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PAUL'S USE OF THE

OLD TESTAMENT IN

ROMANS 9:25-26

 

JOHN A. BATTLE, JR.

 


 

     A number of premillennial writers are now agreeing with amillen-

nialists that a literal interpretation of OT prophecies concerning Israel

is not justified.  They claim that the NT interprets these prophecies in a

"spiritualized" sense, applying them to the present church, and conclude that the OT provides no proof of a future national conversion of Israel or of a future millennial kingdom. The quotations of Hosea in Rom 9:25-26 are cited as a primary example.  Most who hold to the literal interpretation of prophecy assume that Paul quotes Hosea by way of analogy only, without denying a future fulfillment for Israel; others believe that Paul quotes Hosea literally and has specifically in mind Israel’s present unbelief and future conversion. The author prefers the second alternative and sees evidence for this interpretation not only in the context of Hosea, but also in the context of Romans

9. The background and contexts of the other OT passages cited in

Romans 9 confirm the suggested interpretation. It is concluded that

the literal interpretation of OT prophecy not only agrees with Paul’s

normal hermeneutics but helps greatly in the exegesis of this particular passage.

 

                                        *        *        *

                                  

Today it is recognized more than ever that one's theology as a whole is closely related to one's hermeneutics. This fact especially comes to the fore in the study of eschatology. For decades the dictum has held true that amillennialism requires an allegorical or "spiritual" interpretation of biblical prophecy (especially in the OT), while premillennialism springs from a more literal interpretation of those prophecies.

Therefore, it comes as a surprise that a premillennial writer would favor a spiritualized interpretation of OT prophecy. Yet, several premillennialists have done this, the most prominent being George Eldon Ladd of Fuller Theological Seminary. In an interesting


 

116                       GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

book on the millennium, in which four theologians debate each other,1 Ladd declares himself to be a premillennialist, but on the basis of only two NT passages, Rev 20: 1-6, and to a lesser extent, I Cor 15:23-26.2 Similarly, his belief in the future national conversion of Israel is founded on a single NT passage, Rom 11:26.3 To support his eschatology Ladd refuses to use the scores of OT passages dealing with the messianic kingdom and its blessings. He believes that literal interpretation of many of these passages may be possible, but that it is not required; he claims that in several cases the NT itself interprets OT prophecies in a nonliteral or "spiritualizing" sense. Ladd concludes that the OT cannot be used confidently to describe the future millennial kingdom, or even to prove its existence:4

 

The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament

prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.

 

This clearly establishes the principle that the "literal hermeneutic" does

not work.

 

The Old Testament did not clearly foresee how its own prophecies were

to be fulfilled. They were fulfilled in ways quite unforeseen by the Old

Testament itself and unexpected by the Jews. With regard to the first

coming of Christ, the Old Testament is interpreted by the New Testament…..A nondispensational eschatology forms its theology from the explicit teaching of the New Testament. It confesses that it

cannot be sure how the Old Testament prophecies of the end are to be

             fulfilled.5

 

                      THE ARGUMENT SURROUNDING ROM 9:25-26

To demonstrate that the NT handles the OT in a nonliteral

fashion, Ladd cites four primary examples: Hos 11: 1 in Matt 2: 15; Isa 53:4,7-8 in Matt 8:17 and Acts 8:32-33; Hos 2:23 and 1:10 in Rom

9:25-26; and Jer 31:31-34 in Heb 8:8-12.6 Of these four, Ladd singles

 

                    1The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (ed. Robert G. Clouse; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977); the four scholars are G. E. Ladd (historic premillennialism), H. A. Hoyt (dispensational premillennialism), L. Boettner (postmillennialism), and A. A. Hoekema (amillennialism).

                    2Ibid., 32-39.

                    3Ibid., 27-29.

                    4Ibid., 20-27.

                    5Ibid., 20, 23, 27; italics his. It should be noted that many nondispensational

writers disagree with Ladd's position and seek to follow a grammatical-historical

approach to both the OT and the NT.

                    6Ibid., 20-27. Ladd could have cited also Amos 9:11-12, quoted in Acts 15:16-17, a key passage for those arguing for "spiritualized" exegesis; elsewhere he does apply it to the present age, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 355. For a more thorough discussion of this passage from the amillennial


         BATTLE: PAUL'S USE OF THE OT IN ROM 9:25-26       117

 

out Rom 9:25-26 as "a most vivid illustration of this principle."7 In this

passage Paul quotes the OT: "Even as it says in Hosea, 'I will call

them my people who were not my people, and her beloved who was

not beloved; and it will be in the place where it was said to them,

"You are not my people," there they will be called sons of the living

God.'"

The OT verses quoted by Paul, Hos 2:23 and 1:10, predict the

future restoration of Israel to God's favor and blessing after a period

of estrangement and judgment caused by Israel's unbelief. Nearly all

commentators recognize that Hosea has literal, national Israel in

view-particularly, the ten northern tribes. Furthermore, the predicted blessings seem to fit perfectly with the future millennium.  Hosea emphasizes Israel's future repentance and reinstatement as God's people, the objects of his mercy.

But in Rom 9:25-26 Paul quotes these verses in a surprising

manner. V 24 speaks of "us whom he has called, not from the Jews

only but also from the Gentiles," indicating Christians of his day.

Paul then continues, "as also it says in Hosea," and quotes these

verses. Many believe that here he equates the Christian church with

the promised restoration of Israel, employing a "spiritualizing" inter-

pretation of Hosea's prophecy. Such is Ladd's conclusion:

 

Paul deliberately takes these two prophecies about the future of Israel

and applies them to the church. The church, consisting of Jews and

Gentiles, has become the people of God. The prophecies of Hosea are

fulfilled in the Christian church. If this is a "spiritualizing hermeneutic" so be it. ...It is clearly what the New Testament does to the Old Testament prophecies.

 

Obviously, if Ladd's exegesis is correct, those who hold to a

consistent grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture must

modify their position. On the other hand, the exegesis of the Romans

passage itself must stand careful scrutiny, especially since issues of

hermeneutics and theology are involved. This writer believes that a

careful examination of both passages in their related contexts will

reveal a basic underlying unity and that a consistent literal interpretation of Hosea's prophecy is the key to understanding Paul's meaning in Romans 9.

_________________________________________________________   

viewpoint, see O. T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1955) 145-50, and more recently, A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 209-10. For an excellent treatment favoring literal exegesis, see A. A. MacRae, "The Scientific Approach to the OT," BSac 110 (1953) 313-16.

7This passage is discussed by Ladd, Meaning of the Millennium, 23-24.


118                       GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL    

 

          VARIOUS APPROACHES TO ROM 9:25-26

 

Commentators and theologians who seriously discuss this passage tend to hold one of three opinions: (1) Paul actually changes

Hosea's meaning in its OT context to make the prophecy refer

directly and exclusively to his own times, (2) Paul only uses Hosea's

prophecy as an example or analogy, applying its principle to his own

times, or (3) Paul employs Hosea's prophecy literally, with the same

meaning as that evident in the OT context. Within each approach

there are several variations. Each of these approaches will be summarized below.

 

Changing Hosea’s meaning

 

Many look at the seeming discrepancy between Hosea and Paul,

"take the bull by the horns," and declare that Paul simply changed or

"transformed" Hosea's prophecy. On the critical side, commentators

often accuse Paul of misusing the OT for his own ends. For example,

C. H. Dodd has written:

 

The verses which follow are extremely difficult in the Greek. ...When

Paul, normally a clear thinker, becomes obscure, it usually means that

he is embarrassed by the position he has taken up. It is surely so here.

...It is rather strange that Paul has not observed that this prophecy

referred to Israel, rejected for its sins, but destined to be restored:

strange because it would have fitted so admirably the doctrine of the

restoration of Israel which he is to expound in chap. xi. But, if the

particular prophecy is ill-chosen, it is certainly true that the prophets

did declare the calling of the Gentiles.8

 

Likewise Ernst Kasemann sees Paul disregarding the original sense of

Hosea:

 

As is his custom Paul understands the sayings as eschatologically

oriented oracles without considering their original sense. ...With

great audacity he takes the promises to Israel and relates them to the

Gentile-Christians.9

 

Opposed to this cavalier treatment of Pauline exegesis, many

conservative writers still feel that Paul basically transforms or

"deepens" Hosea's meaning to refer to the church of his day.

Although, as mentioned above, G. E. Ladd takes this approach, it is

 

           8C. H. Dodd, The Epistle to the Romans (MNTC; New York: Harper and

Brothers, 1932) 159-60.

           9E. Kasemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. and ed. from 4th Ger. ed.

Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 274.


           BATTLE: PAUL'S USE OF THE OT IN ROM 9:25-26      119

 

found most frequently among postmillennialists or amillennialists,

who naturally favor a more "spiritualizing" hermeneutic. H. N.

Ridderbos, for example, calls this passage "a transition in interpretation."10

A number of exegetical points in Romans 9 -11 lend support to

this approach; the following seem to be the most important:

1) The Gentiles are mentioned immediately before and after

Paul's quotations (vv 24, 30).

2) The xxxx at the beginning of v 27 could well contrast the status of Jews in v 27 with that of Gentiles in vv 25-26.

3) Peter paraphrases Hos 2:23, referring it to his Christian

readers (I Pet 2:10).11

4) The "vessels of wrath" of v 22 seem to be unbelieving Jews,

while the "vessels of mercy" of v 23 are identified as believing Jews

and Gentiles. Such a contrast is carried out in Rom 9:30-10:4.

5) The structure citing blessings on the "non-people" in vv 25-26, followed by judgment against Israel in vv 27-29, is parallel to the

preference for the "non-nation" in 10:19-20, followed by the judgment

against Israel in 10:21. The "non-nation" in 10:19 refers to Gentiles.

6) Paul, by the term "jealousy" in 10:19 and 11:11,14, links his

own ministry in the church to the eschatological promises made to

Israel. In fact, Paul's whole line of argument from the OT in Romans

9-11 seems to presuppose its relevance for his own day.

Taken together, these arguments give a powerful impetus to

many theologians, who conclude that Paul in some way changes the

meaning of Hosea's prophecy from that which is apparent in its

original context. Of course, the major drawback of this viewpoint is its conclusion regarding hermeneutics: while the NT is to be interpreted (more or less) literally, the OT is not. Many amillennialists expand this principle to all OT prophecy and thereby deny any future fulfilment of these prophecies for the nation of Israel.

 

An argument from analogy

 

Many commentators, desiring to maintain the integrity of Hosea's meaning, and yet convinced that Paul is speaking of Gentiles, see in this passage an application of Hosea's prophecy, but not its total

Fulfilment. Charles Hodge expresses this view well:

 

10H. Ridderbos, Paul, An Outline of His Theology, trans. J. R. de Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 340.

11On the other hand, Kasemann, Commentary on Romans, 274, contrasts Rom 9:25 with Jub 2: 19, "Behold, I will separate unto Myself a people from among all the peoples, ...and I will sanctify them unto Myself as My people, and will bless


120                                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

The difficulty with regard to this passage is, that in Hosea it evidently

has reference not to the heathen, but to the ten tribes. Whereas, Paul

refers it to the Gentiles. ...This difficulty is sometimes gotten over by

giving a different view of the apostle's object in the citation, and

making it refer to the restoration of the Jews. But this interpretation is

obviously at variance with the context. It is more satisfactory to say,

that the ten tribes were in a heathenish state, relapsed into idolatry,

and, therefore, what was said of them, is of course applicable to others in like circumstances, or of like character. ...This method of

interpreting and applying Scripture is both common and correct. A

general truth, stated in reference to a particular class of persons, is to

be considered as intended to apply to all those whose character and

circumstances are the same, though the form or words of the original

enunciation may not be applicable to all embraced within the scope of

the general sentiment.12

         

Likewise, Sanday and Headlam say that "St. Paul applies the principle which underlies these words, that God can take into His covenant

those who were previously cut off from it, to the calling of the

Gentiles.”13 This approach is followed by Herman A. Hoyt in his

reply to Ladd’s argument:

 

In passage after passage Ladd insists that the New Testament is

interpreting the Old when the New Testament is simply applying a

principle found in the Old Testament (Hos. 11:1 with Mt. 2:15; Hos.

1:10; 2:23 with Rom. 9:24-26). Rushing to the conclusion that these

references identify the church and Israel as the same body of the   saved is wholly gratuitous. ...It makes such application merely for the

purpose of explaining something that is true of both.14

 

This approach to Rom 9:25-26 certainly has its advantages. It

strives to do justice to Hosea's prophecy in its context, and it also

recognizes the apparent force of the context in Romans concerning

the conversion of Gentiles. In addition, the introductory formula,

"even as (w[j) it says in Hosea," fits well with an illustration or analogy and does not demand that it be the strict fulfillment of the prophecy.

________________________________________________________

them; ...and they shall be My people and I will be their God." The Jubilees passage

refers exclusively to national Israel (cf. v 31). R. H. Charles dates this work between

109 and 105 B.C., APOT (1913) 2, 6.

12C. Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (rev. ed., 1886; reprinted; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950) 326-27.

13W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on

the Epistle to the Romans (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902) 264; similarly,

J. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965) 38.

14Meaning of the Millennium, 42-43.


 

BATTLE: PAUL'S USE OF THE OT IN ROM 9:25-26        121

 

In spite of its attraction, however, the argument for analogy has

some drawbacks. For one thing, Paul normally interprets OT prophecies literally, as will be discussed later in this article. The few examples of his analogical use of scripture normally come from non-predictive portions (as Ps 19:4 in Rom 10:18, or Deut 25:4 in 1 Tim 5:18).

There remains a greater difficulty with this interpretation. The

analogy between the ten tribes and the Gentiles breaks down at a

critical point. Hodge mentioned that an analogy is appropriate for

"all those whose character and circumstances are the same." Certainly

one could identify the "character" of the idolatrous ten tribes with

that of the Gentiles. Paul no doubt was amazed by God's mercy

revealed both in God's promises for adulterous Israel and in his

saving the heathen. But the "circumstances" of the two groups are

quite different. Romans 1-2 describes the Gentiles' relation to God as

founded upon creation and conscience, whereas Romans 2-3 describes

the Jews' relation to God as also one of promise and covenant. The

covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have placed even the

unbelieving Jews in a unique position in the world (cf. Rom 11:24). It

is because of these covenants that the OT predicts Israel's restoration

(e.g., Lev 26:40-45; Deut 4:29-31). And Paul himself in Romans 9-11

stresses that this restoration stems from God's special mercy and

covenant-faithfulness to Israel (Rom 9:4-6; 11:1-2, 11,24,28-29). In

this major respect Paul does not view the present salvation of

Gentiles as analogous to the promised future salvation of national Israel.

 

Identity of meaning

 

As quoted above, Charles Hodge has said, "This difficulty is

sometimes gotten over by giving a different view of the apostle's

object in the citation, and making it refer to the restoration of the

Jews." Actually, very few commentators have proposed this solution;

as Hodge went on to say, "This interpretation is obviously at variance

with the context," Nevertheless, one who has ventured this approach

is Alva J, McClain, who says in his popular commentary:

 

    A lot of folks think that this passage refers to the Gentiles. It does

not. They think Paul made a mistake and quoted from the Old

Testament something that belonged to Jews and applied it to the

Gentiles. He is talking about Israel. "I will call her my people which

was not my people." God cast Israel off and then picked her up in

mercy. 15

 

15A. J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace (ed. H. A. Hoyt; Chicago: Moody, 1973) 183.

122                       GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Unfortunately, the brief and popular style of McClain's book prevents

a clarification and defense of this statement. Its major difficulty, as

Hodge has noted, is the context in Romans 9, which seems to be

speaking about the present, largely Gentile church. Yet this approach

has the distinct asset of taking Hosea's prophecy at face value and

maintaining complete harmony between Hosea and Paul. This writer

believes that the context in Romans 9 can, and indeed does, fit

together best with this interpretation.

Before proceeding to defend this approach, it would be good to

note another variation of it. Some commentators believe that Paul

used Hosea in the original sense, but that the original sense of Hosea

included the salvation of Gentiles. George N. H. Peters, on one hand,

sees believing Gentiles as incorporated into the Israel of prophecy.16

While Romans 11 certainly supports this approach, it seems that the

contexts of Romans 9 and of Hosea 1-2 refer more directly to

national Israel-largely unbelieving. On the other hand, several writers

have seen the Gentile conversion already foretold in Hosea itself,

from the standpoint of OT exegesis. William Kelly sees Gentile

salvation in Hos 1:10, on the analogy of Isa 65:1-2.17 J. Barton Payne

notes that, in the OT, "believing Gentiles may be identified simply as

Israelites, inseparable from God's people," citing Isa 44:5; 56:3, along

with Hos 1:10; 2:23.18 The view of Kelly and Payne agrees with OT

exegesis and theology, but seems out of harmony with the context of

Hosea, where the woman who was restored is the same woman who

was married and who went astray-i.e., national Israel. Also, as will be seen, Paul's quotations need not be construed as referring to Gentile conversions in Paul's day.

 

NATIONAL ISRAEL IN ROMANS 9:25-26

 

This writer does not claim to prove dogmatically that Paul is

referring to national Israel in these quotations; but he would claim

that this interpretation is a viable option which deserves serious

consideration. Several weighty arguments favor a literal use of prophecy in these verses.

 

16G. N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (3 vols.; 1884; reprinted; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972), I. 397.

17W. Kelly, Notes on the Epistle of Paul. the Apostle, to the Romans (1873; reprinted; Addison, IL: Bible Truth Publishers, 1978) 191-92.

18 J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1962) 477-78.


 

BATTLE: PAUL'S USE OF THE OT IN ROM 9:25-26        123

 

Paul’s normal hermeneutics

 

Recently Paul's epistles have been subjected to increased study,

especially since the advent of the Qumran literature. In general, it

now is thought that Paul's hermeneutics resembles that of Palestinian

much more than that of Hellenistic Judaism. Richard Longenecker

.has put it this way:

 

Midrashic exegetical methods are prominent in the Pauline letters. In fact, it is midrashic exegesis more than pesher or allegorical exegesis that characterizes the apostle's hermeneutical procedures.19

 

Longenecker would not conclude that Paul never "Christianizes" the

OT, yet for him Paul's starting-point is midrashic exegesis.

 

In the majority of his Old Testament citations, Paul adheres to the

original sense of the passage. Or, if he extends it, it is possible to

understand his rationale if we grant him the Jewish presuppositions of

"corporate solidarity" and "historical correspondences" and the

Christian presuppositions of "eschatological fulfillment" and

"messianic presence.”20

 

Those who favor the spiritualizing approach in Rom 9:25-26 will say

that here Paul uses the Christian presupposition of "eschatological

fulfillment," while those who favor the argument from analogy might

say he is using the Jewish presupposition of "historical correspondences." On the other hand, his usual method is to "adhere to the original sense of the passage"-in this case, seeing Israel as the object of these passages.

Within midrashic exegesis there is a variety of possible interpretations. The so-called seven rules of Hillel21 would allow one to interpret the OT as an analogy (Rule 5, "general and particular": a particular rule may be expanded into a general principle)22, as well as with the

 

19R. N. Longenecker. Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 125-26. Longenecker effectively argues with E. E. Ellis and others, showing that there are very few if any real examples of allegorical or pesher exegesis in Paul's epistles (118-32).

20Ibid., 121. Cf. his earlier book Paul, Apostle of Liberty (New York: Harper & Row, 1964) 63, where he sees Paul employing “charismatic interpretation,” ie., “the letter as interpreted  by Christ through the Spirit."

21 Biblical Exegesis, 32-38; for a more technical treatment, see E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, rev. and ed. G. Vermes,

F. Millar, and M. Black (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979), 2. 343-45.

22However, this rule was used more with legal texts than with prophecies.

124                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

“grammatical-historical” method (e.g., Rule 7, “context”: the meaning is established by its context). In this regard, it should be noted that

Paul often cites the OT with its own context in view (e.g., Rom 4:3,9-

11; 9:7-9; 15:12). Such an approach in Rom 9:25-26, if not otherwise

ruled out by context, would be in harmony with Paul's normal

exegesis of the OT.

 

Background of the quotations

 

Paul's argument throughout Romans 9 is built on the OT. In

vv 6-13 Paul draws from Genesis and Malachi to trace out God's

election of Israel in history. In vv 14-18 he selects two passages from

Exodus to demonstrate the sovereignty of that election and the role

of the non-elect in relation to the elect in God's program. In the rest

of the chapter Paul quotes several times from the prophets Isaiah and

Hosea, with perhaps an allusion to Jeremiah, to show the results of

this election for Israel's history and future.

The remarkable thing about these quotations from the prophets

is that, with the one exception of Isa 45:9,23 every quotation comes

from the same period in Israel's history-the time of impending

Assyrian conquest. This conquest came in three major stages: Tiglath-

pileser III in 732 B.C., Shalmaneser V and Sargon II in 722 B.C. These

quotations are charted below:

 

verse in Romans  9                               passage quoted

     20                     Isa 29:16;  45:9

     25                     Hos 2:23

     26                     Hos 1:10

           27-28                               Isa 10:22-23

     29                     Isa 1:9

     33                     Isa 8:14;  28:16

It is more significant that in each case the Assyrian judgment of

Israel is the subject of the prophecy. Even in the case of v 20,

Isa 29:16 appears to be looking forward to the Assyrian siege of

Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Throughout all these prophecies runs the same theme: Israel

rebels against the Lord; God raises up Assyria as his weapon to judge

Israel; God preserves a remnant of Israel; God destroys Assyria for its

pride; God restores Israel to repentance and blessing. For example,

the passages quoted in vv 25-26 and 27-29 follow this pattern in their

 

 

23Conservatives usually date the writing of Isaiah 40-66 between 701 and 686 B.C.


            BATTLE: PAUL'S USE OF THE OT IN ROM 9:25-26       125

 

own context; note especially Hos 1:6-11; 2:9-14, 19-23; 3:4-5; Isa 1:5-9; 5:20-30; 7:17-20; 8:4; 10:5-27. With this background in view, it

appears that the quotations in Rom 9:25-29 are describing the same

phenomenon: the present but temporary status of Israel as a people

largely unbelieving, disenfranchised, and under judgment by foreign nations. In this light vv 25-26 emphasize neither Israel's future restoration nor the Gentiles' place in the church, but rather the prophetic forecast of Israel's present state in God's program-“not having received mercy,” “not my people.”

Similarly, the quotations in v 33 fit beautifully with Paul's

intention. In Isaiah 8 Judah falls before Assyria; in Isaiah 28 it is the

northern kingdom of Israel which falls; in both cases Paul sees the

same principle, which is still at work in his nation. Israel fell into her

present state because she trusted in her own plots and schemes, rather

than in God's mercy and deliverance (Isa 8:6, 12; 28:15). For this

reason God judged her by means of Assyria (Isa 8:7-8, 14-15; 28:16-

17). Israel failed to have true faith in God and his promises (Isa 8:6,

13, 16-17; 28:16-19). Not only in Rom 9:25-26, but throughout the

chapter the OT context provides valuable direction in elucidating

Paul's meaning.

 

"Vessels of wrath" as Israel’s oppressors

 

It is often assumed that the “vessels of wrath” in v 22 are the

unbelieving Jews as in vv 6 and 31, while the “vessels of mercy” in

v 23 are believers in the church. While v 24 does include believing

Jews and Gentiles among the “vessels of mercy,” one should not jump

to the conclusion that the rest of the Jews are the “vessels of wrath.”

While Paul certainly considered individual unbelieving Jews as recipients of God's wrath and judgment (e.g. 1 Thess 2:14-16), he held a more optimistic view of his nation's future as a whole. (Rom 11:11, 15, 23-24, 26-29; cf. 2 Cor. 3:16).

Yet there is another way to understand this designation, one

which is in harmony with the immediate context and suggested by the

OT usage. It is suggested that “vessels of wrath” in v 22 is Paul’s

designation for the heathen nations God uses to judge Israel.

The preceding context in vv 17-21 lends weight to this identification. To defend the sovereignty of God’s election, Paul takes the example of Pharaoh. Quoting Exod 9:16, Paul shows that God

ordained Pharaoh’s power and his stubborn resistance in order to

glorify his own greater power in the deliverance of Israel. The context

of Exodus justifies Paul’s approach (Exod 3:19-20; 4:21; 7:3-5, 13-14,

22-23; 8:15, 32; 9:7, 12, 16, 34-35; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4-5,8, 17-

18, 30-31). And indeed, God was glorified in Pharaoh’s final defeat


126                            GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

(cf. Moses’ song in Exod 15:1-19). But the Egyptian oppression and

deliverance also had its purposes in Israel’s history and development:

a family went down into Egypt; a nation came out of Egypt, a nation

redeemed from bondage by the Lord. Pharaoh was a “vessel of

wrath,” an instrument used to oppress Israel for a time, and yet

himself the final recipient of God’s wrath in judgment.

The immediate context of vv 22-24 also favors this understanding.  There is only one independent verb in this sentence: “What if ...God bore with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted for destruction?”  Several clauses modify this main verb: “desiring to show his wrath,” “[desiring] to make known his power,” “that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy. ...” Note that these three purposes, to show his wrath, power, and riches of glory, are met by the single action of the verb. If the “vessels of wrath” are the unbelieving Jews, it is difficult to account for the expression Paul

uses: God bears with much longsuffering unbelieving Jews, who are

fitted for destruction. How does this patience toward the Jews display

God’s wrath and power? Would not it be better to say: he judges,

punishes, or oppresses vessels of wrath? On the other hand, if Israel’s

oppressors are the “vessels of wrath,” the statement makes perfect

sense: God bears with much longsuffering heathen, godless nations,

by allowing them to rule over Israel and the world, in order that he

might use them as instruments to convey his wrath and power against

unbelieving Israel, and in the end his glory and mercy to repentant

Israel (along with believing Gentiles), when he destroys those wicked

nations. In other words, these verses would equate God’s longsuffering

toward “vessels of wrath” with the state of Gentile supremacy over

Israel, beginning in OT times and continuing intermittently into

Paul’s day.

Finally, the following context of vv 25-33 supports the identity of the “vessels of wrath” as Israel’s oppressors. As seen above, all these quotations refer back to the Assyrian oppression in the second half of the eighth century. In many ways Assyria was a “vessel” of the Lord.

The term “vessel” in the Greek NT and in the LXX is skeu?oj (in the

LXX it normally represents yliK;), a word which designates not only

dishes and household utensils,. but a great variety of implements,

including weapons (e.g., Deut 1:41; Judg 18:11).24 In Isa 13:5 the

Medes are God’s weapons to destroy Babylon; here the same Hebrew

term yliK; is translated in the LXX by the related word o!plon,

“weapon.” It is striking that Paul quotes Isa 10:22-23, which occurs in

 

24See the discussion of LXX usage in C. Maurer, "skeu?oj" TDNT 7 (1971) 359-60.


            BATTLE: PAUL’S USE OF THE OT IN ROM 9:25-26       127

 

the very context of a lengthy passage describing Assyria as God’s

weapon against Israel (Isa 10:5-34). In this passage Assyria is called

“the rod of my anger,” “the club of my wrath,” “the ax,” “the saw”

(vv 5, 15, NIV). Assyria’s career is described as follows: God is

gracious to Assyria and uses it to punish Israel (vv 5-6, 23), Assyria

becomes proud against God (vv 7-14), God destroys Assyria (vv 5, 12,

15-19,24-34), Israel is blessed with victory and deliverance (vv 17-23).

This pattern fits exactly with that of Rom 9:22-God’s patience

towards vessels of wrath used to display God’s judgment and then his

merciful deliverance of his people.

It might be tempting at this point to interpret “vessels of wrath”

in Rom 9:22 as “vessels which bring wrath.” “Of wrath” is certainly a

genitive of quality, “vessels characterized by wrath,”25 but in Paul’s

context the thought predominates that these vessels will receive God’s

wrath, just as the “vessels of mercy” will receive his mercy. So it is

best to take this designation as referring to the planned destruction of

these vessels (cf. “son of destruction” in 2 Thess 2:3). This is the same

emphasis found concerning Assyria in Isaiah 10.

 

        A PROPOSED SOLUTION

 

In view of the evidence presented to support national Israel as

the object of Rom 9:25-26, the six arguments mentioned earlier

favoring a Gentile application can be answered adequately.

1) Paul’s mention of Gentile believers in v 24 does not contradict the interpretation suggested here. Paul obviously includes them among God’s “vessels of mercy” and often states that they will share in the blessings promised to Israel (Rom 11:17-20; Gal 3:14; Eph 2:11-13, 19; 3:6; cf. Matt 21:43). The question is the proper reference of the prophecy in vv 25-26. Since the word “Gentiles” appears immediately before the citation, many assume that Paul sees some reference to Gentiles in this prophecy. But the whole sentence in which the citation is found begins at v 22, and the main clause is, “What if God endured the vessels of wrath?” This interpretation would link the prophecy to the main clause of the sentence. It appears to this writer that Paul invokes Hosea's prophecies not to prove large-scale Gentile conversions, but to prove the temporary but very real nature of

Israel’s period of unbelief and disenfranchisement prior to her final

restoration. The prophecies cited in vv 27-29 continue that theme,

while the nature of Gentile belief, introduced by Paul in v 24, is

picked up in v 30.

 

25Nigel Turner, Syntax, Vol. 3 of J. H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963) 213.


128                         GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

2) The de< in v 27 is not a strong adversative and certainly does not demand a change of subject. The NIV leaves it untranslated. If

there is any contrast indicated, it is simply between two different

aspects of Israel’s judgment.

3) I Pet 2:10 was addressed primarily to Jewish believers

I Pet 1:1; Gal 2:9); and in any case, all recognize that only true

believers can ever be members of God’s promised kingdom (John 3:3).

4) The argument concerning “vessels of wrath” is expanded in

the previous section.

5) All three quotations in Rom 10:19-21 (quoting Deut 32:21;

Isa 65:1-2) prove the same point: God revealed himself more than

sufficiently to Israel, so that she is without excuse. The occurrences of

de< in vv 20, 21 are again not strongly adversative. The "non-nation"

in v 19 is, according to Deuteronomy, one of Israel's oppressors, and

is favored by God only in this: he gives the "non-nation" power to

oppress Israel before he destroys it (Deut 32:27, 36-43). The oppression by these nations is another way God sought to reveal his will to Israel and bring her to repentance. V 20 emphasizes God's continuing to reveal himself to Israel, even as she refused to seek him, and v 21 continues the quotation, emphasizing the continuing nature of this revelation and invitation.

6) In Rom 10:19 Paul speaks of Israel's jealousy being aroused

because of Gentile supremacy in the world (cf. Rom 9:22-24); with a

play on words in Rom 11:11, 14, Paul seeks the same reaction by

announcing Gentile supremacy in the church. Obviously, the believing Gentiles of Romans 11 are not the oppressing powers of Deut

32:21 and Rom 10:19; but in this dispensation, the two coincide in

time. The "times of the Gentiles," in contrast to the OT period and

the future millennial kingdom, witness Gentile supremacy in both the

world and the church (Luke 21:24; Rom 11:25). The OT does have

relevance for Paul's entire argument: it provides proof that, before

Israel's restoration, she will experience a period of widespread un-

belief, disenfranchisement, and subjugation to Gentile power, but that

through these trials, and by means of them, God will bring her to

repentance and restoration, thus fulfilling the covenants and promises

(Rom 11:26, "in this manner all Israel will be saved"). Paul thus

defines God's unchangeable election (Rom 9:6; 11:1,28-29), defines

his own ministry as it relates to that election (Rom 11: 13-32), and

declares the wondrous way God reveals his various attributes in this

circuitous route leading to Israel's final salvation (Rom 9:11, 14-17,

22-23; 11:22, 32-36).


          BATTLE: PAUL'S USE OF THE OT IN ROM 9:25-26        129

 

With this understanding of Paul's argument, one could expand

and paraphrase Rom 9:22-26 as follows:

 

What if God exercises his sovereignty over Israel by permitting godless Gentile nations to rule over the earth-nations he ultimately will destroy? God is patient with these nations in order to use them as

instruments to deal with his own people. As they oppress Israel, God is revealing his wrath and power against her; and as God will later

destroy them and deliver his people, granting them repentance and

restoration, he will thereby reveal the riches of his glory to that nation. Yes, Israel has been prepared by God to experience his mercy and share his glory, but this blessing will come only to those Israelites who repent and believe in him. For the present only some are believers, who, along with believing Gentiles, will share in these blessings. But most of the nation is still in rebellion and under God's displeasure and judgment; their restoration as a nation is still in the future; as it says in Hosea, "I will call them my people who were not my people, and her beloved who was not beloved; and where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called sons of the living God."

 

This interpretation of Rom 9:25-26 maintains a consistent hermeneu-

tic for the OT and NT and fits very well with Paul's exact terminology

and development of argument in Romans 9-11.

 

 

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