Dr. Bob Rogers, Pastor
First Baptist Church
[Editor’s Note: This essay was originally posted here at SBC Today on September 28, 2013, and is being reposted today in keeping with our recent emphasis on Romans 9. Because this copyrighted material is under consideration for publication, any other reproduction is expressly forbidden.]
John Calvin was wrong about Romans 9.
Calvin, the famous Protestant Reformer of Geneva, Switzerland, was a great theologian. He became famous for his emphasis on the sovereignty of God and God’s predestination of our salvation. But in his commentary the ninth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, John Calvin took predestination beyond anything the apostle Paul intended to say. Continue reading
Dr. Leighton Flowers
Director of Apologetics and Youth
Evangelism for Texas Baptists
Paul used a literary device called “diatribe” by which he would anticipate the objections of his audience. Discovering who the objector is in the mind of the inspired apostle tells us everything we need to know to discern his soteriological position. Let’s consider the two options side by side:
Calvinism: The objector is an non-elect, salvifically hated reprobate who God has chosen from before the foundation of the world to pass over in a sovereignly decreed fallen condition from birth — a completely hardened condition from the time they are born until the time they die and thus without hope of salvation EVER.
Traditionalist: The objector is a Jew, who has freely rebelled in the face of God’s loving patience for generations (Rm. 10:21; Mt. 23:37), but who is now stumbling, being cut off, and hardened in their rebellion so as to accomplish a greater redemptive good through their rebellion. However, though he has stumbled he has not stumbled beyond recovery (Rm 11:12); though he has been hardened he may be provoked to envy and saved (Rm 11:14); though he has been cut off from the vine he may be grafted back in if he leaves his unbelief (Rm 11:23).
Which objector is the one represented in the text? You decide.
At this point, another objection I often hear from my Calvinistic brethren goes something like this:
“Well, how is that interpretation any better than ours? You still have God blinding Jews from hearing the gospel and blaming them for their rebellion. Don’t you believe that makes God unfair?”
I love this question because finally I get to say in response to my Calvinistic friend, “Who are you oh man to question God!?” And ironically it is probably the first time they have heard that reply where it actually fits the context of the original objection.
What many Calvinists do not realize is that we DO allow for the objector in Romans 9, but we just happen to believe it is the same objector Paul addresses in Romans 3:1-8. It is not the objection of a non-elect reprobate born hated by God and unable to respond to His clear truth. It is the objection of a Jew who has grown calloused by his own choices, but who now is being blinded by God in that rebellious condition so as to accomplish a greater good for all the world, including those hardened.
Pick up a copy of The Potter’s Promise for more.
In 1974, Word Book Publishers released Dr. Hobbs book on Ephesians entitled: New
Men in Christ. Dr. Hobbs admits his book “is more devotional that technical.” Yet, you
will find it deep enough to engage most pastors and clear-cut enough to cause serious
laymen to dig deeper.
Hobbs believed the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians showing them their place in
God’s eternal redemptive purpose in Christ. They were a called people with a purpose
–to propagate the gospel. Composed of both Jews and Gentiles, “in Christ” they found
both a unity of persons and purpose.
The “asterisks” represent corresponding direct quotes by Hobbs without adding my
personal thoughts or commentary. Due to limitations of word count, I could not include
all of Hobbs’ material from pp. 13-20.
According as* he hath chosen us** in him before the
foundation of the world,*** that we should be holy and
without blame before him**** in love:***** (Ephesian 1:4
* “According as” – may be read “even as.” This connects the following words with
“who hath blessed us” in verse 3. So, God has blessed us in that “he hath chosen us in
him before the foundation of the world.”
** “hath chosen” – is a first aorist middle (reflexive) form of the verb meaning to
pick out or select. From it comes the words “elect” or “election.” Paul is introducing his
great treatment of what is called the doctrine of election. This doctrine has been
variously understood. Some, placing their entire emphasis upon God’s sovereignty, see
it as God’s choosing certain individuals for salvation to the exclusion of all others. Such
a position ignores the free will of man.
Basically, election means that God has taken the initiative in his purpose to save men.
Apart from that initiative no man can be saved. But initiative does not mean fatalism.
Rather is an expression of God’s love and grace. Therefore, election should not be
viewed as God’s purpose to save as few but as many as possible. To relate election to the
few is to ignore the many exhortations to preach the gospel to all men. And it runs head-
on into such phrases as “whosoever believeth” (John 3:16) and “whosoever will” or is
willing (Rev. 22:17; see Isa. 55:1).
Election never appears in the Bible as mechanical or blind destiny. It stems from a God
of love and grace, and relates to man who is morally responsible. In no case does it
appear in violation of the will of man (cf. Matt. 11:28; 23:37-38). In John 6:44 Jesus
said, “No man can come to me, except the Father … draw him.” “Draw” is God’s
initiative; “come” is man’s response through his free will. Of course, an all-wise God
knows beforehand who will believe or refuse to do so. However, foreknowledge of an
event does not necessarily mean that one is responsible for it. God has done all that even
he can do to save men. But he does not coerce men against their wills. Through the Holy
Spirit he draws, but men must come to him in personal, willing faith.
*** “in him before the foundation of the world” – It should be noticed that God
has chosen us “in him” or in Christ (cf. v.3). And this choice was made “before the
foundation of the world” or the cosmos. This means that the election took place before
the creation of the universe or man. It was no afterthought with God after man had
sinned. But knowing that he would do so, in eternity God chose to do something to
enable man to be restored to his fellowship. The choice under consideration, therefore,
did not take place in time. It was in the eternal purpose of God (cf.3:11). This suggests a
method of election rather than the persons involved. It was a chose based on God’s
grace, not upon man’s merit. It was an act of his sovereign will. But this does not rule
out man’s free will. God provided, but man was/is still free to accept or reject. Otherwise
God’s sovereignty would have violated man’s freedom. To have done this would reduce
man to a puppet, rather than a person capable of God’s fellowship. By his own choice
God must be sovereign and man must be free. This can mean only that in his sovereign
choice God by grace offered man a means of salvation, with man left free to his reaction
**** “that we should be holy and without blame before him” — Now what
was/is the purpose and goal of God’s gracious sovereignty? This refers to character as
well as standing with relation to God. In his electing grace God proposed to place man in
a condition of righteousness through Christ (Rom. 1:17; 10:1-4). Thus man would be
once again in fellowship with a “holy” and “blameless” God. “In Christ” the believer is
regarded by God as being holy and blameless. This also is a work of God’s grace. At the
same time subsequently the Christian is to grow in this state into the likeness of the
character of God in Christ. He both is and must become, again, by God’s grace.
*****“In love.” Some interpreters connect “in love” with verse 4 as it appears in the
King James Version. But others read it as a part of verse 5. This latter position, which I
prefer, expresses the sphere in which God did his electing or foreordaining. Thus it
reads, “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to
himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (v.5). (Note the order “Jesus Christ.)
So Paul anticipates the historical event whereby Christ became Jesus of Nazareth in
order to activate in time God’s eternal purpose. However, he is still thinking of the
electing grace of God as before the foundation of the world.
“In love having predestinated.” Whatever Paul meant by predestination, it was done in
the sphere of God’s love. How may we understand “having predestinated”? Some read it
as in election that some souls are predestinated for heaven and others for hell. But as we
have pointed out, this position magnifies God’s sovereignty to the neglect of man’s free
will. In this light may we not find another sense which is in keeping with the nature of
both God and man?
The verb translated “having predestinated” is a participle meaning “to horizon
beforehand.” This verb is used six times in the New Testament (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-
30; I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11.
One papyrus example uses it in the sense of fixing a boundary of a piece of land. Another
is rendered “survey.”
Unfortunately the word “predestinated” has come to mean for many an arbitrary
decision on God’s part where the future is in a fixed mold with no regard for man’s free
will. But the original Greek, the papyri, as well as the basic meaning of the word in the
New Testament, says otherwise. It is especially true in this verse. The Greek word in this
case is the one from which comes our word “horizon,” but with a prefix added that gives
it the special meaning “to horizon beforehand.” God did this by drawing a circle about
those who are to be saved. Keep in mind that this refers to the mode set in eternity, not
to temporal action within the context of history. In the light of the papyri examples cited
previously, may we not say that before God created the universe and man he drew a
circle, or built a fence (set a boundary) saying that all who are within this fence shall be
And what is this fence? The fence is Christ. God elected that all who are “in Christ” shall
be saved. The phrase “in Christ” or its equivalent appears ten times in eleven verses (vv.
3-13). So if you are “in Christ” you are saved. If you are not “in Christ,” you are not
saved. God in his sovereignty decreed “in Christ,” but each person in his free will decides
whether or not he will be “in Christ.” Thus God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are
harmonized. Therefore, the doctrines of election and foreordination in the New
Testament are, for all practical purposes, the same. The former expresses God’s will;
the latter shows how His will is accomplished.