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Wresting on Romans 9

Updated: Feb 11

For a number of reasons, I very rarely comment on debates that I see on Facebook; one of which is that “tone” can be misinterpreted. I would much rather have those type of conversations over a cup of coffee. However, recently, and for reasons I won’t get into, I added a comment to just such an exchange on my newsfeed for only the second or third time in the twelve years that I’ve had a Facebook account.

The original post was a quote stating that one does not become a Calvinist by reading the Bible, rather, one becomes a Calvinist by reading other books. The back-and-forth was between two fine young men originally from my home church, now in their mid-twenties, who I have known since they were little boys and who I believe both to love the Lord and to want to honor Him. One, who now holds to Reformed theology, referenced Romans chapter 9 several times in his arguments; as if an in-depth study of this chapter (a “foundational” one for Calvinists) would enlighten the non-Calvinist and perhaps convince him of his “error”. Below is a slightly expanded version of my comment on Facebook in which I contend that Calvinists wrest the true meaning of the chapter to conform to their theology:

Romans 9 is the first chapter in a parenthetical section of the book. Chapters 1-8 deal with doctrinal issues, chapters 12-16 deal with practical issues and chapters 9-11 deal with God’s plan for the nation of Israel.

Israel was an elect (chosen) nation (Deut. 7:7; 1 Ki. 3:8; Ps. 135:4) yet Israel was “ignorant of God's righteousness” (10:3) and were a “disobedient” people (10:21). As a result, “the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thes. 2:16). So, the question Paul must address is: how could God reject those He had elected (Rom. 11:1)? And as a consequence, what about the faithfulness of God and His word?


Calvinist position: Herman Hoeksema writes, “We conclude, therefore, that the predestination of Jacob and Esau is a personal election and reprobation unto salvation and eternal desolation respectively.” (Good Pleasure, p. 24)

Unlike the Calvinist interpretation, verses 10-13 do not teach the predestination and reprobation of Jacob and Esau. In verse 10, the phrase “And not only this” points us to an earlier context (9:6-9) in which verses 10-13 are a continuation of verse 9, showing that Abraham’s seed was to be called in Jacob, as it was in Isaac. The “purpose of God according to election” (9:11) has nothing to do with individual salvation – rather, it has everything to do with the MESSIANIC LINE of Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-Jesus.

Although the children (Esau and Jacob) were not yet born (9:11), nothing took place “before the foundation of the world” – they were in the womb of Rebecca when it was said: “The elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23; 9:12). In fact, individuals were not under discussion, two nations were: “TWO NATIONS are in thy womb, And two manner of people” (Gen. 25:23). Not only does the text NOT say, “the elder shall be lost and the younger shall be saved,” Esau as an individual NEVER served Jacob. In fact, the very opposite occurred: Jacob bowed down to Esau (Gen. 33:3) and called him “my lord” (Gen. 33:8) and he even claimed to be Esau’s servant (Gen. 33:5).

In verse 13 (“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”), Paul quotes from Malachi 1:1-3 in which the prophet is clearly referring NOT to the individuals Esau and Jacob but to the people of Edom (Esau; Gen. 25:30; Num. 20:14; etc.), who had been a sinful and rebellious people, and the nation of Israel, also referred to as Jacob in many passages (i.e. Ps. 14:7; 44:4; 53:6; 78:5; Isa. 2:5; Jer. 10:16; Hos. 12:2; etc.). Election is based on “the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet. 1:2). God didn’t hate “Esau” in eternity past, He was said to hate him NATIONALLY after observing his actions for hundreds of years.


Calvinist position: A.W. Pink writes, “If God actually reprobated Pharaoh, we may justly conclude that He reprobates all others whom He did not predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Sovereignty, p. 90)

Pharaoh was said to be raised up to show God’s power (9:17,18) – not to be damned to hell by an eternal decree. The purpose being that God might prove to Israel that He was their Deliverer (Ex. 6:6,7; 10:1,2; 13:14-16); to show Pharaoh that He was the only God (Ex. 7:5; 14:4,18) and that His name might be declared through the world (Ex. 9:16). God determined to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27) knowing the tragic words he would utter: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.” (Ex. 5:2) But Pharaoh was also said to harden his own heart (Ex. 8:15,32; 9:34). Twice was Pharaoh’s heart said to be hardened with no mentioning of who did it (Ex. 7:22; 9:35). It is important to note: the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was ALWAYS IN REFERENCE TO LETTING ISRAEL GO, NOT IN REFERENCE TO SALVATION (Ex 4:21; 7:3,4; 10:1,20,27; 14:8). If the decree of reprobation was eternal, why was Pharoah’s heart hardened in time and on several occasions if he was predestined to hell “before the foundation of the world”?


Calvinist position: R.C. Sproul notes, "Paul takes up God's choice to not save certain people. Many people affirm single predestination to salvation without confessing double predestination, which says the Lord predestines some to damnation while predestining others to salvation. The Apostle, however, will not allow us to affirm only single predestination. He has already said that God not only softens hearts for salvation, but He also hardens them in judgment." (Ligonier website)

In regards to the potter and the clay (9:20-24): the potter and clay was a common Old Testament illustration (Isa. 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jer. 18:1-6). Never is it said to be a reference to someone’s salvation. Israel is said to be the clay (Isa. 64:8; Jer. 18:6). No one is said to be fitted or prepared “before the foundation of the world.” Vessels are made empty and bring honor or dishonor (2 Tim. 2:20) according to what is put in them. Paul used an analogy and the meaning is that, in the realm of His government, God has the right to deal with men as the potter deals with clay. The text is not suggesting that God creates sinful beings in order to express His right to punish them; but rather this passage teaches us that a Sovereign God has the intrinsic right to deal with sinful beings according to His good pleasure. For example:

• The Lord calls a man to be saved and receive Christ and the man OBEYS AND RECEIVES Christ by faith. Then the Lord calls the saved man to be conformed to the image of Christ. Again, the man has a choice: he can choose to yield to the Holy Spirit and live a godly life or live according to his sinful nature (Rom. 6:16). As he yields to the Lord, God “might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy” (Rom. 9:23). As he yields to sin, the Lord will chastise him as a son for his “profit” (Heb. 12:6-10).

• The Lord calls a man to be saved and receive Christ and the man DISOBEYS AND REJECTS Christ and is prepared to suffer the wrath of God forever unless he repents (2 Thes. 1:8). Until his fate is sealed at death, the Lord will be “longsuffering” and continue to reprove him “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8).

The Calvinist wrongly bases his theology on a supposition (“what if”, 9:22). Every “vessel” is born a “vessel of wrath” (Jn. 3:18,36) until they receive Christ as Saviour. The purpose of God’s “longsuffering” (9:22) is to give the sinner an opportunity to repent so they won’t perish and experience His wrath for eternity (2 Pet. 3:9).

As I expressed in my Facebook post, I doubted what I wrote would change the mind of the young Reformed man but, as I hold to none of the five tenets of Calvinism (perseverance of the saints is not the same as eternal security), at least, hopefully, he (along with whomever might read this) would understand one non-Calvinist's thinking behind Romans 9.

Through the years, I have heard many arguments from Reformed people and I have read extensively the Puritans (who largely aligned with Reformed theology). Although I have no disagreement with Calvinists on the doctrine of justification per se, I do disagree with the mode in which the sinner obtains it (that is, I adamantly reject the idea of “irresistible grace”). Below is a concluding summary of my thoughts on Calvinism and some responses to common arguments often made by its proponents:

• I believe the Calvinist interpretation of “predestination” was a reaction to the works-based salvation of the Roman Catholic Church. What could be a greater antithesis to salvation by works than salvation by irresistible decree?

• Calvinists seem to imply that if you are not Calvinist then you are “Arminian”; as if these are the only two groups of Christians (which they are not)

• I agree in the total depravity of man (Rom. 3:10,23); but a Calvinist wrongly interprets this to mean “total inability”. Simply put, total depravity means there is no good in man which can satisfy God. The reason men do not respond to the gospel is NOT because they have the inability to do so: “And ye WILL NOT come to me, that ye might have life” (Jn. 5:40).

• The Calvinist reasons that a “dead man” cannot exercise faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1). That is true if one is referring to a physically dead man. Spiritually dead men, however, have conversations and fulfill desires (Eph. 2:2,3). Being “dead in sin” does not mean to be unconscious. If a spiritually dead man cannot receive Christ as Saviour because he is “dead” then the same logic would apply that he cannot reject Him either, true? A physically dead man cannot believe on Jesus Christ for salvation but a spiritually dead sinner can: “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

• The Calvinist reasons that just as a baby does not decide to be born, a believer does not decide to be born-again. Physical birth is someone entering this world who had no existence before conception. The one who is born-again had a complete personality before he was regenerated. According to Calvinist logic, if a baby is not responsible for anything before its birth, then neither should an unsaved man be responsible for his actions before his new birth, correct?

• God is absolutely sovereign; however, Calvinists exalt this attribute above all other attributes, like, for example, His goodness. Would a good God command a man to repent and then fix it so he could not in order to damn him to eternal punishment? The Lord is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

• If God unconditionally determines the eternal destiny of everyone then certainly infants are included. What happens to infants that die according to Calvinism? According to this system of theology, is it reasonable to presume that some infants die as “reprobates” and go to hell? What would that say about the “goodness” of God?

• If God foreordained everything then that must include the fall of Adam thus making Him the author of sin. Also, by denying the permissive will of God, the fact that God allows evil things to happen contrary to His nature, would make Him the author of sin as well.

• Individuals are NOT in the Church because they are elect (chosen), rather they are elect because they are in the Church, which is the Body (Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18) of the Elect One (Isa. 42:1; Matt. 12:18). No one was ever in Christ until their personal salvation: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, WHO ALSO WERE IN CHRIST BEFORE ME” (Rom. 16:7).

• The word “world” never refers to the elect. The world knew not Christ (Jn. 1:10) and hates Christ (Jn. 7:7). The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:17). Christ did not pray for the world (Jn. 17:9). And yet, “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins OF THE WHOLE WORLD” (1 Jn. 2:2).

• If a person really believes in Calvinism, then the “elect” will eventually be overpowered by “irresistible grace” regardless of any evangelism. Paul, however, knew that salvation was conditioned on a man first hearing the gospel: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And HOW SHALL THEY HEAR WITHOUT A PREACHER? So then FAITH COMETH BY HEARING, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14,17)

• Bottom line Christian: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15)

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