We are about to enter a new section of Romans. The argument in chs. 9–11 is of a piece, though it has several parts to it. Paul will answer a series of rhetorical questions centered on whether God will keep his word to Israel or has abandoned his first chosen people. The issue of the actual status and standing of Gentiles in the people of God in relationship to Jews is also addressed at some length. This means as well that the subject that Paul has been dealing with since the very beginning of this epistle is indeed God’s justice and righteousness insofar as it has a bearing on human fate, either positively or negatively, by way of either commendation or condemnation, salvation or damnation. The discussion is theocentric, and only after that anthropocentric, but part of that theocentrism is Paul’s focus on Christ, and part of the anthropocentrism is a focus on Jew and Gentile united in Christ and not just humanity in general. (Witherington 236)
SOME KEY IDEAS FROM THIS WEEK’S PASSAGE
DETERMINISM — This brings us back to our original question: What does Paul mean by asserting that God “loved” Jacob but “hated” Esau? The connection of this quotation with v. 12 suggests that God’s love is the same as his election: God chose Jacob to inherit the blessings promised first to Abraham. God’s “hatred” of Esau is more difficult to interpret because Paul does not furnish us at this point with contextual clues. Some understand Paul to mean only that God loved Esau less than he loved Jacob. He blessed both, but Jacob was used in a more positive and basic way in the furtherance of God’s plans. But a better approach is to define “hatred” here by its opposite, “love.” If God’s love of Jacob consists in his choosing Jacob to be the “seed” who would inherit the blessings promised to Abraham, then God’s hatred of Esau is best understood to refer to God’s decision not to bestow this privilege on Esau.” It might best be translated “reject.” “Love” and “hate” are not here, then, emotions that God feels but actions that he carries out. In an apparent paradox that troubles Paul (cf. 9:14 and 19 following) as well as many Christians, God loves “the whole world” at the same time as he withholds his love in action, or election, from some.
Before leaving this paragraph, we must put some of the issues it raises in a larger context. As the attentive reader will realize, I have argued that this passage gives strong exegetical support to a traditional Calvinistic interpretation of God’s election: God chooses those who will be saved on the basis of his own will and not on the basis of anything — works or faith, whether foreseen or not — in those human beings so chosen. Attempts to avoid this theological conclusion, whether by leaving room for human faith in v. 12 or by restricting the issue to the roles of nations in salvation history, are, I think, unsuccessful. But if we exclude faith as a basis for God’s choice here, what becomes of Paul’s strenuous defense of faith as the means of justification in Rom, 3:21–4:25 and again in the following section of the letter, 9:30–10:21? It is precisely in an attempt to do justice to these texts that many interpreters insist on finding room for faith in this text also: God’s choice, they argue, is a choice to bestow salvation on those who believe. Faith, then, in this traditional Armenian perspective, becomes the basis for God’s choice. I can only reiterate that the introduction into this text of any basis for God’s election outside God himself defies both the language and the logic of what Paul has written. The only logical possibility, then, would seem to be to reverse the relationship between God’s choosing and faith; as Augustine stated it: “God does not choose us because we believe, but that we may believe. This way of putting the matter seems generally to be justified by this passage and by the teaching of scripture elsewhere. But it comes perilously close to trivializing human faith: something that many texts in Romans and in the rest of the NT simply will not allow us to do. We need, perhaps, to be more cautious In our formulations and to insist on the absolute cruciality and meaningfulness of the human decision to believe at the same time as we rightly make God’s choosing of us ultimately basic. Such a double emphasis may strain the boundaries of logic (it does not, I trust, break them!) or remain unsatisfyingly complex, but it may have the virtue of reflecting Scripture’s own balanced perspective.
At stake in all this, as Paul makes clear in 11:5–7, a text that takes up the argument of these verses, is the grace of God. As we have seen (see the notes on 3:24 and 4:5), Paul rules out any human claim on God as a violation of his grace. Perhaps, as my Arminian friends and colleagues insist, foreseen faith, as the product of “prevenient” grace, need be no threat to God’s freedom and grace but by making the human decision to believe the crucial point of making God’s election a response to human choice, this perspective seems to me to minimize Paul’s insistence that election to salvation is itself an act of God’s grace (cf. 11:5); a decision he makes freely and without the compulsion any influence outside himself. (Constable 129)
MISSIONAL QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- How does this text challenge your preconceived notions about the life of a follower of Jesus?
- How does this passage further improve the way you’d share the Gospel with someone?
- What do you feel the Spirit calling you to do based on the truths of this text?
- What might you need to confess and repent of based on this passage?
- How does this passage Challenge the way you lead or participate in your microchurch?
- In what ways does this text call you to align your heart with God’s?