Wednesday 19 February 2014

Bible Book:

“What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” (v. 14)

Romans 9:14-29 Wednesday 19 February 2014


Paul continues to wrestle with the question of why God haschosen some Jews to be part of this new way of believing, whileothers turn away. He returns to the question addressed in the first part of chapter 9, suggesting that hedoesn't think he has finally dealt with it. Has he left God open toa charge of injustice (verse 14)?

Paul's answer begins (verses 15-18) by revolving once againround God's unpredictable choice, and he illustrates this withfurther examples from the Old Testament. Moses and Pharaoh provideanother 'paired' story, following the paired examples in the previous section. Both are chosen as channelsof God's power, Moses through his obedience, Pharaoh (despitehimself) through disobedience.

Paul goes on (verses 19-23) to use the familiar Old Testamentillustration of a potter shaping the clay, drawing on Jeremiah'svisit to the potter's house (Jeremiah 18:1-6; cf Isaiah29:16; 45:9). The potter has radical freedom to decidewhether to make a work of art or a clumsy kitchen utensil; the clayis not in a position to argue back. Underlying this is a strongaffirmation of God's absolute power as creator, wholly in controlof creation. If Paul's hearers accept his premise that God has suchabsolute power, then it follows that there is no reason to complainabout God's actions.

Thirdly, Paul uses other Old Testament texts to show that Godalways intended to include Gentiles (non Jews) in the chosen people(verses 24-26). Hosea's text (Hosea1:10; 2:23) can be read in two ways, and it ispossible that Paul has both in mind. In its original context, Hoseasays that God will renew the family relationship with the people ofIsrael through the names given to Hosea's children: 'Not-pitied'will be renamed 'Pitied', 'Not-my-people' will be renamed 'Mypeople'. For Paul, this change of name could refer either to theJews or to the Gentiles.

Finally in this section, Paul uses a range of texts from Isaiah(10:22-23) to develop a theology of remnant(verses 27-29). The original purpose of the text is to offer hopeto a people facing destruction: a remnant will survive. Once again,Paul adapts this to his own purpose, suggesting that God only everplanned that a remnant would survive to be called into the newdispensation.

How are we, as twenty first-century Christians, to respond tothis argument? Firstly, in the light of the shameful tradition ofChristian anti-Semitism, we need to note that Paul is not hostileto Jews as such, but that his grief and anger is directed towardsthose individuals who will not or cannot see what is so obvious tohim. Secondly, for Paul this is a 'family argument'. He is a Jew,arguing with his brothers and sisters in faith - a very differentposition from our own.

To Ponder

  • How would you explain your faith to someone of a differentfaith? Would you seek to convert them to your own point ofview?
  • How far is the image of clay in the potter's hands helpful inunderstanding God's relationship with creation as a whole?
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