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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - v.19-21

In wrapping up this series on Dr. Breshears interpretation of Romans, I need to deal with his last two points, which focus first on the objection raised by Paul's anticipated antogonist, and the example of the potter and the clay.

Point Four

Point 4 in Dr. Breshears' paper is:
Verse 19: Who resists God's will? Idiots like Pharaoh! Learn from him that No one is so powerful that they can get away with resisting God's will.
Romans 9:19 reads:
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

I have two problems with this point, either of which would make Dr. Breshears' point four incorrect. First, why would the hypothetical questioner raise this objection if, as Dr. Breshears is claiming, Paul's point is that "God is persistent to bless His sinful people." In the audio Dr. Breshears seems to say that Paul's supposed antogonist is misinterpreting the Apostle in the same way Calvinists have misinterpreted him since the Reformation.

But look at the other hypothetical objections in Romans. In any of them, has the questioner been so wrong about what Paul had been saying? No, in these other hypothetical objections, the questioner has understood Paul's argument, but then misapplied what Paul had been saying (for example, grace is greater than sin is correct; that we should then sin more is a misapplication). This would not be the case in Romand 9 if Dr. Breshears is correct. Instead, the questioner would have a basic misunderstanding of what Paul is saying.

The second problem is best seen by moving on to point five, because the problem lies in the fact that Paul's answer does not resemble Dr. Breshears, but is a answer defending God's right as creator.

Point Five:

Point 5 in Dr. Breshears' paper is:
Verses 20-21: One lesson from the potter (Isa 45:9-11; Dan. 4:35, etc.) No one can charge God with injustice when He punishes the evildoer. The other lesson of the potter (Jer. 18:1-10): God persists in making ruined things beautiful again. Human response has significant impact on God's cursing/blessing. He responds to resistance and repentance.
Romans 9:20-21 reads:
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

In order to say that Paul is not defending God's right to sovereignty over all aspects of His creation, Dr. Breshears says we can learn two things from the example of the potter. First, that God cannot be blamed for punishing evildoers (a great point) and that God makes ruined things beautiful again (another great point). But neither of these are the point of the potter story and even if they were, how do they serve to refute the hypothetical question of v.19 if, as Dr. Breshears claims, Paul's answer is that "idiots like Pharaoh resists God's will"? The potter example is much more relevant to the question of "If God sovereignly has mercy on some and hardens others, how then can He justly judge anyone?"

For example, Dr. Breshears lists Isaiah 45:9-11 as part of the Biblical picture of God as a potter. This passage is a prophecy of the Persian ruler Cyrus, who will be God's instrument in returning the Jews to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Notice what Isaiah says about God's use of Cyrus:
"I have stirred him up in righteousness,and I will make all his ways level;he shall build my cityand set my exiles free,not for price or reward,”says the Lord of hosts.

This is not God reaching out to a rebellious leader, but God choosing Cyrus for a purpose long before Cyrus is even born. In other words, this is the potter making whatever he wants from the clay. Paul using the potter as an example of God's activity is not saying that "Idiots like Pharoah" resist God's will, but that God has control over the hearts of even men like Pharoah and Cyrus.

Conclusion:

Again, I think Dr. Breshears is correct that we need to come to the Scriptures admitting our biases. I like how he uses other Scriptures to interpret the passage he is studying. But I think he reaches an erroneous conclusion about Romans 9.

If one thing is missing from his approach, it is a comparison the what the church has believed about what a passage means. Rejecting all major interpretations, which Dr. Breshears seems to acknowledge he has done in the audio, requires a huge amount of evidence. Not only do I not see an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of Dr. Breshears' interpretation, it seems to be reaching.

So what is the answer to the question of why we can trust Paul's statements in Romans 8 given the rejection of Israel? Because God's promises never were for all ethnic Israel, but only for a remnant called and preserved by God's gracious choice, the true Israel. This division can be seen in Isaac being chosen over Ishmael, in Jacob over Esau, and even in Pharaoh, who was chosen as an instrument to reveal God's glory not through repentance and faith, but through rebellion and hardness. God's choice stands, and those He has chosen in Christ are therfore secure.

Links to the previous posts: Introduction; The Big Picture; Points 1 and 2; Point 3

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