Romans 9 is possibly the most cited passage in the whole Biblical corpus, used to enunciate the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election. Often though, the exegesis seems sloppy and the extrapolations hasty. I have put together a few questions for self reflection on how one approaches and interprets the passage according to the intentions of the apostle Paul.
What presuppositions am I bringing to the text?
If we have been taught the doctrine of unconditional election first, and are simply looking to justify it by this text (or have been directed to consult this text as proof), then of course we are going to see it at every turn. One must lay aside their presuppositions and approach the text with a clear and open mind as to what God’s word is saying.
Have I considered Paul’s use of Old Testament citations in their appropriate contexts?
If you read an NASB or NET you might be struck by the fact that the text is absolutely littered with capitals or bold text respectively. These emphases are used to make the Old Testament citations in the New Testament more noticeable. It would seem that in order to understand Paul’s argument properly, we must engage with the premises he employs to justify his argument in the manner that his intended Jewish audience would have understood them.
Have I considered the extension of Paul’s whole argument through to chapters 10 and 11?
For example, if ‘having mercy on whom [God] will have mercy’ is meant to imply unconditionality, then why has He consigned the same all over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on those all (cf. 11:32).
If the fact that some Jews ‘stumbled over the stumbling stone’ is indicative of their unconditional reprobation, then why does Paul go on to say: “I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! …And even they—if they do not continue in their unbelief—will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:11,23)
Does my conclusion agree with Paul’s own conclusion at the end of the chapter?
In vs. 30-32, Paul concludes by lamenting that his kinsmen (Jews) have not obtained righteousness because, unlike even some Gentiles, they pursued it as though it were by works, not by faith. It would be quite odd if Paul spent the chapter arguing for the unconditional election of individuals unto salvation and then concluded that righteousness (imputed from Christ) is obtained by faith.
Resources on Romans 9:
Originally posted by Jason Godfrey here.