January 2, 2009

Romans 9

Billy Birch is starting a series on Romans 9 that I am rather looking forward to. He is going to go through Romans 9 verse by verse, exegeting it along the way, demonstrating why the Calvinist interpretation doesn't hold up. So far, he has done two posts: Love for the Lost and The Ultimate Sacrifice.
Now I don't know what Billy is going to be saying as he goes along, but I thought I would take the opportunity to point out another series on the same subject. I believe I have mentioned it before. That is the one by Kieth Schooley (who is a strong advocate for the New Perspective on Paul). Indeed, it is so fine that I have been unable to justify doing one of my own since it would be the same as his, just less articulate.
In his introduction he demonstrates that the first few verses often ignored by Calvinists state Paul's thesis for the whole chapter: that being a descendant of Abraham does not guarantee salvation, and that God has brought salvation to the Gentiles. He then shows how Paul uses Isaac and Jacob to demonstrate this point. Paul then uses the example of Pharoah as an example of God's mercy to Gentiles. Indeed, Kieth makes the point that interpreting Pharaoh as Calvinists do undermines Paul's thesis in the section. Paul then uses Jeremiah's Potter and Clay metaphor to emphasize God's consistency in demanding repentance  and his patience with Israel as an object of His wrath.
Keith's conclusion lists out both exegetical perspectives. I have included these lists below.
Calvinism:
  • Paul begins by agonizing over the failure of Israel to come to salvation through faith in Christ (9:1-5).
  • Paul’s solution is that not all of Israel is Israel; i.e., not all of Israel is elect (v. 6).
  • Paul demonstrates God’s prerogative to elect whomever he wills by having elected Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau (vv. 7-13).
  • God has mercy only on those whom he chooses to have mercy, and hardens the rest, as exemplified by Pharaoh (vv. 14-18).
  • At this point, Paul hypothesizes a questioner who articulates the Arminian contention: if God has chosen to harden someone like Pharaoh, how can God then judge him for what he was predestined to do (v. 19)? Paul rebukes the questioner for impiety, and uses the potter-clay illustration to reiterate that God has the right to elect some and reprobate some as he deems fit (vv. 20-21).
  • Paul then adds, as a supporting argument, the fact that when God chooses to reprobate someone like Pharaoh, he has to bear patiently their sin and arrogance, but does so, in order to demonstrate his glory to his elect, which turn out to be among the Gentiles as well as among the Jews (vv. 22-24).
  • He thus brings the discussion back to the issue of Jewish unbelief in Christ, from which his discussion of election has been an excursus.
My understanding:
  • It begins, as before, with Paul agonizing over the failure of Israel to come to faith in Christ (vv. 1-5).
  • He has to confront the Jewish objection that, if his gospel were correct, it would mean that God’s promises to the Jews had failed. His response is that God’s promises have not failed, but others are inheriting the promises, because not all of Israel is Israel: i.e., not all of Israel has followed Abraham in faith (v. 6).
  • Ethnic descent from Abraham is not enough to be considered “Abraham’s children,” as the examples of Ishmael and Esau demonstrate; Israel has already been granted unmerited blessings as compared with other descendants of Abraham (vv. 7-13).
  • Therefore God is not unjust if he now excludes those descendants of Jacob who do not come to faith, because anyone he blesses, even Moses, is a recipient of his mercy (vv. 14-16). God may choose to spare for a time even someone like Pharaoh, whom God has chosen to harden—knowing that he will harden himself in response to God’s challenge—in order for God to glorify himself through that person, who can be viewed as both an example of God’s mercy and hardening (vv. 17-18).
  • The implication is therefore that the Jews have been given mercy in the past but are not guaranteed mercy in the future if they do not come to faith in Christ. The hypothetical questioner asks why God still blames the Jews, if He has hardened them (v. 19), refusing to recognize that the Jews are hardened just as Pharaoh was hardened, by their own stubborn refusal to repent. Paul therefore rebukes them, and uses the potter-clay illustration to point out that God has always dealt with Israel on the basis of its repentance, and it is only those who refuse to repent who argue back to God that he made them as they are (vv. 20-21).
  • Paul then points out that God has to bear patiently the “objects of his wrath”—the unbelieving—in order to make his glory known to the “objects of his mercy”—those who come to faith, which he specifically identifies as having come not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles (vv. 22-24). The supporting quotations from Hosea and Isaiah make clear the point: that many of those whom the Jews had considered excluded from the covenant (the Gentiles) would in the end be included, while many whom the Jews had considered included in the covenant (themselves) would be excluded (vv. 25-29).
  • The basis upon which Gentiles have been included and Jews excluded is made explicit in vv. 30-33: it is that the Gentiles are obtaining righteousness through faith, while the Jews have pursued it by works.

4 comments:

Pizza Man said...

Nice summary. I too founds Keith's post very helpful, and am looking forward to Billy's series.

Can you recommend any good overviews of John 6?

Marc said...

I'm looking forward to reading this. I've been studying Romans for some months now and have blogged on some of it's themes in particular, Atonement, Justification, Sin and Death.

Invaluable in all of this have been Tom Wright's talks and, for more detail, his commentary on Romans which is a worthwhile investment.

I've heard it said that Wright's a Calvinist but if he is then he bears no resemblence to the hyper-Calvinists I've been meeting.

To balance things out I listen to John Piper's lengthy exposition of Romans but my conclusion with Piper and Co. is that they just don't get the big picture. They are masters at making a theology out of one or two isolated verses.

Mason said...

Interesting exposition of Romans 9 JC. I like the focus on the overall themes before getting down to specific passages, helps keep things in context.

I have to admit that some (though not all) of your take on Romans 9 sounds a bit more New Perspective than specifically Arminian, with all the emphasis you are putting on ethnicity and the Jew-Gentile dilemma and how that relates to who is in the covenant people.

Just for the record, in my book sounding like a New Perspective take is a good thing.

In light of that I’ll second Marc on how helpful Wright’s books are in this area.

Yes, Wright is seen as in the Reformed tradition (which he affirms, ironically since most of his conservative opponents are hard-core Reformed) but that is not that so much because of any obsession with Calvinism per say.
I’ve heard him affirm preservation of the saints and a couple other issues like that (which is fine by me but might not be for others) but in both the way he approaches it and how he prioritizes it I don’t think his 'Reformedness' ought to get in anyone’s way if they identify more as Arminians.

Jc_Freak: said...

That is a good point Mason. It is really more NPP. I didn't want to get into explaining that. I've been quite busy of late, but I'll see about making a correction in the post.