Debate on Romans 9

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A Look at Romans 9- Part 4

even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25As He says also in Hosea,”I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'” 26″AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.” 27Isaiah 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; 28FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.” 29And just as Isaiah foretold, “UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.”

We now enter into even further substantiation in regards to the faithfulness of God in His promises of the Old Testament and why His word had not been made void or contradictory when the Israelites were accursed.  Paul begins v.24 by linking it with the idea of the “vessels of mercy” in giving us further details in regards to who these actually entail. He begins with “even us” which associates the passages without any break. The very characteristic by which they, the vessels of mercy, are defined is by the fact that they were “called”. The term “called’ refers back to the same terminology used in Romans 8:28-30 mainly that of an effectual or definite calling which guarantees their coming. Some have attempted to tone down this term by stating that the “called” here is merely referring to the gospel invitation which is universally open to both Jews & Gentiles. I am not persuaded by this argument and feel it is speaking of the effectual calling of God “from” both Jews & Gentiles and not of “all” Jews & Gentiles.[i] The whole point of emphasis here and throughout vs. 24-29 is that of inclusion vs. exclusion.

In order to substantiate v.24, Paul brings in quotations from the Old Testament. The two first quotations (vs. 25-26) are meant to show that the calling was of Gentiles while the quotations in vs. 27-29 are to prove the assertion of the calling of the Remnant.

Hosea 2:23 is quoted firstly and then Hosea 1:10 that the children of promise are not only from among Jews but now Gentiles have been brought into the promise. (Romans 11:17-24).  The quotations are referring particularly to the tribes of Israel in their original context but, once again, I feel they are being used as a principle and applying it to the Gentiles. (see 1 Peter 2:8-10) I feel this is very similar to the words of Matthew: I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12) In other words those who were rejected in past times are now seen as sons while now he says to those who thought themselves to be his sons “you are not my people”.  So, in other words, the vessels of mercy are a group who are called “from among Gentiles”.

With that said, Paul then turns to validate the 2nd part of the vessels of mercy mainly “from among the Jews”. Once again, it goes back to vs. 1-5 where he is arguing that God is still faithful to His promises even though the Israelites were accursed.  Paul’s quotations from Isaiah in vs.27-29 further what we had just seen in vs. 6-23 in that God has preserved his promises through a remnant.  Paul quotes from Isaiah 10:22 firstly to demonstrate that the remnant that God has chosen and which he has been arguing since the beginning of this chapter, consists of the ones who would be “saved”. The crying out of Isaiah is similar to the lamentations found in the opening passages. Isaiah is expressing his suffering at the condition of his countrymen. V.28 simply strengthens this entire paradigm by bringing in the idea of the preservation of Yahweh in that there would not have been anything left if God would have left the promises based upon Israel’s faithfulness. God needed to go outside the barriers of Israel to find a faithful people which essentially consists of a Remnant of Jews along with Gentiles.

Once again, this shows the idea that God has always had a people and that the ultimate factor of one becoming a child of promise is based upon the Sovereign choice and work of Jehovah rather than the libertarian free will of men. If it was left up to man to become a child of promise, there would not be children of God!

Continue reading “A Look at Romans 9- Part 4”

A Look at Romans 9- Part 3

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

Paul now reverts to a writing form popular in his time called a diatribe. In other words he uses an imaginary dialogue to express his thoughts. He had just finished arguing that it is God who chooses who will be His people and furthers this argument by introducing the imaginary objector to the text to pursue his argumentation in the form of this dialogue.  The questions Paul presents through this objector would not have been new to Paul since in all likelihood he would have dealt with these forms of arguments in his ministry. Professor Moo writes

Indeed, these questions state the inevitable human response to an insistence on the sovereignty of God in salvation: if God decides apart from anything in the human being whom he will choose and whom he will reject (v.13), how can he still be “righteous” (v.14)- and how can he blame people if they reject him (v.19)?[i]

The question Paul is dealing with is: does choosing or rejecting individuals apart from their own merit or even faith attribute injustice on God’s part? How can God be a just God if this is the case? Isn’t this unfair? Paul rejects this notion outright by stating “by no means” or “may it never be”. V.15 then explains why it can never be that there is injustice on God’s part. Paul begins by showing he is not going to ignore this offensive charge. Paul defends his objection to this allegation by quoting the words of Jehovah in Exodus 33:19. In this Paul is looking back at when Moses had requested a glimpse of God’s glory and Jehovah replied by causing all His goodness to pass by Moses. This act was to proclaim His name YHWH. The section quoted shows that God is free to show mercy to whom He chooses. This is a fundamental right that God had to reveal to Moses if He desired. I would argue that this is, once again, a principle based upon the OT.  God is free to have mercy or to harden anyone He pleases and there is nothing man can say about it!  Those who hold to God having to offer salvation equally to all men never take into consideration that God has a right to choose with whom He will spend eternity. Paul then continues with v.16 by stating: So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy which is ushered in to finalize his argument in defending the justice of God.  The term “it” in the phrase it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy has been a contested term to which some have attributed all sorts of interesting interpretations. Many have argued that it is most likely salvation or election which, to my understanding, is true but I feel the stronger understanding would be derived from what was just said. In other words, the “it” is probably linked to God having mercy on whom He wills.

Our friends who hold to Corporate Election argue that the mercy is speaking merely of God’s choosing a people or nation for roles and privileges. In other words some have put forward the claim that this text is speaking of roles. The hardening is seen as merely God preventing some nations or individuals from understanding His works or message in order to fulfil His plan. So, in other words, it isn’t speaking of individual destinies at all. Some are used in a positive sense in God’s plan (mercy) while others are not (hardening). This is, once again, not a convincing argument since God’s choosing is applied to salvation (9:3, 6a, 22-24). The mercy is from God and not from man’s will or man’s efforts.  This text is related to vs. 22-23 where the vessels of mercy are destined for glory while those of wrath are destined for destruction. Whether we like it or not, the term ‘harden” is used consistently of people not responding or disobeying God rather than merely God withholding information from nations.

Continue reading “A Look at Romans 9- Part 3”

A Look at Romans 9- Part 2

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Paul begins this chapter with words of true heartfelt sincerity and honesty towards the recipients. He truly wants them to feel and experience his anguish! Paul brings this out with words to emphasize the incredible sorrow he has been burdened with in considering those who are his kinsmen according to the flesh. He begins with “I am telling you the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit”. His use of the terms “in Christ” and “in the Holy Spirit” demonstrates that his following words should be carefully considered. The recipients would have taken his language seriously simply due to these expressions. The argumentation he is about to present must absolutely not be minimized! Paul is writing of his grief for Israel with a purpose! He wants the readers to really consider his love for his people. Greek Scholar Kenneth Wuest writes:

“Heaviness’ is lupe, “sorrow, pain grief”, used of persons mourning. “Sorrow” is odune, “consuming grief”. Its verbal form odunao means “to cause intense pain, to be in anguish, to be tormented”[i]

There is suffering in his mind when penning these phrases to the Romans. His words seem similar to many lamentations for Israel found in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 14:17; Ezra 8:16; 10:24,29) He is continuously grieved for his countrymen and his love for them is so great that he would even be willing to sacrifice himself on their behalf.[ii] V.3 begins with For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. The term “for” which denotes the reason why Paul was experiencing “great sorrow and unceasing grief”.  They were “accursed” and separated from Christ. The term “accursed” is the Greek word “anathema”[iii] or someone who has been excommunicated from something. Notice the usage of this word in the negative[iv] in the New Testament[v]:

1 Corinthians 12:3

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed“; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 16:22

If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed Maranatha

Galatians 1:8-9

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

The intensity of the anathema shows the love that Paul had for his countrymen in that he wanted to suffer in their place (huper). The question is: Why did Paul want to exchange places with them? The answer is: because it was their fate! He was willing to sacrifice himself for them! (10:1; 11:14) There is really no other alternative to demonstrate his desire to substitute for them unless it was their condition at that moment! The Israelites were cut-off from their Messiah! This is similar to what we see in the Old Testament with Moses: On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32“But now, if You will, forgive their sin–and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” (Exodus 32:30-32) Paul’s sorrow was for those who shared in his ethnic background mainly they were his brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh. They were his countrymen and Israelites (v.4).[vi] Paul extends his identification of those for whom he grieved by defining exactly who they were and what they had received. The list of privileges these Israelites had received would, in essence, dictate why they shouldn’t be lost! The main reason they shouldn’t have been accursed is that they were Israelites. They were the chosen people and the children of Abraham who were identified over and over again as Jehovah’s people. Paul lists several defining features that separated them from every nation as the blessed ones of God. They were sons and had the glory, the covenants, the law, worship services instituted by God Himself, the promises and most importantly from whom is the Christ.

This creates a tremendous problem in that those who were promised these blessings (even though they believed it was through ancestral descent) are now cut-off or accursed from their Messiah. Paul will take up the argument in the next section that the promises are not due or owed to anyone because of his birthright but the promise is given because one is a child of promise. His argument will stem from the idea of a remnant which God has chosen to be His people and not because of the natural birth into a nation. It is of the spiritual birth (John 3:3-6; 1 John 5:1) that one becomes a child of God and this is caused by God. (1 Peter 1:2) These were the ones to receive the promises because it is God’s choice who His people will be. This idea of God’s choosing His people was certainly nothing new especially to the Jews in Rome since it is found in the Old Testament hence God’s word is not tarnished but fully preserved.

I plead with my readers not to forget what we just saw in vs.1-5 since the whole point of the rest of this chapter to chapter 11 is to deal with the problem these verses have presented us. To stray away or forget these verses will bring about some peculiar exegesis of these texts.

Continue reading “A Look at Romans 9- Part 2”

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.

Continue reading “A Look at Romans 9- Part 1”