Romans 9-11: "Hath God Cast Away His People?"
Larry Ray Hafley
Paul's answer to his own question, "Hath God cast away his people?" is a resounding, emphatic, "God forbid." In the preceding eight chapters of Romans, Paul has shown that the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16; cf. 3:22). It was God's eternal purpose to save all men in Christ. This salvation was to be procured in Christ and secured by faith, not by works. The majority of the Jews rejected the faith of Christ and clung tenaciously to the works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, Christ, and they were cut off from divine favor (Acts 3:22, 23; Rom. 11:20). "What then?" "Hath God cast away his people?"
No, God has not cast them away. That is one of the vital points of chapters nine through eleven. Paul "could wish" himself accursed from Christ for his Jewish brethren. His desire of heart and prayer to God was that Israel "might be saved" (Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1, 2). Paul labored that he "might save some of them" (Rom. 11:14), and some would be restored if they did not remain in unbelief (Rom. 11:23). That is not the language of total rejection.
In this chapter, Paul shows that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (v. 16). The Jews were attempting to dictate whom God should accept. They had been God's people, His chosen nation. They reasoned that God must continue this policy. Paul acknowledges the proud Jewish heritage "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever" (vv. 4-6). While recognizing Israel's background, he might be interrupted with the objection, "Well, if what you say is true then all that glory is for nought, and the word of God has accomplished nothing."
No, Paul answers, fleshly descendants alone are not all of Israel. Ishmael was just as much a child of Abraham as was Isaac, but Isaac was the child of promise. The Jews agree, so Paul continues. Rebecca had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was every bit the child of Isaac, but God said the promised seed shall come through Jacob. The Jews accepted God's selection. Paul takes their agreement and says, in effect, "Then you must recognize that God alone determines unto whom he will show mercy. You accepted God's choice of Isaac and of Jacob; so, you concede that it is not up to you to decide upon whom God will have mercy. God has, as various passages of Scripture reveal, determined to save the Jews and also the Gentiles" (cf. vv. 17-29).
Conclusion of chapter nine: "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" (vv. 31-33).
Paul knew of Israel's "zeal of God" to attain unto righteousness. His heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel was "that they might be saved." But the Jews were ignorant of God's plan of making men righteous. They tried to establish their own system of righteousness and did not submit themselves unto God's plan of making men righteous. The righteousness of God, that is, God's plan of making men righteous, is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 17). The Jews refused the gospel. They were not obedient unto that form of doctrine which was delivered unto them. They remained outside of righteousness or salvation (Rom. 6:17, 18; Acts 13:43-48).
The aim and intent of the law was righteousness. No one, as Paul had proven earlier (Rom. 1-3), kept the law perfectly; hence, none were justified. Christ is the end or aim of the law for righteousness. Every one who believes on Christ attains the righteousness for which the law sought. Moses said that if one wanted to be righteous he had to keep the law (v. 5; Gal. 3:10). None kept it; so, all were without righteousness. However, the righteousness which is by faith is the word of faith which the apostles preached. There is no need to bring Christ from heaven or from the dead. If you want to be righteous, believe and confess. God will save all men, Jews or Greeks, "For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (v. 13).
Again, the Jews are pointed to Christ, to the system of faith preached by the preachers God sent. God had done all he could by sending out the preachers to preach and gender faith which comes by hearing the word of God. But the Jews, by in large, rejected it (v. 21).
"I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid." Paul proves that Israel has not been cast away:
First, Paul was of Israel. He was accepted of God, but if Israel was cast away, if that was the point of his teaching, then he, too, would be cast away, for he was an Israelite. No man would teach a doctrine so as to exclude himself from God.
Second, remember Elijah? He once thought he was alone, but God has seven thousand faithful followers unknown to him (Elijah). So, there are now Israelites who have been obedient, who have submitted themselves, "and the rest were blinded" (cf. Matt. 13:15).
Third, Paul spoke of the efforts he made whereby he "might save some of them" (v. 14). He referred to "receiving" certain ones and called it "life from the dead" (v. 15). This is not the doctrine of absolute repudiation but of conditional salvation.
Fourth, the Jews were "broken of" "because of unbelief" (v. 20), not because of an arbitrary Divine decree. All men, Jews and Gentile are grafted in or broken off because of their belief or unbelief (vv. 20-23). "And so (in this manner; in this way - LRH) all Israel shall be saved" (v. 26). That is, by accepting the grace extended in Christ, all Israel shall be saved.
Calvinism and Romans 9-11
Calvinists have long used these chapters to sustain their major tenets.
"We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy without respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment" (John Calvin).
(1) Romans 9:11-16: This passage is used by Calvinists to prove unconditional election. The text does not refer to the salvation of either Jacob or Esau. It speaks of God choosing Jacob rather than Esau to be the chosen seed through whom the children of promise would come. The quotation in verse thirteen is from Malachi 1:2, 3. That statement was spoken of "two nations" (Gen. 25:23), not two persons. It was uttered many centuries after both Jacob and Esau were dead. To fit Calvinism, verses 11-13 should read like this: "For the children, being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to unconditional election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, the elder shall be unconditionally, eternally damned because I hate him, but the younger shall be unconditionally, eternally saved because I love him."
Verses fifteen and sixteen are used to prove that man's will and efforts are not involved in his salvation. This, however, is not the point of the text. The Jews were not arguing that one's salvation is by conditional works without God. The Jews claimed spiritual ties with God because of their fleshly state. They said, "We are Abraham's seed."
Paul shows that God made His own selection of who should be the promised seed. It was Isaac, not Ishmael; it was Jacob, not Esau; so, it is God's right to determine to whom He shall dispense His mercy.
Calvin taught unconditional damnation. Many "would be" Calvinists reject this as too harsh. They want unconditional salvation but not unconditional damnation. They cannot have one without the other. Using the Calvinists' concept of Romans 9:16, we ask in reverse, "Is damnation not of our will or labor but of God that showeth no mercy?"
(2) Romans 9:25, 26: This passage does not fit Calvin's unconditional assumptions. If a specific number of individuals have been elected to be saved and a set number have been ignored to be damned, as Calvin taught, it could never be said that some are called God's people which were not my people." One is and always has been one of God's people or he has not, according to Calvin. There is no way to harmonize this text with the doctrine of unconditional election.
Fleshly Israel sought righteousness "by the works of te law" (Rom. 9:32), but righteousness is by the system of faith, by the obedience of faith, by obedient faith to the faith (Rom. 1:5; 5:1; 6:17, 18; 16:26).
(3) Romans 11:6; "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." This verse is used by Calvinists to teach unconditional election. But the passage says "works," not conditions. Salvation is not by works. Salvation by works requires perfect obedience. It does not allow for a single sin (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10). Once one sins, salvation is a matter of grace. One may meet a thousand conditions, but this would not merit or earn forgiveness. The "works" under consideration are not acts of obedience to terms of pardon. The "works" refers to the man who never sins, who always does right. To that man salvation would not be by grace. God would owe salvation to such a man.
Calvinists read the verse with their misconception of works. To them, Paul says, "And if by grace, then is it no more of conditions, but if it be of conditions, then is it no more grace." But it does not say that. It says salvation is by grace, not by works, for works, perfect obedience, exclude grace.
Romans 9-11 and Premillennialism
(1) These three chapters do not mention:
a. Christ on an earthly throne in Jerusalem.
b. A restoration of the Jews to Palestine.
c. Superiority of the Jews over the Gentiles.
d. That Christ's kingdom was thwarted by Jewish rejection.
e. A future era or time of Jewish glory.
f. That the Jewish nation will be turned to Christ regardless of their response to him concerning the gospel.
(2) Application of Prophecies: Paul applies the prophecies to his day, to the present age, not to some future time. This is a fatal blow to premillennial views. In chapter nine, Isaiah and Hosea are used to show the acceptance of all Jews and Gentiles who seek righteousness by faith (9:24-29). In chapter ten, Isaiah and Moses witness to the refusal of the Jews to be obedient to the gospel. They also allude to the fact that salvation will be given upon obedience to the gospel. There is no hint of an earthly kingdom. In chapter eleven, the present age is more pronounced. First, the Deliverer "shall come out of Zion," not "out of heaven" (11:26). Thus, the prophecy refers to the first, not the second coming. Second, verse five says, "at this present time," not "in a glorious future era," but "at this present time." "Also," refers to Elijah's time. As there was then a remnant; so, there is now a remnant. Third, God is able "now" to save some (vv. 14, 23, 31). A future age of salvation apart from the gospel is not in the prophecies of Romans 9-11.
The prophecies Paul notes and quotes refer to the taking away of sins (11:26, 27). The Deliverer shall "turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins." Peter's sermon in Acts 3 concurs. He says the prophets have spoken "of these days" (Acts 3:24). He shows the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham was seen in God's sending Christ "to bless you." How? "In turning away every one of you from his iniquities" (Acts 3:26). This "turning away . . . from . . iniquities" is the same as turning away "ungodliness from Jacob." It is the covenant to "take away their sins" (see "covenant" in Acts 3:25; Rom. 11:2'7.) The "turning away from iniquities" equals "take away their sins." The Hebrew writer says the same. Under the new or second covenant, God will remember their sins and iniquities no more (Heb. 8:8-13). See for yourself:
Time: "These days" (Acts 3:24).
"At this present time . . . now" (Rom. 11 :5, 31).
"Now . . . Holy Ghost witness to us" (Heb. 8:6; 10:15).
Covenant: "Covenant . . . God made . . . our fathers" (Acts 3:25).
"This is my covenant" (Rom. 11:27).
"Second . . . better . . . new covenant" (Heb. 8:6f).
Effect: "Turning away every one . . . from . . . iniquities" (Acts 3:26).
"Take away their sins" (Rom. 11:26, 27).
"Sins and . . . iniquities . . . remember no more" (Heb. 8:12).
There is no room for premillennial views in these chapters when one understands their purpose.
(3) Christ is over all: Paul affirms that Christ "is over all (Rom. 9:5). He does not say Christ "will be," but that he "is." With that in mind, make a careful study of Acts 13:16-42. Paul's sermon there provides the prophetic, scriptural and historical background to the things he argues in Romans 9-11.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 1, pp. 22-24