At first glance of this chapter, we come away with a God who has has the authority and choice to save whoever he wants saved and condemn whoever he wants condemned with no will of choice on the part of individuals. It has been the ‘go to’ chapter for a ‘deterministic’ theology. And to some extent it seems like that is what is going on else how can we explain vs.20, 21-23, 20, 16? They all suggest a God who, like the potter and the clay analogy’ does whatever He wants with the helpless ‘clay’. No matter how you want to quote the bible, it all comes down to one thing from our common sense: “God is unjust!” period. While we will not admit such conclusions, we can’t deny it when we come to Romans 9.
Also, the bible at the same time claims God is a ‘just God’ in vs.14. So, how can a just God give the hope of salvation to some who are no better than those He has taken such hope from? It is this final realization that causes us to ask: Is this really what Paul is saying in this chapter with all his analogies? As I would explain, it turns out we have misunderstood this chapter.
There are times where the bible is saying something totally different from what we are
assuming or reading into the text. During such times, I have often taken a step back to understand the text in context. I often ask questions like:
- Why was the text written?
- Who were the audience?
- What was the cultural background of these audience?
- What were the issues the writer was addressing?
- How did the writer go about addressing these issues?
When questions like these are asked regarding the bible, we realize that the bible is consistent in its’ message. In studying this chapter, it is also applicable to apply some if not all of these questions to this chapter.
- Who are the audience? vs.3-4 tells us emphatically that the people to whom Paul was addressing this chapter to were his own ‘brethren'(vs.3)..’who are Isrealites’.
- What was the issues the writer was addressing? The apostle himself tells us why in Rom.3:1 when He asked: “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?”. Paul was addressing a belief held by the Jews of his day that they were the ‘chosen ones’.They were the ones to whom God committed the ‘laws’ and this to them suggests they were the chosen ones. This was why when Jesus told Nicodemus He needed to be ‘born again’, he couldn’t understand it. We see it when Peter finally understood that God is ‘no respecter’ of any one; we see it in Acts 15 with the circumcision debate. In summary, this was the Jewish belief of that era. It was this ‘only us’ that blinded them to ‘faith’. This has been the dividing issue in that time and this was the issue Paul set out to address in Rom.9
- How did Paul set out to address this ‘erroneous belief’ among the Jews? We now come to Chapter 9 where Paul drove home the point. The first thing we noticed when reading this chapter in context is Paul was NOT addressing ‘personal salvation’ in this chapter. Paul was rather addressing why the jews were rejected and the gentiles were included in God’s plan. How did I know that? In a letter/text/epistle, the author has a summary paragraph where he emphasizes what He has been discussing all along and we have the same in Rom.9 vs.30 when paul said:”What shall we say then?…” Paul again contrasted the gentiles(nations not given the commandment) against Isreal(nation given the law). But what does this then mean to the Israelites? Doesn’t that mean God is not faithful. He accorded us the ‘adoption,the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises..”(vs.4). Paul began his explanation from this question in their mind when he made it very clear that the ‘word of God still stands. The promises of God still stands; God is still faithful(vs.6-7) because God did not and was not just specifically choosing a nation but His choices were based on a ‘promise'(vs.8-9). Please note, this ‘promise’ though given to the Israelites, was not exclusive but inclusive. We know this because Rahab was not an Isrealite but she keyed into the ‘promise’, Ruth was not also an Isrealite but she as well keyed into the ‘promise’. So, the right understanding is that the promise was made ‘Through’ the Isrealites to the entire world.(Gen.12:2; 22:18).
This is the overview of what the issue was and how Paul addressed it. Having a proper understanding of the crux of the chapter and who and how Paul went about solving the issue, let’s now delve into those verses we have erroneously taken out of context in the next article.