Home > Romans 9 > NEW SERIES!!!* Romans 9: Beginning in the beginning…

NEW SERIES!!!* Romans 9: Beginning in the beginning…

Well, I don’t know what to write about, and I’ve never written about this topic specifically.** I feel like I might have some fresh thoughts on it. Unlike my Doctorate-toting theological superiors, I’m not going to talk about Calvinism. I’m not going to talk about Arminianism, Monism, or Open Theism either. I have read authors that used Romans 9 as a proof text for all of these views of God’s foreknowledge. I’m not able to say much about any of these issues. I have much more limited skills with Scripture than the aforementioned scholars, and thus I’m not as capable of twisting it to prove my predetermined point as well as they can.***

You all know about my Jewish heritage by now. Among other things, Romans 9 is a partial explanation of it. It’s a chapter about covenant. It is a major foundation of Paul’s argument about both the institution of God’s new covenant with his (new) people and how that covenant is really a part of what God has been doing all along. It’s not as if God suddenly ended his old plan to start a new one, but he is continuing His former plan in a new way. I doubt I’ll provide a highly specific interpretation – I realized I don’t really like doing that. My hope is that for some of you my thoughts will illuminate more of the chapter so that it feels more rich with meaning, expansive, and accessible. And we go… now.

Paul brings a number of Scriptures to the forefront to explain just what is going on with this whole new covenantal transition of just who is true Israel, the true people of God. I would contend that the stories that Paul references in Romans 9 are as important or nearly as important to understanding Paul’s argument as his actual words. He starts by quoting the book of Genesis, so we’ll start there too.

He first quotes Genesis 21:12: “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Let’s get this clear straightaway: Most often, when a Biblical author quotes one part of a text, the whole context of the text they are quoting is important to what they are saying. So, in my simple way, I ask, what is the context of Genesis 21:12 and how does it relate to Romans 9? Let us take a gander.

In this story, Abraham is about to send the slave woman who mothered his firstborn child into the desert to what seems like imminent death because his wife Sarah is jealous and doesn’t want Ishmael (son of Hagar) to have any of Isaac’s inheritance. And God says that this is good because even though Ishmael is the firstborn of Abraham’s children and as genetically related to Abraham as Isaac is, he is not the child of the promise.

The Israelites had focused primarily on tracing their bloodline back to Abraham through Isaac, which is a part of their unique place in God’s kingdom, but the key component is the promise God made to Abraham in their covenant. By elucidating the primacy of the faith element of the covenant, Paul shows how, in the same way that Ishmael was cut off from the holy set apart people of God by not being a child of the promise, Israel, though blood related like Ishmael, is now, in light of the institution of the new covenant through Jesus Messiah, in danger of being sent off into the desert and cut off from the people of God. They were once from Isaac, but without imitating the faith of Abraham they will become Ishmael. Paul does not change the meaning of the Abrahamic covenant here, but is showing the implications of its fulfillment through Jesus.

Continuing his point, Paul quotes a slightly different story in Genesis 18. Interestingly, Paul chooses to pick a narrative involving the Abrahamic covenant that is one of disbelieving laughter. In this story, Sarah overhears three men (who in context, seem to together comprise YHWH – ever notice that before?) who tell her husband that in a year she will give birth to a son, the child of the promise. Then she laughs and asks a question of disbelief. It sounds quite ridiculous that in her and her husband’s excessively old age she will bear a child. It’s a silly idea. Very difficult to believe. And He is doing something else that is almost unbelievable now.

He is fulfilling the words of the covenant in Genesis 12. After all this time, YHWH is completing, and continuing in a new way, His covenant with Abraham. He spent all this time blessing the blood descendants of Abraham, His chosen people, and now through them, He is blessing all nations. But He is not doing so by using Israel to help other nations with food, water, shelter, and law training. Instead, YHWH is blessing all nations by creating a new Covenant through the Messiah where inclusion is no longer a matter of national identity, blood descendance, ethnicity, or even Law abiding, but membership is the result of faith in Jesus Messiah and through the blood of Jesus Messiah. These are the markers of this new covenant. Because the old Covenant has been filled full, Israel can no longer hold to it and expect to continue with their status as God’s people, they must accept the terms of the new Covenant and trust in the Lord Jesus. This covenantal shift is surprising. For some, it’s surely laughably ridiculous. For many, it’s so absurd that they’ll kill those who believe in it. Yet, like Sarah, the joke is on them if they do not believe the words of God who came to earth as His own incarnate messenger (also like the story of Sarah).

Finally, Paul mentions a Genesis 25 passage about Jacob and Esau and the atypical blessing and tracing of the line of descent through the younger of two brothers. It’s not man’s way of doing things, it’s not by the virtue of Esau or his status as the firstborn, but God’s choice, God’s promise. And He chose the younger. The Jews descend from Israel (Jacob), who basically stole the promise right out from under Esau. And now, it must feel to the blood Israelites that their inheritance is in a sense being ripped from under them as God is creating a new true Israel. What was once theirs by rights, by blood, by birth, by covenant of circumcision, by covenant of law, is now fulfilled and shifting in a way that is more inclusive, but also involves rejection. Like the story of Jacob and Esau, the two peoples will be separated and one who did nothing good or bad to earn it will be of the promise and the other will be no longer a part of YHWH’s set apart people. Without faith in Jesus, members of Israel will be cut off.

*”Oh Yeah!” Fist pump. Pelvic thrust.

**At a later date I’ll address other topics that people brought up.

***Cue Nate Ray, “Oh Lord.”

  1. Joel Morgan
    March 11, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Good discussion and interpretation of the Genesis texts.

  2. March 29, 2011 at 12:04 am

    I said my line on cue. Just thought you should know. I love reading your stuff.

  3. March 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks Joel, and thank you Nate for saying your line on cue.

  1. January 4, 2012 at 1:20 am

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