Monday, February 2, 2015

Does "Romans 9:1-13" talk about electing a nation or individuals, or both?

     There are many who see the presence of the election of Israel in "Romans 9" as a reason to disqualify the chapter from also teaching "individual election." But the two are not at odds with each other in the chapter. Contrariwise, they are complimentary to each other. Together, they are an essential part of Paul's argument. In the end, Paul proves that "individual election" is how the nation of Israel began and that it continues to be an essential part of its existence till Jesus returns.

Verses 1-5
     The teachings of Paul in the previous chapters before “Romans 9” went against the teachings of the Jews of his day in many ways. Paul taught that the law could not justify anyone before God. He taught that Gentiles, and not just Jews, can become the children of God through Jesus Christ. Paul even goes as far as teaching that a Jew is someone who is circumcised in the heart and not in the flesh; which can describe believing Jews and Gentiles. The fact that Paul was teaching contrary to the Jews of his day could have made it appear that he had a bitterness towards the Jews that was influencing him to oppose their doctrine. Also, because so many Jews rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah, Paul could have been seen as trusting in a false Messiah. Furthermore, if Israel is truly God’s chosen nation, how can so many from the nation be separated from their promised Messiah and his teachings? Did God fail to keep his covenant and promises with the nation of Israel? Thus, Paul begins “Romans 9” by expressing his deep love and appreciation for the Jewish people, his kinsmen according to the flesh. Then he goes on to validate Jesus Christ as the Messiah by explaining that he is also a Jew according to the flesh. He also goes on to prove that God has not failed to keep his covenant and promises with Israel by explaining who really is the true Israel of God.
  •  “In this chapter he begins to remove the offences which might have diverted the minds of men from Christ: for the Jews, for whom he was appointed according to the covenant of the law, not only rejected him, but regarded him with contempt, and for the most part bated him. Hence one of two things seemed to follow, — either that there was no truth in the Divine promise, — or that Jesus, whom Paul preached, was not the Lord’s anointed, who had been especially promised to the Jews.” – John Calvin, Commentary on Romans

Verses 6-9
     Paul is defending the integrity of the word of God by explaining that God did not fail to keep his promises made to Abraham and his seed. Israel is made of descendants of Abraham but as Paul points out that doesn’t mean they all become beneficiaries of the promises. Paul uses Ishmael and Isaac to show that being physically the seed of Abraham doesn’t guarantee anybody the promises of Abraham. God is the one who decides who will be considered the true seed of Abraham among the physical descendants of Abraham. Case in point, Isaac was chosen to be called the true seed of Abraham and not Ishmael. In other words, “…They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” In the end, it is God who promises who will and will not be considered the seed of Abraham.

  • “He now gathers from God’s answer a proposition, which includes the whole of what he had in view. For if Isaac, and not Ishmael, was the seed, though the one as well as the other was Abraham’s son, it must be that all natural sons are not to be regarded as the seed, but that the promise is specially fulfilled only in some, and that it does not belong commonly and equally to all. He calls those the children of the flesh, who have nothing superior to a natural descent; as they are the children of the promise, who are peculiarly selected by the Lord.” – Calvin, Commentary on Romans

Verses 10-13

     Paul understands that using Ishmael and Isaac as an example may be problematic seeing that Ishmael was an illegitimate son. But Paul doesn’t stop there and uses Jacob and Esau as another example; two legitimate twin sons of Isaac. Paul explains that God chose Jacob to be a child of promise and not Esau. Now, they were both equally sinful in their lifetime so it is not as if Jacob earned God’s favor more than Esau. But, there is no need to discuss their merit in the first place because God’s decision to choose Jacob and not Esau had nothing to do with their future actions, good or bad. For scripture says, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;”.

  • “Now, by adding, not through works, but through him who calls, he means, not on account of works, but of the calling only; for he wishes to exclude works altogether. We have then the whole stability of our election enclosed in the purpose of God alone: here merits avail nothing, as they issue in nothing but death; no worthiness is regarded, for there is none; but the goodness of God reigns alone. False then is the dogma, and contrary to God’s word, — that God elects or rejects, as he foresees each to be worthy or unworthy of his favor.” – Calvin, Commentary on Romans

     Paul is speaking about more than just how Israel was chosen as a nation (Gen 25:23; Mal 1:2-3). He is explaining how the nation’s beginnings are founded on God’s promises of individual election and how there are elected individuals within the nation throughout its history, including Paul (Acts 9:15; Rom 11:1). And this election is what distinguishes Abraham’s children of the flesh as either children of promise or not; the children of promise being those who are spiritual and not just merely physical in nature. Spiritual, meaning being born again by the Spirit of God with faith like Abraham. Thus, Jacob and others elected by God within the nation of Israel are counted as the seed of Abraham, which explains how Paul can say that not all Israel is Israel. Also, if someone is counted as the seed of Abraham then they are in Christ and, if it was not for Christ, God could not promise to have a single spiritual child, Jew or Gentile (Gal 3:29).
     Christ is the foundation of the distinctions but God never made a distinction of who he counted as the seed of Abraham in Genesis when he made the promises to Abraham but Paul goes into great detail in “Romans 9”, “Galatians 3” and elsewhere to explain God’s distinctions found in scripture. In the end, Paul proves that God has kept his promises with those he considers the true Israel, the Jews and Gentiles elected according to his grace that have become one family in Christ (Rom 11:17-18;Eph 2:19-22; Gal 6:14-16). The majority of the world and the physical descendants of Abraham that have rejected God are not considered children of Abraham because they do not have faith like Abraham. But even though the majority of the physical nation of Israel has rejected God, he has not forsaken them just as he has not forsaken the world, in order to save, overtime, the entire elected remnant found within the nation and the world (John 10:16; Rom 11:4-5).

Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. - John the Baptist (Luke 3:8)