An Exegesis Of Romans 9

This article will take a look into a well-referenced passage regarding Calvinism. Rather than recovering evidence of a pre-history action what I found has melded hand in glove what I have previously established.

My introductory findings of the doctrine of Unconditional Election revealed a Biblically sound but somewhat eschewed view of the election of the saints. Rather than God creating individuals to reject Him, He works within His infinite knowledge and wisdom to bring about His perfect will. Christian Apologist and Philosopher William Lane Craig summed it up brilliantly in his article on the middle knowledge of God. He held that God’s  omniscience means that, not only does He know everything, He also knows every actuality and potentiality as well. Within this, He knows who will reject Him under any and all circumstances, who will accept Him, and what circumstances will be required to affect their decision. In His providence, He places those individuals who will accept Him into the required circumstances. Predestination is thus based on primary casualty: God’s active hand in history to bring forth His perfect and sovereign will.

This finding acknowledges human responsibility and free will while also glorifying God’s sovereignty. In fact, I would argue that it places more weight on God’s sovereignty if human will is allowed. If the opposite were true wouldn’t critics be justified in placing upon God the human characteristic of insecurity? We’ve heard it said that God doesn’t need us, however, does forcing our hand to accept Him, to become the elect, constitute a need for humanity instead of a want?

I haven’t yet found the need to actively predetermine and cause every single movement of every single moment. He may do so, He may not, the debate may still continue. What we can do is offer evidence that supports our thesis. Romans chapter 9 is where we will look next. I’ll link a more thorough exegesis below, but what I argue here should be sufficient.

My first note is that this passage does not seem to acknowledge eternal destination at all. In fact, it seems to argue for primary casualty.

Thou wilt say then unto me, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?”-Romans 9:19.

Take the above verse, for example. This question only has validity if Paul is concerned with an individual’s eternal destination. However, as we shall see eternal destiny is not what Paul is concerned about at all. Rather, He is arguing for Israel’s role in history as God’s people, the one’s who will carry forth His plan. Notice how Paul dismisses the question in the next verse.

Furthermore Paul in Romans 9:13-15 is citing Malachi 1:2-3 when he quotes God saying “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated.” There is no evidence that eternal destination is the subject at hand from these verses. We should also note the use of extreme language here. The same objection has been raised by critics regarding Jesus’s words to hate our parents. The truth is ancient literature often employed hyperbole and extreme language noted by scholars as “Dramatic Orientation” to make a point. I point readers to Tekton TV’s video to explain.

There is further evidence to support this in Deuteronomy 2:5

….and command the people, saying, “You will pass through the territory of your brothers the sons of Esau who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful; 5 do not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land, even as little as a footstep because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.”

Why would God not allow His chosen people to step foot on or take any part of Esau’s land? God gave Esau, the “non-elect” person, a great blessing. How could we expect this if God completely hated him? And if God predestined Esau to act accordingly from the beginning He would have created Esau as nothing but an object of hate. We would expect no great blessing, but that’s exactly what we find in the text.

Additional evidence that this passage doesn’t have an eternal destination in mind is seen in Romans chapters 9-11, in addition to Romans 9:11-13. Paul’s focus is clearly on God’s plan in history to make Israel His people. Look to Esau and Jacob once more. The context isn’t their eternal destination but their use in God’s sovereign plan. God chose Jacob’s lineage to create the nation of Israel over Esau because God knew what Esau would become. This all supports our view of election as primary casualty. William W. Klein in his book The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election says,

“Paul affirms (in Romans 9:11) that God purposed to select Jacob above Esau. As God had named or counted Abraham’s seed through Isaac (9:7), so now the line would run through Jacob, not Esau. This choice of Israel’s lineage was a sovereign divine act, and not motivated by any specific acts or responses from the twins. This was God’s sovereign choice of an individual, though we hasten to add that the issue here is not his personal salvation. In reality, God made a corporate choice: he chose Jacob and his offspring to be his people rather than Esau and his descendants….in the section Ro 9-11 Paul struggles with the perplexing question, Has God rejected his people? God specifically chose Jacob, but not as an individual in isolation, nor for his personal salvation. Rather, Jacob became instrumental in tracing the ancestry of the people of Israel” p.173 (emphasis mine)

There is more evidence Paul’s focus is the nation of Israel throughout the majority of Romans, especially in the follower chapter (10). There we find that God had brought forth His plan through the means of human choice and had offered grace and salvation to all, both Jew and Gentile.

Even if we conclude Paul’s focus is eternal destination, we find no evidence that this destination is “fixed” or “unalterable.” Take Paul’s Christian audience in Ephesians for example. They were once “Children of wrath” (2:3) themselves until they took hold of God’s grace. A little closer to home, Romans 11:23 says,

“And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.”

The Jews who were cut off can be and will be welcomed back into the covenent if they accept Christ as their Messiah. Likewise, believers can also be rejected from God’s in-history action if they live in disobediance. We turn back to William Klein’s findings,

“We get no teaching here that God has chosen specific individuals to whom to show mercy or to harden. In the context of Ro 9, as we will continue to see, Paul’s concern is the elect people of God, a corporate entity. God has willed to show mercy to his people, to provide salvation; people cannot effect or procure their own salvation. Cranfield’s important reminder confirms this analysis: ‘The assumption that Paul is here thinking of the ultimate destiny of the individual, of his final salvation or final ruin, is not justified by the text.’ We discover the criterion for obtaining mercy later in Ro 9 and 10: faith. God calls those who come to him in faith, ‘my people.’ Conversely, he hardens those who reject him by hardening their hearts against him. He destines the first group for glory, the other for destruction.” The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election p.166

“Paul bases God’s wrath (in 9.22) upon his will. Paul’s point is not that God wills (or chooses) certain ones to suffer his wrath. Rather he confirms that God wills to display his wrath, either upon certain ‘vessels’ (people) or through certain ‘instruments’. Later in this section Paul details why some experience God’s wrath. To fail to believe puts one outside God’s mercy. Romans 11:23 highlights the role of faith–Jews may reenter the people of God if they put away their unbelief. Paul teaches no rigid predestinarianism, but presents an open door to enter the body of believers. Hanson says, ‘We do not need to conclude that God previously chose them to be objects of his wrath; by their unbelief they chose themselves.'” p.167 (emphsis mine)

To summarize our findings so far Romans 9 is centred on Israel being predestined as God’s people, His instruments of mercy in other words, to bring forth His plan for salvation. The eternal destination of an individual, whether Heaven of Hell, is not support or justified by the text. This is an example of inserting modern theology into the text and reading it through a preconceived lens of Calvinism. I’ll highlight one more verse, and I’d argue this to be the most pressing one.

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

I can exercize some social science here to make things a little clearer. The definition of mercy held by the ancients differs from our view today of a compassionate feeling. Apologist J.P. Holding in his article on mercy notes,

“Pilch and Malina note that in an ancient context, “mercy” is better rendered as “gratitude” or “steadfast love.” One example of the expression of mercy would be ‘the debt of interpersonal obligations for unrepayable favors received.’ For a case like this, to say, “Lord, have mercy!” (Matt. 20:31) means, “Lord, pay up your debt of interpersonal obligation to us!” Not a plea of the hapless, it is in this case a request to pay back previously earned favor (as a loyal subject of the Davidic/Messianic dynasty)”

In essence, “mercy” is God relieving us of pain and hardship through the giving of previously earned favour. We do not find evidence that Romans 9:16 is focused on the unbelieving. They have earned no favour because they have done nothing for God. If we insert this into Romans 9:16 we find the people at hand are those who have already entered the divine relationship with God. The context is that God will fulfil His obligation with those whom He has a relationship with. Again, the argument for an eternal destination is not present.

We can note one final aspect of anicent literature here I haven’t seen any Calvinist commentator mention: The literary device known as a “negation idiom.” We find an example of this in Jeremiah 7:22, where we are supposed to find Jeremiah stand in obvious contradiction to other OT verses that up hold burnt offerings and sacrifices. At a closer glance, however, and in other books (1 Samuel 15:22), Jeremiah’s teaching technique becomes obvious. He wasn’t denying the use of burnt offerings but comparing their importance to something greater. In other words, he was saying “it’s not this (burnt offerings) you should be focusing on, but on this far more important thing (the keeping the law of the Covenent).”

In regards to our verse in Romans, why can’t the “not” be seen the same way, as a negation idiom that states the importance of one thing over another, not denying or exluding it, but stressing God’s mercy above our actions? I think that, given the literary background of the ANE (Ancient Near East), there is little reason to conclude the “not” is strictly literal. At this moment I find nothing that negates human action.

In summary, our exegesis on the most pivitol of Calvinist passages agrees entirely with what we have established. Calvinism is a modern theology so inserting it into an ancient text lends no support to its actual context.

Link 1 here

Link 2 here

Link 3 here.

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