James White’s Interpretation of Romans 9 Critiqued

Dr. James White, a notable Calvinistic apologist and scholar with Alpha & Omega Ministries,  published a web cast on Romans chapter 9.  Today, I would like to rebut his interpretation and expound on what many scholars find is a more biblically consistent exegesis of this controversial passage.  Let’s begin with this “key point” in the dialogue.  Dr. White states:

James-White-on-Radio“Here then comes the key, and I would challenge anyone who wants to try to turn Romans chapter 9 into something that is just about nations, and national privilege, and things like that. You must answer a simple question. You must answer what the relationship between the later texts you are going to limit to nothing but nations with no personal application. You must explain why this entire section begins with verse 6 and the issue it raises.”

The good doctor has either not read or listened very closely to his opponents perspective because as of yet, no biblical scholar on either side of this debate (worth his salt) has ever once made the claim that Romans 9 is limited to “nothing but nations with no personal application.”

Those of us who affirm what is most notably referenced as “The Corporate View of Election,” (the most typical Southern Baptist view) do not, and I repeat DO NOT deny or in any way suggest individuals are not included or referenced in these passages. This is an all too common overstatement  (often as a means of easy dismissal) to this age-old perspective of the scriptures.

By the way, saying things like, “Corporations are made up of individuals too,” does not rebut this perspective, but in fact affirms it. If anyone reading my words is under the shortsighted delusion that the corporate view doesn’t include the application of individuals, then they have not rightly understood this perspective and thus would NOT be qualified to offer a rebuttal against it. As a novice in this debate I honestly expected better of the experienced and well-educated doctor. But then again, maybe he is debating a non-Calvinistic scholar of which I’m not familiar?  One who truly does not allow for God’s choice of individual Jews to carry out his elective purpose?  I would love to know who this “scholar” is however.

Dr. White seems to suggest this passage has to be either about the national election of Israel OR the election of individuals to salvation. This is a false dichotomy, because there is another option that includes both God’s purpose in electing the nation of Israel and those individuals of that nation who are individually selected to carry out those noble saving purposes that will come to benefit the rest of humanity…yes, every individual to ever live. Is that enough of a “individual application” for everyone?

Even the staunchest Calvinist recognizes and affirms that God elected the nation of Israel for the noble cause of bringing the Messiah and His Message to the rest of the world. That is the “purpose of election” being referenced through this discourse. We know from the OT that God selected Israel and thus certain individuals from Israel to carry out this redemptive purpose for no other reason than to ensure His sovereign plan of redemption. In other words, God didn’t choose to use Jacob instead of Esau to bring this redemptive purpose to pass because Jacob was more moral, just as He did not choose the nation of Israel because she was an impressive nation (Deut. 7:7-9). So, we all can and should affirm that God has chosen a nation and individuals of that nation to carry out a noble and redemptive purpose, right?

Now, some may suggest it is MORE than that, which is fine, but you have to start by at least affirming that much in order for this conversation to make any rational or biblical sense. To make it sound like it is EITHER that “national stuff” or its “individuals predestined for salvation” is not even consistent with the Calvinistic systematic. We first have to acknowledge and affirm the obvious truth of God’s purpose in electing the nation of Israel and those individuals in that nation who carried out that noble cause.

After affirming that basic truth, which all our best systematics support,  we can ask the question, “Does every individual descendant of Abraham fulfill that noble purpose?” Of course not. Not every individual Jew is chosen to be a prophet, a priest, or a king. Not every individual Jew is in the lineage that brought the Messiah. Not every individual Jew was chosen to help fulfill that noble purpose of electing Israel. Only a remnant of individual Jews got that privilege. Some were commoners, like you and me, who were not blinded by supernatural light, swallowed by a fish, rebuked by a donkey, shown the nail scars of Christ or confronted by angels. In my pride I would like to think of myself as being selected to that level of service in the course of human history. My natural delusion of self importance makes me want to think of myself as a modern day Elijah, John the Baptist, or even Paul. But, according to scripture, God only chose people from the nation of Israel to fulfill those noble purposes (not one individual apostle was non-Jewish). I can never have apostolic authority. I can never write a book of the Bible. As much as that pains me, I cannot be chosen to fulfill the purpose of God’s election of Israel. And that is also true of some Jews in those days. Some Jews were nobodies that were never written about in the pages of scripture. Does that mean they were not loved of God or able to believe unto salvation? I cannot imagine that would be the case. I cannot imagine that God only saved those individuals whose names are recorded in the pages of scriptures as carrying out these noble redemptive purposes. Certainly no one is suggesting this is the case, are they?

James White continues:

“What does verse six say? ‘For it is not as though the word of God has failed.’ Remember, he raises these objections, Paul was an apologist at heart he recognized the need for the defense of the faith. He even says he was sent for the defense of the faith. And he knows what people are going to say to his preaching. And they’re going to say, “Paul, if what your saying is true, then the word of God has failed because the majority of your fellow Jews don’t believe this message. The Messiah has come and they don’t accept Him. And so he says, ‘but it is not as though the word of God has failed, for they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.’ NOW THERE IS THE KEY. I suggest to you that all of the attempts, and there are so many, and they take so many varied forms, to make the rest of Romans 9, separated as far as possible to have anything to do with personal salvation cannot show a consistency between this statement and the rest of the chapter. Because, think about it, ‘For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,’ the only way to understand that is of individuals. It can’t be of nations. It is not saying, ‘They are not all nations of Israel who are not descended from the one nation of Israel,’ that doesn’t make any sense.

Well, of course that does not make any sense and I do not know of one scholar who makes such assertions. The meaning of the apostle is that not all individual Jews are chosen to carry out the purpose of God in the election of the nation itself.  The fact that many individual Jews at that time were actively protesting Paul’s teaching would most certainly invoke this diatribe because the individual Jews do not seem to be supporting the very noble purpose the nation was elected to bring to pass. Paul is explaining that there still is a remnant from Israel, like himself (an individual) and the other individual apostles, who ARE carrying out the purpose of Israel’s election (bringing the Messiah and His Message), while the rest of the individuals are being left in their rebellion (in fact they are being “judicially hardened” in their rebellion temporarily.)

So, some individual Jews were left in their hardened condition so as to cry out, “Crucify Him,” at the trail of the Messiah, and in doing so they too take part in the purpose for which Israel was elected. They fulfill an ignoble purpose, unlike Paul, for example, who fulfills a noble purpose. But the fact is that BOTH, those individual Jews chosen for noble purposes and those individual Jews for ignoble purposes were used by The Potter to accomplish the eternal redemptive cause predestined from the very beginning to be brought to pass through the nation of Israel (INCLUDING the INDIVIDUALS there within that NATION). What might the objection of an individual Jew be if He were used by God for an ignoble purpose such as this?

“If our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (See Romans 3:1-8) That is the objection Paul answers in chapter 3 and chapter 9. It is the objection of a Jew used for the ignoble purpose, and not used to fulfill God’s noble cause in electing Israel. It is not as Dr. White suggests, the objection of every reprobate non-elect born hated by God since he was an unborn baby, destined for eternal torment, and unable to respond to God’s own appeals to be reconciled.  That interpretation is quite absurd given the entire context of this passage.

Dr. White continues:

chosenIt is very clear that he is addressing individuals who are descended from Israel. And he is going to talk about Isaac, he is going to talk about Esau, Jacob, these are individuals and he is answering the question, ‘Look, when you talk about the promises to Israel you need to recognize from the beginning God has been free in the matter of those to whom he gives his promises.’

We agree. But let’s be reminded as to what God has promised to Israel.  Did he promise to individually and effectually save only those chosen for purpose of serving in the lineage of Christ?  Did he promise to only effectually save the special prophets, priests and kings who brought the message of redemption?  Or is the promise to bring the Messiah and his Message to the rest of the world so whosoever may respond and thus be saved? After all, included in the original promise to Abraham is Gods vow, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”  That is a conditional promise of blessing or curse based upon an individual’s response to the redemptive promise given to Abraham and his descendants.

The mysterious purpose that has been God’s plan all along, a plan God works to bring to pass by all means (miracles, blinding lights, big fish, etc), is the mystery that had been hidden, known by God throughout the centuries, but only revealed in Paul’s generation (Ref. to Eph. 3:1-6). It was the mystery of the gospel, which is, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” which comes by faith in that promise. It is that mystery that the objector of Paul’s diatribe would be addressing because they saw Israel alone as the heirs and partakers in this promise.

Dr. White continues:

And he is going to take the Old Testament scriptures and he is going to use them to demonstrate, ‘Look, I am not out of harmony with those scriptures, what I’m preaching is in harmony because this freedom God showed is now being shown in taking the gospel to the Gentiles.”

Agreed! That is the purpose for which the nation, and some of the individuals in that nation, was elected–to take the message to the nations. (“….first to the Jew and then to the Gentile.”)

Dr. White continues:

And those who are predestined to eternal life believe. He is gathering a people making them all one in Christ Jesus. This freedom that I say God has to save Jews and Gentiles in Christ Jesus is a freedom He has claimed from the beginning which is illustrated over and over and over again in your own scriptures. And so you don’t have the foundation to object to me, this is Paul speaking, on the basis of the promises given to Israel for you need to recognize that they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, nor are they all children because they are Abrahams decedents, but through Isaac your descendants will be named. God had the freedom to define to whom the promises would be given and its not just a genetic relationship and the only way to understand any of these things is to recognize that we are talking about the promises relevant to salvation and not just something about national privilege and national service and issues along these lines. And if you say that, if you go like, ‘There are nations in her womb,’ and things like this, he quotes from something that is about nations in Malachi 4:1…”

This is where the good doctor takes the discussion away from the purpose of Israel’s election into the purpose of proving Calvinism’s premise of individualized election to salvation. On the basis that God did not individually choose every Israelite for the noble purpose of bringing the Messiah and His Message, Dr. White erroneously concludes that God does not individually choose to provide every individual the means of salvation through that redemptive message. This is not founded biblically.

White states, “God had the freedom to define to whom the promises would be given,” and we agree with that statement but disagree with White’s presumption of what the apostle means by “the promises.” For example, God chose the individual Jacob over the individual Esau to fulfill His promise in electing Israel, which was to deliver the Messiah and His Message.  No where does Paul suggest the promise was to effectually save one son and not the other. Then tell the pregnant mother of twins, “I hate your unborn baby.”  White erroneously presumes (without support from the text) that “the promise” is to save certain individuals, and not God’s promise to bring redemption for the world through the nation of Israel (which includes the individuals selected out of that nation for this noble task).

I took the time to embolden my references to the “individuals” lest once again Dr. White, or any observer, wrongly concludes that our perspective does not in any way involve or include individuals. In fact, I challenge Dr. White and those of like mind to attempt to bring their individualized election to salvation hermeneutic all the way through Romans 9-11. The Calvinist is forced to switch to our corporate interpretive method in Romans 11 in order not to contradict himself, where as we remain consistent throughout the entirety of the text.

For example, let’s take the individual Jew who is spoken of as being hardened in Romans 9 and talk about that same individual being “provoked to envy and possibly saved” in Romans 11:14.  Let’s discuss the individual Jew who is stumbling in Romans 9 but not stumbling beyond recovery in Romans 11:12.  Let’s discuss the individual Jew who is cut off the vine in Romans 9 and 10 but could be grafted back in if he leaves his unbelief in Romans 11:23.  I’m glad to discuss the individuals throughout this passage, but I have to wonder if the Calvinist is really up for that challenge themselves?

Much more could be said, as the discourse goes on for almost an hour, but even by Dr. White’s own words “this is the KEY” to properly understanding this text.  Therefore, since the good doctor does not appear to address our meaning there is really no reason to go further than this KEY point in the debate.  The rest of the White’s comments are based on the rotten root of the erroneous presumptions that we do not include God’s choice of individual Jews to fulfill His purpose in the national election of Israel.  Thus,Image to continue would simply require one to meticulous point back to his foundational error in the interpretation at every turn.

For more dialogue on this issue from the Corporate perspective please listen to these four podcasts:

“Unconditional Election”

“Romans 9”

“Pharaoh Pharaoh”

“What if God?”

14 thoughts on “James White’s Interpretation of Romans 9 Critiqued

  1. Hi Leighton,

    Just a question I had pop in my mind while thinking on this topic. If the act of repentance and faith it not something which is meritorious as you have shown in a couple of your blogs, then why is the Armenian foresight faith view not a viable option? From my understanding the Calvinist doctrine purports that because a person choosing to say yes to the gospel is “meritorious” then you cannot possibly have an interpretation that states God is choosing people that He foresaw having faith and repentance, because that would mean they “attracted God’s favor through works.” Therefore the Calvinist solves this “dilemma” by arguing that God’s choosing was based on mystery which eventually caused the faith and repentance in those who respond to the gospel, which leaves the problem of double predestination. The way I see it though is that your explanation removes the meritorious assumption associated with faith and repentance and therefore allows for the Armenian view of election to be valid. What convinces you that the corporate election view is more sound that the Armenian election view? I was temporarily a “partial-Calvinist” in that I do believe in eternal security but now I am trying to better define my positions on TULI. I am open to corporate election but still need to understand why it is more viable than the Armenian view. Thanks you for your blogs!

    1. Arminian foresight is an option…I just don’t believe it was what the author was intending to communicate. I don’t believe the foresight faith view makes man meritorious of salvation either. Asking for forgiveness never merits being forgiven…foreseen or otherwise.

      Isn’t it interesting that the biblical authors had no qualm in speaking of people throughout history attracting God’s favor but Calvinists do. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Gen. 6) Does that mean he deserved salvation and forgiveness of all his sins? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! If he did then Christ wouldn’t have needed to go to the cross for him!!!!! God finding favor in sinful, hell deserving man doesn’t take care of our sin debt and it certainly doesn’t earn what God graciously provides.

      I am passionate about that, if you can’t tell.

      1. Thanks Leighton. Up to this point when teaching on election at the college I work at I would usually chalk up the unanswerables to mystery (although there is still a certain level of mystery to most things in Christ). I could never fully get myself to boldly profess double predestination and other Calvinistic errors. Your site has given me some robust information to share the next time I approach this topic. I am grateful. God bless!

  2. You said “God finding favor in sinful, hell deserving man doesn’t take care of our sin debt and it certainly doesn’t earn what God graciously provides.”

    I agree. I have always been puzzled as to why Calvinists overlook these things. To me it’s clear that without God predetermining that the gospel exist, mankind would never have a choice to repent to begin with, not to mention our free will (as it pertains to responding to the light of the gospel) is also a gracious gift from God. Therefore, it always boils down to God receiving glory for our salvation because without His predestined plan nobody would ever be saved, not by works lest any man should boast!

  3. You said “Kyle, listen to this podcast if you haven’t already:”

    I haven’t yet but I did read your article on eternal security which I fully agree with. Charles Stanley’s “Eternal Security” really equipped me to see how biblical it is. Exegesis caused me to look at the unclear scriptures (those often used to support a loss of salvation) in light of the clear scriptures (such as Ephesians 1 “being seal until the day of redemption”). I always take time to warn people of two things, 1.) Not everyone who claims Christianity actually knows Jesus Christ. 2.) Even when we do become a Christian we do not have greasy grace to do whatever we want, God will chasten us when we disobey Him.

  4. Kyle, I don’t seek to make you feel insecure — in fact, I think there is greater security in our faith for those who care about having such security but don’t believe in the so-called “eternal security” doctrine. If they don’t care, then security is irrelevant to them. I believe in what might be called “eternal conditional security.” If you care about being secure in Christ, then you can be sure that nothing can separate you from Him. If, on the other hand, all you care to have is security in a heavenly fire insurance or rescue from judgment, then I don’t think there’s much security in that position regardless of the genuine nature of your early faith.

    Personally, I find the Reformed “Perseverance” doctrine (including what I understand to be Leighton’s position) to provide little or no security for the individual. If we can only know if our faith is “genuine” based on the factual perseverance after the fact, then we can’t be sure we have true faith. This “definitional” approach to security (that we’ll know it’s a true faith by its perseverance) offers absolutely no assurance TODAY regardless of the seemingly genuine attitude of our heart on a given date. It really does seem to fall on whether we are in some “elect” group based on something outside of our own volition (something we can be certain of, particularly when accompanied by fruits).

    Personally, I believe the Scripture is quite clear that we can lose our salvation — not “lose” in the sense of losing a necklace by carelessness. Nothing can “take” our salvation from us, and God is faithful to preserve us as long as we remain “in Him” by continuing in our will to surrender to and serve Him. But, I believe the Scriptures are clear that we can volitionally walk away from our Faith and turn away from Christ and prefer to live our own life for ourselves. Our experience confirms that there are people who have seemingly done just that, and Scripture warns us that this happens. Care and caution must give us heed to ensure that we don’t let ourselves get to that point. That doesn’t mean that we earn our perseverance by our works any more than our belief and surrender earned our salvation in the first place. But, a continued will inclined towards God and His Christ as evidenced by our lives lived is a Scriptural condition of our maintaining our justified position with the Father.

    You say that you are interpreting the unclear passages about loss in light of the more clear Ephesians passage. I would suggest that you are doing the opposite, and that it is the loss passages that are quite clear while the Ephesians passage is somewhat ambiguous (or at least not clear to our modern ear). What I think is happening is that you have a doctrine that the “loss” passages don’t seem to support and so they seem unclear while the Ephesians passage seems to support your position and so it seems clear to you. I, personally, think they are about as clear as any in Scripture but that they don’t harmonize well with your doctrine while the Ephesians passage seems to harmonize but is capable of varying interpretations. Consider for the moment that “sealing” may not be intended to refer to a state of “security” but instead to a condition of “authentication.” The Spirit can be said to seal us in the sense of a wax seal. Such seals can be broken, but before they are broken they are a mark of authentication. So, we can be sure that our faith is genuine if it is marked (or “sealed”) by the evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t speak to the permanence of the situation (at least not necessarily). Even Leighton has used the term “seal” on this site to refer to judicial hardening of the Jews, and he would admit freely that this hardening was temporary in that context (at least for some) since some could and ultimate would be saved following this period of hardening.

    The fact that we “can” theoretically lose our salvation should give us great pause and take our relationship with God seriously. That doesn’t mean it’s “easy” to lose. In fact, for those who have had a “foretaste of glory divine,” I don’t see how they could walk away, but some do and Scripture warns us that we can do so if we neglect our relationship. Marriage (again and again) is a good example of our relationship with our Lord. A married couple might neglect each other for a while and still be married in every way. The state considers them married even if they are barely communicating, but at some point, couples can become so estranged that they have no love for each other and/or have no concern for the other and are effectively living their own independent lives even if living in the same house. At some point they may even leave or seek divorce to follow another. In the same way, our relationship with the Lord requires tending and regular attention or we risk that very thing. If we remain committed to a marriage, there is a possibility that our spouse may not. That is how our Lord differs — he will never forsake us as long as we remain committed. But, woe unto us if we disregard that grace and turn away to live our own lives.

    Many years ago now, I honeymooned in Jamaica — the resort was a beautiful paradise, but the surrounding area was quite sparse and dangerous. Armed guards hid in the trees on the boundaries to keep out the locals and preserve those within. We were quite secure on our beaches and in our hammocks, even when we were careless and weren’t thinking about it. But, if we left the resort and walked past the guards, we were no longer secure in any sense.

    There is absolutely security in our salvation — but we must “abide” in the vine to enjoy that security. If we depart like the prodigal and return, then our gracious Lord may receive us but that’s not to be trifled with and cannot be assured. We should cultivate our garden daily to make sure that does not happen and repent and return at once if we find we have strayed. He is faithful and just, but his patience has an end.

    1. Nice try Darin, really! But if you believe in the reality of John’s explanation for apostasy (1Jn 2:19), the normal understanding of phrase “which is a guarantee until the day of redemption (Eph 1:14), the normal meaning of “everlasting life” and “birth”, plus God’s promised discipline of His children (Heb 12), then it is impossible to apostatize and lose one’s salvation, and that the loss passages in Hebrews are for those who have not yet entered into His salvation, though they were once enlightened unto repentance which brought them to the door of commitment.

      The guards will not allow you to leave the beach! Jesus will not allow you to divorce him! You can never get to a place where saving faith is rejected by your renewed will! Even you believe that last statement to be true for those who are resurrected. So if God can sanctify the will of His children after their resurrection to be unable to apostatize, then why not before, after their regeneration? I hope this helps.

      1. i don’t believe Mr. flowers is defining israel as paul does.

        “The meaning of the apostle is that not all individual Jews are chosen to carry out the purpose of God in the election of the nation itself. The fact that many individual Jews at that time were actively protesting Paul’s teaching would most certainly invoke this diatribe because the individual Jews do not seem to be supporting the very noble purpose the nation was elected to bring to pass. Paul is explaining that there still is a remnant from Israel, like himself (an individual) and the other individual apostles, who ARE carrying out the purpose of Israel’s election (bringing the Messiah and His Message), while the rest of the individuals are being left in their rebellion (in fact they are being “judicially hardened” in their rebellion temporarily.)”

        except paul isn’t talking about the evangelism, he’s talking about citizenship. they’re not israel, which means they have no part in the promises of God. they’re not going to evangelize the truth, they’re not going to believe the truth. they’re fit for destruction unless God shows compassion and mercy on them.

    1. Yudo, I am not sure what Leighton’s view is on the prediction and meaning of Rom 11:26, but I think the context of the OT quote from Is 59 and comparison with predictions like those found in Zech 13, when Christ returns and destroys the Antichrist and his forces, including all the unbelieving Jews that joined with him, Christ will begin His earthly reign in Jerusalem over an Israel that is all saved in that day, including all the saved of Israel from previous generations that are resurrected to be a part of that kingdom (Dan 12)..

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