This post is borne out of a discussion on the topic of Romans 9 God loving some and hating others...
Here are my brief thoughts on the book of Romans as whole, eventually getting around to Romans 9 and the issue of God's giving mercy to some.
The book of Romans has often been called “Paul’s most systematic theology”. The book is often times divided into neat little divisions, 1-3; 5-8; 9-11; 12-16, and given titles for each section. Often times as readers we approach the book of Romans as if it were several different books with different subheads. I think that reading of Romans is what has lead people to read Romans 9-11 with what I call 21st century glasses, and ignore the overall context, and message of Paul in Romans.
One of the main issues, if not the issue for Paul and the early church was the admission of Gentiles into the people of God. The Jews were the chosen people of God, saw themselves as “in”, and the Gentiles were most certainly out. Throughout the book of Romans Paul addresses this issue.
Romans 1:5 “Through Him and for his name’s sake we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles”
Romans 1:16 “[The gospel] is the power of God first for the Jew and then for the Gentile” [Side note: I don’t think this verse explains the gospel, but rather shows the power of the gospel. Too often people assume that Romans 1:16-17 is Paul’s definition of the gospel, I disagree, but that’s another story for another time]
Paul then goes on to show the sinfulness, and lost ness of every man. Carefully outlining that both Jew and Gentile are sinners in need of God
[1:18-32 — the depravity of all people] [chapter 2 both Gentiles and Jews are sinful. 2:14, 17-29 is especially enlightening]
In fact in chapter 2 Paul goes on to show that just because you are a Jew and have the law it doesn’t mean that you are better than someone else.
3:9 Paul comes to the conclusion that both Jew and Gentile are both under sin.
So we can see here that Paul is weaving this argument throughout the entire book. Jew and Gentile are sinners; neither can claim that they are in because of race alone [nor could they ever do that].
Romans 3:28-29 “Justification by faith” Here is where I follow Wright
Justification in this passage, and the “works of the law” are not referents to the fact that the Jews were trying to earn their salvation by their outward actions. Rather what Paul is referring to here in observing the law is the fact that the Jews believed that their Torah obedience was a badge of membership that set them apart from the Gentiles. It was how you could tell one was a real Jew. Paul challenges them here in this passage stating that God is the God of both Jew and Gentile. Their works of the law were not Pelagian self-righteous works. Once again the Jew/Gentile divide is clear.
Romans 4 — An appeal to Abraham. He was justified before circumcision [Jew vs. Gentile]
Romans 5 — Adam, all are sinners regardless of race. [BTW Romans 5:18 seems to hint at universalism — threw that in there for Nathanael]
Romans 6 — No longer under Law but under grace for all
Romans 8 — The spirit comes to all through faith, not through racial privilege [as if it ever did]
So then we come to Romans 9 [I know this is a real short synopsis of the first 8 chapters, but I don’t want this to go on forever in the hopes that you may actually read it]
We must keep in mind Paul’s central thesis of Jew vs. Gentile [he makes this clear in vs. 7 where not all Jews are Abraham’s descendents]
When we read passages like “Jacob I loved Esau I hated”. Both were Jewish sons of Isaac. Jacob received the promise Esau did not. Is Paul making a referent here to the fact that one was elect and the other not? One was destined for hell and the other not?
I think a better way to read Paul would be to understand that in Romans 9-11 he is outlining his sorrow for the Jewish nation. He wants them to believe in Jesus, he wants to shake them out of the belief that they are on their way simply because they are Jewish [9:1-2; 10:1]. His point is that God has called some who are not Jewish to be a part of his people [9:24-26]. Esau was a Jew, yet he was rejected, the same fate can await you.
He continues in chapter 10 with that thought in 10:11-13 [whoever calls on the name of Jesus will be saved, Jew or Gentile]
Chapter 11 he continues with the grafting in of the Gentiles into the branch further accentuating the fact that the Gentiles are now apart of the “chosen”.
So when someone comes along and tells me that God elects some for heaven, some for hell, and that Romans 9-11 is a clear example of that, I think they are not reading the entire context, and they most certainly are reading the passage through our 21st century eyes. Just because you are a part of Israel does not mean that you are Jacob, you could be Esau. Israel had hardened their hearts, and needed them to be softened so that they could respond to Paul’s call to salvation.
Well, there in as brief a format as possible is my reading of Romans. I skipped a lot of important info as I’m sure will be pointed out. But I think we have to ground any discussion of election in this argument of Jew vs. Gentile. We often times assume that this was not an issue for Paul, and that has led us astray for the most part in my opinion.
And if you read all of this you get a gold star!