Election in Romans 9

I have been accused of taking Romans 9 out of context. However, I do not believe that I have done so. Romans 9 is most certainly not speaking of merely Jews. This is crystal clear from the introduction of Pharaoh into the argument in verse 17, after which belongs verse 18, and the all important objections that Paul answers in verses 19ff. Verse 24 makes explicit the fact that Gentiles are included in his doctrine of predestination. Otherwise, what possible benefit would it be to Paul to quote Hosea 2:23 the way he does?

The other more common objection to seeing predestination in Romans 9 is the corporate/individual issue. This objection states that Romans 9 is only talking about peoples as a whole, and says nothing whatever about individuals. Now, we would certainly not want to ignore the very real corporate aspect of election that pervades Romans 9. However, to say that individuals are not in view here misses the point completely. Sometimes the fallacy of composition is cited here (that the properties of a group are not necessarily the same as the properties of the individuals within the group). However, people who argue that here are making the fallacy in reverse. To say that a statement must be about corporate concerns, and therefore not about individuals is making the fallacy in reverse. It is quite possible to speak about Americans, for instance, and talking about Americans’ duties as a whole, and mean simultaneously that individuals are to carry out those concerns as well. If only corporate concerns are in Paul’s mind here, why introduce Pharaoh at all? To say that Pharaoh represents a whole people is specious reasoning. When God says, “I raised you up…disply my power in you,” He is talking specifically to Pharaoh, not to Egypt as a whole. Individuality is further seen in the plural “objects” in verse 22 and 23. In other words, verses 22-23, at the very least, are not primarily dealing with corporate aspects of salvation but individuals. This is inescapable.

Now, I wish to lay out the Reformed doctrine of predestination in response to the idea that it isn’t fair of God to do such a thing. Paul answers this decisively in verses 19ff. I merely wish to correct a misapprehension of the doctrine common among Arminians. They think that we are saying that humanity is hovering in neutral between heaven and hell, and that we say that God splits some people out of their neutrality to go to heaven, and others out of their neutrality to go to hell. That is not what the Reformed position is. Everyone has chosen hell. Everyone has chosen to reject God. What God does is take some of those people who all deserve hell, and mercifully changes their hearts and minds. It is important to remember here that dead people cannot choose God (Ephesians 2 says that we were dead in our sins). that God should pass by some is merely His justice at work. That God should choose some to come to life is pure mercy. There is no injustice with God.


  1. Bob said,

    October 3, 2007 at 5:08 am

    I just found your blog and this post caught my eye.
    I agree with your statements,that to ascribe the meaning “people groups” to Pharaoh, Jacob, and Esau, is to distort Paul’s argument.
    In fact, this is one great apologetic argument by Paul; if we just “follow his argument” then distortions of this text wouldn’t happen.

    I hope this is allowed, please remove this link if you wish…but here is a link to an audio of Dr. James White exegeting Romans 9 and it’s brilliantly done…

    [audio src="http://mp3.aomin.org/JRW/Romans9.mp3" /]

  2. Kevin said,

    December 10, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Hi, I just read your blog entry. While I agree with you that the early part of Romans 9 is individual, the locus of election is corporate. I mean to say, Abraham, Sara, Jacob, Moses, and Pharaoh were all individually chosen to serve a purpose in the birth of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. Paul’s choice of examples is very careful and very specific.

    I think everyone can agree that God chooses to use people, whether for good or bad, to accomplish His purposes. It’s a large theological jump to go from this position to equate that with salvation in this text.

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