Romans 9:6-13: Preliminary Thoughts

 Romans 9-11[1] has been the subject of great scrutiny throughout Church history.  This segment of Scripture comes at a rather unexpected time in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  In chapters 1-8 Paul articulates the glorious nature of the Gospel of Christ beginning with man’s sin and culminating with the assurance of the love of God.  Then, beginning in chapter 9 and moving all the way through chapter 11, Paul turns his attention to God’s dealings with Israel.  This abrupt change in Paul’s subject matter seems to indicate a discontinuity between this section and the rest of the epistle.  As Morris has pointed out, “There is no connective to link this passage with the preceding passage and chapter 12 would follow on quite acceptably.”[2]  However, a closer look at chapters 1-8 reveals that Paul has created several unresolved issues that he must deal with in chapters 9-11.  Thus, Murray points out that “this part of the epistle is seen to bring to climactic vindication the thesis stated in 1:16, 17 and correlative doctrines unfolded later in chapters 1 to 8.  If this section of the epistle were absent, there would be a hiatus leaving us with unanswered questions and the corresponding perplexity.”[3]  Specifically, Paul must explain Israel’s rejection of Christ (9:1-5) in light of the doctrines he previously presented.  His conclusion is that despite the rejection of Christ by Israel, the word of God has not failed (9:6).  Consequently, the purpose of 9:6b – 13 is to prove that the word of God has not failed.           

A pivotal piece of Paul’s argument is found in 9:11 where he argues that Jacob was chosen over Esau “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand….”  By saying that God’s purpose “would stand” Paul is positively restating that “the word of God has not failed.” As Piper correctly observes, “the remaining of God’s electing purpose is the opposite of the falling of God’s word.”[4]  For this reason a proper understanding of the phrase “God’s purpose according to His choice” is critical to a proper understanding of Romans 9:6-13.  Regarding this phrase, there are two questions that must be addressed.  First, what is meant by “God’s purpose?” Second, what kind of election is Paul talking about in these verse.  These two questions will be the focus of our attention as we attempt to delve into this passage in the future. 

[1]Unless otherwise noted all Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update(LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).[2]Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans(Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 346.

[3]John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans(Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), xiv.

[4]John Piper, The Justification of God: an Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 1993), 49.