Recently wrote a post about the typical interpretation of Romans 7 somewhat in order to get ’round to this one.
Much of Calvinist philosophy stems from the way that this chapter is interpreted. The way this chapter is interpreted is largely based on the way that Romans 5 & 7 are interpreted, so if you want the full scope of the alternate (and, I believe the ‘Apostolic’) interpretation I will present here, you may want to read posts: Is Sin a Disease, or a Crime? Pt.1 ; pt 2 ; Romans 7 & the Law of Sin and Death
The reason that I am addressing this passage really isn’t to negate Calvinism as it is to regain Paul’s meaning; when we develop systematic theologies by which we interpret scriptue, it becomes nearly impossible to see it any other way than in accord with the systematic we’ve developed.
Taking the outlook of this passage from the context of Romans 7 speaking of the effect of the law upon the flesh, rather than speaking of an intrinsic sinful nature, we can fathom that the entire book of Romans is discussing the electional dispensations of Jews and Gentiles. I’ll explain that rather lofty term ‘electional dispensations’ since I’d like this post to be understandable to anyone regardless of your level of theological understanding.
Electional: Romans 9 speaks pretty clearly off the ‘elect,’ meaning those who are expressly chosen and called apart by God to recieve salvation. (The Calvinist view is that the elect are expressly the individuals whom God calls apart one by one (the Calvinist view also includes the contrast: that God specifically sets apart individuals for damnation).)
Dispensations: ‘Dispensation’ is the word used in scripture to describe God’s interaction with man in any given point in history. (There is an entire system of theology called ‘dispensationalism’ in which they break history into several different ‘dispensations’ as though God arbitrarily changes the way he deals with man. In actuality, the dispensations are based on God’s current covenant with man; they are always based on His promises, and God does not arbitrarily change them, because He, Himself never changes (Mal 3:6, Heb 13:8); the way that He deals with man will be universal on the basis of His integrity (in fact that’s the implication of Mal 3:6). When God makes an agreement with us, He will honor it entirely, therefore, only on the basis of a change in covenant will the dispensation ever change; it is not because God changed, or because mankind somehow is different, but because there has been a change in the nature of our relationship (a ‘covenant’ is like a relational contract – marriage is the best example I’m aware of).)
With the term explained, the book of Romans largely discusses the two electional dispensations: the dispensation of the election of the Jews under the covenant of Abraham, and the dispensation of the election of all humanity under the covenant of Jesus Christ.
It is because Paul is discussing the two electional dispensations (covenants) that he so thoroughly discusses the effects of attempting to use the Law for righteousness in chapter 7. As in the book of Galatians, Paul is warning the Romans not to think they should revert to the tenets of the Old Covenant. The book which closest parralells this content is the book of Galatians; in fact it is evident in comparing the two books that Paul is drawing on a common teaching which he used when compaing the Old and New Covenants, even using exactly the same biblical example in both books (which we’ll look at shortly).
Where the Calvinist interprets Romans 9 as a description of God’s election of individuals, Paul is actually comparing of God’s universal (as opposed to individual) election under the New Covenant in contrast to His universal election of the Jews under the Old Covenant. Let me clearly state: the emphasis of election spoken of in Romanas 9 is upon the DISPENSATION which we are under, not upon an individual’s salvation (which I hope to show as we continue).
As with Romans 7, the evidence for this interpretation is intrinsic in the text, so let’s just start there:
Rom 9:1-5 – ‘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 ssorow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Chris tfor my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 Who are Isrealites; 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 a sconcerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’
Now, I start with the above verses to set the context intrinsic within Romans 9; he starts with the first five verses to talk about the Jews; not only is he clearly speaking of the Jews, but he speaks from the standpoint of lamenting their position under the new dispensation, even stating that he would be willing to suffer loss of salvation from Christ for the sake of ensuring salvatiton to the Jews (v.3). (Interestingly, Paul reiterates the same thought at the begining of chapter 10, just in case we’ve lost sight of his meaning at any point during chapter 9 (see rom 10:1).) He also gives a list of advantages that the Jews had under the former dispensation (v.4 & 5).
Next Paul takes an interesting turn:
9:6 ‘Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:’
Ok, I better briefly pause here because this statement can be confusing to some; what does Paul mean when he says: ‘They are not all Israel, which are of Israel’? Bear in mind the main body of content in this chapter is about ‘the eletion.’ Paul now suddenly makes the implication that just because someone is Jewish according to the flesh does not make them automatically the elect of God. Here Paul is making clear the distinction of spiritual Israel from those who are Isrealites (Jews) according to the flesh. What does Paul mean? He means that not everyone that is an Isrealite is elect of God. Actually, he already introduced this thought earlier in the book of Romans: Rom 2:28,29 – ‘For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.’
So you can see why the Jews hated Paul: he went around plainly teaching that they were no longer ‘God’s chosen people’ just because they were Jewish. Paul is making a distinction between the dispensation of the Old Covenant, under which the natural offspring of Abraham constituted the general body of the elect, and the dispensation under the New Covenant, under which everyone else gets included in the election.
9:7,8 ‘Neither, because they are the seed of Abrahama, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.’
Now here is where we run into content which is more clearly explained by Paul in the book of Galatians. Specifically, the passage in question is Galatians 4:21-31 in which Paul explains expressly that Hagar (the bondwoman) and Sarah (the bride of Abraham) are an allegory of the two covenants (Gal 4:24), and that the Christians are Isaac, the child of promise (Gal 4:28).
The fact that this story is used plainly as an allegory of the two covenants in Galatians, as well as here in Romans indicates it was a common teaching of Paul (if not among the early church in general).
‘They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.’ (Rom 9:8)
Paul is setting up his famous teaching on the election of grace, and he does so by making the clear distinction that the Jews are not now counted the elect, but those who believe in and follow the promised Messiah.
Now Paul goes on; he continues in the context of Isaac being an allegory for the elect – the elect now including not those who are children of God not according to the flesh. And unsurprisingly, he continues to use biblical allegories of the two dispensations: the one that came first (the covenant of Abraham), and the one that was promised (the covenant of Messiah).
His next allegory is of Jacob and Esau. Why? Because Esau was the elder brother who should have inheritted the blessing, but rejected his birthright. Jacob and Esau are another allegory, not of individuals who are chosen for election or reprobation, but of the two electoinal dispensations; remember the begining of chapter 9? Paul started the chapter by lamenting the fact that the Jews are no longer generally elected to salvation, and he discussing the same thing.
Rom 9:10-18 – ‘And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.‘
This passage, so oft used as a basis argument for personal, individual election and reprobation is really not talking about the election on the personal level at all. Paul is discussing his struggle with the current dispensation, and the apparent lost position of the Jews – just as he earlier set this thought up, stating that he could wish himself lost if only the Jews might be saved. He comes to the question that must be asked pending the contextual content: is God unjust to raise up the Jews as the elect only to later elect those of the promise to salvation, rather than those who were God’s children after the flesh? God forbid that we should accuse Him! God chooses whom He will.
And here is a pertinent issue also when discussing predestination: Paul’s allegory of Jacob and Esau precisely meets his (Paul’s) earlier statement of the process of predestination, namely: whom He foreknew, He did ALSO predestinate (Rom 8:29) so, God 1st has a knowledge of who will follow Him, given the opportunity, and THEN He predestinates them – gives them he opportunity. God knew in advance of Jacob & Esau’s birth which one would seek the spiritual, and which would reject it for he carnal. God knew that Esau would despise his birthright, AND he knew Jacob would want it, therefore based on God’s foreknowledge of their persons – not based upon their works – God predestined the younger to recieve the blessing despite the fact that he was second-born.
God’s predestination is based upon His foreknowledge – Paul has already explained that. God knew that the people of the earthly nation of Israel would be a ‘disobedient and gainsaying people’ (again from the context: Rom 10:21 quoting Isaiah). Jesus came to the Jew FIRST (Rom 1:16; Matt 15:24), just like Esau was given the opportunity FIRST. God knew that the general council of Jews (not individual Jews specifically) would reject their birthright: the Kingdom of Messiah, which came to them first.
Paul’s continued discussion about election remains in this context of the dispensational election, not personal and individual election. Paul further proves this by using a third allegory from the Old Testament, this one was a type spoken by the prophet Jeremiah specifically about the calling and election of the earthly Israel:
Rom 9:21 – ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?’ This reference is taken from Jeremiah 18:1-11 wherein God tells Jeremiah that the nation of Israel is like clay in His hand; if that clay is marred as He molds it, God is free to ALTER HIS PLAN for that lump of clay (Jer 18:4-10).
Every one of the allegories used by Paul in this passage is a direct reference to the nation of Israel, not to individuals.
The Calvinist view, which applies Paul’s teaching here to individual election shows that (individually applied) this would mean that God selects some for salvation, and some for damnation. But Paul is not speaking of individuals here, he is speaking of dispensations. Those who continue to follow the Old Covenant will be damned because they do not repent and believe in Christ, but those who follow Messiah will be saved. Does not God have the right (as God) to decide that the former dispensation which led to salvation in time past no longer leads to salvation, but the new one does? Does He not have the right to make those of the former dispensation who will not follow Christ the object of His wrath?
Paul is not making a defense of God for selecting individuals for damnation – you Calvinists will have to forgive me, but I think think that would clearly indicate that God is evil. To make a general change in the election from a small group to all humanity who put faith in Christ, on the other hand, only seems unjust to those who had put their hope in election based on their heritage.
Finally, after Paul’s defense of God’s righteousness in the matter, Paul continues giving biblical proofs not to individual election, but to the change in the electional dispensation:
Rom 9:25-27 ‘As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved which was not beloved. 26 And it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.’
Paul continues along the same path of logic and context through chapter 10, and 11. In 10:1, he reitterates the thought he started chapter 9 with, restating that his personal wish was to see the nation of Israel saved. Paul later poses the question that if the electional dispensation has changed, does that mean God has ‘cast off’ or rejected the Jews on an individual level:
Romans 11:1,2 – ‘I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not cast away his people which He foreknew. …’
No, God didn’t intentionally reprobate Jews (or anyone else). Paul, himself was a Jew! God did not expressly reprobate the Jews, He only changed the electional dispensation, Jews who believe and follow Messiah are the elect of God with everone else who believes and follows Messiah. But the NATION that will not repent and believe is now the object of His wrath.
Even so, god has promised there will ever be a remnant of believing Jews among the elect of God: True, spiritual Israel (Rom 9:27 & 11:5) whereby we further know that reprobation is not predestined on the individual level.