Since I began participating on Face Book, I've learned so much about how the world perceives the Bible. I speak not only with regards to atheists and skeptics, but also otherBelievers. I've come to learn that there are countless cultural names applied across every Biblical doctrine found in God's word. I have come to appreciate them as an abbreviation of sorts, allowing people to wade through lots of clutter when discussing theology. However, labels are confining, restrictive even, and often unfair, and I don't much care for them. I care about truth, so as I discuss this controversial theological matter, I will do so without labels. "Predestinated" and "Election/elected" are terms used in the Bible, but the way they are understood varies greatly. It seems there are two schools of thought regarding predestination or election of individuals to salvation. Some Christians believe that Jesus came for all people because God elected ALL people for salvation, so each person gets to choose for self regarding salvation in Jesus, needing only to believe in Christ to receive it. Other Christians believe Jesus came to save only those people 'elected' by God for salvation. Collaterally, this belief includes the precept that God automatically condemns other people to hell, and these people are without recourse, no hope of life in heaven with God because God doesn't want them for reasons known only to Him. I will exegete, draw out, what the Bible says about this entire topic in many pages on this site. This page is devoted to what Romans 9 has to say about individual predestination because Romans 9 is used as a linchpin chapter for the belief that God chooses individuals for either heaven or hell, thereby removing the free-will of people with regard to their own eternal residence.
Romans 9:1-5:Paul tells us, with the Holy Spirit as his witness, that he longs to take the curse of unbelief upon himself so that Israel, his flesh kinsmen, might be saved.
Romans 9:6-7:Paul states that it is not the children of flesh who are Israel, but the true sons of Abraham are the children of promise, those of faith in a Seed called forth from Isaac.
Romans 9:8-13: “Vs. 8. The children of promise (1860 a divine assurance of good) are counted for a seed (4690 offspring). Vs.9. For the word (3056 something said, a topic or subject of discourse) of promise (1860 a divine assurance of good) is this, “According to this time I will come, and a son will be to Sarah.” Vs. 10. And not only so, but also Rebekah conceiving from one, our father Isaac; Vs. 11 for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose (4286 a setting forth, a proposal, an intention) of God according to election (1586 divine selection) might stand, not of works, but of the One calling, Vs. 12. it was said to her, “The greater (3187 larger, specifically in age) shall serve the lesser (1640 smaller, younger); Vs. 13. even as it has been written, “I loved (25 love in a social or moral sense) Jacob, and I hated (3404 to detest, by extension to love less) Esau.”
Plugging in the definitions of the original Greek it can be REASONABLY stated that: Vs. 8 The children of a divine assurance of good (promise) are counted for offspring (seed). Vs. 9. For the topic of discourse the divine assurance of good is this, “According to this time I will come, and a son will be to Sarah (Isaac)”. Vs. 10. And not only so, but also Rebekah conceiving from one, our father Isaac; Vs.11. for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the intention of God (purpose) according to divine selection (election) might stand, not of works, but of the One calling, Vs. 12. it was said to her, “The larger in age shall serve the younger; even as it has been written, “In a moral or social sense I loved Jacob, and I loved Esau less.”
Contextually, Paul is saying that the purpose of election was to choose a human to serve as the Father of the nation of Israel, and God divinely chose/selected Jacob. God’s choice would stand not based on the works of Jacob and Esau but based on God’s calling alone. In other words, God’s choice would stand because it was His choice. God is sovereign and He chooses. That’s just the way it works. Verse 13 tells us why God chose Jacob. The definitions of the original words tell us that the love shown Jacob was of the social or moral sense, NOT the affectionate, benevolent, love-feast, agape` love (26 in Strongs) OR the ‘dearly beloved’ love of agapetos (27 in Strongs). God’s choice was not based on His feelings of affection or adoration. God was not showing favoritism. God operates on a level above and beyond us as Isaiah 55:8-9 clearly teaches. He has an objective in mind we can’t begin to understand.
In Genesis 25:5, Isaac inherited the covenant which God made with Abraham, which, in turn, would be handed down to Isaac’s descendants, and should have gone to Esau. We know from scripture that Esau was lazy and sloppy regarding the care of his inheritance. All it meant to him, literally, was one quick meal. Jacob, on the other hand, wrestled with God and demanded a blessing from Him. Jacob was savvy about dealing with people, was an incredibly hard worker, and he was tenacious. Because of these qualities, he was far better suited to be the Father of Israel, its social and moral leader. God did NOT make His selection based upon the works of Jacob and Esau, but upon the inherent character of the twin babies Rebekah carried. Jacob embodied a better choice for social and moral reasons. Psalm 139:13-16 reminds us that works are NOT necessary for God to know the hearts of people. While the works of the brothers were not involved in God’s selection of Jacob, we gain insight about God’s selection of Jacob from their behavior as adults.
The purpose (intention) of God, according to election (His divine selection) was to choose the better brother for the role of patriarch. The topic of discourse was that God was assuring His people of divine good (verse 9) when He chose Jacob over Esau. Election in this passage of scripture has NOTHING to do with salvation. Nowhere in scripture do we learn that Esau was condemned to hell because he was hated the way many people understand the word or understand this scripture. Here, purpose and election have to do with the role Jacob played in the formation of the nation of Israel. As it turns out, Esau became the founding father of the Edomites who often allied with Israel’s enemies to defeat her, so, yet again, it looks as if God’s election of Jacob was the right move. Esau, with his proclivities toward selfishness and laziness would have been a terrible patriarch. In this context, ‘election’ refers to God’s selection to a role of service, NOT salvation for Jacob, and condemnation for Esau.
Romans 9:14-16: “Vs. 14. What then shall we say: Is there not unrighteousness with God? Let it not be! Vs. 15. For He said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy (1653 to compassionate (by word or deed, specifically by divine grace; to have compassion (pity on)) on whomever I have mercy, and I will pity (3627 to exercise pity, to have compassion) whomever I pity.” Vs. 16. “So, then, it is not of the one willing (2309 to determine as an act), nor of the one running (5143 to run or walk hastily), but of the One showing mercy-of God.”
God shows mercy to whom He chooses, and it has nothing to do with whether a person is willing to cooperate with God or is running away from Him. These two verses must be understood in the same context of God electing people for specific purposes because they are in the same passage of scripture. These two verses were never intended to mean that God chooses who receives salvation and who doesn’t regardless of whether they are willing or running. They mean that God chooses people to help him meet His objectives whether they are willing or running. An example of this is the Apostle Paul, the author of this very chapter, who was turned from a ruthless persecutor into the Apostle for the Gentiles. In Acts 9:15, the Bible tells us that God “selected” Paul as an “implement” to take His name before nations and kings, and the sons of Israel (“indicate original Greek definitions”). It does NOT state that God selected Paul for salvation. Granted, because God chose Paul, Paul himself found salvation, but based on what we will learn in a moment about Pharaoh, we know that Paul’s free will was still very much in play. Paul could have told God ‘no,’ but when God made Himself known in such an overt manner anyone would have found refusal difficult. Because God selected Paul as His implement for service, literally millions of people throughout millennia, have found salvation. These people were not individually forced or chosen by God for salvation. Paul was individually chosen to serve and take the message to them so they might be saved. There’s a BIG difference between being chosen for service and being chosen for salvation.
Genesis 1:26 tells us ALL people are made in God’s image) and James 1:18 teaches that people, as a species, are the first fruits of God’s creatures. That Jesus came as a kinsman Redeemer to humans means that He came for ALL people! Acts 17:25b-27 states that “Vs. 25b.He is giving (1325 defined as ‘to give, bring forth’) life and breath and all (3956 defined as ‘all, any, every, the whole, whosoever, the same definition applies to ‘all’ each time in this scripture) things to all. Vs. 26. And He made (4160 defined as ‘to make or do in a very wide application; abide, appoint’) every nation (nation 1484 defined as ‘a race (as of the same habit) ie, a tribe specifically a foreign (non-Jewish) one (usually by implication ‘pagan’’) of men (444 defined as ‘man faced, a human being’) of one (1520 defined as ‘one, a (-n, any, certain) blood(129 defined as ‘blood, (specifically the atoning blood of Christ, by implication; bloodshed, also kindred’) to live (2730 defined as ‘to house permanently, to reside’) on all the face (4383 defined as ‘the visage, front, surface’) of the earth, ordaining (3724 defined as ‘to mark out or bound, to appoint) fore-appointed seasons and boundaries of their dwelling, Vs. 27. to seek (2212 defined as ‘to see, to worship God’) the Lord, if perhaps they might feel (5584 defined as ‘to manipulate, ie; to verify by contact’) after Him, though indeed He not being far (3112 defined as ‘at a distance’) from each (1538 defined as ‘each or every, each (one), every (man, one, woman) one of us.”
The explanation of election for purpose, NOT salvation, is further demonstrated with the example of Pharaoh.
Romans 9:17: “For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very thing I raised (1825 to rouse fully; to resuscitate from death) you up, so that I might show forth my power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth.””
This scripture states very clearly that God chose Pharaoh for two purposes; to show His power and to publicize His name. When understood in the context of election for purpose/service this is very understandable, but it gets better. When you consider the original definition of ‘raised’ you learn there’s more at work here than God simply getting some press time.
In Ephesians 2:1 Paul teaches that, prior to salvation, we were dead in our sins, “walking according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience….” In light of this scripture, where do you think Pharaoh got his power? His court magicians did some pretty amazing things. How did they accomplish them? Do you think Pharaoh was dead in his sins? Of course, he was. He was as wicked as the month is long because he was sold out to Satan.
Ephesians 2:4-6: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even we being dead in sins, He made us alive together with Christ-by grace you are being saved-and RAISED (4891 to rouse from death in company with; to revivify (spiritually) in resemblance to)….up together….”
Now, isn’t it interesting that God ‘raised’ up Pharaoh, resuscitating him from death, and God ‘raised’ believers, resuscitating us from death? The definitions differ because Christ as Redeemer wasn’t part of the picture when Pharaoh lived, so there was no ‘company’ aspect of the definition where Pharaoh was concerned. That the word ‘raised,’ ‘to rouse from the dead,’ is used in both verses is no accident, no coincidence! In light of Ephesians 2:4-6, I understand Romans 9:17 as God using the plagues to rouse Pharaoh fully, to resuscitate him from spiritual death, so that he might find salvation just like God rouses us with His Spirit! Even while God used the inherent hardness of Pharaoh’s heart to demonstrate His power, God was calling to Pharaoh so that he might be saved through faith! This is REMARKABLE! And it blows away any understanding of this verse, or passage of scripture, that election means saved/unsaved by God’s decision, that man has no free will.
The story of God, Moses and Pharaoh takes place from Exodus 4:21 to 12:28. Through the course of these events God hardened Pharaoh’s heart 5 times. God did this to demonstrate His power and to publicize His name. Pharaoh hardened his own heart 9 times. He did this because he believed himself to be god and would not concede to Jehovah. This verse is NOT proof that God condemned Pharaoh to hell. This verse IS proof that God had mercy on Pharaoh 9 different times, but Pharaoh refused every offer of mercy shown him. Pharaoh threw away 9 chances at salvation, hardening his own heart because he refused faith in God after he was resuscitated from the death of sin. Pharaoh thereby sealed his own fate in hell for all eternity. This verse is proof that God’s call on someone for service does NOT eliminate free will. God both used Pharaoh and offered him salvation simultaneously!
Romans 9:18-24:Vs. 18. “So, then, to whom He wills (2309 to determine, to be inclined to), He has mercy, and whom He wills, He hardens (4645 renders stubborn). Vs. 19. You will then say to me, “Why does He yet find fault?” For who has resisted (436 to stand against, oppose) His counsel (1013 resolve, purpose)? Vs. 20. Yes, rather O man, who are you answering (611? to conclude for oneself, to respond) against God? Shall the thing formed say to the One forming it, “Why did You make me like this?” Vs. 21. Or does not the potter have the authority (1849 privilege) over the clay, out of the same lump to make one vessel to honor (5092 esteem, especially of the highest degree, dignity itself), and one to dishonor (819 infamy, indignity, disgrace)? Vs. 22. But if God, desiring to show forth wrath (3709 desire as a reaching forth or excitement of the mind, violent passion), and to make His power known, endured (5342 to bear or carry) in much long-suffering (3115 patience) vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction (684 ruin or loss (physical, spiritual or eternal); Vs. 23. and that He make known the riches (4149 wealth (as fullness), or figuratively, abundance) of His glory (1391 literally or figuratively, honor, praise, worship) on vessels of mercy (1656 compassion) which He before (4282 to fit up in advance) prepared (1519 to or into (indicating the point reached or entered) for glory (1391 literally or figuratively, honor, praise, worship)- Vs. 24. Whom He also called (2563 a bid, to call forth), not only us, of Jews, but also out of nations (1484 a race, a tribe, specifically a foreign (non-Jewish) one).”
Verse 18: ‘To whom God is inclined, He shows mercy, and to whom He is inclined, He renders stubborn.’ This makes perfect sense because God just demonstrated this very thing with Pharaoh.
Verse 19: We can’t find fault with God because we can’t oppose His purpose, which we learned in verse 9 was the divine good for Israel.
Verse 20: ‘Who are we to respond against God? Shall we ask God why He made us as He did?’ This is to be understood in the context of God’s election for the purpose of service. We know this because of verse 21.
Verse 21: Doesn’t the potter have the privilege of making one vessel for esteem and one for disgrace? Context here is still that of service, not of salvation! Like the examples of Moses and Pharaoh demonstrate. Moses was esteemed in his service and Pharaoh was disgraced.
Verse 22: ‘If God desires to show violent passion to make His power known (as with Pharaoh vs 17), carrying in patience the vessels of violent passion having been fitted for ruin;’ This speaks of patience with Pharaoh because Pharaoh was the example Paul used. That God carried with patience the vessels of wrath is demonstrated in that God gave Pharaoh 9 chances to submit to the conviction that he was sinful, after being roused fully from his sin (vs. 17), like Paul explains in Ephesians 2:4.
God resurrected Pharaoh from his spiritual death, but Pharaoh refused to yield. 9 different times Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God’s call to it. God’s purpose of divine good for Israel, by electing Pharaoh to make His power known, did NOT mandate Pharaoh’s condemnation to hell. It did mandate that Pharaoh’s kingdom be brought to ruins because it took that much for God to fully rouse Pharaoh from the death of his sin. How do I know? I know because it wasn’t until God completely ruined Egypt that Pharaoh allowed the Hebrews to leave with Moses. The definition of ‘destruction’ which is ‘ruin or loss (physical, spiritual or eternal)’ is applied, in this instance, in the physical sense. By the time Pharaoh was faced with his final opportunity for salvation, Pharaoh’s kingdom was in literal ruins. The populace of Egypt had been greatly reduced. The livestock were all but completely non-existent, and the farmlands had been devastated by frogs, gnats, flies, hail, and locusts. Egypt was unrecognizable. God had decimated it, and Egypt lay in ruins. That ‘the vessels of wrath were fitted for destruction’ refers to the destruction of the kingdom of Egypt. It does NOT reference the destruction of Pharaoh to hell. How do I know? I know because God gave Pharaoh 9 chances for salvation and Pharaoh refused every single one of them. Pharaoh had free will the same as anyone else.
There’s more to come.
Verse 23: ‘That God make known the abundance of His honor, praise and worship on vessels of compassion which He prepared in advance to bring Him honor, praise and worship.’ It makes perfect sense that God would bring to vessels of compassion His honor praise and worship because it’s the very reason He made them. In context, this speaks of the Hebrew children, those vessels of God’s compassion which He prepared in advance to bring Him glory, honor and praise. The Hebrews were spared the plagues which God poured out on Egypt because of Pharaoh’s hard heart. Hence, the Hebrews were the vessels of compassion. The Hebrews were elected for the service of praise, honor and worship. Pharaoh was elected for the service of demonstrating God’s power and publicizing His name. NOTHING in this chapter speaks to God’s assignation of salvation or loss thereof. As we all know, most Hebrews rejected God. They lived in constant apostasy. Even in the New Testament, the majority of Israelites rejected Jesus as Savior, but this rejection did not prevent God from using them to bring glory, honor and praise to Himself!
Verse 24: God called forth, not only of the Jews, but also of the non-Jews, the Gentiles. Contextually, Paul is saying that God is sovereign because He called forth, He elected, Jews and Gentiles, to serve in ways which met His objectives. The Hebrews, the Jews, served as vessels of compassion. The Egyptians, the Gentiles, served as vessels of wrath. This does NOT mean that the Hebrews went to heaven by God’s sovereign choice, OR that Pharaoh went to hell by God’s sovereign choice. It only means that God chose who He chose to serve in way which met His purpose.
Verses 25-32: These verses address, one additional time, that God’s children are not His children simply because they come from Israel, but because they are children of faith. If God hadn’t left a Seed to us, everyone would become as Sodom and Gomorrah (lost and destroyed in fire). These verses state that the nations (non-Jews, Gentiles), having no righteousness (1343 equity of character, Christian justification (1344 to show or regard as just or innocent), found righteousness in faith (4102 conviction of religious truth, especially reliance upon Christ for salvation), and that Israel, for all of its efforts in following the law, missed righteousness because they the sought the law and not faith.
Verses 32b-33: “For they (Israel) stumbled at the Stone-of-stumbling, as it has been written, “Behold, I place in Zion a Stone-of-stumbling, and a Rock-of-offense (4073/4625 a mass of rock/a trap stick, a snare, occasion to fall); and EVERYONE (3956 all, any, every, the whole, whosoever)BELIEVING (4100 to have faith, by implication-to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ)) on Him will not be put to shame (2617 to shame down, to disgrace, dishonor).”
This final verse in Romans 9, is the linchpin in the argument against predestination when understood in the context of individual salvation. The phrase, ‘everyone believing’ is defined using the definitions of the original Greek. Paul placed it at the end of this chapter as the summary note to demonstrate that his discourse was NOT about individual predestination.
I have explained the verses in this chapter, using definitions from the original Greek, demonstrating God’s purpose in election, His intention of divine selection, was for the assurance of good for the nation of Israel. To meet that objective God chose Jacob because he was best suited as patriarch, one who would provide social and moral guidance to God’s fledgling nation. Paul’s mention of Pharaoh was but another example of how God selected a person for the good of Israel. Pharaoh being ‘fit for destruction’ referenced the condition of Egypt at the end of a losing battle with Jehovah God, NOT that Pharaoh was predestined for hell. Pharaoh’s eternal destination was chosen by him 9 different times. (Exodus 7:13, 7:14, 7:22, 8:5, 8:16, 8:28, 9:7, 9:23, 9:35).
Verses 18-24 clearly teach us that God chooses who He wants, for each specific service, when He wants it performed. This is separate and completely different than individual predestination. Some people are called to noble service, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Rahab, and the Apostles, among others too numerous to mention. Others aren’t called to noble service, but to common service, such as those who were healed as a part of Jesus’ earthly ministry yet remain unnamed. Still others are chosen for real disgrace so that God’s objective can be advanced. This brings to mind Judas, the Apostle who sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Even though Judas fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, God chose him because God knew his heart and knew Judas would not choose salvation for himself. God chooses. Election to service is God’s call to make.
In Verses 25-32, Paul brings his discourse back around to the place where it began in verse 6, that the Children of God are not born of Israel, but of faith. He clearly states that His children will be both Jewish and Gentile, and this is possible only because of the Seed God planted in Israel, Christ Jesus.
Verse 33 overtly states that EVERYONE who Believes, who trusts their spiritual well-being to Christ, will never be dishonored. Matthew 10:32: “Jesus said, “Everyone (3956 all, any, every, the whole, whosoever) who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
Freewill is available to everyone! Turns out, even Pharaoh had it. It should be one of our most cherished gifts from God. God will not sentence to heaven anyone who doesn't want to be there. God used Pharaoh, the ugliest worst example of humanity, to demonstrate His sovereign ability to work His objective and show mercy at the same time. I’m unaware of any other person in scripture whose heart was harder than Pharaoh’s. If God could use him for service, bringing his kingdom to ruin while still calling him to salvation through His mercy, then God, indeed, is sovereign. He is more sovereign who works His will through the rebellious stubborn hearts of men than is one who forces man to bow before his will. The obvious lesson from Pharaoh is to use free will wisely.
Granted, this is a complicated chapter. Paul was a complex thinker. He was extremely intelligent and highly educated, but everything we need to understand this chapter is present within God’s word. Using scriptures from throughout the Bible, from the Old Testament story about God’s battle with Pharaoh, and the New Testament books of Acts and Ephesians, the Bible allows us to understand what Paul meant when he said God ‘raised’ Pharaoh, and that Jesus, our kinsman Redeemer, died for ALL people. Everything we need is in God’s word, waiting to be drawn out and understood by anyone and everyone with a heart for truth.
Thanks to Jeff Jacobs for the incredible artwork depicted at the top of this page!! What a talent!