Quick Notes on Romans 9

Hello Prof. Leighton Flowers! You sent me a message asking how one might respond to the typical Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9.

We usually see this: Calvinists say that Romans 9 supports universal orchestration; some for honorable (Gr. timen) use and some for dishonorable (Gr. atimien) use. Those who espouse libertarian free will cannot accept this, and thus say Paul is making a “national thesis” — God orchestrates the destinies of Jew and Gentile in an aggregate sense only.

The argument against the latter is this: Paul uses the orchestrated destinies of certain famous individuals as evidential premises toward the thesis that he ALSO does this of people groups. In other words, “Just as bricks are tough, so brick houses are tough.” A proper rebuttal would not be, “Stan’s thesis is about houses and we cannot thus infer his opinions about individual bricks and their hardness or lack thereof.”

Where (most) Calvinists err is that they stop at chapter 9. Chapter 9 is part of a theodicy, and its upshot is in chapter 11. The upshot is a “pleroma” reconciliation. Christ is the pleroma of the Deity bodily, the earth is God’s and the pleroma in it, love is the pleroma of the Law… and Romans 11 tells us that the pleroma of Gentiles and pleroma of Jews will eventually receive mercy (even if it takes some Romans 2 wrath for some).

Romans 11 goes out of its way to explain that even the unelect have hope, provided they come to belief eventually. Romans 14:10-11 secures the condition and hope with a promise: “As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow [not endless rebellion] and every tongue shall confess fully [same word as used for those who sought John the baptist] to God.”

So, I would not have an argument against the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9. It really does seem as if all paths are orchestrated, from election to stumbling. We can stipulate something like “natural will” rather than “libertarian free will” and smoothly sail with compatibilism. The trick is that the stumbling is ancillary. This is where Calvinists drop the ball. They either misread Romans 11, stop reading before they get there, or fail to appreciate the theological weight — superabundant even to excess and overflow — of pleroma.

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