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Does Romans 9 Teach Calvinism?

Does Romans 9 Teach Calvinism?


God’s Sovereignty in Salvation

Romans 9 is a pivotal text for understanding the concept of predestination, a cornerstone in Calvinistic theology. The chapter begins with Paul expressing his sorrow for his fellow Israelites (Romans 9:1-3). This personal anguish sets the stage for a deeper exploration of God’s sovereign choice. In verses 6-13, Paul clarifies that not all descendants of Israel belong to Israel, indicating that physical lineage does not guarantee inclusion in God’s people. This distinction points to the sovereignty of God in election, as seen in His choice of Isaac over Ishmael (Genesis 21:12) and Jacob over Esau (Malachi 1:2-3).

The sovereignty of God in salvation is further emphasized in Romans 9:15-16, where Paul quotes Exodus 33:19, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” This statement underlines that salvation depends not on human will or effort but on God’s mercy. The Apostle Paul, echoing the Old Testament, affirms the absolute freedom of God in dispensing His grace, a concept central to Reformed theology.


Individual Election and God’s Will

Romans 9 distinctly illustrates the concept of individual election. The focus is not on nations or groups but on individuals, as seen in the cases of Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, and Esau. The Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 9:11-13 emphasizes that God’s choice is made independently of human actions or merits. The decision to love Jacob and hate Esau was made before they were born or had done anything good or bad. This predestination is based solely on God’s purpose in election, highlighting His sovereignty and the primacy of His will over human actions.

This idea of individual election is further reinforced in Romans 9:16, where it is stated that it does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. The Reformed doctrine of unconditional election is evident here, asserting that God’s choice of individuals for salvation is based on His will and grace, not on any foreseen faith or good works.

God’s Right to Show Mercy or Harden

Another key aspect of Calvinistic theology evident in Romans 9 is the concept of God’s right to show mercy to some and harden others. Verses 17-18 reference Pharaoh, whose heart God hardened to demonstrate His power and proclaim His name throughout the earth. This hardening serves a divine purpose, showcasing God’s authority over human hearts and His prerogative to use individuals for His glory, whether through mercy or judgment.

The concept of reprobation, often associated with Calvinism, is implied here. While God extends mercy to some (election), He also hardens others (reprobation), demonstrating His justice and sovereignty. Romans 9:20-21, with the analogy of the potter and the clay, further asserts God’s freedom in His dealings with humanity, a theme resonant with Reformed theology’s emphasis on God’s absolute sovereignty.

Anticipation and Rebuttal of Objections

In Romans 9, Paul anticipates objections to his teaching, indicative of the challenging nature of the doctrine of predestination. In verses 19-21, he addresses the question of why God blames people if no one can resist His will. Paul’s response, using the potter-clay imagery, underlines the sovereignty of God and the creature’s limited perspective. This rhetorical strategy not only acknowledges the difficulties inherent in these doctrines but also reinforces their scriptural foundation and theological validity.

This section highlights the Reformed understanding that God’s ways and judgments are beyond human comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9), and that humanity, as creation, does not have the right to question the Creator. The approach taken by Paul in Romans 9 aligns with the Calvinistic view of the inscrutable yet just and merciful character of God in matters of salvation and judgment.


Romans 9 is a foundational text for understanding Calvinistic theology, particularly the doctrines of predestination and election. The chapter eloquently presents the sovereignty of God in salvation, the concept of individual election independent of human merit, the right of God to show mercy or harden hearts, and addresses the challenging nature of these doctrines. This alignment with Calvinistic principles highlights the scriptural basis for Reformed teachings on God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination.

Read More

  1. “The Potter’s Freedom” by James R. White – This book offers a thorough examination of the doctrines of sovereignty and predestination, particularly in the context of Romans 9, from a Reformed perspective.
  2. “Chosen by God” by R.C. Sproul – A classic work that delves into the difficult questions of predestination and election, offering clear explanations and scriptural analysis consistent with Reformed theology.

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