Romans 9:11- God Does Not Choose, He Calls
How should we interpret our Bibles? Clearly, Christ set the example. Throughout the gospels He reasoned with many via interpretation based on the technical meaning of words and how they are used in a sentence. We are to interpret the Bible grammatically. Also, the Bible is purposely written in a way that defines certain words according to the plain sense of context; so, while knowing Greek and Hebrew may be helpful, it’s far from being a prerequisite to understanding. The rules of grammar, for the most part, transcend culture. A noun is a noun, and a verb is a verb in any language. To even cite examples of this is to state the obvious, but I will mention Christ arguing for the resurrection based on the tense of “I am” in Matthew 22:31,32.
So, in regard to the question of determinism and the idea that God chooses some for salvation and others for damnation, we find something in the grammar of Romans 9:11 that should give us pause.
…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—(ESV)
If the point of Romans 9 is God’s pre-choosing of some for salvation and not others, why would Paul not have written, “because of him who chooses” rather than “him who calls”? Did Paul have a senior moment? Also peculiar to this passage is the stated purpose of election: the eradication of works from salvation. It seems that election accomplishes this for purposes of God calling all people to accept salvation as a pure gift rather than God’s choosing being the linchpin. Note the following:
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29).
Again, why is it not the choosing of God that is irrevocable rather than the calling? This grammatical roadblock to determinism was not missed by John Calvin. If choosing and calling are something different, it could mean that the means of salvation was chosen for a particular purpose and then offered to all people as a gift that they could choose themselves or reject. Hence, Calvin separated determinism into 3 separate categories: the non-chosen, the temporarily chosen (the called), and the truly chosen (those who persevere). But of course, Calvin’s three-fold election construct is rarely discussed in Reformed circles for obvious reasons. You can add this fact to the list of other Reformed dirty little secrets relegated to the closets lest they would incite some sort of chemical reaction of thought within the cranium cases of Reformed Kool-Aid drinkers. And of course, no one is going to challenge me to come up with the specific citations from the Calvin Institutes because they know I can.
Here is my rudimentary hypothesis at this time: “election” is primarily a noun in the Scriptures that denotes a category of people and purpose while “calling” is the action taken by God, or the verb. God calls people, He doesn’t choose them. God chose the means of salvation, and calls all people to accept the means of salvation as a gift. The purpose of election is that salvation would be by PROMISE, and not works. Also, “election” is primarily defined in terms of miraculous new birth into the family of God and something made entirely possible by God alone. Any Bible passages that seem to make a direct connection between election and God’s choosing of individuals are rare, or completely absent at most, and ambiguous at least.
Let’s also remember that those who are not in need of salvation are also considered to be God’s “elect”; namely, the holy angels and Christ. The nation of Israel is elect for a particular purpose, and this is perhaps the best definition of election: it is a chosen means to obtain a particular purpose. God chooses the means of salvation, not individuals. Election makes salvation a pure gift and promise apart from the will of man or his abilities, but mankind is free to choose or reject the gift. True, because man fears the condemnation of God, his tendency is to not seek God, but the loving God seeks out mankind through the gospel. God seeks out man and corners him with the truth of the gospel, but man’s tendency to hide from God does not mean he has no ability to make a choice.
A good example of the ambiguity that surrounds the idea of God choosing individuals is 1Peter 5:13. Depending on the translation, it’s the “sister” that is chosen or the “church.” If the latter, that makes my point, but more interesting is the disagreement in translations concerning “elect” used as a noun or adjective as opposed to “chosen” or “elected” regarding those defined by an action, or verb. While the likes of the ESV translate “elect” as… “elected,” or “chosen,” many other mainstream translations like the ASV translate it “elect” without the ed suffix. In other words, a statement concerning the fact that we are all part of the family of God and His plan of salvation does not necessarily equal determinism, or the idea that “elect” equals those who were predetermined to be in the family of God coupled with total inability on man’s part to choose God.
And, if Christ wasn’t mincing words in His argument for the resurrection, neither is this consideration by any stretch of the imagination. And it’s funny; when I was doing word study on this and initially observed 1Peter 5:13 with the word “elected,” I assumed that if my hypothesis held any water that I would also find translations using the word “elect,” and as noted, that in fact ended up being the case.
If you follow the apostle Paul’s argument throughout Romans 9, 10, and 11, and Galatians 3 for good measure, the concern is that salvation is solely by the promise of miraculous new birth. Whether Sarah, Rebekah, Elizabeth, Mary, or the Spirit’s role described in Galatians 3, salvation is NOT by any will or work of man, but a onetime miraculous new birth. A denial of literal new birth paves the way for progressive justification via determinism which is the number one nemesis of the true gospel.
The new birth is a work of God alone, but that doesn’t mean man cannot choose it.