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.
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