Saturday, February 6, 2016

Romans Chapter 9

I'm teaching Romans in our Bible Study and I kind of hit a wall when it came time to go through Chapter Nine.
Romans 9 has some imagery in it that has been used for centuries to defend "Predestination", the thought that God chooses who goes to heaven or hell (if those are terms you can relate to) almost on a whim.
That God shows favor on some individuals and others he damns for no other reason than He wants to.
I guarantee you that I am no scholar on this subject.
There are people (perhaps you are one) who can rattle off a defense of Predestination or one of Free Will.
There seem to be some terms for these two positions based on their most notable defenders, Calvin and Arminius. I've saved you some trouble by providing that link.

My point here is not to defend one position or the other and I don't care to argue them.
I am probably an Arminian in some people's eyes because I believe in Free Will.
I also believe that there are some people who just won't respond to the Gospel and will suffer the consequences.
I also believe that you do not have the ability to look at any person and guess whether they will/can or not respond to the Bible. So you treat them all the same.
Paul the Apostle was a murdering scumbag killing and torturing Christians as much as any ISIS dude today.

Here is the thrust of my blog post today.
When you read Romans 9, you come to some verses that are used to defend the notion that some people, if not all, have no choice in whether they will respond to God's offer of Grace and Forgiveness.
These verses in particular (NIV which is not my preference but is easier to read and the full chapter is here):

13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!
15 For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 
17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”
21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?

Now, at first blush, it looks like God is describing whether someone has a choice in their salvation, right?
But in reading this chapter, over and over, asking God for some understanding (which is a pretty good idea to keep in mind when reading His Word), I noticed something.

This chapter opens and closes speaking of a certain group of people, the Jews.

Why would Paul interrupt his train of thought about the Jewish People to begin talking about personal salvation?

Let's say that these verses then refer to the Jews as does the rest of the chapter.
What does that do for our understanding?

It occurred to me, while discussing this with my class, that the question on the lips of most religious Jews at the time of the writing of this chapter is "What happened?"
I read someone say that this was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, but that doesn't appear to be the case. The destruction was about 72 AD and this was written about 20 years earlier.

So What  Happened? Or better yet, "What didn't happen?".
The answer might be that they were wondering where the Messiah was.
Daniel had set a timetable (the 70 Weeks of Daniel) that predicted roughly when the Messiah would show up. There was great expectation of his arrival.
This prophecy may have had an influence on the Wise Men of the East and their decision to follow the star.
Remember the question of John the Baptist, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?".

So at the time of the writing of Romans, the time for the Messiah to appear had come and gone.
The Romans were still governing Israel, and Jesus (who had been widely acclaimed as the Messiah) had been crucified and buried.

What happened? Where was the deliverance of Israel?
To a believing Jew (a Christian of Jewish descent) the question was very important.
If Israel was God's Chosen People, then why do they appear to be unchosen?

This would explain Chapter 9.
We are not talking about personal salvation, we are talking about Israel and God's purpose for it.
It had such promise and now it appears to be cut off.
But Paul, in Chapter 11 assures us that that is not the case.
"I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself,"

So What Happened?
Romans Chapter 9 describes a process by which the path to The Promise is narrowed down.
The path to Christ.
First Abraham, then one of his two sons, Isaac, not Ishmael.
Then Jacob (Israel), not Esau (God didn't hate Esau, that verse refers to Esau's descendants, the Edomites who were not Israel).
So the promise was now fulfilled in Christ.
The delivery had been made.
What would happen to the people who had made the delivery of whom Paul says (in verse 4):
... to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Were the Jews cut off? No!
They had the promise of Christ (and could have joined the Body of Christ) but because of their unbelief they were rejected.
What complaint might they have?
Well, Pharoah (the bogeyman of Jewish history) was raised up to exhibit God's glory (as an example)  just as the Jews were. And both fell due to unbelief.
Pharoah's heart was hardened by repeated exposure to the Word of God, through Moses (what we call the Law), just as the Jews in Jesus time were. The hammering on an unyielding surface only made it harder (like hammering steel does).
So who are they to complain?
God made them as a people to have a place of honor (producing Christ) and, due to their unbelief (in rejecting HIm), a place of dishonor (the clay analogy).

So in closing (I've spent hours on this and you may have stopped reading at the Post Title), let me say that if you read Chapters 9-11, you see that God's intent is to point out his relationship to Israel and the purpose of the Law, something Paul started discussing in the first chapter.

The purpose of the Law was to bring us to Christ  (we need a Savior) and I believe Paul starts equating the Law with the Jews in subsequent chapters.
The Law, the Jewish purpose, was to deliver to us Christ "the end of the Law" not the death of the Law but the final point, the endpoint, the fulfillment of the Law.

So, the Jews, the delivery service of Christ, have served their purpose as a "Chosen People".
They brought the vehicle to us.
Now they can either get in and ride with us or wave to us as we leave them behind.


  1. As Greg Koukl says, "never read a bible verse." Context. Context. Context. As you've demonstrated. Good insight.

    1. I remember when we were studying Matthew a couple years ago, there were many verses that we read that are commonly used represent a position totally opposite their meaning when taken in context.
      I need to look for them again as examples.

  2. You sure did work hours on this; I can imagine!
    I have to get going this morning but think this is the key:

    "d18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
    19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’"

    I'm going to think about this this morning and get back later...LOTS to think about. thanks, Ed.

  3. I'm convinced that the election spoken of refers to Israel, the "Chosen" people.
    Now Paul is explaining why they are no longer the Chosen based on their DNA and circumcision.
    I'm hoping to see a discussion of this.

  4. One question in philosophy and psychology continues to debate whether human beings have free will. On the one hand, we may argue that without free will, then we have no real purpose on this marble in space. On the other hand, science tells us that nothing can happen unless caused by an earlier event. There is no consensus on this, however. The question seems to wear us down, but as with all things relating to God, whose power is so great and vast that I do not believe a human being can comprehend it, I have come to accept the notion that we will know and understand that which God intends for us to know and understand. But suppose that both of these are true: God knows what we will do, before we do it, but still allows us the free will to choose. Knowing what we will do does not suggest that He interferes with our will to choose. I am no expert, but I think the solution to this dilemma is simple: prayer. Why prayer? Because I think that prayer moves us ever closer to God. We choose to pray, or we choose not to pray. By extension, we choose to be closer to God, or we choose to move further away from God. Does He know what we will do before we do it? It may not matter, but I think He will give us understanding when we’re ready for it.

    1. I believe exactly that way, sir.
      I also believe that God doesn't give us his Word to confuse us or mislead us, and that when that confusion comes, it is only because of our misinterpretation .
      I believe He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us find the meaning of His Word, among other things.
      Prayer for that understanding is a key part of that process.
      His assessment of our "need to know" is another.
      I was just trying to understand a passage that seemed to contradict the Free Will we believe in.

  5. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
    Before we go on, what do you make of that, Ed? Is God kidding or being brutally and prophetically honest?

    In Exodus, Moses and the VEIL, we see that either Israel had the veil over its face, or the people of Israel"v.34'the Israelites', did, (which is more what Exodus implies), have veils over their faces....

    I think you make excellent points in your overview and final hypothesis and I also have to add that when others have suggested "it's not individuals, it's Israel as a whole," on various other subjects, I've wondered if that's easier to consider as it's less damning to us individuals in our own walk? "He doesn't mean ME, he means WE" I can't really help it.
    I'm yammering here trying to collect my own thoughts! Are you saying that you don't think individuals are 'elected?'

    1. I was just reading this post to Scherie as she is making us coffee and I noticed:
      19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us?
      "us" not "me". I wonder if that was intentional.

      I think "Esau have I hated" (Malachi 1:2) speaks of God's choice of Israel as the line of Christ not Esau the proof being what happened to the Edomites eventually. God provided for Ishmael (whom He didn't hate personally) because he was Abraham's son, but look at his descendants.
      I think that is analogous to Esau. Somebody's line had to be chosen in the absence of an only child, and it wasn't Esau.

      Strongs for hated:
      g3404. μισέω miseō; from a primary μῖσος misos (hatred); to detest (especially to persecute); by extension, to love less: — hate(-ful).

      I don't think we are individually "elected" for salvation, but "called" to certain ministry once in.

    2. "I don't think we are individually "elected" for salvation"

      I believe you're ignoring a LOT of scripture but I don't have the time or energy to get into that; I know you know which ones. And, of course, there's a lot of Scripture on both sides of this aisle!
      THIS is fascinating...and, unlike whoever "Cheung" is, I do NOT think anybody who believes the Arminian way (not ARMENIAN!!!) is "STUPID!"
      But, this is worth your reading, I think...and comment :-)
      i love this stuff.
      Give Scherie a hug from me....

    3. Scherie says thanks, and a virtual hug to you from her.
      I know there is a lot of Scripture to support both positions, and I am aware but not expert.
      I will read that and come back.
      But once again, my focus is to understand this chapter in Romans and not neccessarily settle the argument :)

    4. And yes, you Armenians are getting caught in the cross-fire :)

    5. Well, I read Cheung's article.
      Calling someone stupid isn't very helpful,
      Paul mentions foreknowledge a lot which helps explain some of this.
      Cheung explains the Hated Esau thing as if God prophesied that he would hate Esau. I think God's position was stated after the fact.

      Cheung also posits that Paul's purpose in writing the chapter is to demonstrate individual election.
      I think it is to explain to Israel how Israel ended up where it did as a group.

      I think a lot of interpretation of this comes from our point of view or presupposition of God's purpose.
      His purpose is to present the Bride of Christ, spotless.
      And not an unwilling one.

      I prefer to believe that God has given us a choice in our response to Him.
      If not, why go through all this grief?
      Just promote us (or damn us) and be done with it.
      I don't know why someone would prefer to think otherwise.

    6. That happened with the Turks, too, Ed :-) Except it wasn't just cross-fire that time!

  6. OH, brother, did I just jump into the deep end!

    Can you be clearer on this? "Paul is explaining why they are no longer the Chosen based on their DNA"
    Then there are Messianic Jews whose DNA didn't get in the way?
    I hope I'm not sounding challenging, and that I sound more inquisitive and hopeful of a continuing good conversation here...I love this stuff!

    1. Thank God. This is what I wanted. A discussion.
      As we see the line to Christ narrowed through various descendants (of course the other 11 tribes were Israel and not in the direct line of Christ), it became no more enough that one was descended from Israel (DNA).
      I believe that the Body of Christ is every bit the fulfilment of Christ. no matter how poorly we do at it.
      So the path to Christ is also the path to the Body, what we call the church.
      The Choice of Abraham to start the was on God's part, but Abe had to respond in belief or faith.
      The choice of Isaac was based on a fulfilled promise and Ishmael was a result of unbelief in that promise, negating him as a path to Christ.
      The choice of Jacob became clear when Esau thought so little of the promise made to Abraham, that he took a bowl of pottage for it, resulting in Jacob. as disreputable as he was, gaining the promise because he believed in it.
      Once Christ appears and establishes a new vessel or path of the promise, the Body of Christ or the "Called Out Ones"
      (those who respond to the call) are Believing Messianic Jews and the believing grafted in gentiles.
      I know I over-responded to your question, but I wanted to elaborate for the sake of someone who might read this without your depth of understanding.

      I think, as Mustang said, that God knows the result of the call ahead of time, but makes the call to all.
      No one put a gun to Esau's head to sell his birthright.

  7. "I think, as Mustang said, that God knows the result of the call ahead of time, but makes the call to all..."

    That basically IS what Mustang said, isn't it....and I 100% agree.

    Also, Ed, I just did my homework lesson for the group I lead and it said this "When telling them not to fear, God at one point addressed Israel as "you worm Jacob", emphasizing the NATION'S WEAKNESS" But referring to the NATION as JACOB...
    which reminded me of your thought that it's not personal salvation but Israel's salvation talked about by Paul The GROUP, not the individual.

    1. Good point. Thanks.
      Did you read that link I left at Mustang's about David's mother?
      I just read it again to Scherie, and then the link that was in that link.
      Just because of his post today, I learned so much.

    2. Boaz died that night? Who knows for sure? Also, I've always that that he was SUCH a fine man, you'd think this world would be littered with men called BOAZ...David had his terrible moments, but there are millions of Davids, right? :-)
      Maybe this story exists to kind of make David's sins more understandable?
      It was certainly interesting..yes.

  8. Well done, and thought provoking. Thank you!

    1. You are welcome. I appreciate and am honored by you stopping by.

  9. I've been using "Arminianism - God has limited his control in correspondence with man's freedom and response. God's decrees are associated with his foreknowledge of man's response" for years, without remembering where I might have first heard it. God our Father will have mercy on whomever He wishes - because He already knows who will choose to serve Him, etc. It's a "Man" thing to point their fingers in God's face and ask "Why did you make me this way?" That isn't humble, nor contrite.

    It's a whole 'nother thing to ask Him, "Please forgive me for the way I am, and make me better. Make me into the man You've called me to be."

    It was that OTHER Paul :) who said that nothing good comes from the flesh. Or as Luther pointed out, we can add nothing to God's salvation but our willingness. That means we choose whether to respond. God is a great respecter of the free will with which he imbued us, and if we tell Him to go away ... He will.

    Ed, that's a long way to go, to say you've hit the nail squarely, my friend. Well done.

  10. Good stuff, Ed. Though I despise cliffhangers and you didn't affirmatively wrap this up. Are you saying that Donald Trump is now the chosen one?

  11. I pray we can maintain the Judeo-Christian morals in our nation unlike Europe ..what a daily horror watching as it dies a painful death...Happy Valentines DAY!!!