Sunday, April 15, 2012

WHY I'M NOT A CALVINIST (part two): Romans 9

The Bible comes first, then comes theology.  When we look at the Bible, do we see Calvinism?  We started with Romans 9 and we continue, picking up in v. 14.

God's love can be trusted.  The national election of Israel did not assure personal salvation.  Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the blessings of the covenant for Ishmael or Esau.  Individual Jews should not assume salvation just because of national election, any more than than a physical descendant of Abraham was guaranteed the benefits of the covenant. God is righteous to elect on His own terms.   He is righteous not to elect Ishmael or Esau for the Romans 9:1-5 blessings.  No one can sit in judgment upon Him.

In support of the truth of v. 14, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 in v. 15.  The Exodus text refers to God's merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth.  God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land, the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren't saved eternally (cf. Heb 3-4).  Often the word "mercy" in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.

God's choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16).  The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that "it," that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly wasn't merited by Israel.  This does apply to personal salvation, but in the context it relates to the whole  nation.  God's acts of mercy to them as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them.  Paul deals with the argument that God has been unrighteous to the entire nation just because He has not saved every individual.  He rebuts this from the Old Testament.

Romans 9:17 furthers the proposition of v. 16, using the example of Pharoah. God raised up Pharoah to his position. It isn't that God "created" Pharoah for this position, but that God worked to the end that Pharoah would arrive at this exalted position over Egypt.   The point of "raised up" is not that Pharoah was foreordained or predestined to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (cf. Exodus 4:21).

By hardening Pharoah's heart, God provided the blessing for His elect nation that He might be glorified (cf. Exodus 7:3).  The hardening of his heart related to his not letting the people go (Exodus 7:14), not so that he would be eternally damned.  As much as God hardened his heart, Exodus also reveals that Pharoah hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34).  Both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah's heart.  As much as hardness of heart can lead to the eternal damnation of the soul, in the context of Pharoah's heart-hardening, God was delivering His elect nation by means of the hardening, illustrating the truth of Proverbs 21:1, "the king's heart is in the hand of the LORD."   The deliverance was not spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and covenant keeping.  God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharoah, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.

Another argument is introduced in v. 19, which is essentially, why does God find fault in anyone if He has mercy on those whom He will have mercy and hardens whoever He wills to harden?  The question this poses is "Is God fair?" And it is related to the next point, that is, who would be able to resist God anyhow?  The problem isn't the answer to the question, but the question itself. Paul makes that known in v. 20.

Because of their inferiority, men don't have the perspective to challenge God with such questions.  Paul pictures man's predicament with the potter-clay imagery, which comes from Jeremiah 18-19.  In the Old Testament passage, God is the Potter and the entire nation Israel is the clay (18:6).   Jeremiah 18:4 is a key interpretational verse.

And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

A contrast exists between "he made" and "was marred."  The former is active and the latter passive.  "Was marred" is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself.  You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God.   Since Israel had marred herself, God as the Potter could see fit not to use her. God had condemned and had the authority to condemn a marred pot.  That was the message that the Jews with whom Paul argued needed to hear.

God would get glory through obedient Israel or disobedient Israel.   Israel marred herself, so God would get glory through her captivity.  God could and would also be glorified by the destruction of Israelites.   God's purpose for Israel changed based on the condition of her behavior.   What Paul teaches in Romans 9 would have been nothing new for a Jew who knew Jeremiah 18-19.   As clay, Israel should not have been demanding anything of her Potter, God.  Jeremiah 18:10 especially enlightens us regarding Romans 9:

If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

God, the Potter, will treat the clay, Israel, different, conditional upon Israel's actions.   Israel sounds like the Calvinists in Jeremiah 18, accusing God of not giving them suitable opportunity, when God had done so, and judged them based upon their faithful obedience.

In the light of Jeremiah 18-19, we understand the questions of v. 20.  A fully made clay, now pot, questions the Potter, not some uncreated, formless clay. The answer is that Israel had marred herself.  The formation of the clay changed conditioned upon its behavior.  The sovereignty of God expressed in v. 21 is not some predetermined sovereignty, but one that chooses in accord with the condition of the clay.  That's how all of Jeremiah 18-19 reads and every other clay-potter text in the Old Testament.

Not to be lost in all this discussion is that the election of Romans 9 is national election.  It contradicts a belief in personal, unconditional election unto eternal life or eternal damnation.  Calvinism in its interpretation of Romans 9 fails in a proper consideration of the Old Testament texts to which Paul refers in the chapter.

More to Come.


Larry said...

Do you have any support for the niphal in Jer 18:4 being reflexive instead of passive?

Kent Brandenburg said...

My support is the first usage in Genesis 6:11-12, which influences our understanding. And then you look at other usages that are parallel, which I didn't mention because this wasn't an in depth defense, but a blog post: Ex 8:24, Jer 13:7 (v. 7 explains that the marring of v. 11 was not through Jehovah's direct agency, see also Jer 6:28 on this), Ez 20:44. The use of this form has the same meaning elsewhere in Scripture, showing that Israel was responsible and not God.

Larry said...

I am not following you here Kent.

In Gen 6:11-12, the verb that has the agent attached to it is a hiphil, not a niphal; the other niphals are straight passives. In Exod 8:24, the niphal is passive and the agent is noted. In Jer 13:7, the niphal is passive by context since the waistband didn't ruin itself. In Ezek 20:44, the niphal is a passive participle, and the agent of corruption is specified in the previous word ("your deeds which have been corrupted").

I think you are letting your theology determine your translation here. I don't know of any reason to translate it reflexive aside from your desire to make sure God isn't implicated and Israel is. Yet you do not have to make it reflexive to do that.

So I don't think your point stands textually (putting theology aside for the moment). These uses do not indicate that shachath (I am bad at transliteration) is reflexive in Jer 18:4. The most that can be said is that something else corrupted the clay. Conceding that point makes a stronger exegetical argument, and doesn't require that God be the corrupter.

So while I don't agree with your overall argument, I find this point to be particularly unhelpful for you.

Kent Brandenburg said...


In order, that Hebrew word in the niphal.

"Was corrupt" (Gen 6:11) and "was corrupt" (Gen 6:12) are both niphals. But why was the earth corrupt? Because "all flesh had corrupted" his way, which in v. 12 uses the same verb in the Hiphil. Did God do the corrupting? No! The people did the corrupting, not God. That is the first usage of the niphal of shachath (that is the normal transliteration, exactly what you would normally see).

Ex 8:24 comes next. But you can see that the land was corrupted not by the direct agency of God, but by means of the swarm of flies.

Then Jer 13:7. A girdle was a metaphor for serving God, and Israel's not serving God was her marring, especially based upon Jer 12 (see vv. 14-17).

Next is Jer 18:4, the actual text.

Then comes Ez 20:44, "your doings, the being corrupt (nipal participle) ones"--their deeds were the corrupting, marring, causation.

In Jer 18:4 an obvious distinction is made between the vessel that God made, not passive, and the vessel that was marred, passive. Using the niphal passive for men corrupting themselves is found elsewhere and we should be influenced by the first usage in Gen 6:11-12. Did God do the corrupting? No. God did not mar the vessel, but the vessel was marred by itself. His original purpose for the vessel changed upon it marring itself.

I've got further to go in the series, so stay tuned.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm not making my point only from the usage of the niphal/passive of "mar," but all of Jer 18-19. Read the whole thing in its context and its easy to see that is the point that God is making.

You're jumping rather quickly to saying that my theology is guiding my exegesis---look at Gen 6:11-12, first usage. What is doing the corrupting (marring) there? It really is just the opposite. The text is what affects my theology. And you'll see that through this series.

Larry said...

Kent, One last comment and I will let it go unless you direct a question to me.

You say: "Was marred" is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself. You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God."

My point is that none of that is in the niphal verb. In Genesis 6:11-12, the source of corrupting in the hiphil at the end of v. 12. The niphal verbs in v. 11 do not have a source of corruption identifed; they are simple passives; the source comes from another word, as it does in the other passages you cite.

I am not arguing that God marred the vessel.

I am arguing that your post should omit the argument that the niphal means they marred or corrupted themselves because, while that may be true and I think it is true, the niphal does not carry that connotation here, nor in any of the other passages you cite.

My point about your theology is this: Your theology says that Israel corrupted themselves, not God. So you must get that into the verse and you do it through the niphal, even though the niphal does not have that connotation in any of these passages.

You say at the end to look at Gen 6:11-12, the first usage (not sure why the first usage matters). You say, "Who is doing the corrupting there?" The answer is found in the hiphil verb, not the niphal.

What I see you doing is reading something into the text that isn't there. It's not that you contradict it because the text of Jer 18:4 doesn't say who corrupted it. It is just that, that the text doesn't say and you should not make the text say something it doesn't.

Again, I am not disagreeing with your point. I am pointing out that this particular argument about the niphal is the wrong argument.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm arguing, in part, that the initial usage of Gen 6:11-12, where there too, you have Niphal passive, that does not have God corrupting, but men being corrupted by themselves, as seen later in the Hiphil verb, that we have the same in Jeremiah 18:4. But you've got to look at all of Jeremiah 18-19 to know the agent of the marring of the vessel, which is revealed. The use of the Niphal does indicate that God is not doing the marring. There would not be the use of the passive if it was communicating that God marred it. God didn't mar it. It was marred. And by what? By itself.

The other niphal/passives of that verb similarly are not God as the agency---that's the similarity there.

It seems simple, easy for me to see.

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Larry,

Pgs. 70ff of "An Exposition Of Romans 9, Including A Demonstration That The Chapter Does Not Teach Calvinism" in the soteriology section at deals with the Niphal and the questions you have raised in some depth.

Best wishes,

Thomas Ross

Kent Brandenburg said...


To add again. Several factors determine whether the niphal is passive or reflexive. The form is not one of them, because there is no passive or reflexive form. The niphal is by nature in its root meaning reflexive like the Greek middle. Context is the major factor for this determination. Specifically in Gen 6:11-12 and Jeremiah 18:4, context says that the corrupting or marring agent was itself. That's why I say, look at Jeremiah 18-19---multiple reasons to say that the clay or the vessel was the causation of the marring and not God. That is a major interpretational consideration for Romans 9.

Charles E Whisnant said...

Every major doctine in the Bible has a corresponding paradox which cannot be resolved by the finite mind of man. We will never be able to unscrew the inscrutible. The paradox is clear: God is in charge, but we are responsible. Salvation is available to every sinner who hears the Gospel in the sense of it being offered, but it is not available in the sense of it being effecatious. We must remember, the Gospel is not only used by God to produces salvation, but also condemnation; and both for His glory. Some men are vessels of grace, and others are vessels of wrath. The problem is that as sinners we tend to have a lop-sided and distorted view of who God is. We sometimes think the God is like us, and somehow He has our sense of fairness or justice or love. The existence of sin, sinners, and the expression of God’s attributes of judgement, wrath, justice, and condemnation, are all necessary in order for God to put His glory on display in the fullest measure. Salvation and condemation are not primarily about us, but are primarily about God and His glory.75

Paul said...

Late here but Mr Whinant, I find your comment unblical. The gospel is the good news, thus it is good news. The gospel saves those who believe it does not force salvation on anyone. God does not USE the gospel for damnation, that is not what Jesus said. Jesus said that men don't believe because they love their sin, not because the gospel is the damn then.

The problem is that you have distorted Gods word. Salvation is about Gods love for All men and His desire for men to spend eternity with Him. This is what the bible teaches. It is not simply about his glory but a loving relationship with us. We see this in the beginning with Adam and Eve and also Jesus' delight in Mary sitting at His feet. God is glorious all by Himself, He does need to glorify Himslef by sending people to hell for no fault of their own. Absolute heresy if you ask me.

Paul said...

I'm late but thanks for teaching the truth.