Why I Am Not a Calvinist, pt 3: Romans 9 – 11

The first reason I am not a Calvinist is that Calvinists read Romans 8.29-30 incorrectly: “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son.”  They collapse God’s foreknowledge into his choosing/predestining, based on their misunderstanding of covenant.

The second reason I am not a Calvinist is that the god of double predestination is not the God of the Bible.

The third reason I am not a Calvinist is that Calvinism depends on a misreading of Romans 9 – 11.

Specifically: Calvinism isolates Romans 9.18: “[God] has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.”  In isolation, this verse can be taken to support the idea of God determining by fiat who he will accept on the basis of grace and who he will reject.  So: God makes decisions about saving or condemning individual sinners on the basis of his sovereignty and will, and we must accept his decisions as just and good because he is God.

The problem with this reading:

FIRST, Romans 9 – 11 is not about the salvation of individual sinners, it is about whether God is keeping his promises to Israel.

Even if you accept a more Lutheran (and less New Perspective) reading of Romans, you can follow this logic.

  • God gave the law so that everyone would know that they were disobedient and could not save themselves. (Romans 1.18 – 3.20)
  • Therefore the salvation of individual sinners must be by grace, not law or merit. (Romans 3.21 – 8.39)
  • Israel thought that the promises of salvation were through the law, and the covenant that it embodied.  Now God has saved people apart from the law and not saved anyone through the law.  God has opened up the covenant to everyone, Gentiles as well as Jews.  Does this mean that God has broken his promises to Israel? (Romans 9 – 11)

SECOND, Romans 9.18 (“[God] has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.”) is the BEGINNING of Paul’s thought, which is not finished until 11.25-26. 

Romans 11.25-26 says, “A hardening has come upon part of Israel until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved.”

In other words:

  • Romans 9.18 is not universal (speaking about all sinners everywhere), it’s an explanation of why the majority of first-century Israel rejected Jesus and the gospel.
  • Romans 11.25-26 explains WHY God hardened the hearts of the majority of the Jews in the first century; it was so that other people, non-Jews, could find him through the gospel of the Jewish Messiah.

THIRD, 11.11.24 describes the “harshness” of God.  You cannot understand 9.18 in isolation from 11.11-24; these three chapters are one long, sustained argument.

What does 11.11-24 say about the purpose of God’s harshness?  First, that it is temporary, not eternal.  Second, that its purpose is not to condemn but to redeem.

As you read the passage, notice now Paul always follows a statement about God’s harshness with the reminder that God’s rejection and harshness are temporary and redemptive:

  • The Jews stumbled (rejected Jesus) but did not fall (their rejection by God is temporary, not eternal). (11.11)
  • Their rejection turns into acceptance. (11.15)
  • They are the root which supports Gentiles in the church. (11.16, 18)
  • The branches that were broken off (the Jews whose hearts God hardened, who rejected Jesus) have the opportunity to be grafted back into the tree again (to receive the gospel); they were NOT broken off for the predetermined purpose of being thrown into the fire. (11.23-24).


11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

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