Calvinist Election Refuted in Romans 11: A Concise And Devastating Article By A Professor of New Testament And Greek
Article by Günther H. Juncker, re-posted from SEA
According to Calvinism, Rom 11:5-7 teaches double predestination. On the one hand there is a “remnant” that is elect and has been “chosen” for salvation from before the foundation of the world. And on the other hand there is “the rest” who are the non-elect, or reprobate, who have been created and irreversibly predestined to hell. The reprobate by definition cannot be saved because God does not want them saved. He does not love them (rather he “hates” them) and Jesus did not die for them. These God justly “hardens,” like Pharaoh, to keep from salvation since God does not want them saved but in hell.
According to Paul, however, “the rest” who are not elect and not “chosen” can be saved. In fact, many of them will be saved. Saving them is, from one angle, the very point of the Gentile mission! If Paul is correct then Calvinism is, in a word, refuted. Clearly if “the rest” can be saved, then they are not the reprobate of Calvinistic double predestination theology. The fact that some are “chosen” does not entail that others are irreversibly reprobated or “rejected.” Since the chosen “remnant” actually comes from the ranks of “the rest” it is thus not enough to say, as any Calvinist could say, that the existence of a remnant proves that God has not rejected Israel. It is specifically “the rest,” described in detail in the immediately preceding paragraph (Rom 10:16-21), that God has not rejected. But how to be sure? Simple. Follow the pronouns in Romans 11 to see what Paul himself actually says about “the rest.” God loves them. He shows mercy to them. He desires that they be saved. Some of them can and will be saved.
1I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3“Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. 7What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.” 9And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.10Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.” 11I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? … 28From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
Truly, this passage should be an eye opener for those who have not taken God’s salvific, propitiatory agape love for the entire world (John 3:16; cf. 1 John 2:2) seriously enough. In short, if Rom 11:5-7 is not describing the reprobate of Calvinistic double predestination then it is safe to say that there are no such people. What Calvin meant by terms like “elect” and “chosen” and “hardened” has nothing to do with what Paul meant by these terms. The Calvinist system is foreign to Paul and twists Paul’s terms to mean things that they never meant. Same goes for expressions like “vessels of wrath” that for Calvin meant reprobate and irreversibly predestined to hell; whereas for Paul it simply meant presently under God’s wrath but able to come out from under that wrath through faith in the Gospel (cf. Rom 2:4-5). In fact, for Paul all believers were once “vessels of wrath” (Rom 1:18-3:20; cf. Eph 2:3)! In other words, if the so-called “reprobate” can be and are being saved and grafted into the Olive Tree, then there is no such thing as the “reprobate” as Calvinism understands the term. May God spare us from dogmatic interpretations that distort the Gospel and diminish God’s goodness, love, and mercy toward the whole cosmos and every single person in it!
“I can prove that Calvinistic double predestination is biblical. Let me begin by redefining some of Paul’s terms in Romans . . . .”Dr. Günther H. JunckerProfessor of New Testament & GreekToccoa Falls CollegeToccoa Falls, GA 30598
Concerning the hardening of Pharaoh, after a note of agreement, you just assert positions opposite to mine without substantiation. So I’ll take the opportunity to share something merely anecdotal. Before publishing the book, I submitted my chapter on the hardening of Pharaoh to a distinguished Reformed scholar who is writing a major commentary on Exodus, asking for feedback. I was expecting some serious pushback or criticism of my reading. But to my surprise, the scholar largely agreed with my reading and, if anything, seems to think the divine hardening even less deterministic than I do and plans to cite my work. It is not as if it should be obvious that the divine hardening of Pharaoh was deterministic or irreversible.
Brian Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (This is Dr. Abasciano’s doctoral dissertation and the basis for his first book on Romans 9. It is essentially the same as his first book on Romans 9, but longer)
Romans 9 is one of the most controversial and often-misinterpreted passages of scripture among evangelicals. Controversy, however, should not make us timid when it comes to the things of God. This inspired chapter is valuable for teaching doctrine, and should not be ignored or glossed over. At the same time, it should not be treated as a comprehensive statement of Christian soteriology by itself, for the chapter is not written in isolation, but is strongly rooted in the context of both Testaments, touching on concepts present in the other Pauline epistles and the gospels, and quoting from the Old Testament frequently. The goal of this writing is a sound, objective exegesis of Romans 9 to explain the principles therein, expound upon its themes, and to show where and how its teachings fit into the contexts of the rest of the book of Romans, and scripture as a whole. All quotes are from the NKJV unless otherwise specified.
1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen [or kinsmen] according to the flesh,
In the opening of the chapter, Paul displays the strongest of sympathy for his fellow Jews, his apparent inference being that he so greatly wishes their reconciliation in Christ, that he would forfeit his own salvation if that could bring about their being saved.
4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
The tragedy of the majority of Jews rejecting Christ as their Messiah is only heightened when the covenant relationship between God and the children of Israel is considered. It was for Israel that He worked wonders as He did no other nation (Exodus 34:10), and as far as things in this world that pertain to God are concerned, there is much profit to being a Jew (Romans 3:2). Further, the patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets, apostles, as well as Jesus Christ Himself all came from this chosen people of God.
Since they are the people to whom the promises were given and to whom pertain all these blessings, this raises obvious questions: Why are so many Jews unsaved after the word of God has been preached to them? If God made the covenant with Abraham and his children, then why are so many of his descendants altogether excluded from it (Matthew 8:11-12)? Explanation of this apparent discrepancy in light of God’s righteousness is the primary focus of Romans 9.
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
Paul’s explanation begins with continuation of a subject brought up back in chapter 3:
“For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” (Romans 3:3)
He immediately begins to answer the underlying questions with the distinction between national Israel and the true Israel of God, a principle that he put forth in chapter 2.
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)
It’s on this basis that Paul denies the idea that God’s word has taken no effect: it has, just not within those that men would naturally expect.
7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” [quoting Genesis 21:12]
The point is made that just because one is technically one of Abraham’s physical offspring, this does not guarantee that he will be reckoned as such when it comes to whether he is blessed with faithful Abraham. This is well-illustrated with Abraham’s own sons, his eldest Ishmael, rather than receiving the inheritance of their tribe, was sent away in favor of the younger child of promise, Isaac. So one should not assume that merely being a child of Abraham entitles him or her to the same blessings as he. This line of thought echoes what Christ stated to His fellow Jews,
“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Luke 3:18)
8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” [quoting Genesis 18:14]
The distinction between the children according to the flesh and the children of promise is further drawn and clarified here as analogy to the respective states of the natural Jews and believers in Christ. Ishamel was a child of Abraham according to the flesh (his eldest, no less), yet was not the son of promise, and thus not reckoned as his seed. He was blessed, but it was with Isaac that the covenant was established.[a]
Likewise, natural-born Jews are the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, but if they’re not the children of promise, then with regards to the covenant of grace, they’re no more counted as Abraham’s seed than Ishmael was. Who are these children of promise then? How is one accounted as Abraham’s seed? The answer, as will be demonstrated, is revealed in the conclusion of the chapter, and treated more thoroughly in the epistle of Romans and Paul’s other letters. Interestingly, this isn’t the only time that Paul has used this analogy. It also appears in Galatians chapter 4.
“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” (Galatians 4:21-31)
Hagar, in Paul’s analogy, represents the old covenant of works. Her offspring, the children of her bondage, are the natural Jews who are under the law. In verses 10-13, the analogy of the natural children versus the children of promise (represented by Isaac’s twin sons) is extended to show that the works of the law which the Jews perform are irrelevant to whether they will inherit the promises.
10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” [quoting Genesis 25:23]
13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” [quoting Malachai 1:2-3]
Just as in the example of Isaac and Ishmael, the example of Jacob and Esau again displays the purpose of God overriding man’s expectations and going against all outward appearances. Yet again the elder and favored heir apparent is rejected by God in favor of a younger supplanter. Paul likewise employs the imagery of Esau as representing the children of the fleshly ordinances in opposition to the children of promise. Just as he lost his birthright and failed to inherit his father’s blessing, so the nation of the Jews that received the covenant at Sinai largely finds itself (for now) shut out of the kingdom, while lowly Gentiles press in and inherit the promises.
The wording “not of works, but of Him who calls” is pertinent to the example. Those who are natural Jews only, the children of bondage who rest in the law (cf Romans 2:17) are confident that they are partakers in the blessings of Abraham because of their obedience to the old covenant. Paul’s contradiction of these notions of self-righteousness is a consistent theme throughout Romans, expressed in his declaration that only faith in Christ can save from sin, and that salvation is impossible through the works of the law.[b] Here, Paul highlights the irrelevance of such works by way of his analogy: one of the twins was chosen before either of them had done anything good or evil, so that God’s purpose according to His choosing would prevail. The one who received the blessing didn’t lay claim to it by either birthright or his works, but was graciously chosen for it by God, as is His prerogative. So in the same way, the point being made is that the works of the law are not a factor in whether one obtains God’s favor. The idea conveyed in Jacob being chosen over Esau apart from any works is that the Jewish keeping of the Mosaic law isn’t the basis upon which God chooses to save, therefore the Jewish pursuit of righteousness through the works of the law in comparison to the Gentiles’ general alienation from God’s statutes isn’t relevant to whether one is chosen. Both have fallen short. This being the case, many among the natural Jews who were born into the commonwealth of Israel have sought to establish their righteousness in the keeping of the law, but have nonetheless failed to obtain the promises of God. All the while the Gentiles, the lowly dogs who were by nature strangers to the promises (Ephesians 2:12), have obtained them by faith in Christ (Romans 4:13, Hebrews 6:12). To a devout Jew who valued keeping of the law highly and thought this something of great worth in the eyes of God, taking the kingdom from those who strive to keep God’s law (albeit imperfectly) and giving it to apparently less worthy Gentile usurpers who obtain it through faith without ever having kept the law might seem quite unjust, which leads Paul to His next statements.
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” [quoting Exodus 33:19]
16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
At first glance, God choosing a heathen over a practicing Jew would seem to convey unjustness in God’s judgments. Here, a key point and theme of the passage is brought out: divine prerogative. That is to say, God’s blessing is His to give to whom He will in His Holy purpose. No one can claim it by accident of birth or merit of deeds. In answer, Paul asserts God’s right to show His covenant mercy to whom He wishes. It doesn’t matter what men want or do, who and how God chooses is His prerogative, no one else’s.
Establishment of divine prerogative, rather than any explanation of it, is Paul’s main thrust here. The grounds for God’s prerogative, though not explained directly in chapter 9, should be evident from the context of the book of Romans: with the obvious exception of Christ, no Jew or Gentile can keep the law in full. All stumble and break its statutes despite their best efforts. Since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory[c], including the Jews. Since none of us merits His blessing, then none can rightfully lay claim to His favor or obligate Him to extend His covenant mercy. Man cannot ‘elect himself;’ just as in the case of His choice of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, it is God’s prerogative to decide to whom the promise goes.
17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” [quoting Exodus 9:16]
18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
The corollary of God’s prerogative in who He wishes to save is that He also has the right to reject whoever He wishes, as no one has power or right to demand a share of His promise. Rejected as they may be from His mercy, God does have use for such people in His plans, and puts them in key positions to suit His own purposes, as in the case of Pharaoh, or those who condemned Christ.[d]
Likewise, God has power over the human will, and can harden it against receiving the word on whatever basis He wishes to suit His purposes. The issue of divine hardening[e] (also referred to metaphorically as blindness and being given over to wickedness, cf Romans 11:25, 2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, Romans 1:28) is not thoroughly explained in Romans 9, since again, Paul’s focus here isn’t explanation of God’s methods, but a defense of His prerogative as sovereign Lord. The scriptures are, however, by no means silent on the issue. It’s addressed several times in the New Testament, including earlier in Romans, from which we offer a cursory overview to provide context for the subject in chapter 9. Jesus spoke of the Jews being blinded to Him and His message after their rejection of Him:
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)
From the context, this was apparently in retribution for their refusal to humble themselves and hear Christ. It must be noted that one cannot simply come to Christ by force of will, it must be granted by God that he may believe (John 6:65); Jesus made it clear that the stiff-necked pride God often characterized many Jews by (as in His criticism of them that’s quoted in Romans 10:20) would in fact keep one out of the kingdom of God.[f]
Divine hardening is often shown as an apparently ‘cooperative effort,’ so to speak. The example cited, Pharaoh, for instance, is shown to have hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32, 9:34, 1 Samuel 6:6) in addition to the near-total blindness to any reason God inflicted upon him which led to his catastrophic decisions regarding Israel. Paul spoke of similar judgment passed against those who forgot God in the opening chapter of Romans:
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting….” (Romans 1:28)
Exegesis of divine hardening wouldn’t be complete without comment on where Paul picks up on the issue of Israel’s being blinded to the gospel. In chapter 11, he expands upon the concept of the Jews’ blindness, indicating that it was done so that the gospel could be shared with all men (Romans 11:32), which is in direct accord with his words to the Jews at Antioch, for though he first stated,
“Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.” (Acts 13:26)
Yet after they had begun to contradict and blaspheme, he declared,
“It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (13:46b)
So God’s use of divine hardening against many in Israel has a greater purpose, though this isn’t discussed in detail until chapter 11. Notably, the blindness spoken of pertaining to the Jews in chapter 11 is shown to not be irreversible, but rather, God’s gifts and calling for and to them will never be revoked.[g]
This state of hardness of heart is also not universal for all Jews, as a small remnant are still saved according to God’s gracious choosing (Romans 11:5), similar to what was spoken in Isaiah 10:22-23 which is quoted later in this chapter. God’s prerogative both to give and withhold His blessing immediately destroys any objection that someone might ‘compel’ God to share His covenant mercies, since, suffice it to say, no one can receive them apart from God’s willingness. However, the idea of God hardening someone’s heart would in and of itself raise objections from some, an expected objection is dealt with by Paul in verse 19.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Paul dismisses the objection with his underlying appeal to divine prerogative that he put forth in verses 14-16. Simply, God as Creator has the right to do what He pleases with what is His (compare this to Christ’s words in Matthew 20:15). Man is in no position to question Him or His methods. So from the same group of people, as in the case of Israel according to the flesh, He chooses to save some and harden others. While he does provide one reason why God may harden some men’s hearts below, Paul in fact makes no attempt to directly answer the objector’s ‘why,’ much less justify whatever basis or means God employs in hardening one’s heart, nor need he. Such lines of questioning presuppose that God is somehow accountable to man to explain His actions (contra Job 9:12) or obligated to share His blessing with certain peoples, which notions Paul categorically negates in declaring God’s authority over creation.
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,
24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Paul offers God showing His wrath so that we may understand His glory and mercy as one good reason for His hardening men’s hearts while patiently bearing with them a long time despite their sentence of destruction. It would indeed be hard for finite beings who don’t understand what wrath is to truly understand what mercy is. The author repeats a similar sentiment in chapter 11,
“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22)
Where the unbelieving are concerned, as in the case of Joseph’s brothers, God finds a way to turn even the wickedness of men to His own ends (e.g. Genesis 50:20). Our being “prepared beforehand” refers to God’s working of election and predestination through His power, wisdom, and foreknowledge (which he mentions in 8:29, compare to 1 Peter 1:2) among both the Jewish remnant and Gentile believers.
25 As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.”[quoting Hosea 2:23]
26 “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, “You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” [quoting Hosea 1:10]
These verses are quoted primarily in reference to the Gentiles, who were formerly excluded from God’s promises, and reckoned by the Jews as little more than dogs. Despite such lowly birth, God’s ultimate plan of mercy towards the Gentiles is hinted at in the dialogue between Christ and the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7:26-29, heavily implied in Jesus’ sermon to His fellow Jews about mercy shown in Sidon and Syria rather than in Israel (Luke 4:24-27), and concluded by Peter and the Jerusalem council (Acts 11:17-18). This is not to say that God has totally forsaken the nation of Israel.
27 Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved.
28 For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness[h], Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth.” [quoting Isaiah 10:22-23]
Paul quotes these passages as prophetic authority that the salvation of the Gentiles as well as a remnant of the Jews has been God’s plan all along, as He’d declared through the prophets of old.[i] He continues with this idea into chapters 10 and 11, referencing God’s declaration in Deuteronomy 32:21 that He will provoke the Jews to jealousy by foreign peoples who don’t know His law. Note that the word for “short” and “cut short” (syntemno) in verse 28 can also imply something done hastily or expediently. Given the quote’s source (Isaiah 10:22-23), the rendering that the NIV and some other versions employ, “For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality”, is likely more accurate.
29 And as Isaiah said before: “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth [lit. Lord of Hosts] had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah.” [quoting Isaiah 1:9]
The wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that received fiery retribution from above are used as figures of utter destruction. They have an end, and a pronounced one at that, implying that if God had not been gracious in granting the blessings of Abraham to a remnant of the Jews, they would have perished as surely and completely as those cities that defied God. Yet it is still a small remnant among the children of Israel both in Paul’s day as well as our own. To the questions that Paul’s statements at the beginning of the chapter raise, why are so many law-keeping Jews are rejected from receiving the promise while many believing Gentiles enjoy God’s blessing, Paul elucidates that this was in fact what God has chosen to do. To objections that this would make God unrighteous for forsaking the children of the Sinai covenant, Paul distinguishes between the nation of Israel and the Israel made up of the children of promise. To charges of unfairness, Paul appeals to God’s prerogative in both bestowing and withholding His mercy, and cites examples of His subverting the expected order of things in making the younger heir to the promise over the elder in the Old Testament. As for many of the Jews, if being born to the chosen people and trying to keep the law of God don’t make one a child of promise, then what does? Why are they descended from Abraham, yet not of the seed of promise? Paul concludes:
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.[j]
32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law.[k] For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
33 As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” [quoting Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16]
The conclusion to the chapter, besides smoothly transitioning into Paul’s discussion on the Jews in chapters 10 and 11, is key to understanding Romans 9. Faith in Christ is in fact what differentiates the children of promise from the natural children of bondage. This was brought out in chapter 4 of Romans when Paul explained who the true children of Abraham are:
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [he had yet] being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11-12)
This idea was also conveyed throughout the third chapter of Galatians when addressing the issue of faith versus the works of the law,
“Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. … For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. … And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:7, 26, 29)
In summary, the tribes of Israel are the descendants of Abraham, and ostensibly the heirs to the promise with him. Yet despite their bloodline and keeping of the law, many of them are not truly Israel. God has instead made many Gentiles heirs of the promise with the Jewish remnant, who constitute the true Israel. God has chosen to show mercy to those who are children of promise through faith, and blinded many in the nation of Israel who have largely rejected His mercy through unbelief and trying to establish their own righteousness through the law. In this upset, God displays both His mercy and His wrath, taking the promise from the natural heirs and giving it to foreign people, just as He took the promise from the patriarchs’ elder sons and gave it to their younger, and in His wisdom confounded the wise so that many who weren’t born the seed of Abraham according to the flesh have nonetheless become his children and attained to his blessing: the righteousness which is by faith in Christ Jesus. It’s not unfair for God to do so, because who He shows the mercy of His covenant to isn’t man’s to decide. It is God’s promise, God’s grace, God’s prerogative, according to God’s purpose and on His terms, and therefore God’s choice. As it is also written,
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-21)
[a] This even went against Abraham’s own request: “And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” (Genesis 17:18-21)
[b] See Romans 3:20-21, 28, 4:13, 7:6, 8:3.
[c] Romans 3:23. That both Jew and Gentile have fallen in sin is a major theme through many of Paul’s writings, expressed perhaps the most poignantly in Romans.
[d] That they being in those positions and having the power they did was to suit the purpose of God is evident from Christ’s words to Pilate in John 19:11: “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”
[e] Though typically referred to as ‘divine hardening,’ there is scriptural evidence to suggest that God hardens men through secondary agents, e.g. by turning them over to Satan’s influence. See 2 Corinthians 4:4, Matthew 13:19. Interestingly, Isaiah 6:9-10 seems to suggest that the word of God being spoken to undiscerning people can harden them, possibly lending some credence to the analogy of the wax & clay being respectively softened and hardened under the same sun.
[f] In contrast to the many learned, but stubborn men of Israel, the scriptures strongly emphasize being humble and child-like to the word of God. “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:15) See also James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5.
[g] The quote about God’s gifts and calling being irrevocable is very often misapplied. Its context is in relation to the Jews who have stumbled at the word, but are able to obtain mercy. “And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. … Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy.” (Romans 11:23, 28-31)
[h] 9:28 NU-Text: “For the Lord will finish the work and cut it short upon the earth.”
[i] This passage is also extremely strong evidence against those who heretically claim that the majority of unbelieving Jews are saved through keeping the old covenant.
[j] 9:31 – NU-Text omits of righteousness.
[k] 9:32 – NU-Text “of works,” though the qualification “of the law” is hardly necessary to infer that the law is being spoken of, since, 1.) the Jewish reliance upon the law and the superiority of faith in Christ is a one of the major themes repeatedly addressed throughout the epistle, cf 2:17, 3:20, 28, 4:14, 8:2-3, 10:5; 2.) the immediate context of the preceding verse makes this abundantly clear.
I wrote a lengthy response to C. Michael Patton’s post on Rom. 9 entitled “Why Does He Still Find Fault”: Predestination, Election, and the Argument of Romans 9. Apparently, it was a little too lengthy for Patton’s taste since he deleted all but the first in a series of posts and then made a general comment about people spamming his site, to which I responded,
I apologize for the length of my posts and that several of them were posted in a row, but the question you ask in your post requires a very detailed answer. So I didn’t see it as spam. I saw it as a detailed response to a question that was repeatedly asked in this thread: that someone offer an alternative interpretation to the one you have offered if one is to properly challenge that interpretation. I do intend on putting my comments above into a post at my blog at some point, but in doing so one can never be sure how many will think it worth pursuing. So I was trying to engage your post in the most direct way as possible. I thought that is what you were after and I made sure to limit the content to Rom. 9. But again, I apologize if that response was longer than you approve of. I did not intend to violate your blog rules.
So for the sake of sharing an alternative interpretation and taking on the claims that the Arminain interpretation simply cannot honestly make sense of the text in question (esp. Rom. 9:19), I offer the entirety of my response below which was not permitted on Patton’s site. I will also link to it at his site as he suggested long winded commenters like myself do. I am tempted to add to it since I have the freedom to do so now, but for now I will leave it as is and maybe develope it further in subsequent posts:
There is so much to say concerning this that it is very hard to put it all in a post or two. I really do think that the Arminian interp is in far better harmony with the greater context of Rom. 9-11 than the Calvinist interpretation. I would also take issue with your view that Paul is speaking of unconditional security in Rom. 8:28-39. Rather, Paul is speaking of all of the benefits that come to the believer through faith union with Christ (notice the bookend “in Christ” language in Rom. 8:1 and 8:39). While one remains in Christ through faith, nothing in this world can separate the believer from Christ. However, the passage says nothing of those who may reject Christ at a later time and remove themselves from the sphere of God’s elective love (which is “in Christ Jesus”, 8:39).
I would also argue that Paul is primarily speaking of the corporate body of Christ, the church, in Rom. 8:28-30 and of individuals secondarily only as they relate to and are identified with the elect corporate body that ultimately finds its identification in Christ (for more on the corporate election view see here). So while these things are true of the corporate body of believers, they are only true of the individual on the condition that he or she remains in that elect body through faith. This truth is clearly brought out in Romans 11:16-24. So Rom. 8:28-39 does not preclude the possibility of apostasy on the part of the individual who may ultimately be broken off from the elect body through unbelief. However, in his reflection on all of the covenant blessings and benefits that belong to the church as a result of their union with Christ, Paul’s thoughts quickly shift to his own people who have largely been denied these benefits due to their unbelief. So the question naturally arises, have God’s promises to Israel failed? Has God been unfaithful to Israel in denying them participation in the new covenant that the Gentiles are now enjoying?
In short, the answer is a resounding “no”, since God has the sovereign right to choose His covenant people on whatever basis He decides upon. This basis is union with Christ through faith rather than heritage or works. God decides who His covenant partner will be and who His covenant people will be. This is Paul’s point in Rom. 9:1-13. God chose His people through His sovereign election of the covenant heads (the patriarchs) and this election was not based on man’s decision but God’s decision. But God’s ultimate purpose in election was to open the door for all people to enjoy His love as God’s chosen covenant people and that purpose has now been realized in Christ (cf. Rom 4:16-25). Therefore, the children of the promise are not those that God unconditionally elected from all eternity, but those who receive the promise by faith (cf. Rom. 3:21-4:25; Rom. 9:8; Galatians 3:15-29).
The promise is ultimately the promise of a new covenant people through Christ Jesus (Rom. 4:16-5:9; Gal. 3:21-25). It is through faith that we receive the promised Spirit and become children of God (Gal. 3:14, 22-29). The first part of Romans is concerned with God’s divine right to name His covenant people based on whatever conditions He decides to set forth or based on whomever He decides to choose as the corporate representative through whom His people are named and draw their identity. It was through Isaac that Abraham’s offspring would be “named” (i.e. called), for it was through Isaac that the promise would come to the people. Further, God named His people through Jacob/Israel. The covenant people of God were chosen in Jacob/Israel and this according to God’s sovereign right to make Jacob His corporate covenant representative rather than Esau. The concept of corporate solidarity is plainly seen in Paul’s reference to the prophecy given to Rebekah (Rom. 9:11-13). The people of God are tied up in the corporate representative Jacob/Israel and derive their identity and name through Him,
Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (Emphasis mine; Note: the person Esau never served the person Jacob)
This is a prophecy of the destiny of these two people groups tied up in the persons of Jacob and Esau through whom these people would be “named” (i.e. “called”) and derive their identity. God had the sovereign right to choose Jacob as the corporate representative of His covenant people, but this was only the beginning since the true “Seed” of Abraham was yet to come. And it is ultimately through this chosen “Seed” (Christ) that God’s people will draw their identity as God’s chosen covenant people, and through whom all of the blessings and promises of the new covenant would be imparted to those who put faith in Him (Rom. 4:16-5:5; 9:8, 30-10:13; Gal. 3:14, 21-4:7). Note especially Gal. 3:16-22, 29.
Furthermore, God has the divine right to make inclusion in the people of God based on the condition of faith in Christ, through which we are joined together with Him and receive all of the spiritual blessings that reside in Him (including election, cf. Eph. 1:3-13). So it is not of works or heritage, but of faith in Christ. It is to this that the Jews protest since they believe that the promises belong to them unconditionally as children of Abraham and observers of the covenant laws and customs. But God reserves the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy (i.e. on those who put faith in Christ) and to reject/harden those who reject His divinely appointed means of effecting the new covenant and naming His new covenant people (through faith union with His chosen covenant Head and corporate representative- Jesus Christ, the true “Seed” of Abraham through whom the “promises” are received by faith, Rom. 4:13-17).
This brings us to the passage that you seem to find so convincingly in favor of the Calvinist interpretation (Rom. 9:19). Paul is not addressing the protest of an Arminian but the protest of a Jew. Paul just mentioned that even the hardening of Pharaoh ultimately served God’s purpose in that His name might be displayed in all the earth. However, Pharaoh was not hardened arbitrarily. His hardening was the result of His rejection of God and God’s right to do what He willed with His covenant people. This is the parallel drawn with present day Israel. The Israelites have experienced a hardening due to their rejection of God’s chosen means to effect His covenant and name His covenant people (through Christ). However, just as with Pharaoh, their rejection and subsequent hardening have actually served to further Gods’ purpose in that His name is now proclaimed among the Gentiles and His glory more fully displayed through the inclusion of the Gentiles as God’s covenant people through faith in Christ. So the objection is not about why does God harden us irresistibly and then blame us? The objection is: why does God hold us accountable when our rejection and hardening actually served His purpose in increasing His glory and making Himself known among the nations? It is similar to the objection raised in Rom. 3:7,
If my falsehood enhances God’s faithfulness and so increases His glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?
This brings us to Paul’s use of the Potter imagery which draws on Jeremiah 18. Rather than being used at this present time for noble purposes, the Jews are being used for “common use” in that they are still serving God’s purposes, but not in the way that God originally intended. God has been forced to use them through their failure rather than through their obedience and faithfulness. God had noble purposes for Israel, but they could not be fulfilled due to their rejection and rebellion. Therefore, God endured them as objects of wrath just as He endured and sustained Pharaoh while simultaneously preparing objects of glory even through their rebellion and stubbornness (in the case of Israel God continued to enact His plan to send the Messiah through Israel [by whom He would prepare a people for glory] despite Israel’s continual rebellion and rejection of God and His covenant).
God could have destroyed them entirely many times, but endured them with great patience for the sake of His promise to bring the promised “Seed” out of Abraham’s descendents, through whom He would bless the world (Rom. 9:4, 5). As Jer. 18:5-11 plainly testifies, God had noble plans for Israel but brought destruction on them instead due to their rebellion (Jer. 18:5, 9-12). In the same passage God states that the nations of whom God warns of destruction can come into favor and avoid destruction through repentance (Jer. 18:7). This is exactly what has happened in Paul’s day. The Jews have been rejected, not unconditionally but as a result of their rebellion, and the Gentiles have been spared destruction and given hope through Christ due to their positive response to the Gospel (see also Isaiah 29:16; 45:9 which describes the same basic concept of judgment for rebellion as described in Jer. 18).
The Jews have rejected God’s ways and purpose fulfilled in the person of Christ and will now suffer the just consequences while the Gentiles who had previously rejected God and were cut off from the promises of God, will now enjoy His favor through their acceptance of God’s purposes in the person of Christ. The allusion to Jer. 18 and the imagery presented there makes the Calvinist interpretation of these passages impossible. So God reserves the right to say “not my people” to those who were formally His people and to call them “my people” who were formally cut off from the benefits of God’s covenant people (Rom. 9:24-29, and note again that “called” is used in these passages in the sense of “naming” a people for God, and not as some divine summons made irresistible for the “elect”; for more on that see here). “My people” are those who receive the promise through faith in Christ (both Jew and Gentile) and “not my people” are those who reject Christ (both Jew and Gentile). Romans 9:30-33 sums this up nicely in again locating the distinction between the people of God and those rejected of God as being based on those who have faith and those who do not. Nothing is said of an unconditional election in Paul’s conclusion to this section, because this was not at all what Paul had been discussing in the chapter.
As we continue to read Rom. 10-11, the Arminian interpretation only gains strength while the Calvinist interpretation falters repeatedly. Much, much, much more could be said, but I have already gone on far too long. Thanks for letting me share an alternative perspective.
There have been several new articles and on-line books added to the side bar in the last month or so. If you haven’t check them out in a while you might want to see if there is anything new that may interest you. A few recent additions are:
Filed under: apostasy, determinism, Divine Hardening, eternal security, free will, irresistible grace, perseverance, prevenient grace, regeneration, total depravity, Warning Passages in Hebrews | Leave a comment »
The following blurb comes from the SEA site,
We do not always announce in the blog the addition of specific articles to the site’s article database. (We regularly add articles to the site, and upon being added they appear in the “Recent Articles” box on the right side of our home page. After an article is pushed off the recent articles list by newer articles, it can only be found through the topical index or through the site’s search function.) But we wanted to draw your attention to a particularly excellent article that we are adding today by Robert Chisholm Jr. on hardening in the Old Testament. I think it includes the best overall single treatment of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart available, though it covers more than just the case of Pharaoh. We want to thank the journal that published the article, Bibliotheca Sacra, for granting us permission to make the article available, as well as a few other articles that have appeared in the journal and are relevant to the Arminian/Calvinist debate.
You can find Chisholm’s article on hardening here.