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Calvinism -- Ten Little Caveats*

by Bob Moore

Copyright 1998


Calvinism's View Of Romans 9

I have not joined the Calvinists because they are not completely right about Romans 9. Basically, the Calvinist believes that Romans 9 teaches that God's design and purpose is to glorify Himself by predetermining who should believe and thus predetermining their respective eternal destinies. This view got started by Augustine about AD 400. As far as I know, no Christian had this view before him.

St. Peter testifies about some things in Paul's writings that are hard to understand ( 2 Pet 3:16) and I think Romans chapter 9 is one of those places. However, if we submit our preconceptions to following Paul's line of thought and put ourselves in his circumstances as much as possible, we may arrive at an understanding.

My approach to Romans 9, in the past, has been with the preconceptions that I had gained from the rest of the Bible. I had always approached it thinking that God's grace and a person's response to that grace, determined one's destiny. That God also predetermined what my response would willingly be, never entered my mind until I began listening to Calvinists. I began to think that maybe I had been blind to some unique revelation that Paul was making in this text.

As I studied the context of Paul's letter to the Romans, I slowly began to see Paul's purposes. I saw that only at Rome and Colossae did churches, not established by Paul, receive a letter form him. Since the one at Colossae seems to have been established by disciples of Paul, it leaves the recipients at Rome in a unique position. Paul plans to visit them but does not know for sure that they have as good a foundation in the Gospel as the churches he has personally founded. Paul frames the purpose of his letter in the words, "in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" ( Rom 1:17, NIV).

He uses almost the whole letter (chapters 1-11) to explain this valid method of man's acceptance with God. He had probably done this kind of exposition in all the churches that he had personally founded, and he may have been anticipating from Rome the response that he had faced in these churches (e.g. Galatians) where the dominate Jewish approach to righteousness was one not easily dissociated from works.

In order to affect this ingrained disposition, Paul would have to prove that God has a right to justify men according to this "faith" method He has chosen. Paul apparently can't get by just by stating that by grace we are saved through faith. Paul first has to clear away assumptions about God's rightness in doing this. Paul's dealings with Jews has shown him that they expect God to require some valuable distinction as a basis for His choosing them; that His mercy depends on moral distinctives like being keepers of the law, or, at least, as having the covenant's racial distinctives such as Jewish circumcision. They think that if God does not base His choice on this, that He is being unrighteous.


In this chapter Paul discusses the failure of the majority of the Jews to see God's revelation concerning true righteousness. Their questions might have been: "How is it that God can do such a thing!?" Or; "OK; given that we believe Jesus to have lived an exemplary and righteous life and that He was, nevertheless, executed, but vindicated by God; still, how can God not require works from all the ones He approves?"

These are the questions that had alienated the dominate Jewish mentality from the new Christian mentality. The case of Abraham had been cited in Romans 4 to counter Jewish objections that Abraham's justification was really by works.

"Paul shows that the righteousness reckoned to him was essentially on the basis of his trust in God. Nor could anyone claim that Abraham's covenant came through circumcision, for the promise was given before he was circumcised. Paul enlarges upon the circumstances in which Abraham believed God to make abundantly clear that it was not Abraham's achievements (in which every Jew gloried) but his faith that was the ground of his justification." [1] But, the alienating question still lingers: "Is it not possible that God is unfair not to take into account men's lineage or efforts (v:4)?" Romans 9 is Paul's answer in two parts. The first part is that this is the way God does things ( 15,16). The second part is that it is His decision when to let His mercy give way to hardening, as was happening with Israel ( 17-23; c.f. 11:25).

In this chapter Paul gives some examples of where God's favor rested on certain ones in the past in order to give expression to His purpose to establish His criterion apart from works. Isaac over Ishmael, illustrates that God's purpose is to elevate faith and discount works. God did this, as verse 11 states, "in order that the purpose, which corresponds to the choice of God, might be maintained." The next example does the same thing since God's favor to Jacob over Esau can't be attributed to their works; neither having been born yet.

Paul's subject in Romans 9 is primarily God's method. It is only secondarily the particular historical actions that gave expression to God's purpose. The true, primary subject here is God's "modus operandi"; His manner of operating; His ongoing principle; His "way". It was this purpose of God that Moses was inquiring about in Exodus 33:13 when he asks God, "let me know Thy way, that I may know Thee..."


God's answer to Moses has to do with His freedom from man's choice of works and the nature of God's choice of mercy: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." What God speaks to Moses is an expression of what lies behind the choices He makes. It is a revelation of His way. This way is echoed by both Isaiah and Paul who both point to God's choice behind His specific, illustrating choices that He makes. it is a revelation of His way. God chooses Abraham ( Ne 9:7), Israelites ( Deut 7:7), the second place one ( Gen 48:14), a tribe ( Ps 78:67,68), descendants ( Deut 4:37), a place for His glory ( Deut 12:5), etc. But behind these choices is God's choice for mercy (grace):

"Is this not the fast which I have chosen, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh ( Is 58:6,7)?"

What God chooses magnifies God's glory; "... then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard ( Is 58:8)."

Paul is vivid about the way God's choices make nothing, man's glory, and by so doing exalts His own glory; to paraphrase:

"God has chosen the foolish, weak, base, despised, and nothings of the world that He might shame the wise and strong, and nullify the things that are supposedly important [i.e. man's glory] ( 1 Cor 1:27,28)." "He teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the LORD are loving kindness [mercy] and truth... ( Ps 25:9,10)."


The Calvinist, John Piper, in his work entitled, _The Justification of God_ (IVP), tries to clarify what had called God's rightness into question. What he points to is different than what I point to. I try to show that it was the recalcitrant attitude of the unbelieving Jews calling God into question. They sought to keep a self-glory in the achievements wrought through their unparalleled law ( Rom 2:17-20).

Piper, on the other hand, is apparently not sure who (or what) had called God's righteousness into question. He intimates that it is an apparent failure of God's word concerning His promise to have Israelites as a people and nation of His own possession ( Deut 7:6; Jer 31:35-40). [2] Most Jews of the time were, of course, not believing the gospel. Even the believing Jews may have wished to think that God's election of Israel as a nation would forever stand. And, yet, Israel was now being set aside. The Lord had predicted the destruction of their temple ( Lk 19:43,44; Mk 13:2), their dispersion ( Mt21:21), and the transfer of their stewardship to others ( Mk 12:9), etc. The "apparent failure", however, is clarified by Paul who shows the conditional nature of God's promises to Israel. The promises, he says, were given to believers; "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (9:6). Not all Israelites are children of the promise. A child of promise is as Paul had shown in Romans 4:13, one who owes his existence to the creative power of God's promise to Abraham; that his children "would be heirs of the world not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith."

The "apparent failure of God's word", then, is not the matter that questions God's rightness. Jews should have known this much from what they had learned concerning the conditional nature of God's choice of them as it impinged on their idol worship and subsequent captivity (c.f. Rom 3:3; 2 Tim 2:13). The very fact that they now felt they had it all together concerning their former proclivity to idols, served to blind them to God's choice against works.

God had used several other occasions in Jewish history to let His favor give expression to His purpose. In each case God's promises were not conditioned by human works but by men's faith. The implicit condition for Cain, for example, was "belief". Would he have believed God's love for him and mastered resentment, he would have been saved.

With God's election of Saul as King ( 1 Sam 10:24; 2 Sam 21:6), Israel had seen a conditional nature to God's election ( 1 Sam 15:11) that involved faith ( 1 Sam 13:13).

Piper's attempt (to show that it is "the apparent failure of God's word" that questions God's rightness) is not successful because Israel's history shows that God's rightness is maintained. The Calvinist's stumbling block is their a priori assumption that God's continuing grace has no conditions, whereas the truth is that it only has no conditions with regard to human works. It is the Jewish "attitude" (which says that God needs to require works) that questions God's rightness. Therefore Piper doesn't truly understand Paul's answer to the question. Paul's answer is also God's answer to Moses about His way; which is, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (9:15).

How does this quote from Exodus 33:19 support Paul's claim of God's righteousness or rightness? To begin with, it shows that God's choice of faith is HIS decision for the way He will save men -- not ours. The next verse (16) says, "So then it is not a question of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy." This shows that God does what He does apart from any constraint coming from outside His own will. God teaches us that grace cannot be grace and be subject to entitlement. If only Israel would see that the grace of God is not subject to works or to some kind of entitlement linked to their nationality.

If the method of salvation were of man's effort, then the glory would be man's. If, on the other hand, God dispenses His mercy according to His choice, the glory will be all God's.

Paul goes on in the next few verses to illustrate what the Jews already knew, intellectually; that God's purpose includes the display of His glory -- a glory that He will not relinquish to another, for then He would not be God (Is 42:8). If it is right for God to be God, then it is right for God to chose His own methods. This explains the righteousness of God in the matter. It also explains the many times, in Israel's history, why God made particular choices to favor this one over that one. It was in order that the purpose which corresponds to the choice of God -- might be maintained (9:11). His secondary choices of this one or that one, gave expression to His purpose. And, that purpose, as I have formulated in other chapters, is to have a people for Himself, through the work of His Son, who would be to the praise of His glory, whom He would possess by means of His grace through faith. When Paul speaks of God's "purpose" in Romans 9, I think he has something very like this formulation in mind.

Piper always speaks of God's purpose as His "electing purpose." This is not done by Paul and tends to muddy the fact that God's choice is grounded in His purpose. Whomever He favors in particular, it is true, is also a choice. And, these choices are used by God to give expression to His choice regarding our way of being saved.

God's favor is not based on the desires of men to merit it by their moral distinctions ("running") or national entitlements ("willing"). It is based on a distinction of God's choosing -- faith. This is God's choice, it is a God- chosen human distinctive not having any merits or pedigree.

There stands my major difference with the Calvinist who believes Romans 9 would define God's purpose as the design to glorify Himself by predetermining the respective responses (to the gospel) and eternal destinies of all individuals. Such an interpretation does not satisfy the historical context of Paul's letter.


I would like to give an explanation to those specific texts in Romans 9 in which I differ with John Piper's explanations. Having a Bible open to Romans 9 I think will facilitate your analysis of what follows:

The first text is 9:4 "[Paul's kinsmen according to the flesh, who are separated from Christ] ...are Israelites of whom [are] the sonship, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of worship, and the promises ... (Greek/English Interlinear)." [3]

This verse may seem to be a list of privileges that belong by rights to national Israel. Piper believes that all of Romans 9-11 answers why Paul's citation of this list of privileges does not guarantee the salvation of all Israelites. Piper's argument seems to be that, yes, these are reliable and lasting promises, but that they are realized "eschatologically" (p.46). I think he means that Israel's possession of these privileges, as lasting promises, awaits a final return of national Israel (11:26 - even though they were "not-lasting" historically).

My view is different in that I believe that Paul sees a condition to the privileges. I will discuss below, the inadequacy of Piper's no-conditions viewpoint and the definition of "all Israel" in Romans 11:26.

The next text is Rom. 9:6-13 in general, as it regards the personal destinies of Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob:

Piper believes that the Old Testament examples of God's discriminating favor to certain individuals is the same thing as a predestination of those individuals to certain eternal destinies. In other words, Calvinists say that God decided to save Isaac and Jacob and let Ishmael and Esau go on being forever lost. They make this interpretation because it gives support to their idea of Romans 9 -- that it is an argument for God's freedom in selecting people for salvation apart from any conditions whatsoever.

The counter to this, among theologians, has been that the favored individuals were predestined to more of God's historical blessing (e.g. to be heads of a chosen race) whereas the supplanted ones had relatively more impoverishment. I agree with this and would also add that God's temporal, historical favor gave expression to His choice for "faith" conditions as opposed to human works conditions.

I hold to this counter position because it fits in well with the way Paul develops his argument for God's right to by-pass men's merits in granting salvation. I also see that the temporal favoring of certain OT individuals and their descendants, parallels the use of typology in scripture (c.f. Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11). Because the law is fulfilled in Christ, OT things are applied now in a new and greater way in the life of the church. The temporal things become eternal things. The physical Sabbath, for instance, becomes an even greater spiritual rest from works-to-save. And, God's OT choice against the particular works of some men (e.g. the contrived conception of the "not-promised" Ishmael), becomes, in the NT, the damnation of those who will not submit to God's choice -- faith (they were "illustrations": Heb 9:9,14; 4:1,2,10,11).

Romans 9:13 "Just as it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.'"

Piper thinks this verse supports the view that God appoints eternal destinies for each child. I see the verse as a testimony to the fulfillment of the prophecy quoted in v. 12, "it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.'" As Malachi shows ( Mal 1:2,3), the history of Jacob and Esau's descendants has borne out the prediction of God's respective appointments. The difference between the favor of one and disfavor of the other is cast in Hebrew phrasing similar to Luke 14:26, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother ... yes, and even his own life, he, cannot be My disciple." It is an expression of favoring one of two alternatives and, as such, is what I call a comparison-type hatred.

Not only does Malachi testify to the fulfillment of God's historical appointments, but at the same time he reinforces the notion of God's specific hatred of a works orientation. Even though a "comparison-type" hatred (but not a "condemnation-type" hatred) existed before the children were born and before they had done any works, by the time of Malachi the Edomites were exhibiting the same kind of self-sufficient behavior that Paul was exposing in the Jews of his time. The Edomites were saying, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins ( Malachi 1:4)." This self-sufficiency was not of God's appointment, but because of God's utter hatred of it the Edomites would face judgment. [4]

The Biblically literate Jew of Paul's day should have made some inferences from this allusion concerning their own status. The same judgments awaited the "Jacob God Loved" (corporately) if they continued in their "entitlement attitude". Conditions for God's favor were given: "those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name" would be favored ( Malachi 3:16, c.f. Ps 5:11,12 where the "righteous" and "those who love Thy name" are interchangeable). The implied condition for God's favor was faith. The alternative was, "lest I come and smite the land with a curse (4:6);" a reality fast approaching in Paul's day.

Romans 9:16 "Therefore, it is not of the one who wills nor of the one who runs but it is of God who has mercy."

I agree with Piper (p.155) that the subject of this verse, "it", has to do with the bestowal of mercy, but in light of Paul's whole argument I would specify that "it" refers to the way to salvation (which, of course, involves the bestowal of mercy).

"Runs" has to do with good works and "wills" has to do with resolve to keep the law, and, together, they exhibit a human desire to be God's favored ones. Paul is saying that the way to salvation is not one of these human choices, but God's choice -- the choice of the One who has mercy.

Because God's chosen way to salvation includes the "faith" response, Piper is loath to exclude faith from the meanings he gives to the words "wills" and "runs" p.153 . He wants to label "faith" as a "kind of" good works and thus he puts "faith" under the category of human "willing" in verse 16. Scripture, however, puts the terms in opposition: "By grace you have been saved through faith... Not of works..." ( Eph 2:8,9). In spite of this, Piper cites two texts in an attempt to support his notion that faith is a work (i.e. of merit, as "good work" was hoped to be). He cites 1 Thess 1:3 which clearly speaks of works being "of" faith -- not faith itself, but a result of faith. And, Galatians 5:6 which speaks of "faith through love working". I have shown above that the term "work" may be used in the sense of "functioning" (or "operating" or "expressing itself") when the idea does not involve "good works." This is obviously Paul's sense of the word, "work" in Galatians 5:6.

Piper is legitimately afraid of making God dependent upon man, but to whom it is that God has grace towards is not dependent on man's faith. God's decision to save a man is determined by God's decision to save a man who responds to His grace through faith. As far as it concerns God, "faith" is His choice. As far as it concerns man, "faith" is the acceptable response. The mode of salvation certainly is not of him who has faith; it is of God who determines that He will take men's faith into account.

If Piper's concern were important -- that there is no explicit reference to faith in Romans 9 until verse 30, [5] then he would have no grounds for cautioning against the notion that the terms "wills" and "runs" also include the notion of "faith''-- an unwarranted caution, from my point of view. The mode of salvation certainly is not of him who has faith; it is of God who determines that He will take men's faith into account.

Romans 9:17,18 "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: 'For this very thing I raised you up: that I might demonstrate by you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.' Therefore, on whom he desires he has mercy and whom he desires he hardens."

These verses are a logical step in the progression Paul has been making, but because Piper chooses to see the argument differently than I do, he must give verses 17 and 18 an "inscrutable" cast. That is, to him it is an example of God making choices of individuals to save or to damn based absolutely on His freedom and not giving any account of His purpose in these matters.

I expect the cogency of what I will show will convince you that Paul's argument runs differently than Piper sees it:

Verses 9-13 illustrate God's choice against man's choice -- faith against works.

Verse 14 poses the question of God's rightness in His decision regarding this mode of salvation (as it affects particularly the Jews, but also, everyone).

Verse 15 answers the question by reference to God's answer to Moses concerning His way (mode). By an answer like this Paul shows that any of man's choices for ways of salvation would be honoring to man and dishonoring to God. God cannot be God and not be honored and glorified. He will give His glory to no other would-be God, which is what man would be if he alone could determine his own destiny. And, as Piper rightly says, "God's righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment always to act for the glory of his name (p.100)." [6]

Therefore, verse 16 says the choice concerning the way of salvation is God's not man's. God will be glorified, not man (except by God's mode of sharing His glory -- c.f. Jn 8:54).

Now, verses 17 and 18 continue the theme of God's glory and honor by showing that God will be honored even if man refuses to submit to God's design. The Jews of Paul's day should have been galled at Paul's implicitly likening them to Pharaoh. But to drive his point home, Paul must show that even the unbelieving Jewish stance will bring glory to God just as Pharaoh's stance did. God, in the first century AD was hardening the majority of Israelites in their chosen course of action, and God was doing this to glorify His name. This is the main point of Paul's larger polemic.

The Calvinist interpretation of this verse leans hard on their presupposition concerning the inscrutability of God's will. They think there is no way of knowing who it is that God will have mercy on or who it is that He will harden. They rightly assume that God's choice is not dependent on any good works in man, but they come to the wrong decision for "inscrutability" because of previous inclinations toward Greek philosophical notions about God being unable to really respond to men. They don't see that "by grace through faith" is God's choice that by-passes man's glory.

We do know, however, for whom it is that God respectively wills these things. By the revelation of the gospel we know who it is that God has chosen to harden and we know on whom it is that He will continue to have mercy. [7] Though God's thoughts are not our thoughts ( Is 55:8), the mind of Christ that we have is not inscrutable. It teaches us that the will of God is to have compassion on repentant ones ( Is 55:7). God's choice is to save by His grace through faith. We know this by the good news which reveals "a righteousness that is by faith from first to last (Rom 1:17)."

Because of what we know of God's glory, we know that He will not let His mercy be demanded as a ransom by unbelievers. That would cause God's name and glory to be dishonored (c.f. all of Malachi; Jer 3:4,5; 5:12,13; 7:9- 11,14; 12:4; Hos 7:2; 12:8). The Jewish entitlement attitude was making this demand of God's mercy. Although He is long-suffering ( 2 Pet 3:9), God at some point in persistent unbelief, will harden and cut off ( Luke 13:6-9; Rom 1:28; 2:4,5; 11:20; Gen 6:3; Rev 2:21-23).

I conclude that this well explains that God shows mercy and hardens, both for the sake of His glory and both according to His plainly revealed purpose.

Romans 9:19,20 "You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted His will?' 0 man, on the contrary, who are you to dispute with God? Shall the thing made say to its maker, 'Why did you make me thus?"'

Piper sees here a clear denial of man's having a part with regard to who becomes a believer. This is because Calvinists would make the totality of creaturely activity, wholly and utterly at the disposal of the divine. If Adam sinned against God, for example, it was by God's appointment that he did so. God, to the Calvinist, is the author of sin without being responsible for it. And, to them, He is also the dispenser of faith to those whom He has selected for salvation (the rest being "justly" denied that possibility).

Because I believe the Bible teaches that God has designed man to be metaphysically free in his response to the gospel, I view this verse differently than Piper does. My view is built on the character of the "objector" presented in these verses. The objector in 9:19, 20 also appears under similar circumstances in 3:7and 6:1. This objector appears to personify an attitude characterized by the insolence of the unbelieving Jewish mentality. It is really against God Himself, not Paul, that he is being disrespectful, rude and even blasphemous. The objector is voicing his opinion that his supposed sins might as well be excused since Paul has shown that God gains greater glory (in bolder relief) against his sin ( 3:17).

It is not actually the case, that people not accepting God's way of things as Paul had defined it, would really imagine that God was finding fault with them. The unbelieving Jews didn't really think that they were being hardened by God, against their will. But, these people were looking for a way to find fault with the God revealed by Paul rather than find fault with themselves.

Their objection might be paraphrased like this: "Well, if I am, as you say, the victim of hardening, like pharaoh, then how can God blame someone He has victimized -- it's God's fault!"

Paul could have responded, "No, no, it is not God's fault, it's your fault if you are an unbeliever; God's hardening follows unbelief." But, that is not Paul's style. Something stronger was needed for someone so obnoxiously conceited that they would try to blame God for their sins.

Because Paul sees an impudent rather than an anguished response from the majority of Jews, he blasts them first (vv. 20-23) before turning to the fact that they have misconstrued God's-will-to harden as arbitrary, in verse 18. Paul turns to correct this in 9:30 - 11:36.

In this later section Paul makes explicit what he has been alluding to in 9:1-29. It concerns man's responsibility for making a faith-response to the gospel. Paul says, "They did not pursue God's righteousness which is by faith (v.30)."; "they stumbled (v.32)11; "they did not subject themselves (10:3)11; they ignored the word of faith which was "near you, in your mouth and in your heart (10:8)11; "they did not all heed the gospel (10:16)11; "And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again (11:23)."

This makes explicit what God regards and what the conditions are. Piper and the Calvinists would have us believe that God hardens individuals without any regard for anything in the individual. However, the point of Romans 9 is that it is nothing of merit in an individual for which God has regard.

Paul's sharp response to the Jewish attitude shows that it is presumptuous to question the rightness of God's dealings. The Jewish premise is that unless a man has the power of self-determination over against God, his sin cannot be justly faulted. But there lingers in this premise a works-view of self-determination rather than a humble response that allows man's destiny to be determined for good. It is not part of the good news that God holds final sway over who should be believers. That would be anxiety- filled bad news. How often do Calvinists preach Romans 9 when they preach the good news about salvation? Even though the theme of Romans is salvation by faith ( 1:17), I venture that not often is this chapter a part of their evangelism. But, it really is part of the good news Paul has for unbelievers; "works are by-passed!"

I have claimed that Paul's response to the objector shows the insolence of questioning God's right-dealing. But, it is also true that Paul's answer seems to agree with the objector's pretended conception of God's appointment to hardness without regard for anything in the objector. By not disagreeing with the objector, Paul is not affirming that God predetermines our sinfulness, but Paul is pointing to the absurdity of a created thing wanting to direct its own creation, and, by implication, its own mode of salvation. This, as I have shown, is the case that Paul is dealing with here. Paul is assuming the objector's point of view for the sake of the argument. This means Paul is countering the objector's supposition with a supposition of his own which he intends to prove.

Romans 9:21 "Or does not the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"

Paul continues to question the objector's authority. Who has the authority, the thing made, or the maker? The maker, obviously! Suppose God wants to do a thing a certain way; who can object? Of course, no one can with any effect. If the objector's objection has any merit on the face of it, this verse demolishes its pretensions.

For unbelieving Jews to hold to their own designs regarding salvation would be like the clay deciding in what way it would become a vessel for honor. The theme, then, of man's honor verses God's honor continues here from its original development in verses 15-18 with the key phrase being, "that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth (c.f. the "making glory known" of v.23)". God decides what will be honored and what will be dishonored. He honors faith and dishonors works. This way, being of God, brings honor to God as I have shown. If man's choice of works saved, it would be man-honoring. [8]

Piper's examination of these verses overlooks God's reasons for doing what He does with His creatures. Piper, however, is right on when he finds the meaning behind Paul's potter/clay image in Is 29:16 (p.195). In this text, "perverted" wise men (c.f. 29:14) in Israel, presume to hide counsel from God, acting as if they were God. Isaiah says, "You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made should say to its maker, 'He did not make me', or what is formed say to him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" This is exactly the case with Paul's objector who would decide the mode of his own salvation.

It is not inexplicable that God has the "right" to decide that one vessel should be honored and another dishonored. Having the right also implies that He uses it and decides what our destinies shall be, but the basis for His decision is not explicitly being dealt with precisely here in this verse.

Romans 9:22,23 "What if God, while intending to show forth His wrath, and to make known His power, yet endured with much long-suffering, vessels of wrath, fit for destruction? And [what if He did so] in order that He might make known the wealth of His glory on vessels of mercy, which He previously prepared for glory?"

"Suppose the scenario of these verses is true", Paul says, "if God is the final authority, who will bring Him to task?" This seems to be Paul's implication in these verses that have an "if/then" construction, but without the "then" being explicit. I don't think these verses are merely hypothetical (as I will show), but Paul's choice of words causes me to come to different conclusions than Piper does.

Piper, it seems, would construe the verses to mean that both the honored and destroyed vessels were individually designed for these destinies in the Creator's mind before He actually created those individuals (pp 212,f). Piper decides that the two phrases; "vessels fit for destruction" and "vessels prepared for glory"; both affirm divine agency. He says it is God that makes each vessel become the way it becomes (p 212).

The word that I rendered as "fit" is a passive verb (used in reference to vessels of wrath), while the word "prepared" (used in reference to vessels of mercy) is an active verb. Because "fit" (or "having been fitted") is passive, it could be taken to mean that God did the fitting or that man had made himself fit. Piper says we can only guess why Paul used different voices for each case. He then offers some possibilities why (p 213). Given his explanations of the first part of Romans 9, Piper's guesses look reasonable, but given the way I have explained Romans 9 I think the following explanations are more reasonable:

It appears that had Paul's intention been to teach that God was the cause of men's sinfulness, Paul would have used an active voice in each case. He, no doubt, intended to make an important distinction when he used a passive voice with regard to the "fitting" of the vessels of wrath and then used the active voice with regard to the vessels of mercy. Furthermore, it is significant that God's plans for the vessels of mercy are described as an original plan; a before- hand preparation, while endurance rather than preparation is God's initial action with regard to the vessels of wrath. One might infer that God's intentions (before-hand intentions) were to have all be vessels for bringing glory to Him through their reception of His mercy. If Paul really meant to imply that God designed some men to be sinners for damnation, he could have been much less ambiguous about it.

Paul's non-Christian contemporaries, the Essenes, who believed that God caused men to become either sinners or believers, were well able to articulate their position unambiguously. Piper quotes their literature (p. 212 f): "Thou hast ordained [the way of every man] before creating him... the just from his mother's womb... whereas the wicked Thou hast created [for the time of] Thy [wr]ath and hast set them apart from their mother's womb for the Day of Massacre..."

Paul's proposal, however, is not the same as the Qumran tradition of double predetermination of destiny. Paul's proposal asks, "What if God puts off judging unbelieving Jews in order to elicit faith in Gentiles (and remnant Jewish believers) -- what then?" Paul proceeds to show that his proposal (vv.22,23) is not hypothetical.

What God has a "right" to do with each group of people, He actually does for the purposes listed: 1) to show forth His wrath against sin; 2) to make His power known; and 3) to make known the wealth of His glory on vessels of mercy.

As Paul shows more fully in Romans 11, God is using an unbelief, that would be dishonoring, to bring about a belief in others that will compound His honor. It adds to the satisfaction of His honor received through His wrath and power upon unbelievers, the glory He will obtain in having more believers.

Paul doesn't blink when he proceeds from the 9:1-23 section of Romans to the 9:24-33 section where it is again made explicit that faith is taken into account in God's choice (vv. 30-33). I don't think it's because Paul is comfortable with antinomies, but because there are no antinomies in what he has presented. Conditionality and God's purpose are the warp and woof of Romans 9, 10, and 11. The "if" of Romans 11: 19-23 forcefully expresses those conditions:

You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. (NASB)


For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "the deliverer will come from Zion. He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins."

I promised earlier to get back to my view of "all Israel" being saved. It would be easy for a Calvinist to believe that "all Israel" here refers to all national Israel, and that God, for His own inscrutable purposes, decides to save part of national Israel early, but all of national Israel at a later date. After all, from the Calvinist viewpoint, if God wants to save a person, He merely and irresistibly gives them faith. God saves as many or as few as He wants. [9]

The context of Romans 11 often contrasts national Israel with "Gentiles". This gives considerable weight to viewing the "all Israel" of verse 26 as all national Israel. There are, however, good reasons for seeing the reference as being to the "Israel" that includes all the "sons of Abraham by faith" -- which is to say, all Christians (c.f. Gal 6:16):

) Paul has already introduced this concept in Romans 4:16, 9:6, and 11:2.

) Paul implies that all Israel is saved at the time that the Gentiles are added to the Church. He does not say, in verse 26, "and after that all Israel will be saved", but, "and thus all Israel will be saved." That is, when the Gentiles come into the Church.

) Paul quotes Isaiah 59:20 about the Deliverer removing ungodliness from Jacob. We see this being actualized in the judgment upon unbelieving Jerusalem which leaves, in effect, a new purified Jerusalem ( Rev 21:2, Heb 12:22, 1 Pet 2:9) -- the Christian Church. The reference to "My covenant with them when I take away their sins" reminds me of the Lord's words concerning "the new covenant in my blood."

) Paul continually thinks of the conversion of national Jews in a conditional and uncertain sense: He prayed ("wished" NIV) that he were accursed from Christ if that would have insured their salvation ( 9:3, 10:1). Paul hopes that he might save some of his countrymen by the provocation of jealousy ( 11:14). Paul casts the Jewish condition in conditional terms when he says in verse 11:23, "And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again."

All this is much easier than trying to mitigate the impact of the word "all" as applied to a nation. Granting that such mitigation is proper in many textual cases, it is not necessary here, and there's certainly no need to do it if you're a Calvinist (though some do) because, as a Calvinist, you believe that whom the Lord wants, He gets, even if it is "all" of a whole nation.


In commenting on Romans 9-11, I have shown that Paul's main purpose has been to demonstrate that God will be glorified by the state of affairs in the Jewish nation. Paul gets to the center of this thesis in 9:15 where he refers to God's "way" as revealed to Moses. There we see that the way God chooses, magnifies His glory. If it is a "fast", of showing mercy ( Is 58) that God has chosen, for instance, then our following that "way" will assure that "the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard (v.8)."

If we don't follow God's way it is actually an attempt to gain our own glory. Apostates can't get away from trying to make themselves look good by works-salvation attempts. God thwarts such attempts (e.g. Ishmael, Edom, Pharaoh, and unbelieving Jews) and in doing so brings even greater glory to Himself. That's why chapters 9-11 of Romans is largely a theme of man's honor verses God's honor; "that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth ( 9:17,23)."

After revealing all of God's scheme in bringing honor to Himself (and His chosen ones) Paul crowns his theological work (all of chapters 1-11) with a hymn of praise eternal ( 11:33-36).

In concluding this chapter, I think I have at least shown that ones interpretation of Romans 9 depends a great deal on ones starting presuppositions. At most, I have shown, by the side by side comparison with John Piper's work, that the probability of my view of the crucial texts outweighs Piper's. Of course, the final decision about the correct interpretation is up to the saints publicly ( 2 Pet 1:20).


Donald Guthrie, _New Testament Introduction_, (IVP, p. 428)

I have discerned three main views concerning texts like Jer. 31:36-40: The first view was had by unbelieving Jews of Paul's day. They felt entitled to a continued existence with God's favor, based on this and other texts. After AD 70, this notion was shattered, leaving the Jews with a culture having lots of momentum, but with a lot of agnostic-type beliefs typical of reformed Judaism today.

Early Christians interpreted the "not-reject-all" reading (in Jer. 31:37) as referring to a remnant of believing Jews who were joined by believing Gentiles, thus expanding the concept of the "nation" (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:9; Eph. 2:12; Rom. 11:17) and the city ( Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:2,3). By citing these texts, I show that I believe this view to be Biblical. Some Christians, of this and last century, believe that since the old Jewish nation and city did not remain established "forever" after the return from Babylonian exile (because of the AD 70 destruction) that Jeremiah and other prophets had to be referring to another return from exile yet in the future (i.e. 1948 Israel). These people, including today's Dispensationalists, believe there will be two holy nations; the Christian nation of 1 Peter 2:9 and the old racial Israel as well. I cite an interlinear text that I have to show that some translators use "of whom are" instead of "to whom belong" in this verse. The translation is of a genitive case that might either be translated in the sense of being "a source of" or "showing possession".

As a nation, Moab, as well, was under God's curse, but salvation came to the Moabitess, Ruth, when she abandoned the "sufficiency" of her former religion.

9:30-33 is Paul's summation of all that he has been alluding to in chapter 9 - faith!

"At the 1995 Biblical Horizons Summer Conference, Rev. Jeffrey Meyers suggested that the Reformed notion that 'God does all things for His own glory' requires Trinitarian refinement. Referring to a number of passages in John's Gospel, Meyers showed that each person of the Trinity, far from seeking His own glory, seeks the glory of the other two. The Father glorifies the Son ( John 8:50, 54; 17:1), the Son glorifies the Father( 7:18; 17:40), and the Spirit glorifies the Son who glorified the Father ( 16:14). The Church is caught up in the mutual exchange of glory: The Son shares the glory that He receives from the Father with the Church ( 17:22), even as the persons given to the Son glorify Him ( 17:10). Thus, while it is true from one perspective that the creation is to glorify the Creator, it is also true that the Creator glorifies the creation, even as each person of the Godhead glorifies the others. As Meyers put it, God doesn't suck glory from everything else; on the contrary, God (and each of the three persons) overflows in bestowing glory on others." [From Peter J. Leithart's essay in "Rite Reasons", No. 43, Jan 95, published by Biblical Horizons, PO Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588]

When God grants that men should hear the gospel, He has linked the dispensing of His mercy to human agency ( Rom. 10:14; Mt. 9:38), but a response of faith insures that God's mercy will continue in ones life.

It would be man-honoring, not to mention the fact that man's choice of works would be unable to come up with an equivalent atonement for the attempted robbery of God's infinite honor by our former disbelief of Him (c.f. Anselm).

In the mediocre Arminian view, God merely sees the future fact that at a later date, all of national Israel become believers. I have shown that this view is faulty because a future fact cannot "exist" without God being the determiner of it. God would not just see an existing truth; He would be the creator of it if He saw it.


* Caveat:  a warning or explanation to prevent misinterpretation.