gods Gone Wild, the Context of Romans 9

As a nation we have a sacred right to vote. Based on the merit of a man, his thorough convincing that he is fit to be our leader, we elect a President. This is not so with God. Paul speaks of God’s election of us. This does not fit the American psyche well, thus Romans 9 often becomes a dark spot in an otherwise hopeful book about God’s rescue of the soul in Jesus.

What if Romans 9 were read in a different context? What if it were read in the context where the elective freedom of God is not up for debate, but is a given? Would this seemingly dark chapter take on a different light? Might we find chapter 9 to be about something far different than the subjects of sovereignty and free will we love to debate? What if you lived in a culture in which the gods had literally gone wild?

If one can wade through Homer with some sense of understanding one can see the seedbed from which Roman theology is born. The Romans were the vehicle for all things Greek to spread. This cultural tide is called Hellenism. The Romans were connoisseurs of culture and plagiarists in the worst way. They would often take the manners, customs, and gods of another culture sometimes rename them, sometimes not, and make it something Roman. In Athens she is Aphrodite, in Rome she is Venus. Roman gods were very planetary (Mars, Pluto, Mercury, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter). Greek gods were very mythological (Ares, Hades, Hermes, Kronos, Poseidon, Zeus). Those keen on the subject will recognize that the lists speak, sequentially, of the same gods only with different names.

However you mix them they were an evil lot. Their decisions, decrees, and debauchery could make a hero of a man or they could spawn a long and bloody war. They were uncaring and in many ways arbitrary. The pantheon was bloody, sadistic, deceptive, erotic, and most of the time destructive. Man lived in fear trying his best to placate the gods hoping for fortune instead of condemnation. But all in all, the course of a day, or a harvest, all came down to sovereign choice, and on what kind of a day Jupiter may have had with Venus. She was beautiful. Beautiful women are known to be the subject of most male folly from bar fights to full blown war. Morally speaking, the behavior of the gods on Mount Olympus often rivaled that found in most brothels and bars.

Paul speaks of a God who is able. Not only is He able but He is good. He is good and not arbitrary. His purposes are good. That being the case, Paul’s theology is caught in somewhat of a quandary. There are far more gentiles following the promised Messiah of God than Jews. Is God able? Is He good?

Romans 9 is not a debate about God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will, it is a discussion about God’s faithfulness to His word.[1] If Israel, who possessed the very treasures of God in His adoption, Torah, glory and covenant, and the bloodline of Messiah Himself has not entered into the promise of God, has God’s promise failed? The irony of the passage in context is that the sons of an evil and seemingly arbitrary pantheon, the gentiles, were becoming more numerous in the church as they were responding to God’s promise even more so than the Jews. This is the crisis. The crisis is one of purpose and promise. God had made a promise. Why was life as it pertained to God’s promise of salvation now going like this? If Jesus is the promised Messiah from God, the Christ, why were there more gentiles entering into the promise than Jews? Notice, in the context of Paul’s writing the crisis was not so much in what man was doing but in what God was doing with man, more specifically with His chosen nation, Israel. The fact that God’s promises shape life was a given. There is no debate. Sovereignty is not an issue. The issue is whether or not, in Paul’s theology they were failing. If so many gentiles are signing up for Jesus and not Jews, someone has made a gross error. Paul is defending the charge by showing how the state of Israel is still within the purpose of the promise (v. 11).

Thus, in context the questions and issues of the chapter (verses 6, 14, 19, and 30 – 32) take a different form than the questions we usually fashion from this chapter. For the Jewish man huddled in a house church full of gentiles in the shadows of the Pantheon, the question “Is there injustice on God’s part (v. 14)” is worth an answer. God is able. God is good. He has a purpose in Israel's current experience (more of this theme will unravel in the following chapters). The current experience of man is in keeping with God's promise. God is faithful to His word.

[1] See Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary. Page 472.


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