While the Calvinist may be sincere in his interpretation of Romans 9, I believe he has misread this passage because he has missed some of the context needed to correctly interpret the passage. Here is what I believe is the correct interpretation of this passage. First, we need to avoid the mistake that the Calvinist exegete makes here. We need to always keep in mind the context of this passage, especially when it is a hard to understand passage, and avoid proof-texting. And always ask, “What does the text say, and what does the text mean?” Let’s begin at the beginning - verse 1.
(It would be good to have your Bible open to Romans 9)
1-3: Paul is Jewish and He is writing here about his Jewish brethren. We need to keep this important fact in mind, as it is the most important thing to remember in order to properly understand this passage. One good thing to ask ourselves here is why Paul would be so upset over those who are not accepting Christ if they had been predestined that way? Why, if God is glorified through their reprobation, is Paul so distraught? Even to the point he would give his own salvation so they may be saved! Isn’t Paul's main concern the glory of God? I thought God would be glorified in this!? Why would Paul care so much about those God has chosen to reprobate out of His own sovereign decree?
4-5: This is the context of Romans 9. Paul is writing about people groups. The early Christians in
6: Paul addresses the misconception here that the Jews were automatically saved simply because they are Jews, and also the misconception that God somehow failed in choosing them as His people. He states, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect (failed in His choice of the Jews). For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” They are not all
In the Old Testament, God chose the Jews for a purpose. They were tasked with carrying the Law of God. God was revealing Himself to the world and they were tasked with recording that revelation. They kept the temple sacrifices and the Passover which all pointed to Jesus Christ. Remember this whenever I refer to the Israelites as God’s people. They were not saved simply because they were Jews. They were saved the same way as we are, as shown in Genesis 15:6 where Abrahams FAITH was accounted to him as righteousness (Christ’s future sacrifice paid for the salvation of Abraham and all who had faith in God in the Old Testament). Also, people from outside the Jewish nation came to faith in God, and God looked at Christ’s sacrifice instead of their sin.
7-9: God chose Isaac to be the heir of Abraham, the heir that would carry on the Jewish race. It wasn’t due to who Isaac was; it was God’s sovereign choice in choosing Isaac to do this, for His own reasons. It wasn’t simply enough to be Abraham’s son, for Ishmael was also his son. Isaac was the child of promise. God supernaturally caused Sarah to give birth to him, and chose him as the specific person to carry on the line of the Jews. However, this is not speaking of Isaac being unconditionally elected unto salvation and Ishmael being reprobated. If you remember correctly, God had mercy on Ishmael.
10-11: Here it is essential to know a little cultural context here. Rabbis at this time taught that God had chosen Israel because of the righteousness of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and other ancient Jewish fathers). Paul is refuting that! It wasn’t because of the things they did (because they were chosen before birth); it was because of the sovereign choice of God that He chose Israel as His people.
12-13: Improperly understood, this could have massive repercussions on your interpretation of the rest of the Bible. Is God telling Rebecca while her children were still in the womb that He hates one of them!? God hated a baby!? How does that fit the rest of scripture? First off, Paul is quoting Genesis 25:23. It says, “two NATIONS are in your womb. Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.’” Remember what I said? This is a prophecy about God choosing a nation. This is not about the boys themselves. Esau became the father of the Edomites. Jacob was renamed Israel and the nation of Israel descended from him. This is about Israel being a stronger nation than Edom, not about Esau literally serving Jacob. We see later on that Esau never actually served Jacob, they were reconciled, and I think they are both in heaven today. This is also not about individual election unto salvation. It’s not about who goes to heaven and hell.
But what about, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”? This is from Malachi 1, which was written 1600 years after the passage from Genesis. Let’s examine it. Notice God is speaking to the nation of Israel.
This entire passage is also about the nations, not the boys. They would have died over 1400 years prior to this. Therefore, Paul is using these passages to make his point about corporate election.
Also, when the words “Love-hate” are used as they are here, hated is being used as an idiom (the Hebrews loved using these). It is used opposite to love to express a lesser degree of love, not literal hatred. You can see a similar usage in Genesis 29:30. Jesus uses the same idiom in Luke 14:26. We’re not actually supposed to hate our parents, but compared to our love for God, the love for our parents is like hate.
So instead of teaching that God hated a baby before he had done anything, this passage actually teaches that God chose specific nations for specific things. That is a huge difference.
14-16: What about this? Was God unrighteous when He chose Jacob over Esau? Esau was the eldest and that meant that the birthright of Isaac was naturally his. But God chose Jacob to be the one to catty on the line of Israel. Paul asserts that of course God is not unrighteous in this decision.
In verse 15 Paul is citing Exodus 33:19. Let’s remember that Paul is a Jewish Rabbi. Jews memorized large portions of the Old Testament. He had an amazing command of knowledge of these ancient texts. Would he rip the text out of context in order to prove a point about individual unconditional election? No! The context here is not about who goes to heaven and who does not. In context, Moses has asked God to show him His glory. God says it is because of His mercy that He has decided to show Himself to Moses, not due to anything Moses did. So Paul’s point is God does not owe us mercy based on what we do (will or run). The basis of God’s choice is not on the people’s conduct, but on His compassion. The “IT” in verse 16 is not individual salvation; the “IT” refers to God’s choice of Israel: Corporate/national election. Individual election has not appeared in this section.
17-18: Is this speaking of eternal salvation? If it is, it is terrible! Are there people whom God hardens leaving them nothing they can do about it? Has God chosen them for utilitarian destruction? Certainly God has the power to do this, but does this sound like the God of the Bible? Ezekiel 33:11 says, “‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’” 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” And 1 Timothy 2:4 says, “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This is what God wants. He wants everyone to be saved because He loves us. But He does not force us to love Him.
Concerning Pharaoh and Moses and God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, we must remember that Pharaoh was never a believer and had already hardened his heart toward God. God in displaying His grace to Pharaoh was the occasion for Pharaoh to harden his heart. Much like we say prison hardens a criminal, we know it is actually the criminal hardening himself; Pharaoh likewise was hardened because of God’s grace. Also the Hebrew word for “harden” is more often translated “to give strength, to fortify.” So in Exodus 14:17, God may have only strengthened the resolve of what the Egyptians had already chosen to do. God never decided to send Pharaoh to hell based on an arbitrary decree. Pharaoh went to hell because of his sins.
This is still speaking of CORPORATE/NATIONAL ELECTION.
19-22: Paul is still speaking of national election here. He alludes to another passage in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 18:3-11. The potter is God and the clay is the nation of Israel.
22-23: So as God chose the people of Israel as His people, He now chooses believers (spiritual Israel) as His people that He will save. On the other hand, God prepares those who reject Him for an eternal punishment. The translation of the words, “What if,” is a little misleading. Paul is not asking a hypothetical question. He is making an assertion. Notice that God does not display His wrath hurriedly. He endures the vessels of wrath with much patience. The fact is we were all vessels of wrath at one time, until we came to Jesus by faith.
24: God calls people to be a part of His spiritual kingdom not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles. In the early church many were excluding gentiles because they weren’t Jews. The apostles had to deal with this, among many other issues they dealt with.
25-29: Paul quotes the Old Tesament to support this point (that He elects those who believe) and to tell what the ramifications of Israel’s rejection of God are.
30-33: This is the real kicker. Verse 30 is Paul’s summary of all He had just said. Paul starts by saying, "What shall we say then?" which signals he is about to summarize his whole point. Paul's ultimate point, therefore, is gentiles who have not pursued righteousness, as the Jews had, attained righteousness by FAITH. Whatever else Romans 9 means; there is certainly no reason to read a double predestenarian viewpoint into it, especially in light of verses 30-33.