Home > Brandenburg, The Gospel > WHY I’M NOT A CALVINIST (part two): Romans 9

WHY I’M NOT A CALVINIST (part two): Romans 9

February 15, 2011

The Bible comes first, then comes theology.  When we look at the Bible, do we see Calvinism?  We started with Romans 9 and we continue, picking up in v. 14.

God’s love can be trusted.  The national election of Israel did not assure personal salvation.  Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the blessings of the covenant for Ishmael or Esau.  Individual Jews should not assume salvation just because of national election, any more than than a physical descendant of Abraham was guaranteed the benefits of the covenant. God is righteous to elect on His own terms.   He is righteous not to elect Ishmael or Esau for the Romans 9:1-5 blessings.  No one can sit in judgment upon Him.

In support of the truth of v. 14, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 in v. 15.  The Exodus text refers to God’s merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth.  God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land, the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren’t saved eternally (cf. Heb 3-4).  Often the word “mercy” in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.

God’s choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16).  The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that “it,” that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly wasn’t merited by Israel.  This does apply to personal salvation, but in the context it relates to the whole  nation.  God’s acts of mercy to them as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them.  Paul deals with the argument that God has been unrighteous to the entire nation just because He has not saved every individual.  He rebuts this from the Old Testament.

Romans 9:17 furthers the proposition of v. 16, using the example of Pharoah. God raised up Pharoah to his position. It isn’t that God “created” Pharoah for this position, but that God worked to the end that Pharoah would arrive at this exalted position over Egypt.   The point of “raised up” is not that Pharoah was foreordained or predestined to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (cf. Exodus 4:21).

By hardening Pharoah’s heart, God provided the blessing for His elect nation that He might be glorified (cf. Exodus 7:3).  The hardening of his heart related to his not letting the people go (Exodus 7:14), not so that he would be eternally damned.  As much as God hardened his heart, Exodus also reveals that Pharoah hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34).  Both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah’s heart.  As much as hardness of heart can lead to the eternal damnation of the soul, in the context of Pharoah’s heart-hardening, God was delivering His elect nation by means of the hardening, illustrating the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD.”   The deliverance was not spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and covenant keeping.  God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharoah, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.

Another argument is introduced in v. 19, which is essentially, why does God find fault in anyone if He has mercy on those whom He will have mercy and hardens whoever He wills to harden?  The question this poses is “Is God fair?” And it is related to the next point, that is, who would be able to resist God anyhow?  The problem isn’t the answer to the question, but the question itself. Paul makes that known in v. 20.

Because of their inferiority, men don’t have the perspective to challenge God with such questions.  Paul pictures man’s predicament with the potter-clay imagery, which comes from Jeremiah 18-19.  In the Old Testament passage, God is the Potter and the entire nation Israel is the clay (18:6).   Jeremiah 18:4 is a key interpretational verse.

And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

A contrast exists between “he made” and “was marred.”  The former is active and the latter passive.  “Was marred” is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself.  You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God.   Since Israel had marred herself, God as the Potter could see fit not to use her. God had condemned and had the authority to condemn a marred pot.  That was the message that the Jews with whom Paul argued needed to hear.

God would get glory through obedient Israel or disobedient Israel.   Israel marred herself, so God would get glory through her captivity.  God could and would also be glorified by the destruction of Israelites.   God’s purpose for Israel changed based on the condition of her behavior.   What Paul teaches in Romans 9 would have been nothing new for a Jew who knew Jeremiah 18-19.   As clay, Israel should not have been demanding anything of her Potter, God.  Jeremiah 18:10 especially enlightens us regarding Romans 9:

If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

God, the Potter, will treat the clay, Israel, different, conditional upon Israel’s actions.   Israel sounds like the Calvinists in Jeremiah 18, accusing God of not giving them suitable opportunity, when God had done so, and judged them based upon their faithful obedience.

In the light of Jeremiah 18-19, we understand the questions of v. 20.  A fully made clay, now pot, questions the Potter, not some uncreated, formless clay. The answer is that Israel had marred herself.  The formation of the clay changed conditioned upon its behavior.  The sovereignty of God expressed in v. 21 is not some predetermined sovereignty, but one that chooses in accord with the condition of the clay.  That’s how all of Jeremiah 18-19 reads and every other clay-potter text in the Old Testament.

Not to be lost in all this discussion is that the election of Romans 9 is national election.  It contradicts a belief in personal, unconditional election unto eternal life or eternal damnation.  Calvinism in its interpretation of Romans 9 fails in a proper consideration of the Old Testament texts to which Paul refers in the chapter.

More to Come.

  1. Steven
    February 16, 2011 at 12:45 am

    So in light of Scripture, election refers to a national and not a personal type. I see it and it makes sense to me.

    Why is Calvinism still so persuasive?

    Is Calvinism so attractive because you “get” something others don’t. I’d like to hear from you brother Brandenburg, but also the Calvinists.

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Br. Steve

    Gal. 2.20

  2. February 16, 2011 at 10:04 am


    I’m covering just Rom 9 and in Rom 9 the election is national and unconditional.

  3. February 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Amen! Keep breaking up that fallow ground Brother Kent.

  4. February 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Good post, look forward to more.

  5. Duncan
    April 5, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    It is iteresting to note that Calvin was actually a believer in human responsibility – something that history overlooks. His problem was that he was not so much a theologian as an intellectual, and in his mind he could not reconcile how God could be sovereign and yet man have responsibility. Nonetheless, despite his views of the total depravity of man, God’s unconditional election, the limited atonement (something he likely misunderstood as any limits are from the perspective of Christ rather than the Father who views it as being unlimited), and especially irrisistable grace, he still held to the perseverance of the saints, that is, they must contiue to believe until the end of their days. Calvin said of this dillemna, that perhaps someday a future generation of Christianity will allow for this to be resolved. If ever I admire a Calvinist (such as Robert McCheyne), it is because the life was one of godliness – which itself manifests the human responsibility.

  6. Alvin Gallegos
    May 5, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Seems you lost me about Jacob and Esau since scripture puts a different spin on this. More like twins not having done anything right or wrong and God choosing one over the other which pictures a spiritual or natural Israel. Jews and Gentiles mix in there as well with the both either being a spiritual or a natural Jew. (figuratively) Claiming you are something special of God means nothing if you aren’t His chosen. God hates all workers of iniquity but in His mercy He chooses one over the other not of our will or way but by His mercy. Please don’t be a Calvinist but be humble enough (Lord Willing) to accept your inability to seek God and find Him without Him being the one to change your heart first to follow His command. Think of Lydia whose heart God opened that she attended to the words of Paul. It has to be given to you of the Father before you’re enabled to receive His Holy Word.

  7. Alvin Gallegos
    May 5, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Let me ellaborate a bit more:

    First of all thanks for taking the time to write about this and being decent to
    those who oppose you and I will try to do the same.
    Speaking for myself I don’t really call myself a Calvinist since like you said,
    “The Bible comes first then theology.” Very well put. Labels tend to say I am of
    a particular group instead of just saying I am a christian seeking further
    knowledge as you are. Doctrine comes from truth which any believer hungers for
    because it is truth that sets him free.
    To be honest I never really read John Calvin but only know that some of his
    beliefs are similar to mine but then again some of your beliefs are similar to
    mine also! I don’t regard myself as a Brandenburgist nor would you like me to
    say I am either. You and I don’t believe in divorce and remarriage nor do we
    cling to the NIV or the ESV either right? Are you a Gallegosite or an Alvinite?
    I’m sure you get my point.
    To start with let me quote you:
    “But in Romans 9:1-4a, we see that Paul “could wish that [he] were accursed” for
    the salvation of Israel.

    And right there at the very beginning of Romans 9 is where we begin seeing the
    contradiction to Calvinism. Why would Paul be willing to be “accursed from
    Christ” (9:3) for those God chose before the foundations of the world to damn
    You wrote allot of stuff, Kent, and I did read through all of the verses you
    quoted but had to recap the above quote because it seems to be the very
    beginning of your argument. I can see where you are coming from if I see verses
    1-4 in the way you describe them. For me the compassion that Paul shows is
    understandable being he had a burden for his kinsmen. In verses 4-6 I would like
    to add that the Law of God was given to the Israelites (natural and spiritual
    for we can’t deny both existed within that nation) but yet it is clear that in
    verse 5 “Whose are the fathers” is a continuation of vs. 4b “and the promises;”
    so, in the day of Abraham and Isaac God’s elect of Israel are the ones blessed
    forever since they obtained the righteousness which is of faith like that of
    Abraham before he was circumcised as per Rom. 4:11 (which is also interesting
    since Paul said circumcision and uncircumcision is nothing (1 Co. 7:18, 19) Paul
    said in verse 6b, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:” Abraham
    produced a certain “seed” to be saved but not all from his loins are the
    children of promise but only those of the “elect” are his spiritual seed. So in
    that respect “all of Israel will be saved”. The children of “Esau” pictures
    those solely of natural Israel and I might add that Gentiles fall into either
    the seed of Jacob or the seed of Esau as well. Please remember that these two
    were actual twin brothers (one saved the other not) yet both from Abraham to
    picture God’s mercy on one but not on the other just like Jew and Gentile today
    who are either a vessel fit to destruction or a vessel unto mercy. That is why
    the Lord allows those fit unto destruction to exist whilst showing His mercy
    unto those He prepared unto glory. It is His business to do as He sees fit. ROM
    9:22, 23: “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known,
    endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And
    that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which
    he had afore prepared unto glory,” It is all on the Lord not on us: ROM 9:16 “So
    then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that
    sheweth mercy.” We are void of understanding as is demonstrated throughout the
    New Testament, Jews, Gentiles, Samarians, Ethiopians, Jailors, Kings and even
    Christians lacked understanding without the Father giving them spiritual insight
    to see and hear what it is the Spirit of God had to reveal so that they would
    repent and believe truth. JOH 6:64-66, “But there are some of you that believe
    not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who
    should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come
    unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his
    disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” Please ask yourself if these
    “disciples” didn’t hear the Words of Christ? The question is was it given unto
    them by the Father? Also, apply that to “Faith cometh by hearing”. Now read Jn.
    6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and
    I will raise him up at the last day.” Could it be that the vessels fit to
    destruction are the ones whom the Father has not enabled to come to Him for we
    know mankind is at enmity with God and his heart desperately wicked. These
    aren’t from Romans 9 but please read on. PSA 110:3 “Thy people shall be willing
    in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the
    morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.” EZE 11:19, 20: ” And I will give them
    one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony
    heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may
    walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my
    people, and I will be their God.” Think of Lydia whose heart the Lord opened
    that she attended to the words of Paul (Acts 16:14) It is a supernatural act of
    God by His power just as demonstrated by His affecting a change in attitude of
    Pharoah (Exodus 4:21), Saul (1 Sam. 11:6). Some say Pharoah’s heart was already
    hard (and of course he was at enmity with God no doubt as is everyone without
    Christ) but then again who are we to reply against God, ROM 9:20 “Nay but, O
    man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him
    that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” This to my understanding is a
    picture of man’s (both Jew and Gentile) inability to seek and understand God due
    to his spiritual condition. Jerimiah 17:9, 10 “The heart is deceitful above all
    things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I
    try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to
    the fruit of his doings.” With a stony heart how can man affect change to his
    spiritual condition if it’s not given to him by the father to understand if it’s
    desperately wicked? It’s like an alcoholic in denial of his condition and says
    he’s not that bad and is quite capable of inner change because he can put the
    bottle down on his own power yet is still incapable of admitting he has a
    problem. He needs the power of God to see his incapability and consequently be
    healed of his sickness. MAT 9:12 “But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them,
    They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Or are some
    seemingly this capable of saying by our own capacity? (see 1 Co. 12:3) LUK 4:23
    “And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal
    thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy
    country.” ROM 3:11 ” There is none that understandeth, there is none that
    seeketh after God.” The context is from v. 9: “What then? are we better than
    they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that
    they are all under sin;” It is sin that is the real blinder and it takes God
    Himself to open our wicked heart to “attend to the words of Paul”. Otherwise, by
    our own power or ability we say we understand and seek after God hence calling
    God a liar.

  8. Duncan
    May 18, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Romans 9 actually is not in the context of choosing individual men but an individual nation. God, in His infinite foreknowledge, knew that Abraham was going to be faithful in all his house, so He chose that Abraham would be the one through whom Messiah would come. One cannot legitimately read double-predestination into a text that does not make it fit. While it does take God drawing us to be saved, that does not by any means, mean that He chooses to draw some but not others, otherwise we still call Him a liar by saying that He really is willing that any should perish rather than all coming to repentance.

    • Alvin Gallegos
      May 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

      Ah Duncan but it does mean He draws some but not all for the same reason He gives some to understand but not all either. The context points to two individuals while at the same time two types of people one being spiritual and the other natural only. Both were brothers with Jacob signifying a true believer and Esau being a non-believer for not all of Israel is Israel and later mentioning one being fit to destruction and the other not. This indeed is a dividing line. Anyone is a candidate for God’s Soveregnty to suit not our purpose but His own. Abraham was not chosen for what he would do but because like Jacob and Esau not yet being born nor having done anything wrong were either loved or hated. And this God just chose to do because He had mercy on one and not the other. The whole of Romans 9 doesn’t point at all to Abraham’s faith but more points to “not of him who willith nor of him who runneth but of God who showeth mercy”. It is overwhelming the choice of God over anybody’s choice or faith in Him. EPH 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Being His workmanship fits with the fact our spiritual blindness hinders our ability to come to Him since Romans 3:11 ascetains that. Saying it is double predestination is your definition. What the Bible is saying is we of ourselves can do nothing since it is our being dead in tresspasses and sin that taint us from having any inclination toward God without His effectual calling. Saying of my own will I sought after God is saying that we worked or willeth toward our salvation, where Ro 9:16 simply denies that. JAM 1:18 “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Again this lines up with Lydia whom the Lord opened the heart of THAT she attended to the words of Paul.

  9. John Gregory
    June 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thank you for your web site!
    god bless John Gregory

  10. Jesse Carr
    June 20, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Ummm… aren’t nations made up of individual persons?

  11. Duncan
    July 1, 2011 at 11:27 am


    Yes, nations are made up of individual persons. However, they are viewed Scripturally in a collective sense. Not everybody in Israel sinned when Achan took of the accursed thing, but God said to Joshua that Israel had sinned – the whole suffered for the one. I believe the Bible says the same in something to the effect of one member suffering the whole suffer with it.

  12. John Gregory
    August 22, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Why I am not a Calvinist! I am a Biblicist. I do not find any part of the five pillars of
    Calvinism to be biblical Each one of the five tenants of tulip are Calvinistic doctrine.
    They are not found in the Scriptures. So why should anyone be a Calvinist?
    Pride, arrogance, inherited oblagatory relationship? The Word of God does NOT
    teach any part of the Calvinistic Tulip flower.
    Arminianism does not fare any better. The Biblicistic Interpretation I humbly offer is the
    middle way between Calvinism & Arminianism. WE do have at least a third avenue of
    Biblical & Theological understanding! Please investagate the Biblicistic Theological Interpretation!
    God bless, John Gregory

  13. Christopher
    August 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    The devil is not a Calvinest! Luke 8:12

  14. September 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Actually, transferring sovereign election from the individual to the national does not assist Kent’s argument. It just throws up the same problems. Why Israel and not Edom? Secondly, it ignores the clear argument of Romans 9 which is defending the faithfulness and justice of God to foreknow and predestinates the INDIVIDUAL in Romans 8. Thirdly, it ignores the focus on the individual in Romans 9 rather than a group (v6, v7, v15, v16). Fourthly, it ignores the fact of the two objections in v14 and v19. These would be redundant if Paul was simply teaching that God simply foreknew who would trust Him and as a consequence then elected them. Proud man does not object to that because that makes salvation conditional upon our will – not God’s will and choice. But look how v16 responds – note singular pronoun!

    Fifthly, it fails to understand Paul’s defence of God in v17 of refusing to elect Esau in v13. Paul does not use a “nation” to defend God’s sovereign right to reject Esau but the example of an individual – Pharaoh. As Paul says in v18 God has the sovereign right to show mercy on and individual or not “whom He will He hardeneth.” (note again the singular pronoun hon in v18). FInally, it contradicts Paul’s clincher argument in v29 in which he cites Isaiah 1:9 to prove that God had to save the individual by unconditional sovereign election as if He did not do so, every Jew would have been obliterated like Sodom and Gomorrah.

  15. Frederick Santal
    October 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Israel was elect as a nation because national Israel was a prototype of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Individual Israelites were saved by faith alone in the coming Messiah, just as we are saved by faith alone in the already come Messiah.

    National Israel is a unique player in God’s plan of redemption. As unique as pre-fall Adam, and as unique as Jesus Christ Himself.

    Fallen man – myself for instance – is not a prototype of the Messiah.

  16. Stephen
    June 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    John 6:65 (KJV) And he (Jesus) said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

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