This is part of a series of posts on Romans. The main focus of this series will be chapters 9-11 of the letter. These chapters, particularly chapter 9, have been interpreted in various different ways. My aim is to demonstrate what I consider to be the correct interpretation. I will do this by considering the structure and context of the letter and then focusing in on these chapters, showing how the proposed interpretation fits with the context and structure of the letter, as well as being internally consistent within chapters 9-11. Click here for the contents page.
In the previous post we looked at Romans 9:22-23. Continuing from the end of verse 23:
“…vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?  As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”  “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’””
The words in verse 24 show that, while Paul was previously speaking specifically about ethnic Israelites (e.g. as the lump of clay in verse 21), he has now broadened the scope of his discussion to include Gentiles as well. If he had been talking about both ethnic Israelites and Gentiles before this, there would have been no need for him to specify ‘also from the Gentiles’ at this point.
The statement ‘not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles’ is another key “not… but…” statement by Paul in Romans 9. We have seen three of these already. First, there was ‘not the children of the flesh… but the children of the promise’ from Romans 9:8. Second, there was ‘not because of works but because of him who calls’ from Romans 9:11. Third, there was ‘not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God’ from Romans 9:16.
Paul is speaking of the inclusion of Gentiles into the church. Some of those who were not God’s people have become part of God’s people (verse 25, quoting from Hosea 2:23). Some who were once vessels of wrath have become vessels of mercy (as explained in the previous post). Note that these Gentiles were not always God’s people – they only became God’s people when they put their trust in Christ (see Romans 9:30 and Romans 11:20). Verse 26 (quoting from Hosea 1:10) similarly speaks of people transitioning from being “not God’s people” to being ‘sons of the living God’.
There is a strong emphasis here on God’s ‘call’. Verses 24 to 26 match in the structure with verses 10 to 13, which also refer to God’s call (end of verse 11). Paul is emphasising that those in the church have been called by God. They are not in the church due to their own works or their own ethnicity.
The word ‘call’ is best understood here in the sense of “appointed” or “named”. (An example of the “appointed” meaning from outside the Bible is how a barrister/attorney is said to have been “called to the bar”, which refers to their appointment to their role.) Paul begins his letter by stating ‘you also are the called of Jesus Christ’ and that his audience is ‘called as saints’ (Romans 1:6-7). 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 also shows that a person being ‘called’ by God refers to the time when they became a Christian.
On this understanding, verse 24 is using the word ‘called’ to identify those people God has appointed/named as his own. This fits with the next verses, which describe God doing exactly that. The beginning of verse 25 (‘as indeed he says in Hosea’) links this verse with the previous verse, so we should expect the “call” to be the same in both verses. It is not stated here how God decides whom to appoint/name as his own people, but we have seen before that God has chosen to do this to everyone who trusts in Christ.
The Greek word translated ‘call’ sometimes has the meaning “invite”, but this meaning does not fit as well here. Paul seems to be using the word to refer only to believers, but the “invitation” of the gospel goes out to all. If, for the sake of argument, the “invited” understanding were used in verse 24, the following situation would apply. Although Paul refers to those in the church as being ‘called’ (i.e. “invited” in this understanding), he does not say that those not in the church are not “invited”. We can be confident that he would not have considered those outside the church as not being “invited”, as such a view would be in conflict with other scriptures, such as the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. Jesus uses this parable to explain the situation that many ethnic Israelites had not entered God’s kingdom. The king in the parable corresponds to God, and he ‘sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come’ (Matthew 22:3). (The word ‘call’ clearly has the “invited” meaning in this verse, given the context of the invitation to the wedding feast.) These invited people correspond to the ethnic Israelites, and they refuse to come to the feast despite being called to come. Then the king invites all others to come (corresponding to the Gentiles) and the wedding hall is filled with guests. In the parable, everyone gets invited. Only those who accept the call and put on a wedding garment will get to enjoy the feast (Matthew 22:11-13). Putting on a wedding garment presumably corresponds to relying on Christ to cover one’s sins (see Genesis 3:7 and 3:21 – this is what clothes are for). Jesus concludes the parable by saying that ‘many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matthew 22:14). The call (i.e. invitation) goes out to everyone, but God has chosen to appoint/name as his own people only those who accept the call and trust in Christ for the covering of their sins. It is clear from the parable that the king provided the same invitation to all the people; they were all called in the same way. What was different was how they responded, not how they were called.
The fact that all people are “invited” by God but only those who trust in him are “appointed”/“named” as one of his own people would further suggest that Paul’s use of the word ‘called’ to refer to believers in verse 24 is in the “appointed”/“named” sense, as only this sense properly distinguishes believers from non-believers. For consistency, it would seem appropriate to apply this meaning to the word ‘called’/‘calls’ in verses 7 and 11 as well.
Returning to Romans 9:
“ And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,  for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”  And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.””
Paul turns from the Gentiles to the ethnic Israelites. Verse 27 is quoting from Isaiah 10:22-23, and verse 28 is quoting from Isaiah 1:9. The references to the ‘sons of Israel’ and ‘offspring’ (i.e. ‘seed’) match with similar references in the corresponding part of the structure, Romans 9:6-9. The main point being made is the same too – not all ethnic Israelites will be saved; only some of them will be saved. Those ethnic Israelites who will be saved are those who have faith in Jesus (see Romans 9:32, Romans 11:7 and Romans 11:23).
The quote in verse 29 shows that no one in ethnic Israel deserves to be saved. It is only through God’s mercy that anyone is saved, as all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and are deserving of God’s punishment. As Paul concludes in Romans 11:32, ‘God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all’.
For those who have followed these posts in order, that’s the end of our review of Romans 9-11! I’ve done this section of Romans 9 last as it can be the most difficult section to understand, and doing the rest first helps to make sure this bit is interpreted in a way that is consistent with the rest of chapters 9-11. In particular, chapter 11 answers some questions that are not addressed by Paul in chapter 9. Knowing where Paul is going helps us to understand the points he begins to make in chapter 9.
For those who haven’t followed the posts in order, you can carry on from Romans 9:30 here.
In the next post, we will consider Romans 8:28-30. A particular interpretation of these verses is used by some people as a key to interpret Romans 9. We will consider different interpretations of these verses and whether the verses should be used in this way to determine our understanding of Romans 9.
This was first published at the Predestination Station, where comments can be made.