Monday, June 28, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Romans 9-13

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Romans, chapters 9-13.

Chapter 9

  • Verse 1- Paul seems keen to assert his integrity here.  Perhaps I'm just cynical, but in the modern world, I'm perhaps more likely to think someone who asserts "I am not lying" is more likely to be lying than someone who just makes his case and leaves it at that.
  • Verses 14-15 - I could ask for better argumentation from Paul than we're getting.  If we were talking about anyone other than God, quoting that person as saying "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, " etc., would seem to be the very proof of them being unjust!
  • Verse 20 - And, of course, this would be the rebuttal.  My point still stands.
Chapter 10
  • Verses 6-7 - This seems to be as clear a statement as any that we shouldn't be concerning ourselves with the "status" of others.  Perhaps it's just human nature that we seem unable to avoid it.  Or perhaps it's the difficulty of following the command to evangelize without assuming some status or another in regard to other people's salvation....
  • Verse 21 - Evangelism is often a thankless task, to say nothing of often having high cost for the one doing the evangelism.  Yet we still are called to offer the good news.  Whatever we might suggest about "method" and "attitude" and "assumptions," the call remains.
Chapter 11
  • Verses 2-4 - Paul is referencing a tale that comes from I Kings 19.  I am often reminded that this complaint of Elijah, and the fear that it comes from, takes place right after a tale of one of Elijah's greatest victories (of course, God did the action, but the point remains that Elijah was there to see it happen) in the previous chapter.  Even those who have seen God's work up close need to be reminded of God's faithfulness.
  • Verses 13-21 - It really is a horrible crime that so much antisemitism has taken place at the hands of Christians over the centuries.  We're really not following our own teachings at times....
Chapter 12
  • Verse 2 - I think we shouldn't be too quick to assume what Paul means by "do not conform to the pattern of this world."  I suspect that both liberals and conservatives alike would accuse the other of "conforming" while practicing the very acts that "the other" believes are being faithful to God (perhaps, even, they would argue that such actions are faithful to the "renewing of your mind" clause that Paul prescribes as an antidote!).
  • Verses 4-8 - Paul will expand further on this analogy of a body with many parts when we get to I Corinthians (also chapter 12, coincidentally).
  • Verse 13: "Practice hospitality" - I don't want to push this too hard, but I know some who would argue that practicing hospitality is a central commandment, out of which all (or, at least, most) other commands naturally flow.  One who is not hospitable is not worshiping God aright.
Chapter 13
  • Verse 1 - Such an interesting command, especially when one considers that Paul offers it as instruction to Christians to follow a non-Christian government!  Not just "secular," but one that actively didn't understand (if, indeed, wasn't actively hostile to) Christians.
  • Verse 8 - This verse is really more about love than about debt, but it reminds me of something I read recently, pointing out that Biblical commands against "usury" were intended (at that time) to refer to ANY interest on a loan, not just "excessive" interest.  Either way, debt is to be avoided if possible.  That said, I do think that some debt (and, indeed, some charging of interest) is acceptable in today's world.  One must remember that the Bible is NOT a "rule book," even if it has "rules" within it.  Acknowledging the context of time, place, genre, and "story" is important.

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  1. The statement, “I will show mercy to whomever I choose; I will have pity on whomever I wish” (Romans 9:15) seems to be saying that God blindly chooses to save some people.

    This implies that God also blindly chooses to condemn others to hell. St. Paul has quoted Exodus 33:19 for that statement. The quote is following the Golden Calf incident of chapter 32. God chose Moses over firstborn Aaron. It was not blindly that God chose Moses, but because of Aaron’s sin in forming the idol for the people to worship. The inclusion of this story by St.

    Paul in Romans 9 continues his motif of the firstborn being passed over in favor of the younger brother. In v. 9 Isaac is chosen over Ishmael and in v. 13 Jacob is chosen over Esau. St. Paul’s point is not that God predestines to heaven and hell, but rather that God will pass over the unrighteous firstborn (the Jews) in favor of the righteous younger brother (the Gentile).

    God did not do this arbitrarily. He did this because the Jews hardened their hearts against the acceptance of Jesus. They refused to accept the obvious fact that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees on this very subject. “If you were blind there would be no sin in that. But 'we see’, you say, and your sin remains” (John 9:41).

    “But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10:26). St. Paul then introduces the example of Pharaoh as one who refused to believe something that was obvious (vv. 17-18). Some have wrongly concluded that these verses prove that God arbitrarily makes some people hard-hearted against the Gospel.

    It is important to note that when Scripture says that God hardened someone’s heart it means that God let that person suffer the consequences of his freely chosen action. “And Pharaoh seeing that rest was given, hardened his own heart, and did not hear them, as the Lord had commanded” (Exodus 8:15; see also 8:28 & 9:34).

    God deals with individuals according to their decisions. If one refuses God then God may let that person suffer the consequences of his own freely chosen action. “And so God has given those people over to do the filthy things their hearts desire” (Romans 1:24 GNT [Good News Translation]).

  2. This is one very viable (and well-articulated) interpretation, and I thank you for sharing it.

    Please understand that it is not the only faithful way of interpreting Scripture.

  3. Dear Nicodemus Legend,
    Some will look at Romans 9: 19-22 and believe that God arbitrarily makes some people “vessels fit for wrath, ready to be destroyed” (v. 22).

    In other words, ready to be sent to hell. This is actually the opposite of what St. Paul has in mind. He is quoting from Jeremiah 18:1-12.

    In this passage the potter, God, does not make vessels, people, to be destroyed. He reshapes the vessels giving them another opportunity to be useful.

    “Can I not do to you house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the Lord. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

    Sometimes I threaten to uproot and tear down and destroy a nation or a kingdom. But if that nation which I have threatened turns from its evil, I also repent of the evil which I threatened to do (Jeremiah 18:6-8).

    Therefore, St. Paul is saying if the Jews repent and turn to Christ they will receive salvation, but if they stubbornly refuse then they will receive damnation.

    His point is that either way it is a personal decision not an arbitrary one that God makes. This is very much different then those that say St. Paul is teaching that we have no choice in what our final destiny will be.

    St. Paul himself was once a vessel set for destruction so he is well aware that God can remold the vessel and make it useful if we desire it.

    St. Paul received a second chance when he repented of attacking the Catholic Church and become a missionary bishop of God’s Church.

    The Potter remolded St. Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:5-20). So you see that this passage actually means the opposite of what the Reformed Calvanist says it means!

  4. Getting into the theological debate necessary to these points is, I'm afraid, beyond the scope of this blog project. Indeed, each one of these comments is larger than the post (devoted to five whole chapters) itself! That is why I merely point out that there is a diversity of interpretation (especially along denominational lines) on these issues.

    Although I have many disagreements with "Reformed Calvinists," there are also many respects in which I am one, and this tradition has shaped much of my thinking over the years. But, frankly, it is enough for me to point out that some of our harsher rhetoric (when it comes to issues of election) may be overblown. I see no point in trying to "prove them wrong" in this respect. Indeed, I'm not convinced that those who believe the "harsher rhetoric" would ever be persuaded, and I have no intention of wasting my time trying to do so.



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