Romans 9 is the most widely used text in the defense of predetermination. This week we will untangle the text in order to see the Scripture the way it was meant to be—within its correct social and historical context, as well as giving regard to its intended audience.
The Scripture in Romans 9 has been historical and widely used as one of the main texts that defends the theological stance of pre-determination. This text is often interpreted as meaning that God unilaterally determines who he will have mercy on and who he will pour his wrath upon. In other words, some believe Romans 9 tells us that God has pre-determined the fate of all people and the decision about whether you will spend an eternity in heaven or suffer conscious, unending torture in hell has already been made. Those who argue this position claim that God’s glory is revealed through the contrasting groups.
We believe that is a twisted interpretation of Romans 9. Four points are important to notice when reading this text. As always, the first thing we do when we come to Scripture is remember that everything we read (regardless of its location in the Bible) points to the cross. If we are reading something that reveals God to be something other than the crucified Christ, then we need to look again.
Next, we must know the context of the text before we can decide what it is trying to say. We must ask ourselves why Paul is writing these words. Looking at the letter on a broader scale, we know that Paul was writing to the Jews who were rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. Paul wasn’t trying to teach us how God saves or damns individual people, so to insert this into the text is to miss the context. Another helpful tool for interpreting a text as tricky as this one is to look to the author’s own summary. Paul summarizes his words from vv. 13-24 in vv. 30-32. It is in Paul’s summary that the issue of faith is brought into the picture. Romans 9 is a text revealing that it is by faith one is a true Israelite. Faith is the important part, not one’s heritage or ability to adhere to every law.
Finally, we need a greater understanding about the potter/clay analogy Paul uses in this text. Paul is using an analogy taken from Jer. 18:1-11. The story talks about a potter who wanted to fashion one kind of vessel, but found the clay wasn’t cooperating, so the potter instead fashions a different kind of vessel according to the clay he was working with. The point is not about the power of the potter over the clay but the wisdom of the potter in responding to the kind of clay he’s working with. The point of the potter clay analogy isn’t the potter determining the kind of vessels he wants to make; rather it is about the potter’s willingness to be flexible, and his ability to do so because of his great wisdom.
God steers us according to the kind of clay we make ourselves, for better or for worse. If we are cooperative, God works with us to fashion us for eternal blessing. If we are rebellious, God fashions us for a judgment (but even with this he’s doing this in hopes that we’ll repent). The point is God is always willing to change for us, if we are willing to change for him.
Hide Extended Summary
26 thoughts on “Twisted Scripture: Romans 9”
Good message. The calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 is completely false and doesn’t even take into account the immediate context of the chapter let alone the whole book of Romans.
Wow, the last part is really inspiring, thanks!
Hilarious! That’s the first thing I thought when I saw the Title to the next series – Ha!!!! Shows how preconditioned my former “Metal brain” is! Interestingly though, there’s a very profound tie in here with “Twisted Sister” which had a brief cameo appearance in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” film where they sang their “Burn in Hell” song –
“HEAR NO EVIL, DON’T YOU
SEE NO EVIL, DON’T YOU
OH, BURN IN HELL
LAY NO EVIL DOWN ON ME
YOU’RE GONNA BURN IN HELL
SPEAK NO EVIL, DON’T YOU
THINK NO EVIL, DON’T YOU
OH, BURN IN HELL
PLAY WITH EVIL, ‘CAUSE I’M FREE”
….. as they rode on the hood of a Cadillac. The Hyper-Predestinationists should have really loved that one…well maybe? – but then again, it seems to contradict itself (?) ……and no “Big M”, I am not a Paul Reubens fan!
Back to Reality……
When considering other examples of “Twisted Scripture” or passages that have been used specifically to reinforce certain ideologies, [in a positive sense] Psalm 139 comes to mind. This Psalm has been cleverly championed by “Pro-Life” as well as “Gay Rights Groups” much to their credit –
“The Psalm 139 Project”
Psalm 139 Used By Pro-Life, Gay Rights Groups
Whereas the above examples have potentially put a positive and pragmatic “spin” or “twist” on the Psalm, conversely, some opponents of the “Open Theism View” have used Psalm 139 to reinforce their Hyper–Calvinist proclivities. I’m not necessarily down on all aspects of “Predestination” or “Election” but when verses like –
3: ”Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”
….is used, it doesn’t imply that he “dictates” or “predefines” those particular actions that we might or might not take – as if He were some kind of “Puppet Master” or when it says in the next verse –
4: “Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.”
……is used to imply Gods “Omniscience”, it doesn’t mean that He is actually telling us what [exactly] to think. Or when it says in verse –
16: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
….doesn’t mean that He prearranged our deaths or caused them to occur to fulfill his Kingdom plan.
Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking these examples are very limited and there’s plenty of counterbalancing material out there to easily even out that limited and somewhat spurious interpretation. “Free-will agency” when often combined with a “Predestination Approach” to specific scriptures immediately creates an irreconcilable conundrum in relation to how we and God experience “time” together.
The ReKnew dialog from a few months back on the “Open View Topic” was outstanding as many shared their keen insights and opinions concerning these issues.
There’s a much deeper investigation of the Psalm written by L.C. Allen entitled – “Faith on Trial: An Analysis of Psalm 139”, where he goes into the dynamics of the psalm and discusses the various possibilities that it is actually more about a dialog/song employed during a “judicial trail”. Another possibility is that it fits into a wisdom-oriented didactic (or polemic) poem genre. Either way, it’s a beautifully intimate chunk of scripture that clearly points to God’s love for us as friable and delicate creatures.
I like this version – it really lifts the soul –
Psalms 139 – Sons of Korah – YouTube
Well I listened to it all, wasn’t sure I could, but I think somewhere in there Pastor Boyd said we should listen to or study things we disagree with (if he didn’t someone has said it so I listened to the whole sermon).
Some friends who live around the corner are in what apparently was the first steel frame house in the district. What they may not know is that when the frame was being put up (after the cement slab foundation had been poured and hardened) it was discovered that the was about a foot bigger than the foundations. Trying to build something that doesn’t fit the foundation you’ve put down isn’t necessarily going to work well.
Pastor Boyd’s foundations seem to be a Hollywood movie, or at least the “teachings” of the movie “Adjustment Bureau” where God is portrayed as someone who has a creation that is going it’s own way and He has to continually come in and manipulate things to get them back to where He wants them to be. It was then no surprise then to hear spoken words like “robots”, “arbitrary”, “fatalism”, “controlling”, “determinism” and of course “causes everything”, but they come with the package.
There is of course a tension between the ideas of God’s will and man’s will, and especially whose is dominant. And that of course brings out a phrases from the movie “free will” and the idea that for God to achieve His purposes you haven’t actually got it, you just seem to have it. Well forget the movie and look at the Bible. Where does the Bible mention “free will”? It doesn’t. It speaks of “freewill” 17 times but 16 of these are in the phrase “freewill offerings”. The Bible speaks of “choice” lots of times and to choose you have to have a will, but what does the Bible say about our will?
Well if we go back a few chapters to Romans 6 we see the Bible says that “when (we) present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, (we) are slaves of the one whom (we) obey” and we “were slaves of sin” but having been freed from sin, (we) became slaves of righteousness”. Slaves aren’t free. Yes we have choices, but the choices we make are based on what we are; if we’re slaves of sin we’ll make sinful choices, if we slaves of righteousness we’ll make righteous choices, because as Jesus said “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Mat 7;18).
I thought there was hope in Ps. Boyd justifying his arguments when he referred to Jer 18 and the illustration there, but he ignored the references to Isa 29, 45 and 64 which support the reformed understanding of Romans 9. No surprises there.
God created the world knowing it would be populated by fallen man. It was always His intent to create a family for Himself in heaven and before the foundation of the world He choose which of those fallen men he would save. He even sacrificed His Son as a price for them. Upon this earth all men are given choices, sinful men make sinful choices, those of us whom God has saved from our sins make righteous choices. God doesn’t have to control or manipulate or whatever because we’re men, not robots, but we do have a nature and we make choices according to that nature. Why is this so hard for some to understand?
Note: The search for freewill in the Bible was done on the KJV. Some modern translations are substituting the words “free will” for “choice”.
Yikes. I think people with a determined view point and open view point should do more Bride and father imagery. Perhaps they could debate in front of a children as to how a FATHER trains up a child and how a HUSBAND treats his bride.
Think the confusion would end pretty quickly…
In response to Adrian’s comment I have to ask myself, would I have children ( lets say 10 kids ) and know beforehand that I am only going to keep some of them ( lets say 7 ) and the rest…well they just don’t fit the bill…sorry!! Is that really what God is like? How do you love a God like that? If my Kids hated me, spit on me, and robbed me I would still pursue them forever. I can’t believe that my love is greater than God’s. I also believe that God out smarted satan on the cross and He will out smart him when it comes to everyone of His children.
“Some friends who live around the corner are in what apparently was the first steel frame house in the district. What they may not know is that when the frame was being put up (after the cement slab foundation had been poured and hardened) it was discovered that the was about a foot bigger than the foundations. Trying to build something that doesn’t fit the foundation you’ve put down isn’t necessarily going to work well.”
Hey there! Sounds like you might have known though(?) – why didn’t you warn them? Ha!
“Pastor Boyd’s foundations seem to be a Hollywood movie, or at least the “teachings” of the movie “Adjustment Bureau” where God is portrayed as someone who has a creation that is going it’s own way and He has to continually come in and manipulate things to get them back to where He wants them to be. It was then no surprise then to hear spoken words like “robots”, “arbitrary”, “fatalism”, “controlling”, “determinism” and of course “causes everything”, but they come with the package.”
So true! Often the vocabulary employed feeds the construction of an argument itself without actually getting to the heart of the matter. The words used become a convenient simulacrum to reinforce a bias.
“Where does the Bible mention “free will”? It doesn’t.”
You’re absolutely right, however as you know, the Bible never uses the term “Trinity” or “Divinity”, “Incarnation”, “Rapture”, etc.. either, as well as a host of other “churchy” sounding words, theological and psychological terminology. But that doesn’t mean those concepts are’nt clearly taught in scripture, However, I don’t think that Greg is laying the foundations of his case here void of the concept of “human depravity”- in fact, quite the opposite. Perhaps its important that we don’t conflate “Free agency” or think of it as being synomous with God’s sovereignty. As if that “agency” gives us some kind of co-power on His level. Having the ability to make “free-choices” doesn’t make us Masters of our own destiny but rather “co-agents” in determining how we are best going to be incorporated into God’s overall Kingdom building schematic, based on His will. “Free agency” is often thought of (by those who hold more tightly to a Predestination model) as being akin to a kind of Nietzschian -“Will to Power” – which it is not.
We can both say it’s Gods Word that completely directs our opinion on this controversial subject, but I’ll submit that it’s our own personal experience within our Salvation that often will “tilt” us one direction or another concerning this issue. If one is raised in a loving Christian home where Jesus is praised and worshipped daily and the parent(s) are exemplars of virtue and faith attending fellowship regularly, an individual coming to faith in Christ in that environment may feel that their salvation was more a matter of “election” and “predestination” – a natural outgrowth of their participation in a family where Kingdom values were central. Whereas someone else coming to faith in the Lord later on in life, after years of debauchery and self-destruction, may place more emphasis on “the hour or moment of decision” or a coming forward action where they chose that day to make Jesus The Lord of their lives. When it comes to “Free-will” contrasted with “Predestination”, perhaps it should be more of a “and-both” situation rather than an “either-or” dichotomy.
When it says “Whoever” in John 3:16 The Koine Greek is actually – “pas ho pisteuwn” which actually is translated “all” or ‘”every” – everyone who believes. The Contemporary English Version says –
“16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.”
I like that version, but it’s not without its problems, but still it illustrates the point that it is actually those who “Believe”, those who have “Faith”, that will inherit “Eternal Life” – not simply those who are “Elected”.
Well sure, one then could argue if you’re elected first, then you will have the propensity to believe the Gospel and thus be Saved – John 6:44 etc…. It’s interesting though that both sides in this debate always seem to accuse the other of putting the “cart before the horse”. Suggesting that if there is any synergy involved in our salvation, that it inherently means we will claim credit to ourselves somehow and will be guilty of belittling God’s grace. The other side then suspects the Predestiantionist of being lazy and potentially forting their responsibility to respond. The grid lock has been going on for centuries!
“Compatibilism” does to some degree, achieve a balance between the two, but often denies the Metaphysical aspect in the equation.
Schopenhauer famously said – “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”
But here it is so clear that those who are in Christ, have the Holy Spirit prompting their “Will” – thus we are “free to act” in accordance with His plan. Or conversely, “Free not to act” turn and walk away.
Thanks Pastor Greg, for exposing false beliefs of scripture and reminding us to always read and see scripture meaning in context! It has brought me further liberation to worship God in His wonderful Truth and Character 🙂
Wowsie, holy smokes, another holy smokes moment!! Two hours to get through the video in total, lots of wonderful notes from this, so rich and deep and full of God’s heart and God’s meaning – thank you Greg for your heart for the Lord, amen! Praise God you follow Him and allow Him to mold and shape you and deliver messages to us about His word! Holding you and WHC in prayer every day, love you all!!
2 Timothy 2:20-21: helps to interpret Romans 9, whether a person becomes a vessel of honour or a vessel of dishonour depends completely on their own choice.
20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Greg has always told us to not just use a verse to explain its meaning, but to also read before and after it to understand the true meaning. When he said that the “one will be taken, the other left” means that the one left behind is the lucky one. I don’t agree with explanation. Luke 17:34-35 and Matthew 24:40 I use the NLT Life Application Study Bible. In Matthew 24:30-31 Jesus explains how he will send his angels out to gather his chosen ones from all over the world. Why wouldn’t it make sense that they are gathering the ones” taken”.
This Bible also gives explanations of verses. There explanation of verses 17:26-35 is …….Jesus warned against false security. We are to abandon the values and attachments of this world in order to be ready for Christ’s return. His return will happen suddenly, and when he comes, there will be no second chances. Some will be taken to with him; the rest will be left behind.
Big M –
I’m lov’in your verse linkage here Big M! As someone who works with pottery on a daily basis, it’s amazing to see where some pieces end up being utilized. The kiln – like our lives, often yields unanticipated effects that are visually stunning, and at other times, complete disasters! – but that’s often in the eye of the beholder – Ha!
When considering verse 20, that “large house” could potentially stand for a Mega Villa, the World or the Church or where all the precious vessels were stored in and next to the Temple in Jerusalem. Either way, the fact or metaphor that they were “pre-formed” for specific functions, as the verse implies, is intriguing. But nevertheless, wonderfully verse 21 suggests that we can be in a process of transformation from something brutish, banal and aesthetically unappealing, into something beautiful, functionally desirable and made vital through a kind of sanctification process – made Holy through His craftsmanship!
So often, the vessel that we “think we are” has been inappropriately inculcated by our culture, parentage, education, relationships, etc… But when we discover who we are in Christ, all those labels form the past, melt away and we are a “new creation” fit for some serious Kingdom building work! So in that sense, a “predestination view” of our function, is less supported by these verses and the link you’ve provided as I think you’re trying to clearly demonstrate above.
Interestingly though, if you look at the “Amplified Bible” version of 2 Timothy 2:20-21 it states –
20 “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also [utensils] of wood and earthenware, and some for honorable and noble [use] and some for menial and ignoble [use].
21 So whoever cleanses himself [from what is ignoble and unclean, who separates himself from contact with contaminating and corrupting influences] will [then himself] be a vessel set apart and useful for honorable and noble purposes, consecrated and profitable to the Master, fit and ready for any good work.”
This interpretation suggests something quite different though, in that, it’s the “contact’ with the” ignoble utensil” that makes something then dishonorable rather than the plate or bowl itself being first designed in that fashion [predetermined]. So therefore, by separating ourselves out from “contaminating and corrupting influences” [of the world or sin] we then are fit for use in God’s Kingdom. Yes, it’s a bit more potentially complicated than the other interpretation of (2 Tim 2:20-21) and leads to a different assumption that we are all potentially silver and gold vessels to start out with, which then can be “consecrated” [saved & made clean] ready for our Masters plans! – a bit more “Open” in a sense.
Hi Dave, nice talking to you.
I would say the large house is the world in this present age in which there is a mixture of good and evil. I suppose one could say it’s the visible Church at large as well. I would say the first verse (20) doesn’t necessarily mean that vessels are preformed in any way but more that “there end up being” in the sense of final state. As you said the second verse (21) strongly suggests that people choose their own destiny.
If you read the context of the verses it’s just after Paul has talked about Hymenaeus and Philetus who have denied the resurrection and are becoming “more and more ungodly”. He seems to be saying that there are bound to be people who freely choose a life of sin amongst so many people (world or Church), like they have done.
Adrian said “Boyd justifying his arguments when he referred to Jer 18 and the illustration there, but he ignored the references to Isa 29, 45 and 64 which support the reformed understanding of Romans 9. No surprises there.” In reading Isa 29, 45 and 64, I actually don’t see any of Greg’s teaching in conflict with these verses. I don’t think Greg denies God is THE creator and our limitation as the created. He says that God does not create evil since in Him there is no darkness. Without validation of some free will, even a limited one, we will have to attribute evil to God, won’t we? However, having some degree of free will does not mean people are equal to God since free will is created and allowed by God. It’s like parent giving young kids choices, though limited for various reason, without interfering with their choosing. I believe God can take it away or intervene any time if He wants to but it seems that He has been honoring it most of the time. Therefore people are responsible for their choices.
Ultimately, God cannot be boxed in any school of human theology, be it Greg’s or Calvinists’. So I don’t think anyone can claim to have the whole ultimate truth. As limited as we are, we truly can only have glimpse of God and our understanding is absolutely finite as God has confronted Job with – though that does not mean all theologies are equally true as the relativists claim. Some seems to have much more internal consistency and fit the reality better. The most important is to have a genuine relationship with our Abba Father and let His Spirit live in us!
In June 2005, as a guest on Christian Worldview Network columnist Todd Friel’s radio program, Boyd offered a rationalization of his views on abortion that so upset some of his congregation members, he later wrote a paper to defend his position. He explained:
On June 11th I was interviewed on KKMS and the host, Todd Friel, asked me about some of my personal political views….I was asked if I thought abortion should be legal….I told him I thought it would be best if second and third trimester abortions were outlawed while the decision during the first trimester was left up to the mother.
– See more at: http://www.worldviewweekend.com/worldview-times/article.php?articleid=954#sthash.k5fjDwcr.dpuf
These comments are very troubling to me. We have forgotten that our first commandment is to LOVE God and LOVE people. We have no business judging anyone except ourselves. God and Jesus are the only beings that our to judge man. I pray for God to open all eyes and hearts in the body of Christ to this.
I respectfully would like to ask you:
How can you know for sure you are among the chosen ones who will be saved? If indeed some are chosen for destruction and others for salvation. I would be very careful in any case to include myself. (Unless one can read God’s mind). I don’t know, but I have always felt that if I were a Calvinist, that would be one of my fears… How can I be sure God has chosen me, being something so arbitrary.
How do you know, same as everyone else does.
I remember my dad talking of a religious person who in his old age asked his priest if he would get to heaven, see religious people don’t know.
But Christians, those born again, know they’re born again.
And God’s choices aren’t arbitrary Perla, they’re well thought out and intentional and driven by God’s love for us. As Paul wrote to the Romans “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
The difference between what Ps Boyd says and what Calvinists say Perla boils down to the affect of sin on mankind.
There are lots of verses in the Bible that speak of man having to make choises. Christians all agree that man has to make these choises. Where we differ is that some (e.g. Ps Boyd) say that man can make these choises while still a slave to sin (Rom 6) and some (Calvinists) say we have to be born again first. After that though things (are) or should be the same.
Dear Pastor Boyd – I love your heart and I love to listen to your messages! You are so humble to admit what you used to believe and you leave room for more learning.
I am a Calvinist who has struggled with Romans 9 – and perhaps one who may someday be a former Calvinist. I sincerely want to understand free will and predestination as much as possible in this life.
Could you please explain the Jacob & Esau thing? Does Jacob represent true Israel then? And why did God hate Esau before he did anything right or wrong?
(Please believe that I don’t want to argue – these are the things that keep me on the Calvinist side so far.)
Also, if someone faces a tragedy and ends up blaming God, what difference would it make if they blamed Satan instead? Would that give them comfort in knowing that Satan’s authority over-ruled God’s?
And bear with me for one last question: Do you believe God knows who will spend eternity with him?
Thank you so much. I hope to get some feedback on a few of these questions.
Pastor Boyd did explain the declaration, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated…” He compared it to Jesus similar declaration, “he who does not hate his mother and father..and even his own life, is not worthy of me.” In both instances, “hate” describes the distance between our primary love relationship (with God) and all lesser relationships–in comparison, our love for God should make our love for lesser things (even our own lives) look like hate.
The disciples had careers and families before Jesus chose them. “And they forsook all and followed Him [Jesus].”
Flawed as he was, Jacob valued God’s plans for Abraham’s and Isaac’s descendants. Esau did not (selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentils). God knew the twins would be in that way different before they were born. God is always seeking men and women after his own heart. Jacob was a man after God’s own heart (eventually). Esau never was.
I can sympathize with you as I made the journey from Calvinism to non-Calvinism. This is what helped me understand:
– Understand the context (historically and culturally) of the people Paul is writing this letter to. Namely, he is writing to all Israelites (my fellow kinsmen, the people of Israel, not Jewish believers but fellow Israelites). This was after Claudius had (a few years prior) required all Jews to leave Rome and this is upon their return. A lot of contention between now converted gentiles who didn’t follow Jewish kosher laws and in some ways felt entitled (hence Paul’s later warnings about this and emphasizing Unity all throughout).
– Read the verses carefully, the first part of the verse talking about Jacob and Esau has to do with God choosing Jacob to be the son whom the Son would eventually come through (bloodline); that was His selection of Jacob over Esau before they were born. The second part regarding loving Jacob and hating Esau refers to God preserving Jacob to fulfill His plan to use Israel to redeem the whole world while Esau (Edomites) constantly rebelled and attacked Israel despite warnings etc. Look back to the stories Paul is bringing up from the OT. Jeremiah 18, the story of the Potter actually tells the opposite of pre-determinism. God shows the prophet that He will change His plans based on human’s response to His prophecies (quite the opposite of predestination).
-Read the whole book of Romans with these things in mind and hopefully the picture will become clearer. Later in Romans Paul shows us that even those God hardens (for their disobedience by the way) are not hardened forever, they too can turn back to God. He also warns the gentiles who were grafted in not to boast or take it for granted because if they’re not careful the Israelites who were cut off (branches) will be grafted back in, in their place.
-Finally, as Pastor Greg has said numerous times, read all of Scripture thinking about Jesus’s life and teachings, and especially His death and resurrection. Think about all the things Jesus taught us and did, love your enemy, non-violence, love the poor, the outcast, the cripple, the widow, on and on and on… and it all culminated with Him taking the form of a man, dying a criminal’s death on the cross to defeat evil and cover our sins. Does that seem like the type of God who would then unconditionally predetermine people for Hell? Don’t think so 🙂
Who we to question God’s choices? The Bible clearly teaches predestination and election as a part of His sovereignty. It should bother us to watch people attempt to explain away whole chapters in the bible that are dedicated to the doctrine. Seems that the issue isn’t that election isn’t biblical, the issue is a lot us don’t like the way it makes us feel. Roman 3 says threes are none good, none that seek after God no not even one. Election gives 100% of the credit to God. It recognizes that left to my own sinful desires I would never choose Him because (Romans 6) I am a slave to sin and its power over me.
I see some say that God not choosing someone sends them hell. Well truth is they don’t go to hell because God didn’t choose them, they go to hell because of their own sin. We seem to think this is bad! When the Bible says God is glorified (Romans 8) So the real question isn’t why does He choose some and not others. But why would a Holy God choose any of us?