The Context of Romans 9:6-13

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Contextually, it is pivotal to understand Paul’s line of reasoning as he leads up to 9:6-13, and his argument as it progresses in chapters 9-11. In the first three chapters of Romans Paul introduces the theme of the Jew’s advantage with respect to the Gospel. In 1:16 Paul describes the Gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Similarly in 2:9-10 Paul says that “there will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Additionally, in 3:2 Paul says that the advantage possessed by the Jews was “great in every respect” because “they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

As Paul continues to progress toward chapter 9 he articulates that through the Gospel individuals can be justified by faith, and have peace with God through Jesus Christ (5:1). Paul concludes this section in 8:38-39 when Paul confidently asserts “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As one moves through the progression of Paul’s argument, the obvious question is why did so many of the Jews rejected Christ? The Jews are the ones “to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh” (9:4-5). Yet Paul makes it clear that many of the Jews had rejected Christ (9:1-3). This was particularly problematic since the Jews were supposed to have a great advantage with respect to the Gospel, and because Paul just stated in 8:39 that nothing can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thus, as we approach 9:6-13 a problem has emerged that Paul is forced to deal with. Specifically, Paul must explain Israel’s rejection of Christ (9:1-5) in light of the doctrines previously presented, and God’s covenant dealings with Israel.

This is not the first time in the epistle that this problem has surfaced. In 3:3 Paul alludes to this very problem when he asks, “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” This question is significant to the discussion of 9:6-13 because it deals with the same problem. In 3:3 Paul is dealing with the unbelief of individuals, and whether or not this unbelief nullified the faithfulness of God. In 3:4 Paul emphatically answers the question raised when he says, “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’” This statement is remarkably similar to the statement that Paul makes in 9:6a. There Paul states, “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” The similarity of these two passages indicates that Paul is dealing with the same problem in both passages. Specifically, Paul is defending the faithfulness of God in light of the unbelief of Israel. Paul explains this defense in 9:11 when he says that God chose Jacob over Esau “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand.” Thus, God’s choosing, or electing, of Jacob over Esau is the reason why God’s faithfulness cannot be impugned and his word has not failed even though Israel has rejected Christ. If this election determines the role of individuals and nations in history then it does not deal with the problem that has been raised. However, if this election determines the eternal destiny of individuals then the logic of Paul’s argument remains in tact.

In addition to establishing the specific problem that Paul is dealing with in 9:6-13, it is also important to track the progression of Paul’s argument as it is found in chapters 9-11. A close look at these chapters reveals that as Paul continues to deal with the problem of Israel’s unbelief his focus is on individual soteriological issues. The most obvious example of Paul’s focus on individual soteriology issues is found in 10:9-10. There Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” In this passage Paul is clearly articulating the process of individual salvation. This is significant to 9:6-13 because it occurs in the same context as 9:6-13.

In chapter 11 Paul continues to reference the subject of individual soteriology. In 11:5-6 he speaks of “a remnant chosen by grace.” Here we find another reference to God’s election (ἐκλογὴν), and this reference is clearly soteriological. Paul is pointing out that God has not “rejected His people” (11:1), but rather has graciously chosen a remnant of believers. Paul supports this point with the example of the “seven thousand men who [did] not [bow] the knee to Baal” during the time of Elijah. This argument, and subsequent Old Testament example, is extremely similar to the content of 9:6-13. In both cases Paul’s point is that God has not been unfaithful to the Jews because He has always chosen a remnant who will believe based on His “gracious choice.”

Paul culminates his argument from chapters 9-11 in 11:26-27 when he says, “And so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.’” Paul’s statement that God will save “all Israel” confirms that his focus throughout chapters 9-11 is individual, and soteriological. Paul’s argument in chapters 9-11 is a cohesive unit. Paul begins this unit in 9:1-5 where addresses Israel’s rejection of Christ despite their great advantage with respect to the Gospel. Subsequently, in 9:6a Paul makes it clear that God’s faithfulness is not in question because of Israel’s unbelief. In fact, this unbelief was consistent with God’s prior dealings with Israel; for God has always chosen who will believe based upon His own choice. Additionally, God’s faithfulness cannot be questioned because, as we see in 11:26-27, He is ultimately going to save all of Israel.

Any interpretation of Romans 9:6-13 must take into account the context of Paul’s argument in all of chapters 9-11. In fact, a close examination of 9:6-13 will reveal that Paul’s argument in these verses mirrors his argument in all of chapters 9-11. Paul is defending God’s faithfulness in light of the problem of Israel’s unbelief, and his focus is on individual soteriological issues. In 9:6a Paul declares that “it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Paul then defends this statement in 9:6b-13. A pivotal piece of this defense is found in 9:11 where Paul says that God chose Jacob over Esau “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.” Paul’s point is that Israel’s unbelief does not bring into question God’s faithfulness because God has always chosen who will believe based upon His own choice. Therefore, the contextual data strongly supports the view of Romans 9:6-13 that God’s election mentioned in 9:11 determines the eternal destiny of individuals.

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