Predestination Misunderstanding Part II: Vessels of Honor and Destruction

If you did not catch the first part of this article, you should probably read it. This article will make sense on its own, but to get the big picture read part I. I am trying to keep this simple and to the point. It’s difficult. But we’ll see what happens.  If it gets too bogged down for you just see where I “cut to the chase” near the end.

The ninth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the believers in Rome is a central passage of scripture for those who believe in the doctrine of predestination or unconditional election. Though I felt that unconditional election (UE) conflicted with other scriptures such as Isaiah 1:15-18 and Ezekiel 18:30-31, passages like Romans 9 has kept me from dismissing it out of hand. Also I respect John Calvin and his teaching. Furthermore Martin Luther believed in election. I am not so bold that I will claim to understand the scriptures better than these two giants. They dedicated their very lives to the study, defense, and teaching of scripture. I do well if I can just find time to read my Bible everyday. So I hold these great teachers in high esteem. However I do see points of scripture that are not consistent with UE.

So what do I do with Romans 9? Easy. It is talking about God in His wisdom preordaining some people to be vessels of honor and some for destruction. But most forget to ask the obvious next question: Okay, so who is a vessel of honor and who is a vessel of destruction? Now we come to my point. Since chapter 3, Paul has spent a lot of time describing where Jews and Gentiles stand with God and what their respective places are in the new covenant. According to chapter 3 some Jews were apparently thinking of or treating Gentile believers as second-class citizens. “You’re not circumcised?? Poor sap.” But Paul labors the point that the circumcision God really cares about is circumcision of the heart. After all it was before Abraham was circumcised that his belief of God was accredited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:9-10).

Next Paul launches in to a deep breakdown of what exactly the substitutionary death of Christ accomplished. God laid His wrath upon His only Son on the cross. During the time He was on the cross, the Son was forsaken by the Father. Forsaken. Ignored. Completely without God. It was as though He were in Hell during His time on the cross. I encourage all of you to take the time to really read and study these chapters of Romans I am referring to (chapters 3 through 9). There is some great understanding to be had in these passages. There is so much taught about our fallen state, our sin, our redemption, and our lives as new creatures.

Eventually Paul comes to the Holy Grail of Unconditional Election teaching—the ninth chapter of Romans. In looking at this chapter let us not forget where it all began back in chapter 3. Where do Jews and Gentiles stand with God in the new covenant? Paul continues by stating the sorrow of heart he experiences at the thought of his lost countrymen, the Jews. Surely we often feel the same about lost Americans. Furthermore we are taught here at the beginning of this great chapter that just because a person is a Jew does not make him a true child of Abraham. The true children of Abraham are those who are of the child of promise, namely Isaac. Then he speaks of how it was God’s sovereign choice that Jacob, the second born (though he was a twin), would be the one through whom He would bless Israel and the world. The elder, Esau, shall serve the younger, Jacob. Before either had done good or bad, God ordained it to be so. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.”

He continues to talk of God’s foreordaining some to mercy and glory. And having explained all of this about God’s sovereignty, Paul shifts back to Israel in chapter 9 verse 30. He goes into chapter 10 and at verse 16 he makes an interesting statement: “But not all of the Israelites accepted the good news.” To be talking about predestination, Paul sure seems to be bringing up a lot about Israel. What’s that all about?

I’ll cut to the chase. Here is the conclusion I am toying with. If you read chapters 9 through 11 of Romans you will see Paul making much about Israel’s rejection of messiah. So it stands to reason that all this talk about predestination has nothing to do with individuals, per se, and everything to do with the nation of Israel and how God allowed (maybe even hardened) them to reject messiah so that salvation would come to the Gentiles. So that, again, in turn the Jews would be made envious and eventually turn (though not all, in the same way that not all Gentiles repent).

28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. —Romans 11:28-32

Perhaps here in Romans, Paul is not explaining the salvation of individuals when he talks about hardening,and foreknowing, and electing. Perhaps he is talking about the salvation of Israel. Yet I would not say that this separation continues today. In the year 70AD, the old covenant was brought to a close with God’s judgment against Jerusalem via the Romans when the temple was destroyed. There are not two covenants, there is one. You come into it through faith in Jesus and this is not of ourselves but is the gift of God.

I apologize for this rambling post. It did not turn out as clear and concise as I had hoped but it is hard to state days worth of reading and thinking in a quick and dirty way. Just read the passages I have mentioned and think about what I have said. Comments and objections welcome.

Josh H.

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