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Romans Chapters 9 to 11, Part 4
by Karl Kemp 
07/30/12
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We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Romans chapters 9-11 here in Part 4, starting with Rom. 9:20.

(20) On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God [cf. Job 33:13]? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it? [[Compare Isa. 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jer. 18:6; and Rom. 9:22-26. In this context, Paul was speaking, at least for the most part, to the Israelites of his day with whom God finds fault, the ones who had not been elected for salvation through Christ Jesus. They would be the ones answering back to God and complaining about what He has done with the clay, the ones on whom God has not had mercy, the ones who end up being a "vessel for dishonor" (Rom. 9:21), a "vessel of wrath" (Rom. 9:22).

I'll quote a few sentences from what Woodrow M. Kroll says under verses 19, 20 ("Liberty Bible Commentary," New Testament [Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982], page 382). "God is not answerable to man for what He does, but He must act consistent with His character. Divine sovereignty does not permit God to do what divine character will not allow. If we can trust the character of God, we can trust the wisdom of His sovereignty as well."]] (21) Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use [literally, "for honor"] and another for common use [literally, "for dishonor"; the KJV; NKJV have "dishonor"]? [[What did Paul mean by the "same lump [of clay]" here. I can't be dogmatic, but I believe Paul was referring to the people of Israel as the "lump" here. Romans 11:16 lends substantial support to this viewpoint in that the lump there refers to the people of Israel. More specifically, Paul was speaking of the Israelites of his generation, who lived in the days of the new covenant. Although God had determined these things before the foundation of the world (through His foreknowledge, etc.), it's also true that He dealt with the people of Israel as He found them in Paul's day. This is, of course, a very common Scriptural viewpoint, including the viewpoint of John 12:37-41 and Isaiah 6:8-13 (both mentioned above under Rom. 9:18).

The viewpoint I presented in the preceding paragraph fits well with the important passage in Jeremiah where God was likened to a potter (Jer. 18:1-12). A primary feature of that prophetic message was that God, the Master Potter, would deal with Israel (and the other nations) according to their response to Him and His word (whether they would repent, etc.). The dominant message of Rom. 9:6-29 is that God has a right over this lump of clay to make some vessels for honor (those elected for salvation in Christ by the knowledge/foreknowledge of God) and some vessels for dishonor (those rejected for salvation, those who were even to be hardened in a way that would lead to a great demonstration of God's wrath, even as Pharaoh was hardened in a way that led to a great demonstration of God's wrath [see verses 17, 18, 22-29]).

Many think that the "lump" speaks of all mankind, and some of them derive doctrines from these verses far beyond anything Paul intended, even though it is true that Paul emphasized God's sovereignty in Rom. 9:6-29. From my point of view, even if Paul did intend for the lump to refer to all mankind here (and I don't believe he did), he didn't intend to teach that the fall of mankind, or the sin of individual people, came by God's creative work or design, or that He created some people for destruction, or that He predetermines the destiny of people apart from any consideration of what is in their hearts, apart from any input from them.

I'll quote a sentence from what Joseph A. Fitzmyer says regarding this lump ("Romans" [Doubleday, 1993], page 569). "The Greek word 'phyrama' [which is the Greek noun translated "lump" in Rom. 9:21], which also occurs at 11:16; Gal. 5:9; 1 Cor. 5:6-7, was translated into Latin as 'massa,' from which came the pejorative term 'massa damnata' in the predestinarian controversies of the Augustinian period (Augustine, Ep. 190.3-9 [CSEL 57.144])." It is very important to understand what Fitzmyer says here. Augustine, in his latter viewpoint, held that mankind is so fallen that no one has any capacity to have faith or to cooperate with God's grace. If anyone is to be saved, God must elect them and give them faith, etc., and His election can't have anything to do with differences between men because (for one thing) all are part of the "massa damnata." As I mentioned, I believe the Bible teaches that we are totally dependent on God's grace to save us, but that it overstates what the Bible teaches about the extent of the fall of man to say that we have no capacity to cooperate with God's grace and to respond to God's offer of salvation with faith.

John Calvin followed Augustine's latter viewpoint, I'll quote several sentences from what Calvin said under Rom. 9:11-13 ("Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians" [Eerdmans, 1980 reprint], pages 199, 200). "...[Paul] plainly refers the whole cause [for God to choose Jacob] to the unmerited election of God [I agree that God's choice of Jacob was totally unmerited], which in no way depends on men [I believe this substantially misstates the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches]. ... ...the first principle of theology, which ought to be well known to all Christians, viz. that God can see nothing in the corrupt nature of man, as displayed by Esau and Jacob, to induce Him to show His favour. [I don't believe anything in Jacob induced God to show His favor, but I do believe that differences between Jacob and Esau were a key factor in His election of Jacob. We may not fully understand God's election, but it isn't arbitrary, and it isn't a total mystery either. We know a lot about what God requires of people; we know all that we need to know.] When, therefore, Paul says that neither of them had at that time done any good or evil, we must add at the same time his assumption that they were both the children of Adam, sinners by nature, and not possessed of a single particle of righteousness. ... ...even though the corruption which is diffused through the whole human race is sufficient to cause damnation before it shows its nature in deed or act, it follows from this that Esau deserved to be rejected for he was by nature a child of wrath. [[I doubt that God will mention the sin of Adam with its consequences (original sin) when people stand before Him to be judged; He will want to talk to them about their sin (very much including unbelief), for which they are responsible because they have free will (it is free to some extent after the fall).]] In order, however, to prevent any doubt from remaining, as though Esau's condition had been worse [than Jacob's, or any other man's] because of some vice or fault, it was expedient for Paul to exclude sins no less than virtues [the twins had not done anything good or bad]. It is true that the immediate cause of reprobation is the curse which we all inherit from Adam. ...."

Calvin made it clear that, in his view, God's foreknowledge of differences between Jacob and Esau didn't enter into His choice of Jacob (or of any of God's elect). ((I had a footnote: For example, "If foreknowledge had anything to do with this distinction of the brothers, the mention of time ["not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad" (Rom. 9:11)] would have been out of place" (Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" [Eerdmans, 1989], page 216 [book III, chapter XXII.4])). For one thing, as far as Calvin was concerned, God's foreknowledge of relevant differences between Jacob and Esau would have meant that Jacob merited God's favor. For another thing, man is so fallen (according to Augustine in his latter viewpoint and Calvin) that there couldn't be any relevant differences for God to foreknow. As I mentioned, Calvinists believe that God must impart life to the elect (He must regenerate them) before they can have faith.

I'll quote part of what R. C. H. Lenski says under this verse ("St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans" [Augsburg, 1936], pages 620, 621). "Calvinism finds its peculiar sovereignty of God in this verse: supralapsarian ((I had a lengthy footnote that goes on for three paragraphs: This word means "before the fall." The supralapsarian Calvinists believe that God elected some to salvation "before" He decreed "the fall" of man. I'll quote part of what the Calvinistic theologian Charles Hodge says regarding this view ("Systematic Theology," Vol. 2 [Eerdmans, 1986 reprint] page 316). "According to this view, God in order to manifest his grace and justice selected from creatable men (i.e., from man [yet] to be created) a certain number to be vessels of mercy, and certain others to be vessels of wrath. In the order of thought, election and reprobation precede the purpose to create and to permit the fall. Creation is in order to redemption. God creates some to be saved, and others to be lost.

This scheme is called supralapsarian because it supposes that men as unfallen, or before the fall, are the objects of election to eternal life, and foreordination to eternal death. This view was introduced among a certain class of Augustinians even before the Reformation, but has not generally been received. Augustine himself, and after him the great body of those who adopt his system of doctrine, were, and are, infralapsarians. That is, they hold that it is from the mass of fallen men that some were elected to eternal life, and some for the just punishment of their sins, foreordained to eternal death."

I'll also quote part of what Hodge says regarding infralapsarianism on pages 319, 320. (Infralapsarian means "after the fall.") "According to the infralapsarian doctrine, God, with the design to reveal his own glory, that is, the perfections of his own nature, determined to create the world; secondly, to permit the fall of man; thirdly, to elect from the mass of fallen men a multitude whom no man could number as 'vessels of mercy'; fourthly, to send his Son for their redemption; and, fifthly, to leave the residue of mankind, as He left the fallen angels, to suffer the just punishment of their sins." [Now we continue with the quotation from Lenski.])) Calvinism the sovereignty which created some men to fall and to be damned and other men to be saved despite the fall, both according to an absolute decree; infralapsarian Calvinism the sovereignty which from the same fallen lump of humanity decreed and shaped some to salvation and decreed and shaped some to damnation. Such a sovereignty which is contrary to God's very nature as agape does not exist.

Calvinism assumes that the whole story as to why some are saved and others are lost is figuratively described in this verse [Rom. 9:21], but the tertium comparationis [Lenski means something like the point of comparison] of this figure, like every tertium of a figure, deals only with one point, that of blame; as the potter cannot be blamed by any vessel which he turns out for dishonor instead of making it like another for honor, so also God cannot be blamed by any man whom he hardens instead of saving him. After his case was concluded, Pharaoh could not demand of God: 'Why didst thou make me thus?' The Jews, equally obdurate, could not in the end, when God had finished with them, blame God: 'Thou didst make us thus!' The tertium of the potter and the two vessels extends no farther. For THE FIGURE OF THE POTTER AND THE CLAY COULD NOT PICTURE THE SELF-HARDENING OF PHAROAH AND OF THE JEWS IN PERMANENT OBDURACY [hardened and unrepenting] AGAINST GOD'S MERCY, WHICH SELF-HARDENING CALLED FORTH GOD'S JUDICIAL HARDENING" [emphasis mine].

I'll quote a few sentences from what Everett F. Harrison says regarding the work of the potter here ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 10 [Zondervan, 1976], page 107). "Some interpreters have concluded that Paul has in mind the creation. While it is true that Genesis 2:7 contains the word 'formed' which is the same root as 'potter,' it is clear that Paul envisions the clay as a 'given,' and the real problem is what the potter does with the clay, namely, fashioning one type of vessel or another [for honor, or dishonor]."

I'll quote part of a lengthy paragraph from H. Orton Wiley on Augustinianism ("Christian Theology," Vol. 2 [Beacon Hill Press, 1952], page 348). "Augustinianism represents the opposite extreme of thought [from Pelagianism]. Instead of denying original sin as did Pelagius, Augustine made it the foundation of his entire system of theology. The fall having bereft mankind of all capacity for good, salvation must be solely of grace without any human admixture of human cooperation. He maintained the freedom of the will, but only in the sense of freedom to evil. Grace, therefore, operates directly on the will. This necessitated a belief in a divine decree which determined the exact number of those who were to be saved. To these efficacious grace was applied, which included irresistible grace [the "I" of the Calvinistic TULIP] for the beginning of the Christian life and [irresistible] persevering grace for its close [Perseverance of the saints (once saved, necessarily always saved); the "P" of the Calvinistic TULIP]."

I'll quote two sentences from what John MacArthur says under verses 18-24 ("Romans 9-16" [Moody Bible Institute, 1994], page 39). "Whatever God's sovereignty may mean in its fullness, it does not mean and cannot mean that He chose for men to become sinful. The perfectly holy and righteous God is not responsible in the slightest way for the sinfulness of His creatures." Yes!

Lastly, I'll quote several sentences from what W. H. Griffith Thomas says under Rom. 9:21 ("St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans" [Eerdmans, 1947], page 260). "It is absurd and monstrous for man to question God's dealings. 'Hath not the potter a right over the clay?' (ver. 21). This illustration, together with the word 'formed' ["formed" is the word used in the KJV] rather than 'created' in verse 20, deserves attention, as showing the Apostle is not referring to original creation, but to spiritual destination. God is regarded as taking men as He finds them, just as the potter does not create the clay but uses it. ... [Paul] does not touch the question as to why men are sinners, but accepting the fact that they are, he shows that God has a perfect right to deal with them as such."]] (22) What if God, although [I don't believe the word "although" should be included in the translation (see below).] willing [wanting] to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience ["longsuffering" (KJV; NKJV)] vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? [[The word "vessels" used in verses 22, 23 refers to the vessels for honor and the vessels for dishonor spoken of in verse 21. Many agree with the NASB that the word "although" should be supplied in the translation. (I had a footnote: There is no word in the Greek corresponding with the word "although" here, but the Greek does permit this word to be included as one of several ways to translate the Greek participle.) I agree with the majority viewpoint that Paul did not intend the word "although," or any similar word, be included here. The NIV, KJV, and NKJV don't supply any such word. The NKJV, for example, starts this verse with the words, "What if God, wanting to show His wrath." We could translate, "...because He wanted to demonstrate His wrath."

Because God wanted to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known in an intense, dramatic way (building on what the apostle said in verse 17 about God's hardening Pharaoh to demonstrate His power in a dramatic way that His name might proclaimed across the world, which would, for one thing, help wake some people up), He endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath (I had a footnote: God's wrath never comes arbitrarily; the Scriptures make it clear that His wrath comes against the rebellion and sin of angels and men.) among the Israelites, rather than judging them immediately, even though they were already prepared (ready) for judgment. ((I had a footnote: I agree, of course, that there were "vessels of wrath" among the Gentiles too (cf., e.g., Eph. 2:1-3) who were also headed for eternal destruction, but Paul doesn't seem to mention them here. Note that Paul just goes on to speak of God's intense judgment falling on Israel (Rom. 9:27-29), and note that Romans chapters 9-11 deal mostly with Israel.)) They were ready for judgment at least from the time they rejected Christ and the gospel.

Many commentators agree that Paul was saying that God, by delaying His judgment, was setting the stage for a more intense, dramatic judgment. (On God's hardening those Israelites, see under Rom. 9:17, 18. In verse 23 Paul adds another reason, a very important reason, for God to delay His judgment of the vessels of wrath: during that time the elect were coming to salvation.) In verses 27-29 Paul concludes this section (Rom. 9:6-29) that speaks almost entirely of God's sovereign dealing with the Jews, showing that God will reduce Israel to a relatively small remnant when He deals with the vessels of wrath among the Jews in His end-time judgment of Israel.

Paul apparently believed that it was necessary for him to explain why God's judgment had not already fallen on Israel if it was true, as he proclaimed, that so many Israelites were so far from God in those days. When Paul wrote Romans (about AD 55), Israel had gone for many years without experiencing much obvious judgment. It had been some twenty-five years since the new covenant was inaugurated in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God's people (including Christians) often wrongly assume that all is well if God, in His mercy, temporarily withholds judgment (cf., e.g., Rom. 2:4). But Rom. 2:5 (speaking, of/to the Israelites who had not submitted to the gospel in faith) says, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

Significantly, Christ had prophesied that intense judgment was coming to Israel (cf., e.g., Matt. 21:33-46; 22:3-7; 23:23-39; and 24:1, 2). Judgment finally fell when the Romans came against Israel, even destroying Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, as Jesus had prophesied. From our perspective, we know that that judgment was preliminary to the end-time judgment of Israel that is often spoken of in the Bible. In Rom. 9:27-29 Paul was speaking of the end-time judgment of Israel, but in his day (he wrote his epistles and he died [apparently he was martyred for Christ in Rome in the mid 60s] before AD 70) it wasn't at all clear that Christ's prophecy about the judgment of Israel (with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple [e.g., Matt. 24:1, 2; Luke 21:20-24]) was preliminary to the coming of Antichrist and the abomination of desolation (in the rebuilt temple at Jerusalem) and the intense end-time judgment of Israel (see, e.g., Isa. 66:1-6; Zech. 13:8; 14:1, 2; Matt. 24:15-22; and 2 Thess. 2:3-8). ((I had a footnote: All the verses cited in this sentence, excluding Rom. 9:27-29, are discussed in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." Paul thought that the end could come in his lifetime (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; Phil. 3:20, 21; and 1 Thess. 4:13-17). From our perspective we can see that the end was (at least) some two thousand years in the future.)) The last reference just cited (2 Thess. 2:3-8, which was also written by Paul) shows that the apostle knew that Antichrist would come to the temple in Jerusalem, but he probably didn't know that it would be a rebuilt temple since the temple still stood in Jerusalem in his day.

The vessels of wrath (which means that the vessels were destined for God's wrath, including His eternal wrath) were "prepared for destruction." We must understand that God's wrath comes against angels and people because of their rebellion against Him and His divine order, and that without repentance. It isn't complicated. Because of God's foreknowledge and the fact that He lives above the time of our world (the time of our world began at the time of creation), we could say that the vessels of wrath have been destined for destruction since the time the world was created (or even before it was created [cf. Eph. 1:4]). God's manifested wrath against the vessels of wrath will, for one thing, be part of the vindication of His persecuted people (the Christians, true Israel). (See, for example, the discussion of Isa. 66:1-6 in chapter 16 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture.")

I'll quote part of what Godet says under verse 20 ("Epistle to the Romans" [Zondervan, 1969 reprint of the 1883 edition]). "the question is not...about the production of the clay...but...about the use made of it by the potter. He does not create the clay; he takes it as he finds it.... ... [The question is not] 'Why hast Thou created me good or evil?' [God doesn't create beings evil, whether angels or men (cf. Gen. 1:31)] ...but: 'Why...hast Thou assigned me an honorable use (by favoring me with Thy grace, like Moses) or a vile use (by hardening me like Pharaoh)? ... The question whether, in determining the use of one and another, He will act without rhyme or reason, or whether, on the contrary, He will adapt the use made of each to His moral predispositions, finds no place in the mind of any one who understands that God's perfections always act in harmony, and that consequently His power is ever the servant of His goodness, justice, and wisdom. ...what explains the sovereignty of God and His right over mankind is not only His almightiness, but His supreme understanding, and His infinite moral perfection. ... Such is the apostle's complete view. But it is true, as Lange says: 'When man goes the length of making to himself a god who he affects to bind by his own rights ["I have my rights; God has no right to reject me"], God then puts on His majesty, and appears in all His reality as a free God, before whom man is a mere nothing, like the clay in the hand of the potter. Such was Paul's attitude when acting as God's advocate, in his suit with Jewish Pharisaism. [The Jewish hatred for Paul and his gospel wasn't limited to the Pharisees.] This is the reason why he expresses only one side of the truth. The following passage, Rom. 9:30-10:21, will show that he is very far from mistaking or forgetting the other" (pages 357, 358).

I'll also quote part of what Godet says under verse 22. "God's intention in regard to the Jews was moving on to the display of His wrath and the manifestation of His power. In these expressions there is an evident allusion to the saying of God regarding Pharaoh, as just quoted, ver. 17; comp. the expressions...to show wrath, ver. 22, to show in thee, ver. 17 [using the same Greek verb for show in both verses] ...His power, ver. 22...My power, ver. 17 [using the same Greek noun for power in both verses, "dunamis"]. This because unbelieving Judaism was playing toward the church, at the date of Paul's writing...the same part as Pharaoh formerly played toward Israel themselves. [See the last sentence under verse 19 in this paper.] ... And hence God's dealings with Pharaoh must now be reproduced in the judgment of Israel. - The manifestation of wrath refers at once to the doom of destruction which was already suspended over the head of the nation in general, and to the condemnation of all unbelieving Israelites in particular: comp. Rom. 2:5, and the saying of John the Baptist, Matt. 3:10 and 12. ... ...the allusion to the destruction of Pharaoh and his army (ver. 17) leads us...to apply this expression to the near destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people by the arm of the Romans, which was to be in this unexampled catastrophe the instrument of God's wrath and power" (page 360).

The primary reason I wanted to include this last excerpt from Godet is that he sees, rightly I believe, that verse 22 builds on verse 17 and that Paul was thinking of an intense, dramatic judgment coming against unbelieving Israel. I don't agree, however, that Paul was thinking only of the judgment coming through the Romans in the first century; I'm confident that he was thinking of God's end-time judgment that is to involve Antichrist and the abomination of desolation. Many commentators agree that verse 22 builds on verse 17 and that the Israelites were playing the role played by Pharaoh, but most of them think only of God's judgment of the unbelieving majority of Israelites by not electing them for salvation and hardening them. But God's hardening of the Israelites, in itself, hardly qualifies to make His power known in a dramatic way. God's power wasn't demonstrated in Egypt in the hardening of Pharaoh, but in the intense, dramatic judgments that resulted from that hardening.]] (23) And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory [In this verse Paul mentions a second reason, a very important reason, why God delayed His end-time judgment of Israel (and of the world). (God's end-time judgment of Israel, which is often spoken of in the Bible, is just part of His end-time judgment of the world.) God has been using the intervening time to call the elect, the vessels of mercy, to salvation (cf., e.g., Rom. 9:21-26; 8:28-30). The vessels of mercy are destined for eternal glory, most of which is still future for us.], (24) even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." [[The New Testament typically uses the word "call" of God's special call of the elect, as it is used here (see Acts 2:39; Rom. 1:6; 8:28, 30; 9:11; 1 Cor. 1:9, 24, 26; 2 Thess. 2:14; and Heb. 9:15). ((I had a lengthy footnote: We can know we have been called to salvation with a special call from the time we have assurance of salvation (cf. Rom. 8:16; 1 John 5:13). Our salvation, which includes the new birth, confirms that God has called us. Christians are the ones who benefit from this strand of Biblical truth that puts all the emphasis on God's role in our salvation; we wouldn't expect unbelievers to understand or to appreciate this strand of truth. God called us, and as we look to Him and are faithful to Him to do what He requires of us (by His grace), we can rest in the assurance that He will keep us.

The emphasis must be on God, His plan, His grace, His power, His work, and His being glorified, not on us. But, at the same time, we must always make sure that we know and continue to do what God requires of us by His grace through faith. He doesn't just give us faith in the beginning, and He doesn't just make us continue in faith to the end. If we want to glorify God (and we were created and saved in order that we might glorify Him), we must do our part from the beginning to the end, until we have finished our race and we are glorified.)) (The New Testament also shows that God calls all mankind to repent and submit to Christ and the gospel in faith [cf., e.g., Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 17:30, 31; and 1 Tim. 2:4-6].)

Even though Paul deals mostly with the Jews in Romans chapter 9-11, he couldn't fail to include the elect Gentiles here. For one thing, many of the original recipients of this epistle were Gentile Christians. Paul goes on in verses 25, 26 to quote two verses from Hosea (2:23; 1:10) (mostly following the Septuagint version) to back up what he has just said about God's call of Gentiles to salvation in Christ Jesus. (These verses from Hosea (2:23; 1:10) are discussed on page 200 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." The book is available on my website and at amazon.com.) The idea that Gentiles could become the people of God without becoming Jews first (without being circumcised, etc.) was rejected by Israel.]] (25) As He says also in Hosea, 'I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, "MY PEOPLE," AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, "BELOVED." ' (26) 'AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, "YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE," THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.' [These two verses were discussed under Rom. 9:24.]

We will start with Rom. 9:27 in Part 5 of this paper.

Copyright by Karl Kemp


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