A nice study of Romans 9
I just got back from a mini vacation in Florida, Orlando to be exact. It was a good time, and I’m recharged for the next while.
I’ve been compelled lately to study Paul’s writings, and have come across a well written exposition on Romans 9. Here it is.
Basically, Romans 9 is the one chapter often used by Reformed or Calvinistic adherents to show that God elects, or predestines those to be saved. As this article shows, the usage of the chapter for that express purpose is largely out of context. That is why it’s important to follow these simple rules of interpretation.
Here is a summary of the article:
This is the traditional Augustinian/Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9:
- Paul begins by agonizing over the failure of Israel to come to salvation through faith in Christ (9:1-5).
- Paul’s solution is that not all of Israel is Israel; i.e., not all of Israel is elect (v. 6).
- Paul demonstrates God’s prerogative to elect whomever he wills by having elected Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau (vv. 7-13).
- God has mercy only on those whom he chooses to have mercy, and hardens the rest, as exemplified by Pharaoh (vv. 14-18).
- At this point, Paul hypothesizes a questioner who articulates the Arminian contention: if God has chosen to harden someone like Pharaoh, how can God then judge him for what he was predestined to do (v. 19)? Paul rebukes the questioner for impiety, and uses the potter-clay illustration to reiterate that God has the right to elect some and reprobate some as he deems fit (vv. 20-21).
- Paul then adds, as a supporting argument, the fact that when God chooses to reprobate someone like Pharaoh, he has to bear patiently their sin and arrogance, but does so, in order to demonstrate his glory to his elect, which turn out to be among the Gentiles as well as among the Jews (vv. 22-24).
- He thus brings the discussion back to the issue of Jewish unbelief in Christ, from which his discussion of election has been an excursus.
This is the interpretation taking into consideration the entire context of the time, issues, and Old Testament verses Paul has referenced.
- It begins, as before, with Paul agonizing over the failure of Israel to come to faith in Christ (vv. 1-5).
- He has to confront the Jewish objection that, if his gospel were correct, it would mean that God’s promises to the Jews had failed. His response is that God’s promises have not failed, but others are inheriting the promises, because not all of Israel is Israel: i.e., not all of Israel has followed Abraham in faith (v. 6).
- Ethnic descent from Abraham is not enough to be considered “Abraham’s children,” as the examples of Ishmael and Esau demonstrate; Israel has already been granted unmerited blessings as compared with other descendants of Abraham (vv. 7-13).
- Therefore God is not unjust if he now excludes those descendants of Jacob who do not come to faith, because anyone he blesses, even Moses, is a recipient of his mercy (vv. 14-16). God may choose to spare for a time even someone like Pharaoh, whom God has chosen to harden—knowing that he will harden himself in response to God’s challenge—in order for God to glorify himself through that person, who can be viewed as both an example of God’s mercy and hardening (vv. 17-18).
- The implication is therefore that the Jews have been given mercy in the past but are not guaranteed mercy in the future if they do not come to faith in Christ. The hypothetical questioner asks why God still blames the Jews, if He has hardened them (v. 19), refusing to recognize that the Jews are hardened just as Pharaoh was hardened, by their own stubborn refusal to repent. Paul therefore rebukes them, and uses the potter-clay illustration to point out that God has always dealt with Israel on the basis of its repentance, and it is only those who refuse to repent who argue back to God that he made them as they are (vv. 20-21).
- Paul then points out that God has to bear patiently the “objects of his wrath”—the unbelieving—in order to make his glory known to the “objects of his mercy”—those who come to faith, which he specifically identifies as having come not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles (vv. 22-24). The supporting quotations from Hosea and Isaiah make clear the point: that many of those whom the Jews had considered excluded from the covenant (the Gentiles) would in the end be included, while many whom the Jews had considered included in the covenant (themselves) would be excluded (vv. 25-29).
- The basis upon which Gentiles have been included and Jews excluded is made explicit in vv. 30-33: it is that the Gentiles are obtaining righteousness through faith, while the Jews have pursued it by works.