I and a partner are currently teaching through a series on Romans for our church’s Sunday School, and we have recently gone through Romans 9-11. All of these chapters can be challenging, but Romans 9 in particular is notorious for being one of the most difficult and debated chapters in the Bible. It is also one of the most, if not the most, important prooftexts for the Calvinist position, and that makes it a hotbed for a lot of disagreement (some Arminians, in turn, claim that Romans 9 proves their position). I hope to address the chapter here succinctly, carefully, yet civilly, though it will not be possible to address every single issue fully without making these posts absurdly long.
Tackling a chapter like this in an efficient manner is challenging, but I’ll try to lay out my methodology:
-It is widely accepted that 9-11 is one unit, but for space considerations my focus will be on chapter 9. The other two chapters will be mentioned in passing when helpful. This will no doubt be a deficiency in these posts, but it is practical.
-Paul uses several Old Testament references that cause a lot of interpretive issues. My working assumption will be that the original contexts of those references will be helpful to look at because while NT writers may do some new things with OT texts, I don’t think we can say that they changed what they meant to their original audience without seriously jeopardizing the trustworthiness of God’s Word.
-I will focus on what Paul wants to answer and largely assume that he avoids wild tangents. To see his argument, I think it will be particularly helpful to first focus on both his introduction and his conclusion, similar to how one might get the gist of an academic paper by reading its introduction, scanning its body, and then reading its conclusion. This helps one see where the author starts and where he plans to end up. Granted, not all academic papers are written well and coherently, but in this case, I think it is fair to expect the inspired writer Paul to make sense.
-This post will focus on issues regarding the introduction and conclusion, and the next will address the body.
With these things in mind, I’ll begin.