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Let’s continue to examine the impact of Romans 1:18b-32 on our interpretation of Romans 9-11 – focusing on a passage of scripture Calvinists camp out on – making it a proof-text for double predestination - specifically, Romans 9:10-13 ...

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac

(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),

it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”

As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

Romans 9:10 -13

Romans 9:10-13 is part of a larger passage of scripture establishing the line of God’s election from Abraham, through Isaac, to Jacob – bypassing both Ishmael and Esau. Verses 10-13 focus on Jacob and Esau.

Calvinists refuse to limit the meaning they find in Romans 9:10-13 to Israel, but, instead, transform it into a general paradigm for salvation. And though that’s not true to the text, let’s grant them their error – and see if indeed it can be used as a paradigm for salvation.

Calvinists insist that verse 11 is pivotal; that…

  • because it so obviously dismisses out of hand any criterion based on merit, Jacob’s salvation cannot possibly lie in his own hands;
  • it must, therefore, be grounded in God’s sovereign will;
  • likewise, Esau’s damnation.
  • They contend that no other reasonable conclusion is left us. It’s either merit or God’s sovereign will. One or the other.

But verse 11 does not force that conclusion upon us. Only if merit were Jacob and Esau’s sole recourse would they …

  • be deprived of any role whatsoever to play in their own salvation;
  • leaving God’s sovereign will the lone remaining explanation for the mercy God affords Jacob and, correspondingly, the damnation he consigns Esau to suffer.

But that’s not the case. Merit is not their sole recourse. What about faith? How could Boice and Piper possibly have overlooked faith – or, for that matter John Murray, or Robert Haldane, or any other of a whole army of Calvinists? But overlook it is exactly what they, in effect, do.

James Boice writes:

“…the words (“love” and “hate”) must involve a double predestination in which, on the one hand, Jacob was destined to salvation and, on the other hand, Esau was destined to be passed over and thus to perish.”

No mention is made of faith. For Boice, it’s either merit or God’s sovereign will. One or the other.

Likewise, John Murray writes:

“…the definitive actions denoted by “loved” and “hated” are represented as actuated not by any character differences in the two children but solely by the sovereign will of God…”

Once again, no mention is made of faith. God’s sovereign will is apparently all that’s left us.

In the same vein, Robert Haldane writes:

“When the Savior was first announced, Genesis 3:15, mankind was divided into two classes – the one to be saved and the other to be lost…”

Again, no mention is made of faith, leaving for Haldane no other recourse but God’s sovereign will.

The reason Calvinists overlook faith is not that difficult to pinpoint. For Calvinists, faith is merely a spin-off of God’s sovereignty. It’s reserved exclusively for those whom God has elected and is beyond the reach of anyone else. In short, though, of course, Calvinists are loathe to admit it, faith, like mercy (c.f.. pages 45-48 in Calvin on the Ropes), is assigned only a bit part in the drama of salvation. The featured role belongs to God’s sovereignty.

Furthermore, Boice and Piper, along with their fellow Calvinists, usually start with (1) God loving Jacob, and (2) hating Esau. And that too is clearly off base. Why? Because both Jacob and Esau are Adam’s offspring – meaning both begin as “children of God’s wrath.” That’s their starting point – not just Esau’s, but Jacob’s as well.

…among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Ephesians 2:3

It’s not that Jacob was eternally predestined to God’s love and Esau eternally predestined to God’s hatred – meaning his wrath. It’s that Jacob, unlike Esau, believed God; and, like Abraham before him, that belief altered wholly and completely his standing before God; that is, it transformed him…

  • from a “vessel of wrath” (Romans 9:22)
  • into a “vessel of mercy” (Romans 9:23).

It’s elegantly simple: what was true of Abraham…

… Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Romans 4:3

…became true for Jacob as well.

Moreover, it’s exactly what Paul tells us in Romans 1:16-17...

… the gospel … is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…

Romans 1:16-17

What could be clearer? The gospel reveals the “righteousness of God” – meaning a “right standing before God” – which God mercifully bestows upon anyone who in simple faith asks for it.

  • Jacob asked for it in faith;
  • Esau didn’t.

That’s what underlies verse 13…

As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

Romans 9:13

  • not God’s sovereign will,
  • but Jacob’s faith and Esau’s lack of faith.

But doesn’t verse 11 cast God’s love of Jacob and, correspondingly, his hatred of Esau back before either Jacob or Esau was born? And, if so, aren’t we then forced to conclude that God predestined their respective fates?

Not at all. God’s foreknowledge does not determine the fate of specific individuals; it simply lifts awareness of their fate – a fate arising from their own choices – from the temporal realm into the eternal realm – a realm that lies beyond time and space. Calvinists are forever conflating foreknowledge and predestination. In short, for Calvinists foreknowledge doesn’t really stand on its own. That’s because they commit one of two subtle intellectual errors - either (1) they make foreknowledge nothing more than an effect of predestination - a derivative of predestination, or (2) they make foreknowledge itself causal.

Foreknowledge an Effect of Predestination?

Some Calvinists make foreknowledge merely an effect of predestination: God knows because he predestines. But that’s an obviously truncated definition of foreknowledge – or, more accurately, omniscience; and reflects limitations that constrain man, not God. The truth is far more profound and sublimely mysterious than that…

  • God doesn’t know merely because he predestines;
  • God knows because he’s God.

Foreknowledge Itself Causal?

For other Calvinists – however they try to conceal it – foreknowledge is itself causal. But that makes foreknowledge little more than predestination cast in a different guise – little more than its clone.

Four Links or Five Links?

What we have here is not just a theological conundrum - which is what scholars ordinarily make of it and then attempt to resolve, but a linguistic/grammatical conundrum. When Calvinists conflate foreknowledge and predestination - either making foreknowledge an effect of predestination or making foreknowledge itself causal - they inadvertently strip foreknowledge of any genuine meaning, thereby transforming Romans 8:29-30 from a five link chain into a four link chain -

For whom he did (1) predestine, he also did (1) predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Moreover whom he did predestine, them he also (2) called: and whom he called, them he also (3) justified: and whom he justified, them he also (4) glorified.

…rather than the five link chain it actually is…

For whom he did (1) foreknow, he also did (2) predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Moreover whom he did predestine (in accordance with his foreknowledge), them he also (3) called: and whom he called, them he also (4) justified: and whom he justified, them he also (5) glorified.

Many Calvinists care not one whit that they’ve transformed Romans 8:29-30 into a four link chain. For them it doesn’t matter. Other Calvinists, however, do their best to make foreknowledge stand on its own, thereby recovering the fifth link in Paul’s “golden chain.” Yes, they concede, “foreknowledge” means exactly that: God looks down the corridor of time. It’s just that there’s no one there – at least no one who has chosen to avail himself of God’s mercy. Why? Because, so they argue, fallen man is incapable of making that choice. His enmity against God is too deeply entrenched. His “depravity” is too profound - a conclusion that Romans Chapters One and Two prove is fallacious; nevertheless, even if we overlook that mistake, their conclusion still begs the question: if God’s “foreknowledge” serves no meaningful purpose, in that looking down the corridor of time he sees no one who has availed himself of his mercy, what actual contribution does the word “foreknowledge” make in Romans 8:29-30? The answer is obvious: Nothing!

In the end, notwithstanding their attempts to stand foreknowledge on its own, they too are forced back to a four-link chain rather than the five link chain they’d prefer and intuitively know it is – meaning for them as well “foreknowledge” is essentially equivalent to “predestination.” The Calvinist doctrine of “total depravity” leaves them with no other option.

That, however, begs a still further question:

  • Would Paul use a word, “foreknowledge,” that’s empty of any real meaning – empty of any real significance?
  • Or, put a little differently, if “foreknowledge” is essentially equivalent to “predestination,” why did Paul tack on to his chain what amounts to a superfluous link?

It’s one more conundrum that Calvinists are unable to resolve. The interpretation we give to Romans 8:29-30 is radically changed when we stand foreknowledge on its own. Why should we be surprised that God can look down the corridor of time and know…

  • that Jacob will choose to ground his relationship with God in faith – Jacob’s choice, not God’s – thereby putting him in right relationship with God and transforming him from a “vessel of wrath” into a “vessel of mercy,”
  • whereas Esau will choose to spurn faith – Esau’s choice, not God’s – thereby rejecting God’s offer of forgiveness, thus leaving unaltered his status before God: a child of wrath?

Once again, why should that surprise us?

We will learn later that foreknowledge and predestination occur on the “eternal plane” whereas calling, justification, and glorification occur on the existential plane – a plane of time and space – meaning those whom God foreknows will gratefully and thankfully seize the opportunity to be forgiven through faith in Christ (their choice, not God’s), he predestines to be conformed to the image of Christ (the nature of which is God’s choice, not man’s), and, then, on the existential plane, within the realm of time and space, he calls them, then justifies them, and, finally, glorifies them – transforming them from “vessels of wrath” into “vessels of mercy.”

Godet, in his well known and highly regarded Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, reaches a conclusion that’s not much different. He writes, “In what respect did God thus foreknow them? ...There is but one answer: foreknown as sure to fulfill the condition of salvation, viz. faith; so: foreknown as His by faith.” (italics his).

 

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