An Analysis of Romans 9:10-24

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” (v.10-12)

To what was Jacob elected? Was it to salvation? Or was it to the promise of Abraham? The two are not necessarily synonymous. In the Protestant religions where ‘salvation’ is equated with an arbitrary act of a capricious God who acts hedonistically solely for “his own good pleasure” salvation is an irrational and unmotivated act that has no logical connection to the qualities of the person being saved. This is based on a philosophy of Voluntarism stemming form Ockham’s theory ‘absolute divine power.’ According to Voluntarism, if God is bound to act by a moral standard, that standard sits in judgement on Him and He is not truly sovereign. ‘Good and evil’ in this system are defined purely by the will of God, not by the actions that God requires of men. Since there is no essential goodness, God can dispose of any person without regard to what they have done. The Bible real knows nothing of this demonic idea. Instead, it preaches the existence of essential goodness and evil and promises rewards and punishments accordingly. Just a brief example:

“When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. “But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life. “Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus you have spoken, saying, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?”‘ “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
“And you, son of man, say to your fellow citizens, ‘The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he commits sin.’ “When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die. “But when I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and he turns from his sin and practices justice and righteousness, if a wicked man restores a pledge, pays back what he has taken by robbery, walks by the statutes which ensure life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. “None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely live. “Yet your fellow citizens say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right,’ when it is their own way that is not right. “When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it. “But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and practices justice and righteousness, he will live by them. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.” (Ezekiel 33:8-20)

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth– you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:1-29)

In both of these excerpts, the Bible teaches that God will judge men according to their works and not according to some arbitrary standard of his own that merely meets his ‘good pleasure’ as prots have misrepresented it. Notice that in the above section of Romans 9 St. Paul does NOT say that Esau was damned but rather he emphasizes that “the older will serve the younger.” This seems to be dealing with something other than ‘salvation’ in the strict sense.

I would therefore say that this section of Romans (chapters 9-11) is dealing with the question of why the Gentiles have started flocking towards faith in Christ while the Jews as a whole (not individually) have not. Many Jews were claiming that Jesus was not the Messiah and this is troubling because if he was the Jewish Messiah, shouldn’t the Jews recognize him? St. Paul is showing that this is not necessary. In the OT there were several examples of the elder child loosing the birth right to a younger one: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Reuben and Joseph, Eliab and David. We see this also with the Kings of Israel where the first king (Saul) was supplanted by the second king (David). That story is doubly interesting because Jonathan was the rightful heir to Saul’s throne and both a ‘brother’ of David and a righteous man. Nevertheless, he was passed over.

The point here is therefore that the traditional human order of succession does not bind God. he may choose whomever he wills for his own purpose.

As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (v.13)

This phrase does not necessarily mean that God hated Esau. In Semitic idiom to “hate” can mean to love less. This statement therefore can simply mean that God favored Jacob over Esau. There is good reason for assuming this. We are told in Genesis:

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’ ” When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.” Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD , who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ ” He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” (Genesis 32:3-16)

Esau, when the time came and he was put in power over Jacob, embraced his brother and refused to accept gifts because he was already wealthy and he did not want to diminish his brother. Esau was successful in the land of Edom living among the descendents of Ishmael. He is not depicted as an unrighteous reprobate, but rather as a good man whom God favored with worldly success who at last had made peace with Jacob. There is no evidence that Esau was cursed by God. For this reason, it makes more sense to understand Romans 9:13 as saying that God preferred Jacob over Esau while still blessing the two.

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (v.14-16)

This is a classic statement about the sovereignty of God. Notice what this DOESN’T say. It does not say that God will condemn whomever he wills to but only that he will be merciful on anyone whom he chooses. This is why the Council of Orange in 529AD determined that God predestines the righteous to glory but does not actively predestine the wicked to perdition. This council’s teaching was defined as official Church teaching by the Popes contemporary to it and reaffirmed later at the Council of Nicea II in 787AD.

This is locus classicus for the doctrine that there is no strict merit before God. God is not obligated to reward the creature for morally upright works done by the natural man apart from God or His covenants. This does not exclude the possibility of condign merit {due to the obedience of faith under enabling grace}or even congruous merit {rewards based on a covenantal agreement}.

For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. (v.17-18)

God used Pharoah to demonstrate his power. If you read Exodus, it is clear that Pharoah was never a righteous person. There were times that he was tempted to let the Hebrews go as God had requested, but then God hardened his heart so that he would not act in an outwardly good way when his heart was far from it. God had no mercy on Pharoah but withdrew even basic “common grace” from him and allowed Pharoah’s innate rebellion free reign. God did not ‘make’ Pharoah sin. He removed his grace so that Pharoah’s sin was all the more visible and egregious. This was the position that Luther took in his book The Bondage of the Will and I think that on this matter he was quite correct. The rest of that book contained many questionable ideas and I do not endorse it in its entirety.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (v.19-21)

Here is the really deep mystery of God’s sovereignty over creation. Even though God is ULTIMATELY responsible for everything that happens, man must accept some moral responsibility. If that were not the case, then God would be the author of sin. This is a problem with the supralapsarian position taken by many Calvinists. We have been made by God and he ordains our ends but SOMEHOW we still have free will and are are responsible for our actions while God is free from any taint of moral blame. What the objector in these verses was seen as doing according to St. Paul is denying free will and moral responsibility, not divine predestination. God made us with free will and we misuse it. That is not God’s fault. It is ours.

Admittedly, this is not a simple matter to resolve. How can God be toatlly sovereign while man is still personally responsible for sin? There is no simple answer. This is a mystery that should humble us. But we need to have faith in God and his goodness as well as his overall sovereignty. Likewise we must accept moral responsibility and admit that we are sinners before God.

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath were fit for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (v.22-24)

Note once again that only the “vessels of mercy” have been “prepared beforehand” {protoimesen} for glory but the “vessels of wrath” have not been prepared beforehand for perdition. They “were fit” {karatestismena} for destruction. The words “Prepared beforehand were in the aorist active indicative implying continued action by God from the past to the present. The words “were fit” are in the perfect passive participle indicating a condition perduring from the past. Two different words in different tenses and voices. This is more evidence that there is no active predestination to wickedness but rather that those born into sin remain in sin unless elected by God’s grace.

By Art Sippo

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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