By Brian Abasciano, PhD
I was disappointed in the treatment of corporate vs. individual election in the new Romans commentary by Colin G. Kruse (Paul’s Letter to the Romans [PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012], 391-92), which is the first major commentary to give substantial attention to the debate on the issue in light of recent contributions that have advanced scholarly discussion, represented by the debate between Thomas Schreiner and me in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. The reason for my disappointment is that Kruse misrepresents my view despite presenting material from my first article on the subject (Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner,” JETS 49/2 [June 2006] 351-71, which can be found online here: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-2/JETS_49-2_351-371_Abasciano.pdf). Early on (see. p. 391) Kruse represents the corporate view/my view as holding that there is no election of individuals to salvation. However, one of the primary points of my article is that a proper, biblical conception of corporate election unto salvation does not exclude the election of individuals, but rather entails it as a consequence of membership in the elect corporate people. Indeed, Kruse even lists this point in his recounting of my arguments for corporate election. But in his conclusion concerning the issue, he rejects the corporate view based partly on the incorrect notion that it holds “that there is no such thing as the election of individuals, only communities” (p. 392).
That is a perplexing conclusion given that it is based partly on a misrepresentation of the view it rejects, and all the more because Kruse reports my articulation of a different view as representative of corporate election. In his response to my article, Thomas Schreiner made the same mistake of claiming that my view excludes the election of individuals (see Thomas R. Schreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano,” JETS 49/2 [June 2006] 373-86, which can be found online here: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-2/JETS_49-2_373-386_Schreiner.pdf). I have documented and sought to correct this and other misconceptions about and objections to corporate election in a second article: Brian J. Abasciano, “Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election,” Ashland Theological Journal 41 (2009) 59-90, which may be found online here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/Abasciano-Clearing-Up-Misconceptions-about-Corporate-Election. My article Kruse referenced is explicit in its affirmation that individuals are elect, but only as members of the elect people. But it is too bad that Kruse did not take this second article into account. For it greatly stresses the mistake Schreiner and others have made in characterizing the view as excluding individuals. Perhaps it would have saved him from making the same mistake and partly basing his view of this important matter on an error.
None of this is to suggest that Kruse’s commentary is not an erudite and helpful work on the Epistle to the Romans. By all accounts it is. And that is what I would expect of Kruse, from whose scholarship I have benefitted. But his treatment of corporate vs. individual election in Romans falls short of the normal quality of his work by misrepresenting the view he rejects, corporate election, a rejection that appears to be fueled in part by his misrepresentation of the view.
Yet one might argue that the reason Kruse gives for rejecting corporate election still works against the proper view of it, that reason being that it “does not support an explanation of why some Jewish individuals accept the gospel while others do not, which is the reason Paul introduces it in chapter 9” (392). But I would argue that the evidence of the text runs contrary to that claim, and I would urge readers to see my two books on Romans 9 for detailed exegesis supporting my position: Brian J. Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (JSNT Sup/LNTS, 301; London: T&T Clark, 2005) and Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (Library of New Testament Studies 317; London: T & T Clark, 2011). Briefly, Paul does not introduce the concept of election in Romans 9 in order to explain why some Jewish individuals accept the gospel while others do not, but to defend God’s faithfulness to his promises to Israel in rejecting unbelieving Jews and accepting believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews. As Paul himself puts it in Rom. 9:8, “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as seed” (cf. from Galatians, “for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” [3:26]; “if you are of Christ, then you are seed of Abraham, heirs according to promise” [3:29]; “Now you, [Gentile] brothers [who are being pressured to rely on the Law rather than only faith in Christ for membership in God’s people], like Isaac, are children of promise” [4:28]). In other words, with Romans 1-8 behind him arguing for justification by faith rather than works or ancestry, Paul brings up the concept of election in Romans 9 not to explain why some Jews believe and others do not, but to defend God’s New Covenant election being based on faith rather than works or ancestry.
In the conclusion to his argument in Romans 9, which also transitions into the next stage of his broader argument, Paul takes up the question of why some are saved and some are not, as if to say, “Ok, now that we have established that God is righteous to elect based on faith rather than works or ancestry, where does that leave us?” Here is what he says (note that Paul’s “What then shall we say” must refer to what should be said in light of his previous argument in Romans 9):
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;
31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.
32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”
33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
(Rom 9:30-33; NIV)
Most scholars agree that the next section of Paul’s argument, whether viewed as 9:30-10:21 or simply ch. 10, stresses Israel’s responsibility for failing to accept the gospel. Kruse himself labels the section, “Jewish Responsibility for Failure to Embrace the Gospel.” All of this undermines Kruse’s claim that Paul’s reason for raising the concept of election in Romans 9 was to explain why some Jews believe and others do not, and with it, his reason for rejecting corporate election and supporting a primarily individual election.