A Look at Romans 9- Part 1

potter-and-clayI have been privileged and blessed to have had the opportunity to study and live the word of God over the course of the last 9 ½ years. I have delighted in my discovery of the truths found in the pages of scriptures.  There are treasures of wisdom and beauty that cannot be matched in any other book in this world. I have always loved addressing those text that leave us with a glorious insight into the person of the Lord Jesus. Whether we are left in awe by those passages that speak of His Deity, whether our hearts be lifted up to the heavens when we examine the power of His atonement or even if we are left broken in ourselves when we read of His righteousness and humility, the person of Christ always leaves us breathless.

There are in some cases when examining the scriptures when we tend to really need to accept things that perhaps seem almost strange to our thinking. We ponder a text with time and prayer only to be left confused as to how this God we worship is presented to us. It can be human tendency to find certain aspects of the Holy Scriptures as being almost perplexing to our simplistic minds. How we deal with these amazing statements or descriptions of the Holy one is truly the important question.  We might be tempted to simply doubt the plain meaning of certain passages because we are bothered or even offended by them. It is nothing new for someone to re-interpret certain passages to relieve the uneasiness we have in seeing God a certain way. Of course I am not implying that most Christians are guilty of this type of reinterpretation however I feel when certain are discomforted then they plainly skip over certain passages or reinterpret them completely. We all have our presuppositions prior to addressing the bible so we might all be guilty of this in some way or another. I believe what is often missing in this discomfort is the realization that this is truly the beauty of scripture. We cannot fully figure out God! We are often left awestruck by how much grander He is to our thinking. Needless to say, to understand certain issues surrounding the person of Jehovah, you are going to have to put the time and effort in to really expound certain texts of scripture. With this said, believe it or not, you may still not have a full understanding of the text.  One point of reference I have always seen as helpful is to attempt to draw the spirituality out of the scripture by firstly dealing with it from a historical setting. Why was this text written? to whom? what was going on in that area? What was the mindset of a person living in those days and what were some of their cultural mindsets? We want to understand the text the way the original readers would have viewed it. Once we have at least an idea of the historicity of the text then we can draw out the spirituality from it.

With all this said it is unfortunate that there have still been many different interpretations.  There are many controversies that have emerged throughout the years and it is not uncommon for even the most fundamental doctrines of scripture to have been scrutinized by Christians and men have had to delve into the texts to attain a good understanding of key doctrines that are being questioned. Why so? Well if for no other reason than the importance of understanding that biblical truths are worthy of such careful considerations. In other words; we have a responsibility to comprehend and defend these basic truths of scripture! We are accountable to preserve the faith that was once and for all passed down to us no matter how controversial the teaching is. It is human nature for men, whether consciously or not, to confuse or re-interpret basic biblical truths based upon human logic or sentimentalism. What becomes a difficult task is when the doctrine disputed is one that is, as some have put it, “in-house” or within the assembly instead of with outsiders. Dialoguing with an “outsider” is far different than doing so with someone in fellowship in the same congregation. I have witnessed Brethren contesting one another’s interpretation of biblical texts with passion yet with gentleness (1 Peter 3:15) or we at least pray this is the manner the disputes are being conducted. What has been the result in some circumstance is that some have come to appreciate truth but unfortunately some have made a rash decision in dividing from each other in some instances.

One such subject has been on the topic of God’s Sovereignty verses human free will in regards to what it the final arbitrary of an individual’s salvation. It is the age old debate between those of the monergistic[i] perspective verses the synergistic[ii] view. It is attempting to answer the question: who controls salvation? Does God’s decision become the primary factor or is it the autonomous human will? Needless to say, there is much argumentation presented from both sides of this discussion and this small writing is not intended to answer all the questions. I have experienced this disputation within the walls of my own gathering and I have decided rather than enter into debate with my fellow brethren that I would express myself here.  I will allow those who wish to articulate their opinions whether in agreement or disagreement to do so with some restrictions. I want to state from the beginning that my interest is not the philosophical overtones that are sometimes at the heart of the discussion but the precious exegesis of relevant biblical texts! If you wish to put forward a discussion on what is written; I welcome your comments but let us keep things on the text itself.

There are many texts of scripture that need examination when taking on such a study however my central point of reference with respects to this issue, which is at the heart of this inner ecclesiastical discussion, is the text of Romans 9. It has been one of the more focal texts in the on-going dialogue. There have been many varying interpretations presented to me in the past five years of my pilgrimage in understanding these precious truths.  I have always attempted to listen cautiously to different understandings of these passages and examining why it is I hold to the particular exposition.  Needless to say I probably have not heard all interpretations available however I have been presented many alternatives to my own. My aim in studying these texts of scripture is not to necessarily persuade people to my view. I am certain that some will agree and others disagree with my understanding of these precious paragraphs. My hope is that whoever will read this study will take the time to examine the texts of Romans 9 in a fair and honest way. Please do not merely brush off my interpretation simply because you feel you have already come to a final conclusion. There are things that are so wonderful and foundational for the Christian in this chapter and especially within the whole of the epistle. Even though I am hoping to settle the understanding of these texts for myself, I am certain that I will come again to examine the doctrines of Romans 9 in my lifetime and question my interpretation all over again. Accept my challenge, prepare to wrestle with the text and join me the examination of a controversial yet powerful chapter in the word of God!

Primary Bibliography:

John Calvin “Calvin’s Commentaries”, Volume 19, BakerBooks, 2005

John Nelson Darby “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible”, Volume 4, BBS, 2005

David Dunlap “Limiting Omnipotence”, Gospel Folio Press, 2004

Norman Geisler “Chosen but Free”, 2nd Edition, Bethany House, 2001

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown “Bible Commentary”, Volume 3, Hendrickson, 2008

William Kelly “Notes on the Epistle of the Romans”, BBS, 1978

Douglas Moo “The Epistle to the Romans” NICNT, Eerdmans, 1996

Leon Morris “The Epistle to the Romans” PNTC, Eerdmans, 1988

John F. Parkinson “The Faith of God’s Elect”, Gospel Tract Publication, 1999

Robert Peterson & Michael Williams “Why I am not an Arminian” Intervarsity Press, 2004

John Piper “The Justification of God”, 2nd edition, BakerBooks, 1993

A.T. Robertson “Word Pictures in the New Testament”, Volume 4, Boadman, 1931

F.E. Stallan, “Romans” What the Bible Teaches, John Ritchie LTD, 1998

Joseph Thayer “Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament”, Hendrickson, 2003

Daniel Wallace “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics”, Zondervan, 1996

Jerry Walls & Joseph Dongell “Why I am Not a Calvinist”, Intervarsity Press, 2004

James White “The Potter’s Freedom”, 2nd edition, Calvary Press, 2009

Kenneth Wuest “Word Studies in the Greek New Testament” Volume 1, Eerdmans, 1973

Marvin Vincent “Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament”, Volume 3, Hendrickson,

A Quick note

I believe that it might be suitable at this time to remind my readers that these following entries are not meant to be exhaustive. Believe it or not my aim is not to write a book on the exegesis of Romans 9 but to share my studies of this chapter with you. In other words it won’t be as lengthy or detailed as some would wish. With this said; there are a number of books available for those who wish to gather a more thorough exegesis of the chapter. One main recommendation that I may offer is John Piper’s book “The Justification of God”. Mr. Piper truly takes the argumentation for this chapter to a level rarely seen and I believe one may benefit from his research no matter on which side of the issue you may find yourself.[iii]  With that said I am accepting recommendations from others hence please feel free to send them my way.

A secondary plea that I might state from the beginning is that you might take the time to read the footnotes provided to clarify certain statements and texts. Some of the footnotes may contain some further details that I left out of the main text. I believe you will gain far more understanding of my position if the footnotes are referenced along with the main body of the text.

Some Preliminary Thoughts

The epistle to the Romans is an immensely enriching testimony of the teaching of how a man is justified before a righteous and holy God. There is true beauty, comfort and sweetness throughout this epistle and I believe a thorough examination of the whole letter has value for a lifetime. The letter was written to “all the beloved of God in Rome” (1:7) which denotes to us who the recipients were. There were probably a few churches who met in homes in the main city and this letter is a general address to all those who are among the people of God in that vicinity. It was written by the apostle Paul during Paul’s 3rd missionary journey and most scholars date the epistle around 57 AD. Seemingly Paul was travelling to Rome but first needed to deliver funds to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21 & Romans 15:19-32) prior to his attempt at visiting the churches in the area. There is an argument presented and alluded to in the epistle of a struggle between ethnicities within the churches in Rome mainly between Jews & Gentiles. [iv] It is thought that an expulsion of the Jews by Claudius (Acts 18:2) caused the predominantly Jewish Christian church to be lead or taken over by Gentile Christians. Once the expulsion was lifted these Judeo-Christians would have returned to take their former place. (Romans 16:3)The Jews seemed to have the desire in reverting back to their heritage in order to show their superiority within the ranks of the church. The argumentation throughout Romans is to demonstrate that there is no difference in reference to ethnicity in finding favour before God. Paul writes throughout that a man’s justification is not based upon his ethnic background, former covenant relationships, blessings or even by birthright.[v] Justification is acquired through faith in the Son of God.  (Romans 3:21-31; 4-5:1; 9:30-32; 10:14)[vi] The blood of Christ is the means by which men[vii]  are declared as righteous and having peace with God (Romans 5:1). The theme of the identity of the descendants of Abraham and the children of promise truly marks Paul’s main emphasis. His focus over and over again is to demonstrate their equality. His hope was that this barrier that was placed between these two groups would be lifted and that love would flow for each other as equal members in the family of God.

The Two Main Intepretations

There are two mainline interpretations that are popular or at least seen as feasible and held by the vast majority of Biblicists in respects to how Romans 9 must be interpreted. The first sees Romans 9 in light of the continuance of what has been argued already in Romans 1-8 in keeping with the subject of Justification and the salvation of individuals. This view stems from the fact that people were chosen prior to the beginning of the world to be a people unto God. It is believed that these are the “elect” and have been the recipients of God’s favour without anything they have done. The view would argue that those who have been chosen will effectively be drawn, brought to Christ and are granted faith & repentance which leads to their salvation. In other words the salvation of individuals is solely based upon the libertarian free will decision of the creator who does all the works necessary for salvation to which we the creature receive as a free gift.[viii] Of course no one is arguing that all these concepts are found in Romans 9 but they are established throughout other portions of scripture[ix] and Romans 9 establishes God’s Sovereignty in salvation.

The other interpretation is that view which sees these texts as being mainly focused upon the future of Israel as a corporate entity rather than individualism. It is brought out that the text of Romans 9 is speaking about national privileges or historical roles in salvation history. In other words Old Testament figures spoken of in these texts such as Jacob & Esau should be taken as being as representing nations in their respective roles. In other words Paul is not speaking of Salvation in these texts at all but merely demonstrating the promise of God to a particular nation. Many who hold to this view state that Paul has shifted away from the arguments presented in Romans 1-8 to deal with the question of the future of Israel without any reference to God’s election in the salvation of individuals.

I will be attempting to defend the former in this small study to which I will state my case and then try to deal with the arguments presented by those who hold to the nationalistic understanding of these passages.

Is Romans 9 a Parenthesis?

Prior to beginning my exegesis of this wonderful chapter, I want to spend a few moments dealing with what is called the parenthetical argument. One of the most frequent contentions in the interpretation of Romans 9 that I hold to is whether or not it is disjoined from Romans 1-8 and how so. There appears to be a break in the text to which Paul turns his focus on his kinsmen according to the flesh. (v.3) The area of disagreement isn’t the apparent shift but just how radical does one want to take this sudden swing in Paul’s argumentation. There is a popular understanding, as we have mentioned, that states that this is a parenthesis to which Paul leaves his flow of thought to deal with the nation of Israel.  Others however have argued that Paul is continuing without disruption the argumentation he had previously addressed throughout the epistle.  There certainly seems to be a sort of disruption of the flow of the text when we reach Romans 9-11:28 however it would seem to be reading far too much into this section to say that it is cut off from the rest of the texts presented in chapter 1-8. Paul’s shift is based on tone not necessarily a departure from his point in chapters 1-8 and especially 8:28 and on. Paul proclaimed with joy the promises of God that none would be lost who are Christ’s elect (Romans 8:31-39) yet now he expresses a feeling of lamentations because his countrymen are lost. Paul’s triumphant terminology is replaced with a tone of anguish. The extent of the move is however not parenthetical to such a degree as to cut it off from the preceding verse. The reason I am not persuaded of such an extreme change is due to the undeniable linguistic parallels that we see in Romans 9 and Romans 1-8.

Parallel language

As we had mentioned in the previous section the tone of Paul’s writing changes and rightfully so since he was in anguish over the accursedness of his countrymen who had rejected their Messiah. The language between Romans 8 and Romans 9 are too similar to drastically separate these sections. I have found many terms in these two chapters that convince me that there is still a continuance in what Paul had already established throughout the previous chapters in the epistle.  Here are some examples:

  Romans 8 Romans 9
“Purpose” to those who are called according to His purpose (proqeiV). (8:28) God’s purpose (proqeiV) according to His choice would stand (9:11) 
“Called”[x] to   those who are called (klhtoiV) according to His   purpose. (8:28)and   these whom He predestined, He also called   (ekalesen); and these whom   He called(ekalesen), He also   justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (8:30)  THROUGH   ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.(klhjhsetai)” (9:7)God’s   purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because   of Him who calls(kalountoV), (9:11)even   us, whom He also called(ekalesen), not from among   Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (9:24)
“Adoption” but   you have received a spirit of adoption   as sons (uioqesias) (8:15)even   we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons(uioqesian), the redemption   of our body. (8:23) who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons(uioqesia), (9:4)
“Sonship”[xi] The   Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children (tekna) of God, (8:16)and   if children(tekna), heirs also,   heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (8:17)that   the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into   the freedom of the glory of the children(teknwn) of God. (8:21)  nor are they all children(tekna) because they are Abraham’s   descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8That   is, it is not the children (tekna) of the flesh who are children (tekna) of   God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. (9:7-8)(note: also see use of “sons” in Romans 8:14,19 with   Romans 9:9,26)
“Glory”[xii] For   I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be   compared with the glory (doxan) that is to be   revealed to us. (8:18)that   the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into   the freedom of the glory (doxhV) of the children   of God. (8:21) who   are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory (doxa)   (9:4)23And He did so to make known the   riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory(doxhV)(9:23)[xiii] 

Some of these terms have been defined throughout the epistle and it would seem quite strange for Paul to suddenly abandon those definitions. Why would Paul spend eight chapters defining language only to depart from it later on in the letter? I don’t believe that he does. The extreme shift is generally due to attributing these texts to nations rather than individuals which I feel is unnecessary. I feel this is, once again, not swaying because all throughout Chapters 1-8 Paul argues of the importance of the individual’s standing before God so why would this suddenly change to argue of corporate nationalistic privileges and roles in salvation history? There is no doubt that Paul has argued from a ethnic perspective throughout the letter (Romans 1-3) however we see that it was individualistic sin in chapters 2-3 that were regarded as deserving of judgment.

 Separation

Another factor that is relevant to demonstrating that there is no need to depart from Romans 8 in a fundamental fashion is the parallel paradigms of the separation from God found at the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9. Notice the terminology used by Paul in 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Just as it is written,”FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” 37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is clear from the above language that Paul had in mind to demonstrate the preservation of those who were Christ’s people (the elect) through the faithfulness of the one who would conserve them. What great comfort is brought from Paul’s words that nothing that exists, whether powers, governments or any created thing can separate us from the love of God. Paul’s words would have especially been an immense comfort to those who were struggling with tensions and persecution from local authorities and Jewish opposers. The God of faithfulness and of promise could not fail! Our God will never renege his promise to bring about the fulfilment of their final glorification. This causes a tremendous problem since there was a serious objection that would have been raised.  How can we believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God when Israel was promised the same thing yet they are separated from Christ? Paul’s lamentations are focused on this very fact that, as we will see, the point of Paul’s anguish was that these recipients of the Old Covenant promise were “accursed” from God. The issue of arguing that none are separated yet in chapter 9 Israelites were separated shows that there is a flow of argumentation being presented between 8 & 9 and therefore these chapters are to be considered together. [xiv]


[i] Monergism is derived from two words mainly mono meaning “alone” or “one” and ergos which is “working”. In other words in regards to salvation God is working alone in the salvation of individuals.

[ii] Synergism is the idea that there is a cooperation between two parties or that of two parties that work together for the salvation of individuals. God provides salvation and man contributes his faith in order to bring about an individual’s redemption.

[iii] There has been some mention in published works opposing the Calvinistic position of Dr. Piper’s book however none thus far that I have seen have made any real attempt to wrestle with the issues raised in his book. One unfortunate example of this was Walls & Dongel’s book “Why I am not a Calvinist”. There is a footnote that critiques Piper’s book for seemingly failing to deal adequately with the texts of Romans 10-11. I am not certain why this would be stated since Piper does address several principals and text within those chapters. It is my opinion that Walls & Dongel fail to address the issues raised in vs. 1-5 of the 9th chapter yet due to having respect for them I would spend much more than a footnote in dealing with their arguments. Needless to say their exegesis of Romans 9 is a total of 11 pages while Piper devotes 220 pages to his exegesis. One must wonder what is missing from their analysis.

[iv] Notice the terminology of “law & gospel”, the significance of Abraham and the future of Israel

[v] There are other reasons listed for Paul’s writing of the epistle. Some are quite viable while others are hypothetical to be sure. The one other motive that would be possible was that Paul was preparing a missionary trip to Spain to plant a church (Romans 15:24-29) which he seemingly hoped the Roman churches would assist with. Seeing the theological problems as well as the tension in that community, Paul needed to rectify those issues prior to his journey.

[vi] Over and over again some misrepresent the position of God’s elective decree by arguing that those who hold to this position do not see faith as something relevant to salvation. The truth is that I believe that faith is necessary for true salvation! I believe that faith is a gift of God (Philippians 1:29/ Ephesians 2:8-9) derived from the regeneration of God’s people to enable them to believe. (1 John 5:1)  I would argue that in Romans 9 the issue of God’s sovereignty is what is brought in to deal with the problem of Israel’s separation and lack of faith.

[vii] not nations

[viii] This view has been labelled “Calvinism” by some but has no official bearing on this study.

[ix] See John 1:12-13; John 6:37-44;; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14; Ephesians 1:1-14; 2 Thess. 2:13

[x]  The term “called” is not the idea of a universal calling but that of an effectual calling. Morris states: “Called brings in the notion of an effectual call once more, a very important concept for Paul. God calls whom He will to call” (“The Epistle to the Romans”, L. Morris,  PNTC, Eerdmans, 1988, Page 369) and also “Paul always uses the verb calew and the noun clhtoi , when they have God as the subject of the action, of God’s effective summons by which people are brought into relationship with himself. clhtoi designates Christians in Rom. 1:6,7; 1 Cor. 1:1, 2,24; Jude 1; Rev. 17:14…For calew  with God as subject in Paul, see Rom. 4:17; 9:12,24,25,26; 1 Cor. 1:9; 7:15,17,18, 20,21,22,24, Gal. 1:6, 15; 5:8,13; Eph. 4:1,4; Col. 3:15…” (The Epistle to the Romans: NICNT, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans, Page 530)

[xi] There is an argument presented that this “sonship” in ch.9 cannot be related to ch.8 because the blessings are theocratic hence they cannot be the same as those of the church. I don’t feel this argument is strong since the olive tree analogy in ch.11 seems to point to the fact that we have the same blessings as Israel seeing there is only one tree. The natural branches or the unnatural branches are all in the tree hence regardless of one’s ethnic background, all branches are recipients of the blessing it brings including sonship.

[xii] The glory is probably referring to the eschatological glory in Romans 2:7,10; 8:18, Colossians 1:27; 2 Timothy 2:10 ect… seeing that the “doxa” is used without a modifier. It is the same thought as found later on in the chapter when speaking of vessels prepared for glory which includes both Jews and Gentiles.

[xiii] In both these instances it seems to be pointing to an eschatological glory

[xiv] It should be also noted that the original authors did not add chapters and verses to their writings. The addition of divisions can sometimes cause the reader to break the flow of an argument. We must persevere in reading the epistle like a letter rather than a book in order to really experience the flow of the author’s argumentation.

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