Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rom 9:22-23

“I said nothing about not using the grammatico-historical method. I just said I hoped we could avoid interpretations of Scripture that commit biblical authors to absurd statements. And I gave an argument for why such an explanation would be absurd.”

But Reppert doesn’t define “absurdity” by the viewpoint of the author. Rather, he defines “absurdity” by his own viewpoint. He’s substituting reader-response theory (a la Marxist/feminist/queer/postcolonial criticism) for the grammatico-historical method.

Reppert’s argument is not an exegetical argument, but an argument extraneous to the exegetical data.

“If any other possible interpretation of the passage can be offered on the basis of exegesis, then that explanation would have to be preferred to this one.”

Sound exegesis isn’t based on selecting any possible interpretation, but the best interpretation. And the best interpretation tries to honor the intent of the writer. Whether the reader agrees with the writer is irrelevant.

“Is there a consensus amongst competent exegetes on this passage? Thought not.”

Is there a consensus amongst competent exegetes in favor of universalism? Thought not.

“Now in fact, you really have to stretch the interpretation of the Romans passage you cite to get an actual teaching of this doctrine. After all, the passage begins with the phrase ‘What if,’ and is loaded with figurative language.”

Of course, it’s not as if Reppert attempts to exegete the passage. Let’s cite some examples of how two major commentators exegete the passage in context. I’m not going to manually transcribe pages of material which Reppert can read for himself–if he weren’t so lazy. But quote enough to give you the drift.

“Paul begins a conditional sentence in v22 (‘But if…’)…Most recently commentaries agree that vv22-23 are a protasis that does not have an explicit apodosis. Paul is inviting his readers to complete the thought from the context…as we may paraphrase, ‘what if God has acted in this way? Who will question God’s authority [cf. 21] to do so?’’ D. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans 1996), 604.

“In the case both of Pharaoh and of the vessels of wrath, God withholds his final judgment so that he can more spectacularly display his glory,” ibid. 605.

“In v22, then, Paul is reiterating the point that he made with respect to God’s dealings with Pharaoh in v17: God works with those who are not in positive relationship with him to display in greater degree his own nature and power. The Exodus background makes it clear how God’s raising up of Pharaoh’s contributed to the widespread publication of his power and name: Pharaoh’s obduracy required God to work miracle after miracle in order to secure his purpose,” ibid. 606.

“The purpose of God’s patience here would be to allow the rebellion of his creation to gain force and intensity so that his consequent victory is all the more glorious and also (and perhaps primarily) to give opportunity for him to bestow his mercy on those whom he has chosen for his own (v23),” ibid. 606.

“This contrast would be unfairly diminished, I think, if we were to assume that the vessels of wrath could have the same ultimate destiny as the vessels of mercy. We must remember at this point that God, in strict justice, could have executed his sentence of condemnation on the entire human race immediately after the Fall. It is only because of God’s great patience that he has waited to bring down his wrath on a rebellious world so that he can finish his wise and loving plan,” ibid. 606.

“The phrase ‘prepared for destruction’ would then refer to God’s act of reprobation whereby he destines the vessels of wrath to eternal destruction…the parallel with vv17-18 suggests strongly that the agent of ‘prepared’ is indeed God: Paul considers the ‘vessels on whom God’s wrath rests’ as prepared by God himself for eternal condemnation,” ibid. 607.

“The word apoleia, ‘destruction,’ is always used by Paul with reference to final condemnation…That the word connotes the eternal fate of the individual is especially clear from the contrasts with salvation in Phil 1:28; 1 Cor 1:18; and 2 Cor 2:15,” ibid. 607n96.

“As I have argued above, this verse [23] expresses a third, and climactic, purpose of God’s patient endurance of the vessels of wrath. God has withheld the final judgment that could rightfully fall on his rebellious creatures at any time not only because he wanted to display more gloriously his wrath and power (v22a) but also, and especially, because he wanted to ‘make known his glorious riches to vessels on whom his mercy rests, vessels whom God has prepared before hand for glory,” ibid. 608.

“’Prepared beforehand,’ then, refers to the same thing as the word ‘predestine’ in 8:29; a decision of God in eternity past to bestow his mercy on certain individuals whom he in his sovereign design has chosen,” ibid. 608.

“It is apropos to recall that the issue informing all of Rom 9-11 is salvation. The historical destiny of nations alone hardly answers the question that provoked the entire discussion: why many in Israel are unsaved,” T. Schreiner, Romans (Baker 1998), 517.

“VV22-23 build on that illustration [the potter] by informing the reader why God prepared some vessels for destruction and others for mercy…The burden of proof is one those who see a disjunction between the use of the term [vessel] in v21 and its use in vv22-23. In the latter instance the reference to eschatological judgment and glory are clear. The skeue orges [vessels of wrath] are destined ‘for destruction’…Both orge [wrath] and apoleia [destruction]…refer frequently to eschatological judgment in Paul…Moreover, the corollary skeue eleous [vessel of mercy] that are destined ‘for glory’ describes eternal life, for I have shown in Rom 9:14-18 that the eleos word group often refers to eschatological life and doxa does the same…Since skue orges [vessel of wrath] refers to eschatological judgment and skeue eleous [vessel of mercy] to eschatological glory, and since no evident adversative sense can be found between vv 21 and 22-23, it follows that the vessels of honor and dishonor most naturally denote the saved and the perishing respectively. The word time (honor) designates eternal life in 2:7,10, where it parallels the term doxa,” ibid. 518.

“The unstated apodosis is probably summarized well in the words, ‘he has the right to do this,’” ibid. 519.

“Thereby the reason God bore patiently with vessels of wrath is explicated…The implication is that it would have been just and righteous for him to destroy them immediately (cf. Rom 3:25-26)….Those with whom he is patient are skeue orges [vessels of wrath] heading for eschatological judgment in contrast to skeue eleous [vessels of mercy] in v23…Finally, the participial phrase in v22 explains why God bears patiently with those who will experience his wrath. He wants ‘to show forth his wrath and make known his power,’” ibid. 519-20.

“In Pharaoh’s case [v17] God demonstrated his patience by not destroying Pharaoh immediately, even though he resisted God’s command. By delaying his judgment on Pharaoh, however, God magnified his name and exhibited more forcefully the greatness of his salvation and the terror of his judgment…God defers his immediate judgment of vessels of wrath so that he can unveil the full extent of his power and wrath on those who continually resist his offer of repentance. The idea that God suspends an immediate retribution in order to impose severer judgment later is attested elsewhere in Jewish literature,” ibid. 521.

“The word, then, denotes a preparation by God (divine passive) for destruction rather than a self-preparation…One cannot by exegetical means rescue God from willing the fate of the vessels of wrath. This too was part of his plan, and thus double predestination cannot be averted,” ibid. 521-22.

“The sunning element in this verse [23] is its relation to v22, where God’s intention in making vessels of wrath and tolerating them was so that he could manifest his powerful wrath in the day of judgment. Now v 23 informs us that the display of wrath has a larger purpose. When the vessels of mercy perceive the fearsome wrath of God upon the disobedient and reflect on the fact that they deserve the same, then they appreciate in a deeper way the riches of God’s glory and the grace lavished upon them. The mercy of God is set forth in clarity against the backdrop of wrath. Thereby God displays the full range of his attributes: both his powerful wrath and the sunshine of his mercy. The mercy of God would not be impressed on the consciousness of human beings apart from the exercise of God’s wrath,” ibid. 523.


  1. Steve,

    Would you mind doing a post on how Grant Osborne deals with this passage in his commentary on Romans?


  2. Steve Hays: "He’s substituting reader-response theory (a la Marxist/feminist/queer/postcolonial criticism) for the grammatico-historical method."

    Steve, slightly off-topic but still related to the principle of hermeneutics. What do you think of the following comments by this professor who argues that the crafting and development of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy was really to blunt or stymie the usage of the historical-criticism method by Evangelical scholars?

    Excerpts from Professor William Witt: "My problem with the Chicago Statement, as I argued repeatedly throughout that discussion a year ago, is that I did not believe then, and do not believe now, that the discussion in the 1970’s was about a doctrine of the authority of Scripture, but about the permissibility for Evangelicals to use historical critical method to study Scripture.

    [T]he issues that were being debated during the 1970’s debate were “young earth creationism” (see my reference to the June 17, 1977 issue of Christianity Today), and such issues as dual authorship of Isaiah, and the historicity of Jonah and Job.

    The targets of 1970’s attack were not liberal Protestants, but fellow Evangelicals like George Eldon Ladd, F. F. Bruce, and G. C. Berkouwer. (One of these untrustworthy “bad guys” from that period was William Abraham, who was a keynote speaker at the most recent Mere Anglicanism Conference, and who shared the limelight with Al Mohler. Although Billy Abraham has not changed his position, he is apparently no longer a bad guy.)

    I still stand by what I wrote in those posts. At issue in the 1970’s debate was the kind of careful orthodox critical scholarship that is done routinely these days by scholars like N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, or Christopher Seitz. J. I. Packer has an enthusiastic blurb on the back cover of N.T. Wright’s book Simply Christian. So these days Packer seems to have no problem with Wright’s orthodoxy. Wright would have been considered untrustworthy by the authors of the Chicago Declaration in the 1970’s.

    One of the the things that I was trying to do in that discussion was to try to make people aware of the kind of critically orthodox biblical scholarship that is being done among orthodox Christians both in the past, and more recently. I thought before people should make unfounded accusations they should at least be familiar with the work of scholars like Sir Edwyn Hoskyns, C.F.D. Moule, Brevard Childs, Ben Witherington, Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham. I am frustrated that over a year later, there is still no evidence in this discussion of awareness of any of these writers."

    The comment in its entirety is found here.

    2 Q's:

    (1) Do you agree with Dr. Witt's thesis regarding the unstated agenda behind the formation of the CSBI?

    (2) What is your assessment of the value (or lack thereof) of the historical-critical method and how it should be properly utilized, if at all, by faithful, Bible-believing Christians?

  3. i) Since I wasn't a framer of the Chicago statement, I can't speak to the hidden agenda, if any, of the framers.

    ii) The allegation cuts both ways. Those who advocate limited inerrancy also have an agenda. They are trying to carve out exceptions for their own position.

    iii) The relevant question is whether the Chicago Statement employs reasonable distinctions and qualifications.

    iv) The basic point at issue is whether we ought to accept whatever the Bible teaches, including the self-witness of Scripture.

  4. Thanks for the quick response Steve. I'm aware that you weren't one of the framers of CSBI (you were too young when it was written!)

    However, I thought you might know one or more of the signatories and could offer up a humble opinion about whether the accusation that CSBI was formed as a reaction against the historical-critical method is unfounded or not.