Calvinism · Doctrinal · Interpretation

Calvin’s Concerns – Comment Response 5 – Romans 9:16

As mentioned in the introduction, I have been been discussing the differences between Calvinism and Provisionalism with a fellow blogger. One particular response grabbed my attention and I am trying to understand his position, by referring to his proof texts and logic.

This is the second portion of his response (in red), along with the corresponding verses he referred to. I shall seek to comment on the verses and find his argument within the verses he has provided.

Original Comment

Scripture says God is sovereign in his decision to whom he will have mercy which is in accordance with Romans 9:16 and other scripture Romans 9:15,18 The natural man doesn’t come and can’t come 1 Corinthians 2:14 John 6:44 John 6:65 He doesn’t have the ability because he lacks spiritual discernment because he doesn’t have the spirit.

Romans 9:16 – So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy

This is the big one! The verse that seems to answer all questions when it comes to determinism, a lynchpin in the Calvinistic understanding of the sovereignty of God. When the topic of free will comes up in relation to soteriology, Romans 9 seems to be the passage used to defeat all arguments. I am not convinced this is so.

First A Plea

I realize that some may read this and will immediately discount my thoughts. That is expected. When I taught the “doctrines of grace” I too discounted all who challenged me. Romans 9-11 is considered the hotbed of Calvinism. I make absolutely no claim to resolve the debate of it’s interpretation, but only to supply an alternate perspective to the deterministic approach.

For those who refuse to consider any alternate teaching, they themselves have set themselves up to be the arbiters of truth, judging others as opposed to understanding another position and showing grace to others.

They may be completely convinced of their position, and of that, I salute their arrival. For myself, I previously lived a life of “superior” knowledge, looking down on others and their thoughts. (Romans 1:22) Out of that life attitude, I offended, judged, tore down, and condemned many that were walking a better Christian life than myself. (Galations 5:15)

I readily admit that it is difficult to consider a differing opinion, since it opens the reader up to admitting an error. Admitting error is often called repentance in the Body of Christ, and is to be celebrated.

It is important to remember that the Christian life is Christ, that Christianity is not principally a teaching (John 5:39) but a Person, a Person that has been raised from the dead. My second birth occurred due to my repentance of sin and faith in the One who had the right to be my Judge, and yet He sacrificed Himself for a lost sinner. This simple truth has set me free. He is full of grace to the ones who reject Him, revile Him and run from Him.

Back to Verse 16

Who is receiving the mercy? This, in my opinion, is the crux of the matter. Does this passage refer to individuals or nations, that is corporate entities?

This passage is dependent on the context and hinges on a phrase found in Exodus 33:19. Let me try to recount the context.

Exodus 32, Moses is on Mount Sinai, with the children of Israel below, beginning to grumble. During the time on the mount, the Lord informs Moses of the sin of Israel in worshipping the golden calf. The Lord tells Moses to leave Him alone in order that the children of Israel may be consumed.

Moses goes into intermediary mode, (forgoing the potential honor of his own nation from his loins), and reminds the Lord of His promises to the fathers. The Lord relents of His consuming judgement upon His nation, His very own people. Yet judgement came upon certain individuals – 3,000 died at the hand of the Levites.

Exodus 33 Moses receives a command to leave Sinai and head to the promised land. Moses needs assistance in this huge effort of leading the nation of Israel, His people to the promised land. He needs God’s presence with him on this assignment.

Moses was given the promise of God’s presence to go with him and to give him rest. Moses pushes, and makes his demand – If you do not go up with US, do not lead US up from here. He had been given the promise of God’s presence, but Moses sought the presence of God for the nation, the people of God.

God promises His presence for the nation, and then Moses asked to see His glory.

The Lord states

Exodus 33:19

And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Let’s think about the context. Moses had found favor in the sight of the Lord. (Ex 33:17) The nation of Israel had definitely not found favor, but had rebelled and sinned against the One who delivered them.

It seems this phrase

And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

is referring to the nation of Israel, and not an individual, since God’s relationship with Moses had been defined earlier in the passage.

Whoa Carl – that is such a tenuous statement. My Calvinistic teaching demands that the mercy shown in this context is on individuals, and not a corporate mercy. This cannot be the correct interpretation, since it conflicts with my theology!

No comment. Lets continue.

Malachi 1:2-3

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob

but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

I see the verses above defining the one who is loved as being the corporate entity of the nation of Israel, as opposed to a singular person. Although the passage states that “Esau” was hated, it is the nation of Edom that is referred to in the expression of the hatred. Esau was long gone and his fate had been sealed by this time. But the prophet speaks of a national disaster that befell the nation of Edom, when he defines the “hatred” the Lord has for Esau. Jacob, meanwhile was back in the land and still in existence by the time of Malachi. Surely the nation of Israel was loved by God.

Back to Romans 9:16. With this background and understanding, the mercy spoken of in Exodus 33 was being shown to a nation that had sinned greatly in front of the Lord. His people had rejected Him as He sought to offer His covenant to them.

Is there not a parallel with the condition Paul was in the midst of? The physical nation of Israel was predominantly rejecting the new covenant, just like they rejected the covenant at Sinai.

The very promises of God were being questioned, in the midst of the nation rejecting the opportunity. And Paul was answering these challenges by using verses specifically chosen that define the mercy of God on a corporate entity. The nation of Israel had many blessings as defined in 9:2- 3.

As I mentioned earlier, I am supplying an alternate framework to consider the Romans 9-11 passage, which makes sense to me. Since the name of this blog is “Considering the Bible” and not “I have all truth”, this is offered for your consideration, and not blind obedience!

I do hope you will continue with me as I seek to understand the verses he supplies and if the verses he supplied support his argument of fatalism/determinism which he speaks of.

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Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.