Calvinism's favorite scripture is found in Romans chapter nine. This is the Calvinist ringer text, so to speak. This is one passage that they believe cannot be refuted by those who oppose Calvinism. As you will see, this article shall conclusively prove that Calvinists' explanation of this text is contradicted by the overwhelming weight of biblical evidence. I will also provide a link at the end of this article that presents numerous scriptures which clearly and completely refute Calvinism beyond question. However, for now, we will deal with Calvinism's supposed ringer text.
The specific passage that I am referring to is found in Romans 9:10-23. The first portion of this text deals with Esau and Jacob. It states that God elected the older brother to serve the younger brother before they were born. It points out that neither child had committed good or evil when this election by God occurred. Calvinists frequently refer to these verses about Esau and Jacob as an example of TULIP predestination. However, they have committed a serious and obvious contextual error. Why? Because Jacob's and Esau's individual salvation and eternal destiny is not being discussed here. This reference is a direct quotation from Genesis 25:21-23. Proper biblical analysis requires the examination of the text in Genesis that has been quoted, before you can ascertain the correct biblical context in Romans. Genesis 25:23 clearly presents the context. The focus is not upon Esau and Jacob as individuals, but rather upon the nations of people that would descend from them. God told Rebecca that she had two nations in her womb and that two peoples would proceed from her body, with one being stronger than the other. After clarifying those points, God then told her that the older would serve the younger. In other words, the nation of the Edomite people, who descended from the older brother, Esau, would serve the nation of the stronger Israelite people who descended from Jacob. Therefore, the proper context in Romans concerning the election of Esau and Jacob is not dealing with their personal salvation, but rather with their callings regarding whom God had chosen to be the progenitor of His people, and related to the nations that would descend from them.
The Scriptures state that God had elected to call Jacob to be the progenitor instead of Esau. Why? Because God's omniscient foreknowledge allowed Him to know in advance who would be the better choice for this important calling. And, of course, Esau's descendants did serve Jacob's descendants because Israel did become the stronger nation. The prophecy in Genesis 25:21-23 was precisely fulfilled through the nations of Israel and Edom. It should also be noted, however, that if this text referred to Esau and Jacob individually, as many Calvinists suggest, then the prophecy would have been unfulfilled and untrue, because there is no biblical reference to Esau ever having been personally in servitude to Jacob during his lifetime. Nevertheless, we know from the context established in Genesis that the focus was on their descendant nations, thereby fulfilling this prophecy. It should be obvious to any good Bible student that the first part of this Romans text does not offer any support for the Calvinist TULIP doctrine.
The second portion of this passage in Romans states that God wills or chooses to have mercy on some, and to harden some. The specific example used is of Pharaoh when he refused to listen to Moses regarding his plea to let Israel go.
It is interesting that the hardening of Pharaoh's heart is referred to many times in the Exodus account; several times the Bible says that God hardened his heart, and several times it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Which is it? One possibility is that they are being used interchangeably.
As a biblical example of this interchangeable concept, note the account of Job. The Bible makes it clear that Satan is the one who attacked Job's property, livestock and family, and finally Job's own body as well, after receiving permission from God to do so (Job chapter 1 and 2). And yet, in Job 2:3 it says that God Himself had been incited against Job to destroy him. The verse-by-verse account makes it clear that Satan was the one who did it, after God chose to allow it, but God is still given credit for it, as if He had done it Himself. This is one unquestionable example in Scripture where God is given credit for doing things which He simply allowed to happen, or did not prevent from happening. This could be why the Scriptures state that Pharaoh hardened his own heart in one verse, and then say God hardened Pharaoh's heart a few verses later; because God was said to have done those things which He allowed, or did not prevent from happening. When Pharaoh chose to harden his heart and reject God, he was allowed to do so. God did not force Pharaoh to obey Him. However, because God is omnipotent and could have forced Pharaoh to obey, and yet chose not to do so; God was given credit for having done it. This is one possible explanation to the second part of this Romans text, which would also accord with the text that I cited in Job.
However, although the previous possible explanation is biblically plausible, there is another more probable explanation. What is it? Paul has already established a context that deals with callings in life, not with personal salvation. Therefore, it is probable that he is continuing with the same callings context that he began with when discussing Jacob and Esau. Even as Jacob had been chosen or called to be the progenitor of God's people, Pharaoh had also been called and chosen by God to rule over Egypt at this point in history, as part of God's sovereign plan. Then, once Pharaoh was on the throne of Egypt, God used him as His own tool to accomplish His purposes for Israel, by hardening his heart at times regarding decisions he would make as to whether or not to release Israel from slavery. The hardening referred to in this passage in Romans has nothing whatsoever to do with Pharaoh's personal salvation. Any good and honest Bible student, who has read the actual biblical account in Exodus, knows that this hardening specifically referred to Pharaoh's decisions concerning Israel, not concerning his personal salvation. When reading through Exodus, it is obvious that Pharaoh had already totally rejected any and all principles of righteousness and holiness, and had made his decision to thoroughly entrench himself in wickedness. We must remember that he and his predecessors had been murdering the Israelite baby boys by drowning them in the Nile River for many decades before Moses had his interactions with Pharaoh. He was already a lost and totally wicked man when it came to his spiritual condition. That's why the Exodus account also mentions on several occasions that Pharaoh also hardened his own heart, thus showing that he continued to personally and continually choose wickedness over righteousness.
The bottom line is, once again, that the Exodus account clearly and undeniably reveals that God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart was regarding his decisions to continue to enslave Israel, not his personal salvation. This fact is so obvious that it is mind boggling that Calvinist theologians continue to apply this Romans text to personal salvation.
The third portion of this passage in Romans compares God to a potter who makes clay vessels. It states that some vessels are made for honor, while some are made for dishonor. The vessels made for dishonor are referred to as vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. As always, thoughtful consideration of the biblical context is essential.
Paul, as he often does, is referring back to an Old Testament scripture in Jeremiah 18:1-11, which compares God's dealings with people to a potter making clay vessels. This is important to remember because the previous passage in Jeremiah helps to establish the proper context for Paul's related reference in Romans chapter nine, because Paul would not be contradicting Jeremiah. What was Jeremiah's context regarding the comparison of a potter making clay vessels, and God's dealings with people? Does Jeremiah imply that people are predestined by God to be obedient or disobedient, and that they cannot change because the Divine Potter predestined them? Absolutely not! In fact, Jeremiah teaches us the complete opposite. According to Jeremiah, the human vessels have the capability to turn from disobedience to obedience, or from obedience to disobedience; he also states that their decision will cause God to refrain from either punishing them or blessing them. In other words, the future of the vessels depends upon their obedience or disobedience. It is not an arbitrary, predetermined choice by God. It is essential to have this proper contextual understanding as a foundation for correctly comprehending Paul's related reference to the Divine Potter in Romans chapter nine. As previously stated, Paul would not be contradicting Jeremiah. Paul was a Bible scholar and was certainly aware of Jeremiah's previous usage of this concept. Therefore, we can be sure that Paul's message is consistent with Jeremiah 18:1-11.
Some human vessels are indeed made for honor, while some are made for dishonor. However, as clearly stated in Jeremiah, it is the choices of the human vessels to obey or disobey that determines their destiny and valuation as being honorable or dishonorable. It is true that, because of God's omniscient foreknowledge, He knows in advance who will be obedient and disobedient, and, therefore, who will be an honorable or dishonorable vessel. However, God's foreknowledge of His vessels' choices does not force them to make those choices! He simply knows what they are going to do before they do it. With this proper understanding, which also accords with Jeremiah 18:1-11, we can now correctly comprehend Paul's statement concerning the potter in Romans chapter nine.
As previously stated, because of God's foreknowledge, even before He creates each and every human vessel, He is already aware of their entire lifetime of choices and of their final destiny. Therefore, at the instant of creation, He knows whether He is creating an honorable or dishonorable vessel. That is why Paul can state, from God's omniscient perspective, that He is creating vessels for honor or dishonor. God knows in advance which vessels are going to heaven and which ones are going to hell, but that does not mean that He has preprogrammed them to go to heaven or hell. Nevertheless, because He knows in advance before He creates each vessel, the Bible can correctly state that He is making an honorable heaven-bound vessel, or a dishonorable hell-bound vessel of wrath prepared for destruction; this can be stated without indicating that God arbitrarily predestined them for their final destination, and without suggesting that the vessels had no freedom of choice pertaining to their destiny. When studied in this proper biblical context with the similar passage in Jeremiah, we simply have another revelation of God's omniscient foreknowledge. There is no need to interpret this text in Romans as the Calvinists do. Their interpretation maligns the character of God and contradicts numerous other scriptures that plainly teach that we have free will. Many of these scriptures are cited in my article titled, Calvinism Predestination. However, as you can see, the proper biblical contextual understanding requires us to reject the Calvinist interpretation of this passage in Romans. Consequently, even the one supposed ringer text used by Calvinists has been debunked.