De-Calvinized - A Non-Calvinistic Perspective on Romans 9
Romans chapter 9 is often referred to as the foundational proof text of Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Total Inability.
Total Depravity (Total Inability)
This is the teaching that man has no ability to choose or reject the offer of salvation without the Holy Spirit first awakening his spirit. This stands as the fundamental starting point of the calvinist position…the starting point of Calvinist soteriology.
This is the teaching that God has arbitrarily (for no apparent reason) chosen (or elected) some to salvation and some to damnation.
This is the position that Christ’s death on the cross was not given for all and that it was sufficient only for those for whom Christ died…the elect.
Let me first answer a very important question….and one that I hear often in social media groups where Soteriology is discussed. “Why is the vast majority of content regarding Romans 9 from the Calvinist position? Doesn’t this overwhelming consensus declare that it is the correct interpretation?”
The simple answer…is no. Since those that hold to a traditional view of soteriology don’t interpret Romans 9 as individually redemptive in nature, there is no compelling reason for us to refer to it when discussing soteriology. Why would we?!
From our perspective, Paul lays out a compelling case in Romans that clearly describes salvation offered to all men, provided for all men, and available to all men; while in Romans 9-11 Paul lays out a compelling case for God’s dealing with rebellious and hardened Israel to bring about the Seed of Abraham.
[To clarify: “Traditional Soteriology” is defined as the position that the earliest church fathers held to…a position that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all things and that beneath that sovereignty God has given to man the ability and culpability for their response to him. This position is defended in Salvation Through the Eyes of a Prodigal - a defense of traditional soteriology.]
So let’s dig in and try to understand the context of the passage and an accurate interpretation of this passage!
Here we go!!
Does Romans 9 teach Calvinism? This seems like a simple question…with a simple answer. But simple doesn’t always mean easy. In this extensive article we are going to lay the foundation for a proper contextual understanding of Romans 9.
No book in the Bible is discussed more (in the context of salvation) than Romans…and no chapter is brought up more in our modern discussions than Romans 9. Romans is Paul’s defense of the Gospel…so it makes sense that we would turn to Romans for a deeper understanding of the gospel…what salvation really is and how it is transmitted from God to man.
However, to say there is disagreement on how to interpret Romans 9 would be an understatement.
Romans 9 is full of verses that are used on all sides of the Soteriological spectrum to “say” different things. Consider these favorites!
Romans 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Romans 9:15 I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy
Romans 9:20 Who art thou that replies against God?
Romans 9:21 vessels unto honor, and vessels unto dishonor
Romans 9:22 - vessels of wrath fitted for destruction
1. One interpretation states that that Romans 9 stands as an illustration of the power of the gospel from Romans 1-8…a continued thought.
Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated…are in a redemptive context
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy…speaking of redemptive mercy
...And whom he will he hardeneth..that God hardens the hearts of those not predestined to receive his mercy
...Vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour…those who are chosen for salvation and those that are chosen for wrath..Unconditional Election
**And if you disagree with their interpretation, this verse get’s thrown at you!! (verse 20) “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”
Who are you to question God and his sovereign election?!?!?!
2. Another interpretation views Romans 9 as serving a separate function in Paul’s letter, still salvation but a different angle. It communicates Paul’s anguish over Israel.
Paul is answering the questions that a jewish objector would have in response to all that Paul has said about the Jewish people in chapters 1-8 of Romans.
This view would hold to an interpretation that “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” are in the context of God showing mercy to individuals or nations to bring about the pathway to redemption.
They would claim that the verse that declares that “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” isn’t speaking in a context of redemptive mercy but God’s mercy on rebellious/hardened Israel
They would believe that the “vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour” are those Jews that God used to bring about the pathway to redemption…both in their seeking the messiah as well as their rejection.
The incredible danger of this passage is that people want to pull out a verse here and a verse there…and in doing so inevitably end up twisting God’s Word to mean what they want it to say. At the worst, we make it say something different than God intended. However, at the very best, we make God’s truth difficult to understand and hidden from view.
Consider for a moment what Paul has already stated in Romans chapters 1-8….
Romans 1 - All are sinners
Romans 2 - All are without excuse
Romans 3 - Even those of Israel must come by faith
Romans 4 - Example…Abraham’s faith
Romans 5 - The contrast of Jesus Christ and Adam
Romans 6 - Grace is not a license to sin
Romans 7 - This doesn’t make the law bad…or without a purpose
Romans 8 - Suffering, Glory, and the wonderful end to this part of Paul’s writing…Nothing can separate us from the love of God!
Part One - Paul's Heavy Heart: Romans 9:1-5
So let’s read Romans 9:1-5…
1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 Who are Israelites; 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.
In verses 1-3 Paul has a heavy heart. This is a much different tone than Romans 8 which ends with a triumphant declaration of God’s love. In fact, without reading chapters 1-8 sequentially, you might be tempted to thing this is a separate letter because of the drastic change in tone and focus. **Notice what is different
1. Paul is focusing on Israel at both the beginning and end of the chapters nine, ten, and eleven. Now we understand that the chapter divisions aren’t inspired, but there is a clear change in focus. (9:3, 9:33, 10:1, 10:21, 11:1)
2. Paul is reflecting back on Israel’s history. Though he does talk of Israel in chapters 1-8, he becomes very specific in this passage.
-Abraham, covenants, Isaac, Genesis 12 promise, Jacob, Esau, Hosea, Isaiah, Moses, Tribe of Benjamin, seed of Abraham, prophets, David…
3. Paul’s tone is filled with heaviness and heartache. This is quite a change from the ending of chapter 8 with the exuberant declaration of God’s eternal love!
4. Paul is conversing with an imaginary person. While this isn’t abnormal to Paul, this is such a lengthy conversation and is clearly a shift from the previous chapters in Romans. For example, the instances from earlier in Romans are an answer to one question; Romans 9-11 stand as a full conversation with many question/answer exchanges.
3:3 What advantage then hath the jew?
3:9 What then? Are we better than they?
3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Ney; but by the law of faith
4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin?
7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin?
Chapters 9-11 are unique…he is having a conversation that covers a few chapters as opposed to just giving an answer to one simple objection….
…So this must be one big objection…one big issue that Paul feel as if he needs to cover!