Corporate Election and Election to Service in Romans 9

The non-Calvinistic approach to Romans 9 has typically been categorized in one of two perspectives:

(1) Election to Service: Romans 9 is not about salvation (primarily), rather is about the historical purpose that a nation is chosen to serve. Israel, represented by Jacob and the other patriarchs, has been chosen to serve God’s purpose of bringing the Messiah and his redemptive message to the rest of the world. For instance, Roger Forster and Paul Marston say:

“The question at issue is not the eternal destiny of anyone, but the history of Israel and their significance as the chosen nation…Neither Moses’ nor Pharaoh’s eternal destiny is in question. It is the bearing of Moses and Pharaoh on the earthly function and destiny of Israel that is at issue.”

And the choice of Isaac rather than Ishmael is described in similar terms. They assert that the choice of Isaac rather than Ishmael was not related to salvation but to God’s overall strategy in history.[1]

(2) Corporate Election to Salvation: Romans 9 is about salvation, but it must be approached from the corporate perspective. Dr. Brian Abasciano explains this perspective well:

“…there is a definite logical connection between the group and the individual, but this connection must be viewed primarily from either the corporate or the individual perspective. Interestingly, it can be viewed legitimately from either perspective, but not both equally at the same time. Either corporate or individual election must be primary. The important [point]… is: How do the corporate and individual aspects of election relate to each other? Which is primary? If corporate election is primary, then it is the group that is the focus of election, and individuals are elect only in connection with the group. If individual election is primary [as is the case on Calvinism], then individuals are separately the focus of election, and the group is elect only as a collection of elect individuals. Thus, either the corporate focus of election determines the identity and benefits of the individual based on participation in the group, or the individual focus of election determines the identity and benefits of the group based on the individuals who have been grouped together according to their similar individual characteristics/status.”[2]

Dr. Thomas Schreiner sought to rebut these two non-Calvinistic perspectives in a work titled, “Does Romans 9 teach individual election to salvation,” wherein he writes,

“The two most common objections to the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 are as follows: (1) Romans 9 is wrongly explained if one understands it to refer to salvation. Paul is not referring to salvation in this text. Instead, the historical destiny of different nations (especially Israel) is being narrated. (2) Even if Romans 9 does relate to salvation in some sense, it does not refer to the salvation of individuals. The section relates to the salvation of groups, of corporate entities, and not to individuals.”[3]

In a well written article titled, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A response to Thomas Schreiner,” Dr. Brian Abasciano soundly refuted Schreiner’s second argument while conceding the first:

“It has been a little over a dozen years since Thomas Schreiner argued in this journal that Romans 9 teaches individual election unto salvation. He correctly points out that Romans 9 is a standard proof text for Calvinists, who hold that God unconditionally elects individuals to be saved. He also correctly observes that scholars increasingly reject the Calvinist exegesis of the chapter as a misreading of the text. His article seeks to refute two common objections to the Calvinist interpretation, namely, that Romans 9 (1) addresses historical, national destiny rather than salvation; and/or (2) relates to the salvation of groups rather than individuals. I have no disagreement with the main thrust of Schreiner’s first major point. Paul’s argument in Romans 9 surely concerns the salvation of Israel. But I find his attempt to counter the primacy of corporate election in Romans 9 unpersuasive.”[4]

Abasciano, a proponent of the “Corporate Election to Salvation” approach, seems to agree with Schreiner’s point that Romans 9 is NOT concerned with Israel’s historical, national destiny (to fulfill a special purpose or “service”), but rather the chapter IS concerned with salvation only. With much respect for Abasciano, I disagree with both of Schreiner’s major points.  I believe Romans 9 is concerned with both (1) the purpose for which Israel was chosen (i.e. what some scholars refer to as “election to service”) and (2) the salvation of Israel. While Abasciano does a masterful job refuting Schreiner’s second point, I believe both points need refuting. And I see no reason for non-Calvinists to choose between the the two approaches presented above when both approaches, if rightly understood, can go hand in hand.

In other words, what I am attempting to demonstrate in this article is that both the points argued by proponents of the “election to service” perspective and the “corporate election to salvation” perspective are equally valid in the non-Calvinistic approach to Romans 9.  This should not be an “either/or” but a “both/and” approach.

In short, rightly understanding Paul’s intention involves BOTH Israel’s election to service AND their salvation.

While there may be question as to what Paul was specifically concerned with in Romans 9, there is no question that Israel WAS chosen for a special purpose (or “elected for service” as some might say). Verses 4 and 5 clearly spell this out. Israel is the nation through which the Messiah would come and they are the ones who “received the law” and “promises” (9:4). Paul indicated this same point earlier in Romans 3 when he reveals why being a natural born Israelite is uniquely advantageous,

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.” (Rom. 3:1-2)

Clearly, this nation was elected for a special purpose: to bring the Messiah and His message (the Word of God) to the whole world. Even if it could be proven that Paul was not concerned with this fact in the 9th chapter of his letter to the church in Rome, it would not change the fact of the matter. Nor would it change how that truth would effect the way in which the reader should understand Paul’s intentions. Every scholar, whether Calvinistic or not, must acknowledge the service for which the nation of Israel was elected to fulfill in God’s redemptive plan.

Because Abasciano concedes Schreiner’s first point he fails to address the errors establishing that point. For instance, Schreiner argues:

“When Paul speaks of the anguish in his heart and his desire to be accursed because of his fellow Israelites (Rom 9:1-3), the reason he feels this way is not because Israel is merely losing out on temporal blessings. Distress torments his heart because his kinsmen from Israel were not saved. Paul is almost willing “to be separated from Christ” (9:3) because his fellow Israelites are separated from Christ.”

First, we must ask the question: Why are the Israelites separated from Christ?

  • Paul’s explanation: They were cut off for their unbelief (Rom. 11:20) despite the fact that God patiently held out his hands to them for a very long time (Rom. 10:21).
  • The Consistent Calvinistic Response: Because God rejected them before the foundation of the world (before they did anything good or bad) and He refused to grant them the faith (by means of effectual regeneration) needed to be reconciled.

It makes little since for Paul (and God himself) to express anguish over these Israelite’s rejection of God if indeed it was only a natural and unavoidable response to God’s initial rejection of these Israelites. Paul’s expression of his longing for Israel’s salvation is self-sacrificially loving, just like that of Jesus Himself. Yet, Schreiner’s Calvinistic interpretation undermines the the self-sacrificial nature of Christ’s love and provision for these hardened Israelites. Are we to believe that Paul is more self-sacrifically loving than the Lord who inspired his words?

Second, Schreiner does not seem to understand the “election to service” perspective rightly. He presumes that those who choose to remain in unbelief so as to eventually become cut off  are “merely losing out on temporal blessings.” God’s choice to cut Israel off is not just about “losing out on temporal blessings.” Despite God’s long-suffering and clear revelation, Israel has grown calloused in their unbelief and they remain under God’s divine wrath. God’s choice to cut Israel off and take the word to the Gentiles is not merely a “temporal blessing.” Schreiner’s faulty understanding appears to lead to many more erroneous conclusions about this perspective.

Does acknowledging the well established fact of Israel’s divine “election to service” negate Abasciano’s refutation of Schreiner’s second major point? If it does, I do not see it. It appears that both (1) God’s election of Israel to serve His purpose of bringing the Word to the world (by selecting individual patriarchs, prophets and apostles from that nation to fulfill that purpose of election) AND (2) God’s choice to save whoever puts their trust in that Word (regardless of what nation they are from) is the concern of Paul in Romans 9-11.

Even if Schreiner and Abasciano do not believe Romans 9 is concerned with God’s election of Israel (and individual Israelites) to serve the purpose of fulfilling God’s original promise to Abraham (to bless all families through his seed – Gen. 12:3), they still must demonstrate why this established truth should not affect how we understand Paul’s intentions in Romans 9. Simply acknowledging the fact that the nation of Israel was elected by God to serve this purpose will affect how one understands Paul’s intentions in this controversial chapter, regardless of whether you believe Paul was addressing this specific truth or not.

As noted before, however, it appears to me that God’s selection of Israel (and certain Israelites) to serve His divine purpose in bringing the Word to the world is clearly a part of Paul’s concern in Romans 9. Paul wrote,

“…the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” –Rom. 9:4-5

Paul continues with the objection that he introduced and answered in Romans 2–3, What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision, since salvation is for all nations? He answers, Great in every respect. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the words of God.  Paul explains,

“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 which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”-Rom. 2:28-29

Two major points of the apostle in Romans 2–3 are clear. First, salvation is intended for whoever believes, regardless of their nationality.  Second, a blessing or benefit still exists for being of ethnic Israel.  What is that benefit? Paul says, “the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Rom. 3:2).

In Romans 9, Paul develops these two points in light of the fact that so many Israelites do not believe the very words that have been entrusted to them. By showing that not every Israelite from the seed of Abraham is chosen for the noble purpose of carrying the Word of God, Paul seeks to prove that God’s promise to Abraham has not failed, that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3b).

Paul’s reference to Israel carries significance. Some linguistic scholars point to the root meaning of this new name given to Jacob as relating to the primitive root verb שרה, which refers to the authority of a prince.[5]  The ultimate authority is reserved for the king, but the prince often speaks on behalf of his king and is given authority over others. This illustrates the special role assigned to this elect nation of God. Through this blessed people comes the manifestations of God, his promises, his law, his covenants, and most significantly his only-begotten Son (see Rom. 9:4-5).

In other words, there is a blessing to being an Israelite, but not all of the Israelites are the ones chosen to carry that blessing. Not all Israelites are given to be prophets or apostles to bring the Word to the world. Not every Jew will be in the lineage of the Messiah or be entrusted to carry his message. So, there is a benefit to being a Jew, but not every Jew has been chosen for that benefit.

Some of these Israelites were left in their calloused condition for the ignoble purpose of crying out “crucify him” on the day the Lord’s promise for redemption was fulfilled.  Some Jews were given a “spirit of stupor” to blind them from the clearly-revealed truth of their own Messiah’s identity.  This interpretation is consistent with Jesus’ own commentary on Israel’s current condition:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.’” – Luke 19:41-42

Is it fair that God had chosen to entrust some unfaithful Israelites to bring his Word, while blinding other equally-unfaithful Israelites from seeing it in order to fulfill His redemptive promise? Paul writes Romans 9–11 to explain to his audience why this is not only just, but abundantly merciful.

Verses 4 and 5 cannot be separated from what Paul goes on to argue in this chapter. Some readers misinterpret the “amen” that concludes verse 5 to mean “the end.” For the early church, the term “amen” does not bring an end to a thought but declares a hope that the thought never ends. Paul continues in the same line of reasoning despite the paragraph break and new title heading added by many modern translations.

“[But] it is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” – Rom. 9:6-7

The conjunction de (“but” or “moreover”) which begins this sentence clearly confirms Paul’s thought has not been broken from the previous verses. The purpose for God electing and blessing Israel has not failed. This is the same objection introduced by Paul in Rom. 3:3, “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?” In other words, the unbelief of most Israelites will not thwart God’s plan and promises.

It might appear to a first-century audience that God’s choice of Israel to bring His Word to the rest of the world had completely failed. Most Jews, especially the notable leaders, stood in direct opposition to the Word of God, yet it was a known fact in that day that God had chosen Israel to be “entrusted with the very words of God.”  This is what earned the Jews their nickname “the elect.” As Rom. 9:4–5 indicates, from them was the law, the prophets, the Scriptures, and the patriarchs, but has that now come to a complete halt? Is God no longer revealing his Word through Israel?  Has God’s word failed? Has God broken His promise to Abraham?

This point is key in understanding the rest of Paul’s argument in this chapter. One cannot overemphasize how vital it is to rightly understand the question Paul is attempting to answer at this point in his letter. Many scholars have failed to follow Paul’s line of thought in this contested passage, and proclaimed erroneous conclusions.  For instance, Schreiner argues,

“The particular question in [Paul’s] mind in w. 1-5 relates to the salvation of Israel, and thus the claim that God’s word has not failed (9:6) must be interpreted in relationship to the issue that is at the forefront of Paul’s mind—namely, the salvation of Israel. Those interpreters who assert that Paul is referring merely to the historical destiny of Israel and not to salvation do not account plausibly for the relationship of vv. 1-5 to the rest of the chapter, for vv. 1-5 make it eminently clear that the reason Paul brings up the question of the faithfulness of God in v. 6 is that a great portion of Israel is not saved.”

This assertion fails to address our actual position for two reasons:

(1) While Israel’s condition of being cut off in their unbelief is a reflection of their “lost-ness” and need for salvation, verses 4 and 5 clearly shift to reflect on the unique purpose for which Israel was elected to serve as in contrast to their being cut off. Paul is pointing out the irony that Israel has been cut off from the very Word they were elected to bring into this world — that Word being the Messiah and His message. This is why Paul references the “the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah” at the end of verse 5 before asking the question of verse 6. The very nation chosen to bring the Messiah has now been cut off from the Messiah, so the natural question would be whether or not God’s plan has failed. If the very people entrusted with the Word of God are rejecting the Word of God, then it makes perfect sense to ask if that Word (promise) has failed.

(2) This passage is not “referring merely to the historical destiny of Israel” as Schreiner erroneously asserts onto our interpretation. While it is true that Paul’s words concern Israel’s salvation in that this Messiah is obviously the means by which Israel (along with whosoever believers from any nation) may be saved, it is clearly Paul’s intention to address how those chosen means have not failed to be accomplished due to the unfaithfulness of Israel. (The same point Paul raised in Romans 3:3, by the way.)

Despite what some suggest, Paul does not appear to be answering the question, “Since most Jews remain in unbelief, has the word of God failed in effectually saving the Jews?” Instead, he is asking, “Has God’s word failed since those chosen to carry it are standing in opposition to it?” Or, to put it another way, “If the nation chosen to bring the Messiah and his message has rejected the Messiah and his message, then has God’s plan failed?” The clear answer to this question is “no” and Paul goes on to explain exactly why in the following three chapters.

Objections Anticipated:

1) Does Romans 9 involve salvation?

Yes, Romans 9 involves salvation. God’s redemptive plan, promised to Abraham, is channeled through Israel. No one is saved apart from the fulfillment of God’s promise. If God’s word fails to come through Israel, then no individual in the world has any hope of salvation.

God unconditionally chose a nation and many individuals from that nation to bring about His redemptive plan. Apart from that plan being fulfilled, God cannot justly choose to save anyone who repents and believes. God freely bestows His saving grace to whomsoever He chooses solely because of the redemptive work of Christ brought to pass by His purpose in election.

When some hear the word election they immediately think that individuals were chosen for effectual salvation before creation, but even Calvinistic scholars must admit that not all biblical references to election are rightly understood in this manner.[6]  God elects nations and individuals to carry out both noble and ignoble purposes in his redemptive plan without regard to the morality of those involved. Likewise, he chooses where His message will be sent without regard to the morality of the people hearing it (Jonah 1:2; Matt. 22:10).  God makes choices unconditioned upon the character or desires of those involved.  When approaching the Scripture one must seek to discern what kind of divine election is being referenced, without merely assuming every choice of God is about individuals being chosen for salvation (Rom. 9:16).

2) Does Romans 9 have individuals in view?

Yes. Individuals are very much in view throughout Romans 9. Acknowledging the national components clearly evident in this passage does not negate the reference to the individuals involved. Some Calvinists may assume that the non-Calvinistic corporate interpretation avoids any reference to the individuals within the corporate group. However, the corporate interpretation, as I understand it, actually involves more individuals than the interpretation the typical Calvinist is seeking to defend.

When interpreting Romans 9, Calvinists are forced to change their hermeneutical approach from an individual application of salvation to a corporate application somewhere before they get to the end of the chapter and into the following two chapters. Otherwise, they have the dilemma of explaining why the same individually-hardened Israelites who are stumbling have not stumbled beyond recovery or the hope of being grafted back in for salvation (Rom. 11:11–23).[7]

The context of Romans 9 involves individuals and covers the topics of election and salvation, but the context must be examined in order understand the apostle’s intention. Paul’s question must be understood in order to interpret rightly his given answer.

Jews had come to believe that eternal life was guaranteed to any law-abiding citizen of Israel simply on the basis of their being of Israel. They wrongly assumed that being the elect people of God secured their own individual salvation. Ironically, the root of this same erroneous conclusion still leads many to misinterpret Paul’s intentions. Israel was elected to carry the Word of God so that anyone might believe and be blessed; they were not guaranteed salvation on the basis of being a descendant of Abraham.

The question Paul is asking is this: “If God has entrusted His Word to the Israelites (vv. 4–5) and the Israelites are standing in opposition to his Word (vv. 2–3), then has God’s promise to deliver His Word through Israel failed (v. 6)? Paul’s answer is two-fold. Not every descendant of Israel is entrusted with the words of God, nor is everyone who is a child of God made a child on the basis that he or she is a natural descendent of Abraham. Consider the apostle’s response in Romans 9:6:

“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

God’s Word has not failed to come through Israel because not everyone from Israel has been given the noble purpose (i.e. “election to service”) of bringing that Word (vv. 5, 21).[8]  In other words, not every individual descendant of Abraham is chosen to accomplish what the nation of Israel was chosen to accomplish. Moreover, not every descendant of Israel is chosen to carry out the purpose for which God elected Israel.

This relates back to Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet recorded in Matthew 22. As I have established in THIS ARTICLE there are several divine choices made by God to bring about redemption.

  1. The election of the nation that the king ruled over in the parable (representing Israel)
  2. The election of the servants from that nation to deliver the wedding invitations (representing prophets/apostles)
  3. The election of those who would receive the invitations (representing the message going first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles)
  4. The election to permit those properly clothed in wedding garments to enter (representing those clothed in Christ’s righteousness by faith)

The moral of Christ’s parable was, “Many are called, but few are elect” (v. 14).  In other words, many are “unconditionally” invited by “unconditionally” elected servants from an “unconditionally” elected nation.

  • The nation was not chosen because it was more moral or more deserving (i.e. “unconditional”)
  • The servants from that nation were not selected because they were more moral or more deserving. (i.e. “unconditional”)
  • And the invitations were not sent to people because they were more moral or deserving. (i.e. “unconditional”)

The invitation (WORD) was brought to the world through a nation (and individually selected servants from that nation). This is what Christ is referencing when he says, “many are called.”

What does Christ mean by “few are elect?” Clearly, this is in reference to those conditionally permitted entrance into the banquet based upon their being properly clothed in the right wedding garments.  The King elects to permit those rightly clothed to come in while the rest are cast out. Likewise, God will only permit those clothed in the righteousness of Christ to enter heaven. The “few” who are “elect” were clearly conditionally chosen based upon their garments (the righteousness of Christ). This is the foundational understanding of “corporate election to salvation.” We are elect only insofar as we are connected with Christ (clothed in His righteousness).

This parable, like Romans 9, includes all of the King’s choices, not just the last one. In other words, the parable involves not only the King’s choice to grant or deny an individual’s entrance into the banquet, but also the King’s choices in fulfilling his purposes through his own nation and those individual servants selected to deliver the invitations. Likewise, Paul, in Romans 9, has all of these divine choices well in view. Allow me to demonstrate:

  • Romans 9:4-5: In verses 4 and 5 Paul clearly spells out the service for which God elected Israel:

“…the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” –Rom. 9:4-5

  •  Matthew 22:2-4: A nation (Israel) was chosen by the King (God) to bring His invitation (the Gospel) through his chosen messengers (patriarchs, prophets, apostles, the Messiah).

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king (God) who prepared a wedding banquet for his son (Jesus). He sent his servants (prophets) to those who had been invited to the banquet (Israelites) to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants (Paul/the apostles).” – Matt. 22:2-4

  • Romans 9:1-3; Rom. 11:20: The invitation was first sent to the King’s own nation (Israel) because He genuinely desired them to attend, but they rejected His invitation and were cut off for their unbelief and their violent rejection of the King’s servants (Paul/the apostles). This represents God’s choice to send the message first to the Jews, who rejected it, and then to the Gentiles.

 “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race…”- Rom. 9:1-3

“…but they (Israel) were broken off because of unbelief…” – Rom. 11:20

  • Matthew 22:4-6: Christ’s wedding parable spells out this divine choice in response to the nation’s rejection of the King’s invitation:

“Then he sent some more servants (Paul/the apostles) and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited (Israelites) that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’  But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.” – Matt. 22:4-6

  • Romans 9:6ff: The King’s plan has not failed, however. Just because the people of the nation have rejected the servants carrying the King’s wedding invitation, does not mean the servants from that same nation will not continue to fulfill the purpose for which the servants were elected. But we must remember, not every one from that nation were selected to be servants to carry the King’s invitation (not every Israelite was chosen to fulfill the purpose for which God elected Israel), and not every person from that nation is guaranteed entrance into the banquet (only Israelites clothed in the right garments by faith will be permitted to enter).

“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.” – Rom. 9:6-7

  •  Matthew 22:9-14: There are still more servants today from that nation (Israel) who will fulfill the King’s original plan by taking the invitation (the Gospel) to all people, so that whosoever may come. The King has every right to permit any one entrance into that banquet, even if they are sinful barbarians from an outside nation. And the King has every right to reject any one from entering into that banquet, even if they have willed and run after the works of the law as citizens of the King’s chosen nation.

 “Then he said to his servants (Paul/the apostles), ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come (Israelites who were cut off for unbelief). So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find (barbarian Gentiles).’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good (unconditionally), and the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes (a condition). He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.  “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” – Matt. 22:9-14


To better understand the context of what is happening with Israel at the time of Paul’s writing, look at the parallel of the prophet Jonah. Suppose Jonah represents the nation of Israel and Nineveh represents the rest of the world. When Jonah was unfaithful to God, one may have asked: “Has God’s word failed?” (as Paul does in Romans 9:6). The answer to that question is found by reviewing the story of Jonah. God sovereignly brings his word through an unfaithful vessel. Likewise, God entrusts His Word to come through Israel who, like Jonah, was an unfaithful vessel. With this in mind, how might the apostle prove that God’s Word has not failed despite the unfaithful vessel (Israel) being entrusted to bring it? Paul simply retells the story of Israel and God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promise. This is what Romans 9-11 is all about.

Schreiner’s faulty assertion that those of us who hold to the “election to service” perspective do not acknowledge the salvific aspects of this passage has created a false dichotomy of sorts. Thus, some non-Calvinists may feel as if they need to either hold to the “election to service” perspective or the “corporate election to salvation” perspective, when in reality the truth from both of these views can and should be adopted.

In fact, it could be argued that interpretive consistency can only be maintained by holding to the truth established by both of these perspectives. After all, if one fails to acknowledge that Jacob was chosen over Esau for the elective purpose of being the patriarch through whom the Messiah and his message would come (v. 5), then how does one avoid the Calvinistic assumption of individual election to effectual salvation before they had done anything good or bad (v. 11)? One MUST first acknowledge the underlying purpose for God’s choice of one brother over the other before moving on to establish the truth that “Christians are only considered the seed of Abraham because they are in Christ by faith, and therefore share in his identity as their (covenant) representative.”[9]

[1] R. T. Forster and V. P. Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1973) 53-54, 67, 75.



[4]Brian Abasiano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9” accessed online: (emphasis added)

[5] Alfred Jones teaches that the mysterious verb שרה might very well mean “to be princely,” and assumes that the name Israel consists of a future form of this verb, which hence would mean to become princely. And so Jones interprets the name Israel with He Will Be Prince With God. Alfred Jones, Jones’ Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names (London: Kregel Publications, 1997), 130.

[6] John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in Election,” web page, available from; Internet; accessed 02 April 2015, states, “And since the church is not an ethnic group like Israel was, God doesn’t elect a whole nation for earthly purposes like he did Israel at the Red Sea.”

[7] James White, “Today on the Dividing Line: NJ/NY Report, David Gushee, Austin Fischer,” video, 59:54, today-on-the-dividing-line-njny-report-david-gushee-austin-fischer/ (accessed April 2, 2015). James White argues in his Dividing Line broadcast (11/11/2014) in response to Austin Fischer’s debate rebuttal referencing Romans 11:11: “See he leaves the section that is about individual salvation and he wants to go to groups, because in Romans 11 what you have is the general statement, ‘Look, the Gentiles, and the church ignored this, the Gentiles cannot boast against the Jews who have been cut off for their unbelief, obviously not all Jews, right? Paul is a Jew. So, he [Fischer] has left the specific individual focus of election in Romans 9 and now he is talking groups, that have individual exceptions to the rule, that is all the Jews that are being gathered and saved . . . the Paul’s, the Lydia’s, so on and so forth . . . and now he is just going to the groups to try and create a theology that will somehow get rid of the specific teaching that is found in Romans chapter 9. So he [Paul] is saying to the Gentiles, don’t boast against the Jews because if you’re filled with unbelief you will be cut off as well, just as they were. Which really only makes sense if you recognize that faith is the gift of God and a work of the Holy Spirit of God, and there wouldn’t be boasting anyways.” White shifts from an individual interpretation to a corporate interpretation of the passage. In so doing, he ignores verse 7 where Paul clearly contrasts the remnant from those who were hardened and who have stumbled, but not stumbled beyond recovery. What is true of the nation must be true of individuals within that nation, thus of those who stumbled and were hardened or cut off, some of those individuals clearly recovered from their stumbling (v. 11) and were provoked out of hardening by envy (v. 14) or grafted back in after leaving their unbelief (v. 23). Therefore, being hardened or cut off cannot be intended as in reference to the individual non-elect reprobate of the Calvinistic interpretation.

[8] Some scholars refer to this “noble purpose” as God’s “election to service.” For example, Eric Hankins, the primary author of A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Statement of God’s Plan of Salvation, presented his research at a conference stating, “Fred Klooster’s treatment of the biblical data concerning election in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology is typical of most evangelical approaches to the subject. He notes that the Bible gives us a ‘rich vocabulary to express several aspects’ of election. He mentions specifically (1) elect angels, (2) election to service, (3) the election of Israel, (4) the election of Christ, and (5) election to salvation, with which, Klooster says ‘the rest of this article is concerned.’ Millard Erickson, in his systematic treatment of soteriology, acknowledges the frequency of corporate ideas of election and election to service in the Scripture, but waives these off to deal, as Klooster does, with only the idea of individual election to salvation. Grudem, in his systematic theology, does not even mention the Old Testament in laying out his biblical basis for the doctrine of election. He assumes that determinism is the equivalent of election, so that’s all he finds in the Scriptures. What warrant could there be in simply jettisoning the totality of the biblical data? I frequently hear ‘election to service’ and ‘corporate election’ dismissed as sort of second class ideas concerning the doctrine, so we can all hurry to the discussion of how God chooses some individuals and not others. However, I think we are ignoring the lion’s share of the biblical data in doing so. What might election look like if we really allowed the Bible to speak?” Eric Hankins, Audio presentation of the 2013 John 3:16 Conference, “Dr. Eric Hankins, 2013 John 3:16 Presentation, Part 2/3,” web page, available from; Internet; accessed 03 January 2016.

[9] Brian Abasciano:

11 thoughts on “Corporate Election and Election to Service in Romans 9

  1. You sir, are a MANIAC, a maven of monstrous measurements. There, now I puffed up your pride…sorry about that Chief. Go deal with it. 🙂

    PS, about maven, Wiki Says:

    The word reached English from the Hebrew mevin (מבֿין), meaning “one who understands”, and is related to the word binah (בינה), which denotes understanding or wisdom in general.

    Excellent work.

  2. There is no doubt that national Israel was chosen (elected) as a group to be a light to the Gentiles. And yet individual members in that group are now damned for individually rejecting God’s mercy (9:1-6). There is no doubt that individuals were chosen (elected) to start, or to be in, the lineage of the Messiah, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet some individual members in that lineage are now damned (e.g. evil kings of Judah) for individually for not being children of promise (9:7-16).

    There is no doubt that individual unsaved persons (like Pharaoh and Judas) and rejected generations of a nation (Israel) have been chosen/elected to provide/serve through their rejection a greater opportunity for God’s mercy to be offered to more individuals and generations of other nations (9:17-33). But God’s plan has been, and always will be, for all nations and all individuals to have the opportunity to hear and believe His gospel and the opportunity to be grafted into His blessing (Rom 10-11)! He will even graft in again future generations of the nation of Israel whom He has for now chosen/elected to be rejected. Praise Him for His Wonderful Plan of Salvation!

    This is the overall conclusions that one will come to, in my view, from a thorough exegesis of Romans 9-11.

  3. Thank you very much for this! Apart from the reference to heaven being the reward of the faithful (which I don’t think is a biblical teaching) this article was extremely helpful. I am going through Romans 9 right now in getting ready for a series I am teaching on predestination and the foreknowledge of God and this was good to stumble upon. Thanks again!

  4. The Greek words for foreknew and foreknowledge are prognosis and proginosko (or spelled something like that). The words literally translated mean ginosko-to know and pro-beforehand. Calvinists define those words”fore-ordain” and on this website I saw them defined “fore-love”. Where are you getting these different definitions from? I see nothing in the literal translations of the words to imply either of these definitions. I am extremely uncomfortable with giving a word a new definition unless it is overwhelmingly supported from the context.

    1. Welcome Micah. When reading the NT you will come across generic words in Greek given specific Christian meanings in their Christian context, like “baptism” for example. Also, studying Paul closely reveals that he may have even coined some new theological terms, because they are not found in any other pre-Christian Greek writing.

      As for proginosko, consider this. The grammar (semantic meaning) of the verb – προέγνω (he foreknew) as used by Paul is unique, it seems, at least by him (Ac 26:5; Ro 8:29; Ro 11:2), to indicate a relational knowledge more than prescience of information. (Peter’s two uses seem more in line with prescience of information, 1Pe 1:20, 2Pe 3:17). Certainly information knowledge is involved in the said relationship and should be assumed, but only in connection to the relationship as it already exists.

      Paul uses this same verb in the present tense in Acts 26:5 for the Jews’ personal knowledge of him after they got to know him in Jerusalem, but which is still being called “foreknowing” Paul. This also may indicate that the compound preposition προ on this verb is being used by Paul to denote superiority of knowledge instead of temporality concerning it. That the Jews had a superior knowledge of Paul is what Paul’s argument is before Agrippa, not just that they knew some information about him. And that God started a superior relational knowledge with those He saved is Paul’s point to the Roman believers in 8:29. The NT relates salvation to such a superior relational knowledge when it says that the lost at the judgment will be designated as those Jesus “never knew” (Matt 7:23, 25:12) and the saved become “known” by God (1Cor 8:3, Gal 4:9).

      The preposition προ is used to mean superiority in James 5:12, 1Peter 4:8 (“above all”) and in a couple of other compound verbs, where it is used to denote superiority instead of temporality, like the verbs προΐστημι (be over) and προαιρέομαι (prefer). And there also is a better verb Paul could have used that means “prescience”, which is also found in the NT and which is without the relational component being inferred in it – προοράω, Gal 3:8 or προβλέπομαι, Heb 11:40.

      1. I understand your argument that Paul uses the word to mean experiential knowledge or intimate knowledge, a superior knowledge typically gained through personal experience, a familiarity with someone. I would argue that is still knowledge of facts, just more intimate facts one has become familiar with due to prolonged exposure or personal experience of them. I still do not see how fore-ordain or fore-love can be applied here. They are different words with entirely different meanings. Fore-love is closely connected considering intimate knowledge often leads to love but not the same. Does God need to have a relationship with a person in order to have intimate knowledge of them? I would think that God fore-loves everyone and that He has intimate knowledge of everyone since He is all present, all knowing and all good and he literally created everyone. (John 2:25, John 3:16) (If I’m missing something here please tell me) If that is the case then it would seem odd for Paul to make the case that God predestined a purpose for those whom He foreloved because we know that those who do not believe are not conformed to the image of Jesus whether God loves them or not. Wouldn’t it be better to take the more normative definition, knowing something about someone beforehand. It makes perfect sense then-God predestined a purpose for those who He knew beforehand would believe or who would be placed in Christ. I would argue that Paul is using it in this way in Acts. He doesn’t mean by foreknew that all the Jews loved him. Rather he means all the Jews knew how he lived as a strict pharisee. My problem isn’t the concept but giving words new definitions which I am not certain can be supported from the text.

      2. Thank you Mica for your response. The word “know” is used relationally, and with intimacy, like Adam knew Eve. The intimate knowledge of God with a person starts by grace through faith.

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