NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XII)
Because of all this, Bible scholar H. A. Ironside is surprised that such a needless amount of controversy has raged over how these verses about God’s choice of Jacob over Esau are to be understood and interpreted. They are plain and simple and to the point. It is best to see them as part of God’s dispensational dealings over time. When you build a house, the foundation comes first, the walls second, then the roof, and finally the interior. Also, different materials are used in the construction of these parts of the house. But the principle is the same. That each one serves its purpose in completing the structure for occupation. So it was with God’s plan of salvation. What was done in Noah’s day, Abraham’s day, Moses’ day, David’s day, Jesus’ day, does not need to be repeated over and over again. Why should those who’ve moved into the house destroy and rebuild the foundation? So when it comes to the question of predestination, it is all tied into the principle God used to establish the plan of salvation. Ironside said it is quite simple: Saints go to heaven, sinners go to hell.
Ironside also points out that Paul does not deal with eternal issues in this chapter, although, we can see how they follow the narrative and are seen as a result of the use or misuse of God-given privileges. But nowhere does it say that before children are born some are already destined to heaven and some to hell. How can you say that some were saved by grace, in spite of all their sins, while the others were condemned to hell, even though they yearned for that same grace? This passage has to do with what happens here on earth between birth and death. It was God’s purpose and design that Jacob should be the father of the twelve tribes and that through one of them the promised Seed, our Lord Jesus Christ, should come into the world.1
But that is not the end of the story. It all pointed to carrying out God’s plan of redemption to save and reconcile with those who suffered the fallout of Adam’s sin. Today they have a good word for it, they call it “collateral damage.” Someone else caused the calamity, but everyone around them was hurt by the blast. In other words, Paul was not speaking of any preordination in predestination, but of the principle of predestination. The principle is this: God has outlined the path to everlasting life and the road to destruction. Once you are made aware of this through the Holy Spirit, it is then your choice which to follow. These ways were set before the beginning of time and they will not be altered in any way for anyone, at any time.
Charles Ellicott comes to a conclusion, after studying what Paul is teaching here, that involves the doctrine of election and predestination. He believes what is said about them is done in a very unconditional and uncompromising way. However, they are not cut and dried. It isn’t just one general idea that is blanketed over everything with no consideration given to specifics. We need to look at man’s freewill as much as God’s sovereign will. After all, the exercise of the will is part of both human and divine characteristics. They serve as two important elements which go into determining action. Whatever the outward circumstances and inward disposition may be, neither one can act on its own to determine the outcome of a decision. So if we follow this train of thought, then it appears that God sets things in motion, which He then directs to both start and finish the work on the one chosen by Him to enter and remain steadfast in the Kingdom of God. Ellicott says we must look at it this way: A person is elected and predetermined by God to follow a certain type of living and conduct. But that’s only half the story. On the other side is the logic behind man’s freewill to obey or disobey as instructed. And rather than these canceling each other out, they are absolutely necessary in order for the plan to function and the outcome to be determined. God has already announced His plan of predestination. But a person must yet judge and decide to accept the plan as presented to them.2
F. F. Bruce gives us some other things to think about. In the writing of the Prophets, we discover in the context that things are no longer dependent upon Jacob and Esau as individuals, but now Israel and Edom are part of the equation.3 Sometimes it is confusing to the Bible reader when the intent of the Scripture goes from individual to community in the First Covenant. The same is true, however, in the Last Covenant when it talks about being an individual branch on the vine and an integral part of the whole body of Christ. We are told by the Prophet that Israel was the elect nation, and Edom incurred the wrath of God for its unbrotherly conduct towards Israel in the day of Israel’s calamity4.5 So we can see that although God knew of this beforehand, it was just as much influenced by the decision of the Edomites as God knowing about it.
Karl Barth gives us an expressive conclusion here. He points out, as others have already done, that we have the story of the unborn twins of Isaac and Rebecca who were part of Abraham’s promised seed. And before they were delivered the message came to the parents: “The older twin will serve the younger twin.”6 Who else but God could approve one twin over the other? Who at that point had any evidence that one would be good and the other bad? Who had the foresight to determine the one who would be the father of the nation of Israel from which the Messiah would come? All of this was still hidden and indistinguishable in the womb of their mother. That is, except to the omniscient God know what is unknown to mankind. And why not Esau instead of Jacob? After all, even in the womb, Esau was set to come out first.
But at that point in time, one twin had not yet established preeminence over the other. They were both legitimate sons of Isaac. Both were grandsons of Abraham. Neither had yet sinned. And yet, though conceived at the same time, there was, nevertheless, the fact that they were eternally separated by destiny. One for election, the other for rejection. One, a symbol of God’s church, the other, a symbol of man’s church. One set to be righteous the other unrighteous. For Barth this leaves a question to be answered: Why oh why should the same inquiry be repeated over and over again about predestination and election? The answer is: Because it is necessary for people to understand God’s purpose in using election to select those who will be saved. That’s the whole issue of who will be chosen and justified. Not by works presented as merit, but those who call out for salvation in faith.7
John Stott also gives his summation by stating that God’s selection process is also an indispensable foundation on which Christian worship is built, both now and in eternity. The very core and essence of Christian worship can be found in these words: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your Name be the glory.”8 If we knew that we were responsible for our own salvation, either the whole thing or some part of it, we would have every right to sing our own praises and blow our own trumpet in heaven. But such a thing has no place among God’s redeemed people. They plan to spend eternity worshiping Him, as they humble themselves before Him in grateful adoration. That’s because it is only to Him that we ascribe our salvation. It is to acknowledge that our calling, redemption, election, and adoption into the family of God is dependent upon the Lamb of God, and declaring that He alone is worthy to receive all praise, honor, and glory.9 Why? Because our salvation is due entirely to His grace, His will, His initiative, His wisdom, and His authority.10
Douglas Moo tackles a sensitive subject here. He brings into the discussion the “Arminians.”11 It is they who rejected predestination, and a corresponding affirmation of the freedom of the human will. This is in contrast to what Calvin taught on predestination. That’s why most Christian groups fall into two groups when interpreting these verses. First, some think that Paul teaches here about individual salvation based on their free-will. But at the same time, there is nothing in this passage that excludes the idea that God’s choice of people to be saved is based on His foreknowledge and predestination.
So we have both man’s will and God’s will at work here. God desires that all mankind be saved. But in his omniscience, He knows ahead of time who will respond to the call but He never announces it. That’s why Paul is quick to point out that works have no influence on God’s choice to send the Holy Spirit to call those out of darkness to whom He will offer salvation. Not only that, but it takes faith to believe in what one cannot see. Therefore, when we examine the vital role that Paul assigns to people who make the choice in the first four chapters of this letter, this certainly gives us enough reason to believe that while a person is not saved by works, they are also unable to be saved unless they make a decision to submit to the Lordship of Christ.
When Jesus said that we were to go into all the world to preach the Gospel, certainly He intended for everyone to hear about God’s plan of salvation. But here we are over 2,000 years later and the whole world is still not Christian. Does it mean the salvation message has failed? No, it means that God foreknew it would be this way. Think of how many times Jesus referred to the “last days,” as being full of terror and persecution. And why did Jesus say He’d be back to take all who believed and accepted Him out of this world so that the end times could be carried out? Also, what about the Day of Judgment? Certainly, there will be many who will not qualify to enter the eternal joy with the saints.
Secondly, those who accept the Arminian interpretation of freewill today must admit that the text here is not all about the individual deciding their salvation by choice. Paul has spent a great deal of time in writing about how God has acted in the past to create his own spiritual nation as a way to promote and further His plan of salvation. Therefore, while a personal relationship with Christ is certainly advocated, each individual is not saved apart from and exclusive of others. They must be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul made it clear that the Church is the Bride of Christ of which He is the head. When He returns it will not be for individuals, but for the Bride. So to rise in the resurrection to join Him in the air, you must already be part of the group he is returning for. The same goes for the world. Although they are all individual sinners, they are, as a group, part of the devil’s domain.12
1 H. A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 See Malachi 1:2-3
4 Psalm 137:7; Isaiah 34:5ff.; Jeremiah 49:7ff.; Ezekiel 25:12ff.; 35:1ff.; Obadiah 10ff
5 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 192–193
6 Genesis 25:23
7 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Psalm 115:1
9 Revelation 5:12f; 7:10ff
10 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Arminianism is a teaching regarding salvation associated with the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609).
12 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.