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Interpretation of Romans 9:1-29

By Eli Gutierrez

Introduction

Romans 9 is one of the most polemical passages in the Pauline corpus. It is also a fundamental

section to understand how the apostle understood God’s plan of salvation for Israel. Chapter 9 is

the first part of a major unit in the letter that runs until chapter 11. In this unit, the main concern is

the faithfulness of God in the light of the rejection of Christ’s gospel by most Jews. This concern

follows logically from the gospel of justification by faith that Paul has been building in the previous

chapters. If, as Paul has argued, the gospel of Christ is the fulfillment of the promises to Israel

why, then, did Israel reject the gospel? Paul begins to answer this question in Romans 9. To

understand his concerns and answers, it is fundamental to look at the text in its context within the

letter to the Romans and to consider the situation Paul is addressing.

Romans 9-11 in context

Most scholars agree that Romans 9-11 is a unit in itself. C. H. Dodd even argues that it is an

independent sermon of Paul that was added to the letter.1 While most New Testament scholars

disagree with this view, it reflects the impression that Romans 9-11 does not seem to fit the rest of

the letter. Some have argued that it is an independent section that breaks the continuity between

chapters 8 and 12. A closer look at the text, however, shows that this unit is not independent of the

rest of the letter. It does not break but develops the argument of the former chapters. In Romans

3:1-8 Paul already addressed the question of Israel’s unbelief and God’s righteousness. It was

1
C. H. Dodd, The Espistle of Paul to the Romans (London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1959), 162.
raised by the discussion of the Law in 2:28–29ab: “A person is not a Jew who is one only

outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one

inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” In

chapters 9-11 Paul develops this idea with a deeper reflection on the unfaithfulness of the Jews. It

also extends his whole exposition of God’s salvation through Christ in chapters 1-8. The question

to answer was: “Has Israel’s disbelief caused it to lose its place in the plan of salvation?”

Additionally, in chapter 8 Paul deals with God’s purposes as the ground for certainty for the

believer’s hope (Rom 8:28-39). According to the witness of their Scripture, Israel had a special

place in the purposes of God. Then, considering the fact that the Jews had not believed the

announcement of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the fulfiller of God’s promises to Israel, it was

necessary a theological reflection on the place of Israel in the divine purpose and an affirmation of

the faithfulness of God that runs through the entire letter.

The main theme that dominates this section is the unbelief of Israel and the faithfulness of

God. Chapter 9 starts with Paul’s deeply personal statement of his grief over Israel’s rejection of

the gospel (9:1-5). He follows this introduction with the main proposition that he seeks to prove:

“It is not as though God’s word had failed.” (9:6NIV). Leander E. Keck maintains, “Rom 9-11 is

elicited by the need to account for the Jew’s No to the gospel, the real problem is the faithfulness

of God, for only a faithful God is righteous.”2 Accordingly, Paul closes the whole section by

concluding that Israel receives God’s mercy even in their unbelief because God’s faithfulness is

irrevocable (11:28-36).

It is well known that Romans 9-11 is one of the Pauline passages that raises more polemic

and debate in its interpretation. That is why it would be wise to pay attention to the warnings of

2
Leander E Keck, Romans (ANTC; Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2005), 224.

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some scholars for the understanding of this text. C. E. B. Cranfield points to the special difficulties

that the content of this “main division of the epistle presents”. 3 First, this unit should be read

together as a whole without making any conclusions before one has heard the argument from the

beginning to the end. Second, in order not to misunderstand these chapters, it is essential to note

that the key-word is “mercy”. For Cranfield, the intention of Paul in this section is to display the

mercy of God in his salvation purposes for Jews and Gentiles, even when Israel’s temporary

unbelief seems to question God’s reliability. Third, it is fundamental not to read in this text that

God has rejected his people Israel by replacing them with the Christian Church. And fourth,

Cranfield appeals to Karl Barth’s doctrine of election to call for a Christocentric understanding of

the election of God. The election of God is the election of Christ, which includes the election of

the many individual sinful believers, and the one community, the church. For Cranfield, in Romans

9-11 Paul is concerned with the election of the community, not the individuals.4

Furthermore, Ftizmyer also warns about the difficulties in reading Romans 9-11. First, it

is necessary to focus on the one aspect that Paul is discussing. It is important to note Paul’s habit

of isolating the discussion to focus on one point without worrying about the ramifications it may

arouse. Second, these chapters are heavily scriptural, and unlike other sections of Paul’s letters,

the appeal to the Old Testament is more complex in that it does not depend on one single passage

or story. Here, Paul’s use of Old Testament texts is unparalleled and his use of Scripture usually

has only one point of comparison. Here it has many. Third, despite referring to individuals such as

Jacob and Esau, the emphasis is on corporate Israel. It is important to resist the temptation to read

3
C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans. A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985),
215.
4
Cranfield, Romans, 215-216.

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later problems into this text.5 Finally, N. T. Wright suggests letting Paul dictate his own terms

rather than bringing topics to the text that his own argument does not intend to address. For Wright,

it is essential to see the “historical dimension to salvation” in Paul’s discussion. 6 Romans 9-11

shows that Paul’s view of salvation displayed in the first eight chapters is not outside space and

time but is focused on a historical reality in which Israel cannot be taken out of the equation. That

is to say that in this section Paul recounts a story, and it should be read as such.

To interpret correctly this unit, it is fundamental to understand, as far as possible, the

situation that led Paul to write his argument. Clearly, the main problem is Israel’s unbelief (Rom

9:3). The fact was that most Jews were refusing the gospel, and the natural question was “why?”

It is evident that for Paul it was an intense personal concern that caused him an unceasing mental

anguish (9:2). It was urgent for him to answer what did Israel’s apostasy mean in view of the

election of Israel and the irrevocable promises of God?7 As a Jew, he was deeply distressed by his

own people’s rejection of Christ, who for him was the fulfillment of the promises God made to

Israel. Furthermore, Paul was concerned with his own position in God’s plan of salvation. He

recognized his own mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (e.g. Gal 1:16, 2:2ff; Rom 1:13;

Eph 3:1). Therefore, he needed to explain how the conversion of the Gentiles and his own mission

fit with God’s plan and the fact that his own Jewish fellows had resisted the gospel.

Through the former chapters of Romans Paul has insisted that through the gospel, which

was first for the Jew (1:16), God has kept the promise he made in Scripture (Rom 1:2). For Paul,

the gospel of Christ, who is a descendant of David (1:3), cannot be understood apart from Israel.

5
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans. A New Translation and Commentary (AYB; Yale University Press: New Heaven,
1993), 541-542.
6
N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans. Introduction Commentary and Reflections” New Interpreter’s Bible
Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon, 2015) 9:527.
7
Fitzmyer, Romans, 539.

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He has made the argument that Abraham showed God’s way of righteousness through faith. The

natural question that arises is: why, then, the descendants of Abraham do not believe the gospel?

Moreover, what does it mean that Israel has failed to inherit the promises made to them? Has God

rejected the Jew people? Has his purpose failed? Is he being unfaithful? Paul himself saw the force

of these claims but considered them invalid. On the other hand, Gentile believers may misinterpret

what the rejection of the gospel by most Jews means. Does their rejection mean that the church

has replaced Israel as God’s elect people? If the answer was positive, how can the church trust in

God’s faithfulness? If God’s purposes for Israel have been frustrated, how can Gentile Christians

rely on God’s purposes in the gospel? Romans 9-11 is intended to answer these questions. It is

probable that these claims were voiced to him during his ministry.8 He may anticipate hearing

them again when he arrives in Jerusalem with the collection from the Gentile churches. Paul’s

argument responds how to harmonize God’s choice of Israel and the fact that the Jews were not

believing the gospel. As Edwards affirms, this unit is a vindication of “God’s freedom and mercy

in the face of Israel’s stubbornness.”9

While we cannot be completely certain about the situation of the church in Rome, to whom

Paul wrote this letter, it is important to consider the possibilities. N. T. Wright notes that “the return

of considerable numbers of Jews to Rome after Claudius’s death in 54 CE cannot but have an impact

on the small, young church in Rome.”10 While this situation is not completely certain it is true that

in many parts of the Empire, and especially in Rome, the relations of the Jewish people and the

rest of the society were tense. Since the Christian church was still viewed as a Jewish group,

8
F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. An Introduction and commentary (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), 173.
9
Edwards, Romans, 229.
10
Wright, “The Letter to the Romans”, 530.

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without doubt, such tension impacted the inner relationship between Christian Jews and Gentile

believers in the community. F. F. Bruce maintains that it seems that the original believers in Rome

were Jews, but by the time when Paul is writing his letter the Jews in the Christian Roman

community were outnumbered by Gentile believers.11 Bruce argues that there was a tendency

among some of the Gentile Christians in Rome to think of their Jewish brethren as people rescued

from an apostate nation. In this view, some of the Jews believers tended to resent the aspersion of

the Gentile Christians and to stress their continued solidarity with their fellow Jews. Accordingly,

Paul tried to show to both sides their place in the salvation purposes of God.12 Wright argues that

the fact that less than one century after the letter of Romans Marcion appeared with his

supersessionist13 theology shows that Paul’s concern was real.14

Interpretation of Romans 9:1-29

[1] “I am speaking the truth in Christ” (Rom 9:1 ESV). It is startling the way in which Paul abruptly

changes the tone from the previous verses. It proofs that Paul is opening a new unit. The first

introductory verse shows the importance of what Paul is about to say. He is going to say something

according to one who is in Christ. The next parenthetic statements express the sincerity of the

apostle. They recall what he said in 2 Corinthians 11:31 (“God […] knows that I am not lying”).

Keck argues that these lines function as the captatio benevolentiae, the part of the discourse

intended to win the attention of the audience. 15

11
Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, 172.
12
Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, 172-173.
13
The belief that the Christian church replaced Israel, and that the covenant in Jesus supersedes the old covenant.
14
Wright, “The Letter to the Romans”, 530.
15
Wright, “The Letter to the Romans”, 530.

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[2] “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom 9:2 NIV). Paul expresses

the personal connection of the argument he is going to make. This verse does not show just a

rhetorical device but a really fullhearted concern of the Apostle.

[3-4a] “For the sake of my people, those of my own race” ( Rom 9:3 NIV). Only implicitly

we now know the reason for Paul’s anguish, Israel’s unbelief. He states that he even could wish to

be cut off from Christ for them. Considering the use of the imperfect tense and what he has just

said in 8:35-38, it is clear that he is implying that he would wish to be “accursed and cut off from

Christ” (ESV) if such a thing were possible. His attitude recalls Moses after the event with the

golden calf (Exod 32:32). Once more, Paul manifests his personal concern, anguish, and deeply

desire for the good of “my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (NASV). It is probable

that Paul intended this to gain for himself the sympathy of his Jewish audience and to gain for the

Jewish believers the sympathy of their Gentile brethren in Christ.

[4b-5] The list of Israel’s blessings in verses 4-5 has a twofold purpose. On one hand, they

recall the history of Israel narrated in the Scripture, which contains God’s election of them and the

covenant blessings that such election implied. On the other hand, the privileges correspond to what

Paul has been saying in chapters 5-8.16 In the context of Paul’s exposition of the gospel, these

privileges now belong to those who are in Christ. It is important to consider that Paul redefined

what is to be a Jew in 2:28-29. By no means does that redefinition mean that the Jews are to be

rejected and replaced. On the contrary, Paul’s interest is to note that the privileges in Christ are

exactly what God promised to Israel and that the fulfillment of the promise, who is Christ himself,

first came to the Jews (Rom 1:16). Scholars have debated whether Paul calls Jesus God or not in

16
Wright, “The Letter to the Romans”, 529. The parallels in Romans 5-8 are clear: adoption to sonship (8:15), the
divine glory (8:18), the covenants (5:15-17), the receiving of the law (7:12-14), (8:18-28), and the Messiah (e.g. 5:6;
8:39).

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verse 5. Although some resist seeing in Paul such high Christology, it seems to be the best reading.

In any case, the point here is that the climax of God’s blessings to the Jews is Jesus the Messiah.

[6a] Paul expresses his main proposition: “it is not as though the word of God has failed”

(Rom 9:6 ESV). Why does Paul have to affirm God’s faithfulness? Because Israel’s rejection of

God’s promises may put into question the reliability of God’s word. Paul answers emphatically

that the word of God has not failed (recalling Isa 40:8). In the following verses, it is important to

note that the way in which Paul answers the question is not by theological argumentation, nor by

a metaphysical discourse, but rather by recounting Israel’s story.

[6b-9] First of all, Paul shows that there have been always two kinds of Abraham’s

children, those physically descended from him and the children of the promise, “for not all who

are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom 9:6 NIV). Paul makes this point from the Genesis story

of Abraham and his two sons. So as not to misunderstand this text, it is important to note the

corporate sense in which Paul is interpreting the story. While only Isaac was the son of the promise,

Paul refers to the children (in plural) of the promise. The point is that being the people of God has

never had to do with ethnicity but with God’s purposes, “it is not the children by physical descent

who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s

offspring” (Rom 9:8 NIV). Since the identity of Israel has never been determined by linear descent

God is still consistent now that not all the Jews have received the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[10-12] Paul continues the story of Israel and gives a second example even clearer than the

first. Unlike Abraham’s sons, Jacob and Esau had the same mother. Rebecca, who Paul mentions

by name, was told that “the older will serve the younger” (Rom 9:12; Gen 25:23), even before they

were born. Paul quotes Genesis in order to show that the election of Jacob as the children of the

promise was not based on any merit of the elect but on God’s sovereign will, “in order that God’s

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purpose in election might stand” (Rom 9:11 NIV). The argument is that God is still consistent in

his purposes of election.

[13] “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:13 NIV) is a Scriptural quotation from

Malachi 1:2-3 where Jacob and Esau represent two different nations, Israel and Edom. The verb

“to hate” should be read as Semitic hyperbole (Gen 29:30-31; Deut 21:15-17).17 It is a reference

to God’s election and rejection, respectively. In this verse are no hints of individual predestination

for salvation and damnation, it is an expression of the choice of corporate Israel over Edom.18

Also, it should be stressed that according to the Scripture witness, just as in the case of Ishmael,

Esau, although rejected, was still the recipient of God’s mercy (Gen 27:39; Deut 23:7). The

question is how God’s election operates in history rather than what is the final fate of individuals.19

[14] “Is God unjust? Not at all!” (9:14 NIV). Paul is aware that what he has just said could

offend some sensibilities. Therefore, he uses the diatribe style to affirm strongly that God is not

unjust. As he begins asking “what then shall we say?” (9:14 NIV) he acknowledges that the

question of God’s justice needs an answer. Keck maintains that it is important to note that in the

following verses Paul “is not outlining an essay on God’s governance in human affairs, but arguing

for the validity of verse 6”,20 that God is not unfaithful.

[15] To explain why God is not unjust in unconditionally electing his people on the basis

of his own sovereign will Paul does not engage in the question of theodicy but rather he appeals

to the Scripture and the story of Israel that reveals God's character. Paul quotes Exodus 33:19, “I

will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”

17
Compare Luke 14:26 (“hate”) with Mathew 10:37 (“love less”).
18
Fitzmyer, Romans, 563.
19
Edwards, Romans, 233.
20
Keck, Romans, 232.

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(Rom 9:15 NIV). This statement of God’s sovereignty is found in the context of the rebellious

Israel just after the golden calf event. God could have justly punished them because of their

rebellion, but he decided to show his mercy by keeping them as his people. In other words, God’s

covenant with his people will continue even if they all are sinful (this argument recalls Paul’s

answer in Rom 3:4). What is emphasized here is God’s merciful character.

[16] Paul’s intention in quoting the words of God to Moses is to affirm that the election of

God is not merit-based but based on his sovereign mercy. Again, the election of God “does not,

therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom 9:16 NIV). In sovereignly

electing his people God is not unjust, but merciful. Paul is showing that Israel cannot boast on their

election because it was only for God’s mercy and not for their merits. At the same time, Gentiles

believers cannot boast that they are now part of the people of God and heirs of the promises because

it was not for their merits but for God’s mercy (see Rom 11:18). And finally, Jewish believers

cannot claim that God is unjust in receiving Gentiles into the elected people because God is being

consistent with his character shown in the election of Israel since the beginning. Once more, it is

important to note that Paul has been dealing with God’s corporate election and that there is no hint

of a double predestination doctrine for individual salvation and damnation. To read such doctrine

here would be to impose outer questions into the text.

[17] The same point is made in verse 17, now in negative and by a more graphic example.

Paul quotes the words to Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16 to note that the purposes of God cannot be

thwarted by sinful humans, but rather God uses them to “display my (God’s) power” and “that my

name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Rom 9:17 NIV). The power God displays in these

sovereign acts is the power of salvation that Paul has already mentioned in 1:16 and the power of

mercy that will appear in 9:22. In this sense, Pharaoh is prefiguring the unbelievers, including the

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Jews, whose unbelief will be used by God to show his glory and mercy to others (Rom 11:32). Just

as the hardening of Pharaoh was used to save Israel from Egypt, the unbelief of Israel is being used

to bring the Gentiles to the gospel of Christ (Rom 11:11-12).

[18] In this sense, to have mercy and to harden should be understood as God’s sovereign

election for a positive and negative role in his divine purposes respectively. It is not about God’s

capricious determination but about his merciful will. While God is free in his sovereign choices,

he is not arbitrary. Neither here nor any other place in Scripture God hardens the heart of someone

who has not harden his/her own heart as well.21 It is well known that in the biblical narrative the

one who hardens the heart is sometimes God and sometimes Pharaoh himself (Exod 4:21; 7:3, 14,

22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 35; 10:1, 20; 11:10; 13:15). That does not mean that God’s election is

merit-based, but that it is not out of mere caprice. Paul is not arguing for God’s right to save and

condemn individuals, but for his sovereign election in salvation history. Cranfield argues that “the

assumption that Paul is here thinking of the ultimate destiny of the individual, of his final salvation

or ruin, is not justified by the text.”22 Admittedly, Pharaoh deserved judgment just as any other

sinful human, but that is not the point Paul is making. He is not dealing with the question of

individual sinfulness but with Israel’s salvation history, in which Pharaoh was opposing God’s

will but finally it is shown that nothing can stand against the divine purposes. It is important not

to forget the context in which Paul is making this argument, God’s faithfulness in the story of

Israel’s salvation.

[19-20a] Paul, knowing that his argument may raise objections, uses again the diatribe style

to put the questions in the voice of an imaginary interlocutor, “Why does He still find fault? For

21
John R. W. Stott, Romans. God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 261.
22
Cranfield, Romans, 236.

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who resists His will?” (Rom 9:19 NASV). The question is natural, if God is the one moving the

threads of history, then why he holds us accountable to him? Interestingly, instead of answering

the question Paul does not engage in the theodicy discussion but he poses a counter question: “who

are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” (Rom 9:20). Paul denies that we, humans, have the

right to question God’s decisions. This answer recalls the counter-questions of God to Job’s

complaints (Job 38-39). Paul is not silencing sincere questions, he is censuring those who quarrel

against God, and affirming the superiority of God as the creator over his creatures.

[20b-21] Paul illustrates his point by using the well-known Jewish image of potter and clay.

While the image is present in various books of the Old Testament, Paul is clearly referring to the

book of Isaiah (29:16; 45:9). The argument is the same that Paul has been building from verse 14,

that God is not unjust. He is sovereignly free to elect whoever he wants for whatever he wants.

Now on the basis that he is the only Lord and creator. It is essential to note that throughout the

whole argument it has been clear that the purpose of God in electing his people is not capricious

or arbitrary but it is his intention to show his mercy and to display his power of salvation. I reject

any reading of this verses that suggest that God creates human beings just in order to punish them.

As Edwards maintains “this passage does not depict or defend a cosmic bully.”23

[22-24] Scholars agree that the Greek of verses 22-23 is difficult and ambiguous. For

example, it is not clear if the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom 9:23 ESV) were

“prepared” by God or by themselves.24 Nevertheless, these verses contain also a rich theology.

Because of its position in the sentence and the fact that it is formulated in a final clause (ἵνα), the

dominant phrase is “in order to make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy” (Rom

23
Edwards, Romans, 241.
24
Edwards, Romans, 241.

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9:23 ESV). The first two purposes, “to show his wrath and make his power known” (Rom 9:22

NIV), are to be understood as subordinated to God’s purpose of showing his mercy. It is

demonstrated by the fact that the next verses (25-29) focus further attention on the displaying of

God’s glory upon the objects of his mercy.25 Nevertheless, it is important to note that the revelation

of God’s glory in his mercy includes the revelation of his wrath as well. God is patient with

Pharaoh, the rebellious Jews, and unbelievers in general, to reveal how great is the sin of humanity.

His patience shows that human’s sinfulness is the rejection of God’s grace and deserves the

judgment of his wrath. In doing so, it is displayed the greatness of his glorious mercy. In other

words, the mercy of God is not completely unveiled until we understand that the sinful nature of

humanity deserves all the power of the wrath of God. Thus, God is willing to show his wrath for

the sake of revealing his mercy. Additionally, this revelation of human sinfulness answers the

question “why does he still find fault?” (Rom 9:19 NIV), because there is no one without guilt.

In verses 22-24 Paul continues his argument that God’s sovereign freedom in his election

is perfectly compatible with his justice. The phrase “what if?” (εἰ δὲ) implies that there is no

possible objection to God’s actions. The “vessels of wrath” refer to the unbelievers who, like

Pharaoh, are ready for destruction and judgment because of their condition of sin. Paul says that

they were endured “with much patience” (Rom 9:22 NASV) to fulfill God’s purposes. The point

is not that the objects of God’s wrath were created for destruction, but that God endured them with

long-suffering in order to make “the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy” (Rom

9:23 NIV). Paul is not saying that God chose some people for damnation and others for salvation.

He is saying that God endures those who were not elected as the people of God, the unbelievers,

in order to display his glory and his power of salvation. It is fundamental to note that verse 24

25
Cranfield, Romans, 241.

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stresses the realization of this divine will. The objects of God’s mercy are, according to Paul, “even

us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” (Rom 9:24 NIV).

Thus, the image does not imply an eschatological eternal end for the people represented by the

vessels of wrath and mercy. It is an image that Paul uses in his argument of God’s faithfulness to

Israel, an argument that does not end until chapter 11. It implies a historical realization in the story

of God’s purpose for salvation that now includes the Gentiles. Later in his argument, Paul states

that the unbelief of the Jews served the purpose of bringing Gentiles to God and that it remains the

hope that all Israel would be restored (Rom 11:11-27).

[25-26] The quotations from the prophet Hosea (Hos 2:23; 1:10) begin a series of Scriptural

references that Paul uses to demonstrate his point in verse 24, that God has called his objects of

mercy from the Jews and the Gentiles. In the book of the prophet Hosea the name “not my people”

is a reference to the judgment of the Northern Kingdom; however, the judgment includes the

promise of restoration. Paul is applying the text to the Gentiles in order to show that their inclusion

into God’s purposes of salvation was prophesied in Scripture, “they will be called ‘children of the

living God’” (Rom 9:26 ESV). The connection is God’s sovereign election of those who otherwise

were subject to judgment and unworthy to be called “my people” and “my loved one”. Again, it is

shown that Paul’s point is that the displaying of God’s judgment of wrath reveals the glory of his

mercy. As Paul will argue later, Israel’s unbelief has served to the displaying of the glorious mercy

of God by bringing the Gentile believers to his purposes as the receivers of the fulfillment of the

promises made to Israel in Scripture. This recalls Paul’s redefinition of what it means to be a Jew

in chapter 2 and his whole argument of justification by grace for all who believe (Jews and

Gentiles) throughout Romans 1-8. 26 For Paul, what Hosea prophesied, now has been historically

26
Keck, Romans, 239.

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fulfilled. And at the same time, it is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham that he

would be the father of many nations (Gen 17:25; Rom 7:4). Therefore, it proves that the word of

God does not fail and that the way in which he operates is not unjust but consistent with his

promise, which are the questions that Paul has been answering since verses 6, 14, and 19.

[27-29] If Paul applied the quotation of Hosea to the Gentiles, now he quotes the book of

the prophet Isaiah to speak about the Jews. Paul is presupposing the fact that most Jews were not

believing the gospel. Therefore, he quotes the prophet Isaiah (10:22-23) to show that Scripture has

foretold so, “only a remnant will be saved” (Rom 9:28 NIV). The second quotation of Isaiah (1:9)

makes it clear that even the preservation of the remnant is an expression of God’s grace and not a

recompense out of merits. These verses serve to close the argument Paul started in verse 6 arguing

that God keeps his word even when Israel has not received the gospel. And at the same time, these

verses serve as a connection with the next section in Paul’s argument. The analysis ends with these

verses, but Paul’s argument continues. In it, he keeps arguing that Israel’s call, infidelity, and

remnant were prophesied by Scripture. This is not the end of the story Paul has been retelling. In

the end (chapter 11) it remains the hope that all the Jews would embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ

and both Israel and the church would be united as the children of God.

Conclusions

Romans 9:1-29 addresses questions that had an especial force for Paul, both personally and

theologically. As a Jew, he had a deep distress for the unbelief of his brethren in the flesh. And

according to his theology, the gospel of Christ was the fulfillment of the promises to Israel.

Therefore, the fact that Israel rejected the gospel needed a particular reflection. That is the issue

Paul answers in this passage. He argues that the Word of God has not failed, even if the Jews have

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not believed. Just as God did not choose the two sons of Abraham as his people, he does not choose

all the Jews now. God’s election of his people is a sovereign free decision that humans cannot

object. It is not an election out of merit but out of his choice to show his mercy. Furthermore, this

election displays the mercy of God in his plan of salvation. Even when he shows his wrath it is

with the purpose of revealing his mercy. This argument will continue beyond chapter 9 and will

end only until chapter 11 when Paul explains that the unbelief of the Jews served to bring Gentiles

to God. There, Paul keeps the hope that all Israel will be restored. The gospel Paul preached had

an essential historical dimension in which Israel had still an important place for the purposes of

God. Such is the message of Romans 9:1-29, and it is violence against the text to read it in any

other direction that ignores the main purpose and concerns of the apostle Paul, the affirmation of

God’s faithfulness in light of Israel’s unbelief and the disclosure of God’s mercy in his plan of

salvation.

Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. An Introduction and commentary. 2nd ed. Grand
Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985.

Cranfield, C. E. B. Romans. A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing


Company, 1985.

Dodd, C. H., The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1959.

Edwards, James R. Romans. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Mass:


Hendrickson, 1992.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. Romans. A New Translation and Commentary. The Anchor Yale Bible 33.
Yale University Press: New Heaven, 1993.

Keck, Leander E. Romans. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon
Press, 2005.

Stott, John R. W. Romans. God’s Good News for the World. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity
Press, 1994.

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Wright, N. T. “The Letter to the Romans. Introduction Commentary and Reflections” in New
Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Leander Keck. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. Vol
9: pp 317-664.

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