"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Friday, June 22, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - The Big Picture

As I noted in the previous post, Dr. Breshears premise is that we have been misreading Paul's argument in Romans 9. Instead of a traditional Reformed understanding that Romans 9 focuses on God's sovereignty, he states that Romans 9 is about God being "persistent to bless His sinful people." Does this fit in the flow of Paul's teaching in Romans.

Romans chapter 8 contains some of the most comforting and security building words in all of Scripture especially in the grand conclusion of v.31-39. It is generally assumed that when Paul begins Romans 9 with a discussion of Israel, he is anticipating an objection to what he has been saying. The objection would go something like this: "Paul, you claim that we cannot be separated from the love of Christ, but what about Israel? They were God's covenant people, but have they not been cast off in favor of the Gentiles? How then can you affirm that God's love does not fail?"

I believe that Paul is dealing with the spirit of this objection not only in Romans 9, but all the way through to Romans 11. In other words, Romans 8 closed out Paul's primary discussion about how the gospel is the power of God for salvation. But before he can turn to how we live now that we have and are experiencing the gospel's power, he needs to deal with the subject of how the rejection of Israel and the grafting in of the Gentiles does not violate his affirmation of God's unfailing love.

Dr. Breshears says that the way Paul answers the objection is to say that God's love has not failed, and the he repeated and continually reaches out to sinful people who continue to reject Him. Therefore, God is not at fault and cannot be blamed. We are at fault for rejecting God and are to be blamed. But does this fit with what Paul says in Romans 9?

In the first five verses, Paul expresses his deep sorrow over Israel's continued rejection of Jesus, and then (v.4-5) explains all the benefits they were given. So far, this would seem to accord well with what Dr. Breshears has proposed as Paul's argument. Let's look more closely at Paul's words in Romans 9:6-13:
6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— 12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Again, Paul is defending his premise that those who belong to Christ cannot be separated from His love. So in v.6 he tells us that God's word has not failed in respect to Israel. Why can he say this? Because "not all who are descened from Israel belong to Israel." In other words, just because a person was a member of the ethnic people of Israel did not make them a child of God. Paul will begin to bring the argument to a close (Romans 11:4) by referring to God telling Elijah that “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In other words, it has never been all of Israel to which the promise had come, but the remnant.

Paul reinforces this point in Romans 9 by noting it was only to Isaac, the son of promise, that true sonship is conferred. Ishmael and his descendants were not chosen. But Paul is clear that this is not about one line of physical descendants versus another line of physical descendants. It is about what the two lines represent. One child is to represent all those who are born of the flesh. The other child (Isaac) represents the children of the promise (Paul develops this analogy more fully in Galatians 4:21-31), that is those who are born by the work of God not by the effort of man. What v.6-9 are saying is that word of God has not failed because it was only intended for the children of the promise, not the children of the flesh.

In v.10-13 Paul shows that this continues to be true in the next generation. A distinction is made between Esau and Jacob. Why? Not because of anything in them. As Dr. Breshears notes, neither is the kind of boy you would want your daughter to bring home. Esau's god is his appetite and Jacob is a schemer. Does this then say that Paul is using the two of them to show that God continues to stretch out His hand to sinful people who reject Him?

That's not what Paul says the reason is. Paul says this was done "in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call." Well, you might think, this just means that God did this so that his purpose of electing and calling Abraham might continue. Perhaps, but the point is that Jacob is chosen, not on the basis of works, to be the one through whom the promise would continue.

Dr. Breshears would likely argue that Jacob's calling was effectual, but that such events are unique (see point C1 in the linked paper in the previous post). Whether this choice of Jacob should be seen as normative or exceptional we shall discuss in a later post. My point here is in respect to Dr. Breshears big picture. Paul does not say that God reached out to two sinful men and ultimately chose one to preserve His purpose of calling Abraham. Paul is saying that as with Isaac and Ishmael, God made a clear distinction about to whom the promises applied and through whom His purposes will be fulfilled.

So, why does God's present rejection of Israel not negate what Paul says in Romans 8? Because, the promise was never to all of the physical descendants of Abraham, but only to the children of promise. These are the remnant. The ones chosen, called, and kept by God (see Romans 8:29-30). Therefore God's word has not failed.

Next: Points one and two in Dr. Breshears paper covering Romans 9:13-16.

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Blogger HALFMOM said...

Romans 8 is probably my favorite chapter - although 12 runs a close second - and my favorite verse is 8:32. It leaves me no doubt that God has reject His own, whomever they may be, because He is not wasteful of His own Son.

10:58 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...

halfmom, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

I remember reading a quote from J.I. Packer to the effect that Satan would do anything to keep Christians out of Romans 8. I suspect his comment was aimed a the fact that if we are secure in our salvation, we tend to be more effective in kingdom work.

There are just so many gem verses, like 32, in that chapter it's hard for me to pick a favorite.

12:44 AM EDT  

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