Sovereign Election: Is God Impartial?

Gandolfi Allegory of Justice

“God shows no partiality”, contended Paul of Tarsus in his epistle to the Romans (2:11). Paul explained that the righteous and holy judgment of God falls on those who do not see fit to acknowledge Him1.  God will render to all, first to Jews and then Gentiles, according to what they deserve (2:6).

Gruesomely, the whole world is held accountable because all, both Jews and Gentiles, are under sin. “None is righteous, no, not one,” Paul quoted Psalms 14:1-32, “no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless” (Rom. 3:10-12 ESV).  N. T. Wright sum it well,  “[t]he whole world is accountable to God: all people are obviously guilty, and must now face God as their judge.”(Wright 2004: 49)

Although according to the works of the law, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(3:23 ESV), God’s righteousness is revealed to those whom God, in Jesus Christ, chose before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him.

Those, who God foreknew and also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, are said to have been called, justified and glorified, according to the riches of His free gift of grace, through redemptive work of Christ Jesus (Rom. 8 cf. Ephes. 1:3-11). Craig S. Keener, I suppose, errs in using present tense viz., “God choosing people (8:29–30)”(Keener 2009: Amazon Kindle loc.3974). The usage of past tense viz., foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified indicates that Paul understood that God had already sovereignly chose His people.

God shows no partiality. His righteous justice is poured to all who have sinned. To those who God elected, their justice,  was mercifully poured upon Christ Jesus, nailed at the cross. It was there the holy and righteous wrath of God upon His past, present and future chosen people was poured in full strength. It was there the wrath of God was not only quenched but their debt forever paid by the atoning work of Christ Jesus. It was there the righteous wrath of God and His pure everlasting love for His people shined the most.

At the cross, Christ Jesus reconciled those whom God the Father gave Him (John 6:44 cf John 17) from the wrath to come. (1 Thes. 1:10) Through Christ atoning work, He, in love, saved them from the wrath of God. (Ro. 5:10)

Romans 9:14’s disturbing question of God’s fairness emerged from the idea that it was from eternally past, before the foundation of the world, that God according to the good pleasure of His will and in love, not only elected His people but also predestined them for adoption as sons in Christ Jesus to be holy and blameless before Him. (Eph. 1:3-7)  His choice, accord to Paul, was not based on foreseen character of the elects, but God’s alone.

Readings of Roman 9:1-13 that does not trigger a reader to question God’s righteousness in electing His people can be said to have failed to grasp Paul’s case. The notion that given prevenient grace God chose those who He foresaw would freely choose Him, for example, appears to be incorrect because not only would it make Paul’s answers, namely God has mercy and compassion on whomever He has mercy and compassion (9: 15-16a) and that God’s choice did not depend on the subject’s foreseen response, one who runs, but solely on God (9: 16b-16c), offbeat but also his anticipated question of prima facie unfairness of God (9:14) uncalled-for.

The plausible understanding of Romans 9:1-13 that calls for Paul’s anticipated question and answers, I think, is that which view God’s sovereign election based on the character of God and not of the elects. It is Godwho saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began”(1 Timothy 1:19 ESV)

Is God impartial? No. The demanded justice for the wages of sin is given to all without partiality. The wages of those who He chose in His Son were fully paid by the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. God’s mercy lavished upon those whom He chose is simply an amazing grace that cannot be demanded to be given to all.


Keener, Craig S. (2009) Romans. A New Covenant Commentary. Cascade Books – Eugene, Oregon. Amazon Kindle Edition.

Wright, N. T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8. Both volumes include glossaries. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

[1] Those whom He has gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done, and they are they who are filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless and ruthless (Romans 1).

[2] Repeated in 53:1-3

Wright’s New Perspective Approach to Romans 9:14-25

NT Wright

N. T. Wright believes that both Reformed and Wesleyan-Arminianism approaches misses the flow of Paul’s case in Romans 9 because they import Augustine-Pelagic controversy into the text. Wright’s New Perspective1 approaches Romans 9:14-252 as a demonstration of covenant faithfulness of God and the identity of the “member of his people”3.

Romans 9:14-25, according to Wright, displays God faithfully accomplishing His purposes “even within that human rebellion and arrogance to bring about an even more glorious work of rescue, revealing his power, and gaining a worldwide reputation for performing extraordinary acts of judgment and mercy.”(Wright 2004: 14-5). Wright argued,

It is this ongoing purpose, despite the fact of Israel’s rebellion, that causes God to declare to Moses that he will proceed with his plan for the Exodus even though the people have made the golden calf, amounting to a declaration of independence from the true God. That is the setting for the passage in Exodus 33 which Paul quotes in verse 15. It then appears (verse 17) that God is doing with Israel itself what he did with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt who withstood God’s purposes to bring Israel out of slavery.(ibid)

“[Romans 9] does not necessarily relate to salvation.” wrote Thomas R. Schreiner, “Rather, Paul is describing the historical destiny of nations.”(Schreiner 1993: 26). Agreeing with Schreiner, Wright maintained that Paul’s case “[i]n standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church”(Wright 1997: 119)4.

Paul invoking “the image of potter” in verses 20-21, was not designed to show a the final election5, contended Wright, but “was designed to speak very specifically about God’s purpose in choosing and calling Israel, and about what would happen if Israel, like a lump of clay, failed to respond to the gentle moulding of his hands.”(ibid 13) He added, “ ‘vessel of mercy’ doesn’t mean so much a vessel which receives mercy, but a vessel through which God brings mercy to others.”(ibid 16)

If Wright is right, then why would Paul’s anticipated “Why does God still find fault?” For who can resist his will?”(in verse 19b ESV) as a protest of his response toward an earlier objection, viz., “is God unjust”(verse 14)? I think Craig Keener’s observation, namely God’s purpose for forming vessels for glory is “conformity with his Son’s image (8:29) […] but endures those that are objects of his wrath for the sake of the others (9:22–23)”(Keener 2009: loc.4047), as more correct than Wright’s because from Keener’s reasoning, verse 19 objection logically follows.

Echoing Keener and contrary to Wright, David Brown argued that election, viz., God’s “right to choose whom He will [and in Rom. 9:17, He] punishes whom He will”(Brown 1997: n.p) is final. Brown contended,

If God chooses and rejects, pardons and punishes, whom He pleases, why are those blamed who, if rejected by Him, cannot help sinning and perishing? This objection shows quite as conclusively as the former the real nature of the doctrine objected to—that it is Election and Non-election to eternal salvation prior to any difference of personal character; this is the only doctrine that could suggest the objection here stated, and to this doctrine the objection is plausible.(ibid )

Representing one of Reformed commentators’ critic of Wright’s view of God’s election, Sam Storms believed that the objections in verses 14 and 19 would not have “been raised and dealt with by Paul at such great length had the issue in view been the historical or earthly status of individuals […]”. He wrote “[t]he objection, Paul’s vehement denial of unrighteousness in God, and his lengthy (vv. 14-23) explanation are intelligible only if eternal salvation and condemnation are at stake.”(Storms 2007: 126)

I am open for comments, positive critics and edification from my brothers and sisters holding New Perspective view because my reformed bias might have clouded my judgement of Wright’s approach.

What Say You: How right is Wright? Did Wright get Paul’s case in Romans 9 correct?

[1] There are many New Perspectives, but I focused solely on N. T. Wright’s
[2] Specifically Romans 9-11
[3] Which Paul  “now sees the torch being passed from a group consisting only of Jews (a selection from within Abraham’s physical family) to a group consisting of Jews and Gentiles together.”(ibid 15)
[4] Schreiner and Wright are correct in viewing Romans 9-11 as dealing with Israel as a nation but I think it’s both soteriological and ecclesiological.
[5]  Wright noted that in “the Old Testament, Israel goes into exile in order to be reshaped by God; where, in other words, the potter remoulds the clay.”(ibid 15)


Brown, D. (1997) Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ro 9:17-19). Ed. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Keener, Craig S. (2009) Romans. A New Covenant Commentary. Cascade Books – Eugene, Oregon. Amazon Kindle Edition.

Schreiner, Thomas R. (1993) “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election Unto Salvation? Some Exegetical And Theological Reflections.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 36.1: 25-40.

Storms, Sam (2007) Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election, revised ed. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Wright, N. T. (1997)What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

_________ (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8. Both volumes include glossaries. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Reformed Approach to Romans 9:14-25

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo produced a first concise interpretation of Romans 9 to which reformed commentators approach Romans 9:14-25. Expositing Romans 9:16, Augustine noted that God “loved Jacob in unmerited mercy, yet hated Esau with merited justice”. He explained,

Since this judgment [of wrath] was due them both, the former learned from what happened to the other that the fact that he had not, with equal merit, incurred the same penalty gave him no ground to boast of his own distinctive merits (Augustine 2005: n.p)

None, according Augustine, “is set free saved by unmerited mercy” and none “is damned save by a merited condemnation.”(ibid). God chose some individuals to bestow His mercy and others, the not chosen, His justice. Augustine expounded,

Certainly wrath is not repaid unless it is due, lest there be unrighteousness with God; but mercy, even when it is bestowed, and not due, is not unrighteousness with God. And hence, let the vessels of mercy understand how freely mercy is afforded to them, because to the vessels of wrath with whom they have common cause and measure of perdition, is repaid wrath, righteous and due.(Augustine 1887: 423–4)

Martin Luther understood Romans 9:15 to mean, “I will have mercy on whom I intended to have mercy, or whom I predestinated for mercy.”(Luther 1976: 139), He went further,

“I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion (9:15). That means: I will give grace, in time and life, to him concerning whom I purposed from eternity to show mercy. On him will I have compassion and forgive his sin in time and life whom I forgave and pardoned from all eternity.(ibid)

According to Reformed approach, Paul in Romans 9:14-25 solved the objection concerning the righteousness of God in election by dividing “his subject into two parts”. John Calvin explained,

Paul divides his subject into two parts; in the former of which he speaks of the elect, and in the latter of the reprobate; and in the one he would have us to contemplate the mercy of God, and in the other to acknowledge his righteous judgment. His first reply is, that the thought that there is injustice with God deserves to be abhorred, and then he shows that with regard to the two parties, there can be none.(Calvin & Owen 2010: 354)

For Calvin, Romans 9:14-25 teaches that the cause of God, electing some and passing by other, is only found in His own purpose “for if the difference had been based on works, Paul would have to no purpose mentioned this question respecting unrighteousness of God, no suspicion could have been entertained concerning it if God dealt with every one according to his merit.” (ibid 354)

Foreseen the fall of all men before time, God bestowed mercy upon those He chose in Christ Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight (Eph. 1:4), and hardening those He before time gave over into the sinful desires of their hearts (Rom 1:18-32, 11:7-10, Mark 4:12, John 12:40) according to the council of His will.

Most Reformed commentators view Romans 9:14-25 as teaching an absolute election of individuals. Arguing that Romans 9:14 gives a proof that Paul is talking about “unconditional predestination” of individuals, Michael Eaton contended,

“God saves some and he does not say others. It is that exposition that leads people to say, ‘But that is not fair.’ A real predestination of individuals to salvation has been the theme of verses 6-13.”(Eaton 2010: 165)

Eaton, as many Reformed commentators, tend to overlook Paul’s group distinction of those according to the promise, Isaac and Jacob, representing the the true Israel and those who are according to flesh, Ismael and Esau. As seen in Wesleyan-Arminianism Approach to Roman 9:14-25, it is difficult to contend for group election without imply individual election.

Question: If not holding reformed view of election, what do you find incorrect with Augustine, Calvin and Luther’s approach to Romans 9?

I am open for correction, edification and constructive critiques from my fellow Reformed theologians.


Augustine of Hippo. (1887) A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians R. E. Wallis, Trans.) in P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume V: Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings (P. Schaff, Ed.)  New York: Christian Literature Company.

________________ (2005) Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love. Enhanced Version Traslated by Albert C. Outler.  CCEL Online Edition.

Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans . Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Eaton, Michael(2010) Romans. Preaching Through the Bible. Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust.

Luther, Martin (1976) Commentary on Romans. Trans. J. Theodore Mueller. Kregel Publications. Grand Rapids.

Photography credit: Cover: Georgetown University

Wesleyan-Arminianism Approach to Romans 9:14-25

John Wesley

According to Wesleyan-Arminianism approach, God did chose the elect collectively, and not individually. James Arminius rightly argued that, “Esau and Jacob are to be considered, not in themselves, but as types, and be that which is attributed to them, is to be accommodated to the antitypes, or rather to the things signified” (Arminius 1853: 535-6).

Concurring with Arminius, Thomas R. Schreiner assembled scholars to validation the notion that Romans 9, if indeed refers to salvation[1], “describes the salvation of groups, not the salvation of individuals”(Schreiner 1993: 33). He concluded,

Thus William Klein says that “Paul’s concern is the elect people of God, a corporate entity.”27Leon Morris says, “It seems clear that Paul intends a reference to nations rather than individuals.”28 This interpretation is supported by showing that Paul is thinking of the nation of the Edomites in contrast to Israel (cf. Gen 25:13). Thus Cranfield says, “There is no doubt that the concern of Mal. 1.2-5 is with the nations of Israel and Edom, and it is natural to suppose that by ‘Jacob’ and ‘Esau’ Paul also understands not only the twin sons of Isaac but also the peoples descended from them. 29 (ibid)

The reason, admitted Schreiner, that scholars who press for the distinction corporate election rather than individual” is for “one to see that God does not elect some individuals to salvation and reject others.(ibid 33-34)

Roger Olson also quoted William Klein’s The New Chosen People conclusion that “the New Testament writers address salvific election in primarily, if not exclusively, corporate terms […] God has chosen the church as a body rather than the specific individuals who populate that body.”(129-130)

Brian J. Abasciano finds Schreiner’s[2] “attempt to counter the primacy of corporate election in Romans 9 unpersuasive”(Abasciano 2006: 351-2). According to Abasciano, Schreiner fails to address how the corporate and individual aspects of election do relate to each other. He contended,

If corporate election is primary, then it is the group that is the focus of election, and individuals are elect only in connection with the group. If individual election is primary, then individuals are separately the focus of election, and the group is elect only as a collection of elect individuals. Thus, either the corporate focus of election determines the identity and benefits of the individual based on participation in the group, or the individual focus of election determines the identity and benefits of the group based on the individuals who have been grouped together according to their similar individual characteristics/status.(ibid 353)

Abasciano went on to show that “[f]or if election is primarily individual, then corporate election must equally imply individual election since the identity of the group is entirely determined by the identity of the individuals who make it up”.(ibid)

I am open for comments, critics and edification from my brothers and sisters holding Wesleyan-Arminianism tradition for my reformed bias might have clouded my judgement.

[1]  Wright’s New Perspective Approach

[2] Thus going against Arminius’ exposition.


Abasciano, Brian J. (2006) “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner”. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 4.2 : 351-71

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius, Volume 3 (J. Nichols & W. R. Bagnall, Trans.) Auburn; Buffalo: Derby, and Miller; Derby, Orton and Mulligan.

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Schreiner, Thomas R. (1993) “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election Unto Salvation? Some Exegetical And Theological Reflections.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 36.1: 25-40

James Arminius + Paul’s Romans 9:14-25 Case

James Arminius

James Arminius correctly captured the contribution of Romans 9:14-25 to the overall argument of “whole epistle.” He viewed the scope of Romans 9 is the same as that of the whole epistle, viz.,

[…] the Gospel, not the law, is the power of God unto salvation, not to him that worketh, but to him that believeth, since, in the Gospel the righteousness of God is manifested in the obtainment of salvation by faith in Christ. (Arminius 1853: 528 emphasis original)

Concurring with Arminius, Romans 9 defends the proposition against the objections of the Jews that could be deduce as:

“If righteousness and salvation consist in faith in Christ, whom Paul preaches, it follows that the Jews, for the most part, are rejected from the covenant. The reason of this conclusion is this. “Because most of the Jews do not believe in Christ.”(ibid 529)

Paul showed that the word of convent has not fail, even if most of the Jews, “who, with the greatest zeal, seek the righteousness of the Law” since “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”(verse 6b ESV) and that word of convent applies to and fulfilled in “the children of the promise”, both Jews and Gentiles who pursue righteousness that is by faith in finish work of Christ Jesus.

Paul in Romans 9:14-25 aims to defend the righteous of God in fulfillment of his convent promise to those whom He has eternally elected as “the children of the promise” not because of the righteousness of the Law, namely merits, but God’s own free grace poured through faith in Christ Jesus and also to show that “God always works by the method of election.”(Morris 1988: 358).

Paul argument can be formulated as follows:

  1. God is just in all His acts.
  2. God’s act of electing some and pass others prima facie seems injustice.
  3. God is merciful to whom He pleases and hardens whom He pleases according to His will.
  4. Thus, God is not unjust.


Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius, Volume 3 (J. Nichols & W. R. Bagnall, Trans.) Auburn; Buffalo: Derby, and Miller; Derby, Orton and Mulligan.

Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans. The Pillar New Testament Commentary Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.

NB: Though I hold to a reformed tradition, I am continually edified by Arminius powerful thinking. I am open for correcting, comments, and critics as we try to glorify God through our thinking.

Bemused By Wesleyan-Arminianism (Un)merited Mercy

John Wesley

Roger Olson, following WesleyanArminianism tradition, quoted John Wesley concurring with the notion that God choice on who receives His mercy did  “not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part.”(Olson 2011: 128-9), yet Olson contended,

For him [Wesley], salvation is given by God to the person who freely responds to the gospel with repentance and faith, which are not gifts of God or “good works” but human responses to God’s gift of prevenient grace.(ibid. 129)

Thus“[e]lection”, namely God bestowed mercy on whomever He has mercy, “is simply God’s foreknowledge of who will freely receive this grace unto salvation (Rom. 8:29)”(ibid. 129).

If God salvation is given to those who response to God’s gift of prevenient grace, then contrary to Romans 9:16, God’s mercy depends on human will i.e. “the restore[d] freedom of the will” and God who has mercy viz., bestowing the “enabling grace: “The very power to ‘work together with Him’ was from God.”(129).

I agree with Bob Utley when he averred,

It must also be stated that God’s sovereign choices are not based on foreknowledge of human’s future choices and actions. If this were true then ultimately individual’s choices and actions and merits would be the basis of God’s choices (cf. v. 16; I Pet. 1:2)(Utley 1998: n.p)

In Olson’s synergism, an elect can boast in his salvation since it partly depended on his response toward prevenient grace.  Michael Horton begged to differ with Olson and contended for monergism. He argued,

Chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, redeemed by Christ in history, receiving an inheritance in Christ, and being sealed in Christ by the gospel, we receive our salvation from start to finish as the work of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit (Eph. 1:3–14).(Horton 2011: 102)

From this, I believe, an elect cannot boast since his salvation did neither depend on his will nor exertion, but on God, who has mercy. I could be missing something, so I am welcoming correction and edification from my fellow theologians who hold WesleyanArminianism traditional understanding of the doctrine of election.


Horton, M. (2011). For Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Utley, R. J. (1998). Vol. Volume 5: The Gospel According to Paul: Romans. Study Guide Commentary Series (Ro 9:14). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.