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Does Romans 9:14-16 teach about Unconditional Individuals election? Absolutely not!

Does Romans 9:14-16 teach about Unconditional Individuals election? Absolutely not!

C. Michael Patton wrote 12 reasons Romans 9 is about individual election. And he said, “Rom. 9:15 emphasizes God’s sovereignty about choosing individuals: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”[1] And I do not agree with him. I want to show how important for us to interpret the scripture contextually.
So, Does Romans 9 teach about Unconditional Individuals election? Absolutely not!

Let’s check it out…

There are two main things which Paul is dealing here in these chapters (Romans 9-11). And Morris pointed them out,

1). And Paul mentioned God for 26 times in chapters 9–11, but he mentioned Christ only 7 times and the Spirit once. That means the emphasis falls on God in his sovereignty rather than on Christ in his saving activity.
2). He mentioned “Jew” twice, but “Israel” 11 times (and not elsewhere in this letter). Paul is referring to the nation in its capacity as the covenant people, the people of God.[2]

If we happen to neglect these two main points while dealing with Romans 9, we miss the whole things. It’s always a good idea to stick within the context of the passage but it is, even more, a better idea to understand the culture of the New Testament world. Abasciano explained about this,

The dominant perspective of Paul and his contemporaries was that the group was primary and the individual secondary. The individual, while important, was not thought of as standing on his own, but as embedded in the group of which he was a member. Personal identity was derived from the group rather than the group drawing its identity from the individuals contained in it.[3]

It is good to study Greek and Hebrew grammar to understand the scripture. And we should appreciate it. But this alone will not help us to understand the scripture well. We need to understand the culture of the New Testament world too. Once we neglect the later, we will never get to understand the scripture well enough.

Romans 9:14-16


New Greek (UBS): 14 Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; μὴ ἀδικία παρὰ τῷ θεῷ; μὴ γένοιτο. 15 τῷ Μωϋσεῖ γὰρ λέγει, Ἐλεήσω ὃν ἂν ἐλεῶ καὶ οἰκτιρήσω ὃν ἂν οἰκτίρω. 16 ἄρα οὖν οὐ τοῦ θέλοντος οὐδὲ τοῦ τρέχοντος ἀλλὰ τοῦ ἐλεῶντος θεοῦ.

English: 14Then what shall we say? Is there no justice with God? Absolutely not! 15For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So then not of the one who wishes nor of the man who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

14 Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; μὴ ἀδικία παρὰ τῷ θεῷ; μὴ γένοιτο.

Τί: Neuter Accusative singular (interrogation pronoun) of τίς ‘what.’ This is used as direct, indirect and rhetorical questions. And in this verse, it is used as in a rhetorical question.  
οὖν: Conjunction, ‘therefore/so’
ἐροῦμεν: Verb, future Active indicative 1st person plural of ἐρῶ ‘I say.’
μὴ: Negative particle which is used for negating the assumption and in this context, it is used to introduce questions expecting a negative answer
ἀδικία: feminine nominative singular of ἀδικία ‘injustice.’
παρὰ: preposition with dative ‘with’
γένοιτο: Optative aorist deponent 3rd person singular of γίνομαι ‘I become’

Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ‘then what shall we say?’ Τί οὖν, ‘what then’ which is the continuation of verse 13. So, here Paul starts with a question which he used a lot in this epistle (in Romans 6:1, 7:7, 9:30, 3:5, 4:1). Whenever we come across such question type in the book of Romans, remember that Apostle Paul wants to advance his argument.[4] But here, Paul used this question type to defend what he has just stated in verse 13 (Jacob I loved, but Esau, I hated).
μὴ ἀδικία παρὰ τῷ θεῷ; μὴ γένοιτο, ‘Is there no justice with God?’ this rhetorical question means that if God loved Jacob and hated Esau before even they were born then was God acted unjustly? But immediately Paul responded with an emphatic negation, μὴ γένοιτο ‘absolutely not!’ And interestingly, the emphatic negation occurs ten times in Romans (3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11) but nowhere else in Paul’s writings.[5] By stating this emphatic negation, ‘absolutely not!’ Paul rejects the charge about God’s unrighteousness with his characteristic.[6]

15 τῷ Μωϋσεῖ γὰρ λέγει, Ἐλεήσω ὃν ἂν ἐλεῶ καὶ οἰκτιρήσω ὃν ἂν οἰκτίρω.

Μωϋσεῖ: Proper noun Masculine dative singular of Μωϋσῆς ‘Moses’
γὰρ: conjunction, ‘for’
λέγει: present active indicative 3rd person singular of λέγω ‘I say’
Ἐλεήσω: Future active indicative 1st person singular of ἐλεέω ‘I show mercy’
ὃν: relative pronoun masculine Accusative singular, of ὅς ‘who’
οἰκτιρήσω: future active indicative, 1st person singular of οἰκτίρω ‘compassion’

τῷ Μωϋσεῖ γὰρ λέγει, ‘for He says to Moses.’ In the previous Paul rejected the charge about injustice of God with emphatic negation μὴ γένοιτο. Now, in this verse, the word γὰρ ‘for’ indicates that Paul will continue to explain how the rejection of Esau was justified by quoting a verse from Exodus 33:19 that says, Ἐλεήσω ὃν ἂν ἐλεῶ καὶ οἰκτιρήσω ὃν ἂν οἰκτίρω “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Interestingly, for some certain Christians, this verse has been a favourite one to defend their view. No doubt, the word ὃν ‘whom’ which is a relative pronoun is singular but the question is- does this singularity talk about individual election? I will say μὴ γένοιτο, ‘absolutely not!’ the reasons-

a.    Firstly, the original context of Exodus 33:19 refers to corporate Israel

Abasciano said,
…But in its original context, the singular language of Exodus 33:19 actually refers to corporate Israel and her restoration to covenantal election. In the LXX translation, which Paul quotes, it is a case of referring to a corporate entity with singular terminology insofar as it represents the thought of the original Hebrew, a sort of collective singular.[7]

And he further stated regarding the relative pronoun ὃν ‘whom.’ He said-
The LXX’s ὃν translates the Hebrew אֲשֶׁר, which is a numberless relative particle that can refer to either a singular or plural referent. We have no way of knowing whether the LXX translator of Exodus 33:19 used ὃν in a collective or singular sense, that is, how he interpreted the passage. The LXX uses the singular Greek relative pronoun to translate אֲשֶׁר concerning a group in e.g. Num 13:32; Isa 19:25; 41:8. Cf. the use of singular language applied to the nation at various points elsewhere in Exodus 32–34 such as Exodus 33:3, and throughout the OT.[8]
 I agree with Abasciano. Many of those Christians who favour for singularity have failed miserably to see Scripture in a bigger context.

b.    Secondly, the context of this passage is about corporate Israelites


Starting from Ch. 9:1-3, Paul directly talk about Israelites and he expressed his sorrow in verse 2, ὅτι λύπη μοί ἐστιν μεγάλη καὶ ἀδιάλειπτος ὀδύνη τῇ καρδίᾳ μου ‘that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.’ The reason for why he has a great sorrow with unceasing anguish in his heart is that so many of his fellow Jews refused to embrace the gospel. His lamentation for his people, nation Israel, is similar to laments over Israel’s sinful or fallen state in the OT prophets.[9] Therefore, from vv1-3, Paul has a mindset of corporate Israelites, not individuals.

Again, in from vv4-5, we will see Paul mentioning all the privileges which the chosen nation as whole were enjoying. Those privileges are- 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 Christ the Messiah came. All these privileges were enjoyed by the chosen nation Israel as a whole which proves that the passage is not about Individuals.

And Paul’s references about the divine choices over Isaac and Jacob is primarily about corporate election too not about Individuals. And regarding this Abasciano explained-

The point of Isaac’s election in the passage Paul quotes is that the seed of Abraham, the elect covenant people, would be named/identified by connection to Isaac (Rom 9:7; Gen 21:12). Individuals would be regarded as part of the covenant people based on their relationship to Isaac. Paul interprets this to mean that only “the children of the promise are regarded as seed,” that is, as the chosen people of God (Rom 9:8). Similarly, both of Paul’s quotations concerning Jacob speak of his election primarily as the election of a people. The fuller context of Paul’s first Jacob quotation makes this perfectly clear: “The Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be divided from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger’” (Gen 25:23; cf. Rom 9:12). Likewise, as Cranfield comments concerning the second Jacob quotation (Rom 9:13), “There is no doubt that the concern of Mal I.2–5 is with the nations of Israel and Edom, and it is natural to suppose that by ‘Jacob’ and ‘Esau’ Paul also understands not only the twin sons of Isaac but also the peoples descended from them[10]
The above explanation is absolutely right. The whole chapter, in fact from 9-11, is about nation Israel. Morris also wrote in his commentary ‘the epistle of Romans’

We should bear in mind that Paul is here dealing with the community rather than with individuals. Of course, there is an application to the individual, but basically, the apostle is thinking of the place of Israel as a whole.[11]

He further explained,

We have just seen that the Genesis passage refers primarily to nations and we would expect that to continue here. That this is the case seems clear from what Malachi writes about Esau: “Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals” (Mal. 1:3). Both in Genesis and Malachi, the reference is clearly to nations, and we should accept this as Paul’s meaning accordingly.[12]

No doubt this chapter is talking about the sovereignty of God and nobody can deny this truth. At the same time, Paul’s primary concern is about the nation Israel. And therefore, this v15 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” is about corporate election.  

16 ἄρα οὖν οὐ τοῦ θέλοντος οὐδὲ τοῦ τρέχοντος ἀλλὰ τοῦ ἐλεῶντος θεοῦ.


θέλοντος: present active participle, masculine genitive singular of θέλω ‘I want/wish/desire’
τρέχοντος: present active participle, masculine genitive singular of τρέχω ‘I run’
ἐλεῶντος: present active participle, masculine genitive singular of ἐλεάω ‘I show mercy’  
θεοῦ: Masculine genitive singular of θεός ‘God’

Now Paul concluded by saying human beings can neither choose it nor work for it to receive the mercy and compassion of God. But it solely depends on God. In fact, it is all about God sovereignty. Here, the “mercy” involved here is God’s mercy in choosing nations, not individuals.

CONCLUSION:

1). The original context for “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassionshows that this verse is not about Individuals election but it is about corporate Israel.

2). The passage Romans 9 is talking about the nation Israel which is not primarily about the individuals.

4). Lastly not the least, whenever scripture talks about the election it favours corporate election. In Ephesians 1:4, καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, ‘even as God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world’ The ἡμᾶς, ‘us’ is a 1st person plural pronoun but the question is- ἡμᾶς refers to whom? Individuals? Or a group of people? If we go back and read chapter 1:1, we will see the phrase τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν (ἐν Ἐφέσῳ), ‘to the holy ones/saints in Ephesus.’ That means this epistle was written by Paul to the body of Christ which is at Ephesus. If we go on and read chapter 2:11-21 we will see that the churches there in Ephesus are consist of both the Gentiles and Jews. Therefore, the word ‘ἡμᾶς’ is not referring to individuals not even referring to one race but it is referring to the body of Christ which include both Jews and Gentiles. The other word for the body of Christ is the church.

And even in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, τὴν ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν, ‘he has chosen you (plural)’ the word ὑμῶν, ‘you’ is referring to τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ Θεσσαλονικέωντῇ, ‘to the church of the Thessalonians.’

So,

Does Romans 9:14-16 teach about Unconditional Individuals Election? Absolutely Not!

God bless you!


[2] Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 345). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
[3] Brian J. Abasciano, " Corporate Election in Romans 9: A reply to Thomas SchreinerJETS 49/2 (June 2006) 351–71.
[4]Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 591). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
[5] Mohrlang, R., Gerald L. Borchert. (2007). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 14: Romans and Galatians (p. 148). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
[6] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans  p. 592
[7] Brian J. Abasciano, " Corporate Election in Romans 9: A reply to Thomas SchreinerJETS 49/2 (June 2006) 351–71.
[8] Brian J. Abasciano, " Corporate election in Romans 9: A reply to Thomas SchreinerJETS 49/2 (June 2006) 351–71.

[9] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 557). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
[10] Brian J. Abasciano, " Corporate Election in Romans 9: A reply to Thomas Schreiner " JETS 49/2 (June 2006) 351–71.

[11] Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 356–357). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
[12] Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 356–357)