NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XXVII)
John Stott recognizes the need for context in understanding what Paul is saying here about God’s desire to let people know both His power to permit punishment and His power to protect against punishment. He tells us that verses 22 and 23, which are parallel to each other, express this theme plainly. The word that is common to both is the verb “make known.” Verse 22 speaks of God using wrath to demonstrate His authority. Then in verse 23, Paul says that this same demonstration of God’s wrath that displays the riches of His glory for those chosen as vessels of mercy. The NIV also makes both verses begin with the same rhetorical question (What if God …? What if He …?), which in both cases is left unanswered. It is not difficult to understand what this suggests. However, behind it all is the fact that Paul is trying to prove that if what God did imply was that He acted in accordance with the purpose of His wrath and mercy, who is so blind to reality that they could possibly object?
Stott then goes on to say that although the verse structure is the same in both, there are significant differences to make note of. First, it points out that God waits patiently for the objects of punishment to come to their senses, instead of sending down his wrath immediately upon all evildoers. This can suggest two things: that by delaying the hour of judgment the door of opportunity for salvation will remain open longer with the hope that more will accept His invitation of grace, as well as making it known that the longer He waits the ultimate outpouring of His wrath will be all the more dreadful. Secondly, although Paul describes the objects of God’s mercy as those He selected for glory, he finds that the objects headed for punishment are merely standing in line. And, like grapes, the longer they stand there, the riper they become for the winepress of destruction. Paul does not point to any one agency responsible for their preparation, or another way of putting it, getting them all lined up. Perhaps it’s because God Himself has never prepared anybody for destruction so it may be a case of them preparing themselves through procrastination and stubbornness.
Finally, Stott wonders if God’s revelation of His coming wrath to those who choose to be the objects of such punishment was part of the disclosure of His glory to the objects of His mercy. The preeminent revelation will be the riches of God’s glory which will allow the glory of His grace to shine even brighter against the dark background of His wrath. When we look at the word “Glory,” it can be taken as shorthand for the final destiny of the redeemed. There, the splendor of God will be shown to and in those He redeemed. As such, their transformation on earth will end up transforming the universe.1
Douglas Moo also adds his insights to this discussion by suggesting that before we come to the conclusion that punishment of the rebellious and promotion of the righteous are two acts that run parallel to each other, let’s put this into consideration: Paul teaches that all people were affected by Adam’s sin and are, therefore, under a sentence of death because of that sin.2 So it isn’t so much that God decided to destine some people to His coming wrath, it is more reasonable that He decided to let them stay under the death penalty with the expectation of their being set free.3 God’s hardening, then, is not a case of Him making them spiritually insensitivity; people are simply maintaining the state of sin they decided to stay in. So when God chooses whom He will save, He is acting out of pure grace, granting a blessing to people who in no way deserve it. But when He allows His wrath to fall, He is simply carrying out the sentence they chose for themselves.
Moo thinks that it is perhaps for just this very reason that we find the shift in construction in 9:22–23, and that Paul never uses the words “call” or “election” to refer to God’s decision to leave people in their sins and the wrath they deserve. Moo wants to avoid anyone thinking that he is talking about double predestination, namely, predestined for wrath and predestined for glory. This would mean that both of God’s acts of predestination are alike. Also, the objects of His wrath – prepared for destruction, and the objects of His mercy – prepared to advance into glory, it is clear that those who receive His mercy and attain glory have been prepared by Him in advance. The question is, how far in advance? Some contend that it was even before they were born. If so, did their freewill have anything to do with them accepting the call or rejecting it? Others say that it comes at their calling, by which they are put on the path to glory. Another thing to consider is that when Paul describes the “object of wrath,” he uses the Greek participle prokatartizo (See Strong’s Concordance #G4294) that is middle or passive in form. When used in middle form it might mean that these people “prepared themselves” for destruction. And when used as a passive participle it could mean that they were “prepared” for destruction by their own sins.4
Dr. Moo then admits that most of us instinctively feel there is something unfair about God’s choosing to rescue some from sin and destining others to their fate. But at some point, we must look carefully at that reaction and decide whether it is justified. He tells about teaching a seminar some years ago in which he brought up this doctrine. As is always the case, the idea met a lot of resistance. One student, in particular, was very vocal, insisting that “God just couldn’t be like that.” Moo feels that such a response is certainly justified, especially when someone grows up under the preaching and teaching of those who find that their faith and view are incompatible with this doctrine. Moo admits that he too had some of the same problems and questions with this, but when examined, it ultimately fits well into the biblical picture of God, not the picture that formed in our minds. It must be remembered that the Bible presents God as sovereign, the One, and the Only One who plants and uproots nation,5 whose very word determines the fate of battles. As such, He determines the outcome of every event in human history. Sometimes openly, and ofttimes behind the scenes.
Moo feels that with all this in mind we should consider that whether or not God covers both good and evil happenings. For instance, the Scriptures teach us that God sent His Son to be crucified by sinful people.6 We also read that God determined that Judas would sinfully betray Jesus.7 So together, what Paul says in these verses about God’s sovereignty in election, especially in Romans 9:20–21, gives us the biblical view that God can act with absolute freedom toward all His creatures.8
Verses 24-26: We are those people, the ones God chose not only from the Jews but also from those who are not Jews. As the Scriptures say in the book of Hosea, “The people who are not mine – I will say they are my people. And the people I did not love – I will say they are the people I love.9 And, where God said in the past, “You are not my people – there they will be called children of the living God.10”
Now Paul makes a defining statement that puts his statements about predestination in a clearer light and then calls on the prophet Hosea to verify it for him. In Hebrew poetry, it is called a synonymous parallelism, which is a repetition of the same thought only in different words. The Orthodox Jewish Bible renders it this way: “And I will call the ‘not my people’ my people, and the ‘not loved’ my loved.” The “not my people” are the Gentiles, and the “not loved” are the Jews who turned away from God. Out of these two groups, God called one body of believers, the body of Christ.
Speaking of the potter and the clay, Augustine says that God did not call all the Jews but only some of them. To this, we might answer that He said whosoever will, but only a few answered the call.11 Nor did He call all the Gentiles but only some of them. By the time Paul finished his missionary journeys there were more Gentiles in the church than Jews. Adam was the fountain from whom the mass of sinners and godless people sprang. Both Jews and Gentiles were part of this one big lump. Even though the Jews had the Law and the Gentiles their conscience, both were far from God’s grace. If the potter makes one vessel for honor and another for dishonor out of the same clump of clay, it is clear that God made some of the Jews vessels for honor and some for dishonor. He did the same with the Gentiles.12
As we can see, sometimes the line between metaphor and reality is blurred so that it no longer serves as an illustration, but is taken literally. In such cases, the tension between what God wills and what mankind wills are less clear. All of us who are parents know that as our children grew up, we exercised our will, not only to encourage but to ensure that they would become what we wanted them to be. However, once they got out from under our parental authority, they followed their own will to become the person they wanted to be. Sometimes we were glad and sometimes we were sad. We could say, that God has also experienced this same thing.
John Calvin believes that these three verses have to do with the freedom of divine selection. From this, says Calvin, two things follow, — that the grace of God is not restricted to the Jewish people, it was also meant to flow to other nations throughout the whole world, — and, that it is not tied to the Jews in such a way that it comes without exception to all the children of Abraham. Since God’s election is based on His own good pleasure, then wherever His will is exercised, there His election is apparent. Having established election in such a way, it is now set up for Him to proceed to those things He designed with respect to calling of the Gentiles, and also respecting the rejection of the Jews. He says then, that the vessels of God’s mercy, whom He selects for the glory of His name, are taken from every people, from the Gentiles (the unloved) as well as from the Jews (the loved).13
John Bengel also notes that Paul was addressing what he saw as a problem of finding out who was eligible for God’s unmerited favor. He writes that the gnome14 that Paul uses, leads to a proposition involving grace which is laid open to Jews and Gentiles alike. Paul then proceeds to refute the Jewish “Particularism,” and to defend the “Universalism” of grace. The believing Jew is not called just because he is a Jew, but he is called from the Jews. This is the root of the Greek word ἐκκλησία (“ecclesia” – church), [“the called-out ones”]. The Epistle to the Ephesians corresponds to this whole section, as well as to the exhortation.15 So none of God’s children got into the body of Christ by accident or good luck. They are all there because He adopted them so they could be there.
1 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Romans 5:12–21
3 The logical sequence of God’s decision to create people, the fall, and His decision to damn people is a matter of controversy among Calvinist theologians
4 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Isaiah 40:12-31
6 Acts of the Apostles 2:23
7 Luke 22:22
8 Moo: ibid.
9 Hosea 2:25 (23); 2:1 (1:10) – Complete Jewish Bible
10 Ibid. 1:9-10
11 Matthew 22:14
12 Augustine: To Simplician on Various Questions 1.2.19
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Gnome is a moral or religious concept pertaining to human life and action.
15 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 318