Tag Archives: Objections to Election

Objections to the Doctrine of Election

 

Having already laid the foundation for the doctrine of election and looked at some important distinctions in the various uses of related biblical words, we now turn our full attention to several of the more prominent objections to this doctrine. In introducing this we find several tensions and incorrect responses that must be addressed before looking clearly at some stated objections.

When addressing a doctrine such as unconditional election, it naturally stirs the emotions and immediately all manner of objections soon ensue. Thankfully, God’s Word is true and not only answers these objections, but anticipates them. One such passage where God sets forth the plan of His redemption by way of election, and anticipates the subsequent objections, is Romans chapters 9-11. Naturally, these chapters build upon and help explain Romans 8, which we have already looked at it some detail.

Using Romans 9 as our springboard into the arguments, we find the Apostle transitioning from the arguments of God’s unconditional, unbreakable love towards His elect people to the solemn, heartbreaking anguish of Paul. We must ask, given the glorious nature of the hope-filled chapter 8, which should serve as an anchor for the Christian soul, why now does Paul have such a somber tone to start chapter 9? Note how he begins:

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 9:1-5

Paul begins be establishing the truthfulness of his statements and heartfelt emotions, which he will unpack, on the basis of Christ, his conscience, and the Holy Spirit. This emphasis is meant to frame the seriousness of what’s to come and to express to the utmost how he is feeling. Lest there be any notion of anti-Semitism in the Christian, Paul undercuts that right away by expressing his sorrow which he tells us in verse 3 is for “his kinsmen according to the flesh,” in other words, national, ethnic Israel. Paul is not an outsider setting forth a doctrinal position that alienates the Jews, he is an insider, a Jew according to the flesh. As he has asserted in Philippians 3:5-6

5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Therefore, if anyone is qualified to speak the truth concerning Christ to the Jews, it is Paul.

The Apostle then proceeds to tell of the advantages of the Jew in Romans 9:4-5, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” An argument could be made that this is a continuation of a thought that began in chapter 3 when Paul wrote, 1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”   We can see here that Paul is establishing the advantages that the Jew has historically had. Summarizing the advantages listed in chapter 9:

  1. The Oracles of God, i.e. the inscripturated Word of God
  2. Adoption; Israel was the chosen nation of God, though we must be careful here to qualify this and ask “Chosen unto what?”, as we will see later in chapter 9.
  3. The glory; likely a reference to the glory of God that traveled with them out of Egypt and resided in the temple until the Exile of 586 BC.
  4. The covenants; A Reference to the collection of covenants that God established beginning with Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and David (and others).
  5. The giving of the Law; Note here that this is seen as a positive appendage from God; a clear reference to the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai.
  6. The worship; God had provided Israel with explicit instructions for how He was to be worshipped.
  7. The promises; Likely the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that included Land, Blessing, and Seed
  8. The Patriarchs; Again, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
  9. The Christ; Paul here brings his argument to the present with the incarnation of Christ from the Jewish race.

All of this has been written to show the favor of God toward the Jews, but why was this necessary? The Jewish people considered themselves to have exclusive rights to God. We can see this vividly portrayed in the ministry of Jonah to Nineveh, but more recently in the book of Acts. From Pentecost, to the stoning of Stephen, and the vision given to Peter concerning Cornelius, we see the tension building between Jews and Christian Jews/Christian Gentiles. Much of the strife that the Apostles faced in establishing the Church built on the cornerstone of Christ was from the Jews. They persecuted them fiercely. While we may rejoice over such passages as Acts 11:18, the majority of the Jews were not rejoicing that salvation had come to the Gentiles. In fact, the promulgation of the Gospel by the disciples led to their martyrdom at the hand of their own people, just as their Master, Jesus Christ.

Given then the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s plan of salvation combined with what Paul had just written in chapter 8, it would give the appearance that God had abandoned the Jews in favor of the Gentiles, that all He had promised them was worthless, and that He had failed to be faithful to His promises. This is why Paul goes to such great lengths in enumerating the advantages that the Jews had to show that they were not worthless, but had value in pointing toward Christ.

The argument then that Paul is anticipating to begin chapter 9 of Romans is that election was for national Israel and if it is to include the Gentiles, then God has been unfaithful to His word. This objection argues that on the basis of nationality, Israel is the chosen nation/people/race of God and that God does not elect individuals unto salvation. Tangentially, this belief is not limited to the doctrine of election, but shapes many people’s understanding of Israel today and has led to such errant beliefs as Zionism, Dispensationalism, and the assumption that the secular, atheistic state of Israel today remains God’s “chosen people.” You can see then how unconditional election is intimately related to an understanding of the New Covenant promises and people of God, which we were examining from Dr. Sam Waldron’s brief but helpful book A Reformed Baptist Manifesto. This nationalistic objection is the one that Paul anticipates at the beginning of Romans 9 and is felt in the transitional tension of chapter 8 through verse 5 of chapter 9.

To ease this tension and attempt to provide an answer to the doctrine of election that Paul unfolds here, some have assumed that Romans 9 is addressing the national election of Israel and they would use the arguments that Paul sets forth as referring to Israel verses the nation of Edom (Romans 9:13), thus stripping Romans 9 of any notion of election on an individual basis. However, a simple reading of Romans 8 will show that the context is election of individuals who collectively and corporately make up the people of God. This view is generally held by Arminians who deny that God would ever choose anyone unto salvation.

A second attempted answer to this national election dilemma is that God has elected national Israel, but the inclusion of the Gentiles is an entirely separate plan of redemption. Therefore, God has two peoples and two separate and distinct ways of salvation; Elect National Israel under the Old Covenant/Future New Covenant economy and believing Gentiles under a Parenthetical economy. They would argue that all of the advantages that Paul has listed are strictly for the Jews and all lend themselves to Jewish salvation. Upon Christ’s arrival and subsequent rejection by the Jews, God turned His plan of redemption temporarily to the Gentiles, who were a Plan B. There were then those who were saved in the Old Testament under Plan A, which has since been paused while Plan B has commenced and salvation of Gentiles under an entirely different plan, namely Christ, has begun. This explanation is the one given by Historic Dispensationalists such as Scofield and the Two-way of salvation dispensationalists.[1]

Introduction of this tension that Paul feels at the beginning of chapter 9 will go a long way towards helping us understand the objections that are answered concerning election in the remaining verses. Paul will unravel this tension in his response to the first implicit objection found in verse 6, namely that God’s Word has failed. Lord willing we’ll examine that in a subsequent post.

[1] Those these sentiments can be seen and deduced in more modern works by Charles Ryrie, largely dispensationalism today has rejected this two-way of salvation scheme.