(1) “In order that God’s purpose according to election might continue, not by works, but by the One who calls”: (A) Again, Paul offers a retelling of Israel’s story, beginning with Patriarchs and passing through the Exodus on to the Judgment-of-Exile, to make his point. Here, Paul is addressing the crucial problem of “Israel’s unbelief”. Briefly discuss your understanding of the ‘flow’ of Paul’s argument in Romans 9:1–29. (What is God’s purpose of ‘election’? What is the revealed motive for God’s actions throughout the [hi]story of Israel? How does this relate to the ongoing key issue of Paul’s desire to see a unified People of God as both Judeans and gentile?)
(B) Next, briefly discuss how you understand this part of Paul’s argument to relate to the notion of “election”. What is the “logic of election” here in this passage? What is the pattern and purpose of God’s choice? What happens to those who are not chosen? What is the role of the scriptural allusions and citations?

My understanding of the ‘flow’ of Paul’s argument in Romans 9: 1-29 is in essentially three parts:  Verses 1-5 describe Paul’s heartache over the lostness of Israel and lists prepotences/advantages that they were given but are not currently enjoying due to unbelief.  This raises the question of whether God’s word (i.e. promise) has failed.  In verses 6-13 Paul explains that contemporary unbelieving Israel is not the true people of God (“Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” 9:6), so God’s word has not failed.  God’s people are not the product of human pedigree, but of God’s promise.  In verses 14-18 Paul explains how God is just to harden one group and show mercy to another exactly as he did concerning Pharaoh and Moses, because God’s national calling is not based on human will, but on God’s elective choice.

It is not difficult to become easily overwhelmed by Romans 9:11 in the whole controversial theological and political topics, its entire scale and scope, and most of all, the overall flow.  These three chapters are connected tightly to monotheism and election.  Chapter 9 is filled with questions related to God’s future purpose(s).  The chapter is a retelling of Israel’s story from God’s election of them to the Exodus event.  The entire section (Romans 9-11) follows by reason from where Paul leaves off in Romans 8, where he discusses the life experienced by those who are not in Christ.  Romans 9 thus, deals with those who have not believed, chiefly those of Israel who have not believed in Jesus as the Messiah.

Much like the days were connected in the Creation story (i.e. Days 1-3 align with their 4-6 counterparts), so too is there a “visual” connection within Romans 9-11 in terms of structure and counterbalance:

9:1-5: Heartfelt appeal…………….                             11:33-36: Heartfelt doxology

9:6-29: Israel’s history……………..                                          11:1-32: Israel’s future  

9:30-33: Gentile inclusion/Jewish stumbling….   10:18-21: Gentile inclusion/Jewish mercy

10:1-4: Jewish unbelief/ignorance………….            10:14-17: Faith/knowledge of the Gospel        

               …………….10:5-13: Law and Prophets pointing to Covenant Renewal………

10:9:  THE GOSPEL….Jesus is Lord[1]

To answer the question of “What is God’s purpose of ‘election’?” it is imperative to note what Chapters 9-11 are about in general:  the trustworthiness of Godregarding His promise to Israel.  If privileged (chosen) Israel has betrayed the true implication of her inheritance through disobedience and unbelief, has God’s entire redemptive program thus failed?  Has His promise to make Israel the light to the Gentiles and the channel for the blessing given to Abraham gone up in smoke?  (Rom. 9:6)  Paul’s answer to support his thesis statement in 9:6 is as direct as it is meaningful.  God has NOT betrayed His redemptive program, as membership in elect Israel has always been solely dependent upon God’s personal selection of individuals.  He has NOT rejected the Jews en masse as clearly evidenced by Paul’s own election and by God’s remnant strategy in the OT (Rom. 11:1-10).  Throughout the history of Israel, God’s actions supported that the eternal benefits of His covenant of grace were always guaranteed only to those upon whom God [from eternity] chose to show mercy (9:15).  Jacob, not Esau, was the heir of the promise – and this promise cannot be broken because all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ in whom ALL elect, whether Jew or Gentile, become children of the promise (Rom. 9:8; cf. Gal. 3:29, 2 Cor. 1:20). 

1b.  The notion of election in Paul’s argument is all about solidifying that God’s word remained true and had not failed.  As Keck points out, “by expressing the wrong conclusion so strongly, Paul underscores the right conclusion, expressed in verse 11: ‘so that the purpose of God might continue to be [mene, remain] according to election [kat’ eklogen]’.”[2]  Paul was trying to show that if God’s purpose continued on in a way which was compatible with election, then it negated the fact that only some of the Jews believed while others did not.  The pattern and purpose goes hand in hand with the role of the scriptural allusions and citations.  Specifically, with regard to Paul’s statement in 9:6 (“Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel), the identity of “real” Israel (to whom God gave His promise and thus on which the authenticity of His word is being based) has never been determined by lineal descent alone.[3]  The whole point is that the OT allusions and references which Paul is utilizing are relevant since God is consistent.  God’s election was indisputable in the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Contrarily, if that were not the case and God was deemed inconsistent, then nothing at all would be relevant, i.e. no conjecture would hold about how God operated during the time of the patriarchs in that present time [of Paul’s writing to the Romans].

According to Blackwell, et al, there really is no “logic of election” at least as far as Paul was concerned.  As just explained God had a purpose according to election; however “for Paul, God’s merciful election is logically inexplicable because it is dependent solely on God’s willingness to be merciful.”[4]  There didn’t need to be a logical or easily explained, let alone understood reason for election; rather, it was only based on God’s mercy.  It was God’s decision and His decision only – one not to be questioned.  “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?  Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20).

Johnson sets it up beautifully when she states that Paul’s use of Scripture here confronts his readers more pointedly than does any other exegetical discussion in his letters with the difficulties inherent in the claim to possess a sacred book, and further, that “as historically and religiously significant as those questions are, it may just be the asking of them in this way that unnecessarily distorts interpretation of the passage.”[5]  Just because we (or they) cannot understand the why behind God’s election, does not mean it is unfair, not impartial, or irrelevant.  Paul knew that.  As Johnson also says and I conclude: “Paul is more confident about his grasp of things eternal than most moderns are of their handle on things temporal.”[6] On that point, I’m not sure anyone can disagree.

[1]Wright, N.T., Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  Chapter 11.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2013.
[2] Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 230.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
[3]Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 230.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
[4]Blackwell, Ben C., Goodrich, John K., Maston, Jason. Reading Romans in Context, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Page 120 . Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2015.
[5] Johnson, Elizabeth E.  The Faithfulness and Impartiality of God.  Page 212.  New Brunswick Theological Seminary.
[6]Johnson, Elizabeth E.  The Faithfulness and Impartiality of God.  Page 212.  New Brunswick Theological Seminary.


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