Romans 9 - Part 2
Paul begins his argument stating, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." Paul had just begun a long list of the promises that are due to Israel including "the adoption as sons, and the glory". However, in chapter 8 Paul had just argued that it is through Christ that results in "waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons" and a promise that "these whom He justified He also glorified" (8:23 and 30). In other words, Paul has stated that Israel is due these blessings, but he has done so on the heels of stating that these blessings come as a result of belonging to Christ in the Spirit. "How can this be?" says the implied objector. Paul answers by saying ‘not all who are descended from Israel are true Israel.’ His illustrations are going to prove this point. In Chapter 11 he will use another illustration to explain what exactly true Israel is (viz. one olive tree that consists both of the remnant of Jews and gentiles whoa re in Christ). For the time being, we will content ourselves with the discussion at hand.
Verse 7-8: "nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: through Isaac your descendants will be named. That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants."
Here is our illustration and Paul has so graciously provided us with the interpretation. Ishmael and Isaac both have promises but both are not heirs of the promise made to ‘Abraham and his descendants’. So then, says Paul, it is not the children by flesh who are the children of God, but rather the children of promise. If this distinction of flesh and promise sounds familiar then it may be because you have been reading Romans 7-8 recently. If you flip back just a little you will see a huge battle between flesh and Spirit. According to the flesh we will die, but according to the Spirit we will live (see 8:5-6, 13).
If the discussion of what are true "children of God" sends off warning lights then you may have also been reading later in chapter 8. Starting in verse 15, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him".
Now things may be beginning to click into place for us. One principle of bible interpretation is that authors who use the same words and phrases back to back generally use them the same way. We would actually require evidence to the contrary to insist that an author is going to use the same vocabulary in two chapters but use the words to mean entirely different things. Daniel accepts this principle and has used it to define the word "kaleo" in Romans. If he does so with that word, he must also be willing to do so with phrases like "flesh", "children of God", "adoption", etc.
Clearly in the discussion of Romans 8 we have flesh and Spirit warring against each other. The flesh leads to sin and ultimately to eternal death. The Spirit leads to mortifying sin and finally eternal life. "Adoption as sons" is defined in Romans 8:23 as "the redemption of our body". This, argues Paul, is based on the hope that we have been eternally saved and will thus persevere in hope (8:24-25). "Children of God" is explained in Romans 8:15-17 as a person who has the Spirit and is thus an heir with Christ and shares in His blessings which consummates in glory.
However, Romans 9 then uses the very same terminology. In verse 4 we hear about "adoptiopn as sons, and the glory". In verse 8 we learn that God’s promises are not passed down according to the flesh, but through the promise (remember… we also had quite a bit of promises in Romans 8). In 9:8 we also learn about the "children of God" who stand in contrast with the children of the flesh. The problem for Daniel and those who would hold a similar view is that we cannot take clear meanings of words that are literally defined in Chapter 8 and then assume that they mean entirely different things in chapter 9. We cannot suppose that Paul is in mourning about the fact that his brothers according to the flesh are cut of from Christ and then suggest that the illustrations have nothing to do with Salvation. To remain consistent, rather, to perform proper exegesis, we must view this illustration in light of the discussion at hand and the vocabulary employed.
Daniel does make a perfect observation about 9:6-7. He says, "Paul's answer is clear. Not every Israelite is entitled to the promises spelled out in the Word of God. Not all of ethnic Israel is a part of spiritual Israel. The privileges listed in v. 4-5 were not for every Jew. In fact, God's promise to bless Israel was never meant to include every Jewish person." We must applaud Daniel here for speaking the truth and doing so better than I could.
However, Daniel then goes on to say things like this:
"It's important for us to remember that most illustrations are never perfect. What I mean is, that they don't always have a direct correspondence."
"So illustrations are never intended to have complete correspondence to the author's main point."
"However, while his argument deals with the eternal salvation of the Jews in his lifetime, Paul is not necessarily discussing the salvation of the individuals that he mentions in his illustrations."
After saying something that was so true I was saddened to see the quick leap to claim that illustrations are never perfect. It is true, illustrations do not always have a direct correspondence. However, generally the main point of the illustration fits in with the main point of the discussion at hand. Otherwise the illustration would be useless. Daniel then explains that Narnia is an allegory for the story of redemption but not everything has direct correspondence. He is correct about this. In fact, Lewis even denies that it is an allegory for this very reason. However, he then concludes that therefore illustrations never correspond completely. This is a quick and unnecessary jump. It is my opinion that statements like this ought to serve as caution tape warning us that we are about to explain away what the text does in fact teach.
Unfortunately, Daniel does seem to do so. In a discussion clearly about the Salvation of the Jews, Paul uses an illustration to teach about the promises of God. In the illustration he chooses words that are identical to chapter 8, namely "children of God" (where they are used to reference those who have Salvation). Without any reason (that I can see) apart from disagreeing with the implication, Daniel states that the illustration does not discuss at all the salvation of the individuals. I must conclude that this is a departure from proper exegesis.
That is all for this post. This is a reminder of where we have come and where we are at this point. In the first post we examined the background of Chapter 8 and the implications that this has on Chapter 9. We then examined verses 1-6. In this second post we looked at the first illustration (Isaac/Ishmael) in light of the terminology from verse 4 of the same chapter and also Chapter 8.
I’d again like to thank Daniel for all of the correct stuff he has said (which I often have not included) and thank him for graciously dealing with this slightly polemical discussion.
In Christ alone,