Saturday, November 10, 2012

Running into Romans 9:9

I'm having my sister-in-law the English major and writer edit my book, and as part of it I had her flag parts where she felt uncomfortable and thought I might be bending the text or treating it unfairly. She attends church at my old Church of Christ. One of the parts she flagged was Romans 9:8. I'll paste in the dialogue portion, and let's back up to verse 6: 

[It’s curious though, is it] 6not, [that even with all these advantages they are still perishing in their unbelief. It’s almost] as though the word of God has taken [to] no effect. [Why is that?]

They are not all Israel, who are of Israel, 7neither, because they are the descendents of Abraham, are they all children.

But [how do you know that?]
[It says in Genesis 21:12] “In Isaac will your descendents be called.”

8That [means what? That] those [of us] who are the children of the flesh are not the children of God? [Preposterous! Who] but [us could be the offspring of Abraham?]

The children of the promise are counted for the descendents.
Now here is where she balks. In context Paul has been talking about why some of the Jews were saved and some perished, even though God promised these great things to all Israel. How do we reconcile the fact that some perished and some did not? Well, Paul tells us it's because those people who perished were not of true, Spiritual Israel. They were not the true sons of Abraham, they did not really receive the promises of eternal life.
The promised eternal life went out to those who were the sons of Abraham, which did not mean all of national Israel, only some of national Israel. He has expressed this principle before in verse 7, now Paul will give it again via the OT quote. Isaac represents those whom God has called- he stands for the elect.
Therefore I mirrored the "how do you know" aspect from above since Paul is still talking about this, but there is really only one question that fits:
What makes you so sure] 9this [promise] is [only for the descendents of Abraham which God chose for salvation, and not all of them?]

If it's uncomfortable then it's an uncomfortable text. I have tried to be faithful to the text here, let God do what pleases Him. She goes on then to comment that:
"[The notion that God has only chosen some to salvation and Isaac stands as a type is unsuitable] because Paul has been talking about Isaac and Ishmael, then Jacob and Esau, not Christians."
In other words, it's the argument that just because they were predestined doesn't mean we are as well. But there is the problem of Galatians 4:28 "Now you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise."

Now one more closing thought and it's a meaty one: Arminians like to say Romans 9 is talking about the nation of Isaac - the Jews, and the nation of Ishmael - Arabia and the like. They are not individuals predestined, but nations. But that argument is unsuitable- consider what Paul has set out to answer in Romans 9 all along- if this is the history of the Jews, why are they not saved? If God has given good promises to them, why are they not all inheritors of eternal life? The answer is that nations themselves are not monolithic, God has not saved everyone individually in that nation, take as proof election in Isaac and Jacob.

Isaac and Jacob cannot therefore be representing the nations of Israel because Paul is using them to explain why not all Israel is saved. It would otherwise be a circular reasoning: "Well Isaac stands for Israel and was chosen by God for salvation." Okay but this completely fails to answer why the nation is not saved if Isaac got the promise of salvation. It's only if Isaac is a person, treated as a person that this chapter has any meaning at all.

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