Romans 9

Romans 9 October 18, 2011

Several Calvinists who have posted comments here have suggested or outrightly claimed that Arminians have no exegesis of Romans 9.  In fact, SOME Calvinists make a habit of going around claiming that Arminians are weak on exegesis–period.

I think some of this here was brought on my my comment–quoting John Wesley–that whatever Romans 9 means it can’t mean “that” (i.e., double predestination).  Actually, and I should have said this earlier, that was not Wesley’s only comment on Romans 9.  Scattered throughout his writings one finds many exegetical comments on Romans 9.

The exact quote from Wesley is found on page 128 of my book Against Calvinism: “Whatever that Scripture [viz., Romans 9] proves, it can never prove this.  Whatever its true meaning be, this cannot be its true meaning. … No Scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works.  That is, whatever it prove beside, no Scripture can prove [unconditional, double] predestination.”  (This from his sermon “On Free Grace.”)

I deal with Romans 9, including Wesley’s exegesis of it, in Chapter 5 of Against Calvinism (“Yes to election, no to double predestination”).  There I set forth in brief (it’s a brief book!) several examples of classical Arminian exegesis of Romans 9 AND some examples of Reformed theologians who reject the traditional Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 (e.g., Berkouwer and Daane).

The best Arminian exegesis of Romans 9 is found in William Klein’s (professor at Denver Seminary) The New Chosen People (Wipf & Stock, 2001).  My point here is not to spell it out (I do that in brief in Against Calvinism, pp. 129-130) but simply to say to those few Calvinists who have come here (or elsewhere) to claim there is no Arminian exegesis of Romans 9–“you’re wrong; read more!”

Other Arminian exegetical treatments of Romans 9 are given by Jack Cottrell and Dale Moody (among many others).  Moody’s can be found in Volume 10 of The Broadman Bible Commentary series.  (Moody was an Arminian who taught theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for many years and was fired [or relieved of his teaching duties which I consider the same] for his Arminian views.  He was a prolific theologian with whom I had the privilege of eating lunch not long before he died.  He was extremely bitter about what he considered his mistreatment by the administration of his seminary.)

But, as I said earlier, it is not only Arminians who offer exegesis of Romans 9 that conflicts with traditional Calvinist interpretations.  Lesslie Newbigin, for example (hardly an Arminian!), also explained Romans 9 in the Arminian manner (which is also how it was interpreted by ALL the church fathers before Augustine!)–as dealing with nations and service rather than individuals and their salvation.

Finally, Arminius himself offered a very cogent exegesis of Romans 9.

My point in quoting Wesley was NOT (as some disingenuously imply) to say that Arminians have no alternative explanation of Romans 9 based on exegesis.  It as simply to say that ANY interpretation of Romans 9 or of ANY OTHER scripture that makes God arbitrary and unloving, in brief, a monster, is impossible BECAUSE there is no reason to believe Scripture if God, its author, is evil and not good.  The (perhaps unintended) view of God as actually WANTING many people to suffer eternally in the flames of hell for his glory (as Theodore Beza asserted) undermines the validity of Scripture itself.  It makes it untrustworthy because it is only trustworthy if God is trustworthy and an evil God is not trustworthy.

Browse Our Archives