Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Romans 9:16

John Piper wrote that Romans 9:16 is the death knell for Arminianism.  If a Calvinist can get an Arminian to see the plain reading of Romans 9:16, the Arminian would be forced to humbly admit that salvation is the entire work of God and that man plays no role in salvation.  Thus the Arminian would soon convert to Calvinism.

Calvinists likewise see Romans 9:16 as one of the key texts in proving unconditional election.  John MacArthur, for example, teaches that Romans 9:16 proves that salvation is not initiated by human choice but the sovereign grace of God and that even faith itself is a gift from God given to His elect.  This is the standard thinking from Calvinism on Romans 9:16.

R.C. Sproul likewise sees Romans 9:16 as forever doing away with Arminianism.  In his book Chosen By God, Sproul affirms that Romans 9:16 teaches unconditional election and that its implications will do away with Arminianism (p.151).

A couple of observations are in order.  First, the context of Romans 9 is not on individuals but upon people groups.  In this case Paul the Apostle was arguing over the Jewish objections that would come saying that they, the Jews, by race, were the chosen people of God.  The Jews believed that by virtue of God’s sovereign choice, they were His elect people instead of the Gentiles.  Paul is arguing that God has not failed (Romans 9:6)  if in fact He has now chosen to save sinners by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus whom He brought forth by the Jews (Romans 9:1-5).  God has the sovereign right to save however He chooses to save and He has the sovereign right to chose this group over that group.  This is Paul’s argument.

Secondly, in Romans 9:16 Paul is arguing based on the context of Romans 9:14-18, mainly that God is under no obligation to man.  He does as He wants.  Dr. Vic Reasoner writes:

Although Abraham was willing for Ishmael to be the promised seed, although Isaac was willing for Esau to receive the blessing, although Moses interceded that the Israelites might be spared, God is under no man’s obligation. Watson observed that Isaac willed that Esau should have the blessing.  Esau ran for the venison as the means of obtaining it  But still Jacob obtained it.  The blessing, however, was not personal, but referred to the people of whom Jacob was to be the father.  (Romans, p. 416).

Even if we allow this verse to argue for election, it would simply mean that works have no part in our salvation.  Arminians would agree.  We preach salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  The condition upon which God has chosen to save sinners is faith and even here man only believes the gospel because of prevenient grace.  Faith is not the ground or work for our salvation but is the condition of our salvation which God Himself has chosen.  God has the sovereign right to save sinners through faith and Scripture is clear that He will save based on faith (Romans 4:5; 5:1; 10:13).

Romans 9:16 should not be lifted up to teach unconditional election without looking at the context.  I think Calvinists would agree.

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