6 thoughts on “Romans 9: A (Brief) Non-Calvinist Reading

  1. I am looking for a non-Calvinist fellowship. What is the best way to look for one. As I have attempted to use the non-Calvinist as a search on the internet. All I seem to get is discussion about the differences,but no list.

  2. For the Calvinist, the objector is an obstinate unbeliever who objects to their view of sovereignty as defined as meticulous determinism or compatibilism. We see the objector as a hardened Jew who is questioning God’s choice to bless the Gentiles with salvation through faith since it was the Jew who historically kept the oracles of God, and through whom the Messiah came.

    Thank you for this wonderful article! I think you have hit the nail on the head. Who is the objector? A garden-variety non-believer or a particular type of non-believer? Not coincidentally, this particular type was causing – by far (see below) – the most problems for the new believers in almost all places where Paul (and sometimes Peter or others) preached and established churches. For a play-by-play summary see the 20 incidents comprised across Acts 4:1-2, 5:17, 6:9-14, 9:1-3, 9:22-30, 11:2, 13:44-51, 14:2, 14:19, 15:1-5, 16:3, 17:5, 17:13, 18:4-6, 18:12-13, 18:28, 19:8-9, 20:3, 21:10 – 26:32, 28:17-28.

    Although Paul faced some persecution from the Gentiles (Acts 12:1-5, 16:19-24, 19:23-41), he faced far more from the Jews. By my count, there are about 20 incidents in Acts involving the Jews versus only 3 from the Gentiles. So of course Paul’s objector is not a garden-variety unbeliever. It is the self-assured Jew that is resting on “Abraham is our father” (see Matt 3:9) and circumcision and keeping the Law.

  3. If there is any question about whether God was talking about the individuals Jacob and Esau versus the nations Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom), then look back at the very passages Paul references in Rom 9.

    NOTE: I read from the NASB and it renders in all caps any passages that are quoted from the Old Testament.

    Consider Rom 9:12-13 where it says…
    it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

    The first passage (THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER) is from Gen 25:23 where it says (my emphasis in bold):
    The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.”

    This is NOT about who is being saved. It is about who is being CHOSEN to carry the lineage of the Messiah – who would become the chosen nation of Israel and who would be a lesser nation (Edom). God reserves the right to CHOOSE FOR SERVICE anyone he wishes. Jacob to father the chosen nation, Esau to be another face in the crowd.

    The second passage (JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED) appears in Malachi chapter 1. Here are the first 5 verses of chapter 1 (my emphasis in bold):

    The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you [the nation of Israel] ,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.” Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!”

    This prophecy was given through Malachi to the NATION of Israel concerning the NATION of Esau (Edom). It was also given more than 1000 years after the man Jacob and the man Esau lived. It was not about the men; it was about the nations that came from them. The man Esau never served the man Jacob. There is no Biblical record of that at all. But the nation of Edom was clearly subservient to Israel and became Israel’s enemy.

    The point Paul is making in Romans 9 to our imaginary “Objector” who protests that Israel is “special” is this: The Jew has nothing to be smug about. God can select people for a particular service (NOT salvation) by whatever criteria He wants and there was absolutely nothing meritorious in Jacob to merit his selection to father the nation of Israel. In Abraham, yes. In Jacob, no. Either son could have been father to the chosen nation and still fulfilled the promise to Abraham and Isaac. But God chose Isaac’s younger twin (Jacob). To illustrate this point even more dramatically, Paul says God made the selection before they were born or had done anything good or bad (9:11). For those who want to make much ado about the potter in verses 19-23, go read Jer 18 and understand the context and the biblical precedent that Paul is drawing from. It involves nations – not people. Chapter 9 has nothing to do with individual election to salvation. it is Paul’s smack-down of the argumentative Jew that insists his genealogy makes him special and was in some way meritorious. Paul annihilates this argument in chapter 9.

  4. Romans 9-11: And Israel’s lostness:
    In the first five chapters of Romans Paul firmly establishes the doctrine of justification by faith. Then, in chapter 6 he begins to deal with a serious question raised against this doctrine, namely – does grace encourage sin – which is thoroughly dealt with by Paul. But then in chapters 9-11, he deals with the issue where the great body of the Jewish nation have rejected the gospel, and are on the outside, lost. They are on the outside, and do not experience the fulfillment of the promises that the O.T prophets had predicted. Again, Paul deals with the issues! Here is a list of some of the verses that bring out the fact of Israel’s lostness in these chapters:

    Romans 9:2-3, Sets the tone, as it were.
    “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,”

    Romans 9:6, Had God’s word failed? Was that the problem?
    “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;”

    Romans 9:27; The O.T. prophets had predicted that only a remnant would be saved. “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED;”

    Romans 9:32,33, Paul shows where Israel stumbled.
    “They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,
    “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE,
    AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

    Romans 10:1; Paul’s heart’s desire was to see Israel saved:
    “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”

    Romans 10:3, But Israel was its own worst enemy:
    “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”

    Romans 10:21, This verse says it all:
    “But as for Israel He says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.”

    Romans 11:5; “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” The great body of the Jewish nation was lost – only a “remnant” had responded to the gospel.

    Romans 11:20; “Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off..”

    Again and again in this section, Paul shows that his kinsmen according to the flesh were lost: Justification was by faith – the problem was Jewish obstinacy and unbelief! As a Jew, Paul was heart broken over this, (9:3; 10:1) as you might expect, yet, whatever you might think their motives were – it seems reasonable to think that some among his ‘Hebrew Christian brothers’ may have been heart broken too? After all, it was no small thing that in spite of their many privileges, the great body of the Jewish people were outside the kingdom of God.

    1. Thanks for the overview, Aidan. What is noteworthy in it and quite evident is that Paul is dealing with the NATION of Israel – not particular, individual salvation / damnation.

      When Paul speak of Gentiles, he is talking about a people group. When he talks about the Jews, he is talking about a people group. When he talks about Jacob, he is talking about selecting Jacob to be the father of a NATION (Israel) and when he talks about Esau, he is talking about rejecting Esau to be the father of the nation of Israel.

      Paul is grieved that most of his nation has failed to recognize the Messiah, even though they were given advantage after another. The Law. The Prophets. The Wisdom literature. The covenant. The Temple. The Tabernacle. The pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day. The manna. The water from the rock. The parting of the red sea. The parting of the Jordan. The wall of Jericho tumbling. The Judges. The list goes on an on. Yet, they reject the Messiah and persist in a form of godliness that denies the power thereof, kills the prophets, opposes the gospel, mocks the apostles, imprisons the saints, etc. etc.

      Yes – the book of Romans is about salvation. As I noted before, it is about how we are saved and the topic of who is saved is not taken to a personal, named level. It is taken to a level of “what must I do to be saved” and Paul shows it is by faith – not works of the Law and circumcision.

      Calvinists want to completely switch gears in Romans 9 and shift from the theme of the rest of the book to particular, unconditional election. Paul is telling us that God could have picked another nation to bear witness to Him, and could have picked Esau while still fulfilling prophecy as the seed of Isaac and Abraham. But He didn’t. He chose the younger before either twin had been born, and decided beforehand which twin would be given the more honorable role of the lineage of Israel.

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