Romans 9 and Predestination-Part 2

This little three part series has quickly morphed into a four part series. I encourage you to tough it out and delve into the Scriptures brought up here on your own, for there is no way I can do justice to all of the material that is warranted for this study.

Part I covered Romans 9:1-5, our focus for part II will be on Romans 9:6-13. Romans 9:6 puts a distinguishing mark between Israelites to answer the question of whether God has been unfaithful to them. So Paul’s argument goes:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 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.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Paul brings up God’s sovereign choice of Isaac over Ishmael. Consider Galatians 4:22-30 in the thought of Paul to help interpret Romans 9:7-9 for us. When reading the Galatians passage we find Paul is making a distinction between those born of the Spirit or the elect (Isaac), and those born under flesh and the law (Ishmael). This is not a general distinction between physical and national identities but rather a distinction between those who are lost and those who are saved.

Ishmael’s mother was an Egyptian. So in the mind of the typical Jew that may have automatically excluded him from the covenant. So to fortify his argument and close a potential loophole Paul brings up Isaac’s twin sons born of the same Jewish womb (Genesis 25:23). In verses 10-13, God’s choice of one individual (Jacob) over another (Esau) cannot be due to any distinguishing marks between the two (Jewishness or righteousness). Before the two were ever born God had made His sovereign free elective choice.

A common statement the Arminian makes about God’s election is that God simply foreknows what we will do or believe, and He has chosen us because we have chosen Him. The Arminian polemicist should be applauded for effectively turning the plain meaning of “chosen” or “elect” on it’s head. But in Romans 9:11 Paul outrightly rejects the possibility of God’s foreknowledge of good works as being any basis of His election of a person for salvation. God did not make His choice based on what the boys would do (“not because of works”), but because of His own sovereign purpose.

Remember, we are finding a solution to the problem raised in 1-5. It’s found overtly in Romans 9:11, “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue not because of works but because of Him who calls…” Contrary to what the Arminian interpretation would claim, this is clear salvation language, similar to the language in Romans 9:24, 2 Timothy 1:9 and Romans 8:28-30. When God “calls” us in election, we can’t debate whether we would choose to answer it. There are two very different calls in Scripture, Romans 9 references the inward call that applies to the believer’s responsive heart (as does Romans 8:28), not the general public gospel call which should be proclaimed to all men (Matthew 22:14 shows this general call, the “chosen” in this verse actually confirms the Reformed view). This is the effectual calling of God that takes place in the heart of the called/elect that always reaches it’s desired end: their salvation and God’s glory. Look also at the goal of election according to Ephesians 1:3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

He predestined us by His will to the praise of His glorious grace. Later in Ephesians 1:11-12 it is shown we are predestined by His will so that we “who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.” Our election is the sovereign means by which God intends to get glory and honor for Himself. He would not leave such an awe-inspiring overarching purpose alone in the hands of wicked men, rather He has an invested and active interest in acquiring His glory (Isaiah 48:9-10).

God’s allegiance to His own glory in His free election of men will become more crystallized in Part III, as we observe Romans 9:14-18.

In Romans 9:11, Paul is hammering home his point to any doubter of God’s covenant faithfulness to the Jew. This is his explanation for why “it is not as though the word of God has failed (for the Jews).” In effect, he’s saying with verses 6-13: “God is doing exactly what he has purposed to do. His word has not failed! He is a KING who has accomplished and fulfilled his promises to His sovereignly chosen people. His election stands for many individuals in Israel, though not for all of ethnic Israel.”

Romans 9:13 is a citation from Malachi 1:2-3 “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” “Love” is probably likened to “choice” here and “hate” to  “rejection”, rather than referring to affection and animosity. But that debate has little bearing on the passage for us. Because Malachi 1 references the descendants of Jacob and Esau, the Arminian interpretation holds that “Jacob” and “Esau” are only used as the representative heads of two nations: Israel and Edom. But Paul mentions neither Israel or Edom in verses 6-13, rather his focus is on the election of Jacob over Esau as individuals not representative heads (as the statement in Romans 9:6 indicates). God’s election of Jacob did have far reaching national implications that resulted in historic privileges, but it began with God’s grace towards an individual that had eternal implications. Jacob experienced God’s sovereign favor in his life, Esau experienced God’s rejection. Both deserved rejection. But praise God, one received grace and the messianic promise of Christ was preserved by God.

Consider the common Arminian interpretation. Ask yourself: why would Paul try to answer the problem of the unbelief of so many in Israel (v.1-5) by appealing to their national identity(6-13)? Is Paul really that random and absurd in his reasoning? The Arminian interpretation interrupts the flow and unity of Romans 9 as a coherent chapter. It says Paul begins with a concern about the salvation of his kinsmen (v.1-5), jumps to a tangential tirade about Israel’s elect “nationhood” (6-13), then randomly hops back to the salvation of men, both Jew and Gentile (Romans 9:24).

The Reformed view holds that Paul’s concern with the electing purpose of God in the salvation of men is the unifying thread throughout the whole ninth chapter of Romans.

As we have progressed it has become increasingly untenable to continue to try to hold the corporate view of Israel in Romans 9. Let’s try to apply another nail to that coffin.

When we interpret scripture with scripture we find that when Paul refers to people as “children of the promise”, “children of God” or “offspring” as he has in Romans 9:7-8, he is speaking of those individual Jews or Gentiles in Christ, not the nation of Israel in theocratic terms. For example, Galatians 3:29:

“in Christ, you are Abraham’s offspring (or seed), heirs according to the promise”

and later in Galatians 4:28:

“Now you brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise.”

In the New Covenant, Christians have become the “elect” people of God, and such language is no longer restricted to an ethnic nation of Israel. Paul is applying the general OT principle of election specifically to individual believers now.
In part III, Paul is going to answer the inevitable objection he knows is arising in the hearts of his readers: If God freely determines man’s eternal destiny before man can have any input on the matter, is God unrighteous or unjust? The reason Paul uses for postulating He is not is shocking to the senses of natural man.

Stay tuned and stay classy. Grace be with you.

Bryan Daniels

Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

3 thoughts on “Romans 9 and Predestination-Part 2”

  1. Hi,

    How do we know if the elect and verses about it or targeting the disciples only , compated to the rest of “us”? One can interpret “us” as a conversation between the disciples only and God. My opinion is we don’t know, but should live according to the spirit, and wait for judgment day.

    1. Hi Tom!

      Thanks for your comment! Regarding your question I believe any letter to the church in the New Covenant would be considered for “us” today. That includes Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 and all the other epistles in the New Testament. At the beginning of each letter a specific church body or group of believers is mentioned as the recipients. Theses letters were clearly written to the church, not to the disciples only. Since we (contemporary) Christians are apart of the New Covenant Church election in Scripture stands as a comfort for us also.

      Now, I would concede that some of the specific “election” words of Christ during His earthly ministry may have at times only been for his disciples (John 15:16 for example). But still, in a very real sense the four gospels were also written for our salvation (John 20:31).

      I don’t believe the Bible teaches that God would have one salvation standard for the disciples (election), and a different one for us (free will?). Everyone is saved by grace through faith, regardless of where they happen to fall in the chronological timeline of salvation history (Ephesians 2:1-10, Hebrews 11)

      Regardless of where we disagree, I also believe we should live according to the spirit (Galatians 5) Thanks for your input!

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