Romans 9: A (Brief) Non-Calvinist Reading

Romans 9 is the Calvinist’s mic drop. Any time some free will guy starts spouting off about being able to choose Christ or not, all the Calvinist has to do is say “Romans 9, Jacob I love and Esau I hated, who are you to answer back to God?” If I had a nickel for every time I heard some version of this…it would be every time I have discussed with a Calvinist. The inevitable Romans 9 reference comes with the assumption that non-Calvinists have ignored Romans 9, pretend it doesn’t exist, or have no answer for it.

My purpose in this article is to show that non-Calvinists have, for generations, read Romans 9 and indeed have a reading of the chapter. We read the chapter in a way that I think fits right into the rest of the book and is consistent with the chapter as well.

The Objector

One of the key aspects to understanding our view of Romans 9 is who we think the objector is. Throughout Romans, Paul introduces an objector who asks questions that Paul then answers. For the Calvinist, the objector is an obstinate unbeliever who objects to their view of sovereignty as defined as meticulous determinism or compatibilism. We see the objector as a hardened Jew who is questioning God’s choice to bless the Gentiles with salvation through faith since it was the Jew who historically kept the oracles of God, and through whom the Messiah came. One of the strengths of our view, I think, is how we see this objector. Why?

  1. It is the same objector throughout the entire book
  2. Our objector jibes with the historical conflict of the day
  3. Our objector jibes with Paul’s purpose in the rest of the book

Let’s look at each of those (briefly):

  1. In Rom 2: 17-29, Paul first slams the Jews for being hypocrites and goes on to turn their entire worldview on its head by saying that circumcision was never physical. He says that it was always about the state of your heart. That anyone who follows the Law is “of the circumcision” (how the Jews defined themselves in Paul’s day) no matter if he actually received the snip or not. Then, right after that, Paul introduces the objector for the first time. It is Paul’s way of answering anticipated objections from Jews who are feeling put off by having their paradigm shifted. The objector asks (Rom 3:1), “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” and Paul answers him. This is the same objector in Romans 9 who is wondering, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” The same objector in Rom 3:5, 3:9, 6:1, 6:15, 7:7, 9:14, 11:1, and 11:11. In my estimation, it is a weakness of their position that Calvinists must assume that the objector in Rom 9:19 is different from the objector the other eight times Paul uses the rhetorical device in Romans. 
  2. Paul is writing to the church in Rome which is a melting pot of Jew and Gentile. Sometime between 41 AD and 53 AD, the Emperor of Rome, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. During the time of this expulsion, Gentile Christians established a thriving church in Rome. The synagogues left behind by the Jews remained abandoned since Christians did not want to be associated with Jews for obvious religious and political reasons. The Christian church in Rome was probably a series of house churches. At some point after Claudius’ death in AD 53, his successor Nero rescinded the expulsion. Both Jewish Christians and Jews flooded back into the city. What were the Jewish Christians to do? Return to synagogue? Join Gentiles in their house churches even though the Law forbid Jews from entering the homes of Gentiles? One can imagine both Jews and Gentiles looking down on one another and having a difficult time finding a way forward in unity. This is what Romans is about; see 3. below.
  3. Paul’s thesis for the entire book is revealed in Rom 1:16-17.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

He is going to spend the rest of the book showing the Jews that they have to be righteous by faith, just like the Gentiles. They cannot sit on their blood heritage as Jews and be saved. The objector is Paul’s way of answering perceived objections to different aspects of this thesis. The Calvinist view of the objector has no part in Paul’s thesis.

The Choice of God in Romans 9

Let’s go through the flow of Paul’s thought in the chapter and while we do this, dear Reader, I would ask you to keep in mind one question: What choice of God does Paul have in mind? The Calvinist reading of Rom 9 is that Paul is saying that God chooses to effectually save some while not saving others; “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”. In our view, Paul is talking about through which family/nation God chooses to send the Messiah/the message of salvation through. So, let’s see which choice of God is Paul talking about?

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Paul starts with displaying his heart for the Jews. I find this interesting because, in my view, I can say that God shares Paul’s heart for the Jews. God longs for Israel to come to Him, Rom 10:21, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Yet, I do not know how Calvinists see God as sharing Paul’s heart. Paul is willing to be damned to hell for the Jews and yet God is not willing for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to be applied to them. Calvinists have to create two wills of God to get around this. Why does Paul feel this way about the Jews?

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

They were chosen by God to be adopted into His family and given the glory as God’s people. To them, He gave the covenants and the law. He also gave them the promise that through them the entire world would be blessed. In other words, the promise that through them would be the lineage of the Christ. If anyone should be enjoying the fruits the Messiah, it should be the Jews. After all, it came through them. For that reason, and because Paul is one of them, his heart grieves for them. This is the context of the objector’s first question.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,

Paul anticipates the objection that if God had given the Jews all those blessings mentioned above, and now all those blessings have been given to the Gentiles, then God’s word has failed. God chose the Jews for the honor and blessing being in covenant with God but now God has gone back on his word and chose the Gentiles too. God failed to keep His word. Paul answers the objection by saying that Israel is not merely blood Israel. Israel has always been about faith.

and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Notice the contrast Paul is making here. The contrast is between who God chooses to give the promise to, not who God chooses to be saved. Not unbeliever and believer. Not elect and reprobate. But how God has always chosen who will carry the promise. What was the promise? Effectual salvation? No, the promise was that through Abraham’s family the entire world would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3, 15:1-6, 18:17-19 etc). Look at what God tells Abraham in v. 9. He does not tell him something like “I will choose to bring you to heaven”. No, it is “I will choose to give you a son”. Paul is not equating God’s choice to give Abraham a son with God’s choice to save some and not save others. Paul is giving an example of God’s choice of through which family the nations will be blessed with the coming of the Messiah. Paul gives another example of this choice.

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

God does what He pleases. Amen. God elects certain things to come to pass. Amen. What is He pleased to do? What does He elect to do? Is it to choose to save some and reject others before they ever did anything good or bad? Meticulously determine everything that comes to pass? Choose to hate an unborn child before they’ve ever done anything wrong? That’s not what this passage is saying. “God’s purpose in election” is simply assumed to mean “effectual salvation” by the Calvinist. There is nothing in this passage that supports that assumption.

Instead, what Paul is saying is that God has always chosen before they’ve ever done anything good or bad, through whom the Messiah would come. He has always chosen which family would carry the blessing of God’s covenant with Abraham. Just like He chose to give Abraham a son, God chose Jacob’s lineage to carry the promise despite Ancient Near East culture expecting it to be the older twin, Esau.

The non-Calvinist view sees Jacob and Esau as being representative of nations. It is not that Jacob and Esau, the individuals, are excluded from our view. Far from it. But that they are in view as individuals who became federal heads of nations, Israel and Edom respectively. There are four points that, in my estimation, support this view.

  1. Paul has been talking about the nation of Israel this whole time. He was just, in the same paragraph, talking about what defines Israel as a nation.
  2. Paul calls Isaac, “our forefather” which tells us exactly in what way he is talking about the individual Isaac; as the federal head of the nation of Israel. It is the same way in which Paul has Jacob and Esau, the individuals, in view; as federal heads of nations. The Calvinist, apparently, must take Paul as switching to talking about only the individual without an indication in the text that he does so.
  3. God called Jacob and Esau “nations” in the reference Paul is using in v. 12, Gen 25:23, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
    1. Notice how, in the Genesis reference, God switches from the plural “peoples” to the singular “one”. It’s almost as if the “one” somehow represents the “peoples”.
  4. If the Calvinist view is right then Paul is spreading fake news. The individual Esau never served the individual Jacob. The nation of Edom served the nation of Israel many generations later. Indeed, God blessed the Edomites and gave them land. It wasn’t until they turned away from God and sinned against Israel that God turned on them and Israel conquered them.
    1. What follows logically is that the Calvinist has to see Paul as either factually incorrect or as referencing the nations of Edom and Israel when he uses the singular “older” and “younger” respectively but stops doing that in the very next sentence when Paul uses their names; “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.”

It is God’s choice to which family/nation He gives the lineage of the Messiah. It was always God’s choice to do so. So when God gives the Gentiles the same blessing He gave Israel, there is no injustice being done. It is this choice that The Objector is objecting to in the rest of the chapter.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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.”

We agree with the Calvinist that God can have mercy on whoever He wants to mercy. That’s not our point of contention. Our point of contention is that the Calvinist assumes this to mean mercy and compassion unto effectual salvation. Instead, we see Paul as referencing the mercy and compassion of having the honor, the blessing, and the glory of the Messiah being brought through your nation.

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Notice the purpose of Pharaoh being raised up and hardened. It’s not effectual salvation but “that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth”. So it does not depend upon human will or exertion who is chosen to carry the proclamation of God’s name, ie. carrying the lineage of the Christ, ie. proclaiming the Gospel. Paul is saying that it has always depended upon God’s sovereign choice as to who will carry the promise of the Messiah. Before Christ came it was the Jews. Now, after Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, God has sovereignly chose to open up that blessing to the Gentiles as well.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

This is another question from the objector. It is it similar to the objection in v.14. How can God find fault in the Jews who no longer have been chosen to carry the oracles of God? Paul’s answer is that it was always of God’s sovereign choice which nation He molded to carry the blessing, honor, and promise of the Messiah. Who are you to say which group of people God chooses to proclaim the Gospel? You’re still responsible for you.

So “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” is not “individuals hated by God before they were ever born or did anything right or wrong”. Instead, we see it as “those who reject the Messiah are prepared for destruction” and “those who believe in Messiah are destined for glory”. Remember, the objector is a hardened Jew who is objecting to God including the Gentiles in His family. Paul is saying, “who are you to tell God he has set this up incorrectly and salvation should be about blood heritage instead of by faith?”

Further, says Paul, God’s choice to include the Gentiles was prophesied to happen.

25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have become like Sodom and become like Gomorrah”

It was never the case that all of Israel would believe in Messiah and it was always the case that God would bring in the Gentiles. So the objector has no case against God for injustice, God told him this would happen.

The Unbelief of the Jews Explained

If the Jews were chosen from the beginning to carry the promise of God, why don’t they believe? Yes, it’s true that God has now opened up the promise to the Gentiles. It was always of His sovereign choice to do so, or not, so there is no injustice. Plus, the prophets said this would happen. The prophets said there would be a remnant of faithful Israel and that God would call near those who were far off. So why do the Jews disbelieve? Is it because God chose how many of them, and which of them, would not believe from the beginning of time? Not at all.

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The Jews do not believe because they pursued righteousness as if it was a matter of works. And they rejected the One that was trying to tell them they need to pursue it by faith. If Paul meant to say they rejected Christ because God ordained that they always would want to reject Christ, why did he not say so? Instead, Paul talks as if it is the responsibility of the Jews to pursue righteousness by faith. Non-Calvinists take Paul as saying it is their responsibility to believe, while at the same time it is God’s responsibility to choose through whom the message of faith comes.

 

 

 

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45 Responses to Romans 9: A (Brief) Non-Calvinist Reading

  1. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | The Friday Files

  2. Bates Estabrooks says:

    “jibes”. Not “jives” Please! 🙂

  3. JP says:

    Great job, Eric. Concerning the objector, how do we reconcile original context with modern application? For instance, while the objector may have been a hardened Jew 2000 years ago, are we forced to modernize this (the principle of questioning God in general) in order to make it applicable. Often times Calvinists seem to make the Arminian both the original objector and modern objector…ha-ha.

    • Eric Kemp says:

      Hey JP, I think we have to hold to the original objector. I don’t think we get to change the meaning of the text just to smash our contemporary theological opponents. We can certainly draw modern application FROM the meaning. But if we can alter the meaning as we see fit, do we really believe it is the Word of God?

  4. admin says:

    Reblogged this on SOTERIOLOGY 101 and commented:
    Here is another good post from our bearded theologian friend. Well said!

  5. Pingback: Romans 9: A (Brief) Non-Calvinist Reading – SOTERIOLOGY 101

  6. leesomniac says:

    Good post. Your interpretation lands pretty much where mine does on my blog.

  7. Ryan Wormald says:

    Please share your sources on the Calvinist objector. I’m completely unaware of the position of which you claim Calvinists hold and would love to know which Calvinists you are reading who argue this way. I’ve always took the objector as those reading the letter, which would be a mix mainly of gentile and jewish believers, and I’m sure always a few unbelievers. But it also could be anyone who reads this letter as it seems to be the same objection we all have when reading it, so in that light the objector is humanity.

    That said, you could be right…you could also be wrong… I say let’s cling to Christ alone and be friends 🙂

  8. rhutchin says:

    “Any time some free will guy starts spouting off about being able to choose Christ or not, all the Calvinist has to do is say “Romans 9, Jacob I love and Esau I hated, who are you to answer back to God?””

    The Calvinist would actually quote John 6, where Jesus states, “No one can come to me…” The Calvinist argument in Romans 9 is that God can, and does, choose specific people to save. This does not preclude any other person freely choosing Christ (except John 6 seems to preclude this actually happening).

    • Eric Kemp says:

      Sure, those are other places Calvinists would cite. This was an article about Romans 9 so I stayed in that wheelhouse.

      The point of this article is that nowhere in Romans 9 does Paul say that God chooses individuals for salvation. As for John 6, the difference in position is in the nature of the drawing which enables men to come to Jesus.

      • rhutchin says:

        EK writes, “…nowhere in Romans 9 does Paul say that God chooses individuals for salvation.”

        It does say, “…though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand.” You explain this to mean, “what Paul is saying is that God has always chosen before they’ve ever done anything good or bad, through whom the Messiah would come.” At least you understand that God chooses according to His purpose. In ch.11, Paul writes, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” So, time and energy can be spent on the “remnant” because Jacob was part of the remnant and Esau was not.

        Then, “As for John 6, the difference in position is in the nature of the drawing which enables men to come to Jesus.”

        Since you don’t refer to comments you have previously made on John 6, perhaps you might do so in the future. The Calvinist perspective is that the nature of the drawing is such that Jesus would say of the person drawn by God, “…I will raise him up on the last day.”

  9. rhutchin says:

    “One of the key aspects to understanding our view of Romans 9 is who we think the objector is.”

    I don’t think the identity of the objector means anything. Paul cites several objections, and then defends his argument against the objections. It doesn’t really matter who voices those objections – certainly, Paul does not make the objector an issue.

    The distinction between the Calvinist understanding of Romans 9 and the non-Calvinist is that the former focuses on the objection and the later on the objector.

    • Eric Kemp says:

      Thanks for the comment.

      I do not know what you mean by “Paul does not make the objector the issue”. The Objector is a rhetorical device Paul uses throughout the letter. Asking a hypothetical objection and then answering it is a theme of the letter. I do not know how that is not an issue.

      As for the identity of the objector, I agree that it must be backwards deduced as to who the objector is representing and Paul does not explicitly say. However, I think we can get there with some accuracy and I think Calvinists are inconsistent on this point. Which is probably why your trying to make it a non-issue.

      “Objection vs. objector”: Why can’t you do both? I think I did.

      • rhutchin says:

        EK writes, “The Objector is a rhetorical device Paul uses throughout the letter….I do not know how that is not an issue.”

        As the objector is not identified by Paul, the objector is irrelevant. You are correct to say, “… Asking a hypothetical objection and then answering it is a theme of the letter.” That is my position.

        Then, “As for the identity of the objector, I agree that it must be backwards deduced…Paul does not explicitly say….I think Calvinists are inconsistent on this point. Which is probably why your trying to make it a non-issue.”

        It is a non-issue because the identity of the objector is speculative and nothing is gained by trying to identify the objector. You state that the objector is a “hardened Jew” but it could even be Nicodemus just because of the Jewish culture in which he was raised and that shaped his theology. As Paul explains in Ephesians 3, God kept a secret from the Jews – that the gentiles were to be heirs also – so any Jew might be confused on this point without being hardened.

        Then, “Non-Calvinists take Paul as saying it is their responsibility to believe, while at the same time it is God’s responsibility to choose through whom the message of faith comes.”

        Even Calvinists say this. The issue between Cals and non-Cals is the extent to which God is involved in enabling a person to believe.

        • Eric Kemp says:

          “As the objector is not identified by Paul, the objector is irrelevant.”

          Sez you. And that strikes me as a weird argument. You’re acting like it’s an obviously absurd practice to attempt to identify who Paul has in mind as the objector through the same inductive reasoning you use all the time, all across Scripture, to arrive at your own theological positions. I do not think you’ve given the implications of this “inductive reasoning is invalid” position the depth of thought it deserves.

          “It is a non-issue because the identity of the objector is speculative and nothing is gained by trying to identify the objector. ”

          But in the world of theological discourse statements are not true just because you say them. You have to provide argumentation with evidence for a statement to be true.

          “Hardened Jew”

          This terminology is something that needs more unpacking and I realize it may not be clear what I mean by it. “Hardened” is an in-house Traditionalism term by which we mean Judicially Hardened. You can look up that term on Soteriology101 to get a better idea of what we mean by it. Basically, the objector in Romans is a Jew who was passed over for special revelation, “hardened” in their unbelief, so as to accomplish the crucifixion, who is now grumbling at Paul about the Gentiles being chosen to receive special revelation and to carry on the oracles of God.

          So when you say “so any Jew might be confused on this point without being hardened” I agree with you and am certainly meaning to include those Jews that you describe. “Hardened” means they missed the boat with Jesus while He was on Earth and are now being drawn to Him by the same method, the same Gospel appeal, that the Gentiles are being drawn by.

          “Even Calvinists say this. The issue between Cals and non-Cals is the extent to which God is involved in enabling a person to believe.”

          Maybe? Calvinists don’t say “Romans 9 is about who God chooses to bring the message of faith through”, like, not at all. But do they generally believe that God can choose who the message is brought through? Sure.

          I think I see what you mean by “extent to which God is involved in enabling a person to believe” (the difference between divine providence and meticulous determinism) but I think I’m going to completely reject it as it sets up Calvinists as the one who sees God as “actually, really trying to save people” which I’m sure you will not be shocked to hear I think is completely absurd.

          “It does say, “…though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand.” You explain this to mean, “what Paul is saying is that God has always chosen before they’ve ever done anything good or bad, through whom the Messiah would come.” At least you understand that God chooses according to His purpose.”

          Right, Calvinists get which choice of God Paul is talking about wrong. Romans 9 is not talking about God’s choice to save individuals but His choice to choose through whom the Messiah, and His message, would come. And your rebuttal is?

          “Since you don’t refer to comments you have previously made on John 6, perhaps you might do so in the future. The Calvinist perspective is that the nature of the drawing is such that Jesus would say of the person drawn by God, “…I will raise him up on the last day.” ”

          I’m not sure what you mean by the first sentence. As for the second sentence I say: Nay, I can also say that Jesus will be able to say “…I will raise him up on the last day”. The crux of the argument is still the “how” of the drawing in John 6 which I argue I exegete from the context of John 6 while the Calvinist inserts it from their systematic.

  10. Greg says:

    Why did you switch from a nation to an individual Jacob and Esau / nation to Notice the purpose of Pharaoh an individual?

    • Eric Kemp says:

      Hey Greg, I appreciate the comment. I’m not sure I understand your question though. If I could take a stab: I don’t think Paul switches to discussing individuals when he references Jacob and Esau. He is referencing them as federal heads of nations in the same way God does in Gen 25.

      • rhutchin says:

        “I don’t think Paul switches to discussing individuals when he references Jacob and Esau. He is referencing them as federal heads of nations in the same way God does in Gen 25.”

        There is no switch to discussing individuals – Paul actually begins by speaking of individuals. God did love (favor w/spiritual blessings) Jacob and hated (did not favor w/spiritual blessings) Esau. By extension, we can speak of God favoring Jacob’s progeny (Israel) and not Esau’s (the Edomites). In the same way, Abraham is the father of those who are of faith and also the physical descendants of Jacob (Israel).

        The issue in the two understandings of Romans 9 comes to a point in v14 with the first anticipated objection, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” We easily understand the objection if the election of individuals to salvation is in view. However, if Paul has nations in mind and the election is to Israel being chosen to spread the word (as Dr. Flowers advances), then why the objection? And why is Paul so vehemently exercised to refute that objection? Why is it an issue of injustice on God’s part?

        The second objection, “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” exacerbates the problem if nations are in view and election is to be preachers of the word. What “fault” does Paul anticipate here? Thus, the objection persued, ““Why did you make me like this,”…vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” Why “prepared for destruction” if the problem is that they were not chosen to be preachers of the word? The explanation above skirts the issue.

        • Eric Kemp says:

          Hutch, your rhetorical strategy I’ve encountered so far is two-fold. 1. You dismiss out of hand the arguments of those you disagree with something like “It’s not about X, it’s actually about Y” and then state your position. When challenged, you dismiss and re-state again. Then, once your opponent perseveres past that you employ your second rhetorical strategy and 2. stop answering questions/engaging on the topic. Until you show a willingness to engage, and stay engaged, on the actual arguments your opponents are making, my responses to you will likewise stay on the surface level.

          These critiques are answered in Dr. Flowers book. It is easy to see how the Jews would object to another nation being used to carry on the oracles of God and call that “unjust” since God promised for Israel to forever be His people.

          The second objection is easy too. Who are the nations to resist His will if He elects them to carry on His Word? The “fault” is God punishing Israel by having their privilege of being the oracle-carriers being removed. God is faulting Israel for their unbelief and Paul is anticipating a Jew saying “Yea, but He elects who He elects, how can He find fault with us since He’s the one who elects?”.

          It’s true that every theological view has issues that must be worked through. But I would rather have my issues than the issues of having a view that sees God has hating a baby from birth before they did anything wrong or right and predestinating the vast majority of humanity to anguish in hell, a fate they have no opportunity to be saved from, for eternity for His own glory.

  11. Tumi says:

    Eric, at soteriology101, my contention was that there are people who are “definitely” going to be saved but those who have not sovereignly been chosen to ‘definitely’ be saved i.e ‘vessels of wrath,’ have a choice to be a part of the saved. You mention in this article that those who “believe in the Messiah are destined for glory”. While it does not say that the ‘vessels of wrath’ were unwillingly pre-chosen for wrath, it does mention that the “believers” have been prepared by God BEFOREHAND, whereas in Ephesians it goes further to say they were CHOSEN beforehand (“chosen” and “prepared”?). I mentioned in soteriology 101 that this choosing is for regeneration but not for final salvation, therefore retaining free-will – in that they are still free to walk away after being born again as is shown numerous times in Scripture. Just as God chose Israel sovereignly but the unchosen could be proselytised, why not choose the born-agains sovereignly in order to proselytise the unchosen???

    • Eric Kemp says:

      Hey Tumi, I guess I’m not totally following your reasoning here.

      ” it does mention that the “believers” have been prepared by God BEFOREHAND, whereas in Ephesians it goes further to say they were CHOSEN beforehand”

      Non-Calvinists don’t read Eph 1 this way. Paul is saying that the believing ones get certain blessings by virtue of being “in Christ”. These blessings were, of course, prepared beforehand for those who would believe. But it does mention nor hint that those who become “in Christ” were individually chosen beforehand to do so.

      ” I mentioned in soteriology 101 that this choosing is for regeneration but not for final salvation, therefore retaining free-will”

      How does this retain free will? If my will is overridden at salvation but then returned to me so that I can apostacize, hasn’t my will still been overridden?

      “Just as God chose Israel sovereignly but the unchosen could be proselytised…”

      This is where I’m confused. The question of Romans 9 is “what was Israel chosen for?” and the answer is decidedly, obviously not “chosen for salvation”. I would recommend you read Dr. Flower’s re-blogging of that Dr. Hankins article to further understand what we mean here.

      “why not choose the born-agains sovereignly in order to proselytise the unchosen?”

      I apologize, I’m not sure what that means. Cheers!

      • Tumi says:

        Wait a min, are you saying “chosen US in Him before the foundation of the world” does not actually mean “chosen US before the foundation of the world” but actually means He chose the blessings to bless those who would believe? On this one my friend you would be behaving just like the Calvinists who read phrases and words through the pre-set lenses of their doctrine.
        Nevertheless Eric, here’s a question that might help make my points clear: does God ever choose people sovereignly, for any purpose?

        • Tumi says:

          Let’s leave it here Eric, I understand well the differences of reading between the Calvinistic and Arminian traditions. Thanks

        • Eric Kemp says:

          Tumi, “Wait a min, are you saying “chosen US in Him before the foundation of the world” does not actually mean “chosen US before the foundation of the world” but actually means He chose the blessings to bless those who would believe?”

          Who is the “us” Paul is talking about? If your answer to that question is “Every Christian that has ever lived”, then you’re importing meaning into the text from outside of it, cause that’s not found in Paul’s flow of thought there. I get that answer from the text. You and I are not the 1st century Ancient Near East apostles that were handpicked by Jesus to spread the news of his Resurrection to the ancient world. That’s who Paul defines the “us” as when he says “the first to hope in Christ”. That’s Paul’s definition of the “us” that were “chosen before the foundation of the world”. You and I are not “the first to hope in Christ”.

          “does God ever choose people sovereignly, for any purpose?”

          Sure, the apostles were sovereignly chosen to proclaim the Gospel, kinda like Jonah was. Sure.

          “I understand well the differences of reading between the Calvinistic and Arminian traditions. Thanks”

          But I’m not an Arminian and I’m not sure you do.

          • Tumi says:

            Eric said, “You and I are not the 1st century Ancient Near East apostles that were handpicked by Jesus…” But Eric, what do you do then with the fact that Paul in Romans 9:23-24 does not limit the application of the “chosen or prepared beforehand” to 1st century Near East Apostles but takes the matter further to include the Gentiles? Evidently all the Christians up to the time of his writing.

            I do know the readings of the Calvinist and the Arminians, just didn’t know your reading, nevertheless if you’re free to say, what are you?
            I do

            • Eric Kemp says:

              Tumi,
              re: Eph 1 I claimed, “You and I are not the 1st century Ancient Near East apostles that were handpicked by Jesus…” and then you replied with, “But Eric, what do you do then with the fact that Paul in Romans 9:23-24 does not limit the application of the “chosen or prepared beforehand” to 1st century Near East Apostles but takes the matter further to include the Gentiles?”

              I know everyone is doing, I know it is so commonplace that people don’t realize they’re doing it, but when I say “Eph 1 says X” and you say “But Romans 9 says Y” we’re talking past one another. I do not find that method to be a legitimate way of discovering what either Eph 1 or Romans 9 says. I’m a socio-cultural biblical exegesis guy. We have to take the contexts of Eph 1 and understand the flow of the author’s thought in Eph 1 before we can compare it to anything else. Same with Romans 9. Paul defines for us what he means by “us” in Eph 1, namely “the first to hope in Christ”. Importing your prior understanding of Romans 9 into Ephesians 1 does not allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves. You’re doing theological, systematic harmonizing, not biblical exegesis.

              Given that, you know what I’m going to say: The contexts of Eph 1 and Romans 9 are completely different. Paul is talking about two completely different things that were “prepared beforehand”, and neither of them is “individuals selected for salvation”.

              • Eric, if I indeed am wrong to use parallelism in regard to Romans 9 and Ephesians 1, I still think when it comes to the same author, parallelism – limitedly of course – should be given a role; as such, when we now take the matter to 1 Thessalonians 1:4, and the word for “election” used there, which is “the act of picking out” – a word not so different from the one of Ephesians 1:4, it appears that if the 1st Century Near East Apostles of Ephesians 1: 4 were sovereignly “picked out” i.e individually, then it is very possible that these Thessalonians were “picked out” the same way. If this line of thinking is right, then the brethren in Ephesians 1:13 were just as elect (picked out) as those in 2 Thessalonians 1:4.

                • Burningbushnetwork is Tumi

                • Eric Kemp says:

                  BBN, that name change though! I appreciate the dialogue here.

                  Of course, there isn’t “no place” for parallelism, it’s just that you have to first, and exhaustively, allow the text, including a careful study of the sociocultural backgrounds, to tell you what it means in each context before you can compare contexts.

                  For instance, “it appears that if the 1st Century Near East Apostles of Ephesians 1: 4 were sovereignly “picked out” i.e individually, then it is very possible that these Thessalonians were “picked out” the same way.”

                  What were the Apostles picked out for? Not salvation. The text never says that. They were picked out for the purpose of proclaiming the message of salvation. And then those that believed that message were picked out, based on their faith, for certain blessings in the heavenly places. I believe in election, but I do not import a foreign definition of election on to each passage that uses the word (or the concept). I allow the context to tell me what the author means by election and, just as importantly, whom is elected and to what they are elected.

                  My contention is that nowhere in Scripture, not once, is the concept of election used to describe individual salvation as decreed from the foundation of the world.

                  • Alright then, back to the authorial context of Ephesians 1:

                    I find three hurdles in your interpretation of Ephesians 1:

                    1. Verse 2 seems to indicate that verse 3&4 include these Ephesian believers and is not exclusive to the Apostles.
                    2. Looking exclusively and exhaustively at this chapter, the emphasis of the election of the elect seems to point to the benefits of salvation instead of to proclamation, e.g “chosen…that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”
                    3. Paul, who includes himself in this election, got saved after thousands of other believers, so when he says ‘we who first hoped,’ how could he be referring only to the Apostles? This again circumvents the idea that that the choosing was for proclamation.

                    • To further substantiate point no. 1; if I stood in front of a congregation and said, “Blessings to you brethren, blessed be our God who blessed us with all spiritual blessings and so on,” the natural reading of a transcript of that speech would be that I was including the brethren. The audience itself would think I included them and was not referring to myself and my special crew, plus Paul was not writing together with the other Apostles here and it is unlikely he had them in mind.

                    • Eric Kemp says:

                      Hey BBN, I actually wrote this reply on Sat but because I apparently do not know how to switch wifi networks, I lost it. I didn’t have the heart to re-write it until now.

                      “1. Verse 2 seems to indicate that verse 3&4 include these Ephesian believers and is not exclusive to the Apostles.”

                      I agree with your conclusion but not your defense of that conclusion. Specifically, the Ephesian believers get what the “us” gets by way of faith but, exegetically speaking, they are most certainly not the “us” Paul is referring to. The Ephesian believers have been grafted onto what was originally meant for the nation of Israel. Let me explain as I reply to you:

                      Your view that “us” includes the Ephesian Christians works until you get to vs. 12-13. The Ephesian believers are most certainly not “the first to hope in Christ” which is how Paul defines the “us”. But we don’t have to rely on discussing how many years after Pentecost or how many believers were saved before them (or Paul) to know the Ephesian believers are excluded from this group. We know this because Paul directly refers to the Ephesian believers as “you also”. In the flow of the first 13 verses, Paul goes “us”, “us”, and “we”, defines who the “us” are as “the first to hope in Christ” and then goes “and you also”. We can know Paul is not including the Ephesian believers in with “us” because he directly addresses them as “you also”.

                      “3. Paul, who includes himself in this election, got saved after thousands of other believers, so when he says ‘we who first hoped,’ how could he be referring only to the Apostles?”

                      There are two views I think are plausible as to who are the “first to hope in Christ”.
                      Option 1: The Apostles. The Apostles were the first ones chosen by Christ and, even after it was after Pentecost, Paul is one of the Apostles. So, in a sense outside of the chronology here, Paul is one of the Apostles who were “the first to hope in Christ”
                      Option 2: 1st Century Jews. Paul is referring to the Apostles, himself, and those at Pentecost as “the first to hope in Christ”. The letter to the Ephesians is being written to Gentiles 20 years after Pentecost. One thing us 21st-century Western readers of the Bible miss is that the main tension in the New Testament, and one of its main themes, is Jews vs. Gentiles and not, as we often assume, believer vs. unbeliever. How do we get these two disparate groups (Jews and Gentiles) who often hated one another, to become a family? It would take many more paragraphs to give even a summary of this theme so I’ll just say this: Jesus himself said that he came for the Jews first and it took a vision from God 10 years after Pentecost for Peter to enter the house of a Gentile. That there is a chasm of difference between Jew and Gentile would have been as obvious as the sun to the 1st Century Gentiles Paul is writing to. It would have been perfectly normal for Paul to make a “us” vs. “you also” distinction.

                      “the emphasis of the election of the elect seems to point to the benefits of salvation instead of to proclamation, e.g “chosen…that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”

                      I completely agree. When I referenced proclamation as what the Apostles were chosen for, I was doing so as a general example of something that people can be elected to. I was not specifically referring to Ephesians. However, look at your above sentence again, “the election seems to point to the benefits of salvation”. Exactly, to the benefits of salvation, not to obtaining salvation itself. The passage is saying “those who believe by faith have been elected to get these benefits” not “you have been elected to have faith”. Let me show you:

                      After Paul is done explaining what benefits of salvation the “us” recieve, he addresses the Gentile believers and says “you also”. What does he say about “you also”? He says, you also get these benefits of salvation “when you heard the word of truth…and believed in him”. When you heard and believed, that’s when you got the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. He doesn’t say “when God chose you from the foundation of the world to believe”. The spiritual blessings have been elected from the foundation of the world to apply to those who believe. Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that God also elected each individual that will or will not believe.

                      Cheers!

  12. Brian Christensen says:

    Thanks for the article…was going to go to a bible study that tends to be hyper-calvinist (double predestination)

    • Eric Kemp says:

      Thanks for the comment Brian. Non-Calvinists have traditionally not had a robust answer. I was in a Calvinistic Bible study as a younger man and it was the only view presented

  13. Hey Eric, sorry for taking decades (well decade-months) to respond, I looked into the matter and it seems I have to concede. There appears to be no evidence whatsoever that predestination passages refer to specific individuals being chosen for salvation, whereas the choosing seems to always indeed apply to service. Thanks for this.

    Tumi Letoka

  14. James says:

    I agree Calvinism is wrong.

    But the objection, why does God blame us, who can resist his will.. is certainly not correct in your post.

    I think many of us don’t want to see certain things in this chapter. But the objector is saying if I’m hardened and blinded by God, how can he blame me.

    There is simply no way to overcome how obvious that is. A solution can be Pharoah and Unbelieving jews are hardened because they will never turn in faith or at least not at this particular time. There are mentions of temporary blindness.

    In regards to Rebecca. The scenario may be used to demonstrate what Paul just said before it. National physical Israel are Not Gods children and that’s what is being described. For Calvinists to forget what Paul just said and apply it to that very description of physical lineage saws off the branch it’s sitting on.

    Good job guys

  15. Eric Kemp says:

    James,

    Thanks for the response! I completely agree with you. In this post, I was trying to be as broad and brief as possible. I certainly mean to include the individually hardened Jew into the phrase “those who reject the Messiah are prepared for destruction”. Jesus actively hid His identity from “the crowd” during His ministry and did not seek to explain Himself and His mission to them. He was “hardening” them in their unbelief. But then in Romans 10 Paul is clear that these Jews have not stumbled to the point of falling and can, at any time, repent and believe in Jesus. Cheers!

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