The Real Issue with Romans 9

I have written very detailed articles on Romans 9-11 in the past, going line by line, and demonstrating that when the text is taken in its entire context and with attention to its roots in the law and the prophets, it simply does not demonstrate God’s unconditional election of some to salvation and others to damnation. But at its heart, the exegetical issue is very simple, and it has to do with Paul’s understanding of “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy.”

(Romans 9:21-23)  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–

On the Calvinistic reading, the “vessels of wrath” are those whom God has predestined from eternity past to damnation so that God’s glory might be unveiled in His hatred for sin- the “vessels of mercy” are those whom God has predestined from eternity past to salvation so that God’s glory might be unveiled in His mercy for sinners. In other words, the exact point of there being vessels of wrath is so that their fall into evil might be to the glory of God. The roots of this language is from Jeremiah 18, where God is the Divine Potter and the clay is the house of Israel- so that it is not justified to take the “clay” here as a reference to the entire mass of humanity. But what we find in Romans 11 is that the very thing the Calvinist declares is the point of the vessels of wrath is explicitly rejected by the Apostle. He writes:

(Romans 11:11-12)  So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make them jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

The very language used in Romans 9 appears here: the vessels of wrath are the means by which God’s mercy is brought to the vessels of mercy. The “riches of His glory” in Romans 9 are the “riches for the Gentiles” in Romans 11. And what Paul says is exactly the opposite of what the Calvinistic reading suggests: Did they stumble so that they might fall? A Calvinist would have to say- yes! They stumbled exactly so that they might eternally fall, and that their eternal fall might be to the glory of God in His judgment. But Paul says that this is the opposite of the point. Rather, unfaithful Israel was the means through which God accomplished His purpose in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah- and with this purpose accomplished, God wishes those very vessels to be incorporated into His family.

This is not overruling Paul’s argument in Romans 9 by quoting another passage on a different subject, as some Reformed exegetes argue. No, it is looking at how the very language used to describe the vessels of wrath is used in the very same argument- and the very purpose that Calvinists consider to be at the heart of Romans 9 is expressly denied. 

The following was a contribution by Seraphim Hamilton. The original post may be viewed here.


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