I am trying to follow Paul’s reasoning through these chapters and wondered if anyone may have some thoughts to help.
My first question (others may follow later ) relates particularly to 9:6.
How do v6-13 relate to Paul’s anguish over unbelieving Israel v1-3 and show that God’s word has not failed v6a?
As I understand Paul’s reasoning,
Paul is greatly distressed about his own race, the people of Israel, presumably because so many of them are unbelievers 9:1-3,
Yet they have received many privileges and promises from God 9:4,5.
Does this mean God’s word and promises concerning Israel have failed? Paul’s answer is no. 9:6a
A common interpretation
The promises were only intended for a select few (the true Israel, true believers, who have been chosen by God), not for all of Abraham’s or Jacob’s physical descendant’s. So God’s word has not failed because it was only intended for the elect.
Problem’s with the common interpretation
1 Paul has just said in v4 that the promises belong to the people of Israel that Paul is in anguish about and now in v6 he would be contradicting this and saying the promises were not for them.
2 Ch 11 seems to go on to answer that God’s word has not failed because he will fulfil his promises to the nation Israel when all national Israel shall be saved 11:26. This will be the answer to Paul’s anguish in 9:1-3 and prayer in 10:1 and bring forth much praise 11:33-36.
So I see problems with the way I have heard 9:6 explained but I am not sure what Paul was really trying to say.
The nation of Israel encompasses the twelve tribes descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. Paul is describing those who are not Israel in vs 6-13. Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, yet only through the line of Isaac was the promise made, so the descendents of Ishmael aren’t Isreal. Isaac also had two sons, Jacob and Esau, but only through Jacob is the promise made. So all the descendants of Esau are not included as Israel either. But both the descendents of Ishmael and Esau are included in God’s promise to the Gentiles, as that is what they would be classified as.
This passage is merely demonstrating the Soveriegnty of God in as much as His plan is fullfilled in Israel. It’s not speaking of salvation, but of the national heritage of Israel as they partake in the promises and covenants of God in fulfilling His ultimate plan as promised to Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed. The culmination of that plan is fulfilled in Christ.
ETA: I think the promises to Israel that ALL Israel wil be saved is binding and will see it fulfillment as described at the end of Romans 11 as they are grafted back in. Romans 11:26-27, BTW, is a quote referencing Isaiah 59:20-21 (c.f. Isaiah 27:9, Jer 31:33-34).
Good points, Dondi. I think you’re right. Paul was talking about the purpose of Israel, which, in the short run, was to produce His messiah. In the long run, He doesn’t forget them (or anyone) when “the roll is called up yonder.”
First, if you’re studying Romans, Jan Bonda’s book, The One Purpose of God might be helpful for you. He’s a retired Dutch Reformed pastor (not sure if he’s still alive) who understandably found the doctrine of reprobation and consignment of the majority of mankind to hell to be troubling. PURPOSE is in large part a commentary on the more confusing bits of Romans, including this passage. Just off the top of my head, fwiw:
Paul establishes the election of Israel and agonizes over the loss of His brethren in having (largely) missed out on recognizing their Messiah. They were chosen for adoption (elevation to mature sonship). All this they have, and look where they are now! They don’t even know who Jesus really is – or if they recognized Him, they refused to see. (Is Paul especially speaking of his fellow Pharisees here?)
He gives an example of how God selected from among Abraham’s children. Isaac was chosen for the election, but not Ishmael (also not any of Abraham’s children born after Sarah’s death, to Ketura (apparently the vigor he was given for Isaac lasted! ) Keep in mind the promises God made to Abraham about being a blessing to many nations. Abraham was chosen not INSTEAD of the rest of mankind, but to be a BLESSING to the rest of mankind. He was chosen for a light – and his elect children for a light – to the world; a city set on a hill; a lamp set on a lampstand.
There’s no need here to worry about God hating Esau as a person or because of his deeds. He (that is to say, Esau as a people, as the ethnic group of all his descendents) was “hated” (ie: not chosen) before he was even born. It isn’t that Esau was consigned to eternal reprobation; he just wasn’t chosen to be the conduit for the Messiah, as Jacob was. Jacob was no shining example of do-goodism either, yet God chose him. Why? We aren’t told, but possibly God, seeing the cause and effect chain that would proceed into the future, selected Jacob as the successful candidate based solely on expediency. He had to do an intervention when He wrestled with him and changed his name to Israel, but maybe He would have had to do many interventions with Essau. Just speculation, of course.
We’re told numerous times how God’s mercy never fails, how He is love, how He wills that all people come to Him. So I don’t think this statement should be taken as a general and arbitrary dismissal of the majority of mankind. But Paul is talking about the election here, and specifically about the smaller elect group within the chosen people, Israel: Out of Abraham’s children, He chooses Isaac. Out of Isaac’s children, He chooses Jacob. Out of the nation of Israel under Moses, He also makes His choices. And today, as Paul writes, God has also chosen some from Abraham to be part of His body the church, but He has MOSTLY chosen gentiles to be grafted in, and has broken out the native branches because of their unbelief.
God does show mercy to us when He softens our hearts. It doesn’t follow that He will never show mercy to those He has hardened. He showed mercy to Paul on the road to Damascus, although Paul had previously been a vessel of destruction. I’ve been told that “hardening” can also be interpreted as “strengthening.” A person may have an inclination to do something bad, but not have the courage to carry it out. Perhaps Pharaoh was a malignant person, yet a coward. Might God have given him the courage to do what he really wanted to do – what was in his heart to do? It’s an interesting thought. I’m not qualified to say whether it’s a viable proposition, though.
However we interpret “destruction,” I think it makes sense to take this as it is and not add to it. God has formed some for the purpose of, if you will, an object lesson. “Look at Pharaoh. This is what you should NOT do when encountered with a commandment from God. It won’t get you anywhere good.” The Jews were chosen to demonstrate God’s mercy – but not all of them. Only a remnant from the house of Israel are saved as Paul writes this epistle. I hear him saying, "I can’t complain if God chooses these few as vessels of honor and the others as vessels of dishonor.
It might be worthwhile to point out that a vessel is designed to hold things for distribution. A jug that we fill up with beer, isn’t itself beer. A chamber pot is not itself the thing it contains (human waste). The one is a vessel of honor, the other of dishonor, because this is what they HOLD. It’s their USE. It isn’t what they ARE. What they ARE is vessels of clay (the same sort of clay) made by a potter (the same potter). He makes them all because they’re useful, and He will use them for His purposes. What’s more, a vessel of dishonor isn’t destined always to be a vessel of dishonor, as Paul clearly shows in chapter 11 when he points out that “all Israel will be saved.” There’s something of that hint of vessels of wrath becoming vessels of mercy in the following verses, too:
As Dondi pointed out, the Gentiles who simply run up to Father, on being told they’re welcome to come, are received, while the Jews who believe they must keep the law legalistically and thus EARN their acceptance, fail to obtain the promises. So in this sense, they have become vessels of dishonor, to demonstrate what NOT to do. It doesn’t follow that they will always remain so. It’s important to point out that when Paul talks about election, he’s taking off from the launch pad of Israel’s election. He is NOT talking about Calvinistic style election. That hadn’t been invented yet, and Paul certainly is not in process of inventing it, IMO.
Granted, this is hardly an exhaustive exegesis (nor am I really capable of one) but I hope this helps.
Thanks for this instructive and helpful post, Cindy. I will try to check this book out; I had never heard of it as part of the Universalist prescribed books. Is Jan Bonda a Universalist and an Annihilationist? (or infernalist?) One review said of the book: “and that no one (or almost no one) will suffer the eternal torment of Hell that Christianity often warns of to non-believers.” Who are the ones that are labelled “almost”, and what is their destiny in Jan’s model?
This explanation of Paul touches on my comments about genocide and “God on trial” in another thread you and I discussed. Paul suggests that the wickedness (and destruction) of certain groups should be understood from the PoV of God’s endurance and patience. These destroyed ones, like Pharaoh and the Egyptians, were destroyed with the same foreknowledge that God has governing the selection of the elect. Such “vessels of dishonor” are often tolerated by God “with much patience”, while they are foreknown to be “ready for destruction.” These very same one are used by God as a learning instrument to benefit all of mankind; hence they reduce their judgment by becoming a sacrificial goat. As you stated: “God has formed some for the purpose of, if you will, an object lesson.”
Notice that Paul says that Sodom and Gomorrah are also used as an object lesson. If Paul is WRONG!, as others have recently argued, then the scriptures relating to the object lessons, such as: Sodom and Gomorrah, or Adam and Eve, or Noah, or the Exodus, are actually myths that have no greater value than Roman myths or Babylonian myths. Paul says elsewhere of “myths”, “This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths…” Paul was completely against the “myth” teachings. In comparison, the “testimony [of scripture] is true.”
As I have suggested elsewhere, these hard sayings in scripture were carefully placed there as “a rock to trip over”. It sorts out those who live by faith and those who stumble over the “stone in Zion”. The gentiles who are grafted in are not hardened over the offense of Zion. Any who do stumble actually fall prey to the same offense that made the Jews disown their creator. It is our turn now to show what type of vessel we are.
I would also point out that if we were to take vs 27 literally, the whole population of Israel *throughout history *would fall well short of the number of the grains of sand in the sea. Yea, I would venture that the number of grains of sand of all the seas in the world would amount to greater than the even the population of the world throughout history. The remant would be the first fruits to be saved first at the present time, then all of Israel will be saved, including the adopted Gentiles (see Gal. 3:6-9).
Stef, it’s been a while ago that I read it, but as I recall, Bonda is a convinced (as opposed to a hopeful) universalist. He’s a Calv, after all, and they tend to be more sure when they do go over to the “dark side.”
Thanks so much everyone for taking the time to discuss this.
I have come from a Calvinist ECT background to my current EU position. I am still endeavouring to see some of my old Calvinist passages with new eyes. I have come to see many problems with my former understanding of Rom 9-11 but am still struggling to put some of the pieces together.
I have read a few things on Rom 9-11 -Parry, Talbott, Bonda as well as some non-universalist Calvinist and Arminian authors- but that doesn’t mean that I understand them! . I feel as though I am still missing something despite the many helpful things I have read from the commentaries and from your replies.
My main question at this stage is still the same one I tried to express in my OP. It has to do with WHY Paul says what he says in 9:6 and following.
WHY does he say “for not all Israel are Israel in 9:6” I am assuming he means that not all those who are physical descendants of Jacob are truly Israel, truly believers, truly God’s children. (From 9:8 and 2:28,29). How does this help to show that God’s word has not failed? How does the choice of Isaac over Ishmael, and the choice of Jacob over Esau, show that God’s word has not failed?
My paraphrase of the main point of 9:6-8:
“It seems like God’s word has failed, but really when you think about it, God’s word has not failed - because not all who are physically descended from Jacob are truly Israel or truly children of Abraham. It is not the physical descendants of Jacob, but rather the children of the promise who are truly children of Abraham and truly children of God.”
My previous interpretation of this was that God’s word has not failed because God’s promises never related to the unbelieving part of Israel but only to the believing remnant. This makes sense when applied to my paraphrase but has other problems. Jan Bonda discusses this interpretation and its problems on p141 and 142 of “The One Purpose of God”.
He discusses his alternative view on p143
I feel it is a bit strained to read it this way, or perhaps I don’t follow what he is saying? Any comments? Is this the way you all understand it?
I can see the problems in my old understanding, but not sure of how better to understand Paul’s reasoning.
You mentioned about the descendants of Ishmael and Esau not being Israel. But Paul begins in v 6,7 by saying that not all of the descendants of Israel (Jacob) are Israel or Abraham’s children. What do you think he is meaning by this?
Edited to add.
Also I’m not sure that we can say that Paul is not speaking of salvation in these verses. He distinguishes the natural children from God’s children in vs 8. His great anguish over Israel in v1-3 would presumably involve their present lack of salvation. He speaks of the election as not by works, which in the rest of the letter he applies to salvation. He speaks of God’s mercy and compassion which could relate to salvation. In Rom 10:1 he prays for their salvation. Any thoughts?
This passage is the one I am asking most about at the moment. I agree with everything you say here, but my question is about how discussing who are not the true Israel establishes that God’s word has not failed. Any thoughts?
Edited to add.
Some say that this passage has nothing to do with salvation. Dondi mentioned this was his understanding. I find this difficult to grasp because he talks about being God’s children as distinct from the natural children in v8. So I’m wondering if the election Paul is talking about here may include salvation, but in Paul’s mind election (and salvation) is not like the Calvinist version. As you say, it is to be a blessing to others. Rom 11 seems to also indicate it is not fixed - the elect can become unelect through unbelief and the unelect can become elect through faith.
So Ishmael, Esau, and the hardened Israelites could join the olive tree by faith and become elect and likewise Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the remnant could potentially have left the olive tree by unbelief.
I must be missing something, because I thought the reference was very self-explanatory. Paul is saying, as I understand it, that the original promise was given to and for the elect of Israel; not to the entire nation. The promise has been fulfilled because it always was to the elect. The same in the church today. Not all Christians are Christians. The promise of faith is to the elect of God.
Titus 1:1 - “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness…”
2 Timothy 2:10 - “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
Romans 11:7 - “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”
Luke 18:7 - “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?”
Romans 11:5 - “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
2 Peter 1:10 - “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall…”
The same principals that existed for the nation of Israel are exactly the same principals that apply to the gentiles. Just because we call ourselves christians does not mean we are saved - just as a remnant of Israel was saved, and these ones were called the children of promise, or the elect. This is not the elect of Augustine’s or Calvin’s imagination. This elect is made sure by repentance and obedience. Everything else is just religious paraphernalia. This passage is also explained simply in The Message:
If I am missing something in your question, please expain further what you grapple with.
The more I am thinking about it, the more I think you may be correct, but I am not sure at the moment.
I think you are saying that my old understanding is correct in thinking that the promises only applied to the elect of Israel, the remnant, and not the entire nation. I read Bonda recently and got confused. I think he would disagree with this but I may be misunderstanding him.
On p141 he outlines what he considers to be the WRONG interpretation:
The interpretation he was saying was wrong, seemed to be the way I had understood it!
On p 143 he discusses his better interpretation but I am not sure that I understand it or agree with it.
If the covenant promises are for the elect of Israel, and not for the entire nation, why do you think Paul says in 9:4 (where he seems to be speaking of the entire nation), “Theirs is ….the covenants, …., and the promises”?
G’day Craig… just to muddy the waters I’ll throw my 2cents worth in as well.
As I understand it… the “promises” were indeed made and belonged to historic Israel, BUT only the obedient [children of God] would realise them. Like Jesus [Mt 24], Paul had an understanding of the forth coming wrath [Ad70] and was pained that his brethren according to “the flesh” i.e., natural [disobedient] Israel would suffer greatly and wanted to spare or “save some of them”.
In the bigger picture “all Israel” being “saved” refers to Israel’s promised redemption, i.e., ‘the forgiveness of sins’ and applied to all biblical Israel. With Israel’s redemption came the reconciliation of the rest of humanity.
The “elect” were those chosen as followers of Christ being the first fruits in the outworking of this redemption. Thus election had NOTHING to do with ‘eternal destinies’ BUT everything to do with who was called to serve in God’s redemptive programme ON BEHALF OF all else.
Hi Craig. Sorry I’m late to this thread but the most clear explanation of Romans which I have found, and one which deals with ALL seemingly contradictory statements is that it is written as a diatribe. The following explains what I mean and is put forward by the eminent scholar Douglas A. Campbell. (If I remember correctly our own Richard Beck wrote a review on this matter:
I see now why the confusion. I agree with how you understood it. Bonda appears to be wrong IMO.
Again, I think he is wrong. Firstly, the covenant was made on the provision of their faithfulness. Secondly, the bible consistently mixes metaphors, and literal and figurative language. In one sentence you can get a mixture of several different grades of communication. Joel says: “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.” We know that this was true only within a context of understanding. Paul gave the same assurance to Christians: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Again, this is only within a context. It is not fairy dust or a magic incantation. Not all christians are christians; and not all Israel are Israel. The promise is for those who walk in the name of the Lord, and not those who just “call out” the name as some superstitious protection against vampires or demons.
Paul doesn’t say that all national Israel shall be saved. Indeed he quotes Isaiah as follows:
All throughout the Old Testament days, there was a remnant of Israel who were true Israelites, and who were obedient to Yahweh.
In the days of Jesus, the remnant consisted of His disciples (not the 12 only, but all of them). The remnant has always been “the Israel of God.”
In Romans 11, Paul uses the figure of an Olive Tree to represent the true Israel. Those who were not disciples of the Messiah whom God had sent to Israel, were cut off from the Olive Tree and branches from wild olive trees (the Gentiles who became Jesus’ disciples) were grafted into the Olive Tree, the Israel of God. The Israel of God has never ceased to be, but has continued with some branches having been cut off, and others grafted in.
And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”. (vs 26, ESV)
Not “as so all Israel shall be saved” but “In this way, all Israel shall be saved,” the Israel of God will have those who don’t truly belong to it cut off, and those who have never belonged to it (the Gentiles) but who have become disciples of the Messiah, brought in. Thus everyone, all of the true Israel, shall be saved.
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”[That’s some of the Gentiles]. But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Rom 10:20,21, 11:1-5 ESV)
So God has never rejected Israel. For there has always been a remnant who were faithful to Him and who were the true Israel. The 7000 who did not bow to Baal were the remnant in the days of Isaiah. They were the true Israel at the time. But in Paul’s day “at the present time” the remant were the disciples of Christ, chosen by grace. That included both ethnic Jews and Gentiles who followed the Messiah of God.
I suggest reading Philip Mauro’s The Hope of Israel. Though Mauro seems to have been a preterist, whereas I am a historic premillenialist, I believe Mauro had the correct understanding of Israel, and Romans 9-11.
This could be important in understanding this passage.
Many promises in scripture sound unconditional but are really conditioned on a proper response.
If this is the case, then all of national Israel would have received the promises 9:4, but the promises have not failed 9:6a because the promises were conditional upon them being true Israel, and not all physical Israel are true Israel 9:6b.
Have I understood you correctly? I think this is also what Stefcul is saying? So hopefully I am on the right track.