Romans 9 - Commentary from Thielman's New ZECNT Edition

Status
Not open for further replies.

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Context:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072TP4R6P/

A post here:
https://triablogue.blogspot.com/2018/10/thielman-on-rom-9.html

No board flame wars, cavils about the commentator(s), etc., please. Just deal with the commentary extract and the ideas below disclaiming the commentary.

Note
: I have edited the verses cited below such that they are available via our verse pop-up functions. Select CTRL+F5 to refresh the page if the popups are not active.

On Romans 9, Thielman writes (assuming the extract is accurate):

Before the plagues descended on the Egyptians, God told Moses twice that he would "harden" Pharaoh's hear and that as a result Pharaoh would not grant Moses' request to let Israel go into the wilderness to sacrifice to God (Exod 4:21; 7:3). Throughout the subsequent narrative, we read either that Pharaoh "hardened" his heart (Romans 8:15,32; 9:34), that Pharaoh's heart "was hardened" (Romans 7:13; 8:19; 9:7,35), or that "the Lord hardened" the heart of Pharaoh (Romans 9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:8; cf. 10:1; 14:4).

The interplay in Exod 4:14 between God's initiative and Pharaoh's initiative is helpful in understanding what Paul meant when he said that God "hardens' certain people such as Pharaoh. Paul believed that God punishes people for their own sin, not that God forced people to sin and then punished them for it. Otherwise, God would be acting nonsensically when he endured the rebellions of the wicked "with much patience" and stretched out his hands in appeal to disobedient Israel (Rom 9:22; 10:21). No patience is necessary for enduring the behavior of people doing what one wants them to do, and a lengthy appeal to people not to do what one has designed them to do is obviously fruitless.

When Paul says here, then, that God "hardens" people he must mean that God justly punishes people who, like Pharaoh (Exod 8:15,32; 9:34) and everyone else (Romans 1:18-3:20; 5:12-19), are already in rebellion against him. God punishes them by calcifying this rebellion, or, to put it another way, he further hardens resistant hearts. This second level of resistance, which God himself initiates, is Paul's concern here, and it corresponds exactly to God's judgment in Romans 1:24,26, and Romans 1:28 when he hands people over to their lust, dishonorable passion, and worthless thoughts [457-58].

Interpreters of this passage [Romans 9:21] often explain the image of God as a potter shaping clay as a reference to God's creation of human beings and his determination of their eternal destinies at creation…Paul does not, therefore, picture God as creating people in order to destroy them but as dealing sovereignly with a body of human beings who, without exception, are sinful. He mercifully saves some but justly punishes others [460].

One can describe the idea that God decides who will believe the gospel in a way that makes God not only responsible for the salvation of human beings but also for evil since he seemingly creates certain human beings in order that they might sin and that he might then destroy them for his glory. A variation on this idea depicts God as within his rights even to destroy innocent human beings, if any existed, simply because he created them.

To read Rom 9:7-23 in these ways, however, is to read the passages in a one-sided way, without the balance provided by the context…The idea that this passage teaches God created people in order to destroy them, moreover, attributes conduct to God that God himself finds sinful in human beings. It depicts God as forcing people to sin and then condemning them for it or, worse, condemning the innocent…But he [Paul] tempers the entire concept with the notion that God endured the vessels of wrath that he made with much patience and by speaking of the fitting out of these vessels in the passive voice (Romans 9:22). By doing this, he indicates that one must not misread the illustrations to make God the author of evil and sin.

Paul's illustration of the potter in Romans 9:19-23, then, is not about God predestining certain people to sin, nor is it about the relationship between the entry of sin into God's creation and God's predestining will. It is instead about God's response to already sinful human beings.

This does not mean that human sin took God by surprise and was somehow outside the scope of God's original design for the universe. It simply means that the answer to such questions lies beyond human understanding.

[Quoting Bavinck]
Sin and its punishment can never as such, and for their own sake, have been willed by God…They can therefore have been willed by God only as a means to a different, better, and greater good…Sin is not itself a good. It only becomes a good inasmuch as, contrary to its own nature, it is compelled by God's omnipotence to advance his honor. It is a good indirectly because, being subdued, constrained, and overcome, it brings out God's greatness, power, and justice.
God is not willing "that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Pet 3:9) [468-70].​

The reviewer of Thielman's extract proffers the following points of dispute:

1. He overlooks the fact that Exodus 4:21;7:3 are programmatic for what follows. What follows is a fulfillment what was predicted in Exodus 4:21 & 7:3. So it's not just an alternation. Even when Pharaoh is said to harden his heart, that is meant to be understood as the result of God's action, forecast in Exodus 4:21 & 7:3.

2. "Was hardened" is a divine passive. That implies God was behind the hardening.

3. Hardening Pharaoh isn't equivalent to punishing Pharaoh. He suffers far less than his hapless subjects. The purpose, rather, is to drag out the process so that more plagues occur, demonstrating the supremacy of Yahweh.

4. God is patient towards the vessels of wrath, not for their own benefit, but to benefit the vessels of mercy (Romans 9:23). God withholds immediate retribution to extend the process for the sake of the elect.

5. One might as well say it's fruitless to stretch out his hands to those he hardens (Rom 11:7-8). Why take Rom 10:21 as the trump card? What makes that more decisive than, say, Romans 11:7-8 in one's overall interpretation?

6. Romans 10:21 is anthropomorphic. In addition, God's appeals to Israel, mediated by the prophets, is mass communication. It's not to or for everyone indiscriminately. Some will heed the warning while others will not. In particular, the remnant will be responsive.

7. Yes, hardening applies to sinners. However:
i) Paul uses examples of divine favoritism in Romans 9:11-12 to illustrate the general principle that God doesn't take merit or demerit into account.
ii) Likewise, God made his choice before they even existed (Romans 8:29-30; cf. Romans 11:2). At that stage, they were merely divine ideas.
8. The passive voice in Romans 9:22 is a divine passive, which indicates divine agency.

9. The potter/clay metaphor is a creative metaphor. The pot doesn't exist prior to its shaping. And it is shaped for a particular purpose or destiny. That's not after the fact but determines the outcome.

10. Thielman fails to distinguish between divine responsibility and divine culpability. The former doesn't entail the latter.

11. What does he mean when he denies that God creates some people to "destroy" them? Does he mean to take their life or to damn them? God has the prerogative to take innocent life. That doesn't mean God has the prerogative to damn the innocent.

12. It's philosophically crude and jejune to equate predestination with God "forcing" people to do things. Force implies resistance on their part. Making them act against their will. But predestination carries no such implication.

13. "Authorship" of sin and evil is an opaque cipher. A facile intellectual shortcut.

14. There are philosophically tricky issues regarding how God can be blameless and humans blameworthy for predestined sins. However, that's not a one-sided debate. Some philosophers don't regard libertarian freedom as a necessary condition for blameworthiness. Thielman is operating with unexamined assumptions.

15. Bavinck's position is different from Thielman's. Bavink introduces key qualifications that are missing in Thielman's formulations. It's odd that Thielman fails to recognize the difference between his own position and the passage from Bavinck he approvingly quotes.

16. As Richard Bauckham explains in his landmark commentary, 2 Pet 3:9 doesn't refer to humans in general but to God's people in particular.​
My initial cursory review settled at point #7(ii) above. I often run across the counter argument to predestination that would claim that since no one yet existed, predestination from eternity is not possible, as if temporal existence is a limitation upon God's decree. In your opinion, does that objection carry any weight as a defeater of predestination?

The reader is free to comment about the other points of disagreement noted above, too.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
Patrick, what is the best treatment you've read on this topic? I'd like to learn how to understand and articulate some of the points you raise.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I just have two short comments; maybe more will come later:

1) Thielman seems to overlook one very key quotation in Romans 9 that historically even precedes the hardening process in Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up” (v. 17). No matter what we believe about who hardened what, it is God’s purpose that controls all this. That's Paul's entire point.

2) The response notes that the occurrences of “was hardened” in Exodus are divine passives. They aren’t. They are just simple Qal waw-consecutives.
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
3. Hardening Pharaoh isn't equivalent to punishing Pharaoh.
In one sense Patrick I agree, but a judicial hardening of Pharaoh is a judgment of God upon him, and is (I think) in that sense a punishment. The giving over of one to further expressions of hardening is a part of God's judgment on sin, e.g. Romans 1.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
1) Thielman seems to overlook one very key quotation in Romans 9 that historically even precedes the hardening process in Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up” (v. 17). No matter what we believe about who hardened what, it is God’s purpose that controls all this. That's Paul's entire point.
The author may have included this. It is difficult to determine given that we only have what is quoted above and I do not have the yet to be released book itself.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Patrick, what is the best treatment you've read on this topic? I'd like to learn how to understand and articulate some of the points you raise.
I have raised but one point at the conclusion of the copy and pasted content above. Is this the point you are asking about?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Personally, I think that Thielman is speaking exegetically, and lacks the appropriate expertise in systematic theology to be as precise as his critics want. I am not convinced that Thielman would deny what Triablogue asserts regarding the passage. Sometimes you have to make such allowances when reading commentaries, especially modern ones that are more indebted to the fragmentation of the theological disciplines. I agree that, speaking from an ST perspective, he is not as clear as could be. However, if read charitably, I don't think he is saying anything particularly wrong. He is perhaps looking over his shoulders at Arminian interlocutors too closely.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Patrick, looking over the commentary (which I now own, as it is in print), I would say that Thielman does not necessarily believe that God created humans with no destiny in mind for them. It could just be that he does not believe that Romans 9 teaches this. My personal opinion is that Thielman is trying to make sure that we understand that God is taking into account a person's life from birth to death. In other words, according to Thielman, God did not say, "I'm going to create this person for no other reason than to destroy them." If God did create a person who will later be punished, it will be because that person is a sinner, not because the person is a lifeless piece of clay who lives no life at all.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I have raised but one point at the conclusion of the copy and pasted content above. Is this the point you are asking about?

That's what I get for skimming - I thought the 16 rebuttal points were yours and thought, "wow, Patrick is smart, wish I could analyze like that" ;)
 

Timotheos

Puritan Board Freshman
Patrick, looking over the commentary (which I now own, as it is in print), I would say that Thielman does not necessarily believe that God created humans with no destiny in mind for them. It could just be that he does not believe that Romans 9 teaches this. My personal opinion is that Thielman is trying to make sure that we understand that God is taking into account a person's life from birth to death. In other words, according to Thielman, God did not say, "I'm going to create this person for no other reason than to destroy them." If God did create a person who will later be punished, it will be because that person is a sinner, not because the person is a lifeless piece of clay who lives no life at all.
Grrr… I'm supposed to get a free copy, but Zondervan told me it was delayed for editing and printing errors. Have you noticed any? Or have I been given the brush-off?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Grrr… I'm supposed to get a free copy, but Zondervan told me it was delayed for editing and printing errors. Have you noticed any? Or have I been given the brush-off?

I haven't read enough of it to see if there are lots of editing and printing errors. All I know is that it is, in fact, in print.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top