I’m doing a series to address the major Calvinist proof texts: Romans 9, John 6, and Ephesians 1.
Calvinism is a philosophy based upon exhaustive determinism (that God controls us like puppets). George Bryson summarizes Calvinism as follows: “You will be saved or damned for all eternity because you were saved or damned from all eternity.” (1)
Inevitably, the first passage Calvinists turn to is Romans 9. They argue that the passage teaches unconditional individual election – that God determines to save specific individuals. Those whom God has chosen will certainly be saved. Everyone else is without help and without hope. Calvinists teach that God passes over the larger part of mankind (Pharaoh and Esau are examples). These individuals are decreed to be vessels of wrath (9:22). Calvinists believe that God does not intend for most to be saved, nor does he provides means for them to be saved.
The background for Romans 9: Has God broken his promises?
During early church history (and now) most of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus. This grieved Paul deeply. The question being asked was: Has God broken his promises to Israel? If the Jews don’t believe, does this mean that God’s promises are untrue? Has God failed to keep his word? This is first asked in Romans 3:3 “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?“
The answer to the question is no. God is not unfaithful. He has not broken his promises to the descendants of Abraham. Paul explains why in detail in chapters 9, 10, and 11. His scope is identified in the opening of Romans 9:1-5 (bold mine):
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
The Jews of that time thought that God had unconditionally elected them to salvation by their birthright as children of Abraham. Paul was showing this is not the case. He says, hey look! Not all of Abraham’s descendants are God’s children (9:6), only those who have faith are (9:32).
What about Jacob and Esau?
Romans 9:11-13: Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger. Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
The passage is about the nations of Jacob and Esau (Israel and Edom – see Genesis 25:23). The election in scope is not salvation of the individual. Rather, it is for the human ancestry of Christ (Romans 9:5). Jacob was elected to be a forefather of the Savior. Jesus came through the line of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
A parallel situation occurs with Isaac and Ishmael. This is addressed in Genesis 21:12-13 (also mentioned in Galatians 4:21-31 and alluded to in Romans 9:7): “But God said to (Abraham), “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maid servant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Isaac was blessed in a special way that Ishmael was not. Jacob was blessed in a special way that Esau was not. Isaac and Jacob were forefathers of Jesus! This does not mean that Ishmael and Esau were not blessed at all, or that they were eternally hated and dammed by God. God loved both of these men. He made promises to both. In fact, both became nations. And they may both be in heaven today. However, God elected to bring the Savior through the line of Isaac, and Jacob. That was his right as God.