Sunday, June 3, 2012

A communal perspective on Romans 9

Romans 9 is a difficult passage to understand. Isolated verses sometimes appear to be used to support a harsh and rigid form of pre-destination and election. This can make God look unjust and fickle as He "randomly" chooses to "harden the hearts" of some individuals.
In our individualistic Western mindset we can read the passage as answering the question "why does God save some individuals and not others?"
However, it was pointed out to me this week there is an alternative reading; one with a more communal perspective that I think is more consistent with the context.

Reading the passage in context it may be more that Paul is addressing the issue of why God has chosen to make salvation by faith available to the Gentiles.
It is not concerned with the mechanism of salvation of individuals, even Pharaoh, but rather the means of salvation, and what communities this salvation is available to.

Paul recounts several key events in the history of the formation of His chosen people Israel: the birth of Isaac, the birth of Jacob and Esau, and the Exodus from Egypt. They illustrate that God acts in a free and sovereign manner, with mercy, and to accomplish His purpose: the formation of a great nation through which His glory would be manifest. Furthermore, the choices God made were not based on the performance or acts of any individuals involved. This grand narrative is not concerned with individuals but the history of a people.

Reading Romans 9 with the next chapter is important.
Some of Israel became mistaken that God saved them because of their righteousness. They focused on a righteousness that is based on the law. No, the real righteousness of God comes by faith. This is available to all.

12  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Passing through the Red Sea, Raphael (1518-19)

1 comment:

  1. I have been working my way slowly through Romans for the last several weeks and have just now gotten to the big 9. I can say that thus far the emphasis on the Jew/Gentile issue has been very strong throughout. I would not go so far as to say that this in no way extends to individual salvation (as, after all, nations are made up of individuals which need saving), however, I think you are definitely on to something which is often overlooked.