A Reformed Interpretation of Romans 9:6-13

This paper will attempt to synthesis a Reformed  Biblical understanding of Romans 9: 6-13. In order to do so, the paper will interact with the prevailing interpretations and theories which touch upon this difficult, yet rewarding paragraph.

This passage of Scripture in Romans 9: 6-13 has been widely debated and fought over. Reformed Theologians see these verses as the proof of God s sovereign election and predestination of individuals based upon nothing within them (including any foreknown faith). Arminian theologians such as Robert Shank (Elect in the Son, 1989) usually perceive these verses as teaching a corporate election. That is, God has a body of true believers (the Church), and the individual is elect only as they are part of this group. If they were to choose to leave this elect group, then as an individual they would no longer be elect. They might emphasize that while God is sovereign in deciding who will be saved (that is the means/or way), the who are those who through faith receive the promise of God.

Before proceeding to the text, it is important to remember a couple of things. The first would be the main themes that Paul has covered prior to this section of Romans (chapters 9-11). One of the most important themes or doctrinal ideas to keep in mind while reading this paragraph in Romans 9, is the idea that we are justified or saved through faith. Paul covers this in detail, especially in Romans chapter 4. He distinctly shows in chapter 4 that the promises of God are received through faith. Faith is set up as the opposite of attempting to be made right with God by Works (doing good things to earn God s favor and to be justified). Faith is never set as the opposite of God s grace. This concept will be very important as Reformed Theologians will attempt to use this passage (Romans 9) as proof that our works (and they lump in faith here) are not the reason why God elects us to salvation. I will attempt to show that while they are correct that we do not become the elect of God because of our good works or deeds, this does not undermine the idea that the reception of the promises of God in this paragraph are received through faith.

As background to Romans 9-11 we have just finished in Romans 8 with Paul showing us the wonderful promises of God. We can trust him regardless of the persecutions and problems in life. Nothing can separate us from His love.

Another issue Paul may be addressing in Romans 9 to 11 is the problems that may have been occurring between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. While there are times in Romans that Paul appears to be focusing or speaking more directly to the Jewish Believers, this portion of Romans (9-11) appears to be directed toward the gentile believers. An example of a verse that seems to support this is Romans 11: 13 and on. It is likely that the gentiles came to believe they were now God s people, the Jews are rejected by God. Paul then begins in Romans 9 to teach on this issue of why so many Israelites were not saved.

Many of His readers though, after hearing such a wonderful teaching of Gods love and trustworthiness may have wondered about Israel. Was not Israel also chosen by God? Why then has such a large portion of Israel (ethnic) rejected Jesus as Savior. Can God really be trusted to fulfill His promises? If He broke them with Israel, will He break them with us also? These are just a few of the ideas and questions that the believers at Rome may have been discussing. Paul goes on to address these issues in Romans 9.

Paul in leading up to verse 6 has discussed several important ideas in verses 1 to 5. First, Paul makes sure they know he is telling the truth. He truly does love the (ethnic) Israelites. Second, he describes the terrible grief and pain he is experiencing over the Israelites. Third, he describes all of the wonderful blessings and promises that have been given to the Israelites: including Jesus. And yet (the cause of his grief) most of (ethnic) Israel have turned their backs on Jesus. Most have refused to receive Jesus as their Messiah and Lord.

6. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they

are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;

A. Keywords: lo,goj, ou m something said (e.g. word; saying; message, teaching; talk, conversation; evkpi,ptw(aor. evxe,peson, inf. evkpesei/n ; pf. evkpe,ptwka) fall off or away; lose, forfeit; run aground (of ships); fail, become ineffective.

B. If God has made Israel all these promises why haven t they received Christ as their messiah? Can God be trusted? Will the promises made to the gentile and Jewish Christians also not be fulfilled?

C. The promises made by God have not failed, proven false. Why?

D. The promises have always been only for a certain part or portion of Israel. There is an Israel within Israel. Many Israelites assumed that they were partakers of salvation merely by being an Israelite, one of God s chosen people. Paul asks the question in verse 6.a. and then answers it in 6.b. God s word (that is the promises made to the Israelites in the Old Testament) will be carried to completion. God is a trustworthy God. Paul addresses the presumption that ethic descent guarantees salvation. Paul will spend verses 7 to 13 showing that God s promises can be trusted because those promises are only received or partaken of by an Israel within ethnic Israel. That is, there is a group within the much larger group which will receive God s promises.

7. nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s

descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR


A. Keywords: te,knon, ou n child . . . pl. descendants; posterity; people, inhabitants; spe,rma, toj n seed; offspring, children, descendants, posterity; perhaps nature.

B. Biological or ethnical decendency does not guarantee receiving God s promises.

C. The promises of God were to come through Isaac and not Ishmael.

D. Most Israelites of Paul s period would have whole heartedly agreed that the promises of God came only through Isaac. Many Jews believed that they were saved just because they physically decended from Isaac.

E. This is the point in the passage where Reformed theologians and Arminian theologians begin to interpret these passages with their own spin. Reformed theologians would point to this verse to show that God chose Isaac for salvation (and either elected Ishmael to hell or just passed over him, either way he goes to hell by God s choice and good desire). Arminians would be inclined to say that yes the means of election has been decreed by God. The way of receiving that promise of salvation is by faith. This view appears to be supported by both the fact that Isaac was conceived by the faith of Arbraham, Sarah received the ability to conceive because of her faith, and Isaac exercised faith and trust in God. God s choosing does not occur apart from a persons faith in God.

F. Verses 7-8 restate the premise of verse 6b.

8. That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of

God, but the children of the promise are regarded as


A. Keywords: evpaggeli,a, aj f promise, what is promised; consent or decision; logi,zomaicount, reckon, calculate, take into account.

B. The promises are not based upon physical lineage, but are given only to the children of promise. Reformed theologians begin to touch on the idea that the children of promise are those chosen by God, irrespective of works, foreknown faith, etc., to receive salvation.

  • In looking at the example Paul gives for those who are children of promise, they (or their parents) all exercised a faith and trust in God. Look for example at Hebrew 11:11; and especially Romans 4: 13-14, 16, 20; Galatians 3: 14-19, 21-22, 29. These verses show several things. The first is that God has to do a supernatural work. He has to intervene to bring the promise about. The individual could not have accomplished the promise on their own. They can not take credit for having accomplished it. At the same time, while God (for example) opened or enabled Sarah to bear Isaac, the Bible does not say it was a birth that took place without Abaraham and Sarah having intercourse. If they had not believed God, and had not had intercourse, there would have been no Isaac. The promises given in these verses (and when the word promise is used elsewhere by Paul) always involve a faith on the part of the receiver. The Reformed believe that faith here is not required to receive the promise. In fact, faith is only a gift that is given by God, and then only (purposefully) to some individuals. God in this view does not draw or enable any but the elect to come to Him. Faith does not lead to a reception of salvation and a change in nature, but a change in nature results in faith they would say.

9. For this is the word of promise: "AT THIS TIME I WILL


A. Keywords: ui`o,j, ou/ m son; descendant, offspring, heir; (with gen.) often one who shares a special relationship with or a likeness to someone or something; disciple, follower.

B. Supports statement of 8b (cranfield p. 229).

C. Quote of Genesis 18:10

D. The birth of Isaac could not have resulted without Gods grace. (Heb. 11:11 though shows Gods grace was received by Sara s faith). The difficulty that Reformed theologians have though is accepting that grace and faith are not opposed to each other. Arminians would agree that faith is impossible without God s grace and enablement. That enablement and grace though are not restricted to only those God desires to be saved, while being withheld from those God desires to be damned. Faith then in the Arminian view is not something the person could have accomplished on their own. Their ability to exercise faith is a result of the drawing of God (John 6:44, etc.).

E. Mounce states (p. 198) that God has not turned His back on Israel; He has simply clarified what it means to be a true child of Abraham.

10. And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she

had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;

A. Keywords: koi,th, hj f bed; marital relationship (He 13.4); sperm ( koi,thn e;cw conceive Ro 9.10).

B. Some might have found exception with Paul s example since Isaac and Ishmael had different mothers, and the Jews already believed the promises came only through Isaac. Paul then gives another example that does not have the short comings of the first example to show that God is sovereign in choosing who is to receive the promises.

C. Jacob and Esau had the same mother and father.

D. God chose Jacob over Esau to receive the promises before either of the twins were born.

E. Usually the older male child in Israel received the blessings and promises. God shows that receiving the promises is not based upon age or our human preferences.

  • Some commentators take conceived as meaning a single act of conception: both brothers were conceived at the same time, in the same bed.
  • We also see that Rebekah and Isaac exercised their faith before she conceived. Before the reception of the promise, the receiver had to exercise faith (See Genesiss 25:21).

11. for though the twins were not yet born and had not done

anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to

His choice would stand, not because of works but because

of Him who calls,

A. Keywords: avgaqo,j, h,, o,n good; useful, satisfactory for one’s (its) purpose, fitting, beneficialin a moral sense upright, just; kind, generous; clear (of conscience); what is good; what is right or upright; what is beneficial or advantageous; fau/loj, h, on evil, wrong, bad, vile; pro,qesij, ewj f purpose, plan, will; evklogh,, h/j f election, choosing; what is selected or chosen.

B. God s choice then is prior to any act of either Jacob or Esau.

C. His choice of whom will receive the promises is not based upon their works, but is instead based on His calling. Being chosen by God is nothing a sinful person can do by doing good things: whether giving to the poor, penance, etc. Even their good deeds are contaminated by their sinful nature and motives.

D. Reformed theologians believe generally that the arminian view places faith as a work. As such God could not take foreknown faith into account in electing only certain individuals to salvation and leaving the rest to suffer damnation for their sins.

E. Arminian theologians, again would protest that faith is not a work. As such, it is not discounted a prerequisite for becoming a partaker of the promises of God by this verse. (e.g. Romans 4). God enables their will but does not coerce their will.

12. it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE


A. Keywords: evla,sswn, on (comp. of mikro,j) lesser, inferior; younger; less (than).

B. Reversal of normal human preference. Neither human preference, ethnic origin, nor merit will entitle us to God s promises.

C. Some take this verse as referring to individuals (reformed). Others to groups or corporate identities (some arminian).

D. See Genesis 25:23 of which this verse is a quote. It is difficult to apply this quote to the literal Jacob and Esau as individuals as Esau (as individuals) is never said to have served Jacob in the OT. As we look at these verses it is important to remember that these example of Isaac and Abraham are put forward as types or examples of those who are to receive the promises. They represent those who receive the promises through faith.

13. Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I


A. Keywords: avgapa,wlove (primarily of Christian love); show or prove one’s love; long for, desire, place first in one’s affections; mise,whate, despise; disregard, be indifferent to (Mt 6.24; Lk 16.13).

B. Quoted from Malachi 1: 2-4. This passage in Malachi is obviously using Jacob and Esau in a corporate sense: the descendents of Jacob of Esau (Israel and Edom) (Briscoe, p. 189).

  • Hated: Not as an emotion, but a rejection in will and deed (Mounce) Cp. Luke 14:26. God is never said in the book of Genesis to have hated the individual or person of Esau. God does reject those who refuse to receive His promises through faith. Later in Romans 10-11, we see that Israel as a corporate body has chosen to attempt to establish their own righteousness by following Laws, both God s and man made laws. For them, to be made right with God through faith was too simplistic. Paul shows a continuity with his teaching in Romans and other New Testament books (and maybe Hebrews) that those who are saved have always been saved through faith. Works are a fruit of that faith, not the means to that faith.

Short Sermon Outline

God is Faithful to His Word


  • Background leading up to 9: 6.
  • Promises of God

Proposition: We can depend upon God to fulfill His Promises to us.

I. Promises are meant for those chosen by God.

ll. Promises not based upon race, age, sex.

lll. Promises not based upon doing good deeds.

lV. Promises received and based upon our faith.


  • Can not earn God s favor or promises.
  • Must exercise faith to receive God s promises.


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