“Why Does He Still Find Fault”: Predestination, Election, and the Argument of Romans 9

That the Bible teaches the doctrine of election/predestination (henceforth, election) is not at issue for the Christian. All Christians believe in election. After all, it is in the Bible! The question is not, Does the Bible teach election? but, What does election mean?

There are two primary positions with regard to the doctrine of election:

Conditional Election: God’s election is based on the foreseen faith of the individual. God “elects” people because they first choose him. (There are other variations, but the essence is the same.)

Unconditional Election: God’s election is not based on anything in the individual, but on God’s mysterious sovereign choice. This choice is not without reason but is unconditioned with regard to any foreseen goodness in the elect.

Although I understand the sting that unconditional election brings, I am a very strong advocate of unconditional election. This is not necessarily because I believe it is the understanding that I am most comfortable with or because I think it creates that least amount of problems, but because I believe it is what the Scripture teaches. I try to follow my own dictum, the palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity.

Of all the passages that teach unconditional election, there are a few that take priority. And there is one that stands out more than any. While I can see and understand how people might interpret other “election” passages differently, this one is one that I simply cannot explain outside of a Calvinist worldview–Romans 9. I believe that the plain reading of this passage tells us that Paul believed in what is to most a radical doctrine that seems both bizarre and unfair.

Here is the passage:

Romans 9:6-24: It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?


We must understand some contextual background here. In Romans 9, Paul is defending the security of a believer in God’s love that was put forth in Romans 8. Remember, he ended that chapter by saying that there was nothing that could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:38-39: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That is an incredible statement that Paul seeks to defend. Most certainly he had been in this situation before. Try to imagine. In Ephesus, teaching on the security of the believer, Paul makes the same proposition: “Nothing can separate you from God’s electing love in Christ Jesus.” Someone in the audience raises their hand and says, “Paul, this is great and all, but I have a problem.” “What is it?” Paul responds. “Well you say that the elect are secure in God, right?” “That is right” Paul says. “Well, what about Israel? Weren’t they God’s elect? Weren’t they promised security as well? What happened to them? They don’t seem to be following God right now? If their election is the same as my election, my election does not seem too secure.”

It was a good objection and needed to be responded to. Paul does so in Romans 9-11. This is what this section is all about: defending the righteousness and integrity of God. Notice, Paul begins 9 by saying, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed” (Rom. 9:6). Why would he need to say this unless there are those who might be tempted to question the integrity of God’s word? He wants to show that the word of God has not failed with Israel and it will not fail with the Church. Notice as well that Paul ends this section by reinforcing the security claims of Romans 8, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). So the entire section is about security. It is in defense of God. It is in defense of His claim that we cannot be separated from His love in the face of what seems to be evidence to the contrary—the current state of the nation of Israel.

Paul’s Defense of God’s Integrity with Regard to Israel

Paul’s explanation for the apparent failure of God’s electing love with Israel is right to the point. He explains that God’s election of Israel, with regards to ultimate salvation as he has been explaining it, was not of the entire nation without exception. In fact, it was always only a select few—a remnant—that were the true elect of God. It was an elect within an elect that were really elect. He illustrates this historically by referring to Jacob and Esau (Rom. 9:10-13). Even though they were both from Israel, only one was chosen. Therefore, not all of Israel is elect. He later illustrates this by referring to the elect within Israel at the time of Elijah (Rom. 11:2-4). The argument again is the same. Not all of Israel could be considered among the true Israel. He also illustrates this in a contemporary way by saying that he himself is an Israelite and he has not been abandoned (Rom. 11:1, 5). This is enough to show that the security of God’s love and saving purpose is for those that are truly elect. Key point: God has not broken His word in the past with Israel, and will not do so in the future with the church. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

Some Further Objections

Once again, this brings up another objection that Paul has most certainly heard through the years of teaching. Imagine this Ephesian once again hesitantly raising his hand saying, “Okay Paul. Forgive me, but now I have another question. If this is true, that God elects some individuals and not others as was the case with Jacob and Esau, this seems very unfair. Why does God still find fault? Who resists His will?”

Now at this point we must realize the significance of this question with regards to the Calvinism/Arminianism (unconditional election/conditional election) debate. Remember, this is the same question that we have when we first read this. When Paul says, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18), we are taken aback. We think to ourselves the same as Paul’s imaginary objector. How can God hold someone accountable for making this choice when it is only God’s election that can cause them to do otherwise? It is a good question. One that I often ask myself. But we must realize this: the question itself helps us to understand that we are following Paul correctly. If you don’t empathize with the objection, then you have misunderstood Paul. But if we do understand how such a question could arise out of Paul’s seemingly radical comments, it means that we are interpreting Paul correctly.

Now, when the objector says, “How can God still find fault, for who resists His will?”, if the Arminian position of conditional election were correct (that God simply looks ahead into the future and has decided to elect all who trust in Christ), there is really no problem at all. Paul just needs to calm the objector down by explaining how he has misunderstood the argument. If the Arminian position were correct, this is how we would expect the diatribe to proceed:

Objector: “If this is true, why does God still find fault in people. Who can resist His will?”
Paul: “Oh, you have misunderstood me. You think that I am saying that God’s will is the ultimate cause of our salvation, not ours. Let me clarify. God’s election is not based upon His sovereign unconditional decree, but upon your will to choose Him. Therefore, He finds fault in people who do not choose Him by their own natural freedom. Doesn’t this make perfect sense?”
Objector: “Oh, yes, it does. I feel much better. But you need to teach more clearly in the future. I thought you were saying something radically different.”

But of course this is not the direction the conversation goes. In fact, it gets stronger and more shocking. Notice, Paul did not have a definite answer to the objector’s question. He confirms that the question assumes the right presupposition (unconditional election) by His response. “On the contrary, who are you to answer back to God oh man. Will the thing molded say to the molder why have you made me in such a way? . . . ” There is no need for such a response if conditional election is in view! It is only under the supposition of unconditional election that this makes sense. I could see the objector cowering in the fierceness of the response. He is simply doing the same thing that I would do and have done upon reading this passage. The response let’s us know that while we don’t have the answer we were looking for, the presupposition, unconditional election, is indeed what Paul is teaching. There is no other way to take it in my opinion.

What a fearful thing. What an awesome thing. What a confusing thing. What a terrible thing. What a wonderful thing.

In sum, I believe that Romans is inspired. I believe that Romans should be included in the canon. I cannot approach this passage from any other hermeneutic than an authorial intent. It seems to be the case that the intent of Paul was to say that God unconditionally elects some people to salvation and not others. This is the Calvinist’s doctrine of Predestination.

As difficult as this doctrine may be for some, we simply don’t have the option of flying in the face of the argument simply because we don’t like it. I, personally, have come to a place where I understand and respect this doctrine. I do have a lot of questions for God (like why didn’t you elect everyone?), but I recognize that if God did not elect anyone, no one would ever come to him. I also recognize the many questions that arise from this such as If unconditional election is true, why evangelize? But the mere presence of questions or difficulties does not alleviate the truth from its burden to be. Our best posture before God upon learning of such truths is to stand with our hand over our mouth and the gavel at a distance.

While there are others whom I respect very much who do not follow me in a belief in unconditional election (such as fellow blogger Paul Copan), I have never been able to see much validity in any other interpretation of this passage. It is, to me, too clear.

273 Responses to ““Why Does He Still Find Fault”: Predestination, Election, and the Argument of Romans 9”

  1. BTW: Keep all comments civil. This post will be heavily moderated.

  2. CMP,

    Well said, sir – and graciously, too, I might add. I think we often ask the wrong question. We ask, “Why does God elect some and not others?” Perhaps it would be better to ask, “Why does God elect any?” Then we might gain deeper insight into the richness of His grace and mercy, and better understand His nature and character.

  3. I’m with you, Michael. I just haven’t heard an argument to the contrary that is convincing. I just don’t know what else to do with the Romans 9 passage. When I was struggling with this doctrine 20 yrs ago I wanted desparately to find another answer but could not.

  4. Michael, I was just thinking about the passage for the past two days. Thanks for your insights!

  5. I was talking to a couple of JW’s and explaining to them that God was the one who brought calamity on Job. They said, “Oh No, it was the devil who did that. God just allowed it.” Of course, I pointed out that God could have simply said to Job, when he had identified God as the ultimate source of his suffering, “Oh No, Job, you’ve got it all wrong. The devil did all of this. I just let it happen.” Instead, God basically gives him the same answer Paul gives us: “I’m God. I know what I’m doing. You’re not God, and you don’t have a clue. So shut it!” :) Whereas most people see this response as a cop out I think instead that it’s probably the smartest reply that can be given to a fallen, finite individual who questions the integrity of a being who is infinite in wisdom, love and goodness.

  6. Once again Michael, great post and argument. You’ve got me convinced. Oh wait, I already believed it. Well, you validated my belief!

    Also, I love your statement, “the palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity.” So true, so true!!

  7. I loved the post. I like how you harmonized the promise of security in Rom. 8 with Pauls defense of it in 9-11. I never really saw that before as many times as I have read it. I have much more clarity of understanding the section now! Thanks!

  8. CMP,
    I agree that the palatability of a doctrine should not determine its veracity. However when a interpretation of scripture (even one that I will agree is the most obvious) leads to the logical conclusion (at least in my opinion) that God is an evil megalomaniac then I think this should give us pause.

    1. All that happens happens because it is the will of God. Nothing that does happen is outside the will of God
    2. Human sin occurs.
    3. Human sin is the will of God and thus it is impossible for humans not to sin.
    4. God is the ultimate cause of and source of human sin

    4. God has ordained that all who unrepentantly sin will suffer eternal punishment and torture in hell.
    5. Humans have no ability to repent from the day they are born and thus are all unrepentant sinners destined for hell.
    5. God having the full ability to give all humans the ability to repent thus saving them from hell has instead chosen to give this ability only a very few. He tortures those he has not chosen to save for his own glory.

    6. Any individual who tortures another for a condition over which they have no control (being a Jew, handicapped etc.) or worse yet tortures another for a condition they are the ultimate cause of (sin is God’s will after all) for their own pleasure is a evil, sadistic, megalomaniac.
    7. God tortures humans for sin which is ultimately a condition caused by His own will for his own pleasure and glory.
    8. God is a evil, sadistic, megalomaniac.

    I have no problem with the Calvinistic system as long as Calvinists are willing to admit that according to most conceptions of good and evil God is evil and we must redefine the meaning of the word “good” to make God “good”.

  9. Night, a lot there that could and needs to be discussed.

    If we can stay focused on this particular passage and the validity of my interpretation presented, I think that would be best. I don’t want this to touch on those other things and the many others that I could bring up (that I myself have trouble with!)

    You can most certianly, however, offer an alterate interpretation.

  10. BTW: Your #3 looks just like the objector in Romans 9. Paul does not allow it to go beyond this.

    I do think that we can all rest assured that God’s justice is real, his love is true, and his desire for all people to be saved remains. Thus the tension if we are going to let Scripture (not our own theology) set the stage. My solution: believe the Scripture and let the tension remain. Don’t sacrafice God’s love for everyone, don’t reinterpret “world” in John 3:16 (which I do believe refers to all people) as “the elect”, and don’t sacrafice God’s unconditional election.

    I think that you will find that theology does not always have the nice perfect red systematic bows that we like to put on it. We just trust God with our turning into the objector with the gavel.

  11. CMP,
    My problem is not your great exposition of that passage, but how it fits with the rest of the Bible. I’m sure we could go on ad nauseum back and forth offering alternate explanations and other Biblical passages which seem to go against this. I could bring up 2 Peter 3:9 which you would respond only refers to people who are elect or worse yet ascribe a mental disorder to God with the whole two wills thing. I could bring up John 1 2:2 and you would respond that this is talking about the division between Jews and Gentiles when it talks about “the whole world”. You can bring up Romans 9 and Arminians will respond with corporate rather than individual election.

    The back and forth on Bible verses can go on for days on end. Someone can always come up with another (maybe less likely) explanation for a verse. Yet this doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter because the heart of the matter is the nature of God. What does it mean to say God is sovereign? What is the nature of God – good or evil? Can a evil God properly be called God? Can a God who is omni-controlling be good? These are what really need to be asked and answered. When it comes to the issue of God being good most Calvinists I know will affirm his goodness but then simply dodge questions on the origins and God’s responsibility for sin (with the exception of the article you posted on RC Sproul Jr. – he at least had the cajones to admit the logical implications of Calvinism).

    If you don’t want such an open discussion here that’s fine – but I think without laying it all out on the table you are really hamstringing the ability for anyone to oppose your view on this because it is the system that stems from this and the logical conclusions one must come to that are the problem and make this interpretation suspect, not the exegesis itself.

  12. Night, that is right, I don’t want to get into the broader theological issues. When we do, it simply because an exercise in proof texting and making the Scripture fit one’s theology. I do understand the theological spiral that our interpretation must entertain, but it is best to simply do solid exegesis so that our theology is formed from Scripture, not from presuppositions.

    Concerning the passages you brought up, I would not suppose such “traditional” Calvinistic interpretations are in my court. I do believe that John 2 refers to his love for all people. In fact, most Calvinists who are “Evangelical Calvinists” believe that God loves everyone, as I do. We just allow for tension. But I explained this in the post above.

    To be as clear as I can:

    I believe in unconditional election.
    I believe God desires that all people to be saved.
    I believe God love all people.

    I believe that we must hold these in tension and not prioritize our desire to have a systematic theology above exegesis.

    It is only when we attempt to solve all tensions that I think we fall into interpretive error. Yes, there are Calvinists who do this (hyper-Calvinists—lol), but not all do. However, I do think that all Arminians (those who believe in conditional election) must sacrafice their interpretive integrity in order to sustain a systematic harmony between election, responsibility, and God’s love. I say this with great respect to many Arminians.

  13. CMP,
    “I believe that we must hold these in tension and not prioritize our desire to have a systematic theology above exegesis.”

    I’m not sure I agree with you here. If two things are completely contradictory surely we can’t hold both? I mean you say it a matter of holding things in “tension”, but where you see tension I see flat out contradiction which must be resolved one way or the other.

    As to interpreting Romans 9 in other ways we could also bring in the “New Perspectives” opinions in addition to the traditional Arminians opinions. I would openly admit that individually and in isolation I find these less convincing then your exegesis. Yet when viewed in light of the whole Bible, Theology Proper, philosophy and what we know about the culture of the time I find them much more convincing.

    There was a new perspectives opinion posted here

    William Lane Craig (I believe he’s actually a molinist) commented on Romans 9 here with almost a New Perspectives reading of it

    And finally here is one understanding in terms of corporate election

    Ultimately I believe that if an interpretation of a passage logically necessitates that God is evil (in my mind at least) then I cannot hold to that interpretation no matter how much more likely it seems then the alternatives (almost a Sherlock Holmes type approach – when all the possibilities have been eliminated whatever is left no matter how unlikely must be the truth). In this case however I agree with what one of the authors in one of the above links when he says that the reason we read unconditional election into Romans 9 so easily is more because of our conditioning then the text itself.

  14. Are links not allowed or something – I tried to post some links to alternate explanations of Romans 9 and it didn’t go through?

  15. CMP,

    It seems to me that to do what you have said in #12 above means that we have to say, in effect, “This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever by any stretch of human logic. But we simply have to accept that all of these contradictions are true and not try to figure out how it is possible that God is God in this scenario, etc. We will just completely accept it since this is what exegesis tells us”.

    It seems to me that makes being a Christian one of the most illogical and anti intellectual beings in the world!

  16. Night,
    Here is the problem with the assumptions in your syllogisms and ultimately your conclusion:

    1. Man is not warped in his thinking about good and evil.
    2. Man is omniscient and understands everything from what he sees
    3. God does something that man thinks is evil
    4. Man does not misapprehend what is being done.
    5. Ergo, God must be doing something evil
    6. If God does evil, God is evil
    7. God is evil

    So you then have to bend the text to fit what you think you see in the rest of Scripture, so that God is no longer evil in your mind; but as the passage says, God can do whatever He wants.

    So there are really only two possibilities here:

    1. God, who is good, can do whatever He wants and doesn’t because he doesn’t want to interfere with man’s free will (and this is true in both Arminian and most of Neo-theistic thought).


    2. God, who is good, can do whatever He wants and does.

    I don’t see your system getting away from the idea that God can do whatever He wants and therefore save everyone, which we know from this passage, among others, He doesn’t.

    So here’s what I would suggest instead.

    1. Man is warped and does not understand good and evil as he should
    2. Man is finite and does not understand good and evil, as it relates to God’s sovereignty and His good nature, as he should
    3. God appears to be doing something that we don’t like
    4. We tend to call things that we don’t like “evil,” even though we are limited by points 1 and 2 as to the nature of what good and evil real is.
    5. Man is incapable of judging God’s actions
    6. Man should probably worry more about exegesis of what is revealed than rely on our own gut feelings and dislikes, since these are bound to have us reject Christ and His gospel as well as evil

    At least, that’s my 2 cents.

  17. Night, good stuff. I do perfectly understand where you are and have often been tempted to go there myself.

    However, I don’t see that this is a contradiction any more than issues with the trinity and creation ex nihilo are a contradition. I see them as a mystery. I don’t think that God has told us everything and that there could be (probably is) certian elements that God intentionally leaves out.

    While it might seem to be a contradition, none of the present doctrines presents us with a formal contradiction, just a possible one depending on how one looks at it.

    However, I will have to leave it at that as, as you know, this can quickly turn into a full blown discussion about the merits of Calvinism and Arminianism in general.

    I am glad to hear that you see this interpretation of Romans 9 as the most likely, even though other demands may take priority in your system causing you to be unable to accept it.

  18. CMP,

    Thanks for the post on a subject that I usually try to avoid. I appreciate your acceptance of the inherent tension in the doctrine.

    I think we could call this a paradox created by God’s sovereignty and love on the one hand, and our free will and personal responsibility on the other. All these issues are affirmed by the Bible, yet logically (humanly speaking) they cannot be reconciled. In this passage we view the doctrine from one perspective. Other passages see it from others, including the need to go out and evangelize the lost.

    Yes indeed this is a wonderful and fearful doctrine, which we can only believe by faith.

    Question: How is election related to salvation? Are they the same thing from two different perspectives, or are they two different events?

  19. For some reason, I can not cut and paste from my last comment. When I said, “figure out how it is possible that God is God in this scenario,” I was trying to say, “figure out how it is possible that God is GOOD in this scenario.

    Hope that makes more sense!

  20. Kent,
    I think it’s important to understand that these passages usually surround the question, From whence does our salvation come, from ourselves or from God? If you look at all of these passages, they are usually trying to counter the idea that we produce salvation (i.e., we believe because of something we willed or did). Most of the Bible is concerned with our decisions in time until we want to boast. At that point God brings these passages up to say, No way, Jose!

  21. CMP,

    For Calvinists I find it funny that it’s always “this passage.” Always; Always; Always. There are so many “clear” passages that argue for the opposite as well, as you probably know. In the end, what matters is what proof-texts you prioritize in your system, so don’t give me anything about letting “Scripture” dictate your theology even when it’s not palatable. For me personally, this means I look at the entirety of the canon and observe the character of God, then I interpret the individual proof-texts and (in this case) proof-chapters in light of the totality of evidence. If this were such a “clear” & “foundational” doctrine, there would be much, much, much more evidence. Sorry bro, you just can’t find it apart from one or two texts. To build a doctrine on a couple of proof-texts is just downright dangerous. On top of that, “election” & “predestination” are completely different things, so from the first sentence I read I was suspicious. Calvinists often use them with the same sense, but there is a growing number of scholars that are not doing such (e.g. Newbigin, Christopher Wright, etc.). You’re gonna need to familiarize yourself with these arguments before you make blanket statements like that and if you’re going to continue to have these discussions. There are so many loopholes and fallacies I can’t even begin to count.

    Question for you: Do you think Romans 9-11 is an excursus in Paul’s letter to the Romans?

  22. Folks, I really don’t want this to go in this direction! lol

    Cheryl, illogic is not the best word. The best to say is like with the Trinity, Hypostatic Union, and Creation ex nihilo…all of these transcend logic, not because they are contra-logic, but because we don’t have sufficient information to understand or explain these things, only to know. It is the same with the relationship between divine sovereignty, love, and human responsibility (freedom is not the issue as that is a problem no matter what position you take).

    What I would ask you is can you explain or understand the Trinity? How do you handle that if everything must be understood and not have any paradoxical elements to it. Creation out of nothing? What do you do there?

    The history of the church has labeled such things: apophatic. This, like the others belongs in the apophatic realm of theology. There is an analogy of language and analogy of being by which we can begin to understand these things accurately, but we cannot understand them fully.

    The very argument that you made is the argument that JWs make concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. If you don’t allow for tension in your doctrine, dare I say you are not going to have fellowship with the historic Christian faith in most things.

  23. Kent, salvation is the bringing into fruition God’s electing purpose. They are not the same but related as the cause (election) is related to the effect (our salvation). Therefore, God’s election is the ultimate cause in our salvation while our faith is the mediate effect. Hope that makes sense.

  24. CMP:

    You said
    “It was an elect within an elect that were really elect. He illustrates this historically by referring to Jacob and Esau (Rom. 9:10-13). Even though they were both from Israel, only one was chosen.”

    How are Jacob and Esau from Israel if Jacob is Israel?

  25. Luke:

    “So don’t give me anything about letting “Scripture” dictate your theology even when it’s not palatable.”

    OK. But that is quite a bit of an emotional conversation stopper between you and I?

    It is not about proof texting. It is about understanding what the passages mean and letting tension remain if demanded by proper exegesis (or, alternatively, as many do, denying the internal consistency of Scripture).

    I believe that Calvinists (of the compatiblistic variety) are the only ones who allow the Scriptures to speak without demanding a modernistic view of systematic harmony. As hard as it is for me to say, so people need to quit being so systematic with their systematic theology. We do all we can to reconcile, but if that comes at the expense of the proper reading of Scripture, then leave it alone. We don’t have all the data to make conclusions and we need to be careful about making God more systematic than he has revealed.

    1. God loves all people
    2. All people are commanded to believe
    3. All people are fully responsible for their choices
    4. God desires all people to be saved
    5. God has unconditionally elected some people and not others (hence, this blog post)

    None are, in a formal sense, a contradictions. However, we don’t know how to fit them together. Let’s believe it and let the mystery remain. Maybe God will tell us one day how it fits.

  26. Luke,

    Yes, Romans 9 is a rather significant one, but I’d say John 6 is a close second.

    I think the reason Romans 9 gets such prominence is the way Paul seems to be anticipating non-Calvinist objections to Calvinism. i.e., the imaginary objector reacts against Paul precisely how most people react against Calvinism–and he doesn’t correct them as though they had misunderstood him.

    So we present it for two reasons. First, to show that Paul sure seems to teach Calvinistic election. Second, to show Paul actually responding himself to the common objection to Calvinism.

  27. Luke,

    “For Calvinists I find it funny that it’s always “this passage.” Always; Always; Always.”

    I don’t understand the force of this rhetoric. Its like saying (as a non-Christian), “For you Christians, its always 1 Cor 15 when you claim that the resurrection is central to Christianity!”

    Well of course it is. Maybe not only that passage, but if it is very clear, why not?

  28. CMP,

    In my mind, the Trinity, the hypostatic union, etc. are things we do not fully understand of course. However, and here is a huge difference to me– I do not see them as intrinsically contradictory as I see this issue being. The way God is portrayed in this Romans 9 text and in Calvinistic thinking as I understand it on this issue seems to be almost a 180 degree oppposite of the way He is portrayed in much of the rest of the Bible. That is the problem I have with it. And to just say, “Accept the tensions” just doesn’t work well for me beccause of it.

  29. El, they were both children of Abraham, but not both children of the promise to Abraham (elect). He is illustrating that just because you are of Abraham, this does not mean that God has chosen them. The further illustrations show the same. It is not children of Abraham that are elect, but a subset of the same that God chose based on his sovereign will.

  30. Cheryl, I certainly understand where you are coming from. It frustrates me to no end when Calvinists don’t see this tension but interpret everything in light of this doctrine as if it rules over all others.

    However, I must reiterate that like with the Trinity and especially creation ex nihilo (certainly, to me, more difficult philosophically than any of the others!), there are no formal contradictions at all. They are all only seeming contradictions.

    I don’t say that humans have freedom and have no freedom.
    Neither do I say that God loves us but he does not love us.
    Neither do I say that God unconditionally elects but God’s election is conditioned on us.

    Those would all be contradictions.

    I do say:

    Humans have freedom that is limited to their ability. They only have theoretical ability to choose God, not actual due to the fall (BTW: Even Arminians believe this).

    God loves all people, but for some reason he only chooses certain people and I don’t know why (But no contradiction here).

    God desires all people to be saved and is powerful enough to save all people, but does not use his power to save everyone (similar to the problem of evil)

    God unconditionally elects people yet he uses the faith and will of the individual to bring about his electing purpose.

    Again, no formal contradictions present.

    I know it might be confusion, but I would caution against the charge of formal contradictions as it is very misleading to the nature of the beliefs and arguments being made.

  31. CMP,

    What about, “He isn’t willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and life”? II Peter 3:9 (My paraphrase) Or II Cor 5:19-20 where God pleas or appeals to people to be reconciled to Him?

    Is that not a total contradiction to the idea that some He will pass over and give no chance at all to be reconciled?

    To me that is total contradiction–I can’t see it any other way. It seems to me there must be some way to get around these tensions.

  32. Luke,

    How is this passage an aside to what Paul is arguing? He’s giving reason why many of the Jews don’t believe. This is the same reason for the main sovereignty passage in John 6 is employed.

    BTW, Isn’t Rom 9 a part of the canon? Don’t you really mean that you take the rest of the canon separately from these passages and then interpret these passages in light of your interpretation of the rest of the Bible?


    Is it the opposite of the rest of the Bible, or the opposite of the popular evangelicalism’s interpretation of God? I don’t see the God of the OT in conflict here. In fact, that’s Paul’s point. It was the God of the OT who chose some and shunned others. This isn’t inconsistent with the God of the Bible at all. (Remember that we are all criminals, so what God does is in consideration of that.)

  33. There is a lot of criticism about how CMP is interpreting this passage by those who dont agree. So lets see how you interpret it exegetically and contextually. Present your interpretation and let’s test it to the text. I think thats fair ey’?

  34. cherlu,

    I think the difficulty comes from how one understands that term “willing”. The middle voice verb there means desiring, wanting, not determining.

  35. middle voice “verb”

  36. Hodge,

    This is from the OT too: Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.” Is. 45:22 That sounds much more like His universal plea to all men to be saved.

    And to me it seems that the choosing and shunning in the OT had much more to do with nations and God’s purposes for nations then it did with individual salvation.

    May not have time for any more interaction here tonight. Am cooking dinner and then we will be gone for awhile.

  37. Very quickly to Craig,

    I am not disagreeing with CMP’s exegesis. What I have a problem with is the lack of harmony that I see with the rest of Scripture and the idea that we are just to live with the tension. It is hard to live with two totally conflicting pictures of who God is and not try to harmonize the tensions!

  38. Warren,

    I have never read “willing” as determining. That would become universalism, would it not in that verse?

    However, I can’t see God desiring no one to perish, pleading with all to come to Him and be saved or to be reconciled to Him, and then deliberately denying them the opportunity to do so to be anything but a very large contradiction.

    Now I really do have to go!

  39. CMP,

    Sir, thank you for this exposition of Romans 9. I encourage those who have issues with this reading to check out John 6:35-45 as well – Jesus Himself believed in pretty much in the inability of man in himself to repent and believe, the electing love of God, a particular atonement, the effectual call of God and the final preservation and perseverance of the saints.

    I also believe that seemingly general passages, such as 1 John 2:2 and 2 Peter 3:9 can be explained exegetically within the context of a “Calvinistic” hermeneutic.

    In passing, Luke, the rhetoric is what makes these conversations turn from eager discussions of the truth into theological World War 3. The idea of the two wills of God – even though I personally am not 100% convinced on it and am still looking into it – is not God with a mental disorder. And actually, as I’m sure CMP is aware, Calvinism has a long history of distinguishing between election and predestination.

    Case in point: in my preparation to teach through Romans, Matthew Henry points out that very distinction between election and predestination – and he was writing in 1706. To make out as though only recently theologians have noticed that distinction is again empty rhetoric.

    Now back to my Journalism homework LOL…

  40. cherlu,

    So what about the Fall? Was that a result of or in spite of God’s “willing”?


    Well said and very irenic in tone – thank you!

  41. I would agree that Ro 9 says that God has the moral right to engage in unconditional election, but I would disagree that Paul ever says that this is God’s normal means of election.

    The problem is the Jews not coming to faith, and is therefore God keeping his promises to them? The argument from Paul is that God can do anything he wants.


    The conclusion in 9:30 is that the Gentiles have attained it by faith. The conclusion is not that Gentiles were elected by secret action of God’s will.

    The examples given by Paul in Ch 9 are a hodge podge of scenarios. Some of them are about salvation, some of them are not. Some of them are about older serving younger, etc. They are a hodge podge of arguments about God’s limitless moral rights, but not a cohesive argument about the normative means of election in this age, which we find in v30.

  42. “He confirms that the question assumes the right presupposition (unconditional election) by His response.”

    I think he confirms the presupposition that God can choose whatever criteria he wants including unconditional election, but that doesn’t mean he actually chooses unconditional election, given v30 which describes the condition as faith.

    The Jewish objection is God changing his criteria. Paul’s claiming that unconditional election would be moral is taking an argument to its extreme – i.e. that unconditional election would be moral for God, however he doesn’t conclude by saying that is God’s normal election mechanism, he concludes by saying it is now faith.

  43. Cherylu,

    Sounds like dinner is going to be good. Save me some. :)

    Let me be more clear. I don’t think this interpretation is in conflict because I don’t think any of the interpretations are in conflict with God’s character. All of those passages can be seen in light of His character and His decretive and moral wills. If God says that He is morally opposed to the King of Assyria wiping out Israel, but then says that He sent the King of Assyria to wipe out Israel, then both are consistent with His good nature, and understood when the facts are known (e.g. He is morally opposed to Israel’s deeds, so He sends the king of Assyria, working good and just judgments through his evil intentions, to wipe out Israel; but then He also must do good and be just and wipe out the king of Assyria for his evil intentions and deeds).
    To me, the objection is a “why” question, not a “what” question, and many “why” questions are notoriously unanswerable to the satisfaction of most humans when it comes to God’s eternal will. So, as a believer, I believe that what is revealed is consistent with His good character, because that is what I have observed in other divine actions when the facts are finally understood, and that is what I believe will be the case with those things where the facts are not currently all understood.

    Now, having said that, I view the decree of repentance you quoted me as a moral decree (i.e., a decree God wants obeyed); but that does not mean that all will obey it. For some, the decree will be the catalyst for further hardening, as with Pharaoh; and that hardening is not a surprise to God. It may in fact be His intent. For others, however, the decree is meant to be the catalyst of their repentance and redemption. My point simply is this: Just because God gives a decree that all should repent, does not mean that He gives to all the moral love of Himself to do so. We rejected that relationship with Him long ago, so if He only gives it back to some, while commanding all to return, I just don’t see that as inconsistent with the rest of Scripture in any way.

  44. John,

    I agree that we would not be able to decide if this was God’s normative means from this passage alone; but I have a few questions for you.

    Paul’s is answering why the bulk of the Jews did not believe if all Israel was to be saved. What, in your view, is Paul saying? Are you arguing that Paul is not saying that God did not choose them, but instead chose many Gentiles to become Israel in their place? Or are you saying that this has nothing to do with God choosing to pass over many of the Jews for His purposes at this time?

  45. John, so in essence you are saying that the whole passage is a subjunctive possibility? I would have to strongly disagree as, 1) there is simply no positive evidence for such and quite a bit to the contrary as the entire section leave the church in doubt as to whether God has really chosen them or just possibly, therefore their troubles are worse than the Israelite as a whole! and 2) anyone could claim this about any passage in the Bible. For example, I could say that the context of Christ’s upper room discourse is particular to the apostles and subjunctive to the rest of the church without any warrent, contextual or otherwise. Therefore, Christ is the way, truth, and the life, in that particular context to that group with no universal application (although he could be if God wanted it to be).

    This renders the Scriptures somewhat meaningless (at least when such door is opened.

    Interesting though. Never heard the “possibily, but not actually” approach. Do know of any significant exegetes who take such an interpretation?

  46. Just out of curiosity, what are the best interpretations of this passage from an Arminian perspective?

  47. Cheryl, you said:

    “I am not disagreeing with CMP’s exegesis. What I have a problem with is the lack of harmony that I see with the rest of Scripture and the idea that we are just to live with the tension. It is hard to live with two totally conflicting pictures of who God is and not try to harmonize the tensions!”

    Is it really inconsistent? Wasn’t Israel herself unconditionally elected and isn’t that what Paul is getting at? The very vessel that God chose as a covenant people rejected him, but by doing so made way for the Gentiles. It is demonstrated throughout Scripture, that God chooses whom he will.

    Hodge, great point.

  48. Hodge,

    Sorry, dinner was eaten before I knew you wanted me to save you some!

    You said, “My point simply is this: Just because God gives a decree that all should repent, does not mean that He gives to all the moral love of Himself to do so. We rejected that relationship with Him long ago, so if He only gives it back to some, while commanding all to return, I just don’t see that as inconsistent with the rest of Scripture in any way.”

    You are, I think, missing the rest of my point, that this verse and the one I quoted from II Cor. 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God,” speak of God begging or pleading with people to be reconciled to Him. How is that not contradictory to His totally denying people any ability to do that? If He knows there is no way they can come to Him unless He gives them the ability to do so and He can give them that ability if He chooses, why does He stand and plead with them to come and then completely deny them the ability or opportunity to do so? Surely that is contradictory and/or illogical.

    Wouldn’t that be rather like a parent with a bunch of kids playing in the front and the back yards? That parent urges and begs all of them to come in now and eat the wonderful dinner they have made, but the doors are locked so none can get in. And they were locked because of the children’s own mis deeds. Then the parent opens the door and lets the 3 that were out front come in and eat while firmly and deliberately keeping the back door locked so the 7 out there can’t get in. But all the time she is keeping the door locked, she is still pleading with them to come in and eat.

    Don’t know if any of this makes sense to any one else, but to me it seems rather absurd to beg and plead with anyone to do something that is absolutely impossible for them to do. Specially if we have already stated we don’t want them to suffer the consequences of not doing it. And if we can give them the ability to do it but absolutely refuse to.

  49. Lisa,

    You said, “Is it really inconsistent? Wasn’t Israel herself unconditionally elected and isn’t that what Paul is getting at? The very vessel that God chose as a covenant people rejected him, but by doing so made way for the Gentiles. It is demonstrated throughout Scripture, that God chooses whom he will.”

    By the way, that is another problem I see with this whole Calvinist understanding. Israel was unconditionally elected–but she rejected Him. How could she do that? According to Calvinism, doesn’t being elected mean that you can’t reject Him? And not only did they reject Him, they did it because of unbelief. And they can be grafted back in again if they don’t stay in unbelief. (Romans 11)


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