Does Romans 10:13-14 Rule Out Inclusivism?

In the past I’ve written several posts about why I’m an Inclusivist.  Inclusivists hold that it’s possible that some who haven’t been evangelized can still be saved through Christ.  For a more complete explanation of the view, see this post.

Exclusivists, on the other hand, hold that the unevangelized will not be saved, since they do not know of Christ.  This is a view that I respect (since I’m not certain of my view).  Recently a fellow Arminian named Brendan Burnett wrote a good post advocating for the Exclusivist view.  Even though we disagree, I appreciate his challenge to my thinking and his gracious tone. You can see his post here.  I wrote a comment on his blog, and this post is an expansion of those thoughts.

One of the passages that Exclusivsts refer to is Romans 10:14-15.  Brendan references it in his post.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

On the face, this text would appear to rule out Inclusivism.  Paul seems to be saying that someone can’t believe or call on Jesus unless they have heard the good news preached to them.  However, I think that is an over-reading.  That’s not Paul’s argument.  To understand what Paul is talking about, it’s necessary to take a wider look at Romans 9, 10, and 11.  Paul’s concern in these chapters is is with the physical descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel. Most of the Jews of Paul’s time did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  Paul was grappling with that fact.  Israel is God’s chosen nation.  How then can it be that so many Jews do not believe?  That is the background for Romans 10.

Arminians generally agree that Romans 9 is about the unbelief of Israel.  It is not about Calvinistic election.  The problem with the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 is that they initially acknowledge that it’s about Israel, but when it gets down to the particular examples of Romans 9 (Jacob, Esau, Pharaoh, etc), they forget that it’s in reference to Israel, and claim it’s about individual election and reprobation instead.

I think Exclusivists make a similar jump in conclusions with Romans 10. Romans 10 is not about the unevangelized (who are not addressed at all), it’s about the Jews who actually have been evangelized, and who still don’t believe.  Israel is still in focus.

Specifically in chapter 10 Paul asks if the the reason Israel does not believe is because they have not heard the good news or do not understand it. But he comes to the conclusion that Israel has heard the good news and does understand it. He writes, “But I ask: Did they [Israel] not hear? Of course they did…” (Romans 10:18)   Paul’s argumentation in Romans 9-11 follows this line: he repeatedly presents possible reasons why Israel doesn’t believe in Jesus, and then he shows how each of those possible reasons is not the actual case.

For example, are the Jews in their predicament because…

God has failed? No, God hasn’t failed (Romans 9:6).
God is unjust? No, God is just (Romans 9:14-15).
They haven’t heard the good news? No, They have heard the good news (Romans 10:18).
They haven’t understood the good news? No, They have understood the good news (Romans 10:19)
God has rejected them? No, God hasn’t rejected them (Romans 11:1)
They have stumbled too far to be redeemed? No, they haven’t stumbled too far (Romans 11:11).

Romans 10 is not about the unevangelized, even though it initially looks like that on the first reading. Rather, Paul is asking if the reason the Jews haven’t believed is because they haven’t heard or understood.  But he then comes to the conclusion they have.  In other words, the Jews had been evangelized but still didn’t believe.  So, I think the exclusivist interpretation of Romans 10:14-15 is a misapplication and an over-reading.



Filed under Inclusivism

8 responses to “Does Romans 10:13-14 Rule Out Inclusivism?

  1. stephenwinters

    I think you may be missing the import of the lack of difference between Jew and Greek referenced in v. 12. I think it does serve to broaden the horizon of what’s in view to more than the Jewish question, and therefore would tend to undermine the approach you’re taking to support inclusivism.

    • Hey SLW, I interpret v12 to be saying that the Jews are saved the same way that the Gentiles are.

      • stephenwinters

        Yes it does and they are, but I don’t see how in saying it, one could conclude that the verses that follow do not speak to evangelism (or how one comes to be saved). The assumption entailed, it seems to me, is that Jew or Gentile, in order to be saved, must hear the gospel. That the Jews hear but don’t believe doesn’t impact the underlying assumption that in order to believe one must hear.

  2. bethyada

    Will need to think more about your claim here. Does this apply mainly to the Jews? Possibly. Are exclusivists over-reading? Very possibly. Interestingly Paul says So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. and then equates hearing with natural revelation! But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for

    “Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.”

    Rather than a detailed response to Brendon’s essay I would like to briefly make some points. Point 6 is the most important.

    1. Definitions are important. Everyone is an inclusivist if we include the OT saints.

    2. Your argument from every tribe and nation is weak and is probably over-reading also.

    3. The argument from the Good Samaritan is weak, Brendan is correct that it is about love not salvation.

    4. The trinity comments are confused. The trinity is inferred as much as inclusivism is, perhaps more so. Indirect does not mean how convinced someone is that the trinity or inclusivism is true, it just means indirect. Some indirect teachings are true and important. Some direct teachings are less important and possibly uncertain (no-one really understands them).

    5. Early church teachings are not proof, merely supportive.

    6. Romans 10: regardless of whether you or Brendan are correct it is somewhat irrelevant to the argument. Paul seems to say that men respond to the preaching of the gospel. And they do. Inclusivism agrees. And this is where I think we need to focus Brendon (and possibly other exclusivists): Inclusivism allows for the salvation of men who have not heard the name of Christ expressly. It does not mean that pagans will follow Christ. Nor does it mean that the gospel is superfluous. We preach so that the wicked will repent. Pagans hellbound respond to the gospel. We rejoice in this. We just allow that some pagans may be trying to respond to God the best that they know how (because of prevenient grace). And when they die they meet Christ whom they recognise because they had glimpsed his glory in this fallen world and reached out, however falteringly, because they feared him. We preach to him now that he may know the glories of Christ now, and enjoy his love, and know what he desires of him; and we preach to his damned tribe that they may repent and believe and join us in glory!

    7. Acts 17 is so inclusivist. That men might grope for him and find him.

    • Good points Bethyada.

      I do think the parable of the Good Samaritan is relevant, because the original question of the law expert was “What must I do to be saved?” The answer was to “love God and love your neighbor”. Then the expert asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus gave the parable.

      Another passage that is relevant is John 10. I didn’t include that in the original post, but would if I rewrote it now. This is where Jesus speaks of his sheep who recognize his voice and follow him. C’s like it because they think it teaches election, but it’s not about that. The “sheep” are people already following the Father, but who don’t initially know who Jesus is. When they hear the Shepherd’s voice, they follow him.

      John 10: 14-16 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

      John 10:27-30 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

  3. Found it interesting that Dr. Vic Reasoner, in his excellent commentary on Romans, has a chapter on the inclusive views of John Wesley. He writes that Wesley was clearly an inclusive in regard to the issue of the unevangelized and other early Methodists followed suit including Methodist Bible commentator Thomas Coke. Reasoner writes that the passion they had for the lost was not based on the issue of “hearing the gospel” but “the fact that Christ shed His blood for all men so that all could be saved through Him alone.” They reasoned that God was good and just and would not condemn people for the light in which they received and responded while not embracing universalism nor the idea that false religions can save.

    I think it is an interesting debate. I appreciate that you Kevin are a “hopeful” inclusivist while seeing the need for evangelism. As I have written before, I fear that the passion for evangelism can be weakened by not seeing the need for the gospel to go forth. While I remain an exclusivist, I would gladly fellowship with those whom I disagree with in this issue for Christ alone saves us by His grace.

    • Thanks for the comment Roy, and I appreciate that we can disagree on the issue and still be blogging friends. :) We agree that the world needs to be evangelized, and we agree that Jesus is the only way. I enjoy Vic Reasoner’s work, and that sounds like something he would say. Most of the early Methodists were inclusivists for the reasons you listed. Unfortunately a lot of the Methodists now are too liberal, and have gone on to universalism or pluralism, and those views are in error.

      The realization that people need Jesus is a basic part of Christianity, and if someone doesn’t see that need (for whatever reason), they have a blind spot.

  4. Pingback: Romanos 10: 13-14 descarta o inclusivismo? – Paleo-Ortodoxo

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