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Does Romans 9 Really Teach Unconditional Election (Calvinistic Predestination)?

Refutation of the Calvinistic view of Unconditional Election and Predestination in Romans 9:11-14

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

Some interpret Romans 9:11-14 as teaching that human beings are completely passive in the process of salvation, depending solely on God’s will to elect or reject individuals. Indeed, in December 1525, Martin Luther published ‘The Bondage of the Will,’ advocating predestination using Romans 9:11-14. Calvinists often refer to these verses to support the notion that God elects who to save, suggesting that Paul was arguing for predestination:

Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

(Romans 9:11-14)

The Calvinistic interpretation posits that predestination and irresistible grace eliminate any human role in salvation. However, reading these verses in context suggests a contrary perspective, challenging the view that God limits election to a select few. I contend that Paul actually intended to teach God’s expansion of the scope of salvation. Paul addresses Jewish individuals who believed their ethnicity provided a salvation advantage. Paul contested this belief.

Paul’s emphasis in Romans 9 is on God’s sovereignty to save whomever He chooses, irrespective of ethnic background. He asserts that being ethnically Jewish doesn’t automatically confer a privileged status with God. Instead, as the story of Jacob and Esau illustrates, God’s election (which was for a role, not salvation) is not based on ancestry. In traditional Jewish customs, the elder brother typically receives certain privileges. Esau, Isaac’s elder son, was overlooked as God chose to enact His plan through his little brother Jacob. Likewise, physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee salvation. In verses 6 to 24, Paul underscores that God can save anyone, and His choices are beyond question, even when choosing Gentiles over Jews, an idea that was radical to first-century Jews.

The election-for-salvation discussed is not about God electing to save specific individuals or nations. It contrasts the belief that one’s lineage or deeds ensures salvation. Many Jews held a legalistic view, thinking that observing the Law would maintain their salvation. Here, I use ‘maintain’ instead of ‘obtain’ because, in Jewish thought, ‘salvation’ encompasses broader concepts than the Christian view of it as a means to avoid eternal torture in hell. For Jews, salvation primarily means receiving God’s blessings (Exodus 14:13-14; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 37:39-40; Isaiah 12:2-3; Jeremiah 30:10-11; Zechariah 9:9-10). Paul, as a Jew, aimed to correct the misconception that God’s salvation is predestined or restricted to Jews only.

According to Romans 9, the pivotal question is whom God has chosen/elected. The answer is that God has chosen to save (or bless) those who show faith in Christ Jesus. In other words, God predetermined that whoever believes in Christ- will be saved.

Paul provides a clear summary of his argument in this chapter (vss. 30-32). Unfortunately for the deterministic interpretation, it appeals to free will as the decisive factor in determining who “receives mercy” and who gets “hardened.”

It’s not that God elected individuals for salvation; it’s that God elected faith to be the tool for salvation rather than ancestry or works:

Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.

Romans 9:30-32

To summarize, Paul’s argument in Romans 9 is that God has chosen to save (or bless) people according to faith, not works or ancestry. Anyone who chooses to put their trust in Christ is in the “elected group” that shall be saved.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist