Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”  Romans 9:16 (ESV)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13 (ESV).

Piper’s further, detailed argument for 9.16 as speaking of unconditional bestowal of divine mercy founders on both fundamental presupposition and its particulars. For the former, Piper assumes that the language of 9.16 is incompatible with God bestowing his mercy on a condition sovereignly determined by himself. But our exegesis has found this to be a false assumption. As for the particulars, appeals to 9.11-12 and Exod. 33.19 are contradicted by our exegesis of these texts as well as of 9.16, and the reader is directed to the relevant portions of the present volume. Curiously, Piper’s final main argument invokes Phil. 2.13 (because of the somewhat similar language of ‘willing’ (τὸ θέλειν) and ‘working’ (τὸ ἐνεργεῖν)) as somehow ruling out any condition for the bestowal of God’s mercy. But that text does not particularly talk about God’s mercy (except insofar as any blessing of God can be considered mercy) and it does not indicate anything about God’s bestowal of mercy, or any divine action, being unconditional. Piper seems to be overreaching here, and we conclude that Phil. 2.13 is largely irrelevant to Rom. 9.16 and the question of the conditionality of the mercy it mentions.

Piper, 154 n. 3, notes one further reference, cited by Sanday/Headlam as an analogy to 9.16 (though Piper mistakenly refers to 9.6): Jn 1.12-13. This reference actually works against Piper because the regenerating act of God there, performed by God alone, is presented as the divine response to human faith (cf. justification in Paul’s thought, which is performed by God alone in response to human faith). John 1.12 indicates that people become children of God by faith. That is, upon believing, God gives them the right to become something that they were not prior to believing – children of God. John 1.13 then clarifies that they become children of God not from human ancestry (that is the significance of ‘not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh [which equates to sexual desire that might lead to procreation], nor of the will of a husband [who was thought to be in charge of sexual/procreative activity]’), but from God, describing their becoming children of God as being born of God. ‘Becoming children of God’ and ‘being born of God’ are parallel expressions referring to the same phenomenon (it would be special pleading, and a desperate expedient at that, to argue that becoming God’s child and being born of him are distinct in the Johannine context or that the text would allow that a person could be born of God and yet not be his child), so that God’s act of regenerating believers, making them his own children, is a response to their faith.

The parallel with Rom. 9.16 is significant and quite supportive of our exegesis. Both contexts make the point that elect status (which equates to sonship; cf. Rom. 9.8) is not bestowed by human ancestry, but by God, whose will is to choose as his own those who believe in Christ. Even if one were to deny that reference to θελήματος σαρκός or θελήματος ἀνδρός is to human ancestry specifically and insist that it refers to human willing in general, it would not make the divine action of regeneration any less a response to human faith and hence any less conditional on it. Nor would this be inconsistent with Jn 1.13’s attribution of the act of regeneration to God. The text indicates that God is the one who grants the right to become children of God and the one who regenerates. His doing so in response to faith is a matter of his discretion and would not somehow make the human choice to believe the source of regeneration instead of God any more than it makes it the source of justification. (Excerpt from footnote #153 on page 191 of Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis, by Dr. Brian Abasciano, paragraph breaks added for easier reading)

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4 Responses

  1. It would be good to include the verses discussed for reference: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Romans 9:16 (ESV). And, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13 (ESV).

  2. David,

    Good idea. Much of this excerpt would be relevant for Romans 9:18 as well, as Calvinists typically assume that God’s bestowal of mercy in that passage must be unconditional. Of course, Abasciano deals with that in much greater detail in other portions of his book. Maybe a follow-up is in order.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. These people in John 1:13 were born again of God.This is a spiritual birth Jesus spoke of in John 3.
    I believe in the power of God and his beginning of his work in his people.Apart from that,His people are helpless in nature.In fact none would seek after him.None would come to him that that might have life.
    Thanks to him and his love,all his children will be drawn and saved.
    In nature we are dead in sins and what we really have is free won’t rather than free will.We are bound by nature.It is the truth,which is Christ that sets us free.In nature we have a veil upon our heart,under it we cannot understand the things of the spirit.Why so?because the natural man cannot understand the things of God.

  4. Herc,

    You wrote:

    These people in John 1:13 were born again of God.This is a spiritual birth Jesus spoke of in John 3.

    I agree completely, and no Arminian would deny it. The point of the post, which you seemed to miss, is that God makes us His children and regenerates us in response to faith. That is exactly what the passage says. Here is the part of the post that makes the point rather clearly,

    “John 1.12 indicates that people become children of God by faith. That is, upon believing, God gives them the right to become something that they were not prior to believing – children of God. John 1.13 then clarifies that they become children of God not from human ancestry (that is the significance of ‘not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh [which equates to sexual desire that might lead to procreation], nor of the will of a husband [who was thought to be in charge of sexual/procreative activity]’), but from God, describing their becoming children of God as being born of God. ‘Becoming children of God’ and ‘being born of God’ are parallel expressions referring to the same phenomenon (it would be special pleading, and a desperate expedient at that, to argue that becoming God’s child and being born of him are distinct in the Johannine context or that the text would allow that a person could be born of God and yet not be his child), so that God’s act of regenerating believers, making them his own children, is a response to their faith.”

    As far as John 3, you should read this post: https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2007/08/20/does-jesus-teach-that-regeneration-precedes-faith-in-john-33-6/

    In fact none would seek after him.None would come to him that that might have life.

    That is why Arminians hold that no one can come unless God enables them to come, but this enabling is not irresistible as Calvinists suppose. God must enables us to come to Him so that we may have life (just as you say). If the “coming” (in faith) precedes the bestowal of spiritual life, then faith precedes regeneration (the new birth). Your own words basically make that case.

    Thanks to him and his love,all his children will be drawn and saved.

    You may believe that, but the Bible does not say that all who are drawn will be saved. Rather, no one can come unless drawn (which Arminians agree with completely), but that does mean that all who are drawn will come and be saved. John 6:44 does not say all who are drawn will come. That is something that Calvinists have wrongly read into the text.

    In nature we are dead in sins and what we really have is free won’t rather than free will.We are bound by nature.It is the truth,which is Christ that sets us free.

    God enables us to believe, but does not cause us to believe irresistibly. So we can’t come unless we are drawn, but being drawn does not mean we will necessarily come.

    In nature we have a veil upon our heart,under it we cannot understand the things of the spirit.

    That is why we need God’s enabling. However, it should be pointed out that Paul says the veil is removed from our hearts as a result of our “turn[ing] to the Lord”, which is pretty much the opposite of the way you seem to want to use that passage (2 Cor. 3:16).

    because the natural man cannot understand the things of God.

    While I agree that natural man cannot understand the things of God unless God enables him, the passage you are referencing is actually addressing immature Christians and not the unregenerate (1 Cor. 3:1-4). As is so often the case, Calvinists have wrongly taken that passage out of context and loaded it with meaning that Paul never intended.

    But the bottom line is that John 1:12-13 definitively states that faith precedes the new birth. That is good enough for me, and should be good enough for you as well.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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