Paul on Election in Romans: Eschatology or Ecclessiology?

The Gentiles Ask to See Jesus
The Gentiles Ask to See Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This semester at the Episcopal Church at Yale we have been working through the Letter to the Romans in our weekly Bible study, which wrapped up last week.  In a previous post I gave an overview of what I take the argument of Romans to be.  In this post, I want to focus in on a particular topic, the issue of “divine election.”

To give a brief summary of what we said before:

Paul’s fundamental concern in his ministry is arguing for the full and unconditional inclusion of Gentiles in the early church.

This is in opposition to those who would have argued that the Gentiles could only be included in the church after submitting to the Jewish law.  As I said in the last post, Paul argues that the law has not brought salvation to the Jews, that both Jews and Gentiles are in need of salvation.

Paul then argues that this salvation comes through the faith of Christ, which establishes a new people of God– those united to Christ, sharing in his faith through their own “obedience of faith.”

In making this argument, Paul raises serious questions about the role of the law.  We can see him wrestling with the implications of this in chapter 7, I think, where Paul tries to work through his own relationship with the law while acknowledging that the law does not bring about salvation.

In making this argument Paul also raises a serious question about the nature of divine election.

Before we get into this, I want to summarize how the conversation about divine election is normally constructed in theology.  This is important because I think the way that I am about to construct the conversation is very different from how this is normally done and I would be remiss if I left anyone thinking that what I was arguing for was a standard view.

In my experience, the issue of election is generally considered in terms of two concepts:  the order of salvation and eschatology.

Lets start with eschatology: generally election is seen as having to do with the eternal state of individuals in the eschaton.  In other words, the term elect refers to those who, at the end of time, will spend eternity with God.  There is one exception to this understanding of election which I will mention momentarily, but an eschatological focus seems to be a generally accepted dimension of meaning for this phrase.

The order of salvation is a much more contested issue in most theological discussions about election.  This gets us to another major theological term:  predestination.  The question that I have heard most frequently debated concerning election is the question of whether the elect are chosen by God before they are known or foreknown by God to be those whom would choose faith.  In other words, this becomes a debate about free-will: does God choose faith for those God will save, or does God choose those who will themselves freely choose faith?

This issue of predestination gets complicated and touches on several other issues that we won’t get into now.  In general, though, this issue breaks down into a few recognizable camps.  One of the most vocal camps, especially in evangelical theology today, is the Calvinist or Reformed camp, which holds that God predestines those who will be saved and thereby determines that they will choose faith and salvation.  Human free-will is an illusion on such a view and the eschatological fate of individuals is entirely up to God.  In opposition to this viewpoint are several versions of what is usually referred to as Arminianism, all of which hold that humans freely choose salvation rather than God determining their choice.

One other view worth mentioning is that of 20th century theologian Karl Barth.  Barth considered himself a Calvinist, but reconfigured the argument a good bit by arguing that election is not an eschatological concept having to do with the eternal fate of people’s souls but that election refers to God’s predestination of Christ.  In choosing Christ, God chooses to identify with and redeem humanity.  Barth leaves the last bit somewhat open to interpretation, with some taking this as moving in a universalist direction and others interpreting Barth here as making room for human free-will within a Calvinist paradigm.

Now that I’ve laid out that crash course in the theological understanding of election, we can return to Romans.

The first thing that I am going to suggest is that I don’t think any of these views map onto the argument of Romans particularly well.

Certainly Romans has an element of being concerned with people’s salvation.  Certainly Paul talks about election, predestination, foreknowledge, and Christ as the “new Adam” or the “first-fruits” of salvation, all terms that play major roles in each of the aforementioned theological viewpoints.  But with all of that said, I want to suggest that the way election functions in Paul’s argument in Romans is not the way election functions in any of these theological models.

Instead I want to argue that election functions as a way in which Paul deals with the question of how the inclusion of the Gentiles relates to the Jewish self-understanding as the chosen people of God.

To set this up, lets remember that throughout this letter Paul has used the law in two ways.

First, he has used law as a marker of what the Jews thought made them unique amongst ancient societies:  God had revealed the law to them, therefore they had a special status before God.

Second, Paul has used the law as a foil to faith, arguing that the law has not brought about salvation (the Jews are ultimately in the same boat as the Gentiles) and therefore salvation must come about thru some other means, namely the faith of Christ producing faith in us.

In making this argument, Paul has raised a serious question about Jewish identity.  If the law has not brought about salvation, if both Jews and Gentiles are to be saved through some new means, then what does this mean for the ancient promises God made to the Jewish people?  What does this mean for the Jewish identity as the chosen (or elect) people of God?

It is to answer this question, I think, that Paul turns in Romans chapters 9-11.  And his answer is that God’s relationship with the people of Israel is based on God’s own prerogative.  The claim Paul is making is essentially this:  God choose (or elected) to establish a relationship with Israel in the past, but it is entirely within God’s rights to change the nature of that relationship or to establish a new relationship with the Gentiles.

Three things need to be said in unpacking that basic argument:

First, in some ways this argument is a necessary step for Paul to make in responding to his opponents.  At the end of the day Paul cannot make the claim that the Gentiles are to be fully included into the church without being required to submit to the Jewish law unless Paul has a way of setting aside the law, and that in part requires setting aside the status it affords the people of Israel as the chosen or elect people of God.  So in making this claim Paul is in essence working out the logical conclusions of his own theological position with regards to the question of Gentile inclusion.

Second, the biggest objection that could be given to Paul by his opponents in response to such a claim is that this in some way makes God out to be a liar (or at the very least, arbitrary), going back on his promises to the Jewish people.  In response to this Paul offers several prophetic passages in chapters 9-11 as evidence that in fact the inclusion of the Gentiles is completely in line with what God has said to the people of Israel in the past.  God always intended to bring salvation to the Gentiles and now he has done it Paul argues.  In no way has God broken his word, instead it is the people of Israel who have failed to keep up their end of the bargain.

Third, Paul uses this argument as the basis for issuing a challenge to the Gentiles.  The covenant with Israel which God made in the past was intended for Israel to bring about the salvation of both the Jews and the Gentiles, Paul has argued, but was conditional on Israel’s obedience.  Israel’s rejection of Christ has led to the Gentiles being “grafted in” while Israel has itself been pruned out of this covenant, Paul goes on.  This illustrates the importance of faithfulness to God, Paul argues.  The “obedience of faith” must be maintained in order to continue in the new union with Christ.

It seems likely that Paul is drawing a large part of his motivation for this argument from the actual concrete situation that he faced in his ministry.  By and large his gospel had been rejected by his Jewish hearers while a growing number of Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ.  Paul needed to justify his ministry theologically, and that required an explanation for these concrete facts.  In doing this, however, Paul places the question of election into a different realm of theology than any of the standard accounts we discussed above place it in:  rather than being a question of eschatology or soteriology Paul seems to see the issue of election as a question of ecclessiology: theology about the nature of the church.  The force of Paul’s argument seems to be that the composition of the church cannot be limited by human expectations or boundaries but is instead open to whomever God wills.

While certainly this has implications for eschatology and soteriology, it seems to me that Paul has little interest in Romans in making an argument about whether or how God predestines individual souls to salvation.  Instead, Paul seems much more interested in asking how the racial make-up of the church in his day worked within a theological framework.  In this way, Paul is advancing what for his day is actually a very progressive argument of inclusion, but he is doing so in a way that is grounded in a very high notion of both divine prerogative and human responsibility to maintain the “obedience of faith,” offering a perspective which is very interesting to consider in our present day context.


12 thoughts on “Paul on Election in Romans: Eschatology or Ecclessiology?

  1. Two questions come to my mind. 1-I would like to know how this viewpoint that Romans 9 is not about eschatology or soteriology directly but gentile inclusion within the covenant community (ecclesiology) deals with the context of Romans 9:1-5 itself. Paul says “I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit– that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Paul is concerned with his own ethnic brothers and sisters’ salvation-not national destiny or even their immediate presence in the covenant community. Lutheran scholar Douglas Moo writes, “Paul now gives the reason for his sorrow: the condemnation under which so many of his fellow Jews stand by reason of their refusal to embrace the gospel. To be sure, he does not state this as his cause for concern in so many words. But that no less than eternal condemnation is the issue is plain from his expressed wish to be “accursed” and “cut off from Christ” for the sake of his fellow Jews. “Accursed” translates the gk. Anathema which applies to the underlying spiritual reality of which the church’s excommunication is but the response: eternal damnation. Paul’s willingness to suffer such a fate himself makes sense only if those on behalf of whom he offers himself stand under the curse themselves.”

    This is why Paul laments-his brothers and sister of Israel are rejecting Jesus Christ. John Murray rightly notes that “Paul’s main goal in Rom. 9:6b-13 was not to prove that God freely elected the nation of Israel, but rather to establish a principle by which he could explain how individual Israelites were accursed and yet the Word of God had not fallen.” Paul is concerned about individuals in his lament and goes on to give an apologetic to the claim that God’s promises have not failed concerning Israel’s salvation. They have not failed because God never promised to save anyone by virtue of their ethnicity. This is not national election or election for temporal blessings. This is about salvation. So, how does this viewpoint deal with the immediate context of Romans 9:1-5?

    2- How does one get into the covenant community? I am asking literally “what is justification?” Having read a lot of N.T. Wright, I see his work pervading this blog so I am just curious as to your answer. I’ve written on Romans 9 for my N.T. Seminar class so am interested in the ideas presented here and what the implications are as a result.

    1. Good questions. I’m a bit confused by what you mean by “context of chapter 9” since the verses you site are actually part of chapter 9. Something cannot be its own context, to put it into context means to appeal to a bigger picture. My reading of the big picture in Romans is what motivates how I have read these particular passages.

      Observation based on what I read in your comment and in your linked blog posts: I think you might be pushing the dichotomy of “national” v. “individual” too much. Paul talks about his sorrow for his countrymen, but in the audience of this letter are fellow Jews who have not rejected Christ. Paul is I think speaking collectively but not intending for his discussion of the Jewish people to be interpreted as a precise, exact delineation. Given how Paul is using these national designations, I think my interpretation is able to sustain both the nationalist overtures and the individual exceptions in Paul’s rhetoric. My argument, just to be clear, is not that Paul is discussing “national” salvation (which might be taken to mean a position in which all Jews were justified by virtue of being Jewish under the Old Covenant), but that Paul is dealing with a more nuanced position which argued that in order for individual Gentiles to be saved they had to enter into the Jewish law. Paul argues against this that the law is not the means of salvation, that the faith of Christ producing faith in us is, but this entails a shifting in the understanding of the relationship between God and Israel, which was presumed to be exclusive and bound to the covenant of the law. I think this argument is able to make sense both of the “nationalist” overtures that refer to the standard Jewish conception of the their relationship to God through the Law and the individual faith of those Jews (and Gentiles) who have followed Jesus.

      I think your two versions of the question about justification and the “getting into” the covenant community are actually two very different questions. I think justification is a metaphor Paul employs that refers to the “setting-right” or the relationship between humans and God, which he argues is contingent on the faith of Christ producing faith in us and not on the Law. That said, I’m not sure that Paul clearly identifies how it is, in terms of identifiable acts, that one comes to be part of the covenant community. It does seem clear that Paul is discounting a view that makes entering the community contingent on any of the acts of the Jewish law (such as circumcision). He seems to suggest that the metaphor “union with Christ” is the marker of membership in the covenant community, but I’m not sure if there is some physical act which corresponds to this in Paul’s thinking (maybe baptism, but the discussion in chapter 6 could also be building on a metaphor).

      1. Let me clear up the confusion. I’m using the word “context” to refer to the IMMEDIATE context or section of Romans 9:1-5 that is, the pericope in which Paul describes his anguish of his fellow Jewish brothers’ rejection of the Messiah. From my reading of books on hermeneutics, I’ve gathered that the word context has different usages or types depending on the situation: macro, micro, and immediate. The macro-context of a book is the overall theme or point of the piece of literature or, even more narrowly, the overall point of a certain section. The micro-context is the surrounding literary and rhetorical arguments that the immediate context falls within. The micro-context can be distinguished with the descriptors preceding and succeeding. What is going on in the preceding context that creates the necessity for the immediate context?
        Paul, as the writer, of Romans intended something when he utilized certain words or arguments. In response, the audience understood something of that intended meaning by his words because, in them themselves, there was a message encoded. Authors determine what they say, how they will convey their message, and what results they hope to achieve in their writing. My original question is how does your aerial viewpoint concerning what Romans 9 is about (ecclesiology and not soteriology or eschatology) deal with the immediate context or specific intentions encoded within Paul’s very words of Paul having great emotional distress over his Jewish brothers’ rejection of Jesus. Paul goes as far as saying he could wish himself accursed on their behalves. How is that about Gentile inclusion? It would seem that the immediate context of Paul’s argument (and the subsequent discussion) is soteriologically nuanced from the beginning. Any idea concerning what the overall theme or message of Romans is has to deal with the very words of the text. It mustn’t just stand alone as mere conjecture.
        Romans 9 is not a “out of place” discussion but necessarily flows from what the author said in chapter 8. As I quoted in my blog, “Thomas Schreiner has pointed out that one of the striking themes of chapter 8 (the preceding micro-context) is salvific blessings promised to Israel have been given to the Church: the Holy Spirit was promised for joyful Torah obedience but now this promise has come to fruition in the church (Rom. 8:4), Israel had the pledge of future resurrection and yet Paul speaks of the resurrection of believers (Rom. 8:10-11), Israel was God’s son (Exod. 4:22) and now the members of the Church are God’s sons and daughters (Rom. 8:14-17), the future inheritance was promised to Israel (Isa. 60) and now it is given to the Church (Rom. 8:17), Israel was God’s chosen people foreknown among the nations (Amos 3:2) and now the Church is said to be foreknown and chosen by God (Rom. 8:28-30), and God promised to never forsake Israel (Deut. 31:6) and now this promise is extended to the Church (Rom. 8:31-39). Discussing the question has God abandoned his salvific promises to Israel, Paul responds with salvation was never promised to ethnic Israel. There has always been a winnowing process: Isaac was chosen, not Ishmael; Jacob was chosen instead of Esau. And, this was for the purposes of God’s election. God’s election is unconditional. So, Romans 9-11 is less about Israel’s role in redemptive history (though this is vitally important) and more about giving an apologetic against the ideas that God failed his people and forsook his covenantal promises.”
        I do not think my blog pushes the dichotomy of national versus individual election too far at all (in fact, read the commentaries on Romans…the debate is central within them). The blog was created like it was to respond to the argument that Romans 9 concerns corporate election unto blessings whereas I don’t think that’s Paul’s point at all. Yes, there are Jewish believers at Rome but I think Paul’s discussion concerning Israel’s place in redemptive history in Romans 9 is more poignant within the historical setting of the day. It isn’t merely or only a discussion about Gentile inclusion. The Jewish Christians, returning after Claudius’ edict which banished them, find that their once Jewish church is quite Gentile-like. There are more Gentiles than Jews. This likely led them to wonder about all the OT promises to Israel. Aren’t they God’s chosen son? Did God’s promises fail? Shouldn’t they have a special place? By no means. God’s redemptive plan was always moving towards the goal of a world-wide, multi-ethnic movement of worship for the Creator through his servant Jesus Christ. Ethnic Israel, despite the promises and prestige, were never promised salvation just because of lineage. The promises have not failed. In fact, they are being fulfilled in Jesus Christ himself, the church and the future revival-like response of many ethnically Jewish people who will come to accept their Messiah. The letter is an exposition of God’s saving righteousness that is imparted to the believer (which includes Gentile and Jew) by faith through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul, in hopes of utilizing the Roman Church as a missions base, expounds upon the Gospel, teaches the believers about the role/future of Israel, and encourages the Church to live a life worthy of the Gospel.

        Concerning the second question, I think the answer is faith or trust in what Christ has done on the believer’s behalf. It is the instrument in which the benenfits of Christ’s work is given or procured to the person.

        1. I think my objection to your analysis of the “context” of Romans 9 is with what seems like an arbitrary starting point in 9:1. Romans doesn’t begin with chapter 9, it begins all the way back in verse 1:1, and was likely written to be read in one sitting out loud to a group of gathered people. So everything building up to Romans 9 is relevant to the meaning of Romans 9. I don’t think I’m doing chapter 9 any disservice by interpreting it in a larger context, but I think you might be missing the forest for the trees by trying to center your reading around Paul’s emotional confession in the first few verses of the chapter.

          Now with that said, I don’t think our interpretations are actually that far apart. So for instance, you wrote (echoing the themes of the Schreiner quote you gave us) the following about the church that Paul is writing to: “There are more Gentiles than Jews. This likely led them [the Jews in Paul’s audience] to wonder about all the OT promises to Israel. Aren’t they God’s chosen son? Did God’s promises fail? Shouldn’t they have a special place? By no means. God’s redemptive plan was always moving towards the goal of a world-wide, multi-ethnic movement of worship for the Creator through his servant Jesus Christ. Ethnic Israel, despite the promises and prestige, were never promised salvation just because of lineage. The promises have not failed. In fact, they are being fulfilled in Jesus Christ himself.” I think that my reading is aimed at exactly this point: Paul’s argument in chapter 9 is that the inclusion of the Gentiles apart from the Jewish law has always been a part of God’s plan and in no way undermines God’s credibility in the promises made through the law (see the original post above). This isn’t about ethnic or collective salvation, to echo my clarification in the comment above, it is about Paul theologically defending both his own mission of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles and his “controversial” interpretation of how the Gentiles were to relate to the law.

          This touches on the main point of disagreement that we seem to have, which is that where I interpret this text as part of Paul’s defense of his own ministry to the Gentiles (and his own understanding of how they are to be included in the church), you want to pivot back to “individual salvation” as the main theme of this text. To address this I’ll circle back to your “immediate context”: I think a significant part of Paul’s personal motivation for his mission to the Gentiles is the pain he experienced of his Jewish brethren largely rejecting his message, which is what I think he is referencing at the beginning of chapter 9. I am certain Paul would rather have had the Jews follow Christ, especially given his own background as a Jewish religious scholar, but in response to that rejection he has instead turned to spreading the message to the Gentiles. Is part of this pain centered on concerns about the “individual salvation” of his Jewish brethren? It could very well be, in fact very likely was part of Paul’s concern and pain. But I’m not convinced that the presence of such a concern somewhere in Paul’s mind dictates that his entire argument in the following section of the letter must have to do with “individual salvation.” I just don’t see much evidence for that in the rest of the chapter or in the continuation of this theme through chapters 10 and 11.

          1. I think you have subtly missed the point of Romans 9-11. By attempting to make it solely about ecclesiology and not soteriology and eschatology, you have flattened out what is actually going on. I’ll summarize what Paul is doing. He is not arguing for Gentile inclusion within the church or validating his own ministry. Paul is refuting the idea that Israel was guaranteed salvation because of their election. They thought their ethnicity necessitated their election which necessitated their salvation. Is God a liar because it sure looks that way because his elect people aren’t being saved? The Gentiles or nations are flooding in at an alarming pace. His comments exist to explain the wholesale constituency change in the people of God.

            Paul’s begins his defense that God is not a liar by articulating his desire for the Israelites and recognizing the glory or benefits of being from Israel (9:1-5). His anguish exists because their salvation does not! From there he begins his apologetic by pointing out that God’s promises are not thwarted because not all of Israel are Israel (9:6-9). There has always been a remnant within the covenant community. He shows God’s purpose in election with the examples of Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), and his freedom in the election of Pharaoh (9:14-18). Some might protest that this is not fair so that leads Paul to defend God’s goodness in his providential oversight of who shall be saved. There is no charge of injustice in election (9:19-23) because God has rights by virtue of his personhood. He is the Creator and we are his creatures. Romans 9 is going back into the OT and reaffirming the age old process of God electing individuals (not nations) in order to correct a false understanding of present day Jews who applied a salvific notion of election (right) to the nation (wrong). He then closes the chapter with a statement about the electing love towards Gentiles (9:24-29). They are the beneficiaries of salvation because they have the faith of Abraham and David.

            So why the current populational reversal within the plan or working of God? Why are so many Gentiles coming to God for salvation and ethnic Israel seems to be left behind in the dust? It was not because there was a new type or way of salvation. Israel failed to pursue righteousness by faith (9:30-33). They took Torah and the religious symbols and trusted in those instead of the God who raises the dead, procures to them their desperate need of righteousness, and makes them the people of God. They stumbled over Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law on their behalf. Paul then opens chapter 10 with the desire that the Jewish people be SAVED because they are very zealous. But, Israel’s zeal is not based upon the true knowledge of Christ’s righteousness. You cannot pursue the Law in hopes of gaining salvation. You must pursue Christ who is the “end or fulfillment of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

            Paul then discusses the righteousness that comes by faith and God’s universal call to salvation via the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (10:5-13). The people of God is defined as a people who accept the work of Christ for them and declare his work to the nether reaches of the world. This salvation is mediated by ambassadors who go in his name and proclaim God’s victory in Christ on people’s behalf (10:14-17). The fact that the Gentiles are coming into the covenant (as a result of justification) because they’re trusting Christ is grounded in the OT (10:18) and also in ethnic Israel’s unbelief (10:19-21). They’re receiving what Israel pursued because Israel pursued it wrongly! Paul is not offering a new way of salvation but redefining what it means to be a true Jew.

            Paul does not leave the discussion about God’s promises to Israel being unfulfilled which would impugn his very character. No God’s promises have not failed because there exists a remnant of Israelites chosen by grace (11:1-6). Paul himself, as well as the other apostles, are Jewish! God’s salvific electing love includes those who are ethnically Jewish. There is a remnant of believing Jews who pursued salvation the right way, they bowed their knee to Jesus instead of pursuing their own righteousness via the Law. The Jewish people stumbled and failed to obtain what they were seeking because the object of their pursuit was wrong from the get go. The Law was never a means of salvation but showed the utter filthiness of their sin so that they would look away from themselves. Israel’s stumbling led to their hardening of their heart by God (11:7-10). It is their own fault. But, their faulted stumbling resulted in good for Israel’s failings led to salvation for the Gentiles (11:11-12). Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles exists partially to make the Israelites jealous unto salvation (11:13-16). He goes first to the self-righteous Jews who reject his message and then to Gentiles who look away from themselves to Christ and ironically receive the very salvation the Jews are “working” towards. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles exists in some sense to make his ethnically Jewish brothers see their need for salvation. And if one thinks the salvation of the Gentiles is good, just wait until what happens in the future!

            Paul then goes on to warn against pride trusting in your position instead of who placed you in that position. Gentile pride is disavowed because of how they were grafted in (11:17-24). They did not obtain their position because of works so they are not boast over those who have not currently obtained that position (ethnic Israel) because of their filthy works. The Israelite branch was “broken off” because of unbelief. They disbelieved their Messiah and instead turned inwards and outwards at their symbols instead of what the symbols pointed to. But, this current state of ethnic Israel is not forever for a partial hardening of the Israelites has occurred until the full measure of the Gentiles is complete (11:25-27). God is not through with ethnic Israel but will cause a future religious revival in their hearts where they see their need and accept the riches found in their Messiah. God’s elective purposes in Israel still stand (11:28-32) though it currently seems dark for them. God’s purposes in election ultimately lead the apostle to doxology (11:33-36).

            Romans 9-11 is laced with soteriological significance from start to finish for there is not such “being part of the community” which is not grounded in justification. My original question was aimed at how your macro-contextual viewpoint that Paul is defending or validating his ministry to the Gentiles which led you to interpret the immediate context of Romans 9 a certain way accommodated Paul’s specific salvation-oriented comments at the beginning of the chapter. Romans 9 is not my starting point in how I interpret the whole of Romans but it certainly is my starting point when discussing the ACTUAL words of the passage. I do not look for ways to disavow clear meanings because they’re not congenial to my current set of beliefs. I seek to mold the contours of my theological beliefs in light of Scripture; not in spite of it. Paul doesn’t seem to be theologically arguing for or validating his ministry but correcting their false theology in Romans 9-11. You’re right in that I think we are almost saying the same thing. What we are disagreeing on is the implications or statements we make AFTER what Paul has said. To give a categorical statement like “Romans 9-11 is not about soteriology or eschatology but ecclesiology” is not helpful and is rather obtuse. I’m not pivoting back to the issue of salvation anymore than Paul is arguing for the idea that God’s promises to Israel were nullified and his character is shady at best.

  2. Romans 9 has ecclesiological ramifications but I just do not think that’s the immediate concern in Paul’s argument. At least not yet.

    1. We have maxed out the depth of our thread above, so here is my reply:

      Let me just start with quoting back your interpretation of this chapter. You wrote: “Paul is refuting the idea that Israel was guaranteed salvation because of their election. They thought their ethnicity necessitated their election which necessitated their salvation. Is God a liar because it sure looks that way because his elect people aren’t being saved? The Gentiles or nations are flooding in at an alarming pace. His comments exist to explain the wholesale constituency change in the people of God.” I think this is pretty darn close to what I am arguing Romans 9-11 is about. Now, you want to claim that this has nothing to do with Gentile inclusion or Paul’s validation of his own ministry, which is where we will ultimately disagree. My response would be that those are the larger points of Romans as a whole with Romans 9-11 playing a role in making that argument. Paul has already in Romans argued that both Jews and Gentiles need salvation and both receive it through Christ apart from the law. It is because Paul has already made these arguments in Romans, I think, that he has to answer the question of election at all. Because Paul has suggested earlier in the book that the law is not the means of salvation, he has effectively called into question the Jewish notion of their self-identity as the “elect” of God, an identity which was grounded in the notion of a unique covenant found in the “law” which entailed certain promises to Israel. And it is because his earlier claims about the law not being the means of salvation have called this Jewish self-identity into question that Paul has to address the issue of election and make the arguments that he does in Romans 9-11.

      I won’t walk through your entire commentary, but my own summary of the argument being made in chapters 9-11 would be this: First, Paul argues using multiple quotations from the prophets that God’s plan has always been to expand salvation beyond ethnic Israel and to the Gentiles, so the notion that Israel’s election (via the law) is somehow exclusive is a misunderstanding of what God has always been about. Second, Paul argues from the idea of divine sovereignty (the potter-clay metaphor, branch grafted in, etc) that God’s prerogative to bring salvation to the Gentiles is not something that Israel has the right to question. In both cases the force of the argument is to undermine the counter-claim to Paul’s larger thesis in the book of Romans, which is that Christ has provided a means of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles apart from the law (this counter-claim being fairly explicitly referenced in 9:6 and 9:14).

      To clear something up, I am NOT arguing that Romans 9-11 has nothing to do with eschatology or soteriology. Paul’s entire project is about both of those things. What I am claiming is that the primary argument being made in his discussion of election is not about individual, eschatological salvation. The primary argument, I think, is a reply to the counter-claim that Israel has a unique status via the law which invalidates Paul’s claims about salvation coming to both Jews and Gentiles apart from the law. That primary argument is, as I see it, mostly an ecclessiological argument because it has to do primarily with the “structure” of God’s relationship with humanity and not with the election of individuals. Of course there are lots of other things going on (Paul never does just one thing at a time in his writing) which have individual implications, but my claim here is that the primary argument being made is not about individuals but about the structure of the relationship of God to two groups: Jews and Gentiles.

What do you think? I would love to hear from you, please share your thoughts. Just remember to be respectful of others.

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