How do we understand Romans 9? Is it about individual election to salvation / damnation as Calvinism teaches? Or perhaps election of Jews and Gentiles to different roles in bringing the salvation message?

It’s been said that we should let Scripture interpret Scripture. So why not let Paul in Romans interpret Paul in Romans:

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. – Romans 11:11


James White holds the standard Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9, God unilaterally elects individuals to salvation or damnation. Leighton Flowers’ view is less well known, so I’ll summarize it.

Flowers is a former Calvinist, his current interpretation of Romans 9 is that YES, the chapter is about the unconditional election of individuals. But individuals from the Israelites like the rest of the chapters in Romans are focused on (i.e. it’s not applying to all humanity), and to bear the message of redemption (i.e. not whether one is saved or damned). The contrast as in the rest of Romans is ‘faith vs works’ and not ‘monergism vs synergism’.

Paul’s quotations in their original OT historical context are from Micah, where the Edomites (“Esau I hated”) were then oppressing the Israelites. And from Exodus where God hardened Pharoah’s heart in order to lead to the Passover – paralleled with the recent events where God hardened the hearts of Israelites in order to lead to the crucifixion.

Hence the judicial hardening and election are all in the context of whom God sovereignly chooses (focus on the Israelites) to bring about Messiah and the spreading of the Gospel to all nations. Only some Israelites were chosen to carry the message, just as only some were chosen to be the ancestors of Messiah – hence why Paul uses the examples of Isaac/Ishmael, Jacob/Esau. And now this task has been opened up to the Gentiles a well. Does this mean that God has failed, since many Israelites are not part of this task? Paul argues no, since it is thru their rebellion that Jesus was crucified for all nations.

Flowers’ does not agree that all people are born hardened-hearted and God just elects some to turn to salvation. As he puts it, if everyone is born dead then why would Jesus need to blind dead people, why would God need to send a spirit of stupor to a corpse? They should already be hardened and unable to receive God’s offer of salvation anyway. He makes the claim in rebuttal period that no church father taught total inability until (former Gnostic) Augustine in the fifth century.


  1. br.d Says:

    Flowers’ does not agree that all people are born hardened-hearted and God just elects some to turn to salvation.

    Good post Scott
    To look a little deeper under the hood into John Calvin’s framework – we need to point out the following

    Calvin’s god:
    1) First conceives the who/what/where/where – for every human being he will create.

    2) At the time of their conception (in his mind) he conceives each individual for one of two eternal destinies – heaven, or eternal torment in a lake of fire.

    3) He thus designs people specifically for eternal torment in the lake of fire – for his good pleasure. And these souls provide him with no eternal purpose other than this.

    4) In regard to how many humans from within the whole of the human race – Calvin’s god designs specifically for this purpose Calvin refers to Jesus words: the “MANY” and the “FEW”.

    Calvin concludes that his god must therefore conceives and design the “MANY” (i.e. vast majority of the human race) – specifically and expressly – for no other long-term purpose than eternal torment in the lake of fire.

    And Calvin concludes that his god specifically creates people for this purpose – in order to service his good pleasure.

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