Romans 9 – what’s it about?

I’ve been thinking and learning about Romans 9 recently. It’s been a while since I did this. Last time was while doing a year-long small-group study of Romans at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, which included a weekend away on the topic of God’s sovereignty. That weekend preceded our Romans 9 studies, and when we read Romans 9 it seemed to be saying what we were taught, which was Calvinism.

In my recent readings on this chapter, I decided to read a bit about what non-Calvinists think about this chapter. I was quite surprised to find that the view of others isn’t that this chapter supports their non-Calvinist view instead, but that this chapter isn’t about Calvinism (and such things) at all.

I have to say I think they might be onto something (I’m thinking just about Romans 9 for the moment, rather than whether Calvinism is true or not – I’ll save that for another day).

The “it’s not even about Calvinist stuff” interpretation of Romans 9 is basically that it’s all about Jew/Gentile, faith/works stuff and doesn’t go into topics that would be involved in a discussion about Calvinism. This interpretation does seem to fit well with chapters 10 and 11, as well as with Romans as a whole. Rather than try to explain it myself, I’ll let people who know more than me about this sort of thing make the case:

I’ve just read a nice summary by William Lane Craig of how Romans 9 fits into the whole of the letter, which is here, and seems very reasonable (the last paragraph is beyond the scope of what I’m thinking about at the moment, though!).

Craig’s summary doesn’t go into the details of Romans 9, but for that I would point you towards a talk from All Souls, Langham Place, by Paul Blackham, who I’ve only recently discovered but am becoming a big fan of (he trained at Oak Hill, no less!). The talk on Romans 9 (including the end of 8) can (hopefully) be downloaded here, and the whole series can be found here, by searching for “Romansfest”. The Romans 9 talk is number 13. There’s some really great stuff in there that I hadn’t picked up on before. All quite exciting.

So, the questions I have for my knowledgeable readers are:

1. Are the people above right that Romans 9 isn’t about Calvinist stuff? If not why not?

2. If they are right, where does that leave Calvinism? Isn’t Romans 9 supposed to be its best text?


7 thoughts on “Romans 9 – what’s it about?

  1. Not listened to Paul Blackham yet, but WLC should know better than to shoot down straw men, and to deal with the actual text and its details. Just one example, in his context he does (rather conveniently) miss out Romans 8v28-30; “And we know that in all things God works for the God of those who love him, [that is] who have been called according to [who’s purpose?] his purpose. [And how were they called?] For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
    Know PB a little I would assume he does a much better job of the actual text of the Bible.

    • I guess WLC would interpret that in accordance with his last paragraph – with it being a corporate thing (“those”) rather than about individuals being ruled in or out arbitrarily from the beginning. The Romansfest talk 12 (by Tom Parsons) covers that in its last 5-10 mins, so maybe best to start there if you’re listening! I’d be interested to know your thoughts. I’m still relatively new to this so trying not to pick sides yet!

  2. It’s true that Romans 9 is not about Calvinist stuff, and that is a big blow to Calvinism since it is their premier text. But they have a number of others they use. So it is not necessarily a knock out blow, unless one agrees that a certain Arminian view of Romans 9 is right, that takes it to argue that election is by faith. If that is correct, Calvinism could not be true, since it would contradict the heart of the system — unconditional election.

    Let me point you to some resources:

    For perhaps the best accessible article on the whole chapter, see “Romans 9: An Arminian/New Perspective Reading” at

    In addition to that, you might want to see this brief article that addresses Calvinist use of the potter and clay passage in Romans 9 as definitive proof for the Calvinist reading: “An Apparently Not so Brief Response to C. Michael Patton on Rom. 9”–michael-patton-on-rom–9/

    On the Romans 8 passage referenced by chawth, see this brief piece:

    There’s a lot more that could be mentioned. Here are some good ones:

    Brian J. Abasciano, “Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis”

    An overview of brian Abasciano’s book on Romans 9:10-18:

    Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner”

    Brian J. Abasciano, “Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election”

    Romans 9 in Context: God’s Just Prerogative in Confounding All Confidence in the Law of Works's-just-prerogative-in-confounding-all-confidence-in-the-law-of-works/

    Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: Who do Jacob and Esau Represent?

    Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: Prerogative Equals Unconditionality

    Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: “Not of Works” means “No Conditions”

  3. Hi, I noticed that you tried to leave comment re: WLC on Romans 9 on SEA, but normally comments aren’t posted there. If this was in follow up to my blog here:
    considering Romans 8:28-30 has been brought up I’d also direct you to another blog I did here:

  4. Hi, thanks for accepting my comment, and I see links I gave have been followed 🙂
    To my understanding a friend has left another comment that is in moderation which provides further resources on this topic.

  5. I would definitely disagree that Romans 9 does not deal with Refomred Theology. The most common objection to Calvinism in this passage is that it deals with election in a corporate sense not a personal one. However, if you simply follow the pronouns in the passage, it is clear that Paul is addressing personal election.

    Paul writes Romans 9 in the form of an apologetic argument. As the reader thinks through each statement, Paul accurately anticipates what the next logical question would be. I believe that Romans 9 along with John 6 are the clearest examples of Reformed soteriology.

    • But your comments reveal that you are not familiar with the best corporate election arguments about Romans 9 and misunderstand the corporate view. The use of personal pronouns in Romans 9 in no way undermine the corporate view. You really should check out the links give by “Arminian” above, especially the one’s on corporate election by Dr. Brian Abasciano. All the articles would help you to see that the Calvinist interp actually has a lot of problems when the full context is properly considered and that the corporate view is not only the view of Paul, but the view of the OT that his readers would have naturally understood, especially in light of his references to various OT passages.

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