Chapters nine through eleven in the New Testament book of Romans is notoriously difficult to understand. Therefore, when my young adult Bible study group wanted to study the book of Romans, it was with tremendous humility and caution that I approached these three chapters. Below are my notes from the study. I did not seek to answer all of the questions that often come up from these chapters. Rather, my goal was to provide just a bit of insight into what Paul was communicating through this theologically dense portion of Scripture.
Romans Chapter 9
Read 9:22-24, and think about these questions:
Did God really desire to show his wrath? What does that phrase mean?
Who are the vessels of wrath? Who are the vessels of mercy?
What does it mean that God prepared the two different vessels?
What do you conclude from this passage?
There are traditionally three interpretations of this passage:
- Paul taught “double predestination”: before creation, God determined to save some and damn others (a view often associated with Calvinists). God fixed the number He will glorify and the number He will destroy. Given that all sinners deserve condemnation, God’s choice to save some demonstrates His mercy.
- God elects some to save, leaving the rest to their deserved fate. In both of these views the non-elect, objects of His wrath, justly deserve their fate; so God is not unjust by not electing them.
- God predetermined the general outcomes-either wrath or glory—but the saved or the destroyed determine their own fate (in response to God’s initiating grace). In this view the criterion for inclusion or exclusion in “My-People” is whether sinners pursue righteousness by faith or in self-reliance (v. 32; 10:3–4, 9–10). That is, those destroyed prepared themselves for their destruction. People are predestined to condemnation so long as they choose to continue in their ways and resist God’s grace.1
Regardless of the interpretation one chooses, there is no denying that a paradox exists in Romans Chapter 9. On one hand, all things are of God, and on the other hand, human beings have free will.
Read Verses 30-32. Paul is writing that it is Israel’s fault that they did not succeed in become righteous because they tried to do it by their own efforts, whereas the Gentiles received righteousness by faith. These are truly acts of free will, yet Paul also says in verse 18 that it is God’s choice who receives mercy and who does not.
Do you find Paul to be contradicting himself? How?
Do you think that God can both predetermine who receives mercy and yet maintain human free will?
Have you ever heard or used the phrase, “hate the sin, not the sinner”? Read 9:13. You will see the English word “hated.” Do you think that God really hated Esau? The the Greek word for hate is μισέω, or miseō, and it was used often in secular literature as well as in Scripture. The NLT uses the word rejected in place of hate in Romans 9:13 because it provides the most likely meaning for the word miseō that Paul is getting at. The Roman people were not unlike us today; they used idiomatic phrases (e.g., I hate broccoli). It is possible Paul was using miseō idiomatically in this verse.
Romans Chapter 10
Read 10:13-17, and think about these questions:
Does salvation depend on hearing the gospel?
What is the eternal destiny of those who never hear the gospel?
How should we respond to this passage?
Read James 2:19 and Matthew 7:21-23. Do these verses contradict what Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10? What is the difference between what Paul wrote and what is written in the James and Matthew passages?
Have you ever heard of universalism? Universalists believe that because God desires for all people to be saved, and because he is a loving and all-powerful God, it is inconsistent to think that he would send people to hell just because they never heard the gospel. What do you think about this?
Romans Chapter 11
The tenth of the ten commandments begins with “You shall not covet…” (Exodus 20:17). God prohibits his people from desiring the things that another person has. In Romans 11:11-14, Paul uses the Greek word παραζηλόω or parazēloō, which literally means to provoke to jealousy. He is saying that through the provocation toward jealousy of the Gentiles, some Jews will be saved.
Would God truly cause Jews to sin in order to be saved?
If not, what do you think Paul is really saying here?
The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:17 for covet is chamad. It means “to desire, take pleasure in.” Obviously, to merely desire or take pleasure in something is not wrong in and of itself. We can and should above all desire or take pleasure in the glory of God, and all the blessings God gives us. However, when we desire something that is not, and cannot become, rightly ours, it is sin.
Remember the historical context of the book of Romans. There is a major social challenge occurring because up until the first century A.D., the Jewish people considered themselves to be God’s chosen people, and rightly so. But now anyone can come to God. So, the big elephant in the room is, what about the Jews? Here is a summary of Paul’s argument through chapters 9-11:
- Israel is the chosen people.
- To be a member of Israel means more than racial descent. God chose some of the nation to receive mercy: those who were faithful.
- God’s selection is not unfair, for he has the right to do what he likes.
- God hardened the hearts of the Jews in order to open the door for the Gentiles.
- Israel made the mistake of depending on their own merit to gain righteousness, but God wants those who will trust him, not their own abilities.
- The Gentiles cannot be proud; they are wild olives grafted into the true olive stock.
- In the end, Jews will wonder at the privilege that the Gentiles have and be saved by trusting in God instead of the Law.2