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

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - v.13-16

The first two posts in this series were a general introduction and then a discussion of Dr. Breshear's "Big Picture" by looking at Romans 9:1-12. In his paper "Why Do So Many People Want to Be Calminian?" (see link at the end of this post) Dr. Breshears has five points under his big picture statement. As a reminder, this statement is: "God is persistent to bless His sinful people". Since I think I've failed to do so to this point, let me emphatically state that I agree that God is persistent to bless His sinful people. I just don't think this is the message of Paul in Romans 9.

Point One:

Point 1 in Dr. Breshears paper is:
Verse 13 is quoted from Malachi 1:2-3, not Genesis 24. God will continue to lovingly protect his chosen people (Jacob) no matter who their enemies (Esau/Edom) are.

Romans 9:13 reads:
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

The point Dr. Breshears is making seems to be that in Romans 9:13 the focus is not the individuals, but the nations. The way Dr. Breshears puts this in the audio is:
"God loves Israel . . . hardened, blatant sinners off into exile and death, and protects them from their enemies, even when they, the enemies, are brothers. When you look at this from Malachi, that's talking about God protecting His people from enemies."

Therefore, in answering the question of why we can trust God to be faithful to his promises given that He has seemingly rejected Israel, Paul is saying that God continued to defend Israel (Jacob) even though they had been so bad that He had to exile them and even though their adversaries were their own relatives. The rejection then, I assume Dr. Breshears would say, came only after a long period of Israel turning away from God. This would seem to fit well with what Paul will say later in warning the Gentiles that they too could be cast off for lack of faith.

First, is what Dr. Breshears says a valid representation of Malachi? Close, but realize that the people have already returned from exile and are back in the land. God's love is shown to them not in protection, but in the fact that they are being allowed to rebuild, while Edom (the descendants of Esau) will not be allowed to rebuild. I will grant that this does not significantly change Dr. Breshears point.

Second, what we see here is that God's choice of Jacob over Esau has lasting consequences. But that choice was not based anything in either of them (Dr. Breshears agrees with this in the audio). So the point in Malachi, it seems to me, is that God's calling of Jacob stands. Yes, God does pursue His people even when they are rebellious, but He is not pursuing Esau because they are not His chosen people.

Point Two:

Point 2 in Dr. Breshears paper is:
Verses 14-16: No one can (or needs to) earn God's mercy. It's His character to give it. (Ex. 33:19; 34:6-7)
Romans 9:14-16 reads:
14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Dr. Breshears sees this as an extended statement on God's unrelenting mercy. While that is present in these verses, it does not seem to be the point of these verses. The hinge is verse 14 and the theoretical accusation that Paul is answering about whether or not God is unjust. To understand this passage in manner that Dr. Breshears lays it out, I would have to assume that the accusation is something like: "But Paul, how can God be merciful to rebellious people. Justice demands that He punish them."

While that is a potential objection to Paul, I see two reasons that it is not the objection being raised. First, Paul has already dealt with this objection in Romans 3:21-26 where he tells us God can be both just and justifier because of the work of Jesus. Second, I do not see this as being the objection Paul answers in v.15-16. The objection that Paul answers is: "But Paul, how can it be just that God would chose Jacob (and his descendants) over Esau (and his descendants) with no reference to what they had done?"

Paul's answer is that it is not unjust because God has the right to make those choices. This point becomes clear with the verses that follow that will be discussed in the next post. But note here that Paul's reference is back to Moses asking God to show him His glory. As you are probably aware, God does allow Moses to see His back, but not His face. But the immediate response in words is that God is gracious, but it is His prerogative on whom that graciousness is bestowed. So God's grace is never bestowed on the basis of human works, and God is not unjust in choosing Jacob over Esau before either had done good works.

Before I close, let me state again that while I disagree with his conclusions, I appreciate Dr. Breshears approach to understanding the Scriptures. He reads the context and looks back at the context of the Old Testament quotations. We need to be more disciplined about our approach to studying the Bible. May God motivate us to be so.

Additional Note:

The link to Dr. Breshears paper is (cut and paste this into your browsers address bar):

www.westernseminary.edu/papers/Faculty/ETS%2006%20Breshears%20Cal.doc

Hyperlinking does not seem to work for this address because blogger recognizes the %20 as a space and substitutes them, which messes up the link. If anyone knows a solution, I'd love to know.

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