures in question, then consider yourself caught with your pants down.

My challenge is this: if you have a good argument from scripture, particularly from the text of Romans itself, that chapter 9 should not be read to support the unstoppable purpose of God’s unconditional election, then please bless me with a good argument for your position. Give me a run for my money. I won’t guarantee a response but I will promise to try to take other textual arguments seriously.

To those confused. For those who are totally confused, who don’t understand the message of Romans 9, I pray that you would ask the Holy Spirit to take you by the hand and help you love the book of Romans in baby-steps, starting with chapter 1.

Grace and peace in Jesus be with you!

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43 thoughts on “Romans 9

  1. ” There is nothing so bad about you or a family member that would make you unsaveable. And there is nothing so good about you or a family member that would make you especially worthy of being saved. … And God doesn’t elect any of you individual believers because of anything in positively distinguishable in you.”

    Right on!

    You mean, God is a REAL GOD!?

    He is the One in charge?

    That is exactly what Paul is saying.

    God will save whom He will save.

    Nice job, Aaron!

  2. Nice work Aaron. You helped me see how someone coming to the text as “a 4.5 point Calvinist” would reach the conclusions you do. I disagree with your position, of course, but I appreciate your careful explanation and the internal consistency of your argument.

  3. PS: I completely agree with the important point that God does not “owe” anyone salvation—anyone who gets it, gets it through God’s mercy.

  4. Pingback: Paul’s Epistle To The Romans | Songs From The Wood

  5. Thanks, Aaron.
    I just want to say that I especially liked the following point of yours:

    “My point is this: If you spend hours upon hours debating, speculating, and philosophizing on an issue, but can’t even call to mind (in a general way) the primary relevant scriptures in question, then consider yourself caught with your pants down.”

  6. Cal: I agreed with that point of Aaron’s, but in this forum I found it unnecessary and a bit condescending. I mean, it was directed at a bunch of people who have already agreed to come together and carefully study the Book of Romans, so I can only think that the implication is, “If you disagree with my interpretation, then you clearly have not carefully read the text.”

    (I didn’t bring this up in my first comment because I wanted to focus on what I found worthwhile in Aaron’s post.)

  7. Brian, that was part of my original Sunday sermon to another audience. I encouraged the listeners to apply the same principle to other hot topics today as well, like gender roles and homosexuality. Besides the preface and the notes on verses 24-29, nothing was uniquely created for / targeted at this blog audience.

  8. Hey Aaron, thanks for the post. Some random thoughts . . .

    *Thanks for the link to Bruce Ware. I was unaware of that article.

    *Our Greek class last Wednesday night dipped right into Romans 9:5. Leave it to William Mounce latest edition grammar book for sparking interest on punctuation.

    *Among evangelicals, I have never been attracted to Dave Hunt’s interpretation of this chapter concerning a sola corporate election.

    *But I slightly differ with Piper, too.

    grace and peace to you

  9. I read through chapters 9-11 before the original post here was written and generally found the section difficult without understanding much about the historical context and how the Jews of the day would have reacted to what Paul was saying. I have since read the section several times and researched the matter some — but I am nowhere near to understanding it well.

    What I will say, though, is that my preliminary conclusion (how’s that for an oxymoron?) is that I disagree with Aaron’s interpretation. As I read this section, it’s clear to me that Paul is talking primarily about groups of people — he uses plural and collective words such as “they” and “Israel” too many times as well as symbolic characters (e.g., Jacob and Esau) for me to believe that Paul is dealing primarily with individuals here. Paul seems to be wrestling with the fact that while God provided Israel with a Savior as promised, Israel continues to rely on the Law rather than trusting in the work of Christ. The question he seems to be addressing is how does Israel fit in with the whole scheme of things rather than rather God chooses some individuals and not others to save.

    I’m not saying there’s nothing here that applies to individuals. I do find interesting the concept near the end of the chapter (which actually fits in better with chapter 10) the concept that the Law, while intending to help show the way, could actually become a stumbling stone.

    One thing I have appreciated about this study of Romans is that I have come to a better understanding of where Calvinists (I’m using the word in a broad rather than technical sense to refer to those who emphasize divine election over human volition) get some of their ideas. That doesn’t mean I’m persuaded.

  10. I’m lost. I mean, really, I am lost. I don’t know if it is just because Aaron was so extensive in his analysis, or if it is because I don’t understand his theological viewpoint, even after he explained it, but I just don’t get what is difficult about Romans 9. I also don’t see how it supposedly doesn’t fit in with the rest of Romans. I guess I am just lost concerning Aaron’s general interpretation and summary.

    It is quite possible (maybe even likely) that I am not reading it correctly, but I see Romans 9 as a continuation of the discussion of the early Christians who, as former adherents to Mosaic Judaism, were still caught up in the rules of the Mosaic Law, as it had been interpreted by the scholars of the day, and were somewhat resentful that Peter, Paul, and the others were so cheerfully reaching out to the Gentiles. I read Romans 9 as saying, “Well, yes, the children of Israel are a chosen people, but, unfortunately, some of them have rejected God are therefore not being counted among Israel. They know the words and they go through the motions, but their hearts are elsewhere.”

    I also see this as a reminder to the Gentiles that, even though so much of Israel had fallen away, God’s promises are sure, and, someday, somehow, Israel will be redeemed by and through Christ.

  11. “some of them have rejected God are therefore not being counted among Israel”

    Alex, the way I read Romans 9:1-23, election itself it not ultimately based on even rejection or acceptance of God. The point of verse 11 is that it is prior to and not based on anything good or bad a person does. Verse 16: “it depends not on human will or exertion.”

    If election itself was a response to good or bad choices or works a person made, that would not only fly in the face of his argument, it would also not make sense out of the questions/objections anticipated in verses 14 and 19.

    Notice that in this section Paul is not distinguishing between the grace of salvation through faith vs. the burden of the law of works. Rather, he is distinguishing between gracious unconditional election and effective “calling” vs. election based on anything good or bad a person does in their human choices, activity, desires, works, etc.

    The position I take of unconditional election goes like this: God unconditionally chose individuals for himself (out of the groups mentioned in Romans 9:24) to save. He “calls” such people to himself, which secures the inevitability of their faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification (cf. 8:30).

    Sorry for not being clear. A good gauge here on this issue of whether or not you understand me is whether or not you find it absolutely crazy. 🙂 Consider watching these two lectures by John Piper on the issue:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/resources/tulip-part-5

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/resources/tulip-part-6

    Take care,

    Aaron

  12. God hardens who he will for his own purpose and glory. Just as he hardened Pharoah’s heart, he does this to all who reject him. God is only rejected by those he chooses to reject him.

  13. This all sounds to me like were only bit actors in a play where God is the dictator/director and he just moves us around the set at his own whim.

  14. Aaron,

    Okay, I think I understand your position better. I don’t accept the Calvinist doctrine of election, but I can understand how you see it, and how it informs your understanding of this chapter. Thanks for the clarification! (Also, I don’t think you’re crazy.)

    Steve/TOA/whatevernameyouaregoingbyatanygivenpoint: Yes, yes, we all know how you interpret Paul’s statements. As I’ve said before, I believe Paul was speaking in hyperbole (something I think he, and many others, did a lot.)

  15. I’m also coming to conclusion that if we divide evangelicals into two broad camps — the Calvinists on one side and the Arminians on the other, and I’m using the terms somewhat loosely to refer to those who emphasize God’s election vs. those who recognize free will (agency in LDS lingo) — on issues such as faith vs. works, Arminian evangelicals have a lot more in common with Mormons than they do with the Calvinists. They seem to me almost like two different religions that merely worship the same Savior.

  16. Paul’s statements mirror many other statements in the Holy Bible.

    Such as, “All our righteous deeds are as filty rags.” (and that includes choosing God)

    And Jesus told Niccodemus that he couldn’t chose to be re-born, “but it has to come from above.”

    And Jesus said, “you did not choose me, but I chose you.”

    The Bible can trusted.

    Jesus chose St. Paul by knocking him on his keester when he (Saul) was on his way to arrest and maybe kill some Christians. Did Paul choose Christ?

    Ah…no, he did not.

  17. I have no desire to play the game of “My Bible Verse Can Trump Your Bible Verse”. I don’t think there is anything productive that comes of it, and just telling people that they are dead wrong and failures at life isn’t going to accomplish anything.

    I believe that Christ meant it when He said, “Come unto me.” I believe He meant it as an invitation; an invitation that we choose to accept after He choose to offer it.

    Do we choose Christ first? Of course not. Does this mean that we don’t choose Him at all, or that we have no say in the matter of our personal salvation? I don’t believe so. I know that other Christians believe otherwise. Okay, I got it. Can we hear something new, now? What else do you believe? Share with me the vast, beautiful, multi-faceted gem of your beliefs.

  18. Eric said: “Arminian evangelicals have a lot more in common with Mormons than they do with the Calvinists. They seem to me almost like two different religions that merely worship the same Savior.”

    Shazaam! I’ve been thinking the same thing for a few weeks now. Although, maybe there’s another way to see it. View as degrees along a spectrum:

    – Calvinists believe that God is all-powerful to the point of even making every meaningful decision in the universe. In a sense, he’s not just “all-powerful,” he’s “the only-powerful.”

    – Evangelicals believe that God is all-powerful because he created everything that is, but he’s not so powerful that he controls everything.

    – Mormons believe that God is all-powerful in that he can fulfill any promise that he makes, but he is not in control of everything (most importantly, our free will) and cannot do anything that can be imagined (e.g., he cannot create intelligence).

    (I’m sure there are problems with how I’ve delineated that, but the point should still come across.)

  19. “God is only rejected by those he chooses to reject him.”

    That makes no sense whatsoever. Were it the case, then God is rejecting himself.

    I don’t say this to change anyone’s mind, only to illustrate that this is a monumental gulf between our different ways of thinking (and interpreting scripture).

  20. Alex, assuming your invitation is bona fide here…

    On the issue of coming to Christ, another core text of Calvinism (besides Romans 9 and Ephesians 1) is John 6, starting at v. 37. Here is how I would summarize a Calvinist reading of the passage, heavily borrowing much language from the chapter itself:

    v. 37-40: All that the Father gives to the Son come to the Son (which earlier in ch. 6 is defined as a hungering/eating/drinking desirous belief).

    All who come to the Son are never cast out, are never lost, have eternal life, and will be raised up on the last day (salvific expression for resurrection unto eternal life; cf. 5:28-29).

    No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him (v. 44).

    Jesus knows who among his apostles did not believe: Judas. Jesus summarizes his earlier teaching in ch. 6 by explaining the unbelief of Judas: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (v. 65)

    Judas doesn’t salvifically come to Jesus / believe on him because it wasn’t granted him by the Father, which Jesus identifies as the equivalent teaching he earlier spoke of, that no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him. So Judas didn’t believe on Jesus because he wasn’t individually drawn.

    Being given to the Son by the Father (i.e. drawn by the Father, granted by the Father to come to the Son) effectively renders it certain that one will come to the Son, and Jesus ensures that all who come to him have eternal life. That someone doesn’t come to the Son is explained them not having been drawn by the Father, not having been given to the Son by the Father, and not having been granted by the Father to come to the Son.

    Amidst teaching this Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63)

    The chief Arminian argument against this above reading is from another context in John 12:32, where Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

    I see two main problems with this:

    First, if “all people” in 12:32 is referring to all individuals and is speaking in the same sense as John 6, then from John 6 we would have to conclude that all come to the Son and are given eternal life, and that no one’s unbelief can be explained by them not being granted by the Father to come to the Son. But Jesus equated being granted by the Father to being drawn by the Father, so his own argument collapses if Judas is among all who are drawn (in the sense of John 6).

    Secondly, there is the context of John 12:20-36. Some Greeks wanted to speak with Jesus, and Andrew and Philip went to go tell Jesus of them. When they tell Jesus, Jesus is triggered with a sense of his death that is shortly forthcoming, of the deeper meaning and beauty of him being “lifted up” (on a cross), and of it being the focal point of his glorification. When Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”, I think his point is that the means by which he will draw people to himself is by the very paradoxical, mysterious beauty of his shameful and horrific death. The broadness of the “all people” (which in the Greek is merely “all”; “people” is supplied by translators for style and clarity) seems informed by the fact that Greeks have shown up. Jesus will bring people to himself by means of the cross from, to borrow another Johannine verse, “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

    A bonus observation come from the subsequent text in John 12, where John quotes Isaiah as explanation for why “they could not believe”: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (v. 40) This is only supplemental evidence, but it ironically seems to fit better in a Calvinistic framework.

    Hope the reading & reasoning makes sense. Having been in Romans 9 last week all this stuff is on my mind, so I hope you don’t mind the comment.

    Grace and peace,

    Aaron

  21. I forgot to mention one of the most obvious problems with the Arminian reading of John 12 (imposed on John 6):

    Jesus says in 6:44 that those who are drawn are raised up (again, salvific expression for resurrection unto eternal life). In other words, in the sense that John 6 is speaking of, being drawn secures and renders it certain that this person comes to the Son, never to be lost or be cast out by the Son.

    g’night

  22. I find such a reading of John 6 rather strained.

    Rather than start at verse 37, it makes more sense to me to start around verse 25, which sets the context. The disciples see something they want (the bread of life), and their question is a natural one: What do we need to do to receive it? The answer Jesus gave: What you must do is to believe. There is no suggestion of irresistible grace; the decision to believe is exactly that. And while it is certainly the Father’s will that all believe, there is no suggestion in the text that the Father will get his way. But when people do choose to believe, if the bond between the Father and a human is broken, it won’t be the Father doing the breaking. That’s the promise Jesus gives here.

    Alex said:

    I have no desire to play the game of “My Bible Verse Can Trump Your Bible Verse”.

    Neither do I. But I just did it, didn’t I?

    Alex also said, and I agree with him entirely:

    I believe that Christ meant it when He said, “Come unto me.” I believe He meant it as an invitation; an invitation that we choose to accept after He choose to offer it.

    Do we choose Christ first? Of course not. Does this mean that we don’t choose Him at all, or that we have no say in the matter of our personal salvation? I don’t believe so.

    And, frankly, I have no desire to worship a God who doesn’t give me a choice in the matter. What would be the point?

  23. Eric, thanks for the comment. At the very least, we can agree that when Jesus says, “whoever comes to me” (6:34) he is referring to the thing we must do, namely, believe in him. And this belief in him is later equated with eating and drinking Jesus (metaphorically). That’s why we’ll never be hungry or thirsty if we do it.

    But how are you merging this truth with verses 37, 44, and 65? How would you specifically connect those verses with the context? 37: It seems that Jesus is teaching that if someone is given to the Son by the Father, they will come to the son—and that “coming” is believing. 44: Those drawn by the Father come to Jesus and are finally saved. 65: The unbelief of Judas is explained by his not having been drawn by the Father and not having been granted to come to the Son.

    Grace and peace,

    Aaron

  24. I think its a strange doctrine that Aaron is teaching, and if Paul is actually saying that we have no choice and that God will harden or soften whomever he chooses and does so arbitrarily, I think that this is a mark against his credibility.

  25. I assume by “arbitrarily” you mean “unconditionally.” Unconditional election certainly wouldn’t be arbitrary in the sense of not having intended purpose and divine wisdom behind it.

  26. I’m curious how you think God loses credibility in Aaron’s theology.

    We’ve agreed that no one deserves salvation. . .

  27. I’d say God loses credibility because if going to arbitrarily choose to ignore someone that he could just because—well, why? he’s too full of himself?—then that someone rightly should look elsewhere for whatever help they can get. And who knows, maybe some other cosmic being is even more merciful than God—perhaps not more powerful, but nevertheless more willing to impart of what power he/she/it does have to bless others.

    That, and the fact that I’d lose all respect for him. (Yes, I know: who am I to say whether I am allowed to determine whether God merits my respect, etc.)

  28. is mercy something we should expect. . . from anyone?

    I believe God IS merciful but I don’t see how mercy is a contingent quality of a supremely powerful creator. I doubt anything we might call “god” would really need our worship or respect.

    Plenty of monarchs lacked mercy, but they were still called “King”.

  29. “They again object, Were not men predestinated by the ordination of God to that corruption which is now held forth as the cause of condemnation? If so, when they perish in their corruptions they do nothing else than suffer punishment for that calamity, into which, by the predestination of God, Adam fell, and dragged all his posterity headlong with him. Is not he, therefore, unjust in thus cruelly mocking his creatures? I admit that by the will of God all the sons of Adam fell into that state of wretchedness in which they are now involved; and this is just what I said at the first, that we must always return to the mere pleasure of the divine will, the cause of which is hidden in himself. But it does not forthwith follow that God lies open to this charge. For we will answer with Paul in these words, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Romans 9:20, 21.) . . .

    Now, should some Manes or Coelestinus come forward to arraign Divine Providence, (see sec. 8,) I say with Paul, that no account of it can be given, because by its magnitude it far surpasses our understanding. Is there any thing strange or absurd in this? Would we have the power of God so limited as to be unable to do more than our mind can comprehend? I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknow, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice. (See August. Ep. 106.) But when justice clearly appears, why should we raise any question of injustice? Let us not, therefore, be ashamed to stop their mouths after the example of Paul. Whenever they presume to carp, let us begin to repeat: Who are ye, miserable men, that bring an accusation against God, and bring it because he does not adapt the greatness of his works to your meager capacity?” ~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3:23:4-5. See here for Calvin’s full answer.

  30. Tim- I didn’t say God loses credibility, I meant Paul loses credibility. Paul may be saying what he thinks rather than what really is.

    Nobody may deserve salvation but we probably don’t deserve hell either.

    The everyday Christian.— If the Christian dogmas of a revengeful God universal sinfulness election by divine grace and the danger of eternal damnation were true, it would be a sign of weak-mindedness and lack of character not to become a priest, apostle or hermit and, in fear and trembling, to work solely on one’s own salvation; it would be senseless to lose sight of ones eternal advantage for the sake of temporal comfort. If we may assume that these things are at any rate believed true, then the everyday Christian cuts a miserable figure; he is a man who really cannot count to three, and who precisely on account of his spiritual imbecility does not deserve to be punished so harshly as Christianity promises to punish him.

    F.Nietzsche

  31. Tim: “is mercy something we should expect. . . from anyone?”

    Yes.

    “I believe God IS merciful but I don’t see how mercy is a contingent quality of a supremely powerful creator.”

    In the past we’ve had similar discussions; and if I remember right, you believe that God merits worship if for no other reason than because he created us. I reject that standard for worship. Worship involves praise, and I find nothing praiseworthy about (speaking hypothetically) a supremely powerful creative jerk. Mercy, to me, is not just a “contingent quality,” it is an “essential quality.”

    “I doubt anything we might call “god” would really need our worship or respect.”

    I think it’s three different questions. One, Is mercy essential to godliness? Two, Does God need our worship? Three, Does God merit our respect?

    “Plenty of monarchs lacked mercy, but they were still called “King”.”

    True, but no one ever called those bullies “Savior.”

  32. A.S. asked me:

    But how are you merging this truth with verses 37, 44, and 65?

    The short answer is that I don’t see anything in there that suggests “irresistible grace,” nothing that says it isn’t up to us how we decide to respond to the Father’s call to us. The promise God makes is that he will be true and faithful to us, and in that sense, yeah, I believe in eternal security. But it’s up to us to decide if we will be true and faithful to him; if we’re not free to reject the work of Christ, we’re not free at all.

  33. Calvin began his theology with a being he considered to be maximally powerful, and proceeded with the rest of his theology on that basis.

    Mormonism begins its theology from the premise of a God that is fully and authentically loving – and proceeds with the rest from that basis.

    You get very different answers depending on how you crafted the questions.

  34. Seth, guess what is one of highlighted books of the month for the Berean church family in Ammon, Idaho here in November?

    The Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin (edited by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne).

    It’s very user friendly. I encourage you to purchase this simple, laymen’s volume.

    How you just commented – that’s sounds like Blake Ostler.

    And Aaron, let me get back with you on Piper.

  35. “The vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” – Romans 9:22

    1. In Piper’s book, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, I think he makes the case that “the vessels of wrath” in verse 22 were “fitted to destruction” by God. Period. He is sovereign. He is free.

    2. James White comes alongside pretty strong on this issue.

    3. In the same vein of belief in a double predestination, the late James Mongomery Boice used a potpourri of other proof-texts – Proverbs 16:4, John 12:39-40, John 13:18, John 17:12, I Peter 2:7-8, and Jude 4.

    4. John Calvin laid out predestination like this: “The eternal and unchangeable decree of God by which he foreordained, for his own glory and the display of his attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation. . . . Predestination, therefore, implies a twofold decree — a decree of election unto holiness and salvation, and a decree of reprobation unto death on account of sin and guilt. . . . Election itself could not exist without being opposed to reprobation.” And then one of Calvin’s famous concluding thoughts is “It is an awful horrible decree, I confess.”

    5. A. H. Strong seeks to soften things: “The decree of reprobation is not a positive decree, like that of election, but a permissive decree to leave the sinner to his self-chosen rebellion and its natural consequences of punishment. . . Sinners, like water, if simply let alone, will run down hill to ruin. The decree of reprobation is simply a decree to do nothing–a decree to leave the sinner to himself. The natural result of this judicial forsaking, on the part of God, is the hardening and destruction of the sinner.”

    _____

    But Aaron, I like what the late Dr. Barnhouse (Boice’s predecessor) once wrote, “Calvin was guilty at this point. He attempted to deduce from this passage what has come to be called ‘double predestination.’ The Bible knowhere announces the predestination of the lost. It would seem that Calvin and others have drawn an inference in purely human logic. They would hold that the choice of Jacob implies the reprobation of Esau.”

    I like the Lutheran position even though Charles Hodge would gently debate me by saying, “The Lutheran Church, after the days of Luther, endeavored to find a middle ground between Augustinian and the semi-Pelagian doctrine. In the Form of Concord it is taught that the choice of the vessels of mercy is to be referred to their voluntary resistance of his offered grace. Election is founded, according to this view, on the sovereignty of God, but preterition on the foresight of impenitence. This, however, seems to involve a contradiction.”

    Aren’t the vessels of wrath “fitted” by their own willful sin rather than God? (Romans 2:4)

    And does God really in any way decree what He doesn’t desire?

    Of course, I can’t wait to hear exposition of Romans 9 in the teaching hall of heaven.

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